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Posts Tagged ‘opera’

Malthusian Flotsam and Unspeakable Jetsam, and Other News

March 28, 2016 | by

Photo: Kirk Crawford.

  • Jim Harrison has died at seventy-eight. “You don’t write—an artist doesn’t create, or very rarely creates—good art in support of different causes,” he told The Paris Review in 1988. “And critics have an enormous difficulty separating the attitudes of your characters from your attitudes as a writer. You have to explain to them: I am not all the men in my novels. How could I be? I’m little Jimmy back here on the farm with my wife and two daughters, and, at one time, three female horses, three female cats, and three female dogs, and I’m quite a nice person.”
  • Fact: you, too, can enjoy Aldous Huxley waxing lyrical about a controversial Los Angeles sewage treatment plant. “One day in 1939, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, and two women walk along the shore south of Los Angeles. The weather is beautiful, the beach is empty, and Shakespeare is debated. Then the group realizes that something’s funny about the beach. As Huxley put it in the essay, ‘Like Hyperion to a Satyr,’ they are suddenly walking among ‘ten million emblems and mementos of Modern Love … Malthusian flotsam and unspeakable jetsam.’ The four had found themselves among a sea of used condoms that ejected by Los Angeles’s Hyperion sewage treatment plant. Huxley returned to those shores a few years later, after LA upgraded the plant in 1950. He was overjoyed with what he saw, and what he thought the vista suggested about the city: ‘Another torrent, this time about 99.95 percent pure, rushes down through the submarine outfall and mingles, a mile offshore, with the Pacific. The problem of keeping a great city clean without polluting a river or fouling the beaches, and without robbing the soil of its fertility, has been triumphantly solved.’ ”
  • In America, Joseph Brodsky is often held up as “the poster boy for Soviet persecution,” as Cynthia Haven writes—but a new biography is trying to change that perception: “Ellendea Proffer Teasley, in her short new memoir, Brodskij sredi nas (Brodsky Among Us), offers a different view of the poet. It’s an iconoclastic and spellbinding portrait, some of it revelatory. Teasley’s Brodsky is both darker and brighter than the one we thought we knew, and he is the stronger for it … According to the leading critic Anna Narinskaya, writing in the newspaper Kommersant, Teasley’s memoir had been written ‘without teary-eyed ecstasy or vicious vengefulness, without petty settling of scores with the deceased—or the living—and at the same time demonstrating complete comprehension of the caliber and extreme singularity of her “hero” ’ … Even so, the book has yet to find a publisher in English, the language in which it was written.”
  • Do you want Saul Bellow’s desk? He sat there, wrote some books. And it’s nice—a mahogany roll-top job dating to the Victorian era. A steal at ten thousand bucks. Please buy it. Please, please buy it. No one else is buying it, Bellow’s son told the Wall Street Journal: “I guess space is expensive on the Upper West Side. Nobody’s got room for a giant piece of furniture … I thought, well, this will provoke discussion. But it really didn’t … I’m moving to a smaller place and the desk just isn’t fitting into the plan.”
  • Problem: a staging at the Park Avenue Armory of Louis Andriessen’s 1988 avant-garde opera, De Materie, calls for one hundred sheep. Solution: get the fucking sheep. “Simply getting hold of so many stage-ready sheep was an exceptionally difficult bit of opera casting … The bane of international opera stars is a visa system that can be difficult to navigate. For opera sheep, it is getting the right veterinary certificates, exhibiting permits, humane handling paperwork and the like … Then there was the question of where to house them. The ovine troupers could not sleep at the Armory; could not commute from Pennsylvania; and would not have been welcome at the hotels that usually cater to visiting sopranos. So accommodations were found at the Bronx Equestrian Center, which has stables in Pelham Bay Park. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has jurisdiction over animals in performances, issued a permit to allow the project to go ahead … Then the Armory had to be readied. A backstage paddock was built and soundproofed … ”

There Is a New Record for Most Bollywood Lyrics Ever Written, and Other News

February 18, 2016 | by

"Tu Dharti Pe Chahe Jahan Bhi Rahegi"

“Tu Dharti Pe Chahe Jahan Bhi Rahegi”

