Uniting both opera and ballet, the Opera Vlaanderen Royal Ballet Flanders in Belgium is a result of a merger in 2014 after the Flanders Royal Ballet and Flemish Opera got together. Unveiling a new theme for its yearly opera season, the topic for 2018/2019 is ‘Impermanence’ and a rather fitting one. The Opera Ballet Flanders will depart with artistic director Aviel Cahn after this season, as he is about to become the general director of Switzerland’s biggest opera house, Le Grand Théâtre de Genève. A perfect time to look back with Cahn on ten years of working with the Opera, what is in store for the upcoming season and slightly unveiling his plans for Genève.

TEXT: BAS VAN DUREN

Well received performances and more visitors than ever before: things are going very well for Opera Vlaanderen and while it is a feat that everybody contributed to, the influence of its artistic director cannot be understated. But Swiss-born Aviel Cahn – who mastered the Dutch language so well, his accent is impeccable – calls it ‘a time for change’, after being part of the opera for ten years by the end of his tenure. “Positions such as these should have a limited life-cycle where five years are needed to build and another five for reaping what has been sown. Working as an artistic director means having inspiration that flows between the audience and the opera and it’s good for that type of energy to have some renewal.”

Transience

With that in mind, the theme of ‘Transience’ is aptly chosen. With Cahn leaving the party in 2019, Opera Vlaanderen is setting its sights to new beginnings, but not before what promises to be one of its most exciting seasons yet, bringing back lots of famed directors, conductors and soloists that have left a mark on the company. Cahn: “I can’t wait for our world premiere of an opera based on Jonathan Littell’s bestseller Les Bienveillantes, in English known as The Kindly Ones. It’s a historical fiction story about an SS officer during World War II and the chapters are following the sequence of a Bach Suite. As such, Spanish composer Hèctor Parra made the music for the opera that uses modern, electronic sounds, but the work of Bach slips through the cracks as well. Then there’s the libretto by Händl Klaus who had the Herculean task of converting a 983-page novel to a work of forty pages.” Cahn says with a grin: “In his words: ‘I had to come back from hell for this’, but it was well worth the effort.”


SAMSON ET DALILA. PHOTO © ANNEMIEAUGUSTIJNS

Political

A political opera for sure, but that is part of what attracts Cahn to the art form. “I think it’s one of the most outspoken genres yet, where stories are told conveying questions that are relevant decades or even centuries later. We made world news when we did Samson & Delilah with an Israeli and Palestinian director, performed Philip Glass’ Akhnaten about an Egyptian pharaoh who broke with tradition, just when the Arabic spring was happening and there will be a performance of Glass’ Satyagraha in the upcoming season that’s all about Ghandi’s non-violent resistance. An opera like Les Bienveillantes might be about a war that happened over 70 years ago, the question of ‘what would you do with a totalitarian system running the state?’ is one we have the luxury of not having to ask ourselves, but there are countless of countries where that particular struggle is real.”
Other highlights of the upcoming season are, according to Cahn, among others, the performance of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs De Perles by theatre company FC Bergman. The artistic director explains: “An opera that’s one of the best in showing the transience of friendship and love throughout the years. FC Bergman is known for their lavish productions and this one is bound to become an opera that will have people talking long afterwards.”

Geneva

As for Cahn himself, becoming the general director of Le Grand Théâtres de Genève is something he is looking forward to, but can not discuss too much about. “There are many plans already being made, but we’ll unveil them once I start there. That happens to be on the day after I quit the Opera Ballet Flanders, so there’s a lot of preparation to be made.” Being Swiss-born, Cahn is excited to return to his home country, but notes a difference: “I’m originally from Zurich and Geneva is quite a distance away, complete with a different culture and part of the French-speaking Switzerland. I’m looking forward to it and promise that I’ll use my connections at Opera Vlaanderen to instigate several collaborations.”

Web: operaballet.be


AVIEL CAHN, ARTISTIC DIRECTIOR OF OPERA VLAANDEREN. PHOTO © FILIP VAN ROE

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