After having danced professionally for thirteen years, no Yule season is complete without at least one “Nutcracker.” Yes, I hear parents of ballet dancers the world over groaning (and not a few ballet dancers too) at the very thought of *that* ballet. It’s ubiquitous this time of year (largely because it’s so damned popular that it pays for itself and then some for most companies). Moreover, anyone who has ever danced this particular ballet surely has very clear and definite views on how it should be performed. I am no exception. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have clear and definite views on *everything*. That includes the “Nutcracker.”
My oath sister was in town this past week for the holidays and I took her to see Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” and “La Fille du Regiment” at the Met. I shall take them each in turn here, for the latter one I loved and the former I wouldn’t walk across the street to see again and I’m going to tell you why.
Now when I danced I loathed Balanchine. I was (and to some great degree still am) a traditionalist. To my mind, Balanchine ruined classical ballet. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like some of his ballets. I do (though I never enjoyed dancing his choreography—he makes more use of syncopated movement than Petipa and other earlier choreographers). I’ve mellowed over the years though and lately have been enjoying his ballets greatly. Not the “Nutcracker,” however and let me tell you why.
Firstly, I do not pay good money to see young students of the New York City Ballet School (or any other ballet school) performing the majority of roles. It’s become the custom in many ballet companies to have children swarming the stage for the majority of divertissements. I hate that. Children belong, in my opinion, in two places in this ballet: the party scene and perhaps the Mother Ginger scene. That’s *it*. I don’t even much care to have kids playing Clara (sometimes—as in this production-- called Marie) and Fritz, if truth be told. At the very least, they should be played by teens. It allows for more the psychological elements of the story to be emphasized and frankly, it’s much more satisfying to watch. I think it’s unprofessional to have little kids doing those parts in ostensibly professional productions. The upside of having children throughout the ballet is, apparently, that it makes it much more accessible to children in the audience. Still, it makes it painfully boring for the adults and severely limits what one can do with the choreography. It turns it into the big stage equivalent of a school recital.
Secondly, the choreography was a mess, especially the battle scene. Again, part of this was the fact that both mouse and soldiers were played by children. What can one do with pre-pubescent ballet students who have neither the physical strength nor trained technique for elaborate choreography? (The best battle sequence I’ve seen, btw, was Pacific Northwest Ballet’s version of the “Nutcracker,” which emphasized the darker psychological aspects of the tale. NYCB’s version didn’t even come close, though it was amusing at times. Also, NYCB’s version juxtaposes some of the variations in the second act for no apparent reason and it breaks up the Sugar Plum’s pas de deux as a result.
In the second act the costumes were awful. Neon yellow pointe shoes…and that’s the best that can be said. But over and above the colorfulness – which to some, might be a plus—the tutus were blocky and cut the line of the body in an unflattering way. The sets were ok and the costumes for the first act were fine. I actually, despite the very little children, enjoyed watching the first act party scene. It was interesting to me to see the children imitating adult customs – meeting and greeting friends, dancing, etc. It was clear from the choreography that they were learning their accepted gender and class roles from outright imitation of the adults exactly as happened in Victorian society. That was fascinating to see in miniature.
The dancing was a mixed bag as well…what little we actually were able to see performed by trained, adult dancers. The sugar plum fairy was one of the worst that I have ever seen. She was danced by Teresa Reichlen, who is apparently a principle dancer in NYCB. Maybe she was having an off day, but she danced woodenly and without any lyricism. Her partner was equally blah (though he was dead silent in his jumps, which was quite nice to see). Reichlen doesn’t have the best feet either, though that was not my objection to her. There was no lightness or magic about her performance. It was as mundane and wooden a performance as one could give. Quite disappointing. (I would also add that the girl playing Marie also couldn’t act or rather didn’t in this performance, being as equally wooden as Reichlen). Moreover, she and her partner were slightly off the music at one point in the pas.
There were bright spots in the production. In the first act, the interaction between the adults and children was well choreographed. Moreover, the dancers playing Frau and Herr Stahlbaum (Kaitlyn Gilliland and Justin Peck) moved beautifully with a visible lyrical grace. I would very much like to see them in more demanding roles in the future (though I greatly approve of having dancers in their prime dancing the role of the parents. It adds verisimilitude).
