As an opera writer and reviewer I ask tenor John Longmuir, who plays Maupertuis in the concept film of Émilie & Voltaire, which classic opera role attracts him the most. He names Don Ottavio from Mozart's Don Giovanni and I am surprised, having always seen Ottavio as somewhat ineffectual. I also wonder whether Ottavio was really in love with his wronged fiancée. John coolly considers he 'probably' was, and gives me another vision of him, as strategist. Rather than wasting energy on futile challenges, Ottavio plans revenge on Don Giovanni by gathering aristocratic allies.
I suddenly see links between John's concept of Ottavio and the way he plays Maupertuis. Maupertuis is a man of action, but his tactics are calculating: when he sets out to woo Émilie to Paris he is full of praise for her scientific knowledge, not his own. His conversation is seductive and he implies that he's a more than worthy rival for Voltaire but he never actually says that he loves Émilie. Does he? Even I, having written his lines, cannot quite be sure, even as he delivers them.
Only once, when after a long pause he sings just her name, and pauses again, do I think that probably ...
Brendan de la Hay was a wizard at enhancing the beauty of the set and it was his idea to fill the parterre pond with fresh rose petals. Brittanie Shipway, second AD, was keen to add crimson petals but it took a bit of persuasion. She, Brendan and I had to fish them all out of the pool again when we packed up on the third day!
'Among the props I brought for the desk in the library are ... four beautifully bound books; several sheets of paper with maths, French writing & geometrical diagrams, plus a blank sheet rolled up with red ribbon ... three "quills"; Émilie's essay; the letter from Maupertuis ...'
'I just got called away to create yet another scribbled-on piece of paper for Émilie ... It will be fascinating to see how all these things get handled and used. Ease and clarity of music take priority.'
'I thought the desk was a bit overloaded, the way Brendan wanted it, but it seems to work in the shot.'
'Rob is just singing "Magique scène" to himself in the corridor.'
Just received this image of Beth Daly and myself watching shots come together in the garden of Lindesay House, Sydney. Here are some of my notes about the setting of the concept film.
‘From the terrace one looks down across a formal garden that ends in a curve of foliage, beyond which one sees the harbour.’
‘There is an enormous, gorgeous plane tree dominating the parking circle … The tiles in the hallway here are black and white—so are the tiles (larger) in the sale d’entrée at Cirey! Also of course there are the beautiful plane trees on the bank of the Blaise at Cirey.’
‘The actors and director are completely immersed in the three-fold story. I love their interpretations, and it’s fascinating to get intense snatches of what will later be a seamless drama.’
‘Is there a spirit that infuses a film while everyone’s working? It occurs to me that this House does provide something by just being itself. A little consistent world in which this is all happening.’
The stills photographer is Reswin Bahas.
The shot list was put together by cinematographer Aravind Shanavaz and executive producer Nicholas Gentile, who is the composer of the opera. In the three-day shoot he literally conducted every take. The process and the vocab were all new to me: thought you might like to hear some of it at random from my diary.
‘That was very fresh, wasn’t it?’
‘She walks slower, slower, then again here … Boom … Boom .. Turn around.
‘Are we good, are we good? One more for safety.
‘She’ll start singing, that’s fine. Just go for pretty, go for pretty, then you’ve got all of her line to get there.’
‘Rob, when you do this, can you find a reason to do eyes back in this direction?’
‘How many takes for this do we have time for after lunch?’ Firm answer from Demi Louise, producer: ‘None.'