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SetDetail
A moment from the production — the distancing and then the

KristineOpolais
close up: Kristine Opolais

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I saw a re-transmission of the Met HD movie broadcast of the now ten year old production by Anthony Minghella (he directed, influenced the design, costumes) of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly movingly acted and sung by its principals, Kristine Opolais (who I’ve now watched and heard as an equally extraordinarily acted utterly different Manon Lescaut and Mimi in La Boheme) as Cio-cio San, and Maria Zifchak as Suzuki, Cio-cio San’s one loving friend, servant, companion. They were mesmerizing in their earnestness, long-waiting irony, bitterness, and finally absolute pursuit of death:

csm_Kristine_Opolais_and_Maria_Zifchak

We are nowadays used to these pared-down minimalist productions where the inward life of the protagonists is the central action focused upon, so it could not seem as astonishing it is must’ve done 10 years ago. Since I remember one other Madame Butterfly I saw in the 1970s at the City Opera (the usual intricate production design, fussy sets, distracting stage business, objects), I can say this is not a split-second dated. Indeed Minghella’s production is moving to a London theater this summer and I expect will produce several DVDs before the production sees its last performance.

The pared down production and what is left on the stage makes the opera into his utterly inward exploration of a single woman who is deluded into thinking this man loves her:

ActI
Women who were themselves geishas deliver her

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Between Act 1 and 2 three years have gone by. We discover he abandoned her and see what these three years have done to her and her friend-companion. During this act she is pressured to marry a rigid male from her culture. Quietly — and alas not emphasized in this production — we see at core she has rejected the roles her society gave her: to be an obedient geisha and then one woman in a harem of a polygamous man. Who would want that? For a short while she thought she found an alternative in Pinkerton. He turns out to be just such a shit towards women as the men in Japan. When he returns early in Act 3, he discovers what has happened and what is his reaction? to flee, leaving his wife to take her child or his son away from Cio-cio San. He refuses to see her or allow her to see him. There are a few slats on stage to suggest Asian walls and doors, a high stairway wide as the stage, and above a screen for light.

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Flowers are used — the place is littered with petals the way the air is filled with stars and a kind of fluff.

Roberto Alagna as Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”  Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
After this rare meditative moment towards the end of Act 3, Pinkerton flees the stage

Although Gary Halverson is again listed as film director (how he works with Carolyn Chaos, Minghella’s widow who listed as director we are not told).

I was just overwhelmed by emotions which the acting and the music projected. These while rooted in this particular story could be exaltation, love, grief, anger, despair over many other experiences. This suggestiveness is deliberate. For example at the end of Act 2 when the Cio-Cio-San thinks Pinkerton’s ship is coming into harbor, she, her friend-servant, Suzuki and the puppet for her boy, the three sit in kneeling way ever so quiet, just sit there and the darkness falls. This after the stark grief, anger at the attempt to get her to marry someone else, and other emotions have made the stage seem so noisy.

WithPuppet

The bunraku puppetry was part of the mesmerizing effect. It’s a form of traditional Japanese puppetry, strange, expressive, plangent. Probably what was used connects to an American version. Butterfly turns into a small fragile puppet buffeted about:

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I would have said well that won’t compare with a real child. I would have been wrong.

Anotherincarnation
Another incarnation where a photo caught the depth of the art

The child puppet is just so expressive and so yearning and so needy and so loving and eager; the people using sticks and dressed in black make his body and fact aching with emotion. His bald head on this wobbling neck made him all the more poignant. There is something so touching about the puppet’s fragile dignity:

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The puppeteers also danced and manipulated lovely blue paper birds when Cio-cio San is hopeful at the opening of act 3.

