If It’s Baroque, Don’t Fix It

Tonight I’m going to see Händel‘s 1743 opera Semele, which I adore, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a production created by La Monnaie in Brussels and the KT Wong Foundation.  It’s being performed by the Canadian Opera Company in a reprisal of their performances in the 2011/2012 season, with Canadian soprano Jane Archibald resuming the title role.

Looks pretty crazy, right?  The key to this unusual production is the KT Wong Foundation, devoted to fostering dialogue in the arts and education between China and the West, which approached Chinese artist Zhang Huan with the idea of directing an opera.  His inspiration was a 450 year old Chinese temple he bought and wound up using as the centerpiece of the production (watch it being assembled at BAM here).

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Three Heads Six Arms by Zhang Huan in Florence, 2013

KT Wong has several videos about the project on Youtube and it’s certainly an interesting one!  Besides performances at Brussels and Toronto, the show was also taken to Beijing (where it was censored, natch)

Now, as a first-time opera director, Chinese person unfamiliar with Western opera, and a fancy-shmancy artist, Zhang is not beholden to opera’s sacred cows and has taken a pretty radical approach.  Besides the weirdo stage elements, he’s omitted some of Handel’s music (a capital offense in my book) and inserted several anachronistic Chinese elements.  So some weird hybrid of baroque opera and modern performance piece which I’m admittedly having a hard time preparing myself for…  I’ve seen reviews run the gamut from negative to glowingly positive, so we’ll see which what side I’ll land on…

In any other situation calling this concurrent production of Semele at the Seattle Opera the more traditional one might seem strange, but heck, this is just old school in comparison!  Opera News seemed to like this one a lot more, at least…

It’s great to see Semele performed by a smaller, regional companies, and if Zhang Huan’s production spurs renewed interest in this very deserving opera, than that’s a good thing!

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The stage maquette for Semele by Zhang Huan at La Monnaie

And for no other reason than because I like their Digital Archive, here is a set maquette from La Monnaie!

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Alice’s Adventures in Opera

Another big anniversary this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!  What better way for us to celebrate than with Unsuk Chin‘s opera Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?  Below, the Mad Tea Party scene performed by the Seoul Philharmonic:

The Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrated this sesquicentennial with a staged performance in collaboration with the Los Angeles Opera.  This was the work’s belated LA premiere, since the LA Opera was one of the original commissioners of the piece, which ultimately premiered at the Munich Opera Festival in 2007.

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho for Los Angeles Philharmonic

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho for Los Angeles Philharmonic

The reviews I’ve read have been excellent, which is pleasantly surprising as I’ve heard mixed things about the opera with its bristly, modern musical language and elliptical, playfully obtuse libretto by David Henry Hwang.

The production, by English director Netia Jones, matched that darker tone by animating illustrations from British satirist Ralph Steadman‘s 1972 edition of the book.  Jones has used this technique with the LA Phil before, animating Maurice Sendak’s own Where the Wild Things Are illustrations for a performance of Oliver Knussen‘s operatic adaptation of that work.

At any rate, an interesting recent development is that the Royal Opera House in London has commissioned a sequel opera by the same team of Chin and Hwang, based on Through the Looking Glass!  This is scheduled for the 2018/2019 season, so I wonder if that will add fire to the second wind that Wonderland seems to be having…

The Sound of Music Echoes On…

Today is the 50th anniversary of the American release of The Sound of Music movie musical so stop everything you’re doing and go climb some mountains!

The movie is of course based on the 1959 musical which was the last collaboration of the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical dream team, since Oscar Hammerstein II died nine months after the Broadway premiere, of cancer.

An interesting Youtube find was this footage from actors on the set during the making of the movie:

Of course, the Oscars recently commemorated the anniversary of their 1966 Best Picture Winner with a medley performed by Lady Gaga that was an internet sensation.  Proof that the movie and the musical have still got it, all these years later!

Irish Songs and Secret, in Cartoon Form

This Sunday are the Oscars, and the nominees for animated feature film feature three pretty big American releases (How to Train your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls, and Big Hero 6) and two more exotic releases, including the latest Studio Ghibli release.  Besides Japan, the other foreign country represented is, perhaps surprisingly, Ireland!

Song of the Sea was created by Paul Young and Tomm Moore, and it takes on the Irish myth of the selkie, seals who shed their seal skins to become women and take human husbands… or something like that…  The Oscars’ page on the film has some more footage, and it really is stunning!

The selkie is a pretty folk tale, but of course my favorite interpretation is John Allison’s!  Selkies figured into a 2012 Bad Machinery case, and I just love those meddling mystery-solving kids!  Click on the image below to read The Case of the Fire Inside from the beginning!

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

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

Tomm Moore is also the creator of the similarly-Irish-themed and similarly-gorgeously-animated 2009 feature film The Secret of Kells, this one about the classic monastic illustrated manuscript, The Book of Kells.