Every Poem in Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal” Set to Music, Illustrated and Performed Live

Charles Baude­laire must be a joy­ful corpse indeed. His work has suc­ceed­ed as few oth­ers’ have, to be so pas­sion­ate­ly alive 150 years after his death.

The­ater Oobleck, a Chica­go artis­tic col­lec­tive ded­i­cat­ed to cre­at­ing orig­i­nal afford­able the­atri­cal works, has spent the last eleven years assem­bling Baude­laire in a Box, a can­tas­to­ria cycle based on Les Fleurs du Mal.


Because he would be so irri­tat­ed. Because he might be charmed

There is a touch of vaude­ville and cabaret in Baude­laire. He tend­ed to go big or go home. Home to his moth­er.

Because he invent­ed the term “moder­ni­ty” and even now no one quite knows what it means. Because he wrote a poet­ry of immer­sion per­fect­ly suit­ed to the tran­sience and Now-ness of song and of the Ever-Mov­ing scroll. Because we nev­er had a prop­er goth phase. Sex and death! For all these rea­sons, and for the true one that remains just out of our grasp.

Each new install­ment fea­tures a line-up of musi­cians per­form­ing live adap­ta­tions of anoth­er 10 to 15 poems, as artist Dave Buchen’s paint­ed illus­tra­tions slow­ly spool past on hand-turned “crankies.”

The result­ing “pro­to music videos” are volup­tuous­ly inti­mate affairs, with plen­ty of time to reflect upon the orig­i­nal texts’ explic­it sex­u­al­i­ty, the gor­geous urban decay that so pre­oc­cu­pied one of Roman­tic poetry’s naugh­ti­est boys.

The instru­ments and musi­cal palate—klezmer, alt-coun­try, antifolk—are befit­ting of the inter­preters’ well honed down­town sen­si­bil­i­ties. The lyrics are drunk on their dark imagery.

The entire project makes for the sort of extrav­a­gant­ly eccen­tric night out that might lead a young poet to lean close to his blind date, mid-show, to whis­per “Wouldn’t it be agree­able to take a bath with me?” No word on whether that line worked for the poéte mau­dit, who report­ed­ly issued such an invi­ta­tion to a friend mid-sen­tence.

This August, The­ater Oobleck intends to observe the sesqui­cen­ten­ni­al of Baudelaire’s death in grand style with a marathon per­for­mance of the com­plete Baude­laire in a Box, a three-day effort involv­ing 50 artists and over 130 poems.

Allow a few past exam­ples to set the mood:

The Offend­ed Moon From Episode 9 of Baude­laire In A Box, “Unquenched.” Com­posed and trans­lat­ed by David Costan­za. Emmy Bean: vocal, Ron­nie Kuller: accor­dion, T‑Roy Mar­tin trom­bone, David E. Smith: clar­inet, Chris Schoen: vocal, Joey Spilberg: bass.

The Denial of St. Peter Com­posed, trans­lat­ed and per­formed by Sad Brad Smith, with Emmy Bean (hand per­cus­sion), Ron­nie Kuller (accor­dion), T‑Roy Mar­tin (trom­bone), Chris Schoen (man­dolin), and Joey Spilberg (bass).

The Drag Music com­posed by Ron­nie Kuller, to Mick­le Maher’s trans­la­tion of “L’Aver­tis­seur” by Charles Baude­laire. Per­formed by: Emmy Bean (vocal, per­cus­sion), Angela James (vocal), Ron­nie Kuller (piano, per­cus­sion), T‑Roy Mar­tin (vocal), Chris Schoen (vocal), David E. Smith (sax­o­phone), and Joey Spilberg (bass).

The Hard(-est) Work­ing Skele­ton Music by Amy War­ren, Per­formed by Nora O’Con­nor, with Addie Horan, Amalea Tshilds, Kate Dou­glas, James Beck­er and Ted Day.

The Pos­sessed Writ­ten and per­formed by Jeff Dorchen.

You can lis­ten to and pur­chase songs from Episodes 7 (the King of Rain) and 9 (Unquenched) on Band­camp.

Some of the par­tic­i­pat­ing musi­cians have released their own albums fea­tur­ing tracks of their Baude­laire-based tunes.

The­ater Oobleck is rais­ing funds for the upcom­ing Closed Cas­ket: The Com­plete, Final, and Absolute­ly Last Baude­laire in a Box on Kick­starter, with music and prints and orig­i­nals of Buchen’s work among the pre­mi­ums at var­i­ous pledge lev­els.

All images used with per­mis­sion of artist Dave Buchen.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Great 19 Cen­tu­ry Poems Read in French: Baude­laire, Rim­baud, Ver­laine & More

Baude­laire, Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix & Hugo Get a Lit­tle Baked at Their Hash Club (1844–1849)

Hen­ri Matisse Illus­trates Baudelaire’s Cen­sored Poet­ry Col­lec­tion, Les Fleurs du Mal

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  She will be appear­ing in a live excerpt from CB Goodman’s How to Kill an Ele­phant this Fri­day at Dixon Place in New York City. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.