Easter is almost here and I will be in Sweden for some days painting walls in an old vicarage my parents just bought. I think it will be great, and with some beautiful weather coming up I expect it will be all spring-time-yay!
So happy Easter to you all – eat lots of chocolate eggs!
My friend Miriam gave me this red eyed bunny. I have always dreamt about such a wind-up bunny. How did you know, Miriam? I’m flabbergasted – and so is the cat!
Earlier today I talked about how I associate the month of March with a kind of lack of reliability when it comes to the weather. This is also the theme for my choice in the “musical year” category (I’m still thinking about re-naming that category. It makes me envision year-long renditions of Les Miserables and Cats. Ugh.), which is “Interlude IV – passacaglia” from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, an opera that I always imagine to be taking place in March, because March is such a stormy month, and there’s much talk of storms in this opera.
“Who can turn skies back/and begin again?” – storm as a force of nature plays an important part in Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.
The main theme of Peter Grimes is the helplessness of man against Nature: The population of the borough is painfully aware, constantly, of the raging of the elements and their own insignificance in contrast. “Oh tide that waits for no man, spare our coasts!”, so goes one of the choruses in the opera, and each of the inhabitants of the town has his or her own way of dealing with the helplessness. Bob Boles turns to the fanatic religious (“Repent! Repent!” he shouts ad nauseam to his fellow men during storms), Mrs. Sedley takes to drug abuse, Ned Keene runs a drug-dealing business, and almost all the men seek comfort from time to time in the prostituted arms of Auntie’s euphemistic nieces. And when all these pass-times aren’t enough, they turn to the scapegoat, who just happens to be the fanciful loner Peter Grimes.
Interlude IV musically sums up these themes so movingly, I think: It starts off with a sense of loneliness and isolation depicted through a very quiet version of the conspiratorial chorus “Grimes is at his exercise!” (which marks the climax of the borough’s rising suspicion against Peter Grimes) with a single cello as the predominant instrument, backed up only by a contrabass, which sort of trails off and is overpowered by animated, forte brass players who imitate to perfection the merciless blows of a storm (I regret that I was unable to find a soundfile of this particular part of the interlude), which in turn slide into an almost manic-harking performance by high-strung strings and eventually intwines with the slandered Peter Grimes frustrated, tyrannic out-let at his young apprentice: “Go there!”. I think it’s a most beautiful piece of music, and it illustrates perfectly what I like so much about Benjamin Britten – his attentive depiction of atmospheres. Another example of this, from the same opera, may be seen here:
This is Jon Vickers, probably the most famous portrayer of Peter Grimes, in Peter Grimes “madness”-scene. The borough really is shouting “Grimes!” in the distance at this point in the opera, but as depicted through Britten’s music, in Peter Grimes’s plagued and deranged mind their angry shouts become ghostly moaning, creating a very powerful eerie atmosphere that is backed up by the shrill violins at the beginning of the scene. “Ghosts” is the keyword here, Peter Grimes’s life has become defined by the dead, by the corpses of the little boys that he is accused of murdering, and he dreams in vain of “[turning] the skies back/and begin again.” Absolutely unnerving, but brilliantly so. Peter Grimes remains one of my favourite operas.
We really have had a lot of storms in Denmark this March, and I hope we’re through with it by now. I agree with Benjamin Britten’s depiction of our mortality through the raging of the elements, but that doesn’t mean that I find it to be particularly pleasant. 😉
March has been a rollercoaster-ride here in Copenhagen this year – it is warm and sunny now that we’re approaching April, but for most of the month the weather has been changing a lot, from bright, warm sunshine to storms and sleet, and more than once I’ve been tempted by a sunshiny morning to slip on my ballerina flats when heading off to the library or the university, only to fight my way back home later that day in a storm, with cold, wet feet and scolding myself for not having had the sense to wear my Uggs. Perhaps this is how I caught the cold I’m reluctantly sporting at the moment, I don’t know, but fact remains that I have caught one, and I have suffered from a case of sore throat for three days.
That’s what March is to me; it’s the month where you catch a terrible cold, because you’ve gone out wearing too little clothes, beckoned by the deceitful early signs of Spring. As such, the month reminds me of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther!
Young Werther meets Lotte for the first time. You know it’s love, I suppose, when it gets your motor running to see the object of affection handing out black bread….
