Thursday, January 31, 2013

Plans And Planning

In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight David Eisenhower

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Salle Favart

Salle Favart, once again home to L'Opéra Comique.

L'Opéra Comique operates much like Theater an der Wien, offering on average one production per month in strict stagione.

Like Theater an der Wien, L'Opéra Comique lacks its own chorus and orchestra, and engages existing ensembles of appropriate size on a per-production basis. Its productions are often shared with or imported from other theaters, and its recent history suggests that L'Opéra Comique is obliged to focus on small-scale works requiring limited resources.

L'Opéra Comique appears to lack the lavish funding, political muscle and artistic cachet Roland Geyer, over the last decade, has managed to bring to Theater an der Wien. (Geyer should be the person running the Metropolitan Opera; he is probably the best in the world at what he does.) Theater an der Wien, which routinely engages international-level conductors, directors and singers, clearly operates on an entirely different level than the current Opéra-Comique.

It would seem to me that L'Opéra Comique needs to develop its own company—that is, its own chorus, orchestra, artistic staff and individual identity—if it is to survive and thrive long-term. As it stands now, L'Opéra Comique is a little more than a roadhouse for touring productions, and might easily be shut down at the next change of government.

“Unfunny Camp Is Contemptible”

I believe the borrowed iconography for this tableau from the “David et Jonathas” staging we saw in Paris speaks for itself. Any reasonably intelligent person can see instantly the subtext of the director’s intended message.

It was hard for us to gauge the reaction of the Paris audience to the production. Applause was polite but not fulsome—and nothing like the extended and enthusiastic outpouring of gratitude for the “Khovanshchina” performance we attended two nights later.

Of course, “Khovanshchina” is a far greater work than “David et Jonathas”—and “Khovanshchina” had been superbly cast and superbly performed, whereas “David et Jonathas” had been weakly cast and weakly performed. Such easily may account for the differing public receptions.

The local reviews I was able to track down for “David et Jonathas” were not illuminating. Not one writer had anything intelligent or worthwhile to say either about the musical presentation or the stage presentation.

It is possible that the Paris press covered the production more fully when it was unveiled last summer at the Aix-En-Provence Festival, and therefore saw no need to rehash the production on its reappearance in the capital.

However, I am skeptical that the production was ever adequately addressed by the French press. (In fairness, I must add that French critics may have believed the production too unimportant to address at any length.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Gay “West Side Story” Set To French Baroque Music

On one of our trips to Paris in 2003 and 2004, my brother and I visited the Harmonia Mundi disc shop on Avenue de l'Opéra. At the time, the modest-sized shop seemed to have in stock virtually every Harmonia Mundi disc ever issued, including discs never released in the U.S. or discs no longer in print in North America. I took advantage of the occasion—and prices: new issues aside, every disc in the shop was available for eight Euros—and bought thirty or so Harmonia Mundi discs and had them shipped home.

I still have not listened to all the discs I picked up that day.

In fact, it was only last month, after the passage of almost ten years, that I at last listened to Harmonia Mundi’s recording of Charpentier’s tragédie biblique, “David et Jonathas”, one of the sets I had acquired at the Harmonia Mundi shop in Paris. The instigation for my listening: a January trip to Paris, a trip during which we attended a performance of “David et Jonathas” at Salle Favart.

Listening to the Harmonia Mundi recording fifteen or so times, I found “David et Jonathas” to be the least interesting and least inspired Charpentier piece I had ever encountered. The score is primarily contemplative music, and demonstrates little melodic gift and little instrumental imagination. It is an academic work, written for a college of Jesuits and intended to be given a single performance, and features none of the rhythmic and harmonic life to be found in Charpentier’s very finest music.

(The work ended up being performed by more than one Jesuit college, which solely accounts for its survival: a copy was made by a copyist for a Jesuit college performance outside Paris, and the copy survives. The composer’s own score was not preserved, and Charpentier never included “David et Jonathas” in his meticulously-maintained and elaborately-bound notebooks intended to represent his official and comprehensive work-product; Charpentier’s notebooks, in remarkable condition, survive in French national archives to this day.)

