Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Nathan Gunn and Adam Cooper
It occurred to me that many of you might have been stumped by my celebrity crushes #6 and 7 yesterday so I thought I'd introduce them to you, particularly for anyone who thinks of the worlds of classical music, opera and ballet as being a bit stuffy or lacking in sexual allure. . . . and the black
Adam Cooper is a Brit who came roaring into international public conciousness in choreographer Matthew Bourne's stunning reimagining of Tchaikovsky's romantic ballet "Swan Lake" as a homoerotic tale of one repressed man's emotional and sexual awakening through an encounter with the untrammeled forces of nature. In the original story the swans are all women and the ballet is thrilling but very decorative. In Bourne's version, the swans are overwhelmingly beautiful men led by the astonishing Adam Cooper, the odor of testosterone is almost tangible, and the young prince's awakening is scary, passionate, ultimately triumphant.
As in the original scenario, the lead plays dual roles symbolizing the two faces of love and sex, the classicly beautiful, faithful white swan and the seductive, destructive, predatory black swan. Cooper moves effortlessly from white feather to black leather and back again, creating memorable characters as well as dancing magnificently. There is a video of this (and probably a DVD by now) that is very much worth seeing and yes, the object of the swan's liberating romantic interest DOES bear a striking resemblance to the young Prince Charles, not only physically but also in terms of his situation in life. Their great love duet in Act 2 is a superb piece of dancing and symbolic lovemaking between two men.
Nathan Gunn as Billy Budd in Benjamin Britten's opera
When I was first attracted to opera, it was still a very traditional art form whose acting and production styles far more reflected the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than the post-World War II, -existentialist, -Elvis, -Summer of Love, -gay liberation world in which I encountered it. Opera soon changed; I spend a great deal of my time now writing and speaking in defense of the new theatricality that has come to opera in the face of often hostile reaction by ultra-conservative factions in the audience.
A great part of the "Shock of the New" in opera came from the story lines of the contemporary works premiered in the last fifty years. Gone were the sweet, sentimental tales of long-suffering women who lived and died with--and sometimes from the behavior of --their men. Many out gay composers brought openly gay plot lines to their work, no one more so than Benjamin Britten. And many out gay and lesbian directors began to explore matters of sexuality in the new (and even, scandalously, in the older) operas, introducing partial or complete nudity and insisting on sexualizing the opera singer in line with the sexualizing of society in general.
Enter the new, slimmed down, buffed up, frequently stripped to the waist male opera star. They're everywhere and one of the most talented and in-demand is American baritone Nathan Gunn, prime example of what's now called the "barihunk."
End of the opera as Captain Vere takes leave of Billy who is about to be hanged
You can't get away anymore with just standing on the stage and singing like an angel--although Gunn has that one covered with room to spare. You have to be able to act, sometimes dance, always inhabit your character, and be a superb musician into the bargain.
The homosexual undertow in Herman Melville's novel "Billy Budd" is not difficult to locate. Life on a late 18th century British man o'war featured hundreds of men living in close quarters along with daily rituals of discipline, dominance/submission, and humiliation. The production from Munich, Germany shown in these pictures updated the action to an unspecified time when the ships are of iron and the lads who sail them serve without benefit of shirts. Typically, the audience was divided about the updating and lack of overt Royal Navy trappings, but there was universal praise for Nathan Gunn's singing, acting and physical beauty in the part of Billy who is frequently described by Melville as "the handsome sailor."
That just about covers it--or uncovers it, as the case may be. I think both these men are sensational and both are at the very height of their careers right now. Cooper is dancing everything from the Classics to George Gershwin and London musicals, while Gunn is preparing to star in the world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera of gay composer Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy" adapted from Theodore Dreiser's novel of the same name.
Thumbnail from Dax Berg's site
For anyone interested in male beauty, I've added a new link in the photography section to DaxArt. Dax Berg lives and works in San Francisco. His approach to portraying men is less consciously artful and polished and his "models" more gritty and real than in the work of many other well-known erotic photographers. The men he chooses are all real guys off the streets of the Castro or men who send in snapshots to see if he'd be interested in shooting them. Dax is a bear and he's interested in guys who aren't shaved clean, who have body art and attitude, and that intangible thing called presence. He shoots them in ones, twos and threes and they're quite something to see.
Hope you come back to read this because I can't fiona an email link to you anywhere. Yes, I'd be
happy to have a link from your blog and will set up one on DesignerBlog for you.