Joual Opera.

Beth of The Cassandra Pages (which recently passed its 20-year mark — congratulations!) has posted about an unusual opera:

Saturday night we drove out to Pierrefonds, a western suburb that is still on the island of Montreal, to see Albertine en cinq temps, an opera adapted from Michel Trembley’s 1984 play of the same name, with music by Catherine Major, and is a production conceived, created, and carried out entirely by women. It tells the story of a Montreal woman, Albertine, who has had a difficult life, and at age 70 is spending her first night in a nursing home. She talks with her earlier selves — Albertine at 30, 40, 50, and 60 – as well as her sister, Madeline – and the story of her life is revealed through their conversations. Albertine’s history mirrors the history of many Quebec women who were unable to find much freedom in their lives, and were deeply affected by patriarchal and religious attitudes. Interestingly, too, the story of her life takes place on rue Fabre and in Parc Lafontaine, the exact part of the city where we used to live ourselves.

Albertine en cinq temps is also the first opera ever produced in Quebec to be written and performed in Joual. This is a Quebec dialect of French that was spoken mainly by the working class and is now a source of Quebec identity; many of its words have entered the main language as Quebec slang, but for those of us who didn’t grow up hearing or speaking it, it can be really hard to understand. One of my close friends, Catherine St-Arnaud, who I sang with in the cathedral choir, sings the role of Albertine at 30 and has been part of the production team bringing this opera to life. She sent us a bilingual libretto to read beforehand, in French and English, and there were projected sur-titles, but because the French was all in dialect, it was a little tricky, as well as being fascinating to a word nerd like me.

And check out her gorgeous art at the link! The libretto has vanished from the ATMA site, but if you’re lucky you can read the cached version here; if not, you can try this page, where it’s inextricably mingled with a Czech translation. (We’ve discussed joual a number of times, e.g. in 2016.)


  1. a western suburb that is still on the island of Montreal,

    (Sorry to comment on a stray phrase. The art is indeed gorgeous. On Joual I can add nothing.)

    “still on” sounds like this suburb has been wandering about, has been moving intermittently westwards, but hasn’t quite stepped across the waterway — ?

    Or this is a condensed phrase conveying that for the audience to attend, they’ll need to travel westwards almost across the waterway but at the point they get to Pierrefonds, they’re still (just) on the island.

    Did anyone have the same reaction as me? Does the phrasing work for you? Is this a Montrealism?

  2. I just took it as meaning “don’t worry, it’s out there a ways but it’s still in the city.” But you’re right, it feels a bit condensed.

  3. I took still to mean nonetheless.

    >Despite its suburban status…

  4. Yes to “nonetheless”, i.e. outside the City of Montreal, but still on the island of Montreal (unlike the North Shore and South Shore suburbs, which lie across various lakes and rivers). A local (anglo) would call this area “West Island”. However unlike other West Island communities I believe Pierrefonds is actually part of the City of Montreal as of 2002, albeit an outlying residential part.

  5. it’s a little awkward (and not how i would put it), but i think the “still” there is a reasonable way of clarifying the fairly common situations where actual geography contradicts the idea that jurisdictional boundaries are in some sense ‘natural’. the clunkiness feels similar to the various ways of concisely explaining that brooklyn or queens are on long island, despite being part of new york city.

  6. John Cowan says

    Never mind that part of (political) Manhattan is on the mainland and physically contiguous with the Bronx.

  7. yep! i could actually imagine saying “marble hill is on the mainland but still part of manhattan”.

  8. I’m not a New Yorker,* but I would probably explain this subtlety by pointing out that Marble Hill, despite being on the mainland, is in actually in New York County. The country is purely an object of political geography, while Manhattan could be either political or physical geography.

    * I have never lived in the county or city, and although I was born in the state, I moved away when I was still quite young.

  9. Illinois includes maybe a dozen bits and pieces that relocated themselves to the wrong side of the rivers that form the state’s boundaries, including a former state capital, Kaskaskia. Unlike Marble Hill, our exclaves* all came by their new locations naturally. What states (other than Illinois and the ones we share a border with) have such exclaves?

    * These don’t meet the dictionary definition of exclave, but it seems appropriate. Is there another word for them?

  10. including a former state capital, Kaskaskia

    All threads eventually converge.

  11. @Ryan: This was discussed in xkcd 1986. (This also reminded me of something else I’ve been meaning to comment about in another thread all week.)

    @languagehat: According to Lana Turner, all roads lead to Damascus, not Kaskaskia.

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