Silent Movie Opera (Carmen, 1910): Music Theatre for three singers, electronics and video

Till, Nicholas (1999) Silent Movie Opera (Carmen, 1910): Music Theatre for three singers, electronics and video. [Performance]

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This is probably about typical of the sort of thing you find at BAC Opera,
a summer festival at the Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill which might
be as you'll get to an operatic Woodstock. It's a work in progress based on
two weeks' development, and it pushes an interesting idea as far as it can
go on a shoestring budget. The funding seems to come from the ENO Studio
and Wimbledon School of Art.

The starting point is an eight minute long film of Mallarme's Carmen, made
in France in 1910 with Regina Badet as Carmen. Badet is credited as "of
l'Opera Comique", so I assume she's an opera singer, though the plot
details added to the opera are missing. She certainly does the standard
gestures with passion. The film consists of seven or eight scenes, each
introduced by a title. This is by way of being the comic strip Carmen.

The camera is fixed to give full-length middle distance views of the
actors, and the composition and gestures other than Badet's look like those
of the stage. There is some not bad small-scale crowd work (nothing like
that in Maurice Elvey's Lloyd George, made ten years later), and a dreadful
ensemble hands-in-the-air when Jose kills the officer. The overall result
is tidier than Griffiths at his worst, but lacks any kind of grandeur.

The performance began, after a scratchy recording of Au bainlieue de
Seville, with a showing of the film without music, projected on both sides
of a screen positioned diagonally across the auditoriusm. This mainly shows
how badly the film needs the music, and highlights the irony of a Carmen in
particular without a song.

A second run through was intercut with video of the singers preparing the
performance and accompanied by the three of them live, moving around the
auditorium. The process, repeated for each scene, was that the performers
froze and replayed a big gesture in the film, pulled out its rhythm,
discussed its emotional loading in terms of the codes of deviance Carmen
embodies, and one singer began to work on existing music that might
accompany it by singing along with a record. Once sweeping, graceful
gesture got Summertime, and there were a couple of Ella Fitzgerald numbers.
The performers in the auditorium sang a version of the prepared music over
this, and at times reacted to their own discussion or each other's
performance in the video.

Finally, the chosen gestures were shown together in order, accompanied by a
live performance of more composed vocal music developed from the previous
sections. This final section was quite powerful, and definitely operatic in
a compressed sort of way -- Badet's physical force is unmistakable, and the
music formed an emotional narrative of defiance that you could regard as
Carmen's voice recovered.

But I'm not sure whether I thought it was worth sitting through the rather
repetitive forty minutes before that, even though it did demonstrate the
multiple layers of meaning in the voice. I think I'd rather see the movie
extended with graphics or photos to provide a context for the vocal

Item Type: Performance
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Music
Depositing User: Nicholas Till
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 21:26
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2012 09:07
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