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Bel Canto: Barnes, Philadelphia Museum and MoMA “Lend” Masterpieces to “La Boheme”

Van Gogh via Puccini, on the opera stage: “Starry Night” from MoMA to Momus

While we’re on the topic of the Barnes Foundation, did you know that it’s finally lending some of its paintings?

This just in
from the Opera Company of Philadelphia:

An inspired new production of Puccini‘s ultra-romantic blockbuster [!?!], “La Bohème,” prominently features an array of the world’s most celebrated masterpieces from the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as renowned art from around the world.

Rest in piece, Dr. Barnes (so long as you’re unperturbed by your collection’s having been relocated to its new LEED Platinum facility). The seven Renoirs, the Toulouse-Lautrec and the Pascin that figure in the production opening tonight at Philly’s Academy of Music were not pried off the galleries’ walls. They “will come to vivid life through large-scale, HD projections, shining a spotlight on the bohemian influences of the era.”

Not only will the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces serve as backdrops, but when Marcello sits at his easel painting, Renoir’s “Meadow (La Prairie)”
from the Barnes (in the first instance) and Monet’s “Morning Haze” from the Philadelphia Museum (in the second instance) will gradually appear on the screen.

They’re not trying to suggest that Marcello is actually painting a Renoir or Monet, however. Frank Luzi, the opera company’s director of communications, explains:

The idea is to show these
Bohemian artists of the era, who were working at the time of Renoir and
Monet and were trying to express themselves like those artists and were
perhaps influenced by those artists. There is also a very practical use
of the paintings: The Monet backdrop shows the season (winter) in Act 3. And when it changes at the end of the act, to Renoir’s “Meadow (La Prairie)”
from the Barnes, it indicates the passage of time to spring for Act 4.

The notion of using art from the period in the new production came from “La Bohème’s” director, Davide Livermore. The company’s general director, David Devan, networked with his natural partners—the Barnes and the Philadelphia Museum (from the later, images of two paintings by Pissarro and one each by Monet, van Gogh, Jean-Charles Cazin and Cézanne. Both Derek Gillman and Timothy Rub (heads of the Barnes and the Philadelphia Museum, respectively) responded enthusiastically.

Wait a minute! Philadelphia’s Portrait of Madame Cézanne that will appear (via HD projection) in this production is the same painting that I once singlehandedly saved from damage during a visit to the museum!

Also joining the list of “lenders” to the opera is the Museum of Modern Art (it’s iconic van Gogh, detail pictured above), a private Dublin collection (another Pissarro) and the Tate Gallery, London (a Beraud).

Clearly they’re going to have to follow up with an art-enhanced “Tosca.” What should Cavaradossi have in mind while he paints?

This sort of cross-disciplinary collaboration among neighboring institutions is a win-win. And I have always relished productions overseen by artists, rather than the usual set designers, whether it’s the David Hockney production that I savored in the earlier days of my Metropolitan Opera-going, or the Met’s recent William Kentridge collaboration.

While we’re on the subject of the Metropolitan Opera, it must be hard-up for ticket sales. Having already shelled out the exorbitant handling charges for my own order, I unexpectedly received this come-on in my inbox a few days ago:

To celebrate the start of the season, we’re offering a one-week holiday on handling fees! Save $7.50 per ticket on every opera when you order between September 24 and September 30.

Now I feel like a chump for having ordered all my tickets so promptly. Can I get a refund? I already downgraded from the section that I sat in for years, because the cost has escalated beyond my price point.

I guess there’s always Live in HD. But that’s not any better as a way to experience opera than “large-scale, HD projections” are to experience art.

an ArtsJournal blog