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Saturday, November 30, 2019
Lise Davidsen makes her debut at the MET
Last night another such moment happened again at the MET, one taylor-made for the new century. Soprano Lise Davidsen made her much anticipated debut as Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. Like the artists mentioned above Ms. Davidsen comes to the MET already a star, having made an enormous impact in the classical world with her triumphant debuts in Glyndebourne, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Danish Opera, and London's Royal Opera, Covent Garden. As well as last summer's debut at the Bayreuth Festival where her performance as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser was hailed by the international press as a "voice once in a century." This summer she will return to the Green Hill as Sieglinde in Bayreuth's new production of the Ring. In addition to all these marvelous accolades, Ms. Davidsen has been awarded an exclusive recording contract by Decca Records, the first since that honor was given to soprano Birgit Nilsson.
Is sex appeal important in opera? You bet, and Ms. Davidsen has it in (I won't say in spades) greater than usual amounts. Her tremendous stage presence and radiant looks, more Mediterranean than Nordic, command the stage even before she sings a single note. And when she does, she produces a powerful even sound throughout her register that causes one's ears to tingle. The kind of sound that only a true lyric dramatic soprano possesses.
The Queen of Spades is another jewel in the MET's remarkable crown this year, which also includes the triumphant new productions of Porgy and Bess and Philip Glass's Akhnaten, which are currently running. It would be unwise to miss this revival of Tchaikovsky's opera, especially when it is graced by such a remarkable singer as Lise Davidsen. Let's hope that she makes the MET a favorite home away from home.
Saturday, October 26, 2019
Joaquin Phoenix in JOKER
That the film Joker, the new Tod Phillips origin story of Batman’s most deranged arch villain, would incite violence in the streets of the real Gotham City and beyond proved to be much ado about nothing. There were armed guards with machine guns outside Alice Tully Hall at the New York Film Festival screening, but after weeks of playing around the country there have not been any serious acts of violence perpetrated as a result of watching this film. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes about this movie.
In 1971, Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange was banned in many countries as a preventative measure, fearing hordes of disaffected teenagers would go on bloody rampages mimicking the ultra-violence depicted in the film. But just for the record, let me state right now that Joker is no Orange. Kubrick’s film, based on Anthony Burgess’s novel, is a frightening analysis of an out of control youth under an ineffective government in a UK steeped in a dystopia nightmare. Joker is simply about raising to a pedestal a psychopath, and wallowing in the random violence he commits.
Joaquin Phoenix has been receiving praise for his performance, a character that brought posthumous Oscar honor to Heath Ledger, and which served as a campy vehicle for Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman TV series. As a result of an uneven script by the director and Scott Silver, Joaquin Phoenix is allowed to be all over the place. Sure, you can’t take your eyes off him, but that’s because you don’t know what he’s going to pull next. This unexpected, mercurial approach to a troubled character worked really well for the actor in the film The Master, but again that was a tight controlled film where Phoenix could shine. Here he attempts a similar approach, and oftentimes his talent gets him over the hump, despite the material he is forced to work with. It yields an inconsistent performance where he can be tender when speaking to his mom, frightening when he looks into a mirror and whips his mouth into a deranged smile, and inexplicably campy when he is dancing on steps in the South Bronx, or when he is invited to a late night talk show whose host, ably played by Robert De Niro, is a veiled caricature of Johnny Carson.
I suppose the film works best as a recreation of 1970’s New York, but even here, it ends up being merely a Hollywood version of what New York was like in that decade. In other words, in the film the graffiti and the garbage in the streets is more abundant than it ever was in reality. For a real look at the Big Apple during that decade, shot on the very same mean streets, look to The French Connection and Taxi Driver, for starters, two films that Joker shamelessly tries to mimic. In its depiction of rioting crowds loose on the streets the film attempts to offer an allegory for our time of political discontent, and that it does real well. However, I wonder how many members of the audience will be thinking allegorically when presented with this gritty, violent material.-->
Sunday, September 29, 2019
NYFF: The Irishman - new Martin Scorsese film
The Irishman is a sprawling, lengthy film, clocking in at 209 minutes, where the director once again brings to life the familiar world of organized crime and populates it with some of his regulars. In its approach it feels like Scorsese's personal apotheosis of a genre he has kept alive for decades. We have Robert De Niro, who plays Frank Sheeran, whose nickname is the Irishman, a career mob hitman. Harvey Keitel in a small but important cameo role as a mob boss, and Joe Pesci, whose performance is a revelatory study in subtlety, and a 360 degree turn for this actor who came out of retirement to play this role. To these Scorsese regulars, the director has added Al Pacino, with whom he had never worked before. Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa, the labor leader who disappeared in 1975, and who was presumably executed by the mob. Pacino's performance might seem a bit large compared with the subtlety of the other principals, but this is in keeping with the bigger-than-life character Hoffa created for his public persona, and which was embraced by his Teamster brothers.
In the hands of the director and his gifted cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, The Irishman becomes a rumination on organized crime, and a personal study of a lifetime creating films in this inimitable genre. With muted colors, and a dark palette, the film is about the end of something. It's the Omega of the Scorsese mob movie, populated with the kind of cast that could probably not be possible to assemble again. If Goodfellas, with its bright sunny colors and upbeat rhythms, was his career's Alpha, then the somber but brilliant Irishman is its logical twilight.
