On Sunday afternoon, April 9th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Milwaukee Ballet’s program.
This included a new ballet, “Sans Pleurer” (“Without Crying”), which was a new one-act ballet for male dancers by Timothy O’Donnell. The ballet explores the “boys don’t cry” idea, and the difficulties men have expressing feelings.

The ballet, which depicts a man’s inner life, begins with a young boy dressed in a school uniform, sitting downstage, crying. An adult dancer comes down to him, makes him stand up, put on his school jacket, and ushers him off. He is gradually joined by other dancers who may or may not all be aspects of his personality manifest. The dances in pairs, trios, or larger groups express anger, aggression, depression, and other emotions, generally all done in uniformity. From time to time, on or the other dancer would fall out, or break ranks, often by taking off the jacket, leaving them literally baring souls, as they are shirtless under the jackets. One of the impressive parts of the ballet was the number of subtle but firm ways in which the “deviants” were corrected, and made to put the jackets back on and join back in the dance. As the dance goes on, it becomes more agitated, until there is a general casting off of jackets. The central figure, muffling his face in the coat, weeps madly, while all the others rush to surround him. Whether they are at the last supporting him, or restraining him, is left to the viewer.

We found “Sans Pleurer” both aesthetically and emotionally powerful. The Ballet’s male dancers exhibited not only power, strength, and skill, but also grace and fluidity not often called for in male roles. The evocation of male emotion was cleverly done. Some bits involved dancing with boxes, which we dubbed “mental blocks” or perhaps the boxes one put ones feelings in. It appeared that the dancers had no choice but to lug them around, like Marley’s Ghost and his strongboxes: if a box was laid down, it had to be picked up again; no one would take, or show interest in, someone else’s box.

In the notes, the choreographer’s question was posed: “Why are men raised to suppress their emotions?” We had a couple of answers. It’s not just received culture, but that is a factor. After all, strong admirable men like the characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart don’t cry. James Bond doesn’t cry. Neither do John McClane, Indiana Jones, Dominic Toretto, or any other hero you can name.

But there’s more to it than that. The culture of youth is full of shallow cruelty. If you are teased or bullied, and you cry, you will be mocked. If you rage, you will be mocked. If you laugh, you will be mocked, insult added to injury. And if you fight back, verbally or physically, you will be roughed up, bully being careful to be sure of physical superiority, injury added to insult. Therefore, the safest path is to be inscrutable. It doesn’t save you from bullying, but gives them the fewest levers. Some of us learned this from direct experience. The bullies, their sycophants, and the “better you than me” bystanders from observation.

Well, you can see the piece was thought-provoking--.

The music by Ezio Bosso was actually musical, evocative, and listenable. Conductor Andrews Sills got a big, exciting sound from the small ensemble used for this piece.

La Sylphide

I had not seen “La Sylphide,” which is one of the famous pieces of the classical ballet repertoire, live, so was very interested to see how Milwaukee Ballet would handle it. In this case, they engaged the services of Dinna Bjorn as Repetiteur, who is one of the recognized specialists on the ballets of choreographer August Bournonville. Together, everyone did a lovely job.

The Sunday performance had Nicole Teague-Howell as La Sylphide, Randy Crespo as James, Jonathan Batista as Gurn, and Rachel Malehorn as Madge the witch. All of the dancers were excellent. We thought that Ms. Teague-Howell could have been more expressive in the first act, but she warmed up in the second act and made her role quite affecting. The big wedding dance number in the first act was the most intricate version of this scene we have seen, and very beautiful. Rachel Malehorn, in her final role for the Milwaukee Ballet, did a fine chewy acting job as the witch. Andrews Sill and the Ballet Orchestra gave a fine rendition of the dramatic score by Herman Severin Lovenskjold. Costumes provided by the Boston Ballet were very pretty and plausible-looking. All in all, a very enjoyable and satisfying performance.

Moral 1: Don’t be rude to the local witch.
Moral 2: If you are rude to the local witch, don’t expect her to actually help you later.

Concinnity

Apr. 11th, 2017 05:33 pm
On Saturday, April 8th, we went to the Milwaukee School of Engineering for Concinnity 17, the campus’ annual one-day gathering for science-fiction, anime, cosplay, and gaming fandom. Held on two floors of the Campus Center building, this was a nice little gathering. The commons area on the third floor was used for dealers, and we were pleased to see friends Julie Ann Hunter, Terresa Roden, Emily “Dragonwielder” Schultz, and Karen Pauli having tables. We checked out all the tables, chatted with some new acquaintances, and attended Lee Schneider’s panel on “Nudging History” and Chris Madsen’s talk about his book, “The Eyes of the Setting Sun.” We didn’t stay for any of the anime or the gaming, which ran into the evening, but had a very nice time.

We’ve usually missed Concinnity due to being on the same weekend as OddCon, but that didn’t happen this year, so we were glad to have a chance to check it out.
On Friday evening, we went to the Zelazo Center on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Campus to their production of “La Perichole,” an opera buffa by Jacques Offenbach. We had enjoyed the University’s production of Offenbach’s “Orpheus in Hell,” and so were interested to see how this one would turn out.

I was rather surprised to see that the very slender plot was adapted from a comic play by Prosper Merimee. Merimee is best known to English speakers as the author of the story that became Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” notorious for being dark, violent, and tragic. “La Perichole,” by contrast is light and funny.

The original play and opera were set in Peru, and the “heavy” was the Spanish Viceroy, supported by his minions, the “First Gentleman of the Bedchamber” and the “Mayor of Lima.” The updated script played by the University is set in 1990’s Hollywood, with “Mr. Viceroy” (Jason Martin) as “CEO of NBC”, and being abetted in his schemes by the “VP of NBC External Affairs” (Austin Jermaine Bare), and the “Mayor of South Hollywood” (Joseph Krohlow). At a birthday party at the “Three Cousins” club, Viceroy encounters the talented but unlucky street singers, the beautiful Perichole (Laura Lemanski) and her swain, Pequillo (Emanuel Camacho). They have been trying to get enough money to get married, with no success. In fact, Pequillo is so bad at “passing the hat,” that they are on the verge of starvation. Pequillo goes off on his own to try his luck further, while Perichole stays behind and tries to sleep to forget her hunger.

She is approached by Viceroy, who offers to “employ” her as an Executive Administrative Assistant at NBC. She has no illusions as to what the deal actually is, but reluctantly agrees, hoping to string Viceroy along at least for a few good meals. She leave a good-by letter for Pequillo at the Three Cousins.

