Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour"

Kenneth Lonergan set the final moments of his 2011 film, Margaret, in the orchestra section at the Metropolitan Opera, during Act 3, Scene 1 of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman - a scene that opens with the lovely duet, "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour."

I think this was another of Longeran's long-and-dramatically-drawn-out movie-release events.  From what I know and remember, there's always some huge drama with Lonergan's production process; it takes forever to settle on rights or editing or something before his work gets out there.  All that is to say that I'm not exactly sure when this film was originally made or released; 2011 is the date given at IMDB (I know it had a short theater release sometime last year - like, 2 weeks or something, and then it died), and I saw it on streaming video last night.

For me, this last scene was one of the most compelling in the movie - primarily, I think, because of the sheer beauty of the music, but also because of the way it was staged and shot.  I'm still working out what I think and feel about this film overall; Lonergan is brilliant at packing just a ton of stuff into movies, some of which you don't fully absorb and can't articulate at first. My test of a great movie these days is:  does it stay with you?    Do you still think about it months and years later?   Does all that stuff you can't articulate still whisper to your heart, even when you're not quite sure what it's saying?   That's a good movie - but it takes some time to evaluate.  (Lonergan's 2000 movie, You Can Count on Me, was like that - and was terrifically entertaining as well; it's one of my all-time favorite films.)

My immediate interpretive takeway from Margaret is that it's an enacted parable about "the return of the repressed."   (Yes, that's right.)  I will have more to say about this later, I think - but this post is about the  song in particular.

I believe that in this last scene in Margaret, Rene Fleming sings the role of Giulietta (I'm not sure about this); I don't know who the other woman was, nor do I understand at all what is happening in the scene - and Wikipedia hasn't been much help so far.   Certainly you could see what's going on as strong "lesbian subtext" - or, really, as "lesbian surtext"!   However you view it, though, it was all pretty wonderful, and beautifully and expertly filmed.   The movie was great to look at in other parts as well.

I don't know Tales of Hoffman, but the video below is another perfectly exquisite rendering of the duet; the singers are Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca.   The song is a "barcarole" - "a folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, or a piece of music composed in that style" - and "characterized by a rhythm reminiscent of the gondolier's stroke, almost invariably a moderate tempo 6/8 meter."  Yes, indeed.

Here are the French lyrics:
Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,
Souris à nos ivresses,
Nuit plus douce que le jour,
Ô belle nuit d'amour!

Le temps fuit et sans retour
Emporte nos tendresses,
Loin de cet heureux séjour
Le temps fuit sans retour.

Zéphyrs embrasés,
Versez-nous vos caresses,
Zéphyrs embrasés,

Donnez-nous vos baisers!
Vos baisers! vos baisers! Ah!
Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,
Souris à nos ivresses.

And here is how I would translate that (seeing as how I speak French, more or less):

Lovely night, O night of love
Smiles at our intoxication,
Night sweeter than the day
O lovely night of love!

Time flees and does not return
And carries our tendernesses
Far from this happy moment.
Time flees and does not return.

Burning breezes
Pour on us us your caresses,
Burning breezes
Give us your kisses!

Your kisses, your kisses!  Ah!
Lovely night, O night of love
Smiles at our intoxication.

The film's title, BTW, is taken from one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems, "Spring and Fall":

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving   
Over Goldengrove unleaving?   
Leáves, líke the things of man, you   
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?   
Áh! ás the heart grows older   
It will come to such sights colder   
By and by, nor spare a sigh   
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;   
And yet you wíll weep and know why.   
Now no matter, child, the name:   
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.   
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed   
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:   
It ís the blight man was born for,   
It is Margaret you mourn for.


aredstatemystic said...

I'm definitely going to check that film out!

I've seen parts of Tales of Hoffman and I remember it being overly-long. If I remember correctly, there's a surrealist film version of it. I'll see if I can't find it.

Either way, it's a beautiful piece. I once accompanied it.

bls said...

Yeah, definitely see it. This review says that the uncut version is "a masterpiece"; I saw the regular (already 2-1/2 hour!) version (on Amazon instant video), and I get what he's saying about "disjointed." I just went with it, though; it worked anyway, to me.

Try to see "You Can Count on Me," too - that one's on Netflix, or was. I think you'd like them both.