[Dixielandjazz] Happenings at Lincoln Center

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 14 12:48:34 PST 2004


Dave Brubeck at age 82 plus or minus, with his octet, performs Monday
March 22 at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Tickets start at $50 and
go to $100 for an evening with Brubeck.
Not bad, for an old fart. Tickets at: http://www.jazzatlincolncenter.org

And Happening #2, OPERA IS (gasp) SEXY.

NOT OKOM, but for everyone who thinks Opera is "highbrow" or that music
has nothing to do with sex, or that Janet Jackson is so horrible, check
out Salome, by Richard Strauss coming to Lincoln Center. In the title
role, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila who is just wonderful.

If you read the article, note that the opera choreographer looked at
Marlene Dietrich's "Blue Angel" for inspiration and see several other
interesting parallels with pop and/or OKOM. Tickets at: http://www.metropera.org

Steve barbone

March 14, 2004 - New York Times

Do a Striptease, Sing a Big Aria, All in a Night's Work


      The hardest thing about doing a striptease may be rehearsing it.
On a recent Friday afternoon, the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, who
will perform the title role in a new production of Richard Strauss's
"Salome" at the Metropolitan Opera, stood on a table in a rehearsal room
in the basement. She had come to the part of the Dance of the Seven
Veils where, in this production, her pants come off. Two male dancers
bit at her hips and slowly pulled off her trousers with their teeth. Now
standing there in a G-string, she had no idea what to do next.

"Can I put my pants on please?" she said. "Not that I mind."

During the weeks leading up to tomorrow's premiere, many in the opera
house were asking the same question: are you going to be naked?

"Salome," here directed by Jürgen Flimm and choreographed by Doug
Varone, is a scandalous and difficult show, even by operatic standards.
It features Salome's postmortem romance with the detached head of the
prophet Jochanaan, whose death she arranged after he spurned her.
Imagine how that must have gone over when the opera first appeared, in
1905 in Dresden, Germany. At its New York premiere, in 1907 at the Met,
men whistled, women hid behind their programs and many walked out. The
show so scandalized the daughter of J. P. Morgan, who was then a board
member, that it was pulled after one performance.

Necrophilia aside, consider Strauss's demand that Salome perform a
10-minute dance for her lascivious stepfather, Herod, so entrancingly
that he will carry out her vengeful plan. It is hard to find a dancer
who can pull off such a stunt, let alone a world-class soprano who can
then go on to sing a demanding 20-minute aria to a severed head.

Harold C. Schonberg, reviewing a performance of Salome at the Met by
Birgit Nilsson in 1965, stated the problem succinctly in The New York
Times: "Strauss, of course, asked the impossible — an Isolde voice in
the body of an adolescent. Those things do not happen; as well expect a
nightingale to roar. And then there is that dance, in which sopranos who
can sing the role generally embarrass themselves and the audience." (Mr.
Schonberg felt that Ms. Nilsson, despite choreography by the legendary
dancer Alicia Markova, failed to overcome her "handicap" of figure and age.)

The Dance of the Seven Veils is not some frothy aside that can be
relegated to the corps de ballet. It is crucial to the plot: "the
ignition for the rest of the story," in Mr. Flimm's words. For him it is
the turning point of the opera, which starts with a feast, as Herod
celebrates his birthday, and ends with the death of the prophet.

"It switches into a big, big tragedy," Mr. Flimm said. "A tragedy you
could read in the Bible."

Of course, the role of Salome must be cast first on singing ability, not
dancing or physique, and history is full of sopranos who have fallen far
short of Strauss's physical ideal. There have been matronly Salomes. Fat
Salomes. Sedentary Salomes. Exotic, wiggly Salomes. Salomes who, as
grown women, have had to slither around stage on their bellies, with
their mouths open.

Antics like those seem more likely to make Herod laugh and dismiss his
little harlot than to get so hot and bothered that against his own will,
he gives Salome exactly what her dark heart desires.

The Dance of the Seven Veils is potentially so embarrassing that some
sopranos have refused to perform it and demanded pinch hitters. Others,
like Anja Silja, have reveled in it. As for Ms. Mattila, she wouldn't
dream of stepping aside.

