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Alli Mauzey IS Galinda [Oct. 29th, 2012|04:36 pm]

After all these years, thanks to Alli Mauzey I finally liked WICKED.  I had first seen it shortly after it had premiered on Broadway, with Kristen, Idina, Joel Grey, et al., and admired their performances while remaining unconvinced by the piece itself.  I went back with friends  few years later and saw it again (can't remember who was in the cast then), and basically had the same lukewarm reaction to it as a whole.


But last night, I finally understood why the musical is so well-liked, and at the core of my reaction was Alli Mauzey's performance. Her Galinda was a richly nuanced mix of hilarity and vulnerability, incisively funny when called for but also understated and thoughtful at points of less exuberance.  Her voice negotiates easily the two-octaves-plus of this role, with crystal clarity in all registers --she sings the hell out of it --  but I'd expected that.  As a composer, hers is  a voice that commanded and inspired my attention immediately when I first encountered it, and I've known of Alli's rather magnificent vocal instrument and seemingly effortless technique for some time now.


But I've only gradually been becoming aware of her range and craft as an actress, and especially her masterful relationship to comedy.  With innate timing, verbal dexterity and exuberant physicality, she is really a classic comedienne in the best old-school sense.  Having already been inspired by her ability to sing, I've been newly floored of late by her surefooted and highly creative command of comedy.


My friend Karina Gonzalez (herself a world-class artist, albeit in the field of ballet), who doesn't know Alli at all, went to the performance with me and made two observations which were telling:


1) She was convinced by intermission that Alli's own personality must be a lot like Galinda's "in real life," because she found Alli's verbal inflection and physicality "so honest."  She felt that Alli made the manic mannerisms seem perpetually spontaneous and "true" to each moment, as though it must have been happening spontaneously rather than being rigorously rehearsed.  For Karina, Alli's Galinda felt very real, genuine, full of "truth.," because all of the schtick seemed so organic to the character in every moment.   (No-one could have been more surprised than Karina was to meet Alli afterwards and instantly realize that she is  not at all like Galinda).  ;)



2) She also gave Alli one of the ultimate compliments an actor can receive:  "When she wasn't on the stage, you couldn't wait for her to come back."

I agree wholeheartedly.  In fairness, that reaction to Galinda is to some extent built into the character and book itself.  But in the midst of an extremely fine cast (including an impressively strong and earnest Elphaba, sung and acted splendidly and triumphantly by Jackie Burns) there is no question that for all Galinda's farce and silliness, Alli has made her the most fascinating and complexly-motivated person in the show.  She is no cartoon character here. 



We're not just talking "the legacy of Kristen Chenoweth" at work here.  This is very much the sparkling individual brilliance of Alli Mauzey.



Her performance in WICKED made it a different show for me -- and a commendably finer one in my opinion.


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"MR. ANDREWS" by E. M. Forster [Nov. 1st, 2011|11:45 pm]

The souls of the dead were ascending towards the Judgment Seat and the Gate of Heaven. The world soul pressed them on every side, just as the atmosphere presses upon rising bubbles, striving to vanquish them, to break their thin envelope of personality, to mingle their virtue with its own. But they resisted, remembering their glorious individual life on earth and hoping for an individual life to come.

Among them ascended the soul of a Mr. Andrews who, after a beneficent and honourable life, had recently deceased at his house in town. He knew himself to be kind, upright, and religious, and though he approached his trial with all humility, he could not be doubtful of its result. God was not now a jealous God. He would not deny salvation merely because it was expected. A righteous soul may reasonably be conscious of its own righteousness, and Mr. Andrews was conscious of his.

“The way is long,” said a voice, “but by pleasant converse the way becomes shorter. Might I travel in your company?”

“Willingly,” said Mr. Andrews. He held out his hand, and the two souls floated upwards together.

“I was slain fighting the infidel,” said the other exultantly, “and I go straight to those joys of which the Prophet speaks.”

“Are you not a Christian?” asked Mr. Andrews gravely.

“No, I am a Believer. But you are a Moslem, surely?”

“I am not,” said Mr. Andrews.”I am a Believer.” The two souls floated upwards in silence, but did not release each other’s hands.”I am broad church,” he added gently. The word “broad” quavered strangely amid the interspaces.

“Relate to me your career,” said the Turk at last.

