Monday, November 30, 2009

Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Met

This morning/afternoon Meridita and I went to a full dress rehearsal of Bartlett Sher's new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera.

It was FABULOUS. The staging, costumes and sets were gorgeous and imaginative. The production included a number of ballet numbers that I absolutely loved (I need to see more ballet). The dancers were highly sexual in some numbers, such as the Venetian "palace" scene. They were dressed in skimpy, sexy lingerie and performed an exquisitely slow acrobatic number.

I really loved the music. Much of it was incredibly familiar. I think Offenbach must be used in every period piece ever made. Not to mention commercials.

Our dress rehearsal included a last minute cast change: Joseph Calleja, who sang Hoffmann in the first act, was not feeling well, and the performance was taken over my a stand-in. Although Calleja had a lovely tenor, I really liked the stand-in better. His voice was clearer, more bell-like, and he projected farther and just seemed somehow more of a person. Of course, this could be because Calleja was feeling under the weather.

The Olympia doll was played my Kathleen Kim, and she was utterly enchanting in her coloratura number. I also was very much moved by Anna Netrebko singing the Antonia character who sings herself to death.

It did occur to me that this is a rather sexist play. The women are vain, materialistic, dishonest, obsessed, or else completely objectified (the doll).

On a final note, our balcony seats kind of blew. We were pretty high up and pretty far back, and that really makes a difference in the experience.

I liked this production so much I'm considering going to the theater to see it live in HD. That would be a lot of Hoffmann in a short period of time, though.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Les Contes D'Hoffman

I just finished watching a Netflix DVD of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann performed in 1981 at the Royal Opera.

The quality of the DVD is not great. I definitely see the value of the HD ones. And for this, a lot of the singing wasn't subtitled for some reason.

So, last night I had it on while I worked my puzzle, but didn't watch it; I just listened. I really enjoyed the music.

Then I woke up today at around 11 and watched the whole thing. It's kind of enchanting and moving, but not overwhelmingly so. I didn't get caught up in it like I did in La Boheme.

It's an interesting series of stories that are all about thwarted love. The costumes are wonderful, and there's a languid Venetian brothel scene that was stunning.

I'm going with Meridita to see a dress rehearsal at the Met tomorrow morning, and I'm curious what this different, probably more modern production will be like.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Le Nozze di Figaro

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled -- thoroughly delighted by Le Nozze di Figaro which I saw last night at the Met. (Thanks to Meridita's generosity).

It was my first Mozart and I was just enchanted my the music. It was so fun and pretty. I know that sounds trivial, but that's how I felt. Completely absorbed in the pleasure and prettiness of the music.

The cast was superb. I particularly like Lisette Oropesa as Susanna. Her voice is clear, sweet soubrette (a word I learned from Plotkin) and seemed perfectly suited to the music. She was a charming actress as well. Also charming and with a beautiful voice was Isabel Leonard in the trouser role of Cherubino. Very playful and coy in her acting, but soulful and lovely in her singing. The Rossina was played beautifully by Annette Dasch, who had the more mournful songs in the otherwise very lively happy silly opera.

The male lead, Almaviva was played by Lodovic Tezier, who I saw as Marcello in the DVD version of La Boheme. Firgaro was played by Luca Pisaroni. (I don't know why Figaro gets the last bow, as it really seemed like Almaviva carried the show). Dr. Bartolo was played by John Del Carlo, who played the same part in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It's fun seeing the same performers in different roles and becoming familiar with their voices and their style.

I had a grand time at the opera. It was a truly delightful evening.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Tonight, Thanksgiving, I went to see Where the Wild Things Are in Union Square with RT.

I had read all the glowing reviews and facebook praise and was so excited to see this.

It was very beautiful and haunting, a wonderful mood piece. But I'm afraid I was disappointed. Very early in the movie a sense of loss and fear and sadness hits. It hits hard. And that sense stays there throughout.

There is no real safety in the film, the boy looks tender and fearful and yet hopeful the whole time. It's very sweet, very sad, very beautiful. But it never moves beyond that and because of that there is no release, no resolution. It just sits with its emotions.

Which is perhaps the point. The boy, who feels overwhelmed by his own anger and frustrations, counters the nuances of his own mood in each of the wild things, who are all sad and lonely and lost and frustrated. He wants to be their king and make them better, but he can't. So he goes home.

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt is a very moving documentary about a group of people who were accused and convicted of child molestation charges in the 1980s. There was a rash of prosecutorial zealousness in the Northern California County, and one after another people were accused of child molestation. (This was, of course, during a national moral panic about the issue, but the filmmakers didn't contextualize it in that way.)

