Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More food for Paul please

It has come to my attention that one of my best friends recently started blogging. All the names are changed, but if you know this guy's appetitive qualities, you'll recognize him right off the bat. (Blogger is telling me appetitive is not a word. Guess what, Blogger: you should be embarrassed for yourself.) This is a person who texted me a few days ago just to tell me he was about to sit down to eat a pastrami sandwich. My friend, a.k.a. Paul, does not just enjoy eating. The thought of incoming food makes him want to talk about it. Which is why I'm glad he's finally blogging.

Check it out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Highlights

1. Mom and grandma lecture my youngest brother, Greggie, on attracting lady friends.

2. Turkey inspires existential reflection in the living room.

3. My mother ruins a perfectly good game of charades (in this stunningly well-played performance by my ultratalented actor cousin, James Safarik).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Family Resemblances

One midwinter eve a long, long time ago, my mother was putting me down for the night, and when I slipped into bed, an enormous, dark cockroach slid out from under the bed covers and made a beeline (roachline) for my 5-year old butt. My mother is squeamish about a lot of things -- violence, Southpark, family secrets, talking about sex, learning new things -- but she is unmoved by the creeping, crawling things of the earth. The cockroach never made it to my rear end because it ended its life between her thumb and forefinger.

Today, my mother has Boxelder bugs that live in the warm sunlight of the living room.

Contrary to what you might imagine, Boxelder bugs are not attracted to Boxelder trees. They're attracted to my mother. They end their lives in our garbage disposal.

My mother and I are dissimilar in certain ways. I can't kill anything with my bare hands, for instance. At home in Princeton, I have a disoriented, starving squash bug who lives on the watering can and who I don't have the heart to get rid of. My mother tans easily and loves the outdoors; I have vampirically white skin and spend a lot of time in libraries. My mother loves children and is very tolerant of them. I am not interested in children and 'tolerant' is not a word people use to describe me. My mother is easily intimidated by other people and sensitive to their needs. I am selfish and inflexible and have no patience for people who need things. But as I sit here on Thanksgiving day watching her forget to put the sugar in the pumpkin pie, I'm reminded of the fact that I forgot to use soap in the shower last night. (Don't ask.) My mother and I were also last night's evening entertainment, she did a hula dance for me, my youngest brother, and my dad; I fell face first out of a reclining chair while my father took pictures.

It's not that I would actually want to change anything about the things we share or don't share, with the possible exception of my mother's legs, which we don't share, and which I wish we did. (If you ever get the chance to see them, my mother has marvelous legs.) I just want to know what it means if I am in fact turning into my mother. Wouldn't it mean that as I watch my mother move 14 house plants from the window sill to the kitchen sink (?) I'm actually watching myself, in the future, doing inexplicable things with the houseplants? Doesn't it mean I and not she just baked an inedible, sugarless pumpkin pie? That I wake up at 5am (which, dammit, I already do), that I'm humming the same effing Gilbert & Sullivan song for the third day in a row, and carrying on about turning into my mother? I guess I have that one covered, too.

Then again, as I look at my dad biking in the middle of the living room in knee-high black socks and neon green shorts ... it could be worse.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Princeton Vuja De

When I was in college, my father told me he wouldn't go back to college for a million dollars. At the time, I thought, "well that's dumb!" Cause college is great, right? Well, college is great, when you're in college. When you're not in college anymore, you're just not in college anymore.

There are things that happen over and over again, like heading to the bathroom to eat snacks in private, and there are thing that don't happen again. College is like getting a polio vaccine or seeing Haley's comet. It only happens once in your lifetime.

Correction: twice! About six weeks ago, I moved back to Princeton, my alma mater. At the time, it didn't seem insane. (There were good reasons, too, which I won't go into here, but one of which is the proximity to New York without the New York rent. There have also been unanticipated perks like the fact that I have yet to fill up my gas tank. The only time I didn't have to fill up my gas tank in Chicago was when I didn't have a gas tank.) But, as it turns out, the move is making me a little insane. I keep having this strange feeling I've been here before.

At the end of Thorton Wilder's Our Town, the main character, Emily, is given a chance to relive a single day from her past. (I forgot to mention, she's dead.) The other folks in the graveyard tell her to pick a slow day--a day when nothing happened. Because to pick a really amazing day, like the day you fell in love, would be psychically damaging, like looking at photographs of someone who died and then seeing them appear in front of you. Emily picks her 12th birthday, and she lasts about 90 seconds. She hears her mother's voice and has to call the whole thing off. Don't relive your 12th birthday.

Every day I walk out onto University Place, and every day I think, What in God's Name is Happening Here? I think I see my old friends. Is that Todd on his bike? Cindy on the Erg machine? The same tan flock of men's cross-country runners blows by in the morning. The word I'm looking for is déjà vu, except you can't have déjà vu at the same time every day unless you wake up every morning having forgotten yesterday. Déjà vu is a feeling of compelling familiarity in a situation that hasn't actually happened before. What I'm having is a feeling of compelling familiarity in a situation where I have a pretty good idea why it's familiar. So why's it creepy?

For one, I've never had déjà vu. I tell people this and they don't believe me, but it's true. I would kill to have déjà vu. There's also (hilariously enough) presque vu (which is the sensation of being just on the verge of recovering a latent memory--when something is on the tip of your tongue) and jamais vu, which is seeing something familiar as though it were brand new. This is the bizarre experience I often have of catching sight of my reflection in a shop window and thinking it's my mother.

I think the word I want is vuja de. But then, it turns out, vuja de already has a meaning. (WTF?) According to the Urban Dictionary, vuja de is the feeling of definitely never having been somewhere before. To me, that's lame. I have that feeling all the time and it's not worthy of having a name. I'm gonna keep using vuja de my way.

Vuja de: the feeling you relive every day that you knew you were getting into something vaguely dumb, and you went ahead and did it anyway.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Unstoppable Drew Beatz

I blogged a little over a year ago about Drew Beatz, a.k.a. my little brother, a.k.a. Drew Connery. It's possible that two people coming from humble origins in Papillion, Nebraska (affectionately known to residents as Papio) could have gone in more opposite directions. I make music that sounds like this and Drew makes music that sounds like this. But we both make music.

After being signed a little over a year ago by Outkast's label, Dungeon Family, Drew moved out to L.A. and promptly shattered his ankle into 5 million pieces. Now finally recovered, Drew and Ty-G, his collaborator, are on the move promoting their existing album, and their new one.

Check it out.

