Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bloggo Orchestrale: Mostly Mozart at the Greenville Symphony

Dottore Gianni would like to begin with a confession. After all, it’s Lent, Holy Week in fact – time to unburden himself!

So he begins:

Bless me father, I have sinned. It’s been 32 years (give or take five years or so) since my last confession:

I disobeyed my parents 4 times.
I lied 5 times.
I had impure thoughts 10,587 times (give or take 10,000 or so)
I went to a concert of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s large chamber ensemble a few weeks ago and did NOT write a blog post about it.
For these and any other sins I may have forgotten, please forgive me.

There! It’s off Dottore Gianni’s chest! Whew! For the record, even though he was not instructed to, he made a good act of contrition afterward and also said three Our Fathers and Three Hail Maries. He did NOT attempt The Apostle’s Creed, as one unforgiving priest rudely assigned him for penance at some point when the good doctor was in sixth grade!

So yes, I missed writing about a concert of the GSO. It was called Twentieth Century Jewels and was given the day after I returned to Greenville from a week in New York City, about which I DID blog. As those of you who read that post can tell the writing was labored, but at least it took forever for the words to come. And by the time I finally finished that writing I had pretty much forgot what I was going to say about the concert. I do remember that while I enjoyed it, it was not my favorite, in fact was probably my least favorite, which could also have something to do with the absence of a blog post. For the record (again) it consisted of music by Igor Stravinsky (Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra), Gian Carlo Menotti (Sebastian Suite), Aaron Copland (Clarinet Concerto) and Alberto Ginastera (Estancia: Four Dances, Op. 8a).

I regret not writing about it primarily for two reasons:

ONE…because I was going to quote a favorite lyric of mine from Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors: “Don’t you dare, don’t you dare, don’t you dare ugly man hurt my mother!” Which of course has nothing to do with the Menotti was played at the concert…but it brings back pleasant memories of my own mother, and not so pleasant ones of my father.

and TWO…because Copland’s concerto was commissioned by none other than the king of swing, Benny Goodman!

I was also going to incorporate a story I saw recently on BBC News, about the dark past of the Vienna Philharmonic. It seems that many of their members before and during World War II were active and enthusiastic members of the Nazi party. As I remember some were banished from the orchestra just after the war, but several were returned to it shortly thereafter, including an SS officer, who was for many years its concertmaster. tsk, tsk.

So instead I just incorporated it here!

Actually I was also going to riff on the very MALE nature of that orchestra, to this day. I saw them once in person and don’t remember seeing a single woman in the orchestra – more recently, at what I can stomach of the annual Strauss Waltzes done at New Year’s I have noted a very few women interspersed. The first such was a harp player (harpist? harpie? I’m sure that’s how some of her fellow musicians regarded her).

And again I did just now!

BUT! On to the concert I saw yesterday and am blogging on today! 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Billed as “Mostly Mozart” this is one Dottore Gianni has been looking forward to all year, as he is an aficionado of that great composer. And it was mostly Mozart, consisting of two overtures, that of The Abduction from the Seraglio, which opened the concert, also that of Don Giovanni, which opened the second half of the concert, and one of his finest Symphonies, No. 38, known as The Prague Symphony. The final piece of music was by the great twentieth century Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich – his Symphony No. 9 to be specific, quite a contrast to Mozart one would think, and one would think rightly.

Mozart I have covered in part earlier in this series of symphony posts,
though I really didn’t say all that much about him, as he is so well known. In fact today, while I want to write about a composer I so admire, I think I will cover the disconnect between the composer most people know from the play and film Amadeus and the real-life young musical genius who died too soon. Later I want to show that there are similarities between Mozart and Shostakovich – not musically (as how would the good doctor know that anyway?) but in some of the life challenges they faced.

First I’ll say that Peter Shaffer was not completely inaccurate in his tale of the young genius, loved by God (Ama-deus) and his rival, the well-trained but comparatively bland and academic composer Antonio Salieri. 