When Viceroy announces his conquest to the VP and the Mayor, they are appalled that he would hire a single woman with no qualifications. The Board of Directors would not stand for it. Relying on an entertainment industry standby, nepotism, they propose that it will work if she were married to an NBC shareholder. Viceroy directs the VP to find a man that they can marry to Perichole and make a director.

Pequillo returns to the Three Cousins, and gets Perichole’s letter. Despondent, he decides to attempt suicide, but is tripped over by the VP, who realizes that he’s found someone poor and desperate enough for anything. He plies Pequillo with liquor, getting him “blind-drunk”. Pequillo goes through with the wedding, having no idea who it is he’s marrying.

In the next scene, Pequillo wakes up in NBC Headquarters with no recollection of how he got there. He is reminded that he got married last night, but not to whom. He is treated with scorn by the NBC staff, of whom the women think of him as pimping his wife to Viceroy, and whom the men perceive as a “kept man.” The VP and the Mayor are more sanguine, advising him that “husband of Viceroy’s mistress” a.k.a. “Assistant to the Assistant Manager for Gender Affairs” is one of the best jobs at NBC, other than their own, having few duties and access to lots of money. Pequillo doesn’t care, he just wants the thousand dollars he was promised and to be allowed to leave. They agree, but insist that first he has to “introduce” his wife to Viceroy at a reception that evening.

When Perichole arrives at the reception and Pequillo realizes that she is the wife he is to turn over to Viceroy, he flies into a rage and denounces her as heartless anand mercenary. At Viceroy’s order, Pequillo is subdued and thrown into a subterranean dungeon.

In the dungeon, Pequillo meets the “Old Prisoner” (Sam Skogstad), who has spent twelve years tunneling out of his cell with a penknife, only to arrive in Pequillo’s cell. Undaunted, the rather mad old man offers to free Pequillo also, assuring him it will only take another twelve years digging through the correct wall this time.

Perichole comes to visit. After considerable recrimination by Pequillo, she lets him know that, not only has she not surrendered her body to Viceroy, she loves Pequillo, and has absconded with the jewelry Viceroy gave her, in order to buy his freedom. She attempt to bribe the guard with a diamond ring, only to find that it is Viceroy in disguise. He locks Perichole in the cell with Pequillo, saying he hopes she will change her mind. After he has left, the Old Prisoner enters and frees them from their chains. Then Perichole calls Viceroy back. The three of them overpower him, lock him up, and flee.

In the final scene, the fugitives are hiding out at the Three Cousins while Viceroy’s minions scour the town for them. While Viceroy is interrogating the cousins, Perichole and Pequillo come out of hiding and beg for their freedom with a song praising the virtue of forgiveness. Moved, Viceroy forgives them, and allows them to keep the jewels (“I am not accustomed to taking back gifts—“). All celebrate the couple’s courage and Mr. Viceroy’s clemency.

We enjoyed this production very much. Between Offenbach’s music, in which the composer employed Spanish-derived themes and dances; the English libretto by Kalmus and Daniel Pippin, Colleen Brooks, and James Zager, much of which was in rhymed couplets; and the ‘topsy-turvy’ plot, the performance had an almost Gilbert and Sullivan feel, which made it quite accessible.

Ms. Lemanski as Perichole, exhibited a lovely, warm, rich, voice which worked very well for the role and the music. Mr. Camacho (Pequillo) has a beautiful but light voice that was hard to pick out of the ensemble pieces, but he has a gift for comic acting that helped get his role across. Jason Martin as Viceroy acted and sang a wonderfully heedless and egotistical “heavy.” They were well supported by the rest of the cast who sang, danced, and acted with what must honestly be reported as varying degrees of skill, but it was all good fun for the audience.

Costumes were pretty obviously scrounged from the actor’s closets, but worked well enough. The modular set by Leroy Stoner looked good and worked cleverly. Jun Kim conducted the orchestra, which handled Offenbach’s score expertly and supported the singers excellently.

We were interested to see that the director was Colleen Brooks, whose performances we had enjoyed in the Skylight Opera Theater’s The Snow Dragon. It was obvious that she has a good grasp of the light opera genre and a clear vision for the production.
On Saturday, April 1, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the new exhibit, "Milwaukee Collects," which is made up of paintings and other objets d'art in the private collections of residents of Greater Milwaukee. The more than 100 works on loan came from nearly 50 collections, showing a great deal of community support. Some of the named donors included names well-known as patrons of the arts, and some unknown to us, and some remaining anonymous.

The exhibition is organized in roughly chronological order, with 19th Century pieces first up. These included representational and sentimental pieces such as Ludwig Knaus' "The Golden Wedding," (http://www.artnet.com/magazine/news/jeromack/jeromack5-16-7.asp); Eduard von Grutzner's fond paintings of portly monks, one of which, "The Catastophe" is in the Museum's permanent collection (http://art-now-and-then.blogspot.com/2014/04/eduard-von-grutzner.html); and some non-Academy French paintings, such as "Elodie with a Parasol," by Jules Breton (http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2017/03/10/art-private-collections-of-the-wealthy/nggallery/image/elodie-with-a-sunshade-bay-of-douarnenez-woman-with-parasol/).

By far the largest part of the exhibition is 20th Century work, and the sophistication of the local collectors is impressive. While "usual suspects," like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are represented, there are significant examples from important art movements like the "Ashcan School," the "Chicago Imagists," and the Dusseldorf School. We fond particularly amusing Erika Rothenberg's 1991 "Another Century of Progress," one of her "signboard" series (http://erikarothenberg.com/#works)a rather more humorous bookend to works like "America, the Greatest Nation on Earth" (not part of this exhibition).

Also just opened is the the exhibit "How Posters Work," which is a display focusing on the graphic design elements that make posters, now a fading art form, effective. Items from the Smithsonian Cooper Hewett collection are central to the show, which includes industrial and governmental designs, as well as examples of posters for films, plays, and concerts.

These were both very interesting shows and we were glad to have seen them.

Milwaukee Collects runs through May 21.
How Posters Work is on display through June 25th.
First, let me address one point: Casting Scarlett Johannsen as the main character is NOT a “whitewash”. “Major Kusanagi,” as she’s generally known, has never, ever been drawn as Asian-looking either in the manga or the anime. She’s always had round eyes, and, when in color, they are blue (or red, in one of the animes), and her skin is white. “Section 9,” the special law enforcement group she belongs to does not exist in any recognizable version of Japan, instead it’s “manga Japan,” which, in that, as well as other works, is populated by racially ambiguous people, many of which are pale-skinned, round-eyed, and have hair in Caucasian shades (when it’s not blue, purple, or other colors not occurring in nature). The director of the animated films, Mamoru Oshii said: “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.”

