?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Our irregularly scheduled programming
SSar's Beast
morbane
Have a grab-bag (or even a snatch - these are were meant to be short comments) of media I have recently consumed.

The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971), The Royal Ballet - this was Sam sitting me down with a Beloved Thing from his childhood. Some parts were more successful for me than others - for example, the fox/goose dance was really evocative, and the Two Bad Mice dance was a lot of fun. On an intellectual level, I could admire the athleticism of the dancing, and I could admire the choreography, direction, and acting that evoked one animal or another. (The squirrels baffled me. They didn't look like squirrels or move like squirrels, and then they caught fish and took them over a lake to what I can only assume was an owl idol. Then one of the squirrels lost his tail and everyone tossed it back and forth.) Some of the framing devices were also confusing - it does not seem to me to do much to have a woman playing Beatrix Potter sitting at her desk in Very Bored Mode. Then a shot later, she's unpacking her bags in the country. Exit Beatrix Potter for the rest of the film. Everything was fairly literal, which is probably a help to establish patterns in my head for the next ballet I see, but I was out of step with the pacing and had a hard time sorting between "this is just a ballet narrative convention, roll with it," and "this is a part of the narrative that it is valid to critique, interpret it."

.hack://sign - I'd always wanted to see more of this, and krastakin kindly allowed Sam and me to start on her box set. The background art is beautiful - imaginative and textured and vivid. The anime is set in an MMO, and although we don't see a lot of player interaction, the art is enough to convince me that players would be drawn to the game. It's really, really slow so far - we're up to episode 8 - but I'm enjoying it even so. I like the music. There's a song that plays at about the middle of each episode, and I smile each time it comes on. Here, have a fan's music video! So we're working through that gradually.

Athena - A Biography, by Lee Hall - I like the concept of using a biography framework for a mythological figure, especially when that mythological figure may have moved across cultures and had different meanings therein. However, I didn't find this particularly insightful or well-organised, and I got really annoyed by this chain of logic:

-Worship of a plausible Athena figure existed before Athena was described as being born from Zeus's head
-Because she is a goddess, Athena had control over, or opportunity to consent to, this revision of "her" "story"
-By consenting to appear in a story whereby males have procreative powers, Athena is betraying her sex and supporting the patriarchy
-(She is also betraying her sex in lots of other ways but I got bored)

I am not making this up, because I couldn't. I didn't finish that book.

The Mythology of the Night Sky: An Amateur Astronomer's Guide to the Ancient Greek and Roman Legends, by David E. Falkner - I read about half of this and flicked through the rest - I was looking for specific facts. However, I would recommend it because of the clear enthusiasm that shone through. It contains a lot of tips for people wishing to take astronomical photographs and was published in 2011, so may still be reasonably up to date. (I'm not sure. I have no interest or talent in photography, so I skimmed those bits.)

Gattaca (1997) - The night after the really big July earthquake, the 6.2, krastakin was around for dinner and we were all a bit rattled, so we decided to watch a movie. I got to pick, so I offered people four choices: Gattaca, Dredd, Casino Royale, or Inglourious Basterds. I enjoyed it. I felt that it had an unusually clean concept for a sci-fi movie: here is the premise, let's poke at it. I feel as though it chose specific aspects of the scenario to really convince the audience about, and everything else got firmly put in the "go with it" basket, and I like that: this was a thought experiment before it was a drama. Though, speaking of the drama, I really did like the codependency of the two lead actors. I loved the scene where they're drinking out in a restaurant. The ending saddens me. Also, I felt the relationship with Uma Thurman's character was one of the parts of the thought experiment that wasn't sketched out - it was raised as an idea, but it wasn't convincing. I feel the audience was meant to do the emotional/rational work there to play it out. Which was fine.

I feel as though when "attraction" is portrayed in media, the director/author/? can sometimes convince me of two things: that the people involved are complex, independent humans, and that they are in love or are attracted to each other. Sometimes, the individual text doesn't really have the scope for both of those. Within that limited scope, I'd rather be convinced that two people are complex and have the potential for a relationship than that they are deeply in love/lust but are cardboard cutouts.

Die Zigeunerbaron | The Gypsy Baron - This was the operetta whose chorus Sam was performing in. I'm glad I finally got to see him in it after hearing all about rehearsals.