Werther and I go way back, and he’s very special to me. I read the novel with all the passion and ardour of youth when I was a teenager and took an instant liking to the passionate, ardent protagonist because he reminded me of my then-boyfriend, an equally passionate, ardent young man, who even took to affectionately calling me “Lotte” for a while, and I wrote my very first university paper on the novel, bearing the pompous title: “Escapism as a Theme in The Sorrows of Young Werther”, and given that the paper was written with all the ardour and passion of youth, I hope I’ll never, ever have to read it again. *cringe*
But that’s an important part of the appeal of Werther, I think, and part of what makes it so special: It’s a literary study of that Spring-like stage of our youth where we metaphorically run around like idiots in the rain with way too thin clothes on and willingly subject ourselves to all kinds of dangers and sorrows, because we are not ready to accept the fact that life, well, just kind of sucks most of the time. In my previous post, about Per Fly’s TV-series Forestillinger, I mentioned the literary tradition of the Tristan-figure, and how Werther may be said to be such a figure: He is, in a sense, courtly love gone awry. Instead of accepting the fact that his adored Lotte is unobtainable and let his platonic love and yearning for her cultivate him, he refuses to accept such a thing, refuses to accept that the world might be anything less than perfect, and lets his love and yearning for Lotte break him down.
The paragraph I’d like to quote does not take place in March, but it certainly nails that March atmosphere, right down to the bad, changeable weather. Being an epistolary novel that ends with the correspondent’s death, the fatality of the protagonist’s state of mind can be said to be perceivable through the lack of his letters (the last part of the novel is defined by such a lack: Werther has become to distraught for writing and the accounts of his last hours is left to the fictitious editor), and significantly, Werther has neglected his correspondence for a while at this point in the novel, which describes his fatal first meeting with Lotte. I found the translation on online-literature.com, and I hope I’m not violating any copyrights by quoting from it here. If I am, let me know and I will of course remove it immediately. But for now, treat yourselves to some youthful passion and ardour! (Ooh, and take care to notice that wonderfully over-the-top climax of the esoteric “Klopstock!”-exclamation. I imagine that this is just about the 18th century equivalent of wearing a t-shirt with an obscure movie quote on it, and then have somebody recognising the quote and then tell that person that “OMG, you, like, totally get me!” and then take that person to the local indie coffee house and talk for, like, hours.)
“Why do I not write to you?” You lay claim to learning, and ask such a question. You should have guessed that I am well — that is to say — in a word, I have made an acquaintance who has won my heart: I have — I know not. To give you a regular account of the manner in which I have become acquainted with the most amiable of women would be a difficult task. I am a happy and contented mortal, but a poor historian.
An angel! Nonsense! Everybody so describes his mistress; and yet I find it impossible to tell you how perfect she is, or why she is so perfect: suffice it to say she has captivated all my senses.
So much simplicity with so much understauding — so mild, and yet so resolute — a mind so placid, and a life so active. But all this is ugly balderdash, which expresses not a single character nor feature. Some other time — but no, not some other time, now, this very instant, will I tell you all about it. Now or never. Well, between ourselves, since I commenced my letter, I have been three times on the point of throwing down my pen, of ordering my horse, and riding out. And yet I vowed this morning that I would not ride to-day, and yet every moment I am rushing to the window to see how high the sun is.
I could not restrain myself — go to her I must. I have just returned, Wilhelm; and whilst I am taking supper I will write to you. What a delight it was for my soul to see her in the midst of her dear, beautiful children, — eight brothers and sisters!
But, if I proceed thus, you will be no wiser at the end of my letter than you were at the beginning. Attend, then, and I will compel myself to give you the details.I mentioned to you the other day that I had become acquainted with S–, the district judge, and that he had invited me to go and visit him in his retirement, or rather in his little kingdom. But I neglected going, and perhaps should never have gone, if chance had not discovered to me the treasure which lay concealed in that retired spot. Some of our young people had proposed giving a ball in the country, at which I consented to be present. I offered my hand for the evening to a pretty and agreeable, but rather commonplace, sort of girl from the immediate neighbourhood; and it was agreed that I should engage a carriage, and call upon Charlotte, with my partner and her aunt, to convey them to the ball. My companion informed me, as we drove along through the park to the hunting-lodge, that I should make the acquaintance of a very charming young lady. “Take care,” added the aunt, “that you do not lose your heart.” “Why?” said I. “Because she is already engaged to a very worthy man,” she replied, “who is gone to settle his affairs upon the death of his father, and will succeed to a very considerable inheritance.” This information possessed no interest for me. When we arrived at the gate, the sun was setting behind the tops of the mountains. The atmosphere was heavy; and the ladies expressed their fears of an approaching storm, as masses of low black clouds were gathering in the horizon. I relieved their anxieties by pretending to be weather-wise, although I myself had some apprehensions lest our pleasure should be interrupted.
