31 October 2006

Tale from the Crypt

Happy Halloween. I see the disadvantages of the holiday; as my oldest sister once said, “Why don’t we have a day when people don’t dress up like freaks and make noise?” but when I moved into my house about eight years ago I enjoyed handing out sweets; any other day of the year handing candy to stray children would get you arrested, but on this day this random act of kindness is beloved tradition. Or it was until the last few years. I had fewer and fewer trick-or-treaters, until one year I was calling the Dads up from the sidewalk and giving them candy and dumping bags into the hands of teenagers who weren’t even wearing costumes. I decided to give it up after that, so today I will simply post a tale of terror:

I read Campbell Vertesi’s recent entry on awkward uses of opera arias (link to the right, people!), which also refers back to an entry by the upstanding young men of Wellsung about an awkward experience with a chorus performing Salome and real-life fifteen-year-old dancers.

This put me in mind of a similarly scarring experience I had, though it doesn’t involve opera but rather opera’s stepchild, the musical (and not even opera’s stepchild: opera’s stepchild’s bastard offspring, sitting vacant-eyed and snapping gum on the steps of the trailer while waiting for Uncle Pa to bring home some road-kill squirrel for supper: yes, the rock musical). This was back in the 1970s, when many Catholic churches were making an ill-advised attempt to ignite interest among the young people (who were all the rage back in the day) by using pop songs as hymns.

Do you remember Godspell? Do you remember “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (“Him” being Jesus), which includes such lines as “and I’ve had so many men before / in very many ways, He’s just one more”? Well, you would never forget them if you heard them sung during mass by a chubby pubescent girl, awkwardly swaying in front of statues of the holy family.

I’ve been trying to think of something to add, but the renewed moment is searing my brain pan. Let me just say: Palestrina or silence, please.

Addendum: I've just been informed that "I Don't Know How to Love Him" is from Jesus Christ Superstar, not Godspell. Same difference, but I do like to be accurate.

30 October 2006

Dutch Treat

My favorite production as a production at the Bayreuth festival was oddly enough the opera I was least excited about seeing, Der Fliegende Hollander. I really like it, but I wouldn't travel halfway around the world to see it on its own, and I would have been thrilled to hear Tannhauser or Lohengrin in its place (not Meistersinger -- I wobble a lot on that one). But this production (directed by Claus Guth) was sharp, imaginative, and suggestive. The setting was an Escher-like living room, divided in half by a huge staircase sweeping up the left side of the stage, with the upper portion of the room the mirror image of the bottom. The Dutchman (John Tomlinson) and Daland (Jaakko Ryhanen) were also mirror images of each other. The spinning maidens were a choreographed chorus of almost-identical platinum blondes with bright red lipstick and the same dark dresses; they looked like shopgirls from a 1930s film. I can't even describe how effective they were on stage, almost bringing down the house as they sang beautifully and moved in unison. They looked both normal and slightly menacing and off-putting, as the somewhat awkward brunette Senta (Adrienne Dugger) moved spacily among them. You could see that she never fit in; no wonder she was drawn to the romantic image of the doomed wanderer. The sailor chorus had the same effect of looking both conventional and grotesque; some of them were in painted half-masks so that at first glance you couldn't quite tell where the grotesquerie was coming from, until you realized the unnaturally puffed-out roundness of the upper half of their faces was due to the mask. They looked like marionettes, with their herky-jerky movements. The chorus is not a huge feature of most of the operas in the festival, but they did themselves proud when they did appear.

