Twelve Nights of Music

I’ve been off my blogging game this holiday season, meaning less posts but also me getting to the party late for some pretty neat music events…  Chief among these is the Twelfth Night Festival, a twelve days jamboree of early music at Trinity Church and Saint Paul’s Chapel in downtown Manhattan starting last Friday and lasting through this weekend…

There’s lots of great instrumental and vocal music from the renaissance and baroque, with plenty of free concerts throughout, and  the festival is even book-ended by two musical dramas.  It opened this weekend with the French renaissance Play of Daniel, in a production originally created for the Met Museum‘s medieval outpost, the Cloisters, and reviewed here.  An excerpt from the original performances at the Cloisters above, depicting Belshazzar’s Feast.

The festival ends this weekend with another fully staged musical-theater performance, of Georg Frideric Händel‘s 1739 oratorio Saul, a chorus of which is below.  Get your tickets for that now, and check out the other ticketed and free(!) performances throughout this week!

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Christmas Caroling

Photo by Lynn Lane

Photo by Lynn Lane

It was just a few weeks ago that I first discussed the young British composer Iain Bell here, specifically his first foray into opera with last year’s dark adaptation of the 18th century moralistic painting cycle The Harlot’s Progress, but the 2014/2015 cultural calendar has brought the premiere of his second opera.  He’s moved one century forward in British art, but the new opera’s source material shares a lot in common with last year’s…

Bell and the Houston Grand Opera have adapted Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, apparently emphasizing the eerie ghost elements over the more conventional yuletide cheer…  In another unusual turn, it’s a monodrama for a single tenor, inspired by the one-man version of the story Dickens himself used to perform in Victorian England.

Keeping with the forward march through British literature, Iain Bell’s website already lists his next operatic commission, for the Welsh National Opera, this time adapting an epic poem of the 20th century.  In Parenthesis, by David Jones, was about World War I and culminates in the Battle of the Somme; WNO’s 2016 premiere performance will mark the occasion of that battle’s centennial.

At any rate, I’m hoping Bell keeps up the pattern and makes his next opera about some 21st century British work of literature…  Any suggestions?

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.

Costumes & Horror on Halloween

Girls with Slingshots Halloween costume comic

Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto

Halloween is usually a fun opportunity for webcartoonists to dress their recurring characters up, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of that yet among the comics I normally read!  Where’s the holiday spirit, guys?

That being said, Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto is a reliable source of Halloween themed story lines and this year it’s built around a librarian-organized, kids’-book-character-themed costume party!  Lots of great costumes so far, but I thought the comics-themed couple costume at left was especially appropriate for us…

Aside from Halloween story lines, here are two seasonally appropriate comics.

Little Ghost is a cute monster mash story by Kate Leth, and its the first ongoing fictional storyline she’s serialized on her own website, though she also has several new monthly print comic projects out, including the new, ultra-Halloweeny Edward Scissorhands comic from IDW!

Little Ghost by Kate Leth

Little Ghost by Kate Leth

Also, Abby Howard, who I learned about through the Strip Search webcomic reality show and her hilarious comics at Junior Scientist Power Hour, is a big fan of horror as evidenced by her other webcomic, The Last Halloween!  I believe it was launched about a year ago after a successful Kickstarter…  At any rate, I started reading it, but it was  way too scary for me!  So that means it should be appropriate for anyone over, like, age 10 😛

The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

Even Abby’s latest autobio JS Power Hour comic is Halloween themed, about the big farm home she moved into as a kid and the mysteriously threatening happenings that followed…

Alright, hope you all enjoy these alternately cute and horrifying comics on this spoOoOoky Halloween!  Anyone dressing up as a comic character?

Will Eisner Week 2014

Will Eisner Week 2014

Will Eisner was born March 6th, 1917, so the Will Eisner Week of Eisner- and comics-themed events is scheduled around that week each year.  Click here for a full list of events, the world over.

New York starts the week off with a New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium special event with DC Comics writer and editor Paul Levitz on Eisner’s contribution to the rise of the American graphic novel.

If you want to learn to cartoon like the great Eisner himself, you can always learn from his instructional books on comics and cartooning:

eisner13

Columbus Re-Evaluation Day

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

In 1992, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned The Voyage by Philip Glass to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Columbus‘ rediscovery of the Americas.  The opera more broadly examined exploration and culture clash, which seems like a good way to handle a historic landmark which has since become so controversial…  

The Oatmeal - Columbus day

Copyright Matthew Inman (click for full comic)

I mostly think about Columbus as someone who just happened to have landed on an earth-changing discovery by a nice confluence of circumstances, but Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal makes a case for Columbus as not just some hapless explorer but as a serious, serial abuser of native peoples, namely the Lucayans of today’s Bahamas, the first native Americans encountered by Columbus and his crew.  

The single most potent distillation of arguments against Columbus Day as a federal holiday as I’ve heard…  And to top it all off, Inman does propose a more holiday-worthy alternative to Columbus: Bartolome de las Casas, who started off, like most Europeans, as a destructive force to the Indians and wound up their greatest champion and a seminal human rights advocate.  Much more palatable…

Bartolomé de las Casas, unknown artist.

Bartolomé de las Casas, unknown artist.