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Ecume des jours, L’ (‘The Foam of the Days’)locked

  • Detlef Gojowy

Extract

Opera in three acts by Edison Denisov to his own libretto, after Boris Vian’s novel; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 15 March 1986.

Following his 1973 song cycle La vie en rouge, to words by Vian, Denisov returned to the work of the French jazz musician and existentialist poet for his second opera. The libretto incorporates Vian’s novel and some of his poetry, texts from the funeral service (in French) and plainchant. The final children’s chorus uses liturgical texts. Denisov’s libretto echoes the language of the novel, with its bold linguistic constructions and absurd exaggerations, rather in the spirit of jazz; it also depicts the emptiness in a philosophy of life devoted to total freedom and total egotism. The plot, set in Paris in the 1940s, concerns the thoughts, actions and fate of two pairs of young intellectuals. Colin (tenor) and Chloé (soprano) are enjoying their honeymoon when Chloé develops a strange incurable malady caused by a water-lily lodging in her lungs, obstructing her breathing. Their friends Chick (tenor) and Alise (mezzo-soprano) are drifting apart because Chick spends all their money buying the writings of their philosophy teacher. In the final act, the police try to confiscate the writings and Chick is eliminated, Alise dies trying to burn the philosopher’s library while Chloé succumbs to her condition. Colin is left talking to a disillusioned and indifferent Jesus (baritone). Among the linguistic jokes are ‘Jean-Sol Partre’, the philosophy teacher, and a ‘trishop’, who conducts the wedding, with ‘pederasts of honour’ (instead of maids of honour) attending the ceremony. Denisov was faithful to his source in setting the wedding section, but it had to be omitted from the first performance in Paris. The inclusion of jazz instruments (soprano and alto saxophone, drums, piano) and taped recordings of Duke Ellington – playing live in Gelsenkirchen – is in line with the exaggeration of the source material. In scene ix there is a quotation from Wagner’s ...

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