Far From Heaven: A New Musical based on the 2002 film at the Williamstown Theatre Festival

In 1957 society could be cruel to those who were different. Cathy Whitaker, a young Connecticut housewife and mother of two, is different. When her friends sing of once-a-week sex with their husbands, she is silent. Her husband Frank is different; he is gay. When Cathy learns his truth, she seeks solace with her sympathetic gardener, Raymond, also different, a “Negro,” a “gardening Nat King Cole.” Her neighbors gossip with relish. When Raymond takes her to his neighborhood café where he thinks they will be safe, she is ostracized because there, as a white woman, she is different. Cathy is trapped in a conformist marriage with repression, denial and pretense her only defenses.

Cycling fans watch the opening time trial of Paris-Nice in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, 3 March 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France

I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.

Johannes Brahms

Wiederkehr ans Leben: Brahms’ Piano Music, Part I (a Hoffmannesque fantasy with assistance by Gerhard Oppitz)

So Brahms is in the next world, lounging around the heavenly Viennese café drinking beer, eating liver sausage, and listening to the band play Gypsy music and Strauss waltzes, when St. Peter arrives with a message: Tanglewood programmers are praying that Brahms return to earth to perform his piano music, some of which is in danger of being totally forgotten. They feel that, of all the great music by all the great composers, Brahms’ early work has been the most egregiously neglected, and furthermore, Brahms’ unique style of playing has been long out of fashion and is almost forgotten, replaced by note-perfect, squeaky clean but emotionally sterile performances of pianists stamped out by the conservatory music factories for the purpose of being recorded digitally and listened to on cell-phones. Tanglewood can promise that there will be an elite group of music lovers and dedicated students who will sit worshipfully at the master’s feet if he would only agree to share his music once more on earth. St. Peter himself can think of no more important reason to breach the boundary between heaven and earth than to offer loyal music-lovers this worldly/other-worldly experience.

Bangarra Dance Theatre in 'Terrain.' Photo by Greg Barrett.

The Bangarra Dance Theatre Dances ‘Terrain’

Nature doesn’t really impose physical restrictions on our free will, but rather demonstrates the movements best suited to us; these too are the most beautiful. They are not an imposed law but very much individual. There is an ingenuity to discovering them and in so doing one pushes against them, but the effortful courage of pushing them can be a misplaced nobility, and while there is a certain inherent dramatic tension there, it can become awkward. There is a certain quality in today’s contemporary dance style, though there are many original variations and exceptions, which is hardly naturalistic in the way it pushes the extremes of human ability. The Bangarra Dance Theatre is in a unique position in urban Sydney, close to the Contemporary Dance World (sometimes called a “Mafia,” but let’s try to be positive), but also with close ancestral ties which give them access to the preserved ancient Australian arts which developed in unique ways in their isolation.

Christoph Eschenbach leads the BSO with Dan Zhu at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Dan Zhu triumphs, Christoph Eschenbach conducts the BSO at Tanglewood in Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique”

I was looking forward to this concert to renew my acquaintance with this less familiar, but interesting work of Leonard Bernstein’s and in the expectation that Christoph Eschenbach and the BSO would give us an interesting “Pathétique” after Myung-Whun Chung’s fascinating, rather eccentric reading of last November.

Rossini’s Ciro in Babilonia at Caramoor, with Ewa Podleś, Jessica Pratt, and Michael Spyres; Will Crutchfield conducting

The concert (or “semi-staged,” if you prefer) performances at Caramoor are a treasure, as one of the few venues in America where one can hear bel canto opera correctly sung in a context which attempts to recreate the text and performance of bel canto opera in a practical balance of scholarship and showmanship. Bel Canto at Caramoor is a delight for audiences and singers alike, because, as Vivica Genaux, who has sung there several times, said, “at Caramoor it’s all about the music.” It’s not some eccentricity of a more than usually serious singer that the music comes first. I’d venture to say that the music tells us almost everything we need to know about opera, especially in Rossini, who first developed his technique by working with singers. What we discover through research into performance practice cannot literally enable us to recreate the exact sound of the original performance, much less its effect on its audience. However, the music of a particular, bygone period makes no sense at all, unless certain basics of the original performance practices are followed. What you hear at Caramoor today shows progress from the early efforts of Callas, Sutherland, and Sills and the musicians who worked with them. What Will Crutchfield has achieved gives us, as the audience, a viable grounding in the technique and style of Bel Canto. Above all, this music has to be sung with the whole voice.

Iranian Arts Now at the Cité International des Arts in Paris

Exhibitions of progressive new Iranian art have flourished over the last several years, in commercial galleries in the Middle East and in diasporic centers like New York and London. The most recent major contribution to this ongoing introduction is Iranian Arts Now at Cité International des Arts in Paris until July 24. Though the emergent profile of contemporary Iranian art has been supported by dealers like Leila Heller in New York and the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, broader public exposure is being facilitated by museum exhibitions, and notable ones include Iran Inside Out at the Chelsea Art Museum in 2009 and a current exhibition, Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, at the Metropolitan Art Museum.

Ku-ring-gai. Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

Developers’ Rule: A New Plan for Planning in New South Wales

A true story: one day at the New South Wales Department of Planning two planners are talking about different theories of urban planning. ‘Neoliberal planning,’ the first says, “that’s what we do.” “No kidding,” the other replies.

“No kidding” might be replaced by “yer darn tootin” after the release of the NSW Government’s A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper. If the title doesn’t quite grab you, a new planning system, however boring, will have a far greater impact on people’s lives than more juicy topics like a new Museum of Contemporary Art or a new pavilion for the Venice Biennale. Planning is the most visible juncture at which architecture meets politics, and what the Government is proposing is interesting for the way that it reveals urban planning as the point where conservatism begins to conflict with itself, where a libertarian sensibility runs counter to pro-business economic rationalist conservatism. The development industry is not quite a friend of the invisible hand; it does best when certain freedoms are curtailed. This was shown most clearly in the US by the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which expanded the Constitution’s “Takings Clause” (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) to allow governments to claim eminent domain for purposes of private redevelopment.

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