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Subject: Boulez on Blowing Up the Opera Houses
From: David Gable <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David Gable <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 11 Jul 2012 00:48:45 -0400
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Read an article about Pierre Boulez or an interview with Boulez in the
popular press and odds are good that the first thing the interviewer or
author of the article will tell you is that Boulez once suggested blowing up
the opera houses.  Denunciation of the very institutions the young artist
hopes to conquer was a well entrenched French Romantic tradition long before
Boulez ever suggested blowing up the opera houses, and Berlioz had already
advocated burning down the Opéra in the 1830’s--just as Monet and the
Impressionists would later advocate burning down the Louvre. 
Furthermore--and unfortunately for Boulez’s reputation as an anarchist bent
on destroying Western civilization--virtually everybody quotes Boulez out of
context.

In the interview--now more than 40 years old--where Boulez suggested blowing
up the opera houses, he specifically complained about the low performance
standards and inadequately rehearsed productions all too common (or so he
felt) at opera houses during the period (the mid-60’s), and particularly at
the Opéra in Paris, where, apparently, a production of Faust dating from
before World War I was still routinely trotted out.  Boulez knew perfectly
well that his remarks were incendiary, but what he actually suggested was
blowing up the opera houses and replacing them with new modern theatres that
would take advantage of all the latest technological advances in stage
machinery and theatre production.  In 1968, Boulez, Maurice Béjart, and Jean
Vilar drew up a proposal for just such a new opera house and submitted it to
then French President François Mitterand.  Mitterand greeted the proposal
with enthusiasm, although actual construction of the house, the Opéra
Bastille, only began in 1984.  It finally opened in 1990.

He may have suggested blowing up the opera houses, but no other composer in
history has been responsible for the construction of as many buildings as
Pierre Boulez.  IRCAM, the research institute at the Pompidou Center, was
his baby, of course, but he also induced the French to build a lavish new
music school, the Cité de la musique.  He’s been agitating for the
construction of another concert hall in Paris for some time.

For the record, the interview under discussion was first published in the
German periodical, Der Spiegel (“Sprengt die Opernhäuser in die Luft!” Der
Spiegel, 25 September,1967).  It was reprinted in English in the British
periodical, Opera (“Opera Houses? Blow them up!” Opera, June, 1968).

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