Opera | Tale (Monodrama)
- Music: José Evangelista
- Libretto: Alexis Nouss
- Stage direction: Joseph Saint-Gelais, Pauline Vaillancourt
“If you can’t pray, tell a story. If you don’t know one, sing. If you don’t know how to sing, learn silence.” In the middle of a desert, a dream or a memory, an old wise man imparted his secret to anyone who would listen. For everyone else, the wind blew and drew shapes in the sand of days gone by.
— Alexis Nouss
Monodrama for voice and percussion by composer José Evangelista, with libretto by Alexis Nouss, La Porte draws inspiration from the tales of various traditions found in Franz Kafka’s famous text Before the Law. In an atmosphere of Pagan ritual, behind 25 candles to complete the setting, the singer brings these poetic fables to life to the mesmerizing rhythm of the percussion.
Created by soprano Pauline Vaillancourt and by Julien Grégoire on percussion for a LES ÉVÉNEMENTS DU NEUF concert in 1987 in Montréal, the opera was performed many times in Canada and in France (at La Péniche Opéra among other venues) until 1998.
Thirty years after its creation, the work is being reprised in June 2018 by two young performers, mezzo-soprano Ghislaine Deschambault and percussionist Huizi Wang, in a stage production by Pauline Vaillancourt inspired by Joseph Saint-Gelais’ 1987 version.
Five performances of the opera will be given at the concert hall of the Conservatoire in Montréal. It is presented as part of the Homage Series to José Evangelista, initiated by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ).
“For over 10 years, I was interested in narrative genres of music. Back in 1975, I set a short prose piece by Henri Michaux to music, but for a long time, I was unable to find material that allowed me to create a longer work. It was not until 1985, after a storytelling performance by Alexis Nouss, that I finally found my librettist and our collaboration materialized through a commission from Pauline Vaillancourt with the assistance of Canada Council for the Arts. The La Porte project could be described as a situation in which the traditional storyteller is set to music, not accompanied by music. But since the storyteller also plays the various characters, the result is genre that straddles narrative singing and opera.”
— José Evangelista — Composer (1987)
“On my “work table,” there is this beautiful tale by Alexis Nouss — based on Kafka — as well as this recording that Pauline Vaillancourt did for me, yesterday, to give me some inspiration … The music of José Evangelista tells me a thousand things as it lingers my ears! Hundreds of memories awaken! It imposes its rhythm, its breath, its relevance. So, like the sage in La porte who “goes from village to village dispensing his knowledge,” I imagine this situation: a woman is telling a story. She says a “guard is standing in front of the door” and a “man from the country” is trying to enter. Later (much later?), I say to myself that the stories are not just stories; that there will always be a guard in front of prohibited doors.”
— Joseph Saint-Gelais — Stage Director (1987)
“From my early years as a soloist, I had the opportunity to create many of José Evangelista’s vocal works. From En guise de fête and Arabesco to M. Plume and the monodrama La Porte, with which I had the privilege of travelling quite a bit in Europe, to his grand opera Le Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse, which José Evangelista agreed to write in 2001 for Chants Libres, the lyrical creation company that I have headed for 27 years.
What a pleasure! What a treat to sing this music that envelopes and radiates the text, surrounded by lights and at the same time mystery, enhanced by curves and colours, thus arming the singer with a powerful weapon to touch the audience’s heart.”
— Pauline Vaillancourt — Artistic Director of Chants Libres and Stage Director (2018)
The narrative structure of La porte is based on Kafka’s story Before the Law:
Derrière elle, un seul musicien, un percussionniste et ses instruments et surtout son vibraphone. Le résultat est surprenant et absolument convaincant. L’osmose de la voix et de la percussion est parfaitement naturelle, tout spécialement dans la rencontre de la voix et du vibraphone. La forme libre du monodrame parfaitement maîtrisé dans ses divers paramètres donne au récit allant et légèreté. Il faut beaucoup de talent de la part du compositeur pour réussir une gageure de cet ordre.
[…] la simplicité de la mise en scène de Joseph Saint-Gelais, ajoutait au charme de ce moment, laissant toute sa place aux lignes sinueuses des gestes de musique. On espère réentendre cette œuvre.”