The convictions were all based on the testimony of children who had been inappropriately questioned and prepped by state social workers and the prosecution. Years later these kids began to recant their testimony and acknowledged that they had lied and had been pressured to produce their stories.

The film focused on a handful of these wrongfully convicted people, who spent from 8-20 years in prison. All of their convictions were overturned.

It was terribly moving to see these people emerge from prison after so much time.

I think the filmmakers could have brought up more sociological issues, exploring the nature of the frenzy in a larger context and asking why we are so irrationally afraid of "child molesters". Also, there was dead space, and it could have been a good 15 or 20 minutes shorter. Still, it is an excellent documentary.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Importance of Being Iceland

The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays on Art, by Eileen Myles is really a delicious, elegant treat. Like expensive dark chocolate covered mint leaves from France.

The book itself is a gorgeous object, shiny green and blue with thick pages.

It's a collection of essays about a whole bunch of different things, but they all have Eileen's voice in common, and it's this wonderful thing that comes across, being a poet and being in the world. Being smart and unique and strong and basically happy.

I didn't read all the essays, or even all of some of the ones I started, but I enjoyed this book as my companion for the last week or so. It's interesting reading a collection of essays, you don't get sucked in like with one long work. You dip your feet in and let them soak a bit, wiggle your toes and then hop out.

"Puppetry is primary animation, the spirit is injected by those deft hands pulling it right, making it breathe. And we are puppets too. The show succeeds when we gasp and guffaw -- feeling silly and glad we came exactly here this afternoon, and that they made it for us."
-- Eileen Myles, from "Twitch" in Blogs: 2004-2006

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Body Double

This is the schlockiest piece of embarrassing crap I have seen in my life.

Body Double is an 80s thriller about a guy who gets sucked into watching a neighbor's nightly strip-tease act and eventually, he thinks, witnesses her murder.

The way it is put together is so half-assed, with long, meaningless scenes that add nothing to the plot and hinder rather than build suspense. My favorite was a completely implausible and gratuitous kiss between our idiotic hero and the sultry victim. It was just embarrassing. I did get a good laugh out of it, though.


Up is a near perfect movie.

It has a quirky, unique storyline that includes love, loss and redemption. It is serious and fantastical, it has a sweet chubby child and a curmudgeonly old man. A silly but literally uplifting plot device.

And very dog-like dogs.

I really enjoyed it. It was visually and emotionally beautiful.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind

I was tremendously moved by the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind.

It focused a lot on her early career and early music. It really allowed you to hear her music and her voice and her lyrics in this way that was kind of intimate.

It choked me up, because I bought all her records when I was 14 and devoured them. I mean I listened to them over and over and stared at the record art and copied out the words... That was so long ago. Those songs are a part of me, and so many years have passed by.

She had a very sweet voice, and a very "pure," or clean sound that was totally unique (actually the documentary emphasized her song writing and her personal life, but never mentioned her singing style).

My one criticism was that it sort of fetishized her appearance. I guess there wasn't enough footage of other things to show, and she was very beautiful. But the way the camera lingered over picture after picture of her face kind of took something away for me. But, her prettiness was part of her career...

The New Electric Ballroom

Last night a friend and I went to The New Electric Ballroom at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO.

This Irish play, by Enda Walsh, was truly and utterly horrible. It's about three spinsters living together and just acting insane. It's stylized theater, with tons of monologues and little plot. But the problem was that the story itself is a cliche (the song Delta Dawn comes to mind), and there was little emotional depth. It was, as my friend said, all in one pitch. It was pretentious and ultimately very empty. A total waste of time.

It had gotten excellent reviews in The New York Times, and I had been very much looking forward to it. What a disappointment.

Here's a quote from the Times. It's actually apt, what it says, in spite of the fact that I hated the play and the reviewer loved it.

"Breda and her sister Clara chatter away to convince themselves they are alive, but also to avoid truly living. “There’s a terrible lull in the conversation,” Clara says with a squirm when the chatter stops. “The sort of lull that can get you worrying about other things.” It’s an observation Samuel Beckett would surely approve.

The heart-scarred Breda (Rosaleen Linehan) and Clara (Ruth McCabe), withdrawn from the world and its cruel gossip, spout language as if it were blood pouring from an arterial wound. Immured inside their house in a shabby fishing village, they fill the hours by taking turns describing in painful detail a day long behind them, and the night of shame and disappointment that followed. It’s as if the only way they can endure the agony of their stunted lives is by re-enacting the hour of the fatal blow."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Savages

I just watched The Savages, a dark, sad movie with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

It's about two somewhat distant siblings who suddenly have to take care of their elderly father with dementia. The characters are all unhappy, unsatisfied people kind of struggling to make it through minute by minute.