The resemblance between the Dutchman and Senta's father was used to suggest a psychosexual disturbance as the cause of Senta's obsession. Afterwards I heard some of the audience object to this, sometimes from sheer boredom at the inevitability of such an interpretation these days, and I respect the groans at yet another molestation motivation being slapped on a work, but I thought it was handled delicately enough so that it was suggestive rather than reductive: you could read it as a case of molestation if you were so inclined (I wasn't, particularly), or you could just see it as an indication of Senta's troubled relationship with the most important male in her life up to then, her father (who, as a sea captain, would also have been something of a wanderer), being projected onto another wandering seaman. A contemporary audience probably needs such an understandable motivation, instead of simply being presented with these odd events. Perhaps our post-Freudian insistence on theories of motivation has made us less subtle and realistic than the Romantics: instead of labelling and reducing the inner life into an acceptable because categorized form, they presented the rich and strange phenomena of life, open to poetic interpretation.

blogroll logroll

I have actually managed to figure out how to post links. Yes, I know most people set those up the first day. Minimalist or moron? Luddite or lame-ass? These are really more koans than questions. To distract yourself while you try to figure out the sound of one hand clapping, mosey on over to the right side of the page to check out the following:

A long-overdue link to The Standing Room (Singing and Parking in San Francisco). What with the singing, the parking, and the standing, three activities in which my skills are well below the acceptable, I am dazzled and can only tip my Red Sox cap in that direction.

And another Shakespeare-named blog, Lisa Hirsch’s The Iron Tongue of Midnight; muchas gracias for the linkage. You can also find Lisa at sfcv.org, the San Francisco Classical Voice.

And a shout-out to basso profundo Campbell Vertesi, who stumbled onto my blog and sent me a nice note this weekend. Someone out here please hire this guy so I can hear him sing. Also, it looks as if Campbell is getting married soon, so best wishes for a long and happy life together to Campbell and Bryn.

You may now resume your regularly scheduled browsing.

regie theater

I try to avoid posting in language that would, as they used to say, bring a blush to the cheek of modesty, but I realized this morning that yesterday's entry used the words "fucking," "shit," and "blow job." But these words arose organically from the subject, because I was talking about . . . Parsifal. . . .

29 October 2006

Swan Dive

This is going to be long, but I find that so suitable for Parsifal. . . .

Digression One: Mein lieber Schwan!
My first viewing of Parsifal was in the form of the Hans-Jurgen Syberberg film, at Boston's long-gone Exeter Street Theater (a handsome romanesque revival building that was first turned into a furniture store -- sort of a proto-Ikea -- and then a Waterstone's bookstore, which is what it might still be for all I know). I had heard the music but didn't know the story in any detail. I nodded off briefly. (This had nothing to do with boredom; my body will sleep when it's tired no matter how interested I am in what I'm doing.) When I came to, Gurnemanz was berating Parsifal at length for shooting a swan. And I thought: what's the deal with the swan? Was it a very special swan? Why are they so upset?

Once VCRs arrived, I rented Syberberg's film again (the sweet beauty of VCRs: if I fell asleep, I could just stop or rewind the film). This time I was there for the whole swan incident, but I still didn't really understand the intensity of the reaction from Gurnemanz and company.

Several years later, I had spent a mostly sleepless night once again, tormented by the mechanical thumping of numerous stereo systems (I was living way too close to several colleges, among them Berklee). I was preparing to go for an early-morning run along the Charles River, hoping exercise would at least reduce my disgust with everything around me. Across from my apartment I saw a flock of pigeons pecking snacks from the trash left in the gutter. A group of little boys was walking down the sidewalk, spotted the pigeons, and immediately ran towards them yelling, just to frighten them away. Why? Why not leave the birds in peace? Why not enjoy their iridescent neck feathers and just go your own way? The children saw something smaller and weaker and had to disrupt it, just because they could. My disgusted mood only deepened.

I won't claim I made the connection right away, but eventually I realized that's why Gurnemanz is so angry when Parsifal kills the swan: he didn't need to. He saw something flying along and shot it for the joy of killing. I hadn't missed something special about the swan. It was a sentient being, and it needed no more sacredness to make killing it a sin. When Parsifal breaks his bow after the rebuke, the wrathful Gurnemanz doesn't pay much attention, but it's a major step in the holy fool's moral development.

This is the way the meanings of Parsifal have come to me, slowly, in irregular bursts. Parsifal has always fascinated me, but I won't claim even now that I, or anyone, can completely understand it as it vibrates deeply in our hearts.

