July, 2007

The Last Symphony

By Minah Yeo

“Who could do anything more after Beethoven?” Schubert once asked. Of King Ludwig’s Ninth Symphony in particular, Wagner said that the last symphony had already been written.

Beethoven’s Ninth is the adapted anthem of the European Union, and is forever embedded in our minds as it relates to the student protests at Tiananmen Square. It is as synonymous to the fall of the Berlin wall as Mstislav Rostropovich playing Bach’s Cello Suites among its rubbles.

From “A Clockwork Orange” to “Dead Poets Society,” the Ninth’s references in pop culture are plentiful. It is also rumored to be responsible for determining the running time of the standard compact disc.

On July 31st Beethoven’s Ninth returns to the Hollywood Bowl, accompanied by music from “King Stephen” and “Bundeslied” in an all-Beethoven program. At the podium is Michael Tilson Thomas leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale, with Jessica Rivera, Kelly O’Connor, Philippe Castagner and Eric Owens as soloists.

Maestro Thomas once said, “You can’t have Bach, Mozart and Beethoven as your favorite
composers: They simply define what music is.” Beethoven’s Ninth may simply “define music,” but what a high definition it is.

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Moor Love

By Michael Mattis

A footnote in the program from last weekend’s superb performance of “Othello, a Dance in Three Acts,” by the American Ballet Theatre, reads:

The Tarentella (named for the Taratula spider whose venomous bite causes delirium) swept medieval Europe and was believed by the church to have satanic connections. It was subsequently outlawed by the authorities for purportedly causing insanity.

Further research reveals that the Tarantella originated in Taranto, Italy, where the local wolf spider is said to deliver a hallucinogenic venom that can only be cured by dancing wildly.

ABT’s production of Othello, part of this season’s Dance at the Music Center program, had the dark, layered, dreamy quality of just such a venom-induced vision, building from an edgy reverie to a hypnotic nightmare whose crescendo comes so suddenly it shocks. For Othello, danced brilliantly by Marcelo Gomes, this turns out to be one bad trip. But then how could it be otherwise?

Othello — originally conceived by the 16th-century Italian author Giovanni Battista Giraldi, also known as Cinthio, and later adapted by William Shakespeare — deals in all the dark themes: Sex, race, class, religion, ambition, jealousy, anxiety and deceit. This complexity of emotions and social issues accounts for much of the sensuous depth in Lar Lubovitch’s choreography, Elliot Goldenthal’s frenetic music, and the conscious layering in ABT’s artful, multimedia-inspired production.

Digital projections, deftly provided by Wendall Harrington, allowed the dancer’s dramatic changes in mood to appear seamless with their surroundings. Meanwhile, George Tyspin’s scenery of cracked slabs of glass offered a sense of lightness mixed with foreboding. In some productions, such boldness might become a distraction to the dance. But in ABT’s, it’s so complementary that you almost don’t notice it at all. Until, well, you notice it. In fact, during the scene in which the plotting Iago (Sascha Radetsky) lies to Othello, telling him that Desdemona (Julie Kent) has made him cuckold with the innocent Cassio (Herman Cornejo), one almost expects Shakespeare’s imagery of fornicating frogs to begin leaping against the back projection.

But this isn’t Shakespeare’s Othello. It’s Cinthio’s and Lar Lubovitch’s. As such, it’s a quite original work of art and a moving and spectacular one at that. “Othello, a Dance in Three Acts” captures this classic tale in contemporary ways that vibrantly evoke the hallucinogenic madness of love, rage and the Tarantella.

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Michael Row the Blog Ashore

Can FineArtsLA.com — now updated quarterly! — save American culture?

It can certainly help, this according to Michael Mattis, a longtime cohort and Yahoo! scribe who today cited FALA as a positive influence on American life in a review of Andrew Keen’s “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.”

Mattis is presently penning his first piece for this site, a profile on American Ballet Theater. Look for it later this weekend.

In the meantime, check out his column “The Sophistocrat” on Dandydism.net, where you’ll find essays on Arthur Schlesinger, Osbert Lancaster and the Marchesa Casati.

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Au Lecteur

This is a new post to tell you, dear reader, why there haven’t been any new posts. Several writers have come forth as volunteers, and assignments are going out. There are also some interesting stories in the queue that will be posted soon.

I could still use some help with some grunt work. Anyone out there want a glorified title like Assistant Content Manager in exchange for helping keep the calendar updated and other menial duties?

Free tickets….

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