Robert Alagno was Pinkerton and the actor showed himself embarrassed or dull when he denied Pinkerton is to be judged (!) and asserted how the character is innocent and needs to be forgiven. He did seem singularly bland in Act 1 but by the time you are into Act 3 and he turns up only to flee. Anything he does in context seems fatuous. He seems to be an ass, and especially an American ass. The music standing for him is American. When the puppet is last seen it has an American flag, waving at us, as on the other side of the stage Cio-Cio-San more than half crazed, stabs herself to death repeatedly. It is a symbolic indictment of the stupidity and cruelty of US colonialist policy far more effective in its starkness than Miss Saigon (thought the explicit connection of the recent production is important and I do not deny its power and detailed stronger relevance).

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The penultimate savage death scene

Since the production is older, there are few reviews of this 2016 staging, which differs significantly only in having Kristine Opolais for the first time, and to her credit, this decade long exposure is said to be revivified because of her presence. The New York Times also reviewed her performance more than anything else. I have the highest respect for Minghella since I read and studied with a class his screenplay out of Michael Ondjaate’s English Patient, which screenplay and film were among several fine works he wrote, directed, created his vision of life through (Truly, Madly, Deeply is another). This older review from 2006 is the best I’ve come across.

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Ellen

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Final Scene, DesGrieux (Roberto Alagno) and Manon dying (Christine Opolais)

Friends and readers,

As a lover of Prevost’s famous story (as written by him), and having been moved by an intelligent and powerful European production of Massenet’s Manon (5 years ago now), Puccini’s Manon Lescaut as produced by the Met was something of a disappointment. It reminded me of an early 19th century French operatic version of Romeo and Juliet Jim, I, and Izzy, saw years ago at Glimmerglass, where until the last act I felt almost nothing and then suddenly at the long death scene where the lover awaken and dying grieve at length I was overcome with emotion at the lyrical beauty, acting, even words (subtitles though they were) of this opera. In this new production at the Met, the very last scene of Manon dying at length in Des Grieux’s arms sent through me waves of identification as I felt them experience her dying, with the music and singing heart-breakingly beautiful as inch-by-inch she despaired and died, and he enacted a deep form of empathy with her.

The whole of this Manon Lescaut exists to get us to this long many phase final scene. Puccini has stripped Prevost’s story of much of its rational or content. All he is interested in are the lovers when they are anguished; how they got there, is irrelevant it seems. Prevost’s original lovers are desperately trying to escape the norms and demands of the ancien regime: Des Grieux’s father wants him to become a priest, and doesn’t care if it would be utterly hypocritical of him. When Des Grieux refuses, the father uses lettres de cachet to imprison him. Prevost’s Manon is much lower in rank than Des Grieux and so unsuitable as far as the father is concerned, first seen in chains, being sent out of France as prisoner. In Massenet Manon is simply lower middle, without dowry, her brother is attempting to force her into a nunnery, but beyond that much of the original 18th century context is kept. In Prevost and Massenet, the two flee together; they are no paragons: he gambles to live, drinks, has had other women, and she deserts him more than for rich old man, but they do want to live lives true to their emotional realities and desires. They fall lower and lower, become thieves, crooks, in and out of trouble with the police, in Prevost finally ending in a desert in Louisiana, looking out on a meaningless horizon (the story is fideist), starved, exhausted, with her falling ill and dying. Massenet has a substitute setting in France for the last gouging into death.

Puccini cut all this out, and we begin with Manon as a beautifully innocent young woman, utterly stereotypical non-entity, Des Grieux, a chivalrous male student (anticipating La Boheme) who fall in love,

kristine-opolais-and-roberto-alagna

though her successful flight from her brother is engineered by Geronte (Brindley Sherratt), a vicious old man who turns up in the first scene (taking the place of Prevost’s father figure). In other words, Puccini robbed the characters of their content, context, complexity, their interest, leaving us with archetypes. The first scene of this production put me to sleep. Everyone was dressed in World War Two clothes and the soldiers were Nazis, but beyond that it looked and felt like some bland cheerful group of tourists at a cafe beneath museum steps.

