BRUSSELS, Sept 18, 2015 (AFP) - Over the years Tintin has battled spies, climbed the Himalayas and travelled to the Moon but the intrepid Belgian boy reporter now faces what could be his biggest adventure yet -- an opera.
Already immortalised in a series of much-loved comic books, film and theatre, Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy are now set to star in an open-air musical adaptation of the "The Castafiore Emerald", which opens this week near Brussels.
Featuring the eccentric diva Bianca Castafiore, whose voice can shatter glass, the book published in 1963 by Belgian author Herge tells the story of how she is invited to Marlinspike Hall, the country retreat of Tintin’s good friend, the drunken sailor Captain Haddock.
Teaming up with the bumbling, bowler-hatted detectives Thompson and Thomson, they brave a series of adventures to recover her stolen jewellery, including the precious, eponymous emerald.
"I’ve always found it the most musical of Herge’s books," director Francois de Carpentries told AFP, saying that turning it into an opera "is a childhood dream come true."
The opera is being performed in the open air from September 17 until 26 at the Chateau de La Hulpe south of Brussels, and further dates are likely to follow, in France among others.
"Herge was a genius, a true visionary," says de Carpentries, noting that many of the topics covered in the Tintin adventures published between 1929 and 1976 are still "hot".
These range from problems with technology -- in his case television -- to the treatment of Gypsies, who in one of the books are forced to live in a dump.
But in a sign of the times, the 13-year-old actor playing Tintin, Amani Picci, had never read the books before landing the role, even if he had seen cartoons on television.
He said that during rehearsals over the summer "I have received lots of advice for getting rid of stress" before going out in front of an audience of 1,800 to play a "legend" of popular culture.
But it is not Tintin who is centre stage but the "invasive, exuberant" Madame Castafiore, played by soprano Helene Bernardy.
Castafiore is a star of La Scala in Milan who flees to Marlinspike Hall to escape the attentions of the tabloids. But her presence irks Captain Haddock, whose expletives punctuate the performance.
Bernardy says playing Castafiore is "therapy -- you have to throw all your complexes in the bin." The character is "extreme in her reactions, her gestures -- she always wants to be noticed."
- Faithful to the book -
But she says that she has to be careful not to topple over into caricature.
"She sings all the big roles, at the Metropolitan in New York, at La Scala. So you have to stay a professional singer and then add all that fun, the comic book element, to stay faithful to the book."
The song that Castafiore sings in Herge’s book -- the "Jewel Song" from the opera "Faust" by Charles Gounod -- naturally features in the live performance, along with other operatic "pearls" that are meant to show a diva at the top of her game, says de Carpentries.
"We thought about what her repertoire would be. Because Castafiore is not just a big presence, she is a great singer with a huge repertoire, like (legendary soprano Maria) Callas," he adds.
The book’s lively dialogue has meanwhile been set to various tunes from the operatic canon.
The setting will be equally grand, in the 19th century surrounds of the Chateau de La Hulpe, a country house with pointed towers that bears an uncanny similarity to Marlinspike Hall. It is produced by the Belgian society "Opera For All", which over the past 20 years has been trying to bring opera to a wider public.