Monday, January 24, 2011

Olberman Off

it's impossible to believe MSNBC fired keith olberman, or let him quit without doing everything in their power to keep him. apparently he's tempermental, egotistical, and hard to deal with. sorry to hear that.

but what, as a longtime fan, i know about him is this: he is an honest, intelligent,thoughtful news analyst.
yes, he has definite opinions. they are intelligent opinions, and above all they are earned opionions. he doesn't invent facts, as commentators on 'the other side' so often do. this enables the viewer to agree or disagree with him, because the facts are there to agree or disagree with. the sequencing of his show and rachel maddow's, with their similar beliefs and contrasting styles, was brilliant.

he certainly appears to have a strong ego as well as a strong voice--for which i'm grateful. i doubt he'll stay out of the media long. he has a lot to say, and a lot of people who want to hear him say it. i look forward to his re-emergence in whatever form it takes.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brilliant Macbeth

The play of course is brilliant.  so is the opera.  but not all interpretations of the play or the opera are brilliant.  The one i saw today was.

This is the opera, which i certainly don't know as well as I know the play, but I'd seen at least 3 productions of it.  They were fine.  They were well sung.  But they didn't hold a candle to this.

I wasn't expecting it.  I expected to like it, yes.  but to like it for what it was--a semistaged version done by the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras.  Kids.  kids between 7 and 18. I did learn beforehand that the kids were "only" the orchestra, and that the singers were professionals.  I had already bought my ($25) ticket, even when i thought the singers would be young teenagers, so this pleased me.  still i didn't expect great singing; good singing, yes.  a passable production, yes.  a worthwhile experience, certainly.  but not a mind-blowing one.

When i saw the orchestra, i wondered how even 'semistaged' it would be.  It was a large orchestra on a moderate-sized stage (Sanders Theatre in Harvard), and there was a space of maybe 2 feet left in front of the huge orchestra.  I am a big fan of semi-staging, which mediates between the expense and space needs of a fullscale production and the bare-bones nonstaging of pure concert opera.  but semistaging still needs some room to move, and i wasn't expecting to see a lot of acting in  this production.

so there i was, in the 3rd row center orchestra, thinking wryly that this unusual circumstance would probably be wasted on what would doubtless be a minimally acted, near concert-opera.  

And then came the singers.  and what they did with that tiny space was so amazing, i soon forgot the 2 feet of space and even the presence of the orchestra (the terrific orchestra) behind it.  The stage director, Marc Verzatt, knows his craft.  So do the singers.  They were all astoundingly fine singer/actors.  From the moment Macbeth and Banquo walked onto the stage, it crackled.  here were these guys in tuxes, with nothing but capes and swords to suggest medieval Scotland, and  they were utterly convincing.  everything about them conveyed the surface camaraderie of two very different men facing the bizarre predictions of 3 witches.  and the voices!  Oddly none of the singers were ones i was familiar with--boston has several terrific opera singers that you tend to see in local productions fairly often--and their  bio's suggest respectable but not first-tier backgrounds.  Of course, I'm not a stellar judge of opera singers or classical music, but i saw that the rest of the audience were as blown away as i was.  i found their voices magnificent--true, clear, moving.  Louis Otey, a baritone, was maybe a bit overblown at times: sometimes he seemed to be playing an opera singer playing macbeth.  with that voice, he's entitled. Jeremy Milner, a bass, lacked even that much imperfection.  he exuded likeableness, charm, and a sharp trueness to his character.  then came the scene between lady macbeth and macbeth.  

diana jackson is listed as a soprano, but i thought i was hearing a great mezzo.  i liked the darkness of the 3 lower-register voices beginning the opera: reflecting the darkness of the story.  then i read in the program that she had been a mezzo who studied Hochdramatschsopran, which I'm guessing translates to high dramatic soprano.  it explained a lot: her perfectly lower ranged beginnings, and the high notes she reached and held when they were called for.  like Milner, she is totally charismatic.  

That scene was staged intriguingly.  It's a truism that part of the hold Lady M  has over her husband is sexual, but somehow that's always seemed a step removed from the plot itself.  There's a sense that the sexual dynamic is one of manipulation: she uses his desire for her as a means to get him over his compunctions about killing the king.  here the 2 forces were mesmerizingly inextricable.  nothing was overdone--no suggestive grappling or leering.  but you knew that the sexual bond between them was part of the plot: these two were turned on by the idea of murdering the king.  unsettling, and wonderful. when the second act was done and the intermission was to begin, we were all on our feet. people were drained; we had been totally pulled into the world of the opera.

the secondary characters were equally strong.  meredith kelly, as the queen's lady in waiting, had a voice as powerful and clean as jacklin's, and in the end of act 1, when all the significant characters were singing together in horror over the king's murder, there were moments when the 2 women's voices emerged from the others, magnificent together.   brian landry's macduff had nothing much to do in the first 3 acts, but started the 3rd with his aria about the murder of his wife and children. once again, perfection.  terrific tenor, carrying all the grief and anger in every syllable and every gesture.

the witches, interestingly, were sung by the [need i say terrific?] chorus, and danced by 3 women; how that came off well, i don't know, but it did.

so here i am, writing a review that few people will see about a production that lasted only one performance, meaning that even if you do read this you won't get a chance to see it.  but if you're remotely interested in opera or classical music, keep an eye on this group, and a lookout for these singers.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Walk

At first, i thought i'd go for a swim. our indoor pool is housed in glass and i liked the idea of swimming through a blizzard.  but the trees called so i grabbed my coat and camera and went outside.  walking through snow is grand, so grand it's almost not exercise.  and snow covered trees are  even grander.  birch trees  especially are almost too wonderful to believe--white on off-white, just off enough to know where snow begins and tree ends.  some trees have branches low enough to show the process of snow becoming ice.

