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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, March 7, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
New Plays *
Alan Ball’s ALL THAT I WILL EVER BE [****] *
Patrick Marber’s HOWARD KATZ [*****] *
Richard Nelson’s FRANK’S HOME [***] *
Yasmin Reza’s A SPANISH PLAY [-*] *
Charles L. Mee, Jr’s GONE [**] *
Jordan Seavey’s 6969 [***] *
A Triad of Abused-Female Scripts: Kate Robin’s anon., Courtney Baron’s A VERY COMMON PROCEDURE, & NANCY FRIDAY’S SECRET GARDEN [not rated] *
Older Plays in Revival:
Two Theatrical Jews Duke It Out at the Duke: F. Murray Abraham as Shylock & The Jew of Malta [****] *
Sir Harley Granville Barker’s MADRAS HOUSE [****] *
R. C. Sherriff’s JOURNEY’S END [****] *
Tennessee Williams’ SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH [**] *
Brian Friel’s TRANSLATIONS [***] *
Craig Lucas’ PRELUDE TO A KISS [****] *
New Musicals: *
ADRIFT IN MACAO [**] *
IN THE HEIGHTS [***] *
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! [**] *
EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL [**] *
Old Musicals in Revival: *
New Era & New [Stage] Blood at the Metropolitan Opera! *
Meet—and Feed—The Press! *
Nights at the Metropolitan Opera: *
Giuseppi Verdi’s SIMON BOCCANEGRA [*****] *
EUGENE ONEGIN [*****] *
DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE [*****] *
I PURITANI [****] *
THE LAST EMPEROR [***] *
Exciting Times Ahead for New York City Opera! Ex-Brussels, Ex-Salzburg Intendant Gérard Mortier to Depart Paris Opera for Lincoln Center State Theatre! *
At New York’s Major Music-Schools: *
At The Juilliard School: *
At The Manhattan School of Music: *
Big Ballet Month at BAM/Brooklyn Academy of Music: John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet Dances Thomas Mann’s Novella: Death in Venice *
JOHN NEUMEIER: Remembrance of Times Past *
Other Entertainments/Other Venues: *
At the New Victory Theatre: *
LOOKING GLASS ALICE [****] *
At the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre: *
WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! [**] *
NY Theatre Wire is grateful for the support of our generous sponsors
Buy Radio City Tickets at TicketCity!
At Radio City Music Hall: *
Chinese New Year Spectacular [****] *
At Birdland: *
Jeffry Denman’s JAZZ TURNS *
Other Events: *
New Year’s Note:
Your Roving Correspondent did promise—as a Major New Year’s Resolution—to strive to file reports on a weekly-basis, rather than at the end of each month. Thus far, that has not been possible, mainly because of an extended INFOTOGRAPHY™ Photo-Expedition into Egypt, resulting in more than 5,000 photo-images in print, slide, & digital formats. Developing, organizing, labeling, & indexing the non-digital images into multi-paged photo-volumes is now complete. But the more than 1,500 digital images will take much more time before they can be put online on the Lightning New Media website: INFOTOGRAPHY.BIZ --Glenn Loney
Alan Ball’s ALL THAT I WILL EVER BE [****]
Alan Ball’s disturbing play—even more disquieting in Jo Bonney’s graphic staging—should have had a Parental Guidance rating outside the New York Theatre Workshop. It is strong stuff, especially for potential viewers militantly in favor of High Moral-Standards & Family-Values.
Actually, in performance it looked very much like a Psycho-Socio-Sexual Male-Porn DVD—in three-dimensions—with some Erotic Foreplay, but with the Money Shots discretely omitted.
The somewhat sinister, swarthy, suggestive, semi-Semitic, certainly Middle-Eastern, sexy hustler—sinuously played by the totally convincing Peter Macdissi—could have been a fugitive from Arabesque, a recent Titan-Men-Media triumph.
Generally calling himself Omar—but not with all of his Tricks: he offers name-changes and different birth-venues on occasion—he comes from Egypt, or maybe Syria, or perhaps Armenia? He’s apparently Bi-Sexual, by the way…
It’s not immediately clear whether he really has a problem with telling the truth, or that his various names, trades, and points-of-origin are manufactured on the spot for sex-partners who want Character-References.
But at one point, when he is apparently beginning to develop real feelings for a paying—and very fucked-up—wealthy young male-customer, he seems trying to get his act together and his biography straight. [You should excuse the expression…]
Curiously, this difficult relationship at the core of the play resonates with that in Little Dog Laughed, which features a Closeted Gay Actor and a "Straight" Hustler who has a Girlfriend and is "only doing it for the money."
David Margulies was interesting as a much older man—for both business & social reasons long married, with children—who explains to Omar the whys & hows of his own convoluted life & passions.
Watching this Verismo production was rather like watching Hollywood Confidential come to life. Alan Ball seems to know very well that of which he writes. But then wasn’t it Goethe who said: "Write what you know!"
Or was that Ralph Waldo Emerson? Or maybe Sophocles…
Note: What strange times in which we live! Adult Films that are nothing of the sort… So also with so-called Adult Books… An sign for a really Adult Bookstore ought to indicate that inside the shop are shelves of Really Serious Literature on sale.
Featured This Week: Jane Austen & Joseph Conrad! Heart of Darkness challenges Sense & Sensibility!
Patrick Marber’s HOWARD KATZ [*****]
Alfred Molina is devastating as Howard Katz, in Patrick Marber’s disturbing drama about a high-powered, foul-mouthed Performing-Arts agent self-destructing. In scene after scene, it is at times hilarious but more often painful & shaming to watch Howard deal with artists, colleagues, and even his own family with such abrupt rancor & snarling contempt.
The night after seeing this tautly-staged show—swiftly-paced by director Doug Hughes—I woke again and again, reliving potent and troubling scenes so immediate in my dream-memory. Especially those involving Howard and his lovable old father—sensitively played by the wonderful Alvin Epstein.
As in Fiddler, Molina again plays a Jew: Will there again be complaints that he’s not really Jewish? This time out, however, he’s no charming, philosophical Tevya, but rather a Wandering Jew, who has seriously lost his way in Life and in his Faith.
Looking back at the entire 2006-2007 season thus far—with some impressive performances on record—I would nonetheless nominate Alfred Molina for Best Actor bar none! How he can play this role—actually inhabit it—eight times a week is a wonder in itself.
Marber’s Howard Katz is a kind of Monster. But as Molina embodies him, he is also pathetic and wounded. At the close, you understand how and why he has disintegrated, contemplating suicide and questioning G-d under a London rail-bridge.
But you may also want to reach out to Howard: "My god, Howard! This is awful! Look what you’ve done to yourself—not to mention all the others. Is there any way that I can help you?"
This dynamic Roundabout Theatre production is, in fact, brilliantly helped by a top-notch acting-ensemble who play many roles. Their virtuosity in quite contrasting characters is amazing: Max Baker, Elizabeth Franz, Edward Hajj, Jessica Hecht, Patrick Henney, Euan Morton, & Charlotte Parry!
Theatre-buffs may remember Patrick Marber’s Closer on Broadway?
It became a film—as Howard Katz might also…
It could become a Companion-Piece to Marber’s riveting film, Notes on a Scandal. Two kinds of British Monster at your Local Cineplex! With Alfred Molina upstaging Dame Judy Dench, perhaps?
Richard Nelson’s FRANK’S HOME [***]
Some critics dismissed this Hollywood-sited re-Vision of the famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Richard Nelson, as an ineffective portrait of the man as Self-Obsessed Genius, Randy & Random Lover, & Bad Dad.
Wright, in effect, lived Many Lives, so one play could hardly contain all his adventures and mis-adventures, let alone all the Prairie Houses, Spring Green, Hollywood, and Scottsdale & Taliesin West…
How about having your crazed butler slaughter your mistress and set fire to the house?
Not a great admirer of Nelson’s Vienna Notes, I do, however, like Some Americans Abroad and now am impressed with Frank’s Home—although those who know little or nothing of Wright may be baffled by some references.
As I had long ago photographed Hollyhock House and its gardens—the site of the drama—and other FLW houses in Los Angeles & Pasadena, such as the Ennis-Brown House, for INFOTOGRAPHY™, it was extremely interesting to encounter the Great Man at this time in a renewed career
Peter Weller was an irascible Wright, with Harris Yulin wryly amusing as the alcoholic & unemployed Louis Sullivan, one of America’s great architects and Wright’s early mentor & first employer.
Yasmin Reza’s A SPANISH PLAY [-*]
The career of Yasmin Reza—the Persian Parisian—remains an Astonishment. Perhaps it’s because she either is a French Intellectual or, at least, is the Darling of the Heirs of Simone & Jean-Paul?
Six of her plays—including A Spanish Play, shown in Manhattan at the Classic Stage Company—have been translated into 35 foreign-languages! Her novels have replaced those of Françoise Sagan in the hearts & minds of Gallic Critics.
Art, it’s true, was a Big Success on Broadway, but more as a showcase for beloved actors who couldn’t find work elsewhere at the time. [Alfred Molina was in this cast…]
Most viewers thought it was an Indictment of Modern Art: featuring the Crazy Idea of paying a huge sum for an apparently blank-canvas! But most missed the Central Theme: involving shifting-sands in Male-Male Relationships among three friends of differing degrees on the Social-Scale.
Actually, no Big Deal…
Although eagerly anticipated—because of the celebrity of Art—both Life X 3 and The Unexpected Man proved less than brilliant Reza dramas.. And certainly not very interesting. Alan Ayckbourne had already done Life X 3 several times under different titles…
A Spanish Play is supposedly a Play-within-a-Play, but unfortunately there is No Play to put another Play inside. There were also no real Characters for the actors to act.
Nonetheless, the estimable Zoe Caldwell, the resourceful Larry Pine, the always admirable Linda Edmond, the feisty Denis O’Hare, & the lovely Katherine Borowitz acted up several personal-storms to divert audience-attention from the lack of character & content in Yasmin’s little playlet.
John Turturro directed this amazing and yet amazingly-wasted cast. His quirky insights may—or may not—have helped them find Things To Do on stage.
Fortunately for your scribe, the evening was not a Total Loss, for four seats away from me, I could study Marian Seldes’ variously amused & astounded reactions to the work of her esteemed colleagues down in the CSC pit. Her actorial-empathy was a Show in Itself!
Did someone pay CSC under-the-counter to put on this show? Did every other respectable not-for-profit institutional-stage in Manhattan refuse it?
Charles L. Mee, Jr’s GONE [**]
You never hear about Charles L. Mee, Senior, which might be a play in itself. Now Junior’s gone Gone and done it again! But this is no Mee bobrauschenbergamerica, one of the Louisville Humana Festival’s memorable Anne Bogart SITI-Extravaganzas.
I admire Mee most for his often uproarious & alarming reworkings of the Classics. Big Love was also a big winner at the Actors Theatre Louisville, coming later to great success at BAM.
His Vienna: Lusthaus was a Martha Clark Marvel, although Belle Époque did not work so well—except for the recreations of the costumes of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Poster-People.
In Gone, Mee has recycled Marcel Proust and removed him from his cork-lined bedroom—now on view in Paris, at the Musée Carnavalet, as I recall—and transported him to what appears to be Country & Western Terrain. In this curious show, Marcel Proust sings!
