Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More Opera Review

If one performance of Turandot is good, two are better. The other day I watched the video of the production at The Forbidden City of Beijing, conducted by Zubin Mehta (1998, I think). A brilliant and fascinating production. The principals were triple-cast (since the production was performed for nine straight nights); this particular cast included Giovanna Casolla in the title role (very very good, in a role that rarely descends out of the stratosphere), Barbara Frittoli as Liu (wonderful), and Russian tenor Sergej Larin as Calaf. A superb voice, in some ways reminiscent of Pavarotti, except that Pavarotti was a better actor (!). (In an interview, Larin said this was probably the largest stage he had ever performed on. Nevertheless, he just stood in the middle of it like a stump.) And Calaf was still a jerk. A rather different take on Ping, Pang and Pong, which was interesting.

Several other productions are available on DVD. I'll have to check them out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Opera Review

Here's another utterly non-theological comment:

The other day I was watching a DVD of the Australian Opera's production of Puccini's Turandot. From the early 1990's, I think. The production itself is (was) splendid. The performances were very good (not quite great, but very good; I think the cast was Australian, but I didn't recognize any of them). Puccini's music, of course, is absolutely wonderful. But surely that has got to be the dumbest plot in the whole of the standard operatic repertoire. (And I'm including the cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs, which is pretty dumb. Great music, though much too long -- Wagner had no self-discipline -- but a pretty dumb plot.) The only character in Turandot who is likeable at all is the slave girl Liu, and she ends up killing herself (well, I probably would too, in the circumstances). The old king Timur is dumb as a box of rocks -- no wonder he was dethroned. Prince Calaf is even more of a jerk than B. F. Pinkerton, and that's saying a lot. Turandot herself, of course, desperately needs to get over herself, and I doubt that falling for Calaf is going to do the job.

Where was Mao Zedong when the people of Peking (Beijing) really needed him?

Letters to The Living Church

One of the really nice things about The Living Church is that it provides so many opportunities to write whining Letters to the Editor. Well, I've had mine for this quarter (and editor David Kalvelage is always very gracious about giving me some whining space every few months); it appeared in the July 5 issue, asking why the Episcopalians for Traditional Faith were pushing the 1928 Prayer Book to celebrate Independence Day. (And that makes sense because....?)

I think David is a fair man (I often don't agree with him, but I think he's a fair man) and therefore it's not appropriate that he give me more space in the TLC Letters column so soon. But this doesn't mean I don't have more whining to share.

1. In the current (July 5) issue, the Episcopalians for Traditional Faith are at it again, this time with a full page ad encouraging couples to choose their wedding ceremony from the 1928 Prayer Book (pages 300-301). And why would that be, do you suppose? Well, in case we missed their point, they use a text highlighter on page 301: "...this Woman to thy wedded wife" and "...this Man to thy wedded husband." Aha. Well, never mind that the 1979 Prayer Book uses almost exactly the same words (page 424). Apparently the point is that the 1928 BCP is the most certain way that folks can proclaim, "No Gay Cooties!" I never knew that about the '28 book, and I grew up with it. But at least we now see what the issue really is. Not that there was really any doubt, I guess. ("Bash a homo! Use the 1928 Prayer Book!")

2. In a response to Bishop Rowthorn's very good article about the proposed expansion of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (now to be titled Holy Women, Holy Men -- Celebrating the Saints), Mr. Kalvelage thinks it's too much, particularly since a number of the persons proposed for commemoration are "unfamiliar to Episcopalians and other Anglicans." Indeed. I unearthed my original copy of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1963, when we were still using the you-know-which Prayer Book) and looked through the Calendar, which even then included the majority of the commemorations in the current LFF. Except that in 1963 we had never heard of a lot of them; at least I suspect most Episcopalians had never heard of them. But we know them now, and remember them with joy and thanks to God for their witness. And maybe this is the point, yes? Do we really need to be so stingy about how many of God's Holy Ones we commemorate? (And after all, these have all always been optional in any case.)

3. In an adjacent editorial, Mr. Kalvelage argues in opposition to the proposed approval by General Convention of any formal blessing of committed same-sex relationships. He writes (TLC, July 5, page 21): "Such action is contrary to 2,000 years of Christian tradition, and would damage even further The Episcopal Church's already tenuous relationship with much of the rest of the Anglican Communion. Approval of same-gender [sic] blessings also would hasten the departure of conservative Episcopalians from a steadily declining church. In addition, as we have pointed out on numerous occasions, these innovations are non-scriptural." I believe Mr. Kalvelage is a decent and honest man, and no more homophobic than is the case with most of us Straight Guys. But he is missing the point here. (a) We need to be a little careful about "2,000 years of Christian tradition," especially about marriage. Although there is little evidence of committed same-sex relationships before the modern era, it's pretty clear that during much of Christian history, marital sexuality was not very well regarded except as a way to make babies. ("Just close your eyes and think of England.") (b) Please explain to me, David, why we should continue to marginalize our devout and devoted gay and lesbian couples in order not to offend Peter Akinola. (c) Are you suggesting that if we revert to gay-bashing, we're going to recover and keep all these "conservative" Episcopalians who are otherwise departing? (d) Non-scriptural innovations? Episcopalians/Anglicans? Oh, surely not! (Does the word "divorce" strike a familiar note?)

Enough for now....