October 2010

At the Bayreuth Festival

Katharina Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, now in its Fourth Year at Bayreuth

I won't even say that I wish that, in beginning with Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger, I was starting on a cheerful note. Nothing of the kind. Katharina has studiously avoided her great grandfather's romanticized Nürnberg, where great artistic, literary, and musical achievement lurked around every corner, where the citizens dressed colorfully, where the men engaged in witty exchanges, while the girls joyfully gave themselves over the dancing, if not to their young men, at every opportunity. She has, rather, chosen to focus on the repressive nature of this conservative society, as embodied in the guild system, the obsessive power of routine in daily life, its neuroses, and, yes, its nightmares. Having a certain penchant for black humor and oddity, I entered with pleasure into my five-hour visit to this frightening and pitiable world, and I laughed, quite a bit, which, I should hope, is the desired result of any Meistersinger production. If my laughter was a trifle sour at times, it's not entirely alien from the sarcastic wit of Wagner's libretto. Hence, I am pleased to say that Katharina Wagner won her war, buoyed up by a splendid vocal, orchestral, and comedic performance, which had its own vigorous life, no matter how strange the goings-on on stage. And, if one is open-minded enough not to resist these, one can expect to gain a fair bit of insight into human nature, history, and Richard Wagner's comic masterpiece.
Commentary

Seeking Solitude in Venice

It's been some years since I've been in Venice, and I found the state of the Piazza S. Marco disturbing. I was appalled by the huge ads for clothing and champagne which dominated both the Piazza and the Piazzetta — now the subject of a formal protest published in the Art Newspaper ("Ads of Sighs," The Art Newspaper, Friday, October 8, 2010), to which the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, has given a reply worthy of Glenn Beck...
Dance

Roland Petit with the Paris Opera Ballet

In the decade after the second world war, Paris and London, in addition to the big national companies, supported a myriad of small and prolific ballet companies. One of these was Boris Kochno's Ballets des Champs-Elysées. Kochno had been Serge Diaghelev's secretary in the Ballets Russes days, so in a way it was he who inherited the Ballets Russes tradition in Europe while Colonel de Basil and Serge Denham's two respective Ballets Russes spin-offs were still touring the US and Australia. Kochno, as artistic director, founded the company with writer Jean Cocteau, and dancer and choreographer Roland Petit, who had trained in the Paris Opera Ballet School and danced in the corps de ballet until the Liberation. In 1948 Petit started his own small company, the Ballets de Paris, which only lasted a few years, but managed to cause great excitement in Paris and travelled well to London. Indeed, he worked with Margot Fontaine several times. We don't often get to see his ballets nowadays (though there are also a great many other modern ballets from those years, even some of Michel Fokine's, that don't get much air either), but the Paris Opera Ballet is currently showing three of Petit's short pieces, Le Rendez-vous (1945), Le Loup (1953) and Le Jeune Homme et La Mort (1946) which have been in the national company's repertoire since 1992, 1975 and 1990 respectively.
Art

Arnulf Rainer: der Übermaler, Alte Pinakothek (Munich), closed September 5th, 2010

I have long deemed Munich’s Alte Pinakothek one of the most underrated museums in Europe. Thanks to aristocratic connoisseurs like William IV, Maximilian I, and Ludwig I, the city now boasts an outstanding collection of Renaissance, Dutch, and Flemish masterpieces. The museum is well complimented by Alexander Freiherr von Branca’s Neue Pinakothek and Stephan Braunfels’s Pinakothek der Moderne since 2002. In fact, these robust institutions have allowed Munich’s Kunstareal to rise above the current economic crisis as promising young talent finds a slow but steady stream of patrons.
Architecture | Urban Design

The 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture

To travel in the desirable parts of the world involves waiting in line. Given this, the line to get into the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture appeared to be mercifully short, short enough to identify those waiting in it as, if not individuals, at least stereotypes. Before the first five minutes of complete stasis had passed it was clear that the blockage at the ticket window was caused by a dapper Italian, almost certainly an architect, wearing a striped shirt and a dark tan, newspaper folded under his arm, with flowing grey hair and a beard he’d probably cultivated his entire adult life. He leaned on the counter as though it were his favorite neighborhood espresso bar. His purchase of a ticket seemed to be inhibited by endless complications. At intervals he turned to the rest of us with a shrug, as though the harried young ticket seller were evidence of how impossible it is to find good help these days. Then his mobile rang and of course he answered it, leaving the ticket seller and the rest of us waiting...
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