In a sumptuous palace by the Grand Canal in Venice, as gondolas float by, the beautiful music of the Barcarolle fills the air as Act 2 of the opera "Tales of Hoffmann" begins. The opera was composed by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880). Even though he had written over 100 popular musical comedies, he wanted to write a serious work that would last. While traveling in America in 1876, he was reminded of the fantastic tales of E.T. Hoffmann (1776-1822). He decided to use these as a basis for his opera and began composing it in 1878. His health failing, he saw some rehearsals but died before the premiere in 1880 at the Opéra Comique in Paris of 'Les Contes d’Hoffmann" (Tales of Hoffmann). He never knew its popular success.
One can see in the history of a composer the struggle to create an opera and then to bring it to the public's attention. Then various performers interpret the composition. Each performance will be unique and will keep adding to the work. We, the collective audience, are left with personal memories of being inspired: memories of experiencing performers using their talents in collaboration with other artists. These collective memories through the years enter our imagination and become part of who we are. That is why I chose the opera 'Tales of Hoffmann'.
Twelve years ago I worked on sketches of various opera themes and chose several to create into paintings. In 1989 I developed "Tales of Hoffmann" as a subject for a large acrylic painting. Now I have elaborated and developed this theme as a serigraph limited edition. In February 2001 I began printing this work at Aurora Serigraphics Studio. A drawing on Mylar was used for each of the 49 screens used to print the edition. The inks were developed using mixtures of clear varnish and old master oil paints. The beautiful pigments were used to print either clear glazes or opaque flat colors. The layering of intricate drawings leaves a texture similar to a woven fabric. On the surface of the printed area, the viewer can see the printed layer of each color. The color mixtures are unique and would be nearly impossible to recreate.
When I look at the scene, I see six levels. At the bottom the audience in the shadows looks on the bright stage. In the orchestra pit, all the musicians give their attention to the conductor. (I spent much time on the details of their instruments.) At the front of the stage are two male singers, one on a mosaic walk and the other in the doorway of a bell tower. At midstage, singers and musicians sitting in beautiful gondolas glide over the deep blue waters of the Grand Canal. At the rear of the stage, singers emerge from brightly-lit rooms of sumptuous palaces. Stars and the moon sparkle in the dark sky... and now the magic begins!
John August Swanson
August 15, 2001
An original, hand-printed serigraph published by the artist with collaboration of
Aurora Serigraphic Studio, Van Nuys, CA. Completed August 15, 2001.
Edition Size: 250
Dimensions: Image: 30" x 24 5/8"
Paper: 36" x 29"
Paper: Lana Classic, 100% cotton rag, acid free, mouldmade in France
Colors: 49 colors printed
Detail from Tales of Hoffmann