2008

A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Gustavo Dudamel leads the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra at the Proms

Wunderkindfest. Unless you are a stubborn opinionator, performances can confuse you at times. I was flummoxed last night at the Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and his Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, in a concert I was expecting to enjoy, though not to the utmost. The Berlioz Symphonie fantastique wore out its welcome many years ago, and only a brilliant performance can redeem it for me. That Dudamel did not deliver. Sparkling as he is in the bright media limelight, the skyrocketing young Venezuelan has to have the goods, too. In this case, his reading was flat, disjointed, and plodding, with a drawn-out Scene aux champs that lasted long enough for Madame Defarge to knit a quilt. The guillotine movement that followed was coarse and blatty, which is how the whole reading went, either in slow mo with exaggerated emphases or sped up recklessly. Dudamel’s inability to sustain tension in soft passages, one of the most blatant failings in a bad conductor, shocked me.
New York Arts in Paris

The Best French Movie in Decades – The 2008 Tour de France

It was a childhood case of chicken pox which first introduced me to the Tour de France. The year was 1989, fortunately a very choice vintage indeed, in which Minnesota's Greg Lemond clawed back 58 seconds between Versailles and Paris to defeat the hapless Parisian ex-dental student Laurent Fignon. I remember my confusion, a common response among those new to the Tour, as to which of the two was actually the Frenchman.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Under the Blue Sky by David Eldridge at the Duke of York’s Theatre

Love goes ka-boom. I read an interview with a young playwright, David Eldridge, who was asked about current conditions in the British theater. At 27 he had a precocious smash hit at the Royal Court in 2000 with Under the Blue Sky, a study in three scenes of romance and sexual frustration among secondary school teachers. The subject sounds deadly, and one can understand why five London theatres originally turned it down. The commercial West End trembles like melting marmalade when faced with serious dramatic writing, and the pay for playwrights is criminally low, to the point that talented ones scrounge for a living, even after having a hit. (I’m reminded of the improbable moment when Sam Goldwyn brought the poet-playwright Maurice Maeterlinck from Paris to Hollywood. Goldwyn’s familiarity with Maeterlinck’s masterpiece, Pelleas et Melisande, was dubious. The work to be adapted for the big screen was a strange naturalist treatise, The Life of the Bee. After reading the first draft of the script, Goldwyn rushed out of his office screaming, “My God, it’s about a bee!”)
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Landscape and A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter at the National Theatre

The observer effect. After the play Betrayal, from 1981, I lost track of Harold Pinter. London productions of his plays have the zing of authentic English irony, etched menace, and pithy delivery that doesn’t come across with American accents. One could see Pinter as an actor as late as 1995 when he appeared in the West End in a revival of an earlier work, The Hothouse. Pinter is as strange and threatening on stage as on paper, although a witty anecdote circulated around that production. Supposedly his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, phoned up the management and said, “The whole run has been so successful, Harold and I were thinking that you should have the Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theater,” to which the manager replied, “Or he could just rename himself Harold Comedy.”
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

A Visit to the Tate Modern

Oh, that this rain would end! I dried my socks by stepping into the Tate Britain this afternoon.The museum collection is divided into three parts – the glorious, the dull, and the querulous. The glorious, all those luminescent Turner paintings, went on tour this year, so the mobs aren’t in attendance. The management left a few strays lingering in various galleries (like the sublimely bucolicGolden Bough and a Venetian water scene where only an outlined gondola betrays that Turner wasn’t painting a celestial city), and these left-behinds glow like yellow sapphires. The dull part of the Tate consists of traditional British paintings, large rooms hung double-decker style with portraits of horse-faced lords and their pale, powdered ladies. I have to squint to read the labels, so it’s work to separate the Reynolds, Gainsboroughs, and Van Dycks from the acreage of peerage that surrounds them. If I sound captious, it’s because the third portion of the Tate Britain, devoted to modern art, exasperated me.
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