Satie on Film

Bill Morelock passes on these thoughts about Tuesday night’s Open Air show. (The footage of Erik Satie firing a cannon from the top of a building is something I had heard about, but not seen till now….)

Theatre Closed

It was a time, it seems now, of infinite innovation, unqualified creative freedom, grand audacious experiments. Even when those experiments flirted with the absurd, the banal, or the self-indulgent, Paris from 1910 to 1925 still retains a patina of avant-garde authority. Names like Cocteau, Fokine, Apollinaire, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Satie, Picabia, Picasso and Cendrars represent an apotheosis of an ideal, highly oxygenated artistic atmosphere. Much of this richness remains sublime. We forgive the silliness.

Erik Satie’s ballet Relache (1924) came late in this reign of brilliance and error. Also at the end of Satie’s life. Many asserted that Relache erred more than most. Even those who’d come to respect the sly dabblings of the odd man in the velvet suit began to lose faith. Oops, he was an empty vessel after all.

Well, perhaps. But maybe these critics had already grown up and left Dada. Satie, still an unrepentent godfather of absurd delights, a nemesis of seriousness, was perfectly frank. Relache means nothing, nothing at all, he said.

Relache actually means No Performance, or Theatre Closed, as posters would announce during the summer months. Satie joked that at last he would have something running all summer long. Tuesday night at 8 on Open Air you can listen to the ballet–actually a series of quite entertaining short pieces–as well as some other products of the time by Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc.

Relache included a film specially produced for the intermission. A young film critic named Rene Clair created it, and Satie provided music he hoped would be sensed by the audience but not really listened to. In fact he floated among the audience to see if it was having the proper effect. “What do you think of the music? No, don’t think about the music!” Satie’s embryonic idea became ubiquitous in our time as Muzak.

You can evaluate the level of silliness or richness yourself, since the film is on the web. That’s Satie himself and the poet and painter Francis Picabia (the creator of Relache) “firing” a field gun into the camera. And the two fellows playing chess on the roof of the Theatre des Champs Elysees are Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. All the cameos, jokes and sly messages would require a large commmentary to decode.

All in all, it’s a remarkable document of a time that specialized in hilarious anarchies. And it’s absurd. And, pace M. Satie, it means nothing.

Which Opera to See?

A friend of mine asked me: Which of the Metropolitan Opera’s HD movie transmissions should I go to?

A couple thoughts (mostly directed at opera newbies; you hardcore buffs will have your minds made up already).

Manon Lescaut (Puccini)

For an introduction to Italian opera, with its soaring melodies and high-powered vocalism, it could be a toss-up between this and La Boheme (see below). Karita Mattila should shine in the title role (<strike.Feb. 9Feb.16: 3 hrs 45 min; 3 intermissions)

Peter Grimes (Britten)

The only twentieth-century opera in the line-up. This is a drama that probes serious, even dark themes. The role of Peter Grimes is a terrific opportunity for a good singer-actor (March 15: 3 hours, 45 minutes; 2 intermissions)

Tristan and Isolde (Wagner)

Frankly–probably not for first-timers. Wagner can be long, static, repetitive.

But if that doesn’t scare you off, do as musicians do: do some homework, clear away the day, and immerse yourself in maybe the greatest theater piece of the 19th century. (March 22: 5 hours, 35 minutes; 2 intermissions)

La Boheme (Puccini)

See Manon Lescaut above. This is the most popular opera ever written. The sets and stage direction by Franco Zeffirelli are knockouts. (April 5: 3 hours, 20 minutes; 2 intermissions)

The Daughter of the Regiment (Donizetti)

Tuneful, comic and light. Star power is generated by Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez–matinee idols, here in an actual matinee. (April 26: 3 hours, 10 minutes; 1 intermission)

And the Beat Goes On

In which one hundred people, ages 1-100, beat on a drum.

The clip is part of a series of short films that assembles the people of Britain in a given order. In 3 minutes, we meet 100 different people who are arranged according to their age, starting from age 1.

This is strangely mesmerizing, and haunting:

Daily (Classical) Digest

Violinist Julia Fischer scores a triumph in the Grieg Concerto…that’s right, the Grieg Piano Concerto.

Noted pianist has a run-in with the law

The convention of rapt silence at a concert may be of recent date, according to a recent book, prompting this reflection*.

Covent Garden (aka the Royal Opera House) has begun putting its archive online. Two collections, of costumes and photographs, are online thus far

*Registration required

I'll Cut My Own Hand Off

But when I’m making risotto or frying fish, there will never be classical music playing in the background. I can’t have anything else going on when classical music is playing, because it forces me into a whole other mind space. I can’t actually wield a knife while listening to classical music, or I’ll cut my own hand off.

From Canadian singer Measha Brueggergosman, appearing at the Ordway this Tuesday at short notice; full interview here.

Quiz Show at the Met

Years ago when the Metropolitan Opera toured in the Midwest, Minneapolis attorney Phillip Gainsley got his chance to flex his musical know-how by giving pre-concert talks at the local performances. One thing led to another, and he was soon sitting on the coveted Metropolitan Opera Quiz panel during intermissions of the live Met broadcast from Lincoln Center, stumping along with some of the best in the business. He’ll be in New York this weekend and on Classical Minnesota Public Radio when we broadcast Verdi’s ‘Masked Ball’.

Represent Minnesota and send a question to the Metropolitan Opera Quiz. Maybe your will be asked live on air!