Two Boys by Nico Muhly at the Met Opera

This season, the Metropolitan Opera gave Two Boys, an opera composed by Nico Muhly, its United States preview. The opera, based on a true court case, is set in 2001, in an English industrial city. The plot revolves around a detective, Anne Strawson, who was portrayed by Alice Coote, one of my personal favorites. Detective Strawson investigates sixteen-year-old Brian, sung amazingly well by Paul Appleby, for the murder of a thirteen-year-old boy named Jake, sung by the boy soprano Andrew Pulver. Brian argues his innocence, saying a spy told him to do it. In the end, Strawson uncovers Jakes many internet aliases, used to manipulate Brain in an age before people knew everyone on the internet lies. Jakes alias all appear in the opera; Jennifer Zetlan sings Rebecca, a fake girl, interested in Brian. Jake recreates himself online as Jake, a hunky boy, sung by Christopher Bolduc, Sandra Piques Eddy sings “Aunt”/Spy Fiona, and the malicious gardner is sung by Keith Miller. While Detective Strawson tries to grasp the appeal and structure, or lack there of, in the world of the internet, she also deals with her lack of personal life, her aging mother, and frets over the possible fate of the child she gave up for adoption sixteen years ago.

 

Image

First off, the talent of the cast was remarkable. Alice Coote was flawless, her movements were a little “pants role”, or masculine, but it fit a single woman, focused solely on her career. Her low voice was warm, and I was actually surprised at how easy and full her top notes were. Paul Appleby did a great job of acting like a vulnerable, confused, teenage boy, and he has an amazing, lyric, tenor voice which fits Nico Muhlys opera, and general musical style, perfectly. Nico Muhly set Jake as a boy soprano, just one of the many ways his opera was clearly inspired by Britten. Most reviews praise Andrew Pulver. I really can not agree. Benjamin Britten wrote many roles for young boys in his operas during an age when boys were going through puberty later, and therefore could reach a vocal excellence while still having a high voice. Today, boys go through puberty earlier, literally ruining boy choirs around the world. I argue this biological shift renders these boy roles in opera almost un-singable, as well. Did Andrew Pulver do a great job considering the fact that he is 11 or 12 and singing a pretty big role on the Met Stage? Yes. But this role should never have been written in a day and age where boy sopranos can no longer properly exist. It did not sound great, Pulver cracked several times, and his tone was reedy. Jennifer Zetlan, as the fake Rebecca, was my favorite vocally. She captured her young, but creepy role, very well. Her voice was light, and sweet, but carried very well. I was also very impressed with Sandra Piques Eddy as the Spy. She was part of one of the most beautiful musical moments in the opera, and did a magnificent job altering her tone color as was necessary for dramatic affect, and managed to float above a brass choir with ease. Caitlyn Lynch, a Michigan graduate, and wife of Johnny Lasch, was amazing as well, with some of the most beautiful music in the opera. The mothers lack of awareness about what her children were up to was downright Vicodin inspired, and Lynch played it off convincingly.

Of course, none of this production would have been possible without Nico Muhly as the composer. Nico Muhly is undeniably one of my favorite composers. It’s not just his blend of electronic music with live music, or beautiful melodies, or excellent choral writing, which appeals to me. Nico Muhly is the King of collaboration with indie artists, and has a serious cool factor about him, which happens when someone is friends with people like Issac Mizrahi. His collaborative spirit may have been what inspired a production reminiscent of a Peter Sellars/John Adams collaboration, using modern dancers and sparse, but technologically impressive sets to illustrate the vast internet. Nico Muhly appeals to the young, so the crowd at the Met Opera was very different than usual (lets just say I was not the only one wearing a crop top). However, the crowd was incredibly small, which made me lose hope in the Met Opera’s ability to premiere operas that are not already successful. Other venues, like the recently deceased NYCO, were pros at drawing crowds to premieres. The Met just can not bring that audience. The opera was not flawless. The first act had a lack of connection between the singers, text, and melodic content in the orchestra, although it contained some beautiful acapella, choral moments. The second act was beautiful, although a little chamber opera feeling, a weird character for a composer to take on when he is composing for one of the biggest houses. The awesomest moment was when Detective Strawson figures out Jake created all his aliases. Spy Fiona is singing over a brass choir, but her voice gradually becomes more straight tone, and colder, until Jake sings with her in a duet as the strings slowly join the brass, and Fiona drops out of the musical texture. This use of voice color and unique instrumentation made a significant emotional impact on me, and really demonstrated Muhlys sophistication as a composer. 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Composition in Education

Music in Princeton

WHERE do composers come from?

WHAT musical backgrounds do they have that allows them to create music so fluently?

And WHY am I not a composer?

Although it may seem presumptuous, I consider myself to be a relatively musical and creative person. Interpretive dance? You got it. Improvising on the drums? You can count on me. Composing?…. No. One thing I cannot do is compose. But why?

Ladies and gentlemen, in this awkward moment I would like to write a bit about myself and about why this topic is so important to me.

Most of you are aware that I am a student attending Westminster Choir College. What do I study? Music Education. I am going to be a music educator in (hopefully) a couple of years. That is why I am interested in choral music; because I hope to teach in a choral setting someday. In music education…

View original post 487 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Violence Against Women is Not a Joke

Girls' Globe

Exgirlfriend_target dollAngry at an ex-girlfriend or wife? Here, shoot at a bleeding, half-naked “Ex-girlfriend” target doll. It’s only a dummy – just meant for practice.

..Practice for what, exactly?

This doll was displayed at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) Convention by its manufacturer, Zombie Industries (ZI). According to some reports, it has since been discontinued – but in fact, the company merely re-named it “Alexa” in stead of “The Ex”. Some people have claimed that the doll was never referred to as “The Ex” – but an image currently on ZI website curiously still refers to the female target doll package as “The Ex Box” (I’m sure whoever thought that one up considered themselves very funny and clever).

“Alexa” is still being sold by Zombie Industries, and unlike most of the “zombie” dolls, she does not have green skin, nor does she resemble a zombie. I also fail to…

View original post 820 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Julia Bollock (no not the X factor singer)

My new favorite young singer – JULIA BOLLOCK

This post is in response to seeing her recital at Juilliard on May 17, 2013.

Image

Photo by Hiroyuki Ito in New York Times Review (Feb 2012); Bullock sings Delage Four Hindu Poems with American Symphony Orchestra

A summary: Julia Bollock is a young soprano who got her undergrad at Eastman, went to Bard for her graduate degree, and just finished an extra Performance degree at Juilliard. She has won countless scholarships and done a few roles with the various institutions she went to. She seems to focus on performing contemporary music and unusual repertoire in a concert format.

Why you should LOVE her!: Julia Bollock is more than a breath of fresh air. She is a spaceship blasting her audience into space! She embraces amazing, unique, rarely performed songs, much welcome in a world of over performed arias. Bollock’s musicality and focus allow her to do ANY repertoire which suits her voice. Her dramatic intensity never falters, even when she leans over to pluck the strings inside the piano! Her amazing, natural sense of communication make Russian songs seem like they’re in English; not one person was reading the translations while she was singing because it just wasn’t necessary. All dramatic intention was as clear as day. Her diction was impeccable, although someone who actually knows Slavic languages should probably be the one to judge. Her physical presentation was also amazing, really inspiring. She’s a beautiful woman. But it’s more than that. She doesn’t try to fit into the typical play-it-safe singer look. She relied on her natural beauty, no false eyelashes here. Her jewelry was sparse and understated while most singers are encouraged to have a big, flashy piece to draw the audience’s eye. Her dress wasn’t even typical, arguably not quite professional, BUT YET IT WORKED! The audience wasn’t in their seat listening to a teeter-tottering singer sing normal repertoire with a good natural gift. They were having a conversation with a woman who could have been a fashionista walking down the street.

Why she matters in the larger sense: If you’ve watched Joyce Di Donato’s masterclass at J-yard (of course you have), she asks “What do you have to say?”. It may seem like a weird question to ask. With all the technical aspects of singing, all the networking, all the fear about job security, it can be hard to remember that the point of performing is to SAY SOMETHING. Well, this woman has something to say. She doesn’t dress like a typical singer, or sing what everyone else is singing. She is her own entity, who happens to sing.  She walks out there and sings every song like she’s wearing every piece of her soul on her skin and she should walk off happy, no matter what weird vocal moments happened, because she sang something that mattered.

I really hope she gains a lot of publicity soon. Julia Bollock is a singer which should be well known for being an artist and serve as an inspiration and reminder of which parts of singing are the most important.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classical Music

My thoughts on Giulio Cesare at the Met Opera

Image

Giulio Cesare as an overall production was AMAZING! It showed that opera can be both entertaining and emotional! The dancing was cute and fun and although it seemed weird plot wise, it went with the music quite well. The entertainment aspect was kind of needed to keep the audience engaged for a 4 hour da capo fest so I welcomed the funny staging with open arms. 