When familiar things and people are gone, gone, gone, Memory sometimes plays us false… But Chas. Mee evokes some of them in this odd drama-collage How about the Wit & Wisdom of Allan Ginsberg?. But was Allan Ginsberg really all that Seminal? Sophocles certainly was, and he is also recalled…
Allan & Peter had a cabin near my home outside Nevada City, in the Sierras. But I remember Allan Ginsburg best as a fellow-professor at Brooklyn College: "These kids are illiterate!"
Of course they could read, but, for Allan, not knowing Keats & Shelly was Virtual Illiteracy!
Sing On, Marcel, Sing On! And take a sip of tea and a bite of that dainty biscuit you loved so much…
A la recherche du temps perdu—and all that
Jordan Seavey’s 6969 [***]
6969 is code for Abort. That is one thing I remember best from this Collaboration Project. These are theatre-kids who went to Boston University and are now working out of New York. But the details of the near-fatal encounter they orchestrate, in 6969, at 59E59, are a bit fuzzy now.
Actually, to be a most appreciative-audience of this CyberShow, it helps if you have a computer-keyboard & a monitor—or a laptop—with access to the www-Internet. This provocative play suggests the problems that can be generated among Needy, Nerdy Faceless People meeting Unknown Others in Internet Chat-rooms.
Bad Things can happen if Net-Pals actually meet face-to-face, as message-senders may not be what—or whom—they seem online. And, with Chat-rooms, it is entirely possible—and potentially dangerous—for other people to get involved with what may have begun as a two-way Cyber-Conversation.
Beware of poisoned Apples and bloody Macs! Beware S&M Sex on the Internet!
A Triad of Abused-Female Scripts: Kate Robin’s anon., Courtney Baron’s A VERY COMMON PROCEDURE, & NANCY FRIDAY’S SECRET GARDEN [not rated]
Curiously, these three stage-works appeared within days of each other. They all touch on what could be called Female Abuse—or the strange tendency of some women to pick out men who will treat them badly—and their inability to free themselves of such relationships.
Atlantic Theatre’s new second-stage venue on West 16th Street opened with anon.—the typographic format Kate Robin apparently thinks is appropriate for her Twelve-Step Oratorio. There is a play in the core of the show, but it is framed by a variety of Abused Women who drift in and out to complain about their Relationships—or lack thereof.
Some of these women co-opted me, as I was placed in the first of the two dinky rows of two or three seats set on each side of the end-stage-space, to make the room look like it was really more of an indoor Greek Theatre.
The stage-right chair for some of these Whiners & Complainers was chockablock with my seat. As a one-time teacher of acting [Remedial Acting!], I could hardly avoid them locking eyes with me—unless I pretended to be asleep, like the subscribers on the opposite side, also chair-locked, but deliberately seeming to doze.
The Main Action concerned a young bachelor, Trip [Remy Auberjonois], whose mother thinks it’s time for him to marry. He thinks maybe so, as well. Unfortunately, he is so tied to his whining mother—whose wimpy, ageing, unemployed husband cheats on her and then lets her know it—that he really cannot commit to the cute Animal Therapist [Michelle Federer] who comes to work out his Cat Problems.
He also has a closet full of Porn-tapes, which have apparently ruined him for the Love of a Good Woman: he cannot Get It Up.
This is the kind of stuff that ought to be on TV, as also with A Very Common Procedure.
The medical-procedure noted in this title has been performed on a newborn baby’s defective heart. But it has failed, and the baby has died. So the grieving young mother decides to have sex with the young Asian doctor whom she believes caused her baby to die. So, who is she trying to punish?
Michael Greif staged Courtney Baron’s awkward exploration of an Odd Marital Infidelity. Her actions seemed like some form of Abuse, but of whom, finally? A critic-colleague suggested that the drama might be a form of Therapy, but I do not want to Go There…
Why Nancy Friday wanted to adapt her Tell-All book—Nancy Friday’s Secret Garden—is her own Secret, but, after ten minutes or so, I feared this was too strong Adult Material for my tender ears. I was really embarrassed to hear the Sexual Confessions of so many anonymous women—played by a small cadre of very good actresses. And originally interviewed for her book by Nancy herself, here impersonated by Mimi Quillin.
I was also chagrined to hear these pretty ladies describe their sexual preferences and the procedures involved, often in very elemental & earthy Anglo-Saxon terms. What actresses won’t do to take the stage, rather than mope around a Studio-apartment at Manhattan Plaza!
But it was clear from the confessions that some women do seem to seek out Male Abusers & Losers. Not to overlook the S&M possibilities for both men and women with Low Self-Esteem…
At the close, I decided that this must really be a Women’s Entertainment—not My Thing. But I was then assured that Men Need To Know These Things About Women!
This idea was then torpedoed by a colleague who explained that this was Old Stuff and that Sex & the City had long ago covered this erotic-territory and moved on into uncharted areas of Sexual Arousal. As I do not watch TV, I have missed all this. Also the History Channel…
This round-up makes a fairly discouraging haul for anyone who is interested in New American Dramas. And especially so for anyone who will soon have to nominate Best Plays for the Tonys, Drama Desk, & Outer Critics Circle Awards…
Of course Yasmin Reza is not an American, and Richard Nelson is an American living abroad. [Like David Sedaris… Why do they hate us?]
But why aren’t there more American Playwrights—actually living in America—who can and will write about America and Americans in this time of Bush & Terror? Or should that rather be formulated: Trial & Error?
Older Plays in Revival: Two Theatrical Jews Duke It Out at the Duke: F. Murray Abraham as Shylock & The Jew of Malta [****]
Pairing these Elizabethan plays—and playing them in rep, with F. Murray Abraham as both Histrionic Jews—is something of a stunt.
Although Chris Marlowe did not conceive The Jew of Malta as a low-comedy, nonetheless that is how David Herskovits has farcically staged it. He is greatly aided in this by the Merry & Malicious Antics of F. Murray—getting his own back on the Christians, although they try to rob him of everything. John Lee Beatty’s Fausse-Renaissance setting is also a Big Plus.
The Merchant of Venice is altogether different. Although Shakespeare—or maybe Marlowe, Sir Francis Bacon, or perhaps Amalia Bassano, the Black-Jewess Poetess of Shakespeare’s era—constructed this play as a Comedy, in which the evil, murder-intent, money-lending Jew, Shylock, is punished—not executed—by Decent Christians, there is, nonetheless, a strong strain of understanding—even submerged sympathy—for what Shylock has had to suffer day after day from "these Christians."
In its construction, Portia is the heroine, saving the Merchant, Antonio, from Shylock’s Bloody Bond. [No, Virginia, Shylock is not the Merchant! He lends money for interest, which Christians are forbidden to do—only Jews can do this dirty work.]
Indeed, in the way the comedy is constructed, the audience is encouraged to take delight in Jewish Jessica’s escape from her tyrannical father, her Conversion to Christianity, her future as a devoted Christian wife, as well as her fortunate inheriting his wealth in the final ducal judgment. Shylock’s forced Conversion to Christianity is evoked as a Christian Mercy. They could have killed him.
[In Jonathan Miller’s National Theatre staging—with Sir Laurence Olivier as an Edwardian-banker Shylock—at the close, with the merry-making at Portia’s Belmont Estate echoing on the darkened terrace, a distraught, lost Jessica looks out into the blackness, hearing in the distance Kaddish for her lost father…]
F. Murray—actually descended from Syrian Arabs!—is astounding, even heart-breaking, in his evocation of that famous plea: "If you prick us, do we not bleed…" In fact, he makes Shylock’s smoldering rage and thirst for revenge understandable, if not forgivable.
As for Anti-Semitism, Portia is guilty on two scores, as she gleefully sends away the Prince of Morocco—Arabs are also Semitic—noting her distaste for "all of his complexion." But perhaps Shakespeare was here thinking of a North African Arab, a Blackamoor?
What is especially novel about this production—also designed by Beatty—is its Digital-Age Vision. Instead of three Caskets containing the various rewards for Portia’s Three Suitors, there are three Apple Laptops!
But when Shylock entered the Modern Courtroom with his Scales and a Knife, a lawyer-friend objected: "He’d never get either the scales or the knife through the Metal-Detector!"
So much for Updating Shakespeare. It doesn’t always make sense… Or make an Old Play more Relevant for people who watch too much TV!
Sir Harley Granville Barker’s MADRAS HOUSE [****]
This is another of the Mint Theatre’s interesting revivals of virtually forgotten Modern Dramas that were important in their day. Madras House matches well with the Mint’s previous admirable staging of Granville Barker’s The Voysey Inheritance—recently also handsomely reprised by the Atlantic Theatre, in an unnecessary "adaptation" by David Mamet.
There are a number of volatile Edwardian Social-Issues in play in the Madras House. Literally, in the House, as its proprietor, Philip Madras [Thomas Hammond], is trying to sell the venerable Women’s Fashion Establishment to an energetic American Speculator.
Unmarried men and women working for the Madras House live-in, as they cannot afford to have bed-sitters or flats of their own. If they marry, the financial problems may worsen. If one of the girls gets pregnant—and won’t name the possible father—well, you can just imagine!
As the Observer’s critic, John Heilpern, pointed out, this is one of the few serious Shavian-style Problem-Plays that actually has a Fashion Show in it. In fact, Clint Ramos’ Art Nouveau/Pre-Raphaelite costumes for the Madras Mannequins are quite striking.
Gus Kaikkonen not only directed but had to step into the role of Madras Senior at the last minute.
R. C. Sherriff’s JOURNEY’S END [****]
This powerful production of Journey’s End—better than its original, which ran three years at the Playhouse in London—has been generally hailed as Outstanding, one of the best revivals of the season.
The always-demanding John Simon has been outspoken in his praise: even out loud to me, outside Prelude to a Kiss! [When I first came to New York, we were colleagues at the beloved and lamented Theatre Arts Magazine.]
But the Observer’s John Heilpern—while admiring the dynamic performances of the admirable cast—excoriated R. C. Sherriff for crafting a drama that enshrines all of the Class Stereotypes that were a staple of the British Theatre until John Osborne and the Kitchen-Sink playwrights looked back in anger.
[As in Beyond the Fringe’s satire of the British Stiff Upper-Lip: Bombs are falling all over London, but the typical Brit is just going to put on the pot and have a cuppa’…]
Yes, all the Stereotypes are here, but the power of the performances of Hugh Dancy—as the hard-drinking Captain of a doomed platoon—and Boyd Gaines, as a wistful old school-master, doing his duty in the heart of No-Man’s-Land, and all the others in the cast raise this production far above a Celebration of British Duty & Courage for King & Country.
It has especially Relevance & Resonance right now, as the Captain has been ordered to send two of his officers and eight men over the top of the trenches in daylight to make a raid on the German trench opposite, to drag back a German soldier to force him to disclose information about the pending Final Attack—in which they are certain to die.
That they already know the attack will come the next morning—and anything the German might be forced to reveal will be useless—means this raid is both Futile & Fatal.
The officers know it, the Captain knows it, even the Colonel—who comes by to commiserate—knows it. But the Order has come down From the Top. And must be Obeyed. [Rumsfeld, anyone? Our Bring-‘em-on Commander-in-Chief?]
David Grindley staged for the Belasco, as he did in London. The claustrophobic trench-dug-out officers’ quarters were designed by Jonathan Felsom.
