Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cesária “Cize” Évora: Voz d'Amor


Cesária Évora
(1941- 2011)
Image courtesy of: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/

Widely acclaimed as one of the most influential, beloved and recognized voices in the musical genre known as "World Music," the woman who is simply known to family and friends as "Cize" and  - due to her penchant for performing barefoot on stage - dubbed as the "Barefoot Diva" by the world's press and  legions of her fans globally, was born Cesária Évora on August 27th, 1941, in the port town of Mindelo on the island of São Vicente (one of the ten-island windswept archipelago that form Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean, 570 miles west of the African coast of Senegal).

Isolated from the rest of West Africa by the Atlantic, the volcanic islands of Cape Verde - Cabo Verde - were colonized by the Portuguese in the fifteenth-century (around 1456) and their population remains an amalgamation of Portuguese and African heritage. That fusion of African-European culture is discernible in the local music known as mornas (mournful songs). Mornas are a blend of African blues and Portuguese fado, a soulful genre sung in Creole-Portuguese. And it is in this category of music, morna - accompanied by the acoustic sounds of guitar, cavaquinho, violin, accordion, and the clarinet -  that Cesária began to sing more than forty-five years ago; morna is the genre with which she is most closely identified - its sentimental folk tunes steeped in sadness and longing.
(Sources: lonelyplanet.com, 2011; africanmusic.org, 1998; nationsonline.org, 2011)

Although Cesária's destiny - and voice - would eventually lead her to great fame and fortune, life began in what can only be described as abject poverty: her mother worked as a local cook while her father, who died shortly after Cesária reached her seventh birthday, earned  his  living as a violinist; as she admitted years later, alcoholism was the likely cause of her father's death. After her father's passing, her mother, destitute and unable to properly provide for her daughter, made the painful decision  to  surrender Cesária to an orphanage. It was at the orphanage that the young Cesária began her first foray into music by singing in the orphanage choir. (Sources: africanmusic.org, 1998; rfimusic.com, 2010)

Cesária remained at the orphanage until the age of thirteen. Three years later, Cesária met and fell in love with Eduardo - a sailor - who, after Gregorio Gonsalves, was the second person to teach her the traditional coladeras (catchy songs with an upbeat tempo) and mornas (commonly referred to as Cape Verdean “national blues” that have been passed down through the generations from enslaved ancestors) of her homeland. Cape Verde, still a Portuguese colony in those years, had a thriving music scene which inspired many local musicians and singers, including Cesária. She soon launched her own singing career, performing in the local bars of Mindelo such as the famous Calypso and the Café Royal. Frequenting Mindelo's bars, the young Cesária honed and expanded her repertoire by befriending and associating with local musicians, performing for a few escudos or a couple of drinks. As her reputation on the local music scene grew, Cesária burgeoned into a national star. (Souce: rfimusic.com, 2010)

(Aged just twenty, she was already singing of romantic disappointments and the remoteness of the Cape Verde islands, expressing a remarkable melancholy that is illustrated by recordings made at the time and reissued at the end of 2008 on “Radio Mindelo.”) (Source: cesaria-evora.com, 2009)

As has already been mentioned, at the time of Cesária's appearance in Mindelo's bars, Cape Verde was still a Portuguese colony and its thriving, vibrant music scene with local musicians performing coladeras and mornas, inspired the young Cesária. By 1973, the year when Cape Verde “lost its national hero Amilcar Cabral when the famous revolutionary and morna composer was victim of a political assassination.” By then, Cesária was “well on the way to replacing Cabral as the islands' national heroine. Thanks to constant touring on the piano-bar circuit and several singles which had proved extremely popular on national radio, Cesária's charisma was beginning to win her a committed following of fans.” (Two years later, in 1975, Cape Verde finally gained its independence from Portugal.)

However, in spite of the fact that Cesária's talent began to be noticed by critics and her career was helped along by several well-placed acquaintances, Cesária never strayed away from her roots. “Poverty and alcohol were what Cesaria knew best and her songs continued to revolve around the eternal themes of suffering, melancholy and exile.” And, as half-a-million of the islands' inhabitants (over 50% of the population) were living in exile abroad - many of them in Portugal where Cesaria's career would soar in a few years - it was the theme of 'exile' in particular that struck a chord with Cape Verdean music fans.

But aside from her successful achievements and ascending star, Cesária struggled in the early days of her career and actually abandoned her music for ten years. This lost decade appears to have been largely spent “drowning her sorrows and failed love affairs in drink,” delving into the depths of “sodade” (the nostalgia for lost love and exile). To all intents and purposes, at this nadir of her career it seemed that Cesária faced a bleak and impoverished future, not far from a tragically hopeless one. Cesária's destiny, however, had not given up on her - even if she had; the future of her musical career, as it turned out, lay in a completely different direction altogether. (Quotes & source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Image courtesy of: http://cartveli.blogspot.com

In 1985, ten years after her hiatus, Cesária resumed her singing career, mainly due to another legendary figure of Cape Verdean music exiled in Portugal, Bana. It was also due to Bana's efforts that, at the behest of a local women's association in Lisbon, Cesária was invited to perform a series of concerts in the Portuguese capital; while in Lisbon, the association made it possible for her to stay and record her debut album. And although the sales of this first album were modest, Cesária's sojourn in Lisbon proved to be a turning-point in her resumed career: while recording and performing in Lisbon, she met José Da Silva, “the man who not only became her producer but also her personal mentor.”
(Quote & source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