Am I jealous? Maybe. Do I want to change my name to Laydy Maj? Kind of. Stay tuned for updates on a new brother-sister RAP OPERA.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Come from Mundts

People often ask me where I come from.

It just so happens that I come from a family of stout German farmers in middle America called the Mundts. And it just so happens that the Mundts had a family reunion a week ago -- August 23 to be exact.

As you might imagine from the sound of the name, Mundts (not to be confused with Manns, to whom we're related) are a hardy people. We eat. We sweat. We plant stuff. We have large families. Well, I don't. But they do. Contrary to what you might expect, however, Mundts are unusually creative people. My grandma, Grace Safarik, sings show tunes on command. My uncle, Andy Safarik, engendered in me a longtime fascination with bent wire because of the beautiful twisted wire sculptures that fill my grandfather's basement. My mother, Candy, and her brothers appeared in countless Gilbert and Sullivan musicals when they were young, which is why I still know all the lyrics to HMS Pinafore. My brother, Drew Connery (a.k.a. Drew Beatz), writes music for the rap label, Dungeon Family, out in LA.

And because we all so love to perform, there is always a talent show at the Mundt Family Reunion, and everything counts for talent. This year, the talent show turned into a talent contest. You can check out those sWEEt vidZ on YouTube.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Guess this is Goodbye, Hyde Park

As I'm preparing to leave Hyde Park for greener pastures, or maybe just for pastures, period, since the midway doesn't count, I've been thinking about what's most Hyde Park about Hyde Park.

I lived briefly in Cairo back in the late nineties, and when I think back on that time, what I remember best are things that don't seem particularly memorable. I recall that the hemisphere was upside down (from the one I was used to), that the hot and cold knobs were reversed, and that 7-up came in tiny, glass bottles. For a brief period of time, America meant a certain alignment of the stars and being able to turn the water on without scalding myself. What will make me recall Hyde Park years from now?

Will I miss the library, where, as a friend recently pointed out to me, the same group of people has been congregating in the same room for going on a decade without introducing themselves to one another? Will I miss the Obamacade that once a month makes me curse the president for living in my hood?

I was at the Point yesterday (the one truly great thing about the south side of Chicago is our beloved, rocky beach) and I snorted in a waft of sugar, crisped skin and suntan lotion that shot me back 25 years to the snack bar at the Seward, Nebraska pool where I used to buy Laffy Taffy in my saggy kid bikini. Maybe I'll be strolling down the perfect, manicured sidewalks of Princeton, New Jersey next year and ... not remember Hyde Park's trash-riddled sidewalks covered in broken glass?

I've spent eight years telling people I hate Hyde Park. Not the people, I always say, just the total lack of respectable dining establishments, the terrible coffee, pedestrians who throw themselves into oncoming traffic, the scam artists, the optional stop signs. I've seen guys pissing against beautiful new condos and I go swimming daily in a lake that's filled with millions of tons of sewage. I hate it all. I really do. But can you live somewhere for eight years without becoming that place? A friend introduced me recently, saying, "That's Majel. She goes to the U of C. We never understand a word she's saying." I talk Hyde Park.

The first day I came here, I was walking toward campus with my mother and we were being trailed by an older man who followed behind us for blocks muttering at half volume, "Bitches .... white bitchezzzz..." under his breath. But I go to New York now and it's too safe. I go to the north side and there are too many penny loafers. Where are all the weirdos? Where are the Impalas? Where are the BBQ/drug parties? My friend got his 1991 Camry stolen a few weeks ago. Who would steal a 1991 Camry? Hyde Park would.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shit My Dad Says

An otherwise unnamed author, "Justin," keeps a rolling log of the ungentlemanly things that fly out of the face of his bigoted, racist dad's mouth. If you don't know about shitmydadsays, please consider going to this Twitter log and laughing your ass off.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Myths Men Tell Themselves About Women

Myth no. 1.
She likes me.

Women want you to like them. It doesn't mean they like you. A woman wants you to be attracted to her regardless of her feelings for you and if you somehow don't already know this, or believe this only goes for some women, I'm sorry to take the piss out of your protective blanket. It's true. Knowing a guy is into you is like losing a couple pounds sitting on your rear end doing nothing. It just feels great. So when you first meet her, a woman will treat you exactly the same regardless of your status with her. "I've never seen anything so hot in my life" will look and feel to you exactly the same as "Uh-oh, here comes so-and-so." You cannot tell. Don't tell yourself you can.

What is your game plan? Assume the worst. The first thing you should do with a woman, especially one you like, is give up on her immediately. Tell yourself it will never work out. This will do two things for you.

First, it will make you more yourself. If you assume you'll never be more than friends, you'll be relaxed. You'll be funnier, you'll be hotter. Your hands won't shake and you won't smile bat sh*t crazy love smiles.

Second, it will confuse her. You project "Hey, I just wanna be your friend," she reads "I'm not attracted to you." She will wonder why. She will wonder what she can do to make herself attractive to you. Your not being attracted to her gives you social capital. You must be too good for her. If you are too good for her, she will want you. Yes, we all have jobs now, and yes, we're all assertive and whatnot. Women want men to be dominant. Read into that if you have to. Even if she's still not immediately into you at this point, at least she'll respect you and that's a giant leap beyond where you were before.

Myth no. 2.
If I don't contact her she won't know I'm into her.

We know, dude. You're transparent. You've already blown it. You're into her. Now you have to pretend you're just a flirt. The worst thing you can do is to text her. You know this already, but I'll say it anyway. Make. Her. Wait. Do not contact her. Do not. If she contacts you, fine. Write back to her tomorrow. Don't wait a week, write her tomorrow but do not write her back within 15 seconds. Why? You need to show her that you barely have time for her. Become very busy. You are popular. You are in demand. You don't need her to complete your circle. You have millions of friends making demands on your time. She and her friends are getting drinks at Jimmy's on Friday? Oh, rats, you'd love to come but you have plans. Don't be specific. Be vague. Vague is hot. Maybe your mom is in town. Make it seem mysterious. (What could he possibly be doing? Wouldn't she like to know?!)

And, this is just icing on the cake, but feel free to make it seem like you're in a slightly dodgy relationship with another woman. Don't pretend to be taken. Just possibly unavailable. Maybe she's in Berlin. This will pique her curiosity. Even if she's totally not into you, if she can't tell if you're in a relationship or not, this raise your caché.

