Archive for the ‘Shows’ Category

Il Tabarro

I am listening to Il Tabarro, Puccini’s fabulous verismo opera, set in the Paris docks–the stevedores and their wives are the characters.
Reminding us that everyone– stevedores, dukes, kings, bakers, candle makers–are all equally human and deserve our honor and respect: fellow denizens of this world we live in.
This shining recording stars Sherrill Milnes, Leontyne Price, and Placido Domingo–you could not ask for a more gorgeous set of voices for this beautiful music. It brings tears to my eyes, every time.
My friends who have no love for opera wonder why one bothers with this ridiculous art form, so complicated and expensive, so old fashioned. WHY, Hope, why?
I find it completely irresistible, but also I know that it took some schooling, some study, to learn to find it so–and possibly without that bit of help, this astonishing music is just so much caterwauling.
But who can listen to Michele crying out to his young wife: “Perchè non m’ami più?”–why don’t you love me any more? –without being moved? Not I. Simple words, set to magnificent music. It helps to know what they mean, of course–and there are many many translations available.

Here is the recording.
I feel obligated to warn you that this opera does not end happy. But such music!


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Sometimes a really really SHAMING movie tempts me–and so there I was last night, sitting with the cats watching….HELLBOY.
Hellboy is one of those comic book movies with guys in heavy makeup and gigantic muscles, saving the world from very wicked evil doers.
The story is well worn, the noise is extreme, and cars WILL be violently launched into the air.
This was Hellboy 2, in which we are given glimpses of the young Hellboy being tenderly raised by a fatherly John Hurt–and then on to the cigar chomping gun toting adult Hellboy. He may not be the lad you’d wish your daughter to bring home, but his heart is in the right place, and I cannot but find him rather entertaining.
Hellboy 1 was also rather entertaining.
Hellboy is a DEMON created by the Nazis, but rescued by the Americans, and taught by John H to be an all-American good guy. He is embarrassed by his horns, which he keeps filed down to his forehead–part of his daily grooming routine.
Moreover, the director of this romp is Guillermo del Toro, who has made other, more refined movies, such as The Shape of Water, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
There’s no excuse for it, I know. But sometimes, cars crashing through the skies while beefy actors jostle about–not to mention, an evil white elf who does acrobatic sword dancing–is just the thing to keep one awake of a spring evening.

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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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The Shape of Friday

​​Somehow in the very early morning I convinced myself that it was Saturday–and turned off the alarm clock, wakening at a luxurious 7:30 instead of 6. But while in the shower I suddenly realized that no, it was in fact FRIDAY, and so made haste to breakfast and catch the next bus. As I sat on the bench at the bus stop in the brilliant spring sunshine, I read a few emails. AH: there had been an electrical fire at my building, and power was out on the west side.
Now, my office is on the west side.
Should I not just go back home?
But there was the bus, and I thought I would just go in and see if maybe all was well.
It wasn’t–the place was dark, lit only by emergency lights.
So, I returned home and here I am.
This is not the Friday I expected.

Pan’s Labyrinth was a fascinating–and terrifying–movie, as I have mentioned many times before, dark and beautiful.
Guillermo del Toro’s new movie, Shape of Water, is equally dark and beautiful, an odd menacing fairy tale, set in some vision of 1960’s America. Ebert mentions the disagreeable aspect of using real events of that time as backdrops, and it’s true that they stand out blankly amid all the magical elements, but the charming love story of the lady and the beast is irresistible. SUCH a beast! A sort of lovely fish-lizard man, with astonishing powers, as we discover. PLUS, he is able to bring joy to Sally Hawkins, who is quite wonderful as the mute cleaning lady Elisa. How fine she was as the mom in Paddington! Though, the role I remember best was Anne Eliot in Persuasion. To watch her is to be entertained.
She illuminates this movie–which can use the light, MY it is dark, both physically and metaphorically. It ends with Elisa and her lizard love somehow escaping the terrible fate that had seemed inevitable. I like to think they lived happily ever after in Never Never Land, having little lizard-human babies.

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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.”

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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Shows and more shows

Britbox offered me a free week, with the new Maigret as a tempting lure. Well, why not, I thought, and accepted.
Rowan Atkinson has never been so subdued, so totally depressed and low.

Nattily dressed, I own, but there he is, riding around for hours in a genteel car, while murders are taking place in Vieux Paris under the very NOSES of les flics. Moreover, the action is not readily perceivable, as the city is always very darksome and dank (as dictated by the regulations of modern detective series). NOTHING HAPPENS, hours pass by, someone is murdered, hours pass by. A clue is found! Hours pass by.
Then, it seemed Maigret had captured the murderer! YAY! Except then another murder happened. But it was late, I was tired and I went to bed.
The next day I was about to cancel Britbox, but it cunningly offered me Dickensian, an odd melange of Dickens characters set together in a story which starts with the murder of Jacob Marley–well, well, one does wonder why, but such an assortment of excellent actors in fine costumes is difficult not to like.

So I’ll pay Britbox $6.99 a month for now. Those sly baggages.

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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…


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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