That being said, we went to a preview of the movie at the Oriental Theatre on Wednesday night, March 29. I liked the movie a lot, and Georgie did, too, as it didn’t exceed her tolerance for violence and flashing/booming.

The movie looks great to my eyes. The long shots of the urban landscape are amazing, rife with gigantic advertising holograms, which Georgie called “Blade Runner all grown up.” The opening sequence of the creation of the Major’s cyborg body is pure science-fantasy, but beautiful, and almost mystical as her framework is levitated through the various stages of its “birth.” That life is not going to be quite easy for the new being is immediately apparent with the dialog between her creator, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) and the owner of the company that created her, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), in which he declares, “She’s a weapon.”

Flash ahead to a year later, and “the Major” is lead operator for “Section 9,” here described as an anti-terrorist unit, where her strength, speed, and ability to make herself virtually invisible, are of great use. Her ability to “deep dive” into cyberspace is less well understood, and her commander, Aramaki (veteran Japanese action actor “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), is uneasy with her using it. She has an uneasy comradeship with the other members of her unit, Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Han (Chin Han), Ladriya (Danusia Samal), and Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere).

I was really struck by Ms. Johannsen’s abilities as a physical actress. Although her role as Marvel’s “Black Widow” is superficially similar, both being female super-agent action heroes, the characters are quite different. I was particularly struck by the Major’s walk, which is a heavy-looking flat-footed trudge, as though she indeed had a steel skeleton. She walks with her head pushed forward, sometimes “forgetting” to move her arms, subtly underlining that she’s only had this body for a year and is still learning to use it. Similarly, her resting expression is very neutral: you don’t see thoughts cross her face, except when she is speaking or taking action.
The plot has some similarities to the 1995 animated film, with the major antagonist having the ability to “hack” people’s minds, but goes in a very different direction, becoming the Major’s origin story, which is more detailed and dark than any version given before.

Ms. Johannsen is well supported by the cast, especially Pilou Asbaek as Batou, and Marion Cotillard as Dr. Ouelet, who are the human heart and mind of the movie, respectively. It’s also good fun to see Mr. Kitano “taking names” in a wonderfully no-nonsense style. Peter Fernandino as Cutter is a villain for the 21st Century, taking personal command of mayhem with a remote-control interface.
The film’s portrayal of “augmentation” is quite compelling, and a lot of ways evocative of what the “man-machine interface” might be like. In other ways, it is quite fantastic and dreamlike, with robotic arms repairing the Major’s damaged muscle fibers by painting on new material with brushes. It’s never explained how she can jump off the top of a skyscraper (her favored method of “tactical insertion”) without harm, but still be damaged in combat. Of course there’s lots of over-the-top combat, but shooting and exploding is at a tolerable level. There’s some blood, shown as the aftermath of being wounded, but not much. No bad language or sex. We do see quite a lot of the Major’s artificial integument, but it’s not what one would call sexual nudity (unless you are already a robot fetishist--).

Recommended for fans of anime, SF/action, and superheroes.
We noticed in the newspaper that Mason Street Grill was having a monthly special series based on movies, with the first one being “Julie and Julia,” the movie about the young woman who cooked her way through Julia Child’s “The Art of French Cooking.” We loved that movie, love the cookbook, and the special dishes looked really yummy, so we thought we’d give it a try.

The Mason Street Grill is a very nice place. If you are an old Milwaukeean, you might remember the space they are in as having been Grenadiers’ years ago. It has been entirely redecorated since then, of course, with a lot of dark wood and tasteful accents.

If you want the “movie menu”, you have to sit at “The Chef’s Corner,” which is a less-formal seating location at a marble-topped counter, with a good view of the open kitchen. Our server, Ryan, was very friendly and informative.

We ordered a starter of the charcuterie, which was good, but not special. The only home-made part was the chopped liver on toast. The sausage and ham were good, but probably not anything you couldn’t have gotten elsewhere (or at the grocery store). An amuse-bouche of a crostini with grilled tomatoes and cheese also comes with the movie menu (Georgie was able to brush the cheese off this--). That was tasty also. The breadbasket came with cottage cheese bread and a parmesan flatbread. I tasted both, but of course Georgie couldn’t eat either and it would have been nice to have had a non-cheese offering.

For main course, I ordered the Lobster Thermidor. This is bits of lobster, sautéed in cognac, in sauce, topped with bread crumbs, and broiled in half a lobster shell. I found it very tasty and good, and was glad to have had the opportunity to try this preparation.

Georgie ordered the Poulet au Porto, which was a lovely portion of roasted chicken, sauced with a port wine, cognac, cream and mushroom reduction, and accompanied by tiny fingerling potatoes. The Amish chicken was some of the best we had had, and the sauce was delicious.

For dessert, we had the Mouselline au Chocolate, which was a chocolate tart with whipped cream on top. The chocolate filling had a lovely texture, very rich and smooth. It was also flavored with espresso, which was a bit stronger than I liked, and pretty well overpowered the Grand Marnier element. The tart crust for some reason was unusually hard, (made from crushed ladyfingers) but was quite delicious in flavor. If you could manage a bite with crust, filling and whipped cream, it was a very mellow and luscious dessert.

All in all, a very pleasant and delicious dining experience. We would definitely eat there again. (But maybe not for the April movie theme, which is "The Big Night." Georgie has trouble finding any Italian dish that doesn't have cheese in it--.)
Just a quick note. We went to a preview of the new "Ghost in the Shell" film on Wednesday night. It was really good and fantastic to look at. The cityscape is, as Georgie put it, "Blade Runner all grown up!" Long review to follow--.
On Sunday, March 26, we went to see the new movie of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney (mostly) live action adaptation of their 1991 all-animated feature. I say “mostly” live action: Belle, her father Maurice, villain Gaston, Le Fou, and the other villagers are live-action. Dan Steven’s Beast form and all of the enchanted servants, Lumiere, Cogsworth, et al, are CGI until the curse is lifted from them.

The movie looks great. The village is beautiful, the Beast’s castle fantastic, costumes excellent and casting all very good.

