Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nutcracker on PBS

I love the Nutcracker so much that I think everyone else should too. So I cajoled my friend into giving the Live from Lincoln Center Nutcracker a chance. (Great show, by the way, although I found Megan Fairchild disappointing as the SPF. Ashley Bouder was predictably spectacular as the Dewdrop).

My friend is not a ballet person, to put it mildly. After about 15 minutes, this is the text message I receive:

"Are you f...king kidding me?!?! 5 minutes! That's all I could see from that show. It's just too much for me. Sorry. Those people dancing and the kids bothering everyone, and the music, NOOOO!!! I just can't."

Me: "What about it was soooooooo bad? There are beautiful dancing snowflakes coming up though."

My friend: "Everything."

LOL. I guess Nut-nuts can't win over everyone.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nutcracker - pure joy and happiness


Every year I go see the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker and it's like falling in love again. I can't believe that I've now seen this production maybe 10, 15 times (I've long lost count) and every time I still find a new moment of total enchantment and beauty. This time, it was me noticing that before Marie and the Prince depart the Land of the Sweets, the Prince kisses the Sugar Plum Fairy's hand. Such a little gentleman, and so representative of Balanchine's famously polite, gentle nature. It is true that Balanchine's classic is so enchanting that it's impossible to have a bad performance of it, in the sense that even a hum-drum performance will charm and delight the audiences. But when the stars are all aligned and it's not just a Nutcracker, but a great ballet performance period, the balletomane in me feels the warm fuzzies (so needed on this cold, dreary, rainy NYC night). Tonight, every child was adorable, every mouse was hilariously goofy, every snowflake was a whirlwind of speed, every flower bloomed, and all was beautiful in the Kingdom of Sweets. What more could one ask for?


Gounod - Faust
Metropolitan Opera 
December 6, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bruno Mars

When something is incredible, it's incredible. And Bruno Mars' latest single (taken from the Breaking Dawn soundtrack) is one of the best love songs in recent years. Right now, it's up there with Adele's "Someone Like You" as one great torch song. Listen, think of all your failed relationships, and weep.

Then listen to this even better live rendition:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bieito's Carmen

Do we really need another Carmen video on the market? A quick search on Amazon shows dozens of choices, in blu-ray and on regular DVD. Live performances, filmed performances, old videos, new videos. Carmen is also one of those operas where the video library is unusually complete -- renowned performers of the opera, from Franco Corelli's Don Jose to Grace Bumbry's Carmen, have all been caught on film.

The main reason one would be interested in this particular Carmen (filmed in 2010 at the Barcelona Liceu) is that the director is the Calixto Bieito, who has became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for his controversial productions. Un Ballo et Maschera had a set where men were sitting on a toilet. Bieito productions are supposed to be edgy, controversial, full of violence, the very definition of "Regie-theatre."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

La Sonnambula

La Sonnambula is an opera in search of a great video. There's a B&W RAI film from the 1950's with a very young, pre-nosejob Anna Moffo that's vocally excellent, but has all the artificiality and poor picture/sound quality you'd expect from an RAI film of that era. And from then on it's slim pickings. The Met released a video of Dessay and Florez in the critically panned Mary Zimmerman production that's hampered not just by the silly production, but by Dessay's precarious vocal estate around the time of filming. Such a shame that Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Renata Scotto never filmed their Aminas (although there are plenty of excellent live and studio recordings of their renditions).

This new release on Dynamic is, all things considered, maybe the best La Sonnambula video on the market. That's not really saying much, granted, but still. The sound and picture quality is fine, the singers range from very good to acceptable, and the production is very pretty.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Angela, I mean, Adriana Lecouvreur

Gheorghiu and Kaufmann, photo @Karsten Moran
When I was living at home with my parents, my dad and I used to have a little thing. Whenever my mom went out of town, the first thing we did was we bought a big box of pizza. My mom, of course, would never allow us just to eat pizza and soda for dinner, so whenever she wasn't around, the first thing we did was pig out on pizza and soda.

