Bertrand, Ravel, Cocteau, Poulenc, Verlaine, Hugo, Britten & Debussy…

After a minor hiatus in posts following the publication of my Parisian Intersections book, I’m now back into my research rhythm. 2013 has started with exciting avenues opening up.

Bertrand & Ravel
Last week, I got asked to record an interview on Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la nuit and how it might have inspired Ravel to write his monumental piano work on the same title. The programme is currently being edited, and should emerge on ABC Radio in Australia soon – watch this space! I recorded the interview from the BBC Radio Sheffield studios, and look forward to hearing how it all comes together (with contributions from professional pianists, and other researchers specialising more in the Ravel side of things too). I was especially intrigued to tease out what the relationship between poetry, painting and music is in the Gaspard works – Bertrand seems to be trying to exploit all three, but in a different balance to the way Ravel engages with the three art forms…

Cocteau & Poulenc
In my first book (2009), I opened with a preface about Cocteau’s La Voix humaine – a work I’d first heard in Poulenc’s opera version in a semi-staged set-up at the Proms (done by Felicity Lott) when I was still doing my PhD in London. The work has stuck with me, and I continue to teach it to MA students today (examining, in particular, the status of vocal exchange – whether it really is a monologue, or whether the masked / silent ‘other’ voice of the male character is made present, especially by Poulenc, in the gaps between the voiced phrases). This evening I’m heading off to see Opera North’s new production of the Poulenc opera, with Lesley Garrett, which I’m hoping will bring me to the work afresh and reinvigorate my teaching of it!

Verlaine, Hugo, Britten & Debussy
On Monday 25 February, I perform my first song recital in Sheffield, alongside pianist Libby Burgess. The programme is Britten’s Quatre Chansons françaises (in piano version) – his very early settings of texts by Verlaine & Hugo, followed by Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées (settings of Verlaine’s Romances sans paroles). My final year students on my Poetry & Performance module will be contributing directly to the evening: having heard Magali Arnaut Stanczak do an amazing recital at the international Debussy symposium at Gresham College in April 2012, in which she stood and recited the poem out loud in French before singing each song in English, I’ve persuaded my students to read out each poem before I sing them. It’s a little bit of an experiment for me – guided, in part, by my interest in how audiences react to performances of French mélodie, which I know can sometimes be a bit daunting and alienating. I’m hoping to glean some audience feedback from the event, and to feed this into my research going forward…


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