SebaSM Comics Digest, Weeks of Mar. 10th and 17th

SebaSM-Comics-Trio-MarchI missed my weekly update last week because I was out of the country, but I did have two normally scheduled SebaSM Comics during my trip, and two more new comics this week too!

Today’s update is Bizarro Twins appropriate, since it’s vaguely inspired by Donizetti‘s Lucia di Lammermoor, which I saw this week at the Metropolitan Opera.  Not based on any of the big iconic moments really, just some old school relationship stuff as seen through a 21st century lens, of course…2015-03-26-R-99 Here’s a clip from the Met’s production in a previous season with Natalie Dessay:

Pearl Fishing

Well, I’m back from Vancouver, but on one of my last days there I saw a work-in-progress dance performance by local company 605 Collective at the Vancouver International Dance Festival. which I enjoyed, but after a mostly electronic soundtrack, I was surprised that the piece ended to the tune of Enrico Caruso singing this aria from Bizet‘s 1863 Pearl Fishers opera:

Probably the best known piece from this opera, but if you want to see the full picture, it’ll be receiving its first Met Opera production in 100 years in the forthcoming 2015-2016 season:

Trip to Aulide

This week, the Met+Juilliard collaboration between the Metropolitan Opera and the Juilliard School will be giving three performances of Gluck‘s 1774 Iphigénie en Aulide.  It’s been pretty much supplanted in popularity by Gluck’s own 1779 Iphigénie en Tauride, so much so that most performances of it seem to occur as a double-feature with both installments:

At any rate, this week presents a pretty rare opportunity to see it!  Here’s a Juilliard Journal article interviewing some of the people involved in this production.

The Met+Juilliard collaboration has produced a few operas at Juilliard already, and though none have made the jump to the Metropolitan Opera, in some of the early announcement materials I read, that was cited as a possibility…

Which leads to some speculation…  Much has been said recently about the Met showing more modern opera and even commissioning new works…  In one such announcement from 2013, Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov was said to be working on an operatic adaptation of the original Euripides play Iphigenia in Aulis, tentatively slated for the 2018/2019 Season.

Hmm…  Aulide, Aulis…  What if – stay with me here – the Met were planning a 2018/2019 season including both Golijov and Gluck’s versions of Iphigenias in Aulis?  (And hey, they could even toss in their existing production of Iphigénia en Tauride, seen below).

Would that be too crazy?  Or would it be super amazing?  Thoughts?

A Very Operetta New Year

Gipsy Princess poster from The Memory of the Netherlands digital collection

Gipsy Princess poster from The Memory of the Netherlands digital collection

In the latest case of me learning about something just hours before it’s set to start, Medici.tv will be live streaming a special New Year’s performance of Emmerich Kalman‘s 1915 operetta Die Csárdásfürstin (aka, The Gipsy Princess for those non-Hungarian speakers among you) from Staatskapelle Dresden with the powerhouse duo of Anna Netrebko and Juan Diego Flórez.  You’ll need an account to see the live performance, but it’s free and pretty painless!

Here’s an old school televised version of a duet from the Gipsy Princess in all it’s glory:

Operetta seems to be an old world New Year’s tradition, and the Met Opera is getting in on the game with a new production of Franz Lehar‘s Merry Widow premiering on Wednesday, New Year’s Eve!  So get your operetta fix this week!

 

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.

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:

Mozart once, Martinů bis

My 2014/15 opera season officially started last week when I came into some tickets for productions at the Met and Gotham Chamber Opera.  I saw the Metropolitan Opera‘s season-opening new production of Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro as well as Gotham Chamber Opera‘s season-opener, a double bill by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů.

Le Nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera, 2014

Photo by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera Archives

I’m usually pretty conservative about when a new production is necessary… If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  But that aside, I did quite like this production.  Maybe the set doesn’t translate to photos that well, but it’s, like, a set of hollow, deco/moorish-style towers on a rotating base?  And I thought they did some neat things suggesting hectic movement between chambers as it rotated, so ok, I’m down with it.

All around, a good performance and cast (you can never go too wrong at the Met!).  What caught my attention though was something Richard Eyre said in the director’s notes about how Le Nozze is a rare instance of an opera with sex as subject matter.

Which sort of brings us to the Martinů double bill at Gotham Chamber Opera!  Unexpected repertory, great young performers, and delightfully funky productions, as we’ve come to expect from GCO by now…

Martinu's Alexandre Bis performed by Gotham Chamber Opera

Photo by Richard Termine for Gotham Chamber Opera

Bohuslav Martinů, born in 1890 in what is now the Czech Republic, left for Paris in 1923 where he became a bit more experimental, taking inspiration from jazz and Stravinsky.  His operas of this time are often absurd, if not outright surreal, including 1937’s Alexandre Bis, the opening opera in GCO’s double bill.

Martinu in Paris, 1937

Martinů in Paris, 1937, from the Bohuslav Martinů Institute database

The story of Alexandre Bis (literally “Alexander Twice”) was itself inspired by Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte with a husband disguising himself to test his wife’s fidelity.  She recognizes him immediately, but is aroused by the makeover and/or roleplay, and thus begins a sexual awakening.

Surrealist Paris must have been a sexually revolutionary place, since I’d consider Francis Poulenc’s Les Mamelles des Tirésias a kindred spirit to Alexandre Bis…  In this opera, more about gender than sex per se, a woman gets rid of her breasts to become a man, leaving her husband to have children by himself.  Consider also that Alban Berg’s darker (and more Teutonic) Lulu premiered the year Martinů completed Alexandre Bis.

Of course, Mozart beat all these Johnny come Lately’s to the punch with his 1786 opera about philandering aristocrats.  But not even Mozart was the first to put sex front and center in his operas.  That distinction might just go to  Francesco Cavalli who started writing operas in the 1640s.  Consider La Calisto, in which Jupiter seduces a chaste nymph by disguising himself as the goddess Diana.

At any rate, I guess this was all just an excuse to talk about sexy operas!  What can I say, I like to create thematic groupings of operas…  Ultimately, it was a great opening week for the 2014/15 season, covering the most classic of classics alongside the most obscure thing you could think of and I just love having that range here in New York…

Here’s a compilation video from a 2009 performance of Alexandre Bis by the Czech Theater Biel Solothurn as part of some kind of televised opera competition apparently?  Man, Europe is classy.