Sunday, April 6, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - French Rock Opera

Funereal and pretty, Johnny Hallyday's song plays the same role as Gertrude's speech, casting events in a fantastical light, as much in the lyrics as in the music, which is filled with angelic voices and fairy twinkles. Oddly, it ends on a piano solo that seems a song apart. These sad twinkles could be Laertes' reaction, or possibly, Ophelia's last song as she sinks below the waters, the truth behind Gertrude's grandiose lyrics. There is panic in neither piece of music, as if "incapable of her own distress" was taken literally. We'll discuss the lyrics after we listen to the song. Here are the original French lyrics, then a doggerel translation for those readers who may not be up on that language.

La mort d'Ophélie
Un saule penché sur le ruisseau
Pleure dans le cristal des eaux
Ses feuilles blanches

Ophélie tressant des guirlandes
Vient présenter comme une offrande
Des fleurs, des branches

Pour caresser ses boutons d’or
Pour respirer son jeune corps
Le saule se penche

Mais sous elle un rameau se brise
Le saule en pleurs la retient prise
De part sa manche

Ophélie lui dit «qu’il est bon»
Quand le ruisseau dans un frisson
Casse la branche

Ophélie file au fil de l’eau
Qui vient gonfler son blanc manteau
Contre ses hanches

Son cri s’éteint comme une joie
La boue immonde où elle se noie
Prend sa revanche

Un saule penché sur le ruisseau
Pleure dans le cristal des eaux
Ses feuilles blanches

Ophelia's Death
A willow leaning over a stream
Weeps into the crystal of the waters
Its white leaves

Ophelia tressing garlands
Comes to present, as an offering
Flowers, branches

To caress her buttercups
To breathe in her young body
The willow leans

But under her, a bow breaks
The weeping willow keeps her from falling
On its sleeve

Ophelia tells him "he is so good"
When the stream in a shiver
Breaks the branch

Ophelia goes by on the water
That just inflated her white coat
Against her hips

Her cry is extinguished like a joy
The foul mud in which she drowns
Takes it revenge

A willow leaning over the stream
Weeps into the crystal of the waters
Its white leaves

The song is told from the willow's perspective; it stands in for Gertrude in this instance, but may weep just as much. The image is the same in French where a weeping willow is a saule pleureur, its tears its own garlands of leaves. The willow becomes the last being to have contact with Ophelia, and in these last moments, she knows love and peace. It's the stream that's villainous, that breaks the branch, that drowns the girl. Hallyday doesn't seem to believe in her suicide, and links the gravedigger's story of animated water forcibly drowning a person to redeem Ophelia. "The mud takes its revenge." While the tree is "good", the rest of Nature seems bent on killing this young woman, possibly because she has taken flowers and branches from Her. Obviously, that wilfulness is mere personification, but is Nature personified as specific people? Revenge is Hamlet's affair, and his vengeful quest is the reason her life has been smothered this day. The stream may just be the course of events, or the destructive power of Claudius, more active than muddy Hamlet, who started the ball rolling. And so the tree must be her father, her lone and ultimately useless protector. At least in her mind. One could also take the willow to be Gertrude - and my mind immediately goes to Desdemona's song in Othello, another object of men's affections doomed by them - an off-stage protector grooming Ophelia to be her son's wife, and in this story, weeping for her death and her own inability to prevent it.

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