Friday, June 12, 2009
Next morning over breakfast, the subject of Paris and London museums came up and I mentioned an extraordinary painting I had seen many years ago at the Tate in London--a strongly horizontal painting of two identical women sitting up in bed, dressed almost identically in high Jacobean fashion, each cradling a baby in her right arm. There was an inscription written in paint that identified them as sisters, born on the same day, married on the same day, and having given birth on the same day. The painting, the title of which I could not remember, was obviously meant to memorialize what had been considered an extraordinary set of coincidences.
But there was one more coincidence left in this story. After breakfast, I left to do some business just north of Boston, to have lunch and see a movie with a friend, and to see the Boston Early Music Festival's opera production in the evening. As there was some time to kill between lunch and the movie, we wandered into a book store, randomly decided to check out the used book section in the basement, and the third book I pulled off the shelf to check out had--the painting we'd been talking about over breakfast on the cover! I got the name of it from inside the book and here it is:
The inscription (too small to be seen in the lower left corner of the painting) reads:
"Two ladies of the Cholmondeley Family
Who were born on the same day
Married on the same day
And brought to bed (gave birth) on the same day."
The painting has been dated to the first decade of the 17th century and is considered to be unique in it's subject matter.
So, I bought a book--not the one with the Cholmondeleys on the cover--Antonia Frasier's biography of Marie Antoinette in which she apparently explodes several myths, including the infamous "let them eat cake" remark.
We then went to the Coolidge Corner Cinema, a quirky, wonderful rescued and restored art deco movie theater with several screens added in odd corners. I mean that literally--we saw Valentino, The Last Emperor in a seventeen seat screening room that defines intimate, like watching a movie on an enormous flat screen TV in a [rather wealthy] friend's living room.
It's a documentary really, the story of the life and career of italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani (left, above) and his life partner/business collaborator Giancarlo Gelmetti (right). It's a brilliant study of the fashion industry, creative egos, the relationship of two highly volatile men, the creative process and, last but very much not least, Italians.
The movie climaxes at a lavish retrospective exhibit of Valentino's work in Rome (he designed extensively for Jackie Kennedy during her White House Years) that unexpectedly turns out to mark his retirement from active designing. It's an extraordinarily beautiful film.
Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea which I saw in the evening, was written in 1643, the last opera of a very great composer who didn't invent opera but who took what was a nine year old art form at the time he wrote his first opera, and transformed it into a grand, multi-faceted, almost literally Shakespearian experience.
Poppea is the first opera to be written about real people rather than mythical gods, goddesses, nymphs and shepherds. Written for a public theater rather than as an entertainment for a royal court, it teems with complex, fallible, corrupt, funny, horny, idealistic, real people as Nero and Poppea lie, cheat, order suicides and exiles and ruthlessly eliminate any opposition to placing her on the throne as his Empress. The music is gorgeous.
The Festival's production was simple but strikingly handsome, the costumes lavish and traditionally baroque, the acting and singing first rate. Done well, and it was done very well indeed here, Poppea the three hundred and seventy year old opera comes across as modern as what was written last week.
Frank Siteman/Boston Early Music Festival
This is a section of one of the vegetable garden terraces. Two rows of sugar snap peas are in the foreground, cabbages and broccoli are behind.