It’s surprising what goes on in the seemingly sleepy world of the Charente in western France.
This weekend I took part in the Opera Ulysse. It involved pupils and their teachers from the Ecole de Musique, children drawn from many schools in the area and our own community choir Chantvallon, based in northern Charente. It all took place in “le Vingt-Sept” theatre in Rouillac, which if you’re unfamiliar with the town, is named after the renowned monthly market which takes place on the 27th of each month. The theatre is remarkable – not only because Rouillac is in fact quite a modest town to have such a place, but also because the facilities offered here would rival some of the regional theatres in Britain. The auditorium comfortably housed a full orchestra and an audience of around 700 proud parents and family friends. Two choirs remained on-stage throughout as the actors, soloists from the Conservatoire in Merignac and their supporting cast gave two wonderful performances of the 90 minute opera composed in 2010 by Laurent Jacquier.
Considering some of the musicians were as young as 12 years old, the standard of musicianship and discipline they demonstrated was really impressive. Thinking back to my school days (I admit to being one who should have perservered), nothing like this would ever have been possible and I found myself marvelling again at the French willingness and enthusiasm to try something on a big scale and to make it such a success.