Hansel and Gretel Give Thanks Too

In honor of Thanksgiving sort of, a couple of new black and white horror stories, aka fairy tales, one dealing with classic German frightening forests and witches, the other with dictatorships and boarding schools…

Toon Books' new Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattoti

Toon Books’ new Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattoti

Hansel and Gretel’s enduring popularity might obscure the horror of the original telling, when the parents agree to “lose” their children in the woods since they’re unable to feed them, but modern fabulist Neil Gaiman brings back that heart-wrenching element in his latest telling of the tale put out by Francoise Mouly‘s enterprising new Toon Books imprint of adventurous comics and illustrated adaptations designed with the current pedagogical needs of school-age children in mind…  Hunger and desperation are at the center of this story, and the dark tone is clear from Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattoti‘s moody, inky drawings.

Another stark story about unfortunate children is Arcady’s Goal by author and illustrator Eugene Yelchin.  This book’s protagonist is separated from his parents when they’re deemed enemies of the state by the Soviet Russian government and is sent to an isolated school for other such political orphans.  Seems like a similarly mature situation, and one the protagonist has to try and improve on his own…

Children pulling themselves up by the bootstraps has a long literary history, from fairy tale protagonists to Dickens’ street urchins to gangs of mystery solving kids, and, like these two books, these stories can take a dark turn with kids abandoned and orphaned, comforts we take for granted cruelly stripped from them, and normalcy a very big bootstrap-pulll away if that…  At any rate, this seemed somehow relevant to Thanksgiving…  In that it’s, like, the total opposite…

Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin

As long as we’re talking about Hansel and Gretel, let’s end with a bit of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck‘s charming 1893 operatic adaptation!  Besides the sort of macabre inverse-relation to Thanksgiving as the holiday of plenty, this opera is also very popular around Christmas-time, so it’s extra-holiday appropriate!  Also, there are sure to be several performances popping up this time of year (including at the Met Opera where the below clip is from)…

The opera of course also deals with the themes of hunger and need, and this production in particular is centered around food, both its absence and excess, as demonstrated here when Hansel and Gretel’s wildest dreams are shown to revolve around a sumptuous banquet.

Hogarth’s Progress

 

A Harlot's Progress, scene 1, by William Hogarth, 1731

A Harlot’s Progress, scene 1, by William Hogarth, 1731

At tomorrow’s installment of the New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium, Abigail Zitin of Rutgers will talk about William Hogarth in a presentation titled “Narrative Art and Visual Pleasure”.  Hogarth’s narrative painting cycles mark him as a proto-cartoonist, with two popular sets of 6 paintings each popularized through more affordable print cycles in their days.  The original, A Harlot’s Progress cycle from 1731, was followed up in 1733 by The Rake’s Progress cycle. (The original paintings of the latter are at the Soane Museum in London; the Harlot paintings were lost to a fire and only survive in the print format.)

After seeing the original pieces in an exhibit in Chicago, composer Igor Stravinsky adapted the story into 1951’s Rake’s Progress opera a neo-classical satire and a modern classic.  The 1975 Glyndebourne Opera production by English artist David Hockney is a classic in its own right too…  As a demonstration of how intrinsically linked this production has become to the opera, this video from Glyndebourne is as much about the production’s creation by Hockney and director John Cox as it is about the music and opera itself:

More recently, the earlier The Harlot’s Progress was adapted into an opera in six scenes (mirroring the original cycle of six paintings) by 34-year old English composer Iain Bell, premiering just last year at Theater an der Wien in Vienna with German soprano Diana Damrau creating the title role.  Unlike Stravinsky’s more comical take, Bell apparently had an unremittingly bleak vision for his Hogarth opera, but it seems to have been pretty well received

Is it any wonder an artist who pioneered narrative paintings would be an inspiration to modern composers?  Only a shame Hogarth didn’t create more cycles to be adapted!

What a Selfish Turk

Juilliard Opera, Rossini's Il Turco in ItaliaIn honor of Juilliard‘s performances of Rossini‘s 1814 comic opera Il Turco in Italia this week (glowingly reviewed at Parterre), here are some famous depictions of Turkey in opera.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them wound up revolving around harems, ha ha…

Maybe the most famous opera set in Turkey, Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail follows the European hero as he tries to rescue his girlfriend from the Turkish Pasha’s harem.  I don’t know how she wound up there either…

Yet another opera partly set in a Turkish Pasha’s harem is Verdi’s 1848 Il Corsaro, depicting a war between the Pasha and some Pirates, with the Pasha’s favorite Gulnara, below, stuck in the middle…

And in a variation of the first story, here’s another opera about a Turk holding a Western woman captive (Oh, those dastardly Turks!), the first act of Rameau’s globe-trotting anthology opera Les Indes Galantes, aka Le Turc Généreux!  You can see the whole opera below, or click on the upper left hand corner to get to the fourth video, where the Turkish segment begins.

