Thursday, March 30, 2006

Gay marriage is back in the news from a couple of countries. I'm well aware that this topic is controversial even in the gay community. There's a consideraable body of opinion that gay mariage was the wrong issue at the wrong time and that it's caused an enormous backlash with some truly unpleasant legal consequences in various parts of the country. But there's another view entirely that it has begun an inexorable march to full civil rights for gays and lesbians that isn't a one-time event but a process with inevitible ups and downs on the way to final success.

Here in Massachusetts where it all started, there was a decision today from the state's Supreme Judicial Court (the body that gave us gay marriage in the first place) that's getting a lot of press but essentially means nothing. Eight couples, mixed gay and lesbian, sued the state because they're forbidden marriage here as they aren't Massachusetts citizens. This is old news and an old issue. The problem is the same 1913 law, a disgraceful bit of state history, that surfaced during the six month period between the Court's decree mandating gay marriage and the beginning of its legality.

The law was written specifically to prevent mixed race couples from coming into the state to marry. It upholds the principle of State's Rights by refusing to allow the marriage of any couple in Massachusetts whose home state would not allow them to marry. Lots of us think the thing should be repealed but it has some strong defenders to this day and is unlikely to go away soon. The Court today ruled against the plaintiffs because the law is on the books and isn't specifically unconstitutional. While some people are trying to make this look like a defeat for gay marriage here, in fact nothing has changed.

The real test for gay marriage comes some time late next month or in May when the proposed anti-gay amendment to the state's constitution comes up for a series of votes in constitutional convention. If our legistators approve it, it goes to the voters. But if the legislature votes it down, it's dead and goes no further.

In Australia, currently under the control of a homopphobic federal government, the capital territory of Canberra is moving toward instituting gay/lesbian civil marriage. Here are excerpts from the news story:

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Gay civil marriages are set to become a reality in Australia after years of lobbying from the homosexual community. Gay couples in the capital Canberra could be holding ceremonies to have their relationships formally recognised as early as the middle of the year, said Jon Stanhope, chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

"The new laws will give same-sex couples functional equality under ACT law with married couples," he said on Wednesday. Stanhope's Labour Party has a majority in the one house ACT parliament and expects to pass the legislation in May. ACT is the first territory or state in Australia to introduce legislation to legalise gay civil unions. Australia has two territories and six states.

Conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard, along with Australia's influential Catholic Church, opposes gay marriages and national laws do not recognise same-sex unions.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome welcomed the ACT legislation, saying gay couples deserved the right to have their relationships affirmed by society. "The Stanhope government's proposed civil union scheme is an important step towards a society in which all inter-personal love, care and commitment is valued," Croome told reporters. "Inevitably we will see same-sex couples travelling to Canberra to have their unions solemnised and returning home expecting and demanding equal recognition and protection for their relationships."

The ACT's civil union will only give gay couples equality with married couples regarding wills and the division of property in the ACT. While the civil union is open to all Australians it is only valid in the ACT and will not affect national laws governing taxation, superannuation and health care.

"My challenge to the federal government is to end its discriminatory treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians," Stanhope said in a statement. "While the ACT is determined to do what it can to afford equal protection under the law to all people, regardless of their sex or sexual orientation, it must be recognised that without changes federally, this equal treatment will be enjoyed only in relation to territory laws."

This story appeared earlier this week. The next day, the Australian Attorney-General warned Mr. Stanhope not to attempt passage of the gay civil marriage legislation, but Stanhope pointed out that the A-G's statement was filled with vague and contradictory language, and it looks like he'll push forward and let the Courts deal with the inevitable appeals and lawsuits. Stanhope believes that a majority of the Australian population wsould support the issue should it ever wind up on the ballot.

As for Fritz and me, we'll be speaking about our personal experience of getting married in Massachusetts and leading a discussion of the topic for Seacoast Gay Men in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Monday, May 22. Not only does New Hampshire not have gay marriage, the state has passed a law specifically denying recognition of such marriages contracted in any other state. But new Hampshire elected the first out gay Bishop of the Episcopal Church in this country, and its legislature recently voted down an anti-gay amendment to the state constitution, so things there are interesting to say the least.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

We got back last evening from our weekend away. Fritz's former student, E, again put us up and spent most of the weekend with us. Friday was talk and dinner and a lot of fun. I'm not sure any more just how the subject came up, but we learned for the first time of a part of her performing career we couldn't have imagined--her involvement in cult horror movies.

She told us kind of delightedly that on a trip to Toronto she found a booth at a flea market that carried the DVD releases. When she revealed that she had been in the films, the seller was thrilled and started telling clients they had one of the actresses among them, which led to her signing autographs. She had DVDs of two of her three titles and we planned a movie night on Sunday.

Saturday we walked down to Lincoln Center, toured E's health club and then went to our separate performances: they to "Festen," a play made from the movie "Celebration," I to "Lysistrata" at the New York City Opera. Composaer Mark Adamo has opened up the classic Greek comedy because he felt that it was a one-joke drama for a modern audience and that Lysistrata herself has almost nothing at stake. Ancient audiences would realize how daring her actions were in leading a sex lock-out against Greek men, but post-feminist audiences wouldn't really get it. So he invented a Greek general who's her lover and she has to face the reality that if she remains true to her principles, it will mean losing him forever. This device gives a depth to the story that allowed for a major emotional climax followed by a happy resolution when he finally realizes the futility of war and adopts her philosophy. The audience was strongly enthusiastic.