“I was born of a decent middle-class family, and had my education at Winchester and Oxford. I thought of becoming a Missionary, but was offered a post in the Board of Trade, which I accepted. At thirty-two I married, and had four children, two of whom have died. My wife survives me. If I had lived a little longer I should have been knighted.”

“Now I will relate my career. I was never sure of my father, and my mother does not signify. I grew up in the slums of Salonika. Then I joined a band and we plundered the villages of the infidel. I prospered and had three wives, all of whom survive me. Had I lived a little longer I should have had a band of my own.”

“A son of mine was killed travelling in Macedonia. Perhaps you killed him.”

“It is very possible.”

The two souls floated upward, hand in hand. Mr. Andrews did not speak again, for he was filled with horror at the approaching tragedy. This man, so godless, so lawless, so cruel, so lustful, believed that he would be admitted into Heaven. And into what a heaven—a place full of the crude pleasures of a ruffian’s life on earth! But Mr. Andrews felt neither disgust nor moral indignation. He was only conscious of an immense pity, and his own virtues confronted him not at all. He longed to save the man whose hand he held more tightly, who, he thought, was now holding more tightly on to him. And when he reached the Gate of Heaven, instead of saying,” Can I enter?” as he had intended, he cried out, “Cannot he enter?”

And at the same moment the Turk uttered the same cry. For the same spirit was working in each of them.

From the gateway a voice replied, “Both can enter.” They were filled with joy and pressed forward together.

Then the voice said, “In what clothes will you enter?”

“In my best clothes,” shouted the Turk, “the ones I stole.” And he clad himself in a splendid turban and a waistcoat embroidered with silver, and baggy trousers, and a great belt in which were stuck pipes and pistols and knives.

“And in what clothes will you enter?” said the voice to Mr. Andrews.

Mr. Andrews thought of his best clothes, but he had no wish to wear them again. At last he remembered and said, “Robes.”

“Of what colour and fashion?” asked the voice.

Mr. Andrew had never thought about the matter much. He replied, in hesitating tones, “White, I suppose, of some flowing soft material,” and he was immediately given a garment such as he had described.”Do I wear it rightly?” he asked.

“Wear it as it pleases you,” replied the voice.”What else do you desire?”

“A harp,” suggested Mr. Andrews.”A small one.”

A small gold harp was placed in his hand.

“And a palm—no, I cannot have a palm, for it is the reward of martyrdom; my life has been tranquil and happy.”

“You can have a palm if you desire it.”

But Mr. Andrews refused the palm, and hurried in his white robes after the Turk, who had already entered Heaven. As he passed in at the open gate, a man, dressed like himself, passed out with gestures of despair.

“Why is he not happy?” he asked.

The voice did not reply.

“And who are all those figures, seated inside on thrones and mountains? Why are some of them terrible, and sad, and ugly?”

There was no answer. Mr. Andrews entered, and then he saw that those seated figures were all the gods who were then being worshipped on the earth. A group of souls stood round each, singing his praises. But the gods paid no heed, for they were listening to the prayers of living men, which alone brought them nourishment. Sometimes a faith would grow weak, and then the god of that faith also drooped and dwindled and fainted for his daily portion of incense. And sometimes, owing to a revivalist movement, or to a great commemoration, or to some other cause, a faith would grow strong, and the god of that faith grow strong also. And, more frequently still, a faith would alter, so that the features of its god altered and became contradictory, and passed from ecstasy to respectability, or from mildness and universal love to the ferocity of battle. And at times a god would divide into two gods, or three, or more, each with his own ritual and precarious supply of prayer.

Mr. Andrews saw Buddha and Vishnu and Allah and Jehovah and the Elohim. He saw little ugly determined gods who were worshipped by a few savages in the same way. He saw the vast shadowy outlines of the NeoPagan Zeus. There were cruel gods and coarse gods and tortured gods, and, worse still, there were gods who were peevish, or deceitful, or vulgar. No aspiration of humanity was unfulfilled. There was even an intermediate state for those who wished it, and for the Christian Scientists a place where they could demonstrate that they had not died.

