Saturday, January 26, 2013

Opera Sketch Report

Last night we attended the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Rossini's little-known comic opera Le Comte Ory.

The seats were orchestra center, third row back, a generous gift of a friend who couldn't use them that night. We could see every flick of the eyebrow of the singers.

We arrived a little early and I sketched the patrons chatting. I used a black Caran D'Ache colored pencil in a Moleskine pocket sketchbook.

Even though the story takes place during the Crusades, Bartlett Sher's production conceives the action as an opera within an opera, set loosely in Rossini's time. Catherine Zuber's eclectic costumes mix medieval headdresses with hip panniers of the eighteenth century. 

During the break between acts I sketched people in the lobby. One gentleman reviewed the playbill, his glasses hanging down below his nose, while others sipped champagne. When Liszt conducted the opera, he said it "bubbled like champagne," and distributed bottles of champagne to the audience, a perfect gesture for this effervescent opera.

Adèle was played by 27-year-old South African soprano Pretty Yende, whose Met debut was last week in this opera. These drawings, all made during the show, are about two inches high. The house lights were so dim that I could barely see what I was doing, so I was working by kinesthetic memory, and concentrating on big shapes.

In the story, the amorous Count Ory, played by Juan Diego Flórez, adopts a variety of disguises to woo ladies whose husbands have gone off crusading. In the second act he and his men gain access to the castle by pretending to be female pilgrims lost in a storm. 

On the way home, the subway was jammed as tight as I've ever seen it. Everyone was bundled for the icy wind.

It has been the coldest week in New York in 17 years, but Rossini had us warmed up from the inside out.
• If someone at the Met would like me to come and unobtrusively sketch backstage during a dress rehearsal, let me know. I'll let you use the sketches in your publicity.
• Review in New York Times
• The sketchbook was a gift from my pals over at White Cloud Worlds/WETA in New Zealand.
• Previous concert sketches on GJ:
Mike McHale
Mass in C
Handel's Messiah
Miro Listening


Keith Parker said...

So it's a "framed narrative" not completely unlike your own Dinotopia books.

Steve said...

Your dedication to getting some sketching done in less than ideal lighting continues to be inspiring. I too easily allow poor conditions to keep my sketchbook closed.

In the first photo, it looks as though you were sketching a head in profile. Yes?

Tom Hart said...

A really wonderful series, James, and a great idea to pursue - a backstage series. Any particular reason you didn't employ the Niji brushes this time? Speed? Minimizing gear?

James Gurney said...

Keith, Framed narrative, yes, that's the word, at least for the Dinotopia books. This is more like a show with the pretense of the antique stagecraft techniques showing in the margins of the stage. There's a great old man character with no speaking part who sits off at the edge reading the script, cranking up the backdrops, and working the thunder sound effect.

Steve, Yes, I did a couple of other sketches, including some head studies.

Tom, there's a story about the water brushes. I dropped a darn cap in the first act, so I was holding a live ink brush right next to my white shirt. I stuffed the waterbrushes back in the plastic bag I had in the seat next to me and started feeling around with my feet for the cap. During the intermission I went down on my hands and knees with a little flashlight until I could find it. No matter. It was so dark that I couldn't have seen what I was doing, so I just stuck with the black pencil.

Jim Hartlage said...

I've noticed you use watercolor pencils as "ordinary" colored pencils - - is this due to their flexibility or do you just prefer the look and feel?

Joe Kulka said...

Beautiful sketches.

Loved your response about dropping the cap to your waterbrush.

Even though you waited until intermission to look for why am I envisioning a recreation of the Bugs Bunny "excuse me, pardon me" theater scene.

MLM247 said...

I am not sure how you managed to see, but I use my phone as a torch sometimes when it is too dark to see the music I have to sing. Very discreet.

Unknown said...

It is SO great/fun to see another sketcher tackling "sketching in the dark"!!!

I did the same thing a couple of months ago, and can whole-heartedly empathize in the feeling of sketching blind. I stuck with a fountain pen, though, and got some delightful results. Not nearly as refined as yours.

If you'd like to take a look:

jill polsby said...

since you must like opera , too, do you know about saturday matinees in the movie theaters? the met broadcasts live in hd, every single opera, once, on saturday afternoons. they're fantabulous. i'm in california and loving opera like i do,i get to pretend I'm in nyc at that fabulous venue…..
check into it…… "met opera live" google search

Celeste Bergin said...

I'm sort of glad you dropped your ink brush. Sometimes it is so fun to see "just pencil". (Thanks for always telling us what materials you are using).

mdmattin said...

The Grand Central reading lady reminds me of Oriana Nascava.