Music: Kevin March. Libretto: Michel Marc Bouchard
April 20, 22, 28, 2017, at 8 pm. April 30 at 2:30 pm
Co-commissioned & co-produced by Pacific Opera Victoria & Productions ODM Inc. (Opéra de Montréal)
Above: Scenes from Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Les Feluettes, composed by Kevin March to the libretto by Michel Marc Bouchard.
With Étienne Dupuis, Jean-Michel Richer, Gino Quilico, Gordon Gietz, Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, James McLennan, Daniel Cabena, Normand Richard, Claude Grenier, Patrick Mallette, Jeremy Roszmann, and Jacques Lemay as the dancer.
Timothy Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony; Giuseppe Pietraroia directs the Pacific Opera Chorus. With Director Serge Denoncourt, Set Designer Guillaume Lord, Costume Designer François Barbeau, Lighting Designer Martin Labrecque, Video Designer Gabriel Coutu-Dumont.
Les Feluettes a powerful tale well sung
Adrian CHamberlain of the TImes Colonist reviews Les Feluettes.
The essential story of Simon and Vallier's doomed love is incredibly powerful and transcends all ...
In this opera, love and death are paired relentlessly and repeatedly. Bouchard makes such an intertwining powerful, poetic and unforgettable...
Powerful baritone Etienne Dupuis as the young Simon was a standout; tenor Jean-Michel Richer ably brought out Vallier's Dionysian beauty; baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson successfully conveyed the affable nuttiness of Vallier's mother, Countess de Tilly.
The creative team ... has overseen the production with confidence and panache ... each scene possesses a singular beauty.
Les Feluettes opera takes on tale of forbidden love
Adrian Chamberlain of the TImes Colonist discusses the opera with director Serge Denoncourt, composer Kevin March, and POV Artistic Director Timothy Vernon.
Les Feluettes is replete with sensational operatic moments: stolen kisses, beatings, alcoholism, madness, murder, pyromania – even the grand arrival of a Parisian woman in a hot-air balloon ...
For 15 years, Denoncourt has directed Bouchard's plays, which often examine the issue of sexual orientation.
"Les Feluettes is a love story," he said. "For us, in Quebec, it's our Romeo and Juliet."
When the opera played Montreal, Denoncourt noticed audience members of all ages were affected by the performance.
"To see grandfathers and grandsons crying when [the character of ] Vallier dies, it was touching for me. It means 20 years later, it's not any longer a gay opera. It's an important story," he said.
Le ténor Jean-Michel Richer (Interview in French)
Sylvia L'Ecuyer of CBC Radio Canada interviews Jean-Michel Richer about his opera career. Jean-Michel created the role of Vallier for the Montreal world première of Les Feluettes and reprises the role at Pacific Opera Victoria. Vallier is his first leading role as a professional opera singer.
Les Feluettes: a complicated love story
Pamela Roth of the Victoria News interviews POV's Artistic Director Timothy Vernon.
There are wonderful characters involved ... In the end it's a love story. It's Quebec's Romeo and Juliet ... a universal story with true emotion and a true sense of pushing back against prejudices, which ... is always a good thing.Read more.
Above: production photos from the Montreal world première production of Les Feluettes (May, 2016). Photos: Yves Renaud
Gino Quilico: Old Simon Doucet
Prisoner for many years and the organizer of the drama. Baritone
Gordon Gietz: His Excellency Bishop Jean Bilodeau
A Catholic Bishop. Tenor
Étienne Dupuis: Simon Doucet
A young Québécois, born in Roberval. Very handsome with an impulsive temperament. An arsonist. The pride of his father. Baritone
Jean-Michel Richer: Count Vallier de Tilly
A young French nobleman, who has recently settled in Roberval with his mother the Countess. His sensitivity has earned him the nickname Feluette (Lily)*. Tenor.
James McLennan: Jean Bilodeau. A student at the school in Roberval. He has a role in Father Saint-Michel's production. Tenor.
