MARCO BRAMBILLA Takes NASA to the Opera for the Premiere of PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE

Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1892 play Pelléas at Mélisande describes how innocence is able to transform into a dramatic love triangle, culminating in multiple deaths. Composed as an opera by Claude Debussy – the only opera he ever completed – its calamitous subject matter still remains modern today.

Last Saturday in Antwerp, a dream team of professionals premiered a new production of Pelléas at Mélisande. The opera, which had previously been staged by Bob Wilson in 1977 and for which French artist Jean Cocteau had designed sets in 1963, has now been co-directed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, with set design by Marina Abramomic, costumes by Iris van Herpen, and video projections by Marco Brambilla. “It was the most satisfying collaboration in memory,” artist and director Brambilla revealed about the collaboration (read our feature on Brambilla from Issue 28 here). Using original NASA footage, Brambilla created films which aimed at taking the viewer on a metaphysical journey into the subconscious through a series of celestial pathways.

After the premiere at Opera Vlaanderen, Brambilla spoke with 032c’s Eva Kelley about his fascination for space and what opera can do for pop culture.

EVA KELLEY: I find the continued relevance of universal themes and emotions, like love triangles, to be somehow comforting. No matter the century, what we feel remains the same. What is it about the story of Pelléas and Mélisande that appeals to you?

MARCO BRAMBILLA: As you say, the universal nature of the tragic love triangle makes it timeless and subject to almost endless interpretation. In this production of Pelléas and Mélisande, the story is set in the future.

Do you think it is possible to recreate the magnitude the opera once had in our modern time?

Opera is not exactly popular culture anymore, however I think performing arts in general are where most of the interesting experimentation is now happening. People like Sasha Waltz, Sigur Rós, and Sylvie Guillem are redefining their respective art forms. Whereas there is relatively little experimentation going on in mainstream film or music.

What was the process of creating this production like?

We would meet and videoconference throughout the pre-production process and discuss how to “link” the story to the music to the choreography to the visuals. Fortunately, we all share similar sensibilities, so the process was intuitive.

It’s interesting how the stage set is described as reminiscent of being inside a silver eye ball and a few sentences later, it’s described as being within a surreal version of a planetarium. Why do these two completely different interpretations still somehow make sense?

I think the planetarium analogy is there because it relates to the stars and celestial events, which unfold in the circular projection screen. The screen is in the position and scale of the iris of an eye and the entire stage is “enclosed” in a concave mirror surface which represents the inside of an eyeball. The effect is powerful and symbolic, totally taking the context out of its medieval roots and connecting to the idea of “vision” in Maeterlincks’s original libretto.

Could you you tell me more about how you incorporated Hubble space telescope imagery into the video compositions?

I had worked with NASA on a commission in 2015 and had access to so much great material. I was able to work with very high-resolution imagery and process it in such a way to make completely impressionistic.  The visuals may recall familiar shapes and objects, but the brush-strokes are all drawn from the cosmos itself.

Would you like to travel to space yourself?

Of course. I’ve always been drawn to the intersection of science and imagination, the imagery of the heavens we have been seeing in the last twenty years is simultaneously real and abstract. It encourages you to dream, and you can project your feelings into it.

Tickets for Pelléas et Mélisande at Opera Vlaanderen are available here.

  • Interview
    Eva Kelley
  • Images
    Pelléas et Mélisande, 2018, Opera Vlaanderen. Courtesy of Marco Brambilla

Related Content

  • BODY HEAT: RICHARD MOSSE Captures the Edges of Europe in INCOMING

    During the making of Incoming, Richard Mosse describes being perched atop a hill on the Turkish-Syrian border, registering occasional thuds from far away. Capturing the bodies of those displaced by modern crises, Mosse’s film was shot on a machine that is classified as a weapon of war: a military-grade surveillance camera that is able to detect a human from 30.3 kilometers away. More
  • Deeper

  • 032c WWB Collection

    032c WWB “Chevignon by 032c” Cosmo Jacket Green

    €480
    Buy Now
  • The 154 Exactitudes of Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek

    Do people find their individuality when they dress to fit in, or do they lose it? Since 1994, Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek’s highly-detailed photo series Exactitudes has compelled fundamental questions about the rules that govern fashion, individualism, and collectivity.More
  • 032c WWB Collection

    032c WWB Keyholder

    €60
  • Overcoming Originality: MAURIZIO CATTELAN and Gucci Steal Shanghai

    Speaking about his new show at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, a collaboration with Alessandro Michele of Gucci, artist and curator Maurizio Cattelan says, “We are both fascinated witnesses of the overcoming of originality in our contemporary society.” The exhibition brings together works from more than 30 artists that, like Cattelan’s own oeuvre, question notions of reproduction and newness, considering the lives of copies, and the overdue absolution of the copyist.More
  • METAHAVEN: Version History at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts

    There’s something of a derelict cinema or post-riot feel to “Version History,” the installation which houses art-design collective Metahaven’s latest film. “Eurasia” goes in search of the New Silk Road: Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s multi-billion dollar global trade infrastructure initiative to link East and West, a geopolitically contested space re-envisioned as an epistemologically war-torn landscape.More
  • Fandom at the Grand Palais: Michael Jackson On The Wall in Paris

    The works included in the exhibition appear like fan art or fan fiction, as though their contents live the rest of the time on sites like DeviantArt or Archive of Our Own – not in the world’s great collections. At the same time, it reads like a contemporary art who’s who, as if revealing one’s feelings about the King of Pop were a necessary stage in the career of an artist.More