Love’s Deceptions: Comedy, Tragedy — or Both?

Ivona Jeličová and Filip Veverka in Brno's National Theatre Ballet production of 'Lucidor and Arabella'

Like many opera and ballet plots, Youri Vámos’ Lucidor and Arabella has a complicated history – which makes a thought-provoking story in itself.

The tale of the girl forced to become a boy formed the substance of Molière’s comedy, Le Dépit Amoureux. Poet/novelist Hugo von Hofmannsthal reworked it in his 1911 sketch, “Lucidor, Characters from an Unwritten Comedy.”

In Hofmannsthal’s story, Lucidor, “who is all heart,” takes pity on her sister Arabella’s lover, Vladimir. To keep him from despair, she writes him love letters in her sister Arabella’s name.

Gradually falling in love with Vladimir, she becomes his passionate nightly partner, the darkness concealing her true identity. Vladimir, at the end of the tale, learns that his “friend and confidant was also his girlfriend and secret lover.” But Hofmannsthal refuses to say whether “Vladimir is man enough to deserve such love.” However, returning to the story as Richard Strauss’s librettist for Arabella, he does resolve it. Lucidor (who is now called Zdenko) is accepted by her lover, but only at the point of committing suicide.

Vámos Chooses Both. A Bit.
Today, choreographer Youri Vámos’ version combines elements of both Molière’s and Hofmannsthal’s comedies. Like Molière, he explains the transformation of Lucile (the girl) into Lucidor by making it a ploy to gain an inheritance destined for a male. As in Hofmannsthal, the plot revolves around Lucidor’s and Vladimir’s strange romance.

For Vámos, however, the story is a tragedy. The threatened suicide of Strauss’ opera is carried out and Vladimir, at the end, is left holding his male friend’s and female lover’s lifeless body. As in all of Vámos’ work, the choreography so blends with the music that it is hard to believe that the music was not specially written for it. Ballet makes music visually present and one of the treats of this ballet is hearing Glazunov’s music with an uncommon intensity.

For Hofmannsthal, the foci of the story were the antitheses: male-female, head and heart, day and night, passion and indifference. He writes at the end: “Whether Lucidor became Vladimir’s wife by day or whether her identity as the lover who was loved remained confined to the darkness of the night, to that other country [of the hidden] will not be revealed.” He cannot as a writer bridge the gap between reality and illusion.

Minding the Gap
For Vámos, this gap is precisely the point. Again and again, he visually illustrates it. The lovers, when they embrace, make circles with their arms, passing through them, but never really encountering each other. In his version, the gap is also moral. To maintain her bourgeois status, Lucile’s mother sacrifices her child’s sexuality to gain an inheritance. The mother betrays her own affections when she is forced to become the mistress of the notary who helps her with her plot. The collapse of all these deceptions is wonderfully depicted in Lucile’s suicide when Vladimir finally embraces her, holding only Lucile’s lifeless body.

This production was a one-night-only guest appearance in January by the National Theatre Brno. Totally convincing as a boy and then as a girl, Ivona Jeličová, who played Lucile, made visually real the ambiguity of our sexuality. She brought down the house. — oo

– James Mensch

Next: Writer James Mensch takes a look at another choreographer’s handling of a classic of the standard repertoire, Romeo and Juliet. Look for it here on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Photo Credits: Pavel Hejný

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