Sep 20, 2007

The Beauty and the Beast

La Belle et la Bête
Philip Glass (wikipedia in English, in French)

1994 Michael Riesman; The Philip Glass Ensemble
Janice Felty - La Belle
Gregory Purnhagen - La Bête/L'Officiel du Port/Avenant/Ardent
Ana Maria Martinez - Félicie
Hallie Neill - Adélaïde
Zheng Zhou - Ludovic
John Kuether - Le Père/L'Usurier
Nonesuch 7559-79347-2 (2 CD)

Libretto available here (in French).

My first encounteer with Philip Glass, as many, came via the soundtrack of The Hours (2002). As the music was quite excellent, I sneaked around the web to listen to other stuff Philip Glass had written.

And I discovered Koyaanisqatsi (1982).
Not the movie first.
Just the music.
Pure magic.

Then of course, I had to see the movie.
What a shock. An incredible, edgy, minblowing modern Fantasia.

After some other experiences with Philip Glass, I decided it was time to listen to his operas.

After two tries, La Belle et la Bête and The voyage, I must admit my enthusiasm for the music of Philip Glass does not extend to his operas.

I don't know what's wrong with me. Despite many attempts to enter the XXth century world of opera, I fail to like an opera composed after 1938 (year of Turandot); and I don't really like Puccini that much either (except for Il Tabarro that's short enough not to get me bored, which I am otherwise).

Let alone Stravinsky, Gian Carlo Menotti, Britten, Poulenc, Gershwin or Bernstein.
I just don't get it. That kind of music.

Philip Glass' La Belle et la bête is no exception.
And yet, they are so many things I like about this piece (just as long as I don't listen to it). The libretto is the exact retranscription of Cocteau's dialogues in his movie La belle et la bête; I love Cocteau, and I kinda like (well, at least I don't dislike it) operas sung in French.
Plus, I love the minimalism Philip Glass puts in his music.

But alas, I don't like the opera.

In the libretto, there's a transcript of a "conversation" Philip Glass had with some guy; he explains how he writes an opera, and puts in words exactly what I don't like about the piece:

"Satyagraha was the first opera in which I began to think of the vocal line as floating and free from its harmonics and rhythmic setting. Now, ten operas later, I've acquired a distinct vocal style of my own along with a real confidence about writing for the voice." [complete conversation here]

"Satyagraha fut le premier opéra dans lequel j'ai voulu une ligne vocale flottante et libérée de son environnement rythmique et harmonique. Maintenant, avec dix opéras de plus à mon crédit, j'ai développé un style d'écriture vocale qui m'est propre, et j'en suis devenu confiant quant à mes capacités d'écrire pour la voix."

Well, I dunno.
Maybe it's because I don't get the XXth century music, but the vocal line that Glass seems so proud of actually reminds me of Poulenc.
A lot.

Plus, let me tell you there are definitelly way too many notes in the instrumental line.
You just want the music to stop sometimes to regroup.
The only way out is litterally to press "pause" on your cd player.

Opinion alternative:
  • La Belle et la Bête de Philip Glass reste un opéra mineur dans la carrière du compositeur. Les mélodies sont habiles, parfois inspirées, d'un romantisme inhabituel chez Glass, parfois aussi alourdies par l'usage délibéré et exclusif du synthétiseur. La prouesse technique est évidente. La qualité de la composition est plus conventionnelle. [Horspress]

Lectures autour de cet opéra:

Extraits YouTube de la musique de Philip Glass:

Extrait mp3 de La belle et la bête: blindtest #8

No comments: