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Voilah 2018: An Interview with Bellepoque Director Sabrina Zuber (Roots)

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Bellepoque is a company that strongly believes in the importance of knowing one’s roots, in order to continue to flourish. More specifically, like their name, they’re committed fully to the Belle Epoque era between 1871 and 1914, where the arts and music flourished in Europe, particularly in Paris. Using the music from that era, the company seeks to create new work, re-defining the styles and genres of the time and make them accessible to the modern Singaporean.

Last seen collaborating with artist Lee Mingwei on Sonic Blossom at the National Gallery as part of the 2018 Light to Night Festival, they’re back this week with an all new recital that truly does go back to their roots, where you can expect an educational journey and learn not only about the key music of Europe, but also what was simultaneously happening in Asia during that exact same period! We spoke to Bellepoque Founder/Director Sabrina Zuber (who will also be performing in Roots) about what we can expect from the show, and why exactly audiences should come catch it. Read the interview in full below:

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Photo courtesy of Anne Valluy

Bakchormeeboy: Considering the specificity of the period, what exactly was so special about the music of the Belle Epoque period that made it the Golden Age, and why were you drawn to it in the first place?

 Sabrina: The “Golden Age” refers to the time frame between the Franco-Prussian war, 1871, and World War I, 1914. This post-war time was filled with optimism, peace, and creativity as seen in technological and scientific inventions as well as in the blossoming of arts and music.

Paris was one of the centres of celebrating lifestyle and artistic expression, and French was the language to name all things chic et belle. The World Exhibition in Paris 1889 was a highlight to celebrate culture and arts and the inventions of the time. For music, it was a milestone of East-meets-West; it was the point of contact of Debussy and Ravel with Javanese Gamelan and African rhythms; the time when Rimsky-Korsakov introduced the Mighty Five (Russian Composers) to the Paris audience and journalists described the presentations as a ‘musical orgy’.

Being myself a very optimistic person, I was naturally drawn to explore more about this particular moment of the European history. I believe that music (and the arts in general) offer beauty and positive energy to people. Therefore,  the choice of making of the Belle Epoque the core of my company came quite naturally.

Cast of ROOTS (1). Image credit to Bellepoque

Photo Courtesy of Bellepoque

Bakchormeeboy: By presenting both music from Europe and Southeast Asia, what kinds of similarities or parallels do you to draw listening to both genres? Is there a structure to the performance (e.g. chronologically or geographically)?

Sabrina: I have been living in Singapore over 14 years, I believe Asia and its culture and tradition have sunk into my blood. I wished to give this process a sort of recognition.

Researching on what was happening in this region during the years of the European Belle Epoque, we have found out that there was a parallel to the European operetta, so much in vogue during those times: the Bangsawan music theatre. Both genres offer flamboyant costumes, attractive sets, a mix of dialogues, songs, ensemble pieces and dance.

The performance is structured geographically and our narrator, Dr Thomas Manhart, will accompany the audience through the years and the countries, and highlight similarities and differences.

Brendan-Keefe Au and Sabrina Zuber. Image credit to Bellepoque

Photo Courtesy of Bellepoque

Bakchormeeboy: Part of Bellepoque’s company goal is to take the musical repertoire from the period, and reimagine and apply them to new, original works, making them accessible for a modern audience. Why should audiences take an interest in coming to watch Roots?

Sabrina: I strongly believe that there are no wings without roots. In our technological era when we feel that everything is possible, I wish to offer a moment of reflection about our past and the times and traditions from where we come. After all, we are what we are because of what we have been.

Bellepoque full cast. Image credit to Bellepoque

Photo Courtesy of Bellepoque

Bakchormeeboy: What is the one song or composer you think perfectly encapsulates the music of the Belle Epoque, and will it be featured in Roots?  

Sabrina: There are many, actually. Just to pick a couple of composers whom we portray during our show, I would say Jacques Offenbach, the father of the French Operetta (but not only operetta) and Francesco Paolo Tosti, Italian composer of art songs which are wonderfully ‘singable’ and touching, and also closely associated with salon music. Plus, FP Tosti was born in my very own home region in Central Italy. I felt I had to pay homage to my own ‘roots’.

Roots plays at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 27th April, 7.30pm. Tickets available here

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