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Richard Wagner's Operas
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.
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