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À mon chevet: '1Q84'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
The taxi's radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček's Sinfonietta -- probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn't seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.

How many people could recognize Janáček's Sinfonietta after hearing just the first few bars? Probably somewhere between "very few" and "almost none." But for some reason, Aomame was one of the few who could.

Janáček composed his little symphony in 1926. He originally wrote the opening as a fanfare for a gymnastics festival. Aomame imagined 1926 Czechoslovakia: The First World War had ended, and the country was freed from the long rule of the Hapsburg Dynasty. As they enjoyed the peaceful respite visiting central Europe, people drank Pilsner beer in cafés and manufactured handsome light machine guns. Two years earlier, in utter obscurity, Franz Kafka had left the world behind. Soon Hitler would come out of nowhere and gobble up this beautiful little country in the blink of an eye, but at the time no one knew what hardships lay in store for them. This may be the most important proposition revealed by history: "At the time, no one knew what was coming." Listening to Janáček's music, Aomame imagined the carefree winds sweeping across the plains of Bohemia and thought about the vicissitudes of history.

In 1926 Japan's Taisho Emperor died, and the era name was changed to Showa. It was the beginning of a terrible, dark time in this country, too. The short interlude of modernism and democracy was ending, giving way to fascism. [...]

Eyes closed, Aomame listened to the music, allowing the lovely unison of the brasses to sink into her brain. Just then it occurred to her that the sound quality was too good for a radio in a taxicab. Despite the rather low volume at which it was playing, the sound had true depth, and the overtones were clearly inaudible. She opened her eyes and leaned forward to study the dashboard stereo. The jet-black device shone with a proud gloss. She couldn't make out its brand name, but it was obviously high end, with lots of knobs and switches, the green numerals of the station readout clear against the black panel. This was not the kind of stereo you expected to see in an ordinary fleet cab. [...]

Why, though, Aomame wondered, had she instantly recognized the piece to be Janáček's Sinfonietta? And how did she know it had been composed in 1926? She was not a classical music fan, and she had no personal recollections involving Janáček, yet the moment she heard the opening bars, all her knowledge of the piece came to her by reflex, like a flock of birds swooping through an open window. The music gave her an odd, wrenching kind of feeling. There was no pain or unpleasantness involved, just a sensation that all the elements of her body were being physically wrung out. Aomame had no idea what was going on. Could Sinfonietta actually be giving me this weird feeling?

-- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (trans. by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel), pp. 3-6
My traversal of Haruki Murakami's books -- Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running -- has come up against the big kahuna, the sprawling, 1000-page 1Q84. Some reviews and other readers had put me off the book for a while, but it turns out to be a fascinating read that flows by easily. The title, it seems to me, should be read as "Q-teen Eighty-Four," which is the closest way to realize the concept from the book: the title of George Orwell's famous book, newly popular again in the Trump era, with the second digit replaced by the Japanese character kyu.

If you are not one of the "very few" who can imagine the sound of the opening fanfare section of Leoš Janáček's Sinfonietta as you read this book, listen to the embedded video several times and it will become indelible. The piece runs throughout this fascinating book, a dual narrative that follows two main characters in alternating chapters. All of the hallmarks of Murakami's other books are here, too: the suspension of the laws or reality (the reference to Kafka in this passage is not coincidental), the explosive violence, the sexual tension. I'll reserve judgment until I reach the end of the book, but I am surprised that some critics could have missed the boat on this one.


For Your Consideration: 'Dunkirk'

Mark Rylance in Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan

Director Christopher Nolan's previous movies have ranged from the intriguing (Memento, The Prestige) to the over-budgeted and overblown (Inception, yet more installments of the Batman franchise). He has reportedly long wanted to make a film about the evacuation of British armed forces from the French beaches at Dunkirk in 1940, and his box office successes gave him the opportunity. The taut, simplified, but effective Dunkirk, which opened over the weekend, is the result.

Fitting the story into the film's 106-minute span required streamlining. The other participants in the vast battle and evacuation (French, Belgians, Canadians) are largely ignored, and we experience the events mostly through a chaotic tangle of unexpected characters, sometimes hard to keep straight. A hapless British soldier, Tommy, played both naive and level-headed by newcomer Fionn Whitehead, manages to get to the beach and tries like many of the characters just to save his skin and get away. A trio of Spitfire pilots takes off for Dunkirk, where they try to protect British craft in the waters from the air (thrillingly shot in low-tech splendor), with the exploits of Farrier (played expressively by Tom Hardy, in spite of having his face almost always covered by an oxygen mask in the cockpit) proving the most important. Nolan's terse screenplay is full of silences.

