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:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wanna be depressed?

This blog might focus a lot on opera and dance and film, but there is another art form that I absolutely adore and where I'm constantly looking for new favorites. And that is the emo female pop balladeer. You know, the type of song that inevitably sounds like it should be on an episode of Grey's Anatomy. I never ever get tired of a sad ballad with those sad, "the man that got away"-type lyrics. I never get tired of the tinkly downward scales on the piano. I never get tired of applying any of these ballads to whatever situation I might have in my real life that somehow always seems to fit these lyrics oh-so-well. (Which, I suspect, is their timeless appeal -- no matter what day and what age, hoardes and hoardes of single women will listen to these songs and get depressed.)

The names may change, but the genre never dies. Here are some of my favorites (listen after the jump):

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Don Pasquale - a rather listless second run

Last fall I went to the revival of Don Pasquale at the Met and enjoyed it so much I bought a ticket for the winter run. For one, I wanted to see Matthew Polenzani as Ernesto, and I also just thought the opera was a lot of fun and I wanted to see it a second time. Well last night I went to the first performance of this second run and found the performance listless and disappointing.

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...