Tennessee Williams’ SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH [**]
It was interesting to see this revival of Sweet Bird of Youth at the T. Schreiber Studios’ Gloria Maddox Theatre. But Eric Watson Williams—despite a desperately striving performance—couldn’t erase the memory of the first Chance Wayne.
For that matter, in the long roster of Tennessee Williams’ dramas about Badly Damaged Young Men, this play comes very close to Unconscious Parody. And in some of the Southern-Fried impersonations of Small-town Bigots & Thugs on stage, the parody was certainly unintentional, but nonetheless risible.
Fortunately, Joanna Bayless—as the Princess—embodied some of Williams’ vision of one of those Hollywood Sacred Monsters: a Festival of Ill-Suppressed Hysteria…
Director/Actor-Trainer Terry Schreiber staged this drama minimally on his tiny stage. T. Williams demands Larger Spaces, however.
Brian Friel’s TRANSLATIONS [***]
I admired this drama much more on its initial production in Manhattan. Somehow, I had the sense that Friel had tampered with his Original. And not for its improvement…
It is 1833 and a naïve young British Officer has come to Friel’s mythic Ballybeg, to rename all the Irish villages, farms, streams, & woods with proper English names. He falls in love with a pretty Colleen who can speak no English.
As he knows no Gaelic, their Courtship is a quaint comic delight. The old Gaelic place-names have to serve for quite different ideas & feelings…
The real purpose of the renaming is to drive the Native Irish off their lands, replacing them with English Settlers. The officer is a besotted fool, so this cannot end well.
Although the play is set in a shabby old barn, site of a proscribed Irish "Hedge-School," where Gaelic & Latin are taught—never English!—the barn at the Biltmore looks more like an Abandoned Basilica!
Francis O’Connor designed, with staging by Garry Hynes. It was good to see Ireland’s estimable Niall Buggy on an American stage again!
[Incidental Intelligence: My grandfather, Thomas Loney, was born in Ireland, in 1832—a year before these imaginary events. He left Ireland after the Potato Famine—which was also facilitated by the British. He sailed steerage from Cork to Nova Scotia—and onward, via Panama, to the California Goldfields. But he never spoke to his children of Ireland, so I do not know how to discover where he was born. As he died in 1911—and I was born in 1928—I never had the chance to ask him about this. But you cannot get an Irish Passport without such Birth-Records! There’s nothing in Dublin Castle: I checked this long ago.]
Craig Lucas’ PRELUDE TO A KISS [****]
How many years ago was it that the Old Man, John Mahoney, first kissed lovely, quirky young Rita [Annie Parisse] on her Wedding-Day? It seems ages now, but—in the current revival at the Roundabout Theatre’s romantic, if flighty, American-Airlines Theatre—Mahoney is still at it!
Craig Lucas’ novel conceit in crafting this bitter-sweet comedy was that the souls of two very Needy People could exchange bodies through Intense Eye-Contact!
His Needs include a beloved wife, lost to Death, and to escape his own Death-Sentence, mandated by Lung-Cancer and Cirrhosis of the Liver.
Save-the-World Rita, however, longs to know what it must feel like to be a Pathetic Old Person. Looking into each-other’s eyes just after she has Plighted Her Troth—not to be confused with Trough, which is something else entirely—they consummate the Soul-Transfer instantly. The Old Man/Rita wanders dazedly off, after a sudden spastic-attack…
Only on their Jamaican Honeymoon, does Rita’s adoring young husband, Peter [Alan Tudyk], slowly come to realize that there is Something Very Wrong. She looks like Rita, but he senses there is someone else inside her body.
She doesn’t know what Rita knows. She doesn’t want what Rita wants. She doesn’t think as Rita thinks. She also isn’t like Rita in the sack…
Although there is an immensely sad story of Human Life beneath the surface here, it’s a frothy comedy on top. Hilarious to see Rita’s maddening Mother & Father [James Rebhorn & Robin Bartlett] and their neighbors at the Wedding. Amusing to watch Peter’s frustration as no one else realizes that Rita isn’t Rita anymore…
How will it all End? If you do not remember from previous productions of Prelude To a Kiss, rush off to the American-Airlines Theatre to refresh your memory! The always-reliable Daniel Sullivan staged. Santo Loquasto provided the shifty sets, with Jane Greenwood costuming…
It might seem odd to include Scott Ellis’s dynamic staging of Douglas Carter Beane’s Little Dog Laughed in this "classic" category, but it is not really a new play, having been reworked after its very successful premiere-run at the Second Stage. In fact, your scribe loved it then and insisted it should transfer—which it did, to the Cort Theatre, where its run ended mid-February.
I could establish a Transferred-Production category, but there are few of them in any season, let alone in any month. Or I could ignore them…
But Little Dog was not so easy to ignore, with its tale of a Closeted Gay Actor, the Dyke Agent from Hell [the wonderful Julie White], and a "Straight" Hustler, who was "only doing it for the money."
The pressing-problem now for Awards-Nominators—both at the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle—is what to do about plays & players who already received Nominations & Awards Off-Broadway when their shows moved\ to the Great White Way?
This is not a problem for the American Theatre Wing’s Tonys, as they ignore Off-Broadway—even though much of the best theatre is now to be found away from the Way.
The Off-Broadway musicals, Grey Gardens and Spring Awakening, have both transferred, very successfully, to the astonishment of many—but they have also undergone changes and improvements. Should such transferred productions have a Second Shot at non-Tony nominations?
ADRIFT IN MACAO [**]
Those of us who have long admired Christopher Durang’s antic sense of satire were really looking forward to his new mini-musical, Adrift in Macao, staged recently at Primary Stages, venued currently at 59E59. Not to be confused with 6969, a Chat-Room Murder-Mystery at the same address…
Those of us who fondly remember Durang’s Tony-nominated A History of the American Film were also hoping that his new Macao might be even more amusing than that Krazy Kaleidoscopic Film-Parody.
Those of us who actually read the program-notes soon discovered that Macao "is a film noir parody," as Durang phrases it. He also adds: "Parody, to me, is a fun way to celebrate something you love, while satire is a way to point out stupidities or destructiveness in some subject that upsets you."
Those of us who were rolling in the aisles during Durang’s Obie-Ward-winning Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You devoutly wished he weren’t so fond of film-noir so that he could instead have written a merry Monty Python-style Satire on the genre.
Those of us who have long followed Durang’s career have often found his satires Sophomoric, even Simplistic. But when they worked, this was just fine.
Adrift in Macao doesn’t really work: It’s more like the Sophomore Farce, with music.
And how many times do Durang’s characters have to painfully explain to the audience what a Hitchcockian McGuffin is?
That the score is by a grandson of Richard Rodgers doesn’t make it "touched with genius." In fact, it may be a Professional Liability to mention such Illustrious Ancestors in Playbill bios.
Much more may be expected of you. Consider another Rodgers Grandson: Would A Light in the Pizza—excuse me!—Piazza be more, or less, enjoyable if just any old, or young, composer had written it?
IN THE HEIGHTS [***]
The very first thing that struck me about the premiere production of the Hispanic Musical, In the Heights, was the distinctive semi-dressed-stone rock-wall upstage. It is an exact imitation of the walls you will find up by The Cloisters and around Washington Heights!
That this eager new musical is actually set in an ingenious Washington Heights Building-Collage—on the super-wide open-stage of 37 Arts—is a distinct Plus! I think I liked the set—by Anna Louizos—better than anything else in this ambitious show.
For me, it seemed a Low-Rent Rent, transposed way Uptown. Or possibly a rent-controlled Rent?
There are a number of talented performers—with good, strong voices—in this show, using a variety of current musical-forms to reveal their Thoroughly Stereotypical Characters, Wants, & Needs. But I am not a Big Fan of Rappers and other recent improvements in Popular Music.
What annoyed me most about the show was its Central Dramatic Problem: that a lovely young girl—whose parents have Sacrificed Everything to send her to Stanford University—should have given up and returned home to be with Her People.
This was, of course, Heart-Breaking for her father, Embarrassing for her mother, and almost a Scandal for some of the neighbors. Why had she done this?
Get a Life, you Latinos up in The Heights!
Going to Stanford is No Big Deal, Education-wise. Yes, it costs tons of money for Annual Tuition, and, yes, it costs a Lot to fly out to Palo Alto and back to NYC for the various Latino Parades on Fifth Avenue from semester to semester. Actually you fly to San Francisco International Airport: then you take the SuperShuttle down to the campus, or chug along on El Camino—but, in the end, is it really worth all that cash-outlay?
Our Heroine could have done just as well for herself had she chosen CUNY’s Lehman College, or even City College on Convent Avenue, which is much closer to Washington Heights.
Signed: One Who Knows!
I have a doctorate from Stanford University and what did it do for me? I spent most of my life teaching Midwood High-School grads at Brooklyn College right across the street: "I got A’s at Midwood! How come I got a C- in your class?"
Of course, if Miss Washington Heights had gone to Stanford when I was studying & teaching there, she might have had Richard Zanuck, Gary Crosby, & Warner Leroy for classmates! It must be the Networking that pays off at these High-Profile places…
In any case, In the Heights is sure to attract admiring audiences: most of my critic-colleagues adored it. Latinos will surely love it. And Rent is still running, so can In the Heights be far behind?
Actually, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose idea this show was, and who wrote both music & lyrics—is a very engaging and energetic performer. Audiences will love him, but the book sucks.
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! [**]
Although this mini-musical has a cast of some 30 characters, it is animated by only two performers: Jeremy Shamos & David Turner. They have a table loaded with blue baseball-caps, each with the Name or Occupation-Specialty of Gutenberg’s ignorant, illiterate Medieval German Village Neighbors.
Gutenberg is actually a wine-maker, pressing grapes for Fun & Profit. One day a misfortune befalls his Press, so he tries printing something under pressure, Voila!
Printing is Born!
As almost no-one can read, this doesn’t immediately look like an Invention With Legs.
My guest—who escaped the Nazis in his native Romania and made his way to Palestine, where he was eventually an officer in the Israeli Army—was shocked that the Holocaust should be invoked satirically, and even more so, to hear the audience laugh at this.
Scott Brown & Anthony King created this cute little show, and Shamos & Turner are charming performers. They get a good laugh when one of them suggests: "Why don’t you sell your car, and we’ll go to a Broadway Musical?"
EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL [**]
Yes, Virginia, the first four rows of seats are covered with clear plastic sheets. And, yes, you can get special T-shirts with blood already screened on them. In any case, if you sit up front in the tiny theatre at New World Stages, you will be periodically sprayed with blood from the stage. Also, Avoid the Vomit!
Horror-Movie buffs say the film was better than this Live Musical Version. It is a grotesque Parody—rather than a sharply cynical Satire—to use Christopher Durang’s prior definitions.
If you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed.
But Evil Dead should get a Design-Nomination: For the Most Frenetic Set-Decorations ever! Now and then, almost everything on the set is in rabid motion—or even rotation!
David Gallo created this fantastic Abandoned-but-Possessed Wilderness Cabin. He has already won a heap of awards for his set-designs, so why not one more?
Come on, kids! Can’t we do better than this?
Old Musicals in Revival:
None during the span of this Report: Is this to become a Trend?
Fortunately, a revival of the Jones/Schmidt 110° in the Shade is waiting in the wings!
New Era & New [Stage] Blood at the Metropolitan Opera!
