editorial by Dominique Pitoiset

Lyric beings

Have you heard of ichnites? Sounds like the name of some strange tribe. Its members: tracks and footprints. When you walk in the snow, you leave ichnites. The tracks of pigeons, or a dog, left in the sidewalk when the cement was still wet, those are ichnites. There is even a science for them, called ichnology. One of its branches, paleoichnology, deals with fossils, some of which date back to the Jurassic Age. Others are more recent, but can be just as moving. I have before me some photos showing the tracks of a young adult, imprinted about 10,000 years ago in the now-hardened mud surrounding a lake in New Mexico. A child was walking by the adult’s side. Then the trail of the youngster disappears. The adult picked it up and carried it, probably on the hips. A mother, perhaps, with her youngest child? An older sister with a little brother? Or older brother and little sister? At some point along the way, their 427 footprints frozen in time were crossed by those of a mammoth.

We don’t know the traces that we leave. We live only in the present. It is the only time in which we exist. And we can feel imprisoned, besieged. Or maybe we simply feel indifference. That all-encompassing, perpetual sense of the present, imposed by the recent successive lockdowns, has put our emotions and feelings to the test. Or we grasp at occasional sparks of happiness. Ten thousand years later, how can we know if this couple, on the edge of a vanished lake, were fleeing, or simply taking a walk? What did they talk about together? Were they laughing? We will never know. And they could have never imagined that their bare feet on the wet mud would leave marks that prompt us to dream about them, a hundred centuries later, at more than an ocean’s distance away. As with us today, they were only passing through. Maybe they were singing.

Sometimes the traces we leave, whether ephemeral or set in stone, are not the ones we think. Artists know this well. They seek, each in their own space, within this present in which we all live, to predict the voices to come, or to prolong the echo of those who came before them, who set humanity in resonance. They embark on paths without knowing exactly where they will lead, or exactly from whence they began. The one thing that is clear is that these voices, and these new paths, must stay open. So let’s open them! It is now our turn. For us, it is here and now that the past and the future meet. The sky begins at ground level. As Nietzsche wrote in Also Sprach Zarathustra: "Ah, there are so many things betwixt heaven and earth of which only the poets have dreamed".

We are lyric beings. Enthusiastic, passionate, we always seek to broaden our community. What traces of sung words have the poets left us, and will leave to us? Often banned, or even attacked with weapons, but constantly renewed, constantly repeated, the song is transmitted, from ear to ear. It evokes a free and egalitarian world, respectful of differences and of peace, a world for which artists are the first ambassadors. Often without knowing it, they have a role of great responsibility.

Many of you, I’m sure, recall Diva, the film by Jean-Jacques Beineix, who passed away almost exactly one year ago. A bootleg video is made of a singer, who has always refused to be recorded, given her distrust of such traces. She ends up consenting to the publication of this recording when she finally understands that it’s a question that goes way beyond her own personal rights, which in a certain sense no longer belong to her, because the traces of this voice, which is hers, are not inert, they cast an echo out into the world, like the seeds of a harvest that can never return to her. Of the seeds sown today, which ones will rise up tomorrow, or much later? Who knows?

Part of the answer belongs with you as well. It consists in simply being present. You were many to attend our opening season. Many to subscribe to the diversity of our offer. Many to testify thus to our common need: to sense that we exist together in this altered present, in this suspended time, in the expectation that this existence is not simply hovering precariously above some vacuum devoid of all meaning and hope. We are many, we have opened numerous pathways and doors. Among these is the renovation of our Grand Théâtre, which we hold dear, as well as the new rehearsal space in  the Auditorium. We managed to get there. We are making progress.

Among the traces being prepared for us, the seeds that will be sown, this season will focus on the world and the future. The world often takes the form of nature, and the future, the face of childhood. We will meet a little boy as he enters the deep woods of fairy tale. An old musician still dreaming of his days as a young man, ready to abandon everything to find his beloved in the forest. A composer working in solitude among the pines on his Song of the Earth. And the young Mowgli will guide us through the jungle of the future, an urban jungle at that ... in which terrifying carnivorous plants, and savages beasts, will no doubt appear. There will be moments of sadness, and others of joy. Great symphonic trajectories, and a few well-chosen solos.

I would like to take the opportunity offered to me here to thank the City of Dijon, the Region Bourgogne-Franche-Comte and the Ministry of Culture, all of whom have continued, during this difficult period, to provide their active support for our project.

When artists cast their unique perspectives on our times, it is not surprising that they identify various pathways that intersect and then branch off. They don’t all lead to the same point, but together they begin to define a landscape. And this landscape must now be populated. The team of the Opéra de Dijon and I are very happy to wish you a warm welcome.

Dominique Pitoiset
January 2022

P.S.: The war in Ukraine began just three weeks after I wrote my editorial for the season. It is thus obsolete, but I wished nonetheless to keep it, while adding a few observations. If artists, thinkers, creators were to have remained silent in the face of horrors, what would they have transmitted, what would they have left to us? Despite the war, and against the war, we must take the side of intelligence, invention, generosity. We must engage in writing patiently and persistently against brutality. We must take the side of culture, which knows how to listen and dialogue, question, relaunch, construct. Celebrating beauty does not mean seeking distraction in entertainment, or turning the eyes away from harsh facts. On the contrary, it is the expression of the essential: the need for a world that is ever more human and just, against the false values of mass murderers who wreak devastation. It is a reminder of a world capable of preserving, transmitting and restoring life, the traces of our existences, of our experiences, which are all the more precious for being so fragile. It might seem futile, at a time when bombs fall on theatres, schools and hospitals. Perhaps. As futile as common sense. Some might even claim there could be nothing more futile. What could be weaker, less defensible, more useless than seeking to give meaning to life when irrepressible forces of death are unleashed? We can choose to "live" in an absurd universe, under the inhuman laws of nihilism that reduce our voices to silence, banning all right to joy. "Full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing," as Shakespeare put it so well in his Macbeth. A universe in which there is no reason left for which even to fight … No, decidedly no. To the victims of this barbaric infamy of war, I dedicate the beauty of our season.