The World of Composer Richard Wagner and his operas. www.wagneroperas.com with frequent forays into the world of art, culture, and film.
- Name: Vincent Vargas
- Location: New York, New York, United States
Vincent Vargas is a foreign language teacher at a private school in New York City. He runs websites dedicated to Casablanca (www.vincasa.com) and Richard Wagner (www.wagneroperas.com).
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Thursday, September 08, 2016
Tenor Johan Botha is dead
Mr. Botha started his career in the chorus of the Bayreuth Festival. Twenty years later he would be acclaimed in the role of Siegmund in Die Walküre at that same theater.
Here he is in the role of Walther von Stolzing singing "Morgenlich leuchtend" from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
I last saw him at the Metropolitan Opera singing the title role in Tannhäuser, a performance that the New York Times described as that of a man who "bristled with the desperate intensity of a man who’d been to hell and back — and lived to tell the tale."
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Welcome to the Thunderdome!
When the US Open moved from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills to Flushing meadows it shed whatever vestige it had of manicured lawns and country clubbers. Aided by players like Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King tennis became the people's sport. Not only was the tournament not ever like Wimbledon, it didn't even try. After the move to Flushing, the permanent adoption of hard courts, the change to yellow tennis balls, and a loose code when it came to player's dress, the US Open became the most dynamic sports event in New York City, and also its most profitable.
When it opened in 1997, the behemoth Arthur Ashe Stadium (the biggest tennis stadium in the world) made strangers of us all. Alienation came to tennis. The players didn't even know we were up there, and we could hardly see them in the distance (never mind being able to judge line calls with any degree of certainty), so there was no reason to maintain the accustomed silence during points. The upper promenade of the stadium featured a constant flow of humanity in search of their seats (and more often occupying other people's seats to try to get a closer view), and constant conversation that seemed to just float up to the nearby clouds and escape to the heavens.
But in the last three years the USTA decided that a roof had to be built so that play could continue during the unstable New York weather that often plagues the fortnight. The acoustics of the place have changed forever. Now that the roof is in place, the thousands of random conversations that take place among the fans (especially during the night sessions) has no place to escape. They bounce around the stadium starting like a background buzz and ending up like a foreground clatter. The other night, in the middle of an ESPN match telecast, John McEnroe complained about the noise, mentioning that it felt like he was in Yankee Stadium.
But the USTA has no one else to blame but themselves. They have built the US Open as the hippest of events where loud and brash is in, After all, it is New York City! To this end, there are videos played on giant jumbotrons during changeovers, together with loud rock music while the players take their break. Often a roving camera travels the stadium giving us a free of charge fifteen seconds of fame.
Allow me a classical music anecdote (after all, it is primarily a music blog):
When Sir Georg Solti brought the Paris Opera to the MET for a series of performances of Mozart's La Nozze di Figaro, he knew he would have to fill the cavernous Metropolitan Opera, an auditorium much bigger than any European house. What he did was the opposite: he asked the orchestra to play quietly, and he begged the singers not to shout. The little, precious sound that they created managed to fill the house. Those that were fortunate to be present during those fabled performances were all on the edge of their seats, bending an ear, trying to absorb it all. These were probably the most engaged audiences in the history of Lincoln Center.
Back to tennis:
Now that the stadium roof is here to stay, perhaps the powers-that-be should re-think how it packages the US Open. They don't have to create excitement. The real excitement occurs inside that rectangular blue and green court ruled by white lines.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Gene Wilder is dead at 83
For many he is and will always be the one and only Willy Wonka, and nobody else should attempt to usurp the chocolate factory. He was perfection in that role. Sheer genius and pure imagination.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Juan Gabriel dead at 66
Below is a video of his song "La mujer que yo amo" dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's beloved icon.
Gay Jewish Kangaroo in Bayreuth
Mr. Kosky's new production will replace Katharina Wagner's own staging of her great-grandfather's work, a concept that brought ridicule and boos during its performances. Her take on Wagner's most nationalistic operas was downright irreverent including nudity, masturbating puppets of Germany's great intellectuals, and rethinking the character of Walter as an "Action-Künstler" in the vain of the late Christoph Schlingensief.
Here is a taste of her departing Meistersinger:
Friday, August 26, 2016
Faust: Clowning Around in Salzburg
One stays with this production out of curiosity to see what von der Thannen is going to come up with next. As soon as the curtain goes up we get a clown Faust, and in the next scene a clown chorus, establishing, perhaps, a carnival atmosphere. But in the second act the picaresque ambience is broken by a gigantic skeleton hovering over the Soldier's chorus (obviously an anti war statement), and gigantic black balls (the kind that King Kong might use in a bowling game) are rolled around the stage during Margerithe's most poignant moments. What does it all mean?
Lohengrin at Bayreuth. There are similarities between the two productions. Both feature sleek, white-walled sets reminiscent of a laboratory, and both stagings are supported by choruses weirdly costumed in unexpected ways and richly directed in a manner that integrates the ensemble with the dramatic setting. Lastly, a sparseness pervades Mr. von der Thannen's settings, which he is quick to populate with colorful intellectual incongruities, like little houses on wheels and gigantic lilies. This is the kind of Regietheatre that does not offend, but which titillates the viewer's fancy, and causes smiles, not growls. It can become highly popular and habit forming. Unlike the audiences at Bayreuth, who at times behave like carnivores waiting to devour a director's new production, this premiere received no audible boos during the curtain calls.
Despite its idiosyncrasies this is a production that needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated. That was certainly the case with the Bayreuth Lohengrin for which Mr. von der Thannen designed sets and costumes. I first experienced it through photographs, then on Blu-ray; but the concept did not hit home until I saw it live at Bayreuth in 2012. I hope that other opera houses pick up this staging after its initial Salzburg run.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Florence Foster Jenkins
Cinematically, this is a character that is very close to Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane and Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: women who were lied to about their artistic abilities or popularity, and who ultimately paid the price for this deception.
St Clair, her husband, is the closest this film gets to having a villain. Casting Hugh Grant in the role, however, softens the character's edges admirably. For Mr. Grant this is a comeback film of sorts, and he is great in the part. The years have lined his face. Gone is the boyish, bumbling character who won our hearts in Four Weddings and a Funeral. St Clair is a two-timing liar, but his winning smile, even as he reaches into his pocket to bribe a newspaper critic wins us over.
But ultimately director Stephen Frears makes sure that the film is all about Meryl Streep. She embodies the character of Florence in the same manner that she has tackled the great roles of her career, and undoubtedly this is another milestone: a memorable characterization that will win her many accolades come award season. She knows how to play it big without chewing scenery, and that's one of the wonders of this performance. Needless to say, audiences love that. In addition, she has shown that she can belt out a tune when she wants to. In Mamma Mia! she literally stopped the show with her rendition of "The Winner Takes it All." Here she is deliberately singing flat and off key, which is so difficult to do for a talented, trained singer like her.