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Thursday, January 11, 2007

My God, it's Full of Jubilees: Children of Men

Apparently, some people are amused by the fact that I have serially hung the albatross of King Arthur around the necks of Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro. In my defense, I would like to say that I really only accused Cuarón of it, and it just so happened that M and I talked about Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth on the same night, leading me to think that I had accused del Toro.

And now that everyone knows that, apparently, I think all Mexican directors have the same sin on their souls or something, let's move on.

Spoilers for Children of Men follow.

I was supposed to start my Talking Heads ensemble at Old Town, but something complex happened and the start date is now not until next week. (Of course, I'd already driven up there and was hanging out, doing some editing, so I was a little cranky at having to fight my way back down south in rush hour traffic, but whatever.) Given an unexpectedly free Wednesday night, I suggested to my spouse that we go see Children of Men, aka the Feel-Good Movie of the Year.

I hadn't been particularly fired up to see Children of Men, even before King Arthur confusion entered the picture. It will no doubt amuse both M and N to know that this is, in part, due to the fact that the only time I saw a trailer for it was immediately after a trailer for The Fountain. I was knitting during the trailers and the two got conflated in my mind. Go ahead: Laugh at my senescence. However, when N mentioned that he'd seen CoM after Pan's Labyrinth and had loved both, my interest was piqued.

As it happens, I have never seen a Cuarón film, so I wasn't familiar with his style, either as a director or as a writer. I'll admit that early on I was fairly cranky about certain things. I remain cranky about several of them, but overall, I think that the fact that I was weeping, shaking, and exhausted by the end speaks to the fact that this was a very effective film.

My objections first: I get that Cuarón is an experienced and celebrated director. Nonetheless, that is at odds with some things that I found clunky and that I persist in thinking of as amateurish, despite the fact that this is clearly not applicable in this case. Going almost 100% hand held doesn't make me feel any more tense or on edge. It makes me feel nauseated and annoyed. (And when paired with the steady am POV from inside the car as Owen is on his way to see the over-privileged cousin . . . yawn.) Likewise, the intermittent, inexplicable zooms into tight close-ups are much more jarring than a cut between a wide-angle shot and a close-up, particularly if you're not actually moving from a two-shot to a close-up. The most glaring example of this was during the initial "strawberry cough" pot scene when we're, for some reason, watching Jasper from just to the right of Theo and we're suddenly hurtling toward Michael Caine's Jerry Garcia wig at .5c for no particular reason.

Other minor things in this vein: the blood spatter on the lens during the scene in the bus just broke my attention away from the action, because it didn't make a lick of sense. Likewise, as M pointed out, several of those hiding in the bus appear to be looking at the cameraman, as does Theo at a few points. I won't belabor it, but the point of view whiplash rears its head throughout the movie, although it's much more frequent earlier on than it is later.

Given that the technical choices seemed geared toward creating a feeling of frenzy, desperation, and disorientation, some scenes that made the final cut really undermined that. I like Julianne Moore so much that I don't even hold Hannibal against her. Given that I know she can and does bring her A-game to the table no matter what the material, I'm unsure what to make of the fact that most of her dialogue was really awkward and the pace of film ground to a dead stop almost every time she was on screen. Certainly I understand that Theo's strength is supposed to be that he remains focused on the individual. Given that, it is nearly impossible to believe that, without his relationship to Julian, he would have ever gotten involved in such a situation. But that still leaves her seeming rather disposable, and Luke's off-hand, belated mention that she wanted a purely peaceful Death Ray Baby to bring about the uprising doesn't really sell it.

Another pace-killing scene of note is the point at which Patric brings his dying cousin to the farm (on the loudest motorcycle in the county—I'll allow it as it does emphasize that Theo is Just a Guy, not some superbeing with preternatural senses and instincts, but how that didn't wake everyone on the British Isles, let alone in the farm house, I'll never know) revealing that OMG! Luke leads an EVIL FACTION OF THE FISH! I had my suspicions about Luke from the time of the attack (actually, I was gratified that his complete transformation into Driver!Jubilee was deliberate and part of the nefarious plan, because man, I was starting to get irritated with the comprehensive lack of competence), the hand-held camera work, for once, worked as Theo awakes from a deep sleep, sees them out the window, and starts acting on the connections he's making before he's even conscious of them. And then we're treated to a 10-minute scene in which we are ASSURED that Luke is REALLY SUPER DUPER EVIL and doesn't see PEOPLE he sees PAWNS. Yes, beware idealogues. I KNOW. Significant trimming of that scene would have been more elegant and demonstrated confidence in the audience's intelligence.

