I Am Sitting In A Room

Commentary and thoughts on (mostly) classical music.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


It's possible that there's nothing I will enjoy more in The Simpsons Movie than this bit with Homer and the Spiderpig. In fact, few things this year may amuse me more (that do not originate with the better half, of course). I'm refraining from saying "tickled pink"--not only would it be a bad pun, but none of my local readers would really believe it. The better half's had to listen to me sing "spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does" all week long.

UPDATE: The infection spreads to SF! with dividends here! M. C— of The Standing Room is hooked & has found the entire clip--with a line of song that's not from the trailers. I won't spoil it for you (oh, it's good...), but I did switch clips below. Thanks M. C—, hope you're not still singing this and driving OMC nutty over the next week.

Now that I think about, I also enjoy the bit during Pat Nixon's tour in Act 2 of Nixon in China with the "pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig" patter. In the production here Pat scratched a couple of fake pigs on the ear whereupon said fake pigs jittered up and down excitedly--very endearing.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Mixed reviews from this weekend's performances of John Adams's Nixon in China at the Cincinnati Opera (a local premiere). Among friends, profs, and acquaintances there was a fairly wide variety from "not really blown away" to excited with one or two caveats. I think I'm alone at the most satisifed end of the scale, so much so that I went both nights.

The One
local paper of record* didn't care for the production (the same one done in Chicago last year) but thought the orchestra played fantastically--which was not the case on the night that was reviewed. Both nights, Kristjan Järvi (brother of Paavo, son of Neeme) was completely up to the task of conducting, but it wasn't til that second performance that the orchestra gelled.

Robert Orth as Nixon & Chen-Ye Yuan as Chou En-Lai were the only two holdovers from the Chicago production. Orth is great as Nixon, acting convincingly with his body, speech, and singing. This is the first American opera I've ever seen live, and it's nice to be conversant in the language being sung, to recognize from the gut instead of academically when the composer and performer understand and deliver the nuances--of inflection, rhythm, expression--of their characters. That as much as anything makes a powerful argument for staging more American operas.

Speaking of staging...it's generally OK for 3/4 of the show, with TV monitors aglow throughout showing loops of (apparently recently declassified) film from Nixon's visit. But the last scenes still don't come off; is there an effective way to stage this?

My favorite role in Nixon is Chou En-lai. He gets the most poetically-resonant lines in Nixon, including the last: Outside this room the chill of grace/Lies heavy on the morning grass. I can overlook all the clunky staging of the final scenes knowing that line is coming as world leaders are (literally) stripped down to their core humanity. The live performance has changed at least one (professorial) mind about the third act. Can you credit Chen-Ye Yuan with a large part of that? I do.

What else? Georgia Jarman nailed the fireworks in "I Am the Wife of Mao Tse-tung"; Pat Nixon (Maureen O'Flynn) was affecting...Oh yeah, no fuselage of "The Spirit of '76"--the most iconic image of the original production. That was disappointing, but now that I look at a couple pictures I can see how it overwhelms the scene...but still...

aworks's Nixon posts * Cinti Opera's production page

* From the comments Mary Ellyn Hutton notes that there are 2 dailies operating in Cincinnati, and that the alt-weekly sent out a reviewer, too. I didn't know the Post had a regular critic, and I'm glad to now. Thanks Mary Ellyn, nice to meet you.

Other reviews: Mary Ellyn (via her site MusicinCincinnati.com) * CityBeat

Postscript to Nixon

The image of Nixon and Mao playing ping-pong comes from a website called--and full of nothing but-- Celebrities Playing Table Tennis. Pliable at On an Overgrown Path put up a photo of Schoenberg. Erich Leinsdorf is kicking up his heels here. The Rita Hayworth shots ain't bad either.

In the comments at Overgrown Path, I linked to one of my favorite composer pictures on the web: a shot of Villa-Lobos shooting billiards, lining up a behind-the-back shot with a cigar in his mouth and his hat pushed back on his head. Follow the thumbnail to where it's housed--KUSF radio's "Classics without Walls" show.

That's right -- two posts in one day! Is the blog on a comeback? Don't bet on it, but we'll see.