Oeuvres / The wheels of fire

Lyric drama in 7 tableaux &18 scenes,
for 8 voices, children-chorus &
big orchestra, Op. 21¹
OLRAP orchestra, Avignon, dir. François-X. Bilger

photo de Jeanne Davy (1991)
photo de Jeanne Davy (1991)

Time of adolescence : the path of life is unclear, voices are sometimes frightened, alone to reveal the turmoil of the body : such is case for Benjamin, the counter-tenor, his emotions being stirred as he caresses his sister, the Lunatic.
Incest, from then on, is for them no more than the love of a twin, the search, for each one, for the double that they are forever deprived of.
And when lips meet lips for the forbiden kiss, exile is at an end but the other becomes a reflection and fades away into nothingness.
Life and death are at strake in their game respecting the rules of the original narrative, or of sacred, or of myth..

There is a mix of characters, close or distant, attracted by the Wheel of Fortune, who hover around Benjamin and the Lunatic, while the Marichette, ressembling the Fates, look on knowingly.
And all of this, between a house on the beach and the sea. And all of this, while at night the ligt-house redistributes light and shadow.

photo de Jeanne Davy (1991)
photo de Jeanne Davy (1991)
Summary of the action

As a starting point : some mor or less forbidden games between the children and the Lunatic, on the beach.
Arrival of the gipsies. Wild feast.

The Red-heared girl is rapidly attracted by one of them. She meets him again in the evening on the beach and seduces him.
In the meanwhile, Benjamin is supposed to take care of his younger sister (he feeds her, rocks her like a baby, puts her in bed …) a love scene takes place between them…
The Red-heared girl comes back, declare she has just chased away the Gipsy because he had been watching her young lunatic sister, with obvious desire.

A few months later, the Lunatic gives birth to a child whom the Father and Mother, in order to hide the fault, will pretend is theirs.
The Father suspects the Gipsy, finally finds him and kill him on the beach.
Benjamin leaves home to go and study singing.

The Lunatic is left alone with the strange new-born baby, her so-called « younger brother », just as blond-haired as Benjamin. All she has left is the memory her brother'svoice.
The characters are gathered together in the final scene, united by a pact of love and death.

The characters
photo de Jeanne Davy (1991)
photo de Jeanne Davy (1991)

Benjamin, about 23, «the only blond-heared child» of the family, the only one apart from Marichette who has a name. He has a counter-tenor voice wich is obsession to him as it makes him different from the others. He keeps practing singing very hard.
The Lunatic, aged 20, sometimes called «the little one», is the principal character of the opera. The way she his dressed, her voice and her behaviour show how far away, how separated she is from the others.
The Red-heared girl, about 22. Her charm and her voice make her the seducer who incarnates and experiences sensual fantasies.

The Father and the Mother, about 40. United by the painful link which «the little one « or the «lunatic» is between them. They will prove capable of extreme and secret acts of violence.

The Gipsy, a stranger to the group, will be the cause of the first sign of imbalance in the family. He will be marked out out to become the scape-goat.

Throughout the opera, the family events are commented by Marichette being at the same time the story-teller, the maid, the mirror and silent conscience of the characters, the witness look ... she is the choir leader (the choir itself is constituded of the other children of the family). In some scenes, she plays a personnal part and interferes in the dramatic unravelling.


Dramatis personae

he Lunatic       
The red-heared girl       
The Mother       
The Father        
The Gipsy


lyric soprano

3 comédiennes


2 twins
1 girl
1 boy



3 flutes
3 hautbois
2 clarinettes
1 bass clarinet in B flat
2 bassoons
1 contrebassoon
4 horns in F
3 trompets in C
3 trombones
1 timpani
2 percussions
1 harp
1 électric guitar
Strings (12-10-8-6-5).

(2nd ,piccolo; 3d, prenant  G flute)
(3d english horn)
(1st little clarinet in E flat)

Partition et materiel disponibles chez Alphonse Leduc éditeur, 175 rue Saint-Honoré 
75001 PARIS. Tél. 01 42 96 89 11. Fax 01 42 86 02 83.

Jacques Demiere, Ahmed Essyad, Betsy Jolas, Bruno Ducol,  Marco di Bari - Photo Gabriel Viale, février 1991, Avignon
Jacques Demiere, Ahmed Essyad, Betsy Jolas, Bruno Ducol, Marco di Bari - Photo Gabriel Viale, février 1991, Avignon

Musical project

It is principally the vocal phrasing with the characteristic accents and inflexions of incantation wich commands the composition Wheels of fire. This “phrasing” responds to the inviting call of a text which itself holds out its hand, in total purity, towards its blossoming. However, modelling its contours, the  music leads - and sometimes misleads its companion through  trials : it offers musical prolongation (rather than development), magnetised by the gaps in the libretto, by what is left unspoken in the passions which drive the characters. “Allures”, rhythms or strange orchestra arrangements - and not thematic motifs - sculpt the characters and depict the dramatic background.         
Finally, with a certain economy of means, the composition makes the almost mythical quality  of the opera tangible : the protagonists (voices without names except for Benjamin) have an archetypal value, outside of all psychology. The rhythm, the percussion,  the  obsessive polarisation of certain sounds, etc., contribute to a truly magical ritual and imprint the unifying seal of the work.

1 - Alphonse-Leduc ed., Paris, 1992