The Hector Berlioz Website

Review

Le Concierge

By Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin

Thierry Rousselet : Le Concierge, Fantaisie dramatique
Musée Hector-Berlioz, 21 May 2016

The ‘dramatic fantasy’ Le Concierge [The Caretaker] was performed under the balcony in the garden at the rear of the Hector Berlioz Museum. The characters of the play are the composer (Hector Berlioz), Harriet his wife (Harriet Smithson), and the fictional caretaker Louis; there is also the eerie voice of the unseen wife of the caretaker, who believes she is none other than Ophelia. The three main characters were played respectively by Alain Servigne, Anne-Gaëlle Gernot and Raymond Jouvin.

The action is supposed to take place late in 1839 in Salle Herz in Paris; Berlioz, harassed and unwell, is trying hard to make extra copies of the orchestral parts of the Symphonie fantastique, which his copyist has failed to provide; he is preparing for a large-scale concert which is scheduled for the following week…

The story revolves around two interlocking themes: on the one hand the domestic tensions between Hector and Harriet, who is incensed that her husband, obsessed with his own music, has completely forgotten his promise to take her to the Opéra to see a performance of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. She rails at him; to make matters worse she has taken to drink and is visibly limping from a broken leg.

On the other hand, and this where the element of ‘dramatic fantasy’ comes to the fore, the caretaker of Salle Herz soon assumes an unexpected role in coming to the rescue of the overworked composer. At first he mistakes Berlioz for an intruder and handles him roughly, only to discover that he is in fact the composer whose music he adores and knows by heart, better even than the author himself who has forgotten much of his own symphony. He thus takes over Berlioz’s own job and brings about the successful performance of the masterpiece, which he conducts himself in a blaze of glory from the top of the balcony!

The play was written for a normal theatre, but its staging in the Museum, full of Berliozian associations as the one time family home of the composer, gave it an unusual sense of immediacy and realism. The tension between Harriet and Hector is all the more palpable because it is from the balcony in front of Dr Berlioz’s study that she screams at Hector and walks around with the help of her umbrella as a walking stick.

The actors were evidently inspired by the setting, and the audience felt they were witnessing a real drama, at once domestic and professional, and both light-hearted and serious. The lighting and location of loudspeakers above and around added to the spatial ambiance of the performance, be it the voice of Harriet, that of the caretaker’s wife, or excerpts from the Symphonie fantastique itself, the unifying element in this whole drama.

All in all an unusual and memorable occasion which was greatly appreciated by the audience.

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Le Concierge will be staged again at the same location in the Musée Hector-Berlioz on 12 August 2016.

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 23 May 2016.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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