That said, I did like the Amish chase scene. Nothing is stupider than a postapocalyptic, old and busted world in which the hero still jumps on to some kind of hyperefficient transport, sparking a chase suitable for a video-game tie in. Well, ok, a climactic space battle on floor buffers is stupider, but not by much.

Leaving aside these bitchings, which really are about individual scenes or moments, in the big picture, Children of Men is a frightening success. The backdrop of decay and violence is grim and frightening, mostly because it seems so damned plausible. I remember the last time I reread The Handmaid's Tale I found, as I had on the first reading, that it all seemed so paranoid and overwrought at the beginning, but when the story starts to flash back to how women were so thoroughly disempowered and excised from any kind of political, economic, or human identity, the individual steps seemed all-too-believable.

Cuarón similarly manages to set the story against the total environmental wasteland that seems almost inevitable. The oppression and dehumanization of immigrants is constant, comprehensive, and chillingly casual. (For the record, M felt that the concentration camp imagery was hit a little too hard later on in the film, but I felt like Cuarón had narratively earned that with the relentless inclusion of the treatment of the "Fujis" as a backdrop to which Theo has become completely desensitized.) The utter chaos once "the uprising" comes is so pointless, inevitable, and inexorable that I was pretty much weeping full time by then. (Uh, with a long break when Jubilee subtext became text when Theo sprains his ankle. Then I was laughing.)

Perhaps my favorite technique that Cuarón uses in the film to make all this plausible is the subtle insertion of the work of real people. I recognized the Banksy painting of the two bobbies kissing as Theo passed it by on his way into his cousin's mansion in the sky. I also knew that Jasper's political cartoons looked familiar, but I had to look up the trivia in imdb to identify them as Steve Bell's work. And, of course, there's the soundtrack, with the Stones and John Lennon alongside Handel and Mahler. This is an interesting run through the whole soundtrack, of which I was a big fan. (Note, however, that I'm reasonably certain that Janice was the victim of government torture, not "terrorism" as the article states. The linguistic hijinks that can turn a freedom fighter into a guerilla matter a lot in that context, methinks.)

If I don't out myself, M will, so I will tell you that the tears started rolling when Jasper offs his dog. Not only do I have less than no ability to deal with harm coming to pets, the whole "you decide when" Quietus suicide packs were a major problem. I don't know why Alfonso Cuarón would know this, but when I was a kid (9 years old, IMDB suggests), I watched The Bunker, a made-for-TV movie about the last days of Hitler. In a stunning demonstration that children are the ultimate narcissists, the thing that freaked me out the most, and the thing that has stayed with me for 25 years, was the fact that they fed the kids cyanide-laced chocolate to help them sleep. So, yes, I was weeping for the cutest dog in the whole damned film, but it was also like someone had just pressed the Reptile-Brain Distress Deployment Button in my head and jammed it down.

M was looking up some things about the relationship between the book and the movie last night. I'm on the fence about reading the book. I will probably end up doing it, but I don't want to be annoyed with either of them, and I'm afraid that I might end up being so based on my crankiness regarding the things I know already, the main one being the shift of infertility from males (in the story) to females (in the movie). I know Cuarón has said that he is telling a different story, though he admires the book, but I am afraid that I might not quite want to receive his newsletter and could end up resenting both incarnations.

Bearing in mind that mine is an uninformed viewpoint as I have not read the book, it seems to me that one of the successful themes Cuarón lifts from the book and translates into film is the relationship between humans and animals. From what the ZK tells me, the book has woman, in particular, fetishizing pets as replacement for children. Cuarón has pets everywhere in the film, but treats that aspect of things with what sounds like a defter touch. In contrast, livestock, whether they're burning, dead in rank sewage ditches, or simply live caged in domestic contexts, are also frequent background inclusions, living in conditions that are not dissimilar from those endured in the present day and glaringly mirror those inflicted on the "Fujis."