It was Da Silva, a young Frenchman with Cape Verdean roots who had formerly worked as a pointsman on the French railways, who, in 1988, persuaded Cesária to go to Paris and record a new album, “La Diva Aux Pieds Nus” (The Barefoot Diva). This pivotal album, which featured a mix of coladera and zouk rhythms, was instrumental in launching Cesária's career in France and the “Barefoot Diva” went on to perform her first Parisian concert - two years later in 1990 - at the legendary New Morning. Cesária soon found herself back in the studio, recording her second album, “Distino Di Belita” which introduced listeners to a mix of haunting acoustic mornas and jazzed-up electric coladeras. Both albums, “La Diva Aux Pieds Nus” and “Distino Di Belita,” won instant acclaim for their arrangements, which  were largely due to the work of Cesária's artistic director, the renowned composer Paulino Vieira. The modern renditions of these albums seemed to breath new life into traditional Cape Verdean rhythms and Cesária's music found instant rapport with Cape Verdean expatriats around the world.

Her next album, “Mar Azul” (1991) was Cesária's first entirely acoustic album. As with her previous albums, “Mar Azul” was an instant success, winning rave reviews in the international press in the process. Success was topped by success: “Miss Perfumado,” released in 1992, was a huge sensation in Europe, selling over 300,000 copies and, in 1993, after appearing for the first time at the legendary L'Olympia in Paris, Cesária embarked on an international tour. Then, another turning-point in Cesária's career - and personal life - came in 1994 when she signed with a major record label, BMG, and issued a compilation of her greatest hits entitled, “Sodade, Les Plus Belles Mornas De Cesária” (1994). It was also in 1994 that Cesária resolved to abstain from alcohol altogether. Simply entitled “Cesária Évora” (1995), her next album, proved to be an international success, reaching gold status in France and earning Cesária her first Grammy Award nomination in the United States. Acquiescing to demand, Cesária toured America for the first time in 1995; in 1996, with the release of a live album, “Cesária Évora À l'Olympia,” she played one hundred concerts on a tour that included Europe, America, Asia and Africa. (Source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Image courtesy of: http://www.guardian.co.uk

Paulino Vieira was replaced by Rufino Almeida, a talented young guitarist (better known on the music scene as “Bau”), as Cesária's artistic director. Cesária's third American tour followed, in 1997, on the heel of her newly-released album, “Cabo Verde” (1997). 1998 saw Cesária back on the charts again with another compilation of her greatest hits, Best of Cesária Évora,” an album composed, for the most part, by the composer B. Leza (the man responsible for catapulting the morna to fame in the 1950s) (Cesária also favoured the composers Manuel de Novas and Teofilo Chantre.)

Café Atlantico” was released in 1999, an album that was recorded in Havana, Cuba, with a group of Cuban and Brazilian musicians. And even though “Café Atlantico” has a decidedly Cuban/Brazilian feel to it, Cesária remained faithful to her Cape Verdean morna. Towards the end of 1999 (December 7th-10th), Cesária ended her album tour with live performances at L'Olympia in Paris. By the spring of 2000, when sales of “Café Atlantico” had reached 150,000 copies sold (a year later, French sales had doubled to 300,000 copies by the beginning of 2001), Cesária set off on yet another international tour. Once she ended her tour, Cesária returned to a studio, this time in Paris and, with her musicians, worked on a new album. Released in March of 2001, “São Vicente Di Longe” was named after the island where Cesaria was born. (While a few of the tracks on “São Vicente Di Longe” were recorded in Cuba, another, “Regresso,” was recorded in Brazil at the famous Caetano Veloso. All in all, Cesária collaborated with no less than sixty musicians, producers and engineers to create “São Vicente Di Longe.”)

Cesária returned to France in 2001 to perform to a sell-out audience at Le Zénith in Paris on April the 28th. Her show featured a special line-up of Cape Verdean guest stars including Teofilo Chantre, clarinet-player Luis Morais and the singer Fantcha. Several days later, on May 9th, Cesária embarked upon a mini-tour of France, performing a few shows in various cities. By the end of 2001, her album, “São Vicente Di Longe,” had successfully sold 150,000 copies in France with an additional 320,000 in the U.S. (In the spring of 2002, Cesária toured extensively throughout Europe, beginning her tour in France.)

2003 found Cesária contributing a track to “Drop the Debt,” a compilation album featuring international stars who supported the idea of abolishing the debt crippling developing countries. Then in June of that year, Cesária released “Club Sodade,” a dance album that introduced Cesária's music to the club-going public by featuring eleven tracks remixed by popular disc-jockeys. In July of 2003, Cesária was called to Lisbon, Portugal, where she was appointed to the position of official ambassadress of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Later that year, Cesária secluded herself for six weeks in a villa in Montreuil - a suburb of Paris - to work on her ninth album, “Voz d'Amor” (2003). This fourteen-track album proved to be an international triumph; by November of 2003, “Voz d'Amor” was number 4 on the American World Music charts and winning two major awards: a prestigious Grammy Award in the U.S. (February 2004) and a Victoire de la Musique award in France. Later in 2004, Cesária was honoured by the French government when Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the French Culture Minister, made her an “Officier des Arts et des Lettres.” (Source:  rfimusic.com, 2010)