It freaked me out, because of my anxieties about aging and death, so it was difficult for me to watch.

The acting was amazing. However, at the end, suddenly, things looked brighter for the two main characters, and it was unclear why. Like the movie had to have an uplifting consolation. But it seemed tacked on to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Introduction to Criminology

Hagan's Introduction to Criminology is okay. It has it's uses and does a good job condensing a tremendous amount of material. The theory chapters could be much more in depth. In general I prefer primary sources.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maya Edelman at 'Snice

I just went down to my favorite local sandwich shop, 'Snice, and was rather struck my the delicately surreal artwork on display.

The artist is Maya Edelman, and the prints and paintings depict one or two figures against solid backgrounds. The figures are slightly surreal, as you can see in this image of a woman whose hair grows into a tree trunk. I was reminded of Amy Cutler's work, which I'm also greatly drawn to.

I really liked them and made a point of remembering the artist's name and looking her up. It was a pleasant aesthetic addition to my lunch hour...

Bread and Tulips

This afternoon I watched a very special Italian movie, Bread and Tulips, about a bourgeois woman on bus tour vacation who gets left behind at a truck stop. Rather than reuniting with them immediately, she ends up hitchhiking to Venice where she fashions a sort of life for herself amongst a group of quirky characters.

The movie is visually delightful, and full of special moments and a lingering sweetness. The main character is irresistibly charming.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day

I just finished Joan Bolker's Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis.

I've been reading it since last winter, and it has helped me tremendously. I actually can't emphasize enough how helpful it has been. There are many techniques for finding a way to get at your own process and it deals with practical and psychological difficulties.

The final two chapters, which I just tackled, are "Revising: The Second Draft and Beyond" & "The Best Dissertation is a Done Dissertation." They really helped me see that I'm in the final stretch and that it isn't easy. I need to pick up my pace now. I was surprised that she mentioned that you might feel like giving up at this stage. I thought I was crazy for feeling that way. 300 pages in and I want to bag it. But apparently it's a common feeling.

"When revising, what you're engaged in is closer to craft than it is to art, and if you keep at it long enough, you'll succeed without having to worry about inspiration."

"Revision requires stamina: you can't quit just because you're tired, or because you don't ever want to see one particular paragraph again, or because you hope the writing is OK, even though you know it isn't... But the biggest temptation for most people... is too quit too soon... it's also OK to be tired or bored, just so long as you keep working anyway."

And, most exciting to me of all:

"when you defend your thesis it will become much clearer to you that you own this work... This realization is an important private graduation, a psychological parallel to the public ceremony."

I cannot wait. I can almost taste it. I'm almost there.

Away We Go

Away We Go is a very sweet, very special movie. Its only flaw may be its awareness of its own specialness; it does sort of have an undercurrent of smug preciousness to it. But, far and away I enjoyed it.

It's about a couple that is quietly and solidly in love but they don't have any family or social connections. They are in a fairly wonderful world of two, where they get each other, they respect each other, and they communicate honestly and humorously. The depiction of this relationship reveals genuine intimacy.

So, they are pregnant and want to find a place to raise a baby where they are less alone. They travel around the country visiting people: old friends, family members. Everyone is very fucked up and there are some hilarious scenes. These encounters leave the couple feeling alienated and afraid. But, and here's where the smugness comes in, there's a sense that they know they won't be fucked up terrible parents because they tacitly understand that they are better than anyone else.

In spite of this, it's a very likable, very funny, and very sweet movie. It also has a compelling yet cloying soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Opera 101

The second it arrived from Amazon I devoured Fred Plotkin's Opera 101: A complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera.

I still haven't finished the chapter on 400 years of opera, but thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on becoming a cognoscente. It provided so much useful information about terminology, and how operas work. I immediately got certain terms, such as soubrette, lyric soprano, coloratura, and basso buffo (the second I heard that term, I knew it referred to the older men in Il Barbiere), and think that having a rudimentary vocabulary is definitely going to help my ear in the future.

The second half of the book details specific operas for which he suggests specific recordings. I haven't bitten into this yet, but am certain it will be an important resource going forward. For instance, I intend to see Les Contes d'Hoffmann live in HD at BAM next month, and will definitely read his description before hand. I may even purchase the recording he recommends and listen to it before going (a practice he firmly advocates). I haven't done that yet. It will be interesting to compare my experience of an opera that I've heard prior to going.

One slight bone I have to pick with him regards supertitles. I understand his stance against them, as one's eye does flick back and forth between the titles and the action, and I can appreciate that it has diminished my attunement to the music. But I have found that following the words drew me in more deeply, and until I am much more familiar with opera in general and specific operas in particular, I think I would feel alienated from the experience without the titles. But, maybe the second time I see something I will give that a try.

Also, I think the book would benefit from a short glossary.

Opera on Tap at Freddy's Bar & Back Room

Last night was stupendous. Meridita and I went to see Opera on Tap perform at Freddy's Bar and Back Room on Dean Street in Prospect Heights.

This group of performers really blew me away. There were about 8 different singers, all with powerful and beautiful voices. Each sang twice and they all dramatically entered each of their arias, and are each uniquely talented.

One thing that was a real treat was hearing opera sung in English and German. I had been (and still was to some degree) resistant to hearing this type of music sung in those languages. Hearing the words in English is a completely different experience, a bit more "mundane" or less romantic. However, I began to get into it, and felt that I could appreciate what it must be like to understand Italian while listening to Puccini, for example. I now feel primed to listen to an English opera.

The German was less daunting, but a little strange on the ears. There were a couple of hard "Ks" in there that jarred me a bit. But, I eventually entered this world as well.

I was also pleased that after reading Plotkin on the different types of sopranos that I could distinguish between a lyric soprano and a soubrette.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

La Boheme

I just watched a DVD of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Puccini's La Boheme from 2008 with Ramon Vargas as Rodolfo and Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi.

I had read the synopsis online and thought the story was actually pretty uninteresting. It took me a while to get into watching the DVD on my computer, but after the first twenty or so minutes, I was enthralled.

The music is so emotional that it really carried me through the whole thing on this kind of intense at the edge of my seat level. I was near tears at many points, and crying like a baby in Mimi's death scene. In fact, I was so moved that when they were doing their curtain calls it was hard for me not to applaud, here in my living room!

I loved the singing, but Gheorghiu's performance was kind of weird, particularly in the early scenes. Her attempts to be girlish just seemed kind of twitchy and manic, and the closeups did not really work for this performance. I thought Vargas was very sweet, although sometimes he looked kind of simple and goofy.

I'm really glad I watched this. I think La Boheme is one of my favorites so far. As I said, the music really moved me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Map as Art

Last night I went to the opening reception for The Map as Art, an amazing group show at The Christopher Henry Gallery in Soho/LES. The show was really fantastic. All the art engaged cartography, in a variety of beautiful and interesting ways. Maps themselves are so lovely and intricate, and the artists really found unique ways of entering their form. Some standout pieces were Meridith McNeal's life-size dress made out of New York City subway maps, and a fascinating large-scale photo collage triptych of a map of the world made through images of used computer waste. I don't know the name of the artist who made that piece. Also a lovely cut-out book with maps.

There were so many wonderful works, but the opening was so crowded that it was impossible to really give everything a proper look. I would like to go back and revisit.

The Map as Art , a group show curated by Katharine Harmon and Christopher Henry . The exhibition presents a diverse group of work in a variety of media, all of which use mapping concepts to explore uncharted territories both formal and intellectual. The show is presented concurrent with the launch of Harmon's book, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography (Princeton Architectural Press). The exhibition features works by: Doug Beube, Matthew Cusick, Joshua Dorman, Jerry Gretzinger, Ingo Gunther, Jane Hammond, Emma Johnson, Karey Kessler, Joyce Kozloff, Hayato Matsushita, Meridith McNeal, Florent Morellet, Vik Muniz, Aga Ousseinov, Matthew Picton, Karin Schaefer, Dannielle Tegeder, Heidi Whitman, and Jeff Woodbury .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Farmingville POV

Farmingville POV is a PBS documentary about a Long Island town in which a hate crime against Mexican immigrants occurred. It explores the emotional and zealous political furor the town went through in response to an influx of illegal Mexican day laborers, and the documentary exposed the blatant racism of a faction of the white middle class residents.

It provided good coverage of the political dispute around establishing a hiring center, but I felt that overall it didn't take the viewer anywhere. It didn't really probe issues and it seemed very (understandably) biased on the side of the day laborers and seemed almost to mock the perspective of the "racists". At one point things reached such a pitch that the zealots just looked like crazy people. Perhaps they are, but I would have liked to have seen more insight into their craziness.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


A wonderful thing yesterday afternoon: a friend had free tickets to Turandot at the Met which got passed on to me!

I can't believe it, my second Met opera in my life, in the same month a my first!

It was tremendously exciting. This was a very full, rich, lush opera. With a full chorus and dancers (and acrobats), unbelievably stunning and ornate sets, and a powerful story.

There were fewer lovely arias than in Mme. Butterfly and Il Barbieri di Seviglia, and there was just a different sound and tone to the whole piece. My favorite performance was the slave girl, who had a lovely, very emotive voice. And the famous aria, Nessum Dorma (?) was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.