Adriana Lecouvreur is opera's equivalent of a big, greasy, pepperoni-filled pizza pie. It's cheesy (forgive the pun), but oh boy is it fun, so much more so than "eat your spinach" operas like, uh, Tannhauser. I've never really been able to follow the particulars of the plot except this: Adriana is an actress and that she's loved by a tenor and baritone, but there's a mezzo that gets jealous and poisons poor Adriana. Last night's performance of Adriana at the OONY reminded me of all the times I wolfed down pizza the minute my mom left the house. Ah, fun times.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Angela Meade's Anna

I really can't believe I've now sat through three performances of Anna Bolena within a rather short amount of time. It's not my favorite opera by a long-shot, and the production is absolutely dreary. Read my thoughts on the first-cast performance here. But the buzz about the second-cast Anna Bolena has been strong among operaphiles, who have whispered that Anna Netrebko is the bigger star but Angela Meade the better vocalist. Meade made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2008 as a last minute substitution in Ernani, and since then has slowly been building up quite a following. So last night I dragged myself to the Met to sit through Anna Bolena again. Yippee.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

La Esmeralda in HD, Askegard's Farewell

The Bolshoi's live in HD program continued this Sunday with a transmission of Esmeralda. Esmeralda is actually a very old ballet; it had its debut in 1844, with choreography by Jules Perrot and music by Cesare Pugni. It had numerous restaging, and was rechoreographed by Marius Petipa. It was a favorite vehicle of Mariinsky prima ballerina Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who used to take her own pet goat onstage. But the ballet fell out of the repertory, some showpieces aside, until it was revived by the Bolshoi Ballet in 2009. The reconstruction has taken out the "Esmeralda pas de deux" with the tambourine kicking variation, but has kept Agrippina Vaganova's "Diana and Acteon" pas de deux. Weird.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's been awhile ...

Since my last post. This summer after dance season ended I basically started indulging in my big summer passion -- Big Brother! I also went on vacation twice, and have just been super busy. But now it's fall, and this blog is going to be busy again! Meanwhile, listen to this and have your heart totally break:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Mariinsky Pays a Visit

The Little Humpbacked Horse
July 13, 2011, matinee performance
Mariinsky Ballet
Vladimir Shklyarov, Evgenia Obraztsova, Vasily Tkachenko

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Giselle in 3-D

After a long break the last days of spring dance season rolled around. This week the Mariinsky is in town, and I'm going to see them tomorrow. Today I dragged myself out of bed to watch Giselle in 3-D, a 3-D presentation of a performance filmed last year. It starred Bolshoi guest artist Natalia Osipova as Giselle, Leonid Sarafanov (no longer with the Mariinsky) as Albrecht, and Ekaterina Kondaurova is Myrtha. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Bolshoi in HD and the Danes

I had an absolutely packed day of ballet today. I woke up today to see the Bolshoi in HD again -- this time, it was Swan Lake. I've greatly enjoyed the Bolshoi in HD series, but there had to be one clunker among the lot, and I'm afraid this was it. I was disappointed in everything, from the choreography (Grigorovich's quite awful production, which I'd only seen a long time ago on video) to the Odette/Odile (Maria Alexandrova), to even the corps de ballet work. Afterwards I knew I needed a palette cleanser, so along with my friends that I met at the cinema, we all walked over to Lincoln Center and saw the Royal Danish Ballet's final performance of their tour. So despite the quite awful Swan Lake, the day wasn't a waste, because the RDB made it all worth it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bolshoi's Coppelia in HD

At this point I'm really going to collapse from ballet-induced narcolepsy. After catching two Giselles in a row, I woke up early this morning to catch the Bolshoi in HD series, their last of the season. My main reason to see this was I wanted to see Sergei Vikharev's "new-old" reconstruction of Coppelia. I've seen both the ABT and NYCB versions, as well as the version the Royal Ballet does. But Vikharev's reconstructions are from the Sergeyev notations of the 1894 Petipa/Ceccheti version, and I was curious. The Leo Delibes score is always so delightful to listen to. And of course, I wanted to see Natalia Osipova.

What did I learn? Well, for one, that the Vikharev reconstruction looks basically like the versions the ABT and NYCB do. There are no major differences in either choreography, mime, or traditional stage business. The ABT version is by Freddie Franklin and Alexandra Danilova, the NYCB has Balanchine and Danilova, and after watching the Vikharev I must say Danilova and Balanchine must have had great memories of their days as students in the Imperial Ballet School, because their versions echo the Vikharev reconstruction note by note, step by step. Only Vikharev's costumes are more old-fashioned. I guess this is one ballet that has been fairly well-preserved, including the mime. The NYCB version has some original Balanchine choreography in the third divertissement act, but even then ... it kind of looks the same. There's even that big leap into fishdive that ends the wedding pas de deux.