He did not play his harp for long, but hunted vainly for one of his dead friends. And though souls were continually entering Heaven, it still seemed curiously empty. Though he had all that he expected, he was conscious of no great happiness, no mystic contemplation of beauty, no mystic union with good. There was nothing to compare with that moment outside the gate, when he prayed that the Turk might enter and heard the Turk uttering the same prayer for him. And when at last he saw his companion he hailed him with a cry of human joy.

The Turk was seated in thought, and round him, by sevens, sat the virgins who are promised in the Koran.

“Oh, my dear friend!” he called out.”Come here and we will never be parted, and such as my pleasures are, they shall be yours also. Where are my other friends? Where are the men whom I love, or whom I have killed?”

“I, too, have only found you,” said Mr. Andrews. He sat down by the Turk, and the virgins, who were all exactly alike, ogled them with coal black eyes.

“Though I have all that I expected,” said the Turk, “I am conscious of no great happiness. There is nothing to compare with that moment outside the gate when I prayed that you might enter, and heard you uttering the same prayer for me. These virgins are as beautiful and good as I had fashioned, yet I could wish that they were better.”

As he wished, the forms of the virgins became more rounded, and their eyes grew larger and blacker than before. And Mr. Andrews, by a wish similar in kind, increased the purity and softness of his garment and the glitter of his harp. For in that place their e

xpectations were fulfilled, but not their hopes.

“I am going,” said Mr. Andrews at last.”We desire infinity and we cannot imagine it. How can we expect it to be granted? I have never imagined anything infinitely good or beautiful excepting in my dreams.”

“I am going with you,” said the other. Together they sought the entrance gate, and the Turk parted with his virgins and his best clothes, and Mr. Andrews cast away his robes and his harp.

“Can we depart?” they asked.

“You can both depart if you wish,” said the voice, “but remember what lies outside.”

As soon as they passed the gate, they felt again the pressure of the world soul. For a moment they stood hand in hand resisting it. Then they suffered it to break in upon them, and they, and all the experience they had gained, and all the love and wisdom they had generated, passed into it, and made it better.

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A Night at the Houston Symphony [Sep. 25th, 2011|01:18 am]
Tonight I attended this concert:

It was, dare I say, a rather magnificent evening. Admittedly, a Carlisle Floyd curtain-raiser was curiously uninvolving, but after that came a fascinating and intense Christopher Rouse piece ("Odna Zhizn") followed by a joyous performance of the Liszt 2nd Piano Concerto in which soloist Olga Kern and conductor Hans Graf were in perfect accord.

After intermission came a world-class and opulent performance of Richard Strauss' sprawling and excessive but orchestrally sumptuous "Ein Heldenleben" which I can only praise for its tremendously fine playing, ensemble and interpretation.

I've been a Hans Graf fan for over 20 years, and while I'm vaguely aware that he doesn't seem to be as much revered in this town as I might expect, the times I've gone to see him conduct here have only solidified the appreciation I first experienced hearing his performances in other places, including his NY Philharmonic debut which I attended when I lived in NYC. He is clear and efficient without extraneous posturing. But he also creates very intense, focused, honestly committed music with both momentum and fully realized expression, which he achieves with equal respect for music and musicians. He is a sensitive accompanist (his interaction with Ms. Kern was almost symbiotic, making the coordination between orchestra and soloist jubilantly in sync at all times) and his leadership of the Strauss was a model of achieving every possible nuance without ever exaggerating or over-emphasizing or stopping the flow of the work.

The orchestra played spectacularly, combining precision of ensemble with a full sense of adventure, rubato and sensitivity. It was thrilling and yet crystal clear. Even the observance of dynamics was achieved to oustanding effect (there was one moment, for example, when a huge brass chord diminuendoed dramatically to reveal expressive strings -- they were already playing before the diminuendo, but the effect was as though we passed through a curtain of brass and entered into a room full-bodied strings on the other side -- the brass maintained the chord with full conviction and with the exact same balance of voicing while as a section magically dropping in volume with both alacrity and nuance -- this sort of thing doesn't just happen -- it takes fine players and fine conducting to create a moment like that).

This is another chance for me to say publicly that I think Graf is an underrated treasure. Even in the Rouse, with which he was clearly less intimately familiar, he still led an impeccably realized performance of precise ensemble and textural clarity.

