Olivier Dhénin Hữu, a French poet, playwright, and director of Vietnamese descent, composed an opera entitled ‘Paysage Dans L’oubli’ (Landscape of Oblivion) to discover his family’s origin in Vietnam.
The French opera ‘Paysage Dans L’oubli’, part of the Villa Saigon residency program initiated by the French Institute in Vietnam, will premiere at the Municipal Theater in Ho Chi Minh City on November 26 and at the Ho Guom (Sword Lake) Opera House in Hanoi on November 28.
Written from the historical and legendary perspectives, the five-act work is likened to a painting and a lyrical poem about Vietnam and its relation with France in the past.
|Actors and actresses are seen during a rehearsal for the French opera ‘Paysage Dans L’oubli’ (Landscape of Oblivion).
Olivier said that his family left Vietnam for France in 1958, with his maternal grandfather who served in the French military going first, while his maternal grandmother and their children moved there later.
The children then separated and lived in different French families, thereby gradually forgetting Vietnamese and their homeland’s culture.
For Olivier, who was born and grew up in France, Vietnam is something so strange to him even though there is one Vietnamese word ‘Hữu' in his full name and he looked like Vietnamese when he was little.
Olivier first returned to Vietnam five years ago for a photo exhibition, during which he embarked on a north-south trip from Hanoi to the country’s Mekong Delta and he felt an urge to discover his family’s origin and tell a story about that.
However, he just had several old photographs when he began working on the opera, and lots of questions popped up in his mind as to why his family left Vietnam and why people in France did not talk much about the periods in which France occupied Vietnam and wars involving the French and the U.S. broke out in the Southeast Asian country.
He had to research and read a lot to find materials for his work.
|Actors and actresses are seen in 'ao dai' (Vietnam's traditional long gown) and other outfits that will feature in the opera ‘Paysage Dans L’oubli’ (Landscape of Oblivion).
The French playwright paid much attention to details related to Vietnamese things in the opera, such as costumes, bird cages, and others, while using some Vietnamese poems dating back to the 15th-17th centuries in the dramatic work.
“I don’t tell stories about wars but the lives of Vietnamese figures in history such as Emperor Duy Tan, Tran Cao Van, and more in the opera," Olivier elaborated. “The opera is also a tribute to my mother and my maternal grandmother, who used to live in Vietnam and got part of their soul lost when leaving their homeland.”
“Knowing your roots, you can grow up like a tree,” he said, stressing the importance of the past as it shapes the future.
The director considered literature and stages as places for preserving memories.
|Olivier Dhénin Hữu does a rehearsal for the opera ‘Paysage Dans L’oubli’ (Landscape of Oblivion).
According to Olivier, ‘Paysage Dans L’oubli’ is one of his longest operas so far, with the opera’s music composed by Benjamin Attahir.
The work revolves around the family of Antonin.
Rosaline, the maternal grandmother of Antonin, left Saigon, the former name of Ho Chi Minh City still commonly used now, in 1958 to join her husband, then a Vietnamese pilot in the French military, in France.
Louise, Antonin's mother, had little memory about her childhood in Saigon as she grew up in a new country and gradually forgot her homeland.
Antonin tries to retrieve memories about his family’s native country through the stories from his maternal grandmother, as well as old books and photographs.