Two Great Giselles

American Ballet Theatre
May 27 and May 28, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Born This Way

I downloaded the by now very very leaked Born This Way album yesterday. I played it basically all day long (sorry neighbors!) and here's my track-by-track breakdown:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Don Quixote at the ABT

Don Quixote - Alina Cojocaru, Jose Manuel Carreno, Maria Riccetto
American Ballet Theatre 
May 20, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Die Walküre

Richard Wagner - Die Walkuere
Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Jonas Kaufmann, Eva Marie Westbroek, Stephanie Blythe, Hans-Peter Konig, James Levine cond.
Metropolitan Opera
May 14, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Edge of Glory

Words cannot describe how awesome this song is. Gagagoddess eternal love!
And how awesome is this cover?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dvorak's Stabat Mater

I'll be the first to admit that I know practically nothing about choral works. I guess it's the part of me that is my father's daughter, to not really be interested in that kind of music. But this afternoon I ventured to Carnegie Hall to see Antonin Dvorak's Stabat Mater, simply because I wanted to see what the buzz was all about with Angela Meade, who's being whispered among hard-core opera fans as the next Sutherland/Caballe/Callas/Sills all rolled into one.

Without knowing much about choral works, it seems to me that Dvorak's Stabat Mater is more instrumental than vocal, with the chorus and soloists acting as another instrument, so to speak. The New York Choral Society and Brooklyn Philharmonic sounded absolutely stunning at Carnegie Hall, maybe the best acoustic hall I've ever stepped in -- sounds are so vivid, as if they were literally buzzing next to your ear. The melodies of Stabat Mater seem more romantic and less formally religious. But again, I really shouldn't comment too much about the music, since it my first time hearing it.

How were the soloists? Well I have this theory that everyone sounds great in Carnegie Hall -- it's such a perfectly designed hall, and voices sound larger, richer, and riper there than anywhere else. That being said, it's clear that Angela Meade has a major league voice. It's bright, it soars over the orchestra and chorus, just a gorgeous sound. The glow of her voice really made her sound celestial. She really might be the next bright hope for dramatic coloratura sopranos. I look forward to her Anna Bolena next year at the Met, a role she will be sharing with Anna Netrebko. Yeghishe Manucharyan, an Armenian tenor, had a pleasant lyric tenor that just occasionally sounded metallic and nasal. Tamara Mumford was the alto and she was stuck with the most formal, least interesting solo of the piece. She was one of the Rheinmaidens this year -- her voice is definitely rich and plummy, a real mezzo. She's also a striking looking woman. Barak Bilgili rounded out the quartet as the bass, and he was maybe the weak link? His bass just didn't have the resonance I associate with this fach, and often sounded hollow and inaudible.

Overall I was glad I went, even though choral works are still not my cup of tea in general. But the four soloists are promising artists, and as always, sitting in Carnegie Hall is a thrill. I especially love how in the lobby there's an autographed photograph of this nobody named Tchaikovsky.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Gone With the Wind on blu-ray

ome movies really are not improved by the blu-ray format. Most black and white films, for instance. But then there are the films where watching on blu-ray really changes and enhances thee film so much that I don't think I can ever watch them on DVD again. Gone With the Wind is one such film. It's available in various packages (a deluxe package, the three-dvd "Scarlett" edition which is the one I have, and a bare-bones just the movies version). Whichever version you decide to get, the remastering of the film is nothing short of astonishing. Colors are more vivid than ever, and for the first time you can see the tiny details, like the wrinkles on Vivien Leigh's face or the brocade on the ladies' dresses. The Technicolor print is restored to its full glory. The only negative is that the sound is not as good as it could be.

Altynai's Giselle

Is Altynai Asylmuratova not the most beautiful dancer to ever step onstage? Those Asian, exotic features, the huge, dark eyes, the sweet cherry smile is enough to make me have a girl-crush on her. She's one dancer I really wish I had seen live.

Unfortunately videos of this exquisite dancer are hard to find, even on youtube. So imagine my excitement when I found this (see after the jump):

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rigoletto - finalmente!

