The World of Composer Richard Wagner and his operas. www.wagneroperas.com with frequent forays into the world of art, culture, and film.

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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).

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Booing at the Royal Opera House

The opening night performance of the opera William Tell, by Giacomo Rossini was booed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden because of the on-stage dramatization of a rape scene with nudity. The following excerpts are from an article on the BBC website:

The Opera House issued a statement after the performance... apologizing for any distress caused. Director of opera Kasper Holten said: "The production intends to make it an uncomfortable scene, just as there are several upsetting and violent scenes in Rossini's score. We are sorry if some people have found this distressing."

Holten said the scene "puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war." Rossini's opera of the Swiss patriot, William Tell, who shoots an arrow that splits an apple atop his son's head, has been directed by Damiano Michieletto and stars Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as Tell and American tenor John Osborn.

Osborn told Reuters after the performance that the scene "maybe ... went a little longer than it should have. But it happened and I think it's an element you can use to show just how horrible these people were that were occupying this town," he said. "If you don't feel the brutality, the suffering these people have had to face, if you want to hide it, it becomes soft, it becomes for children."

The Stage gave the production one star. George Hall called it a "dire evening" in which the "gratuitous gang-rape" scene provoked "the noisiest and most sustained booing I can ever recall during any performance at this address. Intellectually poverty-stricken, emotionally crass and with indifferent stagecraft, the result is nowhere near the standard an international company should be aiming at", he said.

Mark Valencia writing for What's on Stage pointed out that first night booing is "a fast-growing problem at Covent Garden that doesn't happen at other opera houses. It's become standard practice for the director of practically every new production to be jeered by practiced factions in the audience who object to ideas that go beyond the literal reading of an opera," he said.

But at last night's first night "the perpetrators did something unheard of: they booed during the music. And they did so loudly and long." They also booed at the end of the performance when the production team came on stage for the curtain call.
The opera is Italian director Damiano Michieletto's debut at the Royal Opera House.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dmitri Hvorostovsky Diagnosed with Brain Tumor

The following appeared in the New York Times a few days ago:
The celebrated Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has a brain tumor and has canceled all engagements through the end of August, according to an announcement posted Wednesday on his website.
“He has recently been suffering from serious health issues, and a brain tumor has just been diagnosed,” the statement said. “Although his voice and vocal condition are normal, his sense of balance has been severely affected.”
The site said that he would begin treatment this week and that he remains “very optimistic for the future.”
Mr. Hvorostovsky, one of the best-loved baritones in the world, is still scheduled to appear in September at the Metropolitan Opera in a star-filled production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” featuring Anna Netrebko as Leonora.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

A.O. Scott, in his insightful review in the New York Times of the film Mad Max: Fury Road, wrote that this film isn’t "about heroism... it’s about revolution." Perhaps that is the reason why this franchise reboot by its original director feels as fresh as the original film did back in 1980 when it was just an Australian low budget, sleeper exploitation movie starring a then unknown Mel Gibson. George Miller has gone back to his original creation and he has brought with him an arsenal of talent to bring it up to date. Junkie XL's musical score, with its deep string chords and clever riffs on Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem, is a memorable asset to the film. Likewise, master cinematographer John Seale agreed to come out of retirement for this film, and his work is spectacular. All shot digitally, using an arsenal of new cameras including the Arri Alexa Plus. It is one of the most beautifully shot films in recent memory.

Once again we are in a post-Apocalyptic world (devoid of any visible zombies, although I'm sure they are out there in the vast empty wasteland that Earth has become) where gasoline and water are scarce commodities, and where the dignity of what's left of mankind has been trampled by ruthless chieftains like Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps a harem of women, and whose army of War Boys capture Max (Tom Hardy). Our eponymous hero is a loner who can easily be an American hero right out of the pages of James Fenimore Cooper. He is taken prisoner by Immortan Joe's men and turned into a "blood bag" for a sick War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) drives off-course in her mission to find gasoline, Immortan Joe realizes that she has betrayed him by stealing some of his women, one of whom is pregnant. And the chase is on!  This is when the movie gets loud, down and dirty: but you wouldn't have it otherwise. It is, after all, a Mad Max movie!

But this film goes beyond the twisted metal and explosions that are the bread and butter of the summer cinematic season. At the heart of Fury Road is a tale of vengeance and redemption, all major themes of the American western, a genre that this film often pays tribute to, especially in its photographic wide open vistas and in the depiction of its laconic hero. Or heroine, for that matter. This film is very much about Ms. Theron's character: a damaged, but strong-willed, valiant woman with a prosthetic arm. She belongs to the same breed as Julie Christie in Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Claudia Cardinale in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. By far, it is the feminist film of the year.

The film is also impressive when it comes to the amount of images that linger in one's mind. George Miller knows how to set up a scene and how much to hold a shot so that it becomes indelible. The opening sequence of Max chomping down on a live two-headed gecko, and a truly surreal nighttime shot of people on stilts walking through a poisonous bog are two memorable moments from this film.

Finally a winner in a summer season of many forgettable films. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Julie Kent Bids Farewell to ABT

Julie Kent, who for many ballet fans represent the epitome of the all-American ballerina, bid farewell to her artistic home, American Ballet Theater, after an amazing 29 year career with the company. She chose Sergei Prokofiev's demanding Romeo and Juliet for her swan song, and with her partner for the evening, principal dancer Roberto Bolle, she gave her all in a passionate performance that at times seemed the work of a much younger artist, while at the same time it was obvious that her Juliet came with a lifetime of technique, experience, and elegance.