Aaron St. Clair Nicholson: Countess Marie-Laure de Tilly. Vallier's mother. Often lost in fantasies, she is awaiting the return of her husband who left on a trip to France five years before. Baritone.
Daniel Cabena: Lydie-Anne de Rozier. An attractive Frenchwoman in her thirties. Owner of a hot air balloon. Over the years she has become an expert liar. Countertenor.
Normand Richard: Father Saint-Michel
Teacher at the school in Roberval, where he is directing a production of The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, a 1911 Mystery Play by the Italian poet, Gabriele D'Annunzio, with music by Claude Debussy. Bass baritone.
Claude Grenier: Timothée Doucet. Simon's father. An alcoholic widower. Bass baritone.
Patrick Mallette: Baron de Hüe. A French doctor, vacationing at the Hotel Roberval. Bass baritone.
Jeremy Roszmann A Young Student playing the role of a young Syrian slave in Father Saint-Michel's production.
* Feluette is a Quebec expression derived from the word fluet (slender, thin, and frail in appearance) meaning a weak man, effeminate, fragile, or overly sensitive.
A play within a play within a play,
where love flares into feverish splendour,
memory becomes a prison, and justice is eternally elusive.
For 30 years, Michel Marc Bouchard's vivid, structurally brilliant play Les Feluettes has been an opera waiting to happen. A major work of Canadian theatre, this stunning romantic drama cries out for operatic treatment.
Premiered in 1987, Les Feluettes (known in English as Lilies) has been translated into English, Spanish, Japanese, and Dutch and produced all over the world. It was made into a Genie-award winning movie in 1996.
The drama revolves round the consequences of a moment in 1912. A group of boys at a Quebec college rehearse Gabriele D'Annunzio's sensual play The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. As a devastating love triangle unfolds, one boy dies, one is sent to prison, one becomes a bishop.
Decades later, the bishop is made to watch as prisoners re-enact the past, re-creating a panoply of vivid characters – a young pyromaniac; an old man hunting the missing pieces of his past; a brutal alcoholic; an exiled countess; a beautiful Frenchwoman who pilots a hot-air balloon.
1952. A Prison
Bishop Bilodeau has been summoned to the prison to hear the last confession of old Simon, whom he knew in the past. Instead, Simon and his fellow inmates force the bishop to watch a performance depicting the events from 40 years ago that led to Simon's incarceration.
Episode 1 – Collège de Roberval, 1912. School theatre
Father Saint-Michel is directing a rehearsal of D'Annunzio's play, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Simon plays Sebastian, who has been sentenced by the Emperor to be tied to a tree and executed by his own archers, one of whom is Sanaé, played by Vallier. Sebastian assures Sanaé that he wants death:
I am going to be reborn, Sanaé.
But, to live again, my archers, I have to die.
If you ever loved me,
may I know the measure of your love
through the agony of your arrows.
Expressing discouragement at the difficulties of staging productions with clumsy actors and unsophisticated audiences, Father Saint-Michel leaves the theatre. Vallier and Simon continue to rehearse. Their acting becomes more real as they sing the ardent words, and then kiss. The bishop is horrified.
Young Bilodeau interrupts the scene, accuses Simon and Vallier of being sick, threatens to expose them, and adds that when Simon sets a fire he does it out of love for Vallier. Simon and Vallier tie Bilodeau to the on-stage tree, and as Vallier recites loudly, Simon kisses the protesting Bilodeau. Vallier's mother, the Countess, enters and applauds, thinking she has just witnessed a scene from the play. Simon and Bilodeau run off.
The countess tells Vallier that she has marvellous news: a young Parisian woman, Lydie-Anne de Rozier, has just arrived by balloon. Simon's father Timothée adds that the young woman has told them she met the Count de Tilly in a salon in Paris and that he will soon return to take his family to France.
As Father Saint-Michel re-enters, the countess praises the kissing scene between Simon and Bilodeau. Timothée demands to know more. Vallier tries to downplay what happened, but his mother contradicts him: Simon kissed the young man with a passion that would make all the women of Roberval blush with jealousy. It was high Art!
