Opera dla Głuchych

(Opera for the Deaf) 

An intuition concerning what the world of the deaf might actually be about—occurred at the very end; or, more precisely, at the moment when non-deaf musicians, directors and librettists, joined by deaf actors, poets and dancers, failed to negotiate a joint ending for Opera for the Deaf, a show which they created together. Premiered in November 2018 at Warsaw’s Studio Theatre, the show thus has two different endings and essentially tells two completely different stories, even though the sequence of scenes, images and sounds is one and the same. They mean something completely different, however, for either audience, and they are differently experienced by both. The deaf admittedly do not hear sounds, but they can sense many of them. A Baroque opera, disco music, or a heavy metal piece are thus not beautiful and ugly to their eyes, but can either be pleasant or unpleasant. 

This different experience of reality also results in its radically different description. e world of sign language is much more tangible, flexible, emotional, and much less conventional, metaphorical, or abstract. Sign poetry, which is a peculiar sublimation of that language, constitutes a unique hybrid of literature, pantomime, and dance. At the same time, it remains untranslatable into the non-deaf people’s perception of the world, just as the notions of “harmony” and “melody” cannot be translated into the symbols of sign language. 

A key quality of sign language (though one far from obvious) is its four-dimensionality. A deaf poet’s narrative is non-linear, unlike the logical discourse of phonemic speech or an alphabetical writing system. In sign language, meaning is born out of the confrontation of the choreographies of two independently moving hands with the mimed “film” of facial expression. Possibly the ideal space for a meeting of the world of the deaf with that of other people is the cinema in its original form of silent film. It is, among others, on the poetics of silent movies that Zuzanna Solakiewicz’s film An Opera for the Deaf, based on the eponymous show, aims at drawing upon. 

Michał Mendyk