 

image

Just as Cleopatra stole Giulio Cesare’s heart with “V’adoro pupille”, so Natalie Dessay stole mine! Her phrasing made every aria fresh and painfully beautiful. Her amazing ornamentation turned every di capo aria into a never ending journey and showed off her voice while expanding on the emotions Cleopatra was feeling. After hearing “V’adoro pupille” so many times, I thought I would be immune to it’s emotional effects. Instead I CRIED! She was the definition of why more is more when it comes to ornaments as long as they are done completely right. 

image

I am ashamed to be jumping on the Dessay train so late! BUT IT’S TRUE, I LOVE HER!

Leave a comment

Filed under Classical Music

Superman and His Not So Superwoman.

Image

Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman has many strengths which help make it an incredible ride for the reader. The quality of illustration by Frank Quietly and the digital coloring by Jamie Grant help supply the reader with character depth which simply can not be included in the text of the comic. The depth of Superman’s character is reflected through the difference in illustration and coloring between Superman and Clark Kent. However, the techniques which explore Superman’s dimensions reveals the lack of depth in Lois Lane which is distracting from the overall high quality of the comic, and is an aspect I found disappointing. It is yet another example of the tendency for the Superhero genre to overlook and flatten their female characters, and fail the feminist Bechdel Test*.

Superman could not have any character depth without first showing his stereotypical side of superhumanness.In his super form, Superman is everything the reader expects. He is a giant height, with an extremely solid build, big muscles, and a strong jaw. His black hair is perfect except for one strand of hair which curls on his forehead. This is the typical media image of Superman, also recently portrayed as such in movie Superman Returns (2006). Superman is the true hero, handsome, and supernaturally gifted, bravely defeating all challenges that come his way. He wears his landmark red and blue outfit with the manly short shorts and classic <S> on his long cape and broad chest. This physically perfect specimen stands upright, and faces danger with a determined close up on his face, revealing his sculpted bone structure, and he is often drawn as facing straight forward, a very aggressive stance. Superman is brave, suave, and everything Lois Lane treasures in a man. However, the aspect of All-Star Superman which really adds complexity to his character is the lack of heroic qualities depicted visually in is his alter ego Clark Kent.

The artists of All-Star Superman make one thing clear; Clark Kent is everything Superman is not, especially human. He is clumsy, inarticulate, and unimpressive, especially to Lois Lane. The artists do a great job of portraying the physical differences between Superman and Clark Kent, besides the glasses. When Superman dons Clark Kent’s suit, his posture immediately changes, giving him a slumped over, chubby look, instead of the brave, fit pose Superman has when fighting evil. Clark Kent is constantly fumbling everything, late to a meeting, knocking over a coworkers coffee, and falling as he walks in the door, all in the first two pages he’s introduced. Another technique used to show the difference between Clark Kent and Superman, besides the physical stature, is the use of color in each outfit. Clark Kent actually still wears blue and red, the main colors of Superman’s outfit. However, the red is found is a very dull tie, and his light blue shirt seems more off white than blue. The colors are barely noticeable underneath his big dirty-brown suit jacket, which almost makes Clark Kent blend into his office walls. These not-so-subtle costume changes help the reader separate the Clark Kent with all his human faults from the forever revered Superman. Although Kent is distinctly human, he still can not help but to do good, unwittingly saving strangers whom he seems to bump into or trip from falling objects or cars.

