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Ed Waffle

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Everything posted by Ed Waffle

  1. Steve is right that it would be simple to create a data base using one of the many products available--but with several hundred performances to enter (Jane's original and quite delightful dilemma) one might never get finished. I tried it, using a very simple and easy to use program called Info Select. Not even sure if it is marketed anymore, but there must be other programs that are like it--easy to use, free form entry (no fields and records) will search on any string of characters. I would start with a stack of programs, determined to be as diligent and obsessive as it would take to get everything entered, but ALWAYS get distracted by the memories of the performances I was cataloging, either opera or ballet. I would call someone who had seen the performacne or put on a CD or video featuring the artists or the work I was entering--and the best intentions would be forgotten. Please let me know if you solve that problem, since I haven't been able to.
  2. Spine tingling? The first one that comes to mind (due, no doubt, to the exchange with Alexandra on score of "Giselle") is the return of the royal hunting party in Act I of this ballet. Having fallen in love with the title character my response is always "Oh, no--she is going to be hurt by this." While some dancers have been more perfect Giselles than others, every one that I can remember were true and thrilling in this specific moment. And of course the easy one, the beginning of the Adagio in "Swan Lake."
  3. We must agree to disagree on the merits of "Giselle" as music. I have heard/seen "Giselle" either 5 or 6 times in the theater, the last three with the ABT in February of 1998--three times in three days. It was played by the Michigan Opera Theatre orchestra, a pit band I have heard develop over the past three years. They are quite good, especially the strings. The conductor was Jack Everly, the ABT music director, who must know this score and how he wants it to sound as well as anyone. By Sunday evening I felt as if it had been hard wired into my brain (I had been watching a lot of tapes of the work in preparation for the Motown Giselleathon.) Much of the early work of Verdi is derided as "oompah band" music and it is--but with flashes or occasional long passages of brilliant writing which show where the sublime middle and later works come from. Adam's score makes one long for an "oompah band." It sounds to me like it was written to order by a not particularly talented composer--which it was. The conductor in Copenhagen must have been brilliant and the orchestra must have played like gods to bring out the passion, color and emotional content that you experienced there. But if they could do it, then so can others--I hope I can hear it played the way it should be.
  4. Minkus, indeed. But, Estelle, think of the poor guys and gals in the string section of a pit band who have to saw their way through a run of "Giselle." (With apologies to Steve Keeley, who I think expressed on a.a.b. a liking for "Giselle" as a score). And it is unfortunately true that because some conductors and orchestra members feel that ballet scores are beneath them the playing is sloppy or prefunctory. Keep in mind that major U. S. orchestras generally did not program Tchiakovsky until the 1930s--he was considered too popular, vulgar and common. There is a story about Thomas Beecham, who loved opera but hated ballet, conducting at Covent Garden and sabatoging ballet performances by conducting at a much faster tempo during the first performance than he had at the rehearsals. A true dolt, obviously, although he did leave some astonishing recordings.
  5. This is based on some of the posts in the thread that started as "taped music" and became a much more wide ranging discussion. I want to add just a few points, but they don't belong under the original thread. Touring, boring music, costs, audience response--lots of things are covered, all important. One point, however, that has been made tangentially in some of the posts and which I think is quite important is that compromises like taped music, sparse sets, small corps and other things may allow a company to bring ballet to areas or people that might not otherwise get it. Keep in mind just how powerful ballet can be to those who have never seen it live--who have never been in the same room with a ballerina as she seems to float forever in a jete or as she turns and turns AND TURNS. It can be an astonishing experience to someone on the south side of Chicago or in West Virginia or anywhere else for whom live ballet has been just a rumor. And I am speaking as a ballet civilian--think of the effect on a young lady in a local possibly not very good dance school. It doesn't have to be the ABT at City Center or the NYCB at the New York State Theatre. It doesn't even have to be a regional company at their usual venue. It can be the local arts center where the bus pulls up a few hours before the performance. Which is not to gainsay the difficulties of touring--odd sized stages, floors that just don't work, terrible sound systems, inadequate dressing rooms, lots of other problems. But magic can happen if it is possible to overcome those things and get dancers in front of an audience that is seeing ballet for the first time in a theatre.
  6. Katharyn--you just might love this special--I did and only wish it had been twice as long. Even the opening montage, of people arriving at Lincoln Center and the buzz of excitement that always accompanies a big performance was well presented. Thanks for reminding me of this one--I will watch the tape again over the weekend (if I labeled it right and can find it!)
