Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

31.8.05

Dip Your Ears, No. 42 (Waltzing Schoenberg)

available at Amazon
J.Strauss II, Waltz Transcriptions, Berliner Streichquartet et al.
Berlin Classics 1258

You may not expect a Strauss disc reviewed from me when “Strauss” isn’t preceded by “Richard.” But exceptions have to be made – and for this little jewel of a disc certainly. Especially when the ever-popular Kaiserwaltzer (Emperor Waltz), Rosen aus dem Süden (Roses from the South), Wein, Weib und Gesang (Wine, Women, and Song), and the Schatzwaltzer (Treasure Waltz) from Der Zigeunerbaron are presented in their arrangements by Arnold (pre-“oe”) Schönberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern.

Part of the arrangements for Schönberg’s exclusive “Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen” (Association for Private Musical Performances), the Waltzes are not radical recompositions but – as was the club’s goal and achievement – true-as-possible arrangements for a small group of players (usually including strings, piano, harmonium, and occasionally some assorted winds) so as to present and better understand the works at hand. (This Strauss event was a one-off fundraising concert and the only of the series that was open to the public. The most famous arrangements of that club are Mahler’s Lied von der Erde and his fourth symphony, as well as Bruckner’s 7th.) The lush Straussian textures that the cynic might call saccharine get a notably more modern, obviously leaner touch. None of the Viennese lilt is sacrificed, however. The works on this disc, now released in the U.S. in a beautifully printed edition, were new to me and all the happier a surprise. As a luxurious little dessert, they are perfect and understood as such: the contents should well be worth a stiff $20 for 43 minutes (I know some balk at such short-playing discs) of a refreshing twist on undeniably delightful music. If I hadn’t already bought my copy, I’d be sure to point out that the disc would make a perfect little gift of appreciation to… oh, gee… maybe your favorite music critic?!

Hirst's Haunted Mansion

Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire, site of the future Hirst museumThis sounds like such fun, and I'm filing it under the rubric of collector-focused museums (like the Phillips, the Barnes, the Estorick, the Meyerhoff's plans here near Washington). It comes from Steven Morris's article (Hirst snaps up rotting Gothic manor, September 1) for The Guardian today:

Most potential buyers would be put off by the red-tinged blooms of dry rot, not to mention the overwhelming gothic style of the architecture and rows of haunting, crumbling statues of long-dead kings. Yet these features may have attracted the new owner of Toddington Manor, Gloucestershire. Damien Hirst, the sometime shark-pickler and cow-halver [my emphasis: ha!], yesterday revealed he had bought the mansion and intends to turn it into a museum to house his collection of his own and other people's art.

Hirst fell in love with the grade one listed building as soon as he saw it and now regards it as a lifetime's work to restore the mansion and grounds, which have fallen into serious disrepair. His ambition will not come cheap. He is believed to have spent about £3m to acquire the 124-acre estate and may need as much as £10m to refurbish it. Villagers and conservationists who have long feared for the future of the house welcomed the news that Hirst, who has a large working studio in Gloucestershire, is to be the new lord of the manor. Adam Stanford, a historian and archaeologist who has written about the house, said: "It's an eerie sort of place which I could imagine would chime with Hirst's imagination.
The beautiful image above, which took some searching to locate, will allow you to connect a picture of the place with the story. The manor is on the English Heritage registry.

Summer Opera: Death of Klinghoffer

Other Articles:

Raymond Monelle, The Death Of Klinghoffer, Festival Theatre (The Independent, August 25)

Sarah Jones, Wrong kind of electric (The Scotsman, August 28)

Anna Picard, The Death of Klinghoffer, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (The Independent, August 28)

Sam Ser, 'Klinghoffer' opera hits sour note with family (Jerusalem Post, August 30)

Senay Boztas, Dejected chorus get P45s in post before final opera (Glasgow Sunday Herald, August 28)
Summer must really be over, because we have reached the end of my schedule of Opera in the Summer 2005. From August 23 to 29, Anthony Neilson directed the British premiere of John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer, performed by Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh International Festival. As you can imagine with this very controversial opera (which I find so beautiful), opinions were divided in the press reviews. Anthony Holden's review (Troubled waters, August 28) for The Observer was generally positive and welcoming of a live performance of the work. He did have some reservations:
In many respects, the piece is less opera than oratorio, taking Bach as an obvious exemplar in its extended meditation on man's inhumanity to man. The hijackers, for all their righteous indignation, are often less than articulate in their self-justification. All the central characters are given extended passages of eloquent introspection, even-handedly exploring how humankind has managed to sink so low. So it is a fundamental mistake of the director, Anthony Neilson, to attempt to give the plot a literal narrative line, starting with the seagulls whose cries greet your entry to the theatre (even to the men's room). This is a much subtler piece than that, at times rendered absurdly crude by Neilson's hamfistedness, as in the Klinghoffer home movies that accompany his lyrical, posthumous 'Aria of the Falling Body', and sporadic, seriously misjudged attempts at comic relief.
The director made several cuts, apparently similar to those made in the British film a couple years ago (see Jens's review). Kenneth Walton's review (The Death of Klinghoffer, August 25) for The Scotsman is kinder to the direction:
The set is simple, one massive slice of a ship's deck, but Neilson brings imagination and flexibility to a plot - the 1985 hijacking of the ferry Achille Lauro - which is intrinsically restrictive. The performing arena spills over into the audience, where planted terrorists initiate their actions with startling gunshots and strobes. The Austrian Woman (Susan Gorton), who hides throughout the ordeal in her cabin, plays out her demented cameo - a wailing Sprechstimme - from a side box. Nothing Neilson does tarnishes the music, which possesses some of Adams's most voluptuous touches: delicious Bergian sweeps, chattering minimalist rock, and sublime filmic sequences.
Most reviewers agreed that Edward Gardner's conducting was superb, for example, Rupert Christiansen in his review (Edinburgh reports: a ship going nowhere, August 25) for The Telegraph (although he was less enthusiastic about other aspects):
There's nothing mechanical or minimalistic about Gardner's approach: he squeezes every drop of emotion out of Adams's sequences and arpeggios, encouraging the singers to phrase the often discursive vocal lines and the instrumentalists to relish the Ravelian sonorities and harmonic shimmering. I only regret the cuts he has sanctioned to the choruses in Act 2. Klinghoffer may be an unwieldy piece, with longueurs and a jerky pace, but eliminating some of its most beautiful music simply makes it more lopsided. [...] The staging is a mess. Nobody could pretend that Klinghoffer - half-opera, half-oratorio, contrasting violent action with poetic meditation in its re-telling of the 1985 seizure of the cruise liner Achille Lauro - is an easy piece to direct. Peter Sellars's original 1991 version was abstractly formalised, distancing the audience in Brechtian fashion from the emotive issue of Palestinian terrorism; Penny Woolcock's Channel 4 film went to the opposite extreme and created a taut cinematic thriller which insisted on the visceral reality of the situation.

But in Edinburgh, Anthony Neilson treads uncertainly between these two equally valid interpretations and doesn't seem to know where he wants to go. To be fair, he can't have been helped by working on what appears to be a budget of a hundred quid, max. The Festival Theatre's huge stage is empty, with only rudimentary suggestion of a ship. The terrorists emerge through the auditorium -- an effect spoilt by the management's forewarning -and the ship's passengers do some unintentionally hilarious coarse acting as they cower and shriek and look terrified.
From Israel, members of the Klinghoffer family again voiced their opposition to the way the story was told by Adams and his librettist. One element of the production that reviewers almost universally criticized was the decision to amplify the singers, which made some of them sound bad and obscured the orchestra's playing. Worst of all, the financially ruined Scottish Opera made the inexplicably tactless decision to give final termination papers (P45 forms) to the remaining 10 members of the chorus, before the series of four performances had even concluded. The business of opera is almost as unpredictable, unbelievable, outrageous, and heartbreaking as what you see on the stage.

