ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Finding her story in China’s troubled history—artist Hung Liu’s retrospective, “Summoning Ghosts,” at the Oakland Museum of CA, closes June 30, 2013

Hung Liu's work , "The Heroines," from 2012, addresses patriotic stories in Chinese picture books, or "xiaorenshu," from her childhood.  oil on canvas, 96 x 160 inches, Collection of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley.

Hung Liu’s “The Heroines” (2012), is part of a new body of work that revisits patriotic stories in Chinese picture books from her childhood. Like little graphic novels, these picture books told stories of heroic figures and deeds, with an eerie propaganda supplanting the charming fable. These new paintings can be understood as homages to all the artists who lost their art during China’s revolutionary epoch. (oil on canvas, 96 x 160 inches, Collection of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley).

The ghosts of the Cultural Revolution, the tragedy of Tiananmen, the horror of the 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake, her mother’s death, treasured images from childhood comics—all these are revived in artist Hung Lui’s first major retrospective, Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu at the Oakland Museum of CA (OMCA) through Sunday, June 30, 2013.  Hung Liu, now 65 and newly retired from 20 years of teaching painting at Mills College, is the most accomplished Chinese-born American artist of her generation.  The exhibition explores her creative output from age five through the present.   Together for the first time are 40 of her large-scale portraits of women, children, the elderly, workers—nameless victims of history.  Surrounded by birds and mythical creatures, floral motifs, symbols of past and present Chinese culture, and things an innocuous as bubbles, these vibrant gestural portraits are teaming with spirit energy and copious spills and drips of paint, evoking the blur of fading memories. Hung Liu rescues the disenfranchised from the oblivion of history, celebrating them without diminishing the suffering that has characterized their lives.

Hung Liu was born in 1948 and came of age in Beijing in the repressive era of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  Her father, an intellectual, was imprisoned and, at age 20, after finishing high school, she was sent to a labor camp in the countryside for four years of “re-education” where she worked with peasants in the rice and wheat fields.  Instead of crushing her, as it did so many, she used these traumatic experiences to fuel a vital inner flame which she kept burning as she resumed life in Beijing and studied and taught art.  Many years later, she was able to emigrate to the U.S. in 1984, at age 36.  She arrived with two suitcases and $20 and pursued an art education on scholarship at Visual Arts Department of UC San Diego.  Within a year, she had connected with Allan Kaprow and was participating in several of his happenings.   Summoning Ghosts, organized by René de Guzman, OMCA Senior Curator of Art, presents Hung Liu’s compelling life story, told through her artworks, as well as the larger human story of the souls crushed in China’s slow crawl to superpower status. It’s an unflinching and remarkably vital story of humanity.

Painted in the aftermath of 9/11, "September 2001"  depicts a traditionally-rendered Song dynasty duck crashing through the face of a young Chinese bride, each image disintegrating into the other. (2001, oil on canvas, 66 x 66  inches.  collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky.)

Painted in the aftermath of 9/11, “September 2001” depicts a traditionally-rendered Song dynasty duck crashing through the face of a young Chinese bride, each image disintegrating into the other. (2001, oil on canvas, 66 x 66 inches. collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky.)

"Mu Nu" (“Mother and Daughter”), 1997, is one of several large-scale paintings that addresses Chinese women at work in stooped labor and domestic chores. (oil on canvas, 80 x 140 inches, Collection of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art).

“Mu Nu” (“Mother and Daughter”), 1997, is one of several large-scale paintings that addresses Chinese women at work in stooped labor and domestic chores. (oil on canvas, 80 x 140 inches, Collection of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art).

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Video Clips of Hung Liu in discussion with OMCA’s René de Guzman (all from the March 14, 2013 press conference)

Early Work: 

In 1968, as part of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Liu, who had just completed high school, was sent for four years of re-education in the Chinese countryside which entailed manual labor under grueling conditions.  With a borrowed camera, she photographed the peasants with whom she lived and worked in the fields and also drew their portraits.  The film was kept undeveloped for decades until 2010, when she became interested in printing at these images.  She also kept portraits she had made of the local farmers and their families and they are on display.  In the video-clip below, Hung Liu discusses these photos.