In the second act, the Arabian Dance, performed by Megan LeCrone, was delightful, with sensual, exotic choreography imitating Arabian and other Middle Eastern styles. The lead male dancer in the dance of the candy canes (Giovanni Villalobos) was amazing. The ease of his leaps was a delight to watch. The man playing Mother Ginger (Cameron Dieck) was a total ham –as that character should be. The best part of the entire ballet was the performance of Lauren King as the dew drop fairy. She was exceptional: light, graceful, emotive, with rich, fluid technique. She’s a dancer that I will be watching in the future. Of everyone in the performance, she and Justin Peck stood out the most for me simply by virtue of the skill and beauty of their dancing and their emotive grace.
Overall, I would not ever go back to see this particular version of the “Nutcracker.” For a proper, traditional version, try Royal Ballet. For a unique and somewhat darker version, try Pacific Northwest Ballet. But don’t pay good money to see a bunch of half trained children running around the stage with NYCB. Ugh. If NYCB is your thing, wait until later in the season and catch Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” or “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They’re much more satisfying to watch.
See Wendy Whelan in the Arabian Dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nRmRTBaypo&feature=relatedA general preview of NYCB’s “Nutcracker” (this was not the cast we saw): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXfC2puds1YMaryinsky Ballet company in the “Nutcracker’s” Spanish Dance
: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0nuGa7-QpU&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLF1F7166CDF8CAB67A scene from Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker
: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6SV8EXw5jMComing next: a review of Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment” at the Met with Lawrence Brownlee and Nino Machaidze, as well as a cameo by Kiri Te Kanawa
I have posted two auctions on ebay. The proceeds for both will go (in full) to benefit the Maetreum of Cybele. This is a fully functioning, self-sustaining Pagan monastery (perhaps the only one in the US) located in Catskill, NY. For the past few years, they've been fighting the good fight, in court, against discrimination by their town, which objects to their status as a *Pagan* non-profit. Though they've repeatedly won in court, the town keeps appealing - driving up legal fees. I will personally match the end price of each auction and will be donating the full amount to the Maetreum.
Please check out the auctions here:
NOTE: with the exception of "The Whisperings of Woden," all of the devotionals are anthologies, with submissions from many different contributors from around the globe. I have listed the editor/compiler as the author, but there are many contributors to each.
Happy Yule, folks.
I haven't been posting much, as the past two weeks involved some rather grueling finals but as of today (and not a moment too soon) i've put the fall semester to rest. That's good because tonight begins the holiest time of the year for Heathens, the celebration of Yule, the interstitial days when the wild hunt rides, and we cycle into the beginning of another year. It's a time of terror and blessings, abundance and prayer. It's a time to finish up outstanding projects and work, so that one may concentrate fully on honoring the Gods and ancestors, and nurturing ties with friends and family. Tomorrow is the longest night of our year, a time of darkness, a pause in the mad rush of endings. It's a time to remember our roots our origins, and the line of men and women, fierce, strong, and proud whose sacrifices brought us here.
Let us honor the ancestors for we stand on their shoulders.
Let us honor the mighty Mothers: Frigga, Nerthus, Angurboda, Sigyn, Sif, Freya, Perchta: Mothers and Goddesses of all our divine tribes.
Let us honor the Gods of the Hunt and the winter season: Odin, Ullr, Frey that abundance may fill our home and hearts in the coming year, Thor.
Let us celebrate and be greateful for hearth and kin.
Tonight Yule begins, a glad tide, a holy tide.
May yours be wondrous and filled with joy.
Finally, after about two years of work on this project, my devotional anthology to Sekhmet is now available.
"Sekhmet: When the Lion Roars" can now be purchased here: http://www.asphodelpress.com/devotionals.html
. It will also soon be available on amazon.com.
that's all i'm going to say for now, because im in the middle of finals and have no time. lOL. Enjoy.
