Medievalism and the
French Modernist Stage
In a mid-1930s discussion of Noh, Paul Claudel wrote: “When Mme. Ida Rubinstein asked me to write a biblical piece, with music by my old friend and faithful collaborator Darius Milhaud, I quite naturally turned my thoughts toward the sacred drama of Japan, which I had watched assiduously and admiringly for five years. ” 1 One might well wonder why Claudel considered it “natural” to present a Christian subject in the style of Japanese Noh. Claudel—a devout Catholic poet devoted to the creation of religious drama—had served as the French ambassador to Japan from 1921 to 1927, had studied Japanese theater in its several forms, and had written extensively on Noh and on the affinity between Japanese and Christian ritual performance. Significantly, the Noh audience reminded Claudel of a Christian congregation engaged in ceremony. He claimed that in the Noh theater “we do not see a play on one side and an audience on the other, separated by the drama's make-believe as if by a flame-filled chasm. ” 2 Echoing Artaud's appreciations of Balinese ritual, Claudel noted that in Noh “the actors have the solemnity and reverence of mystics, while the audience brings a disciplined attention, and a mind sharpened and purified by abstinence from every outside distraction. ” 3 While Yeats and Brecht appropriated aspects of Noh drama for nationalistic and political purposes, Claudel sought to employ Noh in the service of Christianity. However, he was not alone in connecting Noh performance style to Christian subjects and to the medieval mystery play—Yeats's dance-play Calvary (1920) had preceded Claudel's Noh-inspired works, and Britten's Church Parables would follow. These figures were retracing the path of the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionaries in Japan, but with an opposite direction of purpose. Rather than joining techniques of Noh performance to Christian doctrine and mystery play for
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Revealing Masks: Exotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater. Contributors: W. Anthony Sheppard - Author. Publisher: University of California Press. Place of publication: Berkeley, CA. Publication year: 2001. Page number: 96.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.