La Belle et la Bête
by Philip Glass
Libretto (French) by the composer – based on the screenplay by Jean Cocteau
Thursday, May 20, at 7:30 pm
Friday, May 21, at 7:30 pm
Saturday, May 22, at 7:30 pm
Castro Theater, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Details subject to change.
Once upon a time, in a world of magic and wonder, the true love of a beautiful girl finally dispelled the torment of a feral but gentle-hearted beast. Jean Cocteau’s sublime adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy-tale masterpiece is a landmark of motion picture fantasy, with unforgettably romantic performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. By transforming the characters of both the Beast and Belle from childlike figures to complex adult characters living in a surrealistic dream world, Cocteau transforms the tale into a surreal vision of death and desire while exploring themes that continue to resonate today–identity, compassion, and inner beauty. This timeless icon of cinematic wonder served as the inspiration for Philip Glass’ 1994 opera of the same name.
In May 2021, Opera Parallèle will present La Belle et la Bête at the historic Castro Theatre, the first company given permission to perform this work outside of The Philip Glass Ensemble. This opera is the second in a trilogy of works Glass intended as an homage to Cocteau. With this production Opera Parallèle will complete performances of all three operas, having performed Orphée in 2011 and Les Enfants Terribles in 2017. For this groundbreaking fusion of opera and cinema, Glass stripped the original soundtrack to integrate his own music, to be performed live with the film. The new score incorporates the original spoken dialogue, now sung to match the on-screen action.
“The journey in ‘La Belle et la Bête’ becomes a journey through the unconscious to the site of the creative–the artist going into himself. The film is about the transformation of half-beast/half-human–which is what we are…”
Glass’ initial concept was for the opera to be performed by four singers taking on multiple characters along with a small instrumental ensemble while the film is projected in the background. With the exclusive permission of Philip Glass, the Philip Glass Ensemble and the Cocteau Estate, Opera Parallèle has been allowed to develop a new hybrid approach for this production. Using the film as the primary source, Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel and Media Designer David Murakami will at times ‘remove’ the actors from the original film and ‘insert’ the singers performing in real-time. This lateral character shift will be possible by using live motion capture to place the singers into Cocteau’s world and by creating exact replicas of the film’s extraordinary costumes, so live singers become interchangeable with the actors from the original. In addition, the singers will be staged using the beautiful Castro Theatre interior as part of the production’s scenic elements, such as singing from the Juliet balconies, and in front of the film being projected as a virtual set. Having singers move between the film and the stage evokes the magical mirrors in Cocteau’s film and will enhance the surreal aesthetic of the film. This new production will blur the boundaries of film and opera even further to create a transformed music theater – honoring two of the great artistic minds of modern times, Cocteau and Glass.
Conductor | Nicole Paiement
Director/Production Concept | Brian Staufenbiel
Media Designer | David Murakami
Assistant Director/Choreographer | Yayoi Kambara
Assistant Conductor | Jessica Bejarano
La Belle: Rachel Schutz – Soprano
La Bête / Avenant / L’Officier / The Prince: Hadleigh Adams – Baritone
La Père / Ludovic / L’Usurier: Philip Skinner – Bass/Baritone
Félicie / Adelaïde: Sabrina Romero-Wilson – Soprano
Glass’ artistic commitment to create a musical environment that absorbs the moods and feelings of a story is a staple of his works written for film. His great skill as a cinematic composer to subconsciously take you into the narrative is uniquely powerful. For La Belle et la Bête, Glass composed evocative, arresting music exploting contemporary timbres and colors that move with the shifting moods of the film. The score is filled with haunting recurring themes that paint both love and yearning. Pulsing, driving motives maintain a dramatic urgency throughout. This film score, like all Glass works, inhabits a space that is uniquely theirs.
“…what has remained radical is the rethinking of the nature of music and film through the lens of opera. Although Auric (the film’s composer) had larger forces and was a master of instrumental color, he served the image on the screen. Glass changes the equation, transforming Cocteau’s work just as Belle transforms the beast.”
MARK SWED, LOS ANGELES TIMES
The story of La Belle et la Bête is one that can be found in many cultures around the world and throughout history–as Disney famously puts it, a tale as old as time. Varying interpretations of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ have helped keep the story alive for centuries, presenting fresh versions for new generations. From early iterations in Greek mythology and ancient folk tales from Africa, India and China, to its French origins in the 17th Century and modern day Disney, the story transcends time and speaks of the human condition. Drawing from this depth of history, Opera Parallèle will explore the universal themes of identity and perceptions of beauty in our modern day society, creating opportunities for audiences to discover this story in a new and relevant way. OP will continue to work with our community partners to unpack how these themes relate to the LGBTQ community and find new meaning in this timeless tale.
Ann & Gordon Getty | Diane & Steven Heiman