In featured parts there are great performances by Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, and Sebastian Maniscalco as mobster Joe Gallo, whose murder in Little Italy's Umberto's Clam House is carefully recreated. In a very small role Anna Paquin is unforgettable as Sheeran's daughter, a woman who learns about the kind of work her father does, and eventually wants nothing to do with him. Her recognition scene is poignant despite its subtle, minimalist approach.
The Irishman had its world debut this weekend at the New York Film Festival, and will have a limited theatrical run before it can be streamed on Netflix. According to Wikipedia "The film will not play at the theaters owned by AMC, Cinemark, Regal, or Cineplex because the "four week progression to SVOD remains unacceptable to those chains." It was previously reported in February 2019 that Netflix would possibly give the film a wide theatrical release, at the request of Scorsese. The heads of several theater chains, including AMC refused to play Roma the previous November, said they would only be open to playing The Irishman if Netflix respects the decades old theatrical window, that suggests that movies come to theaters first for a couple of months, and then go to the home."
The way to see The Irishman is in a theater, preferably one that's full with movie lovers, so make every effort to do so despite the lack of places that might show it.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Plácido Domingo Accussed of Sexual Harrasment
The LA Opera, an institution that Domingo has served for over thirty years will engage outside counsel to investigate these allegations. However the San Francisco Opera has cancelled all of Domingo's upcoming performances in October citing these allegations. They went on to give a statement to CNN. "Though the alleged incidents reported did not take place at San Francisco Opera, the Company is unable to present the artist on the War Memorial Opera House stage. San Francisco Opera is committed to its strong anti-sexual harassment policy and requires all Company members to adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct. San Francisco Opera places a great priority on creating a safe and secure environment where everyone can focus on their work and art, and in which colleagues are treated with respect, dignity and collegiality."
The Metropolitan Opera, the musical organization with which Domingo is perhaps best known for, has yet to comment on these accusations.
Mr. Domingo offered the following statement to CNN: "People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone. However, I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are -- and should be -- measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards."
Friday, August 09, 2019
Life on the Moon (?)
Tardigrades, as you can see by the picture above, are pudgy little animals no longer than one millimeter long. They live in water or in the film of water on plants like lichen or moss, and can be found all over the world, in some of the most extreme environments, from icy mountains and polar regions to the balmy equator and the depths of the sea.
Along with the creatures, the ship also carried an archive of 30 million pages of information about planet Earth, as well as human DNA samples and a payload of the little creatures which had been dehydrated.
According to Nova Spivack, co-founder of the mission, "Best-case scenario is that the little library is fully intact, sitting on a nice sandy hillside on the Moon for a billion years. In the distant future it might be recovered by our descendants or by a future form of intelligent life that might evolve long after we're gone. From the DNA and the cells that we included, you could clone us and regenerate the human race and other plants and animals."
As far as the tardigrades are concerned, they will not be able to reproduce or move around in their dehydrated state, but if they survived the crash and are rehydrated they can come back to life years later.
Thursday, August 08, 2019
The Main Slate of the New York Film Festival
Opening Night The Irishman Dir. Martin Scorsese
Centerpiece Marriage Story Dir. Noah Baumbach
Closing Night Motherless Brooklyn Dir. Edward Norton
Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story Dir. Mati Diop
Bacurau Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Beanpole Dir. Kantemir Balagov
Fire Will Come Dir. Oliver Laxe
First Cow Dir. Kelly Reichardt
A Girl Missing Dir. Koji Fukada
I Was at Home, But… Dir. Angela Schanelec
Liberté Dir. Albert Serra
Martin Eden Dir. Pietro Marcello
The Moneychanger Dir. Federico Veiroj
Oh Mercy! Dir. Arnaud Desplechin
Pain and Glory Dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Parasite Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Film Comment Presents
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Dir. Céline Sciamma
Dir. Lou Ye
Dir. Justine Triet
Dir. Nadav Lapid
To the Ends of the Earth
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Dir. Marco Bellocchio
Varda by Agnès
Dir. Agnès Varda
Dir. Pedro Costa
Dir. Olivier Assayas
Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
The Wild Goose Lake
Dir. Diao Yinan
Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Dir. Bertrand Bonello
Thursday, August 01, 2019
HAL PRINCE dies at 91
Those were the old musicals I knew. When I started going to Broadway shows during high school and college, I realized the man was active, and collaborating with Stephen Sondheim, the greatest living composer/lyricist. That's when I saw Sweeney Todd, my first Hal Prince musical. I saw the original cast three times. I went back to discover the previous Prince/Sondheim creations: A Funny Thing Happen on the Way to the Forum, Follies, Company, A Little Night Music (based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night), and Pacific Overtures, a masterpiece about the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry, that flopped on Broadway on its initial run: a condemnation of American imperialism in 1976, the American Bicentennial year. There were Tony Awards galore, and music that has become part of Broadway lore. It was the 1980's, the time when Broadway decided to revive many of these musicals with their original stars. To this day the revival of Fiddler, with Zero Mostel reprising his role of Tevye is one of my treasured memories of Broadway.