We all made a quick trip back to the apartment for Chinese delivery and then headed out to our evening performances: "Well" a quirky but very interesting theater piece for them and Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa" at the Metropolitan Opera for me. The audience was filled with Russians--in some sections of the opera house it was the only language being spoken--and the opera itself is very Russian--filled with death by decapitation, despair, betrayal and, eventually, dementia out in the snow. Fun stuff. And long. Russian epics are always lengthy and this one was worth every minute.

Sunday was devoted to a trip up to The Cloisters. Built on the ruins of a grand estate house of some robber baron or other, and on a height overlooking the Hudson at the northern tip of Manhattan island, the Cloisters was assembled from fragments of European Romanesque and Gothic buildings dating from the 12th through 15th centuries. It houses a superb collection of medieval art, including the famed Unicorn Tapestries. Unfortunately, the building was severely overheated for some reason and at intervals we were driven out into one or the other of the outdoor gardens just to be able to breathe. E decided she couldn't go back in for a while, so Fritz and I completed the galleries and went to get her. We did go back in briefly for some shopping in museum store and then took the long bus trip back to tea and assorted cheeses at Picnic, a cafe just across Broadway from her apartment.

And so it was time for Horror Night. The first film was "I Drink Your Blood." She told us that because of her type as an actress she was always the "good girl" in town who tries to help but falls victim to whatever horror infects the community. In IDYB, it's a band of hippie satanists (lots of men stripped to the waist) who take over an abandoned house and begin to molest the locals. One boy in the community shoots a rabid dog and gets the idea to take the dog's blood and inject it into meat pies that are the only food available to the hippie clan, thereby making them rabid. When one of the clan's women has sex with all the men in the local construction project, big teams of rabid humans wind up running around murdering and decapitating (not all that different from the opera of the night before, actually). E's character holds many of them off with a garden hose (as rabies is actually hydrophobia--fear of water, naturally). Eventually, things look like they're safely back to normal until the final shots when E wakes up the next morning and has clearly been infected. The horror will go on.

Part of the fun of the evening was her running commentary on which of the men in the cast was having sex with the director (three by my count) and how they'd made the casts of her head for the fake, decapitated version (LOTS of beheadings this weekend!) that was required for the next film. As it was getting late, we only sampled "Deadly Spawn" ("Return of the Aliens" in Europe) up to the point when E's character got eaten in her own basement by great toothy creatures that had invaded from the sky. This is where her head went bouncing across the floor. We also saw lots of just hatched (born? whelped? ) creatures looking for all the world like tadpoles with huge mouths full of teeth, swimming around and presumably just waiting to grow up and invade the rest of the country.

Third and final of her films was "Rottweiler" which a wonderfully designed framed poster hanging in the room where we stayed proudly announced to be in 3-D. The European title of this one is "The Dogs of Hell" and presumably a lot of the 3-D effects involve toothy-mouthed dogs leaping out at the audience huddling together for safety in their little cardboard red and green cellophane-lensed glasses. "Rottweiler" is also out on DVD but, sadly, not in 3-D. E doesn't have this one but will probably get it before our next visit.

On the way home yesterday we visited Beacon, New York to spend a couple of hours in the DIA contemporary art center, one of the most magnificent exhibit spaces I've ever seen. Made from an old Nabisco factory and vast, there are galleries that are forty feet wide and two hundred feet long. Among the highlights were an artist who works exclusively in florescent tubes and an excellent Andy Warhol retrospective.

So today it's back to normal. We're visiting an old colleague of mine and his family for dinner. It's MIT's spring break week and I'll be able to catch up on a lot of work while students are away and
before the crazyness starts all over again next week. Major project: a first model of the new house.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The legislature up in the New Hampshire State House (pictured) voted down the proposed anti-gay state Constitutional amendment by an impressive 207 to 125. Nothing changes, of course. There's a law in NH that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The law goes further, refusing to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions contracted in other states. So why is there such celebration in the gay advocacy groups?

The principle that you don't write discrimination (at least, if you're sane, as some states have not been) into a state or national constitution has been upheld. New Hampshire is perhaps the most conservative of the liberal New England states. But there are surprisingly large pockets in the landscape that shelter liberal communities, and they made themselves heard. It's very hard to repeal a Constitutional amendment, but comparatively easy to get a law declared unconstitutional by the courts, which is where many commentators see this one going.

In Connecticut, virtually the same appeal process to the courts that got gay marriage mandated in Massachusetts is well under way. Arguments were presented earlier this week by lawyers for the gay and lesbian plaintiffs and were received sympathetically by the judges. A ruling is expected soon.

Our news telecasts up here are pretty much all Cardinal all the time (except for Adam Vinatieri's surprise departure from the Patriots to Indiana). O'Malley's in Rome this week doing his humble friar routine, but I'll give him credit for one good line in response to a question about his new bright red vestments. He said they were the perfect outfit for going hunting with the Vice-President because "they sure are red!"

MIT's spring break begins Saturday morning. Fritz and I are slipping out of town tomorrow morning, a day early, and heading down to New York City for a variety of activities. We're staying with his wonderful former student again on the upper west side. Friday will be catching up time and dinner out. On Saturday they'll do something together--perhaps on Broadway--while I do two operas: the brand new "Lysistrata" by Mark Adamo (pictured) at NY City Opera in the afternoon, and "Mazeppa" by Tchaikovsky at the Metropolitan Opera in the evening.

