BOP, opera in a concentrated version

For two performances, Saturday and Sunday, the Opéra de Montréal presents a show co-produced with the company Ballet Opéra Pantomime and I Musici. The short opera Riders to the Sea, by Ralph Vaughan-Williams, will be linked to the creation of Torch of the night, opera by Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse on a text by Olivier Kemeid. The duty spoke with the composer.

While the Opéra de Québec will offer its fall show from October 23 to 30, The elixir of love, in front of a contingent attendance, but under normal artistic conditions, the Opéra de Montréal (OdM) has chosen to reduce the sails until 2022, when the operas will resume at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier with The Traviata.

In the meantime, we find a more modest project which was to take place in May 2020 and marks the first collaboration between OdM and the young and dynamic company Ballet Opéra Pantomime (BOP), a collective co-directed by Alexis Raynault and Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse.

BOP was founded at the Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Art in 2013 on the premise that in Montreal there was no room for chamber opera. From his first show, Curlew River by Britten, BOP caught the eye and brought fresh air to the Montreal music scene. An Opus prize came to concretize this courage.

Cross interests

In 2019, BOP opened the Bourgie hall season. It was with The ship
, multidisciplinary show
, on a composition by Alexis Raynault bringing together 50 musicians, including a choir of students from the Joseph-François-Perrault school. The orchestra was already that of I Musici.

“We had a two-year partnership with I Musici. Jean-Marie Zeitouni wanted us to be able to work together on at least two projects, ”Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse tells us. With the pandemic, the second project was postponed. This time, it was he who composed the creation part of the show.

He also wanted to associate the school again with the choristers of the Joseph-François-Perrault school, obtaining to do this the complicity of his librettist Olivier Kemeid. “Olivier had seen The heart-vessel and had been touched by the singing maidens. At the end of Riders to the Sea, we have a choir of women who come to lament. He used the girls’ choir in the central part of his libretto, where a sort of Greek choir tells the story and comments on the action. All the young girls agreed to re-embark. With the postponement of the show, they are almost all at CEGEP, others at university, but they work very hard in the evening to create this project with us. “

The Opéra de Montréal spotted BOP during one of its most courageous projects: Nero and The Fall of Lehman Brothers in June 2018. Both companies can take advantage of this alliance. “The Opéra de Montréal wants to do more projects outside Wilfrid-Pelletier. Having said that, I feel like it will be through all kinds of collaborations. But the door is open, and we may want to start over, ”analyzes Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse.

“Among the co-producers, the Opéra de Montréal is the one that brings the most: visibility in its season, its teams working on the project, including production management; the singers of the Atelier lyrique and support in the creation process. We recruited the designers. They trusted us for the artistic aspect and to develop the project as we wanted. But for the technical aspect that accompanied this artistic vision, they were there, ”summarizes the co-director of BOP.

Initially scheduled at the Monument-National, the project is being deployed at the Théâtre Maisonneuve to take advantage of additional space. Moreover, the impact of COVID-19 on the design of the set and the staging was not negligible, since the rules of onstage distancing that would apply at the desired time were not known. “We had to think of a setting where we could play at a distance, just in case. “

An echoing creation

The presentation of Riders to the Sea marks the renewed interest in chamber opera and one-act operas. Vaughan-Williams’ opera focuses on the fate of a woman, Maurya, on an island off the coast of Ireland. Maurya will lose until the last of her sons, all victims of drowning at sea. When the last one dies, the opera ends with a monologue from Maurya: “They are all gone now, and there is nothing left but the sea can do me. “

The torch of the night is conceived as an echo of this work. “Alexis Raynault loves Riders to the Sea, and we had it on our radar for some time, because it is rarely given by professional companies, and the format is ideal for linking two compositions together. For a project with the Opéra de Montréal, there was something reassuring that one of the two works already existed: we know that Riders is a very beautiful score and for the creation, we will see. “

So we start from the end at Vaughan-Williams. Maurya makes peace with the sea, which can no longer take anything from her. “The course of the characters is resolved, the wind begins to blow again, the same chords resolved by the music resume more gently to signify that this story will repeat itself for other women. The sea remains present for other people, with this danger, this violence, ”announces Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse.

The sequence can be done without incident: “The wind continuing to blow at the end of Riders, we had only to take this sound of wind for the end of Riders or the start of a new composition. “

“When the moment came to define the complement, we thought of Aeneid by Olivier Kemeid, whom we really like. The epic side of those words seemed French easy to transpose to opera. It is indeed difficult, in contemporary opera, to find a text with a level of language that leads to musical language. “

The subject “could be Enéide, pre-You are here, a new story ”in the eyes of the composer. The important thing was to take up the theme of Riders to the Sea and a cast with the same roles, a mother and her child.


In The torch of the night, on another shore, a crowd gathers to escape the flames which devour the city. A mother embarks with her child, but the latter will not survive the storm and the mother will arrive alone on the other shore.

Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse was not too afraid of the task. “I try not to imagine myself directing and to start only from the words of Olivier Kemeid. The challenge, when you compose an opera, is that everything makes sense musically. Everything must be connected to the emotion conveyed by the words without ever sounding grotesque. “

The opera genre would be rather reassuring: “When you write for the stage, you have a benchmark; it is less frightening than complete emptiness. The composer immersed himself with delight in the choral sections. The most difficult passage was the mother’s final monologue. “I was done with that, because once all the passages that inspired me a lot had been composed, I was able to use whatever I was happy with in the more difficult passages. “

As for the pitfalls of the genre, the composer evokes the need for close collaboration with the librettist. “As with any playwright who becomes a librettist, there are usually too many words. But these words were very inspiring. There was also a bit too long dialogue, too many lines between the characters. “Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse judges that with Olivier Kemeid” it was easy to make changes and find sound bases accompanying those words. “

Musically, Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse began by creating thematic links between the two works before changing his mind. “It was a bad idea. Vaughan-Williams’ score tends towards a resolution in which the mother accepts her situation. This music has lived long enough. I went completely elsewhere. There will just be a little three chord quote at the end to tie into the previous universe. “

Riders to the Sea / The torch of the night

I Musici, dir. Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse. With Sarah Dufresne, Mishael Eusebio, Diahounba Fofana, Sydney Frodsham, Matthew Li, Allyson McHardy, Andrea Núñez, Geoffrey Schellenberg, Lucie St-Martin, 25 choristers, Stage director: Édith Patenaude. Scenography: Patrice Charbonneau-Brunelle. Lights: Julie Basse. Costumes: Elen Ewing. Théâtre Maisonneuve, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m. Duration 75 minutes.

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