Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quelle belle vie!

I don't know if you ever saw this film Aria, I think curated (if that's the right word) by Ken Russell...most of it I recall as schlocky or tiresomely provocative, demonstrating no perceptible understanding of what we love about opera and how it would look if the little stage we each have in our head were projected outward, but this one segment popped into my head this evening for no reason I can figure. I find it exquisite. Hope you do, too. And yeah, that's pre-famous Tilda Swinton. Vocals by Madame Price.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The (passive-aggressive) revolution continues...

Yep, still on the company clock, and so many shows left to have frivolous opinions about!

The one that keeps poking its nasty little snout in my ear, asking to be prattled about is God of Carnage, somehow the toast of the Great White Way*. Which is probably appropriate in some desperately grating way, because I think it's exactly the sort of thing that makes a certain segment of the populace you may or may not have any patience for exhale sharply and say "well I mean really isn't Broadway just a bunch of plays about white people's problems?" (and then they have to run along to Problems in Theory: Kristeva through My Hairdresser Who Has One About Everything, and so the discussion ends there.) Honestly, I don't mind if they do take that kind of shot, as the play doesn't stand up to much better. Mock profundity by means of flitting reference to existential concerns may seem to do when you're discussing a class of people nobody in the audience believes to have much of an inner life in the first place [in the adapted version, Cobble Hill stroller jockeys], but at times it seemed to me nobody would give this thing a second look if the cast weren't so game and able.

What it mostly is is** an easy and not especially novel potshot at the thin veneers of civilization marriage and child-rearing depend upon. What else it is is sure-handedly entertaining, here and there brutally funny and, again, gifted with a cast that has seemingly rolled up their sleeves and committed to a roll in the mud for four, in a way it's tough to find fault with even if it's not the very highest quality mud. Gandolfini manages to be a compelling brute without being You-Know-Who; Marcia Gay Harden flinches not once from being head-explodingly irritating; Jeff Daniels somehow manages to make a stock character of modern civilized villainy freshly loathesome and kind of hot; and Hope Davis (the least horrific of them all except that she gets to deliver the show's one rather-too-vile stage effect) maybe does just the opposite trick, slowly revealing that the best of them isn't so by much. But if I'm not wholly in the amen chorus for a play about how parenting has come to be the destroyer of people's ability and will to tame the id and connect, something has gone awry.

Nearby at the Broadhurst, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter do quite the opposite trick, dusting the cobwebs off a play one feels certain would be edifying in the forehanded and backhanded senses of the word in lesser custody. Schiller's Maria Stuart, yep--the source of Donizetti's libretto, I believe, is not what I would have guessed would be the most exciting thing on Broadway but I'm in as much of a position to say so as I ever have been after a monthlong TDF binge, and I will say so. It's made of win, marinated in win, garnished with win. McTeer and Walter are riveting (I do think Walter's role is the harder in some sense; fewer opportunities for the acting equiv of a D flat in alt or a well inflicted glottal stop) and their single, apparently apocryphal confrontation lives up to any operatic reading of the same scene. Purists may find the Konzept--men in business suits, ladies in Ren Fair garb--distracting, but I was on board, emphatically so. It is, by the way, very frequently on TDF, so you can probably see it for $35 though good seats are not guaranteed.

Great, that only leaves like eight shows to write about, and then I'm going to Coraline tomorrow if I didn't mention. I'm like Lucy at the candy factory here, not that I'm complaining.

*if we are to go by where I ended up getting a ticket, which was in a weird little corner behind a railing. Because it's not like I walk around the theater district with a pad going "hey pardon me but what show is the talk of people like you, you big tourist?"


Monday, May 18, 2009

Extremely Passive Resistance

I like to think of it as a kind of civil disobedience, a violence against the tyranny of the 40-hour work week, undiminished over time by technology and efficiency to maximize profit, if I take the last half hour of today to spout copious hot air about the nearly-a-dozen plays I saw this month. I guess I'm exactly what the nefarious so-and-so's at the American Theater Wing want, a ready victim for their plot to pack people into seats by means of a petty pageant. Sign me up!

I'm actually going to have to consult my datebook for this roundup, and no, I don't have a palm or an iphone or a PDA (PDA? really you're going to call it that?) or anything and I'm not being a luddite but if I ever get that busy that I need one, I'm moving to Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic Ocean.*

Know what, this is going to go out of order, because where the fuck is my datebook. I do have some programs in my J. Peterman Counterfeit Mail Pouch**, so that's a starting point. On top of the stack umbrella, because the weather in NYC the last week has not been notably better than I imagine it to be in Tristan da Cunha. [Things sometimes get posted rather a long time after they're written.] Beneath the umbrella, the first program to come to hand is 9 to 5, which is slightly regrettable. Not the show, I mean, though that too. But that being the first is regrettable because...