The contemporary political comedy from an ancient source and the big historical Cossack epic might seem to have little in common, but both are by gay composers from very different eras whose music is warm and Romantic in feeling , if very individual harmonically.

Sunday will be spent up at The Cloisters, the heart and soul of the medieval collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's an amazing structure, itself a prime exhibit as it's assembled from many buildings or parts of buildings from Europe that were disassembled and rebuilt exactly on heights overlooking the Hudson River. Fritz has never been and I'm looking forward to introducing him to it. As a kid, I was all over the place with the one or two friends from my high school who were into art, classical music and dance.

We'll return to Fritz's by way of the Hudson Valley, probably stopping on Monday at the big DIA-Beacon contemporary art complex that was made by converting a huge complex of train sheds into vast galleries for modern art installations. Or maybe we'll just wander around the countryside in search of the meltingly handsome waiter who served us lunch the last time we were in the area.

I'll be back some time Tuesday morning. Take care and have a great weekend.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

You've got to wonder sometimes how patterns develop in your life. I seem to have entered my Catholic high school period. First there was the visit/reconcilliation to my old school in New York. Then, a month or so ago, our good friend H--local architect, pillar of the circle of men who gather at Fritz's for gay events, and at whose house Fritz and I met--asked if I'd be interested in acting as theater consultant for a project to convert an old gym-atorium space into a proper performing arts venue at Boston College High. I said quite truthfully that I'd be delighted, realizing immediately that I'd be working in a Jesuit institution.

The first meeting with the space's users, the project manager, the president of the school and one or two other interested parties happened yesterday and went very well. The head of theatrical activities is an old acquaintance who rents props and furniture from my stock at MIT for his productions. So there was some good-natured ribbing that "Adrian's going to get everything HE wants" because he knows the theater consultant. Nobody in the room was a Jesuit, by the way. Things seem to be much as at my high school--lay professionals are in charge and the clergy are part of the mix in terms of religious matters. The president of the school is married to a woman who's an Episcopal cleric at Boston's Emmanuel Church--which just might be interested in engaging us to work on renovating that historic church's interior.

Long home to Emmanuel Music, a famed early music ensemble, and other performing organizations, the church now wants to adapt into an inclusive venue for Jewish services on Friday night, Episcopal services at other times, and to become even more flexible for performances of many kinds. In today's hip, urban and young-professional Back Bay, its congregation is largely gone and survival means diversification. Other Back Bay/South End churches are now converted into condos.

So it was all a very positive experience. H is a pleasure to work with and his company, of which he is principal, is largely if not exclusively gay. His approach to the conversion at BC High is both simple and elegant. We're on the same page about where the money, which is far from unlimited, should go. My job for the next week will be to plot lighting positions, make recommendations for new equipment purchases and report on electrical circuitry that will need to be installed to make decent theatrical lighting possible.

Most of the weekend was spent up at Fritz's. He'd been afraid that sugaring season was over as the last warm spell stopped sap flow in the sugar maples dead in its tracks. But a return to the cycle of cold nights and warm days got it going again, so he's begun a second boiling. His rig is nice and simple. A 55 gallon drum lying on its side and legged had one side sheared off and a frame welded on in which the boiling pan sits. There's a smoke vent and metal chimney out the back, and it can be set up anywhere. With luck he'll wind up with around three gallons of syrup, total. Not a huge amount but better than he'd feared.

M, builder for the new house, came by on Saturday afternoon to walk the proposed site and see if it really is viable for the type of construction I want. He fell totally in love with the terrain. It's the south slope of the highest hill on the property and it drops in a series of undulating rises and hollows down to an old New England farm stone wall. Big boulders dot the hillside like neolithic monuments. Beech, white pine, field pine and ironwoods dot the slope. It's a corner of the property that never had any hiking trails marked or development of any kind; it's absolutely pristine. M and I are both invested in as green a developoment of the site as possible with phone, electric and cable lines buried rather than running through on ugly utility poles.

We sat and talked for about an hour in Fritz's dining area with my latest thoughts laid out on the table. He likes the most recent version especially and we agreed on a slight modification--although the north, west and east sides of the house will be completely earth-sheltered, soil will not cover the roof. Instead we'll have a conventional, albeit super-insulated roof that will work as well for heat retention but shave a significant amount from the construction costs. I'm looking at the kind of shallow, elegant peaked roofs on Frank Lloyd Wright houses. M and I both admire Wright a great deal.

We also talked about my approach to the interior: warm and comfortable north-African (Moroccan/Algerian) in feeling with warm earth tones and open, flexible space for entertaining. When I mentioned that I'd love to include older materials--columns, cornices, door frames, etc. salvaged from antique buildings, he got a sparkle in his eye. I think it's going to be a good collaboration. Fritz and I will be visiting a couple of earth-sheltered homes he's built in the past late next week during MIT's spring break.

So here's a little classical performer eye candy to end the post. Sam Ramey is coming to the end of an extremely distinguished and lengthy career as a leading bass at the world's great opera houses. Like most basses, he's quite tall and is still strikingly handsome now in his 60s. The role here is Attila in Verdi's opera about the Hunnish leader who invaded Europe and was virtually unstoppable during the decline of the Roman Empire.

