blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Handel at the Met



“Not often they give us Handel!”  I spoke with enthusiasm to the elderly gentleman seated nearby as we waited for the Met @ the Movies to start. I was excited about what I was about to hear, but as all he said was “Thank heavens, no!” I understood he wasn’t as jacked as I was about our prospective entertainment.

Giulio Cesare was first performed in 1724. It was a hit in its day and has again acquired traction among Baroque opera fans.  I was familiar with the music because during the 80’s, when I’d began researching Mozart, I’d acquired a Handel CD called “Arias for Senesimo,” featuring Drew Minter, a trailblazing countertenor vocalist. Mozart, I knew, had frequently written for castratos, who were still a feature of his operatic world, and I wanted to get a sense of what that sound was like.  And I say trailblazing, because our society no longer finds it acceptable to castrate boys in order to preserve their vocal high range, so these operatic roles were, until recently, sung by cross-costumed women.  At the time I began exploring this musical tradition, I’d read the works of aficionados who sternly maintained that countertenors-- men who can sing beautifully either in “head voice” or “falsetto”—did not have voices of “true operatic quality.”  (Take your pick for how to describe the countertenor’s method of sound production.) Thirty years later, however, attitudes seem to have changed and there are many talented countertenor singers now performing at the summit of the operatic world. 

As was usual at the Met @ The Movies, I was the youngest person present, a phenomenon which saddens me.  I sincerely hope that opera, that glorious, arcane art, is not on its way to the culture junkyard.  I have to admit that Giulio Cesare is definitely not the kind of opera you’d take a neophyte to hear/see. Not everyone can handle the sight of man with a beard and a substantial belly singing soprano. And this particular dramatic form, Opera Seria, was already considered “old-fashioned” in Mozart’s time. There isn’t a lot of character development or action. The structure of each aria is not complex, either. In their own day they were often noted simply as an “Aria of Love,” an “Aria of Rage,” an “Aria of Joy,” etc.

I spent the next 4 ½ hours watching an all-star cast, with 3 countertenor leads.  Caesar was sung by the brilliant David Daniels, while his antagonist, Tolomeo, was played with crazy flair by Christophe Dumaux.  A third countertenor role was sung by Rachid Ben Abdeslam, whose sweet, supple voice would have been praised by Mozart as “pouring like oil from a bottle.” Further gender bending occurred as Alice Coote took the part of a Roman boy in what is traditionally called a “trouser role.” 
As tolerant as I am of period quirks, I was happy that the legendary femme fatale Cleopatra was played by a woman, the multi-talented Natalie Dessay.  At the finale, she performed a song and dance number which showed that not only could she sing opera, but she could dance to it, too, and be as cute while she did so as any full-time Broadway hoofer.  
~~Juliet Waldron 


Friday, May 17, 2013

Movie Review: Lincoln

Before starting the review, let me state my background. I was born and raised in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. When I was growing up, saying anything negative about Mr. Lincoln was practically next to a sin. For more than the past twenty years, I have lived in Virginia, where many have a vastly different view of Lincoln. Neither extreme portray the man in an accurate light. As a student of history, I like to see the reality, rather than some caricature. In that regard, the movie was partly successful.

I enjoyed the fact that Lincoln came off as a human being. Like everyone else, he had faults. In the movie, he told bad jokes, and apparently that was accurate to his nature. I also liked the fact that he didn't have the deep baritone voice that some attributed to him. From what I've read over the years, the deep voice was some figment of imagination dreamed up by Hollywood. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all I liked.

Even though Lincoln was portrayed as human, he apparently rarely swore. I'm certainly no prude as some of my characters have done their fair share of swearing, but I have no idea why someone would use such language incorrectly for a historical person, unless it's to help boost ratings. Throughout the war, Lincoln was plagued with constant depression. For some reason, this detail was overlooked and would have added tremendously to the plot, but I wasn't the writer.

During the opening, a couple of soldiers had memorized the Gettysburg Address. I find the scene totally implausible. Have you or do you know anyone who has ever memorized a president's speech? I rest my case. Sorry, but the Gettysburg Address only became more well known after Lincoln's death.

I could continue to nitpick other historical inaccuracies, but I fully understand the concept of writing historical fiction. I generally don't understand why if a fact is known, why someone would change it. The true history is usually much more fascinating than anything made up. Anyway, the movie centered around the Thirteenth Amendment. During the entire dialogue, nothing was ever mentioned about how the Emancipation Proclamation had not freed slaves living in Delaware, Maryland, and other border states.

Lincoln was personally against slavery, but in the beginning of the war, his focus was to keep the states together. Freeing the slaves became a genius political move at a later date. With the entire movie focusing on the Thirteenth Amendment, it became a political drama. One theme I noticed was how little things have changed over the years. Because I have studied the Civil War in depth, I was aware of that fact, but truly, if I had wanted to see a political drama, all I had to do was turn on the news.

At two and a half hours long, I found the movie BORING.

Kim Murphy

Friday, May 10, 2013

Crone Reminiscing

Crone Reminiscing
A striking studio portrait of a well groomed man, staring out at the world with the innocence of youth; what dreams did he have? What plans and ambitions? Then he was strong, vital, ambitious, quite ready and able to take on the world. Where is he now? His descendants, if any, perhaps not interested in treasuring his photograph for future generations to recognize a resemblance, or to seek out his wisdom.
A thick flannel sheet with yellow stripes at the ends and an edging of blue blanket stitching brings memories of cozy nights in chilly beds.  The need to be practical and frugal nurtured many creative life skills. When the centers were worn down to the bare threads they were neatly "turned"; cut down the middle, switched over and the edges sewed together putting the thin edges on the outside to be tucked under the mattress.
 A vintage coffee tin, rusted orange and faded black with gold lettering. How many pots, cups and mugs of coffee were made from that battered container? What counters did it sit on? What crowded shelves? What kitchens where sleepy families prepared to face the day's work? Long days, often with little pay were an integral part of its era. Endless conversations around well-used kitchen tables, wooden tops marked and dented with the tools of living. Words of love, of family plans, of neighborhood gossip, of accusations, denials, of grief, and whispers of comfort.
If the multitude of cast-off items could speak, if they could tell the stories they had witnessed, taken part in, heard of in passing through the many years, what tales they could tell us.
Church Rummage Sale: rubbish to some, treasures to others