Antonio Salieri
Certainly Italians were sought after in all the courts of Europe, not only as composers and musicians but as architects, designers, painters and so on. Italy was the cultural center and the rest of Europe attempted to emulate it. The easiest way to do this was to buy Italian talent for courts at Paris, Vienna, and others as far afield as St Petersburg in distant Russia. Imagine if you wanted to write an opera whose libretto would be in your native language (in Mozart’s case German) but the only operas allowed to be performed had to be in written in the Italian language and composed in the Italian style. Mozart mastered it easily, but still it must have been frustrating, and it is true that letters were written by Mozart and his father concerning the Italian “cabal” with Salieri at its head, and how the Italians in general and Salieri were blocking Mozart’s progress in Vienna. But while they were rivals Mozart and Salieri respected each other and even worked together on occasion. Furthermore, even the young real-life genius Mozart would not have been allowed the hee-hawing shenanigans and fart jokes of Mozart as envisioned by Shaffer, and the business of Salieri poisoning Mozart has no basis in fact. 
Chaliapin (right) as Salieri in
the operatic version of Mozart and Salieri
Another Germanophile, Carl Maria von Weber, who was characterized as the “most German of German composers” may well have been responsible for starting rumors about the poisoning, and not long after Salieri’s death the great Russian Romantic poet Alexander Pushkin wrote his “little tragedy” Mozart and Salieri, a study in jealousy in which the envious Salieri poisons Mozart. Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov then wrote a short opera based upon Pushkin’s poetic drama, which was first performed by the excellent Russian actor/singer Fyodor Chaliapin. It is from Pushkin’s tale that the clever Peter Shaffer took his cue.

One more note and I’ll move on. The world knows the film version of Amadeus, but it was re-written extensively by Shaffer and directed brilliantly by Milos Forman. While the film is a beautiful look at eighteenth century Vienna (though most of it was shot in Prague), the play is a much stronger piece, and is an excuse for one of Shaffer’s favorite themes: man and god (see, or at least read Shaffer’s earlier plays The Royal Hunt of the Sun and especially Equus if you don’t believe me – and DON’T for god’s sake see the film version of Equus, which insults the play even while boasting an amazing cast).

Curry and McKellen in Amadeus
Well, no, still one MORE note and I’ll move on – I was lucky enough to see Ian McKellen play Salieri, accompanied by Tim Curry as Mozart and by Jane Seymour as his wife. And I will never forget McKellen’s performance – masterful is not too strong a word. About the film I remember locations, music, atmosphere, little else, but there you have it – it is the film most people will know.

Okay, Dottore Gianni is now ready to move on…or is he? Yes, yes he must! To the pieces played in the concert! Of the overtures that from Die Entführung aus dem Serail or The Abduction from the Seraglio (1792) – which by the way was written in German, not Italian. While we think of it as an opera today, it was known at the time as a singspiele (literally sing-play), a music drama in the German language. The primary differences between singspiele and opera in the eighteenth century were that as noted it was written in German AND very importantly that the action is forwarded not by recitative (sung dialogue) but by spoken dialogue. The singspiele was a pet project of the emperor, Joseph II, the character in Amadeus who famously remarked of one of Mozart’s works: “Too many notes.” And in fact it was of the Abduction that Emperor Joseph complained of this to the composer. The entire exchange is said to have gone like this:

Joseph II: “That is too fine for my ears – there are too many notes.”
Mozart: “There are just as many notes as there should be.”

Mozart wrote a few other singspiele as well, most famously Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute.

Of course Mozart was correct, and the GSO produced rousing interpretation of the overture, which Mozart claimed was sure to keep the audience awake throughout. The piccolo is featured, along with much active use of cymbals, timpani and triangle in order to create a “Turkish” feel – a seraglio is where the wives and concubines of a Turkish sultan or housed, and where the opera is set. In this Mozart was following the fashion of turquerie, which sought to emulate the “orient” in the visual as well as performing arts in the eighteenth century. Certainly Mozart’s overture allowed none to sleep last Sunday afternoon!

