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Posts Tagged ‘opera’

Endangered Opera

May 12, 2014 | by

The fight to save the San Diego Opera.

Ferruccio Furlanetto in a publicity still from the San Diego Opera’s Don Quixote.

The half-ton red-velvet curtain fell for what may be the last time on a San Diego Opera performance in mid-April, to a sold-out matinée of Don Quixote. Before the show, patrons drank wine outside, talking about the sad turn of events and snapping photos to mark the occasion: funeral selfies, opera style. In the final minutes of the final performance, Ferruccio Furlanetto—as a lanky and, even by operatic standards, gorgeously expressive Don Quixote—collapsed on a cluster of boulders under a starlit sky, relinquishing his last breath, and with it, his perpetual quest for a better tomorrow.

In March, the Opera’s board of directors voted to fold the forty-nine-year-old company, citing financial problems. After the announcement, which surprised many, came a media storm with all the musical metaphors you could hope for. (Would the fat lady sing? Would there be a reprise?) There were social media campaigns and T-shirts; candlelight vigils; protesters, one in a death mask; a large, last-ditch donation, and a series of smaller contributions from first-time donors; and then there was a genius twist. Someone closely read the opera’s bylaws and discovered that everybody who donated at least $101 toward the current season was considered an association member with voting rights, which meant they could make decisions and recommendations. A second board vote postponed the closure to May 29 and bought some time for fundraising. For the past month and a half, problem solvers have been hunting for ways to keep the San Diego Opera running. Ditch the massive theater? Save the chorus? What is necessary, and what is sufficient, to create opera? Read More »


Opera As It Used to Be, and Other News

March 13, 2014 | by


Lodovico Burnacini, Il Pomo d’Oro, Act I, Scene V, Jupiter and His Court at Banquet with Discord Floating in a Cloud above the Table, hand-colored engraving, 1668. Image via the New York Review of Books.




October 24, 2013 | by


There is something brutal about Philip Glass’s opera. The way it stops and starts, the taunting tease of a story, then the way it’s anything but narrative. Composed of nine twenty-minute scenes, the whole of Einstein on the Beach—first produced in 1976 and shown in L.A. for the first time this month—is interspersed by five so-called “knee plays,” in which two women sit or stand or writhe around on plastic platforms, or search dreamily inside gently moving glass boxes. It’s not easy to watch.

“This was a very American month.”

It’s thirty days since we moved to California after five years in the Middle East and in the darkened pavilion I start memorizing lines. I’m sitting beside one of my oldest friends. I am fearful my glasses will fall from my head. I picture my phone tumbling from my hand—possibly injuring Jack Nicholson, who is seated below—and I think about the car I am borrowing from my mom, parked deep underground, at least until the show is over, a car that is mine until we buy one of our own, or decide to go back.

We started eight levels down, in an auxiliary parking lot under a mall. Space for thousands. Walking to the opera, I’m dazzled by simple things, like the cool hush of an elevator, the absence of tanks, and the clothes people in L.A. wear when they aren’t going to a Dodgers game. The lights go down and two women in black suspenders and white shirts begin to murmur about Toyotas and the price and a certain number of coins. I think about our house in Venice, with its brittle wooden walls and a heater the size of a VW, glowing hot under the floorboards. I think about Beirut, and how far we’lve come since a brutal spring. Dancers curl through the smoke, scissoring around on a dimly lit stage. A boy throws paper airplanes from a metal aerie, and a violinist with grey hair scratches across the strings, both as long as it should be, and about as beautiful as it could be. So far.

“Any one asks you please it was trees it it it it it it it it it it is like that.” Read More »


What We’re Loving: Janácek, Cooke, and Literary Booze

May 11, 2012 | by

My brother-in-law described First Position as Spellbound without the hard words. He meant that in a good way. This story of six kids in training for an international ballet competition is just as touching and absorbing—and almost as funny—as Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 documentary about the national spelling bee. —Lorin Stein

