Monday, May 31, 2010

Life of the mind

Every academic should have to watch An Education in order to affirm the life choices they have made; that is, as I was confidently assured before I even applied to grad school, grinding poverty, seeming narrowness, but mental freedom. (That last is part hogwash, but that's another day and another post.)

I've meant to see An Education ever since my friend went to see it completely under protest and came out converted. I believe the conversation ran something like this:

"Whatcha doing tonight?"
"Going to see a movie with my husband."
"Which one?"
"An Education."
"Oh, I've heard of it. I don't know what it's about."
"Some coming-of-age shit."

This, along with a tepid invitation to join them, was awesomely followed up with:
"Seriously, the things I do for love." Cue stalking away in the direction of the movie theater.

However, she enjoyed it, as did every single friend I have who saw it, and now I too can tell you that it is great, and Carey Mulligan is great, and Emma Thompson is, as always, dry and fantastic. As my friend observed, there really IS no way to describe the movie that doesn't sound like coming-of-age shit, but suffice it to say, the tale of a brilliant and rebellious 1960s English schoolgirl who is tempted by the glamorous life an older man offers her really does touch on all the expected issues of class, domesticity, gender, and generational shift. (Rosamund Pike, as a sort of anti-schoolgirl, a gorgeous but anxious gangster moll of sorts, is astonishing.) What I really wouldn't have expected is the way that it interwove this well and subtly with the whole life of the mind issue. Why become a dried up stick like your teachers when you could go out and have fun with your wealthy young man? Maybe I should show this to my students, come to think of it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

21st century show

I'm having a very 21st century experience right now, listening to a live concert being streamed from Duesseldorf, Germany and following the words of Schumann's Dichterliebe cycle with a translation on the web. I found out about it from a post on Thomas Hampson's facebook page. This could only get better if I were tweeting or videoblogging while I listen. Which I shall not, but I thought a regular blog post would kick it up a notch!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Figaro for Corigliano

I went to see Northwestern University's production of The Ghosts of Versailles yesterday, an opera that you don't get to see too often (the Met did it twice, which is not bad for a commissioned piece). John Corigliano is a great modern composer, and I quite enjoyed the opera, even if I am a traditionalist who likes crap like, y'know, melody. It's a very referential little opera, since it picks up Figaro from Rossini and Mozart's operas and throws him into the French Revolution -- that is, the ghost of Beaumarchais throws him in there and then follows him in! It's not quite Stranger than Fiction, but probably the biggest laugh of the performance came when Beaumarchais shouted, "Singers aren't supposed to think!"

There's some quite beautiful music, mostly in the duets. I more often find myself quibbling over the libretti of modern operas, which sometimes stink! Sellars, for example, is incredibly uneven. This one wasn't bad, though I think it was trying to make too many reflections about 1) love, 2) love, 3) the nature of existence, 4) art, 5) history, 6) the artist as a dead man, and I don't know what else in there, using the French Revolution as a kind of prop and totally ignoring issues of, oh, class and freedom that arise even in the Rossini and Mozart. As an aria of villainy, I have to say that "Long live the worm" really falls very far short of, for example, "La calumnia e un venticello" (Slander is a little breeze [that becomes a storm]) from the first Figaro opera, The Barber of Seville. Not to mention that Rossini's patter music is far superior to Corigliano's, which was very Gilbert and Sullivan, and not in a good way.

In any case, the opera really was very good, and the students did themselves proud. I am annoyed that I didn't know that Corigliano was coming in for a talkback on Friday night -- I would have gone! Oh well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The tipping point

There had to be a point at which it was easier to be a fan. I was reflecting on this as I was YouTubing the other night. You know what we had back in the old days? Fan newsletters advertising VHS swaps!

The internet definitely made things easier, but its very ease made the proliferation of too many sites with too many things inevitable. I remember seeing a magazine cover with Ryan Phillippe, dubbed "The Face that Launched a Thousand Websites." There was a point, though, when people of any note were making a real effort to have an official website.

They still are. They're also secretly writing on wikipedia pages. There's also myspace (which the early adopters have hung onto, alas), facebook, and twitter. It's just one or three too many for me. I start gritting my teeth and wondering how much I like this person. Smart adopters have linked them, of course, as with baritone Thomas Hampson (just joined his fb and twitter feed, hence this post). I actually did some linking myself for the animal shelter I fostered for, hooking their blogspot and twitter into facebook, but I hit a point when I was linking everything back on everything else and I was wondering if I was going to create an infinite feedback loop so that one fatal tweet would make everything explode...

