Thursday 1 February 2018

From grand opéra to opéra noir: the cinematic approach to Hamlet

From grand opéra to opéra noir: the cinematic approach to Hamlet

Film noir and nouvelle vague were important sources of inspiration to stage-manage Hamlet. These genres strongly determined the production’s design. Moreover, film as a medium takes a key part in the show. Director Serge van Veggel and film-maker Margo Onnes joined forces and explain their approach.

In this production of Hamlet, OPERA2DAY wants to show how the distance between the physical reality and the reality in Hamlet’s head increases. The idea to use film occurred quite early to director Serge van Veggel. “Talks with Margo Onnes resulted in the thought to present the two realities simultaneously: the physical reality on stage, the mental reality on screen. But that is just the beginning. As time goes by the realities merge. As a result, you ask yourself: is this happening in the real world or in Hamlet’s head?”

The choice of film-maker Margo Onnes and film noir resulted from a magical moment. “For a long time I have been very enthusiastic about Margo’s films, which always show an elusive reality,” says Van Veggel. “Thinking of Hamlet I found myself watching her work. I viewed a part of her French film Muse, in which a confused and depressed young Frenchman looks back on a disastrous summer romance situated around a swimming pool. I am still grateful for the brainwave I then had: simultaneous with a part of this film I played a part from the opera Hamlet. The complete mise-en-scène was immediately manifested. Muse was my muse. The French 19th-century music was swallowed up by a French universe of film noir and nouvelle vague without losing anything of its magic. Soundscapes and voice-overs which I happened to hear added to the musical experience. I phoned Margo at one.”

Margo Onnes was immediately enthusiastic. “Hamlet is a pure noir story! It has all the characteristics of the genre: the dominance of melancholy, alienation, pessimism, moral corruption, guilt and paranoia. In many noir films I watched for my short film Muse water is a key element. A first shot of murky water and you immediately know there is trouble. Many noir films use water as a symbol of repressed (revengeful) feelings, longings and fears. Water even functions as the grave in which protagonists eventually perish, as Ophélie does in Hamlet. In this production we enlarge on this metaphor. Even though the pictures in Hamlet are in colour, we carry on in the noir tradition.”

“To me, the invitation to help design this opera was a great opportunity to go three-dimensionally once more. For although I have worked mainly with video installations, in the past years I focused on single-screen work. Hamlet also fits in with my earlier multidisciplinary work in which musicians play a major part. The co-operation with OPERA2DAY enables me to contribute with film to a new type of total theatre and to go looking for a three-dimensional, magical and cinematographic world.”

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