But in the Liszt and again in the Strauss, he did in full measure what I've so long admired about him: in a fairly undemonstrative fashion, he led a stage-full of expert musicians to be able to make great music collectively together, to achieve that unique magic which at heart orchestral music is about: a transcendent effort of playing together confidently and exuberantly, bravely and triumphantly, This orchestra was a stunning wall of sound when that was required, and also a sensitively coordinated collective of individual and sectional expression in moments of rubato and expressivity. In the Liszt, they interlaced with the piano soloist as though it were chamber music. They were balanced. Individual sections shone. Soloists were heard and honored. Details emerged with surety and conviction. With Graf at the podium, everyone in that orchestra, individually and collectively, got to achieve greatness in all three works.

This is what an orchestra is for. This is what conducting is about. And Hans Graf really does it well. Bravo to him tonight, to the truly first-class performance of Ms. Kern, and especially to the Houston Symphony, who played tonight like they need not feel second to any orchestra anywhere. Here in the less-than-ideal Jones Hall truly great music was achieved tonight. That's why orchestral performances are still valuable in this crazy world, and I could ask for no more nourishment from any orchestra concert than I got tonight from Maestro Graf, Olga Kern and the Houston Symphony. Bravo to all.
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THE FIRST STEP [Aug. 1st, 2011|01:46 pm]
The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:

"I've been writing for two years now
and I've composed only one idyll.
It's my single completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder
of Poetry is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I'm standing on now
I'll never climb any higher."
Theocritos retorted: "Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you've done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it's a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you've done already is a wonderful thing."
- C. V. Cavafy
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Grand Rights for Composers [May. 1st, 2011|05:27 pm]
Interesting (to me anyway) article:

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(no subject) [Dec. 16th, 2010|05:00 pm]
loveology Made with My Cool Signs.Net
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PETER GRIMES at the Klavier. [Nov. 13th, 2010|01:51 am]
Last spring, Houston Grand Opera’s magnificent, provocative production of Tchaikovsky’s THE QUEEN OF SPADES gave me my most inspiring classical music experience in quite some time. I wrote at length about it here, and I’m sure I will be carrying the memory of that performance with me for decades to come.

My first HGO experience this season was, by contrast, a rather frustrating one: a brand-new production of Benjamin Britten’s PETER GRIMES.

It’s difficult to assess clearly my overall response, because it seems impossible to separate my reactions to the opera itself from the curious obstinacies of the production. So while some of my dissatisfaction is associated with the work itself, it’s difficult to discern to what extent I might have reacted differently to a more compelling production.

By way of full disclosure, I confess I’ve never seen the opera before, having only encountered it in the past from recordings and of course from the famous interludes, a staple of the symphonic repertoire. But I’ll say unequivocally that the orchestral writing is magnificent throughout this work. Britten was clearly one of the finest composers of the 20th Century, and of his voice-and-orchestra works, I consider the WAR REQUIEM a masterpiece, and have admired greatly much of his other vocal work. (But, conversely, I walked out of his A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at intermission, and was similarly underwhelmed by THE TURN OF THE SCREW when I saw it).

So as I sat in the audience through 3-hours-plus of this surprisingly dramatically inert behemoth of a piece, I had to confront head-on my ongoing assessment of Britten’s role not as a composer (where his achievement is sacrosanct) but as a theatrical composer. Despite there being so much tremendously well-wrought music throughout, the story and its characters leave us cold and uninvolved. Bewilderingly for a theater piece which takes on issues of child abuse, self-delusion, small town “mob mentality,” psychological damage and alcoholism (as well as also exploring more positive aspects of human relationships and community), the work as a whole is largely unmoving onstage.

It begins promisingly, at a village inquest that introduces the characters and the situation quite expertly with declamatory efficiency. My expectations were high. But that early promise dissipates as the work progresses, despite occasional standout moments of undeniable dramatic or emotional greatness: the tense gathering at Auntie’s tavern during a stormy night, a quiet scene between Ellen and the little boy on Sunday morning, and, best of all, an exquisitely moving quartet for four women which laments the apparent tragic futility inherent in bringing up children into adults and the emotional limitations of men.

But several of the most significant moments of high drama, at least in this production, ring strangely hollow for me, and Britten’s insistence on vocal writing which is largely more motivic than linearly melodic winds up undermining the ultimate full emotional potential of big moments such as Grimes’ famous soliloquy in the last act. Overall an enormous musical achievement? Surely. Sometimes dramatically impressive in certain ways? Yes. But truly moving emotionally and ultimately rewarding as a theatrical work? Sadly, no.

