Christopher Mattaliano

The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017

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Art on the move: responding to crises

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing coronavirus challenge are reshaping the arts world

WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF LIFE-CHANGING TIMES, and in the face of multiple crises remarkable work is being done. How do artists fit in? Sometimes, smack in the middle of things. Many news organizations have been doing excellent work of discovering the artists speaking to the moment and bringing their work to a broad audience. Oregon Public Broadcasting, for instance, has been publishing some sterling stories – including the feature The Faces of Protest: The Memorial Portraits of Artist Ameya Marie Okamoto, by Claudia Meza and John Nottariani. Okamoto, a young social practice artist who grew up in Portland, has made it her work not just to document the events of racial violence in Portland and across the United States: She’s also, as OPB notes, “crafted dozens of portraits for victims of violence and injustice.” 


Ameya Okamoto, “In Support of Protest.” Photo courtesy Ameya Okamoto

“People get so attached to the hashtag and the movement of George Floyd or Quanice Hayes,” Okamota tells OPB, “they forget that George Floyd was a trucker who moved to Minneapolis for a better life, or that Quanice Hayes was actually called ‘Moose’ by his friends and family. When individuals become catalysts for Black Lives Matter and catalysts for social change … there is a level of complex personhood that is stripped away from them.” In her work she strives to give that back.

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Breaking: Opera switches season again; Tesner heads PSU museum

The opera, facing financial woes, abandons its summer season and returns to fall-spring. PSU's new Schnitzer museum taps a proven leader.

Portland Opera will move back to a fall-through-spring season beginning with the 2020-21 season, the opera and the consulting company Metropolitan Group have announced. The decision calls quits to a short-lived move to a primarily summer season, and follows last month’s announcement that Christopher Mattaliano, general manager since 2003, would leave that post immediately and become an artistic consultant for the 2019-20 season. Sue Dixon, the company’s director of external affairs, became interim general manager.

Meanwhile, Portland State University has just announced that the highly respected Portland curator Linda Tesner will be interim director of the university’s new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art when it opens Nov. 7 in the refurbished former Neuberger Hall on PSU’s downtown campus. She began her new job Aug. 1.

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Ryan Thorn as The Officer in Portland Opera’s recent production of Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

The opera’s announcement was made with the release of a new five-year plan, and is in response to several seasons of deficit operation: “Cumulative operating cash flow losses since the FY 2015–16 change to a summer season could result in the opera drawing down its endowment completely in seven years if decisive action is not taken now.”

Among other things, the plan calls for “a venue mix that reflects the desire for both grand and intimate experiences.” The company currently performs in the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium, the 870-seat Newmark Theatre, and the intimate studio space at the opera’s headquarters at the east end of the Tillicum Bridge. That space could be developed further in the future. “The second big strategy in this section is exploring a longer term vision and feasibility to redevelop the Central Eastside waterfront property that Portland Opera owns, through opportunities that could mutually benefit Portland Opera, other arts organizations, and the entire community,” the report says. The report also suggests that the company could do some programming in “unexpected places to meet people where they are,” as several of the city’s contemporary music groups do.

The opera’s shift to a summer season has been judged a failed experiment. But while the dates of productions changed, the kinds of operas being presented generally didn’t, and the company never created the festival approach that has been successful in other summer-season companies such as Santa Fe Opera.

You can read the complete announcement, which contains considerable more detail, here. The announcement emphasizes that the plan is a work in progress.

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Linda Tesner. Photo courtesy Portland State University

PSU’s announcement that Tesner will be the first director of the new Jordan Schnitzer museum provides the answer to a big question in Oregon art circles. She’s spent decades as a curator, writer, and gallery director in the Northwest, and knows the territory and its artists deeply. She was most recently director and curator of the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis & Clark College, a gallery that she developed into a significant art center that drew audiences from well beyond the college campus. Lewis & Clark, in a financial retrenchment, eliminated her position late last year.

The new museum – which joins Schnitzer-named museums at the University of Oregon in Eugene and Washington State University in Pullman – was seeded by a $5 million contribution from the Portland collector, philanthropist, and real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer. It will occupy 7,500 square feet over two floors of the rebuilt Neuberger building, between Southwest Broadway and the South Park Blocks on campus. You can read the press release here.