Other Reviews:

New York Times | Wall Street Journal | Washington Post | Los Angeles Times
David Edelstein | NPR | Christian Science Monitor

Representing the famous little ships of Dunkirk, the private watercraft requisitioned by the Royal Navy and mostly piloted by their officers, is Mr. Dawson. This older character, who pilots the English Channel in dress shirt and tie, is given life and depth by the incomparable Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Wolf Hall), as he takes the helm of his own boat with his teenage son (another newcomer, Tom Glynn-Carney) and young friend (Barry Keoghan). The three narrative threads overlap, with characteristic Nolan-esque time shifts, unified especially around another fine performance, that of Kenneth Branagh as a naval commander overseeing the evacuation.

These little stories, though told in a compelling way, do not add up to an appreciation of the entire battle, leaving me feeling a little cheated at the end. The cinematography (Hoyte Van Hoytema) is unfailingly beautiful, shot in large format film for IMAX and capturing grand vistas better than intimate scenes. (Watching this movie on a large screen is essential.) The sound, especially the occasional screaming of fighter planes, is hard to take. Hans Zimmer's score struck me mostly as pedestrian, often little more than a pulsating unison in one instrument or another. The only moment of musical grandeur is stolen from Elgar's "Nimrod" movement from Enigma Variations, predictably perhaps but to powerful effect.

Dunkirk is playing at theaters everywhere.


'The Originalist' returns to Arena Stage

(L to R) Brett Mack (Brad), Edward Gero (Antonin Scalia), and Jade Wheeler (Cat) in The Originalist
(Gary W. Sweetman/Asolo Repertory Theatre)

When John Strand's new play The Originalist first ran at Arena Stage, two years ago, it ruffled audience feathers. The show returns this summer -- I saw it on Friday evening in Arena's Kreeger Theater -- after the election of Donald Trump has made Strand's character's appeal for a return to the political middle seem even less plausible as a dream.

Already making matters worse was the death of the title character, Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2016. He had become such a legendary figure to Republicans that, breaking with long-set precedent, the Senate declined even to give a hearing to and vote on President Obama's nominee to fill his seat. It is easy to understand this idolatry: Scalia was a brilliant jurist, a literate and cultured man who wrote some of the most colorful dissents in the court's history. He was the agitator-in-chief, a position apparently taken over by the current occupant of the White House, but without the learned polish and panache.

Other Reviews:

Nelson Pressley, Gero still rules as Scalia in ‘The Originalist’ (Washington Post, July 16, 2017)

Peter Marks, Scalia and his audience (Washington Post, May 9, 2015)

---, Coming to a theater near you: Scalia! The play! (Washington Post, February 26, 2014)
Edward Gero remains masterful as Scalia, his bluster-filled rants landing every punch. More remarkably he uses all the tools Strand's words provide to create sympathy for the often-maligned Scalia. The circumstances of the play, involving a left-leaning law clerk hired by Scalia as an ideological sparring partner, are entirely fictional, but the real-life Scalia's reverence for opera, literature, and the bonds of family comes through loud and clear. The other two roles have changed hands in this revival, beginning with the earnest, green idealism of Jade Wheeler as the law clerk, Cat. She hits the right notes, Cat's optimism and uncertainty, but Strand's play mostly uses the character only as a foil to the lead.

The role of Brad, a true-believer clerk from the Federalist Society, is a foil for the foil, played with smug satisfaction by Brett Mack, who like Wheeler is making his Arena debut. Molly Smith's production is minimal but effective: a large desk and starkly lit red curtains suggest Scalia's office, a simple frame is enough to show a shooting range, and so on. The focus remains, appropriately, on the larger-than-life figure seated at that desk.

The Originalist has been extended through August 6, at Arena Stage.


Touring production gives 'King and I' another shot

Mrs. Anna (Laura Michelle Kelly) arrives in Bangkok, The King and I (photo by Matthew Murphy)

It's a Rodgers and Hammerstein summer at the Kennedy Center. First, a touring production of The Sound of Music made a new case for the power of the last collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. This week another touring production, directed by Bartlett Sher, tried to do the same for the duo's The King and I, from 1951. While it is a handsome production visually (sets by Michael Yeargan, lighting by Donald Holder) and restores some numbers and dialogue that are often cut, this story drawn from real life is still cringe-worthy for its colonial attitudes. One of the restored numbers, "Western People Funny" (!) at the start of Act II, does not help in this regard.

