14 February 2020
I’ve been reading about Carmen lately, as I will be seeing it staged at the Royal Opera House next weekend. What really stood out to me was the story of its composer, Georges Bizet. His story is that of many successful people: repeated failures, over and over and over—yet he never gave up, and he never compromised.
Bizet was recognised as an outstanding pianist at a very early age and probably could have had a successful career as a concert pianist. But this is not what he wanted. He rarely played piano in public. What he wanted to be was a composer. Not just a composer, but one of original, genre-breaking works.
Unfortunately, the state-subsidised opera houses in Paris of the late 1800s preferred the established classical repertoire to the works of newcomers. They only wanted wholesome entertainment that would please the masses, not challenge them.
So, to earn a living, Bizet arranged and transcribed the music of others. Despite the long hours this type of work required, he still managed to write many keyboard and orchestral compositions in what spare time he had—most of which were largely ignored.
Finally, two of his operas managed to reach the stage (Les Pêcheurs de Perles and La Jolie Fille de Perth)—these were not successes. Several competition entries, including a cantata and a hymn composed for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, were also unsuccessful.
In June 1871, he was appointed as chorus-master at The Opéra, which was a much better day job. However, he either resigned or refused to take up the position as a protest against what he thought was the director's unjustified closing of Ernest Reyer's opera Erostrate after only two performances.
In 1873, Bizet began composing Don Rodrigue. He played a piano version to a select audience that included the Opéra's principal baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure, hoping that the singer's approval might influence the directors of the Opéra to stage the work. This was a success—until the Opéra burned to the ground and the directors set Don Rodrigue aside.
Still, Bizet got right back up and started working on Carmen, persevering though Opéra-Comique's management concerns about the suitability of this risqué story. Then early 1874, Adolphe de Leuven, the co-director of the Opéra-Comique most bitterly opposed to the Carmen project, resigned and the controversial piece was able to go into production.
And what a production it was. The orchestra had difficulties with the score, finding some parts unplayable. The chorus declared some of their music impossible to sing and were dismayed that they had to act as individuals, smoking and fighting onstage rather than merely standing in line as was traditionally done. Attempts by the Opéra-Comique to modify parts of the action which they deemed improper were ongoing. Bizet fought hard to retain his vision, though resolving all these issues delayed the first night.
Its breaking of conventions shocked and scandalized the audiences. Much of the press comment was predictably negative. The heroine was seen as an amoral seductress rather than a woman of virtue, the music had a lack of melody, and so on.
Carmen would go on to become one the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire. Musically, the "Habanera" from act 1 and the "Toreador Song" from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias.
But to Bizet, Carmen was just another failure: "I foresee a definite and hopeless flop.” Bizet died suddenly of heart failure after the 33rd performance, unaware that the work would achieve international acclaim within the following ten years.
The music critic Harold C. Schonberg surmises that, had Bizet lived, he might have revolutionised French opera. I agree. I’m sure he would have.
Posted in: theatre
31 January 2020
Of course, the old logo was looking a dated, but at least it had an idea. "Shadows," as found in the shadowed type, is not only something we have all seen before, but it's not really an interesting idea, at least not in the way it executed here.In application, the tone of voice is not clear. In the blue and orange cards, it's a bit edgy, jarring and somehow aggressive. In the more muted colours of the bus shelter ads, it's more approachable and subdued, like a different person.
Sadly, this is actually quite prominent museum here in East London, I do think it deserved better.
Or maybe I'm being too harsh? Maybe next time we talk, it will have grown on me. Or maybe not. Let's see... :)
More info here at Under Consideration
SuzanPosted in: identities
20 January 2020
I’m back from Texas and I’m going to share with you: TEXAS BILLBOARDS. Boring as they may seem, they really do stand out when I think about the time I spent out there in the “lone star state.”
Why? Probably because we spent quite a bit of time on the road. I love road trips, I love looking out the window and letting my thoughts just flow from one to another. Very relaxing…
Well, in Texas, there are so many billboards, my thoughts only flowed from one advertising message to another. I didn’t mind at first, but after a few days I found myself always asking, “why?” and then getting annoyed. Not very relaxing…
Did some research to answer my “why” question, and found that President Lyndon Johnson, did his very best, through the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, to put some limits on the ever-growing billboards along the roadsides, to protect the natural landscape. However, even Johnson’s vaunted powers of persuasion could not overcome the lobbying efforts of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. They essentially won: the Highway Beautification Act ironically ended up protecting these billboards from being removed by a city—unless the city pays cash compensation. And these costs can really add up.
For over 50 years activists and billboard companies have been at war over the views along American highways. Four states—Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska and Maine—have banned them outright. Rhode Island and Oregon have said no new billboards. But in Texas, the Texas Transportation Commission voted unanimously to eliminate the existing 42½-foot height restriction beginning September 2019, allowing the size limit to double.
There’s the answer!
Posted in: travel
3 January 2020
I am pleased to say that we have launched our animation for FASI (the Food Allergy Science Initiative), before we all broke for the holidays.
Food allergy is a severe public health threat faced by millions worldwide, the large majority of whom are children. For decades, it was thought that an allergic reaction was caused when the immune system sees certain foods as a foreign invader. As a result, the reaction may lead to inflammation, shock and even death.
However, we are now discovering that a key component to food allergies is the nervous system, as well as the immune system. It is the cells in epithelial tissues that first detect allergies. FASI aims to leverage these insights together with our understanding of the underlying biological basis of food allergy, to transform advances in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment, which is really exciting.
For more information, you can see the animation we built for FASI at the link below (be sure to select the banner!)
Happy New Year!
Posted in: MandR work
6 December 2019
As you know, I really enjoy going to Central St Martin’s to give the occasional graphic design workshop and when I am there, I cannot help but compare this school to Vancouver’s big art and design school, Emily Carr, where we went. Though so much is the same, so much has also changed since the olden days when we were studying, about a million years ago now.
In particular, there has always been a lot international students, but now they seem to be from a much more broad array of countries, which is amazing. So many students from countries all over the world. Also, there are so many more openly transgender students, which is also amazing. Queer and trans terminology is always changing, which shows how much things are progressing.
I know that I am comparing London today with Vancouver in the past, but I do think that the times they are a changin, and it’s so great to see when it is for the best.
Posted in: design