Story by Chrissy Shannon
Throw away your monocles and leave the altar boys tucked in bed. Classical music does not have to be for the privileged few or for church pews. Classical music is sexy. It’s passionate. It’s about pain and suffering, passion and envy, curses and evil!
Soprano Noosa Al-Sarraj (photo by Allison Staton)
The budding performance collective Opera Undressed wishes to pelvic thrust this take on classical music into the faces of all willing participants—and even those not wearing pants. Upcoming performances at Le Hibou in Wakefield on August 3 and at Tabaret Hall (UOttawa campus) on August 5 will showcase the virtuoso skills of pianist Roland Graham, soprano Noosa Al-Sarraj, and the art projections of Ariane Beauchamp. Significantly, there will also be a cash bar.
Initially staged as a modest performance of art songs, Opera Undressed is growing in size and ambition. It began when I was attending Al-Sarraj’s voice recitals (we are old acquaintances from our days in Peterborough) and noted her affinity for rock and roll and other incongruous genres. We set out to blur the boundaries and infiltrate the stuffy world of classical musicianship with a bit of spice from the real world.
Pianist Roland Graham (photo by Bill Blackstone)
Fast forward to not-too-long ago, when Al-Sarraj met Graham, a highly trained pianist, passionate choirmaster and director of the Verdun Classical Music Society. Next I was introduced to Ariane Beauchamp, a multidisciplinary artist whose varied works include ink drawings and light projections using everything including her body as a canvas.
Music in the August shows will be a mélange of styles and time periods: the idea is for listeners to feel the thematic connection between songs across time. Al-Sarraj will begin with a trio of German songs that evoke despair with minor keys and slow deliberate melodies. Anyone can relate to the mood of these heart-wrenching tunes regardless of musical background or knowledge of composers.
Visual artist Ariane Beauchamp
After performing some French art songs by Gabriel Faure, vocalist Al-Sarraj will conclude with three Italian opera arias that explore the theme of false appearances and masquerades. Overall, the musical selections reveal the heart of the Opera Undressed objective: to explore the full range of the human psyche through classical music and art projections. (Alternative objective: to enable people to get a little tipsy while listening to some kick-ass classical music.)
In preparation for the performance, Opera Undressed has put out a call for poster designs to all artists in the Ottawa area who would like to join the collective.
The posters will be displayed physically and digitally for the month of July as a public art display. For information or submissions, please visit www.operaundressed.info.
“Driftwood” video an epic project for Munson and Co
Friday, December 14, 2012
A few months ago, musician Claude Munson approached videographer Craig Allen Conoley between sets at one of his shows and whispered confirmation of what the two had been probing for about a year: “I want to make a video.”
But not just any video. The ever-meticulous Munson envisioned a production of enough quality and substance to herald the release of his eponymous debut CD,Claude Munson & The Storm Outside.
The result is the ambitious, five-minute-long “Driftwood” video released Friday, December 14.
Unlike many of the spontaneously shot music videos currently on offer, this one was a labour of love. To get the project rolling, Munson provided rough cuts from the album and Conoley listened to each track while wandering visually though the lyrics and themes.
“Initially we discussed a concept for ‘Dreamdance,’ the album finale,” recalls Conoley, “but Claude eventually decided on something much more adventurous, much more in tune with the album’s overarching feel and tone; a stop-motion animation for the album’s entre-vous, ‘Driftwood’.”
Conoley notes how the a story depicted in the video is riddled with literal and very symbolic elements. “The boy, the town, the sea and the conflict, have multiple readings—your own readings and cues that point to very universal ideas, but also to local and personal experiences for the artist.”
Conoley credits the evolution of the project from idea to finished video to Ariane Beauchamp, the visual artist behind the visual aesthetic and the album art that inspired the video.
“Beauchamp created every asset you see in the video,” Conoley says. “She combined Claude’s lyrics with our visual treatment to birth a world that undoubtedly had been tucked away in her mind long before our meeting.”
