Frankenstein, the new opera by American composer Mark Grey, opened this week at La Monnaie in Brussels – marking 200 years since the release of the original novel by Mary Shelley. This new interpretation of the classic is set in the distant future. After a new ice age, the body of Frankenstein’s monster is discovered frozen in ice. Once researchers unthaw it, the monster is reanimated and begins to tell its story in the form of recollected memories.
The place where this drama plays out will be immediately familiar to many – because the team behind Frankenstein have decided to set their opera inside Bulgaria’s Buzludzha Memorial House. The stage at La Monnaie has been arranged to resembled Buzludzha’s main hall, complete with its tiered seating, stairwell entries and the suspended metal roof. The name is even spelled out across the front of the stage, in lettering that reads: “Бузлуджа.” Unfortunately though, Buzludzha’s colourful mosaics apparently did not survive the ice age.
Beyond implying that Frankenstein’s monster somehow made it to Buzludzha in time for the coming ice age, the opera seems to make little reference to its location – and nor do interviews with the opera’s creators.
Mark Grey, in a conversation with OperaWire.com, does however discuss how his updated vision for the story aims to relate Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale to our contemporary technological society. “Ultimately, this work is a warning of what lies ahead in humanity’s future,” he says. “We live in a world now of bots / AI / unmanned drones / robotics / big data / crypto currencies, etc, and as the intangible code of now becomes the physical reality of the future, we must proceed with great caution and respect the great unknown.”
It can probably be assumed then that the team behind Frankenstein considered Buzludzha a fitting visual metaphor for civilisation’s ruin. Though it might have been nice if they gave some credit to Georgi Stoilov, the undervalued Bulgarian architect who indirectly designed their stage for them.
Frankenstein will be at La Monnaie, Brussels, until 20th March 2019.
For more information on the production, visit the official website.