Singing, Dancing and a Little Bit of Forest Hopping
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And how was your holiday, my friends? Usually, I would do anything to avoid being on the road at this time of year. Sure enough, my short trip to Pomona turned out to be a two-hour headache due to a car accident on the freeway. Somehow, I expected better from the rare occurrence of the celebration of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving on the same day. In a minute, I'll tell you why I went to Pomona.
But now, I want to talk about the extremely whimsical performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It's not often that, during an opera performance, the audience would laugh –not once, not twice, but many times –and always for the right reasons. The singers and orchestra, as far as I could tell, were absolutely at the top of their game. But it was the staging and set design, inspired by silent era German movies such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, that particularly impressed me.
Real singers, happily interacted with the animated characters – some impossibly cute and others downright terrifying – all this projected and playing out to maximum comic effect on the white wall used as a screen backdrop. A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see the LA Opera's production of Verdi's Falstaff, which was very solid but very, very traditional. One hopes that the audience's enthusiastic response, along with the excellent critical reviews to The Magic Flute will encourage the LA Opera to continue on this experimental road of taking more chances and coming up with more surprises.
Now, back to Pomona, where I was invited to speak at Claremont Graduate University along with LA Times art critic David Pagel on the subject of, what else… art criticism. Should the critic speak to the audience in a casual way as if they were friends? Or talk to them as if they are students eager to learn?
During this short trip, I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Pomona College Museum of Art, where I was rewarded with the exquisite video installation by New York based artist David Michalek. On several large screens, in a darkened gallery, I saw male and female dancers – some nude, some dressed in elaborate costumes – all of them moving at an extremely slow pace. The exhibition, with its references to 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge as well as to post-modern dance, had quite a hypnotic effect on me. I was sorry to learn that I missed David Michalek's artistic contribution to Peter Sellars' staging of Kafka Fragments here at Walt Disney Hall in 2008.
Let me finish by inviting you on a slow and delightful trip through the forests and fields of Yorkshire, the part of England where David Hockney spent the last few years. At LACMA, hidden at the very back of the Resnick Pavilion, there is a small gallery where, on 18 large screens, one sees Yorkshire landscapes recorded from Hockney's car. Once again, the action is very slow, creating a very peaceful, almost hypnotizing effect. We are all in such a constant rush, but here, we are given a chance to slow down and experience the magic of the slightest movements of a single blade of grass. It is a profound portrait of Mother Nature at her best, and we have to thank this great artist for reminding us of her divine beauty.
Banner image; Monostatos. The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Photo: Robert Millard, courtesy LA Opera