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Starring Zeljko Lucic, Diana Damrau, Giuseppe Filianoti, Stefan Kocan, Fabio Luisi cond.
April 26, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rigoletto - Lucic, Damrau, Florez

Forgive the pun, but Rigoletto is cursed on video. One of the greatest and most popular operas of all time, with great roles for the baritone, tenor, and soprano, and there's barely any good video of it around. Every video that I've had has disappointed in some way. In recent years the title role has been hogged on video by Carlos Alvarez and Leo Nucci, two perfectly serviceable but unremarkable baritones. Well, the curse is finally broken -- this video from Dresden, filmed in 2008, has strong performances from all the leads, a thoughtful "modern" production, and jumps to the top of the pack as the Rigoletto to get on video. I am excited too because next week I have tickets to see both  Zeljko Lucic and Diana Damrau in Rigoletto. This video whets my appetite. Fabio Luisi's conducting throughout the video is sensitive and atmospheric.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Anna's Anna

Opera fans have been abuzz with talk of Anna Netrebko's debut in Donizettti's Anna Bolena in Vienna. It was televised yesterday, and sure enough, youtube clips have popped up. Here's an excellent review.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jacques D'Amboise: I Was a Dancer

In the ballet world, there now exists a real cottage industry of what I call "Me and Mr. B" memoirs. Many former dancers/lovers/wives of Mr. B have written memoirs where the strong focus of the entire book is "I brushed elbows with a genius. Literally. And this is what it was like." The picture that has emerged from these books is remarkably consistent -- a man who was polite, calm, industrious, and distant, but also capable of surprising passion and even pettiness, especially for his various female "muses." Among these books, Gelsey Kirkland's is the most notorious (and mean-spirited), Allegra Kent's the most well-written and unique, Suzanne Farrell's the most opaque, and Edward Villella's perhaps the most emotionally honest. To this heap of books Jacques d'Amboise has added his own memoirs, entitled I Was a Dancer, and since many of Balanchine's dancers have passed away or are aging, another "me and Mr. B" memoir is always a great Event for balletomanes. What does this dancer have to add?

The difference between d'Amboise and, say, Suzanne Farrell, was d'Amboise's relationship with Balanchine was notably drama-free. In fact, d'Amboise's life (at least in the way he presents it) had little of the melodrama that is part and parcel of dance memoirs. While other "muses" were fighting/sleeping/refusing to sleep/falling in love/falling out of love with Mr. B, Jacques just showed up to work every day for 35 years and watched the drama from the sidelines. The result is a memoir that is sharp, pointed, detached, and perceptive. The negative to this lack of involvement in any of the drama is that the memoir at some points feels a bit impersonal, and at several times d'Amboise seems to have a slight but active contempt for the people he is writing about. Like "look at these crazy kids. So silly."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Das Rheingold: Under the Boardwalk

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
March 31, 2011
Starring Bryn Terfel, Richard Paul Fink, Stephanie Blythe, Arnold Bezuyen, Dwayne Croft, Franz-Josef Selig, Patricia Bardon, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Fabio Luisi cond.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Elixir of Love at the NYCO

This afternoon I went to the New York City Opera's Elixir of Love. It's usually called Elisir d'Amore, and set in some kind of rustic Italian fairy-tale-land, but Jonathan Miller's production has set Donizetti's everygreen opera in the American South, 1950's era. Miller took a page from Peter Sellars' famous production of Cosi fan tutte that was set in "Despina's Diner" and decided to make the unit set "Adina's Diner." At various points in the opera, the characters dance along, jukebox style, to Donizetti's catchy tunes. It was overall a charming performance, with a more relaxed vibe than a typical performance at the Metropolitan Opera. The small-scale production and cast of mostly young, unknown performers gave Donizetti's opera a freshness and energy that propelled the whole afternoon along.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dessay's Lucia

Audio clips from the most recent run are now available, and I thought I'd post them here:
"Regnava del silenzio":

"Verrano a te":

Dessay's Mad Scene:

Calleja's "Tu che a dio"


Friday, March 18, 2011

Makarova's Bayadere

It's so strange to have three videos of one production available on DVD, but a third video Natalia Makarova's staging of La Bayadere was released recently by the Royal Ballet. Natalia Makarova was the first dancer to revive the complete La Bayadere in the West (Rudolf Nureyev had staged the famous Shades Scene for the Royal Ballet). At the time Natalia Makarova made her staging for the ABT in the 1970's, most people were unfamiliar with how the ballet was performed in Russia.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lucia di Lammermoor - Dessay returns, Calleja triumphs

