I think it is time for a major blog resurrection. Specifically meaning THIS blog. I have left it dusty and dilapidated for about a year, mainly because I suck and also because I started keeping a rather large, fancy, and non-digital diary. Which took up a lot of time, but offered very little opportunity to talk culture...or art. SO I thought I would post a little something about the past week, which was super opera heavy and amazing. I had the pleasure of seeing Atys at BAM on Friday night. With perfect musical direction by William Christie this gorgeously gilded French Baroque opera was truly a beautiful sight, with magical costumes and glitz enough to confirm that it was indeed originally created for a king, THE king... Louis XIV. Atys tells the rather tragic tale of unrequited love and how nasty things can get when you spurn the romantic advances of a goddess. Seriously, don't spurn an immortal. You will end up a pine tree. That was the most basic thing I took from Atys, but on an artistic level it was simply heaven. This opera had powdered wigs, strange twins doing dances, and plenty of men wearing dainty gold shoes. Intrigued? You should be.
Monday night saw the opening of the Met's season with Donizetti's Anna Bolena. A sucker for the subject material, I was very excited to attend this opera and witness all the hubbub of an opening night at the Met. It certainly did not let me down. Talented costumer Jenny Tiramani outfitted a simply gorgeous cast, with Anna Netrebko singing the role of the queen, Ekaterina Gubanova as Jane Seymour, the extremely handsome Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII, and the equally handsome (though somewhat shifty-eyed) Stephen Costello as Anne Boleyn's old lover (maybe husband? Gasp!) Percy. I found the whole cast to be fabulous, with Netrebko leading the way with great class and a flirtatious style all her own. Personally, it would have been hard to pick between these two gorgeous men, pictured below. Although, I suppose I would have had to go with the one that did not want to cut my head off. But all relationships have problems.
Lastly, on Wednesday I saw the dress rehearsal of Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Met. Bartlett Sher's joyful production is simply a delight. Peter Mattei recreates his performance of Figaro with great swarthiness and style (and strangely attractive stripey pants!) The whole cast plays up the silliness of the production to great effect. Isabel Leonard was a fiesty Rosina and Javier Camarena made his Met debut as the Count. I saw this opera for work which allows me to make the definite statement that kids really enjoy this lighthearted production. What's not to love? There's an anvil crushing a pumpkin cart, a massive fireball, and the stripey pants. Let's not forget those.
In summation, opera rules. We should all get to go atleast three times a week. For our health, if nothing else.
"That's how I come to see him before he sees me. He's leaning against a tree, like part of the forest himself in his green tunic, his brown leather boots. As I watch, he closes his eyes as if summoning some inner power, and he whistles again. But it's no falcon he's whistling down; there's no glove upon his hand. No, he's calling to me."
Are you not intrigued? (Admit it.)
This fantastic novel, Wildwing by Emily Whitman, is incredibly engaging and romantic, without relying on stereotypes or mush. It weaves history with truly realistic characters, especially the heroine, Addy. Like most teens, Addy deals with repression, rage, and mean girls. Despite living in 1913, Addy’s struggles feel incredibly present. After multiple clashes with the nasty rich girls at school, who tease and humiliate Addy for her questionable parentage, she is shuffled into service as a maid for the mysterious Mr. Greenwood. His house is filled with books, which Addy makes liberal use of as Mr. Greenwood, who has many secrets, spends his days out wandering in a most bronte-esque fashion.
It does not take long until Addy discovers a most inexplicable contraption, which upon further consideration appears to function as a time machine (duh). Fed up with her own life and time (literally) Addy makes the decision to step into the machine for good and try her luck in the middle ages. Transported to the year 1240, Addy soon finds how easy it is to reinvent herself as a lady. Through serendipitous circumstances, she is mistaken for the Lady Matilda, the long awaited bride to be of Sir Hugh. Welcomed with open arms, Addy enjoys power and respect for the first time in her life. However, this does not last long as she soon finds herself wound up with the handsome, blue-eyed falconer William (obviously gorgeous). Their romance is developed in a rather believable fashion, which is surprising for a book with such a ridiculous cover.
It is a failing of many young adult novels today that they feel they must picture their heroines as Hannah Montana tweens. Despite the sad excuse for cover art, this engaging and overall sweet read is satisfying and fun. Emily Whitman writes with light and whimsical style. All I can say is, forget vampires...bring on the falconers. Just kidding. Kind of.
Last nights sold out performance at Radio City Music Hall was a truly magnificent musical event. 'The Swell Season,' an ever growing amalgamation, which last night consisted of front man, the Irish and exuberant, Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Czech born diminutive songstress, and the entirety of 'The Frames,' Hansard's first band, as well as a three man brass section.
Glen Hansard is a force, almost alien in his capacity for joy and a seemingly endless outpouring of energy. Hansard led the group for an almost three hour concert, that felt less like a show and more like a festival, lasting well into the night. I was delighted to have the pleasure of seeing Hansard's first love, his band 'The Frames,' join in his success.'The Frames,' a hard working and awesome Dublin based band for almost twenty years before the film 'Once' catapulted its front man, Hansard, into Oscar stardom and an ongoing romance with the whole world.
Glen Hansard is the best example of passion that I have ever seen. I don't think I have ever seen a musician work harder and transform the effort into pure joy. Hansard's love of music, his band mates, and of life in general is completely contagious. He is a man living each day completely right and spreading his talent as effortlessly as he hits those high notes. He is ,at heart, still a total busker. Before he played his sold out show at Radio City Music Hall, he made sure to spend some time warming up on the surrounding streets.
