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Friday, May 11th, 2007

Time Event
"The Barber of Seville," Florentine Opera
OK, got some serious art catching up to do:

On Sunday, April 29th, Milwaukee's Florentine Opera Company presented a very fine production of "The Barber of Seville," by Gaiocchino Rossini. "Barber"is one of those shows that the experienced opera goer may wince when we see it on the season program, since it is one of the most performed operas in the world, along with "La Boheme," "Marriage of Figaro," "Tosca," "La Traviata," and "Madama Butterfly." Enjoyable as all these are, one mostly goes hpoing to see something a bit new and different. Fortunatly, this "Barber" did not disappoint. What particularly enlivened this show was some exceptional casting. Brian Downen, as Count Amalviva, is a lighter tenor, which requires him to actually act to get his part across, which is a welcome departure from many Amalvivas who are content to let Figaro do the clowning while they concentrate on singing and looking gorgeous. Not so say that Downen was not a fine singer--he was. The typical Rosina, in my experience, tends to be small, blond, china-doll pretty, and a pure soprano. Jennifer Rivera is taller, red-haired, striking, and a mezzo-soprano. Her darker tone added a very interesting maturity to the role which is often played as though fifteen and girlish. Rivera's Rosina was much more forceful and mature woman, which adds a lot of "bite" to her "I'll be a viper" aria, in which she describes her temper if her desires are thwarted. Having a more subtle Amalviva and a more powerful Rosina put their courtship on a much more equal level. Rosina was a woman chafing under her guardian's rule who knows her own mind, as opposed to the green girl dazzled by the worldly Amalviva.

The plot was driven by Daniel Belcher as Figaro, and played him finely as the dandy barbers were often supposed to be. Kevin Glavin filled out the major roles as the suspicious Doctor Bartolo excellently well. Critics accused Kurt Link, who played Doctor Basilio, of chewing the scenery overly much, but it is a clown role, and we thought the scenes were chewed just enough.

Fine voices all around, good costumes, a very cleverly designed set, and mostly clever staging all contributed to an excellent performance. Quibbles: I have seen the "like a statue" scene done better: I didn't find this version very clever. The orchestra, conducted by Christopher Larkin, was note-perfect, but was a bit loud in the first act, and somewhat drowned out Belcher in the famous "Figaro" song.

All in all , we must say that the Florentine continues to put on really fine opera, and I think them to be the equal of any major regional company in what they do. Next season is actually comparatively free of grand opera warhorses, being made up of "The Merry Widow," "Salome," and "Romeo and Juliet" by Bellini. Looks like fun.
Spider-Man 3
We caught Spider-Man 3 opening weekend, courtesy of AT&T which was throwing an event to promote its U-verse digital TV over Interent product. (Which, by the way, is getting very good reports, although of course there are a few glitches with such a new product. if we had time to watch more than an hour of TV a week, I'd definitely be interested.)

So were were out at the Ridge Theatre in New Berlin at 9:00AM on May 5th for the first show of the day. After the half-hour of unexpectedly light-handed agitprop, we settled in to enjoy the movie.

Critics aside, we found the movie very good. We were reading Spider-Man comics regularly during the orginal "black suit" storyline and so were able to follow the allegedly convoluted plot quite well. In fact, perhaps being comics readers, we didn't find the plot all that convoluted. There is actually a very strong unifying theme about the corrosive effects of the lust for revenge. Harry Osborne (James Franco) wants revenge on Peter/Spider-Man for the death of his father, and takes the mind-altering Goblin potion to do it, using some upgrade to his father's old gear. Peter, agression amped up by the alien symbiote, takes a really spiteful revenge on Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) for having dumped him, publicly humiliates his photographic rival, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace); and engages Harry in a vicious fight fueled as much by testosterone as by their mutual demons. Brock of course wants revenge on Peter for getting him fired and joins with the alien symbiote (ticked off at having been abandoned by Peter) to become the monsterous Venom. When Peter learns tha an escaped convict, Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church), now the Sandman, may have been the "real" killer of Uncle Ben, Peter gives into rage fighting him, and exults in his seeming demise until brought up short by his Aunt May in a scene some have wrongly described as "preachy."

Marko is about the only major character who isn't at some point motivated by rage and spite. With his heavy build, stoic face, and growly, apologetic voice, Church invokes the late Lon Chaney Jr. in "accidental monster" roles such as "The Indestructible Man". In fact, Church said in an interview that he was inspired by Chaney, and it shows, sttongly, but subtly, in the scenes surrounding his transformation. Sandman,is an esentially hard-luck character, and is more reactive than active in what happens to him.

Special effects were, of course, "spectacular" and I was very interested in the producer's choices. Peter's aeiral battle with Harry is breathaking in its speed and violence. Sandman, with his malleable body giving him enormous reach, and ability to climb walls digging sand grains into crevices, and abilty to slough off webbing, was one of the earlier villains designed to give Spider-Man a fight in his own element, although he lost out becasue he was slower and less agile. The movie version is more powerful, able to travel through the air as a sandstorm and to animate huge amounts of sand, becoming a colossus. Even though much of Sandman's on-screen action is CGI, trivia about this movie notes the extent to which Church was beaten up in the making of it. (more to come).

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