Indeed, we care about nobody in the story, excepting perhaps Ellen.

Montagu Slater’s libretto is fascinating and stunningly good, inviting comparison with Auden. It’s certainly all there in the libretto, and yet Britten’s writing, epic and herculean as it is, seemingly doesn’t provide a wide enough range of contrasts of approach to sustain a theatrical work of such gargantuan length. Even when Slater gave Britten ideal opportunities for exploring different village characters in different ways (for instance, in the tavern scene or in Act III’s opening scene), Britten for the most part did not take up those cues, and instead varies his language very little over the course of the evening. Yes, from a purely musical standpoint one can say that the work is “organized” very impressively in terms of its components. But from a theatrical standpoint, the rigorous “sameness” of so much of the language, even as attention shifts to colorful secondary characters, “wears us out” by Act III, rendering us far less receptive by the time the final histrionics unfold lugubriously.

In this regard much of the music for the character of Ellen stands out precisely because it DOES seek to clearly take us in a different direction, toward a kind of tenderness and compassion (and aesthetic “idealism” in the musical language), and that contrast helps the audience tremendously to attach itself emotionally to her part of the story. If Britten could have discovered even more contrasts in this way (more apposite rusticism for certain characters? More humor for other? It’s certainly there in the libretto), it would be far less fatiguing an evening, and Britten might have made a much richer palette of human experience available to the audience.

[This is probably a good moment to bluntly state that, despite my commentary, I acknowledge reverently that this is a tremendously ambitious and sincere and vital work on Britten’s part, a superhuman effort by any yardstick of compositional or artistic assessment. But despite comments I heard in a post-performance talkback about Britten’s status as the 20th century operatic inheritor of Wagner/Verdi/Puccini, I maintain that Britten the dramatist and “theater composer” falls far short of Britten the composer, in ways that Stravinsky, Berg or even Carlisle Floyd did not.]

The length too is a liability of sorts. Because the music aims so much more for intellectual rather than emotional rewards (despite the lurid subject matter), and because so little actually happens onstage (everything of consequence is “talked about” rather than shown, except for Grimes’ striking of Ellen and the slipping-to-death of the boy – although the staging of that moment is even somewhat perfunctory in this production), this piece feels for all the world like a huge Oratorio. In fact, over and over again during the evening I felt myself thinking that this exact same piece would be far more compelling in a concert version, with the cast facing us, in front of an orchestra, and unfolding this narrative in a totally abstract way, inviting the audience to visualize it within their own minds, within the same framework of personal intellectual abstraction with which Britten had framed it.

But this realization, strong as it was, begs the question which I still cannot resolve: COULD this be a compelling theater work in a different production? That the answer is so elusive is in itself a potential indictment of this production, even if I have no others to compare it to.

Let me first declare emphatically what I felt worked about the production:

-Excellent voices, with Katie van Kooten (as Ellen) and Christopher Purves (as Balstrode) particularly superlative, and certainly an impressive and fully-committed effort from Anthony Dean Griffey as Grimes. All secondary roles done with distinction.

-World-class orchestral playing and an excellent chorus, with music director Patrick Summers an exemplar of leadership and conviction from the podium.

-A set, essentially representing the interior of a kind of municipal auditorium vividly remembered from our childhoods, so finely detailed as to “feel” eerily like the real thing. It does its job with impressive functionality, while also seemingly lifelike and inhabited with a kind of film-set authenticity.

-Costuming and lighting are also effective and highly praiseworthy.

So where is the problem? Vexingly, it seems to be in the production’s essential conception. There are three aspects of the production which work against the material itself, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I am convinced that these are the features that rendered it impossible for this PETER GRIMES to achieve a successful connection to the audience as theater:

1. Most egregiously, the many orchestral interludes are played over random stage business, moving of furniture, etc. In the first interlude, this was convincing enough, bringing a temporary sense of “cinematic underscoring” to the transition out of the inquest into the next scene of regular village life afterwards. But the repeated insistence on taking Britten’s interludes, meant as a kind of orchestral meditation on what we’ve just seen, and preventing the audience from experiencing them abstractly by distracting us with meaningless furniture-moving and stage business was not only deadly but profoundly in opposition to the structural integrity of Britten’s intentions. By the time a late interlude rolled around in which children were running around the set, I had to shut my eyes in protest in order to process the interlude on its own terms.