BlogDay 2005

Supposedly, today is BlogDay 2005, although today is also the first day I had ever heard of it (from Andrew Taylor at The Artful Manager). This summer, an Israeli blogger named Nir Ofir (at Spark Armada) came up with the idea that, on August 31, bloggers should direct their readers to five new blogs, preferably outside of their interest area and from other countries. This appeals to me because I agree that, although I like the organic nature of how blogging networks develop, we are often cut off from one another by language and subject barriers. Why don't you take a gander at these candidates for your attention?

  • Edward Winkleman, a new addition to the New York blogging arena (where one of you doesn't come out alive). He has kindly linked to Ionarts, and we love his mix of politics and the arts. Today's post about the Bush tax cuts and their bias against the arts is a fascinating piece.
  • Low Culture is a very entertaining commentary on the crazy world. Not to be missed are recent posts Quelle surprise! Iraqi women to be fucked over! and Draft Abdul: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back for America.
  • Language Hat is an engaging and in-depth blog on all things linguistic. Maybe it's just because I love language, and not just my native one, that I consistently find reading this blog so rewarding. (Disclaimer: this blog has also linked to Ionarts in the past, in reference to the French edition of Ulysses. We were honored.) If you read it lately, you would know where to find a good online Yiddish dictionary and what on earth Nheengatú is.
  • Whenever I want to find a new blog or something interesting on the Internet, I turn to the ever-resourceful Plep. Steven Green, based in London (I believe), never disappoints with his daily assortment of interesting and curious links, and he has what is, I'm fairly sure, the most complete blogroll in Blogville. (Two other excellent blogs, Wood s lot and mediaTIC, are in close competition for that honor.)
  • Last, Loïc Le Meur is a francophone blog that has a companion blog in English (or maybe it's vice versa). It's totally new to me, as of right now, which is really what this day is supposed to be about. His focus is on the phenomenon of blogging, especially in France, and it is interesting to read so far.
Enjoy!

Classical Month in Washington (September)

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature that appears on the first of the month. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (praecentor at yahoo dot com). Happy listening!

Saturday, September 3, 1:30 pm
Stanley Babin, piano (Brahms and Beethoven) [FREE]
Sponsored by the Society of the Cincinnati and the Washington International Piano Arts Council
Anderson House (2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW)

Sunday, September 4, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Labor Day Concert [FREE]
U.S. Capitol, West Lawn

Thursday, September 8, 7 pm; Friday, September 9, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Prelude Festival Concerts (Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven Third Symphony)
Kennedy Center
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 9)

Saturday, September 10, 6 pm
Emerson String Quartet (first in a five-concert series)
Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium (10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW)
For information on subscribing to the series, call (202) 252-0012

Saturday, September 10, 8 pm
Pallavi Mahidhara (teenage prodigy), piano (Mozart, Brahms, Stravinsky, Liszt)
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre (Rockville, Md.)
Kids 7-17 are free
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, September 12)

Sunday, September 11, 4 pm
Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø (music by Alexander Scriabin and Olivier Messiaen, both influenced by "color hearing")
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden [FREE, no ticket required]
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 13)

Sunday, September 11, 5:30 pm
Sujeito a Guincho Clarinet Quintet (Brazil) and singer Mônica Salmaso
Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, Colonial Room (1127 Connecticut Avenue NW), hosted by the Embassy of Brazil
Embassy Series
See the review by Lindsay Heller (Ionarts, September 12)

Wednesday, September 14, 7 pm
Dress rehearsal of Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani (starring Maria Guleghina and Franco Farina, conducted by Plácido Domingo)
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
Admittance for a suggested donation of $100 (or more), all of which will go directly to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief: for information, call (202) 295-2420, weekdays between 10 am and 6 pm

Wednesday, September 14, 7:30 pm
U.S. Army Chorus, 50th Anniversary Concert
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, September 16)

Thursday, September 15, 8 pm
Kemal Gekic, piano
Embassy of Austria
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, September 17)

Friday, September 16, 8 pm [plus FREE Conversation with the artists at 2 pm]
David Finckel and Wu Han
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 17)

Friday, September 16, 7:30 pm (North Bethesda United Methodist Church, 10100 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda)
Sunday, September 18, 7:30 pm (Christ Lutheran Church, 8011 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda)
Friday, September 23, 7:30 pm (Saint George's Episcopal Church, 915 N Oakland Street, Arlington)
Sunday, September 25, 7:30 pm (Christ Lutheran Church, 8011 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda)
Donizetti, La Fille du Régiment (staged and complete)
Opera Bel Cantanti
See the review by T. L. Ponick (Washington Times, September 20) and the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, September 20)

September 17, 20, 22, 25, 28, and October 1, 4, 2005
Giuseppe Verdi, I vespri siciliani (with soprano Maria Guleghina)
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Charles T. Downey (DCist, September 18)

Saturday, September 17, 8 pm
National Philharmonic, with pianist Christopher Taylor
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, September 19)

Saturday, September 17, 8 pm
Winners of the 7th National Chopin Piano Competition (Mei-Ting Su, Rachel Kudo, Sean Kennard, and Esther Park, playing all Chopin, of course)
Embassy of the Republic of Poland (2640 16th St. NW)
Embassy Series

Saturday, September 17, 8 pm
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, with Claude Frank, piano (Beethoven's fifth piano concerto and Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony)
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, September 19)

Sunday, September 18, 2 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Prelude Festival Chamber Music Concert (all-Mozart program)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, September 20) and the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 24)

Sunday, September 18, 4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum (new music by Mumford, Perle, Silverman, Moe)
Corcoran Gallery of Art
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 20)

Wednesday, September 21, 8 pm; Thursday, September 22, 7 pm; Friday, September 23, 1:30 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (Leonard Slatkin conducting, with violinist Itzhak Perlman)
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 22)

Wednesday, September 21, 6:30 pm
Josef Mayr, piano, and Ingrid Wagner-Krafft, cello (Schulhoff, Wolfram Wagner, and Beethoven)
Residence of the Ambassador of Austria (2419 Wyoming Ave. NW), with dinner, for members of the Corcoran Gallery of Art

Thursday, September 22, 7:30 pm
Edmund Battersby, piano (playing on the 150-year-old Broadwood piano)
The Mansion at Strathmore

Thursday, September 22, 7:30 pm
Ian Bostridge, tenor, with Julius Drake, piano (Vocal Arts Society)
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, September 24)

Friday, September 23, 8 pm
The Genius of Bach: Mass in B Minor (Washington Bach Consort)
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Charles T. Downey (DCist, September 24)

Saturday, September 24, 7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Opening Ball Concert (with Emanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma)
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, September 26)

Saturday, September 24, 27, 30; October 2, 6, and 9
Trilogy (three acts from different operas, with Mirella Freni Sylvie Valayre in Fedora, Barbara Frittoli in Otello, and Christiane Noll in The Merry Widow)
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center, Opera House
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, October 1)

Saturday, September 24, 7:30 pm
Remy Loumbrozo and Arianna Goldina, piano (works by Ravel, Liszt, Schumann, Duruflé, Chabrier, and Brahms)
La Maison Française (4101 Reservoir Road NW)

Saturday, September 24, 8 pm
Barnabás Kelemen, violin, and Anne Eppersen, piano (Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Bartók and Sibelius)
Embassy of Hungary (2950 Spring of Freedom St. NW)
Embassy Series

