Perennial spring. The Vienna Philharmonic never wants for love and respect, being showered with both almost beyond measure. Their PR department must consist of an answering machine that says, “Thanks for adoring us. Maybe we’ll call you back.” Since their principal season is spent in the opera house, the Philharmonic gives few orchestral concerts compared with the world’s other premiere ensembles. After earning raves and an audience hanging from the rafters at the Proms this summer, these august visitors were described by one London critic as “lifetime members of the high table.” It’s become de rigeur to carp about the absence of women in the orchestra (I counted three), but otherwise, a critic might as well push a macro key on his computer set to endless praise.
Gnawing the flesh. It was the best of Timon; it was the worst of Timon. Reducing a stage production to one sentence rarely does it justice, but the National Theatre’s new, wildly popular Timon of Athens, mounted as a showcase for London’s favorite actor, Simon Russell Beale, wins the best and worst prize on several counts. It takes the messiest of Shakespeare’s late plays, a nasty, grinding parable about misanthropy, and delivers a glittering first half that is unexpected magic before the genii departs and we endure the dismal gray of the second half.
Capitol crime. Julius Caesar isn't a juicy play. The poetry occupies a narrow range between nobility and a bad conscience. Very little is inward. The famous speeches are public oratory, not soliloquies on the order of Hamlet. It's the only play of his that could be read from a teleprompter. Only Mark Antony turns to the audience to share a confidence, after he has fawned before the conspirators who killed Caesar yet secretly abhors them. The central role is that of vacillating Brutus, who seems like a dry run for the truly tragic Coriolanus. For these reasons, a great production must make ancient Romans more than stuffed shirts in togas enacting potted history.
In a part of Florens 2012, the academics, business figures, and other experts who attend will explore the subjects developed two years ago, within a wide-ranging scheme, specifically tailored for this meeting, mainly the theme: "from the Grand Tour to the Global Tour." Fundamentally, the way the world perceives Italy and enjoys the many extraordinary things the country has to offer descend from the Grand Tour, the capstone of an English aristocrat's education beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing on into our own time, however much its character has been democratized in the twentieth century.
The Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi: A Masterpiece Reconstructed is a what museum people call a focus exhibition. It is built around a single work of art in a museum's collection, supplemented by other works which cast light on one or more aspects of the work. For the museum, it is an opportunity to take the work out of its usual context in the gallery and to direct the visitor's attention towards that one individual work and its own historical context.This rich exhibition had several themes: the reconstruction of the dismembered work of art, the re-evaluation of the artist who created it, the Sienese master Bartolo di Fredi, the date, the patron, and the original location of the work. This small, but ambitious exhibition goes beyond even this. Through a series of thumbnail biographies, it provides the reader with a guide to Sienese painting in the decades following the Black Death, a period which remains underestimated and comparatively little-known. The exhibition catalogue would make an instructive companion to a visit to the Siena Pinacoteca and the churches of the city.
Should Art be merely an escape or refuge from the realities of our difficult times? In the 1940s, the debate heated and divided artists, musicians and scholars. In Wallace Stevens’s essay “The Noble Rider and The Sound of Words,” the twain are resolved in the idea that art, even “abstract” art can assume the role of social commentary only through innate and ineffable transformations of reality rather than by any explicit agenda dogmatically imposed by the creator. Great art could not be manhandled ideologically. How this solution might apply to opera of the past becomes the task of the director and musicians in balancing the surprisingly diverse elements of the music’s intent, the libretto’s intent, the historical context, and, yes, the composer’s objectives, if any. It is not surprising that Stevens regarded that an artistic creation had its own life apart from the creator’s wishes. Thus, we have the license for interpretation and deconstruction that has become the hallmark of Regietheater in our times.
It seems right to begin by grounding whatever else I have to say in the recommendations of Florens 2010. Since much of this will be discussed at Florens 2012. I’ve entered my thoughts simply as comments on the thirteen proposals of 2010. Some of these mention examples from my experiences in the U.S. While the U.S. scored quite well in the Florens 2010 surveys, there is no reason why it should be considered exemplary. The arts struggle there as much as anywhere, although there are a variety of resources to support it. The Tanglewood Music Festival is without a doubt the most important summer music festival and school in the country. They have just published their attendance figures for this past summer, the summer of their 75th anniversary celebrations, and it is makes for depressing reading. The most popular classical concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra — and these were the cornerstone of the founder, Serge Koussevitzky’s vision for the festival — ranked ninth below eight pop concerts and semi-popular ceremonial events. Even with an array of private and corporate donors at hand and painstakingly cultivated, the arts have to work hard in the New World to survive and risk compromising their mission.
Much of the report on Florens 2010 deals with analyses of the kind of data we associate with audience surveys. The data a statistical, and in digesting them, the authors work with quantified phenomena that can be consistently compared. The methods, which are clearly described, reflect standard methods and different studies are brought in for comparison.