There are significant changes from the original other than the medium. There are some “new” songs, brought in from the musical play version, and some minutes of new music specifically for the film, none of which are very consequential or memorable. Some, such as “Evermore,” a song for the Beast mourning Belle’s departure to rescue Maurice, seem strongly influenced by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

My major disappointment with the 1991 movie was that Belle had no “big song.” It was a letdown when the orchestral musical buildup following “Belle” (“Isn’t she a funny girl—“) peaking in her sung line “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!” just stops. Brave, bookish Belle is my favorite Disney/fairy tale heroine, and I’ve always wanted her to have her own anthem, her own equivalent of “Let it Go,” but we still don’t have it. To be fair, the Beast doesn’t get a “big” song either: all the really memorable songs are for the ensemble or the servants: “Belle,” “Gaston”, “Be Our Guest,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and that hasn’t changed.

The singing is very good, and on the film, you will hear the actual actors doing the songs, which shows that Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) all have very creditable singing voices. Frankly, I think they are preferable to some of the more professional singers that are featured on the soundtrack album.

There are some significant changes to the characters, which are mostly to the good. Maurice is played with more dignity and as less of a screwball, which makes him a more sympathetic character, but makes Gaston’s railroading him into the madhouse less credible.

Gaston, as played by Mr. Evans, initially comes over a bit more likeable. He seems humanly smitten/obsessed with Belle, and less just convinced of his entitlement to her. Ultimately though, he’s even more rotten than his cartoon counterpart, as his murderous streak comes out earlier in the film. He’s also a bit psychotic: LeFou (Josh Gad) heads off a berserk episode by saying, “Go to your happy place, Gaston! The war! All those widows!” “Widows!” murmurs Gaston in reply, with a glassy grin. Whether he’s remembering exploiting them or creating them is left unsaid--.

While I kind of miss the evil Monsieur D’Arque and the “Maison de Lune” song, it’s apparent they don’t fit in with the style of the new production. Instead, we have more dialog, particularly between Belle and the Beast which helps develop the growth of their relationship.

There were some bits that were overdone: “Be Our Guest” is always an over-the-top production number, but this version went ridiculously far. It’s a bit much even for magically animated crockery and flatware to improvise indoor fireworks and disco lighting effects on short notice.

So, it’s a really good film, and we liked it a lot. I still think I like the cartoon one better, though.
On Friday evening, March 24th, we went to hear Great Lakes Baroque’s first concert of the year, featuring mezzo soprano Suzanne Lommler, cellist Paul Dwyer, and founder and harpsichordist Jory Vinokur.

Besides being a wonderful singer and operatic performer, Ms. Lommler also demonstrated that she is a real trouper, showing up despite having one foot in a cast, and standing up to sing all her pieces

In the first half, she gave us lovely renditions of “Amanti, io vi so dire,” by Benedetto Ferrari, and “L’Eraclito amoroso,” by Barbara Strozzi, whose proto-fado, proto-blues music we particularly enjoy. Then, Mr. Vinokur soloed on the Handel Suite in E Major, HWV 430 (“The Harmonious Blacksmith”) which displayed his virtuosic level of skill on the harpsichord.
Then, Ms. Lommler gave us a very passionate rendition of Handel’s La Lucrezia, wherein we got a good sample of her operatic skills in song, expression, and gesture. The cantata adopts the same classical story as Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece,” and the portion in which Lucrezia curses her attacker, Tarquin, is truly fiery.

Mr. Dwyer accompanied La Lucrezia also, and did a beautiful job of it. The singing tone of the cello was truly a duet with the human voice.

In the second half, Mr. Vinokur moved to a fortepiano, to accompany Ms. Lommler on first, a set of songs by Franz Joseph Haydn, which set to music “She Never Told Her Love” (Shakespeare), “The Mermaid’s Song”(Anne Hunter), “O Tuneful Voice” (Anne Hunter), and “Cupido” (G. Leon).
This was followed by a second set of songs set to music by Mozart: “As Luise Burned the Letters of her Unfaithful Lover” (Gabriele von Baumberg); “In A Dark and Secluded Wood” (Antoine Houdart de la Motte); “Contentment” (Christian Felix Weisse); “Evening Thoughts” (Joachim Heinrich Campe); and “To Chloe” by Johann Georg Jacobi.

After a rapturous ovation, all three performers joined in an encore, also a Mozart piece that I did not catch the name of.

Pretty much all this music was new to me, and I very much enjoyed it all.
On Sunday afternoon, March 19th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Florentine Opera’s production of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

This was a revival of a 2006 production (reviewed back then in this journal) played mostly on a bare stage set with a few necessary pieces and with light. There seemed to be some tweaks to the new appearance: we believed the lighting was brighter and more colorful than in the past.

This was perhaps musically one of the best casts we have heard in a long time. Alexander Dobson (Don Giovanni), Emily Birsan (Donna Anna), Emily Fons (Donna Elvira), Musa Ngqungwana (Leporello), Brian Stuckey (Don Ottavio), Ariana Douglas (Zerlina), and Leroy V. Davis (Masetto) all sang beautifully and acted very well into the bargain. The brightest jewel of the collection was Ms. Fons, who sang the role of the obsessive Donna Elvira with power and tragic beauty while still managing some genuinely funny interactions with the other characters. David Leigh as the Commendatore gave good support (and got to come down front in the final scene, an improvement in staging from 2006), and shows promise for the future.

We still didn’t care for the purposeless hooded figures stalking across the stage, or the “escape from Hell” joke at the end, but the singing made it not matter.

Maestro Joseph Resigno once again conducted, leading the orchestra flawlessly.
On Saturday evening, March 18th, we went to the Skylight to see their new production of Beauty and the Beast, based upon Zemire et Azor, a 1771 opera by André Ernest Modeste Grétry, with libretto by Jean François Marmontel, after the story La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and the play Amour pour amour by P.C. Nivelle de La Chaussée.

Largely forgotten nowadays, Grétry was popular in his time, composed more than fifty operas, and was hired by Queen Marie Antoinette as her court music director. The opera was a favorite of Mozart’s, and the music stands the test of time very well.

The story follows the classic version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, with a few tweaks. The merchant Sander (Eric McKeever) is shipwrecked, along with his servant, Ali (Nicholas Nestorak). They seek shelter in what appears at first to be an abandoned palace, Ali with great reluctance as he fears the place is haunted. The palace’s invisible servants (Alex Campea, Bria Cloyd, Sean Anthony Jackson, and Alex Mace) lay out a feast for them. Ali’s fears are dispelled by the excellent wine, but Sander becomes the fearful one when the playful spirits start levitating the drunken Ali around the room.