WARNING: If you know that people occasionally mistake you for being into guys, you cannot deploy the above strategy (giving off that you might be with someone) without dropping a line about "some ex-girlfriend." Make it quick, and move on. But if you have that metro thing going on, and you're dodgy about your private life, she may think you're into men. WRONG. Don't make this mistake. Women don't wanna accidentally fall for a gay guy.

Myth no. 3
If I become friends with her When Harry Met Sally will happen to me.

This is dangerous thinking. In fact, becoming friends with the woman you want in your bed is the worst idea you have ever had. If she likes you she does not want to be your friend. She wants to be in your bed. If a woman becomes your friend, she has already decided there is no relationship. A woman who becomes your friend is your friend because she didn't want to be your girlfriend.

Your only hope at this point is to lose ten pounds, get a tan and then disappear for weeks at a time without telling her why.

Myth no. 4
That was a meaningful smile.

You are not looking for smiles. Smiles are not for you. You are in failure-infested waters. You need proof. Proof does not include 1. laughing at your jokes, 2. emailing you or texting you a lot, even incessantly (friends do this), 3. wanting to hang out with you one on one. Sorry. You are still in friend zone, my friend.

Tokens of something-more:

1. She allowed herself to get wicked drunk in your presence.
This means her guard is down. Her guard might also be down because she regards you as a terrific friend, which would suck, so be careful.

2. She looks for excuses to be physically close to you.
You know what I mean. She doesn't move her shoulder away when you're close to her at the movie, and she does weird stuff like touching your hair or your face. You can also feel free to make slightly questionable moves at this point and see how she responds. Briefly put your hand on her lower back to indicate she should walk in front of you. Easy, because it also passes for gentility.

3. She looks extra awesome when you hang out.
Again, this could just be her wanting you to be attracted to her, so you're not in the clear but it's still a good sign.

4. Her friends like you.
Good for you. This means she talks about you. Her mom accidentally spills that you've been mentioned? What's UP! Home run! On the other hand, if you've been hanging out a month and her friends have no idea what your name is, go hang out with your skateboard. She's not into you.

Hope this helps. Now get out there and get hot and unavailable.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Philosopher with an Idea for a T-Shirt

I respectfully submit:

"eliminate the fascism in our heads"

-David W. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 45.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

For the Love of God

A couple days ago, I biked past a car parked on 55th street. The exterior and interior were painted and polished in bright purple & neon green. It looked like the Impala version of my little brother's Ghost Buster van. The entire car was purple and green. Next to the Impala was an older woman with an earnest expression. She had on a red track suit, red socks and red patent leather shoes, red sunglasses, and a massive wide-brimmed red straw hat.

You can't make this sh*t up.

I don't love Hyde Park. But it is a very special place. Among other things, it's full of under-appreciated and truly frightening people. In the last few days, what with it being the 47th 95-degree day in a row, everyone's just starting to lose it. I've had a few encounters with people who deserve some kind of a badge. Or at least they should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for most uninterpretable behavior.

You just can't make this sh*t up. I wish I had photos.

I was reading at the Point. It was hot. Where I was sitting there's a cluster of slippery rocks that people use to get in and out of the water. At this particular moment, a large black man was falling out of the water. He very near fell into my lap. I looked up. If the point of a wet t-shirt contest is that there's something sexy and fun about seeing sleek and fit people nearly naked, the point of a wet undies contest when you're a big black dude is just beyond me. I saw everything and it wasn't fun, and it definitely wasn't sexy. This is lake water we're talking about. I felt bad for him. The really important part of the story, however, is that after climbing out of the water, this dude climbs to the highest point on this big pile of rocks, and stands up there a good twenty minutes like a Calvin Klein ad on backwards day.

Story no. 2 also involves the Point, further north.

I was biking on the bike path. The path is a treacherous minefield of lost toddlers, disoriented bathers and bikers who want to kill you. I want to kill everyone on the bike path. Apart from biking, you might also see people on, around and near the bike path doing things like domestic brawling, torturing injured seagulls and sitting motionless on their big fat butts in the water. Toward the end of my ride, I approached a man on my right who was running somewhat crazily back and forth down the path. His gawkiness - his arms appeared too long and his legs too short - I assumed had something to do with epilepsy. Like everyone else within a 4-meter radius of this man, I slowed down. And then I realized that the length of the arms was due to there being shoes on the ends of the arms (he was holding onto them) and the gawkiness was due to the fact that he was running barefoot on 95 degree pavement.

I'm really sorry I don't have pictures of this. I don't know what's wrong with me. The last story also involves underwear but it involves the Regenstein library as well. The Regenstein is the main library on campus at the University of Chicago and it contains some curious types. There are curious types at the University of Chicago, period, but there are a few unique individuals who seem to feel most at home in the Reg. I could tell you stories about Reg patrons. There are the Chinese Gropers, the Vet, Apnea Man ... stories about exceptional stupidity, exceptional hubris, and a chronic sleep disorder. There are also the poor individuals who give the impression that the Regenstein's nightly closure is the worst part of their day. What I observed on Thursday has to do I'm guessing either with record-defeating obliviousness or possibly a brain lesion. The story begins and ends on the fourth floor of the Reg. The north side, for those of you to whom this means something. I'm sitting alone. Near me are two men, each of whom is sitting at his own table. One is around 50, one about 30. In walks a woman, about my age. She looks normal. She's not wearing all red, for instance.

Oh: one quick side note. In order to fully appreciate this story, it's necessary that you know that the Reg in the wintertime is frigid. It is the coldest place you can go in Chicago that's not outside. In the summer, it's worse. It's arctic. It's so cold that I have an anorak in my locker at the library.

So in walks this woman, and she's carrying a pair of tights in addition to other normal study materials. Obviously, she's planning on being cold so she's brought some gear. She puts her stuff down at a table and kicks off her flip-flops. And then, right in the middle of the library, in plain view of one thirty-year-old woman and two semi-horrified, semi-riveted men, she proceeds, slowly, perversely, to hike up her tights, inch by inch, over her ankles, over her knees, up her thighs. And then, tossing her skirt up over her shoulder (I am not making this up!), she works the tights up and over a pair of dowdy gray underpants. And what was truly remarkable is that after sitting still for twenty minutes she took off the tights (repeating the above sequence in reverse, so that at this point I've seen her underwear twice in 20 minutes) and left the library. And then, she came back and did the whole thing over again.

If anyone has ideas about the guy on the path, I'm actually seriously concerned so let me know if you have thoughts about that one.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


An excessive use of acronyms makes me cool. (Wait, doesn't it?)

