“In the 1990’s when I undertook a five year experiment to reinvent the synchronicity of image and music in film I chose these three films of Cocteau that I knew so well” Philip Glass
Philip Glass has a unique and imaginative relationship with film. Orphée is one of a trilogy of works that explores the relationship between film and live music – Les Enfants Terribles is a danced chamber opera based on the Cocteau novel of 1929 which was made into a film in 1950 by Jean-Pierre Melville, and La Belle et La Bêteis a “live dub” opera for ensemble and film, set directly to the 1946 film by Cocteau.
“I realised I knew how to make the sounds match the lips” Philip Glass
As a student in Paris, Glass and his contemporaries sometimes found work in “doublage”, or dubbing, and this idea is extended into his recreation of La Belle et La Bête, where the composer has replaced the spoken dialogue with sung lines, scene by scene – “what happens is that the live performer has lent their presence as live artists to a film, a mechanically produced object…it’s on loan”. In translating the French script of the film Orphée into English for the ENO (where translation is non-negotiable) essentially this is also an act of “doublage” and dubbing becomes part of the extended narrative of the piece.
“I was deconstructing the film with the music” Philip Glass
Philip Glass has a long and affectionate relationship with the films of Cocteau, seeing them first as a teenager in the US, and again later when studying in Paris, as many American composers did, with Nadia Boulanger. In his brilliantly entertaining autobiography Words and Music, Glass describes how as a Fullbright scholar in 1954 he found himself on his first night in Paris in an avant-garde café on the left bank, crowded with wildly drunk art students who stripped and painted each other red.
“the bohemian life you see in Orphee is the life I was attracted to” Philip Glass
In creating an opera out of the film “Orphée”, Glass has created another mirror to a work that reflects in multiple directions.
“instead of making a movie out of an opera I just made an opera out of a movie – I just reversed the roles”
Using the film script almost verbatim, with just one or two cuts or omissions, Glass’ score changes the piece completely while leaving it exactly the same. Glass allows us to investigate the characters in a new way, and casts a different light on the relationships between them. As every artist, he brings his own experiences into the hugely autobiographical work of another artist creating a new layer of interpretation, and his own personal reactions to Cocteau’s obsessions with immortality, success, fame, ambition and loyalty.
“The interesting thing about Cocteau’s film is that he created a very specific Orpheus version that plays in Paris. The film is also partially autobiographical. He goes about his life as an artist. […] But actually the film is about himself and also about his relationships with the other artists. […] 30 years ago, my situation was very different. I think this is a project that can only be tackled at a certain age. Today, at 55, I think I can write Orphée, I certainly would not have been able to write it at 30. “ Philip Glass