Hal Prince went on to work with the British invasion of Andrew Lloyd Webber. He directed The Phantom of the Opera in the West End and on Broadway. To this day the New York production of Phantom, now in its 31st year of continuous operation, regularly grosses over $1 million weekly. It is also still running in London, and around the world productions of this work has been seen by over 140 million people. The original cast recording has sold over 40 million copies.
He is the last of the great producers/directors, and Broadway will not see the likes of someone like him again. He will be remembered as one of the great talents to grace the Great White Way.
Monday, July 29, 2019
THE IRISHMAN will open the 2019 NY Film Festival
With a budget reported to be $200 million dollars, the film is being distributed by Netflix, which hopes to outdo last year's Roma, a film by Alfonso Cuarón which won Oscars for Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography, and which was the centerpiece offering at the NY Film Festival last year. A passion project for Scorsese, the movie also stars Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale and Anna Paquin.
Following the NY Film Festival showing and a short theatrical release, the film is set to stream digitally late in 2019.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
Spanish Singer Makes Debut at Bayreuth
Friday, July 26, 2019
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood: new Tarantino film
Next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) lives Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor who specializes in World War II B pictures and TV westerns, and who now is on the downward slope of his career. His buddy Cliff Booth (an excellent Brad Pitt) is his stunt double, chauffeur and confidant. Cliff's shady past poses an obstacle for him to get work, as a matter of fact, it is only because of Rick that he gets any film work at all. And it shows, while Rick lives in the Hollywood hills in a beautiful house with a pool, Cliff lives in a derelict trailer with his pit bull next to a drive-in.
The film is an engrossing and kaleidoscopic recreation of a time that Tarantino did not personally know or yearn for in any kind of nostalgic way; after all he was a six year old child when the events of this film take place. As always the decade is brought to life through the world of cinema, which Tarantino knows better than any other director working today. Therefore, the film is highly detailed with homages and illusions to the famous spots in L.A. and the theater marquees announcing the films of the time. Some of these are well-known, but in the great tradition of film geekdom, at whose throne Tarantino sits, the majority are rare and forgotten. As far as the director is concerned, though, they are treasures to be discovered by a new contemporary audience.
Aside from the performances of DiCaprio and Pitt, both surely destined for Oscar nominations, there are wonderful moments from Margot Robbie, whose Sharon Tate is a free spirit radiant beauty who visits a Hollywood theater so she can see her own performance in the film The Wrecking Crew, alongside Dean Martin. Powerful also is Bruce Dern in a tiny cameo playing the blind, aged owner of a Western Ranch being rented by the Manson family.
Without a doubt, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is Tarantino's most accomplished film, and one of the best movies of the year. Gone are the jerky rhythms of many of his past films, here replaced by a deliberately smooth glide when it comes to camera movement as well as story development. A new Tarantino? Not exactly. There's still a whole lot of the old Quentin that we all love, but this film shows signs of artist maturity, which is definitely not a bad thing.
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Bayreuth: New Staging of Tannhäuser
Sebastian Baumgarten). Driving the van are Venus in a skintight suit (Elena Zhidkova), and her lover Tannhäuser (Stephen Gould), a clown (shades of Josef von Sternberg's 1930 film The Blue Angel where a distinguish English professor marries a lusty cabaret performer only to find himself degraded to the role of clown -- literally). Riding with them, in silent roles, are Oskar the midget (Manni Laudenbach) and famed black cabaret drag queen Le Gateau Chocolat. The Venusberg is a simple German cottage complete with human-sized garden gnomes, a perfect reason for Le Gateau to don her Snow White outfit straight out of the Walt Disney film. As the relationship between Venus and Tannhäuser deteriorates during the Venusberg scene we discover that only one item makes any sense for him: a duffel bag with a vocal score that says "Wagner" on the front cover, presumably the score to this opera itself. When he invokes the name of the Virgin Mary, Tannhäuser is transported to Bayreuth itself, and we find out that he was a singer who went rogue. He is welcomed back to the Green Hill, but not by Elisabeth (Lise Davidsen) who usually is absent from the first act. In this staging she makes an appearance and formally welcomes her former lover with a slap on the face.
The concept of using Bayreuth as the background for a production is reminiscent of Stefan Herheim's great staging of Parsifal in 2008 where Wahnfried became the point of departure for a production that chronicled the story of Germany through the World Wars and reconstruction. As Act II begins we realize that Mr. Kratzer will stage this act as if it were a performance of the act itself, even with video from backstage showing stage managers. The production in this ersatz staging is nothing like Bayreuth has seen since 1951. The costumes look like a pre-Wieland Wagner staging from the 1930's. The conflict between high and low art comes to a head during the song contest. Eventually, the characters from the first act infiltrate the Festspielhaus, and rush the stage at the mention of Venus and Tannhäuser's praise for carnal love. In a video cameo Katharina Wagner herself calls the police to arrest the intruders, and when they drive up the Green Hill they handcuff Tannhäuser and take him away as he sings the words "Nach Rom!"
Needless to say the production team was greeted by ferocious boos by about half of the audience, although applause seemed to have won out in the end due to the great quality of singing and acting by all. Not a bad start for this year's festival. Let's hope that the critics do not totally kill this production, since there are many good ideas, especially in the first act. I'm sure Mr. Kratzer will be refining the production as it makes a comeback in years to come.