Act1

Only Sherratt’s acting of a seething resentful old man and fine dark voice gave the scene any bite. If Puccini did this because the 19th century audience would not tolerate overt amorality, it didn’t work, as the program notes and wikipedia informed us the opera was thought scandalous and censored.

The production came alive in the second act. Genuinely funny in a self-reflexive way was Eyre’s original way of presenting a now rich and vulgar Manon and her brother, Lescaut (Massimo Cavalletti) as bored silly by the operatic songs and music of her aging and as we have felt mean, spiteful, (and as we discover) vengeful ancient lover-keeper, Geronte (Brindley Sherratt):

Presentan-la-Ópera-Manon-Lescautmocking

When Grieux rushes in and he and Manon become lovers once again,

ManonLescautAct2

only to be caught and threatened by said old man, the action on stage was compelling enough. There is even a suddenly evocative song between them. The stage seemed to me modeled on Lulu as there was again a long stairway down with a prison-like door out of which came first the old man, and then a group of Nazi officers who arrested Manon at the orders of her ex-protector. Maybe it was the same set with different accoutrements? (A penny saved is a penny got.) The furniture was all similarly tasteless vulgarly show-offy, though nowhere as graphic or meaningful as in Lulu (which had pictures to go with the setting). Christine Opolais’s dress evoked Marilyn Monroe on a particularly egregiously sexy day.

This use of sets to mirror the later 20th century continued in the third act and last scene. The prison looked like places where people are kept in solitary confinement, not gothic so much as places where senseless injustice is going on. (Welcome to the US or Egypt or a dozen or more other countries in the world, 2016.) Puccini’s Lescaut has tried to bribe a soldier to release Manon to Des Grieux and in this act the soldier fails to help them.

Prison

And at this point the opera moved into doing what it was there to do. Our lovers become desperately clinging anguished figures:

manonlescautloversbyprison

They did sing so movingly, and the music began to soar. I recognized in the second act and again here music I’ve heard before. Lescaut is shot (and looks like he is dying), Manon taken aboard a ship for the colonies with other women prisoners (prostitutes, poor women), with Des Grieux succeeding by begging to get the captain to let him come aboard. So now we are with refugees.

And then we are in our last scene, which appears to be a bombed out world. It looks like gigantic pillars of some iron building have fallen this way and that. There is a building still standing where all the glass has been shattered, and our lovers have to stumble their way up and down the columns. Here Des Grieux raises himself to cry out against what is happening (since the empty horizon and desert are gone it cannot be against some Godless wasteland)

emoting

He then runs off to find help. She thinks he has deserted her and Opolais’s acting and singing were unbearably despairing, plangent. I lost it and began to cry. And when he returned, we were set for our Romeo and Juliet close.

The reviews of the production have not been generous. Justin Davidson of the Vulture saw the sets as preposterous, making no sense and the second transposition from Puccini’s gutting to WW2 adding nothing. Anthony Tomassini of the New York Times came closer when he suggested the production was trying for a a noir twist. To be fair to Puccini, I found the Met HD Massenet Manon similarly misconceived. Both critics, though, made the same point that my daughter, Izzy, dwelt on as what made the opera finally an extraordinary experience despite the useless transposition, distracting sets, and simplification into shallowness:

The best way to deal with it, perhaps, is to get the best vocal talent available to infuse into the characters all the feeling they can. The Met, thankfully, lucked out when, having lost their original leading man, they managed to get Roberto Alagna to sing instead; he may be a little older than he was when movie theater audiences first saw him, but he can still do passion with the best of them. Plus the younger Kristine Opolais proved able to hold her own with him. The most effective part of the opera was the end, when all the fancy sets and costumes were removed, and they didn’t even attempt to explain where in the world the two characters were, just had them suffer and die and let us be sad over it.