During his youthful prime, Sam owned the role in New York for a number of years. His voice was huge and beautiful. When he strode on stage early in the first act to claim all of Italy for himself, dressed in virtually nothing but the brief "kilt" and with his torso framed in animal fur that set off his own, he caused a sensation. This photo comes from a site celebrating effective costuming and make-up. But the raw material the designers had to work with is pretty impressive all by itself.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

This first item is for Dave aka Scoobs. He commented ever so subtly that it's been some while since I've posted pictures of great male performers stripped for action. Since I wasn't able to find any new shots of Nathan Gunn's torso, I did a little digging and found these two. He's one of the greatest American ballet dancers ever, Edward Villella, who starred in the New York City Ballet, George Ballanchine's famous company.

Ballanchine was a Russian, one of the legendary choreographers. He once stated, "Ballet is woman," although he was in the midst of developing some of the finest male dancers in the world. His model for them wasn't the "noble partner" of the old-style French and British traditions--dancers who walked gracefully around the stage and whose sole purpose was to catch a ballerina after a leap or lift her when necessary. Russian male dancers are major athletes, particularly those who dance for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. They're muscular, incredibly strong and exhibitionistic dancers who thrill by the height of their leaps and an almost violent expression of emotion. Ballanchine's two premier men were Jacques d'Amboise (whose daughter Charlotte is now a big Broadway dancer/actress) and Villella.

As you can tell, his specialty was becoming airborne, and the coiled spring intensity of his work is obvious. He was much admired and loved in the profession, and he makes an appearance in a delightful illustrated children’s book, "The Bungling Ballerinas," by Ellen Shire. The plot is essentially that of the famous Bette Davis movie "All About Eve" set in a ballet company. Like any good children's book, it's filled with lots of jokes and references that only adults will get and find hilarious. Villella appears under his affectionate nickname, Eddie Vanilla.

Fritz hasn't been quite the same since we saw "Brokeback Mountain." Well, to be more precise, he hasn't been quite the same since he saw Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain." The fact is he's gone ga-ga over the boy. There's now a Jake file on his desktop, and I shamelessly pander to his new obsession by trolling gay blogs and Google images for new, preferably scantily dressed pictures of Jake: Jake stripped to the waist, Jake smiling adorably, Jake staring soulfully into the camera with those limpid blue eyes--that sort of thing. This is all done for love, you understand; I have absolutely no interest in these pictures myself, of course. None. Really.

One of the big hits of the Boston theater season has been the Lyric Stage's production of Edward Albee's "The Goat or Who Is Sylvia." This is late-career, recent Albee (2002) during a welcome and highly fruitful Indian Summer after a period of artistic drought from the late 1970s through early 90s. Written with great assurance, lacerating wit and featuring at least one truly magnificent role, "The Goat" was a huge success on Broadway; bringing it to Boston was a three year long goal for the Lyric's artistic director, Spiro Veloudos.

I saw it last night at the beginning of the last weekend of its run. The house was packed, my complimentary ticket being in the top row with a view down the steep bank of seating wrapped around the acting area that allowed me to realize how similar the Lyric's theater is to one of the ancient Greek amphitheaters. It's an important point--Albee taps directly into theater's well-spring here. Sylvia's a goat for very good reasons--from the satyr dance rituals during the spring fertility rites of ancient Greece descend all of western drama.

Albee writes of Martin, a man who has it all--a prize-winning architect with a perfect marriage, the commission of a lifetime recently awarded, an exquisite home--in other words, exactly the type of "hero" for whom the gods have planned a tragic reversal of fate. And it happens that Martin, on a trip through the countryside upstate of New York City looking to buy a country house for his family, sees a goat on the crest of a hill and falls madly in love with her. From here on, Albee examines all manner of social and personal issues.

It is, of course, the moment of absurdist theater that transforms all of Albee's work at some point in the action. It is as if Martin is struck mad--a favorite tactic of Gods intent on punishing those who grow too great--his vision clouded to all reason. His elegant, witty wife Stevie and their seventeen year old gay son Billy react as best they can. While Martin is the "tragic hero," Stevie is THE role in this play and Boston's great Paula Plum played her to perfection.

The play is never heavy handed or crude in dealing with the subject. In fact, it is humor that drives it forward to the shattering conclusion when Stevie drags the carcass of Sylvia, whom she has murdered, into the living room. She had first heard of Sylvia in a bantering remark made by Martin way back at the beginning when they were sparring verbally about their perfect union. Martin says he's cheating on her with a goat and they both fall into hysterical laughter. Stevie leaves the room and Martin turns to the audience and calmly says you can tell people the truth to their faces but they never believe you. A friend sends a letter revealing the affair to Stevie. There's a confrontation. Why, Martin wonders, would anyone send such a letter. Stevie replies "Perhaps he felt I should learn this from a friend rather than, say, the ASPCA."

I stayed afterwards to congratulate Paula, a friend of many years standing, and Spiro, a former student of mine from my years teaching at Emerson College, who had directed with a sure hand. If she, at least, doesn't win Boston's prestigious Elliot Norton Award again this year for yet another outstanding performance, there ain't no justice.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

With the big productions of the year over at MIT, I get to concentrate on administative matters, principally scheduling all our performance dates, workshops, use of dressing rooms and rehearsal halls for the future. This year, I get to work on the 2009/2010 academic year.