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
March 12, 2011
Metropolitan Opera
Natalie Dessay, Joseph Calleja, Stephen Gaertner, Patrick Summers, cond.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bolshoi's Don Quixote in HD

If ever there was one ballet associated with one company, it might be the Bolshoi Ballet and Don Quixote. This colorful romp through 16th century Spain has almost nothing to do with Cervantes' novel, which is a profound philosophical dialogue between two mythic characters, Don Quixote and Sancho. Despite the famous events, the novel is not driven by narrative, but by ideas. Perhaps that's why there have been so few great adaptations of Cervantes' work. Petipa/Gorsky's ballet is based on a small episode in the Cervantes novel, but really it's just an excuse for a non-stop dance spectacular. Don Quixote and Sancho are walk-on characters who have little to no relation to the plot. Ludwig Minkus's score is bright and bouncy, maybe the best score he ever composed. The ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, but the version we know today is really the revised choreography of Alexander Gorsky. Gorsky erased the formal classicism that Petipa favored, and made Don Quixote heavily focused on character dancing. As a result, the ballet feels like folk dancing, even if it's not. Today's live in HD transmission from the Bolshoi made the best possible argument for this ballet.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Paul Taylor, revisited

This afternoon, thanks to a friend, I was able to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company for the second time this week, in a very different triple bill -- Arden Court, Three Dubious Memories, and Cloven Kingdom. This is my third time seeing Taylor's company, and every time I think I "get" him as a choreographer, he does something that surprises me, and makes me rethink what he's about, what drives him. What's his philosophy on life, or dance? I left the City Center pondering these questions, that probably can't be answered.

The afternoon bill opened with Arden Court, and it was one of the most charming dances I have ever seen, period. The music is by baroque composer William Boyce, and then men are bare-chested (the audience sighed at how handsome the Taylor dancers are, in that effortless, all-American, athletic way), the women dressed in pretty white dresses with colorful multi-colored dots. As "pants," the men are wearing these white tights with the same multi-colored dots. Again, I could be wrong, but my first impression was that the dancers could be fairies, or elves, or little children playing in a garden (there is a large rose backdrop). The whole dance has a wonderful playfulness that is uninterrupted by any darkness. The men and women run and crawl in circles, skip and hop across the stage, and at other times they pose in stillness, as if they were savoring the moment. At one point, three of the men do supported cartwheels. It's an expression of childlike joy, and also proof that partnership in dance is not just between a man and a woman. One of the most striking scenes is the lineup of six men -- one of the men all of a sudden decides to do a handstand. At other times the dancers cross the stage in exuberant diagonal leaps. It literally made me sigh with happiness.

Then it was intermission, and when the curtain came back up it was Paul Taylor's other premiere work, Three Dubious Memories. The dance actually has a strong story -- it's a clear homage to the great Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which one story is told from different perspectives. There is a "chorusmaster" and a sort of Greek chorus, who are dressed in gray and throughout the dance are stern and unsympathetic to the main drama between the Man in Blue, Man in Green, and Woman in Red. The first section is titled "As Remembered by the Man in Blue" and his memory is of him violently interrupting a romantic idyll between the Woman in Red and Man in Green. The Man in Blue savagely separates the couple, then forces himself upon the Woman in Red. The second section, "As Remembered by the Man in Green," maybe too predictably has the opposite perspective -- the Man in Green catches Woman in Red and the Man in Blue in a forbidden tryst, and is furious. But the third section, "As Remembered by the Woman in Red," turns the whole storyline upside down. The Woman this time is the interloper, as she walks in on a homoerotic, ambiguous situation between the two men. The final section has the choristers return, and the two Men and Woman sit grimly on three of the choristers, who are now doubling as chairs. The love triangle is now permanently separated. The two Men and the Woman do not even look at each other or touch in the final section. It's as if the Greek Chorus has pronounced their judgment, and that is that neither Man gets the Woman. I remembered the playful, sexy interactions between men and women in Arden Court, and Three Dubious Memories was such a contrast.