Bayreuth: New Ring for 2020
Ms. Wagner has always championed young talent, so it is no surprise that Mr. Schwarz and Mr. Inkinen will both be making their debuts at Bayreuth with this new production. In addition, Ms. Wagner has never shied away from importing talent that often brings controversy to the yearly summer festival. Back in 2004, when her father Wolfgang Wagner was still running the Festspielhaus, she championed the new Parsifal by Christoph Schlingensief and Pierre Boulez, one of the most controversial productions in the recent history of the festival.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
A Roadmap for Impeachment?
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Bayreuth 2019: All Systems are GO!
But then again, I'm sure Mr. Kratzer has had time to rethink the opera, and most likely will offer a production with new ideas, and with a deeper understanding of the work. One thing is certain: I doubt very much that, despite being being an anniversary year for the moon landing, Mr. Kratzer will stage Tannhäuser in space as in the unconventional staging of La Bohème, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, which debuted at the Opéra National de Paris in 2017. A production which produced a storm of boos during its run.
Something tells me that the boos will still be heard at Bayreuth no matter what. It has been a tradition lately to boo the creative team on opening night, especially if the concept is new and controversial. Even last year, at a performance of Die Meistersinger I attended, which had already played the year before, I experienced an audience which booed Barrie Kosky's production with its references to the post-war Nuremberg trials, and its highlight of Wagner's anti-Semitic approach to his character Sixtus Beckmesser.
We will see what this summer brings. It is my understanding that the production will once again be broadcast live by BR-KLASSIK.
Saturday, July 20, 2019
W.A. Mozart's THE MAGIC FLUTE at the Mostly Mozart Festival
Here is a promotion video that was made for the L.A. Opera premiere of this staging.
The opera is being performed in the original German, and you might remember that Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder came up with a "singspiel" rather than a work with formal recitatives. Between the musical numbers there is dialogue. Here the words of the dialogue are shone on the screen "silent movie style," while an 18th century fortepiano accompanies it with music from Mozart's two fantasias for piano K. 475 in C minor and K. 397 in D minor. As a result, the singers never speak the dialogue, and the illusion of a silent movie is maintained.
In this production Tamino is a silent movie matinee idol; he could be Valentino, or Fairbanks, or Ramón Novarro. Papageno is Buster Keaton, Tamina is Louise Brooks, and Monostatos is Count Orlok from Nosferatu. But aside from casting the characters as recognizable figures from the silent cinema, what makes this production one of the best things I have seen on an operatic stage in a while is the marriage between live action and animation. The stage is a screen where Mr. Barritt's imagination shines and is allowed to go wild. The Queen of the Night as a gigantic black widow spider, and a pack of wild hell-hounds firmly held by Count Orlok's leash are two of the effects that really captivated me and the rest of the audience. But if you experience this production, I am sure you will have your favorite moments as well. Also outstanding in its planning is the fact that the visual effects don't just work for an audience sitting stage center. I was a bit off to the side, and none of the magic was lost.
In this video, Australian director Barrie Kosky (and friend) introduces the production, while allowing you to take a peek at some of the segments of the work.
Friday, July 12, 2019
Leonardo's ST. JEROME at the MET
As a member of the museum, I saw the painting yesterday, and stayed around for a 15 minute lecture by Carmen Bambach, PhD, the Yale educated, Chilean-born curator of the museum, and a specialist on the Renaissance, and Leonardo in particular. She has authored many exhibition catalogues for the museum, including The Drawings of Bronzino, which is part of my personal library. Dr. Bambach is the author of the soon-to-be-released Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered, a four volume modern rethinking of the career and unique vision of the artist. Her book is published by Yale University Press, and available from Amazon by following the link below.
Tuesday, July 09, 2019
ABT: Beauty returns
It was the last performance of ABT, and apparently they were not leaving anything behind. Going to my seat for the first time, When I showed one usher my ticket, and she pointed in the general direction of my seat, she did not perform the action that always follows that brief encounter. They ran out of playbills! Now, I have been attending the Metropolitan Opera House since the late 1970's, and never has the MET ran out of playbills. How disconcerting. I asked the usher who was dancing, and she had trouble remembering the names of the principals. I spent the first act without a playbill, not recognizing who was on stage, and surrounded by an audience who also spent the performance with empty hands. As soon as the first intermission began I went up to the Parterre Boxes. If anybody is going to have a playbill is going to be the Parterre Boxes level, I told myself. Those are the expensive seats. When I inquired, the usher there smile, and asked me "how many do you want?" I should have asked for two, but for some reason one was enough for that evening.
Sleeping Beauty is Marius Petipa's most epic piece of choreography, with dozens of dancers, many in costumes that bring to life such fairy tale favorites as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, the Ogre and his Ogress wife, as well as Bluebeard and Sheherezade. Buried in all of this is a rather simple story of how the evil fairy Carabosse (danced with tongue-in-cheek malevolence by Craig Salstein) curses Princess Aurora (Cassandra Trenary) until true love in the form of Prince Désiré (Joseph Gorak) breaks the spell.
Maybe that's why ABT ordered so few playbills. Everybody knows this story, and everybody knows how it will end.