Markéta Irglová is a silent, perfect presence. It is not hard to see her as the other half of Hansard. She might be the only person able to keep up with his almost manic energy, through her utter effortlessness. It seems like she would let him talk for hours and then be able to level him one sentence. She is a strong talent and a beautiful singer. Hansard and Irglová, a past romantic pair much to the delight of 'Once' Lovers everywhere, have parted ways, and yet seemed to be the most respectful and loving friends. It is clear that they still both admire and adore each, as musicians and as people. 'The Swell Season' played songs from their new album 'Strict Joy,' as well as all the old 'Once' favorites. Hansard also covered my favorite Van Morrison song, 'Astral Weeks', with a fervor that I did not think possible, much to my great delight. Colm Mac Con Iomaire, a member of The Frames and an absolutely stunning violinist, played a number on his own that was utterly breathtaking. The tremendous talent of all the musicians on that stage last night was utterly staggering. They each held their own, bringing something strong and unique to the sound.
Glen Hansard begged the crowd to speak what was in their hearts. He told heartwarming and rich stories about his own life and what music means to him, by the passion of his words, its clear it means a lot. Hansard also really puts his audience to work, begging them to sing along, teaching lyrics, and building harmonies. He seems to seek a real connection with his fans, respecting them as music lovers like himself. Hansard demands the real from everything he does. He and his crew refused to utilize the two large television screens on either side of the stage. He said he found them distracting and promised he and the band would try to "be animated." This is a man who really knows what music means, or at least what it is supposed to mean. In the face of today's image mongering, it is so refreshing to see musicians who are just themselves, vulnerable and utterly without guile.
I am not going to lie, movies like this are my own personal brand of catnip. If there are gowns, schemes, or longing glances...than I will be seeing the movie. 'The Young Victoria' does not disappoint in these arenas. The film tells the story of the young monarch growing into herself under monumental pressure from all sides. It focuses on her young adulthood and primarily on her romance with Prince Albert, her soon to be husband and life long partner. The movie flags at times in terms of pace, but it is still sort of gorgeous to watch. Reminiscent of 'The Duchess,' this film is somewhat forgettable, but still totally worth it. Emily Blunt as Victoria is a strong lead, but the shine performance,for me, is that of Rupert Friend, who plays the all too tender Prince Albert. Rupert Friend might have the most perfect face...ever, and is a great romantic lead. If you missed Friend's performance in the otherwise all too skipable 'Cheri,' I would recommend sitting through it just for him. He is simply delightful. Written by Julian Fellows (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair), I recommend 'The Young Victoria' for its aesthetic perfections and romantic sincerity.
I am a fresh convert. I recently started tutoring an eleven-year-old girl who speaks fluent ‘Edward,’ and little else. Upon first meeting my young charge, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Her mother informed me that her daughter really likes ‘Twilight,’ and can talk about little else. As a result, I am halfway through book four, and “Edward” has become a common topic in my apartment, much to the chagrin of my three roommates. He has also become my screen saver. My favorite of the quartet is the bestselling ‘New Moon,’ book two of Stephanie Meyer’s menace. ‘New Moon’ tells the continuing story of Bella’s tempestuous romance with the undead, an eternally seventeen-year-old named Edward Cullen. In this book, Bella, the young moral heroine, struggles with Edward’s decision to leave her, for her own good, and also embraces a new friendship…with a werewolf. The story is chock full of teen angst and plot twists that do not disappoint.
A strength of this book is the development it lends to the character of Bella. She is shown without Edward, and therefore the reader is able to make better sense of her, without his overshadowing presence. It also brings in new characters and takes the reader to Italy, which is never a bad place to go. Meyer is something of a fantastical being herself in her ability to draw the reader into her world. A weakness of ‘New Moon’ is it’s hyper focus on Bella’s depression, as a result of Edward’ departure, and her insistence on physically hurting herself in order to bring him back. It gets old quite fast. The descriptive style of ‘the Twilight Saga’ can hardly be classified as good, but Meyer sneaks by winningly with her commitment to Bella’s voice, an expression that she writes extremely well. Despite my acceptance of these books, I am still semi-baffled by their popularity. I am also currently reading ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell, whose discussion of “social epidemics’ has been quite illuminating in my quest to understand the “why” behind the popularity and success of Meyer’s work. Obviously, the books are doing well. ‘New Moon’ was recently made into a film, one that the girl I tutor for has seen five times, that grossed 140.7 million in its opening weekend.
Obviously I have seen the movie too, and it does not disappoint. It is as chock full of angst as the books, but it comes in live color. Miss Kristen Stewert is the queen of the suffering sideways glance and Robert Pattinson is the epitome of human ( or non-human?) perfection. The film manages to retain all the twists of the book without loosing much in the way of plot, which is good because fans of 'Twilight' are so die-hard that to mess with plot lines could result in mass rioting. The most shocking aspect of the film, for me, was how amazing the soundtrack is. The New Moon soundtrack features tracks from the likes of Grizzly Bear, OK Go, and Thom Yorke. This is indeed a big step up from the 'Twilight' soundtrack that boasted mainly Linkin Park and such. I cannot help but be overjoyed that Lykke Li has replaced Taylor Swift as my eleven year old friend's favorite singer. How cool is that?
Despite embracing the Twilight mania, it has also been my mission to steer my eleven year old pal towards other works of young adult fiction that retain the fantasy element without compromising the quality of the writing. Three titles that go nicely with the ‘Twilight’ vibe are Madeleine L'Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, Tamora Pierce’s ‘Alanna’ series, and my favorite, ‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix. All three books showcase a young woman who feels like an outsider in her own world, and chooses a different path than the one presented to her. They each also throw a little romance into the mix, which I know is a vital element of any young girl seeking a ‘Twilight’ rebound. I think the young adult market is ripe with less than admirable fiction, and it would be wonderful to guide kids towards titles that can stimulate their imagination without depleting their verbal score on the SAT.