Archive for the ‘Art and Artists’ Category

Hello fellow opera enthusiasts!

I see there are but two of us.
Let me start again: HELLO fellow humans!
In my tireless endeavours to entertain you (and, I admit, myself) I have put together a delightful little animation explaining the charms of Il Trovatore, here. This VERY FAMOUS opera has never been on my personal top ten list, but having studied it enough to make this 3 minute show, I can’t help but admire the very beautiful music.
Note that as the opera is 2 and a half HOURS LONG, I have saved you 2 hours and 27 minutes of your precious time! So go ahead and watch some cute kitten videos!

Read Full Post »


The Royal Opera offers streamed shows, at a VERY good price: $3.43. Here in the states the ticket for a streamed event is often as much as $35! So I snapped up a ticket for the 2015 Marriage of Figaro–and was charmed with it.
Long long ago, I took a course in opera at Cornell, and Marriage of Figaro was the first one we studied. It is a long complicated opera, with many many characters, and a very silly plot. One simply stunning plot point: Figaro is being sued for an unpaid loan, the penalty for which is marrying the woman who lent him the money.
But GUESS WHAT! It turns out that she is HIS MOTHER!
So they won’t get married. She marries the lawyer instead–who it turns out is HIS FATHER.
But WAIT, there’s so much more!
There is the Count, longing to pinch every female bottom in sight, and there is the page Cherubino–always sung by a woman–hiding in the closets of various lovely ladies, the Count seeking him in a perpetual jealous rage. And the sad Countess, watching her husband misbehave.
As the opera starts, Figaro is admiring the new room the Count has allotted to him and his soon-to-be-wife Susanna–close by the Count’s room, so handy in case the Count needs him!
So handy in case the Count wishes to SEDUCE SUSANNA, Figaro’s soon-to-be-wife points out.
Jealousy, anger!
And on it goes until the Count, completely undone and shamed, kneels before his wife and begs her forgiveness–“Contessa Perdono“–one of opera’s most moving moments.
This production starred tall dark and handsome Erwin Schrott as Figaro; he entertained us all with his antic gestures and silly business–and his absolutely beautiful voice.

And there was a lovely moment at the very beginning, as the orchestra launches into the overture–the curtain rises, and a group of servants hasten in, and start opening the tall shutters–and lo! light streams in! I sighed in delight!

Read Full Post »

OK, this one is emphatically NOT Shakespeare. But such fun! Everybody loved the original Coming to America of 20 years ago, and this sequel is more of the same–a sweet natured film, with lots of completely wild costumes, and much ridiculous waggery to make you smile. No souls are seared, no blood is shed, no babies or puppies harmed–in short, a lovable entertainment.
We start in Zamunda, which looks very much like America but is in Africa! We know this because there are lions and giraffes and elephants wandering about the garden. Eddie Murphy is engaging in a martial arts exercise with his three lovely daughters! They flatten him, in a loving way. But then sad news–his father is dying. And it turns out that Eddie unwittingly sired a son when he was in America (he was drugged, we do NOT blame him a bit). So off he goes to find and bring back Jermaine Fowler. Who luckily is a very good young man, who insists on bringing his mom–a VERY vulgar lady but with a heart of gold–and his uncle who was like a father to him. Eventually even the wonderful barber shop guys (all played by Eddie and Arsenio Hall, a tour de force) join the throngs at the Zamunda palace for the fabulous wedding party that ends the show. At which Wesley Snipes (playing the odious General Izzi from neighboring country Nextdorio) does a FABULOUS dance, elegantly dressed in a kilt, suggestively swishing the long tail on his sporran.

Read Full Post »

I know I’m forever saying we can’t always be watching Shakespeare.
But that’s not to say that we can’t sometimes be watching Shakespeare!
And last night I watched Midsummer Night’s Dream–the simply charming BBC 1981 version, with Helen Mirren as a radiant Titania, and Peter McEnery as her dark Oberon. And Bottom was played by Brian Glover–so familiar as Campion’s henchman Lugg! And many other familiar faces, as always with the BBC. Of course this is a 40 year old movie, and the color and image clarity are poor–but nevertheless, a delightful vision of the very familiar story. Because I am so familiar with Benjamin Britten’s opera of the play, the words are already in my mind as the actors speak them–it’s odd how music can drill the words into the brain.
They did a grand job with the Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe (“If we offend, it is with our good will!”)–beloved by audiences ever since it was first performed. Theater companies always have such fun with this wonderful play-within-a-play!