Saturday, September 24, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with pianist Fazil Say (Gershwin and Dvořák)
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 24)

Sunday, September 25, 2 pm
Arthur Nagle Memorial Concert (pianist Jie Chen, winner of Washington International Competition) [FREE, reservation required]
Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, September 27)

Sunday, September 25, 7 pm
Keyboard Conversations With Jeffrey Siegel: Mozart and Beethoven -- Passion and Pathos
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

Monday, September 26, 5 pm
Guarneri String Quartet Open Rehearsal [FREE]
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Thursday, September 29, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with flutist Emily Skala (Rodrigo, Strauss, Beethoven)
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Lindsay Heller (Ionarts, October 1)

Thursday, September 29, 7 pm; Friday, September 30, 8 pm; Saturday, October 1, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with cellist Truls Mørk (Hovhaness, Elgar, Dvořák)
Kennedy Center, Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 30)

Thursday, September 29, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: The Promise of Youth (with conductor Alan Buribayev and pianist Kirill Gerstein)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore)

Friday, September 30, 7:30 pm
Prima Vista String Quartet (Music in the Age of Napoléon, part of Napoleon, An Intimate Portrait, co-organized with the National Geographic)
La Maison Française (4101 Reservoir Road NW)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, October 2)

Friday, September 30, 8 pm
Daedalus Quartet with Donald Weilerstein, viola (Prokofiev, Haydn, Mozart) [FREE]
Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, October 3)

——» Go to Classical Month in Washington: August.

30.8.05

My Ode to Summer

Serious ChallengeThis is becoming a habit: summer ending. I have mixed feelings about it. Summer allows for a total change in our daily flow, with picnics (real tomatoes and corn), concerts and festivals, road trips and mosquitoes. Let us not forget the International Back Yard Crochet and Beer Fest. That draws a crowd.

Studio time also gets shifted. Instead of blocks of time to paint, I adapt to the moment, especially when the temperature reaches the 90s and floating downstream on a tube is more beneficial to the creative process. Picasso would have done that; Matisse, no.

The HeroThe process of making art is a challenge under any conditions. The summer season is a refreshing step out of the studio. Some of the more important activities of life, such as fishing, boating, and beach going, are great opportunities to inspire a painting. Water, water everywhere, the paintings of summer make the artist come to grips with it. What will it look like? Is there “deeper” meaning? (Sorry.) Fire up the grill! The camp fire for smores, torches and candles; if you're going to paint summer, fire is as challenging to conceive as water. Flesh, bikini exposed and sun drenched, some that should not be: there are a rainbow of possibilities.

I’ll miss you, Summer. Back to a routine. The one routine I’m missing most this year is driving one young lady to school everyday. Fourteen years of beautiful sunrises, rain, snow, traffic, breakfasts to go, and some of the sweetest conversations I’ve ever had. Go ahead, get your driver's license. Slow down!

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist working near Baltimore.

Nicolas de Staël Exhibit

Nicolas de Staël, Pont des Arts at Night, 1954, image from the Hermitage MuseumHarry Bellet has a review (Au Musée Picasso d'Antibes, les ultimes peintures de Nicolas de Staël, August 11), in Le Monde, of a new exhibit at the Musée Picasso in Antibes. Nicolas de Staël, un automne, un hiver will be on view through October 16. Painter Nicolas de Staël von Holstein threw himself from the window of his studio in Antibes, in southern France, 50 years ago this year. The major retrospective two years ago (Nicolas de Staël: L'exposition, curated by Jean-Paul Ameline et Bénédicte Ajac, at the Centre Pompidou) was a blockbuster success in France, proving this artist's popularity. (There was also an exhibit, Nicolas de Staël: Paintings from Museums and Private Collections of Western Europe, United States and Russia, at the Hermitage in the same year.) With over 200 works, what could the Pompidou have missed? Apparently, they showed only about 20 paintings from Staël's Antibes period, compared to 80 Antibes paintings and drawings at the Musée Picasso in this new exhibit.

Nicolas de Staël in his studio, Antibes, 1954Other than a capricious mistress, whom the Antibes catalogue modestly labels a "model" and who was the inspiration of this period's sumptuous nudes and who drove Staël crazy, his life could certainly pass for happy. The years of misery, when he was painting La Vie dure (1946) and Brise-Lames (1947, significantly subtitled Brise-à-l'âme on its back), were far behind him. His shows, especially in New York, had made him rich. His friends were devoted, numerous, and top-notch, from Georges Braque to René Char. Romuald Dor de La Souchère, then director of the Antibes Museum, already wanted to devote a retrospective to him.

Nevertheless, in his self-imposed solitude in Antibes, there was one other thing that escaped him: painting. On March 5, 1955, ten days before his death, he took a short trip to Paris. He saw some friends, including his son-in-law Antoine Tudal, to whom he confided the turbulent state of his soul, tying his existence to his art: "You know, I don't know if I am going to live a long time. I think that I have painted enough. I have done all I wanted to do..." Then, back in Antibes, he started two paintings, including one that was 21 square meters [226 square feet] in size, on the theme of the concert [Le grand concert]. That was March 10, 1955: Staël had less than a week to live.
In his final letter to Jacques Dubourg, Staël wrote tragically, "I do not have the strength to finish my paintings." Nicolas de Staël, un automne, un hiver will be on view at the Musée Picasso, in Antibes, through October 16.

What's New, German Painting?

What are painters up to in Germany? I'm certainly not listening to much live classical music these days, so my mind is turning to this sort of question. The Carré d'Art - Musée d'art contemporain, Sir Norman Foster's glass box facing the famous Roman temple in the southern French town of Nîmes, is showing an exhibit called La nouvelle peinture allemande (New German Painting), through September 18. Philippe Dagen reviewed it recently (Exposition : une nouvelle génération de peintres allemands, August 18) for Le Monde (my translation):

There is no one style that defines this group, no more than there was for that which preceded it. The distance that separated the photographic realism of Gerhard Richter from Immendorf's burlesque narrations is no smaller than what separates the Eberhard Havekost's video-like realism from the Jonathan Meese's canvases covered with words and strokes, seeded with blots and obscene graffiti. This diversity is ultimately stupefying [since] each artist works in an individual way. [...] If each artist has his own personal stock of influences, the exhibit could be seen, as a whole, as an inventory where Romanticism, figural and abstract expressionism, art brut, monochrome, Pop Art, Guston, Katz, Matisee, and Cranach are given homage in turn. And let's not forget movies, television, advertising, digital imagery. Painting functions here like a terrifying energetic machine, absorbing, destroying, recycling, recomposing images of vastly different origins.
The museum's Web site has a few small images, but you should also check out the French blogger behind Leary Calls, who posted on this exhibit on August 9, with several great images. See also Annick Colonna-Césari, Lever de rideau sur l'Allemagne (L'Express, July 25).

Hurricane Katrina

Like most of you, I'm sure, I have been horrified by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Although I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the sort of prurient coverage offered by the 24-hour news cycle, I have been glued to the TV for the past two days. You know, if you look hard enough, even during a horrible tragedy, some people can find political bias in news coverage to suit their own personal political agendas. To prove my point, conservative James Panero at Armavirumque today chastised the New York Times for leaving out a reference to looting in the caption to a photo, in which a black man is shown wading through water in New Orleans. On the same day, left-leaning Xeni Jardin's post Black People Loot, White People Find? at Boing Boing points out how AP photo captions refer to white people "finding food" and black people "looting stores." All this does is reinforce for me how desperate the gap is between rich and poor in the United States. In close proximity to a wealthy tourist-heavy part of New Orleans are people living in near-destitution, and that was before a massive hurricane destroyed their homes. No one should be surprised if people in that position loot stores, and although it is a scandalous commentary on human selfishness (stealing is wrong, of course), most of the products being stolen could probably not ever be sold anyway because of water damage. Can we focus on getting these people help now?