I alighted; and a maid came to the door, and requested us to wait a moment for her mistress. I walked across the court to a well-built house, and, ascending the flight of steps in front, opened the door, and saw before me the most charming spectacle I had ever witnessed. Six children, from eleven to two years old, were running about the hall, and surrounding a lady of middle height, with a lovely figure, dressed in a robe of simple white, trimmed with pink ribbons. She was holding a rye loaf in her hand, and was cutting slices for the little ones all around, in proportion to their age and appetite. She performed her task in a graceful and affectionate manner; each claimant awaiting his turn with outstretched hands, and boisterously shouting his thanks. Some of them ran away at once, to enjoy their evening meal; whilst others, of a gentler disposition, retired to the courtyard to see the strangers, and to survey the carriage in which their Charlotte was to drive away. “Pray forgive me for giving you the trouble to come for me, and for keeping the ladies waiting: but dressing, and arranging some household duties before I leave, had made me forget my children’s supper; and they do not like to take it from any one but me.” I uttered some indifferent compliment: but my whole soul was absorbed by her air, her voice, her manner; and I had scarcely recovered myself when she ran into her room to fetch her gloves and fan. The young ones threw inquiring glances at me from a distance; whilst I approached the youngest, a most delicious little creature. He drew back; and Charlotte, entering at the very moment, said, “Louis, shake hands with your cousin.” The little fellow obeyed willingly; and I could not resist giving him a hearty kiss, notwithstanding his rather dirty face. “Cousin,” said I to Charlotte, as I handed her down, “do you think I deserve the happiness of being related to you?” She replied, with a ready smile, “Oh! I have such a number of cousins, that I should be sorry if you were the most undeserving of them.” In taking leave, she desired her next sister, Sophy, a girl about eleven years old, to take great care of the children, and to say good-bye to papa for her when he came home from his ride. She enjoined to the little ones to obey their sister Sophy as they would herself, upon which some promised that they would; but a little fair-haired girl, about six years old, looked discontented, and said, “But Sophy is not you, Charlotte; and we like you best.” The two eldest boys had clambered up the carriage; and, at my request, she permitted them to accompany us a little way through the forest, upon their promising to sit very still, and hold fast.
We were hardly seated, and the ladies had scarcely exchanged compliments, making the usual remarks upon each other’s dress, and upon the company they expected to meet, when Charlotte stopped the carriage, and made her brothers get down. They insisted upon kissing her hands once more; which the eldest did with all the tenderness of a youth of fifteen, but the other in a lighter and more careless manner. She desired them again to give her love to the children, and we drove off.(…)
The two Messrs. Andran and a certain N. N. (I cannot trouble myself with the names), who were the aunt’s and Charlotte’s partners, received us at the carriage-door, and took possession of their ladies, whilst I followed with mine. We commenced with a minuet. I led out one lady after another, and precisely those who were the most disagreeable could not bring themselves to leave off. Charlotte and her partner began an English country dance, and you must imagine my delight when it was their turn to dance the figure with us. You should see Charlotte dance. She dances with her whole heart and soul: her figure is all harmony, elegance, and grace, as if she were conscious of nothing else, and had no other thought or feeling; and, doubtless, for the moment, every other sensation is extinct.
We set off, and, at first, delighted ourselves with the usual graceful motions of the arms. With what grace, with what ease, she moved! When the waltz commenced, and the dancers whirled around each other in the giddy maze, there was some confusion, owing to the incapacity of some of the dancers. We judiciously remained still, allowing the others to weary themselves; and, when the awkward dancers had withdrawn, we joined in, and kept it up famously together with one other couple, — Andran and his partner. Never did I dance more lightly. I felt myself more than mortal, holding this loveliest of creatures in my arms, flying, with her as rapidly as the wind, till I lost sight of every other object; and O Wilhelm, I vowed at that moment, that a maiden whom I loved, or for whom I felt the slightest attachment, never, never should waltz with any one else but with me, if I went to perdition for it! — you will understand this.We took a few turns in the room to recover our breath. Charlotte sat down, and felt refreshed by partaking of some oranges which I had had secured, — the only ones that had been left; but at every slice which, from politeness, she offered to her neighbours, I felt as though a dagger went through my heart.
We were the second couple in the third country dance. As we were going down (and Heaven knows with what ecstasy I gazed at her arms and eyes, beaming with the sweetest feeling of pure and genuine enjoyment), we passed a lady whom I had noticed for her charming expression of countenance; although she was no longer young. She looked at
Charlotte with a smile, then, holding up her finger in a threatening attitude, repeated twice in a very significant tone of voice the name of “Albert.”
“Who is Albert,” said I to Charlotte, “if it is not impertinent to ask?” She was about to answer, when we were obliged to separate, in order to execute a figure in the dance; and, as we crossed over again in front of each other, I perceived she looked somewhat pensive. “Why need I conceal it from you?” she said, as she gave me her hand for the promenade. “Albert is a worthy man, to whom I am engaged.” Now, there was nothing new to me in this (for the girls had told me of it on the way); but it was so far new that I had not thought of it in connection with her whom, in so short a time, I had learned to prize so highly. Enough, I became confused, got out in the figure, and occasioned general confusion; so that it required all Charlotte’s presence of mind to set me right by pulling and pushing me into my proper place.