During one of the (long) intermissions, we were shown Eyre talking to Gelb, chief director at the Met (responsible for these HD broadcasts and central in choosing what’s produced at the Met and how). I gathered Eyre was aware that Puccini’s operatic story lacks any raison d’etre that makes sense, and he brought in the Nazi regime in order to give us some outward explanation for the scenes and make the opera relevant to day. Certainly today we see all around us flagrant injustice in the way prisons are run, mocking immorality, worship of luxury, indifference to suffering. The trouble is the content of the characters’ story has little to do with this as we experience it today. I take it the original error in Puccini’s concoction of several strung together scenes was to erase the ancien regime and romanticize, or sentimentalize the characters. What Puccini was moving towards was a realization of his masterpiece La Boheme, and he did that in the following year.

The experience though determined me to be sure and get my tickets for Madame Butterfly, the Met’s next production, exchanged for the re-airing of the HD-film later on a weekday night. I will be away the day Madame Butterfly is broadcast and would like not to miss this pair of effective actors and singers get together once again. I can’t find a still of him acting on the floor, crawling around, letting go utterly, but there is one of her at such a moment:

Manon-LescautOpolais

Ellen

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Don Giovanni — the costuming was effective

Dear friends and readers,

Tonight Jim and I began our third season of opera and ballet at the West End Cinema, Georgetown, DC. It was here we saw Fiennes’ Coriolanus this past Saturday. I’ve not been writing about these (how much can I write?) but we have seen some marvelous productions — better than the Met a couple, and not so swamped before and afterwards in hype. You are left alone to enjoy your opera. Most memorable was La Scala’s iconoclastic Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Peter Mattie as the Don, Anna Netrebko as Donna Anna, and Bryn Terfel as Leporello (“opening night” 2011-12 it was dubbed). We haven’t been as lucky with ballets — though Cesare Pugni’s Esmeralda (from Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame) from Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow had some stunningly visually gorgeous moments, and Maria Aleandrova as the gypsy girl danced movingly.

Tonight was Puccini’s Il Trittico from London’s Royal Opera House, and while Jim said he preferred the Castleton version we saw last summer, I enjoyed these three equally. I do love being close up, and thought Ermonela Jaho singing Suor Angelica made breath-takingly beautiful sound (she gave it her all emotionally and was clearly shaking when she came out for her bows). Lucio Gallo was a powerful murderous dark Michele in Il Tabarro and a funny uninhibited Gianni Schicchi, and his ensemble cast amusingly typed. Each time I hear Lauretta’s O mio babbino caro I remember Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala movies and find it so odd that such a poignant lyric can exist happily in the midst of this hard comedy.

Gentle reader, let me take this opportunity to say Jim and I will have a time away for a few days: we are off to the South Central 18th century regional conference on landscapes and vistas at Asheville, N. Carolina, where I’ll give my paper on Ann Radcliffe’s landscapes.

Check out Emerging Pictures for various theaters around the US. An early review.

Ellen

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Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (usually Englished as The Golden Girl of the West, from the title of the play upon which the opera is based), at West End Cinema, from Netherlands Opera

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is definitely here. We have several days in a row where the temperature soared to the high 90s and the heat index was in the 100s (the “dog days of June” anyone?). And we’ve begun using up our tickets bought across the summer to go to operas (not all in HD, some live), plays, concerts, and events of various sorts. Three sets of tickets we bought from the West End Cinema (Georgetown, DC) where the proprietor is bringing in operas from 3 different opera houses in Europe.

First up was Monday last week: La Fanciulla del West done in Eurotrash style. I learnt that one reason we are not in our area seeing the efflorescence of opera that was predicted when HD operas first were broadcast is that the Met will not sign with you if you also broadcast other opera houses. So much for their ethics.

