Monday, August 20, 2007
Friday night, my first Orpheus opera was Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, written in 1607, exactly ten years after the very first (now lost) opera, and the oldest opera that’s still performed with some regularity.
The production by “bad boy” director Christopher Alden could be considered controversial, and as soon as the intermission began one couple stormed up the aisle and charged the little box office kiosk at the entrance to the theater. The wife got there first and let fly with “I’ve been coming here for years and this is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen—disGUSting. It’s absolutely disGUSTING--and I want you to tell the manager. I want the manager told NOW.” Her husband tried to get a word in to register his own disapproval but he didn’t stand a chance; she had the voice of a buzz saw and more volume than most of the singers.
The program notes suggested that of the five Orpheus operas in the summer’s repertory only one, the version by Gluck, depends for its success solely on the artist singing the title role. Perhaps. Given the demands placed on him by the production and his own charismatic presence on stage, I could not imagine an opera being more dependent on the performance of its title character than this Orfeo was on tenor Michael Slattery. Young, blond, quite beautiful, magnetic on stage, and known for a specialized repertory from ancient music to the Madwoman in Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River, Slattery gave an extraordinary performance both vocally and physically.
So what was the controversy? The ancient myth was reset in a high concept contemporary reception room. The gods, nymphs and shepherds were all very young, punked-out, drugged-out kids. The boys were comfortable expressing physical affection for each other and one wore a big sheepskin vest; occasionally a tall, handsome baritone who was stripped to the waist would embrace him from behind and he’d bleat—very happily. You get the idea. So did the outraged woman standing there abusing the poor box office attendant. I wanted to say to her, “Lady, this story takes place in a community of shepherds in ancient Greece, for god’s sake—do the math” (or, “read the myth”), but I doubt it would have done any good. For the record, the rest of the audience was enthusiastic at the end.
The weather Friday night was wild. We entered the theater with temperatures in the 70s and a pretty sunset sky with a couple of dark clouds to the north. About five minutes into the first act a tropical downpour started that lasted for an hour and a half, making for some interesting dashes between the theater and the rest room building during intermission. It got colder and colder in the theater, the temperature having dropped at least 20 degrees. As I drove back to my B&B under a clear and starry sky, thick fog only about a foot high blanketed the roads—a startlingly beautiful effect. Then ten minutes after I got into my room, rain started again with strong north winds that went through the night.
Saturday mornings in the area are my traditional antiquing time. The area is full good places, and the ultimate goal is a huge barn well south of Cooperstown that is crammed not with chi-chi stuff but with masses of genuine late colonial period to 1930s furniture, colored glass window panels, hardware, rugs, glass--everything. There are extensive grounds with a huge assortment of exterior statuary, urns, and metal pieces from cast iron sculpture to old farm equipment and the gears of huge machines. Fritz and I are looking for some striking piece for the center of a raised planting bed in front of the new house and this barn was a potential source. It’s one of those “we don’t know what it is but we’ll know it when we see it” kind of things.
I saw a couple of interesting pieces including a carved head that looks like something out of the Viking age. There were some impressive cast metal roosters in different sizes; the idea of inviting friends over to see my iron cock was momentarily amusing. I talked with Fritz and we decided on a three dimensional sun dial made up of steel bands in the form of a globe with an arrow as the axis that functions as the gnomen registering the time on a calibrated strip mounted on the inside of one of the steel bands. Even if it isn’t THE eventual centerpiece, it will work well somewhere around the house and act as the visual focus within one of the raised planning beds. When I got home Sunday night he was delighted with the globe sundial, and it’s outside now in his front garden so we can test out if it really does tell accurate time.
I also bought several old cast iron shelf brackets in random designs. In my new studio I want a bookshelf running around the entire room about eighteen inches above a work table that will also run around the room. The idea of supporting the shelf with antique brackets was very appealing—I now have nine of them and will have to get more but I’m off to a good start. Then the big surprise—finding four Moroccan medium-sized bowls and one plate that could be a dessert platter in white with blue patterns that exactly match four big Moroccan plates I found at another antique shop last year. I’ll now be able to serve tagine dinners for four (check out recipes on the web—it’s absolutely delicious and very easy to make) with a complete set of authentic dishware.
Saturday afternoon’s performance was Philip Glass’s Orphee, written to the text of Jean Cocteau’s late 1940s surrealist film, in a smart, stylish production directed by Sam Helfridge. I met Sam three years ago when he was first getting opera directing gigs in Boston and wanted to rent props and furniture from me for one of his productions. He was great to work with, a really nice guy and a total pro. His career has been taking off and it deserves to. His work looked great and got movingly to the heart of this post World War II take on the Orpheus story. A poet here, Orpheus’s self-confidence is gone and he’s obsessed with Death in the form of La Princesse. She, for her part, falls in love with him and engineers the death of his wife Eurydice so she can have him for herself.
They all wind up in the afterlife by passing through a great mirror where Death is interrogated for having interfered beyond her orders in the life of mortals. She’s pardoned on the condition that there is no further irregularity; to guarantee the immortality of Orpheus’s reputation, Death actually commits a form of suicide for his sake. The concept is fascinating and is superbly realized in Glass’s luminous score. This Orphee got great reviews in the press that I've seen. There's a lot of Glass being done these days. The Metropolitan Opera is producing his Satyagraha, based on the life and mission of Mahatma Gandhi this season.
I got home Sunday night to find the first framing in place on the house. More on Glimmerglass, and progress pictures on the framework on Wednesday.
I recall Orpheus in the underworld was hilarious; I look forward to your thoughts on it.
You have no idea how jealous I am, steaming green with envy in fact.
A cold front!!!!
Here in Hotlanta we have suffered through 8 100 degree plus days this month, and today should top out at 102. I am not normally chatty about the weather, but I adore cold fronts and all this heat is going to make the first one to come through here this fall sooooo much appreciated.
Please send one when you get time.