  • Lyricist Sameer Anjaan has entered The Guinness Book of World Records—they had to make a new category—for writing the greatest number of Bollywood songs, ever. By the numbers: 3,524 songs, 650 films, 33 years. Writes his biographer, “Sameer was a hit both with the fans and the singers because he wrote songs that did not require dictionary to understand. He wrote in the language of the common people.” Listen to his top twenty-five songs here.
  • In other lyrical news: Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin will premiere at the Metropolitan Opera as part of its 2016–2017 season—the first opera by a woman the company has mounted since 1903.
  • Female spies in seventeenth-century Northern Europe had all sorts of ingenious means of transporting information, writes historian Nadine Ackerman, author of  “Female Spies or ‘she-Intelligencers’: Towards a Gendered History of Seventeenth-Century Espionage.” The women—who ranged from poets to bakers, aristocrats to peasants—were generally considered unsuspicious, even in times of war, and if caught did not face the capital punishment of their male counterparts. In a pair videos, the author re-creates several of their espionage methods: using artichokes and hollow eggs. 
  • In many ways, we are less intrigued by The Vatican Cookbook revealing the Holy Father’s love of pizza than by the fact that such information is “as told by members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.” It seems like breaking some kind of seal, or at least NDA, but no! In fact! “Polish nuns do the majority of cooking at the Vatican, but the Swiss Guard chefs do step in to make food on formal occasions or to fulfill a special request. Though a guard cooking is a rarity, these men know more about the Pope’s eating habits than anyone else, since they are no more than a few steps from him at all times.” 
  • “What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines?” asks Jacob Weisberg in The New York Review of Books. Writing about four new books that plumb different aspects of our dependence on—ambivalent relationship to—technology, he finds that most raise more questions than they answer—we’re still living the answer in real time. 

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Debating Dracula’s Roots, and Other News

February 9, 2016 | by

Photo: Greg Willis

  • Breaking news: Bram Stoker’s great-grand-nephew has rejected a scholar’s recent claim that Dracula hailed not from Transylvania but from Exeter. “People will be surprised and sometimes shocked by my findings, as most of what they now hold true will be proven to be false,” the scholar said humbly. “It’s a bit like finding out who Father Christmas really is.” Dacre Stoker retorts: “Everyone tries to find something a little bit new or different about Dracula, even now, 118 years after it was published, which is wonderful ... But to me it is a bit of a stretch to argue that Dracula came from Exeter.”
  • Maurice White died last week, prompting Sam Lipsyte to remember “some odd family history”: “In 1975, when I was eight, a film called That’s the Way of the World was released in America. Harvey Keitel starred in the story of a hotshot record producer’s struggles with art and mammon. The screenplay was written by my father, the sports journalist and fiction writer Robert Lipsyte, and the soundtrack was by Earth, Wind and Fire, who also appear in the movie as the Group, a band with a groundbreaking sound but not enough commercial appeal … White called my father a few years ago and asked him to write the liner notes for a reissue of That’s the Way of the World. They had some long conversations my father cherished.”
  • Today in improbable connections between Oscar contenders and classic American lit: Mark Mangini, the sound designer for Mad Max: Fury Road, says he put together the film’s aural palette with Melville in mind: “I had this notion that the truck itself was an allegory for Moby Dick … We wanted to personify it as this giant, growling, breathing, roaring beast … It had to be grounded in reality, but we wanted it to be more than that, so we designed whale sounds to play underneath all those truck sounds to embody the real sounds and to personify it … We go into a beautiful ballet-like slow motion sequence as the War Rig upends and turns on its side and crashes. All those sounds, there are no realistic sounds there. Those are all whale sounds and actually slowed-down bear sounds,” He said. “What we wanted to say to the audience was, ‘This is a death. This is the death of the great white whale.’ All you hear as it rolls over in slow motion is the final death rattle of a dying creature. It just felt like the right sound to use.”
  • A. O. Scott’s new book Better Living Through Criticism provides critics with an unprecedented, mouth-watering opportunity to review criticism itself. Christian Lorentzen is up to the task, so much so that he went on a road trip with A. O. Scott just to talk about it: “ ‘To the extent that there’s a polemical thrust that this book has,’ Scott told me, ‘it’s a fairly simple one: in favor of thinking. It’s against the notion that we’re just supposed to have fun. Turn off your brain and eat your popcorn. I’m offended by that. If someone is spending $200 million to make and market a movie, there’s no way you can say, “That’s just nothing.” Plus, it’s two hours of your own life, $15 of your own money, and all the dreams and emotions you bring into the theater with you. Why empty out your own experience? Why be passive about it? Why accept it on the terms that it’s given to you? The book is a plea to be more active, more engaged, and more thoughtful.’ ”
  • Remember when Malcolm McLaren released an opera record? I don’t either, but Stephen Akey does, and he remains really fond of the thing: “If on the radio that day I hadn’t heard Malcolm McLaren’s gleefully debased six-minute version [of Madame Butterfly]—identified by the disc jockey as the first of six workings of Puccini on an album by McLaren called Fans—I might never have known grand opera at all … Fans survives McLaren’s brazen talentlessness because the concept animating it is so ingenious and because McLaren was smart enough to hire accomplished musicians to execute the concept … It may be that Fans is little more than a clever novelty item with classical pretensions, but I think that McLaren’s cleverness points to a profound intuition about opera, namely, that it is (or at least can be) a music of the masses.”

