The Skin of Light

by Afra Rigamonti and Jo Sol

Becoming unique in the world of art is a common aspiration amongst the majority of creators.  Moreover, obtaining it in the restrictive world of opera and high gastronomy at the same time, results in an unprecedented achievement the contemporary panorama.

Franc Aleu has achieved this with an opera as surprising as his trajectory has been coherent.

Coming from a family tradition linked to experimental photography, he knew how to evolve towards vast and impenetrable territories, connecting himself with major figures of highest international level, from Zubin Mehta to Jaume Plensa, moving on to close collaborations with the stage directors Carlus Padrisa and Àlex Oller of “La Fura del Baus”.

He himself says that his work makes up “the skin of opera”, given that his projections have usurped the traditional role of the scenography in grand productions at the Scala Theatre of Milan, the Bastille in Paris or the New York opera.

His relationship with light, inspired by Richard Wagner’s obsession with controlling every detail of the scene, has surrounded him with the old Wagnerian ideal: the quest for a complete work.

This quest for total art, has been closely linked to opera since its inception.  The same word in Latin “opera”, as a plural of “opus”, indicates this wish to combine a collection of different disciplines into one single work.

This was Montenverdi’s wish with his pioneering vocation of uniting scenic art, music and song, previously amplified by Wagner through his conception of the “music drama”.

In this context, the experience of El Somni (The Dream) should be interpreted in its entirety.  It is not only about the innovative format, nor the elitist experience as a countercurrent in a context of systemic crisis.

El Somni constitutes the renewal of this ancient dream.

El Somni is an opera in twelve plates, a banquet in twelve acts.


Conversation with Franc Aleu.

Never before has an experience like it been performed, and right in the 21st century, is in itself unheard of.  What is el Somni for its creator?
El Somni is the celebration of a marriage, between art and gastronomy.  It is an attempt to bring together all the artistic disciplines so as to create a moment of beauty.  A gift for the senses.


Something unusual these days!
Humbly speaking believe that it is really about something unique, but which now no longer belongs to me, it’s the public that must make up its mind.


How did the idea come about to try something so daring and cross-cutting?
There have been historical precedents of this multidisciplinary union.   Vatel, master of ceremonies in the court of Louis XIV, was the great pioneer of this desire to go one step beyond, harmonizing different disciplines in order to transform a banquet into a work of art, controlling the sceneography, the wardrobe, the music of every stage, the entertainment, as well as, of course, the menu.


Wagner in some way shows this ancient aspiration of man in search of the complete work…
In effect the figure of Wagner is essential in plotting this quest, and el Somni is only one step more in the same direction.


A brave step.  Recently, professor of aesthetics Rafael Argullol, one of the 12 special few who had the opportunity to enjoy such an exclusive performance, said: “El Somni is a Renaissance work, since it is the creation in the 21st century of this ancient aspiration to unite all of the senses into a single aesthetic and existential experience”.
The interesting thing about new experiments like this one is that there is no telling, it has been very exciting precisely because of the freshness of the proposal.  In some way we have planted a seed, opened pathways towards unexplored territories.  In how it will evolve, how it will change, is something that arouses a lot of curiosity because it certainly means changing the rules of the game.  It is not strange to imagine that in a few years we will be able to dine in thematic surroundings, share a table with virtual diners, adapt the act of a banquet to a new age of technology.


Besides the fortunate diners, the author to name in the world of gastronomy Harold McGee, predicted that the dream would be revived by popular culture….
What is cutting edge today will be part of the everyday tomorrow, this is well understood.  Personally I can imagine a future of fast food restaurants which transform the decor and the surroundings through projections….


Nevertheless, for this first experience you have included the best chefs.  The participation of “el Celler de Can Roca” named the world’s best restaurant according to the prestigious list of “the 50th best” has been an essential part of this work.
Of course, without The Rocas this would not have been possible.  El Somni is the result of a process which has taken many years of collaboration.  Without this relation of faith, friendship and mutual admiration it would not have been possible to create anything of the kind.


The soundtracks have enormous importance in the collaboration and were created especially for the occasion.
These are composers I admire a lot.  It was a real honour to be able to work with them, offering them this freedom.  The only thing i asked them was for their creations to have a connection with the strong concept which marks each of the acts.  There is a very eclectic variety of styles, but which all the same fit with the intentions of the original script, which freely distorts, ending up narrating a story in parallel with the development of a banquet, an audiovisual spectacle.


There is also a documentary that you have directed which recalls the process of creation and the staging of this work.
That’s it.  It is a documentary about creation, produced by Mediapro, another essential travel companion on this journey.  The film discusses what lies behind this work, showing the process and the first experience of this gastronomic work, the only one to date.


El Somni has been presented at the Berlin Festival, and will have a simultaneous first release on Amazon and iTunes in 9 languages.  Something else unusual.



Photo credits

1/3. film frame from “El Somni”, Franc Aleu

4. Barón Münchhausen – scenic design by Franc Aleu

5. Tristan et Isolde (2011) – Opera of Lyon, projection by Franc Aleu

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