The first opera of Alexandre Desplat

The first opera of Alexandre Desplat

Photo : Brigitte Lacombe  

En Silence is a short story by Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata whose subtle and nuanced universe, written in fluid and poetic prose, has inspired the duo of renowned film music composer Alexandre Desplat which is the first work for opera, and director-musician Solrey to create a chamber opera.

The opera will be performed February 26 and 27 at the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg and March 2 and 3 at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris.

Just as Kawabata’s literature opens the reader’s imagination to infinity, Desplat’s cinema scores evoke evanescent melancholy, sustained emotions and subtle sensations and thus create the perfect connection to the invisible and intangible matter of this novella. 

Director Solrey has gathered a team comprising the actor Sava Lolov, the singers Camille Poul et Mikhail Timoshenko and Luxembourg’s United Instruments of Lucilin to create this mysterious universe

World premiere - 26 & 27 February, Grand Théâtre du Luxembourg

French premiere - 2 & 3 March, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris

Composer's note 

En Silence, a miniature literary gem with an enigmatic title in which the fantastic, the absurd and the tragic inter twine, seems to open up a musical universe with a dimension both in tune with and close to my aesthetic: a chamber opera.

From Hiroshige’s prints to Haiku, from the cinema of Mizogushi to the Way of Tea, from Kabuki theatre to the scores of Takemistsu, Japanese culture has contributed greatly to my artistic development.

Yasunari Kawabata’s text is built around the number 3. As is the opera: 3 acts, 3 characters: The Master (narrator), Mita (bass-baritone), Tomiko (soprano). The musical ensemble is also fashioned around the number 3. 3 flutes, 3 clarinets, a string trio and percussion make the connection with the classification of Gagaku orchestras comprised of several groups of 3 identical instruments. 

The musical composition avoids vocalisation and demonstrative prowess. The range of nuances is limited, thus preser ving the reserve and tension of the huis clos, the obsessive questioning of the disciple and the singularity of the increasingly odd relationship between Tomiko and her father.

The score follows the progression of the characters and the development of the drama stretching the singers’ vocal registers to the limits, sometimes bringing them close to unison and allowing a sense of ambiguity to take root vis-à-vis their genre in a way that was so dear to Yasunari Kawabata.

Since the short story was written in the first person, Solrey and I decided whilst writing the libretto to give the narrator a voice that would punctuate the questioning of the young disciple, becoming, in turn, the voice of the taxi driver, the old aphasic writer and the young madman.

A melodic motif also haunts the score to evoke the presence of the ghost of a young woman.

Alexandre Desplat 


Director's note

The paralysed writer Omiya Akifusa is deprived of his language, his gestures and his words.

How can a creative individual still live when deprived of his means of artistic expression?

What becomes of his stor y, his past, his present and how does the Other invent his future? Interwoven with questions on creation, transmission, memory, and loss, Yasunari Kawabata’s metaphysical short stor y oscillates between apparition and extinction and brings into play an alternation between the tangible and the world beyond, the inner and the outer, silence and music.

The road that leads Mita to the home of the Master and his daughter Tomiko is an initiator y journey through a tunnel near a crematorium where errant souls mingle with the ghost of a young woman.

Who is she? What does she symbolise? Will she materialise?

The journey takes us to the edges of this strange tale in which the audience is led into an irrational, ambiguous world where oftgrotesque humour combines with tragedy to witness the metamorphosis of Tomiko, a young woman sacrificed to the father figure.

For this chamber opera production with its spellbinding music and lyrics by Alexandre Desplat, the singers will move about in a horizontal, abstract, minimalist space. Their songs will seem to be enveloped in a spectral light to create a floating, indistinct, ghostly world.

The ten musicians at the rear of the stage will appear as key characters in the dramaturgy. Dressed in baroque costumes and positioned in a single, slightly raised line, they will appear to represent a luminous chromatic scale: the reminiscence of an orchard in springtime, offering an open and vibrant horizon for the Master’s gaze, a depth of field conducive to bringing life to dead souls capable of being reborn indefinitely in this pursuit of beauty, this quest for Nature so dear to the author.

In the centre of the stage, a black and white space represents the house where the Master will sit in silence with his back to the audience; a fundamental presence facing the musicians and flanked by the two singer-protagonists Tomiko and Mita.

Downstage – an area symbolic of writing – the narrator will perform several roles and take possession of the story.

Between these three materialised worlds, a mental space will emerge through a video haunted by the image of the writer : symbols, calligraphy, phantasms, flashes.

Adapting and directing the short story En Silence, is a fundamental experience: an act of resilience, echoing the deep wound caused by the silence of my violin.