Saturday, September 11, 2010

Spirits of the Dead City; Elizabeth Hurley in Aria 1987

“Glück, das mir verblieb” is one of the great love songs of the operatic literature but it is not expressed as love between the two characters who sing it. Paul loves Maria his wife who has died, not Marietta, who is singing, in spite of a strong resemblance to his wife. Marietta does not love Paul, she is self-absorbed; just beginning to bloom.

How can we blame Bruce Beresford, who wrote and directed a segment based on this music for the film “Aria” in 1987, for wanting to express a more direct kind of love? The movie is a collage of ten operatic arias interpreted by ten different directors who were free to break from any traditional associations, or even break from any similarity to plots from the operas themselves.

He was fortunate to have the screen debut of Elizabeth Hurley who undresses during the song. Peter Birch plays her counterpart. It is tough to see the traditional names “Paul” and “Marietta” assigned to them in the credits, their portrayal has nothing to do with either of these operatic characters.

Hurley seemed to be Marietta in life more than in this film. Her website says that she entered a ballet boarding school at age twelve. Folks remember that she was the one to whom Hugh Grant was romantically attached when he was charged with soliciting the services of a female prostitute in 1995.

I wish Beresford chose not to have the actors lip-sync. They make simple German seem like Vulcan language. But more than the mismatched language correspondences, the lack of musical breathing is an obstacle.

Still, once one gets past these flaws, the juxtaposition of the lovers with breathtaking images of Bruges develops connection between the lovers and the city in a way that is impossible in a staging:

Glück, das mir verblieb, (Joy, sent from above,)
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb. (Hold me close, my true love.)
Abend sinkt im Hag (Darkness ends the day)
bist mir Licht und Tag. (You will light my way.)
Bange pochet Herz an Herz (Fear is throbbing in our hearts)
Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts. (Hope itself soars heavenward.)

Interlude [1:23]:
[Paul:]
Wie wahr, ein traurig Lied. (How true, a sad song.)

[Marietta:]
Das Lied vom treuen Lieb, (The song of a true beloved,)
das sterben muss. (who must die soon.)

[Marietta:]
Welche Mühen Sie? (What troubles You?)

[Paul:]
Ich kenne das Lied. (I know the song.)
Ich hört es oft in jungen, (I heard it often in younger,)
in schöneren Tagen. (in better days.)

At [2:37] Beresford cuts away to images of bridges and reflections. Slowly undulating water, empty squares, white birds. Bruges: city of melancholy charms.

[Paul:]
Es hat noch eine Strophe-- (It has yet another verse--)
weiß ich sie noch? (Do I know it still?)

Second Stanza [3:07]:

[Paul:]
Naht auch Sorge trüb, (Joyful days may flee,)
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb. (Hold me close, my faithful love.)

[Paul and Marietta:]
Neig dein blaß Gesicht (Time will pass away)
Sterben trennt uns nicht. (But true love will stay.)
Mußt du einmal von mir gehn, (Though we have to part in pain,)
glaub, es gibt ein Aufersteh’n. (Believe, there is an afterlife.)

Aufersteh'n is a powerful word. It is the first word in the poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock that was used by Mahler for the finale of his second symphony. It is often translated as “resurrection;” it need not be.

As the word "Aufersteh'n" fades so do the characters themselves [4:13].

Statues and quietly falling snow--white as birds--cadence the images from The Dead City. Beresford has captured the resonance of present and past in Bruges.

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