By removing the soundtrack to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film version of La Belle et la Bête, Philip Glass transforms an already whimsical piece into a delightful and intoxicating combination of cinema and opera.
The musicans are arranged beneath the silver screen, which flickers into life to give way to Cocteau’s unique fairytale vision. A live score of keyboard and woodwind accompanies the action, in which downtrodden Belle takes her unfortunate father’s place in the creatively imagined castle of the Beast.
Refrains and motifs provide atmospheric soundtrack to Cocteau’s world of living statues and disembodied limbs, whilst the original film’s dialogue is effectively replaced by the operatic voices of a quartet of vocalists. The singing serves to heighten the emotion already present in the piece, with Hai-Ting Chinn’s Belle and Gregory Purnhagen’s Bete being particularly distinctive.
Given the original film is over 60 years old, some of its stylings and direction appear humourous to today’s eyes, yet its allegorical vision remains remarkably distinct. And with Glass’ accessible and at times haunting soundtrack, it is adapted into a flowing, current creation which is both magical and accomplished.
La Belle et la Bête was performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 11 Aug.