It's nuts. I have to schedule performances four years from now for directors we haven't hired yet, in venues that may not fit the material they'll want to direct--there's no flexibility in the system. But that's the only way we can guarantee ourselves any space at all. The MIT Conference Services and the Industrial Liason Program have a mandate to fill our large facilities as much as possible with national and international conferences, major meetings and simposia, thereby bringing a lot of cash into the Institute.

A long time ago, an agreement was made allowing time- and space-intensive academic activities (such as theatrical productions, major dance and concert events) to be scheduled four years out, thereby getting ahead of anyone else's ability to book space. I begin by laying out an entire academic year, including all holidays, Institute special events, the major Jewish and Christian religious observances, and the the traditional production schedules of the major student extra-curricular theatrical groups. Around that I create our schedule--two major productions, one student written one acts production, a playwright's forum production, a major dance theater production, four student-directed workshops (which may double as their thesis productions) and two faculty showcase productions. And I fend off, as cordially as possible, our directors' calls for progressively more and more time in each and every space while accommodating them as much I can.

I also make space for guest artists--without knowing whether these as-yet-uninvited guests will be able to work on the specific dates I provide, although it frequently does work out--and special gatherings like the Open House with which we begin our producing season. It means making just over 3000 separate reservations (dressing rooms, for example, do not automatically go with the theater but have to be reserved separately). Heaven, as they say, is in the details--I have to proof read obsessively and even then errors occasionally creep in.

I also team teach our Stagecraft course every spring in collaboration with my colleagues in design and technical production. This is pure joy--sixteen students this year in a hands-on course where they learn crafts and skills they've never attempted before.

They're MIT students which means highly motivated to conquer challenges whether it's splitting the atom or constructing a five-piece boned Elizabethan corset. Right now they're working on styrofoam carving with me (at the end of the term we'll explore techniques of scenic painting together). Typically, there's some extraordinary work being attempted and produced.

I started foam carving a couple of decades ago when I had to design "Look Homeward Angel," a lovely piece of mid-20th century American realism. Central to the play symbolically is the statue of an angel in a gravestone sculptor's studio. Nothing we found in plaster cast sculputure catalogs or local businesses was close to the etherial, spiritual nature of the figure as described in the text. So, I started laminating slabs of 2 inch foam insulation board together and began carving.

The angel I picked to base my statue on was the heroic figure of Victory Leading General William Sherman's Horse by Augustus St. Gaudens in New York's Central Park. Her right arm is raised in blessing and her left arm holds a palm frond. I'd never sculpted before but it came with astonishing ease. My Italian grandfather had been a highly successful marble sculptor in New York, producing statury and architectural elements--columns, capitals, cornices, etc--that are still visible all over the city. Is it genetic? I never knew him, as he died long before I was born, and any artistic impulse jumped a generation the way this sort of thing so frequently does. My father had no artistic ability or desire of any kind. My grandfather was also deeply into opera and Italian culture in general. His legacy has been bedrock in my life. I so wish he could have known me and my career. We would have been great friends.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I have to be brief today--it's going to be "one of those days," but something occurred to me Saturday night while I was driving out of New York City after seeing Placido Domingo star in Franco Alfano's "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Met Opera. It was Placido's and my fortieth anniversary.

We're not having a champagne dinner and he won't show up at my office with roses. But it was forty years ago almost to the day of the "Cyrano" performance that I sat in the New York State Theater in the still unfinished Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and saw him in his first starring New York performance. He was Don Rodrigo, doomed Visigothic King of Spain, in Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera's opera of the same name. He was twenty five, a highly promising Spanish tenor who had been making a career in Mexico singing Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) and had been transitioning into opera. I was younger than he, but already a confirmed opera addict, already making life decisions based on my love for the art form. We were a perfect match for each other and as the years went on, our ties only strengthened.

Placido's a workaholic but he's also a mensch. When the devastating earthquake hit Mexico City many years ago, he cancelled performances for a month or more, flew in and spent weeks digging with his bare hands or whatever tools were available in the rubble to find survivors, or allow the dead a dignified burial. He said that Mexico had embraced him and he could not ignore the need for volunteers. He also spends a large amount of time sponsoring the development of young singers.

At the height of his career, he began conducting opera as well as singing it. It wasn't so great at the beginning but he's a fast learner, and it's generally conceded that he's become a competent, sensitive director in the orchestra pit. Then he added directorship of the Los Angeles and Washington DC opera companies to his list of activities--juggling them and an international performing schedule all at the same time. Nobody's quite sure how he does it. Of course, it involves armies of trusted assistants but nobody doubts that he's in it all up to his elbows and hands-on.

He's been singing for about 46 years. At an age when most singers are retired, singing small character roles or, in some ill-advised instances trying to sing what made them famous and giving embarrassing caricature performances, he's still doing heroic tenor leads in a strong, bright, rock-steady voice of great color and beauty.
As Cyrano, based on the high-Romantic swashbuckling drama about the guardsman with the huge nose by Edmond Rostand, he's required to fight a couple sword duels WHILE singing, be on stage for about 80% of the opera, singing constantly while he's on, and turn out a star performance into the bargain. It's generally conceded that he's now singing better than many tenors half his age.

And he doesn't rest on his honors either. He constantly takes on new roles, new challenges. Next year at the Metropolitan he's sing the world premiere of a new opera by Tan Dun written especially for him. "The First Emperor" is about the historical but also legendary Qin Shi Huangdi who unified China into a single vast nation and built the Great Wall. A very busy, visionary and influential man.

Like Placido.

