Posts Tagged ‘maeterlinck’

some productions: maurice maeterlinck

In classics long after, some productions, video on June 7, 2010 at 12:39 am

Theater mit Carnet (2004)

OK, so one more Kane play (4:48 Pychosis) to cover this coming week after which expect a stab at Howard Barker. Or Edward Bond. Plus all those other people I’ve already promised (Genet, Lorca, Churchill), with an ongoing chronological series of posts on happenings on the way besides. It’s exhausting to imagine.

But – just for today – thought I’d play catch-up by supplementing my previous series on Maeterlinck with a selection of performance clips. I like this feature. Try doing this in a newspaper (and click through for source / credits).

The Death of Tintagiles was the last of Maeterlinck’s plays to feature marionettes alongside actors (although he preferred puppets to people), and apparently relates the story of a queen sending for the surviving child of a family she has had murdered to complete the job herself. She is successful. PS: Maeterlinck did not get on so well in Hollywood (other clips from this almost Lynchian presentation if you click-thru).

And here’s a bold staging of his opera with Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande, played up and down invisible staircases. The clash between their tradional costumery and what seems to be a stark geometric mountain is especially good.

And – not the clearest videocapture of The Blind, but placing the figures on sterile plinths is a nice touch. Additionally, excuse the excruciating ‘eye-opening’ unjoke in the introduction (and thumb-up soft-soaping) in this news piece on a production of the same played entirely by blind people.


lines from the betrothal

In classics long after, quotables on January 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

“Before you is the great veil of the Milky Way. Beyond it stretches the region in which your unborn children are waiting to show you the mother they have chosen.” (Light)

The last of Maeterlinck for right now (next? Phyllis Nagy) ’cause I’m dependent on what I can find at the library – which is why today’s entry relates to the sequel to his alleged masterpiece rather than the thing itself (this – The Blue Bird – I still haven’t read). The Betrothal (or, The Blue Bird Chooses) is described as a ‘Fairy Play’ (there’s something aboout the small magic suggested by that which could be applied to much contemporary drama).

The theme is very much coming-of-age, with our butterfly-winged deus ex machina, the Fairy Berylune returning to one of The Blue Bird‘s child heroes on the edge of manhood to arrange a lifelong lovematch.  And so, in troop a gaggle of village girls he’s lusted politely, distantly, unspokenly after (wonderfully-named: Milette, Belline, Roselle, Aimette, Jalline, Rosarelle), and they’re taken off on a journey to discover which will be his. The Fairy insists it’s predetermined, he should know but can’t seem to choose and, to complicate the hormonal cauldron, there’s one phantom-like girl tagging along who won’t have a face until he remembers her (yeah, I know, you just guessed the ending – but let’s see how they get there).

blue bird

“There are girls in the village, in the town, way back in the forest and in every house. You find them everywhere when your heart’s awake… Which is prettiest?” (The Fairy)

As a means of nixing a world of tiresome interactions, Berylune casts a spell which suppresses all concerned’s everyday selves: “We are now in a sphere in which men and women don’t quarrel or wish one another harm. All of that was merely make-believe and doesn’t exist deep down… If some of them are unhappy because you hesitate in your choice, they will none the less hope on until the end; and they know very well that where there is love there must also be sorrow…” It’s a neat way of forestalling quibbles – sign-posting supernatural additions to the storyworld’s rules of reality excises what would otherwise be obstacles to suspension of disbelief for some poor literalists.

blue bird chooses

“…we have always lived in each other; for you were already living in me when I was on the earth; and now I live in you while you are still on that same earth, which we seem to have quitted…” (The Great Ancestor)