(to those who contributed to this devotional, do NOT buy a copy. I will send you your contributor's copies after I survive finals week).
There is now a virtual shrine to Forseti. Check it out here: http://www.northernpaganism.org/shrines/forseti/welcome.html
I have a piece, a prayer-poem to Him in the 'Praising Forseti" part of the page.
Well, I'm on another list, but for once, it's a good one! LOL. I just found out that activist Peter Dybing named me as one of the top ten Pagans who made a difference in 2011. This is an honor and needless to say I'm very happy (not to mention surprised). Thank you, Peter. Your own work has been an inspiration to me.
folks can check out his list here: http://paganinparadise.blogspot.com/2011/12/walking-talk-10-pagans-who-made.html
(If you don't like opera, you'll want to skip this post. I'll shortly be posting a couple of articles and/or updates relating to Heathenry but tonight, I"m writing about opera. So if you're not an opera fan, check out the archives to the right instead).
I am not a particular fan of Gounod. In fact, insofar as opera itself goes, I prefer those written well before 1789. That's not to say I don't enjoy later operas like "La Traviata," or "Madama Butterfly," or - salient to this post- "Faust" but they're not my favorites. The exception to that rubric might be Britten whom, sadly, the Met rarely seems to stage. So, while I was expecting to have an enjoyable time at Tuesday night's production of "Faust," I wasn't expecting to be blown away; and I was, despite its faults.
I went to see this production first and foremost for the cast. Who could resist Rene Pape as Mephistopheles, and Jonas Kaufmann as Faust? I certainly couldn't and so resigned myself to sitting through an opera that I figured I probably wouldn't much like (it's been many years since I saw "Faust" and then, it was tepid to say the least) just to hear this magnificent cast. Instead, I ended up having, if my readers will pardon the pun, one hell of a good time.
First of all, Rene Pape totally stole the show. He was hilarious as Satan, suave and sleazy all at once, witty and self-deprecating so that you don't really see the brutality and spiritual barrenness of who and what this character is until the final act. I went to see this with a friend and her daughter - my five year old God-daughter-whom I shall refer to by her nickname "boo" here. (She lasted two acts and then fell asleep) and she was rooting for Mephistopheles the whole time. I had to tell her 'boo! You’re not supposed to root for the devil!" I think she was taken with his props though, especially a cane that shot fire out of its end. Oh to be five.
Surprisingly, Pape doesn't have a lot of singing in this opera, yet his character lurks in corners, watching and sometimes instigating action between the other characters. He's always there, even when he's not visibly on stage. His presence cast a shadow over the entire story. That is, I suppose, as it should be: in "Faust," the devil really does steal the show...and a little bit more to boot. The cheesy magician’s props, like the cane mentioned above only serve to remind the audience that this is the devil, the prince of lies, a showman, whose tricks pave a well-walked road to devastation. The props serve one purpose: as a reminder that all those tricks are empty of truth and nothing is really as it seems (which the ending of the opera, the very ending –and no I shan’t give that away here—brings home).
This is an opera where the chorus gets quite a workout and I have to say, I was impressed with the quality of the Met’s chorus. They did a really, really good job, enough that it was the first thing that I noticed about the production. I also liked the staging a lot. I felt that it allowed the audience to focus on the emotional interplay between the characters without distraction. There have been several reviews of this production that criticized the staging quite a bit, but I found it to work, for the most part. I don’t think the juxtaposition from present (c. 1950s) at the beginning of the opera, to pre-WWI worked quite as smoothly as I would have liked, (though the ending transition was quite powerfully done), but the metaphor of the atomic bomb was quite effective, as a parallel for the spiritual dissolution of the main character and the damage we do to one another. It was a little odd seeing scientists in white lab-coats in place of an angelic host but for me, it didn’t detract and I found the sets used for the scenes with Marguerite quite beautifully done. I don’t think the staging was quite as cutting edge as the Met. might think, but it was, for the most part, well done. Using a video of the atomic bomb being detonated may have been a bit overdone, but again, as a whole, the staging worked for me. The choreography was another matter, but I’ve seen worse and while it didn’t add to the production, it didn’t detract either.
