Opera Manga

19-CoverThis book, created by Vancouver Opera, contains short retellings of fourteen operas in comic form. A note at the beginning explains that these comics were originally printed in Japanese and put out in Japanese newspapers to promote the opera to Vancouver’s Japanese population – the operas chosen for the project were those performed by Vancouver Opera in 2005 through 2010. They were then translated and colored, and this book was released to celebrate Vancouver Opera’s fiftieth anniversary.

There is, as you would expect, a lot of tragedy here: Carmen, Madame Butterfly, Rigoletto. But, if I can be forgiven a bit of facetiousness, the thing that really made me sad was how poorly the book was put together and edited.

One of the first things I noticed in reading this was that the creators failed to account for the gutter at all. This means that whole words are lost in the crack between the pages, and I became frustrated trying to force the book open wider so that I could read these bits. There are also rampant misspellings and, in a real triumph of oversight, the last five pages – one and a half opera stories – are simply repeated. The book goes from The Marriage of Figaro to Madame Butterfly to . . . the middle of The Marriage of Figaro, followed by Madame Butterfly!

Despite the name, the art is not all done in a manga style. It varies from story to story. Many are drawn in a kind of simplified manga style, with panel backgrounds empty or extremely spare and little detail in the characters; a few, however, are done in loose paint and pastel styles, and one is drawn in distinctly American-style cartoons. I find these to be more skillfully done than the manga ones, which feature a lot of stiff poses and awkward facial expressions.

The language has been updated, and characters speak in modern, casual phrasing. This helps to make the stories accessible; it also injects some humor that, while perhaps not always present in the original work, is a fun little addition.

Obviously, any faults with the stories’ plot cannot be laid at the doors of this book’s creators. Still, condensing the operas so much can make their events blunt and sudden, rendering complex tragedies almost funny. I’m not a huge opera buff, but I did know some of these stories already; as far as I can tell, the summaries do capture, on the most basic level, the events of the operas they cover. This could be useful for someone who wants to understand in just a few minutes what is going on in a particular opera. The brevity of each story does not, however, allow for much characterization or emotional impact.

There’s quite a bit of violence, as you might imagine, but nothing grotesque. If a reader doesn’t mind the blood-splattering suicide scene on the cover (um, spoilers for Madame Butterfly?), there’s nothing gorier inside. There isn’t much sexual content, either; plenty of kissing, but no nudity. Not that’s shown, anyway; Salome squeaks by with the placement of her hair and veils.

The concept behind this book is a neat one, not unlike the Manga Shakespeare titles. I am left disappointed that the poor execution of it is impossible to ignore.

Opera Manga
by Todd Denis, Neil McBean, and Roy Husada
Art by Roy Husada, Fiona Meng and Jerry Cai
ISBN: 9781897548837
Arcana, 2010