November 9th, 2011

The tide turns?

Yesterday was an election day in Mississippi and in Ohio, and the conservative agenda suffered two major setbacks.

In Mississippi, the so-called "personhood amendment" to the state constitution, which would have outlawed abortion and many forms of contraception, was defeated at the polls, despite expectations that it would have passed.

In Ohio, voters resoundingly voted to repeal the governor's draconian actions stripping public workers of bargaining rights.

In related news, Maine voters elected to restore same-day voter registration, which had been abolished by a republican-controlled legislature, and Republican candidates suffered losses elsewhere in the country.

Wouldn't it be a good thing if Republican politicians got the idea that the extreme platform they've been pushing is too out-there for the electorate? I'd sure like to have that question asked at tonight's Republican candidates' debate, but I bet it won't be.

I do hope this is a sign of the tide turning. Scott Walker, you are next!

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Florentine Opera, "Turandot"

On Sunday, November 6th, we went to the Marcus Center to enjoy a very fine production of Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot."

This was one of the more gorgeous productions the Florentine has mounted of late, with a lot obviously invested in costumes, particularly for the chorus, who represented citizens, soldiers, priests, and gravediggers at various times, with appropriate costume changes. Said chorus sounded very good, which compensated for their stage direction which had them frequently looking like a rabble getting on and off the rather crowded stage. The crowding was in turn due to the rather handsome multi-level set pieces, which represented a square in Peking and the terraces overlooking it.

Tutandot was sung by Lise Lindstrom, who is currently one of the foremost interpreters of the role. She has a very powerful voice, being able to make herself heard over the full orchestra, chorus, and cast, but also a very pure tone. Her ramrod straight posture and forceful gestures reinforced the character of a spoiled but powerful princess.

She was well matched by Renzo Zulian as the willful Calaf. His rendition of the iconic aria, "Nessun Dorma" won general applause.

The supporting cast members, notably Rena Harms as Liu, Peter Volpe as Timur, and David Karvitz, Frank Kelley, and Mattew Richardson, as ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong.

Maestro Joseph Resigno was at the podium and did his usual fine job conducting a large orchestra.

This is one of those operas where the imagery, the singing, and the music all need to be spectacular, and the Florentine delivered.

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"The Three Musketeers", 2011

We fit in seeing the new "Three Musketeers" film on Tuesday evening, November 8th. It was good fun, even though pretty far from the orginal Dumas novel.

The establishing sequence is pure modern invention. It portrays Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans), working together with Milady DeWinter (Milla Jovovich) as agents of the French Crown sent to steal Leonardo da Vinci's plans for a flying ship from the "Da Vinci vault" in Venice. (In fact, Da Vinci spent his last years in France, under the patronage of King Francis I, but the plot does not let a little thing like history stand in the way.) This is one of the most steampunk/clockpunk sequences, and also the most problematic since one does not think of the honorable musketeers cavalierly assassinating innocent guards--.

After that, the lot follows the familiar story, with a few changes. Young D'Artagnan (Logan Lernan) goes to Paris to become a musketeer, falls foul of Richelieu's chief henchman, Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) on the way, and recklessly becomes promised to duel all three of the famous musketeers. After being adopted into the fraternity, the men become involved in the affair of the diamond studs (in this case, an entire necklace) and go haring off to England to fetch them back from the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). This is where the plot takes a distinct left turn, since in this story Buckingham is an enemy and doesn't know he has the diamonds, they having been planted on him by Milady. What follows is the excuse for an airship chase and battle across half of France before the final denouement.

It is kind of silly, but very good looking and fun to watch. Lerman as young D'Artagnan is, as Milady says at one point, "pretty", but also athletic and has good moves that put him on a par with the more experienced swordsmen. Indeed, all the principals (including Jovovich, who shows off the martial arts chops picked up in the "Ultraviolet" and "Resident Evil" franchises) are of course phenomenal and unorthodox fighters, so much so that Mikkelsen stands out for his formal fencing style. (Ironically, when challenged to a fair fight by D'Artagnan, Rochefort simply replies, "I don't fight fair.")

The weakest characterization in the script is Richelieu, played by Christoph Waltz, with an unaccountable accent as though he could not make up his mind whether he was playing Richelieu or Mazarin. I don't think that Richelieu would bother playing chess against himself, let alone admit to Milady that he did so for lack of equal opponents. Jovovich's Milady makes up for her boss' weakness with her portrayal that is alternately teasing, wicked, seductive, and deadly. Orlando Bloom has an obvious good time playing Buckingham as the heavy, whether rubbing the young King Louis' nose in his gaucheries, or plotting to trap and kill the musketeers.

The actors playing the Three stand by the standard characterizations: grim and bitter Athos, manly and jocular Porthos, and scholarly ladies' man Aramis; no complaints there. There were very nice choices made in casting Freddie Fox as the insecure King Louis, and Juno Temple as Queen Anne, who has the kind of fragile prettiness that makes it believable that the King should love her, and the Musketeers risk their life for her.

The film looks very good, with a lot of the fantasy gadgets looking almost credible. Costuming was fun if also a bit on the fantastic side. The musical score was mostly unobtrusive, fortunate, since, when it was noticeable, it was an anemic homage to "Pirates of the Carribbean," to the extent I expected to have it break into the familiar riffs, and, when I play action scenes back in my head, that's what I hear.

The ending tag would seem to be a sequel hook, but it's so far off from anything historical or anything Dumas wrote, that I can't imagine where they would take it.

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