As part of a series paying tribute to José Evangelista’s musical legacy, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) in June presents two major works, La Porte and Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse.
Since its launch last September, this tribute series has allowed the public to discover again, through approximately 40 concerts, one of the most accomplished Canadian composers of his generation. Capping a year tracing a career of more than four decades, the monodrama La Porte and the opera Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse will offer music lovers the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in an uncommon musical universe that redefines the limits between lyrical drama and traditional tale.
A quest for musical language
Born in Valencia in 1943, Evangelista quickly developed an interest in music, beginning harmony and composition studies at age 16 with Vicente Asencio. After receiving his first composition prize at the Valencia Conservatory, Evangelista undertook science studies as well as music, which led him to emigrate to Canada and work as a computer scientist.
Eager to return to his first love, he moved to Montreal in the early 1970s and pursued studies in composition at the University of Montreal, which gave him the opportunity find a place in a comprehensive and vibrant musical environment.
On top of revering the classics, Evangelista developed a fascination for world music. His first discoveries were of collections of traditional Spanish music. Subsequently, and always with the aim of enriching his creative approach, Evangelista broadened his areas of interest to include the Indonesian, Arab, Indian, Jewish and Japanese musical traditions.
This attraction to the rest of the world has remained a constant source of inspiration. Rather than simply imitating the style, he appropriates technical elements from these cultures into his own compositional approach. This approach, in accordance with the principle of heterophony, abandons harmony and counterpoint to make melody the main parameter.
Composed in 1987 for the opera company Chants Libres, La Porte will be presented at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. Performed by mezzo-soprano Ghislaine Deschambault and percussionist Huizi Wang according to the original staging of Joseph Saint-Gelais, this lyrical drama inspired by Kafka’s short story Before the Law presents a complex narrative structure taking the form of a monodrama: a dramatic work in which the protagonists evolve through the eyes of a central character.
Drawing inspiration from world music, but also from the universe of traditional Persian, Arab and Indian tales, Evangelista proposes with La Porte nothing less than a reinterpretation of the storyteller role. While narration usually gives the impression of being separate and outside the plot, Evangelista uses an approach in which the situation of the storyteller is expressed through music.
This process gives a depth of involvement to the storyteller, who becomes an integral part of the story, reinforced by singing passages. It should be noted that a second version of the monodrama will be presented on April 20 at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. Featuring soprano Virginie Mongeau and percussionist João Catalão, they will offer a reinterpretation of La Porte oriented towards the manipulation of objects and a search for authenticity.
Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse
Pursuing the process started with La Porte, the composer continued his exploration of the techniques of setting text to music, but this time as part of a large-scale work. Again exploring the possibilities offered by the situation of the storyteller, Evangelista in 2001 wrote the opera Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse, produced by Chants Libres, on a libretto by Alexis Nouss, himself a specialist in the world of traditional tales. Performed by the entire SMCQ under the baton of Walter Boudreau and directed by Lorraine Pintal, “Manuscript found in Zaragoza” is inspired by the novel of the same title by 18th-century Polish writer Jan Potocki.
Situated in the context of the Napoleonic wars, this fantastic story recounts the journey of a captain of the Walloon Guards whose true purpose is revealed only through strange encounters. Structured in a manner similar to La Porte, the opera presents a large number of characters whose adventures take place according to a process of mise en abyme. The complexity of the narrative, skilfully made up of entangled intrigues, represents a major challenge for the nine singers, who will in turn play 32 characters. To overcome these difficulties, Evangelista makes judicious use of leitmotif. Evangelista manages in Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse to mix an established genre with his own musical universe. An occasion not to be missed!
La Porte. June 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. and June 10th at 4 p.m. at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal.
Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse. June 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Studio-théâtre Alfred-Laliberté.
Translation by Viviane Reid.