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Paris in the 20s and 40s

The Paris of the 1940s is on my mind these days, because of a book-related project, so it was serendipitous to discover Paula Fox's essay-memoir of that time, Paris: 1946, in the summer issue of The Paris Review, Issue 170. (Many thanks to The Elegant Variation and Arts & Letters Daily for the link.) What neither of those sources mentioned was that Oliver Broudy also interviewed Paula Fox in the same issue (sadly, only the first section of it is available online). Randall Curb considered Paula Fox's writing in a long review-article for the Boston Review, in the December 2001/January 2002 issue. Aida Edemariam did the same (A qualified optimist, June 21, 2003) for The Guardian.

Allen Robertson remains in Paris but goes back a few decades in his article (Serge of Power, July 9) for The Times (London) to consider the tribute this year at the Proms for the 75th anniversary of Serge Diaghilev's death. Six of the scores he commissioned for the Ballets russes in Paris have been or will be performed at Royal Albert Hall this season:

  • Stravinsky, Firebird (Prom 8, July 22 [review])
  • Stravinsky, Petrushka (Prom 11, July 24 [review])
  • Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring (Prom 42, August 16 [review])
  • Debussy, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prom 60, August 30)
  • Stravinsky, Les Noces (Prom 65, September 3)
  • Stravinsky, Renard (Prom 71, September 8)
If you're like me, you read that list and think "big deal" until you get to the last work. Never heard of Renard?
Renard is the least familiar of the Stravinsky works selected for the Proms. He subtitled it "a burlesque tale in song and dance" and wrote it for two tenors, baritone, bass and a chamber ensemble. This is a cautionary barnyard fable in which a cockerel, aided by a cat and a goat, tries to protect his hens from a fox improbably disguised as a priest. Devised in 1915, Renard is a deliberately silly joke brimming with risqué implications. It disappeared after a few performances in 1922 but resurfaced in 1929, weeks before Diaghilev's death. In this new version Diaghilev insisted that the cast include acrobats. This unorthodox novelty, just one of many, echoes the single most famous proclamation of Diaghilev's artistic credo. When Jean Cocteau asked what Diaghilev wanted him to do, he replied: "Astonish me."
No word on whether acrobats will be performing at the Proms. If you are in New York, Renard will also be performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at their opening night concert on September 22. (Through their Web site, you can listen to an excerpt of the work.) Sir Simon Rattle will conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance on June 15, 2005.

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