After breath-taking views of the green foothills of the Pyrenees where the Marian city lies, the spectator is carried away on a dazzling behind-the-scenes tour which gives a glimpse of the subtle blend of singers, choristers, directors and other backstage professionals working with the most modern technologies to create the story of little Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) and the message received from Heaven in 1858 of which, through her unwavering testimony, she has made each person an agent. “This is an opportunity, a great gift to experience all this in Lourdes,” says Francisco, one of four members of the chorus from the town of Lourdes, on behalf of the whole troupe. Talking about the original intentions of the work, the words of director Serge Denoncourt, who came especially from Quebec and who composed the “libretto” – the texts of all the theatrical parts – encompasses the entire show when he says, about Bernadette, “It’s the girl, the teenager, not the saint who interests me. I’m absolutely sure she was not a liar. In a show, what we take home with us is rarely the setting, it’s the emotion. This young girl has to touch people. If this happens at the Premiere, for us it will be mission accomplished.”
Emotion, emotion! That’s the key word. “Sometimes some of us have tears in our eyes of feel like crying,” says Francisco. “On stage, we are sensitive to the message, the music, the beauty.”
Aquero, Pourquoi moi, Madame, Le détachement, N’être qu’un homme… Those who have seen the musical will be delighted to find some of Gregoire’s haunting melodies which continue to reverberate through your head and touch the depths of your heart by filling them like the pure, vivifying waters of the Pyrenean Gave that nothing could stop. A flood of love.
The documentary also offers compelling scenes, such as this photo shoot, in period costume, in the Sanctuary of Lourdes, not far from the Grotto of the Apparitions. Thomas positions the singers before taking the shots. This is for Gala, the People’s Press magazine. 150 years after the arduous sittings imposed on Bernadette, the first saint to be photographed, the smile on the face of Eyma who plays her, is not a sign of disrespect.
The documentary touches us personally. When part of the troupe, led by Francisco who, as a connoisseur of the history and spirituality of Lourdes, acts as a guide to its sense and meaning, comes to the places where Bernadette actually lived, time seems suspended. When they stop at the cachot we can see this in action. “Bernadette, today, she is each one of us,” Francisco whispers. We all have a prison inside us, a cachot from which we want to escape. We should spare a thought for all those who live in slums today. For all these “wretches.”
David Bàn, who plays the role of Bernadette’s father, François, with a great sense of strength and justice, serves as a guide to the very heart of the show. He is a happy fellow. Touched by his role, when he talks about his own father, he speaks with great emotion. “I have your eyes at the heart of mine, and I have the love that comes back to me,” says his song. To see him sneak a hug his with own son, who came to Lourdes after a 6-week separation, is beautifully poignant. Ditto for Eyma as she hugs her own father, Eric. It is deeply moving.
The scene of the final blessing, given by a priest of the Sanctuary of Lourdes, Father Régis-Marie de la Teyssonnière, is impressive in its simplicity. With those who believe and those who do not, he offers a prayer of thanks for the help given and the desire, placed in the hearts of each person, to tell the story of Bernadette of Lourdes.
1st July, the time of the Premiere finally arrives. The theatre is crowded. The audience is gathering. Behind the scenes, the group’s final preparations are being made. They encourage each other. They talk to each other, a lot. They embrace. They cry. They confide in each other: unnoticed, Eyma slips a note to Roberto, one of the show’s producers; “I feel your soul,” says Daniel to Francisco. Two hours later, the artists are back in the wings. “For the director, it’s like giving birth … I am relieved, all my energy has drained away, I am very happy, the show has met with the audience’s approval,” Serge reveals. Communion, sharing, joy: these beautiful words emerge from other lips. Without forgetting a thank you.
Bernadette of Lourdes is an unforgettable experience. A gift to offer to those we love. To your children. To the woman or the man in your life. To your parents. To your friends. To renew bonds. To say again, “I love you.”