In terms of the acting performances, I was more impressed with Clive Owen than I have been before. I am immune to his powers entirely. Not only do I not think he's attractive, he looks like a thug to me, and I have a strong and entirely irrational dislike of him based on that perception. I also grow tired of the weirdly flat and affectless delivery style he has. But all of that works in this role. He's a genuine antihero who is unprepared, impulsive, self-absorbed, and, lord knows, incredibly incompetent in many ways. (Seriously, the incompetence and uselessness of everyone bugged the hell out of me, even as I had to acknowledge that this is exactly how things go down when life goes to hell in a handbasket for Joe Average Consumer of "Yes, Dear" [please supply the British or equivalent].) But the pay offs are huge when he is moved to pull off impossible things in spite of himself, all the more so, because they are so quietly handled and immediately give way to the next horrible crisis.

I threw up a little in my mouth when I read that Emma Watson had been offered the role of Kee but couldn't take it. I'm just going to leave it at that, and simply say that Claire-Hope Ashitey deserved higher billing than she got. Initially, some of her halting approach to the dialogue seemed off (I know almost nothing about her, so I have no idea where she's from, whether the accent was affected, or what), but she quickly became one of the strongest members of the cast. I loved the way the character was written, playful and a little bewildered, but also aware of the gravity of her situation.

It was entirely believable that Julian, Miriam, and Theo could all be moved to think about her as an individual, not as an idea or a symbol, and to do extraordinary things to ensure her survival as well as that of the baby. She's so appealing that I could almost believe that that certain something she has, combined with the mere fact of the baby, caused the whole world to stop dead in awe as they made their way out of the middle of the firefight. Speaking for myself, when Theo follows the sounds of the baby's crying to the top of the apartment building, I was preparing to bust a cap in Cuarón's ass if I saw her slumped dead over the baby, her final act being to shield her.

I'm sad to say I was a little disappointed with Chiwetel Ejiofor in this. I'm more inclined to write that off to clunky characterization again, rather than to him not being up to the role. We never do really know what the Fish are about as a group, let alone whether we should consider him a calculating bastard, but a competent leader with a ruthless vision, or if he's just as big a fuck up as all the little people in the film. In particular, his monologue in the apartment building was jerky and not well handled, as he squeezes shots off even as he talks about being moved to tears by the baby.

In the words of blondeheroine, I just wanted to murder the faces of Patric (Charlie Hunnam) and Miriam (Pam Ferris) so much of the time. I think that's a testimony to how well they played their roles. Hunnam's is particularly thankless, as he's unthinking dredlocked spearcarrier #104. I'm less sure what to make of Ferris and Miriam. As with Luke's long "this is who I am, and this is why I do what I do" monologue, her Brief HIstory of How We Got to Be Infertile was somewhat cludgey. She was at her best when interacting with Kee, and probably my extreme rage at her complete and total uselessness just before she meets her grisly end is as much about my baggage as it is about what Cuarón intended to say with this character. In fairness to me and my baggage, though, religion was kind of omnipresent (hee!) in the film, and yet there didn't seem to be a lot of thought behind what that meant.

I didn't mean to come off sounding quite so lukewarm about the film. It's powerful and brutal and there's a lot more done right than done wrong, despite my quibbling. In fact, I think the fact that I kind of needed to detach and back up from it to write about it is indicative of how affecting it is. It's not a movie to enjoy. It's not a "good" movie. It's important and it's skillfully done overall, but it's not really about the catharsis of pity and fear, it's about making you live with it.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Las Burbujitas del Bat Manuel: Lyric Opera's Die Fledermaus

I'd swear at some point I'd put all my opera dates into the calendar on the Wiki, but apparently not. My punishment for such slacking was to attend Die Fledermaus solo. Normally, I would have held M to his word about going with me when I needed a companion, but that seemed churlish, given the fact that it was I who gave him the marvelous cold/cough he's got. For the record: Cosi Fan Tutte, Feb. 10; Dialogues of the Carmelites, Mar. 17.

Richard Traubner's essay rather skimps on the pomposity this time around, but it makes up for it with interesting history and context. He starts with a quote from The Batman himself (no, not that one, the opera one):
Glücklish ist, wer vergißt
was doc nicht zu ändern ist!

I'm more apt to confuse my unrelated classical Strausses, yet at the remove of more than 20 years I can still probably tell you the shoe size of each of the three unrelated Taylors of Duran Duran (and Power Station, of course), so I appreciated Traubner's setting the stage of Vienna in April, 1874, when Die Fledermaus debuted. In the aftermath of a stock market crash and a failed World's Fair, Vienna was in the mood for some tiny bubbles of entertainment, and JS, Jr. delivered.

