Experience an intriguing take on the ancient Greek myth of Persephone in Peter Sellars’ superb 2012 production at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Perséphone is a ballet-melodrama in three acts composed by Stravinsky in 1934, and based on the text of a play of the same name written by André Gide.
Stravinsky was fifty years old when he premiered Perséphone in April 1934 at the Opéra de Paris. The work was commissioned by Ida Rubinstein, a patron of the arts and celebrated dancer who by the 1930s had become an icon of Parisian life. The composer collaborated with the French writer André Gide, who took a theater project that, as he described it, had been “asleep for 20 years”, and was originally inspired by Homer’s poem on the goddess Demeter. The partnership between the two artists proved difficult, mostly because Stravinsky wanted to take more liberty than Gide in his incorporation of the original text’s prosody.
Peter Sellars’ production premiered in January 2012 at the Teatro Real in Madrid. He combines in one show Stravinsky’s Perséphone with Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, placing the two works in dialogue with one another, and exploiting their common themes of light and darkness. Indeed, the female protagonists’ destinies seem to intersect: Iolanta, a young blind girl, is brought into the light through love, while Perséphone, driven by her love of humanity, journeys into the kingdom of shadows.
Perséphone is playing with the nymphs among the birds and the flowers when she notices a narcissus, the most beautiful of all flowers, in which it is possible to look into the Underworld. Immediately feeling pity for those “people who wander without hope”, Persephone chooses to marry Pluto, the King of the Underworld, in order to help them, and joins him in his shadowy realm. Soon she feels nostalgic for her earthly life, and upon discovering the desolation that reigns on Earth since she left, she quickly returns there in order to bring back the spring. However, unable to forget her duties as queen of the Underworld, she decides to go back to Hell once a year, bringing the light of day to soften the distress of its shadowy inhabitants.
Photo: © Javier del Real
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