September 8th, 2011

The Bolshoi in HD: "Coppelia"

On Sunday, August 28th, we went to see the HD broadcast of the Bolshoi Ballet's production of "Coppelia," as choreographed by Marius Petipa and recreated by Sergei Vikharev (with Enrico Cecchetti's 1894 notations) to the music by Leo Delibes. Natalia Osipova was again the prima ballerina, dancing the role of Swanhilda, and Viacheslav Lopatin as Frantz.

It was very interesting to compare this "Coppelia" both with the recent production by Micheal Pink and the Milwaukee Ballet, and the one we saw at the Vienna Staatsoper when we were in Austria. In this production, for example, Swanhilda's "look at me" pas de ane, in which she is trying to catch the doll's attention, opens the ballet, instead of being near the middle of the first act, which changed some emphasis later on.  We were somewhat amused to observe that the program notes indicated that the story is set in Galicia (northern Spain), despite the character names. The costuming was definitely Austro-Hungarian, with the countryfolk coming in to town for the festival definitely Hungarian, and their choreography distinctly Russian-flavored. In another curious detail, the current flag of the Republic of Austria flew in front of the village hall rather than the more correct Austria-Hungary--which just goes to show that, good as the Bolshoi is, they can't be perfect in everything--.

The dancing was, of course, very fine, and as close to perfect as one might see. The dramatic second act was as good as any I have seen, although I still prefer the dancing Coppelius role as done in Vienna. The introductory remarks made note not only of Bolshoi traditions not only in music and dance, but also in mime, and I was able to observe a consistent vocabulary of gesture in use by the characters--almost a sort of sign language, which was very interesting and made it easy to see when different characters were "discussing" similar things.

The third act was somewhat streamlined, with the scene in which Coppelius demands justice and is compensated with money, edited down to a brief episode where Coppelius stalks across the stage bearing his ruined doll in his arms (I was reminded of the scene in the 1931 Frankenstein film, where the villager comes into town carrying the body of his drowned daughter--). I thought it rather heartless that Coppelius' injuries were given such short shrift amid the general celebrations of the marriage festival, which keeps this otherwise gorgeous ballet from being my favorite version. 

EDIT: Re; Geography. Galicia is indeed a region of north eastern Spain, as I knew. However, Galicia (spelling anglicized from the Polish Galicja, Ukranian Halychyna) is also "a colloquial name imposed by the invaders participating in the Partions of Poland to describe the south-eastern territories of the First Polish Republic." (ref. Wikipedia), although the Hungarian version of the name appears to have been in use since the 1200's. In 1772, Galicia was the largest part of the area annexed by Austria in the First Partition of Poland.  Adjacent to the Carpathian Mountains, it is this region in which Hoffman's story, and the ballet, would have been set. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

Milwaukee Masterpiece Auto Show, 2011

Sunday afternoon the 28th, after the ballet, we drove down to the lakefront to see this year's Milwaukee Masterpiece Auto Show. Sunday is the best day to go, since that is the concours d'elegance day, and has most of the classic cars. They are judged on such things as best of type, best preservation, best restoration, paint, interiors, etc. This year, there were two featured types. It was the 40th anniversary of the Jaguar "E" type--if you think of a 1960's era Jaguar sports car, that is the one you are picturing--, and they also had a special section for fiberglass bodied cars. There were a surprising number of such cars built as early as the 1950's, mostly in small numbers, and many of them extremely futuristic looking, even by today's standards. There were even a couple of cars made by Glasspar, a company much better known for boats. I am particularly fond of the "E" Jags, so was very interested and pleased by the turnout.

This is a really excellent show, with good examples of a lot of rare marques on display, including Talbot-Lago, Delahaye, and Lancia, among others. Dates of construction ranged from a 1905 Cadillac touring car to a 1991 Porsche. There was a very nice selection of the Wisconsin-made Kissel, a powerful and well-appinted car that was a darling of Hollywood stars in the 1920's, but was killed by the Great Depression as so many other brands were. Best of Show was a beautiful 1930 Stutz M Supercharged 'Lancefield' Coupe, a picture of which can be seen here:

We spend a very nice couple of hours walking around the show grounds at Veteran's park, and I added a lot of photos to my collection.
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American Players Theatre: "Blithe Spirit" and "The Critic"

On Sunday, September 4th, we drove to Spring Green for a rare combination of plays--two comedies, neither by Shakespeare.

The matinee performance was Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," his delightlfully wicked comedy about a man (James DiVita) who is haunted by the ghost of his dead first wife (Deborah Staples), which bids to tear apart his current, second marriage. Very strong and very funny performances by DiVita, Staples, and Colleen Madden as the put-upon second wife. They were very well supported by the rest of the cast, in particular Susan Sweeney, whose practical outdoorswoman version of Madam Arcati was informed by the role as rendered by Margaret Rutherford in the 1945 film.

The cast added to Coward's crackling dialog with some excellent and original stage business. Staples, as the etherial Elvira, drifted about the stage with seemingly unconscious grace, until she is grounded hard when her plans go awry. If there was one flaw in DiVita's performance, it was that, in the first scene, he tends to overuse a fluting upper register voice when expressing humor or being nonplussed. However, that ceased to be an issue in later scenes. We, and all the audience thouroughly enjoyed the show.

The evening performance was "The Critic," by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Sheridan (1751-1816)was a notable theatrical figure of his day, playwrite, impresario, and theatre owner. This gave him a deep knowlege of the world of theatre, which he lovingly lampoons. The "Critic" of the title is Mr. Dangle (Darragh Kennan), a wealthy dilletante who is actually very UN-critical, and puts up with a lot he doesn't pretend to understand in order to feel in touch with the glamorous life of the theatre. Real critic Mr. Sneer (Jonathan Smoots) tries to guide him, but he persist in maintaining friendship with talentless creatures like "Sir Fretful Plagiary" even though indicating he is aware of their shortcomings.

The play's subtitle "A Tragedy Rehearsed" refers to the new production of a play called "The Spanish Armada" which is the brain-child of Mr. Puff (Jim DiVita). Puff is a man who has essentially invented the modern art of advertising, and, after "puffing" many plays for others, has decided that he knows the theatre well enough to write his own. (Puff's speech on the forms of advertising, including "the puff direct," "the puff indirect," etc., is a brillant take-off on Touchstone's speech on causes of argument and replies from Shakepeare's "As You Like It.")

In the second act, we see a supposed dress-rehersal of "The Spanish Armada," and find that it is a dreadful farrago of theatrical cliches strung on a bathetic excuse for a plot (and "underplot'); that Puff has no idea how to produce or direct--the fact that he let the actors themselves cut lines they felt unnecessary mercifully shortens the play for us viewers; and constant changes have left the production under-rehearsed and prone to disaster. The reactions of Dangle, Sneer, and Puff to these evolutions are almost funnier than the action on stage, which is very funny indeed.

Good as it is, we could see why it is rarely produced. It requires a huge cast (most of the company involved and some doubling roles--), a substantial investment in costumes, and a knowlege of the theatre to appreciate. Fortunately, the APT audience is the kind of audience this show was made for, and greeted the production with a resounding and well deserved ovation.

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