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Home arrow Interviews arrow Roger Waters interviews arrow June 2nd 1992 - Paris (with Philippe Constantin)
June 2nd 1992 - Paris (with Philippe Constantin) Print E-mail

One of Roger Waters' long anticipated releases for some time was the operatic work, "Ca Ira". The following interview about the work with Philippe Constantin, by Alain Lachaud, was conducted in Paris, on June 2nd, 1992; it is worth bearing in mind that this was the state of play at that time. Since then many things changed. Our thanks to Jean Burnelle for sending this interesting interview to us.

AL: Mr Constantin, Pink Floyd fans, at least the French ones, have known you for a long time. There is a photo of you with Floyd dating back to 1968, when you were working with Pathé Marconi. Today you're head of Mango Worldwide for Polygram, and close friends of yours include Roger Waters and Etienne Roda-Gil. The later has talked, on the radio and in Libération (French paper), of an opera... Some lyrics were even quoted.

PC: When was it? Recently?

AL: In May 1990... More recently the show was said to have taken place not in 1990 but in 1991. On March 28 '92 Etienne said again "Roger Waters and the opera" on France Inter (radio). So what is happening to this opera and what is it all about?

PC: Firstly, the opera is no monster. The opera does exist. It's called Ca Ira [from the refrain of a French revolutionary song, La Carmagnole, which goes "Ah Ça ira, Ça ira": i.e. "we'll make it" - AL]. It is a project, a booklet, that Etienne Roda-Gil wrote for the Bicentenary of the French Revolution.

It was written in 1988 and one day, Etienne, who is a very good friend of mine, came and told me:

    I've got something, the masterpiece of a lifetime, and only one person can compose the music for it: Roger Waters. I felt less than lukewarm to go and see Roger Waters with a French text, an opera on top of that. Nevertheless, he showed me the booklet, a photocopy of a manuscript, with drawings to describe the scenery and stage direction. They were the work of Etienne's wife Nadine, who died shortly afterwards. This looked extraordinary indeed... The booklet itself is a work of art. I read the texts and realised that Roda-Gil wasn't pulling my leg, nor Roger's and that there really was something great about all this. I flew to London at once, to see Roger, who agreed to take some time to talk about the opera and consider what it was all about. Roger scarcely speaks French, and I could only show him texts in French and the drawings. He had mixed feelings at first, but he knew it wasn't crap. I had come all the way from Paris, he knew I wouldn't have come if it wasn't worth it. I translated some parts, and the two or three hours we met were enough for him to join the project...

AL: I read Etienne Roda-Gil's last book, where he speaks about his wife, and an opera. Is it the same inspiration?

PC: It is. Etienne's book is very much an autobiography. Many people from various institutions thought his book would come as a... gun-fight, to settle old scores. It's no gun-fight at all. But many sentences are cryptic, very private ambiguous. This opera is there of course.

AL: There are allusions to lyrics by Waters quoted in Roda-Gils book. The opera was once said to commemorate Valmy, September 1792. It was even to be performed on Bastille Place, on September 21 this year.

PC: There have been many delays and bad blows. After we met, Roger wanted to know more and had the entire booklet translated twice: both by an historian, who made a word-for-word translation, and by a poet who tried to put the poems into English verses. On both manuscripts there was a blank page where the historian wrote each and every event with the texts alluded to. He was busy putting together one of his solo albums and he decided to stop recording to devote all the time to the opera, which shows how deeply he felt about the new project. He started to compose some music, and we regularly flew to London. He played us what he'd composed at home, and nine months later, he had completed a two hours and four minutes demo, a delux demo, Roger Waters standard! The text was entirely sung by him, in French with some accent and everything. There are three tapes of it. Roger has one, so has Roda, and I have one. It is outstanding. We decided to tackle the Bicentenary Cermonies officials about it.

Everyone listened to the tape: from Matignon (the French 10 Downing Street) to the Rue de Valois (French culture ministry) to directors of TV stations. Everyone a bit weighty had to listen to the tape. The reactions were more than warm. Meanwhile, with Roger, we were thinking about staging, the concept of it. He had The Wall in mind, the Berlin event. It's obvious he wanted something similar, a mega event, in Paris, outdoors. We made an assessment for the mega event: It reached something like £5,000,000. So we ask for £5,000,000 from the Bicentenary Foundation. I'd say that is when we began being cooled down. Because there was one thing nobody told us: there was already a project accepted, and there couldn't be two huge projects. The other one was Jean-Paul Goude's Cermony. We felt slightly foxed. We'd lost a lot of time. Several movements and institutions wanted to invest in the opera, without ever approaching the required five million, but we succeeded in gathering quite a lot of momey. When we realised we couldn't meet the bill we dropped the project. We decided to bide our time, we slightly changed the formula, and if Valmy have come on top of all that it's because Etienne thinks that Valmy may well be the happiest issue in all the French Revolution years for the people in arms. Also, France felt it has to be commemorated.

AL: There was some confusion: we couldn't understand why the project had first been associated with the Bicentenary Ceremonies, and then with Valmy.

PC: It's a very fragmented vision of the Revolution, not chronologically ordered. It's the people in arms, women and the Revolution, blacks and the Revolution... By the way, there's an amazing number by Roger about black people and the Revolution...

AL: What about the musicians?

PC: It's a classical, not rock, opera!

AL: But Roger would still play bass?

PC: Not necessarilly... Waters began to have the scores composed, by Michael Kamen, his acolyte in fact... so everything was in a very, very advanced stage. The whole thing can practically be staged now. As for the last deadly blow... it is all written down in Etienne's book [i.e.. Nadine Roda-Gil's death - AL].

AL: Will there be an album out?

PC: The album was part of the project. It was the firts time I was involved in such a project. I got involved for record purposes. Everyone got involved, including Alain Lévy (of Polygram) who wanted to have a Russian conductor, a dissident, for the musicians. The budgets had been voted, the recording was to be a live public recording. The advantage with this opera is that it could be devloped in many ways. There was the great delux format, for the opening day, and every format down to the oratorio version performed by seven singers and one pianist in a local culture club in Pleumeur-Bodou. It really is an opera... released through scores, and also records and even a video of the whole show.

AL: Will it all start again?

PC: The whole thing was very hard and nerve-wrecking, for all of us, for Etienne, me, Roger. Since then we're all done lot of other things. Six months ago I saw Roger before he went to LA to mix his new album, which hasn't been released yet, and he told me something very upsetting. He said: "You know, for the last five years I haven't slept one night without thinking about the opera - don't worry we'll make it." I didn't ask for more. When Roger says words like these, they are realised. We'll make it. We thought of other ideas, of many but more humble formulas, less expensive. We dreamt of some places. We haven't seen each other since then for personal reasons. He went to LA. I last saw him in December. But it's in our minds and when the three of us feel ready we'll start the project for good.

AL: May we hear the tape you have?

PC: Listen to it, no problem. It's not confidental stuff. But we cannot make any copy... The tape has been listened to by the headquarters of all political parties... This is classical stuff; as for the vocals there's nothing definite yet.

AL: Who owns the rights?

PC: They belong to Etienne and Roger... We let the tape be listened to. At least we used to, since now we've all shelved it more or less. But the work shall exist someday. It's very strange, because of Roger singing on it. He even makes faked children's voices!

AL: Is it still in a raw state?

PC: Yes, but it is amazing. It doesn't sound like anything we already know.

AL: Thank you Philippe Constantin.

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