Pelléas et Mélisande
Feb. 28, 2018
This new film from New York-based artist Marco Brambilla documents the video projections he designed for a performance of French composer Claude Debussy’s first and only opera, which was revived by Aviel Cahn of the Opera Vlaanderen. Set in a science-fiction future, Brambilla’s artfully epic projections—inspired by the classic, psychedelic ‘stargate’ sequence of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—reinvent a journey across space and time.
“I used imagery from NASA and the Hubble Telescope,” explains the American visual artist, “using these visuals as brushstrokes to emphasise the opera’s rhythm, in a series of eclipses that travel deeper and deeper; always beginning and ending with the cosmos. For me, these celestial abstractions are impressionistic—Debussy’s music always triggers in me a sense of the universal, the cosmic.”
The Show in Gent runs from 23 Feb – 4 March, Then Luxemburg 14 June – 16 June
NOWNESS’ Ananda Pellerin sat down with Marco Brambilla to explore the project in greater detail.
There are some incredible collaborators working on this project. How did it come about?
I’ve worked with Marina before and always loved Damien Jalet and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s work. This production of Pelleas et Melisande is their vision and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate when Marina asked me to create the projections to add dimension and advance the narrative of this production.
What was the extent of your collaborators’ involvement? Cherkaoui, Jalet, Abramovic and Van Herpen?
The interdisciplinary aspect of our backgrounds made the collaboration very satisfying; each of us brought specific elements to the big picture. We spent considerable rehearsal time in Antwerp where I could experiment and calibrate the projections to work seamlessly with the staging and choreography. The overall effect is of a hybrid piece of theater where the singers, choreography, staging and projections are completely interconnected.
What are the main themes of the opera?
Maeterlinck’s symbolist play from which the libretto was adapted is a classic tragic love triangle. The challenge was to translate and present this into a contemporary vernacular. An underlying theme is Melisande exerting power over the male characters. Although fragile and ethereal, her presence drives the story.
Why Pelléas and Mélisande?
This is the only Opera Debussy had written and the director of Opera Vlaanderen, Aviel Cahn decided to stage this production on the 100th anniversary of his death with Damien and Larbi. Especially appealing is the universal nature of the subject matter makes it timeless and subject to almost endless interpretation. This production of Pelleas et Melisande is set in the future. In a science-fiction world.
What sort of visuals have you made for this? Where did you draw your inspiration (former productions, other things)
The idea from the beginning was that the projections would lend and epic element to a minimal stage concept. The seven meter circular projection screen acts as the iris of an eye with the entire stage being “enclosed” in a concave mirror surface which represents the inside of an eyeball. The projections act as a portal into the subconscious state of the characters. This journey is visualised using images of the cosmos with abstract celestial events taking us through the narrative.
Is this your first time working on an opera or similar staged event? Does this feel like a new type of venture for you?
Absolutely, but it felt quite natural. Similar to my work in public art installations—the process was probably the most satisfying I’ve had in years.
What have been your biggest challenges working on this project? How did you take into account all the other elements – sound, lighting, costumes etc.
The projections were synchronised to the drama unfolding onstage, the choreography of both the dancers and singers had to be reflected in the projections. This was important since everything was interlinked.
Are you a big opera and/or Debussy fan?
Debussy inspires me. Debussy is very cinematic you could say. I used an orchestral piece as the score for “Anthropocene” an installation with Art Production Fund in New York a few years ago.- Anything else you’d like to tell us about this amazing project?This production of the Opera feels like nothing you’ve ever seen. The effect is powerful and symbolic, totally taking the context of Pelleas et Melisande out of its “medieval” roots and connecting to the idea of ‘vision” in Maeterlincks’ original libretto.