Laura Michelle Kelly was in beautiful voice as Anna Leonowens, the Welsh widow who arrives at the court of the King of Siam in the 1860s to teach the royal children. She had a charming, prickly interaction with the King of Jose Llana, whose humorous arrogance was a greater asset than his voice. Vocal contributions were less stable from Joan Almedilla's Lady Thiang, the King's primary wife (dignified but with some weakness at the top). Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao did fine with the high vocal writing for Tuptim and Lun Tha, but they could not make me care about this secondary plot line, which is the musical's principal dramatic weakness, a poor substitute for a major love story.

Other Articles:

Peter Marks, Who ever wrote swoonier ballads than Rodgers and Hammerstein? (Washington Post, July 21)

Geoffrey Himes, ‘The King and I’ may be from 1951, but this production restored originally stricken lines (Washington Post, July 13)
Sher has done what he can to fumigate the show's fusty jingoism. He has restored some lines deemed too angry or risqué by the show's creators, and a significant number of Asian actors populate the cast. Christopher Gattelli's choreography goes back to the original movements created by Jerome Robbins, with gestures and costumes (generally beautiful, designed by Catherine Zuber) that recall Thai classical dance. It is hard to say if that faithfulness makes the second act's ballet, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" (an error-ridden, garbled version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous, problematic novel) less offensive or more offensive.

Robert Russell Bennett has done the same job to the orchestral score that he did with The Sound of Music, a reduction to four string players and eight woodwind and brass players, augmented by unattractive synthesized sound managed by keyboard. This may help maximize profits, but audiences should feel cheated by the sonic element -- with only one-third of the live musicians compared to the original score -- despite competent mixing with the voices by Scott Lehrer. Given the state of most people's listening standards, they likely will not.

The King and I runs through August 20, at the Kennedy Center Opera House.


À mon chevet: No et moi

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
Lucas writes me little notes in class. He folds them over and slides them in front of me. 'Awful!' when the English teacher wears a strange skirt with fringes and pearls around the hem. 'He can sod off' when Mr Marin has given him his umpteenth zero. 'Where's the gnome?' because Gauthier de Richemont is absent (he's not particularly good-looking and Lucas has hated him since he grassed Lucas up to the principal one day when he was smoking in the toilets). In French class he stays quiet, even when we're doing grammar. It's the class where I'm most attentive. I hate being disturbed, I concentrate so as not to miss the tiniest thing. Mrs Rivery gives me special homework. French class is like a logic puzzle or a deduction, an exercise in dissection without a scalpel or a body.

People who think that grammar is just a collection of rules and restrictions are wrong. If you get to like it, grammar reveals the hidden meaning of history, hides disorder and abandonment, links things and brings opposites together. Grammar is a wonderful way of organising the world how you'd like it to be.

-- Delphine de Vigan, No and Me (trans. by George Miller), Ch. 30
Like so many excellent books, this novel by Delphine de Vigan was a recommendation from James Wood. Based on the experience I think I will be reading all of her books. She wrote this one and three books before it while holding down a day job in a business. The narrator, Lou Bertignac, has the same nickname as de Vigan, under which pseudonym (Lou Delvig) she published her first novel. What gripped me instantly was the individuality of that narrative voice: troubled, quirky, boundlessly intelligent, yet touchingly naive. There is nothing flowery about de Vigan's style, which is terse and rapid-fire, but there are marvelously diverting tangents, observations that are slowly unraveled in small lengths. The book's British translation is presented as a book for teenage girls, but don't let that put you off.


To Judge a Musician by his Hair!

The issue of performer-and-hair has recently come up on a conversation thread on the instagram account of the fellow writer, obsessed listener, and musical explorer "foreignwords" (he runs the podcast & website Fugue for Thought). There, the cellist Carmine Miranda, having just joined the social media world, found a mention of himself regarding his recording of the Dvořák and Schumann cello concertos which he took exception to. I had made the particular comment and was briefly the subject of the artist’s vented ire. (We've since made up.)