From Netherlands Opera house it was wonderfully well sung but the settings made it impossible to believe in any emotional way. One scene was performed in a large shoebox done as a Barbie trailer home all in ludicrous pinks (see above). Another a vast junkyard of trashed once super-expensive cars. As a comment on the culture and state of “modern” society today the scenes were suggestive, but against the action of Puccini’s opera, the thing was ludicrous. Maybe it was meant to be so, as the characters were also ridiculously, burlesque-ly overdressed, the characters playing “Indians” walked around saying “Ugh” (no need for this as this was not sung), reminding me of the song from Disney film for Peter Pan, “What made the Red Man Red?”. The acting was melodramatic, the silly myths of cowboys, in origin about sociopaths, lynching as a fun thing to do, desperate greed, were sent up. Eurotrash can make a serious statement about our world and not make the very opera part of the problem of those who have and control huge amounts of money running — I had almost said ruining — all experience for the rest of us in accordance with how much profit they personally make: a case in point was Claus Guth’s brilliant Don Giovanni, which took refuge in a pastoral wasteland (which also had junked cars about).

That our response was not unusual may be seen in the film of the live broadcast. The audience laughed at the sets, at the costumes. Here in the US theater, as even with the Giovanni two years ago, the audience was almost non-existent, maybe 7 people there. This sort of thing or non-commercial style operas do not seem to attract Americans at all. Guth’s Don Giovanni at the Atlas two years ago had a tiny audience.

Izzy (my daughter) has written wittily upon it (Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun, a blog which features ice-skating, tennis and bicycle tours): Opera in Cinema: La Fanciulla del West, from which I take a central paragraph:

The program claimed that the setting for the opera had been changed, for the California gold rush to modern-day Wall Street. But it didn’t really look like any vision of Wall Street, except for the footage shown on a big screen above the set during the brief overture. Especially not when everyone was still wearing cowboy hats and boots and other western regalia, except in black leather. If you want to change the setting, you really do have to change the setting, or else the story really takes place nowhere at all.

In the first act this was mildly distracting, but it was okay when the better singers were singing, particularly when Eva-Maria Westbroek was hitting the loud high notes. Puccini’s capable of some beautiful music, though La Fanciulla really has only one memorable theme, which didn’t appear enough. The second act was likewise, despite the heroine’s bachelorette pad having an overabundance of pink, and seeming to be on a snow-covered hill even though it’s being so makes absolutely no sense. But then came the third act. The audience laughed when they saw the initial impound lot set, and then again when in the end it suddenly parted for a flight of lighted stairs and the MGM logo(no, really), which is about when the setting lost whatever coherence it had.

When the dollar bills started appearing on the screen, it was officially so bad not even the singing could save it.

The West End Cinema is a comfortable place. One of the auditoriums has moveable chairs. Very comfortable ones too. There is an outside terrace-portico area and they serve liquor, wine, beer; you can get decent coffee and salads too. The audience envisaged is not one made up of teenagers — though pizza is available too. And it is a relief to see opera productions which are (unlike the Met’s and those brought to Americans on PBS), not interwoven with over-the-top self-praise by everyone on the stage who speaks to you, a kind of faux excitement roused by all sorts of flash techniques, and the opera itself strongly influenced by the latest Broadway technologies. You were left in the quiet of an understated framing of the film to come to your own conclusions, think your own thoughts. Opera done this way might seem boring at first …

I mean to use this blog to journalize and will be adding to it (or linking in other similar blogs) to the other two operas we see on consecutive Mondays: from Barcelona, Massenet’s Manon (which I’ve never seen before) and from the English Royal Opera in London, Verdi’s Macbeth (with Simon Keeleyside), plus the live operas we are planning to go to: at Castleton (rural Virginia, further south and west, see, for example, Britten’s Beggar’s Opera) and Glimmerglass (New York State, see Handel’s Giuilio Cesare in Egitto).

Ellen

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One of the puppets: the muslim abductor of Melisendra (also represented a puppet, a lovely romance lady in a medieval-like pink dress), from Master Pedro’s Puppet Show (at Castleton festival)


Lonny Smith, Maris Wicker, Love Noir: the music of Lenny, Kurt and Harold (cabaret at Capitol Fringe)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve got five summer music occasions to record. All were marvelous in themselves — if made somewhat difficult to enjoy by the excessive heat we had to endure this year.

