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​​Yesterday I joined my fellow antique citizens for a performance of Cosi fan Tutte (=EVERYONE does it) –a grand performance of Mozart’s fab opera as put on by the Met and delivered to our local movie theater, at a tiny fraction of the cost and vexation of seeing it in New York.
I don’t know why young people are not loving opera, but so it is. Perhaps opera will not end after my generation dies, but I must report that the audience at this event was nothing but whitehairs. And we staggered, clumped, and wheeled our way into the theater.
For this production, it was decided that Coney Island in the 1950’s would be a fun location for the action. Why? Well, opera producers get bored of those damn powdered wigs and gigantic petticoats, I suppose.
The music is completely beautiful–angelic harmonies, amazing singing, astonishing and miraculous. But I was somewhat shocked by the libretto–I am an old lady now, and not as forgiving as I was as a young woman.
The story is about 2 loving couples, under attack by an immoral older man, who persuades the 2 men to disguise themselves and tempt their beloved women to betray them, which they do, successfully. And thus, breaking their own hearts. I have seen reviews saying that Mozart was brilliantly confronting the limitations of the enlightenment, of a world based on reason. Here is what Despina, the star of the show, says:
What is love? Pleasure, convenience, taste, enjoyment, amusement, pastime, fun– it’s no longer love if it becomes a burden and instead of pleasure brings pain and torment.

But that is false, of course. Or at least, false for grown ups. Teenagers frantic for sex may so define love, but surely those more mature would not.
Love is more than sex.
Listening to that heavenly music, I thought, how could anyone believe such crap, despite the gorgeous singing, despite the elegant stage set, despite the charming freak show inhabitants–the snake charmer, the sword swallower, the dwarfs and giants, whose weary cynical faces figured so dramatically in each scene.

Yes, they said, the world is wicked, the world pays us to show how crazy it is—but, you know, the world is not completely crazy. And love is more than pleasure, convenience, taste, enjoyment, amusement, pastime, fun. And this was a mean spirited show, though the music is so wonderful, reminding us that music is how we honor god.

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Today I had tickets to the Mark Morris Dance company, at the Kennedy Center.
I am not a fan of Mark Morris, but I recognize that he has created some truly beautiful moves. I didn’t love his version of Nutcracker (“The Hard Nut”) but it always gets great reviews–other people love it.
This show, called Layla and Majnun, is based on an Azerbaijani opera that has roots in ancient Persian poetry– a sad tale of love lost.

This modern dance adaptation included the Silk Road musicians and famed Azerbaijani singers Alim Qasimov and his daughter Farghana Qasimova, performing on stage.
We heard the whole song cycle before the dancers came out. The music is impressive, dramatic and tragic, long held notes, quavers, odd chords.
Nice, but a little, well, LONG.
The translation was not inspiring:

“My soul is on fire because we are apart
I want to join my beloved…

Then more musicians and more singers came in, and the dancers.
The men wore long blue coats over loose white trousers, and the women wore singularly unattractive orange dresses. It happens that orange and blue is one of those combinations that I particularly dislike, but I earnestly strove to overcome this shaming prejudice.
The dancing is pleasingly symmetrical, with patterns emerging and repeated, handed back and forth between the men and women.

What was odd was how seldom a man and woman actually danced together–no duets here. Constantly, they would surge towards each other and then–pass by.
Morris explains:

“In Romeo and Juliet, the lovers have one night of fabulous teenage sex, and then they die, and that’s perfect. But this is beyond that. And that’s because God eludes them. In the end they drop their bodies and become pure spirit. It’s about infinity.”

Sigh.
Infinity is all very well, but I miss the duets. And, Romeo and Juliet (Macmillan’s choreography, to Prokofiev’s score) has the most beautiful duets in the world.

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In my laudable quest for suitable entertainment I have been sampling the wares of many fine European countries—Italy! Germany! Ireland! And recently, a handsome Swedish actor all dressed up in 18th century gear caught my eye—like a youthful Charles Dance, such a pretty lad.

He was playing a doctor in a show called Anno 1790, a decent chap recently arrived in Stockholm: gentlemen in powdered wigs! ladies in elaborate curls and swirling petticoats! Seemed a good bet.

MY, Stockholm was very dark back then—lit by a few dim streetlights. Very authentic of course, but sometimes hard to tell who it was striding through the streets. The good doctor saved an innocent man from being executed for murder, and managed to keep his hands off the adorable wife of his employer in the first episode. But there was some fairly horrid stuff and the third episode started in such a grisly fashion that I fled to…

SING!

Idiotic and yet very likeable animated film, brimming with all the tedious messages that such films always urge on us (Pursue Your Dream! Everyone is Above Average!) –it’s Let’s Put on a Show, in a city filled with humanoid animals. But actually, rather nice. I particularly liked Johnny the soulful Gorilla.

Idiotic as I said, but rather charming. And there were no children whipped to death which cannot alas be said of Anno 1790. See, that is the kind of plot device that tends to dismay the grannies.

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I am glad to see that Waterhouse’s charming painting of Hylas and the Nymphs has been returned to the Manchester Art Gallery!
After having been removed by stern feminists, who had vowed it would never return.
Heavens, what a bunch of kill-joys. No more cakes and ale! It turned out that the public was outraged, and made their views very clear to the city, which sulkily put it back.
Years and years ago, I wrote a thesis about the Pre Raphaelites–not a very learned one, this was art school after all. But how I loved those paintings, and what a thrill to see some of them on the wall at the Tate, years later.
Lovely things, if not perhaps number one in the taste department.