The ionarts Hair-RADAR

Hair is a hairy issue and has a particular, if minor, place in classical music. Beethoven’s revolutionary mane seems almost the embodiment of his music and personality, in a time of manicured wigs. Haydn was expelled from the choir he served in—if memory of the Haydn-for-Kids tape I used to devour as a tot serves me correctly—for clipping his fellow chorister’s wig’s pigtail. There has been a harpsichordist’s spat recently, and at the root of it hair. And when we imagine Bach, it’s the wig that comes to mind first.

Hair has made its appearances in several of my ionarts reviews, too. I’ve just (re) published the interview with Daniel Müller-Schott, whose pony-tail had for the longest time given me a negative bias which I, in order to do his art any justice when I ran into it, had to consciously overcome. (His hair is absolutely impeccable now.)

On cellist Alban Gerhard: “. It is difficult to align [Alban Gerhardt’s] youthful good looks with the fact that he already looks back on an illustrious 15-year career in Europe. Although that hair is just two years from being designated a comb-over…” (Dohnanyi's Brahms Wins the Day).

On cellist/conductor Michael Sanderling: “…Attendance would be seemly for the following reasons, in order: […] #3: Here I was going to list Michael Sanderling’s hair (see: Sanderling Jr. for Muti), which is the only legitimate successor to Riccardo Muti’s. But Sanderling, the youngest of the conducting clan, had to cancel the tour.” (National Youth Orchestra of Germany rocks Viktor Ullmann)

On Heinz Holliger: “Heinz Holliger is wonderful: A charming advocate of contemporary music—his own but especially that of others’. Still an outstanding oboist. The finest Haydn conductor I’ve heard in concert. And of course someone who has taken the comb-over to Olympic levels… often going with “Squirrel-that-came-home-to-die”, or another successful creation that he sported on this occasion of the Klangforum Wien performing contemporary Japanese composers: the “Pigeon-that-flew-into-a-ceiling-fan”; a lighter, fluffier creation particularly suited to hot Salzburg summers.” (Notes from the 2013 Salzburg Festival ( 16 ) | Salzburg contemporary • Klangforum Wien 2, Heinz Holliger)

I’ve not found mention of it on ionarts, but I’ve long suspected Gautier Capuçon of being more concerned about his hair than his intonation and a generally lesser musician than his clean-cut brother. Even though my first impression of him in concert had been a very positive one. (Also I’m beginning to notice: What’s with cellists in particularly featuring so prominently on my hair-radar? Notes for the couch.)

The Bone of Contention

Foreignwords’ posted the CD cover of Carmine Miranda’s recording (and a generous remark about the recording’s quality). My comment on it ran thus: “I reject this performance on ground of its hair. (Tell me that I really need to put this back out of the discard bin...?!?)” A mixture—less obviously than I had thought—of snark and poking fun at my own biases.

available at Amazon
Schumann & Dvořák, Cello Concertos
Carmine Miranda, Moravian PO, P.Vronský
Navona (Parma) Recordings

This, as you might be able to imagine, did not please the artist: “Since I am brand new to @instagram and trying to figure things out” he wrote, “I came across this very ignorant reply. I understand that this post is quite a few months old but I couldn't resist to reply to this myself…” And off he went. On his own account, he posted a screen shot, circling the offending passage, and continued: “Can you believe this guy? (@classicalcritic) He definitely puts a new meaning to "listening with your eyes". He is a "classical #music #critic" for the acclaimed #classical #publication @listenmusicmag and @Forbes. His premise for not #listening or even reviewing my latest recording of the Schumann and Dvorak #Cello Concerti is because he doesn't like my hair? I hope this is not a representation of the magazine that I have been reading since I was a child…”

I could dissect the statement (especially on this poor child of my imagining having to read Forbes magazine as a toddler), but that is tit-for-tat nonsense and would only be good for imaginary score-keeping and playing to the peanut gallery. The kerfuffle seemed mostly a slew of misunderstandings and perhaps a touch of bent ego. Mr. Miranda[1] might have thought that I dismissed his performance because of his Off-Off-Broadway-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-the-Musical looks[2]. [I have since heard from him in a message[3] that shows that it is possible, with a bit of mutual effort, to take a social-media tussle and turn it into something productive, creative.] But I hadn’t taken a dislike to his interpretation based on such a ludicrously superficial reason as his looks[4]. Much rather I had simply not given it a first chance. Still, he does get it partly right in his second statement: “Can you believe this guy? […] His premise for not #listening or even reviewing my latest recording of the Schumann and Dvorak #Cello Concerti is because he doesn't like my hair? […] You can't please them all, especially the #ignorant! I bet he didn't see this one coming! #unbelievable”