The most intriguing aspect of the play for now is its genetic component – Tyltyl must be helped in his choice first by ancestors (Maeterlinck well-making the point that all family trees contain – relative – successes and failures, herroes and villains) and then by his own descendents: “…we know everything that happens inside you; we’re there ourselves. Besides, there’s very little that separates us from the ancestors: our interests are the same and our paths often meet.” (The Oldest Child)

lines from ardiane and barbe bleue

In classics long after, quotables on January 29, 2010 at 10:56 am

“I obeyed more swiftly than the rest / But other laws than his.” (Ardiane)

bluebeard & ardiane

Maeterlinck’s take on the Bluebeard story is the work from which I find it easiest to summarise how I feel about the whole damned corpus (that I’ve read thus far). So: it’s not difficult to imagine how Maeterlinck’s popularity came about – he attacked traditional stage convention (as the naturalists had already, and recently) but rather than closer to reality aimed deeper into his own uncharted unreality. His own peculiar strain of determined contrariness fed more from fairy and folk tales than the proven range of romantic stage templates.  For avant-gardists of whatever inclination, each play expanded possibilities further – in attempting to stage personal symbolism rather than the shared currency of conventional meanings, Maeterlinck was a seamouth for further experimentation. And, since he preferred symbols with no set value, the plays were ultimately unresolvable, not simply reducible as the allegories which had so long locked and indexed fantasy to reality. Cliches, after all, are only those expressions once so powerful that they – by echoing, or copying, or cloning through many artists’ work and audiences’ memories – claim a place in culture as a piece of shorthand.

(An aside: above, the first part of Pina Bausch’s version of Bartok’s ‘Barbe Bleue’ opera  – only vaguely related, but heart-arrestingly-not-literally powerful – seek out the others).

“He loves me: I am beautiful: So shall I learn his secret.” (Ardiane)

Ardiane has been cited as a feminist heroine for refusing the role of obedient wife – given six silver keys, plus one of gold she is forbidden to use, she reflexively ‘…throws away the keys of silver, which tinkle and ring on the marble flags.’ Her nurse uses the former to show her the treasures they unlock: ‘the two leaves of the door glide of their own motion into lateral recesses…countless gems…fall like a crumbling mass of violet flames…’ (and this is a good example of Maeterlinck’s startlingly innovative – precisely because ‘challenging’ – staging effects). Said nurse disgraces her position rather with gem-lust, but Ardiane can’t muster any enthusiasm: “I seek the forbidden door”.’

barbe bleue II wives

Behind this, she learns without much to do, are Bluebeard’s previous five wives and, caught, she joins them (when said monster, sad, says “It was a very little thing to ask,” it’s actually quite touching). But then: KER-SLAM. Our preternaturally calm protagonist wanders into darkness as if conducting a listless lap of a cottage garden – “fear not; he is wounded, he is overcome / But knows it not as yet.” Without spoiling the ending, the ragged, long-captive wives edge out of the dark…

lines from sister beatrice

In classics long after, quotables on January 29, 2010 at 1:31 am

“This heavy veil that so constrains your throat / And weighs upon your heart. ‘Twas made for death / Never for life!” (Bellidor)

‘A miracle play in three acts,’ the Sister Beatrice of the play’s title is set to fall for a passing prince – in her confusion confiding to a statue of the virgin “To look at, like your son”. After a long, fairly undignified tug-of-hearts between said statue and her lover (armed with hyperbolic declarations), she dumps her uniform and scampers tearily off. Left alone, the statue sings of forgiveness and,climbing off its pedestal, decides to take her place (if you saw that coming, you’re not clever, you’re psychotic).

beatrice poster

Proclaiming ‘the hour of pardon’, the Beatrice Formerly Known As A Statue (Seriously) drifts about the abbey casually (but not at all covertly) performing miracles – although most of the nuns are too busy bewailing the empty pedestal where their marble virgin used to be. Questioning (they think) Beatrice, they first believe her responsible for looting the thing (Sister Gisela: “Profanatrix!”) but then she explodes into more supernatural spectacle (flames, blossoming boughs, hosannas) so they saint her instead.

sister beatrice by meyerhold

“…all the house / Is void as though my sins had emptied it…” (Sister Beatrice)

The real Beatrice arrives back in rags (“O see to what estate have brought her love / And sin, and all that men call happiness!) after twenty years of ‘all that men call happiness’ while the statue creeps back to its plinth (“‘I wait,’ she said, ‘until my saint returns'”). Unable to convince her fellow sisters of her elopement – “I lost all shame / I lost all reason, and I lost all hope. / All men by turns this body have profaned…” being countered check-matily with: “She is worn out with miracle” – our heroine ends the play somewhat confused, perhaps unworthily exasperated, and ‘falls back exhausted among the sheets’.