It was a sold-out audience that was there to celebrate Ms. Kent's career, and her entrance in the second scene of Act I caused such a deafening roar that it must have been difficult for the performers to hear the music. As the evening went on, her flawless performance turned into a love fest for the audience. It was truly a perfect evening for her, and for the rest of the company, and one of the highlights of this year's ABT season.

The ovation at the end of the evening went on for close to twenty minutes.  The great curtain of the Metropolitan Opera parted and the assembled cast, each with a flower in hand, tossed them in her direction, while petals rained down from the rafters.  Meanwhile in the audience not a single soul left the place, and everyone remained on their feet. Then, there was the parade of colleagues onstage, all bearing flowers, positioning them in the middle of the stage, creating a mountain of flora. These included Xiomara Reyes and Paloma Herrera, who earlier in the season had their very own memorable ABT farewells. One of the last to pay her tribute was ABT's Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee, a former dancer with ABT, and Ms. Kent's husband. There were some tender ovation moments as her children William and Josephine shared the stage with their mom.

It was an evening that few will forget, but as ABT finishes the last two weeks of the season, I'm sure that on everybody's mind is the question of who will fill the spots of these three artists who were so much an integral part of the company.  It promises to be a very interesting 2016 season.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Walk will open the 53rd NY Film Festival

I received the following announcement from the Film Society of Lincoln Center:

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today that Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk will make its World Premiere as the Opening Night selection of the upcoming 53rd New York Film Festival (September 25 – October 11), which will kick off at Alice Tully Hall. A true story, the film is based on Philippe Petit’s memoir To Reach the Clouds and stars Golden Globe nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, the French high-wire artist who achieved the feat of walking between the Twin Towers in 1974. The Walk will be the second 3D feature selected for the Opening Night Gala since Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in 2012 and also marks Zemeckis’s return to the Festival after Flight, the 2012 Closing Night Gala selection. The film will be released in 3D and IMAX 3D on October 2, 2015.

New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said: “The Walk is surprising in so many ways. First of all, it plays like a classic heist movie in the tradition of The Asphalt Jungle or Bob le flambeur—the planning, the rehearsing, the execution, the last-minute problems—but here it’s not money that’s stolen but access to the world’s tallest buildings. It’s also an astonishing re-creation of Lower Manhattan in the ’70s. And then, it becomes something quite rare, rich, mysterious… and throughout it all, you’re on the edge of your seat.”

Robert Zemeckis added: “I am extremely honored and grateful that our film has been selected to open the 53rd New York Film Festival. The Walk is a New York story, so I am delighted to be presenting the film to New York audiences first. My hope is that Festival audiences will be immersed in the spectacle, but also to be enraptured by the celebration of a passionate artist who helped give the wonderful towers a soul.”

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Margaret Juntwait is dead at 58

Margaret Juntwait, Former WNYC Host, and the Voice of the Metropolitan Opera, died today at the age of 58. In the history of the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcasts she was only the third host, and the first woman to hold this position. She will be missed.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tomorrowland is Pure and Preachy Disney

The basic premise of Tomorrowland, the new Disney film from director Brad Bird, is that half the world tries to build up Mother Earth in the morning, while the other half tears it down overnight.  Mankind has an incredible inventive gift that has led humanity to wonderful achievements, however we are a race that is also inherently bent on destruction, and this dark aspect seems to be taking over our current civilization.

The story begins in 1965 with the young Frank Walker (who will grow up to be George Clooney) who attends the New York World's Fair and brings with him a half-baked jetpack gizmo that he has invented. While being rejected by Hugh Laurie (who turns out to be the villain in the piece, a fact that you know right from his first appearance) he meets the mysterious child Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who introduces him, via a magical pin, to the world of tomorrow: a remarkable skyscraper city, half Fritz Lang's Metropolis, half modern-day Dubai, which ultimately is reminiscent of a 1950's conception of the future.  In other words, it reminds one of the sleek "Tomorrowland," one of the theme lands of Disneyland/Disney World.

The future, according to the gospel of Disney, is a clean-cut place with the kind of architecture that brings to mind the futuristic designs of the theme parks as well as the memorable structures of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. His amazing City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, for instance, seems to be the blueprint for Scott Chambliss's production designs.

But the land of tomorrow is rotten from within: it is crumbling and heading into dystopic destruction. To set things right, Athena summons Casey Newton (Britt Robinson), a teenager who has been sabotaging the dismantling of a NASA launch pad near Cape Canaveral where she lives. Obviously this is a teen who cares about space travel, and in the logic of this film one of the good guys. Her meeting with Athena, who gives her one of the magical pins, is the call to adventure that sets her on a journey where she meets the older Frank Walker, now a grizzled, discontented George Clooney living in the sticks, in a run-down house filled with interesting futuristic gadgets. The meeting of Casey and Frank, the catalyst that will bring the narrative to a climax, unfortunately takes way too long to happen. At 130 minutes the entire movie feels too overproduced and definitely too long.

Watching Tomorrowland is very much like attending the future section of EPCOT.  The sense of optimism overwhelms you. Nothing wrong with that. Frank Capra built a career based on it, and so did Walt Disney! What I find a bit troubling are the constant self-references. The entire film is a Disney infomercial. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was based on a park ride, but the films, especially the first of the series, was so successful artistically that you forgot the shameless plug and you concentrated on the new myth the film was developing. No such luck with Tomorrowland, which looks to the future, but deep down is just interested in first week earnings.