Archive for the ‘Art and Artists’ Category


While drearily flicking through Amazon’s entertainment offerings I came across a modern performance of Carousel, that antique but beloved clunker. What ho! A show at the Lincoln center, with the beauteous Kelli O’Hara as Julie Jordan and barihunk Nathan Gunn as her abusive spouse, Billie Bigelow! Both are very easy on the eyes, and both have lovely voices.

As this was a concert version, the orchestra sat solidly on the stage, and the cast darted through and around them to act and sing. And because of the nimble camera which also darts around and through, the action is gripping.
Though perhaps one could have done without some of that determined rollicking.
The story is based on a Hungarian play called Liliom, by Ferenc Molnár. Puccini wanted to base an opera on it, but Molnár turned him down–as he also turned down Kurt Weil, George Gershwin, and Richard Strauss. But he was so charmed by that wonderful show Oklahoma that he gave way, and agreed to let Rodgers and Hammerstein adapt his play. And they made a grand musical of it, as filled with wonderful songs as an egg of meat. Songs which we all know, You’ll Never Walk Alone, What’s the use of Wond’rin’ –and of course, the Carousel Waltz . YouTube has them all and all the other ones too. I gritted my teeth a trifle though that energetically enthusiastic Clambake song, and was not completely carried away by the June Busting Out All Over business–HEAVENS, such panting lewdness: “All the rams that chase the ewe sheep are determined there’ll be new sheep; And the ewe sheep aren’t even keeping score!”
But Nathan sang that fine father-to-be song like a hero, and Kelli did the same for the Wond’rin‘ song . Lovely stuff.
The charming bit with the kindly old man on the ladder who is hanging up stars led to a rather nice dance sequence–Billy fondly watching his now almost grown up daughter twirling about, and so to the end.

Then Billy trudges off to hell or heaven, we don’t know which, after a reprise of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
YAY! Applause!

PS The old man with the stars routine suddenly reminded me of Gielgud doing his Supreme Being gig in Time Bandits: “I AM the Supreme Being. I’m not entirely dim.”

But he is much sterner than the Starkeeper.

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Pirates and Happy Dust

Well, dear friends–this has been a week of cultural experience! I am now recovering from overstimulation with a healing Dark and Stormy.

1) I have just returned from YET ANOTHER FINE BALLET SHOW, Le Corsaire –and I’m sure you’re biting your nails with anxiety to hear all about it! I must admit that during the frantic applause and loud cheering that ended the show I found myself thinking NEVER AGAIN. The stupid is very strong in this one, and so much of that cursed miming– I had to stop myself from groaning.
But this was the Mariinsky Ballet, and oh my, the dancing is really really fine. One ballet blogger explained the show’s enduring popularity by the fact that “the whole ballet is just a 2 1/2 hour-long choreographed dance-off.” Truly, the astonishing leaps and turns, not to mention the gorgeous acrobatic flexibility and strength of those beautiful dancers made me gasp.

But, that said, GOOD LORD, this show is about girls being sold as slaves, rescued by Brave Corsairs (=pirates), captured again, and then rescued again. LOTS of scenes with those lascivious Turks drooling over the ladies, who obligingly do their charming dances to show how sad they are about being slaves. Including one number where they do a fetching number while BOUND TOGETHER WITH HEAVY ROPES. Oh those KRAZY Russians! The guys wear costumes of an effeminacy that makes the eyes to open wide. These are brave men.
The story is (loosely) based on the poem by Byron.
I think from now on my tickets will be for ballets choreographed in this century.

2) On Thursday I saw a more modest production, a partially staged version of Porgy and Bess–the stage was filled with the orchestra, and the singers acted in front of them with a very few props. I LOVE this show, every song is beautiful. a masterpiece of melody. The show was at the Strathmore, a beautiful concert hall with brilliant acoustics. The singers were unnecessarily miked, and they were dumpy and their costumes were drab–but I have loved this show all my life, and it brought tears to my eyes. The story is grim and it does not end happy, but the music is filled with joy and no one can hear it without rapture. At least, I can’t! And did you know that Gershwin’s will stated that the opera could not be staged except with an all-black cast? Gershwin, our American genius, felled by cancer when he was only 39.
The audience at this show was all ancient, the halt and the lame–I have never seen so many canes and walkers. Perhaps because it was a Thursday night? Perhaps because the parking is free at the Strathmore? I hope it’s not because younger people don’t love Gershwin.
Here is a link to a La Scala production clip; some of these singers were singing at the Strathmore on Thursday.
But just find a recording and listen to it–you will love it, I promise.

