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August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

A Scene from August Osage County

As I mulled over the play I had just seen, the much-acclaimed August: Osage County, over some bad, overpriced feijoada, I found myself probing around for just what had been lacking in the evening. I left the Music Box Theater thinking that it was perhaps not that strong a play. I liked its length (or perhaps out on the Plains people would conceive it as breadth) and its rambling quality. Most of its dozen characters were unattractive in one way or another, but I’d grown fond of them over the past three hours. On the other hand, I perhaps felt mildly frustrated that I didn’t know more about the characters, that too much was left open. (I won’t retell the story here. If you can’t quite follow the following streamof dysfunctional relatives, you should see the play or read it. You won’t regret it.) I found myself wondering what brought Bev together with Violet in the the first place. There must have been something, before the pills and the alcohol took over.

In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.

Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens, Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, conductor

Les Troyens is so widely accepted as Berlioz’s greatest work, that the progress of the Berlioz Renaissance is punctuated by performances of it in the opera house and in concert, beginning, arguably, with Sir Thomas Beecham’s moderately abridged 1947 BBC broadcast. Now Boston music-lovers may consider the Berlioz Renaissance to be something of a noble fiction, since his music has had its own secure place in the Boston Symphony repertoire for many years, maturing with Charles Munch’s arrival in 1949. During his tenure he and the BSO performed and recorded several of Berlioz’s most important works, and the recordingsare still considered among the best. Later, both Jean Martinon and Seiji Ozawa continued the tradition most capably, and Berlioz has been one of James Levine’s great enthusiasms since early in his career. Expertise in Berlioz seems to be a prerequisite for the job. Yet, this is the first complete performance of Les Troyens by the foremost Berlioz orchestra in America, which in the past has only played brief excerpts, above all the “Royal Hunt and Storm” from Act IV. Hence these concert performances of Parts I and II on following weeks, culminating in a complete performance on Sunday May 4, are in fact landmarks.

Black Watch from the Natonal Theatre of Scotland

The Iraq War is an infuriating abomination and I am more than happy to see anything that attacks it. I am also, as it happens, not against seeing fine theatre. Therefore, I was delighted to see two birds killed with one stone at the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of the Edinburgh Festival hit Black Watch at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, as the play continues its tour through the UK, and then on to North America. [Since its first performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 in an unused drill shed, Black Watch has played before sold out audiences and won numerous awards, not only the Fringe First, but South Bank Show Award for Theatre, the Critics’ Circle Awards (to John Tiffany as Best Director) and others. It played to sold-out audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse,Brooklyn in October-November 2007, and will return there in October 2008. – ed.]

More from Edinburgh and London…and more Elgar at Bard

The British Museum

This week more reviews from Edinburgh and London will appear, as well as from Annandale-on-Hudson, including a symposium on Anglophilia, no less. There was a fine evening of Mendelssohn with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Frans Brüggen with the distinguished young violinist Viviane Hagner, Wagner’s Siegfried, from the Royal Opera’s new Ring Cycle, which is receiving its first full performances this year, and—most British of all—the final weekend of the Elgar Festival at Bard. Reviews of several important exhibitions will follow in coming weeks: Richard Long and the Queen’s Flemish pictures in Edinburgh, and in London, the wonderful Millais exhibition at Tate Britain, al well as the major exhibition of the Queen’s Italian art, a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see great paintings, drawings, and decorative arts rarely shown in public, including the recently “discovered” Caravaggio, which has been so much in the news.

Art

Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College, May 03, 2017 – September 03, 2017

Lois Mailou Jones, A Student at Howard, 1947. Watercolor over graphite on off-white wove paper.

Between the limits of the discipline, as it is taught in graduate schools, and the structure of museological functions, exhibitions of drawings usually adhere to a restricted range of formats, which, while continuing to be viable for institutions and the public and useful for scholars in the field, can be felt as constricting for those who conceive and execute them. The scope of drawings exhibitions can be determined by time and/or place (stylistic categories), or an artistic personality (monographic), or collection (“Treasures on Paper from…”), and perhaps a few others. When a curator is faced with such a project, he may may find himself wrestling with an urge to break the mold and create something new.

