Editor's Desk

Bootlegger's Blues

(Observations, Tristan Kraft, Cinema, Soundtracks) Permanent link
Blogs Boardwalk Empire LG 10110
Paz de la Huerta and Anthony Laciura in Martin Scorsese's
Boardwalk Empire
Abbot Genser/HBO

Many opera fans probably first took note of director Martin Scorsese's taste in opera with Raging Bull, which employed Cavalleria Rusticana's Intermezzo as the soundtrack to its opening credits. Likewise, his 1993 period piece, The Age of Innocence — based on the novel by Edith Wharton — opened on a tableau of Gounod's Faust playing at the New York Academy of Music. In 2006, Scorsese had Jack Nicholson — portraying Irish-American mob boss Frank Costello in The Departed — throw a handful of cocaine at a prostitute, while the sextet from Lucia, "Chi mi frena in tal momento?" played in the background. (The tune is heard later in the movie as Costello's ringtone.)

Scorsese yet again demonstrated his interest in opera with Monday night's premiere of Boardwalk Empire, HBO's new drama about the woes of Prohibition in Atlantic City. Scorsese and Sopranos writer Terence Winter have assembled a fairly huge cast for the twelve-episode show, including Metropolitan Opera character-tenor Anthony Laciura. One thing is already apparent: the breadth of talent on the show ranges widely. Laciura, all opera-industry bias aside, is one of the most capable actors, and Paz de la Huerta is one of the least.

In a sequence at the end of the episode, two characters are knocked-off while Cavalleria Rusticana's "O Lola, ch'ai di latti"   plays in the background. One actor stands at the gramophone when the hit comes, and moments later his blood decorates the famous picture of Caruso, mid-drum-strike, dressed as Pagliaccio. Indeed, la commedia è finita. spacer 

TRISTAN KRAFT

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Summertime Blues

(Recordings, Observations, Tristan Kraft, Listening, Crossover) Permanent link
Blog Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin 9110  

George and Ira Gershwin's melodies pervade popular culture with the same frequency as Carmen or Debussy's "Clair de Lune." Two weeks ago, Brian Wilson contributed to the fold of Gershwin interpretations, releasing his newest album "Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin." The album, issued on Disney Pearl Series, is his second after the release of the much-anticipated "Smile" in 2005.

As you might expect, the former Beach Boy presents these standards, musical theater numbers and arias in cooing, three and four-part harmonies awash in reverb. Wilson plays "'S Wonderful" as a bossa nova, à la João Gilberto; he redefines "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" from Porgy and Bess as a instrumental jig for harmonica; and he adds both string and saxophone accompaniment to "Summertime" , singing with what you might call Southern California sprezzatura.

If it's too weird for you, there are plenty of other renditions to fall back on. Take the following, for instance: Leontyne Price singing "Summertime" for Jimmy Carter in 1978. spacer 

– TRISTAN KRAFT

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Cremeistersinger

(Performances, Tristan Kraft, Cinema) Permanent link

Last week I took advantage of the rare opportunity to watch the film components of Matthew Barney's entire Cremaster Cycle — the artist's monumental multimedia installation/performance piece consisting of sculpture, photography, installation and film.

The five films, which were being screened at Manhattan's IFC Center, almost defy written description: there are surreal creatures, abstract and remote settings, and a loose, coming-of-age plot to the cycle, something like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man set in Narnia. Music is an integral part of the cycle, and composer Jonathan Bepler has scored nearly every moment of it. In Cremaster 3, the protagonist (played by Barney) rigs an elevator shaft in the Chrysler building as a harp — leaving the other empty shafts as drones — which a Gaelic-singing maître d’ (played by Paul Brady) uses to accompany himself.

I saw the cycles in order by title (Cremasters 1 through 5 were filmed in 1996, 1999, 2002, 1995, 1997, respectively). This is an occupational hazard, admittedly, but as I watched the films, I wondered what it would be like if Barney were to direct an opera. Cremaster 5 offered the answer to that question: Barney set most of the film inside Budapest’s State Opera House, with the Budapest Philharmonic playing in the pit, while a costumed climber (again played by Barney) climbs up, across and down the proscenium, as former Bond-girl Ursula Andress "sings" from the theater’s Royal Box. (Soprano Adrienne Csengery does the actual singing.)

The result, however, is a bit of a letdown. Bepler, who is a talented orchestral composer, fails to create much variation in the vocal parts. Where he is otherwise capable of creating spontaneous rhythmic texture, he provides Csengery with what seems like one endless legato phrase, with a tepid orchestration underneath. She is less than pleasant to listen to: her intonation is spotty and she sings with one of the widest vibratos around. Andress, and her accompanying twin sprites, perform a campy lip-syncing job to go along with it.

With the proliferation of operas in high definition, it’s possible to imagine Barney directing an opera, without omitting any of the media he synthesizes so well. Judging by the ending of Cremaster 5, I’d say the director may be ready to direct Rusalka.

– Tristan Kraft

More information can be found at www.cremaster.net, the IFC Center and the fan-site Cremaster Fanatic, where one can see Barney and family sitting at the MOMA’s Marina Abramović exhibit, or the avant-garde artist modeling for Macy's in the late 1980's.


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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2