Thursday, July 04, 2019
MIDSOMMAR: New Film by Ari Aster
After a terrible family tragedy, Dani, an incredible Florence Pugh, convinces herself that she wants to go with her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor) and his college pals to a remote village in Sweden, at the invitation of a Swedish exchange student friend of theirs, to witness a once-in-a-lifetime summer festival. Since the group features anthropology majors this is the perfect summer vacation for them to advance their thesis. For Dani it is a chance to get away and work on her strained relationship with Christian.
The village is an idyllic place bathed in the perpetual sunlight of the Scandinavian summer, and beautifully photographed by cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, who captures the green earth, the white dresses, the rosy cheeks, and the welcoming smiles with such earnestness that you would never think there is anything wrong in this Arcadian paradise. But make no mistake about it: the villagers harbor a clear, twisted agenda here, subtly foreshadowed by the sight of buildings with odd, twisted Expressionistic roofs, and revealed with unspeakable horror when the village stages an "ättestupa," a ritual where an elderly village couple, after being celebrated for their old age, jump to their deaths in what has to be one of the most horrific suicides/senicides ever filmed. From the point of view of the tropes of horror film, the scene works perfectly because its setup has been so carefully calculated.
This ritualistic suicide sets into motion a series of events where the visitors become grossly embroiled in the grisly events of the village. Without giving anything away, allow me to divulge that you are in for a slow ride with a few calculated bumps along the way. At 147 minutes the film is way too long for its own good. The montage of the film is pristine, but actually shaving it down to a manageable size would have made it as close to ideal as possible.
Despite its many flaws, Midsommar is a feast for the eyes and ears, although it ends up feeling like a celebration that has gone on for too long. The film starts showing its faults, and Aster begins to run out of tricks. At times the mise-en-scène is quite inventive: the upside-down shot when the group first arrives by car to the village demonstrates the inverted, topsy-turvy world in which they have just entered. Another shot, early in the film, in which Dani is talking to Christian, she looking at the camera, while he is reflected in a mirror is not only cool, like Diego Velázquez's great painting Las Meninas, but visually shows how their relationship is clearly not on the same plane.
Finally, Ari Aster reveals how much of a film geek he can be, usually a good thing, yet here it works against him. Visually, Midsommar harks back to a number of movies I'm convinced the director loves. For starters, both the original version of The Wicker Man, featuring Christopher Lee, and its 2006 remake with Nicholas Cage play a huge part in the conception of the narrative, and its visual palette. Midsommar feels like a remake, and if you consider the fact that there is a film called Midsummer (2003) whose IMDB logline reads as follows: "After ... friends graduate secondary school, they head off to a Swedish cabin for midsummer as previous years. Strange things happen" then the film is very much a remake. And like last year's reworking of another horror film, Luca Guadagnino's take on Dario Argento's Suspiria, this film also goes off its hinges when it leaves behind the world of verisimilitude, and enters into the plane of over-indulgence and its end result, which is always excessive length.
Friday, June 21, 2019
ABT: Manon with Roberto Bolle's Farewell
Ballet farewells are for the cognoscenti. Those that have followed the career of an artist, and want to make sure they have a last look at him/her before the end. For the rest of us, it's a matter of dealing with the fact that one missed a lot. Especially when it comes to the retirement of a great, beloved artist. This season it was Roberto Bolle's turn. After joining American Ballet Theatre as a principal in 2009, last night he gave his last performance with ABT in Sir Kenneth McMillan's Manon; the role of Des Grieux being one of the staples of his much-admired career. The magnificent Hee Seo was his Manon, and the ever-popular American dancer James Whiteside danced the role of Lescaut.
This was my first time at this ballet, and as the evening progressed I had to fight the absurd thoughts of comparing this work to the Jules Massenet opera, which I don't know very well, or Giacomo Puccini's take on the Abbé Prévost's novel which I have never read. Also, not having followed the career of Mr. Bolle I was totally unprepared for last night's evening. To be honest, I usually like to do my homework before a performance, but I only learned of the gala the night before, and I wanted to be there. Why? Because many times, in such events filled with so much emotion an artist can touch greatness. And, I believe it happened last night. Yes, the buzz in the audience was there, and the fans and the cognoscenti were evenly spread around the house, but all of that aside, reflecting just on the performance, it was a great evening of dance. Mr. Bolle couldn't have done better. It's what happens when an artist decides to call it quits while he's still at the top of his game following the dictum for retirement: "Don't stay too long!" Of course a dancer reaches the end when the rest of us are still fledglings at our professions. I'm glad that Mr. Bolle chose to go out when he did. He left the limelight with one of those bangs that people will be talking about for years -- that's what I mean by touching greatness.
Of course, following the wild standing ovation there were the customary tributes by colleagues past and present. I offer the above video, in case you were not in the house last night, so you can share in the glory of the evening.
Of course, following the wild standing ovation there were the customary tributes by colleagues past and present. I offer the above video, in case you were not in the house last night, so you can share in the glory of the evening.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
New "CASABLANCA" from Egypt
The film deals with three friends who work together in ship burglary. They are usually tasked to steal the expensive cars that contain hidden drugs on those ships, in order to get a percentage of the money in return. However, they get caught at some point throughout the movie and start betraying each other, until the plot thickens and they get involved in life and death matters with the Mafia men in Casablanca, Morocco.
The trailer of the film amassed a million views in three hours of its release. This is a record in the history of Egyptian cinema.