New Myths

September 25, 2015 | by

Sir Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent’s operas breathe life into old stories with new perspectives.

Elizabeth Atherton and Mark Padmore in The Corridor at Aldeburgh Festival. © Aldeburgh Music. Photo by Clive Barda

Opera can sometimes be a gory feast: Strauss’s Salome kisses a severed head before being slain by Herod’s soldiers, Britten’s Peter Grimes drowns at sea after being chased by an angry mob, Tippett’s King Priam is murdered after his entire family has either abandoned him or perished, while Puccini’s Tosca leaps to her doom after her lover is shot by a firing squad. All that violence is usually the bloody result of a quest for love and liberty. Indeed, as Sir Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent’s latest chamber opera, The Cure, demonstrates, the moments we think will be our happiest often turn into our most tragic.

In The Cure, Jason and Medea have returned to Iolcos with the golden fleece so that Jason can finally reclaim his throne. But Jason’s father, Aeson, is on the verge of dying, and so Jason asks Medea the witch for yet another favor—as though killing her own brother to help Jason escape from Colchis hadn’t been enough. “I will give you children,” he says, “Give Aeson back his youth.” Not because Jason loves his father, but because he wants the old man to celebrate his triumph and “sing and dance with us.” It doesn’t get more egotistical than that. Nobody asks the old king whether he wants to drink from the fountain of youth; they simply force it down his throat: Read More »

