Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The other morning while I was catching up on some favorite blogs, Fritz’s office manager came in with a sample foldable sculpture Christmas card sent by 3D Paper Graphics. These cards (there's also a line of collapsible counter-top promotional pieces), utilize many of the same techniques as the paper engineering that makes pop-up books possible.

Paper Graphics is something of a misnomer, as it happens, since the materials involved include clear acetate as well as paper. The Christmas card sample, seen here both standing up in 3D and lying flat, is a lot of fun.

And expensive, too. They’re $3.75 each and the minimum order is 50, so you'd better be willing to spend around $175 for Christmas cards if you like these things. But they’re very engaging. You can visit the site at


We were out and about yesterday choosing flooring, kitchen counters, and tile for our bathroom and the big six-person (OK, OK, six-man) shower that sits between the sauna and the downstairs bathroom of the new house. Our general contractor sent us to two places in Concord where we were very nicely received and found what we wanted relatively easily.

Fritz and I have managed all throughout the planning and construction of the house to take very little time in deciding what we want from all the options available—our tastes and our image of what we want the place to look like and how we want it to feel are remarkable in sync. Yesterday was no exception. We went through all the selections at the tile place in about twenty minutes and had it narrowed down to just two styles. The final choice, I now realize, is a softened version of all the textures and colors that exist in the remarkable rock from the hillside into which the house is set. Once we’d set the two sample panels next to each other, it was a no-brainer.

The second place had not only tile, but flooring and kitchen counters. We were able to include recycled materials in two of our choices. The thick, tough and resilient covering for the exercise room floor is made from recycled tires; our kitchen counters are an amalgam of the waste from other uses of granite and quartz, and are a lot more beautiful than that description suggests.

A bit harder was the choice of a floor surface for my studio. I wanted something very durable and very easy to clean. The choices were all very similar and drab but I finally found something that had some warmth and life to it. And for the upstairs bathroom that’s to be 1930s in style, there were the little hexagonal tiles with the black dot centers that I remember from old-fashioned bathrooms relatives of mine had in New York City while I was growing up.


When the day was over, I drove down to Boston to catch the last performance in the run of Opera Boston’s production of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar. Golijov is classical music’s wonderboy these days. His output is remarkably diverse and he seems able to channel a wide variety of musical traditions and styles while managing to keep his music totally recognizable as his own. A review in the latest issue of Fanfare magazine attests to this in a review of a recent Golijov CD. The reviewer’s wife walked in the house, heard two or three bars from the sound system and said to her husband, “Got to be Golijov.” James H. North goes on to say, “It is becoming apparent that Golijov is our new century’s first master, its Beethoven, its Stravinsky.”

Ainadamar (from the Arabic Ayn al-Dam, meaning fountain of tears) is an 80-minute rumination on the life and death of the great Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the mission of charismatic Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu to introduce his work to Latin America when she went into exile from General Franco’s fascist Spain.
Franco’s military strongman in Granada had Lorca arrested for anti-fascist writing and for being homosexual (a fact the opera recognizes but many modern histories conveniently overlook), and executed in the company of three others at an irrigation canal outside the city called the fountain of tears.

There’s little conventional “action” in Ainadamar apart from the execution scene late in the opera; Tony at the blog Evilganome makes the extremely valid point that it’s really a cantata that’s being placed on the stage. But Ainadamar is dramatic in its music, multi-colored, heavily rhythmic and very Spanish. Golijov is identified in the program notes as being Jewish of eastern European origin, but musically he’s on the crest of a wave stylistically. Three modern operas that have been big hits with audiences are Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas, Tan Dun’s The First Emperor and Golijov ‘s Ainadamar (he now has a commission from the Metropolitan Opera)—the hot trend to which audiences are responding isn’t a new compositional system like serial technique, but World Music. Golijov also writes with recorded sound effects and some use of amplification, as does Tan Dun, along with several others. This generation of composers will change opera radically.

