Our Girl in Chicago, my dear friend and co-blogger, has been experiencing some technical difficulties that have kept her out of cyberspace for the past few weeks. Now a death in the family has forced her to leave town unexpectedly. She e-mailed me this morning, asking me to let you know that she’ll be back and blogging as soon as possible.
Archives for May 22, 2007
Here’s more of what I’ve been up to since returning from Chicago last week:
• On Saturday morning I took the Acela Express to Washington, D.C., where I visited the new Smithsonian American Art Museum. I hadn’t been to SAAM since it closed several years ago for remodeling. Mr. Modern Art Notes catalogued the museum’s shortcomings when it reopened last July, and he got it right on the nose: SAAM’s permanent collection is handsomely installed but embarrassingly spotty, though it houses more than enough first-class canvases to make it worth a visit. (Some of my favorites are George Inness’ Niagara, John Singer Sargent’s Pomegranates, Majorca, Stuart Davis’ Memo, Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning, Hans Hofmann’s Fermented Soil, and Joan Mitchell’s Marlin.) In addition, SAAM has two must-see exhibitions on display this summer, “Saul Steinberg: Illuminations” (up through June 24) and “Passing Time: The Art of William Christenberry” (up through July 8). You should definitely stop by if you’re in town–but don’t expect any revelations.
• From there I made my way to the Kennedy Center, where Eve Tushnet and I saw Washington National Opera’s new production of Leos Janacek’s Jenufa (I’m scouting singers for The Letter). It was, as Carl Van Vechten said of the premiere of Four Saints in Three Acts, a knockout and a wow.
Patricia Racette, who sings the title role, is an artist I’ve admired ever since I reviewed her first Metropolitan Opera Traviata for the New York Daily News a decade ago:
Heads up, opera buffs: there’s a new star in town. Patricia Racette was faced with the unenviable task of replacing the much-loved Renee Fleming as Violetta, the doomed courtesan, in Franco Zeffirelli’s expensive new production of La Traviata, which opened Monday at the Metropolitan Opera House. A lesser singer might have clutched under the pressure. Instead, Racette swung for the fences–and smashed the ball out of the park.
Racette is no airheaded coloratura canary, but an outstandingly gifted singing actress who uses her bright, vibrant voice as an instrument of high drama. She caught the hectic desperation just below the surface of the forced gaiety of “Sempre libera,” and moved boldly from the black despair of “Addio del passato” to the heart-tearing false hope of the death scene. The wild cheering at evening’s end was fully deserved: rarely has an American soprano made so much of so great an opportunity.
If anything, Racette is even better now–I could easily imagine her doing a non-singing stage role–and Jenufa, a bracingly astringent piece of Central European verismo, gives her no shortage of opportunities to show her stuff. The production? Three words: Hookers. Spandex. Motorcycles. But Racette and her supporting cast soared above the Eurotrashy décor, giving a performance I expect to remember for a very long time to come.
Jenufa closes on Thursday. You’d better go.
• I saw two plays on Sunday, one of them in the company of Ms. Asymmetrical Information. The first was Olney Theatre Center’s production of Georges Feydeau’s 13 Rue de l’Amour, the second Studio Theatre’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. (I’m doing Stoppard plays this summer.) Watch my Wall Street Journal drama column for details–I’ll be reviewing 13 Rue de l’Amour on Friday and R & G a couple of weeks after that.
• Today I’m en route to New Haven to review a new English-language adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at Long Wharf Theater. Later in the week I’ll be driving up to Boston to see Noël Coward’s Present Laughter and Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land in Boston. Insofar as possible, I’ll blog in the interstices of my travels.
Yesterday’s new piece of music was Edgard Varèse’s Poème èlectronique, a piece of musique concrète created by Varèse on four-track magnetic tape and played through the more than four hundred loudspeakers installed inside the Philips Pavilion designed by Le Corbusier and Yannis Xenakis for the 1958 Brussels World Fair. The original master tape was digitally remastered, mixed down to two tracks, and transferred to CD in 1998. (To look at the “score” of Poème èlectronique, go here and scroll down.)
“The road to Heaven-on-earth passes through Hell and never re-emerges. This is the great lesson of the 20th century. All Utopian thought is deeply flawed, rooted in the Arcadian prepossession of the Western imagination, always sailing to Cythera and breaking up on the shoals. But the issue is even larger than this. The human mind is shadowed by mortality and wishes only to escape its condition, sometimes through the medium of love, sometimes through the promise of faith, most often through one or another form of forgetfulness–drugs, entertainment, even war. We kill because we have to die.”
David Solway, interview, FrontPageMagazine.com, May 9, 2007 (courtesy of Anecdotal Evidence)