ICE: International Contemporary Ensemble. I've blogged about these people enough recently to make me a groupie without, I hope, compromising my groupie status in my own group.

JACK: a New York-based string quartet, including, not coincidentally, Opera Cabal's own violinist, Christopher Otto.

LPR: le Poisson Rouge, a bar & performance space on Bleecker Street that for fortuitous reasons is interested in promoting new music. Not to be confused with Poisson Rouge, which makes toys for French babies.

ICE and Jack shared a concert bill last Tuesday night in preparation for the departure of both ensembles for the Darmstadt Summer Course. As usual, these folks' playing leaves nothing to be desired, and the sound engineering for the show was laudable. The real show-stealing moment, however, was the deafening crash of what sounded like a fish tank from the direction of the bar in the hushed silence that followed the final piece.

But the reason I'm blogging is more specific. Before Tuesday, I had never heard of Caleb Burhans. The JACK played his "Contritus" (2010), a piece that, while technically "new music," was an outsider choice on a program that otherwise featured the more recognizably new musicky sounds of Earle Brown and Jason Eckardt. Caleb's music by contrast is tonal without sounding new-Romantic. "Contritus" was like a cross between Beck's Sea Change and Ben Johnston's microtonal arrangement of Amazing Grace. I'm now internet stalking Caleb & I suggest you do the same.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Henze on ICE, Actually Anything on ICE

A good reason to visit Greenwich Connecticut.

I roll into Penn Station and act like I own the place, because I don't want anyone to detect I no longer live there. I am excessively put out. I wear heels. I am tall. I know where I'm going. I am on the phone. I won't look at you.

But I try too hard. I am an ex-New Yorker. I refrain from suggesting meeting locales because they may no longer be hip. They may no longer exist. I am attracted to major shopping areas. I call the 1/9 the red line. I drop my car keys in the middle of Whole Foods. Worse, I no longer like New York. It contains multitudes. I used to like New York because it was crowded and impossible to figure out. Now I don't like New York because it is crowded and impossible to figure out.

Yet another reason to visit Greenwich Connecticut.

On Saturday, I clumsily made my way to Grand Central Station. It's been years since I was there. What the hell is Metro North? Like a tourist, I gawk at the beautiful ceilings until realizing I look like a tourist. I have no idea where I'm going. Connecticut is a state. Shouldn't I be going to LaGuardia?

If I were a New Yorker, I would have known that Connecticut is merely a train ride away from Manhattan. On a Saturday, you can catch a 6:10p train and be in Riverside, CT by 6:55p. Arriving at the train platform, you can mount the stairs to find a little country road that has all the cuteness of the country (stone walls, looping vines, cats in the road) and all the convenience of fat pensions (a Balducci's greets you at your destination; watch that you don't hit a road sign while checking your Blackberry). About a mile down the road is the Theater at St. Catherine of Sienna, where the Greenwich Music Festival has erected a small but efficient playing stage.

Last Saturday my travel companion and I took the train to catch the International Contemporary Ensemble in a version of Hans Werner Henze's El Cimarron. The program book blurb calls the piece "a remarkable work of music-theater narrating the true life of Esteban Montejo." Montejo is an Afro-Cuban born a slave on a sugar plantation in 1860 who escapes to live in the jungle. During one of the most beautiful moments in the piece, Montejo, the narrator, lies down in the middle of the stage to converse with the birds. In one of the more shocking moments he talks about how he occupies himself in the absence of women (it involves horses). For my money, El Cimarron is the best kind of opera, by which I mean it is musical and theatrical, and involves extended vocal technique. It is short rather than long, impressively well acted, cheap, intimate and just as involved with story as with music. The libretto isn't always weird enough to be interesting, but this particular staging included some of the most compelling choreography I've seen recently -- look out for this fellow, Zack Winokur, the choreographer.

It's hard to find adequate praise for the musicians of ICE. As I've swooned about them before on this blog suffice it to say here that in this case Nathan Davis (percussion), Dan Lippel (guitar), and Claire Chase (flutes) do Henze better than Henze even deserves. Claire also played an instrument that looked something like the Guitar Hero version of a Bandoneon with greater enthusiasm and sex appeal than the composer could possibly have envisioned.

I'm sorry to say the piece has concluded its run but if you're in New York, check out the ICE/Jasperse collaboration that's coming up -- it was very good in Chicago.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This Weekend, Vesalii Icones

Opera Cabal's one-time showing of Peter Maxwell Davies' Vesalii Icones is this weekend only. In fact, it's Saturday only. But it's in the afternoon! So you have all the time in the world to catch the most insanely interesting dance piece Opera Cabal will ever produce (until we do it next year with the full orchestra: stay tuned).

The following poster for the Praxes of Theory Conference of which this is a part (you can tell the conference is happening at the U of C because of the substitution of an exciting, difficult word, Praxes, for a boring one, Practice) is illegible at this resolution, but the levitating guy at the bottom, he's in the show. So come :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vesalii Icones: Theory & Practice at the University of Chicago

David Levin makes a plug for Opera Cabal's Vesalii Icones!

(Click on the second video under "All Videos")

The Buzz about Vesalii Icones

Many of you will remember Opera Cabal's partial staging of Peter Maxwell Davies' Vesalii Icones which I directed last summer in a workshop version at High Concept Laboratories. Please join me for a single, preview showing of the full version Saturday, May 22 in Fulton Hall on the University of Chicago campus. The performance is part of a conference, "Praxes of Theory," organized by David J. Levin and sponsored by the Franke Institute.


Directed by Majel Connery, with choreography by
Adrian Jevicki (Movementpants Dance, NYC). Sam Goodman & John Rich, dancers. The show runs 45 minutes and is followed by a discussion with the audience moderated by David J. Levin.

Saturday, May 22

4:30p - 6p

Fulton Hall

4th fl., Goodspeed Hall

Dept of Music

University of Chicago

5845 S. Ellis Ave

Details on the show & the conference.

Map the venue.

About Vesalii Icones:

Conceived at the height of his career in experimental stage music, Peter Maxwell Davies’ Vesalii Icones (1969) is based on the unlikely superimposition of 16th-century anatomical diagrams (Andreas Vesalius's *De fabrica corporis humani* or *On the fabric of the human body*) with the fourteen Stations of the Cross. As one of Davies’ only choreographed works, Vesalii Icones permitted experimentation on a new level with two of the composer’s perennial preoccupations: excessive embodiment, and the slippery division between sacred and profane.

