Eugene Onegin Weekend

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This was the weekend that mum came up and we went to Eugene Onegin playing at the Rialto, part of the 2013-2014 Metropolitan season in High Definition.

Note to self: need to grab something to stay alert during the first act.  I was wilting towards the end of the first act and missed lines as Onegin rejected Tatiana.  I grabbed a bottle of water from the reception and we had an ice cream each which kept us alert for the rest of the performance.

The setting of the opera was enjoyable as Russia moved from harvest into winter.  Russia always seems to be in winter.  It’s a permenent state of mind.  The Larin woman are waiting for harvesthome in the enclosure of their garden of their country estate.  Tatiana and Olga are the Larin sisters.  Olga has the poet Lensky for her lover.  Tatiana holds a candle for Onegin.  He rebuffs her advances. 

Onegin is a cool dude.  Everything bores him.  At a winter ball he flirts with Olga because the event bores him.  Lensky is outraged.  Both men meet for a duel.  The poet is killed.  Onegin departs Russia for several years.  The world bores him.  He returns to Russia and arrives for a tedious ball at Saint Petersburg.  I am reminded of a Calvin and Hobbs line: The world bores you when you’re cool.  What catches his eye is Prince Gremen’s wife, the Lady Incarnadine, in a court of grays and blacks.  The prince declares to Onegin that he adores his wife as the one true love in an insincere world.  It is Tatiana.  Onegin makes a move for her love.  She rebuffs him in turn and walks away from him into the snowy landscape after one last kiss.

True Love in Saint Petersburg, and snow

True Love in Saint Petersburg, and Snow

Shockingly neither of the two lovers throw themselves into the river.  I was expecting it.  Instead we are left with unrequited love.

Part of the enjoyment of the performance is everyone is familiar with the original story, both by Tchaikovsky, and Pushkin’s original poem.  The conductor Valery Gergiev was educated in Pushkin under the Soviet system (which makes me wonder if the Russians have stopped doing this).  Anna Netrebko is singing in her first language.  Mariusz Kwiecien and Piotr  Beczala, playing Onegin and Lensky respectively get a chance to mug up to the film camera backstage in Polish.

Hobbit Spotting

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Some updates on a few things.

A shout-out to my friend Henriku.  The disk arrived last week.  It was in the mail when I returned from my colonoscopy operation.  What lovely videos!  So beautiful.  I shall have to show them to people and make sure that they are backed up.

I walked past the last drinks at the Captain Cook tavern last week.  I was not moved to attend.  I am largely teetotal and it was not my celebration.  From reports I have read I found that Cook Brothers opinion on responsible drinking is similar to some farmers’ opinions on clean waterways.  I found it interesting to overhear the talk on the street about the closure of the Captain Cook.  There is a lot of affection for the place.  Maybe it is a focal point for an inner-city community.  I didn’t see it myself.  I will observe the future of this building with interest.  I doubt it will remain vacant.  Whether it will continue as a licensed premise is another curiosity.

I watched the opera Giulio Cesare at the Rialto on Sunday.  Fascinating ideas.  The Romans were all British Colonial soldiers, the Egyptians were all servants.  David Daniels came on as Caesar in red coat and breast-plate.  Imagine such a figure at the height of British Empire.  What a fascinating history that could be.  Then Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra got to sing and dance.  Very different to the fragile and tragic characters she has played in the past.  Between her and Rashid Ben Abdeslam as Nirenus many of the arias became Bollywood pieces.  No one could go into battle without singing an aria first!  I’m not sure if I’m convinced by Julius Caesar as a countertenor, I am convinced by baroque opera!

Finally today the princes of the kingdom have decided that the South Island’s distribution of the mail can be centred in Christchurch, that broken city.  That’s another 73 jobs gone from Dunedin, and expect an extra day for the mail to get through.  It is the usual trend.  First all the small services are centralised.  Then the centralised service cannot provide coverage of all regions so regions are dropped.  Then the service becomes too expensive to be maintained universally.  This is disappointing!