Nonetheless (on to Schlingensief's notorious interpretation, my first opera at Bayreuth), I feel free to say that this production got it all completely wrong. Much as I love to sneer at overly conservative opera audiences, I have to give them this one. I hardly know where to start. I'm tempted to say Parsifal is all about sex and the production isn't sexy, and leave it at that, but there's so much more.

The setting was sort of a cargo cult/Heart of Darkness/junkyard mishmash that rotated around, though each section looked roughly the same, so Monsalvat and the Grail Hall and Klingsor's garden and the flowery meadow for the Good Friday music all looked pretty much the same. There was no development in the characters either. Parsifal and Kundry both have doppelgangers who (respectively) baptize or wash feet or whatever long before the character has reached that stage. Gurnemanz, not Parsifal, breaks the swan-killing bow, thereby completely missing that Parsifal has made a leap forward in understanding another creature's suffering.

And then there are the bunnies, eviscerated, decaying, or just hopping around in projections. The day after the performance I was speaking to a woman at the hotel breakfast who was with the southern California Wagner Society. They had gone to hear a lecture about the production (I believe from the director, but the only participant I know for sure is the Klingsor, John Wegner). The bunnies were discussed. Apparently bunnies have many cultural connotations throughout the world, particularly in India. Unfortunately the performance was not happening in India. Here are my associations with bunny rabbits: mindless fucking, Easter candy (hollow except for the ears), Bugs and Elmer Fudd (you see a bunny at Bayreuth, I defy you not to hear "Kill the WAB - bit! Kill the WAB - bit!"), my oldest sister's childhood pet that defecated little round balls of shit and did little else before dying, the song "Don't Be the Bunny" from Urinetown the Musical, and Matt Groening's Life in Hell bunnies (when they brought out life-size blank dolls shaped exactly like the Life in Hell rabbits with big red marks over the genital region, all I could think of was "Could you please show us on the doll where the heil'gen Speer touched you inappropriately? And would you confirm that this caused you a never-easing wound?"). I suppose you could wrap your mind around those associations as an aid to seeing into Parsifal, but you could do that with almost anything (such is the power and also the ambiguity of this myth). The problem with counting on cultural associations that are not native to your audience is that most people are not going to get it, and those who do will do so only because they've been told what to think. They're reacting from specific and not general information: instead of being open to the poetic images and reverberations of the stage pictures, they are slotting them into the previously assigned categories and feeling smug because they are people in the know, people with insider information that is not available to just anyone. A performance should be accessible to anyone who is willing to open up to it and think about it, not just those who have been given their secret decoder rings.

There were lots of projections. I think some of them might have been of the syphilis spyrochete (either I read this somewhere or I guessed: I don't think most audience members, excepting any doctors, would recognize those little squiggly things). I've read that Wagner once confided to someone that Amfortas had venereal disease. But a remark like that must be from the trickster in him: no one could possibly listen to that music and think that ache could be cured with a few shots of penicillin. It's an absurdly literal interpretation in a production that barely pays attention to literal meanings in any other point (even the spear is actually a shepherd's crook; the only standard stage picture was one they probably should have changed, which was dressing Parsifal in the conventional Jesus/Apollo long white robes and shoulder-length blond locks, not a look many men can pull off).

The Grail ceremony was a blood sacrifice enacted by participants from all the major belief systems, from Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish (because Wagner's art is more comprehensive than his tormented mind) traditions. I could see what they were getting at, and it had a certain power, but if the most sacred ceremony involves killing an animal and splashing its blood around, then what difference does it make if an ordinary swan is killed? It makes their reaction in that opening scene as overdone as I first thought it was long ago.

