A talk in London by Pascal Dusapin

This was an interestingly curated event at the South Bank Centre. In conjunction with their recent 'composers collective' initiative, which has real potential, there was a discussion between Music Theatre Wales's Michael McCarthy and composer Pascal Dusapin, and the opportunity to attend a final rehearsal in advance of the presentation of Dusapin's dance-opera Passion at the QEH on 13 Oct 2018. In the talk Dusapin was highly reflective, intellectual and profoundly human and said his priority is to find novel ways to express human experience in music. He said that Passion is an intimate opera based partly on his own life but projected on to the mythic canvas of Orpheus and Eurydice. In a memorable illustration he sang a rising third and said that such a gesture for him was almost inevitably accompanied by a kind of physical movement, and that this movement in turn informed and shaped the further development of such a musical motif. Dusapin said as a young composer he had no interest in the bourgeois artform of opera, but was always aware of the theatrical aspect of his own musical material. Following the opera Roméo et Juliette (1985–88) made with Olivier Cadiot he realised that opera could be a process of coming to a point of view about the world: his Faustus, the Last Night is in part about the absurdity of political borders. Turning to a consideration of language and words as the basis of opera, Dusapin remarked, 'I never write in French', needing the distance from the language. Dusapin said, 'In the sound of the text you have the music'. Given the nature of the original commission, some ten years ago from Aix festival, he immersed himself in Monteverdi and in Baroque performance practice: but the opera uses 'absolutely no quotation'.

I asked, given his evident fascination with and knowledge of Monteverdi, Wagner, Mahler and no doubt much more, why did he rule out quotation? Dusapin explained that the music of Passion was absolutely his own. He said he immersed himself in music, but then closed the book, in order to write music that was totally his own.

Dusapin remarked that the Passion is in a Christian tradition from Bach to Pärt but that it offers a rethinking of the suffering of women.

I admired many things in this discussion, especially the notion that opera at its best is a 'coming to a point of view' about the world, and I really understood and appreciated Dusapin's invocation of Mahler Symphony 2 in that sense; that opera should be engaged with contemporary themes and concerns; and also his observation that a solo line can comprise a polyphony of registers that is inherently dramatic, even in a solo.

Ed Hughes