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La Passion de Simone & The Juniper Tree Director's Notes

What an adventurous two years it has been for our opera-theatre program. When we were
informed in 2022 that we no longer had a place in the Bing Theatre for our Spring productions,
a bit of panic ensued. Last Spring we performed in an experimental space in the Arts District
that was less than ideal. We spent months searching for other spaces until a consensus was
reached that we should experiment with our longtime rehearsal space and perform a “proof of
concept” evening of opera, to test the space’s viability for future experimental chamber opera
productions. Thus, we decided to go with modern/contemporary repertoire: Sariaaho’s haunting (and challenging) La Passion de Simone about the life and philosophies of French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil and Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s The Juniper Tree.

Weil is a controversial figure in the annals of philosophy and religion. Weil was born to an
intellectual, non-practicing Jewish family. Raised to be an independent thinker, she tackled
every moment of her life with a voraciousness that almost destroyed her (and those around her)
on more than one occasion, whether it was becoming a factory worker to be part of the proletariat or her final sacrifice of following her perception of Christ’s giving his life for the good
of mankind. Having had several mystical, religious experiences including believing that Christ
had spoken to her, she finally passed away during World War II while in the midst of a hunger
strike. She also had tuberculosis which, of course, complicated her health status. Following her
death at the age of 34 in 1934 (and her sparsely attended funeral—only seven people were
there), her writings were found at Oxford University where she had been teaching philosophy.
She had been rejected by the French Resistance for whom her zealousness posed a dangerous threat of exposure. She subsequently returned to England and Oxford where the French urged her to create a vision of the potential of post-war France. Considered a saint by many and unhinged by others (DeGaulle publicly called her “crazy” while extolling her intellectual brilliance), Weil launched the aforementioned hunger strike on behalf of the children of France who were struggling to survive during wartime which led to her death. When her writings were published she became an icon. No matter what one thinks of her philosophies, one has to admire the altruistic positivism and love that pours out of Weil on behalf of all humanity.

Our production takes the position that the soprano soloist is André Weil, Simone’s older and
much beloved brother, a world renowned mathematician. André, with the help of a group of
performers who don various characters (mother, father, mourners, factory workers, French
resistance fighters) tries desperately to understand Simone’s choice of self-sacrifice while
seemingly not thinking of her family throughout. André accepts that it is enough to love Simone and perhaps recognizes that she was genuinely great, a visionary in a self-obsessed world bent
on destruction. Surely, this is a parable for our times.

Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s joint opera score, The Juniper Tree, is based on an 1813
Grimm Brothers fairy tale. The story is, on the surface, a relatively simple one. A stepmother,
jealous of her stepson’s resemblance to his deceased mother, irrationally decides to murder the
boy and blame her daughter for the crime. Mayhem ensues and the stepmother, consumed by
guilt, is ultimately killed by a beautiful bird. The son then comes back to life and father, daughter, and son are reunited. The challenge for us is to not make the characters in the piece simply one dimensional icons of good or evil but to find the second and third dimensions of the
characters while still paying tribute to the magical origin of the fairy tale. As on La Passion de
, the piece begins in the forties and extends into the late 1950s, an era of deep
psychological searching for meaning in a world torn apart by war and its aftermath. Is the stepmother merely a villain or a person trying to accept the stepson as her own while wanting
parity for her daughter. Where is the father in all of this? Is he so broken by the death of his wife

and does he rely on his second wife to raise the children while he seems to be gone more and
more, escaping into the forest to hunt and ignore his pain and responsibilities? I have tried to
put a somewhat positive spin on the ending of the piece while not ignoring the dark overtones
inherent in it.

Thank you so much for joining us on this evening of thought-provoking, thrilling adventure and
experimentation. As someone who began his adult professional theatrical career off-off Broadway in experimental spaces in New York City before moving on to large international
opera-theatres, I am inspired by returning to one of the most creative times of my artistic life. I
hope the risks taken in our new space will inspire you to return again and if so moved, to
donate to much needed funding to transform this space into a permanent experimental theatre
for our young artists to grow and thrive in. New, challenging works on non-traditional spaces
are the waive of the present and future of our business and our young artists having this space
to perform and take risks in is a must.

-Ken Cazan

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