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Landru: French Bluebeard with Flemish accent

Even before the performance has started, Flemish actor Jan Decleir samples the audience. He looks darkly into the hall of Muziekgebouw aan het IJ, while demonstratively kneading his fingers. He already seems to be gloating over the show he will soon give in court. The contempt for his accusers drips from it. Landru, the 'Bluebeard of Paris' is said to have seduced countless women and then stoked them in his stove. 'But where are the proofs?' he will later ask, reveling in the incompetence of his accusers.

With Landru Flemish composer Frederik Neyrinck (1985) once again focuses on a lurid but true story. Two years ago, he composed music to the production i c o n On the 'unknown of Seine'. This young woman was fished up dead from the river in the late 19th century. Her death mask showed a blissful smile, which led to the wildest speculations surrounding her death.

Stinky smoke

Henri-Désiré Landru's story is set at the same time and also caused quite a stir. From 1915, he contacted single women through newspaper ads, in the metro or on the street. He promised them gold, extorted money from them and took them to his country house in Gambais. - After which the ladies were never heard from again.

Neighbours complain about the stinking smoke spewing out his chimney, relatives and acquaintances search in vain for their loved ones. The trail keeps dead-ending at Landru, but the police do not take the charges seriously. They have other things on their minds in the middle of World War I, after all.

It was not until 1921 that he was finally arrested and brought to trial. The eloquent Landru manages to make his trial a show that the whole of Paris thoroughly enjoys. Although no convincing evidence is found, the jury eventually sentences him to death.

Bloodthirsty lust

The experienced Decleir is the ideal actor to give shape to Landru's macabre personality. With his Flemish accent and refined facial expressions, he effortlessly portrays the bloodthirsty lust that overwhelms him after his first murder, but also the pleasure with which he indulges his oratorical skills on his interrogators. To the hilarity of the visitors and delight of the newspapers, which see their circulation soar to great heights.

Why he bought a single ticket to Gambais for his loved ones, but a return ticket for himself? 'Well, it seemed particularly rude to me to invite a lady and immediately arrange her departure too.' The four wind players of I Solisti underscore his wry humour with kitschy, tumbling over each other's tunes.

Objective narrator and acting character

Landru constantly switches between documentary and visual theatre. Decleir is both objective narrator and acting character. The two singers from the Flemish Radio Choir also take part in the action. Soprano Kelly Poukens plays the role of Marie-Cathérine Rémy, Landru's wife. Throughout the performance, she begs him to spend more and more time with her and their four children.

Jolien de Gendt charges Landru as the sister of one of the disappeared women. Leaning forward, she speaks her accusations into an oversized microphone. Short plops from the bass clarinet, glissandi from the trombone and quick stabs from the trumpet underline her argument. Moments later, as Ferdinande, she sings a paean to Landru, who loved her so tenderly. Her pure soprano voice is embedded in a swaying accompaniment: no harm done.

Cartoonish

The interaction between music and stage is slick and supported by film footage. Wonderful is the opening, when the sopranos list Landru's ever-changing pseudonyms in minimalist repetitions. These names dance across the image in block letters in Art-Nouveau style. Later, a seemingly endless series of female portraits slide in and over each other more and more, until they dissolve into nothingness.

Neyrinck's music offers an abundance of pointed, joyful motifs that skip from instrument to instrument. More reflective moments are accompanied by elongated, muted lines. The often cartoonish atmosphere recalls the music of Kurt Weill, but Stravinsky is never far away either. In addition, there are rousing passages in which singers and ensemble outdo each other in shrewd (poly)rhythms.

Copy-paste

The performance is outstanding, a lot of time has clearly been spent on it. However, this cannot prevent the performance from slumping a bit halfway through. One more indictment, one more tirade from Landru, you know it by now. Musically, too, there is gradually less to experience. It seems that Neyrinck made grateful use of the copy-paste possibility of his composing software.

Impressive, then, is the letter Landru writes to the magistrate the night before his beheading. 'I am innocent and die in peace. Hopefully the same goes for you.' This would have been the perfect ending, but after this we hear another lament from Ferdinande, followed by a final word from Decleir. 'You have had a great time with all this sadness. Goodnight ladies, goodnight.'

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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