In German, Gelb means Yellow. In American-English, Yellow traditionally implies Cowardice. Also Yellow-Journalism. But there’s nothing at all "yellow" or fearful about the Metropolitan Opera’s new General Manager, Peter Gelb. If anything, he looks & sounds like the Met’s new Captain Courageous!
Peter Gelb seems determined to sweep the tradition-encrusted Met from the Late 19th Century into the 21st Century—without the formality of lingering long in the dusty past of the 20th Century. Tevya-like Tradition & Operatic-Convention have been enduring Hallmarks of Met Opera-Productions for decades.
If any New York opera-buffs wanted dazzling, challenging, innovative opera-stagings—especially those fans who had been exposed to revolutionary Musik-Theater productions at the Salzburg & Bayreuth Festivals—they went to the New York City Opera, just across Lincoln Center Plaza from the stodgy old Met.
Indeed, the relationship of the NYCO to the Met—in terms of Stunning New Directorial-Concepts & Post-Modern Production-Values—for some time has been similar to that of ENO, the English National Opera, to London’s more conservative opera-house, Covent Garden. But even the Royal Opera has at last discovered the Wonders of Opera-as-Theatre!
And that is what Peter Gelb is determined to provide for Met Opera audiences: Dynamic Music-Theatre!
Operas—when their productions are innovatively-conceived, brilliantly-designed, dynamically-directed, & sensitively, powerfully interpreted by both musicians and actor/singers—can be the most superb form of theatre imaginable.
[Your Roving Correspondent has written a book about that: Opera as Theatre—Or Concerts in Costume? This will soon be available online at ArtsArchive.biz, in the Glenn Loney Book Shop. It features interviews with some of the most important talents in Modern Opera Production. They tell how they do it, complete with descriptions and production-photos.]
This season, Peter Gelb & James Levine—the Met’s genius & ingenious Music-Director—have already astonished both audiences and critics with some exciting new Opera-Theatre productions: Madame Butterfly and The Barber of Seville.
Meet—and Feed—The Press!
At the close of February, Intendant Gelb & Maestro Levine hosted a packed press-conference in List Hall, customary venue of the Metropolitan Opera Quiz and haven for late-comers who cannot be seated during performances.
On stage, in a semi-circle behind the hosts, were seven large black-boxes containing the intriguing set-models for the seven new productions scheduled for next season. Either called to the podium—or present via video—were composers, directors, and designers of the new stagings.
Composer Philip Glass—whose Gandhi-opera, Satyagraha, is to be shown for the first time at the Met—spoke about the work itself and the plans for the new production. It was initially unveiled some years ago at BAM—and your scribe interviewed the librettist, Constance De Jong, for that event.
What seems especially interesting about this new mounting is that Gelb & Levine have invited the team that created Shock-headed Peter to direct & design. Based on the scary old German children’s-book, Der Struwelpeter, this musical Horror-Show—featuring the Tiger-Lillies!—played both on and Off-Broadway: at the New Victory and the Little Shubert.
Actually, it toured worldwide, also having a run in London’s West End, at the Piccadilly Theatre! This past summer, the team & the Tiger-Lillies celebrated Mozart-Jahr in Vienna with a jolly musical-farce about Mozart’s Women! Perhaps the Met can import this as a Special Treat?
The witty designer-director Julian Crouch explained the fascinating set-model for Satyagraha. He also designed Jerry Springer—The Opera, premiered at London’s National Theatre, no less.
Mary Zimmerman, of Metamorphoses fame, talked about her concepts for the new Lucia di Lammermoor. She even went to the West Coast of Scotland to visit the ancient castle that is the setting for this Walter Scott/Donizetti vision of a Wedding Gone-Wrong. The magnificent and architecturally-famed Staircase from this formidable fortress will be a stage-centerpiece. Wonderful for Lucia’s Mad-Scene!
For the new Iphigénia en Tauride, director Stephen Wadsworth—who staged the Met’s recent Rodelinda—shared some fascinating insights for revisiting this Classic Myth, as re-animated musically by the Chevalier Gluck. [Juillard just revived its companion-piece, Gluck’s Iphigénia en Aulide.]
Reporting on Videotape were John Doyle, Richard Jones, Adrian Noble, & Laurent Pelly—who will give La Fille du Régiment a cross-country workout with a stage filled with Giant Crumpled Maps and endless Laundry-Lines of the troops’ drying long-john underwear!
Doyle—who will stage Peter Grimes—is currently the Toast of Broadway for his stunning re-Visions of two Stephen Sondheim classics: Company & Sweeney Todd. As the NYCO has already celebrated Sondheim on stage—as have opera-houses abroad—can we hope for a John Doyle Pacific Overtures at the Met?
Richard Jones should have no problem with the vastness of the Met’s stage as he has already mastered the immense Lake-Stage of the Bregenz Festival on Lake Constance. He showed set-designs for the new Hansel & Gretel, emphasizing the essence of Greedy, Hungry, Transgressive Children. But there will also be a State-of-the-Art Witch’s-Kitchen for cookie-baking and kiddie-roasting…
[Fortunately, Doyle is not evoking the infamous gas-ovens of Dachau & Auschwitz for making Gingerbread Treats. But be sure someone will try it very soon—with Gretel looking a bit like Anne Frank, no doubt!]
A moody, haunted Macbeth is promised by Adrian Noble—longtime Artistic Director of the RSC/Royal Shakespeare Company—who has won his Theatre-Spurs many times over.
It is very clear—from Gelb’s choices of famed theatre-directors and designers—that Opera as Theatre will be the rule at the Met in the future!
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera—which also gives separate concerts at Carnegie Hall on occasion—is regarded by many as the best in New York. Even better than the Philharmonic, thanks to the work of Maestro James Levine with these talented musicians. At the press-conference, however, Levine noted that the challenge is always to become even better!
In addition to the encouraging news about new subscriptions, empty-seats-filled, and the new Rush Tickets for only $20, Gelb noted other initiatives such as the new broadcasts of the entire Met Opera-Archives on the world’s first 24/7 subscription opera-channel.
While radio-fans at home and abroad can only hear the Saturday-afternoon Met broadcasts during the season, they can now enjoy Metropolitan Opera Radio—Channel 85 on Sirius Satellite Radio—round-the-clock!
But the most Important Initiative is the new series of Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD high-definition telecasts into movie-theatres in North America, Europe, & Japan. Soon also to be in school-rooms!
The visual & audial quality of these transmissions is amazing: Larger than Life. Among the productions chosen for HD have been Julie Taymor’s Magic Flute, Eugene Onegin, Barber of Seville, & Madame Butterfly.
Currently, there are some 239 cinema-venues worldwide. Next season there will more—and there will be eight operas shown in cinemas.
At the conclusion of the press-conference, attendees were invited to a buffet-luncheon on the Mercedes Bass Grand Tier level of the Met. This was formerly the Alberto Vilar Grand Tier—just as Covent Garden’s Floral Hall was formerly called the Alberto Vilar Floral Hall. But when you cannot pay-up on your pledges, then Sic transit Gloria mundi…
Nights at the Metropolitan Opera:
When your scribe was no longer writing for Opera News, and his regular print-venue at Opera Monthly disappeared—along with that defunct & lamented journal—he nonetheless continued to report on opera-productions at the New York City Opera and at the Metropolitan Opera for this website: New York Theatre-Wire.com.
Unfortunately, the Press Officers of both opera-companies at that time did not recognize the growing importance of Culture Websites—people actually read them!—so I was removed from both ensembles’ press-lists. Despite that misfortune for a longtime Theatre-Critic who regards opera as the supreme form of Music-Theatre—when it is brilliantly achieved—I continued to report on new productions at Lincoln Center, even though I usually saw & heard them from very High Altitudes.
There are at least Two Ironies in this saga of Unrequited Love for the Met and the NY City Opera:
Major opera-companies in Europe, Canada, and even Australia have always welcomed me, making it possible for me to interview stage-directors, designers, conductors, and actor/singers in important new productions, no matter whether the resultant reports would appear in print or Online. In fact, last summer marked my 50th Anniversary of reporting on the Bayreuth, Bregenz, Munich, & Salzburg Festivals!
The Second Irony is that—when I was still a Culture-Journalist in Good-Standing at the Met—I was able to procure press-tickets for my longtime critic-colleague and friend, Erna Metdepennighen, President of the Belgian Music-Critics. This established her press-credentials, so that she has since been able to take me to the Met on her frequent forays into Manhattan!
In fact, just before I went off to Egypt to photograph the Ancient Monuments for INFOTOGRAPHY™, Erna invited me to see I Puritani and The First Emperor with her! And so it was that I met Jennifer Cooper—of the Met’s Press-Department—and was graciously restored to the press-list!
As a longtime Contributing Editor to Theatre Crafts and its successor, Entertainment Design, I have for years made it a specialty to focus on new opera-productions, especially in relation to directorial and design-concepts in making both the repertory’s War Horses and new works into exciting Musical-Theatre for contemporary audiences.
That means I’m not really interested in whether Maestro James Levine conducts Parsifal as slowly as Hans Knappertsbusch did at Bayreuth. Or if that ageing soprano transposed those high-notes she cannot really reach anymore…
For the Record: Over half-a-century of reporting on major European Opera &Theatre Festivals has enabled me to amass an enormous archive of black & white Production-Photos—many of Historic & Iconic Stagings, for which it is now not easy to find more than an image or two.
But I had no idea how I could share these with students, critics, journalists, editors, & opera-theatre professionals. Or what would become of them when I have gone off to press-seats in that Great Opera-house in the Skies…
Fortunately, my colleague & friend at Lightning New Media, Prof. Cynthia Allen, has created no less than five sub-websites—for the Edinburgh, Bregenz, Munich, Salzburg, & Bayreuth Festivals—to make these images available, along with selected Loney Reports & Reviews over the decades.
The production-photos will be clearly visible for study & informational purposes, but anyone desiring to use one or more in print or online will have to contact the various Festival Press-Offices for permissions and fees. Links are provided for immediate contact with the relevant press-offices—all of whom have graciously agreed to this arrangement.
All this image-scanning & editing is being done at no cost to the various festivals. Instead, your scribe, Dr. Allen, and some opera-loving donors are making it possible. It is part of my Pay-Back for all the many, many wonderful evenings I have enjoyed at the Opera!
You can check out the as-yet In-Process sub-websites at Artsarchive.biz. As things now stand, it may take several years to scan and identify all the hundreds of production-photos. This could, of course, be speeded-up with some generous tax-deductible contributions to the not-for-profit Lightning New Media project.
Giuseppi Verdi’s SIMON BOCCANEGRA [*****]
Although this splendid production premiered at the Met in 1995, it was visually all new—and tremendously impressive—to me. Vocally, it was also surely new to Met Old-timers who had heard & seen Plácido Domingo & Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in the original 1995 cast. In this powerful revival, Thomas Hampson was authoritative & affecting as Boccanegra, the one-time pirate who became Doge of Genoa.
As Doge, he seeks to heal the warring factions of the Great Genovese Maritime Clans so they can ally themselves as a City-State with that of Venice to take advantage of new Black Sea trade-treaties. The most magnificent scene in this production, in fact—in the handsome much-muraled Council-Chamber of the Doge’s Palace—opens with presentation of gifts from Treaty Emissaries.
