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Archive for September 28th, 2011

by Sam Juliano

The writer Gustave Flaubert opined that “the three finest things in creation are the sea, Hamlet and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The philosopher Kierkegaard wrote that Don Giovanni is a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection. Virgil Thomson was no less flattering: “Don Giovanni is one of the funniest shows in the world and one of the most terrifying. It is all about love, and it kids love to a fare-ye-well. It is the world’s greatest opera and the world’s greatest parody of opera. It is a moral entertainment so movingly human that morality gets lost before the play is scarcely started.” Beyond that Shaw, Goethe and Wagner considered it the greatest opera ever written. Today this 1787 canonical work of Western culture continues to hold the stage as one of the most-performed operas worldwide, and the one above all others that is seen as the purist expression of the intellectual and dramatic possibilities of the operatic form. At New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, Don Giovanni has been performed over 500 times in about sixty seasons between 1883 and the present. Surely no other opera has been as debated and analyzed, and no other, with the possible exception of Bizet’s Carmen has been held up as the model, the one work that in a number of ways can serve as a definition of the form. (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

On the isle of Ischia a funeral is in progress at the ancestral cemetery reserved for members of the Carlucci family. The current scion of the clan, “Carlo,” manages the tony Grand Hotel Excelsior, and with him this day are four of his clients. “Wendell Armbruster, Jr.” and “Pamela Piggott” are a 30-something couple (he from Baltimore, she from London) in the process of having her mother and his father buried, side-by-side, as befits lovers. Carlo asks what inscription should go on the headstone. “Willy and Kate” is the first draft (the deceased being Wendell Armbruster Sr. and Katherine Piggott). Then Pamela finds apt the additional term, “Willy and Kate Carlucci.” Junior, who had been slow to warm to this situation (his respectably married father having died at Ischia [in Kate’s arms during a car accident] putatively during a solo sojourn to attend to health problems as met by the island’s historic thermal mud baths), concurs, “I’ll go for that.” How does it become apt that an Italian alias cover those lives—removing from their Anglo-Saxon story line a pillar of his church (drawing evangelist Billy Graham to preside over the Baltimore observances) and his country’s economy (the president of the United States directing Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State and supposed expert on questions of antithetical aliens, to be in attendance) and a lady residing in Britain all her life? Billy Wilder’s exploration of that strange state of affairs constitutes the heart of the generally dismissed film, Avanti! (1972).

Wilder is on record as pronouncing Avanti! a failure due to giving the mistaken impression of being a comedy (he having intended a tribute to a work he loved beyond any other, namely, David Lean and Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter). I maintain the film is far from a failure and is, indeed, a comedy. (more…)

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