It is the task of the current production
intelligibly to engage two systems of representation very much at odds with one another: art (religious iconography) and science (the medicalized representation of bodies in decay). As part of a conference that explores the intersection of practice & theory, the production foregrounds the interpretive and intellectual work that precedes the creation of a stage work, and the ways in which stage works can in turn reflect or reject intellectual craft.

Photo by Lara Kastner.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Consider the following excerpt from the plot synopsis of Giasone:

Orestes, sent by Isifile to search for Giasone ... (sounds like a normal scenario so far, but keep reading) ... meets the stuttering hunchback Demo ... (stuttering hunchback? Now you're talking!) ... from whom he vainly attempts to extract information; the two then retire for liquid refreshment.

But drunk, stuttering hunchbacks are just the beginning. Giasone isn't an opera about Jason's mistreatment of the women in his life, of Medea's brutal string of murders, or her dead babies ... no, it's about all these things, and how strangely hilarious they are. There are no deaths in Giasone, but there's an attempted death, an attempted rape, one attempted suicide, and a whole lotta sex. But it's all ... pretty funny! What's the trick? Giasone begins in the world of myth, in the tabloid grotesquerie of Greek and Roman legends. But it ends in the world of opera, another narrative form whose plot structure relies on its recourse to sex, death and other upsetting events -- but one that also revels in the fact that when you try to put these things on a stage, they often end up undoing their own gruesomeness.

So in Giasone Jason nearly blows his opportunity to steal the Golden Fleece because he's perilously hung over from a wild night out with Medea. And the actual fleecing happens offstage so we can't see any of Jason's illegal activity, and it's so brief he wouldn't even have had time to go to the bathroom. He's gone! No, he's back! Even the one sad moment (Isifile's outlandishly long final rant about cold, dead breasts and babies drinking blood) is so long and so ponderous it's almost funny. Our boredom with Isifile's apparent distress is underscored by the entrance halfway through the aria of Delfa, Medea's nurse, who, having spent the entire production trying to get laid, finally wanders onstage in post-coital bliss with a martini.

If Cavalli is a hoot, Justin Way is not far behind. Like all good stage directors, he seems to find, rather than invent, his best moments right there in the music and the scenario. Delfa snorts cocaine in preparation for an aria that features wild, unpredictable tempo changes (hence the cocaine). The Argonauts, who are all but redundant in Cavalli -- they may as well not even be there, they're so underutilized -- are always trying to hide themselves on stage but doing so in the worst possible ways. Their uselessness to the opera is magnified in Way's production by the fact that they're always on stage ... with absolutely nothing to do. And more than that, they're really bad at staying out of the way. Dressed conspicuously in bowler caps and unnecessary umbrellas, they creep around attempting to blend in by crashing into main characters, curtains and baby carriages.

Another endearing Way-ism is the break-out dance. Way loves him a dancing opera singer and there are several in this production, including a large dancing countertenor in drag. Tyler Nelson, who plays Delfa, developed a drunken wobble for the role with that he uses to convey himself, wobblingly, around the stage. Demo, the stuttering (and dancing!) hunchback, has a leg length discrepancy in this production, so that he emerges at each new costume change with a newly matching giant platform shoe on his left foot. Demo, played by Julius Ahn, brought the house down. Every opera should have a drunk, stuttering, dancing hunchback.

Definitely see this opera. May 2nd is your last chance.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

John Jasperse at the MCA

I don't know a lot about John Jasperse. After last night's performance at the MCA, I want to know a lot more.

Lights up on a vaguely Middle-Eastern looking and somewhat hairy short dude standing on an enormous roll of pink-patterned wallpaper. He's wearing an unflattering mesh t-shirt like the kind you can buy from American Apparel. Really, really loud rap starts to play and smoke from a fog machine billows around him.

Jasperse appears not to go for dancer bodies. He works with people who can commit to his vision, whether it's a strenuous version of Elaine's notorious party dance in Seinfeld or four butts singing an ensemble rendition of Prince's "Kiss." Oh, yes, Jasperse likes him a good gag. For example, after a period of what one should maybe call degenerate dance last night (each dancer in turn essentially comes undone, loses his/her choreographic way and starts wandering around the stage with his/her costume half off), all four of the dancers couldn't then manage to get offstage and spent minutes pawing around in the folds of the fabric looking for the gaps. I'm sure the MCA's prohibitively heavy black stage curtains provoked the thought, but it takes a choreographer with a good comedic instinct to incorporate something like this into the body of an actual show. After finally making their exits, one lone dancer with his shirt now entirely up over his face accidentally stumbled back on stage, oblivious to the laughing audience.

Like a composer using silence to enhance his music, Jasperse uses theater and mime to enhance dance. We even saw a bit of vaudeville last night -- and, oh, yes: T&A. Jasperse himself makes several appearances onstage, his bean-pole-with-paunch figure accentuated by a tacky skin-tight black leotard. He carries a microphone onstage and then attempts -- badly -- to execute a ballet turn. Each time he tries and fails, he offers an explanation of the problem into the microphone: I think, um, I think I just need to ... to feel my chest over my pelvis ... yeah, that time I just let it go entirely .... I'm not getting the, uh ... my skull, maybe it's just too ... lemme just try it again.

The show plays through the weekend and I highly recommend it: see this video and interview with Peter Taub.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Colon Fluid"

I just passed a sign on the highway in Barcelona clearly marked, "Colon Fluid." Is it my eyes? It's one thing to feel duped by another language. It's another thing when the language you speak starts speaking to you in another tongue. The verdict on Spain? Let's do the math.

Espresso is as common as water in Spain. There's coffee with breakfast, but there's also coffee with lunch, and then coffee after dinner. But dinner is also at 10p. Need a nap? Have a coffee! If you're coming from the States, you need to lose the idea that coffee is functional. It's not about staying awake. It's just an ongoing part of the day.
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It's cool to smoke in Spain. I had a fleeting moment of nostalgia yesterday as I enjoyed my lunch indoors under a cloud of smoke ... and then I felt like throwing up. Restaurants and bars bear encouraging signs: "Smoking Permitted!" If you want the nonsmoking section, that's outside, and it's 20 degrees cooler out there. Not cool.
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No clocks in Spain. Don't have a watch? Too bad! There are no clocks out on the street, no clocks in or outside shops and restaurants, none in hotel rooms. And of course, your cellphone won't work. When you're traveling, this is just downright dangerous.
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You could eat off the floor of the Barcelona airport.
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The Barcelona lisp? Come on! Totally adorable.
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Didn't see it.
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Fat, Greedy, Ravenous Old Women
I spent twenty minutes in a bakery yesterday trying to buy a croissant. Ten small, squat old grandmas yelled their orders over my shoulder and I couldn't get mine in because new ones kept coming in the door and cutting in line in front of me. They also cut at the airport.
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Spain: -34 points (not recommended)

Monday, March 22, 2010

USW reviewed in Princeton Alumni Weekly (and maybe something about me, too)

Not that I think I'm cool or anything ...

