Friday, June 20, 2008
Final Scene of Manon Lescaut
Oil on Canvas 16" X 20"
I've really been busy of late. I love opera and have since childhood. In fact my first blog--Jan. 25,08 was entitled "How to Enjoy Opera." In it I spoke of how I and a couple of other opera lovers founded an opera company here in Portland Maine. It's called PORTopera and we are now into our 14th season. Check out its website at www.portopera.org to get the whole story. It'll give you an idea about why we can be so damn busy at this time of year.
As subjects for painting, you'd think with all the emotion, plot machinations, beautiful music, stunning sets, costumes, etc. that there would be much inspiration and treasure in opera for the artist to mine. Opera does show up here and there in the art museums, Degas comes to mind, but no one painter really has focused on it. I think that's because any operatic subject offers profound complications. For one thing, the painter must be expert at face, figure and gesture. And if you want to show a setting from the stage, you have severe distortions in lighting, value, color, abstract scenery and a lot of other things to distract you.
But, listen, why are we here? So, I blithely stride forth and once in a while give it a shot. And here I tackle the final scene of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut."
This opera tells the story of a simple country girl who is courted and falls in love with a well-to-do young man. She becomes infatuated with her new found comforts, but soon becomes bored with her lover, and she moves on to an even wealthier older nobleman and more of the trappings of luxury he offers. But the old flame still burns and she is caught in fragrante delicto with her lover. The nobleman has her imprisoned to be exiled to America. Just before the ship embarks, the first lover arrives and pleads with the captain to be let aboard to join her.
They land in New Orleans where they become impoverished. The final scene shows the couple in a desert "west of New Orleans"--Puccini didn't study U.S. geography very well-and they are dying of starvation and thirst. The lover leaves to find help. But Manon has visions of demons and death and dies alone in fear and madness--still in her finery. I tried to capture this all, but trust me it's better with the music.
Maguerite's Spinning Aria from Faust
Oil on linen panel 10" X 8"
Everyone knows the Faust legend in which Faust, an old philosopher, sells his soul to the devil to regain his youth. The devil approaches him and tempts him by showing him this vision of the beautiful and virtuous young girl, Marguerite. The purpose of this scene is to build the character of Marguerite--purity and virue--and contrast it with the cynicism of Faust and the evil of the devil. PORTopera's Stage Director staged it this way, showing Marguerite in the innocent act of sewing surrounded by young girls. With the arrangement of the straw hats, it made a very effective scene and one of the few in the opera that could be captured on canvas.
Oh, yes, back to the story... Of course, Faust, aided and abetted by the devil, seduces Marguerite, corrupts her, gets her pregnant and abandons her. In the end, he regrets all this bad stuff, but it is too late and the devil drags him off to hell. At the end of the opera there is redemption in a swelling of some of opera's most powerful music as Marguerite is seen ascending to heaven. In opera this is called an "apotheosis." (You could look it up.)
I'll come back to this subject now and then and if you have stayed with me this long, maybe you ought to give opera a listen--at least read my January blog!