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Salvador Dali… the Opera?

Salvador Dalí never worked small. In fact, he was downright operatic in everything he did—colorful, bombastic, and loud. Now, Dalí the painter is finally Dalí the Opera. Yo, Dalí (“I, Dalí” in English) recently opened at the Theatre of the Zarzuela in Madrid, Spain, and will move on to Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu in October. Originally meant to celebrate the centennial of Dalí’s birth in 2004 but delayed until now, Yo, Dalí begins in 1929, when the arch surrealist met his muse and soul mate, Gala, and ends with his death in 1989. This opera tries to capture all the passion and tragedy of the six decades in between.

Musicians of all stripes have long tried to capture the essence of visual art in sound. From Paul Hindemith’s classical take on Matthias Grünewald in the opera Mathis der Maler to Paul Simon’s quirky pop song “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” to Jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins’ unaccompanied piece “Picasso,” art-loving composers bent the conventions of their genre to the conventions of art genre, but always with the soul of the painter in mind. Ironically, Dalí himself tried his hand at opera. Être Dieu: opéra-poème, audiovisuel et cathare en six parties (in English, “Being God: A Cathar Audiovisual Opera-Poem in Six Parts”) featured a libretto by Dalí’s fellow Catalan Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and music by French composer Igor Wakhévitch. In typical grandiose fashion, Dalí chose divinity as the topic of his epic, presumably based on his own experience in the position.

For those of you who remember more of your high school Spanish than I do, the libretto of Yo, Dalí can be found here. Gala will be played by a mezzo soprano, while Dalí, his friend, poet Federico García Lorca, and Gala’s ex-husband, poet Paul Eluard, will be played by tenors. I confess to knowing nothing of the opera first hand, but judging just by the still photo shown above, which portrays Dali in his later years on an IV drip and oxygen mask, it looks as if the love story takes a back seat to the more lurid aspects of Dalí’s life. If anyone can confirm or deny this after reading the libretto, I’d be much obliged.

Hindemith turned Grünewald into opera, and now Dalí’s gotten the grand treatment. Who should be next? Frans Hals, currently subject of a Met show, could find a home on the “other” Met’s stage in an opera buffa. Wagnerian strains could accompany Klimt, Schiele, or both. And all The Agony and the Ecstacy, Irving Stone’s old chestnut starring Michelangelo, needs is a little music for the melodrama. So my question to all the art and music lovers out there: What artist would you like to see in an opera and what composer (alive or dead) would you like to set the soundtrack? I’ll split the profits with the best idea. (Just kidding).


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