La Belle et la Bête: Notes from Composer Philip Glass

Interested in going out this Halloween weekend but can’t figure out what to do? Join us at the Theatre at ACE Hotel for Cocteau/Glass’ La Belle et la Bête! Our Saturday and Tuesday shows include after-parties at the venue directly following the performance, including a special Costume Contest on the 31st.

Before you go, check out composer Philip Glass’ program notes on re-scoring the Cocteau classic, his relationship with the piece and more.

Philip Glass composed a new operatic soundtrack for Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et la Bête.

The opera/film presentation of La Belle et la Bête began as the second part of my trilogy of theater works based on the films of Jean Cocteau. In the first of the series, I used the scenario from the film Orphée as the basis for the libretto of a chamber opera. I didn’t use the imagery of the film, allowing the staging in operatic form to attempt a new visualization of the libretto. But in this case the opera, composed with the dialogue, is performed live in conjunction with the projected film (with the original soundtrack eliminated entirely).

This made the job of composing the music much more complex since the words and the voices had to be synchronized as closely as possible to the images on the screen. The third part of the trilogy was a dance/theater work based on the scenario of the film Les Enfants Terribles. In this way, the trilogy represents translation of film into the live theatrical forms of opera (Orphée), opera and film (La Belle et la Bête), and dance/theater (Les Enfants Terribles).

To realize La Belle et la Bête as a live opera/film event has been a dauntingly complex project and without prior experience working with live music and film, I would not have attempted it at all. However, since the mid-80s I have presented a variety of projects involving live music and film, working with music director Michael Riesman, and sound designer Kurt Munkacsi. Specifically, I am thinking of the films Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi as well as the melodrama 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, (while not actually a film, it is based on film imagery and technology). This preoccupation with film has grown out of my appreciation of film as one of the two new art forms (jazz being the second) born in the 20th century. In its first 100 years, the world of film has created a new kind of literature, one that the world of live music, experimental theater, dance, and even opera can draw on, just as in the past, historic novels, plays, and poems become the basis of new music/theater works.

For me Cocteau has always been an artist whose work was central to the “modern” art movement of the 20th century. More than any other artist of his time, he again and again addressed questions of art, immortality and the creative process, making them subjects of his work. In his day, it seems that this was not well understood and, at times, he was not fully appreciated. He was even dismissed by some critics of his work as a talented dilettante who never finally settled on one medium to express himself. And, in fact he worked successfully as a novelist, playwright, artist and filmmaker. However, to me the focus of this work—the creative process itself—has always been clear. And it was equally clear that he was using thee various art forms to illuminate his chosen subject from as many angles as possible.

Jean Marais and Josette Day in La Belle et la Bête.

As far as film is concerned, Orphée, La Belle et la Bête and an earlier Cocteau film, Blood of a Poet, are all extremely thoughtful and subtle reflections of the life of an artist. Of these three La Belle et la Bête is the most openly allegorical in style. Presented as a simple fairy tale, it soon became clear that the film has taken on a broader and deeper subject– the very nature of the creative process. Once we begin to see the film in this way, it becomes hard to see the journey of the Father to the Chateau itself in the opening moments of the film as anything other than the journey of the artist into his “unconscious.” The Chateau itself is then seen as the very site of the creative process where, through an extraordinary alchemy of the spirit, the ordinary world of imagination takes flight (as seen quite literally in the last moment of the film).

Perhaps for this reason, La Belle et la Bête has always been for me the most compelling of Cocteau’s films. This work more than any other, expresses the profundity of his thoughts and the eloquence of his artistic vision.

La Belle et la Bête opens Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Theatre at ACE Hotel. Tickets can be purchased here.

Philip Glass is an American composer. He made his company debut with Einstein on the Beach in 2013, and has written numerous operas. symphonies, concertos, film scores and more.

LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.
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One Response to La Belle et la Bête: Notes from Composer Philip Glass

  1. Divya says:

    Hii Very Good Article.
    Thanks for the Sharing Keep up the good work.

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