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Posts Tagged ‘Verdi’

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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Staff Picks: Genet’s Maids, Hockey, and Vivaldi

April 13, 2012 | by

I recently took out a subscription to National Geographic. I haven’t really looked at the magazine since childhood, and with the very first issue I received a couple months ago, I couldn’t believe I’d been away so long. NatGeo’s known for its photography for a reason: the imagery in these stunning, often unearthly shots seems tangible. My favorite so far is a portfolio by Phyllis Galembo of African and Haitian ritual costumes. These are a long way from your typical African masks. “Just putting one on,” says one art historian, “is a charged event.” —Nicole Rudick

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the NHL postseason! Grantland's Katie Baker, making predictions for the opening series of the Stanley Cup playoffs, picks Tupac’s “Hit 'Em Up“ as the representative song for the first-round “hatefest“ between the Penguins and Flyers (which, for those unfamiliar with current hockey events, is a perfect fit). —Natalie Jacoby

Dinners for Beginners, written in 1937 and out now from Persephone, is “for people who know nothing about cooking. At the same time, it is intended for all those—whether they can cook or not—who appreciate good food and like to entertain their friends, but cannot afford to spend more than a strictly limited amount of money on housekeeping … The authors have tried to write a cookery book that EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. No knowledge is taken for granted. The beginner is not expected to know by the light of nature how to make gravy, sauces, or pastry; she is told when the lid of a saucepan or fireproof dish ought to be on when it should be off.” —Sadie Stein

This weekend I am checking out a new production of The Maids, Jean-Paul Sartre’s alleged “favorite play ever.” Loosely based on the Papin sisters, French servant girls who brutally murdered their employer in 1933, Maids was penned by notorious thief-turned-playwright Jean Genet. Get a taste of the sadomasochistic weirdness in this clip from the 1974 film adaptation. Running through Sunday. —Allison Bulger

Vivaldi’s “Spring” while reading The Clouds by William Carlos Williams. An unlikely pair, I admit, but it works: Williams’s images of the forever changing clouds marching across the sky, set to the whimsy and flux of Vivaldi’s classic, which captures so perfectly the feeling of this season—inherently a march of change. Try it. —Elizabeth Nelson

Hard as it might be to choose a favorite Dick Cavett interview, I always find myself returning to his talks with movie stars and directors. From the rambunctious episode with Peter Falk, Ben Gazarra, and John Cassavetes to erudite study with Jean-Luc Godard to the relaxed reminiscences of Katharine Hepburn, there's never a dull moment. —Josh Anderson

The Met’s production of La Traviata is live in HD this Saturday. I can’t wait! —S. S.

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Maurice Sendak on ‘Bumble-Ardy’

December 27, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Maurice Sendak. Photo by John Dugdale.

Maurice Sendak is set to publish his first full-production book since Outside Over There (1981). For the past thirty years, Sendak has been collaborating with other writers, illustrating old texts, designing sets and costumes for opera and ballet productions, creating advertisements and book and magazine covers, and making the occasional HBO cameo as an old-world rabbi. But with Bumble-Ardy, Sendak is reemerging in the form that he has, since 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are, come to define: childrens stories.

Bumble-Ardy is a pig, raised by an aunt, who is built like a house and who lives in a house that looks like a ruin. This aunt is doing her best with poor Bumble, a child who was orphaned when his parents “gorged and gained weight. / And got ate.” That tragic turn of events may have been for the best, as Bumble’s lousy parents never once got around to throwing the boy a birthday party (his birthday is June 10, the same as Sendak’s). So, on his ninth birthday, Bumble secretly invites over terrifying hordes of local swine, who arrive in disguise for a bacchanalia of “birthday cake and brine.” The party ends in hoggish chaos, in tears and threats of slaughter—and, finally, with a measure of forgiveness.

Why the decision to go with a pig? Why not a hedgehog?

I’ve always loved pigs: the shape of them, the look of them, and the fact that they are so intelligent. I think I like them more than I like little human boys. The prospect of drawing pigs was something I could look forward to, and I needed something to look forward to. This project was done under very difficult circumstances. Somebody very important to me was dying painfully, horribly, slowly, and it leaves you questioning everything. Read More »

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