>leitmotiv by les deux mondes
>reviewed by marcus tan
12 jun 2001
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Music, the German term 'Leitmotiv' refers to a motto theme or a leading motive. It is "a series of notes, or a scrap of melody, harmony or rhythm, embodying a specific idea." This concept is best exemplified in Wagner's operas especially in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Each character has a distinctive 'leitmotif,' as do objects like castles, rings or swords, and abstractions such as destiny, duty or love. These motifs are woven into the musical texture, enriching the meaning with allusion and suggestion at every point. Other art forms have since loaned and incorporated such a concept. In film, images are blurred into one another or recalled to express thematic concepts.
Les Deux Mondes's LETIMOTIV successfully articulates its own 'leitmotif' in a highly experimental musico-dramatic construction about the ravages of war on individuals and the universality of love. Directed and conceived by Michel Robidoux and Daniel Meilleur, this short hour-long production was an emotional ride of high intensity engendered by the constant assault on the visual and aural senses.
LEITMOTIV begins with a recitation of a letter by a daughter whose mother had abandoned her in a time of war. The narrative then flows into a cinematic flashback, presented as live theatrical action, explaining the tragic circumstances of Rosa, the mother, and Pierre, her lover. War not merely tears a country apart but destroys the innocence of youthful love. Pierre is conscripted and is forced to leave Rosa, but later deserts to seek his lost love. Rosa, distressed by the loss of her lover, and devastated by the effects of war on her homeland, joins the resistance. But war takes its toll and shatters their destinies. Pierre is captured and tortured to the point where he walks the edge of sanity and insanity; Rosa is brutally raped. The two lives, torn apart by war, finally reunite only to face a new war in the time of peace, a conflict that stirs within and never sees an end. The play doesn't end with the triumph of love but leaves the audience with a sense of nihilism exemplified in Rosa's repeated chant of post-modern angst - "I don't know, I don't care Ö"
>>'An exhilarating and unforgettable performance which blurred the distinctions between media genres.'
musical leitmotif, LEITMOTIV utilised music and sound effectively as a
recurrent motif to portray particular emotions of the characters. Done
via the repetition of musical phrases and often supplemented by thematic
variations on recognisable musical strands, the narrative was carried
primarily through sound, followed by sight. Much of the musical score
bordered on an atonality that denies any harmonic centre. Employing, as
20th Century music often does, tonal clashes and dissonance while infusing
'everyday' noises (such as the sound running trains) that seamlessly blend
into the musical setting, what resulted was an extramusical emotion of
dark foreboding that haunts the listener. The intensity of the action
is often embodied in voice of Mezzo-Soprano NoŽlla Huet (Rosa) whose sustained
melody, sung as a series of melismas, conveyed raw emotion - pain, loss,
anguish, despair - by pure sound. As Barthes would note, the song performed
'a voix nue' (the naked voice) finds its 'signifiance' in the "grain of
Other spectacles included the creative use of lighting which was used not only to form the starry skies but exploited to convey intention and intensity. In what was a moment of sexual passion between the lovers, the lights, as back lighting projections, glowed with red intensity that spread across the fluttering curtains literalising the metaphor of flaming love, of which fire was a leitmotif in the play. The resulting quivering shadows of the lovers toasting and subsequently making love is thus presented as an occurrence of imagination and reality. The interplay of shadow and light, created by and contrasted with the physical bodies on stage, was then perhaps the characterising motif in this play, paraphrasing yet again the dialectics of two-dimensional filmic experience and three-dimensional theatrical performance. These polarities are, however, fused in a new (Hegelian) synthesis.
By fusing all forms of art and visual entertainment including music, LEITMOTIV certainly exemplified Wagner's concept of a total work of art or 'Gesamkuntswerk,' creating an exhilarating and unforgettable performance which blurred the distinctions between media genres.
the unfulfilled potentiality of such a new performance genre disappoints
for the production could have dictated larger issues such as the issue
of history, its representation and construction. LEITMOTIV could have
become itself a leitmotif, via a self-reflexive demonstration of the production's
media-ted performance, to exemplify the ways in which History, like all
discourses, is always already mediated.