The dance was not yet finished when the lightning which had for some time been seen in the horizon, and which I had asserted to proceed entirely from heat, grew more violent; and the thunder was heard above the music. When any distress or terror surprises us in the midst of our amusements, it naturally makes a deeper impression than at other times, either because the contrast makes us more keenly susceptible, or rather perhaps because our senses are then more open to impressions, and the shock is consequently stronger. To this cause I must ascribe the fright and shrieks of the ladies. One sagaciously sat down in a corner with her back to the window, and held her fingers to her ears; a second knelt down before her, and hid her face in her lap; a third threw herself between them, and embraced her sister with a thousand tears; some insisted on going home; others, unconscious of their actions, wanted sufficient presence of mind to repress the impertinence of their young partners, who sought to direct to themselves those sighs which the lips of our agitated beauties intended for heaven. Some of the gentlemen had gone down-stairs to smoke a quiet cigar, and the rest of the company gladly embraced a happy suggestion of the hostess to retire into another room which was provided with shutters and curtains. We had hardly got there, when Charlotte placed the chairs in a circle; and, when the company had sat down in compliance with her request, she forthwith proposed a round game.
I noticed some of the company prepare their mouths and draw themselves up at the prospect of some agreeable forfeit. “Let us play at counting,” said Charlotte. “Now, pay attention: I shall go round the circle from right to left; and each person is to count, one after the other, the number that comes to him, and must count fast; whoever stops or mistakes is to have a box on the ear, and so on, till we have counted a thousand.” It was delightful to see the fun. She went round the circle with upraised arm. “One,” said the first; “two,” the second; “three,” the third; and so on, till Charlotte went faster and faster. One made a mistake, instantly a box on the ear; and, amid the laughter that ensued, came another box; and so on, faster and faster. I myself came in for two. I fancied they were harder than the rest, and felt quite delighted. A general laughter and confusion put an end to the game long before we had counted as far as a thousand. The party broke up into little separate knots: the storm had ceased, and I followed Charlotte into the ballroom. On the way she said, “The game banished their fears of the storm.” I could make no reply. “I myself,” she continued, “was as much frightened as any of them; but by affecting courage, to keep up the spirits of the others, I forgot my apprehensions.” We went to the window. It was still thundering at a distance: a soft rain was pouring down over the country, and filled the air around us with delicious odours. Charlotte leaned forward on her arm; her eyes wandered over the scene; she raised them to the sky, and then turned them upon me; they were moistened with tears; she placed her hand on mine and said, “Klopstock!” at once I remembered the magnificent ode which was in her thoughts: I felt oppressed with the weight of my sensations, and sank under them. It was more than I could bear. I bent over her hand, kissed it in a stream of delicious tears, and again looked up to her eyes. Divine Klopstock! why didst thou not see thy apotheosis in those eyes? And thy name so often profaned, would that I never heard it repeated!”
This Friday night I have spent watching the fine movements of the back of an exquisite pianist: Leif Ove Andsnes. And it was a wonderful concert!
Very mozarty – the programme consisted of Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Piano Concerts nos 17 and 20.
Leaving Eine kleine Nachtmusik aside I will jump straight to the piano concerts conducted by Andsnes from the piano. At first I was a little bit sceptical always having perceived Andsnes as a somewhat introvert artist. An artist who communicates with his co-musicians via the music more than via eye-contact or movements intended for them to react on.
When they intoned the Piano Concert no. 17 I watched Andsnes carefully and frowned a bit upon his stiff and very exact direction. It seemed dry and sharp and perhaps a little bit unimaginative. But as they reached the last movement I was completely taken by the sweetness and delicacy. It was as if the exacting style liberated the orchestra and Andsnes himself.
Having moved away from a conducting fellow listener I was free to enjoy the Piano Concert no. 20 without any kind of disturbance. And this was when my eyes fell on Andsnes’s back. Since he was conducting from the piano he was sitting with his back at the audience flanked and faced by the orchestra.
His back was the most expressive back I have ever perceived (if I ever looked at any back that intently…). Despite, or perhaps because of, the black cloth of the jacket you had a very clear idea of where Andsnes wanted to go and how the music should proceed. His movements were so condensed and precise that I think the musicians would perhaps have understood more by looking on his back than on his face and hands. It was as if his back and the shifting folds of his jacket betrayed all his thoughts and feelings most delicately. Plain beautiful and adding to my enjoyment and understanding of the music.
