Sunday, August 9, 2015

July Reading

June was a very light month for reading - in July I couldn't stop reading.

A Dead Man in Instanbul by Michael Pearce.  The second in the series of mysteries I started last month, this time the hero is sent to Istanbul.  It's a nice view of pre-World War I Turkey but the mystery is a little weak.  I'm not sure I'll go further with this series.  Can't really recommend.

Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood.   I've really been enjoying the television series on Netflix so I thought I'd go back to the original mysteries.  I started at the first and am working my way through them - I won't list them all.  The plots are different than the TV series and there is no sexual tension between Phryne and the police inspector.  Instead she has multiple lovers but her main squeeze is a Chinese importer, Lin Chung.  I am enjoying these very much and will probably finish the entire 20 volume series next month. Recommended.

In the Woods by Tana French   The first in Tana French's series of mysteries set in Dublin.  This was a very good novel although it was somewhat frustrating that one of the mysteries was never solved.  The novel is written from the point of view of the detective investigating the murder who is slowly falling apart.  When characters do things that I think are stupid, I prefer not to be in their minds.  I'd rather read about it in third person.  But it was not enough to stop me enjoying the novel. Recommended.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.   Another novel written in the first person.  For plot purposes she needs to be naive and a little bit stupid.  Again, I prefer that if the protagonist is not smart that I not be in their head.  There were interesting facts about forgeries but not nearly as good as the robertson Davies novel What's Bred in the BoneNot particularly recommended but would make a decent beach read.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.   Parts of this novel are written in the first person and parts are written in the third person. The narrator is not stupid which is a relief.  This novel is the third in the series. Truthfully I don't remember all the characters of the other two novels but that didn't matter. It was a compelling read.  Some day I'm going to read all three again, closer in time to each other.  Recommended.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.   This is the second volume of the Neapolitan Series.  About halfway through this novel I found myself exasperated and thinking that the characters were all acting like a bunch of teenagers.  And then I realized that they were a bunch of teenagers.  Again, this is a novel written in the first person and again the narrator, for plot purposes, seems to be be required to not really be able to figure out what is going on.  Probably I was just tired of first person narrative, but I didn't really enjoy this volume as much as the first one.  I already have the third volume so I'll read it but I am still at a loss as to why people are raving about the style of the writer.  Recommended with reservations.

Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes.  This was an interesting novel - the story of a man who slowly drives himself crazy by being jealous of men that his wife slept with before she met him.  The ending did totally surprise me.  It was well written but sometimes I get tired of those 20th century novels written by men who are obsessed with sex.  But at least it was written in the third person.  Recommended with reservations.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.   The whole time I was reading this novel I kept wishing that I was seeing it as a movie instead.  Then, right after I finished this novel, I read that Steven Spielberg would be directing a move version.  This novel, set in a dystopian near-future, is about a society obsessed with 1980s culture.   There were so many references that it was almost overwhelming.  Many of them I didn't get since I never played video or arcade games.  I'm also bad at identifying songs by titles or artists - I have to hear them.  But despite that, I did really enjoy this novel.  It was clever.   And, even though it was a first person narrator, he wasn't stupid - at all.   Recommended.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  This was an odd book. Again written in the first person but not a stupid narrator.  it kept my attention but I didn't really like it.   I never felt invested in the characters.  Recommended.

June Reading and Watching

I've gotten behind in posting what I've read.  For some reason I thought I had done a post for June, but now I realize I never pushed "publish".  In June I finished only three books:

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.   Lila has gone missing but Elena is not about to let her disappear without a trace.  Instead she embarks on this memoir which takes the relationship between the two women from the time they were small girls until they are about sixteen.  Lila isn't a particularly nice friend. She isn't particularly lucky in life but she is smart.  Elena constantly feels inferior and tries to live up to Lila.  It's a story that kept my interest and I enjoyed it.  But I don't really see why the critics find her writing so compelling.

A Dead Man in Trieste by Michael Pearce.   I'm not sure where I heard of Michael Pearce or why I decided to try this book.  Maybe because I didn't really know where Trieste is and wanted to.  The style is very old fashioned and the story is not particularly complicated.  But he did paint a vivid picture of Trieste and the Balkins in the early 1900's. 

Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, this isn't your typical book of poetry.  Most of it, in fact, isn't poetry in the traditional sense.  Her theme is the lived life of a black woman, of feeling invisible, or not belonging even in relationships with white friends.  I appreciated the perspective but as a work of literature it didn't speak to me.