Timothée sets off in a fury to find Simon. Bilodeau tells him to look in the college attic.
The inmates remove their belts and violently beat the ground. An image of the train station in flames.
Vallier writes a love letter to Simon.
... How to invent other heavens for us?
How to invent other hearts? ...
I compose you, I create you.
I let you live, and I kill you, I resuscitate you.
Episode 2 – On the terrace at Hôtel Roberval. One week later
Everyone marvels as Lydie-Anne arrives in her hot air balloon. The visiting doctor, Baron de Hüe, gives Simon a jar of ointment for his wounds, telling him the scars will remain for life. When the doctor asks what happened, Simon awkwardly explains that he fell from his horse and landed on some barbed wire. Lydie-Anne tells him he needs to become a better liar. She adds that she obtained her balloon with just a couple of lies, and asks SImon if he would like a ride.
Vallier arrives, wondering where Simon has been the last few days. Lydie-Anne recounts that on her arrival in Roberval, she met the Countess and brightened her day with lies about meeting the Count in Paris. Simon tells her the Countess is a laughingstock in the village. Vallier hands Lydie-Anne letters his mother has written for his father and challenges her to rip them up.
When they are alone together, Simon shows Vallier the scars from the whipping he received because of the countess's gossiping. He tells Vallier everything between them is over; he will think about girls from now on. Tearing up his letter to Simon, Vallier leaves.
Lydie-Anne flirts with Simon. When he takes his shirt off, she asks why he was beaten. He explains that it was because of a kiss. As she asks to whom he gave it, Simon kisses her. The Bishop is outraged.
Episode 3 – The countess and Vallier's home, several weeks later
As the convent across the street burns, the countess imagines herself dancing a waltz with her absent husband. Vallier comes home, deeply exhausted, and tells her that he has been working as a guide for the fishermen. She is furious that he would so lower himself and, without thinking, blurts out, You are a coward! A coward like your father!
Vallier declares angrily that his father is indeed a coward – a man who left his wife and his son without a cent in a godforsaken village in Canada, who not once in five years has let them know if he is dead or alive. He adds that if he hadn't had the courage since he was 13 to secretly work, he and his mother would have died long ago.
The Countess says she prefers to believe, not Vallier's spoken words of anger, but his written words of love; she has found a torn letter that is surely intended for his father. She has glued the pieces together and given them to Lydie-Anne to take to the Count in France.
She quotes from the letter, as Vallier softly repeats the words:
You are my first love and will remain so forever.
I compose you, I create you,
I let you live and I kill you. I resuscitate you!...
My breath quickens, having forgotten the rhythm of your breath.
My lips stumble on your name, having lost the habit of saying it
I love you and I will wait for you forever.
Vallier tells her that the fire across the street is a sign that Lydie-Anne has delivered the letter and that Simon has read it. He admits that he is in love with Simon. His mother already knows, but tells him she wanted to hear it from him. She insists that he must go to Simon and Lydie-Anne's engagement party ... to see if he is as cowardly as you think he is.
Episode 4 – The ballroom at Hôtel Roberval
At the engagement party, Lydie-Anne recalls Simon's passionate kiss on the terrace three months ago, and tells the guests that she and Simon plan to travel by balloon and then by train and ship to Paris. When Lydie-Anne mocks the Countess, Simon reprimands her. She then reminds him that he has become increasingly inattentive to her; he reassures her that he is all hers, and they look forward to flying off together in her balloon.
Let's check the direction of the wind,
Let's fly as a child imagines.
Let's reach the heavens,
With no route ahead of us.
With no route behind us.
With no other limit than the ether blue of the sky.
Suddenly, Vallier enters, dressed as Emperor Caesar, and invites Simon to perform a scene from The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. After some hesitation, Simon plays his part. Timothée demands that Vallier leave, and the party descends into chaos. Disheartened, Lydie-Anne recognizes that both she and the Countess are wronged women, adding, Love is the worst of lies one can tell oneself. She tells the Countess that she indeed did meet the Count in Paris but that he has remarried and is the father of two girls.
