Terry Gilliam talks about his next project:
The Damnation of Faust
by Phil Stubbs
Terry Gilliam is preparing to direct an opera. He's been asked to
direct The Damnation of Faust, by Berlioz, for English National Opera
for performances in Spring 2011. Note that this is not Gounod's Faust,
which ENO has scheduled for September 2010.
Berlioz's piece, first performed in 1846, is based on Goethe's Faust.
It is often performed in concert, but rarely as a fully-conceived opera
production. In fact, the first opera production was in 1893, 47 years after
its concert premiere.
There's a synopsis at the
Wikipedia page for La Damnation de Faust
The Faust legend has featured in Gilliam's work recently: in The
Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, the eponymous hero found it difficult to
resist making deals with the devil, and paid the price for it!
In an interview this summer, the filmmaker said the following about his
|I have foolishly decided to do an opera. I have been asked
by the English National Opera to direct The Damnation of Faust.
I've been asked to direct operas before - but I have wisely turned
them down. My escape route - my defence mechanism - is that it is
an opera that has never been successful
so if it doesn't work,
it is Berlioz's fault
not mine. It's actually driving me crazy
because I'm moving to a territory that I'm a complete novice in. I'm
constantly thinking: I can do it on film easily; I know how to do
this. But on stage it's a different world. In six months' time I will
be 70 years old! This is terrifying. I thought maybe opera is something
I can deal with in my dotage. If it doesn't work, I guess I'll be
starving in my dotage!
I'm actually terrified because when I first heard it, I thought
this is nonsense, this is impossible. Because basically Berlioz had
written eight symphonic pieces. And then one day he decided to do
an opera, but he wanted to incorporate his eight symphonic pieces
in it. So the narrative is bouncing along happily, but suddenly it
stops, and we have six to eight minutes of a musical interlude. And
then we're back to the story. I thought: this is madness. So I decided
to invent a story that would carry us through, so we'd all know where
we are going. I was laughing at a lot of it, it was stupid, I didn't
like the character of Faust at all. So I approached it with a rather
negative attitude. But now, the more I'm into it, I can't fight the
music, it's beautiful. Now I'm finding I've got myself into many traps
here. It's very clear what I'm doing in my mind, but the music overwhelms
me. I can't basically take the piss out of it. I've got to be serious
about this. You can't fight the music.
So it's this terrible battle between me and Berlioz. He's long
dead but his shadow's over everything. His music is covering everything
and I'm just this kid at 70 coming in to try to learn how to do this
new art form. In my world, it's a new art form.
Faust - it's the deal you do. It's the devil inside
you. You are always tempted - you want to be successful. We all want
to be famous, we all want to be rich. But the price of all of those
things can be horrible. I keep saying the worst thing that happens
to most filmmakers I know is to become successful. It's terrible because
then you want more of it. Once you have tasted and smelled it, you
just want more. It's terrible. Actually I need a subtitle, because
I'm turning Mephistopheles into the main character. Is it The Damnation
of Faust or the Mischief of Mephistopheles? I want Mephistopheles
to have all the fun in this one. Faust will be punished for many things.
Delacroix created a series of lithographs to illustrate the text of Goethe's
Faust - these are available to view at the
Wesleyan University website. Like Gilliam, Delacroix appeared to find
more interest in the character of Mephistopheles than Faust. Delacroix's
Mephistopheles in the Air is below:
Gilliam was talking to Kirsty Lang on BBC Radio 4's Front Row arts
magazine show. While he was in the Front Row studio, Gilliam was
asked to sketch out Radio 4. This was captured on video and is available
to view below:
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