29.8.05

Jean Nouvel Interview

Also on Ionarts:

New Opera Houses (May 29, 2005)

William Christie's Poppea in Lyon (January 28, 2005)

New Museum at the Quai Branly (December 28, 2004)
Jean Nouvel is the architect of the new opera theater in Lyon and the new Musée du Quai Branly. Although he did not get the commission to rebuild Les Halles in Paris, he is presently building the new concert hall in Copenhagen, and the Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst there is currently showing an exhibit on Nouvel's work, Jean Nouvel: Louisiana Manifesto, right now (through September 18). In a recent interview with Frédéric Edelmann ("La provocation n'est pas un moteur architectural", August 14) for Le Monde, he talks about his theories of what good architecture is (my translation):
I think that each site, each city deserves individual consideration. I begin by analyzing the situation, by listening, partaking in dialogue, bringing together all the people who might make a project richer, before making a sketch. It's an ethical position, and that puts me in conflict with most of my friends and colleagues. I had the pleasure of rediscovering all of that in the Louisiana Museum, which represents for me an exemplary work of architecture, full of simplicity, delicacy, depth. I don't know if I could do as well, but I know that it is my ideal. Of course, it's a small museum, situated in nature, and it's easier to be "Louisianan" in those circumstances that when you are building a mall in the suburbs.

Louisianan?

Projects are Louisianan when they seek to serve the spirit of the location, the desire of people, of the countryside, of the buildings that came before it. Projects that begin with the idea of modification rather than disconnecting from the context. What is important is to consider that each place is a stage in a mutation and must be part of a geographic and historic continuity. At the same time, my attitude is not modest. Let's make this clear: the desire to analyze and understand does not prevent me from expressing something, from inventing, and in that sense Utopia is a part of it.
I hope that David Sucher at City Comforts will weigh in on whether Nouvel is actually building what he thinks he is.

28.8.05

Robert Rauschenberg Interview

I translated part of a French review with Anselm Kiefer a week or so ago, and lots of people ended up reading it because it was linked at Modern Art Notes (thanks, Tyler!). So, I also read an interview with American artist Robert Rauschenberg ("J'aime le mouvement de la main", August 10) by Bérénice Bailly for Le Monde. R.R. is in Nice, where a major retrospective of his work (on and off the wall, through January 8) is on view at the Musée d'art moderne et contemporain. The interviewer was impressed by the artist's American sunny attitude, hailing her with the simple words "Hi, I'm Bob," in spite of being 80 years old and restricted to a wheelchair. Here are some excerpts (my translation):

You are one of the most prolific artists in the last 50 years. In spite of your health problems, you have never stopped creating, as if life and art were intrinsically linked for you...

In effect, life and art always make me equally happy. But as for saying which came first, art or life... I don't ask myself the question. Everything is very much tied together, each thing stimulates something else. This reminds me of a zen story that John Cage used to tell, about a millipede who was asked what foot he put down first on the ground when he moved. The millipede stopped, reflected, and died. He had never asked himself the question.

Do you remember the first artworks you ever saw?

It was Thomas Gainsborough's Blue Boy and a Joshua Reynolds, two English painters of the 18th century. I was in the Navy, in San Diego, and I was looking for something to do. On a day of leave, I hitchhiked to the Huntington Library in San Marino, to see their cactus garden, because I have always loved plants. I saw this large building, which happened to be a museum. I went in, and I realized that these paintings had been made by hand, which made me very curious. That was how I learned that one could "be an artist," and then I discovered that I was one. [...]

You once had the audacity to ask Willem de Kooning to entrust you with one of his drawings, which you intended to erase: was that a sign of homage or irony?

A very respectful homage.

How did he take it?

He did not like that gesture, but at least I was honest about it. He saw it in the same way that he saw the works of Marcel Duchamp. He knew that such art existed, but it bored him and he would have liked to see it disappear. However, I am sure that he respected my attitude and the courage to make that gesture work out well. [...]

You met the composer John Cage [at Black Mountain College], who also worked notably on the idea of chance.

That's right. He even bought one of my paintings. One day, I did a strange kind of favor for him. While I was staying in his apartment when he was away, to thank him—at the time, I was working on my Black Paintings—I painted all of his paintings black. He was furious. You might think that he loved anything, no matter what, but that was not true at all.

He was the one who opened you up to zen philosophy?

No. John used to tell me, "I spent years studying and trying to understand zen. You, you have done nothing of the sort, you are just naturally zen." It irritated him a little.
The interviewer also asked about a project Rauschenberg worked on with Renzo Piano, for the Vatican, of all places. The proposal was eventually refused, in part because the Vatican declared that Rauschenberg had never read the Bible. R.R. claims that the idea is "almost more beautiful because it was never realized, because it cannot be changed and has ultimately avoided any manipulation." He says that he has donated the model and plans to the Menil Collection in Houston, where it is going to be exhibited. This may be the plans for the new chapel in San Giovanni Rotondo in honor of Padre Pio, for which R.R. was asked to make a large stained glass window on the Apocalypse, but I'm not sure if that's what Rauschenberg means. I'll keep my eyes out for more information.

Pushkin Museum Exhibit in Switzerland

The Russians, like me, were notorious francophiles, and they collected a lot of French artwork, much of which is now in Russian museums like the Hermitage. This is a problem for the French art lover who misses the paintings of his countrymen that he must now travel abroad to see. I have chatted many times with French tourists in the National Gallery and the Phillips, taking one last look at the French paintings marooned in the United States. Well, some French paintings that live normally at the Pushkin Museum in Russia are now on exhibit (La peinture française, Musée Pouchkine Moscou) at the Fondation Pierre Giannada in Martigny, Switzerland, which isn't quite France but is a lot closer than Moscow. Philippe Dagen reviewed it (Le Musée Pouchkine exporte ses trésors d'art français, August 5) for Le Monde (my translation):

On one wall, there is a Poussin from his first Roman years, Renaud et Armide. Across from it, at the other end of the central room of the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, there are three Cézannes, one landscape of the Ile-de-France, a study of bathers, and a standing man smoking a pipe. And between them is Cézanne's famous phrase, his hope that he was "doing what Poussin did, but according to nature." We don't know if, while hanging these paintings, the curators of the exhibition deliberately placed Cézanne and Poussin across from one another. In any case, they couldn't have done it better: the opposition, if it doesn't explain Cézanne's sentence completely, it does give it some meaning. It makes clear what Poussin and the three Cézannes have in common: resolution.
Dagen's rather lengthy argument, demonstrating how Poussin and Cézanne are the same, is engaging, although I did not end up agreeing with him. Another article (Anthologie des perfections françaises, August 26) by Eric Biétry-Rivierre for Le Figaro says that the Pushkin Museum, which has 700 French paintings, has the largest French collection of any museum in the world, after only the Louvre and the Hermitage. It has loaned 54 paintings for the exhibit, which is described in some detail in this article (my translation):
First, since painting loves to give homage to myth and the arts, we have Molière. Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) painted him in right profile in a trompe-l'oeil oval. Irina Antonova, director of the Pushkin Museum and the exhibit's curator, has surrounded that antiquity-like cameo with two representations of Susannah and the old men. The spirit of Monsieur Poquelin [Molière], in his curls and mustaches à la Dalì, a nose like Cyrano (before he existed), and eyes open to everything, is seen thus illustrated by two choice Rubénistes, Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752) and Charles de La Fosse (1636-1716), who have shown Susannah as a beautiful innocent girl harassed by a pair of old men. The pain inflicted on virtue is always the worst.
Since there is not much information and far fewer images from the museum, this article was the best way to discover a large part of what is being shown in this exhibit. However, you must supply your own mental images.