Charpentier was at his best in church music. All Charpentier church music I have heard is at a very high level.

Charpentier’s instrumental music is nowhere near as fine—instrumental music was, after all, the Couperin family trade; the Couperins possessed not only the franchise but also the talent—and Charpentier’s operas, the late and great “Médée” aside, are weaker still; they are several notches below the operas of Rameau.

I do not believe that Charpentier’s strength was dramatic music. Even his noble “Médée” suffers in comparison to the operas of Rameau—and his five-act “David et Jonathas” offers far less musical and dramatic interest even than the slight but charming one-act pastorale, “Actéon”, which Charpentier wrote in 1684, four years before “David et Jonathas”.

Whatever dramatic instincts Charpentier possessed were, in “David et Jonathas”, hampered by the libretto: there is no overt drama in the work. Each of the five acts is a pure psychological portrait of one of the characters (and not a particularly penetrating portrait, at that). Nothing happens; the stage action portrays nothing more than self-examination.

Each act begins with an instrumental movement and concludes with one or more instrumental dances, between which characters sing of their sorrows in a bland stream of arioso. The blandness may be explained by the circumstances surrounding the composition: in writing for a Jesuit college, Charpentier was writing for non-professional voices with limited ranges and limited vocal techniques (scholars have speculated that one or more professional singers may have been hired for important solo roles, but the constricted vocal requirements suggest otherwise).

The Harmonia Mundi recording of “David et Jonathas”, now out-of-print (and commanding astonishing prices on the aftermarket), does the work no favors. First issued in 1988 and reissued at budget price in 1998, “David et Jonathas” is one of countless William Christie/Les Arts Florissants recordings that have come and gone over the years, capturing vapid and depth-free readings of little-known scores that require performers of genius to bring to life.

In the “David et Jonathas” recording, Christie’s conducting is too lightweight; everything bounces along agreeably, even vivaciously, but intensity and fervor and genuine emotion are lacking. Christie’s cast of singers is unremarkable if not unpleasant. There is not a major voice—or a major artist—in the lot (Jonathan is sung by a soprano, surely a miscalculation) and the listener is left with the distinct impression that the cast was assembled from a mid-level conservatory with a conspicuously-undistinguished vocal department.

Of the many Christie/Les Arts Florrisants recordings I own, “David et Jonathas” is the unmistakable loser (while Rameau’s Motets, on Erato, is the undisputed jewel, finer even than either of the Christie “Médée” recordings). [Perhaps I should note that I do not collect Christie outside French Baroque repertory.]

Listening to the recording of “David et Jonathas” was, of course, mere preparation: we caught the live performance of “David et Jonathas” in Paris a week ago Sunday. In the pit at Salle Favart were . . . Christie and Les Arts Florissants.

For us, “David et Jonathas” was not the prime attraction. For us, the attraction was an opportunity to see the interior of Salle Favart, and to experience a live performance in the fabled theater.

It was only in 2005 that the French government reassumed authority over Salle Favart, and restored the theater to its original purpose: the performance of high-quality (and heavily-subsidized) opera. The result: Salle Favart is back to its historic role, once again serving as a supplemental house to L'Opéra National de Paris and once again operating as L'Opéra Comique.

“David et Jonathas” was the only opera on the boards at L'Opéra Comique during the entire month of January, and we intended not to miss out—although we would have much preferred to catch next month’s production of “Ciboulette”, a neglected masterpiece by Reynaldo Hahn.

Salle Favart is a beautiful theater. A far cry from the overstated grandeur and excessive opulence that characterize Palais Garnier, Salle Favart is nonetheless striking and elegant in its own right (although its public spaces are cramped). The current Salle Favart opened in 1898 (the two previous theaters on the site had been destroyed by fires in, respectively, 1838 and 1887).

The theater is very intimate, and of ideal size: it accommodates 1250 patrons. Acoustics and sightlines are excellent; no seat is far from the stage.