The core of the opera, however, is not crafty Renaissance Statecraft, but the loss and rediscovery of Boccanegra’s illegitimate daughter, Maria, raised as Amalia Grimaldi. The withholding of the Secret of her True Identity—as is customary in such Romantic fables—causes Epic Misunderstandings, ending with the death by Poisoning of the Doge.
None of the opera’s subsequent tragic developments would have happened had Maria/Amalia and Boccanegra let all Genoa know the Truth, once they had compared their Matching Locket-Portraits of her dead mother, Maria Fiesco. But then it might have been only a one-acter, fit to join Gianni Schicci in Trittico—which then could perhaps have been titled Quadrattico?
As Boccanegra’s sworn enemy—and father of the dead Maria—Ferruccio Furlanetto was magisterial. Marcello Giordani was properly ardent, aggressive, and athletic as Gabriele Adorno, also an enemy of the Doge—but an unwitting lover of his daughter, Maria/Amalia, who was tenderly impersonated by the much-admired Angela Gheorghiu.
As the villainous Paolo, who had put Boccanegra on the throne and expected Amalia as one of his Perks, the able Vassily Gerello was eminently hiss-able. Fabio Luisi conducted with sensitivity for the more intimate moments and strength for the Council Chamber crowd-scenes. This is, after all, not Vintage Verdi, but certainly a work that deserves a place in the repertory.
Ginacarlo Monaco was responsible for the original production, and, in this shining revival, the monumental sets and rich Renaissance costumes of Michael Scott remain dramatically powerful. When the great statue of the armored Fiesco Family Patron is toppled by the Anti-Patrician Genevose Plebians, there are modern echoes of the fall of the statue of the Iraqui Tyrant, Saddam Hussein. This is especially resonant—but also amazingly intuitive—as this production was originally mounted long before Hussein’s image was pulled down!
EUGENE ONEGIN [*****]
This brilliant, clinically-abstracted, bare-bones production of Tchaikovsky’s shattering Evgeny Onegin was, of course, a Triumph for both Renée Fleming, as Tatania, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, as the thoughtlessly, needlessly cruel young Russian gentleman.
Having seen a number of much younger Tanias—one thinks of Tatiana Troyanos or Teresa Stratas: or am I dreaming?—in quite different production-environments, for me, this opera works better visually when the young, suddenly-love-struck, innocent country-girl doesn’t look quite so Matronly.
Mme. Fleming sings powerfully, but she looks old enough to be Tania’s Mother. And she certainly moves more like a matron than an animated, excited young woman, desperate to set down her passion in an ill-advised letter to Onegin.
Power is fine, but more Nuance would have aided the effect of this celebrated Letter-Scene. Especially as she hardly sat down once to write it, instead flitting about and rhapsodizing on her bed…
But one can certainly see why Tatiana—and, for a fatal flirting-moment, also her sister Olga—instantly fell for this mysterious friend of Olga’s fretting but doomed fiancé, Lenski.
With his almost-platinum hair, his elegant-extension, and his strong, handsome face, Dmitri Hvorostovsky—in character or out—makes women fall in love with him.
Add to that Hvorostovsky’s magnificent voice and his intelligent & passionate interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s music—and you have the stuff of Magic & High Drama.
Ramón Vargas is the Tenor-of-the-Moment—boasting a splendid vocal-instrument. But he is—as an opera-actor—Visually Unfortunate, in that his head seems to sit directly upon his shoulders. This works fairly well for Lenski, however. Lensky looks and acts like a Loser…
Which the subsequent Infamous Duel manifests in Spades—if not Queens of Spades…
The ingenious and resourcefully avant-garde director Robert Carsen—his recent Trovatore was set in a Giant Orange Oil-Refinery on the Bregenz Festival’s Lake Constance-stage—has conceived all the scenes of this opera in a vast white Void, relieved by colored lighting on occasion. A sheer white wall rises upstage beyond sight into the flies. On either side are equally sheer white walls, also disappearing from sight.
What Carsen’s equally ingenious set & costume-designer, Michael Levine, has devised within this Void are a series of Circular & Rectangular Confinements. At the opening, the super-thin trunks of birch-trees are discovered downstage, also rising out of sight, with no leaves in view.
Leaves fall and a cluster of Babushkas sweep them outward, forming a Great Circle. Later, Tania’s attic-room is set in a mass of leaves, on a white platform with only a bed & table.
For the Larin’s Party, an interesting collection of Chairs—each with different back-designs that show well in silhouette, when they are lit horizontally from the wings—defines the outer-limits of the performance-area, surrounded by the stage’s vastness and the dead leaves…
This visual confinement, in the center of the enormous and otherwise empty stage, forces the dancing-couples closely together—with hoop-skirts helping to make this seem the most successful party in this part of Rural Russia.
So also when Onegin arrives at Prince Gremin’s Palais and sees again Tatiana, now an elegant and gracious lady—a Princess, in fact!
For those who do not know the opera—but, one hopes, are at least familiar with that remarkable Onegin Waltz—she has never forgotten him. She still has the Letter she wrote him so very long ago…
I think this is one of the Great Tragic Love-Stories—in Pushkin’s original poem and in Tchaikovsky’s opera—because the epic losses were all so Avoidable and Onegin is to blame…
Pushkin was himself killed in a senseless duel: an Affair of Honor. The Master of the Mariinsky, Valery Gergiev, conducted—not the duel, but the performance at the Met—which was also an affair of honor for himself and all concerned!
I am most appreciative of being restored to the Met’s Press-List. Had I known this might happen—effectually in the intermission of Puritani—I would have jotted down some specifics of the three Met productions listed below.
As it was, Julie Taymor’s dazzlingly inventive Magic Flute was a Birthday Present—24 December, so it was also an Xmas gift!—from a former CUNY PhD student. Fortunately, this was not the 90-minute-for-restless-kids version, although that is reported to have been a Great Holiday Success.
Perhaps Peter Gelb can work with James Levine to devise a 90-Minute Parsifal for Young Folks at Easter/Passover Season? There are times—even at Bayreuth—when you could wish Richard Wagner had an Editor…
Still, watching the three Spirit-Boys ride in on an immense animated Pterodactyl-skeleton was an Astonishment, heaped on myriad Visual Surprises! More fun than Night at the Museum!
Maestro Levine conducted a lively cast, in which the athletic-antics of Nathan Gunn, as Papageno, were a total delight—as though he’d trained with Cirque du Soleil. Even at the Salzburg Festival, Hermann Prey was never so lively and funny as Papageno.
Gunn is not only impressive as an actor/singer: as Billy Budd in Munich, he showed that he’s one of the few tenors who look good with his shirt off. Even in his youth, Luciano didn’t dare.
Also impressive was Cornelia Götz, but then any Queen of the Night who can actually negotiate all of those killer-notes without faltering deserves The Crown!
My opportunity to enjoy Puritani and First Emperor—why do I keep typing Last Emperor? The Bertolucci-Syndrome?—arrived when My Friend Erna [Metdepennighen] arrived from Belgium to report on the Met’s current season for Music-Lovers in Brussels & Beyond.
She brought her customary gift of fine Belgian Chocolates to the Press-Office. I tagged along and noted that—although I used to be a regular contributor to Opera News, Opera Monthly, and other Performing-Arts publications—I had been off the list for years, Websites having been regarded as Unworthy Media, compared with printed reviews & reports.
Shortly after that, I was restored to the List. Of Puritani, I must note that years ago—when this production was new—I wrote about it in a feature on its designer, Ming Cho Lee. What most impressed me was Ming’s creation of basic set-elements that could be reshuffled and "differenced" to create both exteriors and interiors.
What most impressed me about the current revival, of course, was Anna Netrebko’s dynamic Elvira. She was radiant, breath-taking, even heart-breaking for a moment. Although I had seen & heard Netrebko here and abroad before her big Salzburg Festival break-through in La Traviata—with Rolando Villazon as her Alfredo—it was only then that I realized what a remarkable actress/singer I was seeing onstage in that Post-Post-Modernist production.
Later, when I was able to photograph and talk with her and Rolando at a private Deutsche-Gramaphone press-party, I was even more taken by them both: Friendly, out-going, completely natural, like old friends…
Patrick Summers conducted this fine Puritani performance at the Met.
If you know anything about the Widow of the Regicide King Charles I—Queen Henrietta Maria of France—you must know she has always been treated badly by the Protestants. Especially so in this opera, although both librettist & composer were RC Italians. Go figure…
[Incidental Note: Lord Protector Cromwell was determined to stamp out the Papists, but the Late Anglican King—actually himself, as now Queen Elizabeth II, the Head of the Anglican Communion—had married a French Roman-Catholic Princess! His son, Restored to the English Throne as Charles II, also married a Roman-Catholic, Catherine of Braganza! Finally, the Protestants had to install a Dutch Protestant on the throne, secured in marriage to a Protestant English Queen: William & Mary. This finally worked out so well they even named a college in Virginia after the Royal Duo!]
Meanwhile, the Met also gave Tan Dun’s The First Emperor its World Premiere. The Met may even take this production to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics! Yes, Virginia, even the First Olympics in Greece had a Cultural Component!
At first, I could not figure out what all those rising ranks of gray-blocks, suspended on ropes, and moved amongst by chorus-members, were supposed to represent. Having actually myself walked several kilometers atop the Great Wall of China, I should have understood at once.
The First Emperor caused that Wall to be built—and many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers who died building the Wall are buried underneath its great stones. He also ordered the creation of hundreds of terra cotta soldiers & horses subsequently entombed with him at Xian!
Somehow, Tan Dun’s score was both less Chinese-influenced and less Tan Dun-Moderne than I expected. It seemed, in fact, a kind of watery compromise of styles. Not really Memorable…
But also not difficult for the ageing Placido Domingo to sing as the Emperor.
What was especially disappointing was the nature of the feeble libretto: surely this Ambitious Warlord who sought to Unify & Protect the vast areas of China deserved a more riveting tale? Was the creation of a Chinese National Anthem so soul-consuming for him? Should we have cared more?
One aspect of the performance was strangely familiar: Tan Dun—who also conducted—introduced a colorful Shaman into the Emperor’s Court. I had just seen a shaman very like this one perform in Korea in November: similar colorful costume, similar acrobatic movements, similar mysterious forebodings…
Communist China’s celebrated director, Zhang Yimou, staged. He was born in Xian, so he should have had a special feeling for this fable. He is better-known for such films as Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, & Curse of the Golden Flower—with Gong Li!
What I want to know is: What has become of Mrs. Chairman Mao’s Red Detachment of Women, once performed all over Europe, and effectively satirized in John Adams’ Nixon in China? How about The Taking of Tiger Mountain by Strategy?
Did all those millions of hapless Chinese die in Mao’s Great Leaps Forward & Cultural Revolutions, only to have Chiang Ching’s Artistic Achievements for the People be so soon forgotten?
Anyway, here the three operas I saw as someone’s guest:
DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE [*****]
I PURITANI [****]
THE LAST EMPEROR [***]
I have to stop here—or these ruminations will go on forever…
Exciting Times Ahead for New York City Opera! Ex-Brussels, Ex-Salzburg Intendant Gérard Mortier to Depart Paris Opera for Lincoln Center State Theatre!
Famously eager for Controversy, Conflict, & Confrontation, Dr. Gérard Mortier will leave his post as Master of the venerable Paris Opera to become the Artistic Director of the New York City Opera in Lincoln Center.