Even if I had a strong motivation for learning to love opera and operetta, I don't think it would come easily to me. For one thing, I could comprehend barely one in ten of the sung words (all in English), and I found that maddening. I'm pretty musically ignorant; I could barely tell a trumpet from a trombone!, and I find it very hard to follow music on its narrative journeys. So hearing people sing while being unable to make out their consonants and vowels was like having people push sound at me. ARGH. But hey, I knew that going in.

Regarding the operetta itself - the plot was comprehensible, everyone had motivations (well, Saffi was more of a McGuffin than a person, but the same could be said of Ottakar, so we have a gender balance there). More than half of the characters were there for comic relief, and many performed this part admirably. The plot was comprehensible without the listener needing to understand the music. (BUT WHAT IS THE POINT OF THAT, yes yes, shushing now.)

I enjoyed the potential of the staging and acting when Czipra/Barinkay/Saffi see Ottakar sneak up to Arsena's balcony. Arsena and Ottakar's body language was tender and relaxed, and the trio on the ground were singing/miming indignation, and these two scenes were fascinating played off against each other.

There was an earthquake at intermission, of course. By the way, lots of earthquakes lately. LOTS. I reported one a few weeks ago that started a fire in my workplace; that was a Friday morning, and the one that followed it on Sunday evening was the real shocker of that bunch. Infrastructure all rattled, "don't go into the CBD until noon," unsettling. Since then, the aftershocks have stayed mostly below 5 on the Richter scale, and tailed off... until Friday just past, the 16th. There was a 6.6 at 2:30pm. I was at work. It started slow and rolled on and on, the lights above us swinging wildly on their chains. Everyone went under their desks. Then everyone went home. Wellington was gridlocked, and the Friday performance of the operetta was cancelled, because of the high likelihood of aftershocks, and indeed we had a 6.0 at 5:30pm that evening. The one at the opera intermission was 5.5. My little group - me, krastakin, M, V - shrugged. But some people didn't return for Act II...

I enjoyed Act II and III a lot more. I loved the absurdity of "our plot is at a standoff! THAT'S OK, THERE'S A WAR ON." Also, the performer in the role of the General/Count was a wonderful, wonderful ham. The recruiting scene was funny and so was every other scene with him in it.

Act III, with Arsena's song about falling in/out of love, was beautifully costumed. That was also the only song where I could grasp how this would be an attractive entertainment even without the words. Arsena's gestures and movements through the chorus made the song pretty clear, even though I could only parse a line and a half of it, and I enjoyed the interplay among the chorus. (krastakin leaned over to me at this point: "This is such dancy music, it's such a pity they aren't staging it this way!" And that was fun to visualise: a complicated pattern dance with Arsena as its unpartnered centre.

Also, Act III had Sam playing his most obvious narrative, to me, of the courtier playing up to various ladies, being rejected, moving on to the next. I wish I could have appreciated his singing more clearly, but I enjoyed his acting there.

I've probably missed a few things. I have also been reading a lot of YA literature - just before Fic_Corner sign-ups closed, I got a bunch of things out of the library, because I wanted to ensure I was widely matchable. But I don't want to talk about them here because they are clues as to the prompts I was eying up. :P And I've been reading things for Fic_Corner research, too.

This entry is also posted at http://morbane.dreamwidth.org/5030.html. There are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment either here or there.

  • 1
Gattaca! It's one of my favorite SF movies, and I agree with all your thoughts on it. For me, one of the big "go with it" aspects is how everything looks like the 1950s, especially all the astronauts in their suits and ties, but then again I really like the stylization of the movie, which I think helps encourage that "go with it" mindset - clearly we are not aiming for total realism here, so you needn't be bothered when we don't succeed. And besides the fact that it was just so pretty to look at.

(Have you seen that recent Ethan Hawke movie where almost everyone is a vampire, and it's all about vampire business and stuff? I can't remember the title, but it felt a bit like they wanted to recreate the Gattaca experience, right down to the extreme chrome stylization and the casting of Ethan Hawke, but my gosh it was bad.)

And yes, to the codependence of Eugene and Jerome. It's a fascinating relationship they end up in. (This was also the first movie I saw Jude Law in, and it turns out the only one I've liked him in. Go figure.)

I think the only point where "go with it" didn't work for me was the medical test right at the end - that didn't feel as though it came from the story, but as though the scriptwriters just needed that confrontation/conversation to take place. Otherwise, I wasn't bothered by anything that might not have succeeded if poked too hard.

And yes, pretty.

(In a different way, I am still curious about why the programme director was such a thorn in everyone's sides. That was an interesting side-story.)

Uh... Do you mean Daybreakers? No I haven't. I'm grinning at "vampire business", though, you make it sound so boring.

Daybreakers! That's the one. And yeah, I chose that word intentionally - it's all, like, vampire economics and stuff, which I'd actually be really interested in if the movie hadn't turned into an bloody action film about finding a cure for vampirism. Woe.

I definitely wish there was more emphasis on enunciating and communicating words in opera, even if the singers have to sacrifice musicality and/or volume (and mic up) because storyline is important! Although now that I think about it, I wonder if it'd be less important in stuff like masses, where the text is already set and it's always the same words sung, just set differently--maybe the audience would already know, to a certain extent? I wonder if audiences followed or had programmes (in the past when opera was a bigger thing) for foreign language operas, or if they just sorta followed the text as best they could and were there more to see and be seen....I do like opera pieces, mostly, but they're just so hard to understand sometimes! The vibrato is really not my preferred style.

I am on vacation now so time for fic writing! I hope. All I've been doing is daytripping and playing Minecraft :P

eta for fixing grammar and then adding more thoughts

Edited at 2013-08-19 03:21 am (UTC)

I guess I'm glad it isn't just me. But I don't know how much of it in this case was the singers' lack of enunciation, and how much of it was how unused I am to deciphering this kind of singing.

My friend krastakin, who saw The Gypsy Baron with me, said she was used to seeing operas sung in their original language but with title cards displayed (somewhere?). Which is nice for an English-speaking audience, but it still puzzles me - I am curious as to how comprehensible the words are in the original German, Italian, or other.

With masses, too, doesn't that come from a tradition where the whole service would be conducted in Latin whether or not the laypeople understood it? (*this is me being woefully ignorant again*)


And ha, isn't that the way: a swathe of free time does not necessarily mean a high wordcount. Good luck with that.

I am curious as to how comprehensible the words are in the original German, Italian, or other.

This is something that is controversial, and variable. Joan Sutherland, the great mid-century soprano, is criticized for her enunciation and diction. It's particularly difficult to hear her Italian or German, but she had incredible vocal technique- an enormous, incredibly lush and expressive voice. Contrast her rough contemporary Maria Callas, who is much more comprehensible in her Italian, and is considered a far superior actress to Sutherland, but who is criticized for having an odd tone- her singing is not quite as purely beautiful as Sutherland's.

Also recall that opera spans like five centuries or so, with quite a range of performance norms, linguistic traditions, and music composition styles. In the earliest opera I've seen, the early 17th century Orfeo of Monteverdi, not only is the singing quite comprehensible underneath a minimal musical accompaniment, but every aria is a solo. In contrast, in A Quiet Place, a Bernstein opera from the 20th century Bernstein that I have mixed feelings about, calls for quite comprehensible English singing, but at times in a multipart arrangement with everyone singing over each other so that you can't easily pick out any particular vocal line. Many other operas take different approaches with different results. Some vocal writing makes it easy to follow the libretto, while some doesn't. The choices of performers also have a significant impact.

Traditional opera commonly pulled not only plots but frequently the exact libretto from an earlier opera or other story, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. The opera going audience going into these shows would quite likely already know what was going on and might even know bunches of the words. So the demands on the vocal writing are not quite the same as for an audience going into a dense 21st century Broadway-style musical. The poetry and singability of a text might be valued over its lucidity, and a piece of text that needed to be sung but wasn't precisely singable might call for a less than lucid rendition.

It's fairly common in my experience for some display of translated titles to appear in modern stagings of operas, but I find it just works as a sort of study aid- you're still listening for the emotion that the singer and the music are putting into the words more than you're listening for the precise arrangement of the words.

