Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Got Paté?

Boy, am I glad I wasn't around for this campaign. There's an article in this morning's New York Times about the Metropolitan Opera's new advertising push. Turns out they tried it once before, in 1976, with this copy, guaranteed to win hearts and minds:
Please think about the privilege of contributing. For there always has been, and always will be, a place for civilization. The place is in your heart.

Snotty? Nous?

Still, I was relieved to see that the tradition of pompous, orotund bloviating is being kept alive by the ever-fatuous Leon Wieseltier, consulted for this article because he — well, who can say why? But Leon would like to remind all and sundry that "the young are not necessarily the hip, and the hip is not necessarily what will sell out a pharaonically large venue."

"Pharaonically" is Wiesel-speak for "hella," I'm guessing. Or so it appears to my tiny Mosaic mind.

P.S. The good folks at Gawker are all over this, with Photoshopping skills to boot. (h/t La Cieca)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fluffing the Don

Before making the wholly charming Quinceañera (now playing at a theater near you), my friends Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland made an intriguing and rather less charming movie called The Fluffer. It's set in the world of gay porn, and the title character is an extra whose job is to ensure that the star is in a state of readiness before the cameras start rolling. The fluffer is gay, the star is straight (this much is evidently true to life), and in the film, the adoration that the former feels for the latter is complete and all-consuming.

Richard and Wash maintain that "the fluffer" is in fact an archetype — the one who loves with total, self-abnegating passion and with no hope of requital. Certainly the fluffer can be encountered regularly on the operatic stage. I once took Wash to the L.A. Opera to see Turandot for the first time, and he spotted Liù in a second.

This comes to mind in the wake of Festival Opera's interesting new production of Don Giovanni in Walnut Creek. It's an updated version, done mostly for laughs (Leporello's catalog, e.g., is a PDA). But Michael Morgan, who directs as well as conducts, introduces something new and telling: a gay Leporello who's in love with Don Giovanni. Instantly the relationship between them — the testiness, the interdependence — is presented in a different light. Particularly striking is Leporello's attitude toward the Don's womanizing, a weird mix of fascination and revulsion — with the latter now revealed not as moral scruples but as simple jealousy. This Leporello is not as pathetic and selfless as Liù (who could be?), but he is indeed our old friend the fluffer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My Bonny Lass She Sulketh

Does it still count as a blind item if there's no mystery as to who we're talking about? La Cieca, as ever, has the goods, allowing anxious fans everywhere to breathe a sigh of relief.

Rorem Agonistes

Yesterday I came into possession of an advance galley of Ned Rorem's latest collection of diary entries and other musical whatnots, scheduled for publication later this year. I glanced at a page or two, but — as always with these diaries — found myself perversely enthralled, and within an hour I had devoured the whole thing. It was like a big bag of moldy pistachios, noxious and smelly and somehow impossible to set aside.

My god, the whingeing, the moaning, the unbridled self-pity! These were always the dominant motifs, but now there's practically nothing else. Rorem has become the Eeyore of contemporary music.

One feels for him on the personal front, perhaps — the loss of friends and colleagues, the physical and emotional indignities of old age. But the endless keening about cultural matters is simply beyond the pale. This is a man for whom Shakespeare, Beethoven, Cervantes and Schubert (to name just a few) are "boring" and "incomprehensible" — and then he has the gall to complain ad nauseam about the "dumbing down" of contemporary culture.

His beef is obvious, of course: not that Shakespeare or Schubert are overvalued, but that he — Ned Rorem, dammit! — has not been given his due. He name-drops furiously, but art and culture in general seem to have no meaning for him any more. All that counts is his own work, his own struggles and the perpetual scandal of his underappreciation by the world.

The most sadly comic bit is this: "I am forever 'accused' of narcissism. But everyone's a narcissist — I just admit it." Well, no — many people are in fact not narcissists, and most of us understand this. But the mark of a true narcissist is his inability to perceive his fellow humans except as mirror images of his own narcissism. It's like the mot by the great recreational logician Raymond Smullyan: "Most people hate egotists. They remind them of themselves. I love egotists. They remind me of me."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dynamic Markings We Like

From the eponymous opening storm scene of Thomas Adès' The Tempest:

Because ffff is just too darn loud.

Full Tempest review here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Please Don't Go There

Godwin's Law, it seems, holds sway every bit as strongly on the operatic stage as elsewhere. The Santa Fe Opera's new production of The Magic Flute starts out as a pretty humdrum affair — director Tim Albery trots out the old "universal message" dodge one more time, presenting the characters as everything from contemporary Americans (Papageno) to 18th-century Brits (Sarastro and his boys).

But then Monostatos and his henchmen show up as Nazi officers, replete with overcoats, jackboots and leather caps, and the whole thing turns ugly. It takes an odd kind of blindness not to recognize that the kind of evil represented, respectively, by Monostatos and Hermann Göring are, let us say, incommensurate *. The cartoonishness of the former is amply demonstrated by the ease with which Papageno's magic bells carry the day, and that is a moment that, done properly, should always elicit a welcome laugh. Here Papageno brandishes the bells with a Luger leveled at his head — a vile stage image.

On a far less serious level, I also take mild umbrage at the presentation of the Queen of the Night in the person of Elizabeth I (Best. Monarch. Ever.), and although the decision to keep Pamina in a nondescript nightie almost throughout the performance presumably reflects her uncertain allegiances, it looks damned silly.

Musically, Monday's performance hovered within that familiar zone between "okie-dokie" and "not too bad", with only Natalie Dessay's radiant and dark-hued Pamina to bring a touch of splendor to the proceedings. William Lacey's conducting was brisk but not crisp, which made things seem more rushed than fleet of foot.

There was one nice moment, though, that seemed obvious in retrospect. At the beginning of the Act I Quintet, when Papageno still has his mouth locked shut, baritone Joshua Hopkins didn't sing the usual "mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm" that is (I think) in the score. Instead, he sang as if he could almost get the words out — you could hear a distinct variety of muffled phonemes but no actual words. It made a big difference.

* OK, I can actually get from The Magic Flute to cartoon Nazis in one step; but let's not make a habit of it.