Author Archive: Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller lives in Sydney and writes mostly about music and theatre, especially ballet and opera.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and once studied the piano and trombone.

King Lear at the National Theatre, London

Simon Russell Beale in the National Theatre's King Lear – King Lear. Photo by Mark Douet.

One of the odd and unique interesting qualities of King Lear is its fantastic and vague setting in prehistoric Britain, that Shakespeare chose a tale of a king you couldn’t find in a list of the Kings and Queens of England, even while he gave the play something of a history play shape, with British Kings and princes, crises of succession and fighting with each other and France. But it isn’t a history play, it’s based on a britannic myth that was already a myth in the middle ages, and the play is set around about some time in the misty, undocumented bog before Ethelwulf, Egbert and Offa, and after Arthur, but perhaps not, maybe it predates the Romans, maybe even the Celts? It’s in a parallel timeline no doubt.

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II in London

David Tennant as Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade.

Being a little out of touch with mainstream movies and TV nowadays, I came to the RSC’s new production of Richard II without the usual expectations associated with a famous face (from the screen) in the lead, and this feels like an advantage to me. It is easier to enjoy a play expecting a rounder cast, or indeed expecting nothing in the way of faces and mannerisms. I had forgotten about the new Doctor Whos and that David Tennant had been one, and avoided the Harry Potter films, so the squeals and the mad applause were a surprise. But even so, in reality, it was a balanced cast, and fame doesn’t mean a thing, especially to Shakespeare.

The New York City Ballet Opens the New Ballet Season with an All-Balanchine Mixed Bill, and Some More Comic Programming

New York City Ballet in Balanchine-Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements. Photo from nycballet.com.

When do you ever see a bill outside Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center with no other names but “Hindemith,” “Webern” and “Stravinsky?” And at that with an extremely well played concert behind it with energy and seriousness and intelligence? Only at the ballet it seems.

Handel’s Aci Galatea e Polifemo by Le concert d’Astrée

Laurent Nauori, Delphine Galou and Lydia Teascher and Le concert d'Astrée. Photo by Kevin Yatarola.

After the Boston Early Music Festival’s magnificent production of Handel’s first opera Almira, certainly a youthful work, from before he left for Italy, but such a great one, it is fascinating to hear another of his early dramatic works from a little later. He wrote Aci, Galatea e Polifemo as a cantata or serenata for a neapolitan royal wedding in 1708 (a year after his first cantata Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno and in the same year as his first oratorio La Resurrezione), and it feels to me very far to the opera end of the spectrum.

Le Corsaire at the American Ballet Theatre

Xiomara Reyes in Le Corsaire. Photo by MIRA.

What is le Corsaire? Is it a ballet? Is it entertainment — mere divertissement? Is there any difference? I believe intuitively that there is. Ballet defines itself on telling a story (even if there are exceptions) rather than presenting divertissements in vignettes, it is not a sort of artistic form of gymnastics. One more often encounters le Corsaire nowadays, at least in the west, as the extraordinary virtuoso pas de deux on its own, with its impossible leaps and lifts and turns for the man and the ballerina, and so this is what the ballet is known for, now associated especially with male virtuosity, thanks to Baryshnikov’s dancing, but the ballet presented as a whole is still a working piece of theatre.

Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante and Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Robbins’ Cage and Andantino at the New York City Ballet

The style of the New York City Ballet is almost tree-like, branching and spreading in a floral rather than faunal manner, achieving a harmonious whole that is not purely rational or classical or athletic or anything covered by a single label. Their pure and natural variety of grace certainly suits Balanchine’s choreography, bringing out its best qualities. Allegro Brilliante, as the title might suggest, opens with style and grace, there is a certain abstraction with this stylish dancing before a plain blue screen and following no definite plot or action. We have Tchaikovsky’s music speaking to us very eloquently through Clotilde Otranto’s baton and Elaine Chelton’s fingers, music with fairly strong and definite, but not heavy, emotions. The costumes, the women’s light dresses in gentle hues and secondary colors and the men’s loose sleeves and waistcoats, do not place them absolutely as characters, but are enough to complement simply the movements. Yet there is a sense of a social entity, of mute social forces at work, drowned out by the music perhaps, and even a suggestion of court in the group scenes in their almost 17th Century style of abstraction, as they blur the lines slightly between social and theatrical dancing; the interactions of the dancers on stage are absorbing and interesting, brought across by their dramatic sense, their sense of theatre. The dancing doesn’t borrow openly from any real historical form but somehow the push and pull of social dancing is suggested. The piece at least gives the feeling of being indoors. Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette dancing the leads give a particularly strong sense of conversation in their dancing together in the pas de deux and also amongst the larger group. Nothing happens, the ballet remains abstract, yet it develops in an arc into something very moving and ineffable beyond the music, as if the entire piece, developed into a whole wishes to give something to you, and the performance succeeded in this and the lack of downrightness was very refreshing.

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s All Mozart Program Including the C Minor Mass in Sydney

Mozarts Geburtshaus. Photo by Marion Kalter.

Since the resurrection of certain large and important Mozart works, Idomeneo being the main example which only came back to theatres and concert halls again around 60 years ago, much of his sacred music remains unsung or at least rarely heard. The Requiem mass, the C minor mass, the Coronation mass, Ave verum corpus are more or less ubiquitous, and do deserve many hearings. There are certain others a little less often heard, but there remain very many masses, mainly short youthful ones, litanies and fragments, starting from Mozart’s childhood in the late 1760’s through the ’70’s, with many fewer in the ’80’s when he was writing his finest operas. These sacred pieces, as well as the church sonatas which are thought to have been played as part of some of the masses, and also I might add Mozart’s ceremonial masonic music which also has a particularly strong and direct metaphysical sense (though masonic music has its own peculiar style), approach the universe in a very Mozartean way, surprisingly similar to his secular music, even though they respond to different texts or purposes. These sacred pieces’ clear dramatic sense makes them well suited to the concert hall, even if they can loose some of their gravity in the more modern workaday venues. Still they aren’t operas and obviously the separate religious importance matters greatly whatever the occasion which sees them played, even if both Mozart’s sacred choral and secular music span human existence with such deep and sensitive empathy. Mozart’s thoughts and music-making about the divine are al the more powerful when one considers that though he wrote less sacred music in the 1780’s, at the same time (or at the latest by 1790), he greatly desired the job of St. Stephen’s cathedral composer, to the point of volunteering to assist the aging incumbent.

Philippe Jaroussky Sings Handel and Porpora Arias with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, plus Locatelli’s L’Arte del Violino in Sydney

Philippe Jaroussky

City Recital Hall, Sydney: 13 March 2013 Philippe Jaroussky and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra travel to Melbourne 18 March and play again in Sydney 20, 22, 23 and 25 March. A recording will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM on…
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