We returned twice to Castleton Festival. You may remember we went there three time last summer: for Britten’s Turn of the Screw, Rape of Lucretia, and The Beggar’s Opera. The fabulously rich Loren Maazel (remember our tax rates) has a kind of home which seems to come out of film adaptations, complete with beautiful gardens and a manor house at the center. High minded, generous, he’s built an opera house, concert hall, open plaza for music making and with some philanthropic organizations, supports a month and one half effort to bring together students, teachers, professionals to make music and present their efforts to the public.

The first time was early in July: for Puccini’s Il trittico: brilliant, entertaining and long (over 5 and one half hours) production of 3 one-act operas; Il Tabarro, Gianni Schicci, and Suor Angelica.

I had never seen any of these three operas before; I was told that often only 2 of the 3 are done. Not only did they do all three, but the production design was ambitious and the presentation of the operas effective: singing, acting, thematic projections, all wonderful.

Puccini has now gone up some more in my estimation. I’ve loved Boheme, and think Madame Butterfly used to be underrated — not any more since it’s post-colonial (the word was not in use but is appropriate) expose of the cruelty of the upper class whites, and strong emotional support for the heroine coerced to giving up her baby son relevant to us today. His music in these thrills me and I usually cry.

Now I see he can have political content. I’ll describe the operas, last first and first last.

The rigorous cruelty of Suor Angelica’s family to her, the nunnery’s complicit reinforcement, all drive the nun mad by the end, she kills herself but not before she has this delusionary vision. It makes Diderot’s Nun into a book about cheerful kind people — only that of course Diderot’s critique is explicit, unmistakable and Puccini’s only implicit. It’s was there though and felt in this production.

Gianni Schicci was done in modern Suburban dresses, New Jersey circa 1950 (or maybe a TV image) and became an overt funny satire on modern bougeois hypocrisies and greed.

I did not know the famous beautiful song (O mio babbino caro — sung by Kiri Te Kanawa in the Merchant-Ivory Jhabvala Room with a View) not only comes from this opera, but is made fun of in it. The whole context is ironic even if the heroine sincerely buys into this romantic love.

And I liked that the central character is found in Dante and Puccini makes it explicit he rejects Dante’s rejection of this fixer.


Puccini’s Gianni Schicci (Castleton Festival)

Jim tells me that the central story actually occurred: there really was a rich dying man whose relatives were desperate because they weren’t sure he made his will out in their favor, and they paid Gianni Schicci to pretend to be him and produce a fake will. I think he gave himself the fortune — or the relative who hired him, and Dante puts him in the 30th circle of hell, way down where it’s freezing, as a forger.

Il Tabarro is verismo, with the husband murdering the lover of his erring wife, very well done here, particularly the man who sung the husband and acted the part of a jealous desperate man powerfully.

The three operas were linked by this production: all swirling about death: including horror at death (the scream of the wife in La Tabarro when she sees the corpse of her love is memorable for a while afterwards); death offering peace in death, oblivion (the nun), or terror at hell and mad suicidal impulses (the nun again); and not-that-comic exploitation out of greed and cheating (wills), and how we react to corpses too (once we get over it, we are not all that fussy as seen in the way the old man’s body is treated in Gianni Schicci).

Today we went to a double bill: Igor Stravinsky’s dark dance piece, A Soldier’s Tale (about an hour and ten minutes long) and the very amusing operatic dramatization of an incident from Don Quixote by Manuel De Falla, Master Pedro’s Puppet Show


The opera theater at Castleton


The Soldier (from another production, Castleton is very stingy about releasing pictures)

A Soldier’s Tale is a dark anti-war, anti-capital, anti-modern anonymous world fable. A soldier tries to return to his village, and on the way is tricked, hounded, harassed, and repeatedly bullied and intimidated into going through soldier-like routines. There was no singing, rather shouting orders, much percussion, electric lights, props which look like the silver tables you see people on in hospitals. This part went on too long, and began to feel like revelling in one-on-one violence.

