L'inondation by Joël Pommerat and Francesco Filidei

Chronicle for a 2019 creation


Follow the progress of the project online

from 01 September
to 1 December 2018


1 September 2018 6.00 pm

All dates


0 825 01 01 23 (0,15 € / min)

Since the fall of 2016, in the transitory premises of Rue du Sentier and then in our restored house, author-director Joël Pommerat and composer Francesco Filidei have been collaborating in an operatic creation due in 2019.

This time, Joël Pommerat is not adapting one of his productions for the operatic stage as was the case with Au Monde, played at Salle Favart with music by Philippe Boesmans in 2015.

At the invitation of the Opéra Comique, he accepted the challenge of writing his first libretto. This is a special challenge for this “stage writer” as his collaborators are no longer actors from his Louis Brouillard company but vocalists with very different working habits. Besides and most importantly, he must share the speech and timing of the production with composer Francesco Filidei. The latter tackles his second opera after Giordano Bruno, which attracted a lot of attention on its premiere on 12 September 2015 at the Casa da Musica in Porto, subsequently performed in Strasbourg, Reggio Emilia, Milan, Gennevilliers and Caen. Joël Pommerat offered Francesco Filidei to adapt L’Inondation, a novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin published in the USSR in 1929. This tragic story of disruption of a world imagined by a woman for her survival is also the story of characters who hardly speak, or cannot communicate, about a woman who immures herself in silence. Joël Pommerat has kept the three main characters of the story – the woman, her husband, a girl – and a couple of neighbors, adding a narrator who is close to the tragic choir. In November 2016 Pommerat began to elaborate a synopsis and then wrote snatches of dialogue (with stage directions) for the first three scenes. In February 2017, the author-director and the composer decided to begin their joint effort during an initial workshop with vocalists hired for this preliminary stage. As is the case for a sculptor or a painter, the presence of vocalists enabled the author to write a preliminary sketch.

The initial workshop helped to identify the vocal quality, determine how the opera will begin, grasp the scenic rhythm, and define the role of the orchestra regarding the action and the scenery. The two authors gradually devised a methodology even though nothing is systemized. In general, sessions start with readings of a rough draft of the text written by Joël Pommerat. This is followed by discussions over vocal inflections and the temporality of the scene, and then tests accompanied by cellist Séverine Ballon and sometimes Francesco Filidei on piano. The cello enables them to explore a varied palette, close to the sound environment of an orchestra. Then, the composer and the author-director return to their respective writings, compress, lighten, fluidize and clarify things here and there. At the same time, they both agree on the dialogue, the musical forms and scenic actions, their dynamics, contrasts and transitions.

The versions succeed one another with each session, duly amended and numbered by Marion Boudier, the dramaturge of the Louis Brouillard company, who is also in charge of visual research for this exploratory stage. Each new workshop helps to make a selection in what has matured while integrating new scenes into the process. Thus, the two authors elaborate simultaneously the portraits of the protagonists who take shape physically and musically (what music characterizes each one, what tessitura suits each one).

These portraits are decisive in establishing the production’s cast. This is a new approach since most of the operatic corpus has been composed for artists already known by the composer and marked by a repertoire of roles. In contemporary creation, the artists are often hired at an early stage so that the music is not only written according to the text but also for their voices and personalities.

In L’Inondation, the image of the characters Joël Pommerat has in mind becomes clear through words and notes. This original working process is reminiscent of what was so well analyzed by Debussy when he explained his choice of Maeterlinck for Pelléas et Mélisande: a distribution of sense between words and music so that each element of the opera contains a part of the speech, action and evocation of the outside world and of the inner worlds. The piece will not be appreciated without the music, and the score will only make sense with the words. Today, the work is coming to life and dictating its needs.

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