Even to those who do not know him—or his infamous Managerial Style—this may seem like something of a distinct Come-Down. In Paris, he is in charge of programming & operations for Two Great Opera-houses: Charles Garnier’s "Wedding-Cake" Palais Garnier and the Post-Modernist Opéra Bastille.
In stark contrast, in Lincoln Center, he has to work in only one theatre, the New York State Theatre—which the City Opera has long had to share with the New York City Ballet. Although this venue was built at the time of the New York World’s Fair of 1964—ostensibly for George Balanchine’s ballet-ensemble—initially it was not even a good stage for dancers, not to mention singers.
Shortly after it opened, your scribe wrote about it for Theatre Crafts & Theatre-Design & Technology. It had virtually no wing-space—or backstage-space for scenic-storage. Its stage was, in fact, Poured-Concrete. Premier-danseur Edward Villella told me: "It felt like the bones were coming out of your feet!"
Truth was that Maestro Balanchine didn’t want to share his stage with City Opera, which was still over on West 55th Street in the old New York City Center/Shrine Mosque. Nor did Sir Rudolf Bing, Master of the Met Opera, want a competing Carmen playing just 30 yards away from his own opera-house.
When City Opera finally made the move to Lincoln Center, Maestro Julius Rudel discovered that the NYCO couldn’t manage Magical Disappearances—for there were no Stage-Traps. Not to mention the lack of Stage-Elevators…
They finally had to jack-hammer a trap-hole through the concrete upstage. In the first production to use it, appearances & disappearances occurred with alarming frequency: Beverley Sills admitted to me that they wanted to show it off!
Recently, current Artistic Director Paul Kellogg and the NYCO Board have been searching for a place to build a new State-of-the-Art home, to rival the remarkable technical-facilities of the Met. Ground Zero was one not-very-good idea.
Dr, Mortier has nixed these plans. But he is looking at some alternative-spaces to use in conjunction with the NYST, such as Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, the Park Avenue Armory, and the Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street—which was, in fact, originally an opera-house, constructed to compete with the Metropolitan Opera by the Senior Hammerstein!
[In addition to Hammerstein’s Times Square Music-Hall—he also constructed a second & smaller Opera-house up in Harlem on 125th Street! Last time I visited this venue, it was an African-American Baptist Church, with a small basket-ball court set up on its slanting-stage. Go figure!]
In Paris—as in Mortier’s previous opera-venues in Brussels and Salzburg—he has had a tremendous Federal, State, & City Arts-Subsidy. But it is not The American Way to use tax-payers’ hard-earned dollars for Elitist Culture.
[Fighting Terrorism & Establishing Democracies in the Middle-East are America’s Essential Priorities, it would seem…]
New York City Opera gets only a pathetic 3 percent subsidy from various governmental sources. How Monsieur Mortier will be able to charm Big Bucks out of super-rich Manhattan opera-lovers remains to be seen. In Salzburg, he was notorious for mocking Europe’s Wealthy Elite.
As M. Mortier will not assume command at NYCO until 2009, the Board will have to muddle-through until then. The Bavarian State Opera has a similar problem, in that its new Intendant still has to serve out his contract at Vienna’s Burgtheater, arriving in Munich also in 2009. Fortunately, Maestro Kent Nagano, the General Music Director, and a top-notch Gremium are keeping Munich on course.
Although Herr Mortier—despite his French family-name, he is a Ghent-born Flemming—will have reached mandatory retirement-age at the Paris Opera by 2009, his tenure there has not been easy, nor entirely Audience-Friendly. So some will be glad to see him go…
But Salzburg was also glad to see him depart. His confrontational-style included attacking the President of the Salzburg Festival—Dr. Helga Rabl-Städler—in the local press, as well as denigrating the cultural tastes of the City & State of Salzburg.
From Salzburg, Dr. Mortier moved on to the RuhrTriennale—a sort of Pre-Paris holding-action—with summer festival-performances in disused Gasometers and abandoned Krupp Factories. With the Virtual Death of Industry in the Ruhrgebiet, City Dads & State Officials have been eager to create Tourist-Attractions in the remaining Industrial-Ruins.
Gérard Mortier earned his greatest fame as an extremely innovative Intendant at Brussels’ historic Théâtre de la Monnaie. After his departure, it never quite again achieved the Cultural Celebrity he won for this great theatre.
Can he make the New York City Opera an even greater Triumph? Under Peter Gelb, the Met will be a Formidable Challenger.
Will New Yorkers be treated to Salzburg-Style Confrontations at Lincoln Center?
At New York’s Major Music-Schools:
At The Juilliard School:
Actually, the Juilliard is not solely a Music-School. Its Drama Division—created by the late John Houseman—has given audiences such talents as Kevin Kline, Boyd Gaines, and Patti LuPone!
Its Juilliard Opera Theatre—launched by Tito Capobianco—presents impressive productions each semester of interesting, if neglected, operas. In February, the opera-of-choice was Chevalier Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide.
This was especially interesting, as the Metropolitan Opera is presenting a new production next season of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. This continues the story of Agamemnon’s courageous daughter, Iphigenia, who came to Aulis—where the Greek ships had long been becalmed, unable to sail on to attack Troy—believing she was to marry the great Greek Warrior-Hero, Achilles.
Unfortunately for her and her mother, Queen Clytemnestra, the High Priest Calchas had convinced King Agamemnon—Commander of all the Greek Forces, determined to reclaim King Menelaus’s purloined wife, Helen, from Troy—that the ships would never have winds for their sails until a great Blood Sacrifice was offered the Goddess Diana/Artemis.
And the sacrifice demanded was Iphigenia! She and her mother had come all the way from Argos, lured by a lie. [Think: The Lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction!]
Although Iphigenia’s Shock & Horror at Agamemnon’s Change of Plans is understandably Epic, she finally agrees to offer herself up for the Greater Good of the Greeks. [Think: The Lie of Soldier-Sacrifices for Bringing Democracy to the Middle-East!]
Fortunately, the Goddess is very impressed with this Fatal Decision, so she substitutes a Sacred Stag on the Aulis Altar in place of Iphigenia, instead spiriting her off to Tauris—where she will herself become a High Priestess, and, in time, save her fleeing brother, Orestes, from becoming a sacrifice himself.
[Freeing him to return to Argos and kill Clytemnestra, who, in the interim, had killed his father, Agamemnon, plus the Trojan Seeress, Cassandra. Oh, those crazy Greeks!]
[As a kind of footnote to these operatic-replays of Ancient Greek Myths, the Met is also next season presenting a new production of Richard Strauss’s Die Aegyptische Helena. In this ancient version of the Trojan Legend, the real Helen wasn’t abducted by Paris and taken off to Troy. No, that was Look-Alike, or a Doppelgänger! Helen was in Egypt instead—where they could scan far-off with the aid of a giant All-Seeing Mussel-Shell! Prime-time Television millennia before the Real Thing!]
Anyway, back to Juillard! Artfully conducted by Ari Pelto and magisterially mounted by Robin Guarino, the Iphigénie en Aulide was most impressive, owing both to its minimal, almost ceremonial, staging and to its vocally powerful interpretation.
As at the Manhattan School of Music—where, like Juilliard, these excellent productions are presented only three times!—operas are often double-cast in the principal roles, to give more opportunities to the student-singers.
Paul LaRosa was a strong, troubled Agamemnon, with Faith Sherman powerful as Clytemnestra. Paul Appleby was a stalwart Achille, to Tharanga Goonetilleke’s doomed Iphigénie.
As Calchas, the High Priest, Tobey D. Miller was an adamant advocate of Blood-Sacrifice. The Gods had spoken to him, if to no one else: they wanted Blood!
[You might think of Little Shop of Horrors here, but it is Not Appropriate! How about "Surging" more doomed troops to Iraq? Could Bush be Calchas Reborn?]
[Dramatic & Historic Footnote: It is to Calchas that we owe the Tragedy of Troilus & Cressida. She was his daughter when he was a Priest in Troy. He fled to the Greek Camp, a Religious Turncoat, and he later demanded Cressida as a reward—although she was already pledged to Troilus, a Trojan prince. Thanks to her thoughtless father, she became a Common Convenience among the Greek Heroes…]
At The Manhattan School of Music:
Marta Eggerth returned to give another of her delightful Master Classes in Greenfield Hall. She must be at least 95 years old now, but she is amazingly still in good voice and the best of spirits.
Not only does she give thoughtful, kindly advice to young singers about the dynamics of the specific songs & arias they have chosen for the class, but she also helps place those numbers in the musical & dramatic context of the opera or operetta from which they have been extracted.
As some memorable arias were actually written decades ago for Marta, she is in a unique position to share the composer’s own ideas about them with young singers who may have no notion of what a Gypsy Baron could be like—or how a Lustige Witwe might behave at Maxim’s in Paris.
Among the arias were Vilia, from The Merry Widow; Kurt Weill’s Tango Habanera; Mein Herr Marquis, from Die Fledermaus, and Sigmund Romberg’s One Kiss, from The New Moon, sung by Sarah Caldwell Smith. [Was she named for the late, great opera-director, Boston’s Sarah Caldwell?]
Marta Eggerth was especially amusing as she explained how she was originally directed to sing Mein Herr Marquis with emphasis on inflecting the series of light, mocking laughs—ha ha ha ha ha—with a variety of satiric emotions.
On quite a different Musical Note, President Robert Sirota invited the Press and some real dignitaries to an Inaugural Tour of three handsome new spaces in the Manhattan School’s expanding complex.
The first stop was in the Peter Jay Sharp President’s Residence, a penthouse overlooking Grant’s Tomb—and the Hudson as well. Krysty Swann sang Princess Eboli’s Swan-song from Don Carlo, O Don Fatale. The President overheard me remarking that the room looked just clinical enough to be a waiting-room at Beth Israel Hospital. He laughed and noted that that was certainly a good choice of hospital…
Then we all trooped off to marvel at the new William R. & Irene D. Miller Recital Hall, as well as the Alan M. & Joan Taub Ades Performance Space. The donors even cut ribbons! We heard Beethoven & Debussy in the hall and had lunch & jazz in the Space.
Both venues promise much, but the School is also refurbishing its other two performance-halls, the Greenfield and the handsome Art Deco Landmark, the John C. Borden Auditorium.
Big Ballet Month at BAM/Brooklyn Academy of Music: John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet Dances Thomas Mann’s Novella: Death in Venice
In the rambling report included below—initially planned for the BAMbill, but not published in that form—I wondered whether John Neumeier and his evocative ballet, Death in Venice, would once again be the targets of some demanding Big-City/High-Standards Dance-Critics who are habitually annoyed, even infuriated, by his Choreographic Visions. That is, when they have the opportunity to see them, which is not often…
Indeed, the first sentence of the New York Times’ indictment of the Brooklyn Premiere suggested that the Good News was that the ballet was not Entirely Terrible. Among Neumeier’s offenses, it seemed—and not just in this work—were his interest in Narrative Ballets! and his penchant for setting choreographies on music that is not appropriate for dancing, Classical or Modern.
Using various themes of Johann Sebastian Bach & Richard Wagner—not to mention Jethro Tull for Cholera-Music—in actual performance seemed hardly an Artistic Crime, but rather Inspired Eclecticsm!