Modern Italian Photographs

Also on Ionarts:

Mario Giacomelli (1925–2000) in Paris (February 10, 2005)

Estorick Collection in London (August 20, 2003)
Souren Melikian reviewed an exhibit (Viewpoints: Italy in Black and White, open until September 5) at the Estorick Collection in London (An intersection of images, August 20) in the International Herald Tribune:
When seen in sequence on the walls or in the superb exhibition book published by Skira, the black and white prints raise a question that is not considered by the organizers but is at the heart of 20th-century culture as a whole. Did avant-garde painting and sculpture to some extent influence avant-garde photography? Or did painting and photography independently reflect a new way of perceiving the world - which occasionally was conveyed in photography well before the practitioners of the so-called fine arts?
The names in the show include Antonio Boggeri, Luigi Veronesi, Mario Giacomelli, and Giuseppe Cavalli. It will also be shown in November (starting November 4) at the Palace of Art in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Classical Week in Washington (8/28)

Classical Week in Washington is a weekly feature that appears on Sundays. If there are concerts that you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (note the spiffy new address: ionarts at gmail dot com). Plan your concert schedule for the entire month of September with our Classical Month in Washington (September), or your fall opera listening with our Opera Preview, 2005–2006. The selection is meager enough that we gave some thought to not even bothering this week, but here is what we have found. After Labor Day, things will start hopping.

Tuesday, August 30, 12:10 pm
Sonya Kim, piano recital [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

Saturday, September 3, 1:30 pm
Stanley Babin, piano (Brahms and Beethoven) [FREE]
Sponsored by the Society of the Cincinnati and the Washington International Piano Arts Council
Anderson House (2118 Massachusetts Avenue NW)

Sunday, September 4, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Labor Day Concert [FREE]
U.S. Capitol, West Lawn

——» Go to last week's schedule, for the week of August 21.

26.8.05

Callas's Jewels

Maria Callas, jewelry by Ennio MarangoniHow close can a Callas fan really get to the great diva these days? I'm sure plenty of people (myself included) would be willing to look at the costume jewelry she wore on stage during her most important performances. Just such an exhibit is on view right now at the Galerie der Stadt in Salzburg, as I learned from an article (Les bijoux de la Callas, August 20) by Jean-Louis Validire for Le Figaro (my translation):

Here is the jewelry that Callas wore during her debut in the Arena di Verona, on August 2, 1947, in La Gioconda. It was also the debut of her supposed rivalry, invented by the press, with Renata Tebaldi. The latter, protégée of Toscanini, who had discovered her, was supposed to open the Verona season, but because of a storm the performance had been cancelled and it was Maria Callas who first received the honors of the press. [...] The immense popular success caused the delighted singer to ask to meet the jeweler who had made such beautiful jewels, to ask him "if they were valuable."

The jewels had been created by Ennio Marangoni in Milan, according to a process invented in Bohemia by Daniel Swarovski, who had revolutionized the size of crystal stones. Marangoni's workshop in Milan had become the leader in stage jewelry for movie and opera stars. Marilyn Monroe and, more recently, Nicole Kidman (in the film Moulin Rouge) have worn these pieces of jewelry, each of which required between 50 and 70 hours of work. [...] The exhibit, which covers the period between 1946 and 1960, gives a very precise idea of the evolution of scenographic esthetics by presenting, alongside each jewel, a photo of La Callas in the role, the original poster of the premiere performance, and an explanatory note giving the context of the production, including some anecdotes.
The collection of jewelry would have disappeared because Marangoni went out of business. The Swarovski company decided not to destroy them and instead organized the exhibit, which will travel to the places where Callas made her name. After Salzburg (closing on August 31), Maria Callas and the Swarovski Jewels will travel to Covent Garden in London (opening on September 13), New York (for the 50th anniversary of Callas's New York premiere as Tosca), and Paris (it has apparently already been on display in Verona and Vienna). I cannot locate a Web site for the Salzburg museum, but there will hopefully be a Web site for the exhibit at one of its future locations.

25.8.05

Michel Legrand Interview

Also on Ionarts:

Le Jazz in Saint-Germain (May 8, 2005)

Dessay and Solfege (August 9, 2005)

Agnès Varda (February 19, 2005)
How do you make music, which is so ephemeral, instantly evoke an era, an entire national character? Ask Michel Legrand, because he has done just that, writing music that is impossible to separate, for me anyway, from Frenchness. On my next trip to France, I will be buying the new 4-CD anthology, from Universal, of the film scores of Michel Legrand. To honor the occasion, Bertrand Dicale interviewed Legrand (Michel Legrand : «Je sais tout faire», August 22) for Le Figaro. Here are a few excerpts (my translation):
Your father was an orchestra conductor and film composer. Is that why you became one yourself?

Not at all. My father shot himself took off when I was three years old [Mon père s'est tiré quand j'avais trois ans]. My mother had no real skills, we didn't have a penny, we were living in a fleabitten apartment. My father had left behind an old piano. My sister was already going to school, my mother was out working, and I stayed at home alone with my adorable grandmother who understood nothing I said. It was so boring that I stayed at the piano all day long, and that saved my life. Otherwise I would have leapt out the window. I would listen to something on the radio and try to tap out the melody, then the harmonies. Music did come to me by some decision or event, but because there was nothing else for me. [...] Seeing this, my mother gave me some little lessons in the neighborhood when I was four or four and a half. I was very gifted and entered the Conservatoire Supérieur in Paris when I was nine, four years before the minimum age, with special permission. I remember that at the solfege test, the pianist played the piece once through before the actual dictation began; well, I had already written it all down at that first hearing.

Françoise Dorléac and Catherine Deneuve, Les Demoiselles de RochefortAt the Conservatoire, you studied with Nadia Boulanger...

A monster, and one of the wonders of the world. She is the undeniable master who has made all the composers of the entire world work. I was in her class for seven years. I learned rigor there, discipline, and when she was done with me, when I was 20, I was ready for anything. I acquired such technique from her that, when I am at the podium, when I play, when I write, I know exactly what I want. I play very badly, but I play all the instruments, which means that almost no one can bullshit me. [...]

Here is how I work: when I think that a film needs to have a principal theme, I search for a melody. I have a very strange melodic gift: melodies come to me effortlessly. So I write melodies—thirty, forty, fifty—then I cast them off until I have just two or three. If only one is needed, I go see the director and ask him to decide. That happened one time with Jacques Demy for the duo of the twins [in Les demoiselles de Rochefort]: I went to his house in Noirmoutier to play 35 possible themes for him.
It is hard to imagine that silly duet, with actual sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac playing musical twins, with any other melody than the zippy, dippy one that Legrand created for it.

"A Big-Hearted Candide"

Also on Ionarts:

Francis Veber's Le Placard (April 26, 2004)

Francis Veber's Les Compères (November 4, 2003)

Aurélie Nemours (1910–2005) and Jacques Villeret (1951–2005) (January 30, 2005)
Francis Veber is shooting his 11th film, a new comedy about François Pignon, with Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Auteuil, and Virginie Ledoyen. Although, as I have written here before, Veber has been living in Hollywood and trying to remake his fabulous movie Le dîner de cons, he is making this movie, La Doublure (Dubbing), in France. An article by Brigitte Baudin (Francis Veber et les tribulations de Pignon, August 12) for Le Figaro has some information, from the studio in Epinay-sur-Seine:
This time trusty Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) is a parking valet. He finds himself, purely by chance, in the middle of a tumultuous affair. Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil), a millionaire businessman, is cheating on his frigid wife, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas), with Elena (Alice Taglioni), a supermodel. Christine happens upon a photo of her husband with his mistress on a tabloid coverpage. She asks him to explain. How to avoid a divorce that could ruin him (his wife holds 60% of the stock in his company)? Who could take the fall?

