Photographer Max Hirshfeld, who came to Washington, DC, in 1969 from a small, Southern town, has always been fascinated with “the other Washington,” as he calls it, the creative community in the city that has nothing to do with the federal government. This spring he began photographing key players in the DC art scene—poets, novelists, actors, directors, critics, dancers, architects and patrons—and the result is a stunning series of 33 portraits, called “Illuminaries,” now on display at Hemphill Fine Arts in downtown Washington through July 27th. It is part of the gallery’s larger exhibit on the Artist-Citizen.
Here’s a weird coincidence. Two composers, nearly two centuries apart, almost polar opposites, were both 19 when their first operas were performed. Both operas are named after central characters whose three-syllable names begin with A. And both just received terrific Boston performances — simultaneously, in different parts of town. There the coincidence ends.
A recent visit to London offered interestingly comparable back-to-back performances: Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck at the English National Opera, London Coliseum, Saturday evening, May 25th; and the next afternoon Shakespeare’s Othello at the National Theatre. Both works center on a military man, mad from the start or driven mad as things progress, who comes to kill his lover (female) out of sexual jealousy, and then kills himself. Comparison of the two works (the Berg opera, of course, based on Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck) can lead one into interesting thoughts on the nature of tragedy, modern tragedy versus classical tragedy, the function of character and fate in such dramas, and so on. But remarkably, these two London productions were given the same setting: the military world of the recent Iraq and current Afghanistan wars—thereby making a particular and strong point about the nature of experiential and environmental pressures upon such characters as we see.
This is a bit of a sacrilege, but I have always found Anton Chekhov’s much beloved nineteenth-century play, The Seagull, bordering on a parody of itself. When Masha, the estate manager’s daughter, enters in the opening scene of the play dressed all in black and announces she “is in mourning for her life…” how can we possibly keep a straight face? Chekhov couldn’t have imagined how shamelessly French torch singer Edith Piaf would overuse the line in the 1930’s with her own infatuation with black clothing, making this an even more melodramatic line for today’s audiences. So, from my perspective, it does not take much to turn The Seagull from serious, revered Russian classic to clever, side-splitting spoof.