Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lucking Out: A Terrific Book

I've enjoyed reading James Wolcott's new memoir Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York. I didn't know seventies New York. I knew eighties New York. But Wolcott takes me back there with stops at Max's Kansas City, CBGB-and the New York City Ballet.

There are four subjects covered at length: Film criticism and Pauline Kael (subject of an intriguing new bio by Brian Kellow; punk rock; ballet; and literary criticism. Wolcott saw all of this and participated in a great deal, from one of several roachy 'man cave' apartments in and near alphabet city. Remember in the 70s New York was moribund, bankrupt, broke. There's the infamous Daily News Headline: Fored to New York: Drop Dead, when the hope of government assistance, not for a bank but for the world's greatest city was blown off. Ford wasn't re elected (or elected once!) New York City today glitters, and shuns those of us not pulling down a high six figures.

Never mind. It was great to be there. (It was great to be there!). Wolcott sets out the age perfectly:

You might see Balanchine himself strolling toward the State Theater,
his head and neckerchief jauntily yachting across a choppy sea of mundane heads belonging
to non-geniuses patronizing the sidewalk. It was an inspiring sight, just knowing he
was briskly alive, Bernstein was alive, Martha Graham was alive, Agnes de Mille was
alive--they hadn't forsaken us.

These and Patti Smith, the Ramones, Tina Brown (later and not happily) Robert Christgau, the Velvet Underground-they are encountered vividly and shared with a reader still thrilled and incredulous by the New York that was. Lucking Out ends eerily on the night John Lennon was killed ( December 8, 1980--where were you?). The seventies were really over.

Thank you, James Wolcott for so excitingly reminding me what i just barely missed.

Handel's 'Rodelinda' live in HD

I'm looking forward to hearing Rodelinda this Saturday on the Met's live in HD program. Handel and popcorn! Fleming and diet Coke! What could be better?

I saw this production in New York in 2004. I believe it was my last visit there to date. (I'm no longer drawn to New York) I loved Stephen Wadsworth's fine production. The show told the story in movement, gesture and settings as well as in music. No precious posing in this staging. The full title of this opera from 1719 is great: Rodelinda, regina de' Longobardi. It's based on a French play by Corneille and as with many opera serie the plot is, well...fantastical! I gave up figuring a lot of it out. I enjoy the music and the singing and in this case, the staging.

Renee Fleming sings the title role. I don't like her recordings much. I'm the only person in the world not to get the memo. When I've seen her live however, I'm captivated by her vocal and physical beauty. Stehpanie Blythe, a contralto force of nature who can sing anything appears along with David Daniels, a passionate countertenor. Harry Bicket conducts. I expect to enjoy this-again.

Rodelinda to me has always meant Dame Joan (not her late career recording for Decca). I wouldn't surrender her 1959 performances from London nor her 1973 extravaganza from Amsterdam. Friends tell me that the battered old 3 LP set from Westminster, withTeresa Stich-Randall and Maureen Forrester, is the recording to have. We of a certain age were used to hearing this heavy-Handel and I'm sorry the Westminster recording has yet to make it on to CD. I'd like to hear it again after 40 years.

But again with Handel, it is always a luxury to sit and listen (and watch, at least Wadsworth's production) without working so hard to understand who is married to whom and killing who and married to someone else and sleeping with another's brother in law. It's like an 18th century version of Judge Judy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don Giovanni and Souvenir

Arts marketers have caught on that most of us are stir crazy of a Thanksgiving weekend when the endless turkey variants and the love and kisses from dear ones near and far all go stale, and its time to get out of the house.

Here is Columbus we're lucky to have an enforced afternoon of, well-not rest, I'm not sure what it was-The Game with That school Up North takes a lot of pre-season bulking and post game trauma and soothing. What a weekend this was to sate any emotional needs!

Friday night saw the official opening of CATCO/Phoenix's production of Stephen Temperley's Sovenir at the Riffe Center. Steven Anderson directed the play with clarity and love and without a shred of condescension or eye rolling. Souvenir tells the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) and her quest for a career with the opera and art song greats. At a time when Rosa Ponselle, Lotte Lehmann, Ezio Pinza and Jussi Bjoerling were going strong, Mme. Jenkins, out of Wilkes-Barre, PA saw herself in the pantheon. Indeed. She had no talent whatsoever. When we meet her, she's been giving private recitals for er h200 best friends for years. There are plenty of cheers...of derision rather than for a well turned musical phrase. The lady was tone deaf.

It would be too easy to make fun, and to enjoy a cruel sneer at one person's happy illusions. That doesn't happen here. Florence loves music and she wants you to love music, too. Kudos to Linda Dorff, a beloved actress hereabouts, who never stooped to parody. Nor did the multi-talented Matt Clemens, whose portrayal of Cosme McMoon, Madame's accompanist-and enabler?- lets us in the joke but assures us the joke isn't very good.

Souvenir is very good, blessed by two wonderful performances. Go see it. Laugh and have a good cry for yourself. Linda and Matt's final four minutes are worth the price of admission.

Saturday was The Game. Couch potatoes all, with plenty of lo-cal Gatorade, and turkey sandwiches, turkey hash and turkey ice cream,. The Game was enjoyed at home. Enough said.

Sunday afternoon was the second of two performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni . This was the reconstituted Opera/Columbus (thank you, CAPA) presenting the Canadian Company Opera Atelier at the Southern Theatre. The Southern spoils the audience for hearing music anywhere else in town. Opera Atelier presented a cast of dishy young artists, with (blessedly) the Columbus symphony and several familiar faces in the chorus. There was not a bad voice among the soloists. Quite the contrary. The staging reflected the giocoso element of dramma giocoso. Movements owed a lot to baroque dance and were charming and funny rather than affected and phony. I will say that in none of the homes of regie-opera, not in Cologne, Braunshweig or Baden-Baden have I seen Leporello spanked by Don G. Only in Columbus.

Opera Atelier brought us a fine production to see and hear. The excellent voices made the excising of three great arias all the more regrettable. (Don't talk to me about Prague and Vienna versions. I know. I was nearly there. You got the voices...let 'em sing!)

The packed house cheered the artists, from Canada and Columbus to the walls. More! More!

OK, one caveat: Weight Watchers flunkees like me should not audition for this company. They would send the Pav to the gym and Dame Joan herself to a fat farm.But again, this Don Giovanni sounded and looked wonderful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A letter from a listener

...As I listened to your fine program on Sunday night (I was doing construction out in my garage at the time) I realized I had been away from this incredible music for too long.

In this, my 40th year of teaching, I have been telling my wife, family and friends that I have grown tired of music. Filled to the brim, ears worn out, had enough and all that. But after thoroughly enjoying your program, II suspect that I am not so much tired of music as I am bored with the smallish repertoire if standards I have been teaching for too long.

You helped me out of my rut and I thank you. I promise to write a check to WOSU before years end.


I told this person: "Talk about making my day!"

The Real Housewives of South Boston

Hysterical and true to life. There's no place like home!