For more than five years, the composer Mathilde Côté has carried out an ambitious chamber opera project around Jack Kerouac. The result has just been released on an album entitled the night is my woman, which sheds light on all the dualities of the mythical writer. Meeting with a gifted and unifying musician.
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Mathilde Côté is the daughter of Alan Côté, general and artistic director of the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée in Gaspésie, and Danielle Vaillancourt, who directed the festival’s children’s choir for 28 years. This means that she fell in love with music when she was little, but also that she quickly learned the joy of community and sharing.
“I was immersed in this universe all the time,” she tells us of her native Gaspésie. And since I’m in the process of buying a house there, right next to the one I grew up in, you can imagine I’m still involved in the business. “Indeed he has taken over from his mother at the head of the Escuelita de Canto, but the professional life of this musician trained in classical piano at the Conservatory is divided into three parts” that cohabit and feed each other “. “I compose a third, I make arrangements and work as a pianist another third, and the last one is dedicated to pedagogy, mainly with young people. »
We imagine Kerouac more in folk music than in contemporary music. Not Mathilde Cote. “It was like a tax. Kerouac reminds me of an opera itself. There is the inspiring and colorful character, and the tragedy of his own life. It was by reading his writings in French, published by Boréal in 2016, that the idea of ”doing something narrative” around the writer whose 100Y the birthday has germinated. “I started working alone in 2017 and with a creative team in 2018. A long-term project, then. “It is long to write an opera! “, Says the musician, that he acknowledges having“ pedaled on gravel ”many times, but without ever getting discouraged. “I am lucky to be surrounded by many people who support me morally, inspiring professionals who push me to continue, even if it is a little hard. »
Mathilde Côté worked closely with the poet and slammer Ivy, who wove the framework of this opera made up of “90%” Kerouac’s original texts. “He did a monk’s job,” says the musician. But how to translate Kerouac’s language into music? “We had a different musical path for the male and female roles. We realized that it was more profitable to make the boys talk and make the girls sing. There is the duality between Jack and Jean-Louis, the American and Francophone sides opposing each other by speaking and reflecting. Around him, there is a halo on his head that alternates, which pulls a little towards the frenzy of the night and the road, because of the character of the night, or towards the house, because of the character of his mother. . »
Mathilde Côté is happy with the album, but she is particularly proud of the interdisciplinary nature of the project: the cast includes two classical singers, Myriam Leblanc and Rose Naggar Tremblay, an Acadian singer-songwriter, Joseph Edgar, and an actor-singer, Stephan Côté. “Myriam Leblanc, she sings the Requiem of Mozart with Bernard Labadie in a few days… and on the same album there is Joseph Edgar who shouts a blues. I find it wonderful. This sharing feels and means that this beautiful gang is at the service of the project and the words that are in it. It is organic and beautiful. It is certainly in his genes, that taste for bringing several people together around an idea. “Oh yeah, I went to the right school for wanting to create beautiful nurseries for artists! »
Mathilde Côté was 11 years old when she discovered Jack Kerouac, through a song by Sylvain Lelièvre, a family friend. “I remember, it was at the beginning of Google. This is one of the first words I googled in my life! But it was really when she discovered her writing in French that her character moved her the most. Why is it still fascinating? “I feel like it’s like a mirror for us. It allows us to look at the road of our history, but from the service road. When I read Tremblay, I see myself from the inside. When I read Kerouac, I look at myself from the outside. »
She should follow a show in the next few years, but even if the project will be spread over a long period, she has never lost faith. “The fire burned the same all the time. When you embark on a job like this, it is because you feel that you have something unique to contribute. And that impression stayed with me from start to finish. This note left by Kerouac, written on a double-sided sheet and filed alone in a medical document, moves her deeply: “My life’s work will be written in the language with which I began my life. “And it was never published in French,” she adds. If these writings testify to something, it is that they are not easy to read “unless you do it out loud”, so giving them an oral character has always seemed like a good idea. “This relevance was strong. And it still is, because it still won’t leave me. »
The night is my wife – In the mind of Jack Kerouac
Mathilde Cote/Ivan Bielinski