The opera version is wonderful, even allowing Thisbe a simply beautiful tune for her ridiculous lament–“This cherry nose, These yellow cowslip cheeks, Are gone, are gone.” This BBC version was swell, with old Glover hamming it up: “Thus I die, THUS THUS THUS.”

There was also an adorable take on the bewitched lovers quarreling in the wood business. In this version, they are pushing each other about and falling into puddles–and at one point Helena is speaking, and both men stare at her in complete mute adoration. An entrancing moment!

And Puck gently lays them all down in magical sleep after all the bellowing, and kisses them gently, so that they wake up with the right partner.
A simply wonderful play.
PS I made an animation of the Lamentable Comedy, see this.

Read Full Post »

Romeo and Juliet Again

A performance of Romeo and Juliet! As envisioned by Matthew Bourne! I had enjoyed his Cinderella, his Red Shoes–so, why not try it? $10 ticket, a BARGAIN compared to the tickets for in-person performances. Virtual performances not quite as riveting, but good enough.
Unfortunately, having bought the ticket, I forgot about it and only remembered this morning that last night I was to have watched this cultural event. NO MATTER! With virtual performances, exact time is of no concern. So I clicked the button, turned it on.
We start with a long talk from Mr. Bourne about how he hesitated to do this, how BORING to do something that everyone has already done. But never fear! He would bring his own special vision…YOUTH..blah blah…
At this point I wandered away and cleared the dishwasher, loaded it with the breakfast dishes. Once the droning voice was replaced by music–Prokoviev’s gorgeous Romeo and Juliet!–I hastened back to my computer.

YIKES! We’re in some kind of asylum, the young dancers all in white uniforms, a brutal guard grabbing Juliet for forced hanky panky. NOT exactly what we signed up for.
The music has been chopped up, changed, as has the story. Of course all the reviews talked about how passionate and contemporary it was. Except for the one that said, “bleak, disturbed, troubled…”

Well, it is that.
But it is also powerful.
Dan Wright, who danced the part of the brutal guard, is simply compelling–a big man with terrifying tattoos and a shaved head. Juliet barely comes up to his shoulder.

There is one scene–a party!–when the inmates are suddenly allowed costumes, and they dance like a wave of the sea. We finally notice that they are beautiful young people.

But I admit that MOSTLY, they are writhing in anguish, their movements harsh and mechanical.
Romeo’s cold beautiful parents bring him to the –asylum? school?–write a big check, leave him there. The other lads strip off his clothes and push him into the white top and white jeans uniform. He meets Juliet–RAPTURE. They smile deliriously at one another, wrap themselves together. But there is never that moment of impossible joy that the wonderful duet in Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet gives us–brings tears to my eyes whenever I see it: the boy’s ecstatic leaps, the girl twirling into his arms.
Bourne’s ending is rather spectacularly ferocious. Blood everywhere!
But I clapped for them–well done! Certainly not the Romeo and Juliet I expected, but my $10 was not wasted.

Read Full Post »

Saturday Afternoon Activities

It turns out there is ONE MORE STEP after you successfully change a battery in your Fios box–you must now RECYCLE this item: a Lead Acid Battery is a very dangerous item which should never be casually discarded! THAT would be the action of a RAPSCALLION.
However, finding where to responsibly discard this item took some time to figure out–some shops accept them.
NOT the one I went to last week, however.
But today I found one, an auto store over in DC. My phone blithely told me to turn left, turn right–but I knew the way. It lies along the road to the gracious cemetery where my beloved lies buried, a place I visit regularly.
The grief that normally keeps me company on this road was kept at bay by the Saturday opera, a 1956 Lucia di Lammermoor–with la divina Maria Callas. I was taken aback by the beauty of the music. Maria and her tenor both sang with exquisite sweetness, and the audience applauded wildly.
The opera has a dire plot–both Lucia and the tenor die–but first she goes completely K-K-KRAZY and kills the bridegroom her vile brother has foisted on her in the place of her lover. Ensues the Mad Scene, and she sings the beautiful aria, “Spargi d’amaro pianto,”in her blood soaked wedding gown! This always brings the house down. It is accompanied by a glass harmonica, an instrument apparently invented by Ben Franklin.

