June 13th, 2007

"Patience", Skylight Opera Theatre

On June 2nd, we went to the Skylight Opera Theatre to see their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Patience," the sixth of the famous pair's collaborations. The comic opera lampoons the "Aesthetic Movement," in particular the public foibles of such notable characters as Oscar Wilde, Algernon Swinburne, and James McNeill Whistler. (Interestingly, at least some of the aesthetes seem to have had a sense of humor about it. When "Patience" was to be played in the United States, Gilbert and Sullivan actually hired Wilde to act as a sort of "advance man," giving lectures on the movement in cities where the opera was scheduled to open.) The protagonist, Bunthorne (Gary Briggle), a "fleshly poet", has won the devotion of all the well-bread ladies in his small town, who have all become fervent aesthetes and thrown over their former worldly suitors (members of the local Regiment). Bunthorne, however, prefers to pursue the milkmaid Patience (Niffer Clarke), who is not only obtuse to things aesthetic but also apparently impervious to "love" since she claims she does not know what it is. The aesthetic lades attempt to explain it to her with typically topsy-turvy effect when Archibald Grosvenor (Norman Moses) comes to town. Not only is Archibald a rival aesthete and poet to Bunthorne, he also turns out to be Patience's childhood companion, who loves her and whom she could love unreservedly. However, having been taught by the learned ladies that on must suffer for love, she determines that she can't love Archibald (although it is alright if he continues to love her--) and decides instead to accept Bunthorne.

Of course, things can't remain there, and work out in a typically comic fashion, although in a rather more low-keyed fashion than some, requiring no supernatural influences or deus ex machina pronouncements from the government.

In a lot of ways, "Patience" is one of the most grounded pf the G&S operas, and has a very "literary" script with much discussion of asthetic principles and the realities of fame and adulation. Bunthorne admits to the audience that he is a poseur and hates poetry, but can't live without the admiration of his fans--a pehnomenon still very current today.

As with most Gilbert and Sullivan scripts, there is some space for adding local references, and the production added very clever bits to the military men's patter song "A Heavy Dragoon," and the Bunthorne/Archibald duet "A Commonplace Young Man."

Clarke, Briggle, and Moses were very ably supported by the rest of the cast, who sang, danced, and mugged with the best of them. There was clever choreography, especially for the men, and the orchestra was in fine tune and did not overpower the voices. All in all, another very fine production by the Skylight.

"Pissarro: Creating the Impressionist Landscape" Milwaukee Art Musueum

On Sunday the 9th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the new exhibition, "Pissarro: Creating the Impressionist Landscape." This exhibit, organized but the Baltimore art museum, consists of 43 paintings covering a transitional decade in Pissarro's work, from 1864 to 1874.

Camille Pissarro was always primarily a landscape painter, and his early style was informed by the conventions of the French Salons and the work of Barbizon school painters such as Corot and Millet. In the years covered by the exhibit, Pissarro's style evolves from the very finished and formal to the freer and more conceptual style that would come to be known as Impressionism. The exhibit culminates with three of the five paintings Pissarro selected to include in the "Exhibition Anonymee" of 1874 that resulted in the "Impressionist" title being given to the style.

Pissarro is sometimes referred to as the "Father" of Impressionism. He contrbuted much to the philosophy of the movement, remained a close friend and collaborator with Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Degas, and acted as a mentor to Cezanne and Gauguin.

The paintings selected for the exhibit do show a fascinating evolution of a painter's style and vision. Pissarro's insistence on painting the local rural landscape means that the works do not tend toward the spectacular or to wild beauty. Instead they are warm, subtle, and realistic despite the looser technique. These are the works of an artist passionately involved in the work of painting, of testing permutations of technique with an almost scientific exhaustiveness.

I am a particular fan of the Impressionists (Renoir is my favorite painter) but I had not known the important role Pissarro had had in the evolution of the school. Therefore, I found this exhibit very educational, as well as beautiful to look at.

The exhibition continues through September 9, and is well worth seeing for those interested in the history of modern art.