Kaneko's works of art within other art

Most of the time, audiences get their first glimpse of an Opera Carolina production when the curtain goes up. But the Mint Museum Uptown helps set the scene for January's "Madama Butterfly."

"Jun Kaneko: In the Round" spotlights the artist whose sets and costumes give "Butterfly" a new look: a colorful, dramatic transformation of traditional Japanese styles.

The exhibition, running through April 28, puts some of Kaneko's ceramic sculptures - which have been his specialty for decades - alongside his drawings for "Butterfly," his operatic debut. The show will expand outdoors in January, when a 12-foot sculpture of Kaneko's (photo courtesy of Jun Kaneko Studio) replaces the giant red Christmas-tree ornament in the Mint's plaza.

Kaneko was born in Japan in 1942. He moved to the United States to study in 1963, and he has long resided here. One of his mentors, ceramic artist Peter Voulkos, has described Kaneko's creations as "an amazing synthesis of painting and sculpture ... intellectual and playful."

By working together, Opera Carolina and the Mint "increase appreciation for a renowned artist by showcasing a variety of mediums of his work," Mint president Kathleen Jameson said in a statement. People who see Kaneko's work in both the galleries and theater "can experience the continuity of form, pattern and design between these two modes of expression and creation," curator Carla Hanzal said.

Kaneko, who has been based in Omaha, Neb., for two decades, designed "Butterfly" for Omaha's opera company. Opera Carolina will return to him when it presents his new production of Mozart's "Magic Flute" - shared with the opera companies of San Francisco, Washington and Omaha - in January 2013.

For a taste of his "Butterfly," you can see a slideshow on Kaneko's website, www.junkaneko.com. Click on Studio, then Artwork, then Performances. But do yourself a favor. Look at the first five or 10 images - enough to get a taste - and stop there. That will leave you something to discover in the theater.