Happy Anniversary--may we have many more!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Wednesday after the day-long program on Islam, Fritz and I spent the evening at the Speakeasy Stage's production of "Brooklyn Boy" a relatively new play by Donald Margulies. This was a pleasant, nicely directed work structured somewhat like a box within a box: the playwright writing a play about a writer who has written a novel and screenplay about his own life--a life that just happens to resemble Margulies' own life to a great degree. The play begins and ends in contemporary Brooklyn at a Jewish Hospital and tracks the writer's journey through Manhattan and out to Hollywood where he finally begins a spiritual journey back to his religious and cultural roots.

It's not a unique theme by any means and we (along with a lot of people we knew in the audience) had some major questions about the set. It seemed inflexible, partly irrelevant, and some of it was crudely painted, not as an artistic choice. Also, although he was quite pleasant and played several scenes effectively, nobody bought the actor playing the writer as remotely Jewish in the least, an important point in such material. But the cast as a whole was extremely strong, with some beautifully written character roles to sink their teeth into, which they did with obvious relish.

The theater was filled with people we knew, from a friend Fritz hadn't seen for a couple of decades who wound up getting subscription seats directly in front of us; to a couple of men who frequent the monthly Sweat Lodge gatherings; to a brilliant local story-teller/stand-up comedienne who teaches for Fritz in his Masters Degree program. We went out with her, her husband, and a gay couple who are friends of theirs for ice cream afterwards. I said to Fritz, "it's nice to be in a theater where everybody knows your name."

The Republican revolt against Bush is now way out of the closet. Not only was it Republicans who spearheaded the opposition to the Dubai Port Management Deal, but several major conservative commentators are now suddenly discovering that there have been lies embedded in the administration's fiscal plans (GASP!) and that there may have been dishonesty along the road to the Iraq war (the horror!) Question: where WERE these people? Weren't they watching all along or were they just so invested in the conservative feeding frenzy that they were blinded to the truth?

I guess that the unspeakable Ann Coulter, to use her own style of rhetoric, hasn't yet deserted Bush's rotten garbage scow like a flea-infested rat, but the ones with brains are moving away from Bush as fast as possible. And that includes all the potential Republican candidates for the 2008 election and the Republicans in Congress who are up for re-election this fall--apparently there's terror in the ranks over the prospect of imminent unemployment.

Here in Boston, the Catholic Church is cutting its nose to spite its face. Boston Catholic Charities announced yesterday that it will close its adoption service completely rather than be required to place children with gay and lesbian couples. The Governor, who now has nothing at all to lose in this state, immediately began to introduce legislation that would exempt religious groups from the state's anti-discrimination law. This proposed law is showboating for the fundamentalists pure and simple, as there's no chance the legislature will pass any law that institutionalizes discrimination and bigotry in Massachusetts. Commentary has been close to unanimously against the Church's efforts to gain legal permission to discriminate. But elsewhere . . . ?

What have we come to in this country? Ruined financially, morally bankrupt before the nations of the world, run by an arrogant, ignorant red-neck liar, and with so many Americans watching the erosion of our civil rights virtually without protest--what is our future?

The Republican desertion of Bush is encouraging—we suffered a huge backlash over same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues; the backlash against Bush and his policies gives me a little hope that we might be seeing a return to some sort of sanity, or at least some kind of balance. How do you all see this?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sunday after my matinee was over I walked across the Public Gardens and met Karl, Jason and Bryan for the QBB dinner. This was the most intimate group yet--just four of us--as Karl's current date Mike wasn't able to join us as expected.

Bryan had set us up with a reservation at the Hampshire House, formerly one of the larger and grander of the Beacon Hill mansions. Its great parlors, library and drawing rooms are now used for weddings and other functions. There's no walk in public dining and small groups like ours only get in during the annual Restaurant Week. We were seated in the former Library, a handsome wood-paneled room that overlooks the Gardens.

All of us had been in on the first of the QBB meetings and, in the months since, Bryan's been the organizer. There may now be a bit of a hiatus until the late spring or even summer. Among the ideas up for discussion are an evening boat tour of Boston Harbor. These evenings can be extremely pleasant. There's dinner on board and dancing. What if some of us wanted to dance with each other, I wondered aloud. What would the reaction be if men started dancing with men on such a mainstream kind of event in Boston? It might be interesting to find out.

Yesterday I took the day off from MIT so Fritz and I could attend an all-day program on Islam, its history, religious structure and contemporary geo-political issues at the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland. The morning session was very well done, informative and clearly presented. Speakers were mostly native professionals from various Islamic countries. A catered lunch of mid-eastern specialities was served buffet-style and was both generous and varied.

The afternoon session began with noon prayers in the Center's attached Mosque, which were explained and translated for us from the Arabic. There followed a strong analysis of Muslim attitudes toward "the West," the United States in particular, and of the ways in which our current foreign policy is perversely calculated to turn as many formerly pro-American Muslims as possible against us. Question and answer sessions followed each of the presentations and were extremely candid.

The final presentation was devoted to Islamic art and by this point in the day, the program was running out of steam. Fritz commented to me at one point that I could have given a far more informative talk on the subject, in particular on the variety and graphic possibilities of various Arabic scripts. On the whole, however, the day was a positive experience and very well attended. All manner of controversial subjects were on the table and were handled without any beating around the bush (or, the Bush, as the case may be. It would be good if there were a lot more programs like this given all across the country.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

If you ever hear that Penrith, Australia, a little town in the foothills of the Blue Mountains near Sydney, has become a gay mecca, it just might be because of this sign at the train station:

Thanks for this to a dear couple Fritz met during a year he lived in Sydney working in the Australian film industry, and with whom we are still close. J and A had met at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London, J Australian and A Welsh with a sexy bass-baritone voice filled with wonderful overtones.

