In Fresnes prison, prisoners in concert with the Radio France orchestra


Led by opera singer Johanne Cassar and cellist Jérémie Maillard, ten prisoners sang in front of some 40 detainees on Tuesday, before the concert was broadcast on Radio France.

On stage with Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, ten singers make their entrance. Serious, a little embarrassed, they sing: “The sky is over the roof, so blue, so calm” from Fresnes prison, where they are being held.

Illuminated by neon lights, a large old chapel with windows protected by dark blue curtains serves as a concert hall for these young men in tracksuits, who give their first classical music concert in front of an audience of about forty prisoners, on Tuesday, April 5. . , south of Paris. Their voices are guided by the soprano Johanne Cassar and carried by the violins, cellos, bassoon, double bass and drums of the twelve musicians of the orchestra of french radio.

Makes thugs outside, vocalizations inside

A recluse on stage

between the pieces A furtive tear from Gaetano Donizetti Where go thought from Giuseppe Verdithe singers, standing or sitting on plastic chairs, take the floor:

– “Now we have to hold on”, said an inmate.

– Receive visitors, continues another.

– Create a routine, add a third.

– Build muscle.

– And get out of his cell, get out of his cell, get out of his cell.

– So keep it up, I’m not a crazy number.

In the wooden stands, the audience applauds, then laughs heartily when one of them adds: “He makes thugs on the outside, vocalizations on the inside”.

This is the second time that Johanne Cassar, artistic director of the Coloratura association, has led the project. music imprintafter a first experience in the Fleury-Mérogis remand center for women (Essonne) in 2018. “For us classical musicians, music is a passion, a job, but it’s also really a strength”explains the artist, with natural authority, who does not hesitate to go on stage to mix with the prisoners, at the time of retirement. “By bringing this music, with all the demands it requires, we try to transmit this strength to people who are obviously in difficulty”.

During fifteen workshops, the instrumentalists played in front of the prisoners, who discovered and learned excerpts from the opera, thanks to the collaboration of the pianist Emmanuel Christien, but also Radio France and, in particular, the cellist Jérémie Maillard. After the concert, the group will also record a piece specially created by Francesco Filidei. All this organized by the Prison Integration and Conditional Release Service (SPIP) and supported by Explora Art Foundation.

“These workshops reveal a part of intimacy”receives Camille Blumberg from SPIP, confident that she has “felt see really” the prisoners when they discovered the orchestra, its shell “big tough guys” leaving space for sincere respect before a hitherto unknown universe. this concert “very touching” shows that the prisoners “They are capable of overcoming themselves”adds the director of the prison, jimmy delliste.

In the old chapel, Rayan, a 24-year-old defendant with his hair tied back in a duvet, sings without looking at his notes. (His first name, like that of the other detainees, has been changed, editor’s note.) Initially, the young man, enrolled in the workshop so as not to be “locked 22 hours a day”had stayed “perplexed” in front of the soprano determined to make them sing: classical, when you listen to rap? Italian, when she doesn’t understand anything about it? And her embarrassment during the first voice warm-ups… Today, Rayan radiates. His “good memory” the promotion “Leader” with “responsibilities”: “When the group has a gap, they follow me”.

Moussa has also evolved. The convict in his twenties had first registered to have “additional referrals”. Then, in a trial in whichAFP was able to attend, the young man, dressed in PSG jogging, closed his eyes while he sang, as if knocked down. Opera “to make laugh” but it also makes you escape, it gave you: “You really let yourself go, it’s like you’re being transported”. However, on D-Day, Moussa is absent from the concert due to“indiscipline”.

Karim, 20 years old, he “out tomorrow”after fifteen months of detention. “It’s a new start” because now he considers himself more capable: “Before I came here, I never thought I could sing in front of people”. In spite of the “lump in the stomach” from the first notes, the soon-to-be-released prisoner broke free “he felt in his element” with the orchestra, these people from “outside”. emu? “It’s a big emotional word, but yeah, it’s okay, it’s okay, I’m happy.”.


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