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if it Die...
I was born in the Hauts-de-Seine à Châtillon, and fate has meant that today I live in Montrouge. However, I grew up in Clermont-Ferrand, in a family where my father had studied in engineering school and was working as an engineer at Michelin and where my mother was an amateur actress. Very early on, I found myself performing on stage in plays that my father had written for the theatre group Le Valet de Cœur which he had created with my mother back in 1977 and which today is a real Clermontoise institution situated in the district of Port. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be an actor and my most vivid memories are mostly concerned with the heat of the spotlights warming the stages of Italian style theatres.
As a teeanager,
the reading of Lettres du voyant by Rimbaud changed my life : “I am assisting at the eclosion of my thoughts : I watch them, I listen, I draw the bow : the symphony moves slowly in the depths, or leaps onto the stage.” At 16, I started at the Clermont-Ferrand Academy of drama in a diction class because at that time this type of class prepared for the dramatic arts. One of the first things that my teacher, Josépha Jeunet gave me to do at the school was the preparation of the walk through of a singer, the character of Zurga Georges Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. This discovery of opera really delighted me. Coming from a theatrical family who were neither musicians nor music lovers, I had the impression that I had found a space that could belong to me.
Then I studied the arts at Blaise Pascal university whilst continuing to play in regional professional companies as an actor. In particular I played at the National Theatre of Clermont-Ferrand under the direction of Jean-Pierre Jourdain.
My studies of the arts
were important and I was influenced by teachers like Michel Lioure, Robert Pickering or Jacques-Philippe Saint-Gérand. Thanks to them, I learned a methodology that was so precious for the direction in favour of commentary or essay. Everytime I prepare a mise en scene, I feel that I am half way along the path between the university student and the writer, or rather I feel that I am at first one and then the other.
After my thesis at Master’s level in 1995, on the subject of Samuel Beckett, I had to do my military service. Being opposed to the use of arms and as a conscientious objector, I found myself working as an administrator in a theatre company directed by André Dunand in Gentilly ; a company which had enjoyed its hours of glory with L’extraordinaire Épopée de Ferdinand Bardamu, a show conceived around the works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. The show had had a real success and had been on tour around France. However the company, with no real project, was losing steam and I found myself busy sending out reminders, a mailing as we would say today. I discovered administrative work in a very practical way, doing the URSSAF declarations. I knew the rates for the employers’ and the employees’ contributions by heart and I made Excel spreadsheets for the payslips. That said, I was often bored and I had to find things to do to pass the time. I read a lot, especially all the works of Dostoevsky from which I drew a solo performance with
La Confession de Stavroguine,
a fragment of Demons that had been censured for a long time. The character discovers that he is less of a nihilist than we thought, through recognising the rape if a young girl who committed suicide. “It’s this picture that I see in my dreams, not as a picture, however, but as a reality ”.
Acis and Galatée, 1657, Claude Lorrain
I also wrote a lot : poems, songs, scenarii, essays. My Leçons de Ténèbres (Comp’Act, 2006) date from this period and the texts of Une Vie immobile (Tarabuste, 2013). It was also at this time that I began to take singing lessons at the Jean-Philippe Rameau music school in the 6th district of Paris, in Xavier le Maréchal’s class ; I discovered my vocal range of counter-tenor. I worked a lot, hoping to catch up what I had missed : years of musical training. In a short time, by working hard and with the help of my teachers, I acquired quite a solid vocal technique. I found it too quickly perhaps because I found myself giving concerts after 5 or 6 years even though really I was not ready. It was also at this time that I discovered the lute at a show of Zéami’s nô in which I was playing the role of Semimaru, a young man who was blind from birth, who having been abandonned by his father was wandering through the mountains in the company of his sister Sakagami, a beautiful young girl who suffered from moments of unexplained madness. Touched by the Baroque repertory, I continued learning the instrument and I preferred the solitary pleasure of accompanying myself on John Dowland’s pieces for the Royaumont Foundation, Cluny Museum or Fontevraud Abbey, concerts which paralysed me totally.
As I read a lot, I met writers in Paris, particularly Nicolas Genka who entrusted me with Narimasu, a text which was initially dedicated to the Argentinian stage director Victor Garcia and meant for the Autumn Festival in Paris. I met Nicolas Genka after the reading of L’Épi monstre, a lyrically visionary text published 1962 which announced the coming revolution. I had written to the author, we had met and shared long moments of bohemian and intellectual meanderings. I had the impression that I was reliving with him, part of that time during which I would have liked to live, surrounded by emblematic figures: Nabokov, Mishima, Genet… I composed songs based on some of his unpublished texts and created a singular ceremonial
La jeune Fille et la mort.
The show was created at the Theatre Ego, a theatre which Bernard Damien directed at 59 rue de Rivoli, before reviving it at the Maison de la poésie – Théâtre Molière for Michel de Maulne then at the Comédie de Clermont-Ferrand National Theatre.
