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Sunday, April 27, 2008


Last night I went to opening night of the Opera Atelier's run of Idomeneo, an opera Mozart wrote when he was 24 – young only for anybody but Mozart. Opera Atelier is a company here in Toronto that specializes in baroque opera, and everything I have seen from them has been both freaky and wonderful. For example, they chose Idomeneo in order to work with a male soprano. It was gripping. Fantastic. The audience was breathless and spell-bound for three hours!

I have an ongoing argument with someone about elite versus popular in the arts. He feels that opera is old, unpopular, snobby, and possible only due to massive subsidies and supporters able to influence policy. Not actually a bad point. However, if you think about what Brian Eno suggests as an Oblique Strategy: Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify, you more or less have an idea of the way Opera Atelier presents baroque opera: Male sopranos! 200-year-old ballet stylings! Special effects consisting of waving sheets! And it is a recipe for success – a baroque-feeling experience, a laff riot, a thrill. Not stuffy, not predictable, not like going to the opera with Grandma on Sunday afternoons. (Of course, they still require subsidies.)

What I mean is that this is the way they break through the hide-bound opera tradition, make the oldest opera fresh, by emphasizing the strange pre-technical otherness of baroque opera. To be fair, I should say that Idomeneo was also flawlessly presented. The Tafelmusik Orchestra is a wonderful, experienced, period-instrument orchestra, conducted in this opera by Andrew Parrott, who is a scholar of pre-classical music. All the singers were perfectly chosen and worth a mention: the male soprano was Michael Maniaci, not a falsetto, but a natural voice, oddly beautiful; the two female sopranos were Measha Brueggergosman (fabulous in every way, as Elettra should always be, and already famous beyond opera) and Peggy Kriha Dye as Ilia; an unbelievable tenor, Kresimir Spicer, was Idomeneo (someone to follow, for sure). Imagine the four of them singing their high notes together! Plus Neptune was danced or posed, more than sung, by a half-naked, sculpted, bass-baritone, Curtis Sullivan and the High Priest of Neptune was performed by a baby-baritone, Vasil Garvanliev, still an undergrad, grinning with obvious delight. Not to mention the in-house chorus, which gave me goosebumps when they sang from one of the boxes instead of the stage. The experience was musically complete, with dimension provided by the researched, historical, baroque bent in all facets of staging a production that Opera Atelier offers.

I had a chance to see Il Turco in Italia, by Rossini at the Rossini Opera Festival last year. Old-fashioned comic opera! Turbans! Gypsies! Three hours! Every bit as fun. Of course, in both cases, the music was truly beautiful. On the other hand, I think part of the wonderfulness is the surprise. Would I rush to see future performances of these operas? I doubt it. I love looking for the "shock of the new". I would rather be offended than bored. The old chestnuts are great to see over and over and sing along with. They are the spaghetti of life that we eat every day. These fabulous and odd ones are rare treats, to be enjoyed as the ice cream of life. (Should I say that I think children love their mothers like spaghetti and their fathers like ice cream, in exactly the same way?)

PS Oblique Strategies were developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt as a way to break through a creative block. I think they are cool for any kind of problem solving. I have included links to the complete list of Oblique Strategies for anyone who wants to hand-make cards (as many people, me included, have done), and a link to an on-line random card generator under my Fun, Cool, Funny list. To read about more Oblique Strategies, check out Brian Eno.

How perfect is this? The marigold was wondering nervously what kind of question to ask. I checked out Oblique Strategies and it said the inconsistency principle. Thus, no question today.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Manga Shakespeare part II

Wiley's Romeo and Juliet works beautifully. As is their stated mission, having the image, plus the written text to look at slowly enough to decode, makes understanding the whole work way easier than reading a play, and requires less suspension of disbelief than watching modern actors in a movie (or play for that matter). I lay in my hammock completely enthralled until I had to get up and do something for someone. I plan to show my kids' school librarians, and also everyone else I know.

Although this was not the publisher whose books I bought, I followed a link left in a comment to Cool for their current titles, their plans, and lots of ideas about manga classics. (See "links to writers" here on my blog.) I'll being trying their Macbeth as soon as I can get my hands on it.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Will I embarrass myself with a new passion?

Incidentally, brilliant use is made of the graphic format by Marisa Acocella in Cancer Vixen: A True Story. Awesome book. In particular I found that the graphics add emotional weight to the sense of the long-drawn repetition of treatments. Writing alone could not convey the point with interest.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Manga Shakespeare!

This just in: How perfect is Shakespeare for manga? Completely. So much so that there are AT LEAST three different publishers simultaneously coming out with them. In fact, why did it take so long? I think it is the opposite of dumbing down Shakespeare: it is "smarting up" manga. Can manga versions of the big tragic operas be far behind? I have not yet really, REALLY loved any manga or graphic novel, but I really, REALLY want to. I bought Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar (which I have never read, seen or even looked at before), published by Wiley. Will this be my ticket to ride?

The marigold wonders nervously:
Will it be embarrassing in reality? Will my KIDS like it?

Short Stories

Funny how circumstances help out. I spent a weekend sick in bed, and got to read Borges's Labyrinths, Kuttner's The Last Mimzy and Gaiman's Fragile Things. Three eras of science fiction/fantasy stories, linked by the unending ability of the authors to imagine how things could be different. It was almost like gorging on chocolate. I was in a reverie.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Can the real future be as fun as reading about it is?

I am constantly annoyed to find that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers.

About this, the marigold wonders nervously:
Why does it bother me?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

D Minor is the saddest key

After many many years, I started back at piano lessons, including theory, last year. I really didn't have time to practice, and this year I don't even have time for lessons, BUT it really got me listening to music with a new kind of attention. Luckily, the radio is like a never-ending course in the never-ending stream of Western Classical Music. My favorite is CBC Radio 2.

Aside from keyboard convenience, and possibly referrals to prior works, I have not yet really understood why one key might be chosen by a composer over another. OK, Bach worked his way systematically through all the keys, and Beethoven kind of worked through most of them, but that is not quite a reason why any piece is set in any particular key.

I can't remember what stray fragment generated the idea that D minor is the saddest key. I LOVE sad music. D minor being sad has to do with the ancient Dorian mode, apparently. I don't have a clear understanding of that. I have been thinking about it a little bit for over a year now, and looking it up here and there when I get a chance.

There are some pretty impressive D minor pieces. I just heard Fauré's Quartet in D minor on the radio. Brahms, a famously sad and tragic guy, wrote his stunning Piano Concerto #1 in D minor. I understand that Haydn's String Quartet, Op 76 No 2 is in D minor, and is called the Witch's Minuet. Promising. Bach has some sensational work in D minor. Love Bach in all keys. I was curious about Swan Lake - famously tragic also, seems to be B minor. As for Beethoven's well-known sad Piano Sonatas, Op 13 - Pathétique is in C minor and Op 27 Moonlight is in C# minor. He did write Op 31 No 2 in D minor (must listen), which was apparently inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest". I am wondering if Prokofiev or Saint-Saëns used it, or Rachmaninoff. Is it pop-sad or really sad? Where does Wagner use it, if he uses it?

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is D minor the saddest key?
What could make D minor sadder than the other minor keys?
What is the saddest music?

And even more nervously:
What about the keys of sad pop music?

I guess I should look up a few songs that I think of as sad, and see if I can figure it out. John Lennon should be the optimal starting point.