Shot and produced in Beauchamp’s studio in Ottawa, the stop-motion production involves some 15,000 still images. This despite the fact that no one involved hard worked with stop-motion previously.
“I feel the end result reflects an experimental process in which three artists dared to do something outside of their comfort zones,” says Conoloy, “something that succeeds on many levels.”
Directed and edited by Craig Allen Conoley, owner and head of productions at Partus Films.
Video produced by Claude Munson and Craig Allen Conoley
Art by Ariane Beauchamp
Animation by Ariane Beauchamp and Claude Munson
Music by Claude Munson and The Storm Outside,
Produced by Philippe Lafreniere and Claude Munson
Distributed by UP & UP MUSIC
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Opera Undressed offers a fresh take on a tradition form
Get ready for opera in the buff.
Aimed at bringing classical music to a wider (and younger) audience, Opera Undressed is actually a collective made up of soprano Noosa Al-Sarraj, pianist Nick Rodgerson, and visual artist Ariane Beauchamp. Following a successful summer series, Opera Undressed unveils its second cycle over two weekends in Ottawa and Wakefield.
By choosing pieces based on emotional explicitness and incorporating a titillating visual aspect to the show, the collective aims to offer a new kind of dramatic performance. For example, venues were specifically chosen so that the audience could satiate all of their sensual needs: music for the ears, sights for their eyes, and food and drink for their palates. Further, the audience is encouraged to be active rather than passive participants.
Taken out of the original context, one might discover that classical music isn’t as dated as it’s typically portrayed. It discusses everything that we nowadays obsess over: heartbreak and jealousy, envy over better looking people, sex and betrayal, and, of course, flirtatious games.
Even songs originally composed for a church service don’t necessarily stick to “sacred” content. Take for instance the (translated) lyrics to Bach’s Cantata 21. written by a 17th century lawyer-scientist-poet.
Change whining into pure wine
Burning and flaming is the purest candle of love…
since Jesus comforts me with heavenly lust.
The festival features a brew of different styles and composers spanning Europe, all touching on the dangers of sex and love. Highlights include Die Forelle (The Trout), a deceivingly light tune warning young women of the bloody dangers of seductive “anglers” and a lighthearted Mozart piano sonata performed by Rodgerson, followed by some frivolous and flirtatious opera arias to end the night.
In short, Opera Undressed strives to penetrate traditional forms — and lay bare both the beautiful and horrific things that are a part of the human experience — with a program that explores the darkest and most entertaining parts of the psyche.
Ah, summers in Ottawa, so much to see and do these days. There are times I love this place—in fact most times, except for the five-month winter.
The performance took place in a former chapel, and earlier in the evening I saw a poster advertising a slow-dance Pride event at a local Legion hall, so we’ve all come a long way, methinks, in this unjustly-maligned capital city of ours.
I expected the place to be filled after a plug in the Ottawa Sun noted the topless women angle, but it was probably too arty a scene for οἱ πολλοί, and there were maybe forty people or so in attendance. Tant pis.
Let me set the scene. To our left (we took front-row seats, natch) was a grand piano, upon which pianist Roland Graham performed admirably, accompanied by the delightfully pneumatic mezzo-soprano Noosa Alsaraj, who in her other life does country music with her band, Noosa Mae and the Lovebirds. On the back wall were three projected images from old-fashioned slide projectors.
In front of the largest one three semi-nude artist’s models arranged themselves in a living triptych, gracefully changing positions from time to time. A fourth woman, local artist Ariane Beauchamp, proceeded to draw intricate designs upon their bodies, and once in awhile she gave herself a stripe as well. She had to run from projector to projector to change, adjust or superimpose slides, however, which was a little distracting, at least to begin with.
During the first session—entitled “The Tortured Soul”—we heard some Mozart, Bach and Schubert, and Beauchamp decorated the three models using paintbrushes and spray-cans. At first I wasn’t sure this was all coming off: was there one performance here, or two disconnected ones jammed together, maybe a little reminiscent of this? But whether the groups of performers jelled, or whether we in the audience allowed our apperceptions to develop, everything clicked by the second session.