The reason I didn't finish many books in June is that I was spending a lot of time at the theatre:

Antony and Cleopatra at St. Louis Shakespeare in the Park

The Barber of Seville at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

La Rondine at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Richard the Lionheart at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

 Emmeline at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

My Fair Lady at the Muny 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Barber of Seville - A Visual Treat

As part of Opera Theatre of St. Louis' 40th anniversary season, it commissioned a new translation of Rossini's The Barber of Seville  from Kelley Rourke.  Of course the story is still the same:  Count Almaviva is still in love (from afar) with Rosina, the ward of prominent Doctor Bartolo and he still asks the local barber and busybody, Figaro, to help him win Rosina.  But the action is now specifically set in Seville during the April Fair and the time period is updated to, perhaps, the 1960's.  It's hard to tell.  The production notes tell us that during the April Fair people dress in costume - including historical costume.  Figaro wears a costume that might not look out of place during the original time period but Dr. Bartolo is in the short sleeves and tie that men wore when I was a child.   Parts of the chorus look like circus performers (including a person on stilts).  While a bit confusing from a historical perspective, it still worked well (far better than many of OTSL's attempts to update operas, especially Mozart operas).

Rosina (Emily Fons) is now the Doctor's assistant, working in his office (he is now an optometrist) and is no longer quite as passive as she has been in past productions.  Fons is making her OTSL main stage debut and has a lovely mezzo-soprano voice with pure diction.  She was a joy to listen to.  Christopher Tiesi, also making his OTSL main stage debut, started out somewhat weakly as Almaviva but as his voice warmed up he proved up to the role.  Both are good actors as well as singers and handled the comedy ably.  The true comedian turned out to be Dale Travis in the role of Dr. Bartolo, a role that I remember in the past as being nothing other than an annoyance.  Here, Bartolo, still schemes to marry his ward while at the same time being obsessed with chickens. 

Yes, that's right.  Chickens.   The production design, which is meant to evoke the films of Pedro Almodovar, is infused with images of chickens as well as chicken props.   The colors are vivid and it took me a while to notice the chicken design at the bottom of the semi-sheer curtain that is occasionally drawn across the back of the stage. 

But it is Benjamin Taylor who stands out as the self-confidant and funny Figaro.  He is unafraid to play the role broadly, which is exactly what it needs amidst all the color and confetti on stage.  And his voice was a delight.   Conductor Ryan McAdams did not let the tempos lag and some of the music is tricky to sing (much less enunciate) in the original Italian far less in the clunkier English.  But he handled it brilliantly.

In fact all of the enunciation was terrific - a far cry from some productions where they might as well be singing in Polish.  I wondered if it might have seemed better to me because we changed our season tickets and are sitting further back this year.   For the last 28 years we sat on the lower level, but on the side.  Last year we tired of regularly not being able to see.  Rather than cancel our subscription, we changed our seats.

Since Tim O'Leary took the reins as the artistic director he hasn't seemed to have made an effort to require his directors and set designers to direct and design for the 3 quarter stage at the Loretto Hilton Theater.  Regularly cast members and often scenery is put at the side of the stage blocking the view of those who sit on the side.  And in fact, this production has a large piece set on one side of the stage during the first scene, filled with sitting singers, blocking the view over there.  This is just laziness on the part of Opera Theatre - certainly the Rep, which stages many more productions in that same theater each year, never has that problem.   And OTSL never had that problem under Charles McKay.

But since O'Leary clearly isn't going to change his ways, we eventually decided to change ours and move our seats.  We also decided to sit center for the first time.  I'd like to be able to tell you it made a difference, but alas I can't.  When we arrived in our seats on Thursday we found ourselves surrounded by 20-25 small children who are part of OTSL's summer camp.  We asked for our seats to be changed and were moved to one of the sides.   After a long day at work when all I wanted to do was sit back and enjoy the music, the last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by other people's children.  Children, no matter how well behaved, are still children.   While I applaud OTSLs efforts to build a young audience, children belong at matinees, not evening performances.  And if they will insist on giving them tickets to an evening performance, season ticket holders should be warned in advance.

Other than having to change our seats, however, the evening was enjoyable and the production was a visual treat.  I can only imagine what it looks like when not looking at it from an angle.