"When I do Salome, I'll dance, and if I can't dance, then I'll quit that
role," she said in an interview. "Of course, the other question is when
my boobs fall and if I don't want to go under the knife, then I think
it's time to stop, too, or find a very good excuse not to remove the
last veil."

For now, Ms. Mattila needs no excuses. She has a lot going for her. "She
can move, and she's sexy," Mr. Flimm said. "But please don't say in the
article, `Mr. Flimm goes pant, pant, pant.' "

She knows how to use her body, not just her voice, as an expressive
instrument. Even apart from the Dance of the Seven Veils, she invests
Salome with a striking girlishness. She springs petulantly across the
stage. She twirls her bare toes and flounces around like a sultry,
overindulged teenager.

"For a 43-year-old to play a 16-year-old princess, it's a challenge,"
Ms. Mattila said. "But it's a possible one."

Her physical understanding of the character is all the more striking
because — aside from a year of general movement classes at the Sibelius
Academy in Helsinki, where she studied voice — Ms. Mattila has had no
formal dance education. But she has always liked to dance. She grew up
on a farm in Somero, Finland, the only daughter in what she calls a
"strict family." She wasn't allowed to go dancing until she was 17.

"I learned to dance at home, in front of the mirror," she said. She used
to watch Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe movies and try to copy
their moves.

Mr. Varone, who has choreographed or directed six operas in the last
eight years, including two at the Met, has created a more sophisticated
dance than the overwrought versions that cursed past Salomes. "I know
what I don't want to have happen," he said. "I don't want to have a
pretty dance that sits onstage. We've built a very provocative and
sometimes filthy dance."

Mr. Varone didn't look at past productions of "Salome" for inspiration.
Instead, he watched Dietrich in "The Blue Angel." When Salome first
appears for the dance, she is in drag. Santo Loquasto, who designed the
costumes, and Mr. Flimm have taken a liberal view of what might
constitute seven (or so) veils: black tap pants, a black lace bustier,
black fishnet thigh-highs and black satin high heels, tuxedo pants, a
modified cummerbund and vest, a tuxedo jacket and a silky scarf.

The striptease is, at best, a conflicted symbol of female power, and the
costume was designed, in part, to underscore Salome's strength. "It's a
little bit machismo," Mr. Flimm said.

Mr. Varone took cues from the tux and threw in masculine gestures. When
Salome rips open her jacket, calling attention to her breasts, she
struts over to Herod with the cadence of a man. "She controls her entire
field of vision," Mr. Varone said. "She's like a lioness at prey, in a
way, going in for the kill."

Still, although Ms. Mattila is physically attractive and blessed with an
innovative costume, thoughtful choreography and a good personal trainer,
the possibility of failure is real. Ten minutes is a lot of
choreography, especially for an opera singer, and tough to remember.
There are also the nuts-and-bolts problems of how to turn with your legs
straight and how to do lifts.

But the hardest thing, Mr. Varone said, is getting a nondancer to trust
the expressive power of movement, to believe deep down that a sequence
of turns across the stage can in and of itself be aggressive or that a
certain sweep of the arm alone might suggest desire. "Movement is
foreign to people who don't do it singularly as a profession," Mr.
Varone said. "With Karita, there has been a wonderful sense of trust
from the beginning."

The hardest thing for Ms. Mattila? "I've needed these four and a half
weeks to accept myself," she said. "I consider myself O.K.-looking. It's
easy in this dance to get so concerned about how you look. You need to
learn to trust that you're all right and don't weigh twice as much as
the dancers."

As rehearsals went on, being the only one without pants in a room full
of men seemed to matter less and less. "It takes guts in the rehearsal
even to be in your underwear," Ms. Mattila said. "But the more involved
you get, the less of an issue it is."

She has been practicing the dance in her hotel room. "I put on Tina
Turner or Bruce Springsteen," she said. "I put on something sexy, and
I'll just go crazy and dance my heart out. It helps get me into the
right mood."

Her favorite moments in the dance are the lifts. "Nobody has ever lifted
me up so high," she said. "God, it feels so good. When I do that dance,
I feel like a dancer."

She leaned back in her chair and grinned. "Maybe I'm fulfilling the
dreams of my youth," she said.  

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