Read the full story.

The Final Resting Place of Brünnhilde's Helmet

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ... Flight of the Navigator?

Folks, this is an opera house.

This is not a joke. The coolest opera house in the Universe is in Valencia, Spain. It's cooler than Sydney (which looks like a giant white pirate ship) and it's cooler than Oslo (which looks like a half-sunken Titanic). And the best part is that the inside of the coolest opera house in the world looks like Sea World without the water. It's navy blue, turquoise and aquamarine all over. Opera singers aren't quite as cool as sea life, but it's not far off.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Little More Valencia with that Barcelona, Please

I've often thought that if I could do without sleep I could do so much more. I could learn things. Go places. Today started at 3am. Not by choice. My neighbor at the hostel, who, as I learned, is a soccer fan from Manchester, is an enormous big man and an Class A snorer. In the wee hours, I banged on walls and doors to no avail, except that I managed to annoy the rest of the people on the hall. So finally I got up and went outside. It's surprising what you'll find on the streets of Barcelona at 6am on a Sunday. Crowds is what. 10 men standing around an abandoned piano. Roosters crowing inside padlocked boxes. And lines of people getting espresso. I'm not sure if they were just waking up, or struggling on through the day before, like me.

You can have your Barcelona. What's to like? Beefcakes from Manchester? "Dunkin' Coffee" and Starbucks on the Rambla? Basta! Last night I saw The Opera Show downtown, which was truly amazing as long as I thought all the performers were men in drag. Suddenly Lakmé was riveting. How are they hitting those notes?! Then I realized I was wrong. Now all I can say is I've seen the Alice in Chains version of the Queen of the Night aria. I've had too much tapas and mediocre wine, and I'm ready to move on.

Valencia, fortunately, allows me to at least fantasize that I'm in a Mediterranean country. The plants look all twisted and queer and on the train from Barcelona we passed the most gorgeous golfing club I've ever seen in my life. The whole country is a big golf club. (Tip: when traveling by train in Spain, do book yourself in preferente class. They will throw snacks at you like it was part of a parade.) Also, do bring good walking shoes (I didn't) and for godssake avoid hotel elevators (I had to get pried out with a crowbar).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Day of Magical Snoring and Baby Aliens

At 5a last night the snoring through the wall of 320 Operaramblas was unbearable. Given other circumstances, it would have been hugely funny. Given present circumstances (jet lag) it was not. I trooped down to the front desk, explained my situation, and moved to room 420. I eventually started to fall asleep as the morning light came through the windows. And then I heard a huge, loud snore from the room next to me. This snoring was different. Louder and more desperate. I moved back to 320.

But another and stranger encounter with snorers of this world (I actually feel pity for them, in addition to hating them -- surely they haven't had a good sleep in years?) happened earlier on the plane to Zürich. Back in the rear of the plane with the hoi polloi, a large Indian man on my right feel asleep 2 inches from my ear and snored into it for the first leg of the trip. Desperate to improve an impossible-to-improve situation, I woke him and asked, Was there anything I could do to help him sleep better and snore less? More pillows? Some water? He replied in broken English that he would strive to do better, and then fell immediately back to sleep. And he stopped snoring. Completely. For the next five hours.

And now, apropos of nothing at all other than sheer shock and awe, some photos from the morning market fare in downtown Barcelona. I can't read this sign but I think it says BABY ALIENS.

Why anyone would be eating this is ...

... uh ...

Oh God!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Things We Forget

Two years ago I got trapped in International Terminal at O'Hare on an empty stomach. Not knowing any better, I had swept past security and into the terminal only to discover that there was no food there. I don't mean there's no good food (and hence I'd eaten a half-smashed Snickers before boarding and felt nauseous for eight hours....) No, I mean there is literally no food. The international wing at O'Hare is the only place on American soil where there are no vending machines. There is one fold-out, painted plywood box from a third world bazaar, with a couple neat rows of disposable cameras and Advil 2-packs, and its vendor goes home at 8pm.

Today, I mosey up to the man guarding the first set of security stops and offer him my ticket. He says, Have you eaten? (Who is this guy? Do I look hungry?) I point to the sign leading down the terminal that says "SNACKS." He says, If you haven't eaten, go back. NO SNACKS IN THE INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL. Duh! How could I have forgotten? Solo travel rule number one: bring your own snacks. Do not rely on the concerns of the international wing on behalf of its travelers. It doesn't care about you.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Unperformance of Fitness in Ratner Gymnasium

A couple years ago I blogged about the strange fashion I saw in Berlin's women-only gyms. According to a similar logic that enables female fashion in eastern Nebraska to lockstep one decade behind the times (if in the late eighties women were doing this with their hair

in Papillion, Nebraska, they were still doing it when I went to college in 1997) Berliners still lift weights in thong aerobics leotards. But in both of these cases, I have to assume that these fashion choices are choices. (Someone took the time to make a decision and follow it through.) Maybe they're misguided, maybe they're slow. But they're still deciding: this looks good on me. I'll take it!

On the other hand, the fashion cluelessness at the University of Chicago is just that--complete unconsciousness. And I mean fashion not only in the sense of what one wears (pocket protectors, hair nets, coke-bottle glasses) but as comportment generally (how one walks, talks, poses, assumes an attitude). In short, if fashion = the sum of all the choices that go into determining how one's body is presented to the world, in this case, fashion = 0. (I'm not sure that was actual math.)

One has to assume that the students here are simply too overworked (under-exercised), overstimulated (caffeine replacements) or underexposed (to other human beings?) to think about what they're doing with their bodies at all. (What, commit myself to conscious action when I get dressed in the morning? You must be crazy! I have to get to the bottom of Lacan's &<>$!!) This might make the U of C the one place on earth apart from Moore's utopia where everyone might as well be wearing unisuits because what they're wearing conveys exactly the same information as a unisuit: "what I'm wearing is of no consequence; it is not integral to who I am." But of course, it's entirely integral to who we are, because if we care not at all for what we wear, that says a great deal about our attitude toward our bodies. It says my body is beside the point.

