Archive for the Reviews Category

An Evening with Beethoven

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“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice!”

 

Or walk from 104th Street brandishing Macaulay tickets.

 

After an adventure looking for a Halal cart, Sarah and I finally sat in the pretty but cramped seats of Carnegie Hall.  Although not as extravagant as the Metropolitan Opera House, Carnegie Hall is still pretty classy.  Once again we were near the top; once again the sound was beautiful and full, much to my happiness.

 

The appearance of the ensemble bothered me a bit.  The chairs for the instrumentalists seemed to be organized in a sloppy manner.  More so, the female choral members were wearing white tops.  In my chorus classes we always wore all black because it is more visually pleasing; the black doesn’t distract from the face as much as white does.  The ensemble’s visual appearance was a minor nuisance, because when they began the “Missa Solemnis”.

 

It was gorgeous.

 

The brass instruments blared with such power, the strings spun their tunes in such a brilliant fashion, the chorus and soloist delivered beautiful, timely notes – I could see their “o” and “a” vowels from my seat.  Edmund Morris’ was correct when he said this was a true masterpiece.  It even seems to have inspired stylistic choices for Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers theme song.  (Anybody else think they were listening to it while at the performance?)

 

Contributing to the masterpiece were the dynamics; Beethoven’s piece had soft, mezzo forte moments.  A few minutes later the music would explode into fortissimo sections.  One reason this proved to be so effective was the sudden change in dynamics; although I’m sure there were some crescendos, it was the quick change in volume that left an impression.  The sudden bursts of sound gave “Missa Solemnis” power, power I do not often here in music.  Then again, based on Morris’ biography, Beethoven was a man who loved to display his power, and so I am not quite surprised.

 

The part of this performance that amazed me the most: the string players.  When I looked down at the string players in the orchestra, I felt like I was watching a tape on x16 fast forward.  Their speed was incredulous; I did not know one could play that quickly on a bass or viola or cello or violin.  I would like to say kudos to the string section for their divine speed, and the time they must have used to perfect their skills.

 

Overall the performance impressed me.  Although not as “interactive” as the other shows we’ve seen, I thoroughly enjoyed the music.  Thank you for the night out, Beethoven.

 

(And the flanerie with the group afterwards was quite fun, too.)

Привет, Ivanov!

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It’s always nice to walk into a café and find out it’s a theatre.

 

Albeit our class had been forewarned, I still found the café to be quite a nice surprise.  It added a very creative, “hipster” ambience to the whole evening, so much so that I felt in the mood for a cup of coffee.

 

As we walked into the theatre, we were greeted with another surprise: a small theatre with seats on three sides of the square stage, and so close you could see the actors spit (that’s how you know when they get really emotional).

 

And emotional they were.  The actors, for the most part, played their parts fantastically, so that even when I hadn’t pictured the scene or character in a certain way, I find myself loving the production’s interpretation.

 

With one exception: Ivanov (Ethan Hawke).  He was annoying, and a whiner, and unsympathetic.  Which is bothersome because, quite frankly, I kind of like the written Ivanov.  I suspect a fraction of my dislike for this Ivanov was due to the different interpretation of Anna (Joely Richardson); I had pictured Anna to be a passive, weak character, similar to Stella from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.   Yet Richardson played a strong-willed, bold, smart woman, making Anna more sympathetic and Ivanov much less so.  Maybe their sympathy levels work in an indirect relationship?  I’m digressing.  Ivanov’s character was not unlikable solely because Anna was a strong character.

Listen, Ivanov, I understand you are depressed, slightly crazy, and possibly an unwilling existentialist, but that does not mean you rant and spit and talk faster than a New Yorker.  You should have the normalcy crack subtly and decay; there should be a loud quietness.  You, dear Ivanov, did not seem like a normal guy lost in a mysterious struggle; rather you seemed spoiled.  Unlike J.D. Saligner’s Holden Caulfield, you did not have any reason for your depression, nor did you have witty commentary on the world.  Unlike half the twisted cast from Narita Ryohgo’s Baccano!, you did not speak with conviction, which turned possibly meaningful speeches into unpleasant rants.  I expected you, Ivanov, to be like Richard Corey, the titular character of A.R. Gurney’s play.  Both of you lead lives with little reason to be unhappy (and illicit lovers), yet you both decay, showing that a “happy” person can become disillusioned with life and break.