  7. Live performance--Giselle, ABT, Susan Jaffe in the title role. Have written about it already. One I may remember on my death bed. A performance for the ages by an artist (who I had not seen in years) at the height of her powers. Entrancing, one of the very high points of the year, even though it was very early--January, 1998. Almost a tie for first: "Romeo and Juliet," Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Bernice Coppieters in the matinee as Lady Capulet. I thought the ballet should have been called "Lady Capulet and Tybalt," at the way she dominated the stage whenever she was on it. But in the evening--she was Juliet. And I mean she WAS Juliet, in that way that an atist takes over a character, inhabits the creation of the choreographer in a seemless melding of technique, interpretation and grace. I could not take my eyes away from her. The epitome of talent at the service of music and art. A superbly gorgeous woman, her incomparable back would make an athiest believe in God or a saint denounce salvation. Tape--Mayerling--Royal Ballet. Viviana Durante has the most expressive and beautiful eyes since Garbo. People rave about Mukhamedov in this(as well they should) but Durante was just astonishing. Comeback of the year--Toledo Ballet (not kidding, provincial ballet may have a place in the scheme of things). As the pagan priestesses in Saint-Saens' SAMSON AND DELIAH produced by the Toledo Opera the dancers were laughably inept, due mainly to choreography. As the dancers at Lilas Pastia's inn they added significantly to both the atmosphere and the drama in Bizet's Carmen. Same dancers in each case. In looking back through a stack of programs I realize it hasn't been quite that much of a dance desert here in Motown. Not a bad year for the hinterlands. ed waffle
  8. To Dale and all current and former pit musicians: God bless you! It will be straight to heaven after you shuffle off this mortal coil, because you have served your time in purgatory in various orchestra pits. Often ignored when they play beautifully, always vilified when problems arise, hidden from the audience who often don't even know that they are taking a bow when they finally get to do so. Those on stage, of course, know just how important the orchestra is. While it is often the prima donna who first acknowledges the orchestra during the calls, it is not unusual for several singers who take bows before the star to do so. They know what went on during the performance and just how much they were dependent on the musicians under the stage. A great orchestra can't make a poor singer (or dancer) sound or look great, but it can elevate a performance--from average to good, from good to great, from great to demented. There are lots of just horribly exposed solo parts that are commented upon only if there is a bobble--and some are as difficult as anything can be. Dale mentioned the French horn solo in MND. Add to that the first flute in "Lucia Di Lammermoor", the third horn in "Fidelio", the concertmaster in "Swan Lake", all the first chair winds in "Carmen," many more than I can list here. The artists who fill these roles should be listed in the program and take a bow on stage. The other side of it is boredom. You don't have to be able to play an instrument or even read music to appreciate these talented people. Just listen to your favorite ballet with score in hand a few times. You will find some really sublime passages and a lot of really boring passages that seem to go forever--page after page of the most banal "ompah" band music. Lots of it, in both ballet and opera. So, give a thought and a few BRAVOS to those artists in the pit, without which whom the magic could not happen.
  9. A lot of modern dance troupes use taped music--possibly because that is what they can afford. Many companies barely pay their dancers, so hiring musicians would be prohibitive. Taped music for ballet, however, is another matter. I saw a touring French company last year that used prerecorded music and it was distracting. The two piano reductions that have been mentioned can be extraordinary in the hands of talented pianists (although I prefer the pianos in the pit). Opera companies on tour sometimes use the piano reductions to some very complex works--and the music seems to be all there. Such is the magic of the theater. The interaction, when it happens, between the pit and the stage is probably better mentioned in another thread--possibly one on the dearth of good conductors available now. A few years ago the Louisville Opera tried what they called a virtual orchestra--some especially programmed synthesizers in the pit, run by two or three people. An idea whose time has not yet come and which I pray is not the wave of the future. Hope everyone had a joyous holiday season and did not get Nutcrackered and Messiahed to distraction! ed waffle
  10. Somewhat off topic, but: A non-dance book that I can recommend absolutely without reservation to lovers of orchestral music and opera is "Otto Klemperer, his life and times" by Peter Heyworth. I will finish volume I tonite and only wish that I had ordered both volumes from B&N (through this web site, of course) when I got the first one so I could begin Volume II right away. Klemperer was 88 when he died. He suffered horribly from manic depression (or bipolar illness as it is also called) for most of his life. He conducted into his 80's and was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. My wife and I were listening last week to a recording he did of Beethoven's Third--very familiar music, we have 6 or 7 recordings of it, have probably heard it in the concert hall at least that many times over the years. A work we are both quite familiar with and love, one I have enjoyed following with a score. But as we were listening to the slow second movement, the so-called funeral march, the MOST familiar part of this work, it was brand new again. Klemperer had a way of showing the sweeping architectural structure of a great work and at the same time was able to bring out fine details and nuances--it seems self-contradictory but he could do it. Early and mid twentieth century orchestral conductors were allowed, even encouraged, to be imperious, haughty and difficult. Because of his illness Klemperer went way beyond even these standards of behavior. Singers and instrumentalists often refused to work with him, then returned saying that he made them sing or play in ways that they didn't think they could--not just better but on a higher plane entirely. Klemperer's admirers included Mahler and Strauss and while in conservatory he was considered a better pianist than Edwin Fischer, who became one of the most notable interperters of the Classical and Romantic piano literature. Music just poured from him. Astounding book, extremely well written and researched. ISBN for vol 1 is 0 521 49509 1 and for vol 2 is 0 521 24488 9.
