Prize for Opera 2018
15 / 16
Les Bienveillantes © Gallimard i
Les Bienveillantes / Die Wohlgesinnten will be a new opera in German and French: a mix of the two principal languages of the main character, the original language of the novel and the main context in which it takes place.
Since its breaking success as a novel, Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell, has been adapted a few times for spoken theatre in Germany and Belgium. Hector Parra and Calixto Bieito took the initiative, with the support by the author of the book Jonathan Littell, for a new adaptation into an Opera. This is not going to be an illustration of the novel, nor holocaust infotainment, but a thorough musical/operatic reinterpretation out of the perspective and psychology of the diabolic main character. The reference of the book-title to the Greek tragedy of Orestes justifies giving a major voice to the chorus and rendering the work an oratorio or passion-like character.
The novel “Les Bienveillantes” by the French-American author Jonathan Littell appeared in summer 2006 and was, as controversial as it was, an immediate success. That same year, it received two of the most prestigious literary prizes in France, the Prix Goncourt and the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie Française and quickly became an international bestseller.
Due to its unprecedented perspective on the atrocities of World War II, the reception of the book was controversial from the start. It tells the story of Maximilian Aue, a French-German former SS-officer, from his perspective as an eyewitness and responsible partaker at all the major Nazi crimes. In a detailed account the reader is made not only witness of the horrors of the mass murders of the Jews, communists and other opponents to the Nazi-regime, but also of the complex administrative war machine in which Aue turns as an important component.
By telling the story from the perspective of one of the responsibles for the atrocities and the genocide, and at the same time making the reader a accomplice by addressing him as an equal, Littell creates a confronting uncomfortable experience. The presentation of Maximilian Aue as a well-educated and culturally formed intellectual but also a psychologically traumatized and homosexual Nazi, augments the ambiguous and paradoxical situation. It confronts the reader with profound questions of personal responsibility and human abyss.
Director and spiritus rector for this project is Calixto Bieito (Spain, 1963), today one of Europe's most prominent stage-directors. His young compatriot Hèctor Parra (1976), composer, pianist and teacher at the famous IRCAM-institute in Paris, will write the music on a libretto by the Austrian author and cineaste, Klaus Händl (1969). The same team already worked together successfully for the Schwetzinger Festspiele for the opera Wilde in 2015. This directing team has successfully produced several operas for Opera Vlaanderen e.g. for the production ‘Tannhäuser’ in 2015. Thanks to their experience they are the ideal team to make this complex production a success.