Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Quick Shots

Opera & Death

The heroine of Philippe Boesmans’s surreal and absurdist new opera Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy (which had it’s triumphant premiere in Paris last month) doesn’t sing at all and in the end dies by choking on a fishbone. So, I guess we’ll have to amend the saying “It isn’t over til the fat lady sings” to “It isn’t over til the fat lady chokes on her food” which, if you’ve ridden the bus lately, is kind of true.

Also, there’s no death like an opera death (poor Yvonne notwithstanding). People die in movies, TV shows, novels and on stage. But only in opera do they kick the bucket with so much style, with such orgasmic exhilaration. Take a great TV death like the killing of Sal (“Big Pussy”) Bompensiero from The Sopranos. How dull by contrast to the average opera. Some fat goombah in a jogging suit gets shot on a boat. Whoop-dee-freakin’-doo. How does that compare to the death of Don Giovanni - who’s dragged down into Hell by a chorus of demons? Not even close.

Movies, too, can’t keep up with opera in the amazing death department. Probably the best movie death is James Cagney’s from White Heat (below). (His death in The Roaring Twenties is also considered a classic even though I prefer Humphrey Bogart’s death from the same movie). The shootout which ends The Wild Bunch is still amazing after 40 years; and Don Corleone’s last jaunt through the tomato patch (sorry, no clip) is unforgettable. But still, none of these can compare to the finale of Wagner’s Götterdammerung in which Brünnhilde (on horseback, no less!) leaps onto her husband’s burning funeral pyre while flames engulf the globe, destroying the Gods and purifying the world. Yikes. And the crazy thing is that that’s a happy ending. In most movies the destruction of the world is generally considered a bad thing, only in opera would it be regarded as spiritually uplifting.

Beautiful Words

The 100 most beautiful English words. Alas, “larvae” is not one of them. “Crepuscular” also didn’t make the list. Oh, well. As a bonus, here are the 100 funniest English words.

WaPo's Book World RIP

There’s been a lot of on-line hand wringing over the news that The Washington Post will no longer publish Book World, it’s stand-alone book review supplement to it’s Sunday edition. Terry Teachout rightly thinks the fuss is unwarranted:

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: it is the destiny of serious arts journalism to migrate to the Web. This includes newspaper arts journalism. Most younger readers--as well as a considerable number of older ones, myself among them--have already made that leap.

Rock & Roll Awesomeness

Meat Loaf will appear with a cartoon dog in a children’s show to help encourage kids to read more. In his episode he will read (and I’m not making this up) "The Lamb Who Came to Dinner."

New York City vs. Seattle

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross writes about how inexpensive it can be to hear much of the best music available in New York City. He attends the Metropolitan Opera (where the cheapest seats are fifteen dollars), the New York Philharmonic (a rehearsal ticket for sixteen dollars), and eight other events over the course of seven days. Total expenditures: eighty-one dollars.

Reading this I couldn’t help but compare it to how expensive the arts are here in Seattle. Good luck getting into the Seattle Opera for fifteen dollars. Let’s face it – we are not an arts friendly city. Seattle Opera, the Seattle Symphony, SAM – all of them get massive financial support from the city and the state and yet give very little back. I recently bought a pair of tickets to see a play at the Seattle Rep; mine was thirty-five dollars, the one for my senior-citizen mother: thirty-five dollars. Seattle has always had an inferiority-complex regarding New York City. Well, when it come to making the arts available to its citizens that sense of inferiority is well-deserved.

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