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04 July 2006

Philip Glass - La belle et la bête

A movie in concert at the Athens Herodion Theatre
Herodion Ancient Theatre in Athens, interior view before the show

Yesterday evening Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble played in the ancient Herodion theatre in Athens. I was lucky, happy, and stunned to see them perform their music to the film "La belle et la bête" from Jean Cocteau. They basically removed the soundtrack from the film, then the orchestra played the music while four singers intonated the voices. All in the typical musical style of Philip Glass. Sounds strange? It was a recipe for an incredible evening...

The surroundings... ancient

We got our tickets weeks ago, so we didn't have to wait in line at the evening. But while we sat and watched the queue, I wondered if this was such a good idea, as the sky was full of black clouds. The organizers seemed to be sure to let the event happen. I let my view pass over the impressive skyline of the Herodion Ancient Theater. How would it be sitting on its stone steps with a downpour like we had the day before? The place before the theater, right below the big rock and the Acropolis filled up with people. We went to our entrance and still had to wait a bit in line till the doors opened. Then we went up the huge stairs inside. The inside is stunning, the seats descend so steep, it's almost at the border of triggering fear in me. Since we were early, we snatched some good seats (with our cheap tickets, seats are not numbered, the higher priced tickets have reserved seats). When I say "seats", don't expect anything like a plastic chair in a sports stadium. These are just marble benches going all through the half round stadium, with simple cushions on them, but nothing to lean against. The view is payback enough though. (Click on the image for a bigger view.)

The movie... black & white magic

The movie itself is nice but may have been strange to modern viewers. A black and white movie from back in 1946, in the form of a fairy tale. The movie asks us at the start to get back to our childlike openness to believe in magic. Its magic is made with simple camera effects. As one critic noted, Cocteau manages to enchant us better with those simple effects than most modern CGI operators with all their machine power.

The story is at once well known and new. The scheme of the beauty who is attracted and spellbound by the ugly beast is well known and retold up to diabetes inducing Disney sugar levels. But as I sat and watched I found myself hanging in suspense about how this particular turn would work out, what would happen next.

The music... magic unity with the movie

I love Philip Glass' music, the way I can get lost in it. To those who have never heard it, it's difficult to describe. It has been labeled as minimalistic music, but the label doesn't really fit. Glass uses a small set of building blocks that get assembled again and again in the same ways and the same ways until you notice that while you weren't "watching" it all changed and floated into a new atmosphere.

A small orchestra accompanied the movie, together with four singers. The musicians were sitting in front of the screen (which at one point close to the end was torn out at the lower end by the wind caused small confusion on stage). The music and singing was synchronous with the film, much like in old silent movies.

At the start of the performance I thought that the music wasn't too typical for Glass. I thought that maybe he has changed and I would have to take what I'd got. But it seems that this was just the starting theme, a few minutes later, the "glassiness" took over and pulled me in. I made a point of watching the musicians from time to time, even if this meant I would loose part of the movie. But I wanted to see the music being "made". After a while this desire went away, because of the exceptional union between the movie and the music.

Right as the flow of the Glass music was pulling me in, the movie and the music appeared to become one. The music followed (or lead?) the line of the story while the singing voices and the actors became one. The story, the music,... magic. I left enchanted.

Posted by betabug at 10:52 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (1)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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