The overture was followed by one of Dottore Gianni’s favorite Mozart symphonies, No. 38 – and not just because it is known as the Prague
The castle complex, Prague in December 2012
Symphony. Mozart wrote it in Prague, where his wonderful opera The Marriage of Figaro had recently been all the rage. “In a letter to his father, dated January 15, he could report that "the one subject of conversation here is--Figaro; nothing is played, sung or whistled but--Figaro; nobody goes to any opera but--Figaro; everlastingly Figaro!"

Unusually it is written in three, not four movements, marked as follows:

I.           Adagio, Allegro
II.          Andante
III.         Presto

Similarly to Figaro, the symphony is frequently exuberant, but filled with complicated passages and a wide variety of themes as well, indicating a dark side to the general euphoria. Indeed as you can see above, it begins slowly before it leaps into a bright allegro. The critic I quoted above called the opening “at once majestic and suspenseful, in the best theatrical sense.” In the Presto Mozart’s principal theme is a quotation from Figaro, “Susanna's ‘Aprite, presto aprite,’ as she draws Cherubino from his hiding place to make his escape through the window.” The above-noted critic points out that it must have “driven the Figaro-intoxicated Prague audience wild.” It nearly drove Dottore Gianni into that state as well. 

Thus to much applause ended the first part of the concert. After intermission, Maestro Tchivzhel led the orchestra in another Mozart overture, to what some call Mozart’s greatest opera, Don Giovanni. Sidebar: Dottore Gianni does not agree. Certainly a wonderful opera, the perfect opera for the good doctor, whether Mozart. Puccini or Wagner, is The Marriage of Figaro. Period. Over and out.

Of course it is a fine overture, beginning, not unlike the Prague Symphony, darkly, ominously even, with the motif of the stone guest, the Commendatore, invited to Don Giovanni’s last supper, at least on this earth…who knows if dinner is served in hell? Also as in the Prague, it lightens. Paul Hyde, in the GSO program notes, writes: “The vigorous music seems to represent the vitality, restlessness and forceful personality of the Don himself.

Hyde also notes that Mozart is said to have written this excellent overture in ONE night, the night before the final dress rehearsal of its premiere, also in Prague. This doesn’t surprise Dottore Gianni, as he was listening only days ago to the excellent program Performance Today on Public Radio when the host introduced Mozart’s Symphony No. 36, The Linz, by saying that Mozart was invited to stay in a wealthy patron’s home, and of course was asked to play some of his music. But he had brought none along! So he sat down and wrote the symphony in a matter of four days, scoring the entire piece as well. Think about that the next time you listen to that beautiful symphony. And DO listen to it, Dottore Gianni urges you to. Why? It’s another of his very favorites, that’s why!

Dottore Gianni seldom resists bragging. If you got it, flaunt it, right? 
The Estates Theatre, Prague
Well, on Christmas Day 2012 I happened to be in Prague (one of my favorite cities as well as one of Mozart’s – certainly they were friendlier to him there than in Vienna) and attended a performance of Don Giovanni at the very theatre where it premiered in 1787, the elegant Estates Theatre. It gave me great pleasure to do so, as I am not just a great fan of Mozart but also a nerdy historian and loved that aspect of the performance. But it’s still not as good as The Marriage of Figaro.

So! The overture to Don Giovanni ended the Mozart portion of the concert, and with little ado the Maestro plunged into Symphony No. 9 by Shostakovich, written shortly after World War II.

Dmitri Shostakovich
Before we launch into writing about the symphony itself, I promised you a demonstration of similarities between Mozart and the twentieth century Russian, and I shall. Whether or not you subscribe to the fiction about Mozart created by Peter Shaffer in Amadeus, the composer DID have a difficult time in Vienna surrounded by less talented but more powerful Italians. He had to scramble to survive and it cannot have been pleasant for him to do so. If you take Mozart and multiply by ten or more, you can perhaps begin to imagine a similar situation involving Dmitri Shostakovich with the Soviet Union in general and with “Uncle Joe” Stalin in particular. Whereas Mozart lost money and prestige, Shostakovich frequently came very close to losing his life – Mozart did ONLY if you believe the poisoning nonsense.

Denounced by Stalin and the Supreme Soviet several times, in 1948 he and other composers were called “formalists” (a term used the government to damn abstract art of any kind) and ordered to make public apologies. Most of Shostakovich’s work was banned and theatre director Lyubimov claims that the composer "waited for his arrest at night out on the landing by the lift, so that at least his family wouldn't be disturbed.”

I saw a play last year in London about the great author Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita is his finest and one of Dottore Gianni’s favorite novels) and Stalin. The production, which featured the brilliant Simon Russell Beale as Stalin and the excellent Alex Jennings as Bulgakov. 
Beale and Jennings in Collaborators
Called Collaborators, by John Hodge (whose considerable credits include the film script for Trainspotting), the play begins when we find that the KGB has ordered Bulgakov to write a play about Stalin as a surprise for his birthday! Bulgakov is petrified naturally. The plot thickens when a deal is forced on the writer by the dictator, who pops in for a surprise visit: “Don’t worry, you don’t have to write the play, I know it’s difficult for you. I’LL write it!” If that isn’t bad enough. Stalin goes further. “But writing it will keep me busy, so while I’m writing, YOU will do my job.” He then hands Bulgakov a huge sheaf of paperwork: “Don’t worry, you just have to sign my name.” Of course what the writer must sign is death warrants and other nightmarish punishments for all sorts of people.

The idea is great, though the play wasn’t worthy of the topic, or the production. Dottore Gianni grumbles at brilliant performances and production values holding up a weak piece of writing, and this was an example. Mind you Dottore Gianni was one of the only ones who thought this, as the play got great reviews and was moved from the Cottesloe, the smallest space in the great gray complex of the Royal National Theatre to the largest, the cavernous Olivier. But the good doctor was right nonetheless.

It is true that Stalin really loved his artists, calling them in the middle of the night just to chat for example, until they wrote or composed something he did not like. And then…well, let’s just say that “Send to Siberia” would be the easy way out. Terrifying!

Jump back in time to another play, Master Class, written by David Pownall and performed in the late 1980s with the following stars: 
from left: Cariou, Pendleton, Klemperer & Bosco
in Master Class
Len Cariou as Stalin, Philip Bosco as Zhdanov, his commissar for culture, Werner Klemperer as the composer Prokofiev and Austin Pendleton as Shostakovich. In case you’re confused, this is not the play of the same name about Maria Callas giving three master classes, which I also saw and loved – that was by Terrence McNally. In the Pownall play the premise is this: Josef Stalin orders the two composers to come to him (and his minister of culture) so that he can give them a music lesson. Arguably the two greatest modernist Russian composers after Stravinsky, they dared to write complicated, dissonant music. Stalin wants to “help” them to see the error of their ways by teaching them what good music is: simple Russian folk music.

The play is almost impossible to produce as all four actors must play the piano – Stalin least well and Shostakovich (who gave up a career as a solo pianist to compose) very well indeed. But it was a dazzler, probably not as well written as it was performed, but memorable. Very, very funny at times but overall terrifying…that word again.

Dottore Gianni has become aware that even by his standards this post is LONG! So no more on Shostakovich, even though some of you may be dying for it. Just a word or two about the piece we heard, and then, finita la commedia!

After Beethoven’s magnificent Symphony No. 9, composers often set that as a bar for No. 9s of their own (Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…). Not Shostakovich! For Stalin and others in the Soviet Union, after the great victory over Germany in World War II magnificence was called for. Instead the composer handed them a short clever work that he called “a merry little piece,” which makes use of or takes off on the work of Franz Josef Haydn. There are five movements, but no break between the last three. They are marked:

I.           Allegro
II.          Moderato
III.         Presto
IV.         Largo
V.         Allegretto, Allegro

Featured instruments include the trombone, which introduces an oompah rhythm shortly into the first movement, a piccolo, a clarinet, which begins the second movement and is joined by other winds, and a bassoon. The final three movements thrust together swiften the pace to the end of the piece. In spite of the fact that it infuriated Stalin & Co, it is delightful and it was brilliantly played by the GSO.