(Photograph by Bruno Bollaert)
Image courtesy of: http://www.gentblogt.be/

Recorded in studios between Mindelo, Paris and Rio de Janeiro in 2005, “Rogamar” (which translates into “pray to the sea”), a fifteen-track album, was released in March 2006 and produced by Fernando Andrade (Cesária's pianist since 1999). The majority of the compositions on this album were written by Manuel de Novas and Theofilo Chantre. In order to promote her new album, Cesária simultaneously began an extensive North American tour of Canada and the United States (from March 11th to April 13th, 2006); European dates also followed, appearing at L'Olympia once again, the legendary Paris venue, in the autumn of 2006 for three concerts in November. Then, at the end of February 2008, while on tour in Australia, Cesária suffered a minor stroke after performing at the Sydney Opera House and her tour had to be terminated in March. She was subsequently flown to France for medical treatment. (Source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Sometime in 2008, a series of forgotten  recordings were unearthed from the archives of Radio Barlavento by Gustavo Albuquerque, a former sound engineer. (Albuquerque happened to be reminiscing about the good old days of the Cape Verdean radio station when he remembered that Cesária had made a series of recordings for Barlavento at the start of the 1960s.) The find, twenty-two previously unreleased tracks (recorded during sessions for the local radio station in Mindelo) documented the genesis of Cesária's first tentative steps towards her singing career. Half of the songs on the album, entitled “Radio Mindelo” (released in December 2008), were written by the virtuoso Cape Verdean guitarist Gregorio Gonçalves. (Sources: rfimusic.com, 2010; calabash.typepad.com, 2009)

Early in 2009, four years after being made “Officier des Arts et des Lettres,”  Cape Verde's national and international star, Cesária Evora,  received one of France's most prestigious and highest honours: on February 9th, the French Culture Minister, Christine Albanel, presented the singer with the Légion d'Honneur. In October of that year, 2009, sixty-eight-year-old Cesária released her eleventh recorded album: “Nha Sentimiento.” The album, recorded in Paris and São Vincente in Cape Verde while Cesária was still recovering from her stroke, included more up-beat coladeiras than the usual melancholic mornas. This new production explored a Middle-Eastern influence in the form of Egyptian strings played by Fathy Salama’s Cairo Orchestra on three tracks (“Sentimento,” “Mam’Bia,” “E So Mi”) as well as the Latino accordion sounds of Colombian Henry Ortiz on “Ligereza.” (Source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Indefatigable as ever, Cesária launched the “Nha Sentimiento” tour at the Grand Rex in Paris on the 9th and 10th of November, 2009. It then travelled to Geneva, Zurich, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem until the end of the year. A new world tour - the first major set of concerts since Cesária suffered a stroke back in 2008 - was scheduled for 2010. Then a year ago, shortly after appearing in London and while on tour in Lisbon, Portugal, Cesária suffered a “coronary problem” and had to be rushed to Paris where she underwent an emergency open-heart surgery on Monday, the 10th of May. Following the six-hour surgery, she was placed in intensive care and regained consciousness the following morning, Tuesday the 11th. The operation was a success; however, the rest of the European dates scheduled for the month of May had to be cancelled. She was also forced to cancel the remainder of her 2010 concert series which included a North American tour and late summer visits to China, Brazil and Tunisia. Cesária was obliged to rest till the end of 2010.
(Sources: rfimusic.com, 2010; Michaels, S., guardian.co.uk, May 12, 2010)

Image courtesy of: http://www.tropical-music.de/

Addendum: Towards the end of September 2011, it was announced that Cesária, on the medical adviced of her doctors, would be cancelling the remainder of her performance dates due to illness; the singer had been in declining health and suffering from serious issues for the past few years. It was a difficult joint decision for the singer and her manager, José Da Silva, but their record label, Productions LUSAFRICA, made the announcement of Évora's retirement - which essentially brought her career to an end - on the 23rd of September. In an interview with the French newspaper, Le Monde, Cesária apologized to her fans saying that she no longer had the energy and explained her need for rest: I infinitely regret having had to absent myself because of illness – I would have liked to keep giving pleasure to those who've followed me so long.” (Source & quote: Tilden, I., guardian.co.uk, Friday, 23 September, 2011)

On December 17th, 2011, Cesária “Cize” Évora passed away in a hospital in her native homeland, Cape Verde. Her death was announced by the Minister of Culture; she was seventy. (Source: france24.com, Saturday, 17 December, 2011)

Video courtesy of: chipsychaps

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The above nine videos are all courtesy of youtube.com

Image courtesy of: http://biletleader.ru/ 


  • Distino Di Belita (1990)
  • Mar Azul (1991)
  • Miss Perfumado (1992)
  • Sodade, Les Plus Belles Mornas De Cesária (1994)
  • Cesária Évora (1995)
  • Cesária Évora À l'Olympia [live album] (1996)
  • Cabo Verde (1997)
  • Best of Cesária [compilation] (1998)
  • La Diva Aux Pieds Nus (1998)
  • Café Atlantico (1999)
  • São Vicente Di Longe (2001)
  • Anthologie: Mornas e Coladeras (2002)
  • Voz D'Amor (2003)
  • Rogamar (2006)
  • Radio Mindelo (2008)
  • Nha Sentimento (2009)
  • Cesária Évora &... (2010)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Oceans Alive

Image courtesy of: http://www.noaa.gov/

No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”
~ Jacques-Yves Cousteau 

Covering nearly 140 million square miles (362 million square kilometers), the world's oceanic surface is vast and vastly deep: the world's oceans comprise close to three-quarters of the Earth's surface, between 71% and 72%. At its deepest point, the Marina Trench  in the Western Pacific, the ocean reaches down to a depth of 36, 198 feet or 11,033 meters. Ours is more of a watery rather than a terrestrial planet. Water is the source of all life on Earth; without water, life is unsustainable. (Source: savethesea.org, undated)

Today, more than ever, the state of the world's oceans and seas are, like the state of the Earth's forests and atmosphere, a clear reflection - a barometer - of the planet's overall environmental health. And also more than ever, sensitivity towards the limits of the oceans' seemingly infinite resources requires a new awareness that, like everything else, our oceans' resources are, in fact, finite. As the dominant - and most numerous - species on the planet, what we do inevitably impacts everything else around us, including the other species who share out world; at this moment in time, ocean conservancy and protection are critical.  