Case in point? Back to Ratner. I'll give a quick run-down of my choicest choices.

There's Speedo, the guy with a military haircut and a vigorous ballet routine who drags his "girlfriend" to the gym and then stares at his crotch in the mirror for 45 minutes while doing every exercise that involves legs spread apart. There's Thirsty, who needs to drink at least once a minute, who gets perceptibly nervous when anyone else tries to use the drinking fountain, and who has difficulty navigating space with other bodies in it. (About a week ago, Thirsty threw himself down onto the ground 3 inches from my right elbow, did 10 crunches, noticed someone at the fountain, sprung to his feet, and nearly crushed my skull. I don't pity these folks. Self-absorption & stupidity in one case, obliviousness and a possible proprioceptive injury in another, do not trouble me. But then there's Priceless, the woman who looks like she escaped from the exotics wing of the Salpêtrière who walks up and down the hallway ... sideways. With a book. And today, a man pedaled a stationary bike so violently that it hobbled like a bouncing laundry machine all the way into the center of the gym and straight into the triceps dip station. I think I'll call him Time to Finish My Dissertation.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Opera Cabal and Time Travel

Opera Cabal's final performance of USW sold out Galapagos Art Space last night. Due to some last minute tinkering (on a whim, Alex & I ordered a giant 7X10 screen that hung under the disco ball in the center of the space and looked like one of those awesome LCD display screens at the Super Bowl, plus Habib jerry-rigged the onstage scrim to sweep up and down like a massive sail, and the bartenders dyed the water under the audience's seats black, the better to reflect all the projections in the piece) the show was, in short, spectacular. Yesterday I didn't like New Yorkers. Today, I'm in love with them.

From a personal standpoint, I highly recommend doing something interesting enough that people you haven't seen in half a lifetime are tempted to come and hang out to see it. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven yesterday -- but literally. Every 10 seconds someone I hadn't seen in between 5 and 12 years walked past me and then we recognized each other ... and then had nothing to say. Excellent!

Things that don't change in a city that is otherwise always changing:

I hit up the Verb café in Williamsburg this morning, an old haunt of mine from 2005. Back in the day, when most other coffee houses, especially hip, progressive ones like the Verb (started by the man who married the girl who played the crazy pretty princess in The Neverending Story) were sporting fancy hi-speed wireless internet access, to get internet at the Verb you had to walk out of the cafe and down a weird, slightly deserted hallway to this grungy little tech hole called the internet garage to buy -- in person -- a faded little internet day pass (User Name: BH#cInQ$3h, Password: IcY*007) that didn't even work 60% of the time. It was very 1998 in 2005. In 2010, lo and behold, the internet garage is still there, and you still have to walk back in time and give your paper money to Marty McFly to be able to use the internet. In spite of this, to all you friends of mine who pooh-pooh Williamsburg and refuse to go there anymore because it's so developed, GET OVER IT. New York will always be developing. Williamsburg is awesome, even with all the strollers, and there is no competition for the runny oatmeal at the Verb.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Opera Cabal rehearses USW in Oberlin

In preparation for a move to Chicago (February 19 & 20) and NYC (February 22), Opera Cabal spent the last week rehearsing its newest work, USW, here in snowy Oberlin. USW was commissioned and written by & for Opera Cabal in 2008 by Lewis Nielson, chair of composition at Oberlin Conservatory. We spent the summer workshopping the piece at High Concept Laboratories (one of Kevin Simmons' many projects) and are now putting on the finishing touches.

Some photos from the production process this winter, c/o Kevin Simmons...

Me, playing Rosa Luxemburg.

Sarah Kozinn, our new actress, cowering next to the newly-built chair.

Me, trapped behind the scrims.

Chair building.

Me & Sarah: hair-pulling (yes, these things are ALL in the show).

And finally, our creative team, from left: Habib Azar, director; Sarah Kozinn; Lewis Nielson; me, floor; and Molly Feingold, assistant director.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Peter Maxwell Davies in NYC

I left for New York at the beginning of the week intending to interview Peter Maxwell Davies (whose mid-century, incendiary works for theater are the subject of my dissertation). (BD, I have you alone to thank for this. You know who you are :) In 1969, Davies left Manchester and retreated, literally, to the Orkney Islands, where he now lives with his partner, Colin Parkinson. Instead of interviewing Davies, I spent two hours talking to the two of them about Orkney -- Davies' cow, who lives with them, is affectionate & pliable and stays with the neighbors when its two dads are out of town. Colin owns goldfish that are a foot long, and nearly twenty years old. Both have eaten swan. No one in Orkney locks his doors at night, and Davies has been known to wander into neighbors' houses to make himself a sandwich.

But it's not as if any of this is incidental to Davies' career, which is overwhelmingly public -- apart from being Master of the Queen's Music, Davies' Orkney Island Festival has attracted the likes of André Previn and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Rather, Davies' career is a remarkable instance of how to disappear completely and still remain in the public eye. I, being very much the perpetual traveler due to all this Opera Cabal fuss, spend inordinate amounts of time with inordinate numbers of people & in the intervals when I'm not, feel like climbing into bed with a shot glass and noise-canceling headphones. Davies has managed to strike a balance. When he's not jet-setting across the Atlantic or meeting disorganized graduate students in music, he's chilling with a cow, a couple of goldfish and a sunset (and, of course, the company of a compulsive urge to compose). But the two clearly enable one another. It's time to move to Orkney.

Rebekah Heller in concert

As if I needed further evidence of the superiority of the I.C.E. musicians, not only as musicians, but also as human beings, enter Rebekah Heller.* I heard Rebekah, a bassoonist, last week in a private concert along with fellow I.C.E.'er William McDaniel (piano) that included works by Vivaldi, Edgar Guzman (a special 2008 commission that called for amplified bassoon, coordinated with live tape loop), Gubaidulina and Astor Piazzolla.

It was an exemplary concert in every conceivable way. I'm obviously a fan of intimate spaces and here there was intimacy to spare. I'm also a fan of performers who not only know how to speak about complicated music in uncomplicated ways, but can do so and disarm their audience in the process. And the programming was superb -- if I may attempt to package and resell the effectiveness of the arc of the evening's concert for my fellow musicians:

Start with 1 something that shows off a technical & lively command of the instrument, followed by 2 a total contrast, in this case the arresting quality of VERY new music, followed by 3 an emotionally unchecked outpouring of virtuosity and, then 4 end with tango, because it's just awfully sexy.