She politely waited until I had dropped off the battery to commence on the heart breaking lyrical masterpiece, and then sang me all the way back to Bethesda.

Read Full Post »

Continuing on the virtuous Cultural Enrichment path (while patiently waiting for the 3rd episode of Mandalorian) I bade Marquee fetch me some lovely BALLET, and up came Dream, the Frederick Ashton version of Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a VERY truncated treatment of the story, with no Theseus or Hippolyta, and no business with angry fathers. Mostly, it’s just Oberon and Titania and Puck, the 4 lovers —and a simply wonderful scene with the rude mechanicals–adorable acrobatic silliness. Bottom translated wears not only a splendid donkey head (with moving lips!) but also POINTE SHOES. Which, the dancer (Bennet Garside) remarked, gave him a deep appreciation for the ladies who dance long ballets in them. Painful, rather.

Oberon came down rather hard from a step, and I thought, who is this clown? But then he leapt back into the air with such grace, such strength–and suddenly I saw that it was gorgeous Steven McRae under all that makeup and glitter. His Titania did not charm, however–Akane Takada is a fine dancer but her face is too thin, her teeth too big. You’ll say, what a MEANIE you are, Hope, but there it is. I tried to love her but in vain.
But Puck! That shrewd and knavish sprite who cannot resist mischief, Oberon’s dear jester–“How now mad spirit!” Puck was danced by Valentino Zucchetti, who smiled deliriously as he bounded across the stage, leaping and spinning with astonishing athletic power and joy. And he has little HORNS!

Midsummer Night’s Dream has had a million different shapes and versions–I have seen it as theater, dance, opera–wonderful shows!
And now this one takes its place in the parade.

Read Full Post »

La commedia è finita

Sometimes popular culture is too wild, too frantic–too filled with sound and fury signifying nothing.
Sometimes, one needs the engrossing entertainment that only antique tradition can offer.
So there I was, watching Cav and Pag–Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, to those unfamiliar with the wonderful world of opera–as performed by the Royal Opera of a couple years ago. Both are stories of violent jealousy and its terrible punishment. YES, sound and fury, but significant sound and fury.
Cav is set in Sicily, and in the final scene between the two furious men, Turiddu BITES Alfio’s ear, which we are told is a Sicilian custom indicating that the fight will be to the death. And it is, and the story ends with Turiddu lying in a welter of blood while the grieving villagers cluster around, and his loving mother weeps. She was played by a lady who bore an odd resemblance to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Perhaps it was just the bun and the spectacles.
Pagliacci is famous as the clown who laughs while weeping inside.

I saw a version once where he sings his famous aria looking intently into a make up mirror surrounded by little lights, only the mirror was empty, and he sang directly to us–heart stopping, rather.
His wife Nedda is cheating on him, his heart is breaking–and the story plays out during the show within the show, with Columbine (=Nedda) and Harlequin playing their parts to the merry laughter of the audience, while Pagliacco becomes more and more wild. It does not end well: there he stands on the stage in the little town, surrounded by ruin.
FINE shows, both of them.