And part of that protection involves controlling the amount of harmful pollutants that find their way into the world's rivers, seas, and oceans. Not surprisingly, one of the most abundant pollutants adversely affecting the health of our oceans are plastics - that common material of everyday life. For instance, in 2010, "water samples were taken from the top 20 centimeters of water in the northwestern part of the Mediterranean, mainly off France and Italy, and analyzed by Pasquale Paoli University in Corsica and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Ninety percent of the samples contained microplasticsparticles smaller than 5 millimeterswith some containing up to six times more micro-fragments than organic plankton. In general, micro debris floating in the sea surface reached 115,000 particles per square kilometer with a maximum of 892,000 particles/km2."
(Quote: The Cousteau Society, cousteau.org, 2011)

For their part, the world's oceans play a key role in the functioning of our planet: the oceans are instrumental in creating more than half of our oxygen, driving weather systems and modulating the atmosphere, not to mention providing the world's growing populations with vital resources (careless overfishing is another stressor and a contributing factor - along with pollution - to the decline our oceans' health); in other words, the oceans help to maintain life on Earth. And although the extent of the damage to the world's oceans is not as readily apparent as it is on land, it is just as grave. "The situation is now so severe that we are altering the chemistry of the Ocean, with significant impacts on marine life and the functioning of marine ecosystems. The Ocean has already absorbed more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system and around 33% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans. Ecosystems are collapsing as species are pushed to extinction and natural habitats are destroyed. Scientists believe that there is still time to prevent irreversible, catastrophic changes to our marine ecosystems but that this requires drastic action within a decade."
(Source & quote: stateoftheocean.org, 2010)


Video courtesy of: adosig ~ YouTube

Video courtesy of: Netikras Nevardas ~ YouTube

Video courtesy of: BBCWorldwideTV ~ YouTube

As dire as things may appear to be, there is hope - thanks to organizations and individuals who take an active role in the protection and conservation of our oceans. The best response, the best antidote to the state of today's oceans is to take initiative - and to educate oneself as well as others on the importance of our oceans to the overall health of our blue planet.

An annual global event which takes place every June 8th, World Oceans Day is a worldwide celebration that is now recognized by the United Nations and celebrated in dozens of countries.

To find out how you can take an active part in the health and well-being of the world's oceans, please visit The Ocean Project, an organization which aims to advance "ocean conservation in partnership with zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs) around the world." (Source: theoceanproject.org, 2009)

You may also link in to the suggested sites below and take further action.

Suggested sites to visit:

Friday, 13 May 2011

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Le Musicien du Soleil

Jean-Baptiste Lully
Image courtesy of: https://jspivey.wikispaces.com

If the fantastic life and reign of Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) were to be staged as a play, or even as a cinematic film, then its chosen musical conductor would, undoubtedly, be none other than Jean-Baptiste Lully, the king's favourite composer. It was Lully who created the music for the divertissements that so amused and beguiled the king and his court; Lully's music defined Louis' reign. In essence, it was Lully who provided the musical score that set the tone and tempo by which the glittering court of the Sun King danced in step around the king's person - much as the planets, in their turn, revolve around the sun, the stellar centre of the Solar System. (In 1653, the teen-aged Louis danced the central role of the Sun in a production of Isaac Benserade's (1613-1691) Ballet de la Nuit, a production in which the young Lully also performed; later, Louis adopted the persona and sobriquet of the "Sun King," derived from his performance in this particular ballet.)
(Sources: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008; openlibrary.org, undated)

Louis XIV in his seminal role of Apollo in Ballet de la Nuit ~ 1653
(Gouache sketch by Henri Gissey)
Bibliothèque Nationale - Paris, France
Image courtesy of: http://www.friendsofart.net/


It is ironic that the Compositeur de la Musique Instrumentale to the French court of one of Europe's greatest monarchs, Louis XIV, was not a Frenchman born in France but rather, an Italian. The man who would  be the first composer to establish and define the generic conventions of  what would, intrinsically, become French opera in the France of the 17th Century and rise to the position of the most important composer of the French Baroque was born in Florence, Italy, in the same year as John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, Jan Vermeer, and Christopher Wren, on 29th November, 1632.

In Italy, where opera began as a new musical genre, the earliest operatic works took their subjects and themes from well-known Greek mythologies such as that of Orpheus and Eurydice or Daphne and Apollo. So popular was the new genre that, in 1638, just a few years after the birth of Lulli, the first public opera house, Teatro San Cassiano, opened its doors in Venice. Opera soon became one of Italy's main exports to the rest of Continental Europe as it took root in other European centres. (Source: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008)


