After six years in development, Pelagie -- a musical based on Antonine Maillet's Acadian epic Pelagie-la-Charrette -- finally opens tonight at the Bluma Appel in Toronto. I won't catch it until later in its run, but here's my interview with Maillet from the Post earlier this week:
In her books and plays, she writes not only about Acadian culture and history but in the Acadian language as well, a preserved version of old French specific to the region. "When the Acadians came to America -- they were the first Europeans to come and live in America, in 1604 -- that was the French that was spoken at the time," Maillet explains. "They took that French with them and kept it with them." (Pelagie's premiere coincides with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia and the 2004 World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia.)[Sorry for the lack of accents on those Pelagies... I'm at an unfamiliar keyboard.]
Because of the unique dialect, it is tremendously difficult to translate Maillet's works into English without losing their distinctness. Nonetheless, Maillet is supremely happy with [librettist Vincent] de Tourdonnet's work on Pelagie. "You can never get the real flavour when you translate, but you can get a similar flavour," she says. "Vincent has done that."
She says you can hear the rhythm of the ocean in Acadian French, which emphasizes the first syllable of words, sounding like waves crashing on the shore and then dispersing. "When I speak to translators, I say, 'Try to give it an ocean flavour, a sea flavour, a salty flavour," says the author, who has translated several of Shakespeare's plays into French herself, as well as David French's play Salt Water Moon.