A hymn to youth

14 February 2017

Meeting Thomas Jolly

In front of the grand foyer at the Théâtre du Châtelet some students are assembled in staggered rows around the stage director, eyes wide-open, hanging on his every word. An oboe from an adjoining room accompanies the story told by the young snake charmer.

Why did he accept to stage Fantasio, an opera whose eponymous character is also a coarse and melancholy student? Thomas Jolly answers that what first appealed to him was the origin of the work – Musset and his play, Musset who believed he was a boy born too late in too old a century and whose alter ego was Fantasio.

The making of the production

Fantasio was a two-year-long work. "An opera means much thinking and lots of drawings, plans, models and meetings… In effect, during two years we had the meeting syndrome" And then, ten days before the first performance, everything speeds up, everything happens at the same time, the scenery, the costumes, the make-up… all that which was theorized is now put to the test of facts. "I didn't follow any opera session, I had to learn through making… Eliogabalo was a real school."

From drama to opera

Opera also meant less freedom. In drama you invent your scenography according to rehearsals, you choose your texts, your actors and, first of all you're the master of time. "I am inclined to say that opera is an art form of the future: you need projects quickly, you need to be capable of planning the production mentally, to know that there will be that particular element here or there, that you'll wear this or that kind of costume. You'd rather not have a heart condition!" Music is a constraint too, it's the master. As for the vocalists, Thomas wants to respect their well-being and highlight their voices by resorting to all sorts of stratagems. But this doesn't frighten the magician in him. "In drama, nothing is there and everything has to be built whereas in opera everything is there and you have to understand why." It's necessary to comply with the nuances, to comply with the silences.

Giving youth a chance

Opera was on his mind but when he was fifty. At his present age, the fact that prestigious institutions such as the Opéra de Paris and the Opéra Comique offered him the opportunity to stage a production amazed him and did credit to him. "Especially since I'd never been on this ground… But of course I accepted. Mostly because of Musset whom I admire a lot. Then I listened to Offenbach's music and was really taken aback."

Thomas Jolly believes that one can be young, a beginner and make beautiful things. Doesn't youth produce tremendous energy? "I've done drama since I was a little boy… I don't know how to do anything else. And I try to make it as accessible as possible, extract it from the elitist image it can have. I'd like to say 'Hey, come on, it's gonna be fun!'" Besides, the rehearsals of the opera were open to the public, working and research shared with the artists, experimenting in the open. "I don't care if I'm some think I make mistakes. I need to feel how people react. And the more people there are the more I get cues that tell me what can't work and what can."

After two years and a half of working on this project, he will finally get those reactions - 1800 of them in one go!

Read more about Fantasio

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