stage director

Shakespeare transformed, Ewa Schreiber in Ruch Muzyczny

“Ophelia” directed by Monika Dobrowolañska and “The four last songs” stage designed by Rudi van Dantzig in The Grand Theatre in Poznañ. A review by Ewa Schreiber in Ruch Muzyczny.
Prasqual is the author of Ophelia. This artistic nickname belongs to Tomasz Praszczałek (born in 1981) the graduate of The Academy of Music in Poznań, the class run by Grażyna Proskońska – Nawratil, an artist who has been living in Germany for the last several years. In 2006 Wrocław city showed his chamber opera called „Ester”. Since that time Prasqual has written one more opera as well as a theatre – musical work for children (Carp&Bread\ Moses musssingen), none of which (?) was performed in Poland. „Ophelia” is also a chamber music work, still its contents and musical adaptation resulted in a work which is much more significant in character. Libretto by the same composer is a free adaptation of Hamlet by Shakespeare and “The story about three lovers” from the Arabian nights (Bajki tysiaca I jednej nocy?). In the opera these three lovers are Ophelia, Hamlet and Laertes, still Ophelia is a main character. The love triangle is highly surprising: Hamlet is in love with Leartes, Leartes with Ophelia whereas Ophelia loves Hamlet. The spectators who are deeply attached to the prototype can consider these relationships to be an abuse. Still, reading the text it can be easily noticed that the author aims at revealing the ambiguity of behaviour and conversations rather than the characterization of Shakespeare heroes in a new manner. The possessive brotherly love of Leartes or Hamlet’s reserve towards Ophelia being in love with him are perceived differently from this perspective. Unfulfilled love leads to death of all characters but the order of life and death remains unchanged. The heroes die at the beginning of the spectacle. What happens next is shown in the manner of quiet and resignation. Emotions do not influence the course of events, they are only experienced, occasionally even contemplated. Ophelia knows that death is due and she has accepted this fact. She says goodbye to other characters in the last scene singing them a farewell lullaby. Due to the repetitive experiences, the life drama of the three heroes takes some characteristics of a myth.
Libretto text is very concise. Quotation from Hamlet appear(s?)in abridged versions, often they are said by characters other than in an original literary work. The lines of the main character are partially Hamlet’s lines; the three characters also say the monologue of an actor playing the queen in the spectacle performed in Elsinore. In the first scene Ophelia sings Miranda’s songs from “The Sea and the Mirror” by Auden, and in the last scene – the song of Giuseppe Ungaretti; Leartes while conversing with his sister recites e. e. cummings’ poetry. The collection of different modes of expressions creates an interesting language structure – a slow course of archaic Shakespeare’s language is interrupted by chopped phrases from cummings, whereas the repetition of individual words such as “death” or “she loves me” makes the text sound like music.
(…) It was Monika Dobrowlańska’s first experience with directing opera on a stage, and she definitely made a success. Every singer is accompanied by his double – a dancer. The dancers’ movements reinforce the spectacle’s emotional charge and show what cannot be expressed by singers’ body language. Occasionally the characters’ faces are also shown on video screens. Everybody wears their outfit in a given colour: Hamlet – a black one, Leartes – a white one, Ophelia – a red one, and in death scenes – a white one. The stage design is simple and very suggestive: humble signs (for example colourful flowers on Ophelia’s dress train, castle walls in a scene of the dance with Hamlet, a large screen with glittering water at the end of the performance) suggest the scenery in which the drama happens. The curtains, glittering stage background and video projections make the audience think of the metaphor of a mirror which is repeated many times in libretto, a moveable platform on which the dancers dance let the director create an additional drama plan.
Electronic opera fragments got a very interesting setting: video projections accompany the subsequent interludes, thus they present a road which Ophelia can see when she makes her way towards the death. First, the screen shows a white and black picture of a meadow, next some hands collecting flowers and weaving a garland, eventually a narrow path in a forest heading for water. The pictures pass very quickly in front of our eyes, the destination of our journey appears only at the end – we can see the red silhouette of Ophelia on the edge of forest path, next her face and eyes glancing from underwater.
The camera movement is perfectly synchronized with music. What could pose some problems for the audience were these very quick scene changes; frequent curtain falling and raising which occasionally disturbed the spectacle dramaturgy and made us remember that “it is merely the theatre”. Perhaps the spectacle rhythm would be more harmonious if each scene change was preceded by a short pause.
The evening was complemented by the ballet performed to Richard Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder” in neoclassical stage design. (…)
Even though the evening was broken into two parts, each of them have had their separate value. The four last songs introduced the audience into abundant, visual and mobile imagination. First of all, „Ophelia” has left an impression of creating a complete work, a work worth watching several times to be better understood. The spectacle could be an incentive to watch other contemporary operas and strengthen the faith in the value of new compositions. The Grand Theatre in Poznań shows such repertoire rarely and with great caution. Therefore Ophelia performance is a sign that a lot more important things can happen on this stage.

“Szekspir przeobrażony”
Ewa Schreiber
Ruch Muzyczny no 7/03.04.

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