 

Now that I’m done with my own rant, let me applaud every other interpretation.  I have already gushed about the pro-feminist performance of Richardson.  Misha Borkin (Glenn Fitzgerald) was less comical than I had pictured, but he was just wonderful.  I almost wish he and Babakina had fallen for each other.  Shabelsky (George Morfogen) was super wry and sarcastic and great!  I would have directed Shabelsky as a more “big” character (such as this production’s Lebedev or a little less extravagant Dulcamara), but gosh darn it I simply adore Morfogen’s version of him.

 

There were other characters I would have directed differently, but enough of that; as I director, I am impressed with the entire cast and crew.  In theatre, I have been taught to never turn my back to the audience; but when directing on a stage with which the audience is totally involved, that rule is defenestrated with force.  Even so, I never became annoyed if an actor was not facing me, because the proximity of our seats made up for the odd angles we viewed the actors; the inclusiveness was kept, if not increased.

 

On to some miscellaneous thoughts:

 

Seeing the performance, I noticed details I hadn’t in the book: the owl being an omen of bad luck, the Hamlet parallels.  I also noticed more French, which was a nice historical touch because upper class Russians used to speak French.

 

I believe they added baby powder to Hawke’s hair to make him look older.  By the second act his hair was a couple of shades darker.

 

Uncle Shabelsky is a count… and if you would like to be a count too, you can buy such a title from the Principality of Sealand!

 

I like the play a lot.  I hope to see or read it in Russian one day, after I have learned the language.

Night At The Opera

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This past Wednesday, my Macaulay seminar class went to see L’Elisir d’Amore, a comic opera by Gaetano Donizetti.  Set in 19th Century Italy, the opera tells the tale of villager Nemorino’s quest for Adina, a rich and beautiful farm owner, in the midst of a very busy “tourist” season.  Such “tourists” include Sergeant Belcore (akin to Disney’s Gaston), his soldiers, and the conman Dulcamara.  Along with the villagers, this colourful cast sings through many a plot twist to spin a fun, clever story.

 

My favorite aspect of the opera’s plot was its interwoven structure; events in the show fed into each other, even if sometimes it became a bit too coincidental.  For example, Adina mentions that Nemorino has a sick uncle, who might not leave Nemorino an inheritance if the he does not visit him.  Later in the opera, the uncle dies and leaves Nemorino a fortune; the plot has continuity!  Yes!  This event feeds into a humorous misunderstanding involving the village maidens and a “love potion”, but I won’t spoil too much for you.

 

Belcore’s name was also interesting for me.  At first, it sounded to me like “Belle cuore”, roughly translating to “beautiful heart.”  It seemed like an irony Donizetti might include; Belcore is a handsome man but is obnoxious and shallow.  Then my professor pointed out the relation to “Belcore” and “bellicose” (“warlike in nature; aggressive, hostile” – ninjawords.com).  Belcore is an aggressive character, as seen by his arrogant pursuit of Adina and in his career in the military.  “There isn’t a beauty who can resist the sight of a plume.  In the end, the mother of Love submitted to Mars, the warrior god,” he sings in “Come Paride vezzoso”. (Don’t you just love the mythology reference?!)

 

 

The opera’s story was great; the experience of going to the opera was equally amazing.  The Metropolitan Opera – the “Met” – must be one of the classiest locations in New York City.  Brilliant chandeliers drawn up as the performance began; lush red carpeting… everywhere; an enormous lake of people wearing tuxedoes and eye-catching dresses and even kimonos!  It is gorgeous.  Outside, Lincoln Center adds to the atmosphere, with a glowing fountain that echoes the appearance of the chandelier, a rectangular “wishing well”, and – my favorite – the grass steps.

 

 

The sound in row K of the family circus – a.k.a. the seats three feet from the ceiling –  was rich and full.  Even though we were really far away, we could hear every note, every trill… it was great.  The singers were… wow.  Just wow.  Go and see it.  They made music-pasta (or paper towels) with their voices (a reference to any readers who had Mrs. Nolemi).  Also, even though the facial expressions were lost on us, the large gestures conveyed a lot of meaning, so kudos to the director!  The costumes helped, as well; for instance, Adina’s red skirt and top hat (oh goodness!  The top hat!  So glorious!)  helped identify characters regardless of distance.

 

So if you’re looking for something fancy and fun to see this season, I do recommend Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore.  And don’t worry about not understanding Italian; the back of the seats have subtitles.

 

P.S. – What did my fellow opera goers think of the performance?

 

Links:

Synopsis: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history/stories/synopsis.aspx?id=436

Tickets/Info: http://www.metoperafamily.org/opera/elisir-amore-donizetti-tickets.aspx