Saturday, May 29, 2010

Met Opera Simulcast Season versus Chick Flicks

“Enchanted.” Chick flicks. A girlfriend wanted to know if I shared her love of modern day fairy tale aka girlie movies about kissing princes. Well no...but I had been to the Met Simulcasts this opera season and a majority ...six in all...centered on a woman with a love interest. Does this count?
Unlike heroines in chick flicks, the majority of opera heroines seem to be of royal blood to start with. Turnadot and Aida are both princesses, Armida is the Queen of Damascus and Tosca is not only an opera diva to which all Rome flocks to hear sing, but she also has the ear of the queen.
Perhaps the one displaying the most teenage girl angst is Ophelia. Unlike the cheerful Centerentola who moves up when she marries the prince, Ophelia starts out by being in love with a the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet.
Then there is Carmen who conquers everyone in her path.
All these soprano star roles seem to possess some kind of personal power--most often political--either by birth or by talent. Except for Ophelia who dies early, the others l clearly are into running the show.
No Mimis or Margurites this season! No happy endings ever after either!
Turnadot might at first seem the exception in that she lives to see another day when she finally meets her match. Of course, the countless suitors who make of the mountain of dead before we get to the grand climax...but with grand operatic moments like these, who is counting the dead bodies it takes for the princess to find true happiness.
Speaking of princesses, there is Aida. She is the Ethiopian royal princess, who just happens to be in the wrong kingdom where she is a slave girl to the Egyptian princess. First , she defeats the princess in love by taking away the leading man, Radames. She then convinces him to help her defeat the Egyptians. The political skills Aida displays of course are often overlooked by her dramatic arias, and her eventual heart wrenching death by entombment. Together forever, but not happy for sure.

Speaking of power, there is Carmen, who is a revolutionary leader. Opera’s bad girl is in reality a powerful symbol of women struggling against oppressive government as she leads a band of arms smugglers in the Pyrenees.
Speaking of overturning governments, what exactly is Tosca doing, she sings for the Roman royals, while at the same time she is involved with a revolutionary artist. Her greatest scene might be when love turns to vengeance, in the scene where she kills nemesis, the chief of police Baron Scarpia.
Speaking of vengeance who could leave out Armida. She has it all. She's a queen who has seduced a Crusader to desert his country to be at her side. What Aida does so nobly, Turnadot with such doggedness, Carmen with passion and Tosca with exquisite art... Armida--and Renee Fleming in the role-- does it with sorcery.
Sorcery definition enchantment--maybe this is really what all these characters and the stars who sing them are really using on us.

Monday, April 5, 2010

National Air and Space Museum specials

“Public Observatory”

“Alan Bean: Painting Apollo, First Artist on Another World” (Until February 2010)

First stage of “Moving Beyond Earth” Gallery (permanent)

For a museum which would take a week to see everything, National Air and Space Museum has three shows worth seeing.

Alan Bean

One gallery of the NASM is dedicated to art and culture of space exploration and features works by astronaut Alan Bean.

Alan Bean was not the first astronaut to step on the moon but it has been noted that he was the first man to eat spaghetti there! Besides that dubious distinction among the select group of 11 men who have walked on the moon, he is one of a few who are also artists.

Bean’s training was in watercolor and Monet is his favorite painter. When someone suggested that he paint what he had seen on the moon, he questioned how this was possible since the light and color on the moon were rather stark by comparison with impressionistic works. The answer is that an artist you have to figure out how to do things.

Many artists have rendered the moon from 238,000 miles away in poetic terms, and some have transformed the exploration photographs into painted historical scenes. The freshness of Bean’s work distinguishes itself by being recorded from memory by someone trained in scientific observation.

The results are a series of paintings which capture the events of space exploration in a way that photography can not, as remembered and recreated by a man who saw it up close and first hand.

Fun is where you find it and one section is devoted to the fun and the fantasy of the Apollo missions. What Peter Conrad said when he stepped on the moon was “Whoopee!” --and a scenes of astronauts playing golf and tossing aluminum foil exude their joy of really being in a place that is beyond imagination.