I saw Janáček’s The Makropulos Case on Saturday, and three-plus hours standing has never gone by so quickly. Based on Karel Čapek’s popular 1922 play of the same name (sidenote: Čapek gave us the word robot as we know it), it’s the tragicomic tale of a labyrinthian legal case, a man-eating diva, and the elixir of life. (Intimations of the decline of European aristocracy are in there, too.) The score—and the chatty libretto, for that matter—stand alone, but Karita Mattila’s performance (in what is considered one of the toughest soprano showcases) is worth seeing. —Sadie Stein

Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers not only instructs us on how to get tipsy (or rip-roaring drunk) on William Faulkner’s favorite mintjuleps or Raymond Chandler’s companion gimlet, it also offers us whimsical fodder for our perfect boozy daydreams: “Imagine a warm summer evening out on the shore of Long Island—say a party at Gatsby’s house, the bartenders serving up light, refreshing Gin Rickeys as the jazz band swings.” Yes, please! (Drinking stories and famous imbibing passages included.) —Elizabeth Nelson

For fans of Soviet-era sci-fi, Olena Bormashenko’s new translation of Russian classic Roadside Picnic is being published this month. The book was originally written by brothers Arkady and Boris Stugatsky in the 1970s, but took eight years to get past Soviet censors unscathed and has been out of print in the English for three decades. Now it’s finally back on the shelves, and judging by the praise Bormashenko has received for her work, it’s in excellent shape. The hero of Picnic is a “stalker,” or a go-to guy in the black market of alien technologies that appeared on Earth after the perplexing and ancient “Visit.” And yes, it is the “stalker” of Roadside Picnic that served as inspiration for the spellbinding film by Andrei Tarkovsky. —Allison Bulger

Sam Cooke—Greatest Hits: Here is a singer too often overlooked in the great expanse of pop classics. You can have your ol’ blue eyes, I’ve got nothing against him. You can have your Bing and your Brown. All I need is a little bit o’ Cooke. I’ve been listening to this CD every minute of every day. Though blatantly missing “(Ain't That) Good News,” it makes up for it in the lounge jazz beats of “Win Your Love” and the eerily foreboding “Frankie and Johnny.” The song ends with Frankie shooting Johnny over a misunderstanding. Cooke died at thirty-three under similar circumstances. —Noah Wunsch


The Hobbit Pub Sued, Build Your Own Murakami, and Other News

March 14, 2012 | by


A cultural news roundup.



One New Wagnerite at a Time

April 28, 2011 | by

The Ride of the Valkyries in Robert Lepage’s new production of Die Walküre. Photograph by Ken Howard, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera.

When Mark Twain spent a week attending performances of Richard Wagner’s operas in Bavaria, he complained that “seven hours at five dollars a ticket is almost too much for the money.” But by the end of his ordeal, he conceded it to be “one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.” That was in 1891. This year, the Metropolitan Opera is rolling out a new production of Wagner’s famed four-opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, and I’m here to tell you that whether or not you like opera, this is an experience that is not to be missed. On Friday, I saw Die Walküre, the second of the four operas, and was reminded that the Ring is not only one of the most magnificent achievements of human creativity but also, contrary to reputation, one of the most accessible.

I don’t fully understand why the Ring came to be considered impenetrable. It is long, I’ll grant that. In 1853, having completed the libretto for the Ring, Wagner wrote to his friend, Franz Liszt, “Mark my poem well, it holds the world’s beginning and its destruction.” This isn’t just Wagner’s notorious megalomania speaking. The cycle does tell the story of the origin of human conflict, the destruction of the human world, and everything else in between. Perhaps it’s these enormous themes that are responsible for the Ring’s reputation. But still, they’re nothing you don’t find in your standard myth. Perhaps it’s the dead seriousness with which Wagner approaches his ambitious enterprise that makes him a little perplexing, even suspicious, in these times—he hasn’t a trace of cool irony to protect him against mockery. Thank God.

Whatever the reason, the Ring appears on the horizon like a monumental citadel, but venture just a little closer and you’ll see that the points of entry are as plentiful as the structure is immense. Indeed, because the Ring contains multitudes, you can use it to think through whatever’s on your mind: the environmental consequences of greed, your ugly competitive streak, why Gadhafi won’t just throw in the towel, your latest breakup—it’s all there.

Herewith the half-dozen reasons I’ve been using on my friends to lure them to the Ring

Read More »