by Sam Juliano
The white stuff has been making repeated visits over the past two weeks to those residing in the mid-west and the northeast. Those who closely follow the weather forecasts will no doubt point to the Farmer’s Almanac, which predicted quite a while back that 2013-14 would bring the full wrath of Father Winter. In any case, it does raise the prospects for the always-elusive White Christmas, and gives people the chance to spend some quality time indoor with the family. Those aiming to do some late shopping will have to deal with traffic and the elements, however.
Interest in the upcoming ‘Best Romantic Films of All-Time’ countdown has been acute, what with readers passionate and active in the site comment sections. E mails have not yet been sent out to the anticipated participants, but will be later this week. The ballots are due by April 1st, and the actual countdown will launch later that month.
Lucille and I had an extremely active week. First off, on Wednesday evening we took in the December marching band concert in the Cliffside Park High School Auditorium. Sammy has played the baritone for three years, while freshman Danny is a member of the concert chorus. Some holiday and popular favorites were offered up in a festive and spirited two hour concert.
On Thursday morning, teachers and students from the #3 School Annex was bused down to Union City High School to take in a performance of Peter Pan by the upper-grade students. All told an amazing production with some splendid performances by the spirited members of the high school drama club, in the stunning new auditorium in the two block sized brand new Abbot District school that is a full block in size, four stories and the athletic field and bleachers on the roof.
Richard Strauss is one of the five essential opera composers of all-time (the others are Verdi, Mozart, Puccini and Wagner) and his DER ROSENKAVALIER is both his most popular and greatest work. It was an instant success at its premiere, earning a secure spot in the repetory that has not wavered in the 100 years since. Set in an idealized Vienna of the mid-18th Century, it concerns a wise woman of the world who is involved with a much younger lover. Over the course of the opera, she is forced to confront and ultimately accept the laws of time, giving him up to a pretty young heiress. Octavian, the “Knight of the Rose” of the title, is sung by a woman – partly as an homage to Mozart’s Cherubino, and partly as a nod to the power of illusion, which emerges as a vital theme in the opera. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who would go on to work with Strauss on four more operas, forged a fascinating libretto that deftly combines comedy (of both the sophisticated and slapstick varieties), dreamy nostalgic fantasy, genuine human drama, and light but striking touches of philosophy and social commentary. Strauss’ wholly magnificent score, moreover, works on multiple levels, combining the refinement of Mozart with the epic grandeur of Wagner. The result is a landmark achievement: a grand opera that is as vast and complex as it is humane and charming.
Set in Vienna in the 1740′s, DER ROSENKAVALIER boasts a score that is extraordinarily lush, rich and romantic – perhaps unexpected considering that the composer had penned the disturbing and edgy Electra just two years prior. The presentation of the rose, with its soaring vocal lines spiced with flute chords reflecting the shimmering of the silver rose (a motif that reappears with renewed poignancy at the very end) is ravishingly beautiful and one of the greatest moments in all of opera. Waltzes are heard frequently, many of which are suffused with elegance. The famed final trio, a gorgeous blend of female voice is another one of opera’s most unforgettable codas, and a supreme expression of the lyric theater. The score contains comics depictions of chaos and confusion, like the various characters competing for the Marschallin’s attention in Act I, the skirt-chasing lackeys of Act II, and especially the screaming children and ghostly apparitions of Act III. The seemingly musical craft of these passages mask the fact that the sublime score is devilishly difficult to perform and is considered by instrumentalists as among the most difficult in the entire repetory.
The eye-catching Metropolitan Opera production of the opera by Nathaniel Merrill and directed by Robin Guarino was staged this past Thursday evening for the final time of this opera season, and it got off to a difficult start with a 35 minute delay that pushed the curtain opening to 7:35 for the four-and-a-half hour opera with two intermissions. Lucille and I joined retired teachers Bob Ferraro and Rene Kessler after an exquisite dinner at nearby Fiorello’s in celebration of the latter’s birthday. Daniela Sindram did a nice job filling in for Geraldine Chauvet in the role of Octavia, and Martina Serafin made for a memorable Marschallin. Filling in for Peter Rose, Runi Brattaberg was distinguished as Baron Ochs. The conductor, Edward Gardner and the ever-reliable Metropolitan Opera orchestra performed exceedingly well with one of opera’s most challenging scores.
Lucille and I also took in three films this past week in theaters, one with Broadway Bob and the others with some of the kids. We decided to save AMERICAN HUSTLE for this coming week, since it will be playing locally in a New Jersey multiplex.
Breakfast With Curtis ** 1/2 (Thursday) IFC Film Center
Saving Mr. Banks **** (Saturday) Regal E Walk
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug **** (Sunday) Starplex
BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS is fresh and original, and it brings a new twist to domestic dysfuction, but its episodic and eventually wears thin. What may have been funny in the earlier segments is a drag as the independent film by Laura Colella winds down.
SAVING MR. BANKS is mostly a charming and nostalgic look back to the making of Mary Poppins, and the well-known difficulties between Walt Disney and the cantankerous author of the books, P.L. (Pamela) Travers. Its always wonderful to behold the elements of the famed Sherman brothers’ score, and Tom Hanks is quite fine as Walt, but Emma Thompson steals the movie as an impossible-to-please spinster who has her own demons to harness. Some may quibble about the incessant flashbacks, but they do serve to frame the bizarre behavior of the Australian/British writer.
I was tempted to give the epic second part of THE HOBBIT 4.5, but for now I’ll stick with the four star rating. The film is technically enthralling, and the emotional investment is well rewarded. Holds the length quite well.
This was a terrible week for passings of famous movie stars. Peter O’Toole, Joan Fontaine, Audrey Totter, Eleanor Parker and Tom Laughlin all died over this past week.
I had every intention of posting some new links this week, but after I felt I needed to address this week’s passings, I ran out of time on a Sunday where some at-home Christmas chores needed to be completed, not to mention we also took in part 2 of THE HOBBIT. I will make up for this next week.