Grand Opera

Grand Opera

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Jun Kaneko with designs for Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera. Photo/Katharine Sarro.

Jun Kaneko – Fidelio / Leonore
Texts by Arthur Danto, Eric Schwitzgebel, Michael C. Tusa, Robert B. Driver, Jun Kaneko
Jun Kaneko Studio
Omaha, Nebraska
$50
junkaneko.com or
thekaneko.org

The Japanese-born, Omaha, Nebraska-based artist Jun Kaneko, is known internationally for his monumental ceramic sculptures and many public commissions, all notable for their daunting scale, minimalist style and bold use of color. There is hardly an impediment to his reach into new areas. In 2006 he designed the sets and costumes for the Omaha Opera Company’s Madama Butterfly. When this came to the attention of Robert B. Driver, the director of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, he was so impressed he proposed that Kaneko, undertake the designs for a new Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera. Though at first reluctant, Kaneko soon immersed himself in the music and story. The project came to fruition in October 2008, when Fidelio was performed with Kaneko’s sets, costumes, video projections and lighting.

This book is a vivid visual record of the project that draws the reader into the process of opera production, showing through aptly juxtaposed drawings and photographs how the artist develops his ideas in collaboration with others. It is also a lively primer on Fidelio, with several essays about the opera, its history as a 10-year struggle and triumph for Beethoven, and its themes—the power of conjugal love and the fight for liberty.

More than one of the contributors note the aptness of Kaneko’s signature style to expressing the subject of the opera, even one so far away in time and place. “Everything about his work resonated Fidelio to me,” says Driver, “from his huge sculptural heads, to his acrylic paintings on canvas with straight and swirling black and white lines, to his tile walls with splashes of black and white together with geometric blocks of color. To me the enormous heads evoked a sense of power and serenity central to Beetho-ven’s work. The grid works in his paintings and cera- mics brought a fresh new abstract realization on the theme of imprisonment.” Philosopher and critic Arthur Danto praises Kaneko’s visual conception for its universality. “The miracle of Kaneko’s design is that he has found an architectural metaphor for the duality of good and evil.”