  11. A partial "me, too" follow-up to Giannina Mooney's list. Greskovic's book is one of the best books I have encountered this year on ANY subject. No matter how short your shelf of ballet books is, this one belongs on it. Impeccably organized, delightfully written, obviously the work of a person with not only an abiding love for this art form but the rare ability to express it well, and do it for page after page. Even if you know most of the content of this book, and many on this board may, it is worth getting for the quality of the writing. More than one person on my Christmas list will find it under the tree on December 25. The Beaumont book on Giselle was a revelation for me--it showed me that librettos for ballet actually were worked out in detail and actually mad sense, in their own terms. And his detailed descriptions of the choreography allowed me to see a lot that I had missed before reading it. If you pick up Toni Bentley's "A Winter Season," be prepared to be up part of the night reading it. November, 1980 through February, 1981 with the New York City Ballet. Moving and beautiful, with a brilliant afterword that I just read again and which expresses why people want and need to dance as well as anything I have read. AND DON'T FORGET--if you buy any books, dance or otherwise, do so through the B&N link on this web site. It works.
  12. This jumps from a related thread, "The Not Terribly Good Club" Dancers can do anything—of this I am convinced to a moral certainty. One of the things they can do is take a moment in what may be a terrible piece of choreography and create a character that sears itself into our consciousness. Dale Braun wrote about a wonderful and moving performance by Nina Ananiashvili and Angel Corrella in Stevenson’s "Snow Maiden." I had written concerning two performances, on by Kristen Wenrick, the other by Mabel Modrono as Flora in the same choreographer’s "Dracula." Thre may have been other posts to Ballet Talk which discuss great dancing in otherwise dull or worse ballets—there have been a few on aab. Stevenson bashing is as challenging as shooting tuna fish in a barrel, although more fun, and this post does not address his artistic shortcomings but is an attempt to use those shortcomings as an example of the astonishing ability of dancers to accomplish the impossible. Dancers seem to have a divine spark that allows them to transcend the mundane to infuse the stage with their presence and which we are able to share. This spark is made up of musicality, command of technique, strength, grace (a loaded term which I will leave ambiguous) and much more. It does not exist only in stars—Ms. Wenrick and Ms. Modrono are wonderful dancers who may never have the star power of Ms. Ananiashvili, but their ability to thrill a watcher to his core is unquestionable. And I do not care to venture any further on that particular limb. I am not referring to star turns in pas de duex done in gala concerts, or other isolated but contextualized pieces, but exceptional dancing and characterizations in works that would otherwise rank between forgettable and execrable. How common is this—dancers who transcend their material, who are much better than the choreography they are given to execute?
