Art Canon. An Amateur’s Attempt.

(Edited, because I misspelled “amateur”. TWICE. I’m an idiot.)

Ok, here we go. My art canon. This one has been really tough, because I’m not half as well versed in the world of art as Anna is in the world of literature (or as Anna is in the world of art, but let’s not even go there!). So I haven’t expanded my list to 15 works, as Anna did with her literary canon. Also, I have decided to exhibit my amateurism within this field by elaborating on my motivation behind choosing the works I have chosen. I hope the result isn’t too cringe-worthy. 

 1. Bernini – Pluto and Proserpine 1621-22. Galleria Borghese, Rome.

When Anna told me she was going to make her original art canon, I eyelash-battingly asked her if she was going to put Bernini’s sculpture of Pluto and Proserpina in it. She did, but naturally I want to include it in my own canon, too. I absolutely adore this sculpture. I love sculptures in general (as this canon will show…), and generally relate a lot better to sculptures than to paintings, but this one is probably my favourite among sculptures.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the roughness and the delicacy of the two sexes depicted so well as in this sculpture, nor have I have ever seen the solidity of stone so effectively defied by an artist. The organic yielding of Propserpine’s thigh as Pluto’s fingers dig into it is almost unnerving. How can this not be flesh? But it isn’t; it’s mineral and inorganic, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s one of those sublime works of art that makes you think that anything is possible to man, that we could fly, that we could raise the dead from the graves. And what could be more appropriate for a sculpture that depicts the struggle between two eternal opposites? 

I saw the sculpture when Anna and I went to the Borghese gallery last year. “She’s going to get bruises.” Anna noted, looking at Pluto’s brutal grasp at the young girl. Indeed she is.

Pluto and ProserpinaPluto and Prosperpine - closeup

2. Henri Matisse: Laurette in a green robe, 1916. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Matisse is probably my favourite painter. Incidentally, I’ve learned to love him via literature, more specifically through A.S. Byatt’s  “The Chinese Lobster” from Matisse Stories. I don’t remember if this particular painting, Laurette in a green robe, was mentioned in the short story, but whenever I think of the story, this is the painting I think of. In the story, which deals with the existential question of enduring the pain of Life or submitting to peace of Death, Matisse’s use of the colour black played an important part. Matisse’s black is the colour of life, the story proposed, because it sets off and condenses all the other colours. To surrender to the peace of Death would be as easy as leaving the canvas white and letting all the colours fade into this whiteness. That is why I love this picture so much. The greens, the pinks, and the yellows, which tenderly depict the form of the woman, have such a life-affirming brightness to them, and the thick blackness behind the resting girl is so full of possibilities. Anything might emerge from this blackness, and that’s an unsettling thought, but also a really appealing one. 

Laurette in a green robe

3. The Dying Gallic Trumpeter (Originally bronze, from Pergamon. Marble copy recovered from Rome).

Dying is an art like anything else, and this man does it exceptionally well. Life is ebbing out of him, and he just wants to live, despite the humiliation of the situation and that blasted, dehumanizing ring around his neck.

There is a copy of this sculpture in the H. C. Ørsted Park in Copenhagen, and I always feel a pang of grief when I pass it.

the dying gallic the dying Gallic - closeup

 4. Suste Bonnén – Agnete and the Merman (“Agnete og Havmanden”) – 1992. The canal by Højbro Square, Copenhagen.

According to a Danish folk legend, Agnete was a young peasant girl who was walking by the shore as a merman emerged from the waves and offered her his hand. Agnete fell in love with him immediately and went to the bottom of the sea with him, where she gave birth to his seven sons. After eight years, however, as she was sitting by the crib of her youngest son, Agnete heard the sound of churchbells ringing from her old village, and she felt homesick. She got permission from the merman to go to church, on the one condition that she would come back to him after mass. But of course, once on land again, Agnete found that she missed the church and her family too much, and she wouldn’t return. 

In Suste Bonnén’s sculpture, the merman and his seven sons are pleading for Agnete to return to them, stretching out their arms towards her. Bonnén made the brilliant move of placing her sculpture under water, in a Copenhagen canal, where the merman and his sons seem obscure and distant and never fully visible, as fairy tale-creatures ought to be. Also, she has neglected to make a sculptural representation of Agnete, thus seemingly making the spectator the object of the merman’s attention, and emphasising the spectator’s potential identification with the capricious girl.