J. Bapt. Lully Surintendant de la Musique du Roy ~ Paris, 1695
(From Figures du règne de Louis XIV by Henri Bonnart)

The son of a miller, Lorenzo di Maldo Lulli, and his wife, Caterina del Sera, herself a miller's daughter, Giovanni Battista Lulli grew up surrounded by Italian opera from childhood. In March 1646 and at age of fourteen, he arrived in Paris as part of the entourage of  Roger de Lorraine, Le Chevalier de Guise. Lulli was brought along as a garçon de chambre for de Guise's niece, La Grande Mademoiselle de Montpensier (1627-1693) (formally known as Anne-Maire-Louise d'Orléans, Duchesse de Montpensier, she was the eldest daughter of the cousin of Louis XIV, Gaston, Duc d'Orléans, and his first wife, Marie de Bourbon), who had requested that her uncle provide her with someone with whom to practice her Italian language skills. (To better integrate into French society and to gain favor with his new French employers Lulli altered - or, rather, Frenchified - the spelling of his name; the young and newly renamed Jean-Baptiste Lully quickly rose through Parisian society.) Lully spent six years in Mlle. de Montpensier's household. Already an experienced guitarist and violinist, it was during his time with Mlle. de Montpensier that Lully honed his performance and compositional skills. It must be mentioned that Lully, aside from his talents and musical aptitude, was also an accomplished dancer in some of the court ballets. (Sources: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008; britannica.com, 2011)

Anne-Maire-Louise d'Orléans, Duchesse de Montpensier ~ ( La Grande Mademoiselle de Montpensier)
Musée National du Château de Versailles et du Trianon
Photograph courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux
Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/


Like the cyclical phases of the moon, in 1652, while the fortunes of Mlle. de Montpensier waned, Lully's waxed. Thanks mainly in part to the scheming of Mlle. de Montpensier and her treacherous involvement in what came to be known as La Fronde (a series of civil wars in France between 1648 and 1653 which occurred during the minority of Louis XIV) - she was banished to her Château at Saint-Fargeau after the defeat of the Frondists; her exile was to last for a few years until the king eventually relented and allowed her back at court in 1657 -  Lully requested to be released from de Montpensier's service. Having returned to Paris, Lully took a position in Louis XIV's court - the most sophisticated, decadent and, some may even venture to conclude, corrupted royal court in all of Europe - where he distinguished himself as a violinist and dancer. Three months after leaving Mlle. de Montpensier's service, on February 23, 1653, Lully danced several parts in Isaac Benserade's pivotal Ballet de la Nuit at court, alongside the young Louis XIV. Apparently the young Louis was impressed by the also-young composer; so  much so that, a few weeks later, Lully replaced  another Italian composer at court, Lazarini, as compositeur de la musique instrumentale.

As the king's "Composer of Instrumental Music," Lully duly composed court ballets in collaboration with Isaac de Benserade - including a ballet performed at Louis' wedding on June 3rd, 1660, to his cousin, the Infanta Marie-Thérèse of Spain. (As with many royal marriages, particularly in those times, the wedding of Louis and  Marie-Thérèse - formerly known as Maria-Theresa - was, in fact, a strategically political alliance between two nations: in this case, Spain and France.) For the royal wedding celebrations, another Italian (Cavalli) provided an opera, Serse, while Lully included his own ballets to give the work an appropriately French character. It would be another thirteen years before Paris saw the first French opera - Lully's Cadmus et Hermione. (Source: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008)


Image courtesy of: http://st-listas.20minutos.es/

At first, Lully, as Compositeur de la Musique Instrumentale, was only responsible for instrumental music - it was, after all, as a composer of court ballets (ballets de cour) that Lully's position was entitled to him by Louis and in which ballets he came in close proximity to the person of the king as he danced together with him and other members of the royal court - but he soon rose in importance and position to compose and choreograph entire ballets. Then, at some point  prior to 1656, Lully became in charge of the string ensemble known as Les Petits Violons. Under Lully's direction, Les Petits Violons were transformed into the most disciplined group of instrumentalists in all of France and they became renowned for their artistic excellence and discipline.

During the 1660s, Lully's star - and influence - rose even higher still. In 1661, Lully finally became a Frenchman when he received his French citizenship. It is said that, in his letters of naturalization, Lully re-wrote his own history: he began by officially changing his name from the Italian Lulli to the more acceptably French, Lully. He also elevated his father's modest position (from that of a miller) to the more appropriate and worldly "gentilhomme Florentin" - a Florentine gentleman. That same year, 1661, Lully was appointed to the position - and  lengthy title - of, "Surintendant et Compositeur de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi" ("Superintendent and Composer of Music of the King's Bedchamber."). One year later he was endowed with the title of "Maître de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi" ("Master of Music of the King's Bedchamber") which granted him the honour of coming into regular contact with the king. Also in 1662, he married Madeleine Lambert, daughter of the composer Michel Lambert. The marriage contract was signed by no less an illustrious personage than Louis XIV himself; Queen Marie-Thérèse and the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, were also witnesses.

Between 1664 and 1670, Lully collaborated on a series of comédies-ballets with the playwright Molière. This new genre (comédies-ballets), which combined spoken comic dialogue with singing and dancing, were the beginnings of  indigenous French opera. By the end of the decade, the librettist Pierre Perrin (1620-1675) and Robert Cambert (ca. 1627 or 1628-1677), musician and first composer of French opera, were given royal permission (or "privilège") to found the Académie Royale de Musique and staged the first two French operas (or pastorales) set by Cambert and which were performed in Paris. Although the company went bankrupt three years later and Perrin found himself imprisoned for debt, Lully was shrewed enough to realize the possibilities of French opera and persuaded the king to transfer the royal permission to himself, which he purchased. (Sources: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008; britannica.com, 2011)


Portrait bust of Jean-Baptiste Lully
(Sculpted by Antoine Coysevox)

With the exception of the year 1681, every year for about fourteen years, from 1673 to 1687 (the year of his death), Lully produced a new opera every year. Lully's operas, called tragédie lyriques, based heavily on spoken tragedy, borrowed several of their conventions: "a five-act structure, a reliance on mythological subject matter, and "heroic" characters who resolve their situations through discussions with minor characters." (For his librettist, Lully chose the poet and dramatist Philippe Quinault (1635-1688). The first tragédie lyrique on which both composer and librettist collaborated, Cadmus et Hermione, was performed on April 27th, 1673. So influential was this form of the tragédie lyrique, which Lully created with Quinault, that it remained the dominant form in French opera for a century after Lully's death.)

