Every summer, in the course of Bard College's Summerscape, the expansive net of entertainment, education, and enlightenment Leon Botstein and his cohorts cast about the Bard Music Festival, we get an opportunity to enjoy a rare opera, which has either fallen out of, or never entered, the basic repertory of the art form—an opera you will never see at the Met. In many cases the reasons these works disappeared is either straightforward or practical: tastes change, or the management of mainstream opera houses ceased to find it workable to engage a cast of six or eight lead singers when the most popular operas required only two. In other cases the reasons are mysterious, complex, or otherwise fascinating.
The style of the New York City Ballet is almost tree-like, branching and spreading in a floral rather than faunal manner, achieving a harmonious whole that is not purely rational or classical or athletic or anything covered by a single label. Their pure and natural variety of grace certainly suits Balanchine’s choreography, bringing out its best qualities. Allegro Brilliante, as the title might suggest, opens with style and grace, there is a certain abstraction with this stylish dancing before a plain blue screen and following no definite plot or action. We have Tchaikovsky’s music speaking to us very eloquently through Clotilde Otranto’s baton and Elaine Chelton’s fingers, music with fairly strong and definite, but not heavy, emotions. The costumes, the women’s light dresses in gentle hues and secondary colors and the men’s loose sleeves and waistcoats, do not place them absolutely as characters, but are enough to complement simply the movements. Yet there is a sense of a social entity, of mute social forces at work, drowned out by the music perhaps, and even a suggestion of court in the group scenes in their almost 17th Century style of abstraction, as they blur the lines slightly between social and theatrical dancing; the interactions of the dancers on stage are absorbing and interesting, brought across by their dramatic sense, their sense of theatre. The dancing doesn’t borrow openly from any real historical form but somehow the push and pull of social dancing is suggested. The piece at least gives the feeling of being indoors. Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette dancing the leads give a particularly strong sense of conversation in their dancing together in the pas de deux and also amongst the larger group. Nothing happens, the ballet remains abstract, yet it develops in an arc into something very moving and ineffable beyond the music, as if the entire piece, developed into a whole wishes to give something to you, and the performance succeeded in this and the lack of downrightness was very refreshing.
No one can review the Boston Early Music Festival. Critics must select what time, physical energy and mental attention allow from the one hundred and forty plus musical events, exhibition offerings, lectures, etc, that are encompassed by the official festival and its very prolific offspring on the “fringe,” whose events are included in the official program book. (Schlepping the 300 + page book to events gets to be another physical challenge.) This assessment of the scope, size, and character of the event is based on random selection and personal bias. As a keyboard player, I favored keyboard events to the point of taking in a series of concerts rather than running from one venue another. In a few cases, I wanted to see performances by people I know. I also seem to have listened to a lot of Bach. From this random sampling, I hope to convey something of the range of performers’ skills, repertory, ideas, and innovations attached to the concept of “Early Music” in this year’s festival. But this report is only the elephant’s ear; others will have to deal with the rest of the creature’s anatomy.
The ultimate impression John Guare's Three Kinds of Exile left on me was that, although the selection of three subjects was pertinent, varied, and effective, the series could have been carried on indefinitely. Perhaps the different kinds of exile that have been experienced are not infinite, but, like the ocean floor, exile has not been fully explored, and, if there is a limiting number to its variation, we do not know it. Mr Guare's trilogy includes three exiles—all Central Europeans—who were actually displaced physically from the countries in which they were born and grew up, and that is the most obvious kind of exile...but what about the people who are exiles on their own native soil?
How do we access the past? The viewer of contemporary art is invariably ensconced in, if not assaulted by, the strategies of artist, gallerist, and critic setting a work in terms of the present. The viewer, even the neophyte, invariably is attuned to the content of the discourse—racial memories of South Africa, female experience in the United States, sexual identity, response to AIDs, poverty, or age, in term that resonate with lived, personal experience. How does an exhibitor or critic bridge the cultural gap that so actively stands between our present and our past, especially with artists outside of the mainstream?
Reluctant to miss an opportunity to hear the great clarinettist Eric Hoeprich, especially after his sensitively nuanced performance of Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio for the Boston Early Music Festival, I found it necessary, unfortunately, to miss an important BEMF evening in order to make the trek out to Brandeis. Daniel Stepner in fact apologized for the conflict, promising to avoid them in the future. Indeed, it would be to the advantage of Boston audiences if the two festivals could pool their resources to make it possible for BEMF audiences to hear the Aston Magna musicians, especially this one, devoted to a rarely heard, obsolete elder sibling of the clarinet, the chalumeau.
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!