It reminded me very much of the back of the Belvedere Torso or the flickering light in i.e. this drawing by Michelangelo. The same strength and beauty:
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, 1508-12. Red chalk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Strangely enough Leif Ove Andsnes’s back and I have met before. Two years ago I attended a magnificent concert in Wigmore Hall, London with Andsnes and Christian Tetzlaff. My seat was on the side of the stage, almost beneath the grand piano looking up at Andsnes’s back and I was only able to see more than Tetzlaff’s feet via his reflection in the underside of the piano cover. But not even then did I realise the expressiveness of that back (perhaps from being too close). Well, I did tonight and it made me laugh with joy all the way home on my bike through the soft spring evening.
I daresay there’s a lot going on within Danish television drama these days! I was just working on a post on a new Danish crime series (Forbrydelsen – “The Crime”) that premiered just a few weeks ago, but I’ll be darned if a new drama series doesn’t air on that same channel (DR1) before I’ve even gotten around to proof-read! So now my review of the former will have to move over a little for Danish televison drama’s most recent creation: Concept-series Forestillinger by director Per Fly.
“6 uger” – “six weeks”: DR1 has aired the first two episodes of new six-parter Forestillinger
I’m always a little hesitant towards reviewing specifically Danish cultural phenomena here on this internationally oriented blog, written in English, but in this case I think it makes sense. Forestillinger is a truly interesting television creation, much more so than Danish Emmy award winners of recent years such as tedious, superficial frappucino-drama Nikolaj & Julie (winner in the category “Best Drama Series” at the Emmy Awards 2002), and as such it deserves all the attention it can get, even outside of Denmark. The concept of Forestillinger (a Danish word which may mean both “performances” and “conceptions”) is this: Throughout six episodes we are told the same story six times, from six different perspectives, the story of a director of theatre, whose actress girlfriend leaves him to have a short-lived affair with a young co-actor in the performance they’re all working on: A staging of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis. Depending on the perspective, we get a commentary by the character in question, and so far we’ve seen the story from young actor Jakob’s (episode 1) and the director’s girlfriend Tanja’s (episode 2) points of view. As one might imagine, given the fact that the series revolves around a group of theatrical artists who are romantically involved, the main-themes of the series are the performances in which we tend to participate, even when we’re only trying to live our lives and despite our intentions to pursue authenticity, and the conceptions and misconceptions that we form about each other in the process.
Forestillinger and intertextuality
Is this an innovate concept? Certainly not. All the world was a stage and all the men and women merely players even in the archaically hierarchic Elizabethan times, and Per Fly is not the first movie director to explore this idea either; Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard (1996) and Swedish Suzanne Oster’s highly neglected The Mozart Brothers from 1986 (about the schemes playing out during a controversial staging of Don Giovanni at the Stockholm Opera) revolve around the same kind of performative-reality logic. What I find to be particularly refreshing and, yes, innovative about Per Fly’s Forestillinger, however, is its clever use of intertextuality. Now, I’m a sucker for intertextuality, I’ll admit that openly. Hard-core humanities graduate, student of Comparative Literature, and amateur Jungian as I am, of course nothing could be more delicious to me than the idea that we are, in a sense, re-writing ourselves and our own plots over and over again. It’s a kind of guilty pleasure – the humanities graduate’s game of Tetris, one might call it, where there are only a limited number of forms and shapes and they all kind of fit together, and it looks really neat. But I do think that there’s something particularly ingenious about using intertextuality as the frame for a story about the performativity of our lives, and I believe that that is what Per Fly is doing with Forestillinger. And the intertextuality that he’s drawing on is that of the Tristan-Isolde-King Marke myth.
This particular reference is not something that I’ve thought of myself – I’m following a course on medieval literature at the university this semester and during class last week, the professor who’s giving the course, Jørgen Bruhn, mentioned the television series and proposed that the storyline might be inspired by the Tristan/Isolde legend, which we were discussing that particular day. “Hurry up and write an article about this before anyone else thinks of it!,” he urged us good-naturedly – and with that in mind I watched the first two episodes of the series yesterday, and I thought the Tristan/Isolde/Marke homage in the story was striking and most interesting.
Dejan Cukic as patron Marko
Marko, no less, is the name of the theatre director (played by Dejan Cukic) whose wife Tanja (Sonja Richter) leaves him and has an affair with a younger man, Jakob (Mads Wille), and it wouldn’t be too contrived, I think, to see this director-character, this theatre-patron, offering gentle guidance and stern reprimands to his subjects, the actors, as a monarchic figure. “If one were to mention a director who’d created innovation within Danish theatre for the last 10-15 years, that would be him…. The actors who appear in his performances always go one step further from what one has seen from them beforehand… He is the king” says an enthusiastic Jakob about Marko, awestruck at the thought of getting to work with this idolized man, shortly after having lingered adoringly on the subject of what he perceives to be the “major talent” of Marko’s beautiful girlfriend Tanja: “Was she in your class at Drama School?” Jakob is asked, and Jakob humbly sets the enquirer straight: “No, she was in the class ahead of me.”, before adding, beaming with pride: “We were together at school, too! We were. A couple of times. We did have a- a kind of affair. But then she got together with Marko at a point.”