The Young Martyr, 1855, Paul Delaroche
The idea of doing opera direction dates certainly from that time and I consider this show as my artistic birth. After this first show, I would never stop creating shows based on poetical texts and sounds, creating shows that unite contemporary writers, musicians and actors. This is how I created Jean-Pierre Siméon’s Stabat Mater Furiosa, a show built around Philippe Jaccottet’s texts, In La nuit la plus claire jamais rêvée or recently in Je suis prête, a show mixing Etienne Jodelle’s humanist tragedy Didon se sacrifiant with fragments of dialogue from plastic artists : Marina Abramovic, Annette Messager, Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle…
Things became clearer when I was taken on as associate artist at
l’Atelier du Rhin – National Dramatic Center in Colmar.
From 2005 to 2008, I spent three very busy years under Matthew Jocelyn where I had to show that I was polyvalent, at the same time actor, assistant director, director, teacher for the students in the drama classes, in charge of the reading committee and coach for the Jeunes Voix du Rhin, the young singers of the opera studio of the Opéra National du Rhin. I did directions myself notably for Une Folle journée, a show created on Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. When I was made redundant from the Drama Centre after the director left, I was convinced that I should continue my way in the world of opera and only in this domain.
Ariadne, 1898, John William Waterhouse
In order to continue my training for direction,
I decided to assist directors sometimes forcing open doors in both France and abroad. This is how I built my experience over about fifty productions and I had the opportunity of working in the greatest theatres of Europe, from Royal Opera House where I had my first experience as an observer to the Paris National Opera where I now hold a post as assistant for mise en scene, through De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam, Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin, Staatsoper of Stuttgart, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Luxembourg Philharmonic, Komische Oper Berlin, Teatro Real in Madrid, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence and in France at Limoges, Dijon, Lille, Caen… I assisted numerous stage directors including Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, Ivo van Hove, Barrie Kosky, Claus Guth, Calixto Bieito, Stefan Herheim, Romeo Castellucci… and I was lucky enough to work with the greatest conductors : Esa Pekka-Salonen, Simon Rattle, Hartmut Haenchen, Philippe Jordan, Fabio Luisi, Vladimir Jurowski…
Parallel to these experiences which were my bread-winners, and thanks to the intermittent system for artists, which allowed me to continue working for myself, I practised some direction. Some of them just for pleasure ; that is to say that I would choose a work, spend long hours in the library with a headset over my ears and pile of books to read, and I would ask myself what I could do with the work. For some works which I liked a lot like Berg’s Lulu, and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, I developped a whole project and the detailled scenario of a direction. I also took part in competitions like the one organised by the CFPL (Centre de Français de Promotion Lyrique) for Caprices de Marianne by Henri Sauguet after the work of Alfred de Musset, a competition where I reached the final. Then I sent off an application for the mise en scene of Mozart’s Mitridate in De Muunt in Brussels. After this practical work, Laurent Joyeux, the director of the Dijon Opera proposed that I stage direct
The way in which I discover a work is at the same time emotive and rational.
That is probably the reason why I am more at ease with opera than with theatre. Music calls out to other cognitive functions and I need them to open doors and passageways that allow me to create my mise en scene. When I listen to a work there is often one moment that will touch me more than the others and it is to that particular moment that I will return over and over again, in an obsessional way in order to try and understand why that moment moves me more than the others. It is in understanding my emotion which needs work of profound introspection, that the key of the work and the keystone of my direction are hidden. This particular moment is often the one in which the lyricism expresses its deepest truth. I really like the definition that Annie le Brun gives it. For her lyricism is “linked to the most violent conscience of disappearance. It is firstly a way of looking at the transparency of beauty on what threatens it.”
My whole life has been linked to poetic experience :
“To love opera, you must be familiar with the kingdom of the spirits” as Jean Starobinski wrote in Les Enchanteresses. By trying to escape from monotony, from fatigue, from the contingencies of drunkeness, solitary walks and amorous sentiments, I crossed the years indolently in the company of poets, cineasts, painters and composers. They taught me clarity, delicacy, and precision. They taught me depth and the texture of the matter, the colour of the tonality. They helped me learn style and the elegance of style, that is to say the art of proportion and that of assembling things with rythm and harmony.
My work is in fact very like that of a writer, a producer but also a conductor. I don’t see myself as being at the service of, as the expression goes, a work or an author ; in any case, not only. What interests me, is what is felt to be missing in the work. The work can always be questioned ; yesterday as today : “Masterpieces command disrespect, even plunder” said Pierre Boulez and moreover he added that “The important – no, the essential ! in the theatre as with all means of expression, is transplantation.” This is how we respect works it seems to me, beginning by taking them apart, dismantling them, taking from them everything that is fiction to grab the essence and to allow after that, but only after that, the reconstruction of a parallel dramaturgy. Today, the number of works that inspire me never stops getting longer and my tastes are changing but to just quote a few, I dream of staging works like L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi, L’Écume des jours by Denisov, as well as Alcina by Haendel and Tchaïkovsky’s Eugène Onéguine, Die Bassariden de Henze and Die Teufel von Loudun by Penderecki. The list is long…
If my hyper-sensitivity has sometimes isolated me, it has also allowed me to sound out human nature and the cosmos in a particular way. The youthfulness that can be seen in my body and on my face comes no doubt from the fact that I have never left that moment in my adolescence when exaltation was mixed with uncomfortableness, a permanent melancholy where I have tried to give an alchemical form to this double feeling. What interests me definitively is to sound out human nature : relations, passions, the new nature of our emotions. Decrypting them, showing the tragedy and the beauty of them with as much tenderness as possible.