Francesca da Rimini

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I enjoyed this opera.  Visually it held my attention, even more so than Parsifal, which had me dozing between lines, as much as enjoyed Wagner’s music and story-telling.  Zandonai’s opera was an unexpected find.  It began with a first act with beautiful music in a setting that looked like it had been taken out of a painting by Alma-Tadema.  The scene in which Francesca and Paolo met and fall in love is done without words, which makes it a moment that speaks for itself.

The change to siege engines on a battle field is shocking in the second act, complete with bombastic music.  We meet the three Malatesta brothers.  Giovanni “the Lame” Malatesta is an emotional wreak of a brute with a warrior’s honour to protect.  Paolo “the Fair” has already fallen in love with his brother’s wife. Malastestino “the One-Eyed” Malatesta is a psychopath, having lost one eye in battle he’s willing to sight up and kill his enemies, and what he sees through his sighted eye is scary enough.  This family could be war-criminals.  I translated malatesta as ‘sick in the head’, not a bad translation for this family, and not one into which I would recommend marrying.

Is that an exploding Dalek!?

The final acts of the opera take place in the Malatestas’ stronghold.  Francesca’s pre-Raphaelite apartment alternates with the dark dungeons of the castle.  Again it is a shocking contrast.  The opera ends in dramatic tragedy.  Opera-lovers, and performers, love their tragic endings.  The ones with a comic ending, a eucatastrophe, or a wedding, are in the minority.

Never mind. It is an opera to watch out for any future adaptions.  That, and Parsifal too.  I hope Francesca da Rimini does not languish for another generation before it is played again.

The 2012-2013 season ends with Handel’s Giuglio Cesare, another opera I am looking forward to seeing.

Ascension Sunday

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The Ascension of Christ by Salvador Dali

Today’s contribution to my usual irreverence was to refer to the above image as ‘The CAT-Scan of Christ’.

I bought some new shoes this weekend.  They are a bit stiff and my punishment will be to break them in to mold comfortably to my feet.

I found a diversion on Saturday afternoon by reading the archives of Lady Sabre and The Pirates of the Ineffable Ether.  That was fun.  It looks like their Kickstarter campaign to fund a trade paperback has been successful.  I’m tempted to put in an order with Graphic Comics for a copy when I hear it has been printed.

Finally, I went and saw Rigoletto at the Rialto this afternoon.  The Met Opera set it in 1960s Las Vegas.  I wasn’t convinced that the story of the curse works in such a modern setting.  The sets were wonderful and the popularity of the opera attacted a bigger audience than was usual for a screening.

The next opera is Parsifal and I looking forward to it.  I have it on CD and despite its length it has a lot of beautiful music.  I suspect it might prove to be more accessible to me than the Ring Cycle.  I’m looking forward to discovering why Jonas Kaufmann is wandering about looking like a factory floor worker.

Advent 3

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There comes a point in Advent when the daily lectionary readings stop being set out according to which week in Advent we are in, and specific dates in the calendar set in.  December 17th marks that date.  We are a week out from Christmas.  It stalks us with terrible inevitability.

This was the weekend of the Friends and Family Invasion.  Southern Dave turned up with Mum in tow, banging on the door of Manono House and banging her luggage-on-wheels up the stair-case.

Dave came up for his nephew’s band playing at the Musician’s club for the ‘Not So Silent Night’.  From my hearing of them it was heavy drums and guitar and inaudible lyrics.  There is a slogan ‘If it’s too loud, then you’re too old’.  In that case this music was too young for me.  It was like listening to a boy racer or that party across the road in the middle of the night that is going to make you get up and call sound control.

I was told that ‘This was not your music, it’s ours’.  As my day began with listening to Karl Jenkin’s Mass for the Armed Man, the Wellington Ukelele Orchestra doing It’s A Heartache, and listening again to Jessye Norman singing Zueignung which had been used beautifully and tearfully for carrying out the casket at the funeral of a gentleman; the day had not progressed.

Sunday left me with a ghost of a headache which disappeared as Mum and I enjoyed Thomas Adès’s The Tempest.  Prospero awaits on his island for revenged against those who exiled him there.  He is dressed in the wreckage of his courtly robes, his spells tattooed on his body like a pirate.  It’s the revenge of the undressed on the dressed: Ariel is an inhuman and elemental spirit who rides on the shoulders of kuroko; Caliban is half-Mohican, half-feathery beast (which annoyed me less than the painted orc from The Enchanted Island in last year’s season).  In hindsight the character who journeys the most is Ferdinand, washed ashore he is divested of his nobility and then restored as Prospero and Miranda are restored as rulers of Milan.  There is a story that has not been told.

