I am honored to have the incredibly accomplished Laurent Bruner, the director of musical and special events at Versailles, as Parisian of the Month.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in the East of France, in Lorraine, near Metz. Then I lived in Verdun, a very old Carolingian city, where a terrible battle took place during WWI: Germans against the French. I was "living amidst history" since I was a child. I volunteered all my time to clean and restore the medieval and baroque Cathedral, built in 990.I was also an official guide to the battlefields.
I majored in art history and archeology, at the University of Strasbourg.
When and why did you move to Paris?
Jean Jacques Ailligon, Minister of Culture, called me in 2002 to enter his Cabinet as special advisor for Theater and Dance.
At what age did your appreciation of music and art start and what were some early events that made an impact on you?
At the age of 6, I received a birthday present: an LP of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, conducted by Karajan. Then I learned to play the piano. The first important concert I attended was performed by Jordi Savall, in Bar Le Duc in Lorraine;I was 16 years old. I got to know him personally and professionally,and we have now been friends for 35 years!
The first live opera I attended at 18, was in the city of Metz,and I had to travel there (60 km) on my motorbike!It was a performance of Monteverdi's “Ritorno d'Ulysse”. And the same year I attended a performance in Epidauro, in Greece … the antique tragedy I saw in that incredible theater had a very profound impact on me.
What was your first experience organizing music events?
In 1990 I organized some wonderful musical concerts celebrating the "Millenium" of the Cathedral of Verdun. William Christie came, along with Philippe Herreweghe; the program included 8 concerts. It was a great success and I was eventually given the opportunity to program a full concert season in Verdun. After two years, I became general manager of the local theater. Then, in 1996, I moved to Forbach, on the German border, to run Forbach’s performing arts center.
You worked in Germany for a period of time. What were some of the positions you had there?
I've an old connection with Germany. German orchestras and theater troupes were always guests in the artistic programs I scheduled.
In Germany, I worked on the resurrection of the “Perspectives” festival in Saarbrucken (2002). Then, in 2006, I became Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy in Berlin. The position gave me the opportunity to assist in organizing all the German-French projects taking place at the time, and I also managed a big French contemporary art exhibition in Berlin (2006), and a French theater season which took place in 2007 in Berlin.
When did you become the director of performances at Versailles and how did that job come to you?
When Jean Jacques Aillagon, former Minister of Culture, became President of Versailles in 2007, he asked me to take on the direction of Chateau de Versailles Spectacles, a subsidiary of the Versailles organization which is in charge of all musical and special event productions that take place at the Chateau and in the gardens. My special expertise was in the field of French baroque music, but I also had studied the work of Robert de Cotte, an architect who had a large role in designing and building the Royal Chapel at the Chateau of Versailles, where many of our concerts take place. So the prospect of working at Versailles was very exciting for me!
What were some of the challenges when you first started?
I had to professionalize, reorganize and extend all the open air projects (Musical Fountain Shows) that take place in the Palace gardens. Prior to my arrival, they attracted an audience of 650,000 spectators, and now attract an audience of over 1.3 million visitors. On the art side, I had to invent a new concept for international contemporary art exhibitions (Koons, Murakami, Kapoor, Eliasson....) that take place annually at the Palace. Perhaps most importantly, I needed to find a use for the Royal Opera which had only been recently restored. This meant proposing to the public a new series of concerts in the most beautiful court opera in the world … without being given a specific budget! Another challenge was to identify the music which makes sense to perform in that venue: staged productions, baroque music of France and Europe, stars, and other special events!
The Royal Opera of Versailles has been given back to the artists and audiences from all over the world. But for all these artistic projects, we need to be helped by donors and sponsors… As bizarre as it may appear, we do not have any public subsidies. If this amazingly beautiful treasure that is the Royal Opera, built for the wedding of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, means something to your readers, then we need their help to continue to stage "first class” performances in this unique venue.
What have been some the most memorable moments during your tenure?
“Atys” of Lully, directed by William Christie; Monteverdi’s “Vespers” performed in the Royal Chapel by John Eliot Gardiner; Lang Lang performing in the Hall of Mirrors; an incredible night with Cecilia Bartoli who sang first in the Opera and then (it was a surprise for the public!) in the Royal Chapel, and finally in the Hall of Mirrors, where, as a firework display took place outside, she staged her encore in the most splendid palace room in the world! It was an unforgettable evening.... But I also remember Joyce DiDonato, Barbara Hendricks, Sonya Yoncheva, Opera Lafayette of Washington, Philippe Jaroussky, Bryn Terfel, Roberto Alagna, Natalie Dessay... and also, on our open air stage, a splendid evening with Anna Natrebko!
If you had the freedom and unlimited budget to create whatever event you wanted at Versailles, what would it be?
If I had the budget, I would commission an opera about Marie Antoinette. There is no great opera about her, and I am sure someone could create a fantastic libretto based on her life ... a family life lived amidst splendor, with a tragic ending. I can picture a score in the style of John Adams mixed with Shostakovich and Britten!!!!
What are some of your favorite pieces of music and operas?
I like all baroque music. The French music ... Lully, Charpentier, Rameau ... is my intimate musical language. The German music from Bach and his time is perhaps the most profound before the romantic era. The Italian music, from Monteverdi to Handel, is the most expressive: love and death are in every score..... Of course, I also like Beethoven and Wagner, “Carmen” and “Sacre du Printemps”, Verdi and Rossini!
What are the highlights of the 2016 and 2017 season?
Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”staged by Ivan Alexandre and conducted by Marc Minkowski
“La Cenerentola” by Rossini, with Cecilia Bartoli
“Haendel / Messiah”, conducted by William Christie
“Orfeo, the Myth”, by Philippe Jarousski
Charpentier’s “Médee”, staged by Opera Atelier Toronto
Marin Marais’, “Alcyone”, conducted by Jordi Savall
What do you prefer about Paris?
It's the city where you will never have enough time to take advantage of the cultural offerings: so many operas, concerts, plays, exhibitions... There is no other city in the world with so many cultural events taking place.
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