Current work:

ARThound’s previous coverage of Hung Liu and “Summoning Ghosts:”  CAAMFest 2013—Jin Dan’s masterpiece “When the Bough Breaks,” examines upward mobility’s downward emotional toll on a Chinese migrant family as days, months, years pass

Special Docent Tours:  each Sunday at 1 p.m., through June 30, 2103, knowledgeable docents will walk visitors through the exhibition, sharing insights about Hung Lui’s processes and artworks.  Meet in front of the Great Hall lobby.   Free with museum admission.

Details:  The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland.  Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, except Fridays when the museum is open until 9 p.m. Admission is $12 general, $9 seniors and students with valid ID.  Parking: Enter the Museum’s garage entrance on Oak Street between 10th and 12th streets.  Parking is just $1/hour with Museum validation. Parking without validation is $2.50/hour. Bring your ticket to the Ticketing booth on Level 2 for validation.

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Art, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: San Francisco Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” at San Francisco Opera through July 6, 2013

 

Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sparkles as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Angela Brower sparkles as Nicklausse, Hoffmann’s friend, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

At last Wednesday’s opening performance of Offenbach’s classic, The Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), at San Francisco Opera, it was Olympia (soprano Hye Jung Lee), the mechanical doll,  who stole the hearts of the audience and mezzo-soprano Angela Brower who triumphed in her remarkable company debut as the Muse/Nicklausse.  Lee seemed to flutter magically across the stage, singing gleefully and hitting incredibly high notes with precision.  For Brower, who sings throughout the entire opera, it was an act of wooing the audience with the sheer beauty of her voice. 

This is French director, Laurent Pelly’s new co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and L’Opéra National de Lyon which had its premiere in Barcelona earlier this year. The libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on the integral edition of the opera by Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck.  The story takes real life German poet E.T.A. Hoffmann and places him in three stories of failed love.  Singing the title role is tenor Matthew Polenzani, whom many will recognize from his lead role in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, the delightful comic opera that opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2012 season and was transmitted to millions via “Live in HD.”   He was joined by the French soprano Natalie Dessay, as Antionia; Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as Olympia; mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts as Giuletta in her company debut, and American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower as the Muse, disguised as Hoffmann’s dear friend Nicklausse. 

The opera’s staging, with set designs by Chantal Thomas, based on the moody work of the Belgian symbolist painter Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) was exquisite in its simplicity.  Massive blue walls framed the action and then angularly closed in or moved out, just like the cropping tool in Photoshop, resulting in refreshing new orientations.  Low lighting bathed the set, evoking a dream-like space which lent itself to the dark tone of the story.  Since 1988, Thomas has collaborated with Pelly in roughly 40 productions and two seem to be in harmony.  Her ingenious Act II staging for Olympia the mechanical doll, which employed wonderfully zany machinery to spirit the doll across the stage, brought down the house.

Tenor Mathew Polenzani immediately caught my attention in the Prologue with his Il ètait une fois à la cour d’Eisenach, Hoffmann’s ballad about the dwarf Kleinzach, which sets the stage for his mind to wonder back to beautiful women and his love life.  Throughout the evening he was in top form with lively and powerful singing but less commendable acting—on many occasions, it was hard to actually feel the love whose loss he was lamenting.

The surprise stand-out of the evening was American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower in her company debut as the Muse, disguised as Hoffmann’s dear friend and constant companion Nicklausse.  In a move that is truly operatic, Bower stepped in rather later to replace Alice Coote in the production.  She nailed it from the moment she stepped on stage, showing a real command of the role’s vocal and dramatic requirements and trumping most of the other better-known singers with her powerful voice, capable of such sweet and tender emotion.    Her Act I aria Une poupèe aux yeux d’èmail was lush and energetic.  Sung in the eccentric scientist Spalanzani’s parlor room, it warns Hoffman of a mechanical doll that looked human but fell in love with a copper bird.  Brower comes to San Francisco fresh from her success in the role last season at the Bayerische Staastoper opposite Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazón— a performance that was broadcast on European television and captured for DVD.  She is an ensemble member of the Bayerische Staatsoper.   She was also quite lovely in her Act III duet with mezzo Irene Roberts, Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amou.