As for Wagner’s possible insufficiency for providing effective ballet-music, Neumeier’s use of the Tannhäuser Bacchanal should have reminded viewers that this is Primal Erotic Ballet Music. And, at the close, the Wagner/Liszt transcription of the Liebestod, from Tristan & Isolde, was heart-breakingly powerful.
Other critics & commentators than the Times, however, were very impressed, as were most of the spectators. I was both astounded and deeply affected by the ballet: the DVD that I had seen—in preparation for writing about the Hamburg Ballet’s visit to BAM—did not begin to do it justice.
So much has now been written about the Concept & Performance of Neumeier’s Death in Venice that a reprise by your correspondent would be anti-climactic. But certainly acclaim must be accorded Lloyd Riggins—as the temperamental genius, Von Aschenbach, the other major character-soloists, and, indeed, the entire dynamic ensemble.
Especially interesting was Elizabeth Cooper—a distinguished musician & conductor—as Von Aschenbach’s totally involved & integrated ballet rehearsal-pianist!
Neumeier both choreographed & staged Death in Venice and also co-designed the costumes with set-designer Peter Schmidt—who was clearly the servant of the choreographer’s vision.
Now here is the promised rough-draft for BAM:
JOHN NEUMEIER: Remembrance of Times Past
By Glenn Loney
Last summer in Bayreuth, in Richard Wagner’s historic Festspielhaus, there was an expectant hush as the audience waited for the second act of Siegfried. But there was a small commotion around me: tux-suited men and handsomely-gowned women were passing their programs to the black-clad man in front of me, seeking autographs.
Was he a Fashion-Designer? Certainly some kind of Celebrity. A man near me explained: "That’s John Neumeier, Intendant of the Hamburg Ballet!"
So I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, puzzled.
"John! A voice from the past: Glenn Loney. Do you remember Prophet without Honor? In Ballet News all those years ago?"
"Glenn! What a surprise! You know, I still have that story on display. We must catch up. Do you know we’re bringing the Hamburg Ballet with Death in Venice to BAM?"
This Thomas Mann novella of 1912 has long fascinated and intrigued discriminating readers: Was Nobel Prize-winner Mann really a closeted gay? Was Gustav von Aschenbach—the aging poet who falls obsessively in love with a beautiful young Polish boy on the Lido Beach in Venice—actually suggested by Gustav Mahler?
Whatever the possible suggestions and sub-texts, Death in Venice has continued to fascinate. Luchino Visconti transformed it into a remarkable film in 1971. Two years later, Benjamin Britten translated it into an opera.
Even Giles Havergal—of Glasgow’s famed Citizens’ Theatre—retold the tale as a Monodrama, shown in Manhattan in 2004.
John Neumeier—as is his custom when dealing with already well-known ballets, dramas, or novels—has worked his own transformation on Death in Venice. Von Aschenbach is no longer a poet. Now he is a Blocked, Frustrated, Furious, & Closeted Choreographer: rigidly disciplined, elegantly animated, selflessly and sharply focused on his dancers, developing a new work.
At the conclusion of Siegfried, we had a chat on the Festspiel-Plaza. Although I make the rounds of some major European Festivals every summer, I had not been to Hamburg in years. Nor was I aware that Neumeier had long ago established a Summer Hamburg Ballet Festival. It is presented during the first two weeks of July. He promptly invited me to survey the ballets this coming July.
As I was the first, and almost the only, American Culture-Journalist to write about John Neumeier—as he progressed from the Stuttgart Ballet to the Frankfurt Ballet and on to Hamburg, to create his stunning new ensemble and develop his Innovative Choreographies—he suggested I might write the customary Program-Piece for BAM.
But I had not yet seen Death in Venice, so I was sent an in-house DVD of the work in performance. Watching it on a small screen, I could certainly appreciate the broad-outlines of the ingenious reworking of Mann’s narrative, although some details were fuzzy.
Initially, I thought it must be set during Carnival Season in Venice, as bare-chested male dancers were wearing 18th century Tricorns & Frock-coats. But Carnival is not a season of the year that the Lido is crowded with sun-bathers, swimmers, beach-showoffs, and assorted hustlers.
Only when I finally saw the ballet onstage at BAM was it clear that the 18th century costumes were, instead, intended to suggest the Berlin and Sans Soucci of Frederick the Great. Famed choreographer Gustav von Aschenbach’s new ballet was centered on Frederick and his Court. He had not yet stopped rehearsals in frustration and exhaustion to flee to Venice.
The key to this was an upstage picture on an easel—not clear in the DVD. It was a well-known painting of this powerful Prussian Monarch playing the flute for members of his Court. Frederick was not only an accomplished flautist & a composer, an admirer of Voltaire, and a rigidly trained and disciplined Military Commander, but he was also rather fond of Blond Giant Soldiers—who formed his Personal Bodyguard, the Leibstandart. No wonder some of these dancer/soldier/courtiers were bare-chested!
[Minor Historical-Note Not Relevant to John Neumeiers Ballet: The Prussia of Frederick’s time—and long after, all the way up to and including World War I, the "Great War"—was essentially Military & Militant. Uniforms were the Rule: Even Schoolmasters—and certainly Postmen—had their distinctive uniforms and titles to match: Herr Oberbriefträger!
[Even as a small boy—even though he was the Crown Prince—Frederick wore a uniform and was severely disciplined & trained by his father and his officers. What loomed in the Future for him must have appalled and frightened the young boy. So he ran away with his School-friend. But they were captured before they got far. Frederick was forced by his father to stand in an open palace-window, looking down on his unfortunate friend—who was promptly beheaded! Talk about Parenting!]
When I was composing this report for BAM—which was not, however, used in this form—I wondered how Neumeier’s 2003 Death in Venice choreography would fare in Brooklyn: Would critics complain—as American reviewers had in the past—that Neumeier’s ballets are "too intellectual"? It has even been suggested that his success with German and other Continental Audiences is in part owing to his interest in the emotional and spiritual motivations of the major characters in his dance-theatre creations.
As though those powerful elements in human behavior are of little consequence in great classical ballets—or of little interest to ballet-fanatics.
But why, way back in 1979, had I suggested John Neumeier was a "Prophet without honor" in his own country, America? That is a phrase that has long been used to describe Visionaries whose views or talents went unrecognized in their native lands, only to be celebrated abroad.
Actually, when Neumeier—Wisconsin-born and initially Chicago-trained—was beginning as a dancer, there were relatively few opportunities in the United States. Fortunately, he was able to continue his studies in Copenhagen and at the Royal Ballet School in London. There, he was "discovered" by Marcia Haydée and Ray Barra, leading to an engagement with the Stuttgart Ballet, then in its glory-days under Britain’s John Cranko.
In Stuttgart, Neumeier began to attract critical and audience-attention as a solo-dancer, also beginning to choreograph. And this, in turn, led to his being invited to head the Frankfurt Ballet in 1969.
The post-war decade of the 1950s—and even 1960s—offered unusual Windows-of-Opportunity for young American and British performing-artists, especially in the recently defeated and devastated West Germany. At a time of wives-without-husbands, women-without-men, there was little or no native Nachwuchs: aspiring young German performing-arts talents.
It was at this time and in this Cultural-Climate that American opera-singers such as Jess Thomas, Clare Watson, Jean Cox, Grace Bumbry, & James King began to make names for themselves on German opera-stages. In the 1950s, in most opera-houses, the operatic War-Horses were still sung in German, so the audiences could understand them!
Fortunately for John Neumeier, music speaks a Universal Language and the Classical Dance-Vocabulary is understood internationally. Although Neumeier’s name is certainly Germanic, he grew up speaking Middle-American English. But he soon became fluent in German and even more fluent in developing his own dance-vocabulary.
John Cranko’s stunning success in Stuttgart was in transforming what had been merely an Opera Ballet into a distinct internationally-acclaimed ballet-company in its own right. Traditionally, in European opera-houses—not only in Germany—the opera-ballets provided six or eight minutes of dancing in the framework of a Traviata or some Eurythmic writhings in a Tannhäuser ballet. That is still the case with the ballet-corps of the Metropolitan Opera.
The most these dancers could hope for was a once-a-month Balletabend—or Ballet-Evening—in which they could present some short pieces or a major program-ballet, usually under-rehearsed and often embarrassingly danced.
That was the situation John Neumeier faced when he came to Frankfurt. But he made a real effort to give his dancers more scope and to develop a dance-public on the River Main.
As a roving arts-reporter abroad—when not teaching theatre at Brooklyn College—I’d first seen Neumeier as a dancer in Stuttgart and later came to admire his work as a choreographer in Frankfurt. But no Arts-Editor I knew was then interested in a profile or interview.
When my longtime friend, Prof. Dr. August Everding, became Intendant of the Hamburg Opera, he urged me to come over and see what John Neumeier was developing, both in terms of new choreographies and in training new dancers.
What was readily apparent—and was strongly evident when the Hamburg Ballet first came to BAM in 1983—was that Neumeier was selecting and training a new kind of dancer: one who was conscious of him or herself as an Artist-in-Action. Although his ensemble could dazzle in unison, there was a clear sense of Character-Identity in choreographies inspired by literary works, operas, classical ballets, or Actual Lives, as in Neumeier’s fascinating Nijinsky.
Here’s what Neumeier told me about his dancers three decades ago for Dancescope—and it’s still true: "My function is to form complete artists-as-dancers, not to create robots who follow me without questioning. I say ‘artist’ because dancers are artists in that they make their own decisions. Dancers’ instruments are their own bodies and they create with their bodies beyond what a choreographer has invented for them.
"The problem for me is always to find the right people. I don’t believe in seeing a ballerina on stage. I want to see Aurora or Juliet!"
Mark Morris has hilariously re-imagined The Nutcracker, but Neumeier’s vision of this Tchaikovsky classic is pure romantic magic. Instead of a Christmas framework, with a Toy-Nutcracker as a present, it’s a Birthday Party, with a gift of Ballet-Shoes—not red, thank God!—for a dance-smitten little girl whose older sister is a ballerina at the Court Theatre. But the most wonderful gift is a visit to the backstage of the theatre, where she gets to dance with the best of them!
And how about a Swan Lake, set in "Mad" King Ludwig’s underground Bavarian Venusberg, with Lohengrin’s Swan-boat floating on an artificial lake?
Since coming to Hamburg in 1973, Neumeier has gone from strength to strength. Not to overlook all the prestigious awards & honors! His résumé is astonishing.
The Hamburg Ballet doesn’t have to service the operas. And it has an outstanding Ballet School as well. Every July, at the close of the regular season, there is an impressive Hamburg Ballet Festival.
If you admire Death in Venice, you may want to plan a summer holiday in Hamburg early in July 2007!
William Forsythe’s THREE ATMOSPHERIC STUDIES at BAM:
It’s a curious comparison that both John Neumeier and William Forsythe—neither of them Germans—began major careers at the Stuttgart Ballet, followed by heading the Frankfurt Ballet. And both choreographers have won many, many awards, medals, prizes, & honors in Germany and abroad.
Although Neumeier moved on to Hamburg, founding his own ballet company, Forsythe had the misfortune to have the Frankfurt Ballet effectively disappear under his leadership. This may have had something to do with the often uncompromising Post-Modernist Abstraction of some of his choreographies, but the City of Frankfurt decided it no longer needed to subsidize a ballet, separate from the opera-ballet.
Initially, the City Fathers may have thought that Forsythe and his ensemble would win them the kind of Cultural Acclaim that Pina Bausch has brought to Wupertal. Who would ever have heard of this small industrial city, had it not been for the amazing avant-garde Dance-Theatre Bausch created?