The Klingsor was an obvious case of ignoring the words and actions of the drama. Perhaps Wagner was to blame here for not composing the role for some nineteenth century David Daniels, but even a cursory reading of the libretto will tell you that Klingsor castrated himself (to cure the wound that will not heal) and was cast out from the Grail knights for this destructive evasion of that mighty force; hence his attempt to destroy the rest of the knights with the seductions of the Flower Maidens (showing perhaps that there is no resistance except through his method of self-mutilation). So does it make any sense at all for Klingsor to be not just powerful in a magicky kind of way but obviously the most virile man around? Why would the director have Kundry give him a blow job? I'm not really up on the mechanics of this, but is that even possibly when the man has been castrated? Klingsor (and I should say John Wegner gave an excellent performance) wore little but a loincloth for most of his performance, displaying his forceful, muscular physique, and like the dedicated performer of Othello in Nicholas Nickleby, he had blacked his whole body to play the part. Yes, Klingsor for some reason was portrayed as a black man, while Parsifal, Gurnemanz, Kundry, Amfortas, Titurel, and the Grail Knights were all white. What exactly was the message there, making the evil character black? To my American eyes the only thing genuinely shocking about this supposedly shocking performance was the minstrel-show make-up on a couple of the attendants (complete with the white outline around their mouths). There was a disturbing objectification of black bodies throughout: there was a large black woman who was required to walk around naked except for a little skirt (Kundry's doppelganger mentioned above was a midget, another example of objectifying the different, though all I could think of when I saw her was the outraged outburst of Peter Dinklage's character in Living in Oblivion, who was furious that once again he had to play in a dream sequence because he's a dwarf: "Does anybody even really have dreams about dwarves?").

Digression Two: More Fallout
I'm going to go on several tangents here, starting with Dr. Atomic: I still feel that it is one of the few operas where you can't do color-blind casting, because in a work claiming to deal with the moral problems of that time and place, you can't just pretend that there was no deep moral problem caused by segregation. But I will also admit that part of my discomfort was that the only black singer was cast as a buffoonish general. At least they partially avoided the temptation of making the darker-skinned characters wiser, more truthful and moral; they shoved that silly simplification onto their portrayal of the women. (I say they partially avoided the temptation because there was the American Indian nanny.) Maybe I would have had a different reaction to the black general if there had been another black person on stage, say, Audra McDonald as Mrs. Oppenheimer, a role I believe she going to sing in New York (and I'm going to go all Laurence Sterne and go off on another digression: I heard McDonald at Symphony Hall last spring, and she introduced The Glamorous Life by saying, "I'm going to sing a song from A Little Night Music: no, I ain't gonna sing The Miller's Son" and I realized how rarefied the air was in which it was not even within the realm of possibility that the hackneyed song no one wanted to hear from that musical would be Send in the Clowns; I was giddy on the esoteric heights. . . .). Of course, the whole problem of color-blind casting in Dr. Atomic would be solved if they revised it to be more of a meditative oratorio rather than an attempt to portray the actual events leading up to the A-bomb test, a revision they should undertake anyway.

Back to Klingsor. He not only returns in Act Three, he even regains the spear. According to my informant who heard the lecture, Wegner, who was very committed to the production, said this was to show that Klingsor has also been redeemed, though how and where and by whom is completely unclear; certainly the audience members I heard afterward were completely baffled, possibly because it's the opposite of what Wagner actually wrote. You can make a case for the sympathetic qualities of Alberich -- I personally find him very sympathetic -- but you really can't with Klingsor. If it's so easy to redeem everyone, why does it take so long?

My informant also told me that the naked black woman was cast because she had the exact build of the Venus of Willendorf. I told her I had noticed that (she was duly impressed) but I still found the display of her body exploitative, more like the Hottentot Venus than the Venus of Willendorf. She also told me that the many Arabic verses written all over were new this year; I, having painfully learned that everything is ruled by fashions, told her I had guessed that (she was doubly duly impressed). But there you have this production: there was no way into much of what they did unless you were in the privileged position of hearing personally from those behind the scenes. The performance was undoubtedly sincere and serious in its intention , but ended up looking trendy and wrong-headed. While watching it (from my excellent third row seat, the best I had for the festival) I was increasingly irritated, but as days went by most of the staging was so irrelevant it sort of slid off my memory and I was left with the very fine musical performance. Not a gesamkuntswerk, but not a total loss by any means.