This was the single element of the production to which I felt that Britten, were he present, would have stood up and objected. “Stop this,” he might have said. “You are undermining the aesthetic goal of these interludes.” Drop in a scrim and move your damn furniture behind it – let the audience listen to the interludes in peace as intended!

2. Another ineffective element would have been less offensive but for being tied into the first problem. It was the inclusion of a mute “Dr. Crabbe” wandering through every scene. As a theatrical device it is absolutely defensible, and wouldn’t necessarily have been problematic as pure concept, but in execution there were a few problems, i.e.: when he would approach characters who were otherwise in soliloquy, confusing the issue slightly for the audience as to the nature of the psychological moment for that character.

But perhaps Dr. Crabbe’s most destructive role was as a co-conspirator against the interludes. Directed to meander meaninglessly about the stage, implying some kind of melodramatic significance he in truth never possessed, he ultimately became the chief “culprit” during the interlude-ruining rituals.

And ultimately he never “paid off.” His presence did not end up creating any particular symbolic meaning which transforms our perception of the work, nor did he represent any definitive commentary on the proceedings. Perhaps he would have been more effective used more sparingly, but he was ever-present, gradually becoming a kind of Freudian-looking annoyance, much like when you watch a movie on cable and little animated promos keep popping up in the foreground of your screen.

3. The last problem is a biggie (and again wrapped up with the first one). The enormous metaphor lurking behind every bar of this opera is “the Sea,” and this production assiduously dispenses with it except for a painting on the scrim that we only see between acts. The Act II storm is portrayed very effectively onstage, and that becomes the single time during the entire opera’s staging when the audience is asked to sense the power of nature as being something larger than human endeavor, something frightening, something with the ability to obstruct us from our own choices.

“The Sea as Metaphor” in PETER GRIMES is a pretty big deal at the core of this opera, interpreted alternatively as Death, as Fate, as the inability of man to control his own destiny, and in countless other ways. However you choose to interpret it, it looms large in the soul of this piece.

But by placing us in a very realistic, literal setting and then ignoring the sea in any visible way in the production, the abstract power of the sea’s metaphorical role is diminished fatally. If, during the interludes, the scrim had come down and represented the sea abstractly in different ways, or with projections, or with lighting, its role would have still been referenced, even if not exactly “onstage,” but as commentary in much the way the interludes are.

Or even if we saw NOTHING during the interludes, it would still be better than having us look at this room with people milling about it during music that is designed to be contemplative and non-literal.

Or, again, in a concert/oratorio version of this piece, we’d be expected to imagine everything, as in a radio play, and Britten’s music would certainly ensure we must deal with the enormity of the Sea’s archetypal presence.

But ironically the production, by its very literalness visually (and its refusal to leave the interludes alone as abstract episodes of reflection for the audience between static scenes), renders the score LESS effective as staged than in a concert version. It shows us quite a bit literally but then chooses to give us nothing for the opera’s largest underlying superhuman character. And by stubbornly leaving the scrim up and reducing the interludes to so much visual set-changing music, director Neil Armfield has effectively emasculated Britten’s ability to urge the audience to process the abstract symbolism inherent in the score’s musical agenda. By cutting the sea out of the production, Armfield has shorn the hair from Samson, leaving a powerful and unusual piece of music somewhat shackled and prevented from achieving whatever theatrical potential it may indeed have.

The opera itself, coolly intellectual and enormously abstract and emotionally distant as it already is (despite its enormous musical power), seems to cry out for non-literal treatment and darker opportunities for imagery to be left to the audience’s imagination. This curiously “realistic” yet post-modern staging ultimately trivializes the potentials of this ambitious work rather than reinforcing them.

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Amber Rubarth [Oct. 11th, 2010|08:15 pm]
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On the Tea Party... [Sep. 27th, 2010|03:12 pm]
Where I agree with the Tea Party is their skepticism about how the government is not acting in the best interests of the American citizenry. But I guess we disagree very strongly that the solution is just to get further out of the way and open the floodgates to a free-for-all where those already really in power (the largest banks, corporations, and moneyed interests) can operate even more freely of any reasonable oversight.

