The Institution is Immaterial: Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse

The Musée d’Orsay contains two scale models of the Palais Garnier (1875) which must rank among the greatest of all time. Within the museum the models terminate the former railway station’s main axis, forming a kind of culmination. Along with Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1851), unlikely to be mentioned in a Parisian museum, the Garnier is perhaps the definitive building of its century. The first model, implanted beneath a glass floor, shows the building in its urban context, clearly demonstrating that the great opera house precipitated for its neighborhood the Full Haussmann. The second model, built to a highly detailed scale (perhaps 1:100) for such a large building, is cut through in longitudinal section like a doll’s house, revealing the famously ornate lobby and hall as relatively minuscule inhabited planets orbited by a dark matter cloud of unnamed rooms and fly towers. Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse, a fly on the wall portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet, seems the cinematic equivalent of that sectional model, but it would be more accurate to say that it is simultaneously both models. The film uses its all access backstage pass, its sore toes, sweat and heavy breathing, to achieve the purpose of the contextual model, the definition of an institution within a city.

Marlboro at 60 – a Look Back, with a Schedule of Touring Concerts 2010-11

This past summer this hour’s drive took me to Marlboro on several occasions, thanks to the generosity of Frank Salomon — an administrator of many years service and great knowledge of everything Marlboro — for a series of public and private concerts: a proper immersion in the school and festival, as they are today, and all seemed right with the world — very much so. Present-day Marlboro, led by Artistic Directors, Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida, is in some ways quite different from the Marlboro of Rudolf Serkin, but the basic principles haven’t changed very little, and the music is fresher than ever.

Boston Lyric Opera, Tosca, November 16th, Shubert Theater

It has been interesting to see Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Puccini’s Tosca just a few weeks after seeing Opera Boston’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, just down the street at the Cutler Majestic Theater. The two operas, in their very different ways, invoke a powerful atmosphere of political repression — the world in which everyone lives, the trap that everyone is caught in, the air that everyone breathes — and in both cases a woman at the center of things wreaks havoc with the status quo. Kierkegaard, writing about Mozart’s Don Giovanni, says that music is by nature seductive and thus that Mozart had found the perfect subject — seduction — for music drama to spin out and reflect upon.

Openings: The Boston Season begins.

The Boston musical season is now rolling along, with almost too many good things occurring to keep up with. The best news, and a great relief, has been the return of music director James Levine to the Boston Symphony Orchestra after many months off for back surgery and recuperation. Levine looks older, with more loose flesh around the face, and he walks onstage and off carefully with a cane (though at moments he just rests it on his shoulder and goes securely on). He seems to feel good, and once seated and starting to conduct shows great animation and involvement, indeed passionate involvement, in the work at hand. He has the orchestra playing spectacularly. He has really taken them beyond themselves, and they know it and seem to feel proud of it, as they should.

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