My Day

#1 Randy Rainbow Owns The Internet

(If you have been off the Internet radar or are, happily, a resident of a country other than the US, the last few days have been punctuated by hilarious speculations on what the hell the alleged President meant when he tweeted out something incoherent about “all the negative covfefe”. Presumably, “coverage.” But even Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, reached a meta point of trolling himself when he answered reporters’ questions by asserting that “a small number of people know what the President meant.”

Nemmine honey. Randy has it covered.)

#2 Romania, Romania

I give money to panhandlers in the parking lot of my favorite grocery, even though I know they are probably working that spot because when you have impulse-bought a $7 bag of spiced nuts or a $9 bottle of wine that you hadn’t planned on, you feel like a fuckwad refusing a few singles to a beggar.

Honestly, I don’t know why they’re begging and I don’t care. Maybe they have a car around the corner. Maybe they are on drugs or drink a lot. Whatever, you have to have had some dispute with your own dignity to stand in a parking lot accosting people for dollar bills. My late and ex husband ended his life on the streets, as earnestly as he tried to keep from admitting it to me, and toward the end of the proceedings described to me how subway riders in nice business suits sometimes simply pressed a five dollar bill into his hand unasked (he never asked, not once). “People are so nice,” he would say from his hospital bed, this being the now-it-seems-fast-vanishing era when a destitute elderly man could end his days in clean linens.

I reckon I can afford a little in his memory. This time it was an old man of bearing, leaning but not painfully on a cane, his face marred by a large wen on his jaw, balding, olive-skinned, scythe-nosed. He looked like a man who should be sitting at the head of a table with a checked cloth, telling his children and grandchildren what it was like in his day; who ought to be taking thoughtful counsel with the government of his town or the elders of his village. Instead he had an index card attesting in crude ballpoint that he was a refugee “from Romania” and needed help paying his family’s expenses. Beside the index card he displayed a laminated ID that I am too blind to have read. I don’t know where he was from. Does Romania even have refugees, at this late date? But he could have as easily been Syrian. Maybe Syrians have figured out that other ethnic groups won’t get hated on as much. IDK. He most certainly did not look like a man who would drink it up; his eyes were clear, his skin was taut.

I gave him a couple of bills, and when he asked if I could spare more in a barely intelligible word salad, a couple more. He pointed to the place on the card that said “God Bless.”

I have no religion other than cats, but put my hand around his and said “God bless you too, Grandfather.”

It is going to get a lot more cruel out there before it gets kind again. I can spare a few bucks on what might be a hustle. Somehow it’s hard to think it was. I went home more at peace than I had been in days, which was worth the price.

George Takei Liked My Tweet

Image result for Allegiance show logoSo I went and saw Allegiance. This is a musical show about the internment of over a hundred thousand Japanese-American citizens and legal immigrants who were forced from their homes by armed soldiers soon after Pearl Harbor, told to take only what they could carry, and confined for four years in camps across the western part of the country. Just the thing to inspire choruses, comic turns, and dance numbers, right?

Right. It worked.

If you have not come across it before, this production, which premiered in 2015 and had a five-month run on Broadway, was the brainchild of George Takei, the onetime Mister Sulu and modern-day social activist who may well be the oldest Twitter addict in existence. (Favorite alltime quote: “Back when I was young, it was illegal for me to marry a white woman, and now I’m married to a white dude.” Bears on the book of the musical. We’ll get back to that.) Takei’s family was one of those taken out of their houses and loaded onto a bus — poignantly, he describes his mother lugging a sewing machine because she was sure they’d need to mend their clothing — and he lived and went to school in the camp till he was nine and the bomb ended the war and everyone got a bus ticket and $25 to go out and start life anew. Yeah. (Real reparations were finally paid during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.)

John Tateishi says the experience was both humiliating and disorienting. “We came out of these camps with a sense of shame and guilt, of having been considered betrayers of our country.” He says that after the war most families never spoke about it. “There were no complaints, no big rallies or demands for justice because it was not the Japanese way.”

But decades later and inspired by the civil rights movement, the Japanese American Citizens League launched a contentious campaign for redress. It divided the community along generational lines. (Transcript from NPR’s All Things Considered, August 2013)

In Allegiance — not directly based on Takei’s family experience, but on the kinds of experiences that happened all around them — there’s every sort of reaction to the internment, from a determination to prove loyalty by serving in uniform, to explicit refusal to sign loyalty oaths. Some internees keep their heads down; others stage protests. There’s — fairly predictably — romantic attraction between an internee and one of the camp personnel, double jeopardy since even outside the camp they couldn’t have legally married at the time. And a grandfather, played by Takei himself — who also takes the part of the family’s estranged son fifty years on — simply kneels down on the packed soil of mountainous Wyoming and coaxes vegetables out of it. It is worth the whole production to see how much fun Takei had playing slightly dotty old Ojii-san (whose origami skills come in handy when the loyalty questionnaires make their appearance). I was there on Crispin’s Day when all Takei ever got to do on camera was say “Aye aye, Captain” (except for that memorable time he channeled D’Artagnan stripped tastily to the waist), so watching him turn in two disparate and nuanced performances in the same show at the age of nearly eighty was slightly exhilarating.