Comes the dawn, Sander literally drags the hung-over Ali out the door, but stops to pluck a rose for his daughter, Zemire. which prompts the appearance of the outraged Beast, Azor. In this production, the Beast is represented by an eight-foot tall and equally broad puppet figure manipulated by the spirits, and given voice by tenor Chaz’men Williams Ali. The fearsome Beast walks like a gorilla, has a spiky carapace like a crab, the horns and ears of a water buffalo, fangs, and tusks. Accusing Sander of theft and ingratitude, the Beast eventually agrees to give Sander his life, his freedom, and wealth, if he will send Azor his daughter, Zemire. Azor swears that she will come to no harm, but Sander and Ali aren’t sure when Azor summons up a wind spirit (another puppet, reminiscent of a small version of the “Snow Dragon” seen at the Skylight in 2015) that bears them home.

At home, they are greeted by Sander’s daughters, spoiled materialists Fatme and Lisbe (Erin Sura and Sarah Thompson Johansen), and the good and virtuous Zemire (Gillian Hollis). Fatme and Lisbe are dismayed that their father has lost everything, but Zemire is just glad to have him back. Then, he produces the rose, and tells them of the dreadful bargain he has made. While the others all think about ways to get out of it, Zemire compels Ali to take her to the Beast’s palace, so that the Beast will keep his promise and her family be provided for. She bravely enters the palace, but, on seeing the Beast for the first time, faints dead away.

When she revives, Azor is kind to her, and tells her that she may command him and the spirits for any thing she wishes. She replies that she is not made happy by things. Instead, she sings a song for him, and dances with the spirits.

After a time, she wishes to know how her family is faring. Despite misgivings, Azor brings out a magic mirror, which will not only show her whom she wishes to see, but allow her to hear their thoughts as well. Her now richly adorned sisters are more spoiled than ever, but her father, aged by his ordeal, is deeply sunk in grief over the loss of Zemire. Zemire declares that she must go to him. Azor protests that this is an excuse to leave him. Giving her a magic ring that will allow her instant travel, Azor gets her to promise to return by sunset, because he has realized that he loves her, and it was foretold him by the spirit that enchanted him, that on the day he was able to love, his “cursed life would end.”

Zemire transports herself to the family home, to her father’s joy, but he and her sisters attempt to keep her there. With Ali’s help she escapes back to the Beast’s palace, arriving just as night has fallen. She calls out to Azor, and he is able to answer, because his “cursed life” has ended by his being transformed back into his normal, kingly, form. Sander, Ali, Fatme and Lisbe arrive, intent on rescuing Zemire once and for all, in time to take part in the happy ending.

This production was just charming all the way through: the story, the setting, the costumes, the music, the singing, the dancing were all lovely. The English translation of the libretto, by Colin Graham, further adapted by Director James Ortiz and Shari Rhoads, was witty and enjoyable. Of course, the monster in the room is the huge Azor puppet, which was very effective. The “spirits” manipulating it did a wonderful and graceful job of bringing it to life, and most of the time the “ventriloquism” effect worked well, making it easy to accept that the puppet was singing. It didn’t work when Mr. Williams Ali, who sings the Beast’s role as a hooded figure on stage, gets too far down front and in the action, but this only happened a couple of times. One episode in which the puppet manipulation was distracting came in the first scene, during Sander’s song lamenting his dilemma, during which the Beast kept nervously moving its head, which distracted from Sander’s singing. Even puppets should obey the basic rule of stagecraft to not pull eyes away from the focus of the scene.

This was a really excellent, creative, and entertaining production, and we were very glad to have seen it.
On Sunday afternoon, March 19th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Florentine Opera’s production of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

This was a revival of a 2006 production (reviewed back then in this journal) played mostly on a bare stage set with a few necessary pieces and with light. There seemed to be some tweaks to the new appearance: we believed the lighting was brighter and more colorful than in the past.

This was perhaps musically one of the best casts we have heard in a long time. Alexander Dobson (Don Giovanni), Emily Birsan (Donna Anna), Emily Fons (Donna Elvira), Musa Ngqungwana (Leporello), Brian Stuckey (Don Ottavio), Ariana Douglas (Zerlina), and Leroy V. Davis (Masetto) all sang beautifully and acted very well into the bargain. The brightest jewel of the collection was Ms. Fons, who sang the role of the obsessive Donna Elvira with power and tragic beauty while still managing some genuinely funny interactions with the other characters. David Leigh as the Commendatore gave good support (and got to come down front in the final scene, an improvement in staging from 2006), and shows promise for the future.

We still didn’t care for the purposeless hooded figures stalking across the stage, or the “escape from Hell” joke at the end, but the singing made it not matter.

Maestro Joseph Resigno once again conducted, leading the orchestra flawlessly.
On Saturday evening, March 18th, we went to the Skylight to see their new production of Beauty and the Beast, based upon Zemire et Azor, a 1771 opera by André Ernest Modeste Grétry, with libretto by
Jean François Marmontel, after the story La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and the play Amour pour amour by P.C. Nivelle de La Chaussée.

Largely forgotten nowadays, Grétry was popular in his time, composed more than fifty operas, and was hired by Queen Marie Antoinette as her court music director. The opera was a favorite of Mozart’s, and the music stands the test of time very well.

The story follows the classic version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, with a few tweaks. The merchant Sander (Eric McKeever) is shipwrecked, along with his servant, Ali (Nicholas Nestorak). They seek shelter in what appears at first to be an abandoned palace, Ali with great reluctance as he fears the place is haunted. The palace’s invisible servants (Alex Campea, Bria Cloyd, Sean Anthony Jackson, and Alex Mace) lay out a feast for them. Ali’s fears are dispelled by the excellent wine, but Sander becomes the fearful one when the playful spirits start levitating the drunken Ali around the room.

Comes the dawn, Sander literally drags the hung-over Ali out the door, but stops to pluck a rose for his daughter, Zemire. which prompts the appearance of the outraged Beast, Azor. In this production, the Beast is represented by an eight-foot tall and equally broad puppet figure manipulated by the spirits, and given voice by tenor Chaz’men Williams Ali. The fearsome Beast walks like a gorilla, has a spiky carapace like a crab, the horns and ears of a water buffalo, fangs, and tusks. Accusing Sander of theft and ingratitude, the Beast eventually agrees to give Sander his life, his freedom, and wealth, if he will send Azor his daughter, Zemire. Azor swears that she will come to no harm, but Sander and Ali aren’t sure when Azor summons up a wind spirit (another puppet, reminiscent of a small version of the “Snow Dragon” seen at the Skylight in 2015) that bears them home.

