Sunday, July 25, 2010

I.v. The Ghost's Tale - French Rock Opera

Johnny Hallyday covers this sequence with not one, but three entire songs. Prière du spectre à Hamlet (The Ghost Prays Hamlet) has the Ghost asking Hamlet to avenge him. Roi vivant (Living King) represents the bulk of the Ghost's story. And J'effacerai de ma mémoire (I Will Erase From my Memory) deals with Hamlet swearing to avenge his father. Each title is linked to the song on you-tube for your listening pleasure. As usual, the full text of each song and its pedestrian translation (for clarity's and not art's sake) follow:

Prière du spectre à Hamlet
Une ombre qui venait de l’ombre
Une ombre noire, une ombre sombre
Une ombre a crié, «oh, venge-moi»
Une ombre qui apparaissait de l’ombre
D’un roi du royaume des ombres
Une ombre a crié «oh, venge-moi»
Une ombre qui sortait de terre
Une ombre en forme de mon père
Une ombre a crié «oh, venge-moi»

The Ghost Prays Hamlet
A shadow that came out of shadow
A black shadow, a somber shadow
A shadow cried "O, avenge me!"
A shadow that appeared from shadow
Of a king of the realm of shadows
A shadow cried "O, avenge me!"
A shadow that came out of the earth
A shadow in the shape of my father
A shadow cried "O, avenge me!"

The song starts out as the "Le vieux roi est mort/The Old King Is Dead" dirge, but as soon as Hallyday starts singing, a blues-pop feel comes in to thwart expectations. The song describes the Ghost as a shadow, dark and hellish. Only in the last couples lines is it revealed to be the father of Hamlet, and even there, Hallyday doesn't let go of the Ghost's ambiguity. It is a shadow in the SHAPE of his father, which doesn't make it his actual father. As with Hamlet's questioning of Horatio's story in Scene 2, the Ghost is required to convince the doubting Hamlet. In the play, by giving the details of his murder; in the rock opera, with another song.

In fact, Roi vivant, though on a separate track with its own title, musically just continues straight from Prière, the last note of one covering the starting piano riffs. It sounds like another movement of the same piece, with backup singers coming in with their part, and indeed it is. It's all the same scene.

Roi vivant
Pars pas, il veut savoir
Pars pas, oui ton histoire
Pars pas, il veut te voir
"Sur mon coeur de roi dormant
Ils ont posé un serpent
Dans ma vie de roi vivant
Il a planté ses crocs blanc
Et mon coeur de roi dormant
N’a plus été coeur battant
Roi vivant, roi dormant
Roi mourant, roi d'antan

Living King
Don't go, he wants to know
Don't go, yes your story
Don't go, he wants to see you
"On my sleeping king's heart
They put a snake
In my living king's life
It planted its white fangs
And my sleeping king's heart
Was no longer a beating heart"
Living king, sleeping king
Dying king, king of old

The first tree lines are sung by the chorus, outside voices commenting on the action (where most songs are in Hamlet's voice). They ask the Ghost to stay and tell his story, a different take on "I will not go further" that turns it into Hamlet's first "test" of the Ghost's agenda. Hamlet takes noting at face value, and here doubts his father(?)'s words. He needs proof in the form of details. Do these details ring true? An interesting thing that's done in these opening lines is that "Pars pas" (Don't go) sounds a lot like "Papa", calling out to the father through the sounds of the words.

The section in quotation marks is spoken, rather than sung, in the Ghost's voice. The music evokes courtly medieval music, and so the past. It tells the story of the murder, but does not reveal the murderer's identity. Either the audience's knowledge of the play is taken for granted or it becomes more of a murder mystery (not that there are many suspects other than Claudius, seeing as the songs uniformly look down on him). Possibly, had the rock opera been successfully staged, the action on stage would have made it clear. The poison is represented by a snake, continuing the Garden of Eden metaphor from the play ("oh what a falling off was there"), with a strong play on the epithets, each one used as a punchy reveal (in French coming after the noun). The practice continues in the next section as acoustic guitar riffs and the chorus take over. Those last lines take Hamlet Sr. from living king to forgotten king in four short phrases, then repeat them in a fade, cycling towards an actual end and sending the Ghost back into shadow.

J'effacerai de ma mémoire
J’effacerai de ma mémoire
Tout mes souvenirs d’enfant
Depuis couper le cordon
Jusqu’à ma première dent

J’effacerai de ma mémoire
Mes souvenirs de jeunesse
Depuis mes derniers boutons
Jusqu’à ma première caresse

J’effacerai de ma memoire
Depuis mon premier jour
Jusqu’à la nuit qui vient
Et dans le livre de mon histoire
Les pages deviendront blanches
Du début jusqu’au mot fin

J’effacerai de ma mémoire
Tous me souvenirs d’amour
Depuis mon dernier « je t ‘aime »
Jusqu’à mon premier « toujours »

J’effacerai de ma mémoire
Tous mes souvenirs d’hier
Depuis mon premier poême
Jusqu’à ma dernière guerre

J’effacerai de ma memoire
Mes souvenirs de demain
Et ma tête se videra
Je serai fou, enfin

J’effacerai même ma mémoire
Et le néant s’ouvrira
Mais je ne t’oublierai pas
J’y plongerai avec toi

I Will Erase From my Memory
I will erase from my memory
All my memories of childhood
From the cutting of the cord
To my first tooth

I will erase from my memory
All my memories of youth
From my last pimples
To my first caress

I will erase from my memory
From my first day
To the night that comes
And in the book of my history
The pages will become white
From the beginning to the word end

I will erase from my memory
All my memories of love
From my last "I love you"
To my first "always"

I will erase from my memory
All my memories of yesterday
From my first poem
To my last war

I will erase from my memory
All my memories of tomorrow
And my head will empty itself
I will be mad, finally

I will erase from my memory
And the void will open
But I won't forget you
I will dive into it with you

Hallyday takes the table of memory metaphor and runs with it. Though in the play, Hamlet enumerates what he erases from his memory to make room for his revenge, Hallyday gets more specific, in a way that only the ballad form can. He erases his childhood, then his youth, and so on, until he's actually erasing his future, dooming himself. He has no future except as an instrument of his father's revenge (of course, we know he's not able to respect that promise). In the last stanza, he jumps into the void to join with his father, making their "missions" one and the same by osmosis. This mirrors what is usually done in the play, with Hamlet collapsing at the end of the sequence. The empty space he has created in his mind is akin to the empty space under the earth where his father is doomed to walk (at the very least empty of God's love, in Christian cosmology). The next time we see Hamlet in the rock opera, he will have gone mad, as heralded here. Hallyday leaves little room for ambiguity on that point.

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