Listening-Choices: Soft and Hard Biases

If this is a bit humorless, as far as responses go, it’s because he is missing a crucial element in which—in a self-referential way—am poking fun at that dismissal because it is/should be obviously ludicrous and unrelated to the performance. That could be overlooked… And I have often noticed with myself that my sense of humor tends to make a hasty retreat whenever the target of a joke or criticism is my own person, leaving only flustered outrage at the front to deliver the response. It’s also a clumsy response, because it stokes potential antagonism, rather than trying to sooth it. But that, too, is understandable. Especially in the semi-anonymity of the internet.

The real disconnect lies here: Carmine Miranda thinks that I obviously, decidedly should listen to his recording. (Fair enough, from his point of view.) When he reads the hair-nonsense, he must think: “This guy had the choice between listening to my recording and not listening to it… and he didn’t listen to it for that of all reasons?”

That would be potentially upsetting, but it’s not so. In reality my choice is whether I should be listening to this, or this, or this, or this [etc. ad infinitum] recording. And his CD is somewhere among the stacks of hundreds of CDs I still have to make my way through. I have to be discriminating, somehow, unless I grab randomly into the To-Be-Listened-To shelf or boxes. Quite naturally I am led by all my biases in choosing which recordings I will listen to first. These biases are manifold and wide-ranging and—as is the nature of biases—wildly subjective: The composers I like and what time of the day it is. (Weinberg in the morning isn't as attractive as Thomas Tallis; Casella in the evening with a bottle of Birrificio Via Emilia, but not Ferneyhough…) Or my opinion of the label. The quality of the presentation or even the quality of the jewel case. The professionalism of the design or the font-choice. What I have listened to the day before. Whether I have heard of the artist. How does she or he present her- or himself? And here we are in that territory where hair enters again.

These are soft biases; they can push a recording to the front or the back of the considerable listening-pile. (There are a few hard biases, too: Anything by John Rutter is out, as would be Riccardo Muti conducting Schubert. Bach, Haydn and Alexandre Tharaud are always in. But that’s really it.) A haircut could be said to be a simply superficial way of making such a choice. Silly, and besides-the-point, but not really worse than many other reasons.

Then again a haircut could also be considered an initial communication on the part of the artist. Especially on a cover photo. An artist’s choice of dress or undress, coiffure, or makeup is one of the ways in which an artist wants to communicate[5]. Fusty writers complain when comments are being made regarding the state of dress of the likes of Yuja Wang et al. (see also: A Yuja Wang Dress Report, Prokofiev 2, and the Munich Philharmonic in Brahms), but this is rubbish. Thought gets put into dress and presentation and to suggest that they don’t matter at all would be as silly as suggesting that the presentation of food in a restaurant doesn’t matter. Worse: It’s a case of lying to oneself or just a dismal lack of awareness of one’s own biases. And that’s one of the points I wanted to arrive at: It is better to be aware of one’s biases than to be ignorant about them. Speaking about them in public is not only OK, it should be encouraged. Outward appearances influence our judgement. If we are not afforded to be blind, we must be aware[6]. Acknowledging them—and certainly making fun of them—is not the same thing as being proud of them (which would be worrisome). Being aware of our (and others’) biases helps us, when called upon, to try our best to overcome or avoid them. In order to give criticism of any kind any validity, we should be aware of them constantly and try to overcome them or else state them bluntly (which is also useful).

For any artist, this might be helpful to understand. There is often reason or awareness behind that which may seem outrageous to quickly offended sensibilities. If one puts all of oneself into a project, an interpretation, then rejection of any kind—especially the inconsiderate kind—must sting because it is in essence a rejection of the person they are. But that’s the artist’s life and those who learn not to care too much, or to take everything with a grain of salt will fare better. A slight sense of detachment helps, a dose of irony or self-deprecation can break the ice. It would have been easier for everyone, had Carmine Miranda responded by saying “I reject this critic’s opinions on grounds of his shoe size” than if he had tried to make an exasperated example of my alleged ignorance. No one likes a thin-skinned artist; everyone loves someone displaying a sense of humor in a tough spot. Still, we’ve managed to find common ground quickly enough and he’s got his way and I my benefit: He’s got me listening to his recording now, and more intently than I might otherwise had and I’ll learn something. But just to get around my biases, I shall make it a blind listening, instructing a friendly helper to mix a few interpretations and play them to me. It’s the thing you do when you fear that you might otherwise reject a performance on account of its [sic] hair. After that, I hope, Carmine Miranda and I will continue the conversation about Schumann and superficial perceptions.

