A Castle of Stone and Sea : the life, songs and stories of a 19th-century Breton woman

(Original title : Maryvonne La Grande) 

written and performed by Marthe Vassallo 

in collaboration with Hervé Lelardoux

Want to know more? Contact Marthe Vassallo

Want a glimpse of it ? It was in Scotland in 2018 for the Scottish International Storytelling Festival! If you are on Facebook, here is the video of the first night in Edinburgh

You have never heard of Maryvonne Le Flem, who lived in the 19th century, in a small village by the sea in Brittany. And yet before the show is over you will root for her, rejoice in her indomitable spirit and share her pains. You will feel as if you had met her, thanks to singer Marthe Vassallo's warm voice and passionate storytelling, based on her research through a rare treasure trove of documents.

(Photograph by Philippe Ollivier.)

Maryvonne would be a forgotten name in a registry, were it not for her encounter with Breton writer Anatole Le Braz and musician Maurice Duhamel: the former noted down page after page about her, her songs and her stories, and gradually became a true friend of hers; the latter published over 60 of her tunes in his vast collection of traditional Breton music. It took Marthe Vassallo's curiosity, one century later, to find that all this corpus, as well as a portrait she had found, depicted the same person – and a fiercely interesting person at that.

‘Marivon Vraz’ (Tall Maryvonne, her Breton nickname) never knew how to read and lived the thankless life of the poor, yet what is striking about her is her love of expression – singing, talking, telling and hearing stories – and her strength of body and mind. Life may deal blows and humiliations, she always finds a way to stand tall and optimistic. Her conversations with Anatole Le Braz are an autobiography; her songs tell of proud women, divine justice, true love and well-earned riches. As Marthe Vassallo reads from the archives, sings or shares her story, Maryvonne regains more than some existence: shining through are her personality and agency, the very things that people like her were so often denied.

(Photograph by Odile Lehmann.)

IMG 6260 - Marthe Vassallo 1

Marthe Vassallo is hailed as one of the greatest voices in today's Breton music. A versatile artist, whose interests range from opera to many kinds of stage performance, she remains true to Breton traditional singing, collaborating with singers and musicians such as Gilles Le Bigot and Jean-Michel Veillon, the Bagad Kemper, Annie Ebrel, Nolùen Le Buhé, Philippe Ollivier and dance music band Loened Fall. In the past few years she has also become more visible as a writer. Her book+ CD Les Chants du Livre Bleu was distinguished in 2016 by the prestigious Académie Charles Cros. It was while doing research for that solo project that she came across Maryvonne, who was hidden under a variety of names in the archives. 'I instantly knew I was going to do something about her, and that it would have to be an artistic project, not just a research. She was truly leaping out of the pages, it would have made no sense not to share this emotion. I do my best to remain as accurate as I can, but I am a singer and a storyteller, and so was she. By sharing her life and interpreting the traces of her songs with my bare voice – no microphone, no instruments, and the show usually takes place outdoors in walking performances – I want to keep closest to the only powers she had: the human voice and imagination. I don't shy away from pointing the gaps in the story – the things I'll never know, or the odd shadows in her own accounts –, yet audience members will tell me ‘‘it felt as if she was among us’’. That's a fantastic reward.'

A Fur ha Foll/ Le Logelloù production, in association with the Festival de Cornouaille and Petit Festival de Musique en Trégor with the support of the Région Bretagne and the Département des Côtes d’Armor.

Many thanks to the CRBC-UBO for access to Anatole Le Braz’s notebooks.