Live music vs. the iPod♦
Re “The case for live classical music,” by Beeri Moalem—
Thank you for this wonderful essay. I have been trying to persuade my grown children that it is “different” in a profoundly important way to attend live performances, and put into words why I treasure my season tickets more highly than gold. I will share this with them and with everyone else I know.
April 23, 2008
Beeri Moalem raises a decent point. However, that point is undercut by his stereotypical condemnation of hip-hop. I’m not much of a hip-hop fan myself, but I’ve listened to enough of it to shake my head at his statement, and I imagine many others will do the same.
It’s irrational to criticize any genre based on its representation in the popular music charts— almost anything on the pop charts is likely to be vapid and intellectually insulting in its content. The majority of hip-hop is not "barbaric" in its subject matter— which Beeri would know if he actually listened to a good amount of it.
April 19, 2008
Hillary’s message to Pennsylvanians
Your "Letter from Hillary" was hilarious. My brother Mark (who is visiting from Ohio to observe us Pennsylvanians vote) and I had a good laugh while reading the Review over breakfast this morning. We worked the polls on behalf of Committee of Seventy yesterday in the first District. Mark actually was very impressed with our citizens in the 36th Ward.
April 23, 2008
Thanks from this Hillary voter for a great bit of political humor that made a point without being a thinly disguised piece of character assassination. I don’t think the Senator would mind; as she proved on “Saturday Night Live,” she is well able to laugh at herself. Good work!
April 26, 2008
Re your Hillary’s last letter: Well taken, but Sid Perelman you ain’t.
April 23, 2008
Isn’t it ironic that the girl from the upper middle class Midwestern suburb who attends the elite woman’s college in Massachusetts, where the students knit during the lectures, has morphed into the shot-drinking, gun-toting Annie Oakley, while the black candidate is charged with being "Elitist"? God bless politics!
Anne R. Fabbri
April 29, 2008
Editor’s note: I’ve heard from one reader who mistook this parody for the real thing. Readers are politely, but firmly, reminded that access to Broad Street Review is restricted to visitors with an IQ of 85 or higher.
Tony Kushner and The Illusion
Re Robert Zaller’s review of The Illusion, at Villanova—
I’m startled, Mr. Zaller, at how disconcerting you find Tony Kushner’s adaptation—or, perhaps more precisely, startled by how disproportionately disconcerted you seem by Kushner’s lack of faith to Corneille’s original l’Illusion Comique. Why does the play need to be close in spirit and in diction in order to pass muster? It’s clearly labeled as having been “freely adapted”—there is no reason that its authenticity to its 17th-Century French origins should be the standard by which the play is measured.
The references to Racine and Hamlet really disconcerted you? Is it really possible that you have in your mind a standard for appreciating 17th-Century French theater that requires you to limit your knowledge to the same things a 17th-Century Frenchman knew?
Historical accuracy lends no value to a play at the best of times. Setting aside the fact that it’s impossible to accurately translate Corneille out of the French in the first place— Alexandrine verse resting, as it does, on alternating male and female endings that are non-existent in gender-neutral English— and setting aside as well that, now that entire generations of children have been raised on The Cat and the Hat, it’s entirely unlikely that one could hear Richard Wilbur’s stuffy, stifling translation without thinking of the inestimable Dr. Seuss, what possible gain is there in reproducing accurately Corneille’s piece? The Illusion, as all translations must be, is simply its own play.
And yet it seems to me that the similarity to Corneille’s source material is precisely the problem with Kushner’s adaptation— not because such a similarity is inherently wrongheaded, but rather because the spirit of Corneille’s original is, like so much modern theater, self-absorbed and self-indulgent. Tony Kushner has managed to take a play that’s nothing more than a son crying about how his father doesn’t approve of his life, and freely adapt it into a piece that’s still a son crying about how his father doesn’t approve of his life.
The Illusion has the appearance of saying something about the theatricality of romance and the illusions in human relationships, but these ideas remain nascent and ill formed. The only concept that is fully developed is the common and fervent pride that it seems every theater artist has nowadays: that theater is powerful, moving and worth doing. “Oh,” cry Corneille and Kushner with their long speeches and florid prose, “Won’t you please believe that what we’re doing is important?”
With all due respect to the excellent production values in Villanova’s performance, there is little more off-putting than a play that screams so loudly about nothing more than why it should be listened to— especially considering that now that Corneille’s work has had 350 years to be ignored by most Americans, it’s a fair certainty that everyone in the audience already thinks that theater is worth doing. In this way, The Illusion can be seen as a metaphor for one of the problems that plague modern theater: It is so obsessed with its own relevance, with its desire to be heard, that it has forgotten the importance of having something worthwhile to say.
April 24, 2008
Robert Zaller replies: There seem to be many things Mr. Braak doesn’t like: Corneille himself, Kushner’s adaptation, Wilbur’s translation, my review. He didn’t say whether he’d actually seen the play. And to say that historical accuracy doesn’t count in the theater is one heck of a generalization. Certainly you can take liberties with historical figures and events on the stage. Whether you can travesty them is another matter.
Chris Braak replies: I did see Villanova’s production of The Illusion, and I have no quarrel with Mr. Zaller’s analysis of the production values, performances, or direction. But Tony Kushner’s adaptation, which is explicitly labeled an adaptation, is simply that: a new piece of work that is modeled after the original, and takes liberties where the adaptor likes.
However, accepting for the moment that adapting a play unfaithfully is, somehow, a kind of travesty, I am forced to point out that some relatively famous authors have adapted works to the stage that are unquestionably grave affronts to the characters in question. Richard the III, for instance, was by all contemporary accounts a kind-hearted, honest man, and Shakespeare turned him into one of the most reviled villains in the history of the stage (and made him a hunchback, in the process). Playwrights like Brecht, Schiller and Stoppard don’t simply “take liberties” with historical material— they gleefully get it wrong. Corneille himself adapted Le Cid, Tite et Berenice, and Polyeucte without any especial concern for historical accuracy. I am hard-pressed to think of a single playwright who is admired because of his strict adherence to historical fact.
Petukhov’s Carmen Ballet
Re Jim Rutter’s review of Yuri Petukhov’s Carmen ballet—
What planet is Jim Rutter living on? I’m a dance lover of many years and look forward to new interpretations of classic pieces. However, I can sum up my feeling about the St. Petersburg Ballet’s Carmen by agreeing totally with Robert Johnson’s recent review in the Newark Star Ledger: "teeth-grindingly awful”! The lighting was terrible, the costumes looked pulled from a ragbag and, worst of all, the choreography was an unfocused, hand-flinging, angst-filled mushmix of styles. I’ve seen better productions at high schools. The usually
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