Urban Planning: A Manifesto

The people of New South Wales have been anticipating the upcoming state election almost since the last election four years ago, never a good situation. As regular readers of our dispatches from Sydney know, the soon to be defeated Labor Government has for the past sixteen years, with its inimitably bland, shiny-suited glee, trashed poor old Sydney. A place which with the slightest effort could be the most beautiful city in the world has instead deteriorated into a kind of Los Angeles without a Raymond Chandler, a Melbourne without intricacy, a Singapore without ambition.

One of the most urgent tasks facing the next state government will be the reform of NSW’s broken planning system, a system I saw in action (if that is the right word) during the disillusioning two years I spent in a cubicle at the NSW Department of Planning.

Music

Giovanni Simone Mayr’s Remarkable Medea Opera, Superbly Performed

Giovanni Simone Mayr

Medea in Corinto (Medea in Corinth, 1813 and much revised over the course of the next ten years) was Mayr’s best-known opera and remained a repertory staple for a time even after his death. It has been revived frequently in our own day, especially in Italy, where audiences can of course follow the plot and shifting emotions without recourse to supertitles.

 

A Crop of Recordings XVII: Dvořák, Ravel, Lalo, and Manén…with Some Classical Favourites for Hallowe’en!

La Mère L'Oye

Every time I hear the Czech Philharmonic properly recorded I’m reminded what a glorious orchestra they are—overdue for appreciation. The ensemble recently signed a major contract with Decca and released Dvořák symphonies and concertos on CD, led by Jiří Bělohlávek. There’s also a complete Tchaikovsky project in the works from Semyon Bychkov. And now we have this beautiful take on the Slavonic Dances, captured without compromise.

Theater

The Three Musketeers at The Classical Theatre of Harlem

The Three Musketeers By the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Photo Richard Termine.

It’s all for one and one for all in Classical Theatre of Harlem’s (CTH) The Three Musketeers written by Catherina Bush as adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Under the sky at the wonderful Richard Rogers Amphitheater in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, the cast sings a little, dances a little, crosses swords a lot and generally has a good time.

Opera

Dvořák’s Rare Grand Opera, Dimitrij, Coming Up at Bard Summerscape, beginning July 28 [REVISED]

Olga Tolkmit as Xenia in Dvořák's grand opera, Dimitrij at Bard Summerscape, 2017.

Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year’s fully-staged production of Dvořák’s rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.

A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Caroline Copeland in Cmapras's Le Carnaval de Venise. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.

Dance

Soaking Wet with the Beyond the Bang Group at the West End Theater

First up, an entirely delightful amuse-bouche minus title or program reference with Jeffrey Kazin, co-producer of The Bang Group, clapping the rhythms and Chelsea Ainsworth in pointe shoes tapping to the beat. As Kazin clapped an elaborate pattern Ainsworth echoed it; the couple then moved from the feet up the body incorporating other takes on percussion as she drummed on his torso and he slapped the ground. Juilliard grad Ainsworth was back in Two is You and deserves a shout-out for her expressive approach that maximizes every step.

Living While Dying

dying and dying and dying by MB Dance

According to choreographer Maria Bauman, the work is a meditation on various kinds of endings, positive and negative. Bauman, Gibney Dance’s 2017 Community Action Artist in Residence, says she feels charged with alive-ness while at the same time embracing the paradox of multiple deaths happening every moment; dying and dying and dying is the result of dancing that paradox.

Literature

The 36th Bloomsday at Symphony Space, 2017

James Joyce, circa 1922

The thirty-sixth celebration of Bloomsday at Symphony Space, originally conceived by SS ‘s late founder, Isaiah Sheffer, was a fitting tribute to Ulysses and its author, James Joyce. With a projection of Joyce’s face looking down on either side of the stage, the audience reveled in panel discussions; music including a beautiful rendition of Love’s Old Sweet Song, as discussed by Molly Bloom in the book and a “Whirlwind Tour through all 18 Episodes.” This Joyce fest offered something for even the most die-hard fan.

riverrun runs wild in Brooklyn, with performance artist Olwen Fouéré

Olwen Fouéré in riverrun at BAM. Photo Rebecca Greenfield.