However, French tragédies of popular writers such as Molière, Racine, or Corneille were centered around moral or philosophical issues, such as man's inability to escape his destiny or fateful vengeance, and were not conducive to the inclusion of the dramatic elements demanded and expected by audiences: "machines, scene transformations, battles with triumphant marches and casts of thousands, and ballet divertissements. It was the genius of Philippe Quinault, Lully's principal librettist, that slowed down the action and distilled it to one or two main characters, usually in the form of a love triangle (or quadrangle): A loves (and is loved by) B.  C loves A.  C banished B to win A.  A defeats C and is reunited with B." Most of the operas written and performed were paeans, or hymnal praises, meant to laud the greatness of monarchical power - as well as the beneficence - of  Louis XIV. The prologues regularly allude to triumphant battles and captured territories, or the clemency of the great ruler over his enemies.

Similarly, veiled references were made to the power struggles which inevitably took place between whichever reigning  king's mistress of the moment happened to be - there were several mistresses who ascended to the highly-sought-after position of  maîtresse-en-titre, or "king's favourite," and who bore the king quite a few children; those children who survived into adulthood were later legitimised by the king and ennobled - and the long-suffering Queen Marie-Thérèse; those courtly struggles, between mistresses and queen, were represented by similar antagonisms - on stage - between nubile nymphs and the irate jealousy of the goddess Juno, all in competition for the attentions of Jove. (Source & quotes: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008)


The Family of Louis XIV
Louis and his family represented as Olympian gods and goddesses
(Painting by Jean Nocret ~ 1670, Château de Versailles)
Image courtesy of: http://tr.wikipedia.org/

Lully's control and influence extended far beyond the major  musical compositions he wrote and produced once a year. He exerted control over every aspect of the operatic vehicle and collaborated with various poets in the production of libretti, on which he had the final say. He also took an active interest in the training, singing and musicianship of the performers in his productions, whom he forbade from engaging in lavish ornamentation. As well, he dictated the means of declamation and gesture in acting, and choreographed a number of the dances.  "His insistence on discipline, high artistic standards, and ensemble unity in the opera orchestra was legendary." In the modern vernacular, Jean-Baptiste Lully would be labelled a perfectionist who liked to control every aspect of his productions. 
In 1681, Lully was able to purchase for himself the office of "Secretary to the King," thus elevating him not only to noble rank but also, through their many years of association, to one of the king's closest companions. From that time on, he signed his name as "de" Lully, and the title pages of his operas proclaimed his full rank to the world: "Monsieur de Lully, escuyer, conseiller, Secrétaire du Roy, Maison, Couronne de France & de ses Finances, & Sur-Intendant de la Musique de sa Majesté" ("Monsieur de Lully, esquire, adviser, Secretary of the King, House, Crown of France & of its Finances, and Superintendent of the Music of his Majesty"). (Source & quotes: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008)
Video courtesy of: 


A few years after his elevation to the rank of "Secretary to the King," Lully conducted a performance of his sacred Te Deum (in celebration and thanksgiving for the king's recovery from a successfully performed operation  for an anal fistula) on January 8th, 1687. During the Te Deum, while beating time on the floor with a cane (as was the French manner of conducting), Lully struck and injured one of his toes. "In what remains one of the more legendary and bizarre deaths in music history, the toe wound developed an abscess, gangrene set in, and the composer died shortly after on March 22, 1687," at the age of fifty-four.
Lully's legacy to the tragédie lyrique will always remain his innovative setting of French text - instead of Italian, as was the tradition - to music. Lully's operas remained in the Parisian repertoire a hundred years after they were first performed. Their popularity caused much distress - and opposing camps - when the new operas of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) premiered and a querelle broke out between the "Lullists" and "Ramists."  "Though they remained historically important during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries," as Andrew Justice from the University of North Texas writes, "Lully's operas have fueled a revival of French baroque music and, along with the operas of Rameau and Christoph Willibald Gluck, are being reprised and recorded today." (Source & quotes: Justice, A., library.unt.edu, 2008)
Through such recordings, two worlds, separated  by the gap of centuries, are bridged: the sounds that permeated and amused the dazzling court of Versailles, dominated by its radiant Sun king, live once more.


The above two videos are courtesy of:



The above two videos are courtesy of:



The above three videos are courtesy of: ~ all videos are from youtube.com

Louis the Great in all his monarchical magnificence
Portrait bust of Louis XIV of France
(Sculpted by Gian-Lorenzo Bernini ~ 1665)
Image courtesy of: http://www.lib-art.com

Suggested readings:

Jean-Baptiste Lully and the music of the French Baroque (1989), by James R. Anthony & John Hajdu Heyer: Cambridge University Press

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1990), by Jérôme de La Gorce: Laaber-Verlag

Lully Studies (2000), by John Hajdu Heyer: Cambridge University Press

Music And Theatre In France: 1600-1680 (2000), by John S. Powell: Oxford University Press

Theatre Under Louis XIV: Cross-Casting and the Performance of Gender in Drama, Ballet and Opera (2006), by Julia Prest: Palgrave Macmillan

