Penny Martin: Your association with experimental theatre perhaps makes your choice to undertake the more traditional field of opera a surprising one: particularly the opera seria genre. What interested you in the Antigona project?
Éric Vigner: Antigone is a distinctive work; it was written and composed for Catherine the Second of Russia, the great patron of art and artists. At the time it was intended to be a contemporary work. This Antigone is remarkable because it ends with the marriage of Hémon and Antigone following the pardon given by Créon to his son, who had wanted to join Antigone in her cave and die with her [footnote].
For Antigone this pardon is not acceptable because it goes against her own plan which is to put an end to the incest and join her two brothers in death. This is what Traetta's music makes you experience. Antigone here is a woman, a sister who takes the law into her own hands to achieve her secret and personal project to finish with the world so that something elsewhere can be reborn differently.
We're in the universe of the cosmos and metaphysics. The visual universe which we have constructed is a universe of cold ashes, the dust of stars, a black hole where one knows only too well whether it's the beginning or the end of the light.
What would remain if the world ended up dissolving in space and if, in another time, one rediscovered these fragments of the same signs scattered everywhere? What meaning would those logos have, that we see everywhere on sports clothes, the brands of the big global, industrial and commercial enterprises, the logos of Nike or Nestlé?
The black and white colour scheme imposed itself straight away as well as a form of abstraction in the sense where you can no longer tell what the images or fragments of signs might originally have represented. The only wavering and persistant colour had to be that of the skin of the singers and actors, as if drained of blood. In our interpretation the Antigone project was a terrorist project; secretly and with an extreme elegance, she was silently going to put an end the world. The violent reaction of some of the audience to the design derived from this initial concept. It could no longer recognise itself in these signs that were put forward and attempted to find a known system of reference. However the work was open in the sense that it resonates or creates an echo for individual interpretation. A talented and respected journalist wrote that there was nothing to see and tried in vain to attach to this work a number of references which we hadn't inscribed in the initial concept. Our work was to bring the music to the fore.
Penny Martin: How did your relationship with the conductor Christophe Rousset begin?
Éric Vigner: Christophe Rousset saw my theatre work and liked it. For a long time I resisted the offers to do opera and then finally in 2000 we did Didone by Cavalli at the Lausanne Opera and l'Empio Punito at the Bach festival in Leipzig.
Penny Martin: What made you select the art directors M/M (Paris) to work with you on the set and costume design?
Éric Vigner: I've been directing a theatre since 1996 and we've worked together since the beginning. They create all the visual material, posters, fliers etc. We know eacho ther and we appreciate each other. Most often I design the theatre and opera spaces myself but I told Mathias and Michael about my plans for Antigone and they immediately came up with a design that corresponded with what I was looking for. I thought it was also interesting to introduce the work of contemporary artists into the field of opera.