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The Alvin Ailey dance troupe has just finished its triumphant Washington tour, and I have just returned from watching the show. The theater was packed to the rafters, and many many black families had come to honor the dancers– a very different audience from that with which one normally shares the theater, much more enthusiastic. Cheering and clapping with great good humor at every piece–at every pause even. Not every piece deserved such accolades, but there, let us not be mulish about it.
The first piece (=”Stack-up”) was all bopping and jiving, really splendid stuff, all those dancers out on stage in brilliant colors, displaying such amazing athletic grace, such verve. The second piece (=”Victoria’) not QUITE so fine, the music was squalling away, and there were 3 large white– trees? Constructs? Sort of like the feet of the Eiffel tower. Underneath these edifices, the dancers writhed and moved in astonishing ways but not in ways that one loved so much. I somehow found myself napping a teensy bit. Then, they did a charming piece called Ella, which was simply 2 men moving to one of Ella Fitzgerald’s ridiculous scat singing pieces, silly stuff but very lovable. The audience ate it up. Lastly, they did their standard piece, Revelations, dances to a bunch of spirituals, which seemed to be what most of the audience had come for. Good enough stuff, deep pliés in long skirts sort of thing. But the LAST one was something else–Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham! Worth the price of admission right there. The ladies came on, all dressed in bright yellow dresses with matching hats and fans, holding stools in their hands. And they quivered the fans, and set down the stools and sat on them–and, wow, such moves! And then in came the men, all dressed up with pants and shirts and vests, and my, how they danced!

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Ballet

Tuesday night was ABT night at the Kennedy Center! This time I made it without any undue excursions to Virginia, in a calm and tranquil manner– SO different from a previous event which one has simply REMOVED from memory.
SO embarrassing.
Having parked for a thrifty $16 across the street (MY it was COLD–a short walk but very horrid) I entered the hallowed halls and strolled to my seat.

First on the program was Serenade After Plato’s Symposium, music by Leonard Bernstein, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky–supposedly an “abstract exploration” of Plato’s themes. All men, except for one electrifying moment when a woman suddenly appears, dances with one of the men, and then disappears. Women=transitory. Thanks for that revelation, Plato! There was some astonishingly beautiful dancing, though if you’d told me they were celebrating the third snowfall of 2018 in Prague or the invention of moveable type I would probably have bought it.


After Plato came a little Chopin, choreographed by Jerome Robbins: a huge grand piano on stage and two lovely dancers doing charming dances to 4 mazurkas and 1 waltz.

Very nice, if not particularly inspiring.

Then came the Challenging Piece–danced to music by Philip Glass, who is not one of my favorites, but let us not be cantankerous for heaven’s sake. The dancers worked hard, and they are very nimble–those beautiful bodies, in perfect alignment, so strong, so dedicated. Misty Copeland starred, a lovely young woman whose excellent moves have made her a principal at the ballet. Apparently this was a role previously reserved for white and Asian women. Her life has not been easy–but dance, dance, she wanted to dance and there she was on stage, those fabulous legs sending her flying like a bird in the air.

Then came the last piece, to music by Benjamin Britten, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon–both favorites of mine. Which was why I was there on a Tuesday night, dooming my Wednesday at work to frightful yawnings and fatigue. The music was so fresh, so engaging, and the dance so fascinating–I was mesmerized. Here is a bit of it–a little fuzzy, but you can see the patterns, the charm: the reason for spending all that money, for leaving the house to travel the wintry world, for facing all those unfriendly people.
Ballet is just so beautiful.

Then back across the freezing street to the garage and home.

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To those who claim I am impatient and intolerant let me just point out: I WATCHED THE ENTIRE MOVIE OF CLOUD ATLAS.

You will ask why on earth I should undertake such a thankless task.

Well, the alert movie watcher quickly understands that the actors have been persuaded to take many different parts in this large trundling drama, each one with its own particular makeup–some of which are so shockingly horrid as make one gasp with outrage! For instance, here is the actor who played Elrond in LotR, garishly tweaked into an oddly ghastly Asian.

So, so…wrong. ALL the actors have been similarly maltreated, but the process which turns westerners into pseudo-easterners is the most vicious. The parade of unbelievably bad transformations was mesmerizing, and it was the game of guessing who they were that kept me watching. For instance, Hugh Grant appears as Greedy Oil Tycoon—and then, as Gruesome Hawaiian Cannibal Chief!

The hours these actors spent being painted and glued—well, well, they get well paid for it, I suppose.

The worst trick is the one played on poor old Tom Hanks—oh my! He looks worse in every get up (SIX of them), and in the persona of a Simple Native sometime in the ghastly future, he not only looks terrible, but he speaks in an ineffably embarrassing sort of Peasant Slang, which a kindly watcher might wish to simply mute the sound on: “Oh, lonesome night. And babbits bawling, the wind biting the bone . . . The fangy devil, Old Georgie hisself. Mm. Now your ear up close, and I’ll yarn you about the first time we met, eye to eye.

Sigh. Still, I patiently watched the whole thing.

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