20 October 2006

Apres le deluge, moi (Munich roundup)

I enjoyed my three and a half days (too brief) in Munich though I didn't see it at its best (nor, I suppose, did it see me at my best) -- I was already worn out from Bayreuth and the record-breaking cold and incessant rain didn't help. I like to walk around in strange cities, but not so much in the rain and wind. My last afternoon there it finally cleared up. It's amazing how much more you can see when an umbrella isn't blocking your view. And by then I had figured out roughly where all the circular streets were going, and had adjusted to the difference between small-town Bayreuth, where it's easier to strike up a conversation because everyone has a ready subject in the Wagner festival, and big-city Munich, where the usual indifference, semi-friendly or not, prevails. I had also learned to avoid the outside of the sidewalks, which are given over to bicyclists, who are marginally more considerate than their American cousins but still hazardous to pedestrians.

My first full day in Munich I spent at the Alte Pinakothek, which has art from the middle ages through the eighteenth century. Though much smaller than I thought it would be (I was expecting something along the lines of the Metropolitan or the National Gallery) it's chockful of rich chocolatey Old Master goodness. They have two Grunewalds, which I believe is one more than in the entire United States. They have a plenitude of Rubens; my favorite was the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, in which he gives the saint Judas's traditional red hair, the better to show off fabulous orange, yellow, and reddish lights and highlights from the fire under the grill (Lawrence is the one who was barbecued to his glorious death). Even the subtleties of 21st century color printing can't quite reproduce the light he captured. I teeter-totter between buying inadequate copies of such works or just relying on memory. Another favorite of mine, Memling's Seven Joys of the Virgin, was only available in tiny forms that shrank the crowded delightful canvas down into illegibility. Most of the stuff I like in museums is not what is featured in their gift shops in poster, postcard, or mug form: instead we get yet more versions of whatever Impressionists they happen to own (the Impressionists are the Boheme of the museum world: yes, I suppose it's all lovely, but enough already). In fact I bought a lot of postcards but not much else in Munich; I thought there would be World Cup merchandise all over, but if there was it was hidden from me with tasteful discretion. And at the airport I was unable to find a suitable addition to my collection of Inappropriate Shotglasses: Hummel, you let me down.

My second day there I spent at the Neue Pinakothek, which takes up where the Alte leaves off and goes up to the post-Impressionists. For this museum I used the audio guide, which turned out to be surprisingly informative. (I especially love it when museums get in little digs about their superiority: "Although X painted several versions of the sunflowers/Madonna and Child/mountain scene, the version in [our city] is generally considered [I love that they don't say by whom] to be the original/from the master's own hand/better than the others.") This museum featured more local heroes than the Alte, what with all the German classicists and the Nazarenes. Hans von Marees, who came later in the century, painted shadowy symbolist canvases that were new and very appealing to me.

My third day I decided to forego the contemporary art museum, third in the triumvirate, since there is a certain international flavor to all modern art museums, with their Twomblys and their Keifers and their Warhols, and go for the Munich-specific Residenz, which was the royal residence of the rulers of Bavaria from medieval times down to, as they note with no further explanation, 1918. Walking through the Residenz is like walking through a survey of the major European artistic styles from the classics-venerating, grotteschi-decorated Renaissance to austere but sumptuous neo-classicism. There is an outdoor grotto dating from Shakespeare's time with mermaids and sea creatures formed of pebbles and sea shells, and a royal suite of rooms charmingly decorated with scenes from contemporary (18th century contemporary) German poets, leading to a throne room whose walls are covered with gold leaf (I took a close look and you can see the sheets delicately overlapping each other -- I wish the sun had been out when I was in that room).

