Thursday, April 23, 2015

your theory is as good as mine

Your random #tbt Don Carlos trailer of the week, courtesy of Theater Basel.

Previous episode here

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Der Lindenbaum of the Knowledge of Good and Apples

Resolved: All English translations of Winterreise suck, but some will inevitably suck more than others.

Exhibit A:

This is an organ grinder:

THIS is a Leiermann:

So like...

Hear it? Let's hear that again, just to be sure.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Indiana Jones & the Paris Opera Basement

Andrew Porter has died at the age of 86. Obituaries here and here. Some of us of A Certain Age™ may remember skipping the cartoons and going straight to his reviews in The New Yorker (he was Alex Ross's predecessor there). We may also remember his intermission lectures on the Met Opera broadcasts, back when they did that kind of thing. For an opera-obsessed teenager, he was a big part of the cultural landscape. For a kid trying to learn how to write, his was the voice of accessible scholarship. (Not that any of those skills were ever acquired, of course, but it was a level to which one could aspire.) 

His singing translation of the Ring, picked up for Wagner class in freshman year, is still here, thumbed through often times enough that it is now held together by rubber bands. Notes in the margins contain corrections -- it does take a certain amount of geeky attitude to be a teenage Wagnerite -- but not without recognizing the translator's mas ninja skills in getting the lines to match up with the beats, and the words to match up with the leitmotifs (yikes), all without the English side gnarling up into some ungodly, unsingable mass. 

Most of all, though, every time we talk about a five act Don Carlo -- or Don Carlos -- which we do a lot here in our corner of the blogosphere, we're talking about his work. We're talking about him in the basement of the Paris Opera, prising apart pages that hadn't been seen since Verdi himself was in the room with them, and reconstructing a score from parts rejected not because they weren't any good, but because the demands of mass transit are immovable. 

That story will be in every obituary of Andrew Porter, because it was the centerpiece of a career more eventful than most. This was evident two summers ago, at Caramoor's Verdi in Paris Day. After a lengthy roundtable discussion in a hot stone courtyard on a 96° afternoon, he was still charmingly open to being button-holed by people as enthusiastic as he still clearly was about the complex history of this opera. I joined the klaatsch half way through, and it isn’t exaggerating to say that his eyes were filled with the memory of it, and he spoke about it as if he were there right then, in the Paris Opera archives, old volumes in hand, and not standing in the shade of a tree near a portable water cooler in the hinterlands of Westchester.

Then, because my mas ninja skill is in ending conversations before they’ve begun, I asked him a question he couldn't answer. Ten points to Gryffindor!

Do not allow this man into your discourse...or your country.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Work of the Devil

 If you’ve been cooling your heels here in the new Canaan waiting for a cinema screening of the Old Vic production of The Crucible to show up at the local art house, you can now jump the queue via Digital Theatre. Yay, those guys! Last year, director Yael Farber took a minimal in-the-round set and a tight ensemble cast and put together an intense, sinuous three hours, which the folks at Digital Theatre then made into something of a master class in how to film live performance.

There was a time – it may still be going on, I’m not in a position to know anymore – when American high school students were routinely frog-marched through the Arthur Miller canon.  I remember some handout involved on the Aristotelian theory of tragedy, which was supposed to be the alpha to Miller’s omega thesis (Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge) that The Common Man ™ was just as capable of generating tragedy as the King of Thebes or the Prince of Denmark or any other imaginary 1 percenter of the days of yore. But I think very few of us quite bought (or cared about) that argument at the time, and anyway we weren’t all that interested in plays that resembled things that had gone on in our grandparents' living rooms.

Which may be why The Crucible is the one that sticks with us – it was enough not about us to make it interesting, and enough about us to make it interesting. It was unsubtle in its politics, and we could talk about it, as we did then talk about it, in the post-Nixon era, in the long shadow cast by HUAC. Plus it had that sexy Witches vs Puritans vibe which is fun in a cartoon kinda way. In fact, if we ever get past the Halloween version so familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a Salem tchotchke shop in tourist season, The Crucible is pretty much our stand-in for knowing anything about what happened there…or not quite there but near there, as the case may be. It nicely caps a telescoped historical episode where the Pilgrims arrive fresh from England, starve a bit, invent Thanksgiving, then get all enthusiastic about paranoia and witch persecution. (In S1E2 they get shirty about taxes and dump tea in Boston Harbor.)

All of which is prelude to saying it’s really interesting what the reviews have made of this production, or rather of the “relevance” of the play. The unifying theme seems to be that yes, Miller wrote it about McCarthyism, but in this day and age it’s really about religious extremism.


Because religiosity in the play is never much more than a veneer. Scratch the surface, not very hard, and you see religion is a pretty thin coat of paint over a dense interior core of money. Or rather of property, whether it’s cows or acres or people. The play was in some measure designed as a way to call out the kind of weedy opportunism that could flourish in a political environment made of equal parts fear and propaganda. As a critique, in other words, of how power engenders and manipulates paranoia for its own profit. Religion is just a very useful tool in the toolbox, as any faith-based reality would be, whether the ostensible Enemy is Satan or Communism or some other religion which is entirely incidentally camped out on top of vast oil reserves.

There was a time when the headline should have read “I saw Goody Proctor buying yellow-cake uranium!”, and then we all might have known the just and righteous thing to do. Or at any rate the just and righteous thing not to do.

But, however you read it, it’s a production more than worth your time and the few bucks they charge to rent it. Go check it out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

As a friend wrote this morning, with undimmed optimism: "Yay! First snow of Spring!" Or maybe it was sarcasm, tough to tell on the Internet. I could post snow pix, but wouldn't you rather just look at cat pix? Of course you would.

"On the other hand," said Nomi, "Spring means sun in West Thirdflooria."

"Perhaps this will make the minions less pale..."

Friday, March 27, 2015

John Renbourn 1944 -2015

John Renbourn owned a lot of real estate in my teenage record collection, whether as a soloist, as half of a duo with Stefan Grossman or Bert Jansch, or as a member of Pentangle or the John Renbourn Group or Ship of Fools. I liked a guitar player who could find his way from Robert Johnson to Robert Johnson.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

an idea whose time has

Me: Just saw branagh's cinderella flick. It's like trollope, only disney LOL

ETF: I don't know if I can see Branagh as Cinderella. When do we get Trollope World tho?