In anguish, knowing that he and Lydie-Anne are to leave in the morning and that he will never see Vallier again, Simon curses Vallier and his own mad passion.
Bilodeau, alone, reviles God for abandoning him and prays that Simon will stay. He then sets fire to Lydie-Anne's hot-air balloon.
The bishop protests that Simon has no way of knowing any of this: Where were you when I cursed God? Simon produces the bishop's old journal.
Episode 5 – In the forest – the next day
It is Vallier's birthday. The Countess' gift to him is a bathtub, and she has made a cake of earth. As Vallier sits in the bath, Simon arrives to wish him a happy birthday and to say goodbye.
Simon admits that he doesn't love Lydie-Anne the way he should – and then, with great difficulty, confesses that he loves Vallier. When Vallier responds in kind, Simon jumps into the bathtub, fully dressed, to embrace him. Again, they recite the text of St. Sebastian.
Episode 6 – The forest
The Countess tells Vallier it is time for her to leave him, and he is the only one she can ask to help her. He resists, but she quotes St. Sebastian:
If you ever loved me ...
I am going to be reborn.
But for that, I must die.
She lies down, covers her face with a scarf, and asks Vallier to tell her about his love for Simon. As Vallier covers his mother with earth and then strangles her, he recalls the first time he met Simon:
A morning in winter. On the large frozen lake.
Our eyes said it all. We were so different.
I was cold. He offered me his coat.
Simon wakes and joins Vallier. Finding the Countess dead, he takes Vallier in his arms. As Vallier struggles in the grip of despair, Simon eventually calms him. They leave.
Bilodeau, who has seen everything, spits on the countess's body, then blesses her hand.
Episode 7 – Collège de Roberval – school theatre
Vallier wakes in Simon's arms. It's twilight. They know they must leave. Bilodeau joins them. He has arranged horses and provisions so they can flee together.
Bilodeau gives Simon his journal and asks for a kiss, like that of the saint to his friend. Crying Never! Never! Simon pushes Bilodeau out and closes the doors.
As Bilodeau hammers on the doors, Simon embraces Vallier, and sets the place on fire.
EPILOGUE – Prison
Bishop Bilodeau recounts the rest of the story. He finally opened the doors. Everything was in flames, Simon and Vallier entwined on the floor. Bilodeau separated them and dragged Simon to safety. He went back for Vallier, but then abandoned him.
When Simon asks why Bilodeau didn't let him die with Vallier, Bilodeau explains that he wanted Simon to remember him, to never stop thinking of him in prison.
Old Simon and the inmates surround Bishop Bilodeau, knives in hand. The bishop begs Simon to kill him, to free him. Simon says, Never and throws his knife on the ground. All exit, leaving the bishop alone.
Michel Marc Bouchard: Website of the Playwright / Librettist.
Kevin March: Composer's Website
Insight: Les Feluettes, and the lessons learnt: Composer Kevin March on the music of Les Feluettes and the amazing, rewarding, demanding process of creating the opera.
The play on which the opera is based is rich with musical references and implications. Vallier's and Simon's love is framed by Gabriel D'Annunzio's infamous play Le Martyre de St. Sebastien for which Claude Debussy was commissioned to write incidental music...
The events which Simon re-enacts for the Bishop are all set in 1912 when the music of the Belle Epoch and the exoticism of American ragtime would have appealed to a segment of Quebec society keen to demonstrate its sophistication. La musique traditionnelle québécoise (traditional folk music of Quebec) would also have been commonly heard, and it's even possible that a Quebec convict in 1952 might have been able to play one of the instruments common to the genre, a fiddle or wooden spoons. Québécoise folk music is itself an eclectic product of the Irish and French settlers (Irish fiddle mixed with French accordion and accompanied rhythmically by wooden spoons).
