The Librettist’s comments


Questions to the librettist, His Honour Herménégilde Chiasson


What was your first reaction when asked to write the libretto for “Traversées”?


I was very intrigued by the request to write a libretto for an opera. I have always been interested in this form of music from the time I was a child. It caught my interest and without knowing why I listened to the opera on Saturday that originated from the Metropolitan Opera of New York. Later on my brother let me listen to excerpts from ‘Carmen’ or the grand choruses of Verdi that I had obtained through the Angel record club. Later on it was in Europe, in Vienna, Budapest or in Paris where I was able to realize the passion and intensity that can be produced by this art form. The fact of adding or contributing to this art form by participating in the creation of a first Acadian opera, certainly gave me a lightheaded feeling and a great challenge.


Had you written a libretto previous to the writing of “Traversées”?


It is quite obvious that I had never written anything that is in any way like a libretto for an opera. I had read a copy, like everyone else, of the songs to be performed, especially when an opera was written in a foreign language. This coupled with the sensitivity, at a cinema, would have created a superproduction. I then went to the library in order to become informed about how I would adapt the stories to the opera because, even if I have written many things for the theatre, the two forms of writing are completely different. It took me a long time to decide and to make up my mind as to how I would write this request, which is typical of most operas.



How did you approach the writing? In other words, what was the order in which you addressed the writing?


The opera was to be produced during the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Acadia and we chose to set the stage for five periods of Acadian history. I chose to alternate the good times and the less fortunate times and to begin with a celebration and end with a celebration. The first act takes place in Henry IV’s court at a time when it is being decided whether or not to take a sea expedition. This takes place in the course of an evening of ballet in the court. Everything taking place was with regards to a celebration to express the enthusiasm about crossing the ocean to begin a settlement here. This portion was inspired by the works of poet, Marc Lescarbot, in his lively style, to portray the idea that France undertake this long-term and necessary task. In the second act it is the winter of 1604 and it dramatizes the first winter. The third act takes place in Port Royal. This is the successful colony that rediscovered happiness and a freedom unlike in Europe. The fourth act, always alternating celebration and hardship, is the deportation which at this time did what winter could have not have done – i.e. uprooting the Acadian people and scattering them to the four winds. The fifth act is about their return, the reunions, the rebuilding of the nation which continued until the new cultural era of the ‘60s when finally joy and euphoria prevailed.


In revisiting your history, what emotions directed you?


It is quite evident that the story, for all Acadians interested in their identity, stirs up mixed emotions and sometimes contradictions. As far as I am concerned, I have always believed that whatever happened in the past, it is necessary to take advantage of it, learn from these lessons and not to dwell on sources of conflict and bitterness. There are too many painful examples where ancestral hate is degenerated in conflicts for which people bear the cost for several generations. I also wished to avoid the trap of misery and show the courage of our descendants. In other respects I also wished to show the celebrations part of our history and with those who are disinterested to show the tragic dimension of the distance covered. As one can see, things are never as they appear and these slight changes are revealed when one is interested in the truths that history shows us.


Please tell us about The Angel.


The structure of ‘Traversées’ constitutes a sort of collage consisting of five different time periods. It was necessary then to find a bond to unite these diverse episodes. I then thought about a figure that would be the voice of destiny and that would appear periodically to act as an official counselor, protector and messenger, one who constitutes the principal functions devoted to the angels in the sacred texts.


When you saw the staged production of “Traversées”, what was your emotion/reaction?


At the time I saw the production, I arrived from l’Ile Ste-Croix where we froze like never before, during the whole month of June. It rained the whole day of official celebrations to the point where I had to change five times during the day. I then left St. Andrews early in the morning, to get to Bathurst where it was sunny. I was very impressed when entering the K. C. Irving Centre to see the transformation which had taken place. In spite of being tired, I told myself that I was on my way to watch something historic that I had a role in: the first opera written and staged in Acadia. Whenever I am part of the audience for something that I wrote for the theatre, I forget that I am the author and I allow myself to get carried away by the performance of the actors and what is taking place on the stage. It is sort of like what happened that day in Bathurst. I was especially impressed by the fact that I was a spectator at this first-time performance. As well, it constituted a blending of history and I was interested to see how it was to be portrayed on the stage. The manner in which the artists involved in this production inspired us, allows us to continue and to reinvent ourselves.

On a strictly personal level, I agree with many people who were there that the music was very moving and the scope of its magnitude, its magisterial interpretation by the orchestra, the staging and the voices of the singers and chorus were very suited to the subject and the faith that these characters had in their mission and their subsequent drama. I agree though that, first and foremost among the people involved in this project, the name of Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey must have a special mention because she was the person behind many functions, the most important being that of the composer, the person who generated the music which is the most important element of that kind of production. The composer, when it comes to an opera, contrary to theatre, is the person who carries most if not all the authorship. Can you name the librettist of “La Traviata” or “Carmen”? But we all know that they are operas by Verdi and Bizet. This opera is by Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey and her accomplishments must be commended both as an organizer and mainly as a composer who gave great strength and a musical dimension fitting the drama, the event and the perenniality of this 400th anniversary of the settlement of the Acadians, the first Europeans north of Florida.



                                                                                                                            Herménégilde Chiasson