Happily, in the newspaper photo there is also a passerby: François Pignon. So, Pierre makes his wife believe that there has been a mistake. The one accompanying beautiful Elena is the other man. To make it work, Pierre creates a ruse with Foy (Richard Berry), his lawyer. Elena must go live at Pignon's place, in a public housing building. [...] Before each scene, Francis Veber plans the shot, adjusts a movement, checks an intonation. Without ever raising his voice. He works with his eyes, yes, but even more with his ears. He knows this music well. Each word has been meticulously chosen, tested, weighed in writing. Each reply wisely measured, calibrated, down to the millimeter. Francis Veber is an artisan of the verb. And, if his text seems to flow so easily, it is because it is the fruit of serious work.
Young Moroccan-born actor Gad Elmaleh is only the most recent to play Pignon (the article lists Jacques Brel, Pierre Richard, Daniel Auteuil, and the sublime Jacques Villeret as his predecessors). He clearly understands the character's appeal, as he describes him as "a big-hearted Candid, who is generous, likes to do the right thing, but does not see farther than the end of his nose. I love this pure man, without malice, who unwittingly unleashes catastrophes." I guess Hollywood is done with Veber, since the American adapatation of Le Placard, The Closet, has been turned over, screenplay and direction, to Kenyan-born director Gurinder Chadha. In fact, since Lorne Michaels is producing the movie, I wonder if they have not decided to cast Jimmy Fallon as the Pignon character, after all. Please, if you think you might want to see this film, rent the French original instead.

24.8.05

Where Writers Died

Ernest Hemingway, writing in Kenya, 1953This must have gotten some play in the American newspapers or literary blogs, but I somehow missed it, and it's too strange and creepy not to mention. Apparently, the house in Ketchum, Idaho, where Ernest Hemingway committed suicide may eventually be opened as a museum. Of course, there are museums in the Hemingway House on Key West, the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and the Museo Ernest Hemingway in Finca Vigía, the famous house in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, but now this. (When Michael Palin did his Hemingway Adventure for PBS, he even went up to beautiful Walloon Lake, in my homeland, the Great State of Michigan, where the Hemingway family had, and still has, a cottage named Windemere.) We already have the wonderful and addictive Find a Grave to locate writers' burial places (Hemingway's grave is in Ketchum), and we will surely have one soon to locate the locations where they actually died.

As you can imagine, the neighbors in that part of Idaho, mostly as famous and rich as Hemingway but still alive, are not keen on the idea of a museum drawing lots of visitors. Here is part of an article by Guillemette Faure (Ernest Hemingway, son musée intime, August 12), who was in Ketchum for Le Figaro (my translation):

Today, with the agreement of the Hemingway House Foundation, formed two years ago to restore this place, an association intends to open the writer's final home to the public. "It's a treasure. I hope that the public will have the chance to see it. The location speaks volumes about what Hemingway loved," gushes Susan Beegel, literature professor at Yale and editor of The Hemingway Review for the Hemingway Society. The cinema, for example. In the same little entryway [where he shot himself], Hemingway had a little shelf put in for his film projector. A little rectangle was cut out of the wall to let images through to a big screen opened up in the living room. On the upper floor, in the guest bedroom, a typewriter has been placed on a desk facing the window. It was here that he used to write, or rather that he used to suffer because he could no longer write. It's hard to imagine that [his fourth wife] Mary survived for 35 years in this cottage after her husband's death: the house seems to have been frozen in 1961, the year of the magazines in the magazine racks. One of them has an article about the failed attack on the Bay of Pigs on April 21, the day that Hemingway realized that he could never return to Cuba and again tried to kill himself.
The property covers 15 acres near the Big Wood River, the largest plot of undeveloped land in the county. Hemingway's granddaughter Mariel, who lives in Ketchum, supports opening the house as a museum, but others close to the writer are opposed. It's hard to see how things are going to be resolved. Although the nearby residents are opposed to bringing in museum-level traffic to their neighborhood, the local government in Sun Valley, Idaho, has no problem hosting the Ernest Hemingway Festival from September 22 to 25.

23.8.05

Guimard in Le Vésinet

Garden ironwork by Hector Guimard, La Hublotière, Le VésinetMy last post about Hector Guimard (Saving Hector Guimard, March 9, 2004) was about one of the buildings he designed in Paris, which underwent a disfiguring renovation. Now I have read an article by Marie-Douce Albert (Au Vésinet, Hector Guimard se laisse voir, August 9) for Le Figaro, about another of Guimard's buildings, a private home built in 1896 in the Parisian suburb of Le Vésinet, called the Villa Berthe or La Hublotière. The house at 72, route de Montesson, is still in private hands, in this little town where Mrs. Ionarts and I spent a lot of time when we lived in France. The owner opened up the garden of his house, from July 1 to August 16, to anyone who wanted to see it out of interest in Guimard's work. Apparently, the façade is not all that interesting (my translation):

So the public can walk up, walk around the outside, inspect the walls down to the smallest details that Guimard always added in great number. The architect, who is known to posterity largely for the large flower buds and vines that he erected at the entrances of the Paris Métro, built this comfortable home in 1896. The client's name was M. Noguès, and he was renting out this land and already had an apartment in Paris and two houses nearby. But that's about all we know about him. "That's a shame because we also know that Guimard loved to capture something of the character of his clients in what he built," says Aude Thierry. This art history student, one of the interns who receive visitors, continues, "This man was probably somewhat rigid. We imagine that perhaps he reined in Guimard. Or maybe he was required to conform to the look of the neighborhood, because the façade is really pretty tame."

On the side facing the street, the house is reasonably symmetrical, organized around a large stone tower (perron). All of this could be mistaken for a style much more bourgeois than Guimard's if we did not also find the architect's footprint in the sitting neogothic dogs, the mixture of colors in the red brick and cream stone, the twists of forged iron in the balconies, the wave motifs above the windows, and the fine arabesques in whip shapes sculpted in the stone.
The Villa Berthe is nicknamed La Hublotière because of the small port-hole (hublots) openings in the walls. (The owner's Web site has lots of photos.) According to the article, Guimard scholar Georges Vigne has called it Guimard's first work in the Art nouveau style, full of experiments that led to more developed ideas in the famous Castel Béranger in the 14th arrondissement of Paris (14, rue la Fontaine).

Opera Preview, September 2005

Last summer, I put together a Preview of the Opera Season, 2004–2005. It was only a list of operas, interesting to me, to be produced over the year. Well, it was useful for me to track reviews of those operas, so I have decided to do it again. Once again, this is not complete, by any stretch of the imagination. We will start off here with what is on our plate for the month of September. To look ahead for the whole year, go to the complete Opera Preview, 2005–2006.