In fact Dottore Gianni must confess that, Mozart lover that he certainly is, he enjoyed even a wee bit more the crazy Ninth of Rachmaninoff on Sunday afternoon. You see, he began with a confession, and has just ended with one!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bloggo Reflectivo: A Week in Manhattan

Dottore Gianni is in a reflective mood this morning, as he sits on the floor of his new apartment and awaits the delivery of his modest new dining room table and chairs. He spent seven days in New York City last week, his first visit in two years, and very much enjoyed it. At the same time the trip was bittersweet for several reasons.

Why did I go? Well, very kindly and flatteringly, members of the faculty
My field studies colleagues at breakfast
 of the Department of Theatre Arts invited me about two weeks prior to the event known as Field Studies. For those of you who don’t know, Field Studies is an annual pilgrimage to Manhattan by senior theatre students and their faculty mentors. During the week the seniors sit in panels and travel to offices and theatres in different parts of the city to get to know alumni most of whom are working in the business, and to learn from them how to get work, how to deal with a rough and expensive city, and how to stay sane as they make the transition. The seniors also see five plays and musicals during their stay, so a good bit of work is mixed with a measure of pleasure.
The BA Forum Panel on the first day of Field Studies
My job for the past many years has been to shepherd the B.A. Drama students, for whom I have been faculty coordinator ever since I arrived at Ithaca in 1990, through the course of Field Studies. It started in 2000, when I was added to the list of Field Studies faculty primarily to do something with the students while the performance majors rehearsed and executed their “showcase.” That audition-style event was conducted on Monday afternoon and evening of the week until a few years ago, when it was wisely shifted to the end of the school year (so as to give the graduating senior actors an immediate shot at work, rather than having to remind agents and casting directors that they were seen by them in a showcase three months prior).

Monday afternoons were relatively useless times for the B.A. students until I was drafted to lead them on what has become known as Dr. Jack’s 
DJ's Dowtown Tour at the Cherry Lane
Spring 2013
Downtown Theatre Tour. I created this tour to give the seniors an activity during those hours, but also because Field Studies is focused largely on Broadway, or at least on Midtown Manhattan. I wanted to show the B.A.s at least the other theatres in town, and also to remind them of subjects discussed in my Theatre History course, which they took in their sophomore year.

The downtown tour has varied from year to year in specifics, often because of the weather (it can be and has been bitter cold in mid-March, as well as rainy, icy or snowy) but also because my thinking has evolved about where to begin, what to include. Also on various visits alums have had work in the area and can get us into theatres, notably the Lucille Lortel, the Cherry Lane, the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) and the Public.  Once we were lucky enough to be
The recently restored Public Theatre
 taken into La Mama ETC by one of the fellows who worked there, even though we had no alum presence at that grand dame of Off-Off Broadway.

Those of you who are theatre-savvy will know just by my mentioning the theatres above that the tour focuses primarily on Off and Off-Off Broadway theatres, where two revolutions took place, the first in the early 1950s against commercial fare that seemed repetitive and not at all challenging, the second against the first, as by the end of the Fifties Off Broadway was already becoming stodgy and institutionalized, in the minds of many young artists.

I’ve only missed two of these field studies weeks, one when I was on a year-long sabbatical in 2005-06 and last year (2011-12) which was my final year and during which I took a final, or TERMINAL sabbatical. Sounds like a disease from which one never recovers, doesn’t it? That I was invited back this year was especially sweet for me, as the students involved were the last group to whom I taught Theatre History. Icing on the cake? I also got to know many of them better during last academic year for while I was in London, so were many of them.