At home, they are greeted by Sander’s daughters, spoiled materialists Fatme and Lisbe (Erin Sura and Sarah Thompson Johansen), and the good and virtuous Zemire (Gillian Hollis). Fatme and Lisbe are dismayed that their father has lost everything, but Zemire is just glad to have him back. Then, he produces the rose, and tells them of the dreadful bargain he has made. While the others all think about ways to get out of it, Zemire compels Ali to take her to the Beast’s palace, so that the Beast will keep his promise and her family be provided for. She bravely enters the palace, but, on seeing the Beast for the first time, faints dead away.

When she revives, Azor is kind to her, and tells her that she may command him and the spirits for any thing she wishes. She replies that she is not made happy by things. Instead, she sings a song for him, and dances with the spirits.

After a time, she wishes to know how her family is faring. Despite misgivings, Azor brings out a magic mirror, which will not only show her whom she wishes to see, but allow her to hear their thoughts as well. Her now richly adorned sisters are more spoiled than ever, but her father, aged by his ordeal, is deeply sunk in grief over the loss of Zemire. Zemire declares that she must go to him. Azor protests that this is an excuse to leave him. Giving her a magic ring that will allow her instant travel, Azor gets her to promise to return by sunset, because he has realized that he loves her, and it was foretold him by the spirit that enchanted him, that on the day he was able to love, his “cursed life would end.”

Zemire transports herself to the family home, to her father’s joy, but he and her sisters attempt to keep her there. With Ali’s help she escapes back to the Beast’s palace, arriving just as night has fallen. She calls out to Azor, and he is able to answer, because his “cursed life” has ended by his being transformed back into his normal, kingly, form. Sander, Ali, Fatme and Lisbe arrive, intent on rescuing Zemire once and for all, in time to take part in the happy ending.

This production was just charming all the way through: the story, the setting, the costumes, the music, the singing, the dancing were all lovely. The English translation of the libretto, by Colin Graham, further adapted by Director James Ortiz and Shari Rhoads, was witty and enjoyable. Of course, the monster in the room is the huge Azor puppet, which was very effective. The “spirits” manipulating it did a wonderful and graceful job of bringing it to life, and most of the time the “ventriloquism” effect worked well, making it easy to accept that the puppet was singing. It didn’t work when Mr. Williams Ali, who sings the Beast’s role as a hooded figure on stage, gets too far down front and in the action, but this only happened a couple of times. One episode in which the puppet manipulation was distracting came in the first scene, during Sander’s song lamenting his dilemma, during which the Beast kept nervously moving its head, which distracted from Sander’s singing. Even puppets should obey the basic rule of stagecraft to not pull eyes away from the focus of the scene.

This was a really excellent, creative, and entertaining production, and we were very glad to have seen it.
On Tuesday, February 14th, we went to see “The Illusionists” at the Marcus Center, which performance was part of the “Associated Bank Broadway at the Marcus Center” series.

The show features seven performers who exemplify various aspects of stage magic as it is currently practiced.

The performance is hosted by Jeff Hobson, a.k.a. “The Trickster” (each performer has a moniker that makes them sound rather like a super-villain team--). Hobson specializes in close-up magic and what used to be called “snappy patter,” a running stream of humorous commentary that was slightly risqué and seasoned by his characterization as an out gay man. (His wardrobe would have been called “flamboyant” anywhere but in the home of Liberace--.) Like most of the performers, he put a new twist on classic tricks, such as the basic “pick a card and don’t show me what it is” trick.

The stylistic contrast between Hobson and Dan Sperry, “The Anti-Conjuror” could hardly be greater. Sperry appears looking like a Goth zombie, in ragged clothing, tattoos, and ghoulish makeup. His “shock illusion” tricks included making a coin vanish by apparently pushing it into his right eye socket, and then producing the marked coin from a cut in the skin on his left forearm. His gleefully creepy manner and patter was quite entertaining, and, in the second act, he performed a lengthy sequence of rapid-fire productions, substitutions, and vanishes that showcased extraordinary skill at sleight of hand.

Kevin James, “The Inventor”, was one of the most classically styled performers, doing the large, prop-centered illusions found in big magic shows of old. In one trick, he assembled a dummy in view of the audience, which then “came to life” as a dwarf. In another, he “accidentally” cut one of his assistants in two with a chain saw, and then restored him. Although neither trick was that hard to suss out as to how it was done, they were innovatively presented with style and humor. James also did a charming bit with a child from the audience, animating a piece of tissue paper, which he them made into a paper rose and levitated, and then transformed into a genuine rose.

“The Daredevil,” Jonathan Goodwin, is a bit different. Billed as “an accomplished knife thrower, archer, escape artist, fakir, martial artist, free diver, aerialist, and rock climber,” the program also notes that there are no illusions involved in his performance, “everything you see him do is very, very real.” In this show, Mr. Goodwin performed an archery act, showing his exceptional skill with the crossbow, being able to hit and split a sheet of newsprint edge on. That it took him two tries underscored the reality of the performance. The act culminated with bursting a balloon held on the head of his assistant while he was blindfolded. While real, I am pretty sure there is an inobvious but clever trick to the performance, which however, takes nothing away from the skill and nerve of Mr. Goodwin and his assistants.

Colin Cloud, “The Deductionist” does what used to be called a “mentalist” act, of the sort performed by Dunninger or Kreskin, but updated. Drawing on the popularity of the “Sherlock” TV series, he purports that at least some of his effects are obtained purely by observation and deduction. Although he shows an excellent grasp of how to manipulate audience members, and skill at some other tricks that Houdini and Scarne would have recognized, some of the others could not possibly have been accomplished by any deductive means—such as taking the product of three supposedly randomly selected three-digit numbers and coming up with 1875021417920, which broke down to the (alleged) number of people in the audience, the day’s date, and the hour and minute (9:20PM) of the pronouncement.

“The Manipulator,” An Ha Lim, has won numerous international prizes for his skills, and put on a beautiful performance in the first act, producing hundreds of cards seemingly out of thin air. (In magic parlance, “manipulations” refer to such things as single-handed card fans, “waterfalls,” palming, and substitution, which require great skill, dexterity, and strength.) He also ended the show with a very clever and amusing sequence of tabletop manipulations and substitutions, which we could easily see due to a hand-held camera and on-stage video screen.