SEPTEMBER

Antonin Dvořák, Rusalka
September 9 to 27
Opéra national de Paris (also a production at the Prague National Theatre and Prague State Opera, September 1 to June 12)

Isabel Mundry, Ein Atemzug - Die Odyseee [WORLD PREMIERE]
September 7 to 11
Deutsche Oper (Berlin)

Offenbach, La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein
September 10 to October 1
Frederica von Stade and Paul Groves, directed by Garry Marshall
Los Angeles Opera

Verdi, I Vespri Siciliani
September 17 to October 4
Maria Guleghina as Elena
Washington National Opera

Dvořák, Čert a Káča (Kate and the Devil)
September 17 to June 17 (7 performances)
Prague National Theatre

Carl Nielsen, Maskarade
September 19 to October 13
Royal Opera House at Covent Garden

Gaetano Donizetti, Roberto Devereux (concert performances)
September 20 and 24
Opéra de Lyon

Paul Hindemith, Cardillac
September 24 to October 20
Alan Held, new production conducted by Kent Nagano
Opéra national de Paris

Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos
September 24 to October 11
Metropolitan Opera

Aribert Reimann, Das Schloss
Based on Franz Kafka's The Castle
September 25 to October 1
Deutsche Oper (Berlin)

Jan van Vlijmen, Thyeste [WORLD PREMIERE]
September 27 to October 10
Théâtre de la Monnaie (Brussels)

Smetana, Libuše
September 28, October 28, May 8
Prague National Theatre

Preparing My Dirty Looks

You know, at the beginning of the summer, ten weeks of vacation seems like an endless amount of time. However, every year when the first faculty meeting rolls around (tomorrow), I wonder how all that time could have disappeared so quickly. Couldn't we start school in October instead? My friends who work regular jobs, where there is no concept of summer vacation, are amused (and secretly disgusted) that my family operates only on the academic calendar. Not that most teachers really don't work at all in the summer, because most do. They have to, because the pay is so low. Still, just being able to go away from school, perhaps work with adults for a change, is the most refreshing thing you can imagine. I am sure that most people would benefit from such a regular change of routine. Lawyers could drive buses, waitresses could work in an office, whatever. The only problem is that, eventually, you have to go back to school. Sigh.

22.8.05

Philip IV and Buen Retiro

Jusepe Leonardo, Vista del palacio del Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, MadridThere is a new exhibit at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, El Palacio del Rey Planeta: Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the birth of King Philip IV (reigned 1621 to 1665). He is the monarch who typifies Spain's golden age, a great patron of the arts, lover of painting and classic literature, and the exhibit recreates the collection of paintings that once adorned Buen Retiro, the king's palace in the center of Madrid (image at right is Jusepe Leonardo's Vista del palacio del Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), now mostly destroyed, although its gardens, the Parque del Buen Retiro are now a popular public park. There are 62 works, and most of them passed from the king's belongings into the Prado collection, and they are shown in the arrangement designed by the king. Diane Cambon wrote a review (Philippe IV ou l'amour de l'art, August 12) for Le Figaro (my translation):

Once you passed through the first room, where you can admire two portraits of Philip IV painted by the Spanish artist Velázquez, you enter into the cycle dedicated to ancient Rome. The Spanish monarch's passion for Italian painting led him to buy, between 1630 and 1640, dozens of canvases by the period's most important artists, like Giovanni Lanfranco, Giuseppe de Ribera, and Domenichino. For the first time, this series of works, that used to adorn the palace's rooms, is shown in its entirety to the general public. All the works are organized around the same theme: Roman antiquity, the funerals of emperors, gladiator battles, or arena scenes.

From there, we enter the world of spectacle. In addition to his love of painting, Philip IV was a lover of theater. He commissioned several plays on mythological themes from the most brilliant playwright of the period, the illustrious Calderon de la Barca. A series of six comic actors painted by Velázquez are shown around an equestrian portrait of Count Olivares [who helped build Buen Retiro]. These actor paintings were originally hung in the apartments of the Queen, Isabelle Elisabeth de France [my correction: the sister of Louis XIII, King of France], who was as passionate as her husband about court divertissement.
El Palacio del Rey Planeta: Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro will be open to the public at the Museo Nacional del Prado, in Madrid, through November 27.

Summer Opera: Undertow

Undertow, Finnish National Opera, August 2005One of the interesting operas offered by the Suomen Kansallisooppera (Finnish National Opera) this summer was a chamber opera by an Australian composer and directed by a Finn (performed from August 17 to 19). It was called Undertow, and it has been described as "cheerful and absurd, [...] mixing up opera, dance, theatre and multimedia and leaving a mismatched group of people stranded by the tide: life guards, a dancer, a newlywed couple, tourists and a conservationist." The opera was actually premiered last year, at the Adelaide Festival in Australia by State Opera South Australia, and travelled this year first to the Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary, before going to Helsinki. Tim Lloyd's article (Opera's new following, August 19) for The Advertiser (Australia) doesn't say much:

The opera, about Australian beach lovers being squashed by the rising tide, uses popular music styles such as klezmer and ragtime.
I'd like to know more, but that's all I can find for now.

Summer Opera: The Tender Land at Bard

The other opera I should have gone up to Bard SummerScape to hear is one of my favorites, Aaron Copland's The Tender Land (premiered by New York City Opera in 1954). Bard performed the chamber arrangement of the opera, made in 1987 by Murry Sidlin. I agree with Kyle Gann at PostClassic, who expressed his incomprehension at why this work is not more popular with audiences. Some critics and listeners are put off by the accessibility of Copland perhaps, as Kyle also brilliantly noted in a post about Billy the Kid:

Charles Ives wrote, "Beauty in music is too often confused with something that lets the ears lie back in an easy chair." Today we need an addendum: "Profundity in music is too often confused with something that forces the ears to lie on a bed of nails."
That is a statement to live by, I think. I found only one real review of The Tender Land, by Anthony Tommasini (A Girl, Her Suitors and Waving Wheat, but Fate Intrudes on This Farm Tale, August 6) for the New York Times:
Rejected for broadcast by NBC, "The Tender Land," with a libretto by Erik Johns, was given its premiere by the New York City Opera in 1954. The tepid reception to the work was a disappointment for the composer, who sounded almost apologetic in talking about the score. The music was "very plain, with a colloquial flavor," he wrote, "closer to musical theater than to grand opera." Maybe so. But you can only hope that Copland finally understood what an affecting, honest and musically elegant work this modest opera can be in a sensitive production. [...]

The sets by Antje Ellermann and costumes by Michelle R. Phillips evoke the requisite Walker Evans images: the farmhouse with peeling paint; the field of golden wheat; the rickety fence; Laurie and her little sister, Beth, in gingham dresses; Ma Moss on the porch in her wicker rocker. The director Erica Schmidt elicits beguiling portrayals from the appealing cast, including the choristers who sing and dance at Laurie's party: rugged farmers with unkempt beards and their hardy wives in flower-print dresses, with a few impish children in tow. The conductor James Bagwell delves beneath the surface of Copland's score -- all open-spaced chords, comfortingly tonal harmony, folksy evocations of hymns, dances and ditties -- to reveal the bustling rhythmic intensity and pungent chromatic bite of the music.
Tommasini praises the singers, too, to varying degrees. It sounds like it was a good production, all the more not to be missed since this opera is not produced all that often. Shame on me. Apparently, not many critics reviewed the opera at all (Alex Ross wrote a little capsule on the Bard festival for The New Yorker this week), which is too bad.

21.8.05

Saving the Photographs

André Kertész, Clock of the Académie Française, 1929, gelatin silver print, 17.2 x 23.5 cm (6 3/4 x 9 1/4), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation and The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, reproduced courtesy of the Estate of André Kertész and the Jeu de Paume/French Ministry for Culture and CommunicationPhotographs are going to turn out to be really tricky to preserve, perhaps even impossible. Their fragility is only going to be compounded as they become completely obsolete. As I have speculated here before (What's a Negative?, November 30, 2003) à propos of a passage in Proust, even something like the idea of a negative image is eventually going to disappear from general knowledge. An article by Françoise Dargent (Les clichés de l'Etat dans le flou, August 4) for Le Figaro recounts the accusations of major donors of photography collections against the French government. They claim that the government's photographic collection, owned now by the new museum created by merging the old Centre national de la photographie with the Musée du Jeu de Paume. (Ionarts was there for the first time last summer.) Just how many photographs are we talking about? The translation and links are mine.