By the time I left the Residenz the sun had finally come out and I noticed it glinting on golden highlights throughout the city: jewelry in the shop windows, clocks in the towers, crosses on the churches. I never even made it to the English Garden but the city was still beautifully green with trees and red and pink with geraniums and begonias. It's a remarkably clean city -- it may smell like an ashtray, but it doesn't look like one; I don't know where all the butts and wrappers were going, but they weren't being tossed in the street as in American cities. I walked around the formal garden behind the Residenz and in the round temple of Diana in the middle of the former royal gardens I came across another klezmer band, as I had on my first full day in Bayreuth. The walls inside the temple are decorated with dolphins made out of shells (as in the grotto inside the Residenz) shooting water into the small, shell-shaped fonts beneath them. Several old couples were dancing to the klezmer band, including two old women wearing bright red sweatshirts with Austria! in yellow script across the front. Little children and big dogs were running in and out of Diana's Temple. The leader of the band, a small violinist with permanently bugging eyes and thin short hair, tossed his scarf over his shoulders and kept the band playing until the sun started to get low in the sky, and then he packed up and went home.

19 October 2006

one-point perspective (journeys)

In the crush and rush to leave after the previous evening's Gotterdammerung, I ended up leaving Bayreuth on the 10:00 a.m. to Nuremburg, transferring to Munich. I had intended to take the 11:00 but the ticket seller saw no point to that and put me on the 10:00, which was leaving about two minutes after I got to the train station. (I had shared a taxi with another traveler who had been waiting impatiently for his ride for about half an hour; I figured I'd better take one while I could.) I had to stand through several stops, doing my best to minimize the inconvenience to the snack vendor, the ticket checker, and assorted regular passengers caused by my big suitcases as well as my body in the narrow aisle of the train. People were even-tempered and gracious about the crowded train. I entertained myself by reading the write-up for an Australian Wagner society being composed on his laptop by the man seated on my right; when he paused for the mot juste I turned to the left and watched the three little girls and their youngish mother watching the American in the aisle. I was actually OK with standing, despite my motto "Never stand if you can sit and never sit if you can lie down," since I was interested in the Australian write-up, but when the mother pointed out to me a seat that opened up a few rows up the car I said Danke and went to sit down. It was one of the booth-type seats; opposite me was a young woman and her very young son. About ten minutes away from Nuremburg she asked me (first in German and then English) if I could watch her son for a moment while she used the WC. I said of course and pondered the utter impossibility of any woman anywhere in America ever asking a stranger, a man (a man with facial hair at that -- in the comics that's an inevitable sign of villainy), or a foreigner (much less a three-in-one like me) to watch her child. It's not as if there weren't plenty of people who could keep an eye on me while I kept an eye on him, but I just could not imagine an American woman ever making the request. The little boy of course started crying almost immediately after his mother left. I did my best to comfort him with my little German, and mostly ended up saying "Mama -- ein minute! ein minute!" in cheering tones, once I realized I knew how to say "stay back" but not "come back." We were getting closer to the station and I started to wonder what I would do if she didn't return in time -- I didn't want to miss my stop and connecting train, but I didn't feel I could just leave the boy there. I started to think of the movie possibilities -- sort of a combination of The Lady Vanishes (it's a freaky world out there! normal folk have a hidden darkness!) and The Kid (those adorable, incorrigible antics! followed by hugs, learning), but she returned in plenty of time, we parted graciously, and I went out into the pouring rain to wait for the Munich train.

After days of rain and record-breaking cold, the day I left Munich was gorgeously sunny and clear, with that autumnal crispness in the air. I took a taxi to the train station and saw a bus that went to the airport, so I figured that was a better bet than trying to figure out the trains. As I sat on the bus waiting for it to leave, I listened to the driver's radio, which was playing American pop -- here it would have been called an oldies station. I don't know where it fit on the spectrum over there. "California Dreaming" by the Mamas and the Papas came on. It seemed like such an incredibly obvious choice that I probably would have rejected it for a soundtrack on those grounds.