The program ended with Cloven Kingdom, which was one of the weirdest, most surreal theater I've ever experienced. My first reaction was "Paul Taylor on acid." After all, could "Cloven" be a drug reference? Who knows. The program notes has the cryptic quote "Man is a social animal," and Taylor has emphasized the animal part of that saying. The "Kingdom" part of the dance's title also suggest an animal world, and what a strange world Taylor has imagined. The music is a mix of baroque (Arcangelo Corelli) and almost African-sounding percussion beats. Eventually the percussion drowns out the baroque melodies almost completely. The women are in beautiful, floor-length evening gowns, the men in handsome black evening suits. But there was nothing beautiful or elegant about their movements. I thought at times Taylor was spoofing classical ballet (the four men interlock arms and do a series of pas de chats, just like the cygnets in Swan Lake), Martha Graham (the huge sweep of the leg in developpe in those big dresses), even Alvin Ailey (the percussion music mix and the exaggerated arm pumping). But the dance is like nothing I've ever seen. Movements are violent and hard, the men crawl and somersault across the floor, evening suits all twisted, like animals in heat. The women eventually don weird-looking shiny geometric head-dresses, and it makes them look mythic, but they too leap and pound the stage relentlessly, as if they were driven by some force that can't even be articulated by dance. In the few moments the men and women are onstage together, sometimes they waltz formally, and then the dance will become almost a messy brawl. It really was a strange work that I probably need to several more times before I can begin to absorb all that Taylor is trying to convey.

When the program was over I thought about how odd the ordering of the dances was. Arden Court is a big crowd-pleaser kind of dance, and I thought that it'd be a natural to finish the program (the way Revelations or Symphony in C tend to be program finishers). Instead, Taylor created a magical, charming world in Arden Court and then proceeded to demolish that charm and magic in two works that really seemed to touch upon the dark side. When the octogenarian came out for his curtain calls, I thought about how next year, when his troupe comes to City Center again, I will probably watch a dance of his and think that I understand his work. And then I will watch another dance and he will put me back at square one, a complete novice with no right to do anything but observe and wonder.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Romeo et Juliette

The juxtaposition of violence and love is at the heart of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and successful adaptations of Shakespeare's play tend to have the same mixing of the most shocking violence with the tenderness of young love. Prokofiev's ballet score, West Side Story, Franco Zefferelli and Baz Lurhmann's movies, all have this quality. Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette was one of the most popular operas in the 19th century, and the list of great Romeos and Juliettes is a long and storied one. But I think the reason why the opera fell out of favor is that Gounod tilts the focus of the story too much towards the LOVE LOVE LOVE side. The violence between the Capulets and Montague's is barely touched upon except for the pivotal scene of Mercutio's death, and Juliet's combative, overbearing parents are also a non-entity in Gounod's opera (Juliet's mother doesn't even exist for Gounod). The arias and love duets between the star-crossed lovers are stunningly beautiful, but the overall effect of the opera can be saccharine.

For the opera to work, I think one needs exceptional voices and a certain amount of glamor and romantic abandon in the title roles. The last time I saw the opera, it was in 2007, and the teen lovers were Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna. Both of them had flaws in their vocal performance, but they were exciting, sensual performers who threw themselves into the roles of teenage lovers. It wasn't that they looked 13 (they didn't), it's that they seemed to believe they were 13 and falling in love for the first time. Last night the Metropolitan Opera revived Gounod's opera in a professional but somewhat dull performance, that did not transport me into Gounod's lush, romantic vision of Shakespeare's play.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Paul Taylor Dance Company

I decided to do something a little different tonight and go watch the Paul Taylor Dance Company in a triple bill of Company B, his new work Phantasmagoria, and Promethean Fire. Last year I went to a Paul Taylor Dance Company performance for the first time and so enjoyed the experience that I had high hopes when I took my seat at the City Center tonight and the lights dimmed. I was not disappointed.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

It Happened One Night

TCM played this evergreen romantic comedy tonight. In 1934 this movie swept the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay. Today the thought of a rom-com even getting nominated for anything but the razzie makes people laugh. What has happened to the rom-com, that it no longer has the freshness, wit, romance, and charm that old Hollywood rom-coms had in spades?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Radiohead's latest

