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.

BrĂŒderlein, BrĂŒderlein 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!
BrĂŒderlein, BrĂŒderlein und Schwesterlein,	Little brothers, little brothers and sisters,
Lasst das traute"Du" uns schenken,              Address each other with the familiar "Du"
FĂŒr 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! 

Second Time Today

Not posting, although that too, but second time — not surprising — that the local classical station has run  a chunk of the Messiah. Actually the whole thing, this time. I walked into the living room just as the chorus was bouncing into the inordinately cheerful rhythms of what my father always described as his favorite part: “O We Like Sheep!”

(That was how he always sang it. Just those four notes, and a smirk.)

So it was devastating to me just now, when I looked it up, to realize that the text is actually all we like sheep, which doesn’t parse nearly so neatly.

I think the Choir of Kings’ College, Cambridge, has kind of got the feel of it here though. Or at least YouTube user ABakker307 does.

At this joyful season of the year, in this context, I am glad to note that someone revived a site that for a while ceased to exist: to wit, Adult Sheep Finder. (It used to be based in New Zealand.)

And the Lord hath laid on him…

Crap. The Christmas music will go on for another week, and I’m already starting to babble. I cross to the other side of the street to avoid meeting mothers and infants, and for a month out of the year, the whole nation goes insane singing about them.

I really want to just let music roll over me without having to keep changing CDs, so I tried to tune in an Internet channel called Radio Free Klezmer, which sounded 100% safe,  but there was a problem with the connection. Oh well. Hooray for Youtube playlists:

So this goyish chick can tap a foot, look around this bizarre world we live in, and say with the old Lubavitcher rabbi in the Norman Spinrad story: “You can look at this mishegaas and tell me that the Messiah has already come?”

I’m just counting down.

U And Me

Not you. “U,” the Klingon opera I just found out about. I need three lifetimes; otherwise my head is going to explode.

Ever since the Engineer moved in — well, practically — we have been binge-watching the modern Star Trek series in slow motion. By which I mean I can only stand to spend a certain amount of time sitting in a day, so to the extent I am chilling in front of the laptop and the Netflix stream at all, it’s been the Patrick Stewart Next Generation series, then Deep Space Nine alternating with Voyager (because the Engineer is a stickler for protocol and wants to run the shows in roughly the sequence they aired, overlapping seasons). NO SPOILERS IN COMMENTS, PLEASE: We’re only half way through these last two.

But far enough for me to grapple with the concept of Klingon opera.

How can I not love Klingons? They bash each other for fun, have romantic encounters that require subsequent visits to the chiropractor, drink like German naval officers on shore leave, and sing heroic sagas of battle, death and glory. In fact they stage them.

Well. Hm. Probably someone could do better than that.

Someone had a go at it.

The libretto there was produced by Mark Okrand, the linguist who created the Klingon language that has now become a worldwide Esperanto for geeks. That’s one lifetime I’ll need; Klingon, a guttural, aspirate speech with emphases so pronounced that, as one manual says, “If the person you’re talking to doesn’t get spit on you’re doing it wrong,” feels like just the language I want to speak when I’ve just hucked up a brutal power set or have just about had it with the idiots of the world.

(Mark Okrand talks about it here, if you have twenty minutes or so worth of interest in the matter.)

The music is shouty, but it’s not a bad effort — it beats hell out of the shit I hear coming from the car speakers of dimbulb drivers next to me at lights. Whom I will now imagine myself pulling through their driver’s windows and hurling over the roofs of their own cars, declaiming in Klingon.

“Actually,” I said to the Engineer, “this whole Deep Space Nine story arc is the stuff of opera.” If it wouldn’t have to be a collection that would dwarf the Ring Cycle. We’ve got a man who’s been adopted by a whole culture as a demigod, resulting in power conspiracies between the culture’s religious, good for some plotters’ duets of the first water; we’ve got a grudge match between that culture and another one represented by a Magnificent Bastard who could give Scarpia and Iago a run for it (that’s Gul Dukat if you know the show), who’s repudiated his own half-breed daughter (“Stay and be damned!” he cries to her as he turns on his heel, after she chooses to remain with a lover who is his arch-enemy)… my god, could Verdi ask a librettist for more? We’ve got a bunch of sawed-off Ferengi running around to give the trouser mezzos and boy sopranos a workout, the unrequited love of a bowl of Jello for a beautiful princess Amazonian resistance fighter… okay, Jello is not operatic, but the plot thread is. I can already half-hear a lullaby to be sung in a light tenor to Major Kira’s sleeping ears. But I don’t know who’s equal to the dark duet that could be made of this clip — sentiment by the bucketful, a bass and a light baritone I think, sort of the vocal color of the duet in the first act of Dutchman, but a more natural, dialogue-driven setting — think Puccini.

Is my imagination running away with me? What the fuck. I’m going to let it. The Terok Nor cycle, premiering in the opera house on Q’onos, special opening night festival for all allies. No synthohol.