*Don't believe me? Check out the dueling oboes concert at MoCP next Friday, February 12. And don't get there late, because you may not get in.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bluebeard at the CSO, and how about that ending?

Something is not quite right about Bluebeard's Castle. Following the production of the opera-ette back at the Harris Theater in 2007 (dir. Ken Cazan, although the credit for pairing Bluebeard along with Erwartung goes to COT director, Brian Dickie) I blamed it all on Cazan (KAZAAN!). In the final moments of the opera, three brightly-colored ladies in gauzy Bollywood outfits mince out of a little cellar (in Cazan's version, the doors Judith insists on opening are, for no particular reason except that they're probably cheaper to build, trap doors) and dance a sad little dance around Judith before pushing her down the steps and flouncing in after her. It's not scary, it's not thought-provoking, it's just plain strange. Last night at the CSO, I realized it wasn't all Cazan's fault.

What makes an opera? In this case, it's all about redundancy of information. Bluebeard broadcasts well in advance how things are going to turn out. And, in addition to being highly redundant and slow-moving, Bluebeard is also scary, which makes for an awkward combination, but also makes the opera more like a scary movie. We know, or at least we imagine we know, that Bluebeard is a homicidal maniac and that Judith, being silly enough to run off with him, bless her heart, is about to get herself chopped up for dogmeat. But the only thing that actually happens for the duration of evening is that Judith will seven times override Bluebeard's request that she not open a set of seven doors in his castle and that, gradually, each of the doors will come open. The suspense centers on two things. One: the mystery of what in God's name Bluebeard has hidden up in his weird old bachelor pad, and the fact that Judith will insist on opening up every single one of his doors (euphemism?) until something really, really bad happens. (Yippee!) Two, and this is the one I wanna talk about, because I think it's where Bartok misjudged things: the impenetrability of Bluebeard as a character. W
e can't get a read on him. Does he love Judith? Why does she love him? Is it the beard? It seems possible, if unlikely, that our suspicions about Bluebeard are wrong. Sure, he lives all by himself in a scary old castle ... but it's not because he's a crazy psychokiller ... he's just really different, and maybe a little depressed (and what woman wouldn't love that?) Bluebeard rises and falls on Bluebeard's indecipherability. If we knew what was really going on behind that massive beard, we wouldn't have to spend all night guessing, but we don't, so we do.

Up until the final moments of the opera, Bartok successfully drags out a plotline in which almost nothing happens, but it's just the right of something to keep us on the edge of our seats. Doors are unlocked at a painfully slow rate; we're waiting patiently to get to the last one, the one that really matters. We're willing to wait because we assume, and hope, that something terrible will happen when Bluebeard finally loses his cool: Judith will insist on unbolting that final, fateful door, she'll be murdered in cold blood and the curtain will come ringing down. (Judith, it must be said, could have avoided her own death simply by not being such a terrible nuisance about the doors* and then Bartok might have left the last door locked for eternity, leaving us to imagine what might have been there, a device which, as we know from scary movies, works wonders. Aliens are always scarier before we actually see them.)

But when Judith insists on unbolting the final door and finds herself in the company of Bluebeard's other undead wives, Bluebeard does exactly nothing. He doesn't lose it. He doesn't fall down weeping. He just stands there. Suddenly, the suspense upon which the opera depended (our worry or hope that Bluebeard will turn out to be a raving madman and that Judith will die a horrible death) is made to seem rather silly. Unless we have reason to believe that Bluebeard is, despite his apparent love for Judith, a total maniac, the entire story falls apart--and in the end, when we find out he's not, or at least that he's more Henry Darger crazy than Clockwork Orange crazy, it does. To complete the disappointment, Judith simply accompanies the other women back into the wardrobe of eternal boredom. We get no fits, no screaming, no temper tantrums, no aria of regret, and worst of all, no death.
Bartok's crucial misstep in an opera that is otherwise pretty fabulous (hey, it's short!) is an ending that offers neither the excitement of blood and gore and the confirmation of Bluebeard's truly psychotic nature, nor a reversal in which everything is turned upside down and Bluebeard is revealed as a man of exemplary character. (Hey, it happens: ever see Beauty and the Beast?) Instead, Bluebeard turns out to be crazy lite and the opera can't decide if it's a tragedy or a comedy (on the aspect of comedy, some of the dialogue between Judith and Bluebeard ["I want to open the door." "No, you can't open the door." "Open it, open it!" "No, no!"] is highly reminiscent of stand-up comedian Billy Connolly's take on opera). In a choose your own adventure of endings, Bluebeard makes all the most uninteresting choices. Bluebeard neither triumphs nor is he redeemed. He walks away, logs wife #4 in his diary and takes a nap. There's no bloodbath for Judith, and of course, she can't escape. She holes up in a cupboard to trade sad stories with a bunch of other slightly stupid women.

On last night's performance: I don't generally like concert stagings and I like concert performances even less, but Michelle DeYoung, last night's Judith, did a spectacular job of turning the concert performance prohibition on wandering around the stage into a dramatic strength. She looked as though she'd been nailed to the floor. It was spooky. Bluebeard, Falk Struckmann, on the other hand, couldn't have been less disarming. His glances across the stage at Judith seemed motivated by uncertainty (did I just hear a fart?) or maybe boredom (why is she still singing!?) And the CSO, while plaintive and tinny with its Ravel earlier in the evening, totally smothered the poor singers. Maybe Boulez needs an earhorn. Or maybe light travels faster than sound in that hall. There's a marvelous moment mid-Bluebeard where Judith opens the door to Bluebeard's enormous, vast kingdom and she's so overwhelmed that all she can do is belt out a huge, loud, sustained high C. Last night, Michelle's mouth came unhinged at the appropriate point, but all she managed was a silent scream. For a second I thought she was miming ... oh, my bad, that was the high C.

Poor Judith's treachery is unenviable--for her to prove good on her word, i.e. not to ask what's behind the doors, would derail the unfolding of the plot so she must for dramatic reasons have a weakness for spoiling a good secret. Wagner understood the usefulness of such a predicament, since without Elsa's betrayal of Lohengrin in the final hour, the two would be fated to live happily ever after with an enormous elephant in the room (who in God's name she actually married). Instead, Elsa is forced to understand how entirely she's blown it, learning (what we knew already!) that her husband is not only an extremely good fighter, but the holiest bachelor in all of Brabant, but only at the moment she's lost him for good.