Sunday, October 28, 2012

Handel's'Gender-Bender Opera

opera is a peculiar genre, full of sexist stereotypes, but almost forced to create a fair number of strong women for the variety of voices. beginning as a form long after shakespeare and the keep-the-women-off-the-stage rules [at least in england], it incorporated women amply from the start.  indeed, where classical and early renaissance theatre had boy actors to play women, opera has often incorporated 'pants roles'--women singing young men.  [they also had the horrific habit of keeping some boy singers' voices high by castrating them;  today's equivalent of the castrati are the increasingly popular counter-tenors--tenors who have trained their singing voices to reach pitches equivelant to to those of female contraltos].  interesting, these voices are rarely used to convey women, and in early opera especially, counter-tenors often play virile, win-the-gal heroes.

last week i saw a handel comedy, 'partenope,' that seemed to me to have even more than the usual share of gender-bending, and it made for some interesting vocal and theatrical effects.  partenope [a soprano] is the queen of naples, in love with arsace, visiting prince of corinth.  she is also enjoying the attentions of her loyal ally prince armindo of rhodes. both men are sung by countertenors. they are joined in their passion by king emilio of cumae [tenor], with whom she also flirts, but ultimately rejects. he decides then to become worthy of her love by invading and conquering her country.  why he thinks the way to a queen's heart is to decimate her country, i'm not quite sure, but he does and storms out at the end of act 1, vowing to conquer her heart and country in one grand gesture.  add to the mix another fellow, a foreigner who swears allegiance to the queen and buckles the swash with the best of them. the hitch is, he's not a 'he' at all, but rather arcase's abandoned love, rosmira, determined to be revenged on him.  her voice is a deep contralto that at times can still be beautifully lyrical.  in the production i saw at boston baroque last week, she was sung by kirsten solleck, who was the most effectively androgynous looking pants-role singer i've even seen.  so we had at times, the rare and lovely sound of a contralto and 2 countertenors singing together.

then, in the 2nd act, flirty-cutey partenope decides to lead her own troops into battle, actually fighting with her men.  so in a sense, we have for a while two 'men' who are really women. by the end, she is sobered a bit by the war, in spite of her triumph, but definitely back to girly-girl.  oh well, can't have everything.

Friday, October 19, 2012

''Dickens' Women"

a very brief note, all i have time or energy for at the moment.  miriam margolyes, an actor much better known in england than the US, has recently finished a british tour of her one'-woman show, dicken's women.  she began her US tour here in boston for one night on wednesday. it wasn't well publicized, and i was lucky that a friend of mine knew about it. it was....pick your superlative--splendid, brilliant, grab-your belly funny and then painfully touching.  i so nearly didn't see it, and it is so fine, i wanted anyone who might be interested to be aware, if it does come to your area. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Whistle Blowers and Condoms, and a Young Man in Prison

given my current depression--lessening now, thank heaven!--i have deliberately not been watching conventions [what! they're nominating mitt romney?] or debates, and read about them only as much as i feel i need to. sad obama apparently blew it last week, glad biden did well this week.  but i'm trying, till i feel stronger, to avoid politics.

 sometimes, though, you can't avoid it.  glancing through the metro news a few weeks ago [ like to read the astrology page at night to find out what i did that day] i came across a reminder of a long-lasting, still upsetting situation: the attempt to get wikileaks founder julian assange kicked out of every country till he ends up extradited to the US, where he'll be at best imprisoned for years, at worst, executed.

i am even angrier at the use of the anti-rape legislation of sweden.  while anti-abortion politicians in the US are trying to convince us that rape is confined to attacks in alleys from demonic strangers, the anti-assange crew is trying to convince us the sweden's idiosyncratic inclusion of sex without condoms in their definition of rape is valid in the rest of the world.   in two separate reported incidents, assange was involved in consensual sex with adult women, and his condom broke. he didn't immediately stop the intercourse, and both women reported this to the police. neither claims to have been in any way coerced into the sex itself.  need i point out that once sex has begun it's pretty ...involving?...and your mind isn't necessarily working at its most logical.  he should have stopped, yeah. could he have stopped? maybe.  a sexologist could probably tell you.  maybe he's just a sleaze.  sweden deserves much praise for its serious attention to abuse of women, but they may want to consider some of their definitions of sexual abuse.

if he really had raped these women, frankly i'd be glad for the pursuit he's gone through, even knowing that it had nothing to do with the rapes and everything to do with the fact that he's revealed secrets to the people of countries whose politicians would rather the public didn't know.  but using a highly questionable definition of rape is something else.  If anyone really considers him some sort of sexual predator, flood the internet with warnings not to date this guy.  and then start investigating all the swedes whose condoms have broken.  better yet, include the swedish definition of 'rape' in our own laws, and start investigating american men.  one wonders how that would affect the demographics of american prisons.

meanwhile, almost ignored by the US press, a young army private has lived in a series of American prisons for the past four years, some appallingly brutal, because he got hold of and sent to wikileaks a large number of classified documents.  among liberals and leftists, bradley manning has been seen as the daniel ellsburg of our era.  various processes leading up to trial have taken place, with manning still ensconced in prison for being a whistle blower.  he may well end up spending the rest of his life incarcerated. maybe some truly dangerous information is getting out.  but i'm  more concerned about the rights of the public to be informed about where its tax money is going, what toxins are being used in wars declared and undeclared, and many other things we don't think about because we don't know about. and i don't believe either assange or bradley is as dangerous to our country as any of the conservative politicians dedicated to keeping the poor ever poorer and enlarging the population in poverty, in constricting women's rights to control their reproduction decisions, and in destroying the environment for the benefit of big business.  let's investigate their sexual habits: i'm betting we could find a few busted condoms in their backgrounds.