The current structure witnessed the premieres of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” and Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole”, only two of many notable works that have received their first performances at the current Salle Favart. We found it a privilege to be in a theater that has witnessed the births of so many distinguished operas.

The Opéra-Comique stage presentation of “David et Jonathas” was a resolute disaster—although I grant there may be no way of staging “David et Jonathas” to satisfaction. The work probably should be performed in concert, and exclusively in concert; I doubt it can be made to work as a stage vehicle.

Although the work is a tragédie biblique, the Opéra-Comique staging had removed all traces of religion; “David et Jonathas” was presented as pure secular vehicle—or, more accurately, as pure romantic vehicle.

If there were intellectual underpinning to such treatment, it might be justified by noting that the original was an allegory. However, the program booklet dispensed of such niceties, focusing instead on “the unfailing friendship” of David and Jonathan and “the confrontation of communities”—and concluding that the plot of “David et Jonathas” was, fundamentally, no different than the storyline of “Romeo And Juliet” or “West Side Story”.

And such was precisely how the work was staged: as a gay “West Side Story”, set to French Baroque music—except that Sharks and Jets had been transformed into Arabs and Jews. (The director’s explanation for the latter: “the whole drama is transferred from the religious to the ethnic and intercommunity level”.)

We found it impossible not to laugh at the lunacy of it all. It was like being treated to a “Henry V” shorn of The War Of The Roses.

The stage designs and many of the stage tableaux for “David et Jonathas” had been inspired by 1940s American films, most particularly John Ford’s “The Grapes Of Wrath” and Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca”, whole scenes of which were recreated down to the original lighting schemes, complete with shadows. (Arab characters even wore the “Casablanca” fez—helpful to the audience, since the fez was the only surefire way to distinguish Arab from Jew.)

A different Curtiz film received a striking hommage in one notable scene: a tableau in which a large group of women appeared, all wearing waitress uniforms identical to that worn by Joan Crawford while working her first waitress job (the one in which Eve Arden served as her supervisor) in “Mildred Pierce”.

Upon appearance of the waitresses, we started laughing uncontrollably. It became impossible for us to take anything seriously thereafter, and we became lost for the remainder of the performance. The “Mildred Pierce” reenactment positively sent us over the edge.

There are no female characters in the original “David et Jonathas”—but that consideration carried no weight with those who had devised this particular production. In fact, the Opéra-Comique “David et Jonathas” featured women all over the stage. One of the livelier characters in this “David et Jonathas” was David’s mother, a mime role. The actress miming the part chewed up the scenery relentlessly throughout all five acts, and might as well have been participating in some bumptious 1960s television game show, so over-the-top were her antics. She reminded me of Kaye Ballard.

Numerous mimes were in use throughout the entire performance. There was no dancing in the many instrumental dance numbers; all were used for the presentation of mime: elaborate mime, head-shaking mime, gruesome mime, all of it unintentionally hilarious.

To be blunt, I cannot imagine who approved this deplorable presentation in its planning stages. Charpentier’s serious and studied examination of friendship, devotion and loyalty—religious, political and personal—was turned into a catalog of mindless and tasteless present-day European clichés, including the requisite anti-Semitism now fashionable in European capitals.

One of Pauline Kael’s most memorable pithy dismissals was “Unfunny camp is contemptible”. Kael’s famous line might as well have been invented for what we saw at Salle Favart. The Paris “David et Jonathas” was nothing if not camp, and it was nothing if not unfunny—and it was indeed contemptible to its core.

This “David et Jonathas” production had premiered last summer at the Aix-En-Provence Festival, which explains much: camp, intentional or no, is generally the prevailing outcome of anything that has emerged from Aix-En-Provence for more than a decade.

The Aix-En-Provence “David et Jonathas” was a co-production with L'Opéra Comique and Théâtre de Caen (the latter is the home theater of Les Arts Florissants). The production has already traveled to the Edinburgh Festival and is due to be presented at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music in April. A DVD of the production is scheduled to be released in coming months.

Hearing Christie perform the score live only reinforced my earlier belief, acquired after acquainting myself with the old Christie recording: Christie is the wrong man for “David et Jonathas”. Even after the passage of a quarter-century, Christie still has not learned how to realize the work.