One of the headlining acts of the show was “The Escapologist,” Andrew Basso, who performed the notorious “Water Torture Cell” escape, made famous by Houdini. While I have great respect for Mr. Basso’s nerve, skill, and endurance, I found the act somewhat disappointing, because it totally de-mystifies the famous trick. It is still very impressive—the “official” time for his escape was two minutes, thirty seconds, but in fact Basso was submerged longer than that, as the count didn’t start until the top of the cage was locked down, which meant he had to go more like three minutes and a half without breathing. Unfortunately, showing us how it is done downgrades the effect from an “illusion” to a stunt. Not that Houdini didn’t do stunts—escaping from a straitjacket while hanging upside down from a crane in full view has little mystery about it other than that it can be done at all—but I’m sorry to see one of the most famous effects in history lose its glamour.

All in all, we were very happy to have seen this show. The performances by James, Sperry, and Lim were worth the price of admission alone, and the others all showed great style, skill, nerve and cleverness worthy of admiration.
On Saturday, February 4th, we went to Café Grace, the new bistro-style French restaurant opened by the Bartolotta Group at the “Mayfair Collection” shopping center. We were quite pleased with the experience.

The restaurant is bright and spacious, with décor touches, such as the globular lamps, referring to the Belle Époque. We joked that the restaurant is bigger and roomier than any actual French restaurants we ate in in France.

I had decided to attempt to re-create our experiences in France as best I could, and began by ordering an aperitif, which I usually don’t do. I asked the waiter if the restaurant had Ricard, an anise flavored liquor that I had enjoyed. The waiter replied that they had both Ricard and Pernod. I was favorably impressed that he knew what both were, and ordered the Ricard. However, he then had to come back and report that they were out of Ricard, so I went with Pernod instead. I was a bit concerned when he asked how I wanted it, with ice or without, but told him water only. I was a bit surprised when the drink came back in a snifter glass like brandy, with the water already mixed in. Since Ricard is similar to absinthe, but without the “wormwood,” the proper way to serve it with the water on the side so you can mix it yourself. As it was, there wasn’t enough water in it, so I resorted to adding some from my water glass.

Things turned up from there. As starter, we had the Pate de Campagne, a slightly coarsely ground pate of pork, which we found very tasty and compared favorably with the similar house pate that we had had at Les Bacchantes in Paris.

For main course, Georgie had the Gigot d’Agneau, or leg of lamb, served with braised flageolet beans (I hadn’t know you could braise beans?) and roasted cauliflower. Georgie asked for it to be a bit more medium than the recommended medium rare, which was good, since she would not have wanted it more rare than it came. The slices of lamb were edged with traditional rosemary, something you seldom see these days, almost, but not quite, too much of it in this case. Georgie pronounced everything very good, but opined that the lamb, by Strauss, was not as flavorful as the lamb she had had in Rouen (which was probably a matter of terroir, or the feeding of it).

For my main dish, I ordered the Coquilles St. Jacques, (scallops) served with a chickpea cake (something that seems to be a signature item, as it is also on the starter menu), Swiss chard, golden raisins, and beef jus. The dish I had also had some root vegetable in it also, perhaps parsnips (?). The beef jus gave the vegetables a very nice flavor which made them the best part of the dish. The scallops were fine, typical sea scallops, but very fresh and perfectly pan-seared. Other than that, they were very plainly prepared. The chickpea cake is nothing to write home about. A rectangular hunk of fine textured white starch, a bit lighter than an equivalent quantity of potato, the only flavor it had of its own was along the browned exterior, although it was good when dredged in the jus, something the scallops also benefited from.

The wines were nice. Georgie had a French rosé, which had a bit more authority than the domestic rosés we drink more often. I had a very good French white, which went nicely with the scallops.
For dessert, we decided to sample the mousse au chocolat. My eyebrows raised a bit when the waiter brought us forks instead of the expected spoons. What then appeared was a rectangular piece of dark chocolaty material, generously garnished with crème fraiche and raspberries. It looked a lot more like flourless chocolate cake than conventional chocolate mousse, but had a lighter texture than the cake would have had. The flavor was quite rich and very good.

Despite the eccentricities, we had a very good and enjoyable meal. There are other items on the menu that interest us, so we will definitely eat there again.
On Sunday, January 22nd, we went to see Hidden Figures, the movie that tells the story of three black women who, each in their own way, contributed to the success of, first NASA’s Mercury program, and then later projects up to and including the Apollo moon landings. We found it to be very well done, and truly inspiring.

In those days, much of NASA’s engineering and support operations were based in Virginia, which, pre-Civil Rights acts, was unrepentantly segregated. (Not that Florida or Texas would necessarily have been any better--.) I found it really painful to see segregated drinking fountains, segregated bathrooms, segregated bus seats, and to see that all those things existed at NASA, which should have been one of the most forward-thinking workplaces in the world. Instead, NASA employs a group of black women as their own “computing” unit, set off in a separate building except for when on particular individual assignments.

Gradually, the wall begins to break down, as Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) gets assigned to the unit engaged in orbital calculations. Johnson was a mathematical prodigy as a child, and as an adult can perform calculations in her head that make the male engineers’ eyes bug out. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) becomes NASA’s first black female engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) stakes a claim on the future by teaching herself Fortran and becoming an integral part of NASA’s new electronic computing division.

These events don’t necessarily happen smoothly, and a good part of the story deals with overcoming—or undermining, or working around—casual, institutional racism and sexism. Although racism is there—in one scene, someone anonymously brings in a separate coffee pot, labeled “colored” to the otherwise white office she is working in—I don’t believe I heard anyone at NASA say words to the effect of “black people can’t do that,” although, “women don’t do that” is a common theme.

The plot is interesting and engaging, especially to those of us for whom that history is also memory. I remember staying home from school to watch Mercury launches, and knew that it was a dangerous and daring thing at the time, but of course had no idea of how many people were required in how many ways to make it happen. The plot had drama, but wasn’t “juiced up”—I kept expecting one of the women to be menaced or roughed up, but that didn’t happen, although tension is there.
The Golden Globe award for best ensemble cast was well deserved. The three principal ladies were excellent, and very well supported by the rest of the cast.

I’m pleased and proud to report that my company, AT&T, along with other “tech” companies, is paying for school groups to see this inspirational and uplifting movie. Highly recommended.
As a nominal member of the old, white, male, ruling class, I hereby express my commiserations to my loved ones and friends who are female, gay or trans, people of color, non-Christian, poor, or immigrant, on your official demotion to second-class (or lower) citizens, if citizens at all. We are all the worse for it.

The United States has as always had a resilient, bitter core of anger, resentment, and fear which has now come to the surface.

