Léone, Dédé (Léone’s husband), Mrs Schmidt (Léone’s mother), Prosecutor, Mr Schmidt (Léone’s father), Bum, A neighbor (man), Farmer’s Wife, Woman gas station attendant, A neighbor (woman), Paramedic
The story of Léone is more a matter of destiny than of psychology. Tragic elements may well be present throughout, the work nonetheless remains closer to an epic poem than a stage play. The actual human interest story which was the source for the storyline is simply incredible. Reading about it in the papers, it staggered belief. Here, that unbelievable story provides the mythical dimensions which allow lives which are by all appearances ordinary to turn utterly insane.
To summarize: no one ever went away hungry at the Schmidt’s, who were grocers in a little town in eastern France. The drama unfolded at Christmas time. There was stuffed turkey and Riesling wine for the family meal, and the fat Mr Schmidt had a heart attack. Léone, the daughter, had gynecological problems; she was sterile. She stole a baby from a maternity ward and pretended that she had given birth to it, but people saw through the hoax. She was tried and sent to a psychiatric hospital, thereby casting shame on the family, which led to her mother’s death. Her husband Dédé, who was a taxidermist (!), lost his dignity, his clientele and his wife, who ran away and went mad. He thereafter committed two murders and ran off to find Léone, during which time he met a mysterious bum who seemed very much to be his double. Wandering and desperate, Léone attempted suicide, only to be saved by the paramedic. Dédé finally found her in the train station in Strasbourg, and asked her to come back and start a new life together…
In 1984, when Philippe Mercier (who directed the first production of Léone) and I asked Philippe Minyana to write the book, I was thinking in terms of grandiloquence, tragedy and sublime deaths. I was looking for archetypal scenes which could be taken both with sincerity and distance, so that the drama would also have as its basis the drama of opera singers struggling to come to terms with the book. But I also had in mind uncomplicated sentences, a direct, unadorned style, a straightforward storyline.
My first meeting with Philippe Minyana was electrifying. I knew immediately that this was the writer I had to work with, and I am very grateful to Philippe Mercier for having sensed this and for having introduced him to me at the time.
Philippe Minyana deals in horror and tragic destinies. His tone and his style gave me the opportunity to write for voices in a homogeneous style that was at once lyrical and close to the spoken language. This, it seems to me is why the characters and what they say never allow us to forget the work of the singers and the risks involved, the distance that necessarily exists in the vocal performance of a finished piece of writing.
But Philippe Minyana also speaks of ordinary lives, “insignificant” lives (the “everyday” language of his characters is poignantly human). I have always had the feeling that he shared their destiny, gave voice to their misery, and made us feel their suffering and their madness; there was never a trace of cynicism. This was essential for me, and it allowed for sincerity of expression and a personal commitment on my part, especially with regard to the interplay between the singers and the electroacoustical musical context.
In a way, given its storyline, its characters and its choirs, Léone follows very much in the line of conventional opera, but the conventions have shifted ground, because of the mysterious presence of the phantom orchestra; the electroacoustic music that was composed and recorded in a studio and is broadcast over a bank of loudspeakers. The electroacoustic music is not intended to add a few dramatic sound effects; it constitutes the whole of the music, just as an orchestra would.
Léone was conceived for “natural” voices, with no amplification other than for two particularly symbolic characters (the prosecutor and the bum) whose slightly distorted voices come through loudspeakers incorporated into the decor.
Following an earlier version performed in 1987, Léone was finished in 1992-93.
— Philippe Mion, Paris (France), May, 1996
The electroacoustic part of Léone was composed in the Ina-GRM studios (Paris) and the Grame studio (Lyon). The recording (sound engineering by Christian Zanési), editing and mixing (Philippe Mion, with the technical assistance of François Donato) for this compact disc were done in the Ina-GRM studios between April to November 1995.
Léone was first brought to the stage on May 15, 1993 at the 16th Perspectives Festival in Saarbrücken (Germany). It was directed by Philippe Mercier (Théâtre du Pont-Neuf), and performed under the musical direction of Laurent Cuniot by Jean-François Fabe, Guy Flechter, Véronique Hazan, Sylvia Marini, Liliane Mazeron and Pascal Sausy.
Léone was composed with the support from the Fondation Beaumarchais (Funds for Writers) and was commissioned in 1992 by the French State (Music Office), with the residences from Ina-GRM (Paris) and Grame (Lyon).