Having been introduced to the opus of Thomas Adès I would like to give it more consideration.

In the evening I attended Knox Church for the evening service Celebrating Christmas Down-Under as the choirs of five churches participated.  I am told the music group from Opoho stole the evening when they walked to the front dressed in hats and bush-shirts for a version of Peter Cape’s poem Nativity:

They were set for the home, but the horse went lame
And the rain came pelting out of the sky
Joe saw the hut and he went to look
And he said, ‘She’s old, but she’ll keep you dry’

So her kid was born in that road-man’s shack
By the light of a lamp that’d hardly burn
She wrapped him up in her hubby’s coat
And put him down on a bed of fern

Then they came riding out of the night
(And this is the thing that she’ll always swear)
As they took off their hats and came into the light
They knew they were going to find her there

Three old jokers in oilskin coats
Stood by the bunk in that leaking shack
One had a beard like a billy-goat’s
And one was frail and one was black

She sat at the foot of the fern-stalk bed
And she watched, but she didn’t understand
While they put these bundles at the baby’s head
And this river nugget into his hand

Gold is the power of a man with a man
And incense the power of man with God
But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod

Then they went, while she watched through the open door
Weary as men who had ridden too far
And the rain eased off and the low cloud broke
And through a gap shone a single star

Merry Eczemas to one and all.  The weather is too hot to sleep now.

Elisir d’Amore

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Farm-boy Nemorino is holding a candle for wealthy farm-owner Adina.  Well who wouldn’t when Adina is played by Anna Netrebko in top hat and riding coat.  Unfortunately for him she’s not looking for commitment.  I’m not surprised.  In that wig I wanted to say to Nemorino, “Mate, you’re got a mullet.  That’s not a chick-magnet!”

Enter the charlatan Doctor Dulcamara.  He cons Nemorino that a bottle of Bordeaux is the lost elixir of love of Isolde and Tristan.  His luck doesn’t improve when Adina accepts the offer of marriage from his rival in love.  “Doctor, help me!” laments Nemorino.  I’m listening for the vworp-vworp sound.  It doesn’t come.   Doctor Dulcamara as the thirteenth incarnation Doc Who would be interesting!  Doctor Who: The Opera, anyone?

True love wins out.  Doctor Dulcamara declares that his elixir is the cure for all ills.  I’m left thinking, that was fun, but, my god! I just sat through a three-hour ad for Bordeaux wines!

The weekend that was

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I visited theBlue Oysterfor a talk on photography on Saturday.  I confess I was disappointed.  I was hoping for a talk on the history of photography.  It was the second of two talks.  The first, which I understand was at the opening of the exhibition, was the presentation on photographic art history that an artist outside of Dunedin had prepared.  Displaying alongside it was a screen of photographs selected by a lecturer in photography in Dunedin as his reflection on the original screening of photographs.  I could see the unity in the first screen, the second which was the response to the first left me confused, and the talk was on the second screen.  I had hoped that what we would get was an introduction to the history of photography.  The display was on art photography, which from an archivist’s perspective, did not interest me.  Perhaps I like photography with provinance, and this wasn’t provided for me.  I left as soon as I could.

Much to my delight I went and saw Wagner’s Dream at the Rialto on Sunday.  I watched with delight as the producer and the stage team at the Metropolitan Opera built the Machine on stage.  They won over the diehard Wagnerian fans with their vision and managed to introduce new people to opera.  That’s quite an accomplishment.  There were appearances by Stephanie Blythe and Bryn Tyrfel.  This was the Ring cycle that introduced the lovely Deborah Voigt as Brünhilda and Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried.  The latter from Texas, legendarily taking up the role with only four days before the opening night as the original singer fell ill and he trumped the role.  Future appearances by both of them are going to be fun to look out for.

And there was a brief appearance of my favourite moment as the Machine became the winged horse Grane bearing Brünhilda and Sieglinde away from the vengeful Wotan.  All in all, a pleasing and uplifting afternoon’s theatre going.

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