05.03.2020 | 13:28
Dimitris Papadimitriou talks about his “Moby Dick”
“I am very afraid that … we have reached the big productions abroad”
Dimitris Papadimitriou for “Moby Dick” © Thanasis Karatzas
Dimitris Papadimitriou signs the libretto of the musical “Moby Dick” at Pallas, in a production of Onassis Culture with Theatrical Stages
One of the most important works of world literature, “Moby Dick” , becomes a musical in Athens, for the first time using holograms, 3D graphics and live music by an orchestra. Based on the novel by Herman Melville, Dimitris Papadimitriou wrote the libretto and the music and Giannis Kakleas directed it. The play – a production of Onassis Culture in collaboration with the Theatrical Stages – was staged on February 28 at the Pallas and we met the composer and he told us about the book that marked his childhood and inspired this great production.
Dimitris Papadimitriou and I have known each other for almost thirty years and that is why we agreed that it would be paradoxical and out of the context of our relationship for the interview to be done in the singular and to be written in the plural.
First of all, a key question: was “Moby Dick” one of your real favorite books before you got into the show?
Yes, it was. As children we had the “must” books we had to read, one of them was “Moby Dick”. The prototype that my brother, Antonis, read. He liked it so much that he read it three times over, so I kept seeing it in front of me. Antonis read everywhere. He read when we ate, even when we were painting or making something. Let me tell you that even when we were playing table tennis and the ball was falling, he would go, read a page and come back. It was such a reader case. So I read Moby Dick as soon as he left. This was my first contact. It is a shocking book for children, even though they do not understand the “below” levels.
But do they feel them?
They feel them. I think, however, that the version we read then, as children of the junta school era, had cut elements. I do not remember all the religious skepticism in the book at all in that edition. I may not remember it because I was too young, but I have the impression it did not exist. I was terribly surprised when I read it again at the age of thirty. I said “what is all this?”
My favorite book of the time was “The Alien Letter”. Hawthorne wrote it in 1850, and in 1851 Melville wrote “Moby Dick.” This is an awesome time in America, where very important books are being written continuously …
It is the time of epic romance. Hawthorne and Melville are a teacher and a student. When we have such a bright case as Hawthorne, it is very likely that a remarkable student will be made next to him who will possibly surpass him. I think they enlighten each other. “Moby Dick” is dedicated to Hawthorne. However, I think that at that time the need of the common man was not yet mature enough to accept “Moby Dick”. Melville took steps, much faster and further ahead of his time. He was at least fifty years ahead.
Moby Dick is a mindless animal, neither bad nor good. Instinctively reacts to someone who is attacking. Everything else is what we burden him with, it is our limit as everyone defines it.
Does Captain Ahab with Moby Dick represent the eternal human condition of the obsessive goal of boundaries?
Moby Dick is himself, a mindless animal, neither bad nor good. Instinctively acts, and reacts to someone who is attacking. Everything else is what we load into it, it is our limit as everyone defines and determines it. We all have a limit that we are trying to reach and overcome. And to shift that limit a little further, in fact there it is again.
Ahab clearly says “each of us has a wall that stops him”. At the same time, however, he considers himself the limit of Moby Dick. “I am his limit.” That is, “either I will eat him, or he will eat me.” So, maybe in the human DNA there are genes that tell him “you have to get over yourself”, and he is constantly moving and moving the wall a little further. But the wall does not break, that’s why Moby Dick is immortal, he never dies. The limit does not die, it is transferred. So you have two options. One is indifference to let him cut his walks until the day he meets you. He will meet you, at some point, and it will be the Day of Judgment. And the other option is to go and eat it yourself. It is purely a choice of life if you are going to give battle, to exceed your limit, to reverse your destiny, to defeat your God, say whatever you want, or if you will let him roam free until he meets you. You will do one of the two, there is no other version.
Was all this analysis you do the way you saw the libretto and the music?
Yes, but it was very clear. You know, these great works, at these first levels, are clear when they identify ambiguity. The ambiguity is identifiable. So a whale on it carries hundreds of meanings and because we can not say all the meanings, we let the viewer, the reader, load onto the whale the meaning that suits him. When you have a problem with tradition, with God, with your dad, when you are an astronaut and you want to break the record of staying on a planet, you call your theme “Moby Dick”. So everyone has their “Moby Dick”. And I can go even further, to say that everyone has the “Moby Dick” they deserve!
The holograms that help in all this?
I have a problem with contracts in general, I have a limit on the contracts I can accept. My problem in opera, let’s say, is that I can not accept a very ugly woman impersonating a very beautiful, I can not easily accept that. I have my own “Moby Dick” there. In the theater we can say “Here is the whale, I see it” and look somewhere as if it were the whale. We have seen this in abstract theater. For me, the magic is to have Moby Dick. We do it in the show because now technology helps us.
Holograms were therefore an original idea, they did not emerge along the way.
Before I started writing I did some research to see if it was possible. It is very expensive, which is why this production takes place in a large space, such as Pallas, with the possibility of making money.