The production on stage last night originated in Santa Fe and is visually a knockout with a set by the wonderfully named Gronk. The director was Peter Sellars. Sellars can be an annoyingly variable, sometimes seriously willful artist. Evilganome felt that the opera was about 20 minutes too long; I wonder if it felt that way because toward the end Sellars seemed to have run out of ideas on how to stage the build-up to the execution and Margarita’s death. People wandered aimlessly around, there was little tension between the victims and the fascist guards, the feeling went slack. I didn't understand what was going on or why I was supposed to care about it. But Golijov’s music was there and I chose to focus on that—it didn’t let me down.

One thing I really question is the characterization of Lorca. Played by the extraordinary contralto Kelley O’Connor in a strikingly androgynous manner (she often sounding exactly like a male baritone), Lorca in this staging went to his death weeping and groveling. I don’t buy that. Librettist David Henry Hwang sets Lorca up as a Jesus figure, with the teacher and only one bullfighter instead of the historical two as the three to be executed with Lorca in the middle—the imagery is obvious, particularly as Margarita, remembering Lorca’s death many years after, becomes a Virgin Mary figure mourning at his feet. A weak and tearful Lorca seemed to me to work against everything else that the opera was trying to do, and leads me to question Sellars' intentions.

The cast was splendid, led by the remarkable soprano Dawn Upshaw who is for her generation the great advocate for contemporary vocal music that Bethany Beardsley and Jan de Gaetani were for theirs. Undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, she appeared a bit puffy from the drugs but her voice was strong and unimpaired. She, her fellow singers, conductor Gil Rose and composer Golijov were greeted by huge ovations at the end

it is always a pleasure to read up on your opera thoughts.
I remember in college seeing a production of Yerma. It was my first exposure to Lorca, and I felt like I was eating bread for the first time. There is something very basic and essential about his work.
I am still digesting the Pasion segun san Marcos of Golijov and regret having missed the performance you describe. If you read reviews of Stravinsky's vocal works in the 20's and 30's (Oedipus, Persephone) they were also perceived as pastiche; perhaps our perspective has shifted and we see the current remix culture as the end toward which all the previous centuries were aiming.

Of the many reasons to enjoy your blog is the seamlessness of the modulations between Body Electric, shower tiles and the syncretic character of modern opera...

A six-man shower? How hot! I hope you are designing it to look and feel as much like a locker room shower as possible.

RE: Ainadamar.

My biggest problem with this opera is that it makes only one reference to Lorca's homosexuality and makes no mention at all that Xirgu was a flaming lesbian, which kept her from returning from exile to Spain after Franco came to power.

It is a major disappointment that Hwang said next to nothing about Lorca's being gay.....I mean come on, Lorca is the guy wrote “Ode to the Holy Sacrament of the Altar,” in which a crucified Christ is a figure of sexual liberation and cocksucking an act of prayer. He was gay in mind and gay in flesh.

This all could be rectified by adding a good blow job scene like Thomas Ades wrote in his great little opera "Powder her Face", which has a terrific actual blow job aria, an operatic first, I think.

And as you said, I can't imagine Lorca went to his death weeping and groveling. He was famous (according to his friend Salvador Dali) for rehearsing his death..i.e. laying in coffins, pretending to fall dead, etc. I think he knew what was coming when he went home to Granada.

While it is great to see an opera about Lorca pop up, the guy still hasn't been given his due in the eyes of history, in my opinion. He is a major 20th c artist whose works were kept hidden for too long and need to be seen more often.

Despite all this, the music is an absolute wonder, and Upshaw is beyond compare. It was great that you got a chance to see and hear both her and the opera. I know it only from recording.

There are, as recall from the performance, actually two references to Lorca being gay (in addition to having him played androgynously by a deep-voiced woman): somewhere in the middle of the piece, Margareta Xirgu lists all the things Lorca loved and ends it with "and sometimes Rafael." When Granada's military strong man calls out all the reasons for shooting Lorca, one of them is "He's a faggot." But I agree with you that in a work dealing with an artist whose output is drenched with sensuality, sexual symbolism and celebrations of the landscape of the body, there should definitely have been a greater presence of his own sexuality on stage; it was a defining element. Same for Xirgu.

We had a terrific performance of Powder her Face in Boston several years when Opera Boston's Opera Unlimited Festival produced three days of contemporary operas, including one world premiere. This is the same company that just did Ainadamar and it is one of Boston's most valuable musical resources.
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