Frankfurt had been famous for centuries, in any case. Its Annual Book Fair seems the Center of the Publishing Universe—at least while you are in the midst of it. And it already had both a state/city subsidized Theatre & Opera, as well as a stunning Richard Meier-designed Museum.
Determined and driven by his Muses, Forsythe re-grouped, establishing his own ensemble, The Forsythe Company, with the new-found support of the City of Dresden, the Saxon Capital.
After World War II—and the almost complete destruction of this historic city—Dresden’s famed Semper-Opera lay in ruins, like its beloved Frauenkirche. Dance was not a High Priority.
But Dresden was a major center of Dance-Innovation between the Two World Wars. In the suburb of Hellerau, a handsome Art Deco Arts-Center was constructed, and here Jacques Dalcroze and others experimented with new ideas in theatre, dance, and music-performance.
[Incidental Information: Your scribe photographed this center extensively for INFOTOGRAPHY™ shortly after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. When I attempted to do so in 1987—when Hellerau was still in the East German Democratic Republic—I was turned away, as this was a Soviet Kaserne. By 1990, however, the center’s interiors had been savaged by Russian Soldiers—all of which I have on film.]
Today, the Forsythe Company has regained some subsidy from Frankfurt, retains its ties to Dresden, and has won some corporate and private support as well.
I will leave Forsythe’s Three Atmospheric Studies to Theatre-Wire’s resident Dance-Expert, Jack Anderson, for detailed analysis. Nonetheless, I cannot resist noting that—if John Neumeier is criticized for being "too intellectual" and for using music not ideally suited to dance—William Forsythe is miles ahead of him in the Intellectual Marathon. Not to overlook the effectual omission of music as accompaniment the dancers’ movements in his Studies…
In fact, what Forsythe has devised for this politicized dance-sequence is more Bewegung than dance, although it’s clear his young performers are excellently trained. And, instead of music as such, they move to thundering explosions, the din of war & destruction, the shrieks & cries of agony. Of course, there is a kind of beat and structure to this deafening sound.
A veteran of Forsythe choreographies, I avoided reading the Program Notes before witnessing the succeeding sections of the Studies. Initially, the hyper-kinetic, even violent, physical inter-actions of the performers suggested a gang-rumble in an updated West Side Story. What was especially effective was the sudden Stop-Motion of these fierce encounters.
Those who, like your scribe, did not read the notes may have wondered why a young man was describing a cumulus-cloud-detail from a painting—hung in a doorway—like a Weather-Report, while carnage raged all around.
A small woman attempted to explain—in a deep Southern Cracker Accent—to a stunned woman that all this Death & Destruction was necessary to bring the benefits of Our Way of Life to her and her people.
By this time, it was clear that we were looking at a Metaphoric Iraq, although I did have to read the program to discover that the clouds were a visual-quote from a Crucifixion—Lamentation Beneath the Cross, by Lucas Cranach, the Elder, on view in Munich at the Alte Pinakothek!
A reproduction of this famed canvas, as well as a news-photo of an wartime explosion in the Middle-East, were on view in the lobby before the performance, but it was so thronged with latte-drinkers one could hardly notice them. Or realize that they were Important Visual Preparations for appreciating Forsythe’s Political Tanztheater!
It has long been argued that Ideas or Theories cannot be explained, expounded, or explored in choreographies. Emotions, Attitudes, Sentiments, Mimed-Narratives, yes, but Complex Ideas?
What Three Atmospheric Studies suggests is that dance-movements are not enough: Spoken-Words are needed to give Thought-Stimulus to the Moving-Images.
Other Entertainments/Other Venues:
[These have to be Short-Takes or your scribe will never get this report online on time…]
At the New Victory Theatre:
LOOKING GLASS ALICE [****]
Think: Alice in Wonderland, staged by Cirque du Soleil. These talented young performers aren’t quite as skilled at the Canadian Clown-Athletes, but their Chicago-based Lookingglass Theatre and Actors Gymnasium Circus & Performing Arts School is making its mark. They claim 48 world premieres!
Lauren Hirte was amazing as Alice: not only acting the character but also effortlessly performing on the trapeze & doing other demanding circus-stunts without a wire.
Others in the troupe: Larry DiStasi, Tony Hernandez, Doug Hara, & Anthony Fleming III—all outstanding!
Some directorial-intervention may be needed, however. There were some dead-spots, especially when some riggings had to be changed. At one point, it looked dangerously like one apparatus might fall over…
At the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre:
WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! [**]
Richard Foreman’s unusual Performances-as-Art are Annual Affairs in the attic at St. Mark’s in the Bouwerie. New Amsterdam’s Peter Stuyvesant is buried in the churchyard-cemetery down below!
Every aspect of the Cryptic Décor of the tiny theatre-space has been designed & fabricated by Foreman, who also devises the scripts and the staging. Everything has a Metaphoric Meaning—ever since Foreman did Rhoda in Potatoland.
The first of these Curious Theatricals was Doctor Selavey’s Magic-Theatre—as in c’est la vie—with songs by Stanley Silverman. The stage-décor consisted largely—as I remember it—of strings coated with bands of color, tightly stretched in various directions, like the Perspective-Lines—implicit but invisible—in a mystical painting by Poussin.
[My dear friend Solveig Samzelius—on a visit from Stockholm, where she had trained at the Royal Dramatic Theatre-School—was dazzled by this Avant-garde Astonishment. She later went with Ingmar Bergman to Munich, when he went in to Voluntary Exile, working with him at the Residenz-Theater. She married one of her German Stage-door Johnnies, becoming Countess Solveig Henckel-Von Donnersmarck. Yes, she is related to Florian Henckel-Von Donnersmarck, who won the Oscar for The Lives of Others!]
Last season, Foreman decided to try Multi-Media production-techniques. Above his tiny performance-pit, he placed two large TV projection-screens. The clumps of moping people one saw on them bore no relation to the frenetic activities of his cast below, outfitted in the most bizarre costumes, with even more bizarre props, all of Foreman’s own devising & confection.
For Mr. Sleepy, however, the video-actors above were less random, with explosively tearing open newspapers wrapped tightly about their heads a notable feature of the actions. Warning-words appeared on the screens: NO CURTAIN-CALLS NO CURTAIN CALLS.
And that is exactly what happened. The oddly-outfitted Live-Actors left the area and did not return.
Well, you really had to be there. But all Foreman production-performances are usually Sold-Out. This is one of the few surviving Cult Theatre adventures from the Good Old Days of the Judson Poets’ Theatre, Happenings, and early LaMaMa ETC.
At Radio City Music Hall:
Chinese New Year Spectacular [****]
Even though I had very good press-seats for this Chinese New Year Spectacular in the vast orchestra of Radio City Music Hall, they gave me no program. You could buy one for $5 in the vast lobby—featuring the giant Art Deco Mural of Ezra Winter. But, as everything else—including a wonderful Chinese buffet-dinner downstairs, near the William Zorach Art Deco nude-statue—was free, I settled for the Questionnaire ushers were handing out in lieu of programs.
This was a splendid event, with wonderfully colorful Unison Dancing & Singing, in striking costumes, with giant Chinese-Art Illuminations on the immense Radio City screen behind the platoons of talented performers.
I did notice that a number of the performance-numbers featured Blue & Yellow [or Gold, perhaps?] in costumes and props. This reminded me of the colors I usually associate with Falun Gong & Falun Dafa.
You may have seen followers of Falun Gong on the streets of New York—also Munich, Taipei, and elsewhere—re-enacting the tortures & persecutions inflicted upon them by the authorities of the Chinese People’s Republic. They do not dare to do this in Mainland China, where the government bans all such non-sanctioned groups with the slightest suggestion of non-Communist beliefs or goals.
Sure enough, several philosophical ballads saluted the principles of Falun Gong and Falun Dafa. As the lyrics celebrated such virtues as Compassion, Kindness, Thoughtfulness, Love, Graciousness, & Generosity, you might well wonder why the Beijing Government is so opposed to the Movement.
This show was sponsored by the NTDTV network, as well as Epoch Times—where you can find more info on Falun Gong. This newspaper is free in sidewalk-dispensers on the Streets of New York. And you can tune in to NTDTV as well. They broadcast real news into China.
With its huge cast, this show is scheduled for other cities in the United States and abroad. I was hoping for some dazzling high-wire & trapeze-acts—a standard feature of many Taiwan & Mainland China performance-troupes, along with this show’s Unison-Dancing, Acrobatics, & Martial Arts—but only the deafening beat of massed drums, similar to Japanese Kodo Drums, was offered as a novel climax.
My interest in high-wire feats has been duly noted, so the next time this troupe comes to town, I hope to see them challenge Cirque du Soleil!
Jeffry Denman’s JAZZ TURNS
This was a one-night-stand Cabaret-Showcase for the Song & Dance-Man talents of Jeffry Denman, veteran of Broadway & regional musicals such as Cats, The Producers, How To Succeed, & Singing in the Rain.
Denman has the interesting idea of jazzing-up modern favorites—especially Sondheim specials—charmingly retrogressing them to a Bluesier Time—with some "Taps are Tops" hoofing thrown into the mix.
This works very well, and Denman is a very engaging performer. The capacity crowd at Birdland certainly thought so.
Among his best: Tea for Two, Lucky to Be Me, Not While I’m Around—from Sweeney Todd, and Pretty Women/Agony.
Denman was backed by Joshua Pearl and his Classic Jazz Trio—and joined for some numbers by Brian D’Arcy James, Dennis Stowe, & Nancy Anderson, no less!
One thing constantly distracted: He had to keep swigging from a bottle labeled Poland Spring, but he referred to it more than once as "Honey-water." OK, what’s really in that water, Jeffry?
Could you get through the act without having to suck on that bottle? Yes, you were nervous, but it didn’t need to show…
This is getting to be Endless!
For the Record: At Sardi’s recently, the American Theatre Critics Association—ATCA—had its customary Celebrity Luncheon as the high-point of its biennial Manhattan Mini-Meeting. This was ingeniously planned by Ira Bilowit and Sherry Eaker, of Backstage.
At my table, Gavin Lee—the wonderful chimney-sweep, Bert, in Mary Poppins—was fascinating, talking about that show and working in Musical-Theatre. Bob Martin charmed us with inside-info on Drowsy Chaperone—and he’ll be starring in it in London!
Kristin Chenoweth explained what it means to her to be a Christian and practice Real Christianity. Unlike President George Bush—plus the Revs. Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson & The Pope—she is not opposed to Gay Marriage. Unlike Born-Again Christian Fundamentalists, she thinks it’s not a matter of Choice or Life-styles, so Gays should be treated like Human Beings!
Other guests included the lovely Charlotte d’Amboise—Cassie in the new Chorus Line—and John Lloyd Young & Christian Hoff, from Jersey Boys.
Also: the dynamic Tovah Feldshuh and the wryly witty Douglas Carter Beane, author of Little Dog Laughed. He was amusing, but not laughing, as the show was about to close at the Cort.
And do not miss Stars & Treasures at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts! 75 Years of Collecting Theatre! A History of the American Theatre—not only NYC—in Posters, Programs, Photos, and Playbills!
Joel Grey was at the press-preview and he showed us how his Trick Traveling Stage-Trunk works!
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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