Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Among the good fall-out from this bumper crop is that he got out his book of maple recipes and turned out a really wonderful butternut squash maple pie topped with walnuts. We’ll be exploring a lot more maple recipes in the coming months.
A somewhat ominous sign of spring: as I was skimming foam off the sap in the evaporator yesterday, the first wasp of the year landed on the wood stacked by the boiler--can the black flies and mosquitoes be far behind?
A friend of Fritz’s office manager sent her some info on a site called Pampered Chefs, a kitchen gear site. She thoughtfully attached these recipes, tastefully illustrated with photos inspired by the TV show The Naked Chef. These are from some magazine article or other and don’t seem to enlarge when clicked, so you might not be able to read the recipes. But that might not be an issue under the circumstances.
It turns out that there’s a lot of collateral visual material inspired by the show, including a twelve month calendar featuring naked male chefs—click on the images button and google “naked chef” for more.
My recent trip to New York took me to two interesting productions, and some very fine performances.
The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes was directed by John Doyle, an Englishman who’s become famous here for his Stephen Sondheim productions (Company, Sweeney Todd), in which the actors play instruments, becoming their own orchestra in the process. This production appears to be his operatic debut.
As it happens, Doyle lives in a seaside fishing village much like the one that’s the setting for Britten’s opera. The heavily weathered wooden equipment shacks that line the shore inspired the set, expanded into high walls that defined cramped, claustrophobic spaces. Doyle chose to focus on the gossip-filled, judgmental qualities of village life, using the many doors and windows in the wooden walls to isolate villagers as they observe and comment on the alienated, social outcast Grimes; wags immediately dubbed the set the Met’s Advent Calendar.
I felt that the concept worked well, particularly because Doyle’s character work with the excellent cast was so strong (however, instruments remained in the Met’s pit, in the hands of its superb orchestra). Doyle clearly knows these people—the young, widowed school teacher with hopes for reintroducing Grimes into mainstream society; the blunt, realistic retired ship’s captain who knows Grimes will never fit in; pub-keeper “Auntie” whose unrelated “nieces” can be had for a price; Mrs. Sedley who’s addicted to laudanum (an opiate once commonly given during childbirth) that the dapper apothecary is only too happy to supply when he isn’t visiting one, the other, or both nieces simultaneously.
But one element was missing in this staging—the sea. Other than Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, I don’t know of any opera more saturated with the sea than Peter Grimes. It’s everywhere in the score and in the lives of its characters, but it’s nowhere in Doyle’s production. Even in the first act when Grimes is trying to get his boat pulled up on the beach and nobody but Captain Balstrode will help him, the two men simply walked downstage and sang the lines about the work with no boat, no rope, no action. Successful as it was at creating the stifling, closed community of Britten’s first great operatic success, Doyle’s production looked relentlessly inland rather than to the sea that’s actually one of the leading characters in the work.
Musically and vocally, the performance left virtually nothing to be desired. Young American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey (above) possessed the power, both vocally and physically, to be a fine Grimes. Add an aching vulnerability and the ability to make a character both fearsome and sympathetic simultaneously, and critical response that this his is a major characterization is well justified. Patricia Racette as teacher Ellen Orford was luminous vocally. The MET’s chorus, revitalized from a decade or more of decline by new chorus master Donald Palumbo, sang really gloriously.