The object of Jakob’s – and Marko’s? – affection: beautiful Tanja
Aaand this is where I happily reach Level 1 of my aforementioned little humanities graduate game of Tetris: this is intertextuality at its most appetizing; the stage is set beautifully for a Tristan-story. The essence of a Tristan-story is the story of a young man who idolizes a generous patron, only to become conflicted when he falls in love with his beautiful, aloof queen and initiates an affair with her. It’s the unruly force of Love contra the noble and sensible frame that is Society that is at play in such stories, and the King Arthur/Queen Guinevere/Lancelot legend as well as more recent works such as Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and Schiller’s Don Carlos are examples of stories that are without doubt influenced by this ancient myth. Youthful, wide-eyed Jakob fills his Tristan-part perfectly: Very significantly we are treated to cameos of Jakob carefully running his electric shaver over his boyishly smooth chin, and taking directions from the older, full-bearded Marko, and beautiful Tanja, dressed in almost every scene in sensual shades of red, wavers fickle-heartedly between her bestowing husband and her adoring lover. Per Fly’s story about performativity is backed up by an ancient textual form with a full set of well-defined parts, ready for the participants to inhabit and perform.
And yet, this is not what they do, exactly, and this is where things get truly interesting, I think. Because more than just using the Tristan-myth, Per Fly challenges the myth within his drama series. Anna and I have sometimes discussed Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and agreed that King Marke and hand-maid Brangäne, with their frets and doubts and worries, are definitely the more sympathetic characters in the story: Tristan and Isolde are incarnated ideas more than actual persons, uncompromising and inhuman as they are in their ardent love and love-death for each other, and they’re difficult to relate to. However, in Per Fly’s Forestillinger thus far (one should keep in mind that I’ve only seen two of the series’ six episodes and thus only one third of the points of view that will be explored throughout its run), King Marke plays a much more conceptually defined and a lot less human character than your average Philip II or Albert, fretting pitifully about their ominous white hair or their wives’ kind gaze upon their lovers. What Per Fly’s Forestillinger proposes is the idea that if King Marke is Society, if he is Wisdom and Sovereign, then maybe he is, after all, the strongest character? Because in Forestillinger what we seem to be witnessing is a game initiated and controlled by Marke, rather than lost by him. “I was wondering if maybe you and Tanja could go over the scenes that the two of you share. I mean, outside of the rehearsal-schedule here at the theatre. Maybe you could meet up alone and then work on it a little… Here’s a key. Then you can just come and go as you please.” Says Marko to Jakob, thus obviously turning the parts upside down. This Marke doesn’t get sneaked around on, he stages the sneaking himself and pushes the two lovers into each others arms. Purposely? Well, Eva, an older, more experienced actress at the theatre as well as Marko’s ex-wife seems to think so, and she advises Tanja as she wants to return to Marko: “You need to figure out what part you want to play in Marko’s life,” she says “Actress or wife. You can’t be both. …You can’t believe him when he says he wants to quit the theatre. Theatre is his life.” and Jakob agrees wholeheartedly, after his boyish admiration has given way for his need for rebellion against Marke: “I’ve slept with Tanja. I love her like crazy… But you know that, don’t you? You’ve known all along. Isn’t that right? Don’t you feel anything? Don’t you feel threatened? …Or is this part of the plan? As long as you can do your fucking performance… You’re using us in your shitty performance!”
Troubled youth Jakob
At the end of the episode, in a desperate, shocking turn of events, Jakob ends up forcing Tanja into sleeping with him as the ultimate rebellion against the Tristan-part he’s been made to play by a calculating King Marke; the young knight defiling the Queen that he was supposed to adore and love. Except one can’t help feeling, claustrophobically, that maybe this was part of the plan, too, that maybe there is really no way of escaping King Marke’s sovereign.
“You’re a f*cking whore!”
What does all this mean, then? Well, the obvious interpretation would be that in Per Fly’s Tristan-story, Love is not the power that may threaten the confinements of Form, of Society, no, Society, our performative interaction with each other, threatens Love. Has King Marke, in Per Fly’s optics, become a powerful figure in modern society, or has he always been the strong one? Or is Jakob and Eva wrong, and King Marke actually a decent person, and another grey-haired victim of adultery? I guess I’ll have to wait and watch all the episodes these next four weeks before I can answer those questions. But I will definitely be watching. The series isn’t flawless, and as television reviewer Per Munch touches upon in newspaper Politiken today, Forestillinger continues a regrettable tendency within Danish television writing, where ad-lib-like idomaticality is pursued in favour of eloquence and verbal substance – although I do think that this idomaticality is actually used well in the series from time to time. For instance, when Jakob flung his seemingly common curse upon Tanja “You’re a fucking whore, Tanja!”, it actually did hold a kind of ambiguous substance: from Jakob’s elightened point-of-view Tanja might indeed be said to be acting as Marko’s whore. But all in all Forestillinger has definitely captured my interest as a rare piece of intertextual television and an exploration of the war between Passion and Comformity, and what the outcome of such a war might be in the year 2007. Hereby recommended.
