Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sing It Out Baby, Sing It Out

Jean Mounet-Sully as Hernani in Victor Hugo's 'Hernani ou l'honneur castillan'

A few months back, I saw a London Weekend Television extended biographic interview - 'Lawrence Olivier - A Life'.

And I was reminded of a section in it today, watching early C20 film, with added wax cylinder audio track, of the great Comedie Francaise actor Jean Mounet-Sully (1841-1916) playing Oedipus in 'Oedipe Roi'.

In fact I was almost rolling round on the floor, shrieking and kicking my legs in the air, as Mounet-Sully melodrama-ed and sang his way through the Sophocles text - way way beyond what I thought was humanly possible. And he was considered the Great Classical Actor of the French theatre of his day!

Olivier touches on this 'phenomenon' in the context of the Royal Shakespeare Company of the same period and the delivery of blank verse ...

... with John Gielgud reflecting on how early in his career he must have seemed like 'an old operatic diva singing'!

At the beginning of the French footage, you'll need to listen behind the talking head for Mouney-Sully but by the end he's in full flight, singing out his 'aria'. Dramatic high notes, and seriously fortissimo!

So without further ado, buckle your seats belts ... so you don't do yourself a harm.

Any broken bones from tumbling your chair over?

But seriously, it's interesting to reflect on just how the measure of great acting (or anything much) is relative to the tastes and fashion of the time.

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