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The tender spring and suddenly blooming trees electrified the city–everyone rushed out to see and be seen. And so the traffic was astonishingly vile, and I was almost late for the show at the Kennedy Center. But not!
This was the New York City Ballet, gamely slogging on despite ghastly scandal and lawsuits–a story of truly vile behavior that really, I don’t want to hear any more about. Depressing, deeply distasteful. The worst offenders were fired, though had they been politicians instead of dancers the punishments would surely have been more severe.

Peter Martins was beautiful as a god when he was a young dancer. But he was not a good man.
In ANY case, the company was in town, and I went to see them. They did a collection of dances, and displayed a pleasing athletic grace, and some stunning lifts and leaps.

1. Easy, set to Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, by Leonard Bernstein
This is a Sneaker Ballet, the lads and lasses in soft shoes and bright pink/yellow/blue outfits. Fun, rather!

2. In The Night, set to various beloved Chopin preludes
The traditional ballet, 3 couples, 3 lovely duets, and I will admit that I dozed a teensy bit in the first couple’s dance, resumed sentience in the 2nd, and was completely exhilarated by the 3rd–OH MY! Such excitement, such swirling skirts, such thrilling lifts! The lady wore a black skirt with red petticoats underneath, and when her partner swept her into the air there was such a heady billow of tulle!

3. The Runaway, set to music by Nico Muhley, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and James Blake
Well, well, rather loud, but not disagreeable. These are world class dancers, and they can do all the moves. But the costumes were NOT becoming. The inspiration was sort of Black and White Japanese Anime, and some were quite witty. But–BLOOMERS! ON THE MEN! With large black NECK FRILLS! These are the fittest, most comely men in the world–but even they looked silly in these dreadful outfits.

4. Something to Dance About, set to various Broadway musical tunes
This gave us the Jerome Robbins dance routines we know and love, with a lady singing the songs on the stage, while the dancers whirled and twined around her. An homage to the the man, with everyone on stage venerating his image at the finale.

But you know what–he is worthy of such praise.

The traffic on the drive home continued horrid. But such a lovely day, it didn’t bother me.

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It is somewhat dispiriting to return from an expensive show (that did not charm me) to find a $100 speeding ticket waiting for me in the mail, souvenir of the drive to the previous expensive show (that also didn’t charm me).
This show was a ballet called Raise the Red Lantern, danced by the National Ballet of China. The story is based on Wives and Concubine (a 1990 novel by Su Tong, astonishingly bleak). There was a 1991 film which I saw but don’t remember. It was much admired.

The ballet is–very colorful.
There were red lanterns.
There were Chinese opera scenes, which possibly were correctly performed–most of us in the audience had no idea. Though, there were a lot of Chinese Americans there, drinking it all in. Maybe the Chinese opera bits were just the thing for them. Not so much for me, though it was very colorful, as I said.
There was a strident soprano making loud sounds in the background, which did not appear to me to always be exactly in tune, but then, I have no education in Chinese culture.
There was a lot of percussion and fairly uninteresting music–but again, I have no education in Chinese culture.
There was also a certain amount of ensemble dancing which could have used a little more rehearsal, perhaps. Still, very dramatic.
At least there was the program, always dependable for a laugh: “On the wedding night, despite her desperate resistance, the bride becomes overcome by her tragic destiny.” Which is to say, IS RAPED. And when the lovers are killed at the end:” “Feudalism strangles their young lives and beautiful love.” The story was set in the 1920’s.
Well, it ended eventually, and I drove home. On the way home, the last bit of Don Giovanni was on, a splendid opera.
And, not a bit out of tune.

