Max Tapogna

Max Tapogna is an actor, singer, and writer who hails from Portland, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Puget Sound in the spring of 2020 with a BA in Theatre Arts. Max is currently a 2020-21 acting apprentice at Portland Playhouse.

 

New horizons

Renegade Opera breaks all the rules

In January 2020, shortly before the city’s concert halls and music venues began their long period of hibernation, Portland acquired a new opera company.

On its website, Renegade Opera announces itself as being “committed to creating accessible and immersive opera and promoting institutional reform in the performing arts community.” The company is the artistic child of three local musicians: Madeline Ross, Danielle Jagelski, and Elliot Menard. Renegade’s first production, a multimedia collage of Mozart arias titled Secret Diaries of Pennsylvania Avenue, was released last October.

Madeline Ross in 'Secret Diaries of Pennsylvania Avenue.' Photo courtesy of Renegade Opera.
Madeline Ross in ‘Secret Diaries of Pennsylvania Avenue.’ Photo courtesy of Renegade Opera.

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Looking for light, packing a punch

Fertile Ground 2021: In the brief but powerful "Livin' in the Light," opera singer Onry seeks a space for a Black man to breathe

One morning last June, the opera singer and multi-hyphenate artist Onry could not get out of bed. Amidst the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, Onry says, “I, like so many other African Americans, had a moment. I was afraid, both for my life and for what the world would think of me and view me.” This impasse, Onry recalls, led him to the realization that “I was living in the truth of others versus living in the light of myself.” 


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


Livin’ in the Light is the title of Onry’s film, which premieres on Saturday, Feb. 6, as part of Fertile Ground’s 2021 online festival of new works. Directed by Hannah Hefner, the short film is a stunning musical journey of self-actualization. It opens on Onry in a cloistered world, which seems to be constructed from dark pink cloths—rays of sunlight are trying to break through. Soon the scene shifts to the outdoors. “A river, a giant field, a forest,” Hefner says, “Each has these particular heavy and beautiful and romantic physical qualities.”

Onry moves through these spaces as if in search of an unknown destination. We see him running his hands through the grass, pausing to admire wildflowers, sprinting through the woods. A chorus sings background to Onry’s solo, (My soul never burned so damn bright / I wanna be livin’ in the light). Eventually, Onry returns to the same closed space from the beginning, but now he’s changed. He looks directly into the camera. He inhales and exhales, his breaths deep and certain. 

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A ‘Hot Mess’ of a zombie jamboree

Fertile Ground 2021: Mark LaPierre and Ian Anderson-Priddy create a zombie comic-book musical to make your pulse rush. If you have one.

Sex! Music! Zombies! Comics! 

Do I have your attention? If I don’t, you might not have a pulse. But don’t fret: Hot Mess—a comic-book musical by Mark LaPierre (music, lyrics, and book) and Ian Anderson-Priddy (art and animation)—is the province of the undead. A combination of Scooby Doo and EDM, Hot Mess – A Zombie Musical is almost certainly unlike anything you’ve seen before. “It’s shamelessly attention-seeking,” LaPierre says with a laugh. Hot Mess premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, as a part of Fertile Ground’s online festival of new works. Festival projects remain available to stream for free through Feb. 15 on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


The musical opens on Tiffany (voiced by Erin Tamblyn) and her hair-raisingly crass boyfriend “Playya” (voiced by LaPierre) wandering a graveyard at 4 a.m. The couple are supposed to be attending a joint funeral for three of Tiffany’s friends (who died under mysterious circumstances), but it turns out Tiffany got the time wrong. In the graveyard there are unexpected run-ins with old friends, a hilarious ode-to-sex sung by Playya, and a chorus of the walking dead (who also dance). The comic-book musical feels like something that would air on Adult Swim (Aqua Teen Hunger Force comes to mind); it’s kind of alienating to watch, but nevertheless it’s campy, catchy, and downright funny. 

Comic-book zombies and a “Hot Mess.” image by Bowan Hampton and Ian Anderson-Priddy.

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The rhythm and meaning of Lilies

Fertile Ground 2021: Poet Joni Whitworth and filmmaker Hannah Piper Burns find the mythic amid the reality of Covid-19

Lilies, poet Joni Renee Whitworth tells us, contain multitudes of meaning. The flower is a mainstay in Greek and Chinese myths, as well as Easter ceremonies. It symbolizes, among other things, love, grief, femininity, and rebirth—all themes present in Whitworth’s filmed poem, Lilies, which premieres on Wednesday, Feb. 3, as a part of Fertile Ground’s online festival of new works. Festival projects remain available to stream for free through Feb. 15 on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


Written and performed by Whitworth with video and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, Lilies is like opening a time capsule from the early days of the pandemic. “It’s like writing future history,” says Whitworth, who wrote the text last spring, when the rules for pandemic engagement were still setting in. “Once it changed from, ‘we’re home for two weeks,’ to, ‘we’re going to be in this for a while,’ there was just an energetic shift” – a shift, adds Whitworth, that was in stark contrast to the beautiful spring Portland was experiencing. “Nature was just merrily carrying along, and thriving,” Whitworth says. Lilies is their chronicle of that time. 

