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Cartoonists At The Opera

One of the sketches from Batton Lash.
Batton Lash
One of the sketches from Batton Lash.

San Diego Opera Brings In Comics Artists To Sketch At Rehearsals

San Diego Opera kicked off its 2014 season with “Pagliacci” (playing Friday and Sunday matinee) and at the dress rehearsal there were cartoonists on hand to sketch the action.

Cartoonists at the Opera

Batton Lash is a San Diego cartoonist who got his introduction to opera through comics: "My introduction to 'Pagliacci' was a Batman comic from 1962, where The Joker was going to rob the payroll of the Gotham City Opera House and it was 'Pagliacci,' of course, and Batman figured it out, but what he didn’t know was the clown on stage was The Joker in disguise who gassed Batman and was going to unmask him in front of the entire opera audience. Luckily for us, The Joker failed and that’s an opera unto itself but again that was my introduction to this opera."

Now Lash is one of four cartoonists (Eric Shanower, Marty Davis, and Scott Benefiel being the others) sketching at the dress rehearsal of San Diego Opera’s "Pagliacci."


"What I usually do is just very quick sketches of all the action, it’s tough to nail down those actors cause they are running around singing and dancing," Lash said. "We do the sketches, and I do a bunch of them and luckily, I’m last, I get the final cut, and I scan them in and send them to Ed Wilensky who puts them up on the San Diego Opera website. And I also put them up on my website as well so it’s great fun to do it and finish it plus it’s a challenge cause usually I do the panel to panel continuity but to do something that’s a little more concentrated and colorful, that’s a challenge and fun to do."

Back in 2011, Eric Shawnower was the first cartoonist San Diego Opera invited to a rehearsal.

Silvio and his nose by Eric Shanower.
Eric Shanower
Silvio and his nose by Eric Shanower.

"I’m a cartoonist. I sit ay my table in my studio and I draw pictures in little boxes for a living and I don’t get that much opportunity to draw from life and I haven’t done a whole lot of life drawing in many years until they asked me and I thought it’s a good opportunity," Shanower said. "What’s the most fun to sketch? I usually like drawing people’s faces and trying to get a little bit of a caricature in there so that’s the most fun for me, to take someone’s face and exaggerate their expressions and their features a little bit. Silvio had a really great nose and forehead, I always worry that the actors are gonna be a little angry with me. He has a large pointed nose, so I just thought that was a great opportunity, I just want to get that feature down, just carve it out of the paper. The woman tonight, Nedda, she was hard to capture, she was really hard to get. I don’t think I got any good pictures of her, any drawings that really got her, more of her gestures rather than her face. It just whips by the whole thing whips by and I wish I had more chance to actually let the story get in because I’m so busy concentrating on the drawing that I often have no idea what’s going on on stage."

Lash also sketched at the recent "Samson and Delilah" and "Barber of Seville" operas.

"The more I learn about opera," Lash said, "the more I see how comics and opera really are kindred spirits that both have a bad rap with the general public that they either are put off by comics or put off by opera, but the stories are larger than life, over the top, the costumes are colorful, the characters, are very broad and they each have endured, the stories have endured over centuries, and like the comics, everyone knows the story of Superman or Batman and Spiderman and I have no doubt that they will endure as long as some of the most popular operas have."


San Diego Opera hopes these cartoonists can help break down stereotypes about opera being stuffy and perhaps introduce a classic like 'Pagliacci' to a new audience.

You can find all the artists' sketches on San Diego Opera's blog, Aria Serious.