Monday, July 23, 2007
The new house: this was a huge weekend for its progress. As I left for New York on Friday morning, the crew was already finishing off the forms for the shell wall and the big piers on the front of the house. I first stopped in Boston and spent about two hours in my old office at MIT packing up whatever remained of my stuff and I prepared the chandelier for transportation on the top of the jeep during my return trip on Sunday. By the time I got into the city and called Fritz, he told me I had walls; still in the forms, of course, but real walls, rising from the footings that will eventually be four feet or so underground.
The second half of Wagner’s Ring Cycle was a lot of fun (yes, I find four hour and fifteen minute long operas fun). The Russian cast was impressive and endearing. Russian performers tend to be very emotionally available, physically involved in their roles and generous with both their energy and concentration. The orchestral players are nothing if not intense and extraverted. The strings really dig in, sometimes to the point of a gritty, biting tone, but it's really exciting as is the snarl on the heavy brass. It's singing and playing that means something even when it's less than perfect in other areas.
And the Russians aren't afraid of the big gesture on stage. They don't simply enter, they seize the stage. They listen intensely to each other, their dialog scenes are done with passion. All that counts for a lot in an art form like opera that's by nature over the top, and thrives on big personalities.
The scenery and costuming has been problematic in some respects but are preferable to the safe, illustrated picture book style the Metropolitan Opera chose for its own production that's now a couple of decades or more old. Some ideas in the Russian version don't translate well to American audiences unfamiliar with the figures of Russian myth, but a couple that I did pick up on were right on target.
For example, when Siegfried, the dragon slaying hero of the plot is murdered, the chorus usually places his body on his shield, lifts it to their shoulders and exits in a kind of dignified funeral procession. In the Russian production, they laid his body out, then went to get a small boat in which Siegfried had presumably come down the Rhine River. They placed him with his weapons into the boat, lifted it onto their shoulders and circled the stage twice before exiting. This is exactly right--the Varangians (from the Varanger Fjord in what is now Sweden) who founded the Russian state always dragged a dead leader's boat unto land, fitted it out with food, drink, slaughtered sacrifice animals and one of the hero's women (heavily drugged), piled up lots of wood around it and set the whole thing on fire.
Saturday during the day I spent a lot of time again at the Metropolitan Museum, especially in the Poiret exhibition. Paul Poiret was the French fashion designer in the first third or so of the 20th century who led the revolution against heavy corseting for women in favor of elegant and sensuously draped garments. An important part of his style derived from the fact that he never learned to sew--many of his most striking designs were draped right on the body of the woman for whom they were being designed, cut and fastened to her specific proportions. Many of his great early garments were made from rectangular pieces of fabric just as ancient Greek garments were made.
The exhibit was large and very well presented. Several of the large number of garments that have survived were shown behind a scrim curtain. As you watched, animated projections on the front of the scrim showed how the uncut, unconstructed cloth was twisted, draped and fastened around the body until the garment was complete, then the lights came up behind the scrim to reveal the actual dress or coat brilliantly lit.
I walked to and from the Museum across Central Park that was full of life, from the masses of half naked men and boys playing Frisbee and softball on the Great Lawn to the colorful crowds gathering for a Sudanese music and dance performance in the Cedar Hill area of the park.
I spent intermissions during the two opera with friends, old and new. I'd been invited on Friday night to dinner at the Met Oper's Grand Tier restaurant by dear old friends from Boston who were spending a couple of weeks in New York to take in almost everything at this year's Lincoln Center Festival. The Met's half hour (sometimes longer) intermissions always seem too long--unless you're trying to eat an whole dinner during one of them. We had fun, caught up on the progress of the houses they and I are building simultaneously, and ate some excellent creamed corn chowder, poached salmon, asparagus, and assorted desserts before settling back in our seats--just in the nick of time.
Saturday night I met (for the first time) and had a drink with Steven Smith of the blog Marginalia. We discovered we both have NOLPs (non opera-loving partners) and discussed the performance in some depth. Steve's fun, outgoing and very knowledgeable. We decided that with luck we'll both be at some of the same performances this coming season.
I drove back on Sunday morning from a motel I like in West Haven, Connecticut and, after tying the chandelier on top of the Jeep at MIT, I headed straight up to the new house site to check out a transformed scene. It's become very real. You can walk through it, check out the views from where its windows will be, climb over its thresholds. It's developing quickly now.
NOTE TO FRITZ: I finally checked out the horses in front of the airport.....they ARE wood....driftwood? Myrtlewood? I should have taken my camera with me. I can't drive by them but what I think of you guys.
You should really form a support group for men with NOLPs. Sometimes I really enjoy going with my partner, but other times, I wish he had someone else to go with. The only thing that I outright refuse to attend is Wagner.