The high point was a dance: in the first part one of the harassers is said to be the devil; in the second the soldier returns to his village and there meets a sleeping princess, who he awakens from what seems an abject neurotic disturbed trance, and they dance a modern dance. It seems like they will become lovers and know some happiness, but at the last moment, he disappears and she turns back to become curled up on her table again, like a fetus.

The idea seemed to be that one does not get over such traumatic wounds as the world inflicts on people. It was vigorous, and people applauded the hard work of the four people on stage, but in comparison with the strong applause, clapping, laughter and sounds of delight at Master Pedro’s Puppet Show one could see the audience was respectful, edified, but put off by the Stravinsky’s angular austerity.


Picasso, Don Quixote (again I was only able to find but one photo of one puppet online and that not the most important)

What was remarkable was for once Don Quixote was not presented as a noble idealist seeking a profound dream, but a destructive madman. At the same time he was not presented reductively, as a silly despised figure: the man playing Don Quixote himself thinks he is behaving with stern uprightness, is passionate, well-meaning, if crazy. In other words, the production was faithful to the tone and spirit of Cervantes’ text.

The audience first sees two Spanish looking men sit down to watch a puppet show and gradually it’s revealed one of them is taking a romance lady girl puppet dreadfully seriously. When she runs away with her puppet husband from the puppet abductor, the madman gets so excited he destroys the theater, many of the puppets, and Master Pedro’s livelihood. Tyler Nelson (tenor) as Master Pedro sung and acted effectively as did Paul LaRosa (baritone) as Quixote, Richard Pittsinger as the young boy as the narrator of the show.

The fun was probably in watching the set get torn down. Seeing the actors wreak havoc on the puppets and puppeteers, a kind of primitive reveling in breaking down the illusion so at the end the flimsy shell is gone and we see through to all the workings supporting the puppets. The Dulcinea puppet was protected by a turned-over table.


Other Puppets from the Puppet Kitchen

We did come in time for part of the pre-performance talk: it was by the puppeteers who call themselves The Puppet Kitchen, in which they talked of why people respond to puppets. We laugh at their limitations, and enjoy the imitation. It’s primitive: put eyes on the face and to us it comes alive. In fiction and films we enjoy and will endow non-animate objects with human qualities. It goes deeper than this: I’ve seen a withdrawn child brought out by a psychologist who the child would not interact with or talk to, suddenly bring out a hand puppet, and the child gradually talk to, play with, even become animate with the puppet. The puppet seems harmless, rather like a small animal the child (by virtue of size too) can feel safe with.

They would not tell anything of the plot first so that hampered their talk. The usual stupidities about “spoiling” our enjoyment masked a desire to say as little as possible of their trade. This instinct for secresy may be thought to protect their property; in fact few are anxious to become puppeteers; it’s a hard way to make a living. The lack of pictures of their work just prevents them from becoming known. (Cutting off their noses to spite their faces.)

We stayed this evening to hear the final all Beethoven concert. This enabled us to eat out in Griffin Tavern, excellent restaurant in Flint Hill specializing in British food, lovely meal, effective wine, yummy desert. We also got to talk to more people by staying, fellow Alexandrians and others. The concert was probably excellent but I was tired. As it was the last evening of the festival, I thought to end on Beethoven’s heroica for the summer was right. Lorin Maazel got rounds and rounds of strong applause and he looked happy. He wants this festival to continue and be part of his legacy.