The score simply does not come alive in Christie’s hands. Under Christie’s leadership, “David et Jonathas” sounds vacuous, and uninteresting, and lifeless, and unserious, and lacking in spirituality.

If a musician cannot find spirituality in “David et Jonathas”, he probably should leave the score unperformed.

Christie, incomprehensibly, reordered the opera, inserting the Prologue between Acts III and IV. This was done, I believe, in order to get the second half off to a flying start. The Prologue features the Pythoness, the only scene-stealing role in the entire work, and veteran singer Dominique Visse, a vulgar and shameless old ham, made an absolute meal of the part—despite having no voice left. Visse was simultaneously riveting as well as embarrassing; he received the most genuine and sustained applause of the performance.

As in his recording, Christie used a female Jonathan, a reiteration of his misjudgment from 25 years ago. As in his recording, Christie’s singers were, without exception, not worth hearing “on the merits”. It was depressing, having to endure almost three hours of sub-par vocalism that would never be tolerated in El Paso.

Christie is a grossly-overrated figure. He was wise to stake a claim to repertory left untouched and unheard for three centuries, and to defend that repertory as his own personal property, tenaciously fending off all challengers and interlopers for more than three decades. Christie may have been blessed with only modest talent, but it cannot be denied that the man has made a series of very smart career moves.

The Harmonia Mundi disc shop on Avenue de l'Opéra is still open, which surprised me greatly; I would have thought it defunct by now, given the worldwide collapse in disc sales. Even FNAC has been forced to close its exceptional—and near-comprehensive—music store near L'Opéra Bastille. Yet the small Harmonia Mundi shop in central Paris doggedly and inexplicably hangs on—just like William Christie.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Outtake From “A Bridge Too Far”

An outtake from “A Bridge Too Far”, Richard Attenborough’s epic film about Operation Market Garden.

“A Bridge Too Far” is the only Attenborough film I have seen that is worth watching; all other Attenborough films I have experienced have been plodding bores.

The film is successful largely because of the extraordinary cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth and the superb editing of Antony Gibbs, both masters of their trades. The work of Unsworth, especially, is notable: Unsworth understood light, color and composition as well as Nicolas Poussin. Unsworth and Gibbs must have carried Attenborough through the project—“A Bridge Too Far” may be the sole Attenborough film that doesn’t look like television. I don’t believe that Attenborough, who began directing films only in his late forties, fundamentally understood the art of cinema.

“A Bridge Too Far” was a commercial hit in Europe, but failed miserably at the American box office. I have never understood that failure. The film is one of the great exemplars of the war-film genre, albeit overstuffed with Hollywood stars.

Some persons theorize that the film, released in 1977, hit American shores one year too soon; exhibitors, they argue, should have held the film until 1978, and released the film after the national mood had changed. In a limited 1978 re-release, the film, in head-to-head comparisons, outperformed first-run box-office receipts from the previous year.

Nevertheless, worldwide, the film was enormously profitable, largely because of European receipts—despite the fact that “A Bridge Too Far” was one of the most costly films ever produced.

I have always wondered whether the awards heaped on Attenborough’s mind-numbing “Ghandi” a few years later were belated acknowledgements that his work on “A Bridge Too Far” had been unjustly overlooked.

Since the day it was released, “A Bridge Too Far” has inspired numerous scholarly assessments, including books, journal essays and documentary films. Most such assessments have originated in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, a fact that suggests that Operation Market Garden carries more resonance on the European continent than in the English-speaking world.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Creation Of The IMG Marketing Department

On Tuesday evening, my parents and Joshua and I went to Saint Paul to hear cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan in recital, a recital on this season’s Schubert Club subscription.

I had heard Weilerstein before.

In April 2011, Weilerstein had played Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic and Yuri Temirkanov in Boston’s Symphony Hall. That concert had been a stop on the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic’s 2011 North American tour, and that afternoon’s performance of the Shostakovich concerto had provided the low point of the concert.