The story is really the height of cleverness. The plot is very nearly as ridiculous as that of Il trovatore (nearly, I said, and without the melodrama), but the coincidences have all been orchestrated by the titular chiropteran. The libretto is brilliant, allusion heavy, and eminently portable. Traubner notes that Le réveillon, the vaudeville from which the story is descended, was itself the "Parisianized" descendant of a German play, and that Genée's libretto itself has spawned a filmed ballet (Oh Rosalinda! by Powell and Pressburger, who brought us The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman and an English-language version by W. S. Gilbert, who certainly brings cleverness street cred to the party. Martin Gantner, who sang Dr. Falke in Lyric's production, further notes that in his native Bavaria, eschewing Viennese accents (do not taunt happy, fun Bayerischen) transforms the operetta entirely. And if I may elevate this discussion to loftier heights, I'd add that the "Great Money Caper" episode of The Simpsons (WIlly wasnae!) is an homage to the comeuppance overkill of Die Fledermaus.

Strauss was more than up to the challenge of setting Genée's pre-Whedeonesque libretto to music. Traubner notes that Die Fledermaus received almost universal kudos from the media when it debuted. However, one dissenter who had already been through the painful nowning process, Eduard Hanslick, dissed it as "a potpourri of waltz and polka motifs." Hey asshole, it's potpourri of waltz and polka motifs from Mozart. And Verdi. And Rossini. And Gounod. And it RAWKS.

Before I'd even gotten to the crew blurbs and realized that this production shared a stage director with last year's Der Rosenkavalier, I'd noted a number of similar design elements and sensibilities. The direction was outstanding. A few of the performers noted some anxiety over the amount of dialogue required of them, but you wouldn't know it from the audience. The dialogue snapped along, the blocking was flawless, the pacing of entrances, exits, and delivery of lines was top notch.

The set design for Act I was marvelous. In fact, it was as if the same set designer from Der Rosenkavalier had distilled the lavish beauty into a non-sound-sucking ideal. The back wall rose to the full height of the proscenium and was covered with wallpaper with a dense pattern in rose and olive. It was something along these lines, but somehow managed to suggest the hideous, crammed nature so dear to this era without being entirely eye searing. I'm reminded at this point of Sara Vowell's Assassination Vacation in which she writes of her long-anticipated visit to Lincoln's house in Illinois. She'd been expecting to be strongly moved by the experience and ended up being strongly persuaded that that was one seriously ugly interior design job. An employee at the museum noted that the house really reflected Mary Todd Lincoln more than Himself, and that no one escaped the claustrophobia of Victorian decoration.

Thus the trick that the wallpaper pulled off was a neat one that was neatly replicated in the rest of the design. Rather than doing the mandatory patterned carpet, Ulisse Santicchi strategically layered and overlapped area rugs to give the floor the impression of being busy and cluttered without the acoustic ramifications. Similarly, the furniture pieces (a piano, a pot-bellied, carved atrocity of a mantel with awful lamps, a couch with so many throw pillows that they must have gotten supernumerary wages, a divan, and an extremely poofy ottoman) were so carefully chosen and placed that they gave the impression of imminent suffocation by doily, but left room for a considerable amount of energetic dancing and no voice eating whatsoever. None of the pictures is great, but this probably gives the best sense of things.

My only complaint with the Act I design was the real mirror over the mantle. Mirrors on stage are a nightmare, and this nightmare was multiplied a million times over in the Act II set. (Please, pause to dig that HIDEOUS gilded buffet. It was awesome in the literal sense of the word.) I truly do appreciate the goal of having light bounce around the party, making it seem larger and more glittering than life. But the warping effects of mirrors that large viewed at a distance is just too large a liability.

I liked other things about the set (which reminded me of the best elements of the design of Lyric's Un Ballo Maschera from 2001), like the round sofas (I feel certain that there's another name for this type of furniture, but damned if I know it. You can just see it in the lower right-hand corner here) in scarlet velvet, which provided a venue for some great splashy musical choreography. The white flooring was about equal parts hit and miss. It gave the room a great feeling of conspicuous consumption, as if Prince Orlofsky might just dispose of the whole thing in the morning, but the shadows cast by the overhead chandeliers made it appear dirty, and the dozens of well-shod feet made it actually dirty in all likelihood.