lines from the blind

In classics long after, quotables on January 29, 2010 at 12:42 am

“I believe I can feel the moonlight on my hands.” (The Young Blind Girl)

one blind

The stage directions for Maeterlinck’s third play focus toward ‘…the deepest shadows…an ancient PRIEST, wrapped in an ample black robe. His head and torso, tilted back a little and deathly still, are leaning against the trunk of an enormous hollow oak. His face, with its violet lips parted, is of a changeless waxon pallor. His expressionless staring eyes no longer look at the visible world…’ He is flanked by his charges, six robed blind men and women. Thinking he’s gone ahead, they are waiting for him to return them home. It’s one of the great set-ups in drama – as they sit, chatter, waste time and worry, the audience sees the desperation of their situation from the curtain rise.

“We’ve never seen each other. We ask each other questons, and we answer them; we live together, we’re always together, but we don’t know what we are!” (The Oldest Blind Man)

Appreciated at a distance, feared at close quarters, the island hosting their hospice seems a bloundless wild kingdom to them – flowers and thorns, dead leaves, falling night and – as they face the end – falling snow. “The centre stage is held by a dead man, and the others characters’ fear of approaching death and their powerlessness to prevent it forms the central intrigue of the play.” (Maya Slater)

many blind

Toward the close of action, having realised the full seriousness of their situation, squabbling over what they can possibly do, some start to hear a woman’s skirt approaching – and the only sighted person in the group – a ‘Madwoman’s baby’ seems to cry in response. The audience see nothing, even as the blind become convinced the footsteps have stopped in their midst. What this might mean – whether a personification of death, a suggestion there are things the sighted audience can no more see than those lost on the island – must be passed over. The baby cries as the curtain falls.

“I can hear the waves, so close I could dip my hands in! We musn’t stay here! The waves could be all around us!” (Second Man Born Blind)

here to begin with maeterlinck

In bio, classics long after on January 27, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Time for an elegant sideshuffle – expect more Brecht in time, but I have three dusty old hardbacks I need to return to the library, so I’m going to write about the Nobel Laureate who wrote them before my fines hit double figures (again). We’re talking Maurice Materlinck, and you can find a wikibio behind that link (includes: roller skates, proto-surrealism, socialism, plagiarism, actors considered inferior to marionettes, ‘static drama’ and a script which induced Samuel Goldwyn to ‘burst out of his office, exclaiming: “My God! The hero is a bee!”‘)

maeterlinck portrait

Considered a Symbolist (click-through to Jean Moreas’ Symbolist Manifesto), his works were extravagant, cryptic (if often childlike) fantasies popular among the Parisians of the fin-de-siecle – myths minted against naturalism. A sympathetic attitude would see Debussy build an opera around Pelléas et Mélisande (this adaptation-by-composer rather than the standard commissioning of a libretto would ensure it was formally innovative). In the words of Maya Slater, via her introduction to Oxford’s ‘Three Pre-Surrealist Plays’ (lining Maeterlinck’s ‘The Blind’ up with Jarry and Apollinaire):

“He discards the historical dramas and drawing-room comedies alike. Equally, he rejects naturalism with its adoption of the crude details of ordinary life… Instead, he focuses on a different tradition: poetry… His predilection is for mysticism and metaphysics. He is drawn to myth and legend. He makes no attempt to situate his characters – to give them roots… If they seem mysterious and even incomprehensible, so much the better. Similarly, the problems that provide the intrigue of the plays are visibly human dilemmas, but stripped of their contemporary trappings.”

Most of the contemporary ‘re-imaginings’ watchable online made me cringe so hard my ribcage clenched like fists but there is a clip culled from a 1918 film of what’s considered his masterpiece ‘The Blue Bird’ which features veiled children and heavenly lovers literally separated at birth… (and here’s Shirley Temple reading it on radio..!)

Detached tangent: you need to see the cover of Aleksandr Blok’s book ‘Theatre’.

Blok's 'Theatre'