I have heard from a couple of people that other performances with this cast were not quite as stellar, but the night that I went the performance was just delightful. That is not to say that it was without its faults. Though I am a fan of Jonas Kaufmann, I didn’t particularly care for him in this role. In the opening act, his voice is dark and tight, lacking the rich fullness and robust lyricism that I’ve come to associate with him. I don’t feel this is a role that ever really allowed him to shine, though he gave an excellent performance. I’ve seen him in other roles so I’m comparing him to that; also, in the first act there were times in one duet where he was very slightly pitchy – though to be fair this may be Gounod’s music – which at times flirts with an embedded dissonance--- rather than his voice –did I mention with Gounod that I’m not a fan? Kaufmann was, however, darkly compelling in the role, which is as it should be, given that the entire storyline revolves around his seduction of Marguerite and he is meant to be attractive and compelling.
Marguerite was voiced by Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya. I first saw her as Liu in “Turandot” a couple of seasons ago and in that role, she was exquisite. She has a very delicate, crystalline soprano and her acting ability is understated yet powerful. Her voice can be lovely but frankly, it wasn’t up to the rigors of Marguerite. She gave a beautiful performance and I cannot fault her acting but her voice did not hold in the third act. She simply didn’t have the power to hold her own vocally against Pape and Kaufmann in the closing trio. It was powerfully blocked and while her acting was equal to the task, her voice was either lost between the two men or somewhat …shall we say…screechy. There were one or two notes in the second act that lacked beauty as well but that is hardly worth commenting on. In the third act finale however, she was noticeably lacking. Having only seen her twice, I’m really not sure what I think of her as a singer. In Marguerite, despite the vocal issues, she created a character that was fragile, innocent, naïve, and incredibly vulnerable, a lonely girl aching for love with devastating consequences. The characterization worked, even if her passivity in act II was, at times, annoying. I think that such passivity was culturally correct for that character in the time and place in which that section of the opera was set. It was believable.
In the third act, when Marguerite is driven temporarily mad, her performance was riveting without in any way being over the top; she never descends into pathos, which makes her performance all the more compelling. In the final act when, being tempted by Faust again, facing death if she does not yield to that temptation (and unbeknownst to her, damnation if she does), sure that she is already damned, she falls to her knees and, instead of giving into despair, prays for forgiveness and salvation it was one of the most poignant scenes in the entire opera. Still, the role was unsuited to her voice. She has a lovely soprano but it is too delicate for the demands of such a role and I think that I need to hear more of her performances before making a determination on what I think of her as a singer. I’m not sure why she’s pushing herself into the heavier vocal roles but, despite her acting abilities, it’s disheartening to see.
One completely unexpected surprise was Michele Losier in the trouser role of Siebel. Her voice is powerful and clear and she drew the eye with her stage presence. She moves well, sings beautifully and I would very much like to see her perform again.
The most annoying character (not singer—the singer, Russell Braun was quite good) was Marguerite’s brother. The self-centeredness, narcissistic male ego, and complete disregard for his sister’s well being (but plenty of regard for her ‘honor’ in whatever ways it might affect him) were staggering and contributed to Marguerite’s mental decline. This character, while on the surface a man of honor, was in fact a man of arrogance and cruelty. For despite all this talk of wanting to protect his sister and her honor, in reality, that is what it was: cruelty. I see little difference in the end between him and Faust, save that the latter acknowledges what kind of man he is. I found that juxtaposition added nuance to the main trio of Marguerite, Faust, and Mephistopheles.
As I said, I’m really not a fan of Gounod’s music, but the story and this particular production were captivating. Despite the issues that I mention above, it is certainly worth seeing. In fact, I’m sorely tempted to see it again. It’s one of the most enjoyable opera experiences I’ve had. The singers create this world in which this horrifying, deeply moving story unfolds, and just when you think all is lost, there is a final moment of grace, at least for Marguerite. It’s a tremendously powerful story and the staging and the singers did it justice.