Read Full Post »

Tales of Hoffman

Designers LOVE this wonderful opera-SUCH scope it offers for deliriously AB FAB costumes and sets.
AND, by the way, the music is completely lovely.
I have just watched the Royal Opera performance of it, with bad boy Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffman–such a voice! Owing to an unfortunate failure to comport himself properly, this honey voiced tenor has been banned from the world’s stages. Of course one laments his lack of propriety, but this punishment falls on us as much as the sinner himself. He has the voice of an angel, is handsome, slim, young. Sigh. In the bad old days, pinching chorus girls was fairly standard behavior. Not any more.
The opera starts with everybody in a bar drinking riotously–welcoming Hoffman in and insisting that he sing them a song, which he does. And then–I always love this bit!– he loudly announces “Peuh! Cette bière est détestable! Allumons le punch! Grisons nous! Et que les plus fous roulent sous la table!*” Followed by a wonderful rollicking brouhaha, everybody drinking and carrying on the way we would all like to do these days but can’t because of the horrid virus. Then Hoffman tells them the story of his 3 loves, which is the story of the opera: Olympia, the ridiculous doll; Giulietta, the sumptuous courtesan, and Antonia, the virtuous but dying singer.

Each act has a simply wonderful song–Olympia performs her party piece, Les oiseaux dans la charmille, watched by her proud creator Coppelius (a ballet was made of this story). And then there is the gorgeous barcarolle from the Venice act–“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour, souris à nos ivresses.**” The third act has the scene that always thrills me, when Dr. Miracle displays his bottles of deadly medicine to Antonia’s horrified father–Hoffman hiding in the corner–and the three men sing a stunning trio, a pale echo of which I have uploaded here. The doctor AND the three other villains were all played by baritone Thomas Hampson, with such verve and delight! As the doctor he was particularly charming, with his mane of gray hair and his black painted fingernails. He so enjoys his vile wickedness!

In the end, Hoffman has lost all his three loves–BUT, he has his lovely muse, who has steadfastly remained with him throughout all his misfortunes. So that’s all right, you see.
*POOH, this beer stinks–let’s light the punch! Let’s get drunk! And may the craziest of us roll under the table!
**Beautiful night, oh night of love, smile on our drunkenness..

Read Full Post »

I have written about Billy Budd before, here–the brilliant opera by Benjamin Britten on the story by Melville; the libretto written by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier. Because I listened to it so obsessively in my youth, it is written into my brain. I love this opera.
Marquee Arts TV offered me a version of it, presented by the Teatro Real in Madrid, production designed by Deborah Warner.
Well, the singing is simply beautiful, the acting fine! But the design did not win my approval.
Ms. Warner has devised an enormous jungle gym, with many many ropes and ladders languidly hanging about, a bit of the stage suspended from some of them–this so that the furious mariners can madly SWING their superior officers back and forth in the last part, thus demonstrating their rage. There was some sort of large sail raised, there are hammocks.
But you know what? The lines and ropes of a real ship are exact and beautiful, which Ms. Warner’s cat’s cradle was not.
The cast is dressed in some semblance of modern naval uniforms, except for the sailors who are in t-shirts and pants–and they mostly take off their t-shirts.

Naked-Guys-R-Us! At least Billy politely puts his t-shirt back on for his interview with Captain Vere, who was movingly sung by Toby Spence–a little young for the part perhaps, but he managed very well.
In no navy on earth would a captain invite his officers in for a drink and greet them–in his bathrobe. With his naked breast much in evidence. He was in his bath earlier, shielded by a towel held by a ship’s boy when he rose from it (naked guys a theme here, as I said). Billy was sung by Jacques Imbrailo, who has a beautiful voice and a sweet face. Not as beautiful as an angel perhaps–as Billy is meant to be–but easy enough on the eyes.
But there was one part of the design that worked extremely well, and that was malevolent John Claggart, the terrible master at arms. Brindley Sherrat, a powerful baritone, sang this role, and he was excellent. Balding, bespectacled, thick-bodied.

He stands in the dark and sings, “I, John Claggart, Master-at-Arms upon the “Indomitable”, have you in my power, and I will destroy you…I will destroy you!”

And that is exactly what he does. Makes your blood run cold.

It is such a grim story, but finally, as an old man, Captain Vere is able to forgive himself, singing that he can go back in peace to that time–“years ago…centuries ago….when I, Captain Fairfax Vere, commanded the Indomitable.”
And the curtain falls.
And then rises for the cast to make their bows–and there must have been about a hundred men on the stage. Not a woman in sight, but that is the way it was in the navy in Napoleonic times. I clapped for them, sitting all alone on my couch. Well done, excellently well done, men!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: