Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bland Giovanni

Last night I attended my first COC production for the new year, Don Giovanni. Over the years I have seen it a couple of times and was looking forward to the new COC production. Arriving in the theatre we were greeted with a projection on the screen listing the cast and how the director had decided to reinterpret the original roles. For this production Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov decided had all the cast members related as one large extended family. Reading this gave me pause. Once the curtain lifted we were greeted with the set which was to serve for all the action. A large formal study with walls lined in wood paneling and books, wood doors on each side and a set of glass doors at the back of the stage. The first scene which played to the introduction was a sort of pantomime tableau as the Don Giovanni family assembled on stage for dinner, then the black curtain dramatically flopped back down. 

Throughout the evening the director repeatedly used this flopping curtain to end each scene. After which he projected on the curtain a timeline, stretching out an opera that originally is set over a few days to a few months. Sadly, this theatrical effect broke the momentum of the music and staging, making the whole piece long and drawn out. Whatever effect Tcherniakov was going for was lost with such an awkward staging. When a director decides to update a piece it must be to make the piece more relevant and to draw something from the original music. Too often in this production Tcherniakov's staging twisted the piece to fit his idea without paying homage to the original work. It just didn't work. 

Watching the performance I found myself scratching my head trying to understand what the director was trying to say. As I have written before when everything comes together in an opera the piece becomes transcendent. When it doesn't the evening drags on leaving the audience fidgeting and ready to leave. Indeed at intermission a number of patrons left. 

I can only think that the director's choices somehow culturally does not translate to North America. The longer I watched it the more I believed the setting, the odd costume choices and staging were Russian inspired. Too often there were blocking, costume and movement choices that made little sense. The simulated sex and smoking was more reminiscent of a tele novella than an opera production. There were choices that I just never understood making the piece drab and dull. Nothing tied together or was in any way engaging. The only saving grace were the voices of Jennifer Holloway as Donna Elvira, Jane Archibald as Donna Anna and Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello. 

How any director could take such a dynamic piece and make it dull is beyond me. In the end it was the most banal version of Giovanni I have ever seen. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Open Wide

Returning home I have been faced with yet more work on my teeth. While I have never had strong teeth my vegan diet and my experience with chemotherapy back in 2004 left me with teeth that are in need of continuous repair. Prior to the holidays one of my molars which had been repeatedly repaired by my dentist chipped on two sides. Coming back I knew I needed to address the problem, deciding to have my dentist create a new bridge for the teeth. The problem is that none of this is covered by disability. I dread loosing all my teeth and building the bridge will hopefully help give me a stronger bite, at least on one side of mouth, but it means putting myself farther into debt. Today my dentist prepared my molars for a new bridge, the price of stronger teeth. 

Thoughts on Mexico City

Although our brief January vacation to Mexico City was far too short it was great not only to get away but to explore the city. The original Aztec city sat upon islands that lay in the middle of a lake. Nestled between a range of mountains the Spaniards decided to drain the lake, building underground culverts to funnel the water away. Successive Mexican governments continued the process building more and more elaborate systems to funnel the rivers and water that fed the lake away from the drained lakebed. Unfortunately this meant that the ground below the city is made up of layers of lakebed which is far from stable for modern building. This combined with the fact that the valley sits atop an earthquake prone fault line means that numerous buildings are askew at odd angles all over the city. 

None of this takes away from the charm and beauty of some of the buildings. I found myself falling in loved with the decayed charm in the area around Zocalo. One of the oldest parts of the city it features a mix of architectural styles from various periods. On our walks throughout the various neighbourhoods we discovered a plethora of diverse European styles, including French, Spanish and Italian. Like other European inspired cities there is a sense of beautiful decay (think New Orleans or Quebec City) made all the more apparent because of the sheer size and scale of the city. It is a huge place that sprawls well past the ring of mountains that once contained the original city. We discovered the size of the city as it spreads out past the mountains on our day trip to see the pyramids in Teotihuacan. 

Walking everywhere in the city, there were people hawking their wares on every corner and all along the streets. Because of the sheer scale of the population and a Mediterranean relaxed attitude towards North American styled regulation there was something for everyone, every step you took. For us the most exciting places were the street mercados which were endless, with stalls continuing as far as one could see. I was also fascinated by all the small street stalls selling food everywhere we went. All this business gave the city a vibrancy missing in places that are too heavily regulated (just think about the lack of street food in Toronto). Behind all of this vibrancy were the people. As we walked one could see phenotypes in the faces ranging from the more Aztec and Indigenous to the more Europeanized and Spanish. There is a great deal of diversity in Mexican faces and people but not a lot of ethnic diversity in the city. Unlike Toronto, it was ethnically a very homogeneous place.

While the more relaxed attitude towards regulation created a vibrant street scene one never forgot that the hawking existed because of the poverty of the country, which exists in stark contrast to the wealth. But this is something that is sadly becoming too prevalant in most urban centres. In Mexico City it is just more visible. It was in the end a charming place that never seemed to sit still. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Happy Rabbie Burns Day


Memento Mori

Joseph Sattler, The Dance of Death, 1912
Joseph Sattler, The Dance of Death (1912)

Werkin' It

Three boys in Jamaica, 1974 © Rose Murray
Three boys in Jamaica (1974)
Rose Murray

Mexico City

Mr.T and I arrived home last night after a week in Mexico City. We spent the week with Mr.J, Mr.T's friend for more than twenty years and his new Mexican boyfriend Mr.E. They live in the gay district, Zona Rosa which is sandwiched between two central streets, Plaza Reforma and Avenue Chaupaltec. The area is filled with lots of new shiny office buildings and hotels and except for the palm trees is like any other major urban centre. 

Mr.J and Mr.E were kind enough to help us explore the city taking us on walking tours each day through different sections of the city. We explored most of the zones adjacent to Zona Rosa, including Roma, Condessa, Centro, Coyoacan, Zocalo and Polanco. My favourite area had to be the area around Zocalo because it had the feel I expected from Mexico City. It was more European with older buildings and narrower streets, with a charm that was sometimes missing in some of the other districts. 

While touring we had lunch and dinner each day in different Mexican restaurants sampling a selection of dishes and places. Our favourite was a studenty type pub that Mr.E introduced us to in Coyoacan, La Bipo. The place had a diverse menu and some amazing dishes including a chilli potato dish and shrimp tacos that were wonderful. Mr.J also introduced us to a wonderful Cuban styled cafe, Cafe Havana that had good food and wonderful atmosphere in Centro. 

Exploring the city each day we discovered a diverse collection of architectural styles and buildings, with streets devoted to one particular shopping item. While walking we discovered some amazing street markets which always tempted with street food that looked incredible. The city is alive no matter where you go with vendors hawking their wares in a manner that is unfamiliar to us in North America. Every where you look there is something new, with shops in doorways, on sidewalks or jammed together like souks. It is a vibrant place with a Mediterranean attitude towards regulation that is attractive to North Americans who are over regulated.

On Thursday we booked a tour to Teotihuacan so we could see the pyramids just north of the city. Our small tour left from the Sheraton on a small mini bus and made our way to the Shrine for the Virgin of Guadalope, then north to the Pyramids. There we were treated to some local artisans, lunch and then finally the pyramids themselves. The scale is extraordinary and while I was not able to climb either the Temple of the Moon or the Temple of the Sun it was an amazing experience. From there we drove to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. A smaller and older site I was able to climb this pyramid and was amazed at the building on the other side. It was heavily decorated with sculptures and was really beautiful. The trip is a must for anyone going to Mexico City.