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*+-This is probably the best occasion for me to come out of the closet and confess my secret vice—a mild fondness for the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. A viewing of NYGASP’s The Yeomen of the Guard with an entirely unvictorian companion set me to thinking about certain genres of theatre and opera in which performance practices are prescribed by tradition or even some legal entity. NYGASP is well-known for throwing in a few uncanonical details, but basically they cleave to D’Oyly Carte’s no longer legally binding restrictions, because their audience of devotees expect that—in fact they derive great pleasure from stage routines which have no meaning whatsover in contemporary theater outside of a G & S. Perhaps the tastes of loving audiences have proven more binding than the D’Oyly Carte copyrights.
*+-By now the word is that Anna Nicole, by Mark-Antony Turnage and librettist Richard Thomas, is likely to be the New York City Opera’s last production. If the City Opera is dying, it is going out magnificently, with its greatly reduced season setting a model for opera houses in the US and around the world. The 2013-14 season, if it takes place, includes the important contemporary opera discussed here, a 2011 commission by the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, followed by a long-forgotten setting of Metastasio’s Endimione by Johann Christian Bach, a staged performance of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, and finally one staple of the standard operatic repertory, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the final instalment in Christopher Alden’s innovative staging of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas. The schedule is small, but every opera has a vital reason to be in it.
*+-While I sought tickets for this production with alacrity, I approached my seat at BAM’s Harvey Theater with some misgiving, and it had nothing to do with Santo Loquasto’s elegant, perceptive, and functional set, which was in plain view on stage. It was rather the recurrent suspicion that a prominent Hollywood actor's visitations of the stage so often turn out to be indulgences more nourishing for the actor’s ego than for the audience. Perhaps Kevin Spacey’s Richard III haunted the stage like the king’s murdered relatives. But, if you consider Turturro’s career, his experience on stage is extensive, and he is hardly a mainstream Hollywood actor. As the play began and especially once Mr. Turturro appeared, I couldn’t help watching closely for some weakness or affectation that might undermine the role. What a terrible attitude to see a play, I admit!
*+-Thomas Adès’ Powder her Face is now almost twenty years old, and the composer, now 42, has only strengthened his spell on audiences, organizers, and musicians. We have grown accustomed to trusting Mr. Adès to deliver works that are not only cleverly and soundly constructed, but also emotionally absorbing and rewarding in a way representative of the representative trends in music today. My neighbor at BAM warned me that this would not be The Tempest and that I should not expect to find maturity in the opera. Adès was in fact 24 when Powder her Face received its premiere at the Cheltenham Festival. As I looked and listened, the opera seemed a model of precocious maturity in comparison with the Pythonesque production it received from Jay Scheib, who is in fact Adès’ senior by two years.
*+-This production of Shakespeare’s Richard III has reached BAM after a sold-out run at the Old Vic and a tour which included Epidavros, Istanbul, Naples, Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and San Francisco, among others. This reminded me of the sort of thing the British Council does, but of course this Shakespearian globe-trotting was a private enterprise, funded largely by Bank of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. And course the whole point of the production’s parent organization, The Bridge Project, was to combine British and American casts. Perhaps there should be an organization beyond the British Council to cultivate, study, and promote the global English language, as it used on the streets and in literature around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Guyana, and others. And the way English is behaving in the physical and cyber-world today, it may need some international body to encourage it in good manners, kicking it under the table, when it starts to monopolize the conversation.
*+-It occasionally strikes me, to my own bemusement, that walking along a street on an average day, I might have in my pockets as many as three devices capable of recording pictures, even moving pictures, and perhaps two for recording sound. Modern technology has given ordinary people—anyone—an unprecedented ability to make precise literal records of what can be heard and seen at any given time and place. Using a device smaller than my hand I can create a seamless journal of sound, text, still images, and movies, if I choose, but I refrain. I rarely put these capabilities to use—only if there is something extraordinary…like the bizarre Australian accent of a tour guide on the Palatine last year, as he spun absurdities to his rapt crowd. (I wasn’t fast enough…) I am wary of these literal records. Are they the death of memory? Even during my undergraduate years, when the goings-on had every appearance of memorable times, I eschewed keeping a diary, taking notes, or even taking pictures. If I ever wrote about those times, I wanted to write from memory, with all its confusions and conflations, believing that someone else would be keeping an accurate chronicle of events to rescue me, if I needed it.
*+-The Comedy of Errors By William Shakespeare Propeller Directed by Edward Hall BAM Harvey Theater With Richard Clothier, John Dougall, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Sam Swainsbury, Richard Frame, Jon Trenchard, Robert Hands, David Newman, Wayne Cater, Thomas Padden, Dominic Tighe, Kelsey Brookfield, Tony Bell, Chris Myles To revisit The Comedy of Errors is to marvel at Shakespeare’s […]
*+-The Nightingale and Other Short Fables By Igor Stravinsky Conducted by Johannes Debus Directed by Robert Lepage BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, co-produced with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Opera national de Lyon, and Netherlands Opera, in collaboration with Ex Machine, NYC With Adam Luther, Lothar Odinius, Peter Barrett, Ilya Bannik, Olga Peretyatko, Laura Albino, Neil Craighead, […]