Friday 2 June 2017
Joint anniversary for Les mamelles de Tirésias play and opera
Saturday 3 June marks the 70th anniversary of the premiere of Poulenc’s comic opera Les mamelles de Tirésias, first performed in Paris on 3 June 1947. Coincidentally, this month also see the 100th anniversary of the first production of the play on which the opera is based.
Les mamelles de Tirésias by poet Guillaume Apollinaire tells the story of Thérèse, who hopes to establish equality between the sexes by changing her own sex to obtain power among men. The play is surrealist in style and Apollinaire is credited with inventing the word ‘surrealism’ in its preface. Although the play was written in 1903, by the time it premiered France was in the midst of the First World War and the poet had given it a sombre prologue.
Apollinaire was one of a group of poets whom Poulenc had met as a teenager. The young composer attended the first performance of Les mamelles de Tirésias in Paris’ bohemian Montmartre district in 1917, later saying that he had been ‘immensely amused’ by the piece. It wasn’t until the 1930s that he first thought of setting Les mamelles de Tirésias as an opera, although he set many of Apollinaire’s poems to music in the intervening years.
The opera reflects both the farcical and serious aspects of Apollinaire’s play. With the poet’s approval, Poulenc changed the date and setting but preserved all other aspects of the original story. The composer said of his friend, ‘Guillaume and I must have had the same weight, the same size, the same blood pressure, the same arterial tension, the same heartbeat.’
The RCM International Opera School performs Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias in a double-bill with Chabrier’s Une éducation manquée this summer, directed by acclaimed theatre and opera director Stephen Unwin. He said, ‘It’s a huge privilege to be directing Poulenc’s brilliant surreal comic opera, Les Mamelles de Tiresias at the RCM on its 70th anniversary. It’s even more remarkable that this marks the centenary of Apollinaire’s ground-breaking masterpiece, which provides the opera with its quirky and utterly original libretto. Sublime, absurd, sentimental, crude: it’s all there in glorious, vulgar, breathtaking technicolour.’
The RCM International Opera School’s opera double bill will be performed on 28 and 30 June and 3 and 4 July. To find out more visit www.rcm.ac.uk/rcmopera. Tickets start at just £10.