At the age forty-three, Jean Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine suffered a massive stroke, which left him in a state of total paralysis. A man who has been accustomed to the “good life” suddenly finds himself incapable of communicating except by blinking his left eyelid, the only part of his body that he still controls. With the aid of his ex-partner and a brilliant young speech therapist, Jean Dominique miraculously writes a brilliant memoire by blinking out the text letter by letter.
The opera poetically depicts the challenges that Jean Dominique faces and his heroic struggle, despite his profound physical limitations, to decide to tell his story. The title of his memoire The Diving Bell And The Butterfly refers to his celebration of the imagination to transcend the physical reality he finds himself in. It is these flights of imagination that become the world in which the story of the opera plays out. Jean Dominique enters his reflections and actively portrays the events of his life and then, as the imagination yields to reality, he finds himself once again facing the cold truth of his situation.
From his romantic entanglements, to his desperation to communicate with his children, to the need to access through art a voice that declares that his life still matters, the opera explores the gripping adventure of the end of a man's life in which the race is on to make sense of how he has lived and what he wants to leave behind. Jean Dominique's brilliant book is an emotional and human story. Even though the circumstances of his life are unique the appeal is universal. It is the need to communicate with each other, to be understood that is at the core of his brilliant work. It also why exploring these themes and this story through music seems so fitting. In the end the story is about what music is about, namely the essential need to connect with one another.