I reject the new post-Reagan paradigm (so often just accepted by the media and many Americans) that the government should play no role in the administrating of services for the public good. From my standpoint the biggest obstacle to working out a good balance of what government should and shouldn't do is this knee-jerk, reflexive conviction that they just shouldn't do anything. And sadly, too many Republicans and Tea Partiers just stampede in that direction. I say "sadly" because many Tea Partiers not only already use certain government programs (i.e.: Medicare, etc.), but they'd be better served by a government which DID create safety nets and services for those who struggle to get by in this country. So voting for Republicans is ironically voting for those who will continue to let the lower and middle classes dangle while ensuring that the richest and wealthiest continue to get every break and every opportunity to hoard and send that wealth overseas. Trickle-down economics is a myth at that level, because the way to keep the money of the super-rich in our economy is to impose a reasonable tax rate and then give them big and generous tax incentives to re-invest in their own companies and their communities.

The other sad problem, of course, is that Democrats keep proving they can't really pull their shit together and come up with no-nonsense, citizen-centric policies and programs, because the Dems are obviously nearly as bought-and-paid-for as the Republicans are. The only real difference is that Democrats will occasionally do some legislation that helps the middle-and-lower-classes, as long as it doesn't gore the ox of any monied or corporate interest who are their real bosses. Republicans, by contrast, don't have any such checks on their stampede to "service" the wealthiest interests in the country.

The scam, though, is that by hiding their refusal to help the average American citizen behind a rallying cry of "smaller government!," Republicans wind up duping a lot of people with genuine concerns about the direction of this country. It is 100% clear to me that if "the Average Joe" in America votes Republicans back into power, they are just accelerating the runaway truck of this nation in the wrong direction for any of us who are not millionaires.

But, sadly, if the Democrats had grown a set of balls, or principles, or pulled themselves into any clear delineation of what they USED to stand for (or in Obama's case, campaigned on), they might have convinced more everyday people in them middle that government in fact CAN operate in the benefit of its citizenry. But they hemmed and hawed and dumbed down good ideas and passed crappy, half-assed legislation until even those of us who supported them feel that they have been totally ineffective.

The bottom line is this: there IS a positive role for government in protecting the rights and the essential dignities of individual citizens. Just how much of that is appropriate, and how it should be administrated, is open to serious and honest debate. But we never have that debate, because this country seems to now operate on a principle of "government=bad" which has prevented serious and constructive debate about the real role of government. And clearly Democrats don't believe in the basic tenets of their role in that debate, because they don't make their case and they don't champion intelligent, citizen-friendly legislation. If they did, many of these Tea Partiers, and plenty of independents and centrists, would have been persuaded.

In another core irony, for those conservatives who look back longingly at the way this country was in the 50s or 60s, the tax rate for the wealthy was astronomically high back then. It’s odd how when something like “ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest in America” comes up, conservatives (and many Democrats) wail about how damaging it would be. Even if we just restored the tax rate to the moderate pre-Bush rates in place during the Clinton administration, we’d potentially move in the direction of the kind of greater deficit reduction, a much better economy and an overall national solvency and ability to act responsibly on a national level that we had during that era. But Republicans act like any restoration of the reasonable tax rates of 15 years ago on the wealthiest Americans is like some kind of recipe for disaster. No, the disaster is what happened to this country economically during the Bush administration, ending in a total international economic train-wreck in Bush’s final year in office. I’d be happy to see further refining and gradation of tax rates for various levels of annual income above $250,000. Should someone making $250,000 get a somewhat better rate than a person making $500,000 or $1,000,000? Arguably yes. That would be a reasonable thing to discuss.

(Another huge factor in our fiscal crisis is the amount of money we’re spending on wars which were unnecessary in the first place, still pointless nearly a decade later and which are essentially a bottomless pit of expenditure which cannot do our national interest any good. So our D.C. legislatures bicker about whether to extend unemployment insurance or allow regional stimulus packages while they throw away 4 billion dollars a month on two wars which are doing us no good at all. But that’s another issue, so let’s leave that aside.)

