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3 narrators, early music instruments and fixed medium

The story of this sixteenth century Norman family is true, and one which the Belgian poet and sculptor, Joseph Mignolet (b.1935), fashioned into a dramatic work in 1968. The story is told in a short essay entitled Une page d’Histoire written in 1860 by the French novelist and influential critic, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808-89).

Being from Normandy himself, d’Aurevilly recounts with a mixture of pride and shame the ill-fated love of a brother and a sister, the last descendants of the Ravalet family who were eventually beheaded and buried at the church of St. Julien-en Grève, later to be called St. Julien-le Pauvre, the oldest church in Paris, located not very far from Notre-Dame Cathedral.

In dramatizing this story, Joseph Mignolet has in reality created something new. He gives us an imaginative and tender vision of the extreme frontiers of love while, at the same time, making reference to the Inquisition. He depicts the powerful and intensely pervasive presence of evil in a world that rarely if ever understands «… Matters of love/Profound or transparent…»

It was the decision of composer John Rea (b.1944) to cast Le Petit Livre des Ravalet into a one-act “spoken opera” employing early music instruments. Although this mixed musical and dramatic form may seem curious due to the frequent separation of text from the music, it is nevertheless this very separation which enhances the poetic and musical impact of the work. A certain distance between both domains permits one to talk of things about which one should not necessarily sing, while making more intimate and compelling those occasions when words and music be joined together in song.

With a duration of 35 minutes, the score calles for:

  • narrator
  • three choristers, who declaim and sing
  • eight performers of early music instruments
  • one high (early music) soprano
  • tape part, with sound effects, and pre-recorded recitations

The work was commissioned by Radio-Canada in 1983 for the competition Prix Paul-Gilson (of the international French-language radio broadcasting community). Le Petit Livre des Ravalet was conceived for the Ensemble Claude-Gervaise (Montreal).