Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Actual Transcript

DB: Hello, Banhart residence. 
SFJ: Hey, Devendra? 
DB: I'm sorry, who's this? 
SFJ: It's Sasha. Sasha Frere-Jones, at the New Yorker? 
DB: Um, hey, what's up, Sasha. 
SFJ: Hey well listen. I've just heard your new record, and I've decided it's too white. 
DB: You have? I mean--have you heard the record--? 
SFJ: Well, not exactly. I've, I've heard of it. 
DB: Because it's actually, actually like a quarter of the record is in Spanish. I've been listening to a lot of Latin music lately, and I've been listening to a lot of Brazilian music, and I decided I wanted a lot more of sort of a South American feel on this one. 
SFJ: But why not go for more of a black feel. 
DB: What? 
SFJ: I mean like, you're a big fan of the new R. Kelly album, right? 
DB: Well, sure, I-- 
SFJ: So why not go for a sound more like that? You know, black. 
DB: Well--I mean, if you listen to the record, I think you'll hear an awful lot of, like, Gilberto Gil, and--  
SFJ: --but why? Why Gilberto Gil, and not somebody black? Like R. Kelly? [awkward silence] 
DB: You--you don't know who that is, do you. 
SFJ: Black people are so soulful! And they love sex! You like that song, "Freaky in the Club"? 
DB: How did you get this number. 
SFJ [singing]: Get freaky in the cluuuuub! Get freaky in the cluuuuuub! 
DB: [click] 
SFJ: Get fr--hello? Hello?

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Russian Opera Update

First, I've added a little YouTube magic to my Borodin post, over here, just so you can see what I'm talking about when I sing the praises of Prince Igor. Our next Russian DVD adventure is Shostakovich's surprisingly obscure operetta, Cheryomushki, recently released on London/Decca DVD. I'd read somewhere (Gramophone? Opera News?) the complaint that Cheryomushki's satire of Soviet life was "toothless," and so I was pleasantly surprised by just how grim this peppy little musical actually is. Which makes sense. The implied promise of every Broadway/Hollywood musical comedy is that you will transcend your class and achieve your dreams just by being beautiful and clever and passionate. In an ostensibly classless society--the young lovers here include a bureaucrat's chauffeur and a pretty crane operatrix; nary a millionaire heiress in sight--maybe the most magical promise a musical comedy can offer is a medium-sized apartment, in a new building, with no waiting. Here's a characteristically charming glimpse of our heroes' modest ambitions:

How sad--but how cute! Although I might be a little biased by Sasha's resemblance to my own JoJo (pictured here, if you scroll down). Probably because I have so little experience with Soviet musicals (I understand Stalin was a big fan?), seeing this kind of filmic and musical glitter sprinkled over such a bleak and humble way of life makes Cheryomushki, for me, all the more touching, and a little refreshing.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Dreadful Note

Renaissance man A.C. Douglas' legion of fans can finally stop holding their breath. The critic, blogger, and longtime foe of lossy compression has finally announced the (self-)publication of his first mystery novel, A Deed of Dreadful Note--a "'cozy' mystery" starring a pair of (what else?) intellectual aesthetes. I can't quote the whole synopsis here, but here's my favorite sentence:
The execution-style killing has all the earmarks of a professional hit, and using that as his springboard and applying some imaginative thinking, Hirsch proceeds to solve the bizarre if apparently clueless murder until he's seemingly dead-ended by an inconsistency he can't resolve that threatens to consign his entire chain of inductive reasoning to the proverbial toilet.

Chain? Toilet? I'm not familiar with that proverb. But if the back cover reads like this, I can't wait to see what's on the page!


Saturday, October 13, 2007


Thanks to Alex Ross for the link! I was excited to get a sneak preview of the truly impressive collection of info and audio links he's put together to accompany his new book. If by some unfathomable set of circumstances you're visiting this page without visiting his first, I highly recommend the new addition to his already-essential website.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

...and introducing Nico Muhly as Ian Curtis

Monday, October 8, 2007

Let's Not and Say We Did

Geez, I've been watching a lot of opera on DVD lately. Don Giovanni, directed by Peter Sellars, is as great as you might expect, which is to say it might make you sick to your stomach. I felt that way about his Così fan tutte, which doesn't even have any raping in it. Boris Godunov, conducted by Gergiev (again), in the Andrei Tarkovsky production, is really sublime theatre. Even Inferno by Dario Argento has a little bit of opera in it, but that's a whole 'nother post. Anyways, all of this is at least worth watching, at best great. One video NOT to watch is the Peter Weigl DVD of Let's Make an Opera by Benjamin Britten. Anyone who has seen Weigl's somewhat crappy videos of The Turn of the Screw or Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk might have suspected that Weigl had the potential to accomplish something profoundly wretched. His Let's Make an Opera is not only worse than Mtsensk, worse than Screw, it is--I say this totally without hyperbole--worse than murder. Seriously, it is worse than a human body lying facedown in a ditch. Now, I'm not one to be over-critical of opera DVDs. I reallyh tend to be thankful for whatever I can get. But I'm sad to say that the video adaptation of Let's Make an Opera is far worse than no adaptation at all. The piece itself is a wonder of concision, with a tiny cast, brief action, and an "orchestra" made up of just a string quartet plus two pianists and percussionist. (How tiny is the cast? So tiny that the audience has to double as the chorus--the opera's second part doubles as their rehearsal for the finale. See? Concision!) Confronted with the problem of how to translate near-perfect economy to the small screen, Weigl has devised a brilliant solution: lard it up with a bunch of totally irrelevant bullshit. Watch this.

Discerning viewers may have noticed that the above has absolutely nothing to do with Let's Make an Opera by Benjamin Britten. Almost none of the characters are from the original piece, none of the action is in the original stage directions, and most horrifyingly, none of the music is from the original score. Which wouldn't be quite so offensive if it weren't so bad. It's as if Weigl realized just before filming that the piece was too short for feature-length treatment and hurriedly engaged the cast and crew of the Bel Ami production filming next door--hairless Czech beefcake, cheap synths, and ludicrously asynchronous lip-synching of the spoken dialogue. And people, there is SO MUCH MORE of this garbage on the DVD. I've posted only half of the prologue above, and literally every other scene in the video is one more embarrassing, cobbled-together interpolation.

Avoid at all costs.

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