Fans of opera and classic Hollywood melodrama could find themselves in a paradoxical situation this Valentine’s Day. Beginning Feb. 11,Opera Theater Oregon will be presenting a mixed media adaptation of Jules Massenet’s classic opera “Werther.”
Fans of opera and classic Hollywood melodrama could find themselves in a paradoxical situation this Valentine’s Day. Beginning Feb. 11,Opera Theater Oregon will be presenting a mixed media adaptation of Jules Massenet’s classic opera “Werther.” “Out of Eden” will be staged at the Alberta Rose Theater and features a combination of live and video performances, with accompaniment from a 15-piece orchestra.
What the performance lacks in appeal for opera purists, it makes up for with fans of Douglas Sirk’s classic Technicolor melodramas of the 1950s. Films such as “All That Heaven Allows,” and “Imitation of Live & Tarnished Angels” were themselves heavily influenced by classic opera and the themes common to the medium. “Werther” itself would require little more than a Technicolor palette for such transfiguration, but this production, staged with significant funding from the Portland State University School of Music, has far greater ambitions.
Transmuted from the original French is an English language adaptation, the tale of an American soldier leaving the Korean War and finding the open arms of a fallen soldier’s girlfriend. The script takes a decidedly operatic turn, however, when the rumors of the soldier’s death turn out to have been somewhat exaggerated. The script was adapted by Katie Taylor, taking significant liberties with Massenet’s original story.
“I’ve always found it very hard to pity Werther,” said Taylor of the story’s main character. “He descends vampire-like on this woman’s clean, untroubled life and completely wrecks it, feeling nothing but sorry for himself.”
When Taylor realized that the music would not support dramatic shifts to Werther’s character, she opted instead to shift the focus of the tragedy. It’s a risky move that isn’t supported by Sirk or Massenet’s historical reference points on tragedy, but it is certainly in keeping with director Todd Haynes’s homage to Douglas Sirk’s film. 2002’s “Far From Heaven” was Haynes’slove letter to Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows.”
The Opera Theater Oregon staging invol-ves live actors and orchestration, along with video projections created especially for the production. Through the videos, characters share their memories, dreams and even their perspective as they peek through a window. These aspects will be key in recreating a mood that is truly referential, as the classic melodramas of the 1950s relied heavily on emotional tension drawn out through the use of flashbacks, extended close-ups and longing gazes that test the modern attention span.
In addition to the stage production and video installation, Opera Theater Oregon is also producing a comic book with the help of artist Dan Schaefer, who has worked with publishers D.C, Dark Horse and Marvel. The comic book is intended to aid the audience in following the story in a production that will run just over two hours in length, with one brief intermission.
“It’s an easy way to help the audience get oriented to the story before the curtain rises,” Taylor said. She added that OTO plans to do more of the comic book programs in the future, as a fun and interesting way to integrate even more media into the evening’s affairs.
“Out of Eden” is not only an orgy of media convergence, but also an interesting example of the meta-mimetic nature of post-modern performance. With Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven” as Taylor’s professed starting point, “Out of Eden” will be a multimedia adaptation of a film referencing films that in turn were influenced by operas precisely like the one being adapted here.
The comic book may come in handy. ?