[1] He first responded to my suggesting that this was less reason to take offence than a misunderstanding by offering that I may ‘reach out to [him] through [his website] if I would like to learn more about his performance, interpretative choices and [were willing to] give the recording a second chance’. Nice and all, but still reversing the ‘duty of interest’…. “Duty of interest” meaning that I have no inherent duty or inclination to be interested in anyone’s work – whereas an artist’s work has the duty (or intent, certainly) of making me interested in it.

[2] Incidentally: I had the CD lying around as an acquaintance stopped by last night and the cover prompted an immediate, unsolicited comment of rather unflattering nature. Arguably it’s only natural that my realm of acquaintances may, on average, tend towards a similar ideal of kemptness [sic] and self-presentation. But I think the take-away is: The cover does and will, objectively, divide opinions quite strongly.

[3] “Very nice! I’ll tell you what! Why don’t we turn this into an informational and educative experience for both of us and readers? I am willing to personally send you a copy of this record and a full copy of my scholarly research (Musical Times Journal of Music, London) on “Decoding the Schumann Cello Concerto” which was the basis for my interpretation of one of the concerti (very briefly summarized in the liner notes). If you are willing to put aside your bias and give it a “first listen” we can discuss about your views and mine, interpretative choices, questions you might have about the album or even listening gear (e.g. why did you prefer this instead of that?) openly and publicly.”

[4] Looks which I had in any case attributed to the performance itself, which I thought would have made the coy absurdity of the statement more pointed.

[5] Unless he or she just doesn't care at all – and even then not caring about one’s appearance—Holliger, Sokolov—is also a statement!

[6] (Does no one remember Kurusawa’s Sanjuro, which takes up that issue?)


'Little Mermaid' flounders amiably at Wolf Trap

The Disney Company knows how to line their pockets. They carefully guard their most popular products, their movies, and string people along with countless related paraphernalia. Such is the case with the musical version of The Little Mermaid, which is visiting Wolf Trap this weekend. It has the big songs from the beloved movie, fleshed out into a merely adequate musical form (music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater). The audience on Thursday evening, not quite filling either the outdoor pavilion or the lawn of the Filene Center, went quiet or sang along to the movie songs they knew. During most of the rest, the children got restless and the adults chatted.

With the pleasant weather that evening, it was still a mostly enjoyable experience, especially during Act II when Miss Ionarts and I abandoned our seats in the pavilion, where the amplified sound was a little overwhelming, to sit at the top of the lawn and eat our rather expensive but deliciously cold frozen yogurt. Diana Huey belted believably in the title role, with enough enthusiasm for two lifetimes, matched nicely by Eric Kunze's Prince Eric. Arlington native Allen Fitzpatrick was a dry wit as the Prince's tutor, Grimsby, and Jennifer Allen stole the show as the evil sea witch Ursula, two parts drag queen. Melvin Abston's Sebastian got the most laughs.

Other Articles:

Keith Loria, ‘The Little Mermaid’ swims into Wolf Trap (Fairfax Times, June 30)
The movie's story is fleshed out a bit, as we learn that Ariel's father believes that humans killed Ariel's mother, making him distrust them, and Ursula is King Triton's sister, bitter that her parents favored her brother over her. The orchestral sound, mostly canned digital music, was a disappointment, especially as it was calibrated for the seats on the lawn, putting the sound inside the pavilion at almost an ear-splitting level.

The production, directed by Glenn Casale glows with neon colors (costumes by Amy Clark and Mark Ross; lighting by Charlie Morrison; scenic design by Kenneth Foy), with the chorus costumes recalling a Las Vegas floor show at times (choreography by John MacInnis). The problem of how to put a story taking place partly underwater is solved with some brilliant flying effects (choreographed by Paul Rubin), which when the actors wriggled in their flowing costumes made a fairly convincing imitation of swimming.

The Little Mermaid runs through July 2, in the Filene Center at Wolf Trap.