Monday, October 25, 2010
Salvador Dali's lost opera
An opera scored by a pupil of Olivier Messiaen for voices, orchestra and rock group that features the librettist as God, Brigitte Bardot as an artichoke and Marilyn Monroe doing a striptease. Sounds too good to be true? Well, read on....
Salvador Dalí created Être Dieu: opéra-poème, audiovisuel et cathare en six parties (Being God: a Cathar Audiovisual Opera-Poem in Six Parts) from a libretto by the Catalan author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003). The score is by the French composer Igor Wakhévitch (b.1948). His teachers included Pierre Schaeffer and Terry Riley as well as Messiaen and among other influences on his music are guitarist Robert Wyatt and the music of Soft Machine. An album of Être Dieu, which is scored for speakers, singers, orchestra and rock band, was recorded on 3 LPs for the now defunct Spanish Dolor Del Estamago label (cover art here) and was subsequently transferred to CD by the German Eurostar label but is long deleted. I can find no information on live performances of the opera although a 2004 article mentions a forthcoming production at Montjuïc, Barcelona which was to be followed by a world tour. There is also a listing for a 2002 Spanish TV documentary about Être Dieu.
The official Dalí biography gives a publication date of 1985 for Être Dieu while other sources confirm the recording date as 1974. At least two sources say the libretto was started by Dalí in 1927 in collabaration with Federico Garcia Lorca. Copies of the CD transfer can be found at premium prices. Surely this is a re-issue opportunity? - even if one commentator described the opera as "Pretty much the same as Wakhévitch’s other work, with the added bonus of the Surrealist master declaiming and frequently shrieking over the music". Igor Wakhévitch discovered the ragas of Pandit Pran Nath while studying with Terry Riley and he moved to Auroville in South India in 1980. Auroville is named after the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo whose ideas inspired the experimental community.
Dalí's art has many musical subtexts. Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and the medieval liturgical drama Misteri d'Elx regale visitors to the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain. This high class muzak was chosen by Dalí himself and the sub-texts are interesting. His paranoiac ballet Mad Tristan to Wagner's music was created for the 1939 New York World Fair, but the relevance of the distinctly non-surrealist Pearl Fishers is unclear, although Dalí was known to be a fan of Carmen. The link to the Misteri d'Elx comes from a performance that the artist attended in 1973. The sacred music drama, which dates from 1625, is performed in the southern Spanish city of Elche in August each year and is a UNESCO masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. A recording of the music by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois is available as is Jordi Savall's 'homage' which breaks from performance tradition by introducing female voices.
The Dalí Theatre-Museum sprang from the ruins of the Municipal Theatre in Figueres which was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1939 shortly before the end of the Spanish Civil War. The creation of the Theatre-Museum was Dalí's last major project and its first exhibition opened in 1973. Dalí lived adjacent to the museum for the last five years of his life and he is buried in its crypt. The 'hot wax photos' accompanying this article were taken by me during a recent visit to Figueres. Thanks go to Jordi Savall whose The Forgotten Kingdom project sent us to Catalonia and put us on the path of Salvador Dalí's lost opera.
* If any reader can make available the CDs for Être Dieu: opéra-poème, audiovisuel et cathare en six parties I will see if Future Radio are up for an overnight broadcast of the opera so we can judge Salvador Dalí's lost opera for ourselves. Contact me at overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk.
** Igor Wakhévitch moved to Auroville in India. The chapter on the experimental community in Living Lightly, Travels in a Post-Consumer Society by Walter and Dorothy Schwarz (ISBN 1897766440) is recommended.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. All costs associated with our visit to Figeres and the Dalí Theatre-Museum were paid by us. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk