Operatic Collage

You're Still as Beautiful Mashes up New Wave Cinema and a Debussy Opera


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NEW WAVE CINEMA, boar hunting, and clandestine looks coalesce for You're Still as Beautiful, one of Opera Theater Oregon's trademark mash-ups (albeit of an eclectic and intentionally confused kind). The company's production of impressionist Claude Debussy's major opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, is paired with the 1961 movie Last Year at Marienbad. Projected footage of the black-and-white new wave film punctuates the opera, as performed by a chamber ensemble (including a flute, viola, piano, and harp) plus three voices.

Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande is a love triangle between Mélisande (Jena Viemeister), her husband, Golaud (Benjamin Bell), and his half-brother Pelléas (Matthew Hayward), performed in French with English supertitles. Screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad is both a mindfuck and banal; set in a luxury hotel called Marienbad, the film flits between gardens, Baroque corridors, parlors, and salon rooms, following the affairs of a nameless man and woman who may or may not have met last year and had a passionate love affair—the man remembers it, the woman doesn't. (Also, she may be married?) Pelléas et Mélisande is filled with desperation similar to the nameless man of Marienbad, who translates as Pelléas in You're Still as Beautiful; the company refigures the opera by suggesting the brother imagined his affair with his brother's wife, Mélisande.

A traditional staging of the opera necessitates towers and Rapunzel-like hair; however, OTO's set evokes the generic, bulky props of a high school prom. This is charming, and helps dispel any reservations about new wave or opera stuffiness. As does the schmaltz, of which there is plenty. The lyrics are pulpy melodrama: "No! I am happy! But, I am sad," Mélisande says, with a slump, sigh, and starry eyes. "My heart is at the point of choking me." But the melodrama is self-aware, and even garners a few laughs, which eases the perplexity of both the plot and the confused characters.

Despite the lightheartedness, OTO is serious about their music. It's a small cast, with a small orchestra, but they manage to carry and take ownership of the familiar opera. This is their 15th main-stage production, and they are in the midst of a two-year residency at the Mission Theater. The show maintains the company's expected fun and casual air—I for one ate a piece of pizza during the performance—and goes a long way in their mission of "Making opera safe for America."


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