I am happy to report that this new movie has nothing to do with the American film of the same name. It is not an Egyptian remake. It is a totally contemporary action film only using the one word title of the classic Warner Brothers picture. Perhaps the director sees it as a homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, but that is not clear. Other than the fact that the movie portrays Morocco as a dangerous place filled with intrigue, and perhaps death might be the only link to the original film.
Sunday, June 16, 2019
ON BROADWAY: To Kill a Mockingbird
Perhaps there is no better actor to play the righteous lawyer Atticus Finch, then Jeff Daniels, and actor who is experiencing the second stage of his career, and whose accent couldn't be more genuine, if at times one has to bend an ear to catch every word. After all, he was born in 1955 in Clarke County Georgia, and I am sure that his Deep Southern roots resonate with the dramatic themes of this work, as well as its language. If there is an actor capable of wiping off the memory of Gregory Peck, in the landmark film of the novel, then Mr. Daniels is it.
Mr. Sher's great genius lies in his precise, at times wondrous casting. Celia Keenan-Bolger, who won a Tony award this year for this performance, allows her talent, and the magic of the theater to convince us that she is the child Scout. Likewise Will Pullen and Gideon Glick portray touching versions of Jem Finch, and Dill Harris. Gbenga Akinnagbe is a touching Tom Robinson, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson is a memorable Calpurnia. The intensity portrayed by Frederick Weller as Bob Ewell leaves a dark impression on one's soul, and Erin Wilhelmi as his daughter Mayella is an unforgettable creature, one part victim, the other part mired in her entitled homegrown racism.
"All rise" has been the catchword for this production. All rise, indeed, as one of the best casts on Broadway delivers a performance truly worthy of a standing ovation.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
ON BROADWAY: Kiss Me Kate
The Roundabout Theatre Company is in the midst of a fun revival of this classic, starring Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase. Immediately one notices how many of the show's songs have gone on to become part of the American Songbook. Porter's contribution to this list of musical gems often came from forgotten shows. "Begin the Beguine," one of his great songs comes from a show called Jubilee, probably only remembered because of Mr. Porter's musical participation. Incidentally, "Just One of Those Things" also came from this forgotten piece of Broadway history, penned by Moss Hart, whose plot revolves around the silver jubilee of Britain's King George V. But Kiss Me Kate's list of hits includes "Another Op'nin', Another Show," "Wunderbar," "So in Love," "Too Darn Hot," and that audience favorite "Brush up Your Shakespeare," sung by two Runyonesque gangsters. It's the 10 o'clock number that over the years has become an audience favorite.
This revival, directed by Scott Ellis, is not only a lot of fun, but it maintains the show in period, thus assuring that the jokes and references adhere to that post-war period where America was prospering, and the Broadway musical was in the midst of its richest period.
Bravo to Kelli O'Hara, who has become our leading Broadway actress, specializing in revivals. Let us hope that before long she lands a new musical that could possibly equal the greatness of the string of hits that she has had (South Pacific, The King and I) lately.
On a personal level, this was my first production of this beloved classic. Also I had never seen the 1953 MGM film starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel either. My only link to Kiss Me Kate were the songs "Wunderbar" and "So in Love," sung by Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison, and which I got to learn when I bought a Broadway retrospective set on LP of original cast recordings. What talent! No wonder it took home the first Tony Award for best musical back in 1949.
The current revival runs until the end of this month. I suggest you get down to Studio 54 and catch it before the summer gets too darn hot and the show closes.
Sunday, May 05, 2019
But for those with a minor allegiance, or zero allegiance to the series, all you have to know is that the movie is a 2019 reworking of The Seven Samurai where the surviving Avengers try to recruit whoever is left in order to set the universe right again; or maybe it's about killing Thanos again, or maybe the real plot is about recovering magic rocks. It's mostly about all these with a little help from H.G. Wells's The Time Machine. In all likely-hood if you give the film more than just a cursory viewing its about how to bring to a conclusion one of the most profitable cinematic franchises in the history of cinema.
And try not to tell anyone who hasn't braved the crowds about the movie. These days, if you divulge anything that happens (fanboys consider every frame sacred) it is considered a spoiler, and people will consider you an outcast, and they will walk away from you when they see you heading to the water cooler during the morning coffee break. But then again, famboys will surely have beaten you to this film. I know one person who has already seen it three times.
I'm now going to make a confession. I enjoyed watching this film. I liked the way the narrative is presented. I enjoyed the performances, many of them, especially that of Robert Downey, Jr., who has spent more than a decade perfecting his Tony Stark. I doubt the film needed to be 181 minutes; there are sections that drag with dialogue that often misses the point. The humor is sophomoric. Scarlett Johansson complains that she is getting email from a racoon, and Thor has let himself go and now looks and acts more like "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski. But not to worry, before you know it, everything comes back to normal, (ooops, sorry about that, was that a spoiler?) and the film ends with...
Well, let me not get exiled from the water cooler at work. Just go to see it. Half of this planet has already done so thus far to the tune of two billion dollars. Whatever you think of the film, Avengers: Endgame has become a cultural landmark for our times.