Speaking of the overhead lighting, the decision to swag a few folds of drapery just upstage of the proscenium was a rather weird one. The chandelier was only partly visible through it, and thus the dirty carpet syndrome seemed more mysterious. Part of the drapery was lowered during von Eisenstein's flirtation with the "Hungarian Countess," which gave the scene more intimacy (and gave the white-wigged servants some leeway in setting up the dining table), but I would have ditched it on the grounds that it created more issues than it resolved.

The Act III set is necessarily sort of an anticlimax, being set in the local jail. Still, it was a attractive, airy anticlimax with good attention to detail. The floors were lovely sanded wood, and the upstage half was a platform raised about four feet above downstage with steps leading down at both stage right and left. The upstage wall had doors leading to 4 or 5 cells, and the main, barred door led in at upstage right. There was another exit with swinging double doors (that was a weird false note as it looked like it led to a kitchen) at downstage right, and in between the two entrances, there was hanging set of pigeonholes for mail, a coat rack, and a huge portrait of Franz Josef.

Frank's (the Warden) desk was set at a slight angle to the wall at right and had a chair on either side. The downstage left wall had cells 12 and 13 which held Alfred (in disguise as a singing von Eisenstein) and, eventually, Ida and Adele. In her blurb, lighting designer August Tye notes that it's important that the lighting convey the scene's daybreak setting. She did a lovely job as her design managed to make people look hungover, radiant, or some combination of the two, as appropriate. I will note, however, that I also thought that daylight was pouring in through the french doors in Act I, but it must have been the world's most powerful gas street lamp.

The costume design (also by Santicchi) unsurprisingly worked well with the set. Rosalinde's pinker-than-pink Norma Desmond dressing gown for Act I deserved a credit all its own. The fez and dressing gown combo looked dashing on von Eisenstein and ridiculous on Alfred, as required. The metallic, jewel-toned gowns of the supers in Act II was the perfectly glossy, upper-crust backdrop for both Adele's pink on pink and Ida's periwinkle. Similarly, Rosalinde's blood-red-and-black, corset-topped number was a believable disguise sandwiched between the aforementioned flight-capable dressing gown and the extreme frumpage of her dusty rose ruffled atrocity for Act III. There's not much to say on the men's costumes, of course. They were dashing in their tails, and the climactic title cape was striking enough without being too too.

I liked the nonspecifically exotic flavor of the ballet performers' costumes eventually, although I'd initially had my doubts about the bloomers on the women. I still don't understand why Prince Orlofsky precognitively invited a troupe of Hungarian back-up peasants for Rosalinde's czárdás, but their off-the-shoulder peasant tops and the colorful profusion of petticoat ruffles on the pinned-up sides of the dresses were quite striking.

In terms of performances, I must begin with Marlis Petersen (Adele). I'm not ready to admit to having a coloratura girlfriend just yet, but she certainly has done for my opinion of coloraturas what Giordano Massimo did for tenors. From the very first shriek that propels her on to the stage, she was a delight. Her acting was charming, her comic timing impeccable, and voice was bright, warm and glided gracefully through some impressive passages. She also had absolutely marvelous, expressive body language. In Act II when she and Ida resort to exchanging blows, she had this hilariously sinuous way of faking having just taken a punch, and her movement during her "Laughing Song" ideally conveyed a bumpkin parlor maid playing at being a sophisticated actress. When she effortlessly fell into a split, I couldn't help thinking of James Marsters describing how he and everyone else on the set just lost it when it was revealed that Sarah Michelle Gellar, on top of everything else she did effortlessly, turns out to be able to juggle. I note from her blurb:
"When you're able to forget about the notes and just get into the character, the notes of Adele come very easily."

To this I say (along with her cast mates, I'm sure): Uber-talented BITCH. As Ida, Lauren Curnow got to show off more of her acting than her singing, but she does admirably considering that she has to live up to Petersen's Adele.

Bo Skohvus (von Eistenstein) and Andrew Shore (Frank) come next in my estimation. Skohvus is such a lech and such a child, and yet one still couldn't help being charmed by him. He and Shore worked brilliantly against one another during the introduction of Marquis Renard to Chevalier Chagrin. Their "French off" was magnificent. Skohvus also played extremely well off Peterson and adapted well both vocally and dramatically to Andrea Rost (Rosalinde), who was quite different than the rest of the cast.