Tesner should provide a steady and creative hand as the new museum defines itself and gets on its feet. It almost certainly will include exhibitions drawn from Schnitzer’s own extensive collection of contemporary prints, which is one of the nation’s biggest. Tesner has also been an assistant director of the Portland Art Museum and director of the Maryhill Museum of Art, in the Columbia River Gorge.

From the press release: “Tesner will curate the museum’s first exhibition: Art for All, Selections from the Jordan D. Schnitzer Collection. The exhibition will underscore the ethos of the museum and highlight its mission to provide free access to a cultural and intellectual laboratory.”

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ArtsWatch will have more on both of these stories as they develop.

‘Rigoletto’ review: toxic masculinity in high office

Portland Opera’s production of Verdi’s classic captures the composer’s critique of misogynistic leaders

By BRUCE BROWNE

Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto may be a popular classic today. But a beleaguered, thin-skinned political leader tried to strangle it at birth for daring to depict a ruler who would abuse the women around him. And who would do that in this day and age?

POA chose to open its 2018 season with one of the great works to be plucked from Verdi’s middle period (late 1840s to mid-1850s), which also included La Traviata and Il Trovatore. The 30-something-year-old composer was successful enough (and financially comfortable) at this time to select his own subject matter — and to break with musical convention.

Portland Opera’s ‘Rigoletto.’ Photo: Cory Weaver.

Verdi and his librettist Francesco Maria Piave chose Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, a play that had been banned in France after opening night in 1832. French censors claimed the play’s misogynistic royal was a reference to the then-current King Louis-Philippe. (Hugo was to have his say about the reign of Louis-Philippe three decades later in Les Miserables).

The Verdi/Piave blueblood, the Duke of Mantua, is the poster boy for misogyny, displaying his attitude with great elan in the beginning of the show with the aria ‘Quest o Quella” (this [woman] or that one), and he’s already seduced a vast number of the female courtiers including wives and daughters of his own henchmen.

The “revolting morality and obscene triviality of the libretto” (Life of Verdi, John Roselli, Cambridge University Press, 2000) was only one of the elements that, according to the letter from the Imperial and Royal Central Director to the composer, precluded Verdi from opening the show. In fact, it’s more likely that Italy’s real King, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) felt, in these tumultuous times, more than a hint of criticism coming his way, and wanted none of it.

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Portland Opera and The Ensemble reviews: Sacred and secular Venice

Two programs show very different sides of 17th century Italian music

by TERRY ROSS

Patrick McDonough’s vocal group The Ensemble has proven, in more than a dozen concerts over the past several years, that it is an invaluable part of musical life in the Northwest. By itself and in collaboration with other groups vocal and instrumental, it invariably presents concerts that not only offer familiar music of the 18th and earlier centuries but also bring the names of unjustly forgotten composers to our attention. Its latest series of concerts, on January 20-22 in Tacoma, Eugene, and Portland, illustrate this mission brilliantly.

In a program called Venetian Vespers: Vespers for Saint Agnes — Virgin & Martyr, The Ensemble teamed up with singers from Anne Lyman’s Tacoma group Canonici and Hideki Yamaya’s Portland instrumental ensemble Musica Maestrale to present an elaborate Vespers service in concert without intermission, consisting of Gregorian chant, expertly sung by alto Kerry McCarthy, and large and small motets for from one to ten singers.

The Ensemble and friends performed the Venetian Vespers program in Eugene, Portland, and Vancouver.

The composers represented ranged from the famous (Claudio Monteverdi, 1567-1643) and less famous (Alessandro Grandi, 1586-1630) to the relatively obscure (Dario Castello, c.1590-c.1658) to the virtually unknown (Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, 1602-1678), with special emphasis given to Cozzolani. She had four substantial pieces on the program, all of them featuring homophony (all voices singing together) and antiphony (voices separated into two choirs doing call and response), and her music was the surprise of the evening because it was so accomplished and unknown.

