Yann Martel is no doubt a busy man: not only is the Man Booker Prize“winning author of Life of Pi a new father, he’s also promoting his latest novel, Beatrice & Virgil, and fending off a slew of negative reviews. Yet the Montreal native has also found time to engage in a bit of classical music“inspired whimsy. On Tuesday, at a performance by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Martel supplied an original text to accompany some ballet music by Beethoven. The piece, called The Parole Hearing of Prometheus, took the form of a courtroom drama and was performed in French by Quebec actor Michel Dumont.
Trial-by-jury is not an original motif, but it got the piece up and running. Prometheus stood accused not simply of stealing fire and giving it to mankind but of enabling the despoliation of a planet the gods had been treating rather well. Even Lord Hephaestus, the divine blacksmith, says he does not need so much heat and fire, thundered Dumont the prosecutor in one of Martel’s more inspired flights.
According to Gazette classical music critic Arthur Kaptainis, the evening was “mostly good fun” despite the “earnest Al Gore undercurrent” of Martel’s accompanying script. Still, following the lead of book critics in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, Kaptainis couldn’t help taking a dig at Martel:
Dumont’s delivery, comic and robust, was entirely in French. Undoubtedly the language of MoliÃ¨re is well suited to courtroom grandiloquence. The English as printed seemed less witty and less literary. This is a significant observation: Martel wrote the text in English and had his parents prepare a translation.
Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail described Martel’s text as a “mere bagatelle compared with the grandeur” of the music, complaining that the story, which touched on melting ice caps and oil spills, was “a tad preachy.”
Martel fans can make up their own minds: a recording of the performance will eventually be released on CD.