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|Ylva Kihlberg||Selma Jezková|
|Palle Knudsen||Bill Houston|
|Guido Paevatalu||Norman / Guard 2|
|Ulla Kudsak Jensen||Brenda|
|Carl Philip Levin||Gene|
|Susanne Merete Fortmeier|
|Pernille Birgitte Fortmeier|
|Ingerman Riege Larsen|
|Maria Gyllenhoff||Costumes/Costume Designer|
|Christian Lemmerz||Set Decoration/Design|
|Poul Ruders||Score Composer|
Posted August 22, 2011
The well known Danish Composer Poul Ruders was so taken with the 2000 Lars von Triers movie "Dancer in the Dark" starring Icelandic actress/pop star Bjork, that he was compelled to develop the story into opera. This DVD of the Ruders rendition, "Selma Jezkova" is dark, emotional, taut and captivating. The story is both simple and somewhat disturbing. The title character, Selma, is a young woman with a degenerative eye disease (macular perhaps) that will eventually render her blind. Her young son, Gene, was born with same condition. Selma is a young, single mother who works very hard for very little in a factory and has saved up enough money to bring her son to America. Selma is befriended by a coworker Kathy who shows great sympathy to Selma. The story takes a turn for the darkest when a different friend, Bill, who turns out to be a bit unscrupulous discovers that Selma does have some money that he too could use. In a pivotal scene for both the film as well as the opera, Bill is shot dead in a struggle with Selma. Selma is tried and hung for her crime and we never learn for certain if Gene, her beloved son, does get the eye surgery that he needs to spare him the same fate. Ruders' opera version is tightly constructed; just over 70 minutes. Some bit of narrative from the screenplay by Lars von Triers is omitted, such as extending trail scenes in which Selma is accused not just of murder but of Communist sympathies and, also, some scenes showing more of the son Gene as a bit petulant and unappreciative. I appreciate Poul Ruder's decision to keep his libretto, well crafted by Henrik Englebrecht, focused on the central issue. The other aspect of the movie screenplay (with acknowledgments to Bjork's talents) is Selma's dancing and singing. The protagonist copes with her health and poverty through her impulsive love of American show tunes. Ruders' music is appropriately tuneful in places and there is one scene in which the factory workers all turn into scenes in a Broadway show of some sort while Selma daydreams of that life but it is brief and makes no attempt to allude to Bjork. For Ruders and Englebrecht, this is clearly a story of sacrifice and a mother's love. Their Selma is a fairly simple soul who gets caught up in a horrible situation and pays the ultimate price. The opening scene that occurs at her funeral is darkly fixating and the story wends its way backward until we see how Selma died. The staging in this Royal Danish Opera production is stark but emotionally powerful and the performances are quite good, especially that of Ylva Kihlberg in the title role. The extra film of the making of the opera, in which we meet the composer as a soft spoken man who writes in his bright red tiny shack adjacent to his rural property is very interesting. I do recommend this wonderful, short, but emotionally powerful work. Poul Ruders says in the booklet notes that opera must be first about emotion and, in this, he has certainly succeeded.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2011
The DVD version of the opera Selma Jezkova by Poul Ruders is based on the central character of Lars von Trier's (and Bjork's) Dancer in the Dark. First of all, there are many crazy people who love opera for a lot of crazy self immolation-type reasons. I'm one of those nutty people who think opera is only about music---libretto a lot less--and singers, staging etc. etc. at the bottom--the latter can never save or make an opera. Having gotten my bias out of the way, Poul Ruders is a very competent composer--- the score skillfully sets the text from moment to moment, but there is no really strong dramatic shape or contour of this 70 minute, some-what truncated opera. Even more important, stylistically this music has nothing to do mid/late 20th century America and everything to do with the psycho-hyper expressionism of Berg's Wozzeck or even Schoenberg's Erwartung. (early 20th C. Vienna). Although many modern operas, for some reason, have this university sanctioned, politically correct style (John Cogligano and David del Tredici to mention two on this side of the pond) where the main 'soupy-goo' is 'Erwartung ' sloshing and bubbling along, with brief vignettes in a more vernacular style i.e., church hymns, negro spirituals, folk songs-all introduced with no real integration with the score. It's as if the composer is saying---'look at me I write in this really complicated style but I'm also can get my hands dirty with the peoples' music without getting too dirty'. The pity is the vernacular stuff just plunks in like early Copland ballets then just as quickly replaces by a glissing horn, high strings clusters, glissing timpani (see orchestration handbook of expressionist clichés). On top of this, there are not enough arias, way too much recitative, and no sense that the musical structure is driving the libretto. It often seems like a pastiche of sections strung together (all be it, skillfully) with no strong shaping of the narrative-- just the composer writing one line of music to the next. It seems a shame Ruder, who is obviously very gifted, would take such an approach---but maybe there were external pressures. Furthermore, (I hate sounding like an uber-cranky reviewer) insult to injury, the libretto, from 'Dancer in the Dark', doesn't help the tired, dramatic quality. Suffice to say, the libretto passes the simplistic Marxist/Feminist melodrama/propaganda test with flying colors---but I suffered through this with the movie (though I loved the music numbers and once again von Triers fascinates and frustrates the audience like no other). It would be great if Bjork's songs became the cantus firmus of the score--now that would make it a post-modern original, much like David Lynch took the footage of his failed TV series and made it into the masterpiece "Mulholland Drive".
In contrast, I found the production excellent. Great singing, good orchestra balance with the singers, and really accurate playing, and effective design and sets. Special mention to singers Ylva Killberg, Hanne Fischer, Palle Knudsen, and Gert Henning-Jensen for very assured performances. The DVD production is top notch--looks like a day worth of filming of the live production, so there are lots of creative camera angles that could never be done in real time. If it weren't for the music, this opera would be a great gem for your DVD opera collection.