In creating the sound of Les Feluettes, it seemed necessary that all of these musical references be respected and represented. The result is an eclectic musical fabric containing quotes from or stylistic allusions to Debussy's incidental music to Le Martyre de St. Sebastien, American ragtime, French Belle Epoch-style cabaret, traditional Québécoise folk music, and even a 19th century Napoleonic anthem. Anything goes (as long as it adds meaning)...
Les Feluettes has been the most amazing, rewarding, rigorous, demanding project I've worked on.
Musical Excerpts from the opera, recorded during an Orchestral/vocal workshop in Montreal in December 2015.
Reviews from the Montreal World première, May, 2016
Lilies, the movie version of Les Feluettes: Wikipedia article on the 1996 film, directed by John Greyson, which won four Genie awards. While the play and opera unfold entirely within the prison, the movie takes viewers outside the prison to forest and lake and other settings evoked in the story. As well, the ending of the film is different.
Le Martyre de saint Sébastien is a play by Gabriele D'Annunzio, with incidental music by Claude Debussy. The opera Les Feluettes includes a scene in which students rehearse the play, and the opera quotes some lines from the text and some of Debussy's music.
Martyre, which premiered in 1911, was some five hours of chorus, orchestra, ballet, mime, recitation, and singing, and is almost never performed in its entirety. There are various shortened versions, including a set of Symphonic Fragments that Debussy extracted from the score in 1912, and various versions that include selected vocal music and recitation.
The version above, put together by conductor Claudio Abbado, is a five-part suite comprising preludes, dances, solo sections and choruses, omitting the speaking roles, and beautifully conveying the flavour and variety of Debussy's music. Claudio Abbado conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in this recording from the 2003 Lucerne Festival. The soprano soloists are Rachel Harnisch and Eteri Gvazava.
Le Martyre de saint Sébastien: Text of the play by Gabriele D'Annunzio (in French). Some of the lines quoted in Les Feluettes can be found on pages 248 to 253 of Le Martyre.
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian: English translation of a portion of the text. Some of the text quoted in Les Feluettes can be found in the Fourth and Fifth Mansions (The Wounded Laurel) near the end of the piece.
Gabriele D'Annunzio was a flamboyant, larger-than-life personality whose life combined art, politics, and scandal in roughly equal proportions. He first made a name for himself as a poet, branched out into erotic novels, bedded hundreds of women (he claimed 1000), lived on credit, and became a fighter pilot and war hero in WWI.
After the war, in a fit of Italian nationalism, D'Annunzio captured the displuted Adriatic port of Fiume from Yugoslavia to give to Italy. When Italy refused his offer, he set himself up as dictator (Il Duce) of Fiume, occupied the city for 15 months of drugs, debauchery, and thuggery, and declared war on italy. Only after the Italian navy shelled the city did he finally surrender. His proto-fascist approach to governance (a straight-armed salute, blackshirted followers, inflammatory balcony speeches, violence,) were picked up by Mussolini and the Nazis.
As Allan Massie observed in The Telegraph, The occupation of Fiume itself was comic opera which degenerated into orgies. Indeed, one rather wishes for an opera to be written about this character (several operas might be required!).
His acid summary of D'Annunzio's character is worth noting:
Gabriele D'Annunzio was a horror: a cad, a bore, a buffoon; supremely selfish, egotistic and callous; without humour, brutal in his treatment of women; a spendthrift, a sponger; ultimately, a cocaine-addict, a fantasist and a very dirty old man. He was also, as Hemingway put it, "a bald-headed, perhaps a little insane but thoroughly sincere, divinely brave swashbuckler". He was the author of several novels, now all but unreadable, and several plays, all but unstage- able; he was a plagiarist, and, just occasionally, a great poet.
Gabriele D'Annunzio ... presents as a figure of splendiferous awfulness today: the very personification of Italian decadence, a creature of unembarrassed and unbridled appetite – for fame, for luxury, for thrills of all kinds.