“Dreamy French Art Songs” (you need a sense of irony to follow along here) gave us three works by Gabriel Faure. We enjoyed this description ofTristesse from the program: “a rollicking tune with melodramatic verses.” At this point the music and spectacle joined: the women seemed part of the projected painting behind them, the designs grew ever more intricate, their occasional synchronized movements blended with the music. The tincture of eroticism was only one of many streams flowing before us. The two groups became one: the music was both background and foreground, and the visual performance was as well.
By the third session, we were all in the groove (well, I did mention the ’60s “happening” scene). “Digital enchantment” featured Scriabin, Schumann and two original works by the pianist himself. Another short drink break, and then the final set: “Italian Masquerades and False Appearances.”
Here we had delicious bits of Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, and, as an encore, Bizet. Alsaraj had been steadily shedding clothes as the evening went on, but only, alas, from formal to casual. The three woodland nymphs (for so they appeared at this point) left the painting and frolicked around the stage, striking poses from time to time, just enjoying themselves.
As did we. Thoroughly memorable. Smiles of a summer night in Ottawa, 2011.
Art is a powerful medium used for social commentary. Environmentalism is a theme duly present in this realm of critique, but when it becomes apparent that some of the most prominent artistic methods—painting and film photography, for example—can be detrimental to the Earth, the environmentally-conscious artist is presented with a dilemma. The artist must mitigate his or her creative impulses, vision and skill with personally/socially-derived concerns for theenvironment.
To see where the balance lies within this dilemma, I spoke to three Ottawa artists who bring their perspectives on sustainability and the environment to their work through the media they use to create art.
“I’m interested in the connection between art and life and moving beyond ‘the art object for art’s sake’” idea, says Jennifer Cook, an artist who creates useful things out of recycled materials and found objects. Her exhibit at the University of Ottawa Visual Arts graduate show this past April featured homemade shelves, vermiculturecomposting systems, jars of seeds and flower boxes growing different plants in a piece called “baby food.” “I’m really interested in learning about sustainability and self-sufficiency…and examining how things are made, the relationship between the materials used in that object to its effects on the Earth, and knowing where it comes from, understanding how it’s made and trying to learn if I can do that myself,” says Cook. “I think it’s really empowering when you can learn how something is made and make it yourself, grow things yourself, feed yourself.” Her work is seemingly a reaction to mass consumer culture, a culture that not only creates copious amounts of waste but alienates people from their connection to what is produced and how it affects the Earth.
Ariane Beauchamp is an artist whose work also harkens to a connection with nature and more “traditional” values and practices. Many of her recent pieces, also on exhibit at the University of Ottawa graduate show, feature birds, immediately evoking a natural theme. These birds are also part of her memories of a childhood far-removed from city life. She depicts them through stitching hand-dyed yarn and thread and even human hair onto untreated canvas. She also has embraced object-making with reclaimed textiles and found materials. Part of Beauchamp’s exhibit highlighted the theme of memory by having jars containing objects preserved through pickling. Beauchamp tries to bring traditional practices to contemporary art to inspire a way of living that’s not in practice anymore. Another piece in her exhibit was a collaborative effort between her and Cook; they’d retrieved a chair from the trash and altered it into their own artistic design. Beauchamp says that this piece “comments on trash and how we can use materials, like this beautiful composite foam.” Indeed, without this piece, the speckled, brightly-coloured foam would have continued its existence in a landfill. “Art, for me, is a means to question our living and environment. It’s a perfect platform to discuss it,” says Beauchamp.
