Canticle of the Black Madonna

ArtsWatch Weekly: A world on fire

Trees in Trouble. Farewell, Tim Stapleton. Maryhill finally opens. Lots of music. Women in film. Pop-up posters. TBA, Street Roots & more.

NOTHING I CAN WRITE ON A DAY LIKE THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT than the story sweeping across Oregon and the West, where high winds and wildfires and crackling-dry conditions have unleashed historic devastation. Whole communities have been erased. Main highways are blocked off; others have been bumper-to-bumper crawling with people fleeing danger zones. Hundreds of people have been burned out of house and home. Complex ecosystems have been uprooted; wildlife flee with no sure place to go. In Oregon as of Thursday afternoon at least 800 square miles of land was burning, much of it out of control. 

Amid the chaos I’ve seen many small tales of courage, generosity, and resourcefulness. People in the country offering refuge for horses, livestock, pets. Parking lots and driveways offered for people escaping in their trucks or campers. Neighbors helping clear downed trees. Medical and utility and emergency workers, already stretched by the mounting catastrophes of this most extraordinary year, laboring overtime under daunting and exhausting circumstances. As I sit at my desk at 10 in the morning and look out the window the sky has turned from blood-orange to a pink-tinged gray. The acrid smell of smoke seeps through the cracks and into my nostrils. And I am deeply aware, and immensely grateful, that I am one of the fortunate ones, sitting in a stretch of Portland that’s been spared the worst of these multiple conflagrations, and that, barring a radical shift in weather patterns, is likely to remain a safe shelter. 

How did we get here? Where are we heading? In search of some answers ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson talked with Portland writer Daniel Mathews, author of the recent book Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change. Mathews takes a long view of the state of the forests, the destabilizing effects of climate change, the role of public policy, and other factors contributing to the chaos of the land. “I’m heartbroken looking at the maps and seeing so many towns and forests I visited just in reporting for this book,” Mathews tells Johnson. “This week’s fires are shocking and truly historic: it’s likely that more acres burned in the West than in any 48-hour period in written history, including the Big Blow-up of 1910. … I  guess there are a lot of disconnects between science and policy in this country, but forest fire policy is one of the most stubborn.”


TIM STAPLETON: FAREWELL TO A GREAT SPIRIT


The much loved Tim Stapleton, in transition. Photo courtesy Gary Norman

TIM STAPLETON, THE LONGTIME PORTLAND set designer, visual artist, writer of uncommonly good memoirs, and occasional actor, died at a hospice care center on Labor Day morning, Sept. 7, from the effects of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He leaves legions of friends and admirers, and an enormous hole in Portland’s artistic community. Tim, born in Kentucky coal country in 1949, constantly called in his work on memories of those days and that culture, and before he had to move to hospice care he made his home in The Holler, a stretch of country-in-the-city in a tucked-away part of northern Portland, which is where photographer Gary Norman took the portrait above. In it, Tim seems to be simply walking away, toward something, taking his soft wry voice and sometimes jagged laughter and passion and wit with him, but leaving a trail of memories behind. 

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Composer Ethan Gans-Morse: Music as Social Voice

New opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna dramatizes contemporary concerns

By GARY W. FERRINGTON

The Canticle of the Black Madonna opened my heart and brought new healing to me, 44 years after I returned from Vietnam. This is a gift that should be shared with the world. — Bill Ritch, combat veteran, Silver Star recipient, former West Point instructor.

Ethan Gans-Morse is an Oregon composer whose compositions bring together his love of Baroque and Renaissance music with “his passion for new, socially relevant works of art that inspire a sense of human connection” as he notes in his Oregon ComposersWatch profile.

Composer Ethan Gans-Morse introduces CBM cast and principals. From R-L: Gwendolyn Brown (the Black Madonna), Michael Mayes ( Adam), Kristine McIntyre (Director) Tiziana Della Rovere (Librettist), Ethan Gans-Morse (composer) and Lindsey Cafferky (Mara). Not shown: Ryan Heller (Music Director), Ethan Sperry (Chorus Master). Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Composer Ethan Gans-Morse introduces CBM cast and principals. From R-L: Gwendolyn Brown (the Black Madonna), Michael Mayes ( Adam), Kristine McIntyre (Director) Tiziana Della Rovere (Librettist), Ethan Gans-Morse (composer) and Lindsey Cafferky (Mara). Not shown: Ryan Heller (Music Director), Ethan Sperry (Chorus Master). Photo: Gary Ferrington.

His new opera, The Canticle of the Black Madonna, which premieres in Portland September 5-6, tells the story of a returning Afghanistan war veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the challenges he and his wife face as they struggle to survive amid the ecological disaster of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. Composed in collaboration with librettist Tiziana DellaRovere, the opera exemplifies the Portland composer’s commitment to creating and producing original projects that “harness the power of art to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social problems,” he says. See: OAW “Preview: Bringing Anima Mundi’s “Canticle of the Black Madonna” to life.”

ArtsWatch conducted an e-mail interview with Gans-Morse, who received his Masters in Music Composition, summa cum laude from the University of Oregon in 2013. We asked him about his becoming a composer; the influence of socially meaningful content in his music; and his views about the future of opera.

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