Monday, March 5, 2012

The Play's the Thing

Finally saw the play Red the other night; 'twas my first trip to the newly-rebuilt Arena Stage in Southwest DC. For those of you who have already seen this drama on Broadway or London, where it originated at DonmarWarehouse, or Chicago, where this production was launched at the Goodman Theater, this may be old news, but this is one fantastic evening in the theater.  This saga of the midlife crisis of painter Mark Rothko raises many perplexing conundrums and conflicts.

For us, the impact was magnified because we had just returned from seeing the Van Gogh show, focusing on his nature pictures--the plants, flowers, wheatfields, and trees--at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  That wonderful museum does have a Rothko or two, even if its modern strength lies in its Monets, Cezannes, some other Impressionists, and some Picasso and Braque but mostly from Picasso's earliest stages, ending with cubism.

I've always found Rothko's color blocks compelling although now I feel more supplied with what he was trying to accomplish. It also seem amazing that one major theme of the play was whether he would go back on his commission to provide murals for the then-avant-garde Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. The great conflicts of art brought down to one decision. I also found his fretting about the generation coming up on him--the Pop art, op art, Warhol and Stella--pushing at his group--DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, and the other abstract expressionists.

Both Van Gogh and the Philadelphia art museum remain remarkably overwhelming.  The museum has a superb collection that demands more than a  single visit; Philadelphia itself, where I once spent a summer working and many childhood visits, has many other wonderful museums, and restaurants in great profusion.  The Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Penn remains a treasure, too, and last time I was there, I enjoyed the new National Constitution Center.

The weekend before I managed to catch the Met's broadcast in theaters of Verdi's Ernani, probably the one major work of his that had eluded me until now. It was his first big success (after Nabucco, I suppose) but it's a bit like Sicilian Vespers--wonderful exciting music, good arias, but you don't leave the theater remembering any melodies. The new soprano Angela Meade was fine and did show some evidences of Sutherland's ability to make hard singing look easy; Marcel Giordani, who has been doing major tenor roles all over Europe, was more than adequate but not fine enough to make anyone forget Pavarotti, who enjoyed singing the title role. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was excellent as always in both his singing and acting of the role of Charles V, and Ferrucio Furlanetto, veteran bass-baritone, deserved the plaudits he received (especially from Charles Rosen in the New York Review of Books) for his masterful rendition of the villain's role. Rosen mentioned that after hearing the legendary Rosa Ponselle's recording of a famous soprano aria from this opera, Maria Callas ordered it never to played in her presence again! 

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