French Frame Frenzy, and Other News

September 24, 2015 | by

Image via J. Paul Getty Museum / Hyperallergic

  • We’re in the midst of serializing Chris Bachelder’s novel The Throwback Special—a book about middle-aged men who meet annually to reenact the 1985 NFL game in which Joe Theismann fractured his leg on live TV—whose whole gestalt I’ve tried in vain to describe to people. Fortunately, in a new interview Bachelder does my work for me: “The play is just five seconds long, but it has extraordinary density and power. It’s like some kind of astronomical event … Even if you know nothing about Lawrence Taylor or Theismann or the NFC East or the 1985 season or what quarter it was or what the score was, you still have this visceral reaction to this gruesome injury. You can still feel the terrible randomness and chaos. It opens up the awful possibility in our minds that any single play—or any single plan or design—could end up like this. All of this interests me, and the play is useful to me as a writer because it’s so contained and discrete. It’s not like trying to write about an entire game or an entire season … So the play itself is circumscribed and dramatic, but the novel is primarily concerned with it as a locus of nostalgia for these middle-aged men. There is something almost primitively spiritual about their desire to reenact this disastrous play.”
  • Real talk from across the pond: “I was the head of the Piers Gaveston Society, which is the society that David Cameron allegedly stuck his dick in a pig for. I never did that … No one, as far as I know, fucked a pig’s head. But if they had it wouldn’t have mattered (provided it was consensual). Fucking a pig’s head is not what makes David Cameron a rubbish prime minister.”
  • In LA, a new opera called Hopscotch is testing the limits of the genre—it’s set in cars, and the audience has to climb into a limousine to start: “Attendees will be told to show up at their start time at an address along one of three colored routes. Once inside the limo, they will be driven, along with a handful of musicians, for about ten minutes. Throughout this approximately ten-minute ‘scene,’ which, yes, takes place inside a car, a vocalist may sing along with a prerecorded track playing on the car’s stereo, or there could be two singers and an alto saxophone, or the car may drive by a quartet on the street and the sound will be piped into the limousine as it passes … The car will arrive at a location where the group will disembark to witness the next scene, which will take place in a public space. Once that concludes, the group will be ushered into a different limousine, inside which the next scene will unfold.”
  • Today in thoughtful remarks on largely forgotten Portuguese modernist classics about existential despair: pause to remember Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, which is “much more philosophical quandary than it is a novel, and retroactively engineered at that, where various editors and translators arranged the hundreds of fragments and diary-type entries. As a result, no two editions are truly the same in order or content (my edition by the British publisher Serpent Tail Classics was on the slender side, only 272 pages, whereas the Penguin edition is 544 pages). Throughout the course of the ‘novel,’ Soares documents his days as a bookkeeper on Rua Douradores and the heavy ontological and existential musings that weigh down his hours, particularly the disconnect between the vivid world of the mind and the monotony of a daily, work-driven existence.”
  • Art history’s all well and good, but what’s really instructive is the history of the French frame: “Louis XIII was fond of an Italian influence in his frames, while Louis XIV, being ostentatious in all corners of life, preferred the gilding and carving to be as elaborate as possible. Later Louis XV honed it down for more stately, but still very sculptural shapes, and finally Louis XVI favored an even more subdued aesthetic, although it all came crashing down with the French Revolution. Nevertheless, this frenzy for frames had an impact on the exhibition of art across the continent.”

Without Need of Makeup, and Other News

August 4, 2015 | by

SissierettaJones

An 1889 poster for Sissieretta Jones, who sang opera but gave recitals, because she was never hired by opera houses.

  • Some writers take years to finish their novels. These people are fools: writing a novel takes only seventy-five minutes, if you crowdsource it effectively. This Saturday, the sci-fi author Chris Farnell will prove it at a “Geekfest” panel in Heathrow: “the fifty or so attendees of the panel will spend about forty-five minutes collaboratively hammering out a plot, characters and structure. Then, for the next half an hour, each of them will be given one chapter to write, and the results will be collected together, lightly edited, and published as a free ebook.” The book stands little chance of being good—but the same could be said of those that take years to limp their ways to the finish line.
  • Opera has a long and vexed tradition of blackface—and the Met, this season, has finally put an end to their use of “dark makeup,” prompting a reconsideration of the role of African Americans in the opera. “Too many Black artists have devoted their lives to opera, working inside and outside the establishment, sharing their insights, pleasure, and critiques, to allow their art to be sidestepped in this way. Besides more opportunities for Black singers on stage, says Dr. Gregory Hopkins, artistic director of Harlem Opera Theater, there needs to be recognition of works in which Black artists can ‘tell our own stories, without need of makeup, where we’re not being dressed up to look like someone else.’ ”
  • Why is everyone still obsessed with the Bloomsbury Group, a century later? Because it was elitist: “Paradoxically, the idea of the Bloomsbury Group as socially, intellectually and artistically exclusive is bound up with its wider appeal. Close the door and people come knocking … Establishing an explicitly exclusive and anti-populist club is, of course, a long-established route to long-term popularity.”
  • Charles Simic interviews his brother about New York’s jazz scene in the sixties: “[Jackie McLean] told me about his first time playing at Birdland. It was 1952 or something, with Miles Davis. The very first solo he took that night, he was so nervous he stopped, turned around and went back through the curtain at the back of the stage and into the dressing room behind it and threw up. Oscar Goodstein, the Birdland manager, ran in and yelled at him, ‘Get back on stage!’ Jackie goes back out, finishes his solo and gets a big round of applause from the audience. Miles turns to him and says, ‘Man, I’ve never seen that one before!’ ”
  • Today in walking metaphors: hitchBOT, a Canadian robot attempting to hitchhike to San Francisco, was found brutally dismembered in Philadelphia. “We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over,” its creators said in a statement. “For now, we will focus on the question: ‘What can be learned from this?’ and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”