Monday, October 01, 2007

Quick Cuts

Tonight is the first meeting of the third of my three classes, the graduate workshop. Over the years this has become one of my favorite classes to teach, and I doubt this year's group will prove any different.

There's always so much going on that I want to write about, but it takes an almost orisha-inspired effort to get anything into the little composition screen here. I'm not sure why. I think I'm going to try very short blurb-like posts for a while and see how that goes. Maybe I'll be able to get things out more quickly, and draw readers and commentators back.

The Chicago Police Department has a terrible reputation among many of Chicago's Black and poor residents, and here's one reason why. These accounts, of "savage beating" of suspects, of torturing to obtain false confessions, and of soliciting murder against other cops who might blow the whistle on the thuggery, are outrageous, yet not much of a surprise to those who've heard about all of it before, especially people who lived in the wards and areas where Jon Burge, Jerome Finnigan and fellow goons had free reign. Yet they were so out of control they also beat up businesspeople on occasion. It's also important to consider the links, via those forced confessions, to those wrongly placed on Death Rowby these cop's lies, which casts Chicago's corrupt Republican ex-governor George Ryan's commutation of sentences in a different light, and underlines why it was such a deeply and startlingly important and heroic act. If you're looking for script material, here it is.

KleindollRandall H. sent to the Cave Canem list a link to Robin Givhan's Washington Post piece on the endearing thrall of the "Aryan" at the Milan and some of the US's fashion shows (Cf. Calvin Klein). This season I guess instead of the models' challenge being "can't you be thinner?" this season it's "can't you be whiter?" No matter that Italy itself is ethnically and racially diversifying once again (as it did during the long period between Greek and late Roman rule), or that the designers showing at the houses almost all come from societies that are increasingly diverse; or rather, perhaps that is the point, to assert this narrow and suffocating aesthetic template as an act of resistance, defiance, supremacy, a last--it's clear, even if you don't buy into the whole Eurabia nonsense--gasp. I do wish Givhan recognized that there many more kinds of women out there being overlooked by this global industry, but the US's racial and racist imaginary seems to leave our media spellbound or worse. Nevertheless, her general point is important, as fashion is a global industry, and these images circulate throughout the world, their power not restricted to the elite who can actually afford the actual clothes.

AlsopThis weekend marked conductor Marin Alsop's debut as the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She is the first woman ever to lead a major American symphony orchestra. Bravissima! I'm a big fan of hers from her recordings over the years; according to Anthony Tommasini's New York Times article, Alsop has been a dynamo since she accepted the position under a cloud of controversy and criticism concerning her abilities and her possible effects on the organization, which was reeling financially. Contrary to the predictions of the naysayers, the orchestra is revitalized, a new donor has provided a $1 million subsidy to ensure $25 tickets for patrons, subscriptions are up, and the musicians themselves are energized. In addition, her first concert wasn't stuck in the distant past. She programmed contemporary American composer John Adams's Fearful Symmetries with Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony, and to the Times' critic's ear, both were triumphs. Reggie H. says she's got an ambitious schedule coming, including performances of works by contemporary composers such as Thomas Adès, H. K. Gruber, Tan Dun, as well as the African-American composer James P. Johnson--and not in February! I swear, if I lived closer, I'd take the train down to catch some of these.

St. Francois d'AssiseAnd speaking of classical and contemporary art music, after years of fairly staid repertoire, the New York Sun reports that the New York City Opera, now under the sway of Europe's operatic visionary Gérard Mortier, is announcing a 2009-2010 dedicated to "20th century works"--right up my alley! But even better is the lineup of operas, which I'm still stunned by. Mortier plans to program not just one or two works--say, Prokofiev's The Gambler and a Britten opera, like The Turn of the Screw, both of which would be great and like to have played either at the City Opera or the Metropolitan Opera in recent years (Prokofiev's opera is at the Met this season). No, Mortier really isn't playing.

The 2009-2010 season — which will be Mr. Mortier's first fully in residence, since for the next two years he is finishing his tenure as director of the Paris National Opera — will be devoted to 20th-century works. It will open, as he has said before, with Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," and will include two other icons of American opera: Philip Glass's "Einstein on the Beach" and John Adams's "Nixon in China." The English tenor Ian Bostridge will sing in a production of Benjamin Britten's "Death in Venice."

But it doesn't end there.

In accordance with Mr. Mortier's previously expressed desire to take City Opera to other parts of the city, the first season will include a production of Messiaen's "St. Francis of Assisi," at the Park Avenue Armory and Drill Hall, where it will be performed amid an installation by the artist Ilya Kabakov. (The painter Anselm Kiefer is also lined up to design an opera set, Mr. Mortier said.) There will be other productions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and, pending negotiations, Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater.

Get that? Operas at the Armory, in Harlem, and in Brooklyn, but not via BAM, because, as per its charter, it's the CITY opera; Lincoln Center already has the musically and socially preëminent (and horribly conservative) opera house and company just across the plaza, though along the way a number of people appear to have forgotten this. And he's going to bring Messaien's monumental opera, which had its US premiere in San Francisco, to New York City. I cannot describe what a big deal this is. He's also aiming to create more affordable pricing, more outreach to the local communities, and more African-American operagoers. To that end Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock has been commissioned to write a new opera, as has Philip Glass. There are other modernist and contemporary operas, by the likes of Scott Joplin, Kurt Weill, Ernst Krenek, Roger Sessions, Hans Werner Henze, Thomas Adès, Elliott Carter, Harrison Birtwistle, Anthony Davis, Mark Adamo, John Corigliano, Poul Ruuders, and so on, that I hope he programs, and I would love to see his versions of Alban Berg's Lulu, Bela Bártok's Bluebeard's Castle, and . And then the purists can still have some of their Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Donizetti, Glück, Rossini, Bellini, Offenbach, Bizet, Massenet, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Strauss, and, let me not forget, Richard Wagner. In Mortier's hands, any opera will be a lot more interesting.

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