These are mostly donations to the State in the 1980s and 90s by artists like René Jacques, André Kertész, Willy Ronis, Roger Corbeau, and Denise Colomb, and also purchases made by the Ministry of Culture like the collection of the famous Harcourt studio (4 million negatives!), some 16 collections all together. Last April, dozens of crates containing these works were transferred to the Fort of Saint-Cyr, in the Yvelines. This building, which houses the photographic and documentary archives of the Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, also contains the prestigious collection from Nadar's studio. As a result of this transfer, the Director of the Fort of Saint-Cyr is today responsible for the preservation of 16 collections of the former Photographic Collection. However, the commercial and cultural management falls to the photographic agency of the Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), while the "valorization" of these works belongs to the present director of the Jeu de Paume, Régis Durand.
Even I can tell you that this is not a good situation. At a press conference during the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, the group of donors has made its complaints public, decrying the lack of organization in the reorganization of the collection, claiming even that some photographs have been lost (which was probably inevitable). "You have destroyed a structure without thinking about what would have to replace it. You have sacrificed the Photographic Collection to dress up the Jeu de Paume," their spokesperson said. The accustions all have merit, of course. I hope that the government is giving thought to what should be on their minds, as the author of the article points out, how to digitalize these precious collections before they disintegrate.

Summer Opera: La Cenerentola at Wolf Trap

Filene Center at night, Wolf Trap, August 20, 2005The Wolf Trap Opera Company is another group that presents operas in Washington in the summer, with young and lesser-known singers. The disadvantage the group faces is their venue, an outdoor theater in a national park that is a long drive into Virginia from the District of Columbia. Outdoor opera is nice in Santa Fe, where the cool evening air of the desert makes people put on sweaters. Not so in the swamp of the Washington area, where the humidity and evening heat can be so oppressive that I am amazed that anyone goes to Wolf Trap to hear opera. The breeze, if there is any at all, is likely to feel warm and moist, and it does not always reach the center of the auditorium.

Yet people do go to Wolf Trap, just as they did this Saturday night, August 20, to sit through three hours of Rossini's charming comic opera La Cenerentola. According to the Wolf Trap Opera Company blog, written by company director Kim Pensinger Witman (yes, this may be a first), budget concerns required cutting a multiple-performance, staged Cenerentola down to a single-performance, semi-staged one, probably in order to consolidate the audience into one evening and spend less money on production. People filled the orchestra and balcony seating, under a roof but open on the sides, and many sat on the sloping ground for the cheapest price of admission, but it was not sold out.

The singers at Wolf Trap are all young people who come for a summer residency, just as in similar programs at Santa Fe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the size of the venue and the presence of the people far away on the ground means that singers and orchestra are both amplified in the cavernous Filene Center, which most people who are serious about opera know is cheating. It creates the illusion that younger singers can project well enough to fill that immense space, but in reality one cannot judge such a performance by normal acoustic standards. The amplification, which is at times disadvantageous to the voices (other than the fact that it carries them out to the lawn), may be one of the reasons for Jens's aversion to the concert version of La Bohème that he heard at Wolf Trap last summer.

Kate Lindsey (Cenerentola), Weston Hurt (Dandini), Jason Hardy (Don Magnifico), La Cenerentola, Wolf Trap Opera Company, August 20, 2005For that performance last year, the orchestra was comprised of members of the National Symphony, but not for this opera, as far as I can tell. It is usually warm and muggy outside at Wolf Trap, and this was no exception, although it was perhaps not as horrible outside as it has been earlier this summer. The orchestra played in black polo shirts and slacks, some with sandals (as did their conductor, Dean Williamson), which fits with the relaxed tone of a summer concert. The playing was good, with some problems in the winds, especially in the overture, before the clarinet and oboe players were apparently really warmed up. In the woodwind section, the standout player was piccolist David Lonkevich, joined at times by principal flutist Sara Nichols. You need a sassy and talented piccolo player for most Rossini operas, and the sound here was assured and accurate, even on the same solo in the overture that the other winds botched. This is crucial when you get to the magnificent aria that concludes the opera, "Non più mesta," which is introduced by the piccolo.

Kate Lindsey (Cenerentola), Wolf Trap Opera CompanyThe cast of singers did a fine job, considering their age and experience. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey (shown here), a native of Roanoke, Virginia, was the standout in terms of vocal richness, technical agility, and acting skills. She had most of the necessary vocal qualities for Angelina/Cenerentola, which is a very demanding role, with the only possible exception being the very lowest notes in the extended range, which sometimes were lost, even though she was amplified. That part of Ms. Lindsey's voice, which is overall really quite extraordinary for someone her age, will probably mature as she gets older, and I suspect that we will be hearing even more remarkable things from her in the future. (Her program blurb indicates that she will sing a small role in the Met's Manon, with Renée Fleming, this coming season, as well as Rosina in the Barber of Seville at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where I will hopefully be hearing her again next summer.) That she is also quite pretty does nothing but enhance her chances for greater success. She was a very believably shy, sweet, funny Cinderella, and you did not have to suspend disbelief to accept that the men of the chorus were literally bowled over when she arrived at the palace in Act II. Musically, Rossini made the role the focus of the somewhat nutty and overblown libretto (by Jacopo Ferretti), and the opera will fail quickly with a Cenerentola without the vocal goods, which was certainly not the case here.

I am not sure why male voices seem to have innately greater difficulty with rapid melismatic passages, but a lack of vocal flexibility was noticeable in all of the male soloists. This was most pronounced in the singing of Puerto Rican tenor Javier Abreu (Don Ramiro), who otherwise performed well, with some very nice high notes in spite of some strain. (He will appear as Count Libenskof in Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims at New York City Opera this fall.) Baritone Weston Hurt was a stitch as the servant Dandini, who spends the first act enjoying the role reversal when he is disguised as the Prince. Bass Jason Hardy gave an over-the-top performance (sometimes, in buffoonery, less is actually more) as Cenerentola's arrogant, corrupt, abusive father. (He will sing the role of Polyphemus in Handel's Acis and Galatea with New York City Opera next April.) Audrey Babcock and Evelyn Pollock were appropriately outrageous as the wicked stepsisters. As the wise Alidoro, who engineers Cenerentola's trip to the palace (there is no fairy godmother here, as in the more familiar version of the story found in Massenet's Cendrillon), bass-baritone Daniel Gross's voice seemed dim and swallowed to my ears, a trait that may have been made worse by the amplification. (He nevertheless received a claquish and curiously loud ovation.)

As you can see in the middle picture above, the singers acted out the story in the space between the edge of the stage and the orchestra, sometimes going behind the orchestra, too. Director Garnett Bruce did a good job of communicating the story in his staging, which was accomplished with a minimum of props. Martha Mountain's lighting design helped to keep static monotony from setting in. It was not clear what time period we were in, to judge by the costumes, but it seemed to update the story in a more or less credible way. This was the final production of the summer at Wolf Trap, but we look forward to hearing the singers that Kim Pensinger Witman and her colleagues bring to Virginia next summer.

UPDATE:
See also the review by Joseph McLellan (Washington Post, August 22) and the review by T. L. Ponick (Washington Times, August 22).