When Fritz met them, J had already transitioned from performing into arts administration and was manager of the Princess Theater in Sydney, stepping stone to his becoming director of the big national theater complex in Canberra. A was in demand for decades on stage, in television and particularly in radio theater, which remained big and influential in Australia, with its vast and sparcely populated distances, far longer than anywhere else. J and A have celebrated their 52nd anniversary together.

It's a fun weekend for me. Friday night I made the acquaintance of a modern dance company new to me, The Hubbard Street Dance Company from Chicago. The audience ate them up. Their work is witty, cutting edge, informed by both a strict ensemble discipline and, at the very same time, a looseness and spontaneous feeling that conveys an air of enthusiastic improvisation.

Their style was fully revealed in the first of four numbers they performed, "Strokes Through the Tail" in which five men and a woman danced to three movements of Mozart's classically structured Symphony No. 40. She wore a trendy boutique take on the traditional white leotard and soft dance skirt in layers of filmy gauze. The men wore formal black tail coats and trousers without sox, shoes or shirts. As the first movement progressed, they switched couture, the men stripped to the waist in the filmy dance skirts, she in a black bikini bottom, flesh-colored bra and black tail coat.

It was like that all night--lots of invention and combination of a wide variety of dance styles, but always with superb technique, surprises everywhere, and great humor.

The Hubbard female dancer is in fit condition but not a dieted down anorexic. The men are all very tall and muscular but agile and graceful with high energy, and they look very good mostly undressed, which they were for a large part of the evening. As is now common in modern dance, gender roles are either blurred or completely eliminated. In the traditional dance world men worked primarily as partners and supporters to the female stars; today they're frequently cast in duets with each other, lift each other and one even appropriated the famous 32 whiplash turns that are part of the choreography for the Swan Queen in "Swan Lake."

Last night at Jordan Hall I heard the music Henry Purcell wrote for "The Fairy Queen" for the first time. I had always thought that Fairy Queen referred to Queen Elizabeth I, whose tiny stature and the extravagant gowns she had built to expand her into an imposing figure had earned her that title. But it turns out that Purcell's music was composed for a heavily re-worked Baroque version of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in which the Catholic/Protestant struggle for the English throne was reflected in heavily political sequences equating England's Protestant King William with France's staunchly Catholic King Louis XIV.

Purcell contributed dance music and five masques, highly produced moments of spectacle in one of which the sun rose on stage (often in the Baroque theatrer a large white wine-filled glass globe with several torches behind it) since Louis XIV was universally known as "The Sun King" and William's sober-sided image needed a bit of fluffing. Purcell wrote well and concisely, not producing an hours-long score such was common at the time in France and Italy. Sadly, his economy of utterance was reflected in his life--he died, as Mozart would a century later, in his mid-30s while still developing his enormous gifts.

Today there's a matinee of Chabrier's bubbly operetta "L'Etoile" and then a gathering of the Queer Boston Bloggers at the Hampshire House (the basement of which houses the famed "Cheers" bar) overlooking Boston Public Gardens. Bryan (That's Interesting) put this one together to take advantage of Restaurant Week when many of the city's premiere restaurants offer a prix fixe menu of their specialties for $30 (their prices ususlly being a great deal higher) to encourage Bostonians to sample their cuisine. It'll also be an occasion for some fun and creative dress-up.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sometimes when people come clean about their political stands the news isn't good. But in the case of Kerry Healey, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, the surprises have been more positive than I would have predicted. She's now running for governor since Mitt Romney's going for the nation's top office, and there's a sense that she has a good chance of winning the election.

Make no mistake, she's a conservative and I am by definition NOT a fan. But as of this week she has three things going for her in my book as she breaks away from Romney's agenda and establishes her own:

A) She isn't a Mormon. A lot of Romney's priorities were pretty obviously based on his religion's policies. When the Catholic Bishops began their quest to be exempted from the state's anti-discrimination laws so they would be free to discriminate (guess against whom), he was initially cautious but eventually began to seek ways to make it work for the forces of bigotry. Fundamentalist religion might well be less of a guiding influence for her.
B) She has, therefore, announced that she opposes the Bishops, stating that they must live within the laws of the state just like anyone else and that religion gives them no special priviledges. And since she is, in effect, defending gay rights on this one (the right to adopt children, in this case) there just might be a couple of other areas where she turns out to be gay-friendly.
C) She's broken completely with Romney on the subject of stem cell research. In a state with an enormous research community, stem cell science could bring major companies, jobs and a lot of prosperity here. At a time when we're losing population and businesses to taxes and high housing costs, losing the edge in medical/biological R & D isn't a good idea. She's able to see that and also find irrelevant the over-emotional, non-scientific arguments of the religious right in this matter.

As the state's Democratic Party has yet to field a truly viable candidate to run against her, and the announced Independent is a real loose cannon, the prospect of yet another Republican governor in this ultra-liberal state is very real. It's encouraging to know that while I certainly don't expect her to be a leftie, she's at least a lot closer to the center than the man she hopes to succeed.