Radiohead released their newest album, The King of Limbs, yesterday, and immediately the internet was abuzz with reviews and opinions on their sudden release of an album. The album is only 8 songs long, with 37 minutes of music, which is a little strange considering their last album, In Rainbows, eventually became a deluxe 2-CD album with the second CD being filled with some of their best, most melodic ballads yet. This is relative stinginess on the part of Radiohead (this time, unlike In Rainbows, you had to pay for the download, at about itunes rates). So I downloaded and listened and here are my initial thoughts:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Der Rosenkavalier at 100

Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier premiered in Dresden on January 26, 1911. That makes it 100 years old this year, and it's been 100 years of unmitigated success on recording, on video, and of course, in theaters around the world. It's still one of Strauss's most popular operas. The opera is much-praised for its witty libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthahl, it beautiful vocal writing for the female voice, and some justly famous set-pieces -- the Marscallin's monologue on aging, the Presentation of the Rose, the waltz melody, and of course the trio near the end of the opera. I know opera fans who cry every time they hear "Marie Therese."

I find however that my appreciation of Der Rosenkavalier has lessened over the years, and the opera feels falser, more artificial, less moving, than when I was a newbie and swooned at the Trio and Presentation of the Rose. And some things about the opera I cannot tolerate at all anymore -- namely, the long scenes of Ochs being a boor in various scenes -- all three acts feature him being a total pig, and the fact that I think audiences are supposed to find it funny lessens my appreciation of the opera, because I never find any of the Ochs scenes funny. The middle part of Act One is bogged down with "scenes from the Marschallin's life" that I no longer find interesting either. I think I've fallen out of love with Der Rosenkavalier, even though I find parts of it still very beautiful and charming. What's happened to me?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Flames of Paris - Soviet dram-ballet made likable?

For Western dance critics, no genre of ballet received as much scorn as the Soviet dram-ballets. The Flames of Paris, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, The Red Poppy, Spartacus, The Stone Flower, are some of the more well-known examples of this genre. These ballets, always with a heavy-handed socialist theme, were beloved by Communist heads (including Joseph Stalin), but thought to contain little of interest either choreographically or musically (Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella were exceptions). Their case is not helped by the surviving films from that era -- as always, some of the finest dancers of that era are made to look cartoonish, even ridiculous, marching, stomping, leering, and fist-shaking as Good Peasants and Evil Aristocrats in severely abridged films. For the dram-ballets the dancers also seemed to adopt a deliberately careless attitude towards basic classical positions. Lack of turnout, a certain vulgarity of posture (the women were often hunched over, fists balled in rage), that they would never dream of adopting in, say, Swan Lake, they seemed to adopt as a matter of course in dram-ballets. To give you an idea of what it was like, here's an excerpt from the pas de deux of Flames of Paris, with the legendary Vakhtang Chabukiani:

Imagine my surprise when I popped in my latest acquisition, a 2010 performance of The Flames of Paris from the Bolshoi Ballet, and found myself delighted and entertained by not only the spectacle, but, yes, the music and the dancing. Granted, the ballet had some new choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, but the extant Vassily Vainonen choreography was left intact, as was Boris Asafiev's score. Was I wrong about dram-ballet?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sara Mearns' Swan Queen

Tonight I attended NYCB's sold-out "extra" performance of Swan Lake. There had been 8 planned performances, but they sold out so quickly that Peter Martins decided to program an extra performance tonight, and I quickly snatched a ticket. I am glad I went too because it's not often that I descend into gushy superlatives when describing a performance, but I'll have to do so for Sara Mearns' Odette/Odile. So here goes: mesmerizing. Gorgeous. Transcendent. Unforgettable.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wanna be depressed, part 2

Yesterday I posted about the female emo love ballad. There is definitely a male counterpart to the female emo love ballad, and it's the male rock/alternative existential ballad. This genre has a lot in common with the female counterpart. The tinkly downward scales on the piano are there, but whereas for females they are usually a delicate background accompaniment, for the male rocker, the piano is usually louder and the scales are POUNDED OUT to emphasize total sadness and ennui. Whereas the female ballad has usually a specific storyline or reference about a "man that got away", the male counterparts tend to sing about total general gloom. "Life sucks," in other words. All of this is accompanied by a swoony melody that the critics auto-hate but everyone else adores. I love the male existential ballad as much as I love the female emo ballad, and here are some of my favorite examples:

Balanchine's Nutcracker pops up ... everywhere

It's December 2020 and the world is going through a furious, deadly second wave of the covid pandemic. Most performances have been cance...