Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Drawing 'Pagliacci' plus more Detroit Symphony thoughts

By Barry Johnson
Arts Dispatch has several things scrambling in its brain-skillet this afternoon,  but we'll focus on two of them.

First, we're thinking about the Detroit Symphony, primarily because of comments by three of the musicians in a post below.  I'm starting to think that the Broken Community hypothesis is correct, which  means that the problem is worse than an economic disruption or even a permanent new economic condition that must be accommodated.  That's because it's so difficult to create a sense of community in the first place.  Trust, loyalty, openness, transparency, focus on coming up with the best solutions regardless of who originates them, sharing of responsibility and power -- these are hard to develop.

That's why we so often wish for a charismatic Leader; it's easier than a community-driven process. And traditional arts organizations have gone that route more often than not. It has something to do with the romanticism of the Genius Artist -- the conductor or choreographer or producer or even curator. Only the temperamental Genius can scare everyone enough (board, staff, musicians) to keep everyone in line. Personally, I hate that trope, even though I can see that it has its uses at times, because the Genius nearly always becomes repellent to everyone eventually -- including the audience. And then you're back where you started.

Cartooning the opera:  I was lucky enough to tag along as something on the order of 20 Portland cartoonists sat in on a Portland Opera rehearsal of Pagliacci and Carmina Burana on Monday night.

Until I saw them busily sketching away and then saw some of the drawings at intermission, I didn't understand how perfect Pagliacci is for a cartoonist. Clowns! Whips! Knives! Betrayal! Revenge! Passion! The darkened brows of Tonio and Canio were common subjects, not to mention the saucy commedia of the play-within-a-play.

It's also easy to forget the talent it takes to make comic books and graphic novels until you see pencils, markers, pens and charcoals start to fill white pages with representations of the action flashing by onstage. And you take a peek and their GOOD: funny and passionate and as delirious as the opera itself can be. In fact, now I'm thinking that cartoons are the perfect way to represent opera -- they capture the rawness and the immediacy of it so well and the atmosphere the music creates.

The event was organized by Mike Russell (aka @CulturePulp on Twitter; the hashtag for the event is #pdxoperacomics) and the opera's Julia Sheridan. Everyone will be able to see the work on Friday, opening night, in the lobby of Keller Auditorium. While you wait, Natalie Nourigat has collected links to several of the artists who participated and their sketches on her blog, Tally Art.  That's her wonderful drawing above!

And though we weren't there to review the production itself, the cartoonists and I (at least those I talked to) had a delightful time listening to so many excellent voices and seeing this La Strada-inspired version of Pagliacci. And that was before the giant white snake in Carmina Burana ever showed up!

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