However, these clear artistic decisions executed to help the reader emphasize with Superman are totally absent from Lois Lane’s character. Lois first makes her appearance as an unprofessionally leggy brunette who works with Clark Kent. The content within her speech bubbles lack character depth, but considering it is a comic book, that is to be expected. Lois Lane’s clothes are a more muted, feminine color scheme of Superman’s red and blue. She wears a tiny blue dress, a purple jacket, and matching purple heels, different enough from the red and blue to distinguish her, but enough to signal her as an entity related to Superman. Later on, she wears a long purple dress, not nearly as bright as Superman’s ensemble, which makes her dress look dark, and dreary when she is next to him. Her lack of brown clothes literally illustrates her total emotional separation from Superman’s more human side, Clark Kent, a man she insults continuously throughout the comics, even calling him an idiot in the first episode. Lane’s lack of red clothing may also be seen as an artistic representation of how she does not know the truth about Superman, denying his real identity, and not knowing the truth about his morbid circumstance. While the color of her clothing represent an unspoken angle to her character, the sign given to the reader is that she is even more superficial than the speech bubbles can convey. Her stances as Lois Lane are very feminine and non-challenging, much like Clark Kent’s posture is rather crooked and unassuming. She is never depicted straight forward without a defensive body position, like an arm crossed in front of her, as if to stop Lois Lane from ever being assertive, even when she tries to attack Superman. A lot of her body positions are affected by the comic book’s sexualization of her character, putting her in awkward body positions for the sake of attractiveness. One example is how, when crossing the street with Kent, the artists drew Lane’s legs at an odd distance and angle, as to better draw her upper body more provocatively. The body positions she is drawn in made me, as a feminist, annoyed. Her body is already unrealistically gorgeous but the artists still found it necessary to physically disadvantage her multiple times by drawing her in uncomfortable but more aesthetically pleasing stances. However, the biggest disappointment came for me during Episode 3, in which Lois Lane receives superpowers for a day.

The change in uniform and body stance seem to hint at a deeper character development of Lois Lane, but the plot line and constant sexualization lead to dashed hopes for the reader. Superwoman’s super-suit is actually less revealing than it could have been. There is no cleavage, although the suit is very feminine, and clingy as noticed by superhero Atlas, and does not include any pants. This Episode 3 is a very strong cover, which deceived me into thinking Episode 3 would contain some awesome girl power fighting. It is one of the few times Lois Lane is drawn straight on without any body language apologizing it. In the cover of Episode 3, Lois Lane is actually drawn is though she is leading Superman, portrayed straight on with a fairly normal assertive stance, while Superman is facing slightly away, behind her. The Episode even starts out awesomely, with Lane accompanying Superman to attack; however, the two of them discover two other supernaturally strong men are already taking care of the monster. Unlike Clark Kent who retains a super instinct for saving lives, Lois Lane does not save lives, even when given the supernatural power necessary to. The two other supermen add a sexual dynamic with Lois Lane which quickly leads to a super objectifying competition between the men for Lois Lane’s time, totally ignoring any position of authority she has over herself, regardless of the fact that she is probably more powerful than the other two men who are not Superman. Her lack of drive to do anything radical with her temporary powers creates a very boring storyline and is a disappointment to any reader who thought that made a modernization of a classic superhero story would allow for changes to include a more pro-active romantic interest.

Lois Lane is only one of many undeveloped romantic interests in modern renditions of superhero stories, and All-Star Superman is just one modern superhero retelling which would fail the Bechdel test* if it was a movie. Rachel, from the Batman movie The Dark Night, and The Black Widow, from the film The Avengers, are two examples of how this particular genre is no stranger to creating one dimensional women’s roles in their films. Rachel, Batman’s love interest, although she does have a strong moment with the Joker, spends most of the movie existing simply to humanize Batman and choosing whether to marry Harvey Dent or the Batman before she dies in order to motivate Harvey Dent’s descent into evil. Rachel has very little motivation in The Dark Night not driven by romantic feelings, and never talks to another named female character in this blockbuster movie. This movie does not pass the Bechdel test. The Avengers faces a similar issue when it comes to the lack of development in the movies female characters. The most prominent female character is the Black Widow, one of the Avengers. She does have several an awesome fight scene and is instrumental in finding out the villain’s plan. However, her personal history is barely explored, she does not get as much screen time as the other male avengers, and she is hyper-sexualized, much like Lois Lane was. The Avengers is yet another superhero tale which fails the Bechdel Test.

Obviously the lack of strong female characters in the modern renditions of classic Superhero stories is a problem which should be fixed now that superheros are making no longer merely exposed comic book fans, but now find themselves in several popular films a year. Why, when so many other plot points are altered, the genre fails to change female characters to be three-dimensional, is a question forever left unanswered. But media like The Hunger Games, where a female anti-hero saves the day, void of romantic attachments, hopefully fighting for better days for female her

Works Cited

“Bechdel Test Movie List.” Bechdel Test Movie List. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2013.

Morrison, Grant, and Frank Quitely. All-star Superman. New York: DC Comics, 2007. Print.

*The Bechdel Test is a feminist test which measures movies based on three criteria: The movie must have at least two named female character, who talk to each other, and have a conversation that has nothing to do with a man. The amount of movies which fail this test are astonishing.   

Leave a comment

Filed under Media