Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stage and Graphic design of the 1920s

(Just for example and copyright, too)
At one time it seemed to me that everything new and radical was happening at once in Europe (including of course the Americans who contributed to it and were in turn affected by it).  The poster art had not yet turned into social realism, ballets in Russia were not yet full of hearty girls and boys harvesting stuff, and, at home, the bottom had not yet fallen out of the stock market.  Depressions are certainly depressing.
The Metropolitan Opera (together with Lyon and, I think it was, Marseille) mounted a new production last March of the young Shostakovich's opera based on Gogol, The Nose.  No new DVD is yet available of it, though there's a good Russian CD of the opera.  But I am very eager to see more than the dozen or so snippets that YouTube provides, and I want to see what Paulo Szot does with it, too.  Most of all, though, I am interested in the re-creation (not imitation) by William Kentridge of the wonderful intersection of Dada, Suprematist, Futurist, leftover late Cubism that prevailed in what we might regard as mixed media in the late 1920s, whether in Diaghilev's ballets with modern artists (Picasso, Leger) and subjects, such as in Jeux, or in the staging of early Hindemith operas (for example, all those where Ideas strode on stage as political demonstration placards and the like—I think even Mahagonny had some such usage).

Now, in my opinion William Kentridge, who designed The Nose for the Metropolitan Opera, has a wonderful grasp and temperamental insight into this world of pre-Stalinist (but not solely Russian) graphics.  
So, great as the Mariinsky production CD is of the opera, I believe that the Dada-Suprematist treatment must be perfect for this early Shostakovich masterpiece.  Kentridge's "Anything is Possible" was broadcast a fortnight ago on public television in the USA, and at least a third of the hour is devoted to mounting the Metropolitan Opera production, bringing the poster style and every animation technology from more than a whole century now together to bear on Gogol and Shostakovich.   
Though Gogol would have to get used to even the earliest video techniques, I think that the music and libretto themselves suggest that the composer would rejoice in this production, and I can hardly wait to get a full length dvd of it (one is grateful for YouTube, but visually it is quite distressing).  Actually, on an iPad, the PBS film should look pretty good.
But I'm quite in awe of their bringing this style successfully to the huge stage of the Met!  The experimental operas of the late 1920s were in rather small venues.