 For a few minutes i look for the deepest snow and start booting my way  through it.  too deep, and when i manage to pull my foot out, the boot stays firmly encrunched.  it takes a bit of struggle to reunite foot and boot.  amazingly my asthma doesn't act up, and the cold air feels splendid. in this moment, i am almost at home in my body, as if it, like the trees and the snow, belongs here. the playground behind the church--the stately episcopal church that is home to the jesus ragdoll i love so much-- is full of parents and sledding kids, and the world seems to think it's really a currier and ives painting after all.  

Now it's turning to dusk, and lights begin to dapple several windows.  a few homes haven't yet taken down christmas, and christmas shapes emerge with the houselights.  no sense of incongruity, only of timelessness, as if the snow and the lights make it christmas anyway, in a few moments that capture eternity as blake must have experienced it.  time to go back inside.

Tomorrow, if the snow is still around, i'll go for that swim.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


this started out as a comment on a facebook post, and, like much i write, quickly spiraled beyond the small space allowed for facebook conversation.  one of my fb friends wrote a very cogent comment on the way the american people share the guilt of the media and the politicians who create an atmosphere of violence.  so i started talkling to him in my head, then on fb, and finally ended up here.

we-the-people are indeed collaborators in the lies and half-truths we are given.  this isn't new---nor is it confined to americans.  but we do seem to have a particular anti-intellectualism that is stronger than i have seen in western europe, at least.  our national mythologies--cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, bad commies and good capitalists--are grandly simplistic, as is the comic image of the intellectual whose propensity to think causes pherimone deficiencies, and is cured by the first sign of infatuation or physical attraction [here the intellectual throws off the glasses and, if it's a woman, pulls the bobby pins out of her bunned-hair and thrusts her long hair about, and goes into a horny kiss].

faced with inescapable horror, we look for a nice  comfortable one-explanation-fits-all answer.  quite often, this falls in with tendencies toward scapegoating a handy 'enemy.'  current favorites are islamophobia [which dovetails neatly into our omnipresent racism] and homophobia.  but mr.  loughtner is clearly not a muslim and doesn't appear to be gay, so we'll have to look elsewhere.  the most obvious 'elswehwere' has been noted by a few thoughtful commentators already: mr loughtner is 'mentally ill.'

well, yes.  but so are a lot of people. [so, by the way, am i, in a minor sort of way; i am clinically depressed.]  few of us, i am glad to say, run around shooting politicians or soldiers or schoolmates or anyone else.  further, it's a tricky area.  we're hearing questions about investigating odd behavior when it manifests at school or at work or with friends. but most odd behavior, even when truly disturbing, isn't lethal.  anger at government,  concern over semantics, even conspiracy beliefs aren't inherently dangerous.  hindsight shows us a young man ready to explode.  how many people like mr loughtner never explode  into violence?  if we're going to seek out patterns of potentially lethal behavior, we really need to be far more educated about what that means than most of us are now.

i can accept a bit better the tendency to blame the far-right's cavalier use of incendiary language.  sarah palin has been pretty awful, and would do well now to simply say, 'i was unwise to use rifle target imagery toward the politicians i find dangerous, and would hate to think my imagery had any part, however miniscule, in the arizona murders.  so i am changing that image as of now and using simple x's to indicate areas of dangerous liberalism.'  far worse, to me, is sharon angle's repeated use of 'second amendment tactics,' which if  it does not  call for violence is certainly a declaration of its legitimacy.

but angle's and palin's rhetoric are themselves a symptom of our national quest for easy answers.  what combination of factors go into the creation of a terrorist killer?  if we were willing to ask that question and insist on looking deeply and honestly into a lot of things we might not want to see, we might really learn something.  and the 'we' here is not only the tea-party reactionaries.  they and their supporters on fox news and in electoral politics are  both victims and perpetrators in a pattern which is far larger than any one ideology can encompass.

returning to america's most recently embedded myth-making experience, look back to the reaction to 9/11.  where was the analysis of a long, complex relationship between our government and mideast dictators?  this would not have excused the terrorists, but it might have taught us about them, and about their hatred for us, and about what might really be done internationally to address that very large, very complicated reality.  it wouldn't have been comfortable, and it wouldn't have been easy.  it would have been problematic for reductionists of all stripes.  i include here not only liberals but people like myself, leftwing radicals.  we too have been fond of simplicity, of easy answers. questions don't usually lend themselves to easy answers; they raise other questions, they force the mind to use its power against the tyranny of comfortable emotions.

way back in those days, i wrote a poem about medusa, the ancient mythic monster so hideous that to look at her turned the viewer to stone. the poem attempted to describe her genuine ugliness.  i ended it with 'but the legends are wrong. it is those who do not look who turn to stone.'  we can't stop evil; we can't stop terrorism; we can't prevent some forms of mental illness to morph into violence.  but maybe we can work against it, defang it just a little.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

almost there

it's the time of year when i run around singing my favorite the tune of 'going to the chapel...'