For the past few seasons, The Portland Opera Company has been inviting local cartoonists to sketch dress rehearsals. It's an unconventional practice, the sort of thing people wag their neatly trimmed beards at and say "only in Portland." I was skeptical myself, even though I hate it when people say that. That said, when presented with the opportunity to live Tweet Don Giovanni for the Mercury, I immediately volunteered (I was told there were snacks). Subsequently I found myself sitting with about 20 cartoonists and media types in the Keller lobby, awkwardly eating string cheese and making shop talk while various opera admins shuttled around making sure everything was set. Portland natives: It felt like being on a TAG field trip. Everyone Else: It felt like being on a really nerdy field trip.
Anyway, it's a good fit. Comic books and opera both suffer from a PR problem, albeit on opposite ends of the legitimacy spectrum. Conventional news sources often resort to the hackneyed "WAM! BOFFO! COMICS AREN'T JUST FOR KIDS" approach, whereas any mention of the opera is likely to be paired with images of a Rubenesque woman in a viking helmet. Neither of these tropes are particularly useful. Just as the artists on hand produce smart and multifaceted comics, the POC's production of Don Giovanni was moving, kinetic, and frequently very funny. There was not a viking horn to be seen, although the Commendatore did sport a very striking fur hat.
After the jump: art by JoËlle Jones, Mike Russell, and Lucy Bellwood, and my thoughts on the dissolute Don.
Giovanni is James Bond without any ends to justify his means. He prowls the stage like an extremely handsome cat, alternately fawning and vicious. The other characters orbit around him, repulsed, seduced and ultimately betrayed by his potency. He's a rapist and a murderer, unquestionably a monster and probably a sociopath, but he's also, you know, charming. It's that strange, uncomfortable balance playing out in various configurations that gives the Don Juan myth so much force. Of all the work I saw, JoËlle's sketches seemed to hone in on that the most. Her figures are slick, pensive, indignant, and smoldering, which seemed to be emotional mixture for most of the characters on stage.
Lucy Bellwood and Mike Russell (who were the other two people whose email I have) tackled the lighter moments on stage. That there are lighter moments at all was a surprise to me, as the production is pretty dense with murder, sex and heartbreak. But Mozart knew the first rule of comedy, which is work with what you got.
Also the second rule of comedy, which is that women be crazy.
Don Giovanni opens at the Keller Auditorium on Friday, November 2nd and runs for only 4 performances. Tickets can be found here.
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