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).

ZhangHuan-Buddha-Florence

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!

SONY DSC

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!

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…

International Space Age Comics

The European Space Agency broke onto the scene (or at least my consciousness) in a big way this year with their Rosetta project.  If you haven’t heard about this, I’m definitely not the person to explain it, but let’s say that Rosetta pulled up alongside a moving comet after a decade, then landed the Philae probe onto that moving comet.  Exciting stuff!

This was the first I’d heard about the European Space Agency, but going through the archives of one of my new favorite webcartoonists recently, the Frenchman Boulet, I found out that he’d been invited onto a reduced gravity aircraft by the Centres Nationales d’Etudes Spatiales to experience Zero-G and make comics about it!

His comic about the experience covers the anxious build-up, the kinds of experiments being run on the craft, and of course the main attraction, the experience of weightlessness…

The further back I go into Boulet‘s archive, the more I see why he was invited on this trip, as an amateur science enthusiast with some strong opinions about space exploration, as well as some strikingly exquisite sci-fi imaginings, as below…

And of course, as far as space exploration outside the US goes, there was a more direct, and more controversial, comic response to another noteworthy space mission, this time out of India:

Political cartoon on India's Mars Mission by Heng Kim Song

India’s Budget Mission to Mars, political cartoon by Heng Kim Song in New York Times

Singaporean cartoonist Heng Kim Song made the above comic in response to the Indian Space Research Organization’s Mars Orbiter Mission, which was done on the cheap but has succeeded in orbiting Mars.  The cartoon caused a bit of a furor with the New York Times apologizing for running it, but India is definitely an unexpected entrant to the space race…  But the democratization of space exploration is an exciting prospect; the more the merrier, science wins all around!

The Cartoon Picture Plane

Two newly opened New York gallery exhibits have varying connections to comic and cartoon art…

Saul Steinberg's 1974 Rainbow Reflected at SculptureCenter

Saul Steinberg’s 1974 Rainbow Reflected at SculptureCenter

SculptureCenter‘s first exhibit in their newly expanded gallery takes as its point of departure space as depicted in comics and cartoons, specifically citing the 1988 live-action/animation hybrid movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit alongside New Yorker illustrator Saul Steinberg as influences.  From the exhibit website:

Incorporating a sense of wonder and humor, concepts surrounding animation and cartooning are expanded into an exhibition that enacts a similar sort of hysteria around flatness and depth in relation to technologies, real and illusory spaces—physical, virtual, internal, and external.

The emphasis on Steinberg probably has to do with the fact that 2014 is the centennial of his birth, in honor of which The Saul Steinberg Foundation has been promoting centennial exhibits & events at galleries and museums around the world.

Takashi Murakami's 2011 An Homage to Monopink 1960 B, from Sims Reed Gallery, London

Takashi Murakami’s 2011 An Homage to Monopink 1960 B, from Sims Reed Gallery, London

The other comic-related exhibit I was thinking of has a more tenuous link…

52-year-old Japanese artist Takashi Murakami made his name with the Superflat art movement he founded, inspired by the visuals of Japanese anime and manga.  He’s best known for this style, using the super-cute Japanese pop culture aesthetic of kawaii and engaging with the otaku culture of anime and manga fandom.

That being said, he’s also mined more classic Japanese art history and cultural traditions.  His current show at the Gagosian Gallery consists of art made in response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and Fukushima nuclear crisis.  After studying earlier responses to natural disaster in Japanese art, he has created an immersive installation combining traditional art historical forms, Buddhist and Shinto religious iconography, and contemporary pop culture imagery in response to that national tragedy.

I’m assuming the art here won’t be as relentlessly sunny and poppy as his other work, but it’ll be interesting to see how he applies his Superflat aesthetic to a more tragic subject…

Do you know of any other comic, cartoon, or comic/cartoon-inspired exhibits going on in New York?  Or anywhere else?  Let me know!

Heres Comes Love Again

To raise money for Typhoon Haiyan relief in the Philippines, the cast of Here Lies Love, the concept album cum disco musical by David Byrne of Talking Heads and Fatboy Slim, will reconvene for one night this coming Monday, Nov. 25th, at Terminal 5 in New York.  Tickets are $58 (including handling fees) and all proceeds go to Doctors without Borders.

Here Lies Love poster

Here Lies Love poster

The show is about Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos and her rise to power and fall from grace, and this reunion benefit concert was apparently suggested by the mostly Philippine cast.  If you missed it the first time, here’s your charitable second chance.

Consider donating to Doctors without Borders or other relief efforts too.

New Opera New York

This article in the New York Times on the joint Metropolitan Opera / Lincoln Center Theater opera / musical theater commissioning program gives a peek into the future of new opera at the Met, in terms of existing contemporary opera on their way to the Met stage as well as the newest participants in that commissioning program.

It pairs nicely with 3 new Opera News articles on contemporary composers, 2 of whom, Nico Muhly and Ricky Ian Gordon, have created works for the Met under this program.  Muhly’s Two Boys, which premiered in London, will have it’s New York premiere on Monday, Oct. 21st.

Exciting stuff, always love hearing about new opera, and now seems to be a good time for it, with more companies getting in on the commissioning business…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZCoJV9DfEU&w=350&h=300]

For some more wacky new opera, you can also head over to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see War Sum Up a combination manga, noh, & electronic operatic meditation on war by Latvian composer Santa Ratniece and classical glam pop band The Irrepressibles.  Two performances only, Nov. 1st & 2nd.

Much to Learn…

Comics Beat put up a Top 10 list of hard-learned lifelong cartooning advice GI Joe-and-other-things writer & artist Larry Hama posted on his Facebook then took down; I’m a sucker for comics advice from just about anyone, and it’s neat that Hama is a more mainstream cartoonist who still has experience writing & drawing his stories…

  • 1. Don’t have people just standing there.
  • 2. ANY expression is better than a blank stare.
  • 3. Avoid tangents, and any straight line that divides the panel.
  • 4. If you use an odd angle in the shot, there has to be a reason for it.
  • 5. If you don’t have at least one panel on each page with a full figure, your “camera” is too close.
  • 6. Plan out your shots in “Lawrence of Arabia” mode rather than in “General Hospital” mode.
  • 7. Don’t think of backgrounds as “things to fill up the space after the figures are drawn.”
  • 8. If you know what something is called, and you have an Internet connection, there is no reason to draw it inaccurately.
  • 9. If the colorist has to ask if a scene takes place at night, you haven’t done your job.
  • 10. If you can’t extend the drawing beyond the panel borders and still have it make visual sense, you’ve cheated on the perspective

This is great of course, but I can’t help but feel some of it is more for the active, action comics…  People standing around is like half of the autobio comics I read, and definitely the ones I’m planning on making!  Conflicted…

Comics Alliance also has a great appraisal of Hama and how his varied life experiences, including in the Vietnam War, informed his run on GI Joe, the property he’s most closely identified with.

Punk Rock Jesus #6 cover

Copyright Sean Murphy

Also, for any of my readers who happen to be aspiring cartoonists, fellow writer-artist cartoonist Sean Murphy, of Vertigo’s Punk Rock Jesus, announced a competition to win an apprenticeship with him in Portland, Maine; application details here!