Archive for the ‘Shows’ Category

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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La Fille du Regiment

It was SATURDAY and once again the mellifluous sounds of OPERA filled the air! The cats are strangely indifferent, but not I. This was Donizetti’s extremely popular Girl of the Regiment, a comedy (=ends happily) filled with cheery melody and a large all-male chorus. In military outfits! Story: the Regiment found the Girl abandoned on a battlefield when she was a baby, and brought her up. She has a boyfriend, who joins the army to become worthy of her. But NO! A Marquise who happens to be traveling by claims the Girl as her niece! And takes her off. But you will not be astonished to hear that love prevails.


This is the sort of show that is often called ‘Rollicking’, lots of cheery waltzes and scripted guffaws, very Gilbert-and-Sullivany. With astonishing technical demands on the singers, including a famous aria for the tenor which includes EIGHT high C’s, to which the more passionate performers often  add a 9th. This never fails to bring the house down. And indeed, in this performance the applause did not stop until the tenor graciously gave an encore. There is something so moving about such happy enthusiasm. As long as they shut up eventually, which they did. Here is Pavarotti singing the aria. My oh my, what a voice that man had.

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La donna è mobile

It’s Saturday–which means, OPERA DAY! Today we are enjoying a performance of Rigoletto, one of those Clowns Who Laughs Though His Heart is Breaking. He is usually outfitted in a jester’s outfit AND he has a hump on his back (than which nothing was considered more humorous back in the dark ages).

STORY: It happens that–UNBEKNOWNST TO RIGOLETTO–his wicked boss, the Duke, is carrying on with the beauteous Gilda (=Rigoletto’s daughter). The Duke’s Henchmen KIDNAP Gilda, with the accidental help of–HER FATHER. Who doesn’t realize they have put a blindfold on him. Dark, rather, he thinks–but NO! It is a blindfold! Curses! So, after the Duke has his Way with Gilda, Rigoletto decides that he must wreak Vengeance. He hires an Assassin, who accidentally kills the wrong person. Rigoletto opens the sack: Heartbreak! it is GILDA. Not QUITE dead, they have time for an absolutely beautiful duet first.
The plot is idiotic, the music is rapturous.

Many years ago I made a little animation of this show, called Dogoletto, available here. Using Flash, which your machine will spurn–but go ahead and click ‘allow.’ It is quite harmless.

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Netflix kindly offered me Hairspray, that old chestnut, and I graciously agreed to the transaction. An amiable show, I thought, a cute fat girl and lots of fine dancing–except–wait, was that Christopher Walken as her dad? And surely that wasn’t Divine as her mom? Heavens, what WAS this show?
AH, it was a remake.
Netflix was not going to offer me the original for FREE. That show has value ($2.99!) Apparently the new show, not.
Well, Walken was fun as he always is, and Michelle Pfeiffer too–but John Travolta in drag, really, les bras m’en tombent. It’s hard to keep eyes on the screen, he is so oddly repellent, his voice wrong, his fat suit off kilter. Walken tries hard but can’t quite bring himself to embrace his frantically chewing-the-scenery wife. Though they do they manage a nice little tango.
Travolta had a kind of greasy charm in his youth, but really, the shade of Divine need not worry. That role of Edna Turnblad is hers forever.

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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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Remember General Tso’s Chicken–that sweet and spicy staple of Chinese restaurants? The kids used to love it and I used to call it meat in jam sauce. Which it is, basically–but recently I found a recipe for it and have made it a few times. And what do you know, it’s really tasty. YES, a certain amount of work, but worth it. That dark spicy sauce, those crispy little nodules of chicken!
So yesterday was easeful Saturday and I thought I would ORDER OUT–something I do very rarely, but which the kids do all the time–and I bade Grubhub fetch me some of that tasty General Tso’s chicken from a local establishment. Alas, NOT a success. The restaurant version–or at least, the quotidian restaurant version–is indeed meat in jam sauce, an insipid sauce which is neither dark or spicy, but rather a sickly red syrup.
Well, I managed to choke it down, but have come to realize that either 1) I have to try this dish from some more distinguished restaurant, or 2) continue to make it myself. Or of course, 3) stick to the old curries and pasta standbys.
And, SPEAKING of General Tso’s chicken, remember that ghastly but irresistible movie called Legend, starring Tom Cruise as a wayward whimsical WOOD ELF kind of chappie, and Tim Curry as a spectacularly horrid Lord of Darkness? Tim Curry’s outfit had him glistening as if he were covered in red syrup–one couldn’t help but instantly picture him as a toothsome nugget in that delectable dish. This unfortunate image has persisted in my mind for over 35 years….

NOTE: There was also a UNICORN and a PRINCESS in the movie. It was exquisitely dreadful.

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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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