MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Handel’s Witty, Urbane, Subversive Art: Staging Partenope

One more chance to see this Partenope production: on Sunday afternoon. If you’re in the Bay Area, try to catch this — it’s worth it.

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Afternoon Delight

Regenbogen

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Dazed, Confused, and Lovestruck: Twelfth Night at Seattle Shakespeare

Jay Myers as Orsino and Allie Pratt as Viola. Photo by John Ulman.

Jay Myers as Orsino and Allie Pratt as Viola. Photo by John Ulman.

“Why, this is very midsummer madness!” exclaims Countess Olivia in the middle of Twelfth Night — just as the whirligigs of the plot against Malvolio start cranking away. Olivia’s normally uptight steward has been set up to believe his boss is suddenly overcome with uncontrollable passion for him and is putting on a display that makes for one of the most outrageously funny scenes in all Shakespeare.

But Malvolio’s (David Quicksall) crazed behavior is easily matched by the antics indulged in by Olivia herself (Elinor Gunn) in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s deliriously unconventional new production, which opened this past weekend and which plays through Nov. 16 at the Center Theatre at Seattle Center. Visiting director Jon Kretzu approaches Twelfth Night as if it were a vastly elaborated version of the nocturnal spell cast in the Bard’s decade-earlier A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Just about everyone seems to wander about in a woozy haze of confused, mismatched desire.

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Filed under: directors, review, Shakespeare

The Rake’s Revels: Don Giovanni Parties It Up in Seattle

Photo (c) Elise Bakketun

Photo (c) Elise Bakketun


Here’s my Bachtrack review of the current Don Giovanni revival in Seattle:

Mozart’s drama about the legendary rake’s egress launches the first season under Seattle Opera’s new general director, Aidan Lang. However, the production originated here in 2007, and the current revival had of course been scheduled well in advance. In other words, it makes no statement about the new Lang era but is instead a reverberation of the Speight Jenkins years.

This production mines the comic possibilities inherent in the essentially picaresque, stop-start narrative pieced together by Da Ponte. The Overture, with its apocalyptic opening section introducing a cheerful, buffa main course, has always posed a musical conundrum, the solution to which, as in Tristan und Isolde, remains deferred until the end of the opera. Yet in Seattle’s McCaw Hall, those foreboding first chords have the effect rather of parentheses, of a statement that’s easily shunted aside until the topic comes up again, in rather nonsequitur fashion, during the grand finale.

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Filed under: Mozart, review, Seattle Opera

Purcell Meets Bartók in LA

DnA

Tonight brings the opening of Los Angeles Opera’s curious pairing of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók.

The Australian-born, Berlin-based director Barrie Kosky (intendant at the Komische Oper Berlin) has brought his staging of the double bill for Oper Frankfurt to LA.

In a recent Opera News profile, Kosky explained the connections he’s come to see between these two one-act operas:

“Both pieces are about arrival and departure in different ways. Both operas have a couple and the complexities of love in different ways as the central element of the pieces. And the third thing is, both pieces have a degree of sadness and melancholia running through them.”

Here’s a very brief introduction to the evening by LA Opera’s CEO Christopher Koelsch:

Filed under: Bartók, directors, opera

Life with the Stars

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Filed under: photography, Stravinsky

The Death of Klinghoffer

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Tonight John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer opens at the Met. Here’s the full program as a pdf, including my program note.

And here’s another introductory essay I wrote for the Met.

Filed under: American opera, John Adams, Metropolitan Opera

The Death of Klinghoffer at the Met

Reposting this since the opening is just few days away.

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

ENO-Klinghoffer

Here’s my recent essay for the Metropolitan Opera’s Season Book on the most controversial opera of the season:

Behind the Headlines
In the world of opera, it’s common for a new work to take some time to establish its place in the repertoire. Just think of Così fan tutte, written in 1790 but largely ignored until the mid-20th century, or Les Troyens, which didn’t reach the United States until more than a century after its composition. A generation has passed since the 1991 premiere of John Adams’s second opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, but for the most part the work is still known solely by its controversial reputation. Apart from that original production, only two other full stagings have been seen in the U.S., and both of these took place within the past three years (at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2011 and Long Beach Opera in spring 2014).

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Dahlia Lounge

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Finding the Key: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

“What do we call visible light? We call it color. But… really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible,” is the lesson that beams in on the short-wave radio. The hyper-curious, gifted, white-haired German orphan Werner Pfennig and his sensitive sister Jutta listen in, escaping through the invisible waves for a moment from the coal-mining town of Zollverein.

This is just one of many memorably etched moments in Anthony Doerr’s new novel, All the Light We Cannot See. I became a fan of Doerr’s writing last year when his short story collection Memory Wall fell into my hands. Doerr possesses the rare gift of a distinctive style that avoids mannerism and that endows his characters — well, most of them — with depth and compassionate believability.

The beauty of Doerr’s fiction is both stylistic and structural. His lyrical, keenly observed prose in All the Light We Cannot See supports a meticulously crafted and layered narrative. The narrative follows a more or less old-fashioned model, using a thriller plot as the engine for what is really of interest: the development of its two main characters, the blind French girl Marie-Laure and Werner, as the horrors of the Second World War grimly unfold around them.

Doerr dextrously interleaves different points of view while time-warping back and forth from the climactic scenes in the walled port city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, just after D-Day in the summer of 1944. The tone similarly blends aspects of a fable with penetrating realism.

I agree with William T. Vollmann‘s assessment that one major flaw is the two-dimensional portrayal of Sgt. Maj. Reinhold von Rumpel: an almost comic-book Nazi villain hell-bent on his quest for a rare blue diamond known as the Sea of Flame. This Nazi’s “wickedness and physical loathsomeness are offset by nothing that could make him into a rounded character,” observes Vollmann. “His unbelievability exemplifies a mistake writers often make when describing monsters.”

And Vollmann captures the “old-fashioned” quality of Doerr’s achievement here when he notes that All the Light We Cannot See “is more than a thriller and less than great literature. As such, it is what the English would call ‘a good read.'”

Here’s how the author explains what he means by the title:

It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant).

It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.

Why continue to write about WWII? Doerr from his NPR interview with Arun Rath:

We’re losing thousands of people for whom World War II is memory every day. In another decade, there will be nobody left — very very few people left — who can remember the war. And so history becomes something that becomes slightly more malleable.

And I worry about how my own sons, my 10-year-old sons, are learning about the war, whether it’s through video games or the History Channel. Often, particularly politicians, they’re often presenting the war as a very black-and-white narrative. I worry that that’s dangerous. I think it’s important to empathize with how citizens come to a certain point, and you know, that might be a more meaningful way to try and avoid what had happened.

Filed under: book recs, literature

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