I don't remember how it started, but there was a discussion of god-knows-what in comments at Parterre, and I mentioned to someone or other that Lucia Popp is the only opera singer I'd never heard anyone in the mad swirling vortex of reflexive disdain that is opera fandom say anything bad about her. This was remedied in short order, naturally, but why's I mention it is that Dolly Parton is the Lucia Popp of the opera world in that sense, though probably no other. Nobody doesn't like Dolly Parton.

So it feels like kicking a puppy to say much that is honest about 9 to 5. There are positives. Megan Hilty sings country music idiomatically and does an imitation of La Parton that sends terrified phonemes fleeing her merciless grasp. That was supposed to mean it's accurate, but I have a feeling that is not at all clear. Stefanie Block has a right set of pipes, and Alison Janney an irresistible presence and infallible comic timing. And then there are the songs and the book. The book is the biggest mystery as to "why did this happen?" because there's nary a punchline that isn't in the movie, and I assume everyone remembers the movie clearly because it is, 20-whatever years later, a perfect frippery, and still iconic in its way. The songs are just lifeless, which is absolutely confounding given the vivacious talent that penned them. I don't know what happened. The show felt about 3 hours long. Even the classic theme song was somehow sapped for the stage. Alas.

Next program: Joe Turner's Come and Gone. My first August Wilson play, I will admit, and while there was enough deeply personal mythology in the work that I'd gladly explore more of the 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, it's a bit emotionally disjointed, I'd guess as much because of the piece as because of the production. An hour and a half of mostly dryish naturalism suddenly lurches into the realm of the spiritual and the abstract and the, well, somewhat-difficult-to-follow as the first act ends, and again as the play ends. The cast is uniformly fine, though nobody but Roger Robinson as Bynum Walker, a spiritually off-the-grid shamanic figure, had the certainty of artistic purpose we love to see and throw awards at. Happily, he's nominated to be thrown at.

Oh hey actually since I wrote all that a week or two ago, I'm going to go ahead and post it and pick up with some more stuff I saw when I'm feeling more writey. It's something to do during the four months in the opera desert stretching from here to September...

*where my dating life will remain much the same as it is now.
**No, they didn't make it up for Seinfeld. It was a real company, except now egli e spento and all. Except maybe not?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

E la Nave Va

Here's an opportunity to witness a number of frustrating things happening at once. The story itself is about Robert Wilson and some insane-sounding fashion people* doing a production of Freischutz which actually, now that I think about it, is maybe not frustrating but hilarious and wonderful. This may have to do with me giving precisely 3/8 of a damn about the opera in question and so not really caring what happens to it. Ok but then start reading the comments where it seems people have been waiting for an opportunity to continue, shall we say, ventilating affect over Sonnambula. Before it even comes up explicitly it is just so fucking clear where it's all going.

And then it's always a fairly short road to "why people gotta be mean to Verdi" i.e. the martyrdom of traditionalism vs. the encroaching evil of anything not faithful enough to The Composer's Intentions (as understood, of course, by whoever is moaning. By what process, oh do not ask.) Soon someone will use the word "Eurotrash." There might well be a corollary to Godwin's Law where for Hitler we substitute Bieito, unless he's been toppled from his iconicity of badness by Mary Zimmerman...

I'm torn, reading it, because I do hate it when people try and make themselves look however it is they're trying to make themselves look by saying "oh, I don't like opera! As if!" And then on the other hand, it still pisses me off that people take (for instance) Dessay's sort of snotty line on Sonnambula as a sign that she sits around at night rubbing her hands together, stroking her moustache of evil, trying to think how to destroy opera.

While I'm on about it, this is the reason I sometimes want to learn to love football and drop the whole opera thing (but ok, after 2012-2013 because Maria Stuarda, mmkay? obviously this will never work.) What I mean is, once upon a time, I found my crowd, people in Austin who thought opera was worth talking about and thinking about and who really seemed to love it. Only later would I discover that it serves some purpose for what would seem to be at least a large plurality of opera people that hovers between "proxy for less mediated modes of socialization" and something darker and more to be discussed in terms of object relations.

The best compliment anyone ever paid me on this shabby old blog was to say that I treated opera as though it were important without insisting on its nobility. I think I have the wording right. I took this to mean what I hoped it to mean: that it should be perfectly possible to discuss all this without the "naw, dude" posturing pointed out above, but also without sounding like the comic book guy on the Simpsons.

Hey that's all. I mostly just wanted to post the link and then I got to typing.

*It's true. I try to see the good in any project at whose heart is the beautification of life. But fashion just makes me sad and defensive.