Image from Joni Renne Whitworth “Lilies.”

The poem—which Whitworth describes as loosely autobiographical—ruminates on the tragic weight of Covid-19 as well as the pandemic’s unexpected comforts. It moves between perspectives personal and global. Lilies begins in a place of calm. Whitworth opens with the line, “Of course, / lesbians have dreamt of this for years: / sleeping in late, / reading to each other, / fretting over the cat.” Elsewhere, Whitworth hears Pacific wrens singing by their quarantine window, and remarks, “I’ve worked two jobs as long as I can remember, / I’ve never been home to hear them.” In these scenes, Whitworth’s restrained diction aids their imagery—watching Lilies, I felt cozy.

But these silver linings come at a price. Whitworth calls our new world flat and declarative, “A refrigerated truck for the bodies,” where people’s voices lack inflection. Later, they remark that “War-ravaged Syria just reported its first COVID-19 death. / We’re here. We’re here.” For Whitworth, even the “upsides” of the pandemic resist that qualification. “Is it true / that by lessening pollution, / and workplace accidents, / this industrial slowdown is / sparing lives / as well as taking them? / I can’t follow that logic to its reasonable conclusion.” 

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Tough questions, tough answers

Fertile Ground 2021: Lisa Collins' wonderfully revealing "Be Careful What You Ask For" delves into a Portland killing and issues of race

Be Careful What You Ask For opens on a sunbathed backyard deck at the home of a Portland couple. A man (Keith Cable) is reading a newspaper and drinking coffee; a woman (Vana O’Brien) enters holding an iPad. “I love our morning time together,” she says, taking her seat. The morning appears to be the most typical of Portland mornings. But this wonderful and exacting play – written by Lisa Collins, directed by Jennifer Lanier, and opening Monday, Feb. 1, in the online Fertile Ground festival of new works – isn’t content being content. Something is not well, and that something is America.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


The action of the play—essentially a conversation between a married couple—consists of a man and woman trying to articulate what is wrong with the country. The woman, Karen, wants to make the world a better place. Her husband, Jerome, wonders if the world hasn’t done enough for him. At first, the couple struggle to identify the source of their unease. Karen’s goals are vague. “Too many people are dying,” she says. “I want to help.” But she doesn’t say which people are dying, or how she might help. Jerome, meanwhile, acts like he would rather avoid the conversation altogether, and he blames his wife’s surge of altruism on her recent retirement.

About two-thirds of the way into the play, the world comes crashing into their picturesque backyard—or at least, real-life events are discussed. Karen brings up the death of Jason Erik Washington, a Black man who was killed by Portland State University officers in 2018. We realize that this—the disproportionate use of lethal violence wielded against Black Americans by police—is the direction the conversation was headed all along.

Keith Cable and Vana O’Brien in “Be Careful What You Ask For.” Photo: Lisa Collins

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Clap good and hard from home

Portland Opera ends livestream recital series with Isiguen and Bakari

In November 2020, Portland Opera premiered its “Live From the Hampton Opera Center,” a series of free, virtual recitals featuring artists who call the PNW home. Read the ArtsWatch review of the first two–featuring Camille Sherman and Damien Geter–right here. The recitals are archived for one month following their premieres; be sure to catch the last one before it disappears this week.

Martin Bakari wastes no time in his introductions. The moment the show is live the tenor lists the program’s composers and invites the audience to “clap good and hard from home.” Clearing his throat, he jumps into a lovely rendition of “Un’aura amorosa” from Cosí fan tutte. After a clipped piano arpeggio from Portland Opera’s chorus master and assistant conductor, Nicholas Fox, Bakari sings with Mozartian lightness. On the return to the opening phrase, the camera stays close on Bakari’s face. His eyes are closed, yet he communicates a love-sick emotion just as effectively. As the song ends, Bakari takes a deep breath in – a “breath of love” – then lets it all out. You want to sigh with him.

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No opera glasses needed

Camille Sherman and Damien Geter showcase contemporary composers in Portland Opera’s new online recital series

On November 11th, Portland Opera premiered the second installment of “Live From the Hampton Opera Center,” a series of free, virtual recitals featuring artists who call the PNW home. In Women in Political Life, mezzo-soprano Camille Sherman embodies an array of first ladies and the husband of one late Supreme Court justice. The recital, directed and curated by Kristine McIntyre, features music by contemporary American composers Stacy Garrop and Jake Heggie. Sherman sings in English throughout.

Sherman begins her recital with Garrop’s song cycle In Eleanor’s Words. The songs’ lyrics are adapted from My Day, a newspaper column written by Eleanor Roosevelt from 1935 to 1960. What I like most about the cycle–and in the recital in general–is that it is also a piece of theatre. “The Newspaper Column,” the cycle’s first song, opens with the percussive sound of a keyboard. But the hands of pianist Susan McDaniel are still. Sherman, dressed in First Lady attire, is banging away on a portable typewriter. She turns from the typewriter to the camera. “Washington, September 8th, 1936,” she says, then proceeds to sing about the art of journalism.

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