Saturday, April 20, 2019
On Broadway: GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS
What can you do with it, then? A much maligned, over-the-top Shakespeare revenge tragedy of dubious authorship. You can try to produce it straight and try not to get laughs from nervous audience members reacting to the exuberant violence. You can dismiss it, of course, and concentrate on the masterpieces of the canon. Or you can laugh it off and lampoon the freaking thing. This is more or less what playwright Taylor Mac (who uses the term “judy” as a gender pronoun) has done with his wickedly uproarious Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, opening tomorrow night at the Booth Theatre, and starring Nathan Lane, Julie White and Kristine Nielsen. This show should have opened in May, but it extended its previews after actress Andrew Martin suffered an injury during rehearsals, and had to withdraw from the production.
On a stage filled with piles of bloody corpses, more funny than gross, three characters, a clown, a chairwoman and a midwife re-enact the bloody deeds of the play, reminisce on how they managed to survive the massacre in Act V, and ponder life’s many mysteries and conundrums. It’s a clear Samuel Beckett situation, but played to slapstick perfection by the three principles. The humor is always coarse, relying on fart jokes and necrophilic shtick. High comedy it is not, but the again Titus is nowhere near the same league as Hamlet. Bathroom humor, therefore, is the right counterpart to its Elizabethan inspiration.
If Taylor Mac’s play wanders, and sometimes descends into the lower depths of taste, the three actors are there to salvage it. Mr. Lane, who recently appeared in epic serious dramas (The Iceman Cometh and Angels in America) returns to the genre for which we know him best. As the clown Gary, he seems to be aware of the pecking order of Shakespearean roles. He is a hopeless clown (he juggles pigeons who fly away) but he tells us that one day he dreams of ascending the Elizabethan "Dramatis Personae" ladder and become a Fool, like King Lear’s wise companion. Likewise Ms. White and Ms. Nielsen are shattered characters that survive life by grit and a hopeless hope belief that one day things will improve. The play couldn't be darker if it wanted to be, but amid the carnage a ray of hope (reminiscent of the conclusion of Akira Kurosawa's great film Rashomon) sends us home once again assuring us of the inherent goodness of mankind.
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Die Walküre at the MET
The staging of Die Walküre back in its premiere season was also problematic. Bryn Terfel as Wotan seemed uneasy walking along the steep planks, and Deborah Voigt took a tumble on her "Hojotoho" entrance. Tenor Jonas Kaufmann fared better than his colleagues. In his entire performance as Siegmund he never had to step on the darn thing. The machine was a mess, but when it did work it showed scenes of great beauty and wonderful imagination. The descent to Nibelheim in Rheingold is one of the greatest effects I have seen on any stage. It outdoes artist M.C. Escher in its preposterous and impossible construction.
The engineers and computer programmers at Ex Machina, Lepage's company responsible for the construction of this gigantic gizmo definitely heard the complaints of opera fans. Yesterday afternoon the production went off without a hitch. The machine is now much quieter than it was back when it made its first appearance. As it moved, I only heard mechanical sounds twice, and they were very subtle. The only alien sound one heard in Act II was that of Wotan's spear rolling down one of the planks, and landing with a thud.
When this production opened it featured the best Wagnerians 2011 could offer. Now in 2019, one can say that the MET has resorted to the road show cast. However, yesterday's performance was as solid and as good as anything that being offered in other major opera houses, including the Bayreuth Festival. Christine Goerke sang a beautiful Brünhilde, a major addition to her repertory. Eva-Marie Westbroek was a fine, powerful Sieglinde, Stuart Skelton proved that he can sing a better Siegmund than his awful Otello earlier on in the season, and Günther Groissböck was marvelous in the short role of Hunding. As Wotan, Greer Grimsley's voice is cavernous and comes from the back of his throat, and tends to stay there. As a result his legato phrasing and diction suffers. However, his last act farewell to his daughter brought a tear to my eye. The two artists sang it and acted it beautifully. Conductor Philippe Jordan led a clean, detailed reading of the score, never overwhelming his singers.
This is a very good performance of this opera, and if you like this work, you'd be crazy to miss it. It is not perfect, but it is excellent.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
US: the new Jordan Peele film
One evening, the family is visited by doppelgängers of themselves: scary creatures dressed in red overalls, and wielding sharp golden scissors, their voices monstrous shrieks, and unintelligent grunts. These visitors might look like the family, but they are many rungs down the evolutionary and social scale. The trailer for this film seemed to suggest that the film was a condemnation of black versus black violence, but when an upper-class white family is savagely murdered by equally deranged doppelgängers, the film begins to suggest a social war rather than a racial one. The have-nots finally getting the upper-hand on the economically advantaged.
But Mr. Peele makes sure that there are more layers to the story than just an economic slasher nightmare. He conveys information that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of abandoned tunnels running through the United States. Obviously tunnels that hold great secrets, places that will eventually be revealed and shed light on the meaning of the rows of caged rabbits that we see during the film's credit sequence.
One thing's for sure: the cast, headed by the luminous Lupita Nyong'o shines. Playing their own doppelgängers both she and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) relish their dual roles. Likewise Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, who play their friends Kitty and Josh, pull all the stops playing their fiendish counterparts.
At the showing I attended, I heard a lady comment after the film concluded that she knew there was a message to the film, but she was not sure what it was. I fear this will be the opinion of one too many viewers of this film. These viewers will instead focus and enjoy the roller coaster ride the director offers. The film is more successful as a creature feature than as an economic satire.
