Pop culture stars become characters in a re-think of Mozart opera

Steve Bornfeld, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/17/11

Lady Gaga. Madonna. Toss in "Entourage" uber-agent Ari Gold and "Jersey Shore" uber-galoot Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, all warbling with operatic pipes, and you have a reimagining Mozart could never have imagined, courtesy of the UNLV Opera Theatre. "I love opera, but...I'm also a pop-culture junkie," says Linda Lister, director of the opera troupe, who has inserted the aforementioned celebs into Mozart's The Impresario [aka Der Schauspieldirektor] in a program dubbed "Divas" this weekend at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Since I'm new here, I'm fascinated by the entertainment scene, and someone said there was a rumor Madonna was coming to town, and I thought, what else could Madonna do? She's never done opera," Lister says. "She's Italian, so maybe it would be in her blood. And a lot of students are obsessed with Lady Gaga." Comic in tone, "Divas" opens with Hayden's La Canterina, sung in Italian, about a pushy stage mom and her diva daughter trying to swindle a music master. Then follows The Impresario, Mozart's 1786 singspiel ("song play") about squabbling sopranos. Though still sung in German, The Impresario contains extensive dialogue Lister has rewritten in English and assigned to a cast of contemporary kooks. Silly? Certainly. Yet there's a demographic method to the operatic madness. "Certain opera fans might not get all the (pop culture) references, but the younger audiences, the ones we're trying to get excited so it will continue, it should speak to them," Lister says. "A lot of opera companies these days, they're trying to think outside the box to get different audiences. It's interesting to find a new context in which to make it work. It's already a comic opera, but I wanted to make it more ridiculous."


Ballet's long history of tapping pop culture

Michael Crabb, Toronto Star, 11/4/11

Drag-queens in stilettos. Men in spangled cod pieces. Roller blades and fireworks. The latest Las Vegas spectacular? Well, you're not so far off the mark, given that the music inspiring these excesses is by none other than Sir Elton John -- a Caesars Palace sellout attraction -- except you can get much of the flavour of the iconic star's glamour without leaving [Toronto], thanks to the imminent arrival of Alberta Ballet and its megahit production, Love Lies Bleeding. Set to 14 Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs, [it] is much more than the live version of a pop music video. Although it's rooted in the events of the British glam-rock superstar's career, "We're portraying a broader picture of pop culture," says choreographer Jean Grand-Maître. Alberta Ballet last visited Toronto in 2007 with Grand-Maître's Joni Mitchell-fuelled The Fiddle and the Drum, the hit that roused Elton John's initial curiosity and prompted Canada's Sarah McLachlan to suggest a similar collaboration. The resulting ballet, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy opened in May and is already attracting booking inquiries from U.S. presenters. Grand-Maître, meanwhile, continues to mull a work set to Leonard Cohen songs. All of which has prompted some observers to ask whether Alberta Ballet is selling its artistic soul by building an international reputation on the coattails of megastars' songbooks. As it happens, there's a long history of ballet tapping pop culture to give itself hip, contemporary appeal. Choreographer Brian Macdonald had the Royal Winnipeg Ballet rocking to Canada's Lighthouse in 1970 -- the same year Montreal's Les Grands Ballets began packing houses with a staging of The Who's Tommy. More recently the National Ballet has danced to Rolling Stones songs in Christopher Bruce's Rooster. "It's all about keeping your repertoire balanced," says Grand-Maître, pointing to the fact that Alberta Ballet will present a new production of Swan Lake in May and has a long history of commissioning riskier, even experimental fare. "And we're not just riding the success of some pop icon's music. We're aiming to go deeper and to provoke thought. It's not schlock. We're really pushing the envelope."


The do's and don'ts of including pop-culture references in musical theater

Rob Weinert-Kendt, The Wicked Stage blog, 11/7/11

Maybe I over-research as a reporter, but I almost always end up with a lot, lot more material than I can put into any given story. Case in point, my preview piece on the L.A. run of Bring It On: The Musical, for which I interviewed [among others] songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda [and] book writer Jeff Whitty. I didn't get to include some of the choicest material. On pop-culture references in his lyrics, [Miranda said]:

"With [the musical In The Heights], I felt an enormous responsibility, like, We're doing hip-hop for an audience that does not necessarily listen to it, we need to make them feel very taken care of. That's why in the opening number there's a Cole Porter reference and a Duke Ellington reference, literally so a Broadway audience would say, "I know those people, I like this"... When I'm writing for the theatre, I have a gut-check: If I'm making a pop-culture reference, I need to feel like it will make sense 100 years from now. So I'll reference Frodo, who is gonna outlive us all, and there's a rap about Michael Jordan, who I feel like we will still be talking about in 100 years. So I really try not to make the reference to whatever pop artist is on the radio right now, because they might not even be around in six months."

Along those lines, [co-book writer Jeff] Whitty, confessed that he'd learned his lesson from Avenue Q's various updating issues (the George W. Bush reference, the inclusion of Gary Coleman as a character):

"I don't want this show to date quickly...so I tried to invent a language that isn't full of texting lingo. But there is a callout at the very end to Mrs. Garret and Facts of Life. She's timeless. And I know that Charlotte Rae is coming to the opening."


Commentary: In a prickly new Polish film, pop culture is mixed with high art

Emily Crawford Misztal, GALO (Global Art Laid Out) Magazine, 10/27/11

In the Polish film George the Hedgehog,which was recently released in the U.S., film director Wojtek Wawszczyk and his hedgehog explore the relationship between the media, art, and the obscene. "We are showing a world where pop culture is mixed with high culture, high art," Wawszczyk said. "I think lots of people are so confused because they are so bombarded with media, they are so surrounded by noisy, colorful pictures; it's very difficult for a regular viewer to understand what is good and what is not." In the film, based on a popular Polish comic book by Rafał Skarzycki and Tomasz Lesniak, George the Hedgehog's evil clone performs shows which consist of little more than him standing on stage and farting. But because of a massive campaign portraying the flatulent animal as a great artist, the public accepts him as a master. "I don't think this is the problem in Poland only," Wawszczyk said. "We are so surrounded by media and they are so loud, so noisy, it's very difficult for us to have our own opinion. We are being forced into believing something." While the film has generated controversy, it has also brought in rave reviews from critics all over the world. One unique aspect of the film is that every frame is hand drawn and painted by a team of 14. Wawszczyk sees this as an advantage for Polish animators. While they may lack access to infrastructure and enormous production companies a la Pixar, they can utilize classical painting and sculpture techniques for gorgeous, one-of-a-kind animation.


Fine art and pop culture mix in an online club/art gallery

JustLuxe.com, 10/31/11

The KULT is a club and an online art gallery that provides original and limited edition fine art selections that originate from animation, comics, and pop culture. There are pieces and collections from renowned animators and artists as well as art from major entertainment companies, such as 20th Century Fox, Hanna-Barbera, Disney, Lucasfilm, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Iconic pop culture figures from Homer Simpson to Captain Kirk to Bugs Bunny are featured in very creative and thematic renderings. There is evocative artwork from hundreds of artists to select from that expands on recognizable imagery and takes off in a direction that redefines perspective. Along with the artwork, there is a "learn" page on KULT's website that presents brief summaries on various terms used frequently when discussing artwork. A certificate of authenticity is issued for each work, and the pieces are available with or without a museum-quality frame. There is even a financial incentive that adds more value to the art. 10% of the price of artwork is applicable toward future purchases.

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