Ah, good old fashioned Orientalism!

SebaSM Comics Digest, Week of Nov. 17th

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More SebaSM Comics!  Another week of 1 autobio (above) & 1 fictional (below) comics…  Though even this week’s autobio is sort of fictional, as I introduce a new “hypothetical scenarios” tag to imagine how I’d fare in certain situations…  But the other comic is about aliens, so different orders of magnitude of “fictional”, I guess…

autorando-00065

Hope you enjoy!  SebaSM Comics updates Tuesdays and Thursdays, so bookmark that website or follow Bizarro Twins for these weekly recaps!

 

I Guess Opera can still Shock…

This weekend, the Met Opera gave it’s last performance of what became the hot button cultural event of the season here in New York, John Adam‘s 1991 Death of Klinghoffer.

Death of Klinghoffer premiere at La Monnaie, photo by Baus Hermann J.

Death of Klinghoffer premiere at La Monnaie, 1991, photo by Baus Hermann J.

The opera is about the the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, during which a 69 year old Jewish American passenger was murdered.  As you might imagine, controversy has dogged the work since it’s premiere at La Monnaie, in Belgium, just six years after the original events.  That being said, the reception in New York seemed especially strong compared to other recent productions in the US.

Having seen the piece myself last week, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on its merits.

Musically, the opera is known for its choral pieces, which are mostly quite lovely/striking, ranging from peacefully meditative to distressingly aggressive.  Besides the choral music though, I found the music pretty flat at the beginning.  The second part had more diverse music though, from agressive expressions of anger to one weirdly 90s commercial jingle interlude…  All in all though, that diversity I thought included stronger music and made for a more interesting musical experience.

Textually, the libretto by Alice Goodman alternates between poetic and more concrete language, which I found problematic…  Given the reality of not just this particular hijacking and murder, but of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any time someone’s given obtuse poetry to recite feels like a missed opportunity.  Furthermore, it seemed that the Jewish characters were more frequently given poetic lines than the Palestinians, so the Palestinians had more concrete things to say, while the Jews were just harder to understand…

All that said, I don’t think the opera is antisemitic or glorifies terrorism, two critiques often thrown at it.  It obviously depicts hatred, and I think that’s done heart-wrenchingly well.  While Palestinians are given a voice in the choruses, and allowed to express their grievances as displaced people, the terrorists aren’t really sympathetic.  But that comes to another critique, about humanizing the terrorists…  And of course, they are indeed human, not pure avatars of evil, so I think that aspect was pulled off alright…  Despite some glimpses of underlying shared humanity, their actions are never sugarcoated.

All in all, a  gutsy albeit ultimately imperfect attempt to analyze an unapproachably taboo subject through opera…

Now for some totally inappropriate emotional whiplash!

In an infinitely more light-hearted case of operatic culture clash, Juilliard is presenting Rossini‘s 1814 comic opera Turco in Italia starting this Thursday (tickets $30).  Below, the full opera from Zurich Opera in 2001:

You Meddling Kids!

I’ve written about Manchester-based cartoonist John Allison before: he’s made several webcomic series set in the mystery-filled north English town of Tackleford since 1998, and the most recent series is Bad Machinery, launched in 2009.  I may like this series best of all as it fulfills my love of mystery-solving kids!

Bad Machinery: The Case of the Fire Inside, copyright John Allison

Bad Machinery: The Case of the Fire Inside, copyright John Allison

Sadly, Allison recently said that he’s retiring Bad Machinery, if not the beloved characters themselves:

I don’t want to stop telling stories with these characters, but I’m not sure I can do much more with them without returning to the drawing board. There’s definitely more to come from Charlotte, Shauna and the rest of them, but you might not see much of them for a little while. (source)

In the meantime, he has plenty of characters and stories to build on in the shared universe that is Tackleford for regular updates until he figures out their next incarnation; currently, he’s returned to the Bobbins heading that started his webcomic career off back in 1998.  As for Bad Machinery, there are eight full cases available online, and Oni Press is also releasing them in print form, two down and six to go!

While I wait for the junior detectives of Tackleford to make their come back, I do have another pair of meddling kids to tide me over:

That’s right, Alex Hirsch‘s Gravity Falls from Disney Animation!  Starring twins Mabel and Dipper Pines and their paranormal adventures in the mystery-filled town of Gravity Falls, Oregon…  It has a really enchanting setting and great animation, but compared to Bad Machinery it maybe has a more cynical, detached sense of humor?  Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it!  But maybe Bad Machinery is more satisfying on more levels…

And of course, in deference to the grandaddy of all mystery solving kids shows, here’s Mabel Pine’s Scooby Doo impersonation: