When visual artists and show people get together, interesting things often happen. Some collaborations have become legendary: Isamu Noguchi’s sculptural set designs for modern dance icon Martha Graham; Léon Bakst’s expressionistic designs for Ballets Russes. The original designs and even the title for the musical Fiddler on the Roof were inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall. More recently, the South African artist William Kentridge’s astonishingly absurdist designs for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 production of Shostakovich’s equally astonishing and absurd The Nose brilliantly suggested the tone of the Gogol story that inspired the opera. Last season, Portland Opera produced Stravinsky’s classic mid-twentieth-century opera The Rake’s Progress, based on William Hogarth’s famous eighteenth century series of paintings and prints, with David Hockney’s inspired modernized designs.
Now Portland Opera is back with a new production of Mozart’s fabulist opera The Magic Flute, using sets and costumes designed in 1980 by the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, whose designs for The Nutcracker were also a mainstay at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet for many years. Sendak’s sets and to a lesser extent his costumes for The Magic Flute are immediately identifiable as his and his alone: in this case the collaboration is an overlay of artistic sensibilities, a discovery of parallels between two artists whose outlooks differ but mesh well. Sendak’s bright color sense and playfully exaggerated figurative style emphasize the childlike aspects of Mozart’s music and the opera’s slightly nonsensical tale. Sendak didn’t so much rethink his source material, the way that Kentridge and Hockney did, as find a level of mutual agreement, a seductive surface that allows the music to dive more deeply behind the mask. He created very traditional tableaux, but in his own pleasing and agreeable style, and the result is … well, pleasing and agreeable and pertinent.
ArtsWatch has double-teamed the Sendak Magic Flute, which continues at Keller Auditorium with performances Thursday and Saturday. Angela Allen tells the fascinating tale of how the Sendak sets and costumes, mostly destroyed during a Florida hurricane, were meticulously re-created for Portland’s production. And I review the performance.
A FEW THINGS TO WATCH FOR on this week’s calendar:
Farewell, my lovelies. Yes, it’s true: the ambitiously labeled “world’s greatest cat painting,” Carl Kahler’s My Wife’s Lovers, is about to pad out of town after a few months on the wall at the Portland Art Museum. Last chance to take a selfie with the felines, which has become a popular sport in town. Through Sunday, May 15. UPDATE: The museum’s just announced an extension for the whole big litter of kitties. They’ll be hanging around through June 8. Cat-ch ’em while you can.
Going Dutch with Third Angle. The Portland new-music ensemble’s Studio Series presents a pair of concerts featuring five Dutch composers and a roomful of attitude. You know it’s contemporary music when (a) one of the three musicians is performing on flute and shrubbery, and (b) the concert comes with a warning that it “contains strong language.” 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 12-13.
Brian Borrello’s Tooth & Claw. Breaking with the First Thursday opening pattern, Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art hosts its reception for Borrello and his latest body of work from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 11; 2219 Northwest Raleigh Street.
FilmWatch Weekly: men, math, chicken, Czechs. You can’t tell the movies without a scorecard, and ArtsWatch’s film squad is happy to deliver the goods. Catch up on the latest, then get yourself a box of popcorn: it’s movie time.
Liza’s a cabaret, old chum. Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews Liza! Liza! Liza!, Triangle Productions’ triple-threat celebration of the life and songs of the irresistible Minnelli.
Glenn Frey’s ghost. Maria Chobin harks back to an Eagles concert in Nashville almost forty years ago, and argues that the band’s late lead singer has more to offer classical audiences than the tribute concert he got Monday night from the Oregon Symphony: “Long live Glenn Frey’s ghost and may it haunt the hallowed halls and sacred church atmospheres of classical music. Because Frey put the audience first.”
Heidi Schreck dishes the soup. In an ArtsWatch Conversation, the author of Artists Rep’s new hit show Grand Concourse talks about acting, writing, Russia, and her journey from her hometown Wenatchee to the stages and film studios of New York.
Eugene Ballet hosts BodyVox. Gary Ferrington gives the lowdown on the Eugene ballet company, the popular Portland contemporary dance troupe, and the spirit of collaboration.
Sweet treat: James’s giant peach. Christa Morlettii McIntyre reviews Oregon Children’s Theatre’s pip of a new show, a musical-theater adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.
Sting: The Jazz Remix: new look at an old master. Angela Allen gets the story behind Portland jazz luminary Darrell Grant’s new project, a jazz rethinking of the music of the eclectic rocker Sting. The results will be onstage at Alberta Abbey this Thursday evening, May 12.
Triple treat: Willamette Master Chorus. Bruce Brown comes to praise the return of Helmuth Rilling and a stirring performance in Salem of choral music led by the Bach maestro.
A wrinkle in the bedsheets. Where the boys aren’t: Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews Desdemona, a Play About a Handkerchief, Paula Vogel’s feminist response to Othello, at Post5.
About ArtsWatch Weekly
We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.
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