With the help of my sitemeter, I've discovered a couple of interesting sites that have linked to my blog. The first is Magmozine, the etymology of which is: Magazine + Homo = Magmozine. Nate, the 20-something Dallas-based editor, stocks it with plenty of eye candy and articles that are generally political in nature.

Left Center Left is a heavily political blog of Chris, a [presumably gay] Boston Blogger who included DesignerBlog in a recent discussion of gay Boston blogs he reads. He commented that my blog concerns itself largely with the kind of arts (dance, theater, fine music) about which he tends to be downright philistine, but apparently he finds something to like here which is fine.

Links to both can be found at the left.

Several blogs have gone into [generally unannounced] hiatus lately but one has come roaring back to life after almost eight months of silence. Stephen of GeekSlut, still larger than life and uncompromisingly telling it like it is, is off and running again and my link to him was restored as of this morning.

But there's another blog that will never revive and that may also never go away. It's remained on the web like an open wound, months after its author's death: No, dirty kitty . . . NO! He was HIV+, very active and forward-looking, almost finished an advanced college degree. He gave little indication that his health was failing until his very last post. While assuring his readers that antibiotics were taking care of pneumonia, the post was titled "Is this the end?" and he had just returned from a quick, sadly abortive trip to reconcile things with an ex. He promised to be back when he had fully recovered. Then nothing; but a couple of days later several blogs in shock announced his death. There's apparently nobody to take down the site. It's all very sad, and I hope someone was with him, even if just to stand by him at the end.

Our dear friend B the Chef sent these the other night and I'm passing them on because some are wonderfully clever and/or witty and because I wanted to end on a lighter note:

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing of one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stop bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
12. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
18. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Yesterday afternoon I had to drop off an electrified birthday cake (actually, the cake was fake; it was the candles that were electrified for use on stage) at the Speakeasy Stage Company in Boston's South End. We'd borrowed it for our latest production and it was the last prop that had to be either put away in our storage or taken back to the person who'd lent it to us. I was almost about to get in my Jeep and drive away when I remembered that I was only a block or so away from Mike's Movies.

Fritz and I keep a list of films we'd like to rent and we've been encountering a great deal of trouble finding most of them at mainstream rental outlets. There are a couple of places near him in New Hampshire but if the movie is classic foreign or gay-themed, forget it. Surprisingly, I've had the same trouble in the Boston/Cambridge area.

We're not talking porn here as (ironically) most of these places have porn--even gay porn--readily available. It's either in a separate room or way up high on the top shelves of the racks where only adults can access it. When "Brokeback" hits the video market I'm sure things will change fast, but at the moment gay-themed films like "Yossi and Jagger," the highly praised Israeli film about a romance between two soldiers on active duty, are difficult or impossible to find.

This is why Mike's Movies is so valuable. Gay-operated and located in the heavily gay South End, Mike has it all in stock: gay, lesbian, trans, hard- and soft-core porn, on video or DVD--the works. So I got "Yossi" on DVD with a rental period from last evening through Sunday so I can take it up to Fritz's Friday night, and went home to preview it.

At 71 minutes, it's short and to the point. And the point is astonishingly like "Brokeback Mountain" in such basic ways that if "Brokeback" weren't based on Annie Proulx's story but were an original screenplay, you might be suspicious that it had cribbed "Yossi's" central relationship.

The two boys are young, Yossi bottled-up and not comfortable with being out at all, Jagger the cute, sweet, slightly femme and out-to-himself one who hurts easily and just wants to spend the rest of his life somewhere with Yossi. At the end of the movie, Yossi's knowing the name of Jagger's favorite song works exactly like Ennis's finding the shirts in "Brokeback."

It's a nice little piece of film-making, with some vivid characters, but isn't the easiest to follow; the English sub-titles for the Hebrew dialog fly by awfully quickly a lot of the time. There are a couple of really hot young actors and some good torso shots, but the boys have sex while the camera's covering events elsewhere, in case that's a deal-breaker for anyone.

Seven members of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts resigned en masse today, presenting a letter in which they decried the Bishops’ quest for an exemption from anti-discrimination laws so they can stop adoptions by same-sex couples. The letter states there isn't an iota of evidence that same-sex parents harm a child's development in any way, they call the move the polar opposite of Christian charity, and say that the cause of serving needy children is what's actually being harmed.

Well good for them. They've taken a stand that will perhaps embarrass O'Malley for a day or two, but in the process they've eliminated any and all opposition to his policies on the Catholic Charities Board. And they really have no chance of affecting the church's homophobic crusade. But they've gotten out and maintained their personal integrity, and perhaps under the circumstances, that's all any sane person can do.

With Bozo's approval rating sunk to 34%, the political commentators have noticed that the demographics of those who disapprove has shifted. Since any Democratic support had already bottomed out, they've realized that it's now Republicans who've begun to desert the ranks. For a while even Senator Doctor Bill Frist had expressed a strong objection to the Dubai ports management debacle, but apparently they got to him and forced him to toe the party line because now he's all for it.

Here in Massachusetts our governor, ever the political weasel, has now dumped Bush and is going around declaring the Iraq war to be mismanaged and an embarrassment. More and more Republicans can be expected to "distance" themselves from Bush as from political poison. If anyone knows a Democrat in public life who's sane, honorable, intelligent, at least a bit left of center and possessed of strong communication skills, please, PLEASE contact your state Democratic Committee with his or her name immediately.

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