Jean-Baptiste Lully (2008), by Vincent Borel: Actes Sud

The Triumph of Pleasure: Louis XIV & the Politics of Spectacle (2008), by Georgia Cowart: University of Chicago Press

Monday, 9 May 2011

Savagely Beautiful: Alexander McQueen At The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Finale dress ~ (Autumn/Winter 2004-2005 collection)
Image courtesy of: http://www.newfashionnews.com/

The exhibit Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which chronicles the late designer's short but spectacular design career before his tragic suicide on February 11th, 2010 - on the eve of his mother's funeral - opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4th, preceded by a gala opening, held the night before, on May 3rd. The show traces the designer's career from his noteworthy 1992 graduation collection from Central Saint Martin's in London, right through to his Spring/Summer 2010 Plato's Atlantis collection - the last fully realised collection McQueen presented before his demise - and into the exquisite but unfinished Angels and Demons studio collection for Autumn/Winter 2010-2011 which Sarah Burton, who worked by McQueen's side for many years, completed and showed in Paris.

Scarlet silk satin coat; dress of ivory silk chiffon embroidered with crystal beads
(From the Autumn/Winter 2008–2009 The Girl Who Lived In The Tree Collection)
(Photograph by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above image is courtesy of: http://blog.metmuseum.org/

(The Plato's Atlantis collection was “streamed live on Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.com in an attempt to make fashion into an interactive dialogue between creator and consumer. In Plato’s Atlantis, the Sublime of nature was paralleled and supplanted by that of technology — the extreme space-time compressions produced by the Internet. It was a powerful evocation of the Sublime and its coincident expression of the Romantic and the postmodern. At the same time, it was a potent vision of the future of fashion that reflected McQueen’s sweeping imagination.”) (Quote: Bolton, A., metmuseum.org, 2011)

A coat of duck feathers painted gold & a skirt of silk tulle embroidered with gold threads.
(The above photograph is by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The dress as seen on model Polina Kosina
(From the Autumn/Winter 2010-1011 Angels and Demons Collection)
The above two images are courtesy of:  http://www.nytimes.com/

Above left: Green & bronze cotton/synthetic lace
(From the Autumn/Winter 1995-1996 Highland Rape Collection)
Above right: White cotton muslin spray-painted black & yellow with underskirt of white synthetic tulle
(From the Spring/Summer 1999 No. 13 Collection)
Black parachute silk coat; black synthetic trousers; black silk satin hat by Philip Treacy
(From the Autumn/Winter 2002-2003 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Collection)
Above left: yellow glass beads and brown horsehair | Above right: black synthetic hair
(Both are from the Autumn/Winter 2000-2001 Eshu Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above five images are courtesy of: http://blog.metmuseum.org/

The gala opening of the new exhibition, hosted by Vogue editor-in-chief  Anna Wintour along with actress Salma Hayek and her husband, owner of the McQueen brand, François-Henri Pinault, follows on the heels of another coup for the House of McQueen: Catherine Middleton's bridal gown, designed by Sarah Burton, currently at the helm as McQueen's creative director. “When I saw her sitting in the car, I knew it was McQueen and for the first half hour I couldn’t stop crying — it brought home how much I miss him,” said  the late designer's sister, Janet McQueen. (Several members of McQueen's family were in attendance in New York for the opening of Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.) (Source & quote: Menkes, S., Alexander McQueen in All His Dark Glory, nytimes.com, May 2, 2011)

The "oyster" dress made of ivory silk organza, georgette & chiffon
(From the Spring/Summer 2003 Irere Collection)

Above left: overdress is cut from the panels of a 19th century Japanese screen. The under-dress is made of oyster shells
Above right: jacket of pink & gray bird’s-eye wool embroidered with silk thread; trousers of pink & gray bird’s-eye wool; hat of pink & gray bird’s-eye wool embroidered with silk thread & decorated with Amaranthus
(Both are from the Spring/Summer 2001 Voss Collection)

“Coiled” metal corset created by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen
(From the Autumn/Winter 1999–2000 The Overlook Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above four image are courtesy of: http://blog.metmuseum.org/

The exhibition, curated by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, begins with McQueen's forté and the foundation of his House: tailoring. The strength of McQueen's tailoring techniques, which underpinned and threaded their way through his entire career and which, by degrees, he improved and perfected through the years, was quite evident from his first creations from the designer’s 1992 graduation show at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. (That vanguard collection, inspired by Jack the Ripper, was bought, in its entirety, by the designer's muse, discoverer and friend, Isabella Blow, who, from the onset, intuitively recognized the rarity of McQueen's creative genius. Later, after Blow's own suicide in 2007, Isabella's extensive collection of McQueens was set to be auctioned off when Daphne Guinness intervened; she purchased the whole of Isabella's collection before it went under the auctioneer's gavel. On the night of the gala and as a live tribute to the designer, Ms. Guinness got dressed for the event in the store windows of Barneys New York: “I just did my noh theater thing,” she was quoted as saying.) (Quote: Horyn, C., At The Met Costume Gala, McQueen Reigns, nytimes.com, May 3, 2011)

Above left: razor-clam shells stripped & varnished
Above right: red and black ostrich feathers & red-painted glass medical slides
(Both ensembles are from the Spring/Summer 2001 Voss Collection)
Black leather dress; collar of red pheasant feathers & resin vulture skulls; black leather gloves
(From the Autumn/Winter 1997–1998 Eclect/Dissect Collection)
(Givenchy Haute Couture)