I first saw this sculpture as a child during a school trip, shortly after the sculpture’s unveiling, and it made a huge impact on me. I still consider it to be a brilliant piece within the category of “site-specific art” –  and a marvellous representation of all the murkiness, the disorder, the pain, and the impossibility of love.

Agnete and the Merman

(I regret that the quality of the photograph is so poor – it’s one of those sculptures that you really have to see in person.) 

5. Caspar David Friedrich Monk by the Sea (“Mönch am Meer”) 1809-10. Alte Nationalgallerie, Berlin.

Once when Anna was explaining to me about The Sublime in art history, I interrupted her, exclaiming: “Mönch am Meer!”, and Anna looked at me, slightly puzzled. Well, this was what I meant, Anna! 🙂 I think Caspar David Friedrich tends to be a little… much, but I love this painting. The man in the picture looks so small in comparison to the vast sea, and of course the fact that he is a monk adds a whole extra dimension to the existential anxiety this painting inspires. The motif reminds me a great deal of the ending of Joyce’s The Dead, with the sea playing the same part as the faintly falling snow: Nature as a menacing force, something all-consuming that we cannot conquer, and thus a reminder of the terminality of our lives. Beautiful.

I first saw this at the national gallery in Berlin a couple of years ago and fell in love with it. I think it’s one of those pictures to which photographs don’t really do justice, but here it is:

Mönch am Meer

6. Edvard Munch The Voice 1893. The Munch Museum, Oslo.

…Moving on, from Mönch to Munch. This is a favourite painting of mine. Munch has really captured that pale blue shade of the Scandinavian light summer nights, and along with it an atmosphere of youthful recklessness and exaltation. The young woman in the painting embodies (to me, anyway…) a kind of just-barely self-assured sexuality with her erect posture and the provocative exposure of her body (hands behind her back), contrasted by the almost menacingly lurking brightness of the rising sun (reflected in the lake in the background), as well as the girl’s strangely hollow death-like eyes. I first saw this picture as a defiant 17-year-old and identified with it immensely, and it was one of those works of art that I thought I’d outgrow, but its eerie atmosphere still effects me deeply. 

The Voice

7. Matthias Grünewald – The Cruxifiction (the Isenheim Altarpiece) – 1515. Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar. 

I happen to know that Anna wanted to include this in her canon, but then she thought that between that and her two (no less!) paintings depicting beheading, that the canon might be getting a little too gory, so she chose the resurrection instead :D. Well, I’m going to include it in my canon, then, even though I suspect the readers may be growing a little uneasy of me now, since most of the works I’ve chosen deal with subjects such as “abduction” (see no 1), “death” (see no. 3), “child abuse” (see no. 10), and now… torture. I’ll just have to live with that, because I want the Grünewald cruxifiction in this canon! It’s so wonderfully gruesome. All those little thorns all over the body of Christ, and his hands writhing in pain… Ugh. It’s an outstanding celebration of the sacrifice God made to mankind.

My parents took me to Colmar to see this when I was a grumpy teen, and I was completely taken aback by Grünewald’s work, in spite of myself. And that says a lot, since this was a time when I was happiest when left alone in the backseat of my parents’ car with the earplugs of my discman planted solidly in my ears.

Matthias Grünewald - cruxifiction

8. Michelangelo Buonarroti: Pietá, 1499. Marble. St Peter’s, Rome.

Since we’re on the subject of the sufferings of Christ; what kind of a sculpture-lover would I be if I didn’t include the Pietá? A sculpture-lover who needed to get my priorities straight, that’s for sure! Anyway, I feel awkward trying to express my love for such a well-loved work of art. So I’m going to quote this art historian I know who once wrote a very nice first-person narrative description of The Pietá. It goes as follows: “Look how young she is, even though her grown-up son is in her arms. It’s almost as if we are back at the moment when she had just given birth to him. And look how peaceful they both are. All pain is gone, and mother and son have stepped out of time and space. We are not blamed for anything, we, the spectators.”

I saw this, too, in Rome last year. I stood there for the longest time, just contemplating it. It’s amazingly beautiful.


9. Giacomo Balla – Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. 1912. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.