You’ve doubtless read somewhere or another or heard someone say that our relationship to novels is much like our relationships to people (our relationships to their authors, living and dead, are a whole other thing). That may sound trite, but it has its degree of truth. In no case is it so true as in the case of Finnegan’s Wake. In most cases James Joyce’s last novel is like some celebrity academic, who jets constantly between, say, Paris and Berkeley, but never crosses our path. Others may have approached the great man at the podium after a lecture and tried to ask a private question, only to be

About NYC

Cinema

Silver Stream – Short Film: Grace Kiley – Writer, Director & Actor – Kickstarter Campaign ends on May 22!

Diagnosed with a progressive illness at the time of her daughter’s birth, Anna made the decision to give her daughter, Una, up for adoption when she was just 2 weeks old. Twenty-seven years later, Anna feels compelled to contact Una in order to pass on her inheritance, “some good and some not so good.”  Anna’s illness has begun to affect her daily function. She assumes her daughter was raised by the privileged family who adopted her, but soon discovers a very different story.

Kino!2017, a Festival of German Cinema at the Sunshine, Closes on April 6

Lilith Stangenberg in Wild.

For its fourth season as an independent festival, Kino!2017, has moved to everyone’s favorite art house, the Sunshine Cinema, as congenial a venue as possible for the screenings and the inevitable lively discussion around them. Curated by New York film professionals—distributor Meghan Wurtz, journalist Karl Rozemeyer and festival consultant Marian Masone, Kino!2017 presents twelve feature-length films, including one North American premiere, five US premieres, four East coast premieres and two New York premieres, plus the Next Generation Short Tiger 2016 selection.

Places

Bomarzo tra il Santo Biscotto e la Fava Marxista: La Festa di Sant’Anselmo (April 23-25, 2014)

Il biscotto di Sant'Anselmo

My days in Bomarzo in 2009 did not show the town at its most industrious…or, on the contrary, perhaps it did. The end of April and the beginning of May mark holiday season in this medieval hill town of fewer than 1800 inhabitants. The third weekend of the month and the weekdays that lead up to it mark the festival of the local saint, Saint Anselm of Bomarzo, the 25th also being the national holiday of the Liberation. The following weekend embraces May Day, the international celebration of the working man and woman, which needs no explanation. A young person asked me why we don’t celebrate this holiday in the United States, conjuring up old photos of the police and the National Guard in my mind.

Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France

Cycling fans watch the opening time trial of Paris-Nice in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, 3 March 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.

Food & Drink

Podcasts

Manfred Honeck talks to Michael Miller about Mahler, Bruckner, and Conducting

Manfred Honeck. Photo Felix Broede.

Anyone who has heard Manfred Honeck conduct his own Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall or in their exemplary recordings on the Exton and Reference Recordings labels will know what a treasure he is for the world of music. This week he will conduct the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with Inon Barnatan and Mahler’s First Symphony. He has made something of a speciality of this composer, a fellow Austrian. His recorded cycle with Pittsburgh now includes Symphonies No. 1, 3, and 5. Maestro Honeck also has special insight into the work of Anton Bruckner, another fellow Austrian. He has so far recorded Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and looks forward to recording the Ninth.

In this interview you will learn something about the care and intelligence he puts into preparing his performances and his particular feeling for these great composers.

Christina Kobb Talks to Michael Miller about Historical Keyboard Technique

Christina Kobb, Pianist

The Norwegian pianist and scholar Christina Kobb came to wider attention in the United States when a New York Times writer picked up an article in a Scandinavian science magazine about neurological research carried out on her to analyze her movements as she played an electronic keyboard using modern and nineteenth century technique, which she has researched in her dissertation.