Above left: beige leather dress over a metal wire crinoline hoop
(From the Autumn/Winter 2000–2001 Eshu Collection)
Above right: black duck feathers
(From the Autumn/Winter 2009-2010 The Horn of Plenty Collection)
Above left: lilac leather and horsehair
(From the Spring/Summer 2005 It's Only A Game Collection)
Above right: corset of brown leather; skirt of cream silk lace; prosthetic legs of carved elm wood
(From the Spring/Summer 1999 No. 13 Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above seven images are courtesy of: http://blog.metmuseum.org/

Two of the earliest designs on display in the exhibition, jackets, were cut and sewn by Alexander McQueen and are the rarest pieces in the collection. (Among the backdrops for the variously-themed rooms or galleries of the exhibition - The Romantic Mind,  Romantic Gothic, Cabinet of Curiosities, Romantic Nationalism, Romantic ExoticismRomantic Primitivism, and Romantic Naturalism - designed by the McQueen production team of Joseph Bennett and Sam Gainsbury, are aged and gray-speckled, smoked mirrors; library walls reminiscent of  a grand old English country house; marquetry; rusty metal; a drawing created by McQueen that was blown-up and reproduced into wallpaper; and even a violently smashed wooden backdrop.) 

But in an exhibition charged throughout with the spirit of McQueen, the probable centerpiece of the show is likely to be  the Cabinet of Curiosities gallery, where wide boxed shelves contain  menacing and exotic accessories, including those of  Shaun Leane, the jewellery designer who collaborated closely with McQueen on some of the most unforgettable pieces of his collections; there are, as well, shoes and  headdresses from past shows. Above the cabinet displays, videos from  ten of McQueen's iconic runway presentations - which were often laden with  elements of Victorian Gothicism and Byronism - run ceaselessly. (Sources: Menkes, S., Alexander McQueen in All His Dark Glory, nytimes.com, May 2, 2011; Horyn, C., At The Met Costume Gala, McQueen Reigns, nytimes.com, May 3, 2011)

Above left: cream silk tulle & lace with resin antlers headdress
Above right: ruffled dress made entirely of pheasant feathers

Bias-cut McQueen wool tartan appliquéd with black cotton lace; underskirt of black synthetic tulle; faux jabot of black cotton with Broderie Anglaise

Dress of McQueen wool tartan; top of nude silk net appliquéd with black lace; underskirt of cream silk tulle
(The above four ensembles are from the Autumn/Winter 2006-2007 Widows of Culloden Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above four image are courtesy of: http://blog.metmuseum.org/

Image courtesy of: http://www.taranara.com/

Above left: dress, leggings & “Armadillo” boots embroidered with iridescent enamel paillettes
Above right: silk jacquard in a snake pattern embroidered with yellow enamel paillettes in a honeycomb pattern
(Both are from the Spring/Summer 2010 Plato's Atlantis Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Both images are courtesy of: http://blog.metmuseum.org/
Chiffon dresses from the Autumn/Winter 2010 Angels & Demons Collection 
Image courtesy of: The New York Review of Books

Also included in the show is a miniature version of the infamous Kate Moss hologram, the hauntingly beautiful and ghostly finale - which had originally been set to the evocative strains of John Williams's and Itzhak Perlman's theme song for the 1993 epic historical drama film, Schindler's List - from McQueen's Autumn/Winter 2006 Widows of Culloden collection in which the designer paid tribute to Moss in a show of support during a difficult time in her career when most other designers and sponsor companies bluntly rescinded their contracts in the face of  a public drug scandal - in an industry renowned for the prevalence of its substance abuses; it was an attitude that McQueen always felt to be hypocritical.

As Sarah Mower described  the show's finale in her 2006 editorial review for the fashion website style.com, “Only Alexander McQueen could provide the astonishing feat of techno-magic that ended his show. Inside an empty glass pyramid, a mysterious puff of white smoke appeared from nowhere and spun in midair, slowly resolving itself into the moving, twisting shape of a woman enveloped in the billowing folds of a white dress. It was Kate Moss, her blonde hair and pale arms trailing in a dream-like apparition of fragility and beauty that danced for a few seconds, then shrank and dematerialized into the ether. This vision was in fact a state-of-the-art hologram — a piece by the video maker Baillie Walsh, art-directed by McQueen.” (Quote: Mower, S., style.com, March 3, 2006)

Addendum: When the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition finally drew to a close on Sunday, August 7th, 2011, it set a new attendance record: 661,509 visitors came to view the show since its opening on May 4th, making it the eighth most attended exhibition on record at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surpassing  the Met's 2008 show, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, which attracted 576,000 visitors.
(Source: Wilson, E., On The Runway, runway.blogs.nytimes.com, August 8, 2011)

Kate Moss hologram ~ Autumn/Winter 2006
Image courtesy of: http://mercursenteret.no/

Video courtesy of:  ~ youtube.com

Video courtesy of:  ~ youtube.com
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art - 2011)

The Edgar Allan Poe of fashion
Image courtesy of: http://www.karinandraoul.com

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, from May 4th until August 7th, 2011:

Video courtesy of:  ~ youtube.com

Suggested readings:
Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation (2010), by Kristin Knox: A&C Black - Bloomsbury Press

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), by Andrew Bolton, Alexander McQueen, Tim Blanks & Sølve Sundsbø: Yale University Press
Love Looks Not With The Eyes: Thirteen Years With Lee Alexander McQueen (2012), by Anne Deniau: Harry N. Abrams

Alexander McQueen: Evolution (2012), by Katherine Gleason: Race Point Publishing

Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (2013), Judith Watt: HarperCollins

Alexander McQueen: Working Process - Photographs by Nick Waplington (2013), Alexander McQueen & Nick Waplington: Damiani Editore