This canon was getting a wee bit angsty, so I thought I’d include a more light and joyous work, too. To be honest, I had no idea until just now what the title for this work was, or who its artist was. I actually had to google the words “dog on leash leg movements” in order to find it. Even so the painting is special to me. As the first two items in my literary canon will betray, I’m all about the stream-of-consciousness, and actually, whenever I hear that term, “stream of consciousness” this painting comes to my mind. It’s this wish to show the diversity of life in even the shortest of its moment I find that the likes of Balla has in common with writers like Joyce or Woolf. Possibly one of my professors during my 1st-year History of Modern Culture class pointed out the similarities, and that’s why I make the connection…

In any case, I really like Balla’s painting. A delightful depiction of life in one of the smallest and most insignificant of its forms. (Plus, you know, puppy with floppy ears! Neat!)

Dynamism of Dog on a Leash

10. Anders Bundgaard – The Gefion Fountain. 1908. Amaliegade, Copenhagen.

Like Agnete and the Merman this is a little-know Danish sculpture, and this, like AatM, is based on an old Danish legend. According to the legend, the Swedish king Gylfe had a Norse goddess by the name of Gefion as his mistress, and he told her that she could have all the land that she could plow out of Sweden in one night as her own. Gefion promptly turned her four sons into bulls and plowed until dawn. The result of all this plowing (and borderline child-abuse…) was Zeeland, which is the island where Copenhagen is, and where we, the Confidential Attachées, both live. Anders Bundgaard’s statue is awesome, in the original sense of the word. Awe-inspiring. There is such a force in the sculpture; in the violent motion of Gefion’s arm as she whips her bull-sons, the reluctance of the crouching masculine beasts, the explosive gushing of the fountain-water – brrr! I guess it might be seen as a monument celebrating Zeeland, but mainly it makes me think of the power of ambition. And then it’s the best artistic use of a fountain I know of, which is another reason why I wanted to include it in my canon. It makes perfect sense – Zeeland emerging from the sea – brilliant!

I was almost a baby when I first saw this sculpture, and it scared me half to death. It still makes me a little nervous – but in a good way ;).

gefion fountain



November 8, 2006. Art, Lists. 2 comments.

More Literature. More Canon.

This canon stuff is addictive! Today Marie and I decided to do reversed versions of our canons. So here is my literary canon. We agreed on only including 10 works but I must admit that I have expanded my list to 15. Too many good books out there.
And since Marie’s dad today almost dared me to make a priority I have done so… There.

1. Ovid. Metamorphoses.
2. Dante Alighieri. Purgatory.
3. Virginia Woolf. Mrs Dalloway.
4. Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray.
5. William Shakespeare. Richard III.
6. Karen Blixen. Babette’s Feast.
7. Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or.
8. Hermann Hesse. Steppenwolf.
9. Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace.
10. Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre.
11. Tove Jansson. Moominland Midwinter. (Trollvinter).
12. Hans Christian Andersen. The Pine Tree.
13. Paul Auster. City of Glass (from The New York Trilogy).
14. Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden.
15. Alexandre Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo.


November 4, 2006. Lists, Literature. 4 comments.

Art Canon. With plenty of feeling!

I was quite thrilled when I saw Marie’s personal literary canon. And even though we are a bit tired of all this talk of canons, of course I had to make my own immediately. Just… mine is on art instead of literature.
I have been absolutely unable to make a priority so my list has no numbers and the pieces come in no particular order. Since I want to show you the pieces this post is quite long. But I preferred that to a lot of links. Here are my 25 works of art:

Albrecht Dürer: The Apocalypse, 1498. Series of 16 woodcuts illustrating The Revelation of St John.


Francisco de Goya: Los Caprichos, 1799. 80 aquatint etchings.
Sleep of Reason
Hasta la muerte


Michelangelo Buonarroti: Frescos of the Sistine Chapel, 1508-1541. The Vatican, Rome.
A virtual visit to the Sistine Chapel.


Melchior Lorck: View of the Roofs of Constantinople, c. 1559. Pen drawing. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.


N.A. Abildgaard: The Wounded Philoctetes, 1775. Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.


Velásquez: Las Meninas, 1656. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid.


Bill Viola: Going Forth by Day, 2002. Video installation. Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin.
Going Forth. Deluge
Going Forth.


