Friday, September 17, 2010

Savoir Faire in the Underworld

I have always been intrigued by the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice with the Jean Cocteau film Orphee being one of my all time favourite movies. Full of symbols of deep love, death, mortality, trust and loyalty the film is a visual masterpiece. Although the legends of Orpheus extend way beyond that of Orpheus and Eurydice this is the legend that has garnered more attention than his other exploits. Orpheus and the underworld has been portrayed by many artists, moviemakers and musicians, however I think none did it better than Cocteau and maybe some of the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

We are all familiar with Orpheus’ journey to the underworld to rescue his beloved wife Eurydice on the advice of the nymphs and his subsequent disastrous return

Cocteau with his usual savoir faire updated the legend and set it in modern contemporary times taking liberty with original story to create an incredibly moving and thought provoking piece of cinema. This has now become a classic.

Imagery abounded, for example the underworld’s messengers being portrayed as two motorcyclists with rather menacing attitudes.

Another interpretation of the legend was Portland Opera’s production of Philip Glass’ Orphee. Philip Glass one of the most renowned and often produced composer of modern times, carefully follows the script of Cocteau’s masterpiece to produce an intriguing work. Although not ranking in the same league as Cocteau’s I definitely give it an honourable mention.

The Portland Opera like Cocteau sets this in contemporary times so that the audience can relate better to the situation and may at least feel some sort of empathy for the characters. Placing it in a modern day setting we tend not to think of the ancient origins of the story.

This is an incredibly stylish production that creates parallel universes with the use of mirrors and transparent borders through which the main characters can travel to and from the underworld.

As in the Cocteau production death is represented by La Princesse. Cocteau had her elegantly attired in black, while the Portland Opera has costumed her in white fur, maybe to make her more appealing to our protagonist.

New love may have its passion; however married love brings adds whole new dimension to the passion, so that two almost become a single being, with partners sometimes going to extraordinary lengths to stay together as Orpheus has shown us.

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