Jeffrey Anderson in Common Sense Media summed it all up this way: "Jordan Peele's horror shocker can't compete with its sensational predecessor Get Out, but it doesn't have to."
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben) Starring Cruz and Bardem
Laura (Penélope Cruz) arrives home from Argentina with her two children sans her husband. The occasion for her return is a family wedding, where in the middle of the festivities her impetuous teenage daughter is kidnapped. The wedding sequence, crafted as carefully as that of The Godfather or The Deer Hunter, serves to introduce the relationships in this family. We learn that Paco (Javier Bardem) was in love with Laura, and that he now owns the vineyards that once belonged to her family, an important plot point.
The wedding sequence is a masterpiece of exposition, economic in its development and festive in its crafting. Perhaps the highlight of the film, and arguably its strongest section. Once the kidnapping occurs, sending the film to its second act, the narrative slows down, turning the plot into a ponderous whodunnit instead of speeding up the action and racing towards a completion. Farhadi relies too much on the emotional toll the kidnapping produces on the characters, when instead he should be offering the audience more clues and fewer red herrings. The eventual result is that the final resolution leaves us a bit cold.
Although the middle section of the film could have used an editor's firm hand, the final sequence shows a master filmmaker in complete control of his craft. As one of the characters prepares to reveal to another the identity of the kidnappers, the sanitation service is hosing down the main square of the village, the strong gush of water making the streets clean once again. Even the crucifix in the middle of the plaza gets a good scrubbing. Is the town now going to be cleansed of its past sins? Of course not, this is the Old World. It'll just get dirty once more: everybody knows that!
Sunday, February 24, 2019
Academy Awards ballot
The Indie Spirit Award Winners
Best FeatureEIGHTH GRADE
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (WINNER)
LEAVE NO TRACE
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
Debra Granik, LEAVE NO TRACE
Barry Jenkins, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (WINNER)
Tamara Jenkins, PRIVATE LIFE
Lynne Ramsay, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
Paul Schrader, FIRST REFORMED
Best First Feature
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (WINNER)
WE THE ANIMALS
Best Male Lead
John Cho, SEARCHING
Daveed Diggs, BLINDSPOTTING
Ethan Hawke, FIRST REFORMED (WINNER)
Christian Malheiros, SÓCRATES
Joaquin Phoenix, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
Glenn Close, THE WIFE (WINNER)
Toni Collette, HEREDITARY
Elsie Fisher, EIGHTH GRADE
Regina Hall, SUPPORT THE GIRLS
Helena Howard, MADELINE’S MADELINE
Carey Mulligan, WILDLIFE
Best Supporting Female ActorKayli Carter, PRIVATE LIFE
Tyne Daly, A BREAD FACTORY
Regina King, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (WINNER)
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, LEAVE NO TRACE
J. Smith-Cameron, NANCY
Best Supporting Male ActorRaúl Castillo, WE THE ANIMALS
Adam Driver, BLACKKKLANSMAN
Richard E. Grant, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (WINNER)
Josh Hamilton, EIGHTH GRADE
John David Washington, MONSTERS AND MEN
Ashley Connor, MADELINE’S MADELINE
Diego Garcia, WILDLIFE
Benjamin Loeb, MANDY
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, SUSPIRIA (WINNER)
Zak Mulligan, WE THE ANIMALS
Best Screenplay(Writer/Story By)
Rebecca Lenkiewicz & Wash Westmoreland, COLETTE
Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (WINNER)
Tamara Jenkins, PRIVATE LIFE
Boots Riley, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
Paul Schrader FIRST REFORMED
Best First Screenplay
Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE (WINNER)
Christina Choe, NANCY
Cory Finley, THOROUGHBREDS
Jennifer Fox, THE TALE
Quinn Shephard (Writer/Story By) and Laurie Shephard (Story By), BLAME
Joe Bini, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (WINNER)
Keiko Deguchi, Brian A. Kates & Jeremiah Zagar, WE THE ANIMALS
Luke Dunkley, Nick Fenton, Chris Gill & Julian Hart, AMERICAN ANIMALS
Anne Fabini, Alex Hall and Gary Levy, THE TALE
Nick Houy, MID90S
Best DocumentaryHALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING
MINDING THE GAP
OF FATHERS AND SONS
ON HER SHOULDERS
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (WINNER)
Best International FilmBURNING (South Korea)
THE FAVOURITE (United Kingdom)
HAPPY AS LAZZARO (Italy)
ROMA (Mexico) (WINNER)
The Robert Altman Award, whose previous winners included Spotlight (2015) and Moonlight (2016), interestingly went to SUSPIRIA, a film by Luca Guadagnino, a remake of Dario Argento's 1977 horror film. I was very surprised by this honor. Although there were some unforgettable scenes in this film, Guadagnino's take ended up being an overblown and over-long rumination on Argento's classic.
Robert Altman Award
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Casting Directors: Avy Kaufman, Stella Savino
Ensemble Cast: Malgosia Bela, Ingrid Caven, Lutz Ebersdorf, Elena Fokina, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Dakota Johnson, Gala Moody, Chloë Grace Moretz, Renée Soutendijk, Tilda Swinton, Sylvie Testud, Angela Winkler
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