If you saw nothing but Act I, Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee’s Olympia, the mechanical doll, it would have been worth the price of admission.  Lee, a Merola Program alumna, dazzled SF Opera audiences last summer with her company debut performance as Madame Mao in John Adams’ Nixon in China.  As Olympia, she outdid herself.   Dressed in a silver gown, she fluttered around the stage, legless, leaving the audience to wonder how  it was happening.   She then took to the floor.  Wearing hidden inline skates, she glided all around the stage, literally running circles around Hoffmann, all while hitting notes in the stratospheric range of E and F with precision.  The audience gave her, and the ingenious device which served as her chariot, a well-deserved long ovation with several whoops and whistles.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as the mechanical doll, Olympia, and tenor Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee as the mechanical doll, Olympia, and tenor Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

It’s been six years since Natalie Dessay’s San Francisco Opera debut, and sole Bay Area appearance, in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor.  She was enchanting in Wednesday’s Act II as “Antonia,” and despite a noticeable decline in her upper register; she was lovely in her mid-range throughout the entire performance.  Offenbach intended that the four soprano roles be played by the same singer, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann’s unattainable love.  Dessay was originally scheduled to sing all three, a feat that only a few—like Beverly Sills and Edita Gruberoa—had pulled off in the past.  Apparently, she pulled back after re-evaluating where her voice stands.  She was wonderful in C’est une chanson d’amour, her love duet with Hoffmann.  Its drama was heightened by the wizardry of the staging which transformed yet again, pulling them apart from each other into separate balconies where they sang longingly to each other.

There’s just one Dessay.  Anyone familiar with her performances can’t help but love the verve and mettle this petite French dynamo brings to any role, many of which have been made accessible through the Met’s “Live in HD” telecasts.  A special turn of her head, the flash of her eyes, a quick dash—I was living for identifiable “Dessay moves” and there were many.   Her trio with her mother’s ghost (Margaret Mezzacappa) and Dr. Miracle (Christian Van Horn) was also lovely vocally but the creepy projected image of the ghost cast such a dark pallor over the idea of a benevolent spirit, that it was hard to feel the love connection between Antonia and her late mother.  Copyright law prohibits a reproduction of the program cover which features Spilliaert’s intensely dark and oppressive self-portrait from 1907-8 where he seems to be transitioning into an angel of death.  The heavy milieu of this work seemed to fuel this very disturbing and macabre video projection.

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as his frail love Antonia, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”  Photo  ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay as his frail love Antonia, in SF Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” Photo ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera.

Tenor Steven Cole imbued his four servant roles (Frantz, Andres, Cohenille, Pittichinaccio) with distinct personality as did bass-baritone Christian Van Horne, who sang his villainous roles (Lindorf, Coppélius, Miracle, and Dapertutto) with aplomb, especially Dapertutto’s difficult Act III Scintille, diamant.  As Stella, Hoffmann’s Milanese love interest, Adler Fellow Jacqueline Piccolino ended the long evening with a burst of bright energy.

Patrick Fournillier’s conducting was impressive throughout.  He kept the orchestra under rein while evoking a beautiful and vibrant sound.

Details:  The Tales of Hoffmann runs through July 6, 2013 at War Memorial Opera House. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

Remaining Performances: The eight remaining performances of The Tales of Hoffmann are June 11 (8 p.m.); June 14 (8 p.m.); June 20 (7:30 p.m.); June 23 (2 p.m.); June 27 (7:30 p.m.); June 30 (2 p.m.); July 3 (7:30 p.m.); and July 6 (8 p.m.)  Click here to see cast scheduling information.  Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

Cast:

Hoffman—Matthew Polenzani

Antonia—Natalie Dessay

Olympia—Hye Jung Lee

Giuletta—Irene Roberts

Stella—Jacqueline Piccolino

Nicklausse, The Muse—Angela Bower

Coppélius, Dapertutto, Dr. Miracle, Lindorf—Christian Van Horn

Frantz, Andres, Cohenille, Pittichinaccio—Steven Cole

Antonia’s Mother—Margaret Mezzacappa

Spalanzani—Thomas Glenn

Crespel—James Creswell

Nathanael—Matthew Grills

Hermann—Joo Won Kang

Schemil, Luther—Hadleigh Adams

Creative Team:

Conductor—Patrick Fournillier

Director—Laurent Pelly

Set Designer—Chantal Thomas

Lighting Designer—Joël Adam

Associate Director—Christian Räth

New libretto version/ dramaturg—Agathe Mélinand

Chorus Director—Ian Robertson

 

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment