“A beautiful book is one that plants an abundance of question marks”
“Un beau livre, c’est celui qui sème à foison les points d’interrogation.” Jean Cocteau
Ideas for this production of Philip Glass’ Orphée all refer to three quotes by the poet/film director Jean Cocteau;
1. “A film is a frozen fountain of thought, a film brings the dead back to life, a film brings the appearance of reality to the unreal”
Philip Glass’ Orphée has film and ideas about the possibilities of film at its centre. Its libretto is a verbatim rendering of the script of Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film “Orphée”, the second of Cocteau’s Orpheus trilogy, and the opera is itself one of a trilogy of Glass works based on the films of Jean Cocteau.
This production interweaves live action and projection – lights and cameras on stage acknowledge the mechanics of film-making, referencing the on set photographs of Cocteau’s “Testament d’Orphée”, Cocteau’s film about the original film “Orphée, by Lucien Clergue.
The staging explores the visual mechanics of film-making and the poetic possibilities of film techniques – time can stop or go backwards, a person or an event can be seen from multiple perspectives, in extreme close up or broad landscape, and film can trick and lie, defy death and create a kind of immortality.
From opening up-beat to closing note the set is in constant motion, and the projection follows the moving set.
At the heart of this is a close portrayal of intimate and affecting human stories – jealousies, affections, failures and ambitions, in Cocteau’s particular reworking of the Orpheus myth, and Glass’ particular reworking of Cocteau’s film.
2. “It is much less a film than it is myself”
The opera is like a hall of mirrors or multiple reflective surfaces – it is based on a film, which itself drew inspiration from the whole history of opera. The film reflects on the film-maker and the opera also draws on aspects of the composers life. Both the film and the opera refer to other films and other operas, and ideas of creativity, death and immortality are at the centre of the work. It is itself and it is also about itself.
Here the poet Orpheus is a kind of anti-hero, a solipsistic obsessive whose fame and success are his undoing. The mysterious Princess who mesmerizes him, the poise of his disregarded wife, the blazing women of the Ligue des Femmes, and the critical sneers of the younger generation all create an ambiguous portrait of the artist and the man.
3. “Cinema is the form of modern writing whose ink is light”
Darkness and light are central to the visual narrative of the production, where light and projected light are the key storytelling tools. The production is modern but not set in any particular period. It draws on the stylistic awareness of Jean Cocteau, the imagery of the film trilogy, the visible “frame” of the Testament d’Orphee, the impact on the writer of the wartime occupation of Paris, the multiplicity of his output, and the effect that Cocteau’s work had on the young Philip Glass, arriving in Paris in 1954.