The Hamilton Spectator

Premiere of ‘La Flambeau’ like an homage to Brott


Some people binged on Netflix. Many read books.

Others did yoga.

To escape the pandemic turmoil of 2020, David Bontemps, however, composed a chamber opera.

The seed for that project had actually been planted some six years earlier when Haitian-born, Martinique-based poet-playwright and philosophy professor Faubert Bolivar, Bontemps’s friend from law school in their native Port-au-Prince, sent him a copy of his play, “La Flambeau,” which had garnered the Lucienne Deschamps Foundation’s 2013 Paulette PoujolOrio­l and Georges Corvington Special Prize.

“At the first reading, I was convinced to make an opera of it, and Faubert gave me complete freedom to adapt his work,” said Bontemps who’s been based in Montreal as a pianist-composer since 2002.

Bontemps made some initial sketches, trimming the play’s eight tableaux to seven while retaining four of the original six roles. However, due to other commitment­s he set the project aside.

That is, until the pandemic hit in 2020. Just prior to the first lockdown, Bontemps had dinner with Honey Dresher, who, among the numerous hats she wears, is advisor of diversity and developmen­t at the Orchestre classique de Montréal, and Taras Kulish, the OCM’s executive director and at that time also co-artistic director of BrottOpera in Hamilton. And after whetting their appetites for his chamber opera, Bontemps recommence­d work on “La Flambeau” and completed it, on spec no less, in five weeks. He presented the score to Kulish who read through it and quickly put Boris Brott on to the project.

In September 2021, a two-day workshop for “La Flambeau” was held in Montreal with Brott leading his OCM and singers sourced by Kulish.

“A workshop is essential for a work of this scale,” said Bontemps of his 80-minute French-language

Faubert gave me complete freedom to adapt his work.


chamber opera with two brief passages in Haitian Creole. “The purpose of a workshop is to make sure that the work is ready for production, and if necessary to identify where changes or correction­s must be made. It’s the first reading of the work with the singers, the orchestra and the conductor together. I knew then I was lucky to collaborat­e with a conductor of the calibre and experience like Boris. Now that he has passed away, I know I was privileged.”

Shortly thereafter, the OCM formally announced that “La Flambeau” would have its premiere in Montreal followed by a Hamilton premiere under the aegis of BrottOpera in February 2023, Black History Month.

According to a media release, Bontemps’s chamber opera “draws on rich Yoruba mythology as preserved in Haitian Vodou traditions. ‘La Flambeau’ (a family name of some spirits in Haitian Vodou) tells the story of a dysfunctio­nal couple, Monsieur, a narcissist­ic and ambitious intellectu­al obsessed with the ideals of the republic, Madame, who talks to her dead parents, and their working-class housekeepe­r, Mademoisel­le. Violating his own principles and in an act of deceitful manipulati­on, Monsieur rapes Mademoisel­le. After a surreal judgment scene in which he confesses his crime to l’Homme, Monsieur is subjected to a kind of mob justice and is turned into a zombie in service to his community.”

All’s well that ends well? Well, Mademoisel­le just might have a surprise up her sleeve at the end.

“It’s not a heavy production for both Montreal and Hamilton,” said Bontemps. “Mariah Inger, the stage director, chose to use dramatic lighting for this work. All the plot is in a living room where the psychologi­cal drama evolves in a suffocatin­g atmosphere. The music, for string orchestra and maracas, was crafted to reflect the Creole psyche of Haitian society, where African and European influences interplay. Thus, I stylized Western and AfroHaitia­n musical idioms. Finally, I wanted mostly accessible and melodic music.”

The Montreal premiere took place on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The next day, it was recorded for future release on ATMA Classique. The Hamilton premiere will be on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in McMaster’s L. R. Wilson Hall, 1280 Main St. W., BrottOpera and Brott Music Festival artistic director Alain Trudel, the interim tag gone as he enters year two of a three-year mandate, leading the National Academy Orchestra Chamber Players and Cameroon-born soprano Suzanne Taffot as Mademoisel­le, Edmonton-based mezzo Catherine Daniel as Madame, Jamaican-Canadian tenor Paul Williamson as Monsieur, and American bass-baritone Brandon J. Coleman as l’Homme. English supertitle­s will be projected.

“This premiere is like an homage to Boris Brott,” mused Bontemps.

Tickets at or call 905-525-7664: $25 (all-in).

 ?? KEVIN CALIXTE ?? David Bontemps says the premiere of his chamber opera “La Flambeau” is like an homage to Boris Brott.
KEVIN CALIXTE David Bontemps says the premiere of his chamber opera “La Flambeau” is like an homage to Boris Brott.
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