Rembrandt van Rijn: The Three Crosses, 1653. Drypoint etching.
Three Crosses
(this is the second state – I prefer the third state which is even darker)


Francisco de Goya: Self-Portrait with Glasses, 1797-1800. Oil on canvas. Musèe Goya, Castres.
Goya. Self-Portrait with Glasses


Michelangelo da Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598. Oil on canvas. Galleria Barberini, Rome.
Caravaggio. Judith


Gijsbrechts: Trompe l’oeil. The Reverse of a Framed Painting, 1670. Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst. Copenhagen.
Reverse of a painting


Christen Købke: Ida Thiele, the future Mrs Wilde as a Child, 1832. Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.
Ida Thiele


Michelangelo Buonarroti: Pietá, 1499. Marble. St Peter’s, Rome.


William Blake: Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804-1820. Illuminated book. 100 engravings.
Jerusalem. Frontispice
Jerusalem. Lamp


Edouard Manet: The Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882. Oil on canvas. Courtauld Institute, London.
Manet. Bar


Leonardo da Vinci: Virgin and Child with a Cat, 1478-81. Pen drawing. British Museum, London. One among several, this being the most relaxed. Later on the cat wants to leave and has to fight its way out of the child’s arms.Leonardo. Cat


Aubrey Beardsley: Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, 1894. Prints.


Whistler: A Series of Sixteen Etchings on the Thames, 1859.


Rubens: The Life of Marie de’ Medici, 1621-25. Series of paintings. Louvre, Paris.
Rubens. Medici

Paula Rego: The Abortion Series, 1999. Etchings.
Rego. Abortion Series

Francis Bacon: Study after Velàsquez’ Pope Innocent X, 1953. Oil on canvas. Des Moines Art Center, Iowa.
Bacon. Innocent


Gianlorenzo Bernini: Pluto and Proserpina, 1621-22. Marble. Galleria Borghese, Rome.
Proserpina. Detail


Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project, 2003. Installation. Tate Modern, London.
Weather Project


Matthias Grünewald: The Isenheim Altarpiece, 1515. Oil on wood. Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar.


Agnolo Bronzino: An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, 1540-50. Oil on wood. National Gallery, London.
Venus, Cupid. Bronzino

That was it!


November 3, 2006. Art, Lists. 4 comments.

Literary Canon – once more, with feeling!

At a forum where I post occasionally, one of the other posters asked us yesterday what our personal literary canon would look like, if we were to make one? The list should include a maximum of 25 works; novels, poetry, dramas, whatever was important to us. I took up the challenge immediately, loving the idea!

Now, I’d like to stress that I disagree with the concept of literary canons, mainly because I think that a canon tends to serve as a kind of guidebook, taking away the joy of the exploration and all the great little findings that roaming randomly through the history of literature can give you. But of course this only makes me love the idea of each of us making our own canon even more!

So I’ve made my list and I thought I’d post it here! If anyone feels like adding their personal canon in the comments, they are more than welcome to do so.

1. James Joyce – Dubliners (short stories)

2. Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse (novel)

3. Ovid – Metamorphoses (epos)

4. Georg Büchner – Woyzeck (play)

5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Faust (play)

6. Shakespeare – Hamlet (play)

7. Søren Kierkegaard – Either/Or (novel)

8. Paul Celan – ”Todesfuge” (poem)

9. Tony Kushner – Angels in America (play)

10. Stendhal – Le Rouge et le Noir (novel)

11. Thomas Mann – Der Tod in Venedig (novel)

12. Søren Ulrik Thomsen – “Tilgiv at jeg ser dine knogler før kødet” (”Forgive me for seeing your bones before your flesh” – poem. Yeah, obscure little Danish thing… but it’s so good! J )

13. Marie de France – “Laüstic” (poem)

14. August Strindberg – The Father (play)

15. Oscar Wilde – Salome (play/libretto)

16. Hugo van Hoffmansthal – Elektra (libretto)

17. Gerhart Hauptmann – Bahnwärter Thiel (short story)

18. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Die Leiden des jungen Werther (novel)

19. Heinrich Heine – “Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten” (poem)

20. Graham Greene – The Quiet American (novel)

21. Jakob Knudsen – “Se, nu stiger Solen” (”Behold, the sun is rising” – poem)

22. Lawrence Sterne – Tristram Shandy (novel)

23. Rainer Maria Rilke – Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (novel)

24. Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland + Through the Looking-Glass (novel)

25. J. D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye (novel)


November 2, 2006. Lists, Literature. 8 comments.

