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Posts Tagged ‘opera’

Drunk in Love

March 26, 2015 | by

Sixty-four years later, The Tales of Hoffmann continues to delight and perplex.

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A still from The Tales of Hoffmann.

Lovers of the recherché have flocked to see Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 Tales of Hoffmann at Film Forum, where it’s still showing for one more day. In a newly restored print, the film’s fantastical mise-en-scène and extravagant polychrome glory assault viewers head on for a hundred and thirty-three minutes. At each screening, Martin Scorsese introduces Hoffmann in a videotaped homily, during which he confesses to an “obsession” with the film, having first fallen for it, strangely enough, when it aired in black-and-white on Million Dollar Movie. Most critics rave or rant, or both, about this odd work. The amiable William Germano, the author of a smart, slim volume about the film for the British Film Institute, spoke at the screening I attended, and his was one of the more measured, sanguine appreciations: “Whatever Hoffmann was, there had never been a cinematic creation quite like this one.” Read More »

“A Noisy Cavalcade of Fraud,” and Other News

February 5, 2015 | by

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“Ingenious mendacity” ... How much do you have?

  • A reminder from literature: capitalism was always a disaster, even in the days when virtue and commerce were thought to go hand in hand. “The gentlemanly capitalism we were brought up to believe in was, if not wholly mythical, a sideshow in a noisy cavalcade of fraud, theft, and what Walter Bagehot called ‘ingenious mendacity’ on all sides … We should return to the pages of Dickens and Trollope to remind ourselves that there were wrong ’uns at every level and turn of nineteenth-century commerce, from crooked agents, clerks, brokers, and jobbers to ‘lords on the take, knights on the make’—and that ‘the thieves were often difficult to distinguish from the legitimate,’ to the cost of the ill-informed and gullible investor and customer.”
  • In Donetsk, Ukraine, as artillery continues to barrage the city, the show must go on. “The persistent shelling was barely audible through the thick stone walls of the Donetsk National Academic Opera … The highly regarded opera continues a regular schedule of weekend performances, as does the neighboring dramatic theater. Performers at the popular Donetsk circus, having finished their New Year’s routines, are planning a new round of shows in February. The planetarium open every weekend. Many cinemas are operating.”
  • Akhil Sharma on Chekhov the journalist: “Sakhalin Island is the greatest work of journalism from the nineteenth century … It has the pleasure of moving through a physical, distinct world and the keenness of documentary analysis.”
  • Van Gogh, method actor: He began his professional life “in the Borinage, the former industrial and mining region to the southwest of Mons … He originally intended to be a pastor, but the sickly, impoverished mining communities were often baffled by his attempts at asceticism and his clumsy efforts to fit in by wearing rags, blackening his face and sleeping on the ground.”
  • “Many of us have at least one thing we have put our name to that we have later regretted and desperately hoped might never again resurface to embarrass us, something that is far from guaranteed in an age of social-media outrage cycles … Pat Conroy’s novel The Great Santini was such a thinly-veiled portrayal of his tyrannical military father that Conroy’s mother presented it to the judge at her divorce proceedings, saying, ‘everything you need is in there.’ ”

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Political Theater

October 28, 2014 | by

The Death of Klinghoffer and grand opera’s political tradition.

THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER

The Death of Klinghoffer. Photo: Metropolitan Opera

Opera is the most pretentious art form of all time, which makes it an easy target for the Marx Brothers and for Bugs Bunny—but its pretension makes it explosive. And—surprise—even in the wake of the death of City Opera and the Met’s labor disputes, it is explosive in America, where a revival of an American opera about the death of an American against the backdrop of international geopolitics has become a scandal or a sensation, depending on who you talk to. (Whether it’s selling tickets, only Peter Gelb can tell us.)

No recent film or album or musical has caused the kind of agony that John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer has; outside the Met, hundreds of protesters have accused it of anti-Semitism. Its reception makes any real appraisal of its virtues or weaknesses impossible—the same fate that befell, say, Parsifal, Birth of a Nation, Guernica, and Cradle Will Rock, in their times.

Why has Klinghoffer faced such intense hostility? An English friend recently said to me, with enormous authority and disdain, You have no tradition of political theater in America. That statement is absurd, but the following is true: England has Shakespeare’s histories, continental Europe has opera, and America has … Shakespeare’s histories and Europe’s operas. I should note that I ran this by an extremely knowledgeable friend last night, who was distraught at this simplification; We did have a tradition, he said, And it was systematically eradicated and watered down by McCarthyism, and many of us have worked very, very hard to bring it back! He’s right, of course. That said, we do not have an ongoing, unbroken, native, above-ground tradition of accepted political theater. We have musicals, yes, but the musical has never had the direct connection to political power and patronage that the London stage, the Paris Opera, and Bayreuth do. And so we tend to be both overawed by and suspicious of these forms. They have a special status, but their political content is not ours.

Since it’s not ours, we may not understand how inextricably bound the art and the politics are. Carl Dahlhaus’s magisterial book Nineteenth-Century Music turns the usual narrative of classical music—its inevitable march toward atonality and modernism—on its head. Music, he says, was an instrument and an expression of political power, inextricably bound up in economic, class, and religious transformations, and above all in the rise of nationalism. In his panorama, chamber music, the symphony, and solo music fall away, leaving a century of choral music, operetta, and, at the dead center, opera. Read More »

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Endangered Opera

May 12, 2014 | by

The fight to save the San Diego Opera.
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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 »

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Opera As It Used to Be, and Other News

March 13, 2014 | by

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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.

 

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Beached

October 24, 2013 | by

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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 »

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