It is the first time that a theatrical performance with holograms takes place in Greece. How is such a thing organized, when it is “for the first time”?
Hardly, if you consider that abroad they have used holograms in very few cases in the theater. The question is how not to overdo it, because it is a theater and you can not make it a spectacle. Theater is a genre, spectacle is a genre. You can reduce the theater to a spectacle and make it a kind, again if you see the show to say that it is a theater. We were interested in finding a suggestive holography, to be poetic, otherwise it would become National Geographic. Too much realism in the theater hurts, there has to be a lie that keeps you going with the contract. Before we enter the theater it is as if we have all signed a contract, that here it is not true, we pretend to be the truth. If the representation of the truth really happens, then the theater is catalyzed. If the protagonist has to kill someone, and really kill her, she has not achieved the maximum of the theater, she has achieved the minimum, even though she has achieved the maximum of plausibility. Something that has happened to me in the song is that someone is really crying. The viewer looks at you carefully and has to decide if you are doing what you are crying for, or crying for the truth. If you do what you cry, he likes it; if he understands that you really cry, he has ruined everything. The theater is gone, the music is gone, everything is gone, he feels sorry for you, and he begins to wonder why he is crying, not the role, but the performer. or cry truth. If you do what you cry, he likes it; if he understands that you are really crying, he has ruined everything. The theater is gone, the music is gone, everything is gone, he feels sorry for you, and he begins to wonder why he is crying, not the role, but the performer. or cry truth. If you do what you cry, he likes it; if he understands that you are really crying, he has ruined everything. The theater is gone, the music is gone, everything is gone, he feels sorry for you, and he begins to wonder why he is crying, not the role, but the performer.
Is there an age audience for the project?
No. I read it when I was ten, I read it when I was about twenty, after thirty, and I read it now. Each time I saw something different. Great works are a mirror of ourselves, they exist and they answer us. A child will see a terrible adventure-fairy tale, a strange captain, some strangers who go for whaling, a heroic tale. But even a philosopher will leave with a question mark.
The most important philosophical texts are given as fairy tales.
The fairy tale is a very big weapon for Melville, because through the fairy tale and the magic he can pass things that are difficult to accept otherwise. And when I read it, when I was older, I used to say what fairy tales and nonsense, this is a philosophical text – as I was writing it, however, it turned out to be a fairy tale again.
Did you have to do something for this particular music that you had not done until today?
Yes, indeed, a hybrid form that can combine many species, and be one species – not just fit together in the same box.
While we see the end result of creation, we very rarely have descriptions of its process. Did you, as a creator, while working, at some point feel that you conceived the way or did the way first come to you?
The absolute truth is that there is only desire and an insoluble dark tangle that is not even music, it is a musical feeling that does not make for the whole work, but for the main points of the work. But you have confidence in this strong feeling and you do it. The whole story is to start. Of course, in some places you have a problem, you stop, but it is again.
Because we have known each other for almost thirty years, I see you this time with a very special satisfaction …
Lately, upwards, for the first time, I have started to feel happy with what I do. I felt this twice, three times. One was with the “Symphonic Painting Soundtracks” on the Roof, then with the “Symphonic Miniatures” and now with the “Moby Dick”. I touch something I wanted, I feel it. Also, as a child I went abroad and my saliva ran when I watched shows, from “Cats” to “Phantom of the Opera”. I think we have reached them. I am very afraid of it
Nice title for the interview! “I am very afraid that we have reached the big productions abroad.”
The recipe, however, is okay.
Logically it could very well be a proposal to tourists from all over the world in Athens go to see “Moby Dick”.
There is already interest from foreign producers, who have just seen the trailer and the title – because it is a book much better known internationally than in Greece, and because it is a musical. In addition to the Symphony, there is a live orchestra of twelve musicians. They play banjo, ukulele, mandolin, ethnic instruments, on top of all that, it has drums, electric guitar, bass, that is, the music comes off the delicate form of the symphony.
Apart from courtesy, the director would obviously play a big role in such a thing.
John found magical solutions. We talk about holograms, but go for them. And it’s not just that. According to the size of the story and the book, this show normally had to be ten hours. In order to adapt to the time data of a three-hour period – where we have not cut anything from the body of the story, we have cut some branches – he had to find solutions that are for choreography. He proved to be a great captain, he did not stop in front of anything, and he found magical solutions, having great respect for what I wrote, he did not change anything. Again, out of courtesy, Manolis PantelidakisElenia Douladiri has made wonderful sets and awesome costumes. It’s what happened: when the foundation is solid, and this is such a book, everyone starts and builds. I feel like I got the best self of all. It’s a great moment for the actors too. I was not interested in getting a brand. We will hear and see artists who combine the vocal with the acting skills, to the extent that we have not seen it so far easily and as a whole. We thought and agreed to make the show a star first, and then the kids to become stars because they played in this show – much more that from this generation no big stars have come out yet.
Watch the “Moby Dick” trailer here:
Moby Dick – The Musical