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Having prudently determined to save $6 by eschewing the outrageously priced Kennedy Center garage ($23!!) I bravely walked all the way from the $17 garage to the theater IN MY HIGH HEELS.

Women are so brave, don’t you think?

I regret to say that the show –Harlequinade by the ABT–was not worthy of this mighty effort. It’s a piece of antique fluff, lovingly brought back to life from what seems to me well deserved oblivion. Harlequin and Columbine and Pierrot and Pierrette–old fashioned in our grandparents’ time, remembered these days in British pantomimes perhaps, though no where else.
THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS were obviously spent on fabulous costumes–spangles! feathers!–and thousands of hours spent in grinding rehearsals. The story concerns a miserly father, whose servant Pierrot wears that white outfit so traditional to mimes and clowns (with sleeves extending beyond his hands, an odd look).

Mean dad won’t let his daughter Columbine marry her beloved Harlequin; there is an aged wealthy suitor–well, well, such stuff. You will not be amazed to hear that Harlequin wins his lady and all ends in celebration.

When I add that there was a huge group of children dancers, each laboriously outfitted in miniature versions of the grown up costumes, and all prancing about doing many many SO adorable dances, you will instantly perceive how truly saintly I am become–did I storm out of that place and go home? No, I did not.
Perhaps it was the high heels..
Though, there was some truly brilliant dancing–sparkling and crystalline, quite astonishing. Mostly it was bland sugary stuff–but every once in a while, those dancers filled the theater with joy.

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Marvel Movie

I fear some aspect of ageing has rendered me unable to appreciate worthy movies, so that I find myself watching the most desperately silly stuff. With handsome guys! Which reminds me of my older daughter explaining why football was great: large men in tight pants. The ridiculous comic book movies do indeed feature large men in tight pants. Which is, of course, very nice.
Though, one likes to think one appreciates, you know, the finer things.
And I do! Do I not subscribe to the ballet, to the opera? YES! Do I not read complicated and excellent books? YES! Well, mostly. There are the Vampire/Werewolf in Victorian London series. I’m not proud of my eager haste in reading all of those.
Come to think on it, perhaps I am losing brain power, dear friends.
See, I started watching Ladybird, which everyone agreed was a fine well made modern movie. Alas, alas, I just couldn’t keep watching it, despite the totally believable Saoirse Ronan–a splendid young actress, who was so fine in Brooklyn.
What, Hope, already missing the guys in tight pants?
And then, Netflix slyly offered me Thor: Ragnarok, one of those Marvel Comix productions. It’s jokey, violent, colorful, imaginative–in fact, fun to watch. Silly, unbelievable–but, fun to watch.
Jeff Goldblum makes a fabulous villain, effete and self involved, with a large unamused lady aide, who keeps him in line.

Together they rule over some kind of entertainment empire, and both Thor and Loki are somehow entrapped. And both are as beautiful as the day, so that really, there is no problem with just watching them. They have good lines, too.

AND, Anthony Hopkins plays their dad, Odin. And Cate Blanchette their sister, the, uh, GODDESS OF DEATH. She has a fabulous unfolding hat with antlers, REALLY effective. She is SO BAD.
They all seem to be having a ball. And of course, they are making millions of dollars, which can’t hurt. Hiddlestone and Blanchette have made serious movies, which, come to think on it, were also fun to watch.
So maybe it’s not old age, it’s just good sense that has me watching fun movies that are, after all, made to entertain.

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When I was a little girl, my family lived in Greece–such a paradise it was. My wonderful parents, my siblings, our dog–a life filled with brilliant happiness. Over 60 years ago now, but still I remember family picnics on beaches by the turquoise sea, biking in the leafy city, games, and dinners, and good times.
And the sound of old Greek music is the sound of happiness to me.
YES, yes, I know it often reminds one of the bleating of a discontented goat, and it does go on a bit.
BUT, to me the sound is wild and joyful, and of a piece with all human music: how BAD she treated me, how SAD I am, but let’s dance, let’s drink!

Those singers​ are all gone now, but their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, still sing these songs, still dance these dances.
Or at least, I like to think they do. ​

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