Temirkanov and the orchestra had been magnificent in the Shostakovich, offering the finest orchestral account of the work I ever expect to hear—all the while entirely ignoring the soloist. Weilerstein’s presence had been imposed on the orchestra by IMG, the producer of the tour (IMG is also Weilerstein’s management firm), and Temirkanov clearly had been unimpressed with the soloist he had been handed. That afternoon, Temirkanov did what he always does when he finds an artist to be unsatisfactory: he pointedly disregarded the soloist, and totally overplayed the orchestra’s contribution. In doing so, Temirkanov was insuring that the orchestral part, by itself, became sufficiently interesting to maintain listener attention.

Temirkanov, over the years, has become a wizard at this sort of thing: keeping concertos interesting and fulfilling, no matter how dreadful the soloist. Temirkanov probably picked up this particular skill during his journeyman years in Russia, a period in which he was required to deal with one poor soloist after another, most often in Tchaikovsky concerto literature—and forced to learn how to keep a concerto performance alive and vibrant all by himself (longtime Russian conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky also possesses this very same skill).

Given how little she had contributed to the performance of the Shostakovich concerto, Weilerstein might as well have skipped that 2011 Boston concert. Her absence would have been noticed by few—she was THAT unimpressive—and her small sound was lost in the confines of Symphony Hall (Temirkanov had been determined deliberately to drown her out in tutti passages, but Weilerstein could not be heard even in unaccompanied passages, of which there are many in the work).

Weilerstein did not reproduce her disappearing act in Saint Paul, perhaps because she was no longer paired with a musician who possessed no respect for her and perhaps because Saint Paul’s Ordway Hall is a much smaller space than Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Weilerstein is a capable instrumentalist, but she is not an interesting musician. Her playing is bland; it lacks personality and individuality and character and depth. Everything she plays sounds much the same—and, to my ears, remarkably insincere.

Weilerstein is thirty years old. Her musicianship is that of someone ten years younger, which signifies that Weilerstein is developing far too slowly . . . or has no business embarking upon a solo career. Weilerstein appears to be—and very much acts like—the prototypical American airhead, with very little between the ears.

Whatever the cause of Weilerstein’s dull-paced maturation, it is easy to understand why Temirkanov had had no use for her. If she were Russian, Weilerstein would be outranked by 500 other cellists and be consigned to life membership in some out-of-the-way provincial theater orchestra.

In Saint Paul, Weilerstein played, in order, Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 5, Barber’s Cello Sonata, Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne and Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata.

Weilerstein was lost in the Beethoven, which in any case she played in far too Romantic a style. The Barber did not come off, and I had expected that: the piece is thin if not empty, the ideas shopworn; no one can do much of anything with the piece. The Stravinsky, one of four chamber-music offshoots from “Pulcinella”, was fun—but that had everything to do with Stravinsky, and nothing to do with Weilerstein. In the Rachmaninoff, Weilerstein’s sound was all paste and glue, as if her notion of Late Romanticism was to saturate everything in a gooey stream of sound.

Throughout the recital, Weilerstein emoted shamelessly.

Her facial muscles received the workout of a lifetime; it was exhausting—and ultimately demoralizing—to watch Weilerstein go through her prepared facial maneuvers. Her eyebrows, alone, embarked on a Marine Corps-like lifting regimen demanding unprecedented strength and endurance.

Weilerstein threw her head—and mountains of hair—back and forth and side-to-side all night, like some madwoman in a 1930s Warner Brothers prison movie; her ostentatious, ultra-dramatic bow movements, clearly rehearsed, were straight from 19th-Century “She Can’t Pay The Rent” melodrama.

I hadn’t seen such hokey onstage dramatics since . . . the last time I saw Weilerstein.

Happily, the presence of Barnatan kept the evening from being a total waste.

Barnatan is an extraordinary pianist, as eloquent in Beethoven as in Rachmaninoff. He possesses a beautiful touch and beautiful fingerwork. He drew a sound from his instrument that had clarity and warmth and color. Barnatan brought intellectual vigor to the Beethoven, rhythmic life to the Stravinsky, and power and mood to the Rachmaninoff.

