Poul Ruders’s "Selma Jezkova" | DVD review
Lars von Trier’s Björk flick is reimagined as an ever darker, but more profound opera.
Following the filming of Dancer in the Dark, leading lady Björk famously accused director Lars von Trier of “emotional pornography.” In the liner notes to the DVD release of his new opera, Selma Jezkova, Danish composer Poul Ruders remembers emerging from seeing the film with tear-stained cheeks and the idea that Dancer necessitated an opera setting.
Ruders never intended for the opera to fully parallel the film. The 70-minute work strips the titular character of all but one of the musical-theater hallucinations that peppered von Trier’s movie. This removes the upbeat foils to Selma’s struggle to raise the money necessary for an operation to cure herson’s degenerative eye disease.
Selma Jezkova reexamines the narrative, opening with the factory-worker’s funeral beneath a projection of a circular stained glass window that later mutates into a blinking eye. Her son, Gene, is silent until his mother’s torso rises from the coffin, “revived” with a purple necklace of bruises that disturbingly remains throughout.
Rudder’s atonal leanings predominate here, with the exception of tender, tonal moments between mother and son. Lead Ylva Kihlberg’s unwavering soprano stands as the vocal highlight of the performance. In the most poignant moment, a despairing Gene thrusts the tin box containing his mother’s savings at passersby, hopelessly pleading for his eyesight not to be traded for his mother’s life. Sometimes wonky camerawork and subtitles (the libretto is in English) encourage seeking out a live performance of the haunting opera. But don’t expect jocular dinner chitchat afterward.