Yesterday Marie and I, not being in New York, went to the cinema to see the recent production from The Met of Tchaikovsky’s Eugen Onegin with Renée Fleming, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Ramon Vargas. But since it’s Sunday night and I’m just not going to do anything serious the review will have to wait and instead I bring you this:
Sheep with accordeons? And what is it with American kids and their learning to count? Look here too.
Well, I think it’s hilarious and it just makes me adore Renée Fleming. Even more. She sang with the Muppets…what’s more to say?
I just saw three pieces of interesting news on the internet. At least they were new to me: Andreas Scholl has left Decca and signed with Harmonia Mundi; he has recorded a new album with Händel pieces; the Giulio Cesare of The Royal Danish Opera is to be released this spring.
The Händel album includes one of my favourite pieces: Il Duello Amoroso in which Andreas Scholl and the soprano Hélène Guilmette sing the lovesick shepherd Daliso and the proud and rejecting shepherdess Amarilli. I heard it a couple of years ago with Scholl and his ex Camilla Tilling. Wonderful even with Scholl having a slight cold. Even though conducted by the baroque specialist and harpsichord player Lars Ulrik Mortensen the (modern) ensemble pieced together by musicians from the Danish Radio Orchestra had a hard time sounding like an improvising bunch of baroque enthusiasts. So I’m glad that this recording is with exactly such an ensemble: Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone.
You can read more and listen to a couple of samples here. I especially recommend the second sample which is from the Duello Amoroso.
I can hardly wait to get my hands on it!
It has long been rumoured that Harmonia Mundi would release a dvd of Francisco Negrin’s production of Händel’s Giulio Cesare. And now it seems it is about to happen. I can’t find an exact date but spring…spring is here! This is one of the best stagings I have seen of any opera so it’s definitely worth releasing. Marie wrote a review of the performance which you can read here.
And here’s a little snatch of the opera. Cleopatra’s aria Piangerò la sorte mia performed by Inger Dam-Jensen who just happens to be one of my favourite singers and the Concerto Copenhagen conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. Cleopatra thinks all is lost – Giulio dead and kingdom taken by bad, bad brother who in this production seems to be ready to rape her on their next encounter – and he took her wig! The aria changes between complete sorrow and a furious vendetta feeling, between “I will weep for my fate” and “I will haunt him as a ghost”. It is one of those arias that pretty surely brings tears to my eyes.
I hope the dvd will be out soon – hereby recommended.
In the meantime I have been watching another production of Giulio Cesare: David McVicar’s staging from Glyndebourne 2005. I don’t think it is as marvellous as Negrin’s but it is still very good. I’m completely taken by Sarah Connolly who portrays Giulio with a manliness many men could learn from. I’m close on having a girl crush on her or…should that just be crush? I listened to a radio interview with her where she says you just have to keep your bum in in order to look like a man! You can listen to that here. Besides from the bum part she seems very nice and interesting.
Danielle De Niese as Cleopatra is wondrous both as singer and actor/performer. She doesn’t touch me so very much though and I think it’s because she misses one thing I love about the Cleopatra character: that she changes from thoughtless child to full grown woman during the opera. But hey – she is very good and very funny.
William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment work miracles in the pit.
Below is a clip from the end of the opera. Nice “in-love-interaction” between Cleo and Jules. And his costume is very Louis XIV…
The guys who enter towards the end are the dead Tolomeo and Achilla! Seems like they will be haunting poor Sesto.
Denmark is witnessing a dramatic struggle between winter and spring these days. Stormy weather, abrupt changes from sun to hard rain. But no doubt about it – spring is here.
And my house is full of flowers. Pie!
Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach is one of my guilty pleasures and discovering that one of my favourite directors, Robert Carsen, had staged it made me run to the music library to pick up the dvd.
I say guilty pleasure since this opera is written by one of the big operetta composers and I as a rule dislike operetta. Or maybe I just HATE Johann Strauß!
The first time I saw Hoffmann was in Rome five years ago and I went solely to see one of my heroes, Ruggero Raimondi, in the four baddie parts. The staging and the other singers turned out to be pretty marvellous so it was one of those evenings you don’t forget easily. I own a dvd version with Raimondi. Not the same and not as good, but ok. I mean a staging putting the über hammershark Raimondi in this position has to have some advantages:
Heh…it just never gets old.
