The title of Optimists, choreographed by Gemma Bond of American Ballet Theater, didn’t tell me anything but the dancing, by Amanda Treiber and Erez Milatin, did. The piece is exciting and filled with action with the pair swooping and diving to Piano Sonata no.8 Opus 84 by Prokofiev. Elegant and spare with powerful bodies they move with confidence, Treiber and Miltatin have made this exhilarating piece their own and it was a joy to watch.
The Only Jealousy of Emer by W. B. Yeats, directed by Ray Yeates—Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2018 at Torn Page/Apartment 929—EXTENDED 2/17-2/18
Whether one reads W. B. Yeats’ The Only Jealousy of Emer as a closet drama or sees it in a convincing (indeed outstanding) production like the one mounted by Torn Page Apartment 929 this winter, one gets a strong feeling that the action and speech are unfolding on two levels: the mythic and the experiential, i.e. biographical, in relation to Yeats. As stated in the program note, “Yeats is a poet as much of fact as of feeling. Every work of his has a source—whether from folklore, legend, mythology, the occult, or history: each a source that for him had a definite objective reality. The demands of this world and of that other world of Yeatsian spiritual reality often conflict. His verse play The Only Jealousy of Emer, particularly in its early drafts, offers a vivid portrayal of such a struggle.”
What was supposed to be a three-work evening turned into two as an injury forced cancellation of the intended middle piece, The Bind. The two works on view, presented by different choreographers, were so entirely different from each other—in mood, feel, point of view and music—it made for a slightly jarring combination.
Stephen Hough remains one of the most engaging personalities in the world of virtuoso pianists. He makes his wide range of interests—literary, visual, and religious—known to the world at large with grace and modesty, out of a genuine desire to contribute things that others with find enjoyable or helpful. He is even able to compose pieces, mostly of a light nature, which he sometimes interjects into his concert programs. Early in his career he built a reputation with his impressive technique, as he built a list of outstanding recordings of forgotten concerti and solo pieces which were too difficult for others to learn for the rare occasions on which they would be called for in concert. In recent years he has turned more to established classics in his concert programs, approaching them with a consistent style founded on attractive tone and a vision of the coherence of the works he plays.
Two Superb New Recordings of a Ravel Operatic Masterpiece: 1. Stéphanie d’Oustrac Singing L’heure espagnole (with an alert Shéhérazade as bonus) 2. L’heure espagnole, with the magnificent Gaëlle Arquez
The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour.” The opera presents some quick-moving events in the lives of a clockmaker’s wife and the four wildly different men with whom she is variously involved (one being her husband). The CD is officially vol. 4 of a series covering Ravel’s “orchestral works,” a phrase that here clearly means “works with orchestra.” (The two piano concertos and Tzigane are presumably scheduled for some future volume.) The Stuttgart orchestra plays very capably throughout, but the star of the CD is mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac.
“Fired” Treasures from Around the Globe: The New York Ceramics & Glass Fair at the Bohemian National Hall
The New York Ceramic and Glass Fair, at Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, is packed with historic and contemporary works that span five centuries and come from all over the globe. This is the only fair of its kind in the United States specializing in ceramics, pottery and glass from the 17th-21st centuries. The show is chock full of works ranging from modern studio pottery to 18th century Staffordshire with everything in between, and attended by collectors, curators and just plain people who enjoy looking at beautiful and/or interesting objects.
It’s September 1987 in a modest home somewhere. Press information says that “Gloria opens her door to the woman she hasn’t seen since she disappeared from home ten years ago. Mary sees the face that has haunted her memories of childhood and dreams of womanhood.” In the performance I saw, Mary called Gloria by different names and the early relationship between them was never clarified. That’s not all that was confusing in Sheila that began with a fifteen-minute scene in which “Gloria” moved around the set in very dim light (I thought perhaps the table lamp had malfunctioned) and did nothing other than painstakingly open an orange juice carton. This segment was so slow and pointless it was like watching a theater class exercise in sustaining a moment.
Thirty years ago, I wrote a poem that ended, “I’ve never lived in a city without a Vermeer.” My cities were, by pure coincidence, New York and Boston. But my interest in Vermeer borders on obsession, and I’m still wrestling with why his paintings are so particularly seductive to me. There’s always the ravishing beauty of the painted surface, the elegance of structure and detail, but also the balance of bravura and a kind of restraint—the way the usual mundane, anti-heroic subjects of Dutch genre painting, however beautiful they are in the work of his contemporaries, take on qualities of the spiritual and even the heroic, qualities that are more like—and sometimes equal—the more overt aspects of spirituality and heroism in, say, Rembrandt. “Rembrandt ist Beethoven, Vermeer ist Mozart,” I overheard someone say to herself looking at a Vermeer. (Could we add Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy? Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman? Or Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell?) That complicated combination of dazzle and modesty may be an essential difference between Vermeer and his contemporaries, including Rembrandt.