Stefan Thompson’s art has undergone a radical transformation over the past year as he attempts to eliminate the toxic and degrading effects that paint, his medium of choice, has on the environment. As a graduate of Environmental Science, Thompson was exposed to the many ways in which the creation and use of paint can be harmful: mining for pigments, exposure to toxic fumes, leaching of chemicals into the ground and water systems. “A couple of years ago I just decided that I couldn’t have any part in the current destruction of the planet with my art… I couldn’t really create art peacefully if I knew that I was being a part of the problem,” explains Thompson. This has meant an extreme shift in his work. His website provides a detailed account of the process of making one’s own paint and the many facets of toxicity that are not immediately apparent to the average consumer, or average artist, for that matter.
Formerly characterized by vibrant colours and spray paint, Thompson’s palette now consists of more reds, browns, yellows, and grays—colours that are easier to make, essential for his new environmentally-conscious approach. Realizing the challenges and limitations his art faces following this shift, Thompson accepts that this is not a decision every artist can make: “It’s too much to ask of most artists because it’s their livelihood and you’re really asking them to make major changes in how they make their livelihood and that’s hard for anybody to do.” He adds, “I think that’s the larger issue right now. Everybody’s livelihood is part of the destruction and no one is willing to make that change… I guess everybody tries to do what they can, but there’s a lot more we can do if we just jump into it.”
Thompson continues to adapt to the change he has thrust upon his creativity, improves upon his art and with each image, reminds us that those radical changes, as daunting as they seem, are still possible.
Édition du 4 novembre 2013
The Ottawa art scene is one that is rich and continues to grow. The community is collaborative, inventive and progressive with young, innovative artists on the rise.
Ariane Beauchamp will be presenting New Works this month at Patrick Gordon Framing Studio. The show opens on May 23 and her work will be shown until June 27. DJ Billy will be there spinning music as ambiance at the vernissage Friday evening.
This will be Ariane’s first solo art exhibition in a few years. In the interim, she has collaboratied with musicians, such as Claude Munson & the Storm Outside for music videos and live art works. She also collaborated with author Joel Fawcett on his book. You can tell she enjoys collaborating with other artists. I spoke with Ariane about this over an excessively large plate of nachos. “I enjoy creating a live dialogue between myself and my fellow performer. It is a very ephemeral experience which garners an immediate reaction from your audience. I get to feel like a rock star receiving applause.” I can definitely see how she would enjoy that feeling. Watching her create live art during a concert, I was moved by how the work looked both frantic and graceful, aggressive and musical.
Ariane is looking forward to her return to solo exhibition. The show will feature a selection of new ink drawings. Her latest collection, developed over this past winter, demonstrates the natural movement of medium. Using a variety of inks, a dropping technique and her signature use of muted, earthy colours, Ariane has created a collection that explores the theme of life and death in nature and the duality between man and animal. Images of birds and horned animals will be featured in wide spectrum from realistic to surreal. “These symbols and themes dictate our lives,” she said. The series also challenges the tradition of ink and pen drawings by propelling elements of the illustrations into the realm of the third dimension with the use of paper and tool.
Ariane studied classical painting and illustration in university and she is influenced by artists like David Ellis, Ed Pien, Wangechi Mutu and Mathew Ritchie. She grew up in rural Northern Ontario, which eventually became the background of her work. It also informed her fascination with nature and wildlife. Her weapon of choice for this show is ink and watercolours. Not only is it her medium, it is also her inspiration. “The ink tells what what is going to become of the piece. It will move, fall and dry in a why you won’t expect or plan for. Like in nature. I let it tell me what it’s going to be.” She plays with the subconscious. Each piece tells a rich story but it’s up to the audience to write its narrative.
Ariane is not limited to ink in paper. She has also been known to work with wood, felt, projection and even the human body for the Opera Undressed series. Patrick Gordon framing is a studio with a rich relationship with Ottawa artists and collectors. They will offer framing for Ariane’s work, which would be a gorgeous addition to any space. You will have to see for yourself.
Ariane Beauchamp – New Works
Friday, May 23, 2014 @ 7pm
Patrick Gordon Framing Studio
160 Elm Street