With the exception of a few students that I interviewed for the B.A. program and/or advised in their freshman year, after this academic year I will be 
The celebration at my last history class.
spring 2011
“history.” At colleges institutional memory lasts only about four years, for obvious reasons. Oh, my colleagues remember me, most I’m happy to say fondly, and who knows? I may be invited back in a year or two to receive Emeritus status. It all depends on the whim of the faculty. Actually I’ve already been invited back, after a fashion, by Logan Tracey, one of my former students who is a point person on next year’s reunion. She wrote me first thing, because she likes and admires me, also because she, probably rightly, thinks that my presence might draw in a few more students that would otherwise have not attended. We’ll see.

But the point of that rather rambling last paragraph is that I am now really out to pasture, and while in part that is a very good thing, it also feels a tad bittersweet, as I noted above. For a long time my life consisted of teaching and advising students, and as I look back on a life that is probably 70 to 80% behind me, those years were the most successful of my life. I was a good teacher and probably an even better adviser. The students knew it, my colleagues knew it, and best of all I knew it. After approximately 20 years of floating around the theatre industry, never knowing how good I was, and for the most part thinking that I could not have been all that good, judging from the amount of work that I landed, it was a great relief to be positively reinforced almost daily.

Nor did it hurt to receive a decent paycheck every two weeks!

Of course I still receive paychecks, well, retirement checks, that keep me about as solvent as I was during my 20-plus years at Ithaca College, but while I do not miss teaching as such, I do seem to miss the interaction with young people. I think I may have written earlier in this series of blog posts that I was convinced that absent the contact with my students, who I believe keep me young, I would shrivel up into some sort of prune-shaped object and fade rapidly away.

So far I’ve not, thank the gods, but one of the “bitter” aspects of last week was the presence of students, who breathed back some life and energy into a slightly diminished Doctor Jack/Dottore Gianni. I also found myself wanting to see more of them than I was able to, wanting more time with them than they were able or willing to allow me. Of course a few of them drove me mad, as a few of them had done daily throughout my more than 20 years of teaching. The names will be withheld to protect the guilty. But I was never got to have that drink with the TAMs for example, or to raise a pint with some of the B.A.s, performers or design/tech students that somehow I thought would come with the territory.

I DID get to meet alums, some of my very favorite former students, for dinner, drinks or coffee. And that was part of the “sweet” that Field Studies brought: Carly and her beau, Julie, Chrysta, Nick and Sam, Larry and Amanda, Maggie (actually two of those) briefly, Alison, a few others as well, but most of those for moments only before or after panels. And a rush of them made for me at the final reception. All that was rewarding and I really regret that I was unable to spend more time with all I saw, or any time with those I hoped to see but was unable to.
Dottore Gianni & Carly DiFulvio
Alison Riley Miller and I
after dinner with alums Julie Starr, Sam Byron
and Chrysta Naron - Nick Gandiello had to
dash off early and missed the photo opp
Jack with 07 alums Shauna Goodgold,
Abby Church and Marisa Dargahi
at the reception
So a fine week, but as I have written perhaps one too many times now, bittersweet.

My prime contributions included taking a group down to the New School on Bank Street (on a beautiful day, by the way) to chat with current grad student Sam Byron and the director of admissions about their programs in
At the subway station on our way to Brooklyn
 particular and grad school in general; to take a large group out to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn to attend a panel with excellent alums Jeremy Pickard, Dan Lawrence, R.B. Schlather and surprise guest Dan Stermer, after which we saw the final dress of MARS, directed by Jeremy, designed by R.B. and performed by Dan with others; to take a smaller group to see Kali DiPippo at the New Victory Theatre to discuss youth theatre. And of course to take students on my downtown tour!

That tour was doomed to mediocrity because it was no longer held on a Monday, but on a Wednesday. First, and not atypically, the weather turned foul: a wintry mix along with gusty cold blasts of wind.  Monday is a 
BAs bundled up on the
subway train to the Downtown
“dark” day for most theatres and in the past I have been able to take students into a few, as I noted above in this post. Not so on Wednesday, so on a day of bad weather the tour turned into more of a slog than a pleasure. It was also sandwiched into a smaller amount of time than usual, so it had to be truncated. For the first time in memory I was unable to include the NYTW and La Mama, highlights of the tour but too far afield to visit given the amount of time and the nasty weather.