Turns out she was one of the nuns, in fact the abbess, of a convent that was famous for its musicians in the middle of the 17th century. A contemporary writer found that “the nuns of Santa Radegonda of Milan are gifted with such rare and exquisite talents in music that they are acknowledged to be the best singers of Italy. They wear the Cassinese habits of St. Benedict, but they seem to any listener to be white and melodious swans, who fill hearts with wonder, and spirit away tongues in their praise. Among these sisters, Donna Chiara Margarita Cozzolani merits the highest praise, Chiara in name but even more so in merit, and Margarita for her unusual and excellent nobility of invention.”

Although I had never heard or heard of Cozzolani before this concert, I couldn’t agree more. Her music deserves to be performed as frequently as that of other 17th-century masters.

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Portland Opera preview: Rebuilding a magical world

Portland 're-premiere' reincarnates Maurice Sendak's destroyed design for Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' 

by ANGELA ALLEN

To imagine that The Magic Flute is merely beguiling child’s play is to sell W. A. Mozart’s masterpiece short. His last staged opera’s enchanted world, clear-cut good vs. evil themes, lyrical music, and fanciful characters like Queen of the Night, Papageno and Tamino appeal to children of all ages. Now back on the boards at Portland Opera for four performances this month, it is among the five most frequently performed operas in the world.

Portland Opera's 'The Magic Flute.' Photo: Cory Weaver.

Portland Opera’s ‘The Magic Flute.’ Photo: Cory Weaver.

The most outsized child-friendly delight is this production’s whimsical scenery, designed in 1980 by the world-famous children’s author, the late Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). And the story of how that wondrous world will reappear in Portland this month is almost as enchanting as Mozart’s music.

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Portland Opera transforms into a summer festival

The venerable Portland institution will turn itself into a festival in 2016, and some questions arise.

After many months of hints, negotiations, and planning, Portland Opera’s announced what might be the boldest gamble in its half-century history: It’s transforming itself into a summer festival company. (Our friend David Stabler has the story on OregonLive.) The current season, which delays its opening until November 7 with the return of the popular operetta Die Fledermaus, begins the seasonal scrunch: Carmen runs in February, and the rest of the productions – Show Boat, The Rake’s Progress, The Elixir of Love – are clustered between May and July.

The 2016 season amps up the seasonal action, dropping back down to four productions and squeezing them into the summer months: two shows in the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium, two in the much more intimate, 900-seat Newmark Theatre. The Newmark has already proven to be a popular venue for the company, and is valuable in several ways. It costs less than the Keller, so the company can be more adventurous in its programming. It doesn’t demand giant voices, so casting becomes easier. It provides excellent opportunities for the company’s flourishing resident artist program of younger singers. And audiences just like the intimacy of the Newmark, especially compared to the Keller, which general director Christopher Mattaliano described to Stabler as “an airport hangar.”

Pop the Champagne: Die Fledermaus is opening soon, and Portland Opera's celebrating more than that.

Pop the Champagne: Die Fledermaus is opening soon, and Portland Opera’s celebrating more than that.

Like symphonic orchestras, opera companies are struggling to keep afloat in a shifting contemporary cultural scene. Once the opera and symphony were almost the only games in town. Now they’re swimming along with hundreds of other opportunities, and battling the perception that they’re simply out of date. Portland Opera has been in the black for several years, but staying there hasn’t been easy. Mattaliano says the move to a festival season will save about eight percent in operating costs – a significant chunk – and stave off what he described to Stabler as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” But it’s not only about money, although that’s a huge consideration. The shakeup could reinvigorate the company artistically, too.

There are dangers, and inevitable questions. How will audiences adapt? How will the opera keep itself in the public mind during its long off-seasons? Is it marginalizing itself, or focusing itself? We’ll be watching. It’s certainly not the same old same old, and that’s good. Places like Santa Fe and Glimmerglass thrive on a festival system. Can Portland do the same? Will the company evolve into something like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Britt Festivals in southern Oregon, or carve out an identity that’s strictly its own? Will it have the concentration of energy and the variety of attractions that the word “festival” implies? Will it feel like a festival at all without its own grounds? Or will “festival” simply mean business as usual, but only in the summer months? The game’s changing. Can anyone imagine, 20 years from now, a summer season in a beautiful shell in Yamhill County wine country, shared by the opera and the Oregon Symphony, in a more relaxed summer season similar to Boston’s and Chicago’s, and drawing audiences not just from Portland but from the entire West Coast? Well, now we’re just getting ahead of ourselves.