The Girl From Arles – A Visit to Provence

Credit: The producer extends his gratitude and appreciation to the artist Chrissie Skelding for providing her beautifully evocative sketch LADY WITH BUTTERFLIES for this commissioned feature, which he dedicates to her.

“On the way down to the village from my windmill, you pass a farmhouse.…”

That is how Alphonse Daudet begins his evocative and poignant tale about broken love set in a small Provençal community. The Girl from Arles – L’Arlésienne – is a short story, based on a true event, in Daudet’s collection of cameos that he called Lettres de mon Moulin – Letters from my Windmill: fictional but lifelike pictures of mainly Provençal country life in mid 19th Century Southern France. In fact Daudet never owned a windmill there (despite tourist companies’ photographs!), and he never even rented one, but he often visited the area and he loved its scenery, its atmosphere, and its people. The Girl from Arles actually takes place in the small village of Fontvieille, 6 and a half miles North East of Arles. 150 years or so ago that length was a considerable distance in travelling time – and effort: in the region of a two hour walk. A young man in Fontvieille is heartbroken when his engagement to an entrancing young lady from Arles has to be called off: and suddenly that glittering city of his adored one seems more distant than another continent. The young man, Jan, turns into himself, and try what he may, he cannot forget his beloved – she haunts him day and night. Many evenings he walks from Fontvieille towards Arles until he sees the steeples of the city rising up against the sunset – and then he turns back home: he never goes further. Everything reaches a tragic culmination after the Feast of St Eloi (the 1st of December).

When Daudet was commissioned to adapt his story into a play for the Vaudeville Theatre in 1872, Georges Bizet was engaged to write incidental music in the form of miniature orchestral movements that were heard sometimes between scene changes and occasionally during the spoken dialogue. Some of these were very short, in the form of fragments, but some were more substantial. Economic and spacing limitations determined that Bizet could only be allowed the unusually small number of 26 players in his orchestra, with a small off-stage chorus as well – but far from inhibiting him, this arrangement inspired him to write music of extraordinary originality and rare intimacy, intensely capturing the story’s pathos.

The L’Arlésienne suites for full symphony orchestra that were subsequently arranged from the incidental music for the purpose of concert performances, first by the composer (No 1) and then by Ernest Guiraud (No 2), are famously popular, but the original music for the play is hardly if ever performed, inevitably so as the majority of it is very fragmentary. Unlike the full orchestra suites, the music for the play is very different in sentiment. For THE GIRL FROM ARLES – A VISIT TO PROVENCE, Jon Tolansky has made a special adaptation reading the original short story of Daudet and inserting parts of Bizet’s original music for the play at correctly appropriate places. He prefaces the production with a scenic introduction to Provence, and as a postscript he features three extracts from the well known L’Arlésienne suites for full orchestra.

About Host and Producer Jon Tolansky:

Jon Tolansky specializes in making documentary features on composers and performers for international radio organizations and recording companies. These have included the BBC, the WFMT Radio Network, the CBC, EMI Classics, Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon and VAI Records. He pioneered the first sets of documentary profiles on CD, for which he has collaborated with artists such as Grace Bumbry, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mirella Freni, Angela Gheorghiu, Carlo Maria Giulini, Thomas Hampson, Marilyn Horne, Yevgeni Kissin, Antonio Pappano, Luciano Pavarotti, Ruggero Raimondi, Mstislav Rostropovich, Giuseppe di Stefano, Dame Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers.

Jon Tolansky has written on music and performers for the Oxford Companion to Music, Cambridge Guide to the Orchestra, Opera House (the magazine of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden), On Air (the magazine of the BBC World Service), Andante Magazine, Bambill (Brooklyn Academy of Music publication), Living Music (the magazine of the London Symphony Orchestra), The Gramophone, Opera Magazine, Limelight (the magazine of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), the Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Classic Record Quarterly. In 2006 he co-wrote the autobiography of the baritone Peter Glossop with the artist.

Jon Tolansky created the ‘Profile of the Artist’ events at the Barbican Centre, a series of public interviews with some of the most highly sought after performers. He organized these for the Music Performance Research Centre, now called Music Preserved, which he initiated and co-founded in 1987 as a unique repository of mostly unduplicated live performance archive-recordings. He also initiated and hosted an historical series of recorded interviews with some dozens of major international performers for the Royal Opera House Archives (now called the Royal Opera House Collections) as part of the centenary commemorations of the death of Verdi in 2001.





Category: Documentaries & Profiles
Duration: 1-hour / 58:30
Frequency: 1-part
Availability: 10/01/2023 - 09/30/2024

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