I’m sure several of the students thought it fine. Some obviously remembered theatre history lectures on the theatres, which of course delighted me. At the very end for example, Carly and Alyssa remembered the Astor Place Riots. I actually accomplished a very brief and uncoordinated jig when they did so.

But yes, that word again: bittersweet. For me.

Not surprisingly, given my impossible expectations, that some of the finest times were spent on my own. (This of course is true of ALL travels with that self-styled hermit Dottore Gianni!) 
Central Park from near Columbus Circle
The long walk around 8th, 9th and 10th Avenues, taking me to Lincoln Center and the southwest corner of Central Park, on the day I arrived, one day before the beginning of Field Studies. It was cold, but crisp and clear. 
Pret a Manger in Manhattan!
I also discovered on the walk that there was a Pret a Manger only a block away from the hotel! Prets are one of my favorite places to get a quick sandwich or bowl of soup in London, and I’m very pleased that more and more are springing up in New York City. I think I had four lunches at that Pret, and pretty pleased I was at that.

I also managed to spend a few hours on Tuesday at the Met (not the opera, the art museum). A confession: though I plan to see parts of the museum not all that well known to me I always seem to charge into parts I know well 
The Greek & Roman Galleries
at the Met
instead. The Greek and Roman rooms, particularly in the last few years since they have been re-invented in a wonderful way, draw me instantly, and that’s where I started last week. My spring break to Siracusa in Sicily last year made the yearning to return to that section all the stronger. Then I head upstairs to the rooms European art, which was my second area to visit last week. In spite of some seemingly major renovations many of my favorites were on display there, and were somewhat informed by my year abroad, particularly because of my seminar on Performing Arts and the French Revolution. Finally I wandered around the well-laid out American Wing…no time for other sections, alas, but a great excursion, on another crisp, beautiful morning.
The American Wing at the Met
My last excursion was first thing the morning of my last day in Manhattan. 
Along the High Line
I needed to be at Newark Airport for my afternoon departure, but managed to walk the latest “park” in Manhattan, the High Line, very man-made, very cleverly placed between 30th St and Gansevoort St on the west side, as the name implies ABOVE ground level, following old rail tracks through Chelsea and into the West Village. Following lousy weather Wednesday through Friday the temperatures warmed and the skies cleared for this final walk of mine.

The theatre we saw was with one or two fine exceptions, mediocre. Hands on a Hard Body was a disgrace, not just for its mediocre music and choreography (which some of my clever students dubbed “car-ography!” I’ll not bother to explain, and I’d urge you not to bother with the show, which most egregiously attempted to deal with several real problems such as the recession and illegal aliens with one quick musical number after another – shudder! Ann, a one-person show based on the life of Ann Richards, feisty governor of Texas, was a good effort but would have benefited by being cut of about an hour’s worth of material. Better was Lucky Guy, primarily because of Tom Hanks’s energetic performance as Mike McAlary, controversial tabloid journalist. It was far too long – one wonders how it might have changed had its author, Nora Ephron, not died before previews began – there seemed as a result a reverence for all of her words, which were not all that good. Earlier in the day we had as I mentioned above, gone out to Brooklyn to see the Superhero Clubhouse production of MARS, one of alum Jeremy Pickard’s plays about the environment, using each of the planets as platforms to look down on earth and its lack of being “green.” While it may not have been everyone’s cuppa, I very much enjoyed this piece that mixed dance, song and dialogue, and which employed projections to good effect as well.