It’s a musical show, so I expected the broad brush, and historians have lodged their complaints about ratcheting-up of the conflicts between internees and American soldiers, while I squirmed over a too-contrived fatal accident. And no one is ever going to nominate the fairly bland and derivative score for a Tony (though I’m still shivering over the Japanese-language chorus that arises from a stage foxed with light and dark at the moment the war is finally ended). But the music occasionally flashed — at the moments when irony and bitterness were uppermost, the breath of Kurt Weill animated the score:

Allegiance isn’t generally available yet, though this was a high quality recording of a live performance. My guess, they are hoping to see if it can be revived or go on the road before they make it too easy for someone to buy a video. I only knew it was going to be in the theater for one afternoon because I follow Takei and his Twitter feed alerted me that show was being rebroadcast on the anniversary of the Presidential order that established the camps, now observed as a day of remembrance. (When I tweeted back “got our tickets!” a little heart promptly appeared on my timeline: “George Takei liked your Tweet.” I’ll never wash my smartphone again.)

It was more than remembrance; it was a touch of verb. sap. People can fight and shed blood for their country, while others dig in their heels and resist when they see their country doing the wrong thing, can differ so much about what’s right that they go through life without ever speaking again, and they can all still be loyal Americans. I hope we can keep that in mind going forward.*

_________________________

*It occurred to me while clocking mileage that I ought to clarify that last. I am not referring to people who “differ” because they somehow have a problem with inclusiveness, fairness, due process under law, and other forms of common decency, some of them enshrined in the Constitution, some of them now matters of law. America at its best has always aspired to fairness and fraternity, even if it has taken a long time to realize even part of that ambition. I have yet to decide what to call people who, rather than argue about how best to defend them, actually scorn the ideals embedded in the Bill Of Rights, while waving American flags. 😦

 

Dons

This afternoon I scrubbed my usual roster of Saturday victims and we hit the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Don Giovanni.

I haven’t seen a full production for thirty years or more and I had forgotten everything but the high points. When I think of Giovanni, I usually smile; because of the lively Catalogue Aria (I’ve been known to refer to my own mille e tre); because of Zerlina’s masterful management of her jealous bridegroom after the Don courts her; because of the broad farce — flimsy disguises, walking statues, the iconic longsuffering manservant.

Only. For one thing, Simon Keenlyside’s Don was not the young nobleman who’d be put upon to rack up all those conquests, just as a matter of scheduling alone; he was a man well into the march toward middle age and cynical with it. His cry that he could not give up women, who were more vital to him than breath, had a desperate urgency. And his inflection of the Don’s lechery — that women were all his whenever he chose to covet them — put a shiver up a spine shaken by this campaign season.

You can say “I love the peasant girls — I’ll have another ten tonight” in this way or that. I kept coming back to

Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

There in the movie theater, centuries of I have the money and the land/property and the credibility and the woman over there has next to nothing and I can do what I want came crashing on my head and the music was suddenly terrible.

I played this over again when I got home.

In Search Of Dutch Cleanser

The voices were unbelievable, but I still want the head of the concept designer.

Mercifully, a lot of the Virginia Opera’s Flying Dutchman was done straight. No Sweeney-Todd-like ghostly maquillage on the entire cast (it’s been done). No weirdly industrial sets (popular everywhere). The chorus of the Dutchman’s crew was mercilessly cut, but the scarlet-saturated scrim views of his craft, leaving only tattered human silhouettes against the rigging to disquiet our imaginations, worked so well that you could forgive.

But the designer. Or the director. Or whose-ever idea it was to bring the cursed Dutchman — condemned for pride and stiff-neckery to sail the seas for eternity — on stage displaying a bare chest set off by period outerwear, and then eventually get nakeder from there. That person needs to walk the plank.

I have no problem with a bit of skin in the footlights, but if you are going to design and present an opera straight — in this case, dressing everyone as 19th century Norwegians plus one Dutchman of undetermined but presumably hoary vintage — I just do not want to see male nipples or, for that matter, a male navel heaving through the first two-thirds of the opera. When the soprano — who, true to tradition, boasted the girth and agility of one of those character suits worn at Disney World or for children’s street festivals — finally peeled his open surcoat off him for a clumsy scene of passion, the suspenders… well, just eye bleach. Eye bleach.

(The soprano’s costume too. Sorry. If she is huge, she is huge and that is how she has to be, her voice could have ransomed a kingdom, but the little peplum’ed jacket just set off a caboose that looked like a hundred and one buffets at Denny’s, which does not comport with a Gothically yearning ingenue being peddled by her father, a monument to cupidity if ever there was one, as a hot ticket in the marriage market. When she embraced her demon lover, it was desperately obvious from the angle of the peplum that she had to bend forward over her own abdomen and couldn’t quite reach around him, kind of like Domenico Scarlatti having to stop hand-crossing as he aged due to increasing portliness. I don’t know what to say about the red wig. Whenever a stage designer wants to convey that a female character is a loose cannon they give her a red wig. Ahem.)

