You might not expect an opera to be referenced on a comics blog, but the two art forms have more in common than you might think, according to tenor, director, writer — and comic fan — Alek Shrader.
“Comics and opera have a lot in common,” Shrader told Smash Pages. “Engaging stories, interesting characters, artistic escapism… both art forms exist to communicate in storytelling. BUT, I think it’s the differences between live opera and comics that make graphic adaptation a strong idea. That being said, in their own fashion, both opera and comics tell dramatic and cathartic stories in meaningful, beautiful ways.”
In an effort to help connect more people to opera, the Arizona Opera has turned to Kickstarter to fund their first graphic novel — an adaptation of Carmen by French composer Georges Bizet, which itself was adapted from the novella by Prosper Mérimée.
“It’s a thrill for Arizona Opera to share the work of this remarkable team of artists through the graphic novel format and the timeless story of Carmen,” said Joseph Specter, Arizona Opera’s President and General Director, in a pres statement. “Throughout the pandemic, our company has constantly pursued novel approaches to connecting people through opera, when people need art and meaning the most. Carmen: The Graphic Novel represents an amazing opportunity to extend that focus on innovation, impact, and community.”
The graphic novel is written by Shrader, who is joined by an artist who knows his way around both comics and operas — multiple award-winning artist P. Craig Russell, known for his work on Sandman, Elric, Night Music, Fables and more. This isn’t Russell’s first foray into adapting opera to comics; he’s previously adapted Mozart’s Magic Flute, R. Strauss’s Salome and Wagner’s Ring cycle.
Russell will provide layouts, while Aneke, who worked on the recent Bylines in Blood miniseries from Aftershock Comics, will provide finishes and will color the project. He also provided the cover. Letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou rounds out the creative team.
“Bizet wrote gorgeous music for his Carmen,” Shrader said. “P. Craig Russell and Aneke have illustrated magical, stunning, GLORIOUS pages in our adaptation. And I have to mention our guest artists who are providing art prints. Each of these talented women bring their own unique *beautiful* style to Carmen, Tosca, Ariadne and the Queen of the Night: Erica Henderson, Colleen Doran, Marguerite Sauvage, Natacha Bustos, Erica D’Urso and Marissa Louise, and Ana Miralles.”
Here’s a look at some of those prints:
Carmen was first performed in France in 1875, quickly becoming popular with audiences around the world for its portrayal of the “common folk,” as well as gypsies and smugglers, in Seville, Spain. Early criticism of the piece called it “immoral” and “vulgar.” Unfortunately, Bizet never saw the opera’s success, as he died about three months after it premiered.
“Initially, writing (in this case, adapting) a comic was very similar to preparing an opera production,” Shrader said. “Research was key. Painstaking, accurate research of the cultures, the time period, the language, the authors/composers… the history of it all. But the more I wrote the scripts, the more power I gave away to the artists. As an opera director, I work with performers to craft the story in physical form– I have direct input on what happens, when, and where. As a comics writer, it was my duty to have an objective for each page (perhaps even specific panels), but let the artists become “directors” of the story. It wasn’t always that black and white– I found the process to be very collaborative. I’m grateful to have had P. Craig Russell and Aneke tell Carmen’s story via my scripts. It was an honor to have them draw my words.”
If you’d like a copy for yourself, a $10 donation gets you the digital edition, while a hardcover will cost you $35. Other tiers offer the prints mentioned above, as well as tickets to the opera (naturally).
“What appeals to me most about Carmen is the strength of her character,” said Aneke. “Her timeless appeal to audiences transcends time, politics, and societal change. Through her strength, we see her vulnerability, passion and sexuality exude from the stage. Through a graphic novel, new audiences can be introduced to one of the most well-known, fearless women in opera.”
To make a pledge, visit the campaign’s Kickstarter page. The campaign ends April 28.