In a nation made up of the children of immigrants, so many of us hate the outsider, while continuing to oppress and despise the true original inhabitants.
In a nation more than half women, so many of us assert that women aren’t fit to govern, and some, that they shouldn’t even vote.

In a nation where European-descended whites are a minority, we hang on to power with a death grip.
In the world’s most scientifically advanced nation, we assert that religion trumps science and is a legitimate basis to discriminate among people.

In the world’s richest nation, the number of poor grows daily, as does the wealth of the richest.
In the nation with the world’s most advanced medicine, people die daily for want of it.
In the world’s most agriculturally rich nation, children daily go hungry.

In a nation where, in 2008, the greed of bankers wiped out half the wealth on Earth, none of these bankers went to jail. They are richer than ever, and fighting to keep deregulated so they can continue as they are.

In a nation once supposedly dedicated to justice for all, we have elected a President and Congress who believe that all of the above are good things, and have the power to make them law.

Jesus said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Abraham Lincoln famously quoted him in 1858:which goes to show that what calls itself the Republican party these days, and claims to stand for the values of Jesus and Lincoln, does neither.
Trigger warning: Contains politics.

1.) So, Trump blatantly lied about the size of the inauguration crowd, and to CIA personnel to their faces about not having feuded with them. Not big deals in the scheme of things, perhaps, but what's going to happen when something really important comes up? "Alternative facts" really?

2.)First acts in office: "Trump also suspended a reduction in the premium rate offered by the Federal Housing Administration to home buyers. The reduction, relatively small, would have saved home buyers about $500 a year. In effect, this is a tax increase on the middle class." This was in with his first batch of executive orders, among trying clumsily to nobble ACA, and freezing regulatory activity. Who knew that raising insurance rates for middle-class home buyers was such a priority? Whose "goodie list" was this on? This is how it will be done. Big flashy things will distract the people, and in four years they will be wondering what happened to the money and the rights they used to have.

3.) Just listened to the President's Inaugural speech. Not as bad as I feared, but largely vague empty bombast. Full of expansive and impossible promises, with zero substance. One bright spot: we don't have to worry about the Apocalypse, according to Trump it's already happened--.

4.) Vladimir Putin may have managed the most Machiavellian manipulation in modern history. By stealing and leaking e-mails, he may have affected the outcome of the American election. By letting it be known he has done so, he has delegitimized and weakened the eventual winner he will be dealing with.

LA LA Land

Dec. 28th, 2016 05:31 pm
On Christmas Eve day, we went to the Oriental Theater to see LA LA Land, the new original musical movie starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Ms. Stone, as aspiring actress Mia, plays a modern version of the old story of the young woman trying to break into movies (or television). In so doing, she has a series of more-or-less antagonistic encounters with pianist Sebastian (Mr. Gosling), who is a traditional jazz purist in a hip-hop world. After fate keeps bringing them together, they become interested in one another, and begin a relationship.

In the course of this relationship, they strike sparks off each other that result in significant changes to their lives: Sebastian takes a job with a band that doesn't quite play his kind of music in hopes that it will lead eventually to operating his own jazz club, and Mia takes to playwriting.

The story, by director Damien Chazelle, is engaging, and has some twists, including a bold ending, that take it out of the realm of cliché. The music, mostly by Justin Hurwitz, is pleasant, appropriate to the moods, and mostly forgettable. I did hear one person whistling "Mia and Sebastian's Theme," Sebastian's piano solo, but that's easiest to remember because it is reprised half a dozen times throughout the movie. The musical numbers are mostly fantasy interjections into reality, ranging from the kind of thing we always like to have happen (stalled drivers in a traffic jam getting out and dancing among the cars) to pure emotional interpretation (Seb and Mia's "dance among the stars" at Griffith Observatory). Several manage to grow organically out of the scene: leaving a party, Mia casually changes from her high heels into tap shoes, and she and Seb dance along the street.

The dancing is OK and fun, but not wonderful. There were a lot of quotes and references to famous dance numbers from past pictures (as there were in the sets, as well). Singing ditto, easy to listen to but not exciting. Of the two stars, Ms. Stone does most of the singing, in a high, rather breathy voice. It's only on her "big number," "The Fools Who Dream," that she opens up and sings with some real power.

One of the strongest parts of the film is actually the dialog. Seb has an excellent rant about what jazz is, which is followed later by his friend Keith (John Legend) challenging him, "How are you going to be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist? You hold on to the past, but jazz is about the future." Seb and Mia's big argument late in the film poses tough questions about life, goals, and intentions, before the inevitable degeneration into hurtfulness and resentment.

LA LA Land is a very enjoyable and intelligent updated homage to the Hollywood musical movies of the 1930's and 40's. If you care for that sort of thing, this is your cup of tea. If you have no experience of those films, you might still like it.
Last night's Presidential debate firmed up a thought that has been floating around my mind lately, to wit, that this contest is not just one of Republican versus Democrat, or conservative versus liberal, but also Dionysian versus Apollonian.

These are two aspects of human nature, according to the ancient Greeks. The Dionysian represented the wild, the undisciplined, the primal. The Apollonian represented the civilized, the logical, the refined.

Donald Trump embodies Dionysius (or, given his age and girth, Bacchus), with his lifestyle of the rich-and-famous, his roster of beautiful wives (and presumably beautiful mistresses), and his dedication to hedonism and display. As a real-estate developer, he concentrates on posh hotels, posh casinos, by-definition posh country clubs, and posh condominium towers. His "brands" include indulgent products like Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks. (His alleged preference for his steaks as "burnt offerings" is another connection to the god--.)

Appropriately, his entire appeal is based on emotion: he appeals to inchoate wants, to greed, anger, and fear (Pan, the god who gives us the word "panic" is often associated with Dionysus). His attractiveness is based on his wealth, power, and lustiness.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is highly Apollonian in her approach. She appeals to logic, reason, and common sense. Perhaps, since she is a woman, we should say that Hillary is "Athenian," since Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, partakes of many of the same attributes of Apollo and is a warrior goddess (some of Hillary's non-fans fear that she would be too aggressive--.) . (Of course, Clinton also partakes of aspects of Hera, the put-upon wife of a roving husband. She had her own martial aspect: few recall that, in the Trojan War, when Athena took the field against Ares, Hera was her charioteer.)

As follower of Apollo/Athena, I naturally prefer Clinton, but I see Trump's appeal to the insecure and angry. I don't think last night's debate will change minds among the already committed, but hopefully might have made some difference among the so-far undecided.

Profile

sinister_sigils

April 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
234 5678
910 1112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags