What if Ulysses never returned to Ithaca …
While he was no doubt familiar with Homer, Dante probably would not have known the Greek poems on the return of Ulysses to Ithaca. Monteverdi set this tale to music in his opera of the same name, presented last season. Dante took inspiration from Ovid (Metamorphosis, XIV) and invented for Ulysses a final voyage beyond the known world. After a year spent with Circe, Ulysses yearns to return to the sea, to lead his old, tired comrades back on their uncertain, terrible and dangerous voyage. This need to resume the voyage, this insatiable urge to know the world, to become an expert in the vices and values of the human spirit, is stronger than all else, surpassing even his desire to see again his son, his old father and wife. Ulysses decides to go to the very ends of the voyage.
He passes the Pillars of Hercules, leaving Seville to one side, and Ceuta to the other, and adventures out into the unknown, before his ship founders, cargo and souls, under a sky in which the stars already point differently. To convince his lazy, old companions, he tells them: “You were not born to live as animals but to follow the path of virtue and knowledge”. But reason and intelligence this time cannot triumph over the dictates of the gods.
In Se questo è uomo, Primo Levi refers to this adventure of Ulysses. In the camp of Auschwitz, this song from the Divine Comedy comes to him as a reminder not to accept his present fate, to transcend the barriers, to return to the sea, to remember that he is a man made “per seguire virtute et canoscenza”.
In Le Temps, ce grand sculpteur, Marguerite Yourcenar also refers to the two gates of the Mediterranean, the Hellespont to the East and the Pillars of Hercules to the West, bordering the Hesperides, the threshold of the setting sun. But “the Mediterranean, Andalusia, is but the midway point, it is but an entry to the Atlantic, as Greece is to Asia,” she writes.
“It is only at the start of the 16th century,” she adds, “close to the period when, by heraldic fortune, the image of the Golden Fleece began to haunt the dreams of the courtesans of Charles V, that the Atlantic became an Ocean, upon which Columbus, Pizarro, Cortez became Argonauts, and Florida and Mexico became the new Colchis. The raw power of this land, the vast unoccupied spaces of the plains and sierras that recall Spain, lying beyond the Ocean, a land almost still devoid of history. The port of Sanlucar, where the first galleons set off to the West, the La Rabida monastery where Columbus contemplated his voyage, the archives of Seville in which are piously kept the maps and globes of the great explorers, are but links to a planetary image of the world that has been imposed upon man.”
Living to follow virtue and knowledge, embarking on a voyage to know ever more, to go beyond the known world, beyond our faith in what we think we know, with the determination to become experts of our world, of the vices of the human heart and its values: this is what animates us, this is our ultimate ambition, pushing us to taste the delights of the Garden of the Hesperides, to pass through the gates to the new world, to discover this music of Spain, Portugal and South America. An artistic season is always an odyssey that invites the audience to go to the ends of its emotion, its knowledge, and its sensations. It teaches us and encourages our development, one and all, beginners and experts alike. If these voyages, these musical excursions into terra cognita or incognita, amaze us and cause us to question ourselves, they also transform us, profoundly and intimately, because it is through emotion that they speak to the heart and give us life, setting us in motion. From Rameau’s Pygmalion with Emmanuelle Haïm and Robyn Orlin, to Draghi’s El Prometeo with Leonardo García Alarcón and the Cappella Mediterranea, from Pinocchio with the duo Boesmans-Pommerat and conducted by Emilio Pomarico, to The Tales of Hoffmann re-examined by Mikaël Serre and Fabien Touchard, or Simon Boccanegra staged by Philipp Himmelmann, from the baroque cantatas of MéChatmorphoses to Le Ballet royal de la nuit directed by Sébastien Daucé – these works act upon us a transformation, a metamorphosis, in our relations to others and to power, be it political or the power to create.
I invite you to accompany Don Quixote in his attack against the windmills of La Mancha, and the new world, and also those, closer to us, who remain for some of us frightening giants on the path of discovery of the other and of knowledge.
General & artistic director