Emmanuel Pahud and Alien Audience

Flautist Emmanuel Pahud visited Copenhagen this week and he is absolutely pie and among the best flautists in the world.
He played Carl Nielsen’s flute concerto, and he did it with a lot of humour and very equilibristically. When the first movement was over the worst thing happened. The.worst.thing. The audience began to applaud frenetically.
Please, someone, tell me who beamed this audience down to the concert hall of the Danish radio? And from which planet? And why? You may think “well, what’s the big deal – they were just happy”. But no, that wont do. Here is a list of reasons why you shouldn’t applaud between the movements:

1. Silence is part of the music. The pause is just as important as the sound.
2. You disturb the concentration of the performers.
3. You disturb the concentration of your co-audience.
4. You destroy the atmosphere and the feeling of being inside the music.
5. You exhibit your ignorance of the rules of classical concerts.
6. The piece isn’t over. Would you applaud in the middle of a play?
7. You drag others with little experience of classical concerts with you and they will never learn the rules.
8. We will never get home if we have to applaud every time there is a pause.

In this particular case I felt even worse since it was a foreigner and a star who will now tell all his friends – “Copenhagen? Ha! I will never go there again – too damn provincial. You know what? They applauded between the movements! Can you believe that?!”
Or maybe not, but the gaze from Mr Pahud to conductor Thomas Dausgaard just wanted me to make the whole bunch of idiots incinerate instantly and leave the concert hall to the rest of us. So embarrassing.

After the Nielsen and Shostakovitj’s 4th symphony (which shook me a lot) there was a bonus concert with Mr Pahud and a harpist. Unfortunately I had to go after the first piece, but that was unforgettable. Total darkness and just a flautist standing in a spotlight playing something very strange and very short. He moved the borders of how to play the flute by wringing out sounds that I have never heard. The piece was by Heinz Holliger: “Sonata (in)solit(air)e”, from 1995-96.
After the first movement Pahud continued with the first movement of Bach’s partita in A minor (BWV 1013) and after that another movement of Holliger, then the second movement of the partita etc. And it was amazingly beautiful. One of the the movements by Holliger was even funny when Mr Pahud slowly went down to a pianissimo and then less and less while fixing his eye at a female member of the audience holding the flute with one hand and letting the other lie softly on top of it by his cheek slowly pointing flirtingly at the girl. Pie! It made me so happy all of it and the audience can go to hell since music of such high quality will always win. But so sad that they had to shake my good feeling by applauding after every Bach movement.

Emmanuel Pahud

Emmanuel Pahud – such a flirt.

Today I went to the library and picked up the score for the partita. It’s playable. And with Emmanuel Pahud in my ears maybe, maybe, maybe I can get a tiny little bit of that sound out of my own instrument. Well, at least he’s an inspiration. Sigh.


September 30, 2006. Lists, Music, Rants, Reviews. Leave a comment.


Marie and I have for some time now been collecting pictures of hammerhead people. That is – pictures of persons with an extreme width between their eyes thus reminding you of the shark Sphyrna zygaena or hammerhead.

The width should preferably be larger than the width of the eye.

Often being a hammerhead gives the person a certain cuteness and it is definitely better than too close-set eyes.

People with very large eyes are often confused with hammerheads, and even we sometimes think a person is a hammerhead while he/she actually just has large eyes. Below you can see our all-time top ten of hammerhead. There is no specific order – one hammerhead is as good as the other. Except perhaps for the first:

Jackie O. is probably the most hammerheadded person ever to have breathed. We salute you Jackie!


It was opera singer Ruggero Raimondi who first drew our attention to the phenomenon. In this picture he is explaining the art of being a hammerhead. Serious business.


Liza Minelli is a rare combination of hammerheaddedess and large eyedness.


Danish actress Lotte Andersen is Jackie Kennedy’s main rival. Wonderful.


Little Karle Warren has a bright future in the hammerhead society. May she prosper.


Also Kathleen Beller (best known for her performance as Kirby in the soap Dynasty) features a marvelous combination of large eyes and width between them. She also has a remarkable capacity of opening those eyes wide.


