Monday, September 29, 2008


L'shanah tovah um'tukah a tutti quanti!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Forever Amber

Mark Morris's new Romeo and Juliet, which opened a four-night run at Cal Performances last night, is every bit as drab and undramatic as you've heard. It has all the traditional Morrisian weaknesses — slavish adherence to the rhythms of the score, a little repertoire of signature gestures repeated ad nauseam — while adding some extra just for you, as Mr. Larkin might say; those include several uncharacteristically clunky crowd sequences and a scene in Friar Laurence's cell that will have you clawing at your face out of sheer tedium. There's also some newly discovered music by Prokofiev and a happy ending, but by the end of three hours it's hard to care. My colleague Steven Winn should have the bloody details in tomorrow's Chron.

But, but, but . . . There is one thing in this production that is truly mesmerizing, namely Morris' choreography for Mercutio and Amber Darragh's breathtaking rendition of same. Let's face it, Mercutio is generally the best part of any Romeo, whether spoken, sung or danced. But I don't think I've never seen his insouciance and wit so vividly or so physically rendered.

Morris has a couple of cross-casting bits here: Tybalt is also danced by a woman (Julie Worden), which doesn't add anything that I can see. But Darragh is tall (taller than some of the men onstage with her) and gangly, and she looks like one of those adenoidal teenagers from a progressive high school who's discovered that sullenness, erudition and verbal flair can be combined to annoy the piss out of the grownups.

Best of all, Mercutio's wit is made flesh in Darragh's dancing, with its slightly unsteady bravado and knowing sarcasm. This is a young man just discovering the power of his satiric gift — sometimes he simply lets it fly, sometimes he pauses to gauge its effect and make little corrections. His disruption of the ball in Act 1 is comically priceless, and by the time Act 2 began (and I'd realized that nothing else on stage would be as rewarding to watch as Darragh) I was convulsed in laughter at just the sight of Mercutio's mincing steps.

And then he dies. The incredible emotional power of Mercutio's death, sardonic to the end, goes back to Shakespeare, of course ("ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man"). But Morris translates that spirit beautifully into movement, as Mercutio stays upright by sheer force of will in between sudden collapses to the stage, and Darragh infuses the scene with heartbreaking pride and ferocity.

I can't say Darragh's performance is worth putting up with the surrounding humdrumitude. But if you're going anyway, and feeling the urge to flee after Act 1, suppress it until the second intermission. Act 2 will amply reward your fortitude; after that you're free to leave.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fall Cleaning

Boy, these summer hiatuses (hiati? No, my inner classicist says fourth declension, hence hiatūs, and I ain't going there) do sneak up on one. Take a break from blogging one fine spring afternoon and the next thing you know Labor Day is only a memory.

I've taken the occasion to finally rationalize the blogroll, something I've been meaning to do for years; easier and more fun than cleaning my desk. Overdue apologies to those who've pointed herewards all this time without reciprocity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yahoo Genius

The MacArthur Foundation today acknowledges what many of us have known for a long time: that nut's a genius. Kudos to Alex Ross, who certainly deserves this honor for his erudition, his energy, his imagination and his knack for setting the bar right where the rest of us can see it but not quite reach it.

It's not often that these prizes go in such a self-evidently correct direction. To my great shame, I'm not familiar with the work of local genius Walter Kitundu, but if M. C- feels the award is well-merited then I believe him implicitly.

But the award to Leila Josefowicz perplexes me, and not merely — or not solely — because I haven't heard her give a really great performance since she was about nine years old. It's more that the criteria for giving an award like this to performing musicians seem to be even blurrier than most. I would think this was an award for someone who's actively changing the shape of the musical landscape — which, yeah, by definition is going to mostly mean composers, but can also make room for someone like Dawn Upshaw or Marin Alsop, who've both won the thing, or Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who should've got one, or Yo-Yo Ma [pause, search MacArthur website. . . wow, no, never won it. What an astounding oversight.] Josefowicz is a decent violinist and all, but really?

Update: There's a general feeling in comments that I'm talking out of my ass on this last point, than which assertion nothing could be more likely. OK, point taken. I wouldn't paint myself as convinced, exactly, but I'm persuaded at least that my reservations may not have been as well-grounded in, y'know, fact as one would wish, and might have been better left unexpressed. Than which, again, &c.