But, oh, it was worth the evening even so — the lower notes of the basses full and resonant, the soprano’s top register liquid and unctuous and never strained or shrill. Dutchman is one of the handful of operas that Wagner composed in the grand aria-and-chorus format before he went all rambling and free-form, a quick crib to his later mania for having women die in some vague act of redemption. Dutchman is condemned to wander but will be released if a woman is true to him till death. So far they’ve all stepped out on him, been damned and left him to resume his journey. At the onset of his current seven year itch cycle he berths in stormy waters alongside Daland, a merchant who is impressed with the riches the Dutchman offers for a night’s lodging ashore, and says “Um, I have a beautiful virtuous daughter if you wanna, you know, marry someone.” Follows one of the most tremendous contrapuntal simultaneous monologues in opera — a tour de force of the bass voice:

(About 7:00. Dutchman: “I’m getting off this tub.” Daland: “I’m gonna be rich!” You can hear Wagner giving Verdi a run for his money in the organ-grinder style, just as he does later, when the ships have put in to port and the sailors and their girls enjoy some working-class merriment that can stand up to the Anvil Chorus — here, at 1:34:

Okay, the libretto beats its premise half to death. Daland meets the guy who just happens to be the cursed mariner whose sad tale his daughter is obsessed with, brings him home and says “wanna marry this rich guy?” while the rest of the town says “Dang, you know, that looks like the famous cursed Dutchman’s ship,” and then in the penultimate moments it’s supposed to be sort of surprising when the dark hero sings “Ich bin der Fliegende Hollander!!!!” and whistles up his ghoulish crew, determined not to wreck Senta’s life. (I think this, and not her sacrifice, is what actually releases him, but that’s just my theory.)

Which brings us to the other thing that has to go overboard. I could handle the unraveling of the situation in which Senta — now in a long bridal nighty-gown that suited her a deal better — seemed to be abed dreaming of her lover or getting a premarital visit (suspenders and all) or something, and then her former stalker suitor Erik, an open-carry advocate who barges in everywhere with his hunting rifle, shows up and creepily insists she is his forever because he picked her flowers once, and then the Dutchman catches them together and decides to spare her and face his damnation. She, of course, intends to be treu bis zum Tod and, in the original libretto, climbs to a promontory as the Dutchman puts out to sea, then leaps into the waves, making sure the death part kicks in. Here, she never got off the bed, instead reaching for one of the ropes that dangled distractingly from the flies throughout the production, and performed the physically impossible feat of strangling herself with it. Thud.

Erotic asphyxia? Just wondering.

Oh well, the music was incredible. Bleach is cheap.

I’d Buy The CD

If I could find it. No luck so far. Some outtakes online.

What it is, is Mikhail Gorbachev turned 85 last week. Who knew? I suppose I had semi-consciously imagined him as an expat, living far from Putin’s ugly cross between Tsarist Russia and the USSR, but no, he’s there, alive — and singing.

From the Daily Beast:

At his gala party on Wednesday, Gorbachev was singing to the accompaniment of a dissident musician, rock star Andrei Makarevich. And that in itself was a political statement: Over the last two years authorities have canceled Makarevich’s concerts all across the country because of the musician’s support for Ukraine.

Apparently he’s been doing this for a while. Songs For Raisa, recorded almost seven years ago with the same performer, was dedicated to Gorbachev’s late wife Raisa and auctioned to raise funds for a charity founded in her name. Did everyone else know about this? Was I in the bathroom?

I could listen to this all afternoon.

Bruderlein, Schwesterlein

I’m just a posting fool today, possibly because it’s the first day I’ve really had off since the contractors invaded my house.

I’ve posted this before, but this is a tasty performance, conducted by Carlos Kleiber, who kind of was musical Vienna for a lot of his life, especially at New Year’s.

No one knows how to do the New Year like the Viennese. This is Vienna of the 21st Century showing you how they did it in the 19th — at least on the opera stage. I have always loved this sappy, soaked chorus, full of that schmalzy Germanic gemutlichkeit that should be a real thing more often. (Translation ponied below.) I offer it to you, my friends. (For authenticity, I finished the couple of ounces of brandy that were left after last night before looking it up; it should wear off by the time I need to go to the gym.)

In case you need another hit of that, this year’s New Year Concert from Vienna runs at 8 PM Eastern Time, US, here:

http://www.weta.org/listen-live

FALKE
Folgt meinem Beispiel:  das Glas zur Hand,	Follow my example:  glass in hand,
Und jeder sing' zum Nachbar gewand:		Each turns and sings to his neighbor:
30.

Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein	Little brothers, little brothers and sisters
Wollen alle wir sein,				We all want to be,
Stimmt mit mir ein!				All will agree with me!
Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein,	Little brothers, little brothers and sisters,
Lasst das traute"Du" uns schenken,              Address each other with the familiar "Du"
Für die Ewigkeit, immer so wie heut,		For all eternity, just as today,
Wenn wir morgen noch dran denken!		When we think about it again tomorrow!
Erst ein Kuss, dann ein Du			First a kiss and then a "Du"
Du, Du, Du, immerzu!				Du, Du, Du, forever!