Barnatan is the finest pianist I’ve heard in quite some time. Barnatan should have a solo career . . . and not have to waste his time traipsing around, traveling with and accompanying a creation of the IMG marketing department . . . who is perilously close to camp.

Update Of January 15, 2013, at 5:22 p.m. C.S.T.

I have closed comments on this particular post, something I have never previously been forced to do in over six years of posting.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Countess Of Castiglione

Virginia Oldoini, Countess Of Castiglione, was one of the most renowned women in Europe in her day—and, for a time, one of the most beautiful.

Minor noble, aristocrat, diplomat . . . and spy, the Countess (1837-1899) is most remembered today as onetime mistress of Napoleon III. She also served as inspiration for countless artists, including many early photographers, whose work fascinated the Countess. Several photographs of the Countess in the 1850s created a sensation throughout the continent, and remain provocative even by today’s standards.

After The Franco-Prussian War, the Countess spent the remainder of her life in seclusion, seldom leaving her apartment in Place Vendôme—and then only at night, and while wearing a succession of heavy veils.

The Countess’s apartment was decorated in black. Blinds were drawn and mirrors banished; the Countess wished not to confront the loss of her beauty.

At the very end of her life, the Countess, now mad, invited several photographers back to her apartment. After an absence of many years, the photographers were again requested to take photographs of the Countess.

At least two photographers complied. One of the results is this little-seen photograph, the least-known of all surviving photographs of the Countess—and, it is believed, the very last photograph taken before her death.

In the photograph, the Countess’s madness is apparent.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

An Aggregation Of Composers At Juilliard In The 1950s

Seated: Douglas Moore and Roger Sessions. Standing: Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Wallingford Riegger, William Schuman and Walter Piston.

It is a crime that Sessions’s music has disappeared. His “When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom’d” should be as ubiquitous as Orff’s “Carmina Burana”. His “Montezuma” should be staged as often as Berg’s “Wozzeck”. His symphonies should be mainstays of the American orchestral repertory and his “Concerto For Orchestra” played annually.

Monday, January 07, 2013

An Outtake From “Travels With My Aunt”

An outtake from George Cukor’s 1972 film, “Travels With My Aunt”, based on the Graham Greene novel.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso And Andre Salmon In Paris In 1916

Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Andre Salmon on December 15, 1916, in a photograph taken by Jean Cocteau outside the Café de la Rotonde in Montparnasse (at the time, Montparnasse was not the fashionable district it is today).

Arnold Schoenberg In The Austro-Hungarian Army In 1916

This photograph, from 1916, depicts a group of soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Arnold Schoenberg—at age 42—appears in the front row, second from the right.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was so desperate for manpower sixteen months into the war that Schoenberg was classified as fit for service in December 1915. Schoenberg served for almost a year before a petition for his release was granted.

A year later, things had so deteriorated for The Central Powers that Schoenberg was again called to active duty. For his second period of service, beginning in 1917, Schoenberg was assigned light duties in and around Vienna.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Mamie Geneva Doud And Dwight David Eisenhower In San Antonio, Texas, In 1916

Eisenhower proposed to Mamie on Valentine’s Day 1916, and they were married later that year.

Friday, January 04, 2013

A Mugging

The shameless mugging to be seen onstage at The Guthrie, as embodied by the current production of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant Of Two Masters”, a production I deplored.

The production was worthy of a community college in the Ozarks. There was not a shred of talent to be seen onstage. The entire performance, I wanted to shout out at the performers, “Don’t quit your day jobs!”

I haven’t a clue what was going through the director’s mind. In fact, during the second act, I concluded that the director did not have a mind, and that this shortcoming was the source of the production’s problems.

It is my understanding that ticket sales for the production have been disappointing, with box-office receipts deteriorating week-by-week as negative word-of-mouth around town reached critical mass.

By rights, The Guthrie should offer refunds to everyone who made the mistake of attending the production—and throw in money for parking and gas, too.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Terracotta Warriors

Joshua and I have twice visited the Terracotta Warriors Exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts.