Rene Pape as Mephistopheles in "Faust" (this is NOT the Met's production;i haven't found a youtube clip of it yet, but this is my favorite aria in this opera): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUgoMzkaSoE
Marina Poplavskaya singing one of Liu's arias from the Met's 2009 production of "Turandot": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXbCsaKHYGs
Jonas Kaufmann singing "La Donna e Mobile" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mjgo7c3IW4
I haven't had time to post this before now, but I am very, very pleased to announce that Raven Kaldera's Northern Tradition shamanism series is being translated into Russian. (I have several articles in that series, so this means some of my stuff is being translated too). I think this is wonderful and want to extend a very warm greeting to any Russian Heathens and spiritworkers who might be reading this.
For those who might be interested, here's a link to some of the translations: http://www.northernshamanism.org/ru/obshhaja/dobro-pozhalovat.html
I was going to spend the summer learning Spanish, but i'm thinking maybe I should get my Russian up to par instead. :)
I swear this is not turning into an opera blog *G* but I am going to gush for a moment.
I'm not one for tenors. I'll take a good counter-tenor over a tenor any day and dream about how castrati must have sounded and get personally annoyed when I see a mezzo singing their roles in place of a man (except for C. Bartoli, who is in a class by herself vocally). Conversely, fwiw, I prefer a rich, deep female contralto to a soprano. The upshot of all of this is that it takes a lot for a tenor to catch my attention and even more for one to hold it. Finally a tenor has done this. LOL. I first saw German tenor Jonas Kaufmann by chance in the Met's production of "Tosca" last year and I was just flat out blown away.
Kaufmann's voice is a glorious thing. I am coming to believe that the man can sing anything. He has a rich, flexible voice that reminds me of a young Pavarotti in his prime....only better and certainly more layered and complex. Also, he can act, quite well in fact. The man ruined "Carmen" for me. His portrayal of Don Jose was so spot on, so intense, so perfect (and he portrayed Don Jose as such a whining, sexually repressed Momma's boy) that I don't think I'll ever be able to watch that opera again. That performance is the one that I shall hold all others up in judgment. To my surprise, he was equally compelling in Wagner (no small feat) and his presence in "Die Walkuere" earlier this year actually compelled me to attend a performance. (I have nothing against Wagner, but he's not a favorite composer of mine and the acts are long and it's hard for me to sit that long in general so i rarely go to live showings of the Ring cycle).
Anyway, I'm going to see him in Gounod's "Faust" this week and I'm looking forward to it. The opera has been re-staged, set in the period after the two World Wars. I'm curious about the staging--in my opinion, it's a 50/50 thing with the Met. I think they try too hard to be contemporary sometimes--but even more eager to see Kaufman in this role. The opera itself is one that generally I could take or leave but, as another opera lover commented on fb: if the staging sucks, i can just enjoy looking at him, because really, in addition to his voice, Kaufmann is not hard on the eyes. LOL (Hey, i've seen some productions over the years where a handsome singer was the *only* saving grace. Don't knock it. Operas can be painfully long when badly done).
The cast that I'll be seeing also includes Rene Pape and Marina Poplavskaya...I'm very curious to hear her as well. Apparently she gives a fine performance even though, by reports that I've been reading, her vocal strengths are uneven toward the end of the opera. The thought of hearing Pape and Kaufmann together was too much to resist (I wasn't planning to go to the opera again this season). In fact, the Met has had some truly phenomenal casts this season, just in general, as evinced by the recent performance of "Rodelinda."
I'm going to stop rambling now. This is what happens when I get online before having had my morning coffee. heh. I'll be posting a review of this opera here sometime this week. For those interested, I believe that some performances will be telecast in HD in certain theaters. Check http://www.metopera.org for more info.
While my Sekhmet devotional, titled "When the Lion Roars" isn't quite on the market yet, it soon will be (maybe even in time for Yule) and I thought i'd give y'all a sneak peak at the cover art.
This was designed by artist K.C. Hulsman utilizing photographs taken by photographer Mary Ann Glass.
Stay tuned, folks, and I'll be sure to post here as soon as this book has been released.