June 30th, 2010

Catching up ... Opera, movies, soccer

It's been a whole month since I last posted here ... business is one reason, and a bit of writer's block is another.

So ... artswise, this was the Opera Theater of Saint Louis season. This year, for the first time, I had season tickets. Alas, I couldn't make the EUGENE ONEGIN performance, because we instead went to the wedding reception for the daughter of a couple of our best friends. But I saw the other three operas, along with my own daughter, Melissa.

First was A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, by Stephen Sondheim. Of course, calling this an opera is a slightly fraught cultural issue. There are, these days, musicals, and there are operas, and in some minds, never the twain shall meet. Yet A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC apparently does get taken on quite often by opera companies, aided by Sondheim's well-earned respect from serious music listeners, and perhaps also by the cachet of being an adaptation of a Bergman film (SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT). I greatly enjoyed the performance ... more "popular" stars took the lead roles (for example, Amy Irving played Desiree Arnfeldt, and Sian Phillips played Mme. Arnfeldt), but most of the remaining roles were taken by opera singers. I thought Candra Savage as the maid, Petra, rather stole the show when she was onstage. "Send in the Clowns" has long been a favorite of mine, and the performance here worked beautifully -- I also particularly liked Savage's singing of "The Miller's Son".

THE GOLDEN TICKET is a brand new opera (though apparently composed nearly a decade ago). The music is by Peter Ash, the libretto by Donald Sturrock, based, of course, on Roald Dahl's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. I didn't like it as much as A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, but it was a quite enjoyable show. The story is familiar, and the opera follows it closely. The music was enjoyable throughout, if not quite brilliant -- never, shall I say, exactly memorable. As for performers, I was particularly impressed by the only child in the cast, Michael Kepler Meo, who played Charlie. (The other children's roles were taken by adults, though I might note that Tracy Dahl (no relation, I assume: she's a quite well known Canadian coloratura) who played Violet, is quite short enough to be mistaken for a child.)

Finally we saw THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. Mozart is Mozart, of course, and, all due respect to Ash and Sondheim, the instrumental music in FIGARO is simply at another level. The songs as songs -- oddly, perhaps, I'd say that while they are also wonderful, here Sondheim at least is somewhere in the same league, if in a different mode. Still and all -- a completely wonderful performance.

Speaking of Sondheim, the students at Missouri Baptist University, not far from us, put on SWEENEY TODD a week or so back. Unfortunately, none of the performances worked for me timewise, so I didn't get a chance to see it.

And speaking of not working timewise, the one drawback to THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO was that my tickets were at the same time as the US/Ghana match in the World Cup. I've been watching a lot of soccer (the correct term, I note, for Americans, Canadians, and Australians -- we have our own sports called football, and cannot be blamed for adopting a common alternate name from England for the sport). Melissa has been watching even more (she is a Chelsea fan too, and watches Premier League matches on TV as well). We did get to see the US match recorded -- a sad disappointment, and the US team has no one to blame but themselves. In this game, horrendous defensive mistakes combined with the fact that the US strikers don't have the finishing instinct doomed them. With the USA out, I want a South American team to win -- lovely soccer they play. Argentina, I think, is my favorite.

I will say nothing about the referees, except to call for the absurd Sepp Blatter to be fired, and to hope for more accountability in the future. Plus replay at least for goats.

Oh, I said something about movies. Last one I saw was (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, something of an indy hit last year. It's about a guy (Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls for a girl (named Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel). She's never quite as into him as he to her, though I think the reviews misrepresented that -- suggesting she was "out of his league", etc. Not at all -- she just wasn't really "in love" ... Anyway, they are a couple for a few months, then they break up, he doesn't take it well, ... there's a mild (very mild) surprise at the end.

It's an OK movie, but not great. Too pleased with itself. Too pat with Tom's career choice and his personal reformation. And, to my mind, curiously detached from "place" despite trying to be very much about its place (Los Angeles) ... That last is a quibble, and I may simply be wrong about it. But to me I never knew if it was in LA or New York or Chicago.  Or, heck, Phliadelphia or Toronto.