  13. Re: Stevenson (in response to Dale and Alexandra, a few posts above) The work by this choreographer with which I am most familiar is Dracula, which is a work that seems worse the more I think of it. Even to an untutored eye the parts that are not derivative are dull. The principal characters have almost no dramatic impact. There is a character pas de deux between two elderly characters that is OK for about 30 seconds but that quickly becomes one of those "is it over yet" pieces. HOWEVER--there is a third act solo for Flora in which she attempts to remain the chosen bride of Dracula which, during the two times I saw it last year as presented by the Pittsburgh Ballet, was arresting in its depiction of emotional bleakness, hopelessness and fear. Both times it was a really cathartic moment. Much was due to the dancing and acting of the dancers in question (Kristen Wenrick and Mabel Modrono), but since they gave markedly different interpretations of this character, much of the credit must go to Stevenson. But Flora was an exquisite fifteen minutes during a production that was otherwise full of flash and trash. ed waffle
  14. My choice of Makarova and Nagy as the finest partnership I have ever experienced is not (or not only) a sign of increasing age. It has been over 25 years since we first saw them in "Swan Lake" and we have never seen a partnership in ANY performing art form that was better. It was one of those impossible combinations of each of them giving everything to each other and the audience and at the same time dancing with a virtuosity and fire that was breathtaking in itself. ed waffle
  15. Audiences. First a caveat—I love opera. Actually, I love ballet, but would not care to live without opera. But my love of ballet predates my obsession with the lyric stage and a still smoldering affection for chamber music and the big classic/romantic orchestral works came before either of them. I learned how an adult goes to the theater by attending ballet in Chicago over 25 years ago and still go whenever possible. This was during the dance boom, a phrase that will seem odd to many of the younger readers of this board, but there was a time when the Ford Foundation decided to bring ballet to America and money was available for touring, long seasons, commissions, apprenticeships, all just astounding luxuries especially in the dance-deprived areas between the coasts. The Auditorium Theater was the venue of choice in Chicago. It is a wonderful space—-huge, but with great acoustics and excellent sight lines, although the gallery, the very topmost of the balconies, is a LONG way from the stage. That is where my wife and I first felt the intense, delightful, almost heartstopping shock that comes when first encountering great music and great movement together. It was not always easy to get tickets, at least the ones we could afford then, since they sold out quickly. Buying a subscription to the Auditorium dance season at that time seemed so impracticable as to be insane, both from a financial and scheduling viewpoint. How could one afford to pay for tickets six months in advance, we thought, and who could plan their lives so that they knew they would be free to go the ballet on a certain Friday night months hence. So I stood in line on the day that tickets went on sale for the ABT, the Joffrey, the Moiseiv dancers, whomever, and bought as many gallery or upper balcony pairs as we could afford (or sometimes a few more than we could afford). We had started going to the ballet because of the music. Like a lot of people who are young and in love we were mad for the big nineteenth century hyper-romantic piano and violin concertos, and Tchaikovsky, of course, was the most Romantic of all. But we loved much of the music that has become accompaniment (and inspiration) for some notable choreography—-Chopin, Bruch, Brahms, Prokofiev, all the usual suspects. It seemed so perfect, and still does—great music melded to beautiful movement, both performed exquisitely. The real essence of ballet remains curiously opaque to me. The technical vocabulary, the terms of reference, the history of choreography and performance practice, all that basic stuff, remains terra incognita. Most people on this board have a more profound and better grounded understanding of this art form than I—which is one of the chief reasons I read Ballet Talk, to rendezvous with you who are unsparing in sharing your knowledge. For me every time the conductor raises his baton, every time the curtain goes up on Giselle’s village or Prince Siegfried’s palace garden it is all new again and I am back in the gallery at the Auditorium in Chicago, waiting to be transported. I wonder if others would share the experiences in the theater that made them realize just how important ballet was to them.
  16. Giannina and board-- I also love ballet, as do we all--but it is important occasionally to say something which might seem self evident. And I really like the way you write about ballet. I have seen Kent, McKerrow and Jaffe in GISELLE. Kent was wonderful, if somewhat unconnected dramatically. McKerrow was sublime. But Jaffe--the kind of performance that one can recall in detail for years. It was a thrill to realize that I was in the presence of a true artist who both could completely inhabit a role and transcend it. She fused emotionally with the audience and simply gave us her Giselle unconditionally. There have been other performances I have witnessed, not only in ballet, on the same technical and emotional level. I fervently hope that there will be more. But I have not seen one that surpassed it and doubt if I will. ed waffle
  17. Giannina and board-- Regarding what to do and say when confronted with an artist that one admires-- I just recently come up with an answer, while backstage at the Michigan Opera Theatre following a performance. In the past I had always avoided the "meet the artist" galas or going backstage to greet artists one had just seen on stage. They were on a different plane, breathed that rarified 'artist' air that is denied to us mere mortals. So I could never decide what to say to such august beings. Well, I have figured it out--What worked and would work under almost any circumstances: "We just saw you in (LOHEGRIN, SWAN LAKE, whatever, fill in the blank) and you were wonderful...and we saw you last year in (more blanks to fill in) and you were wonderful...and we hope to see you in (larger/more challenging/your favorite) roles soon, where you also will be wonderful." If possible, throw in a response to something that they actually did "I never saw a grand jete cover so much ground" or "That first Bflat in Senta's Dream was the most sublime note I have ever heard." all the best, ed waffle
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