La Monnaie's Foccroulle Updates Image, Dreams of Almodovar
Anna Jenkinson in Brussels - January 25, 2006 20:40 EST
How can opera project a more up-to- date image? It's a question Bernard Foccroulle ponders often as director of the Brussels opera house La Monnaie/De Munt and the new chairman of the Opera Europa network, an organization that fosters cooperation between opera houses.
``I'm not happy with the image that opera has today because it's an old-fashioned image which doesn't fit with the reality,'' Foccroulle said in an interview at his Monnaie office, adorned with photographs of the mountains he loves. ``We work with big creators today. We have here Christian Lacroix, a famous costume designer, famous composers, directors, choreographers, video directors. We have to work on this image.''
Foccroulle says Brussels-based Opera Europa is an ideal forum to try to overcome difficulties such as financing, reaching wider audiences and adapting to changing technologies. He sees his role as chairman to help shape a vision for opera in the years to come.
``We are entering a world where this kind of art is more and more difficult to support, to defend,'' said Foccroulle, 52, a native of the French-speaking part of Belgium. Still, he says he's confident about the future, inspired by daily life at La Monnaie.
Opera Europa -- which was formed in 2001 by merging two existing organizations, European Opera Network and Eurolyrica, and has links with its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, Opera America -- comprises more than 90 opera houses from 28 countries. The organization provides opportunities for its members, who pay 2,500 euros ($3,025) a year in subscription fees, to meet and discuss whatever issue is top of the agenda at a given time.
Foccroulle, an organist, composer and opera director, in November succeeded Anthony Freud, who was the group's chairman for three years. La Monnaie -- the theater was built on the site of a mint -- plans, in the coming weeks, to start an idea planted by the Copenhagen opera house: an Internet forum for people aged under 28. Foccroulle hopes the idea, which has led to about 5,000 young members joining the Copenhagen club, will encourage more young people to come to the opera. The Belgian director says that events aimed at young people in which he's had an involvement are usually a ``triumph'' with the audience being ``extremely captivated.''
Opera is ``an art which speaks to the people more than they think,'' said Foccroulle, who was also appointed in March 2005 as cultural adviser to European Commission President Jose Barroso, a new post at the European institution.
``We have to do everything possible in order that opera is not viewed as an elitist art form, to have it as democratic as possible, to have contact with schools, associations, hospitals,'' Foccroulle said.
Another tool at opera houses' disposal is the European Commission's Leonardo da Vinci education and cultural program through which Prague, Riga and Vilnius are each sending employees such as lighting and staging technicians to Western opera houses.
Eastern European countries have a ``specific culture, tradition and repertoire'' that must be retained while at the same time adapted to fast-moving times, Foccroulle said. Cultural exchanges such as those funded by the Leonardo da Vinci program facilitate this. Opera Europa then allows the opera houses to let other members know what they did successfully, where they made mistakes and what was of most use.
Co-productions are another solution to financial challenges in a time of rising costs and limited subsidies, according to Foccroulle. Opera must ``resist'' following the U.S., he said, where fund-raising has become extremely time-consuming. ``In Europe we have a tradition which sees culture as a common value which has to be protected from the commercial market,'' he said.
Leaving the realities of financing and other practicalities behind, what would be his personal dream opera for the future?
``I am dreaming of convincing George Benjamin to write an opera,'' Foccroulle said, leaning back in his black leather armchair. An opera by the contemporary British composer ``would be sensational,'' he enthused.
And his ideal director? The filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, ``a great artist, a very sensitive person to music, dance and opera.''
``I'm always interested in seeing either new talents or big artists coming to opera for the first time,'' he said, before heading off for an evening rehearsal of ``Cosi Fan Tutte.''