Robert Carsen lets the stories take place in a theatre during and after a performance of Don Giovanni (it is in the libretto that Stella is singing in that particular opera..). The Prologue takes place in the bar of the opera house, the story of Olympia is on stage just after curtain fall with all the singers as chorus, Antonia walks the orchestra pit (not the actual pit…) and her ghost mother appears up on stage, Giulietta is seated in the auditorium (not the actual auditorium…) on rows that move like old fashioned theatre waves from side to side. I think it works pretty well with this intricate system of chinese boxes and I like the ever changing reflections and view points. Hoffmann keeps talking about himself and the same love story from different angles and I agree that it is all so colourful and perverse that a theatre is no bad backdrop. Besides it allows Carsen and his stage designer Michael Levine do some wonderfully lavish interiors and costumes. But I’m actually more concerned with the acting which is superb. Neil Shicoff successfully portrays the tormented Hoffmann and manages to change from broken alcoholic into young fool, mature fiancé, depraved lover and back into alcoholic. I am quite amazed by his talent as an actor. As a singer his does very well too in this large part.
Here is a clip in which Shicoff shows he has a comical talent too. It is only part of the song about the dwarf Kleinzach just to let you get an idea. If you want to see the whole aria the Paris Opera has it on their home page with Rolando Villazón. Not bad either but very different.
I love his expression when he reaches for the cigarette with his mouth.
Bryn Terfel plays the villains. It is strange but even though I have been loving this singer for years I have never seen him on stage (not in real life nor on dvd). My only experience with his stage appearance is a concert with him and Cecilia Bartoli from Glyndebourne in which he is either sweet or humorous. So to see him as the bad guys the first time I see him in costume was if not surprising then at least interesting. Of course he does very well both music and acting wise. Oh, how I would love to see him do Mephisto in Gounod’s Faust!
Here is a clip from the beginning of the opera where Lindorf sings about his own ugly personality. I love what they did with the lighting. Just as he sings about his eyes the light penetrates one of his eyeballs from an oblique angle so that it lights up uncannily in the dark. Eyes and gazing are main themes of the opera so this is an extremely elegant feature. I think it is a bit hard to see it on this low quality clip – just another reason for getting the dvd. Then you can also enjoy the light catched by the smoke.
The other singers (most important: Susanne Mentzner, Nicklausse/La Muse; Desirée Rancatore, Olympia; Ruth Ann Swenson, Antonia; Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Giulietta) do fantastically too. The Muse/Nicklausse gets much more music than I’m used to, but this is an opera that comes in different versions as Offenbach died before he could finish it. I don’t think the extra music added much to the story since I prefer a firm focus on Hoffmann and the villains, but never mind, Susanne Mentzner did a great job.
This is one of the best stagings I have seen of the opera, but it loses some energy towards the end. The whole Giulietta act lacks force and the famous Barcarolle was actually quite dull. But watch it for Shicoff alone and then add Terfel and you’re more than all right. This is pie, and Carsen still stands very high in my favour.
Library Custodian: “Do you have a library staff card?”
Me: “No, I just wanted to get a little a water from the-”
Library Custodian: “THEN YOU CAN’T BE HERE TILL AFTER ONE O’CLOCK!!”
Me: “Well…. ok, then…. but…”
Library Custodian: “YOU CAN’T BE HERE!”
Seriously. I have worked as a telemarketing phoner for a charitable organisation. For more than a year, several nights a week, calling up random individuals, asking them for financial aid. I have been yelled at, called names, cursed at, damned (Ah! La maledizione!), and, as a representitive of the organisation in question, I have been accused of stealing poor innocent people’s money and spending them ruthlessly on expensive lunches. But you know what? During all this I remained polite. I never raised my voice at people. And why? Well, because it makes people uncomfortable. Because it’s rude. And because there is really no reason to – it won’t help anything.
So here’s my question: why does one so often get snapped at, even for the smallest things, by people working within customer service? Will their faces crack if they smile? What is so wrong with politeness? And isn’t politeness and polite smiles, like, part of your job when you’re in customer service? And if you feel like you can’t deliever this, politeness and good-natured directions instead of snapping and yelling, then don’t you think maybe you have the wrong job?
And yes, I’m talking to you, Library Custodian Who Was So Offended By the Sight of Me Getting a Glass of Water in a Plastic Cup That You Felt You Needed to Yell at Me Instead of Just Kindly and Quietly Setting me Straight and Telling Me Where I Might Go to Get Myself Some Water.
This approximately matches the death-stare I received from Library Custodian of Wrath. You’d think I’d, like, had nymph-sex with her husband and then gotten pregnant with his child, but I really only wanted to get myself a plastic cup and some tap water.