The exhibit includes Bean’s space suit, a moon buggy and tools that were used in the mission. Bean not only left his foot print on the moon but took back some of the dust on his space suit--dust which he incorporates in his paints. He also used some of these objects to give texture to the grayness of the moon surface.

Bean is possibly going to be the first man whose work might one day be in an art gallery on the moon. Considering man’s perpetual efforts to explore and colonize new territories, it is not impossible to imagine that a thousand years from now these lunar landscapes will be viewed--on the moon--in the same way as we regard cave paintings of prehistory. For now, one can see 50 of his original works in the NASM’s Gallery

Pulblic Observator

For the International Year of Astronomy, 400 years after Galileo’s discoveries, NASM has opened a new public observatory which contains a 16-inch, 3,000-pound Boller and Chivens telescope, previously used for research at Harvard’s Oak Ridge Observatory. Visitors will be able to view the sun (with a special filter), the moon and the brighter stars and planets, such as Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, during daylight hours.

Stage one of new gallery

“Moving Beyond Earth” gallery gives visitors a chance to experience space through computer kiosks, advanced interactive displays and state-of-the-art projection and audio technology. In short, it’s like being inside a computer to play games to experience space.

Also on display are two instruments that were brought back from the Hubble Space Telescope on the latest servicing mission: the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 will be on display in Space hall and Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement in the new “Moving Beyond Earth” gallery.

The sky --sun, moon, planets and stars--belong to everyone. What better place to explore our human legacy than at the NASM.

Terra Cotta Warriors March Away

Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor” at the National Geographic is one man’s vision of how to make a powerful impression when he met the deity in the afterlife. The exhibit features 15 warriors (of the estimated 7,000) found in the necropolis built for Qin Shihuangdi in the Chinese province of Xi’an Shaanxi.

Prior to the discovery by farmers digging a well in 1974, all that was known about the First Emperor was written history. Today the Emperor is known not only for this amazing archeological discovery but also as the subject of a recent opera (“The First Emperor” with Placido Domingo as the Emperor), as well as movies and video games.

The statistics behind the show are staggering, even for those who think in terms of China’s incredible size and population today. Qin Shihuangdi who ruled from 221 B.C. to 210 B.C. had 300 extravagant palaces and 400 lodges, so that he could stay a different place each night. An estimated 700,000 workmen created this dwelling place for his eternal rest. His regime, known for relentless cruelty (at least as historians of the dynasty that followed recorded) resulted in over a million deaths for failing to follow his laws.

The exhibit includes about 100 artifacts; weapons, stone armor, jade ornaments, roof tiles and decorative bricks. Not all the figures are soldiers. Besides two infantrymen, a chariot driver, two officers, an armored warrior, two archers and a cavalryman, there are two musicians, a strongman, a court official, a stable attendant and a horse. A bronze crane and swan from the emperor's after life zoo as well as two chariots are also on display.

In summary, Qin Shihuangdi appears to have been both practical, paranoid and pleasure loving in this world.

What is more fascinating about the art works in his reign however is the

the works are splendid details such as intricately designs on the armor. While it is clear that the bodies of the figures were mass produced in some assembly line fashion, each face appears to be unique.

Truly amazing to art historians is not only how the works differ from preceding and more primitive Chinese artifacts but the evolution of the sculpture in what is a relatively short period of time. Early figures from the first pit are staid soldiers, while in later pits, the statues are in positions of movement such as the Kneeling Archer. This rapid development from passive to active poses in sculpture has no counterpart in Greek or Roman statues, where such innovations took centuries to develop.

The army is formidable even if it is made of clay. There is no mistaking his importance as a ruler on earth. Whether that had that effect on the divine ones, no one will know but the show on its last stop in the United States, is certainly inspiring awe and wonder to mere modern mortals who visit it.

The exhibit takes about an hour or so to go through what took artists and workmen 36 years to build. To uncover and understand this unique find might take centuries. National Geographic Museum is a good place to start.