The line at the Munich Airport was almost as long as the one at SFO that I erroneously stood in (the United agent assured me I was in the right line, and then after an hour I discovered I had to go to a Lufthansa line). But this line only took about twenty minutes, since Lufthansa is fully staffed with people who know what they're doing. United, being an American corporation, is severely understaffed by overworked, undertrained people who can't keep up with the demands on them, the excuse for that being that United has "empowered" us with self-check-in machines, which no one can figure out how to work, so passengers mill around until one of the two employees can come over and help, so that they fall even farther behind in tagging the luggage, which apparently we are not "empowered" to do. But this cost-cutting pays off, because it means the CEO can add an extra million or two to his salary and perqs, which he can use to buy a second vacation house in Aspen, not that he ever uses it, because we're all just too important not to be at the office every day, until the company downsizes and dumps us. Plus they have national health insurance! I was feeling very unpatriotic when I reached the very helpful agent, who immediately told me that he loved San Francisco since "it's not boring like here." I almost said, "But you have the Alte Pinakothek!" but knew that wouldn't count for much. It's all perspective. He very nicely put me into a vacant seat in the emergency exit row. Unfortunately there was a squirmy child kicking the seat behind me, but his mother did the best job she could trying to control him. There was a child across the aisle crying, but though some things drive me crazy (noise-leak from headphones, mostly) I really don't mind crying children too much. That's what children do. I was a weeper myself, and would sob and scream on most flights still if I thought I could get away with it.

Dulles was a nightmare of torrential rain and lumbering vans, which was the only way to get from terminal to terminal, once you actually managed to figure out which terminal you were supposed to be in. I hadn't realized I would need to retrieve and re-check my luggage to go through customs, and after that you're dumped into the concourse without a departure/arrival board in sight. I barely made my flight -- they literally opened the plane door for me (only because they had just that moment shut it). I think that was the only flight I've been on in the past three years that's left anywhere near on time. Of course. I just couldn't stand the thought of being delayed further. I should have been more philosophical, I suppose. I had Paradise Lost to entertain me. I made it back late at night and took the hour-long BART ride unencumbered by my luggage, which didn't arrive until the next day.

17 October 2006

even more pre-order excitement

On November 14, the Peter Sellars production of Giulio Cesare is finally being released on DVD. The cast includes his usual troupe at the time, including Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. I haven't seen the film version, but the live version was one of the most indelible opera productions I've ever seen. I think this was the performance that made me realize Lorraine Hunt (as she was then) was not just one of a number of excellent performers but rare and outstanding even in that company.
Sellars's productions were often referred to in a high-concept way (Orlando in Cape Canaveral! Don Giovanni -- in Spanish Harlem!) but it was usually the quiet, reflective moments that stayed in my memory for years: Hunt as Sesto cutting herself while vowing revenge, or Jeffrey Gall as Caesar holding the cask containing Pompey's head and standing in a pool of light backstage mourning the chances and misfortunes of human life.
The Sellars Mozart productions got most of the attention, but his Orlando (at ART in Cambridge) and his Cesare were just as good or better.
My last pre-order note involved a forthcoming Hunt Lieberson disc; at the time I didn't even know what the pieces were except that Harbison was the composer. It turns out it was a setting of Elizabeth Bishop, who wrote the book I referred to as the year's earlier pre-order cause of excitement. And the second disc was by Audra McDonald, who might be singing Kitty Oppenheimer, a role Hunt Lieberson was originally meant to sing. This is the sort of "small world" chain of happenstance and coincidence that gives conspiracy theorists hope.

Amazon has recently changed its listing of forthcoming DVDs in irritating ways: I saw the picture with Susan Larsen descending for her first entrance but it was weeks before I could get any more information, even a price. I saw a three-disc set listed called "Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution." I thought this might be an interesting examination of the byways and curlicue paths of biology. Or just three hours of lung fish doing whatever it is they do (not much). Or just three hours of Republican party members and Kansas school boards and suchlike creatures. To my disappointment, I think it's closer to the latter: it's some guy going on about creatures that supposedly disprove evolution by their very existence. Ugh. No thanks. If I want to see science mocked, I'll just rent an action movie and watch the hero outrun a fireball.

Elective Affinities 2

Recently I added to my Amazon wishlist the forthcoming DVD of Hamlet (Russian version, with translation by Pasternak and music by Shostakovich). Amazon's follow-up recommendation? The forthcoming DVD of Flower Drum Song.
Duh. Obviously.
Cue up "I Enjoy Being a Girl/or a Sexually Troubled Melancholic Danish Prince out for Revenge."