And last but not least, youtube, which has everything... of varying quality, but avert your eyes from the comments. (This is something you learn quickly when you are a Queen fan. Freddie Mercury provokes some of the most hilarious comments, but also many of the most homophobic ones.) If your celeb of choice has an official channel, great, but there's no chance it'll have everything you want.

Oh well. Search engines we have always with us.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

La donna e mobile

From one baritone to another; I've been geeking out over Swedish singer Peter Mattei recently. He sings primarily in Europe, but the Met gets him every once in a while. I'd really love to hear him live, particularly in Don Giovanni. I've read him named the greatest Giovanni since Siepi, which is saying something. The Giovanni of my heart will always be American Samuel Ramey, who I saw perform it on a Salzburg Festival telecast when I was but a wee thing. But even the crappy minimalist production available on YouTube featuring Mattei just blew me away, and far better is this concert version of the famous seduction duet.

Two random notes about Mattei:

1) Sigh. What's a fan to do when you can't get to see a live performer live? Another post will follow shortly on this theme regarding Michael Sheen's upcoming Hamlet.

2) As I was remarking recently to a fellow blogger, sound is a funny thing. I don't know what exactly it is about the frequencies of Mattei's voice, but he sounds just okay out of my computer speakers. Then I plug in the good-quality headphones and almost fall out of my chair. Granted that the computer speakers can make anything sound crappy, but generally speaking, a good singer will still sound good. Somehow, all the resonance gets sucked out of Mattei's voice. Thanks, Toshiba.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Road to Damascus

Well, I finally read Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It took me a very long time to get around to it, which I mostly attribute to the fact that he was so lionized by the time I heard of him that I got a bit turned off. I also didn't see how a memoir about his parents' tragic death and his consequent raising of his young brother could be different from, as he puts it in the intro wryly, all the other cultural products about tragic and tragically hip orphans, like Party of Five. (God, there's a dated reference.) Funnily enough, I've heard a lot about him over the years, because I was originally involved with the group that set up what turned out to be the Chicago chapter of 826, Eggers' writing/tutoring center that started in SF as 826 Valencia (here it's called 826CHI, I believe). But I never went back to the well.

I did, and it is good. If I had to pick a David Foster Wallace disciple, he might be the one I'd pick... but I see more of a straight line to Joyce, funnily enough, in the way that he plots and uses language. He's so dry and hilarious in describing his pathetic, ragtag parenting that it isn't in the least self-aggrandizing, and Toph, his brother, is perhaps the best character of all. The parenting sections hold up a lot better than his accounts of Might Magazine, which he was trying to start up at the same time, though those have their own kind of starving-artist humor. I really enjoyed the book all the way until the end, which I found kind of disastrous, but I guess when you're writing a Joycean memoir/novel and the final word "Yes" has already been taken, you end up miserably plumping for a tableau and the word "finally."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Food + humor

I rarely blog about blogs, but I have to say that Cake Wrecks does make me laugh. It is exactly what its title promises: decorated cakes that are terrible disasters, whether because of spelling mistakes, horrible concepts, or poor execution. The vasectomy cakes I just looked at must have made my neighbors think I was having a fit.

P.S. Sestak?! No kidding.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Well, if Titus could be a hit...

Bit behind the buzz on this one, but here are some photos and stills from the new Shakespearean film adaptation coming soon to a theater near you: Coriolanus, of all things, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes. It might be rather "timely" -- anything about war seems to get that critical stamp of approval these days -- and it has modern setting and costumes. Plus, it certainly has an all-star cast, with Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox. But my biggest questions are going to be how Gerard Butler, known currently more for brawn than, um, facility with language, handles himself, and how Fiennes does as a director. A debut director, no less.

Coriolanus is one of those slightly oddball late plays with no performance history in Shakespeare's time, but it's a powerful examination of politics and authority nonetheless. Fiennes' stage performance of Coriolanus was highly acclaimed, and since I've never yet gotten to see him onstage in anything, much less Shakespeare, I am certainly dying of curiosity to see this film. It's getting some buzz, and who knows? It may just end up being an arthouse hit like Julie Taymor's Titus Andronicus. Which, incidentally, didn't strike me as the outpouring of genius that it was heralded to be, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Somebody slap me

I just got back from a marathon trip that went from North Carolina to New Jersey to NYC, back to Jersey, and then to, of all places, sunny Miami, where I enjoyed the beach for a brief time. I was delighted to get back to my own humble home. Today. This afternoon. And yet just now, while looking at my Cities I've Visited Map, I found myself thinking, "Hm, I haven't gone anywhere in a while..."

Sometimes I worry myself.