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…

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.

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!

Illustration Week 2014 Plus

Today is the start of Illustration Week 2014, with panels, exhibits, and screenings on illustration, comics, and animation at several New York institutions including the Society of Illustrators and SVA.  In addition to the official events, I have a couple of other, relevant events you might want to add to your calendar this week…

Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen

Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen

The weekly New York Comic Picture & Story Symposium actually has two events this week, the regularly scheduled one on Tuesday about late Medieval religious cartoons by Marlene Villalobos Hennessy of Hunter College and an extra meeting on Wednesday with Belgian cartoonist Olivier Schrauwen on his work.  Both events at the New School at 7 pm.

Then, on Friday at 6:15 pm, as part of MoMA‘s To Save and Project film series of recently preserved film from around the world, a night of cartoons by the legendary Winsor McCay, famed creator of Little Nemo in Slumberland!  The event is moderated by animator and animation historian John Canemaker, author of the 2005 book Winsor McCay: His Life and Art.

The event is programmed in part for the 100th anniversary of Gertie the Dinosaur from 1914, the first cartoon to use keyframe animation among other techniques, so that will of course be part of the programming!

Putting the “Book” back in Comic Books

Two events spanning the history of book design and illustration this week; not quite comics, but should be at least marginally relevant and totally edifying I think!

First up on Tuesday, the New York Comics and Picture-story Symposium presents Patricia Mainardi, art history professor at CUNY, who will discuss how advances in printing in 19th century Europe helped usher in both a boom in book illustration and the invention of comics.

And on Friday, the Center for Book Arts will host the concluding talk in a series devoted to the history of book design, this time focusing on 21st century issues in the field.  Suggested donation of $10 for the talk, and free access to the Center’s three exhibits.

Sleepwalk with the Met Tonight

La Sonnambula Illustration

La Sonnambula Act 2, by William de Leftwich Dodge

Tonight’s the season premiere of Bellini‘s La Sonnambula at the Met Opera, and it’ll be live-streamed starting at 7:30.

The illustration at left, by American painter and muralist William de Leftwich Dodge, shows the climactic moment when the protagonist, Amina, sleep walks atop a rickety old mill bridge, very dramatic.

That’s sort of the defining moment in the opera, and apparently sopranos known for their Aminas would be painted with mills in the background as a shorthand…

Anyway, lots of lovely music in the opera, so enjoy the live-stream!

OK! on PBS

1953 Oklahoma Poster

1953 mail order form for Oklahoma! revival (from the NYPL Digital Archives)

The last musical theater installment in PBS‘ Arts Fall Festival is Rodger & Hammerstein‘s 1943 musical, Oklahoma!, in a performance from the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, originally from 1998, featuring singin’, dancin’ Wolverine (aka, Hugh Jackman).  9pm this Friday.

Al Hirschfeld Oklahoma! illustration

Al Hirschfeld caricature of 1969 Oklahoma! revival cast (from the NYPL Digital Archives)

Found this great Al Hirschfeld caricature of the 1969 revival cast on the NYPL Digital Archives, which reminds me that the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has an exhibit on Hirschfeld’s theater illustrations up through January 4th.  Definitely worth checking out, he’s a fun one.

I’ll leave you with the one song I know how to play on the piano which happens to be from Oklahoma!  From the 1955 technicolor movie, with Gordon MacRae:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DLsZHVNOok&w=350&h=300]