MUSIC: Write if you get work


Quebec City visual wizard Robert Lepage stages the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of Berlioz’ Damnation de Faust. Do click on the link for the audio slide show; Lepage’s work looks stunning even (especially?) if you’re not an opera fan. Better yet, go here and click on the video link. At the end, Faust and his odd new acquaintance ride off to save the maiden, but it’s a trick and he’s riding into Hell. It’s supposed to be forboding and fantastic; in Lepage’s vision, it sure is. The use of horse imagery based on Eadweard Muyrbridge’s early motion pictures (which Berlioz could have seen in person, come to think of it) is brilliant.


MUSIC: Write if you get work

  1. Hmm, I have my doubts. Wouldn’t it be that much better if they handed the audience a scoop of Haagen-Dazs — different flavours, of course, depending on the mood — for a truly multisensory “experience”? Even better, they could write some opera music and get an orchestra and singers, so that while watching the video display you were also exposed to song! C’mon, Lepage, innovate!

    “We know the masses, we know the theatre. The best among those who sit there — German youths, horned Siegfrieds, and other Wagnerians — require the sublime, the profound, the overwhelming. That much we are capable of. And the others who also sit there — the culture crétins, the petty snobs, the eternally feminine, those with a happy digestion, in sum, the people — also require the sublime, the profound, the overwhelming. They all have the same logic. ‘Whoever throws us is strong; whoever defeats us is divine; whoever leads us to have intimations is profound.'”

  2. I’m not sure Berlioz would have been upset at what Lepage has come up with. I saw La Damnation de Faust, unstaged, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Levine last year in Paris. It was one of the great musical experiences of my life, but it was also clear that what Berlioz had in mind was something not far from a Vaudeville revue. The female lead sings an old folk ballad while brushing her hair; a minor character sings a bawdy tune full of double-entendres, for no good reason. He wanted his big pieces to be something for everyone, sublime to sensational.

    Anyway I’m very far from being an expert on opera. And quite far from being an unconditional Lepage fan. But I wish I had a chance to check out this latest experiment.

  3. Oh, I didn’t mean to attack Lepage, just gradiosity — which, as you say, certainly includes Berlioz himself! It just seems to me that the logical conclusion is that the audience should drop acid while watching the performance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my favourite aesthetic. But — I also wish I could see this show in NY!

  4. I’ve never been much of a fan of Berlioz. I’ve always found his operas to be somewhat heavy and overwhelming (as if he could never get the mix quite right).

    However, if want you can see this, it is being broadcast in HD on November 22nd.

  5. Thanks for the tip, Christine. The sometime opera buffs at the Maclean’s Ottawa bureau are seriously considering a road trip out to Gloucester to take this in.

    Berlioz very often doesn’t turn my crank, but I love me some Faust. More broadly, the impression I got in France was that the really serious composers were mostly German; and that, while the French like their Lully and even their Ravel, they didn’t seriously have somebody they’d put up against Brahms and Beethoven and Haydn — except maybe Berlioz. It was a really big deal when Levine brought the Boston Symphony to Paris to play Berlioz. Like he was bringing his A game.

  6. This new website format is horrible and not user friendly. Bring back to old format.

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