Director: Yinka Shonibare MBE | UK | 2004 | 32 minutes
Artist Yinka Shonibare MBE explores the idea of film as a “moving tableau” or animated painting with luminous surfaces, sumptuous attention to detail and strong compositional effects. Un Ballo in Maschera, his first film, takes its title from Giuseppe Verdi’s 1859 opera, which was inspired by the assassination of Swedish king Gustav III at a masked ball in Stockholm in 1792. An elaborate costume drama featuring performers in Dutch wax ball gowns, frock coats and ornate Venetian-style masks, Shonibare’s film is rife with themes of aristocracy, play, frivolity and excess.
Shonibare has spoken about his interest in narrative structure, citing French New Wave directors Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais as inspirational. Un Ballo in Maschera extends this interest, using a circular—not linear—approach to time. After the king is shot, he rises and dances once again, the event playing backwards and forwards with minute variations as the actors re-perform the event for the camera.
The film will be introduced by Opera Memphis staff, and following the screening, Opera Memphis will perform in the museum rotunda, amongst the four figures from Shonibare’s series Rage of the Ballet Gods, a contemplation of climate change through the symbolism of Greek mythology. The inaugural exhibition for the Brooks’ Rotunda Projects, Shonibare’s work will be on view through November 6.
This event is part of Opera Memphis’ annual 30 Days of Opera initiative to introduce opera into the everyday routines of local residents—at farmers markets, restaurants, schools, and street corners. Over the course of 30 consecutive days, Opera Memphis presents “pop-up” recitals, master classes, children’s operas, and more, reaching over 50,000 people during the month-long extravaganza.
Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer Marcus Leith