For Sunday: “Island Magic,” from Leonard Bernstein’s opera “Trouble in Tahiti”

trouble in tahiti

This is the best scene (I think) from Bernstein’s early opera “Trouble in Tahiti,” in an excellent staging / performance, with Nancy Williams singing the lead.

If you can’t make out the lyrics, you can find them here. They’re hysterical.


Going to the movies






A. O. Scott had a nice thoughtful piece in the Times recently on the slow tragic decline of the movie business, and the upturn of TV. Now, to be fair, this article has been written and rewritten every few years since the 1930s (see Mehitabel the Cat’s thoughts on the subject here). Everyone is always concerned that the older medium (insert medium here: movies, vaudeville, radio) is dying, and the newer medium (insert medium here: TV, movies, TV) is turning into a juggernaut, killing everything in its path, including Western culture.

It never quite happens the way it’s supposed to. The older medium retrenches, regroups, and discovers a new life. Or, as in the case of the eight-track tape, it heads directly for the landfill.

But Scott (who’s a pretty smart cookie) makes the excellent point that “going to the movies” (as opposed to just watching a movie on TV) is an experience in and of itself. It involves leaving the house, for one thing. It’s immersive: you go into a big dark room, a room specially designed for movie viewing, with a special sound system. You sit, and you go limp, and you Watch The Movie.

This reminds me very much of Grand Opera. Opera isn’t just about ladies with Viking helmets and fat tenors in doublets. It’s immersive. It’s grandiose, and meant to be so. It’s sets, and color, and music, and drama (the more intense the better).

Providence, being a city with a largish Italian population, has occasional opera productions; Partner and I went to “Tosca” a few years ago. If you’re only going to go to one opera every few years, you can do worse than Puccini. And “Tosca”: well, I ask you. Lots of drama, a couple of murders, and she jumps off the roof at the end. What’s better than that?

It was a lot of fun. It was also sixty dollars a ticket. And there’s another parallel with “going to the movies”: the movies are expensive. Fifteen bucks plus refreshments for “Dinner With Schmucks”? Oh, please. We pay around a hundred dollars a month for cable-plus-Netflix; that’s $1.67 per day per person, for a ticket to whatever we want to see. We still go out to the movies, but nowhere near as much as we did even ten or fifteen years ago. There are too many choices available at home: lots and lots of movies, lots of excellent TV programs. Lots of dreck too, it goes without saying, but you can’t live on filet mignon, you’ve gotta have potato chips and Necco Wafers once in a while too.

I also have my shelf of opera recordings. I can hear Callas singing Norma anytime I want, and Jan Peerce as a goofily earnest Florestan in “Fidelio,” and I even have a Wagner set with an aging Kirsten Flagstad as Brunhilde.

But it ain’t the same as being there, seeing them in person.

Listening to a recording, even an excellent recording, is not the same as Going To The Opera.

And watching a movie on TV, even an excellent movie, on a really good TV, is not the same as Going To The Movies.

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