The other two good times were had at the Capitol Fringe. On Friday night we went to a moving as well as deft, ironic, wry Cabaret of “Love Noir” sungs drawn from American musicals mostly by Lonny Smith and Maris Wicker:

the songbooks of Leonard Bernstein (best known for writing the music for the classic Broadway shows West Side Story, On the Town and Wonderful Town), Kurt Weill (composer of “Mack the Knife” and “Sing Low”), and Harold Arlen (composer of the score for The Wizard of Oz including the classic American standard “Over the Rainbow”). The songs chosen for this 60-minute show range from beloved classics such as “If I Only Had a Heart” from Wizard of Oz and “Something’s Coming” and “Cool” from West Side Story to lesser known selections including “Dissertations on the State of Bliss

It should have been unqualifiedly wonderful as the two people sang beautifully, I usually come near tears for “Over the Rainbow” and love the saturnine ironies of “Mack the Knife” and subversive plays on real love in some of the other songs. Bernstein is exhilarating.

Alas, the small brick inside room of a old condemned building was not air-conditioned for real; the two machines were pushing cool air in streams which quickly dissipated and I (and others) were bathed in sweat by the end. The Festival really has to put all its shows in large airy or air-conditioned places.

You might say we wished we were having a good time, and honored the two singers the more for carrying on gallantly in such conditions. It feels ungrateful to criticize them for awkwardnesses or lack of eye contact and the occasional off-note.

The fifth musical performance (sixth opera) was another 20th century opera, Thomas Passatieri’s Padrevia performed by Opera Alterna. This was a powerful one hour production of a Boccaccio story.

It’s the story of a young woman, Gismondo (Daniele Lorio) who is kept in the house and not allowed to socialize or see anyone by her father, Tancred (Tad Czyzewski) who secretly nourishes an incestuous passion for her. She meets (as the only half-eligible male around) the gardener (Siddhartha Misra), they gradually become lovers. The father suspects, then catches them in the act, has the gardener killed, and his heart cut out and brought to his daughter. She bathes herself in the blood, drinks it and a vile poison; Tancred comes and finds her, and lays his body over hers in an anguished agon of sexual desire and despair.

As I watched her keening over that horrifying heart, I realized I had seen one just like it earlier in the festival: in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Annabella’s heart is carved out and placed before her brutal husband (remember it’s called a “woman’s tragedy” and the accent was on sister, daughter, wife and female servant abuse). The Renaissance was as brutal as our era, and lacking guns and exquisite technologically precise weapons, they resorted to direct savage cruelty. The torn-out heart, beheaded head, gouged eyes are motifs found in Renaissance plays. Shakespeare both uses (Lear) and makes fun (Cymbeline) of them.

The set was simple, singing superb, theatrics effective, and the story and archetypal characters carried it


Daniele Lorio (a promotional photo)

At this performance we met an old friend, an older man with a long white beard I’ve seen repeatedly at the Washington Shakespeare Theater and other plays (Stage Door) Jim and I go to. An intelligent man he told us of his adventures this time and for years back. We shared experiences. He had bought a season ticket for $300 and on some days saw 4 productions. He thought that perhaps 40% were superior, and told us about the Washington Shakespeare new theater in Arlington and we may just go as their line-up of older and new classics is really pleasing.

We are not yet done with our summer music: in less than two weeks we go to Wolf Trap for a picnic outdoors and inside the theater, Britten’s dark fantasy Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The use of extreme states of mind, high violence, primal archetypes, and wild generic fantastical modes makes modern operas astonishing experiences. Consider how few go to these, how people instead may be found in huge numbers in front of banal tediously repetitive programs on TV.

A small note of pleasure: on the porch or portico outside the opera theater in Castleton amid the lush greenery, oneiric lake, and picturesque staged levels of Maazel’s Pemberley-like grounds were a number of tiny kittens, some sleeping, others eating the food and water left in scatted places, and still others coming up to people to nudge and be petted.


Latest photos of Clarissa-Marianne and Ian aka Little Snuffy, our full-grown cat-friends whom we return home to each day and night

Ellen

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