Thank you for weighing in, this is really interesting.

you're still listening for the emotion that the singer and the music are putting into the words - yes, that was what I felt I was meant to be listening for, but I am very unpracticed at it. (I could have used a study aid... And yet I don't think it'd help much if I researched the exact words beforehand, because then I'd be trying too hard to hear the exact words.)

When you say one opera might use a former one's entire libretto, would the music entirely change or would the new music be more like a remix of the old?

piece of text that needed to be sung but wasn't precisely singable - how do you mean?

yes, that was what I felt I was meant to be listening for, but I am very unpracticed at it. (I could have used a study aid... And yet I don't think it'd help much if I researched the exact words beforehand, because then I'd be trying too hard to hear the exact words.)

I've never really found that to be the case? I've found that doing some research beforehand, both learning something of the exact libretto and getting a good idea about the plot, makes me work less hard on trying to hear the exact words, because I'm more comfortable with my sense of what's going on. Everyone's brain works differently, obviously.

When you say one opera might use a former one's entire libretto, would the music entirely change or would the new music be more like a remix of the old?

Both, or either. Also, particularly in 18th C opera it's not uncommon for the remix to go the other way- composers had to write a lot of arias quickly, and would often borrow an old melody and set it to the new text.

piece of text that needed to be sung but wasn't precisely singable - how do you mean?

I'm not a singer, and I can't really give you a technical walk-through of this process, but it's something singers have spoken to me about- making a decision to mispronounce a vowel or consonant or change the emphasis on a word in order to make it possible to sing it to the music.

I've never really found that to be the case? I've found that doing some research beforehand, both learning something of the exact libretto and getting a good idea about the plot, makes me work less hard on trying to hear the exact words, because I'm more comfortable with my sense of what's going on. Everyone's brain works differently, obviously. Interesting. And obviously I haven't tried it; I'm just postulating how I'd feel based on engagement with other media.

Both, or either. Also, particularly in 18th C opera it's not uncommon for the remix to go the other way- composers had to write a lot of arias quickly, and would often borrow an old melody and set it to the new text. - That makes it sound like a really fascinating medium to trace developments in, then. (I wish "derivative" didn't have such a negative sense in modern popular criticism.)

yes, that was what I felt I was meant to be listening for, but I am very unpracticed at it.

Again, this is variable. When I go to Rossini comic operas, I go in knowing that the plots are going to be stupid and probably misogynistic and I'll be happier the more I tune out the story and focus on the music. When I go to well-staged Mozart operas, I pay a lot of attention to the intersection between what the music is telling me about the characters and what the characters' actions in the staging are telling me.

Opera is tricky/interesting/funny in that it works as a listener on both sides of the knowledge spectrum- it's a perfectly valid thing to do to go to an opera exclusively to enjoy pretty music and pretty costumes and pretty sets and care not one whit for opera as a literary form. It's also perfectly valid to go to an opera to try to dissect stories and characters. My grandmother's cousin has been a Met subscriber for decades and decades, and when the two of us try to talk about operas we've both seen it invariably stays at a very shallow level of conversation because the things we go to the opera house to get are incredibly different. She's obsessed with the divas, will go to see what to me would be a boring or offensive show because the lead singer is someone she wants to see. Neither of us is wrong, because we're both getting tremendous enjoyment out of the experience.

Huh. My take from this is that there are lots of different "ins" to opera, and pure musicality would not be mine.

I might look up the Monteverdi Orfeo you mentioned earlier - a quick Googling shows me many similar works in different styles drawing on the same themes, which could be fun.

Yeah, the Orpheus family tree is a lot of fun... It's the ur-opera, and because Orpheus is the legendary Greek musician of myth, Orpheus operas are inevitably in some fashion operas about operas. If a composer had a bug up his ass about how other composers of opera were doing things wrong, writing an Orpheus was kind of the classic way to show them your *correct* way to write an opera.

For example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orfeo_ed_Euridice

"Orfeo ed Euridice is the first of Gluck's "reform" operas, in which he attempted to replace the abstruse plots and overly complex music of opera seria with a "noble simplicity" in both the music and the drama."

Also, here's the overall list of Orpheus operas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Orphean_operas

I've only seen like two or three of them.

  • 1