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!

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?

Comical Art

In tomorrow’s New York Comics and Picture Story Symposium, artist and cartoonist Aidan Koch will discuss the popular use of comics imagery and formats in contemporary art.  A rich subject to mine surely, and I’m curious as to the timeline she’ll cover…  Will it start with Roy Licthenstein and Pop Art?  Maybe earlier or a more narrow recent focus?  We’ll have to see!

It’s such a wide topic that it seems silly to tie this post in to any one gallery show going on right now, but I’d been meaning to mention an exhibit at the Swiss Institute (yeah, first time I’d ever heard of it either) on the early work of the late David Weiss.  Known more for his more conceptual art in partnership with Peter Fischli, this exhibit showcases his early work, including some cartoony imagery and something that looks like images in sequence?  Oh boy!

Wandlungen (detail) 1974, David Weiss at Swiss Institute

Of course, will be neat to get a more rounded account of this phenomenon from Aidan Koch tomorrow night!

More Opera at Lincoln Center

Today a new partnership was announced between the New York Philharmonic and its host campus, Lincoln Center, to pool resources and produce fully staged operas, starting with George Benjamin‘s 2012 Written on Skin in August of this year, weirdly coinciding with the Mostly Mozart Festival

Written on Skin was incredibly well-received after its premier at the 2012 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, with a subsequent production at the Royal Opera House, which resulted in a new commission for the 2018 season for the team of Benjamin and Martin Crimp

This new initiative builds on Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert’s success with innovatively semi-staged operas at the Philharmonic in collaboration with production team Giants Are Small, starting with György Ligeti‘s Grand Macabre in 2010:

This clip Barbara Hanngian features at the NY Phil production of Le Grand Macabre, and of course Hannigan created the role of Agnes in Benjamin’s Written on Skin too, so nice coincidence there…

 

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!

The Late Children Speak

Just a quick post about tomorrow’s New York Comic and Picture-Story Symposium event with Marguerite Van Cook talking about her new multi-generation autobiography The Late Child and Other Animals adapted into comic form by James Romberger.  Beyond the author’s own childhood, the book starts with her mother’s experience living through the Nazi bombing of the UK port city of Portsmouth, and subsequently having two children on her own when her soldier husband dies en route back home.

The Late Child and Other Animals by Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger

The Late Child and Other Animals by Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger

It sounds like an interesting life story and story-story, and the team of Van Cook and Romberger have created some real lovely, trippy art before in 7 Miles a Second, another autobiographical comic created with artist David Wojnarowicz before his AIDS-related death in 1992.  I’ve been planning a separate post about that book for a while, so tomorrow’s event comes at a good time to learn more about Van Cook and Romberger’s collaborative process, and about this exciting new book too!

7MilesASecond-Wojnarowicz

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.