Perhaps the best day of mid-town theatre was Wednesday, when we saw the much lauded (and deservedly so) Once, based upon the film about a Dublin musician and the young Czech woman who resurrects him and his music. The film was fine, but the creative team managed to theatricalize it in a most inventive manner. I was delighted. That evening we saw Old Hats, featuring two old pros in fine form, Bill Irwin and David Shiner, up to their old shenanigans and proving that “age cannot wither…nor custom stale” their talents, accompanied by the delightfully sinister pianist/singer Nellie Mackay – this was pure joy and offered a well-deserved barrel of laughs at mid-week.

On my own Friday night I ventured out to what proved a disappointment: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a spoof of Chekhov by Christopher Durang. Looking forward to a very clever piece I found much of it childishly stupid. Fine performers reduced to ridiculous antics, redeemed only occasionally by bravura turns topped by David Hyde-Pierce’s long speech using Uncle Vanya’s breakdown to mock, among other things, age in general and the digital age in particularly. I seemed the only person in the audience who did not instantly leap to his feet at curtain call. Well, there was one other, directly in front of me. This man was so informed he had to be separated slowly from his walker and more or less backed down into his seat. In other words he couldn’t have stood on his own if he’d tried. I just didn’t want to.

So, to sum up, a very good week, but bittersweet.

Coda: a comedy of errors at the airport, and an appropriate read

I got to Newark early, and all looked good to go on time, if not even a few minutes early. We were boarded by a rather grumpy flight attendant, and then we waited. There was a little activity in the cockpit, and all of a sudden we heard that due to a “crew discrepancy” we had to go back in the terminal 
Waiting to re-board our tiny jet
at Newark Airport
and await instructions. Everyone was pretty grumpy by this point, and a number of thoughts were offered as to why this happened and to what a “crew discrepancy” referred. We found out via a bold passenger that the captain and the flight attendant got into a verbal altercation just before we boarded, and the captain said something to the attendant to the effect of: “If you don’t like it you can leave.” And sure enough the guy left! So WE were left with no flight attendant and were unable to fly. WHATTTTT!!! That was a new one on me. It took about an hour and a half to locate a new flight attendant. There just happened to be one in the terminal, otherwise the flight may have been cancelled, so while people were getting more and more irked by the moment, it could have been worse. When we saw our new attendant, an attractive African American woman, arrive at the gate we all applauded. Within moments we were back on board and preparing to pull back from the gate. The woman was god’s gift to flight attendants! I don’t remember when I’ve seen one SO friendly and solicitous, so charming. In fact I got it into my head that the airlines must keep people like these on hand as secret weapons against anger and even lawsuits. So that was miracle number one. Miracle number two was that for the first time in my memory, when our tiny jet pulled out and headed towards the take-off runway we were number TWO in line! I have never been on a flight out of Newark that actually left the ground without having to wait for planes which were hopelessly backed up. And this was a very busy Saturday afternoon. I think that we must have been given priority, again to keep people from reprisals against the airline. Whatever the real story, I will not forget the weird reason for the delay, and more importantly the goddess of the skies who came to our rescue and allowed the flight to go forward.

I had nothing to read for the wait at the airport, so I did something I don’t usually do. I bought a book at Hudson News, the ubiquitous stand at transportation hubs, be they bus, train or airport, in the vicinity of New York City. I almost never buy because I’m not a great fan of best sellers, and I don’t like to pay inflated prices for books. 
So I was very pleased to see a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, one of the favorite novels of my youth. For a number of reasons, including perhaps to try to re-capture some of my youth, I have been intending to read it, and because it has been made into a motion picture there it was featured at the airport! Little did I know when I bought it how much of it I’d be able to read before our flight finally left, but I’m very glad I did.

On the Road reminds me that I AM back on the road. That trip to New York was only the second I have taken since retirement longer than a day trip. And while it may have been somewhat bittersweet it was a great time away, and it WAS in fact travels! This blog was begun because of a request by two students, Kelsey and Jen, that I write about my travels. Lately it has turned into a blog about my experiences at concerts of classical music, but with any luck more of the posts in the future will return to the topic of travels with Dottore Gianni/Dr Jack in search of whatever. Here’s hoping…and to quote Kerouac: “Lackadaddy I was on the road again!”