Hammerheads are everywhere, also in the political spheres. Here president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. You may think that this is a case of confusing eye-width with the width between them, but believe me – when you see him on the news there is no doubt.


One of my personal favourites. And not only because she is a hammerhead. Danish actress Bodil Kjer who some of you will remember from the film Babette’s Feast.


Joan Collins has been flashing those hammerhead eyes for many years. She has a sure seat in the pantheon of hammerheads.


You can be an animal and a hammerhead without actually being one. Sid here is a perfect example of that. We do not know his species but those eyes just want to be in different corners of the earth.


February 27, 2006. Hammersharks, Lists. 16 comments.

You know you’re an opera freak, when…

Yet another list that Anna and I started in an internet forum. The contributions we’ve chosen to bring here are, again, all made by the two of us, but we’d love to hear your contributions as well. Just press “add comment” and release your inner opera freak. You know you want to…

You know you’re an opera freak when:

– You change between having “Caro nome” and Fafner and Fasolt’s theme as your cell phone ring tone.

– You warm up before going out on weekend nights by listening to “Questa o quella” and “Finch’han dal vino”.

– You know exactly how many women Don Giovanni has seduced in Germany.

– You exclaim “Agameeeeeeeemnon!” or “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen!” when you are feeling particularly bitter.

– You think “Don’t worry, no one noticed!” when a singer invents a word because he can’t remember the lyrics.

– You exclaim a plaintive “Perché?!” when you’re riding your bike through the snow and the sleet.

– You think “La povera mia cena fu interrotta” when looking at a Dutch still-life.

– You name your cat Rosina.

– You get really snappy if someone mentions The Phantom of the Opera when you tell them that you like opera music. Or any time someone mentions it, for that matter.

– You’re throwing a party and panic, because you realize that the most contemporary music in your collection is Benjamin Britten.

– You’ve got a very clear attitude to the question of how many times and at which points the tenor should sob during “E lucevan le stelle”.

– You feel disturbed by, but then also bizarrely attracted to men who offer you Spanish wine.

February 26, 2006. Lists, Opera. 1 comment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from operas, it’s…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from opera it is that:

– if you get a daughter and you wanted a son, it’s not really that much of a problem. You can easily dress up the girl as a boy all of her life without anyone noticing.

– if you plan to kill yourself or, possibly, others, you shouldn’t hold the knife up too high above you before stabbing. Because someone is likely to come up behind you and grab your hand and prevent you from completing your motion.

– it’s the wisest thing not to kiss or talk to another person in the dark. It is bound to be someone other than you think.

– if I meet a man who claims to Albanian, he is without doubt my fiancé.

– you can get rid of rivals by stuffing them with coffee, chocolate, wine, and ham.

– blondes are friendly and brunettes are faithful.

– tuberculosis is not a turn-off for men.

– it’s a really bad idea to marry your fiancé’s dad.

– it’s a really bad idea to harass people at work. Worst case scenario, someone might kidnap and rape your teenaged daughter.

– The duke of Mantova? He’s Just Not That Into You. Sorry. And neither is Don Giovanni. And they’re not going to be, either.

– A square is not round.

February 26, 2006. Lists, Opera. Leave a comment.

How to Direct Opera the German way

This wonderful piece of satire in list form (our favourite form!) was posted in an internet forum by the manager of Copenhagen Opera. I tried to get him to tell me who wrote the list, but he didn’t seem to want to reveal his source. I like to think that he actually wrote it himself to piss off some of his German colleagues. In any case, thank you, Kasper!


1) The director is the most important personality involved in the production. His vision must supercede the needs of the composer, librettist, singers and especially the audience, those overfed fools who want to be entertained and moved.

2) The second most important personality is the set designer.

3) Comedy is verboten, except when unintentional. Wit is for TV watching idiots.

4) Great acting is hyperintensity, with much rolling on the ground, groping the wall and sitting on a bare floor.

5) The audience’s attention must be on anything except the person who is singing. A solo aria, outmoded even in the last century, must be accompanied by extraneous characters expressing their angst in trivial ways near, on or about the person singing the aria.

6) Storytelling is anathema to the modern director, like realistic “photographic” painting is to the abstract painter. Don’t tell the story, COMMENT on it! Even better, UNDERMINE IT!