Over Thanksgiving Weekend, Josh and I took an out-of-town guest to the exhibition.

Nine days before Christmas, we visited the exhibition a second time. On that day, a Sunday afternoon, everyone in my family attended the exhibition, including my niece and nephew—as well as Josh’s sister, staying with us over her school break.

The exhibition no doubt is an important one, but the rewards are historic more than artistic. The Terracotta Warriors were created during the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. to 206 B.C.), and the artistic quality of the items on display pales when compared to sculpture and artisanal work being produced at the same time in Egypt, Greece and Rome.

My niece and nephew were not too young to enjoy the exhibition. The exhibition engaged them, and held their attentions. We all tried to point out things of particular interest to children in order to make the exhibition fun for them.

The Terracotta Warriors first visited the U.S. in 1985, when the Minneapolis Institute Of Arts presented five of the warriors in a small exhibition. My parents took my brothers and me to that earlier exhibition, and I still remember that day—I was four years old, it was my first visit to MIA, and I was very excited (although somehow I had it in my mind that the warriors were going to be mobile, and put on some sort of live demonstration).

The current exhibition is many times the size of the 1985 exhibition. It is the scale of the current exhibition that most impresses, not the creativity of the individual artists that manufactured the artifacts, most of which are not remarkable—or beautiful—in the least.

In my estimation, ticket prices for the exhibition are too high ($16.00 per head for school-age children seems unreasonable to me, as does $20.00 per head for adults). High prices have not kept the public away; to the contrary, MIA has had to expand significantly its exhibition hours in order to accommodate public demand.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

“The Industrialization Of Gossip”

News may be true, but it is not truth.

James Reston

“Literature In A Hurry”

William L. Shirer reporting on The Fall Of France on June 22, 1940, from Compiègne (the identity of the man on the left is unknown).

Shirer broke the news of France’s surrender to the world, broadcasting live on CBS radio directly from Compiègne. Germany had not planned to announce France’s surrender until the following day, but Shirer’s live broadcast forced Germany to release the news that evening.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 Has Arrived

Joshua and I very much enjoyed Christmas Week in Oklahoma. We had a series of very nice visits with Josh’s family, members of whom dropped in all week. The weather in Oklahoma was unusually cold, and discouraged outside activity, so we stayed in all week—and probably drove Josh’s mother and father out of their minds.

A nearby tragedy occurred late on Christmas night: a family with four very young children was wiped out in a house fire. According to the local fire marshal, there had been no working smoke detectors in the home, which probably would have saved everyone in the household. The event put a pall over our week.

Josh’s sister came back to Minneapolis with us, and she will remain until Sunday. She thinks Josh and I are boring, but she also thinks we are “reliable”—and, she says, we have no irritating habits that get on her nerves. She likes the fact that we keep a clean house, and a kitchen well-stocked with food. She also contends that we are “undemanding”, low-stress, no-maintenance guys—and, therefore, providers of satisfactory companionship.

We had a wonderful New Year’s Eve. The men in my family went to the Minnesota-Michigan State game, which featured an early-afternoon tip-off, perfect for my nephew. The Golden Gophers closed the game on an eight-minute 20-4 run, and defeated Tom Izzo’s Spartans, 76-63. It was an excellent game, and a great start to the Big Ten season. The Golden Gophers are much better this year than expected, and have the potential to become Tubby Smith’s finest Gopher team. It was not until we arrived at Williams Arena that I realized that the Gophers are now ranked number nine (they had been ranked thirteenth the last time I checked).

Last night my mother served her Christmas carp, which she had been saving for Josh’s and my return from Oklahoma. It was a festive dinner, and a festive way to end the year.

Today my mother will give everyone a festive New Year’s dinner. I believe her plan is to build the dinner around a giant, specially-cured Virginia ham she ordered and has been preserving, waiting for the right occasion to use. I saw the ham yesterday. It was two feet long, perhaps longer, and appeared to be a stunning specimen.

The ham will drive the dog nuts today while it is baking.