I have a certain sympathy for Tea Partiers, because there are certainly many reasons to be angry about the way this country is headed, and how Washington does “business.” But I believe that Dick Armey, the Koch brothers and FreedomWorks are dedicated to spear-heading a large effort to deceive decent and hard-working people into supporting a Republican movement to restore their party's ability to keep funneling all advantage to the wealthiest and most powerful interests in this country. If Tea Partiers, with their legitimate anger, are duped into this, they will only have the sad experience of waking up to realize a few years down the line that they voted against their own best interests. Democrats don't seem to be giving them much of an alternative, obviously, even if the Tea Partiers hadn’t already ruled them out as some kind of “tax-and-spend” demons, but the "danger" Dems represent is a lot less ominous than what the Republicans will instantly do as soon as they regain their foothold. Democrats appear to be somewhat incompetent in organized policy development and societal leadership, and paralyzed by having two masters: Wealthy Interests with the money to help them stay in power vs. some residual nagging ideas about helping average Americans who are ostensibly the constituency. But Republicans, by contrast, are very organized in their zeal to steal this country away from its citizenry and make sure those same Wealthy Interests get whatever they want, as readily as possible, and no matter how many individual citizens get thrown under the bus as a result.

Systematically, our supposed "representatives" are bought and paid for by a small percentage of people and entities in this country who have absolutely NO interest in ever giving you or I a better life, or a fairer break, or a better interest rate, or a more secure existence. What people should be fearing is a government that takes away their RIGHTS and whittles away at the various safety nets of society which will prevent them from personal disaster if they get sick, or lose their house, etc. Instead, too many seem to be choosing to endorse people who want to just let government allow high-level economic chicanery to go on in as unchecked and untrammeled a way as possible, even while this country collapses under the weight of our collective inertia, confusion, inaction about infrastructure, inability to conceive of a common good that comes from reasonably administrated collective social policies at the Federal level and a relatively fair marketplace, potential for opportunity and quality-of-life for every American, not just the really wealthy ones. The system’s already broken – the question is if we’re ready to try to fix it, which is difficult and requires serious debate, or to just concede the reins back to those who are dedicated to leaving us dangling in the wind while the wealthiest 2 to 10% continue to actually “run” America.
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Beth Nielsen Chapman live with the BBC Concert Orchestra [Sep. 19th, 2010|03:05 pm]

Beth Nielsen Chapman's music accompanied me through some very difficult times years ago, as it has for many, many people. Over the years, she has continued to write songs which plumb the depths of spiritual need, articulating wisely and eloquently some of our highest joys or deepest pain. She helps us grieve, she helps us celebrate, all through a unique and profound confluence of music, lyrics, and some of the most difficult and/or important processes that human beings sometimes have to face. In her quiet way she has often become a voice to express both the vulnerability and the ecstasies of the human heart.

Beth is surprisingly little-known in the U.S., even though she is so unabashedly American in spirit and temperament, but apparently she has been much-loved for many years in the UK. While visiting there for concerts and songwriting workshops this month, she was invited to give a live concert with full orchestra on BBC Radio 2 on Friday night, Sept. 17.

Having just listened to it tonight, I'm filled with the best of emotional responses: It was a wonderful setlist of some of her best songs, old and new, most of them with new orchestrations which were sometimes subtle, sometimes large and colorful. Included were some of her work with collaborators, including Annie Roboff, Michael McDonald and film composer Patrick Doyle (who also appeared on the broadcast). THe interview segments helped illumine Beth's enormously positive spirit and humor, and so the program shows her at her best both as a musician and as a human being. I felt overwhelmingly proud of her as I listened to this important concert which which broadcast all over the world (and is available in BBC Radio's "listen again" until next Friday).

Most of all, for me personally, she touched me deeply, as she always does. I've revisited tonight so many feelings from the past 15 years of my life, some joyous, some very difficult. I was in tears often during the two hours of the program, but they were always tears born of being reconnected to the most vital inner regions of my own spirit. Hearing certain songs reminded me of times when these songs were so necessary to my own healing and progress, and yet at the same time, on a less selfish level, hearing Beth here in 2010 is also a celebration of the journey she's taken, so much of which she has shared with us her audience. In the first song you could almost hear in her voice the nervousness that must accompany this kind of opportunity, but once past that moment, she sounded supremely at her ease, and it was clear that the evening was a genuine lovefest between singer, orchestra and audience.

This night was a triumph for her, and no-one could be more deserving of this moving worldwide showcase.
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