7) When singing high notes, the singer must be crumpled over, lying down or facing the back of the stage.

8) The music must stop once in awhile for intense, obscure miming.

9) Sexual scenes must be charmless and aggressive. Rolling on the floor a must here.

10) Unmotivated homosexual behavior must be introduced a few times during the evening.

11) Happy endings are intellectually bankrupt. Play the opposite. Insert a sudden murder if at all possible.

12) Avoid entertaining the audience at all costs. If they boo, you have succeeded.

13) Rehearse it until it’s dead. Very important.

14) Any suggestion of the beauty and mystery of nature must be avoided at all costs! The set must be trivial, contemporary and decrepit! Don’t forget the fluorescent lights! (Klieg lights also acceptable.)

15) The audience must not know when to applaud or when the scene/act ends.

16) Historical atrocities such as the Holocaust or the AIDS epidemic must be incorporated and exploited as much as possible. Also the lifestyle of the audience must be mocked.

17) Colors are culinary. Black, white and gray only!

18) The chorus must be bald, sexless, faceless and in trench coats.

19) If the audience is bored, this is art.

20) Props are items of junk piled in a corner of the set. They must be overused pointlessly, then dropped on the floor, hopefully when the music is soft. Be careful to keep dangerous objects at the lip of the stage so the blindfolded dancers can kick them into the pit.

21) All asides must be sung next to the person who is not supposed to hear them.

22) The leading performers faces must be painted as a white mask to ensure no individuality or variety of expressions, as opera singers can’t act anyway. They just want to pose and make pretty sounds.

23) Preparation is important. Try to read the libretto in advance to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your staging ideas. Not much harm in listening to the CD once, though that’s not really your job.

24) Make the conductor feel useful, though he’s really a literal minded hack.

25) The stage director must avoid any idea that is not his own, though that idea will surely be on this list already.

26) A costume must serve at least two of the following criteria: a) Make the singer look unattractive b) Obscure his vision c) Make hearing the orchestra difficult d) Impede movement d) Contradict the period in which the opera is set (hardly worth mentioning) —–

February 26, 2006. Lists. Leave a comment.

Ten Commandments for Concert-goers

Found this in a forum. If only the world would listen!

Thou shalt hearken unto the music with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and all thy mind, to aid thee in thine endeavor. Study thou thy programme notes and hereby be sore fully prepared to garner the blessings of the inspired melodies which are about to be sounded.
Thou shalt not arrive late, for the stir of thy coming disturbeth those who did come in due season; neither shalt thou rush forth as a great wind at intermission time or before the end of the programme; nor shalt thou trample to thy left nor thy right the ushers or the doormen or the multitudes that are about thee.
Thou shalt keep in check thy coughings and thy sneezings for they are an abomination, and they shall bring forth evil execrations upon thee and upon thy household, even unto the third and fourth generations.
Thou shalt not rustle thy programme, for the noise thereof is not as the murmur of the leaves of the forest but brash and raucous and soothest not.
Thou shalt not yahoo unto thy relatives, nor unto thy friends, nor unto any member of thy club or of thy household, nor unto any of thy neighbours.
Thou shalt not whisper, for thy mouthings, howsoever hushed they may be, bring discord to the ear of those who sit about thee.
Thou shalt not chew with great show of sound or motion. Remember that thou art not as the kine of the meadow who do chew the cud in the pastoral serenity which is vouchsafed them.
Thou shalt not direct thy index finger at persons of public note and say unto thy neighbour, “Yonder goeth so and so,” but reflect that some day thou shalt perchance be a celebrity, and thou shalt be in great discomfort when thou art pointed at and thou shalt not be pleased one jot or tittle thereby.
Thou shalt not slumber, for in thy stupor thou hast ears and heareth not; peradventure thou possesseth a rumbling obbligato when thou sleepeth and, verily, the rabble may be aroused thereby to do thee grievous harm.
Thou shalt not become a self-ordained music critic and with booming voice comment garrulously about the players or the playing; neither shalt thou hum, or tap thy foot; for thou hast come as a listener and a lover of music, not as a critic nor as a performer, and remember that none among the multitudes has paid to hear thy hummings or thy tappings or to listen unto thine opinions.

February 25, 2006. Lists. 4 comments.