Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pagliacci, Part 1 (Publicity Shoot)

Spring and fall are "opera season" for our regional opera company, Opera Southwest.  As I have noted before in this blog, I am not a big opera fan, but as the volunteer official photographer for OSW, I have the opportunity to exercise my photography skills in a setting that is simultaneously challenging and rewarding (and VERY different from landscape photography).  You can see earlier posts about previous OSW productions I have photographed here, here, and here.

OSW's production this spring was "Pagliacci," by Ruggero Leoncavallo.  The opera premiered in Milan in 1892; came to the U.S. in early 1893; and although initially greeted by mixed reviews has become a staple of the opera repertoire ever since.

The plot is familiar:  a love triangle complicated by an extra player (love quadrangle?) who is both fool and manipulator.  The husband, wife, and fool are all members of a traveling troupe who perform a comedic play-within-the play about an unfaithful wife and clueless husband.

In the world outside the interior play, things aren't so funny.  The wife is in love with another man who wants her to elope with him.  The fool is in love with the wife but is rejected.  The fool sees the wife and her lover and tells the husband, who confronts his wife, who refuses to identify her lover.  The resolution is postponed by the scheduled performance -- because the show must go on -- and the cuckolded husband sings the closing aria for Act I, "vesti la giubba" ("put on the costume") while he puts on his makeup for the role of Pagliaccio (the clown).  The aria is regarded as one of the most moving in the operatic repertoire, exemplifying the "tragic clown" smiling on the outside but crying on the inside.

The ultimate confrontation and resolution occurs in Act II via the play-within-the play which runs off the rails.  Needless to say, things end badly.

As a photographer, I had two opportunities to capture all this:  (1) a publicity photo shoot and (2) the dress rehearsal performance ten days later.  I will post narrative and images from the dress rehearsal in the next post.

The publicity shoot is for the benefit of the Albuquerque Journal, which always runs an article about the new production.  The shoot is typically directed by the Journal photographer and the opera director, and for most of it I am shooting over the photographer's shoulder. 

From photo shoot for "Il Turco in Italia" (March 2016)

The Journal photographers I have shot with have always been very gracious and will often step aside to give me an unobstructed view after they've gotten what they need.  But I understand I'm the guest in this situation and have limited time and opportunity to shoot and/or direct.

This time, however, the photographer was delayed for over an hour past the scheduled start time, so I had the singers all to myself, with the help of the director.  Now . . . remember my previous posts about "stretching my comfort zone" (here) and working with models (here)?  Suddenly, the experience of those two workshops came into play!  You never know when some unrelated thing you learn will be valuable later in another setting.

First, a few standard set-ups requested by the opera director . . .

This one was supposed to show Pagliaccio looking in the mirror while putting on his makeup and singing the famous aria . . .

. . . but to me it looked like he was crying about something on his iPhone.

After that I was on my own.  Mostly I shot candids . . .

. . . and some ideas just didn't work . . .

. . . but one did:

I don't claim these to be my best work ever, but I am proud of them because I was flying solo and got some good images -- with the help, of course, from the singers themselves.

NEXT:  The dress rehearsal performance.

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