Lattice and Veil
A Feature for New York City Opera
TWO HUNDRED porcelain-skinned beauties, in a delirium of exotic ethnicities, fair and dark, luxuriate in billows of silk, satin, silver-brocaded velvet, and diaphanous linen. They are dewy from the haman, an all-morning ablution of perfumed steam, pumice, and salt scrapes. . .
In Vienna in 1782, the European fantasy of the Oriental potentate included an image of the magnanimous pasha. It seemed to satisfy a chagrined longing for paradise lost, and appetite redeemed. Hollywood too, from Valentino to Flynn, from Bond to the Dream of Jeannie, has been rabid to reprise the Turquophilia of eighteenth and nineteenth century Orientalists, for a Western myth of the Eastern Eden. According to faithful journals and the correspondence of a few privileged Europeans who actually made it inside the harem, exotic wonders did all abound in very deed. But the Ottoman Empire was one of the most brutal and repressive of all empires. The real story was much more complicated. . .
So Mozart had Bassa Selim rise above the vengeance he expects of his European rival, achieving nobility and redemption in an act of clemency. Through the brilliant vaudeville with which Mozart answers him, we may hear, as well, the promise of the ancient prophet: “Surely Allah ever watches over you.”
Senta: Redeemer, Redeemed
A Feature Article for "Der Fliegende Holländer" at Houston Grand Opera
IN 1841, THE YEAR of Der Fliegende Holländer, Richard Wagner was still a young man of twenty-seven, with the early works of his artistic apprenticeship behind him. Already embarked upon a career of conducting and composing, steeped in the works of Mozart and Beethoven, Wagner was poised to inherit the mantel of German Romanticism from Carl Maria von Weber and Heinrich Marschner. But Wagner had set himself a mission to rescue die heilige Kunst, the Holy Art of music from the ignominy of mere entertainment, to which he felt it was steadily sinking. In May of 1841 Wagner began work on his poem for Der Fliegende Holländer, and by November he had completed the entire orchestral score, beginning a musical and philosophical arc that would culminate in Parsifal forty years later, and redefine the language of music forever. . .
The China Syndrome
A Feature for Echelon Magazine
WHAT DOES IT TAKE to become the world’s largest supplier of old & new china, crystal, silver and collectibles—to the tune of $70 million in sales? Bob Page, founder and president of Replacements, Ltd. is the man who would know, although he’ll tell you that being the world’s largest supplier of anything was never his intention.
Thirty years ago, as a North Carolina state auditor, Page was just a guy who loved going to flea markets, collecting china and crystal as a hobby on weekends. . .
The Once and Future Tannhäuser
A Feature for Houston Grand Opera
RICHARD WAGNER's Tannhäuser made an auspicious debut, in 1845, in Dresden. Revised for Paris, fifteen years later, it caused a riot. It’s the so-called “Paris” Tannhäuser which we usually hear, and it bears the signature of two distinctly different composers—both of them Richard Wagner. . .
Between the Dresden Tannhäuser of 1845, and the Paris revisions of 1861, Wagner developed his theory of Gesamtkunstwerk (all-encompassing artwork which engages an audience on every level), and Zukunftmusik (music of the future). During political exile in Switzerland after the German social revolution of 1848, Wagner wrote a series of dense, self-contradictory tomes, expounding his philosophies without much clarifying anything. He composed.
When he again took up the Tannhäuser, Wagner had finished Tristan und Isolde, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and Siegfried was underway. He had discovered Arthur Schopenhauer, whose concept of “self-determining Will” would figure so importantly in the Wagner world view. And he philandered, cleaving evermore imperiously to Goethe’s conceit of das ewig-Weibliche—the eternal feminine—which “draws us on.” All this came between the two Tannhäusers. And it shows. . .
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A Feature for New York City Opera
SOME OF THE GREATEST sopranos ever to sing Richard Strauss’ Salome—Maria Jeritza, Ljuba Welitsch, Astrid Varnay, Leonie Rysanek—could curl into come-hither poses along with the best of the Hollywood vamps—Theda Bara, Rita Hayworth, Yvonne De Carlo, Alla Nazimova in peacock feathers. They all danced the Dance of the Seven Veils. Luxuriously carnal, voluptuous and dangerous—femmes fatales all. Perhaps. . .