There is something magnetic in the eyes of Nicolas Simeha. His Olympian calm contrasts with the obsession and folly of the Stone Collector that he interprets in the opera Seven Stones. An atypical baritone, insatiable traveller keen on sounds and new experiences, he reveals some of the facets of Ondřej Adámek’s creation being given at the present time at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume.
How does one get to sing the principle role in an opera such as Seven Stones ?
That’s a long story… When I was very young I began by playing the violin before joining the choir school at Radio France. My training as a singer was fairly classic, but I also studied acting on the side. I studied for a Master at the Guildhall School in London, and there I began to do opera, baroque music, recitals with contemporary dance companies, but also creation. I have always accepted projects which were important to me and which took me on to roads less travelled. I really do love working with contemporary artists who come from other disciplines. It’s a great source of enrichment. In fact, it is above all an intention and an artistic world which says something to me. Once someone asks me to whisper, to mumble a text or on the contrary something very classic, but with a vision which pleases me, I am always game for it.
And that was the case with Seven Stones…
Absolutely. I auditioned for the Festival four and a half years ago and then the audition itself was already very promising. It was one of the best that I have ever gone through. It was completely mad: we were asked to do a baroque air, a contemporary air, a classical air, a lied and two pieces by Ondřej Adámek one of which had to be by heart. Next, we were choreographed and we had to improvise! We already started to feel a group dynamic forming. As a matter of fact, I believe that this aspect come out in this show. On the first night the speech circulated magnificently between us. And even if the roles of each one of us are defined, everything took place as part of a collaboration. From a human to human point of view, it functioned really very well.
What pleased you in the work itself?
Undeniably, the encounter between different worlds. That of Sjón is quite incredible. As a matter of fact, it just so happens that three weeks after the audition I left for a few weeks to Iceland, as it happens a little in the same way as the Stone Collector. I got around here and there always by hitching a lift. It was great. I began to understand the world of the librettist. So, it’s a bit of a cliché, as it is often said of the Icelanders, but their culture really is influenced by the geology of the island. The elements and the mineral are really tangible there…
Ondřej’s music also immediately spoke to me. It has a playful aspect, accessible and at the same time extremely precise. What’s more, I entirely share his passion for other cultures and other languages. I have myself lived a little bit everywhere and I like feeling like a stranger.
Could you present to us the character of the Stone Collector which you portray?
Firstly, it must be said that it is a character who progresses in an inner world. It was the work with Éric Oberdorff which helped me shape the character. We came at the subject with a very sensory approach, almost ascetic and always highly filtered. He knew how to create the framework of freedom into which we were able to make suggestions which he later knew how to extract the essence from.
Afterwards, as far as the character is concerned, I got stuck into the films of Lynch, Fellini and above all Tarkovski. You know, in these films, we are in a room, a door opens and we dive into another world, then another door opens and so on and so forth… It was really like that that I feel the experience of this role. The stone collector is an obsessional character who has a love so great for his science and the mineral world, that it causes him to neglect his own family… He finds an emotional intensity in his mental world which apparently, he had been missing all his life. Then he tries to supress the truth, the more the walls of this dreamlike world start to vibrate and the space to explode. And this goes on until he at last comes face to face with the original tragedy which is the key to the whole story.
When all is said and done, I guess I still don’t know who he really is…But I must say that generally speaking, I think he has a certain charm. Perhaps because of the fact that just like him, I played the violin and whacked my hammer on the geodes when I was little.
Interview by Luc Birraux
Translation by Christopher Bayton