Rost played Micaela last year in the Denyce Graves cast of Carmen. We, of course, saw Patricia Racette in this role. Their voices have similar qualities to them, although as Rosalinde, it's possible that Rost was playing up the vibrato for comic, melodramatic purposes. It's also possible, based on her blurb, that the melodrama is built in:
A young singer needs a good singing teacher. If I'd chosen repertoire myself, I could possibly have gone in the wrong direction, since singers can't hear what they sound like. My singing teacher assessed my voice as a lyric soprano with distinct ability in coloratura. I certainly sing colortura parts, but as I proceed I must be careful to retain my voice's ease and color.

When she and Petersen were first singing together, I quite enjoyed her work; thereafter, though, she took on some of the more ponderous qualities that make Racette not my favorite. I should also disclose that Rost, while certainly funny as Rosalinde, wasn't quite up to the rapid pace of the rest of the cast. Her czárdás had all the required fire, but it was a slow-burning fire with a bit too much consciousness that the audience will wait for the diva. She reminded me in this regard of Kim Crosby's performance in the Broadway version of Into the Woods. It's a recording I love, but I never hear it without wanting to take a cattle prod to Crosby as she drags through yet another contribution to a snappy ensemble number.

Bonnaventura Bottone (English. Can you believe that?) seems to have been totally on board with sacrificing his ego to character as Alfred. He's a skilled tenor in the Pavoratti style, and he has no problem mocking that style mercilessly. He also sparkles opposite Andrew Shore's Frank in the whirlwind Act I finale. Martin Gantner as Dr. Falke made the most of what is really his one big number in Act I, and he and Skohvus had chemistry to rival that of Skohvus/Shore. Why is it, though, that the title character always has so little singing to do. Granted, he was busy as hell, bending time and space to retroactively inform everyone of his revenge plot. Still, I'd have liked to hear more of him, especially given how rare it is to have three delicious baritones in one opera.

Alice Coote had the trouser role of Prince Orlofsky and she handled the acting well, playing him as an androgynous young man who is deliberately trying to act more manly and worldly than anyone would ever buy. In her opening vocal salvo, she elaborated on that with an odd but effective approach whereby she kind of snatched at the top notes, evoking a boy whose voice is changing. It was curiously appealing. Her later singing was more straight-up mezzo. It was fine enough, but I just wasn't a fan of the material for the role.

Dennis Petersen (no relation to Marlis, one assumes) didn't particularly distinguish himself as the stuttering Dr. Blind, but then again a stutterer is a crappy role to have to play. As he points out, the character is at home with his litany of legal terms in Act I, and he conveyed that well vocally. I think I just resented the ding to pacing that the stuttering bit represents, which isn't fair to the performer.

Rounding out the cast, Bryan Griffin was mostly notable for his Dr. Evil costume, his Tom Baker Hair, and Yukon Cornelius beard. That's not fair either: He deserves credit for maintaining his dignity amid all of that as Orlofsky's majordomo, Ivan. Seriously, this just wasn't much of a role for him. Fred Wellisch had the only purely speaking part as Frosch the Barney Fife-esque jailer. He has to carry a lot of the comedy in Act III, linking the various visitors together and moving them about. I thought he did a swell job with what amounts to a long monologue that could get tiresome in a hurry, but the act did drag somewhat. (Heh, and yet I note that John von Rhein says it's been "cut to the bone.)

In a Lyric opera first, the orchestra seemed to represent something of a liability. The overture is marvelous, and they were marvelous in performing it. However, there were a number of times when different sections seemed to be missing cues or those on stage had jumped in too soon. I don't know if the blame can be placed on Asher Fisch, the Israeli guest conductor and his attitude that
You can't impose style on the music — you have to let it happen, and you have to relax.

It's been a while since I've been in my regular seats on my regular night, having exchanged tickets for everything but opening night so far. The first balcony was certainly packed. In fact, the seat next to me may have been the only open one visible. There was hearty laughter and applause throughout, accompanied by a very pleased and up vibe in the crowd during both intermissions. As I exited the opera house to head Kaga-ward (have I mentioned that I scored free street parking a block away?), though, I managed to be alongside Ranty McRantPerson, who declared that if he'd known that Act III was going to be so bad, he'd have gone to get the car. And thus balance was brought to the force.

I was a part of the unwashed majority, pretty much point for point on this production, if my internal applause meter is to be trusted. The crowd went wild for Petersen and a touch less wild for Skohvus and Shore. Rost had the last curtain call and the reception was cooler for her. When she beckoned Fisch on the stage, there was a noticeable drop in temperature, suggesting that I was not the only one who thought that the second relaxing doobie passed around to the orchestra was doobie too far.

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