The story of the serendipitous and odds-defying creation of Les Feluettes began in March 2002, when I saw Lilies. Minutes into the film, I had an overwhelming sense that I was watching an opera. The words were lyrical; the characters, compelling; their stories, absorbing. It was easy to imagine the lines being sung. As I left the cinema, I was already making plans to adapt the film into an opera. By the end of that year, I was discussing the adaption with Michel Marc Bouchard.
In March 2011, Michel Beaulac, Artistic Director of the Opéra de Montréal, contacted Michel Marc to discuss commissioning an opera based on one of his plays. Although we did not know it, the play he had in mind was Les Feluettes.. Imagine our delight in being able to show Michel Beaulac that we had already started work on just such an opera. As these events unfolded in Montreal, over in Victoria, Patrick Coorigan, Ian Rye, and Timothy Vernon were also imagining an opera based on Les Feluettes. When they heard of Montréal’s plan, they joined Opéra de Montréal as co-procuder to bring Les Feluettes to the opera stage.
Over the course of the next 5 years, Michel Marc adapted his play into a libretto and I wrote the music for Les Feluettes. A series of four developmental workshops were held during which every scene, aria, duet, chorus, quite literally every word and measure of the opera was tested. Cuts were made, scenes revised, new arias added. During rehearsals, leading up to the premiere, a chorus section was added, a whole scene change was added and an entirely new aria was composed for Etienne Dupuis and added with only one week to go before opening.
I’m often asked how one approaches the task of writing an opera. In this case it all began with the words, which were rich with musical implications. The play’s stage directions call for the use of Debussy’s incidental music to D’Annunzio’s infamous Le Martyre de St. Sebastien which frames Vallier and Simon’s love for one another; the 1912 settings recall the music of the Belle Epoch and American ragtime; and La musique traditionnelle québécoise would have been commonplace. In creating the sound of Les Feluettes, it seemed necessary that all of these musical references be respected and represented.