Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mellow And Sweet

Andrew and I stayed in all weekend, studying, reading, cooking, listening to music, sending email and instant messages, and talking on the phone. It was the most relaxing weekend we have had for weeks and weeks and weeks. There was nothing on our schedule, nothing pressing that needed attention, nothing that warranted leaving the apartment, nothing that distracted us from getting plenty of rest and relaxation.

It was a wonderful weekend, mellow and sweet—and, in another week or so, I shall begin getting tense in anticipation of next month’s exams, so this weekend was very important to me.

We cooked steak, we cooked chicken, we cooked salmon. We ate pasta, we ate potatoes, we ate rice. I think we ate every vegetable known to man. We made cranberry-orange muffins, apple muffins, raspberry tarts and apricot tarts. We made strawberry-pear salad, apple-cranberry salad, tomato-cucumber salad and Amish pepper salad. We ate grapefruit, we ate oranges, we ate pears, we ate plums. We had everything except a Christmas pudding.

I’m starting to like our apartment, which is sort of frightening. The apartment appears to be larger, and more spacious, when we can open the window in the living room, which we were able to do this weekend owing to the good weather. We can survive another two years here.

In another four weeks, my academic year will be over. I look forward to a relaxing and stimulating summer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


The weekend before last Andrew and I went to Baltimore.

We flew down early Friday afternoon, and we rented a car so that we could get around the city easily.

On Friday night we attended a performance at Center Stage of “Tis Pity She’s A Whore”, John Ford’s early-Caroline-era revenge tragedy.

Four years ago, I studied “Tis Pity She’s A Whore” in a university literature class, and I looked forward to seeing a performance of the play.

The Center Stage production was not strong. The cast members were very, very uneven and the production did not manage to find a unified style. It was all very “regional theater”, and not regional theater at its finest. This play is probably best left to British actors—it’s the kind of play American actors simply cannot do well.

Several of the actors were badly miscast. The physical production was not handsome and nowise suggested the time of Charles I. The director did not have a solid grasp of the material and, further, offered no particular point of view. Everyone with a hand in the production appeared to be far more interested in providing lots of stage action than concentrating on and illuminating the text.

I had never previously attended a performance at Center Stage. The company probably does better work with 20th-Century American plays than Caroline-era tragedy, because the company enjoys a solid reputation.

On Saturday morning Andrew and I walked around Fells Point, one of Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods.

On Saturday afternoon, we attended a performance of “The Cherry Orchard” at Everyman Theater. Everyman Theater is supposed to be a cut below Center Stage, but the Everyman Theater production of “The Cherry Orchard” was much more successful than the Center Stage production of “Tis Pity She’s A Whore”.

I think the success of the production was due, above all, to the actress portraying Madame Ranevskaya. She was extraordinary. She gave one of the finest performances I have ever seen. Andrew and I could not take our eyes off her all afternoon. She had luminosity and the kind of magical aura that cannot be taught. Single-handedly, she raised the level of the performance to something special. Her fellow cast members were much better when interacting with her than when interacting solely among themselves: she was THAT good. The actress’s name was Deborah Hazlett.

The translation of Chekhov’s last and greatest play was by Michael Frayn.

A good production of “The Cherry Orchard” will make the viewer want to proclaim “The Cherry Orchard” the greatest play ever written. I was ready to make that proclamation after attending the Everyman Theater performance, and so was Andrew. Indeed, we would have been happy to return to the theater for the evening performance of “The Cherry Orchard”, too, had we not had tickets for Saturday night’s Baltimore Symphony concert (which Andrew has already described on his blog).

On Sunday morning, we walked around Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon district until The Walters Museum opened for the day. We remained at The Walters Museum until it closed. We were not bored for one minute.

The Walters Museum owns Old Master paintings from the 14th through the 19th Centuries, antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome, a stunning array of artwork from Medieval Europe, sculpture (including a large number of sculptures from The Italian Renaissance), illuminated manuscripts from The Middle Ages, and objets d’art from all periods. We visited thoroughly two of the three buildings, skipping only the original Walters building in which the Asian collection is now housed.

Previously unbeknownst to me, The Walters Museum owns America’s third-largest collection of antiquities—only the Metropolitan Museum Of Art and the Brooklyn Museum Of Art have larger holdings of antiquities—and many of the antiquities are of the very highest quality and rarity, especially the holdings of works from Ancient Rome. The Walters Museum also owns America’s largest collection of Medieval armor, very little of which is ever on display.

There was more than enough to keep Andrew and me occupied for six hours. The Walters Museum has to be one of the finest museums in the United States.

Baltimore is a very small city, and yet it has two professional repertory theater companies and two major art museums, the other of which we did not visit: the Baltimore Museum Of Art. We elected to visit The Walters Museum because of its large holdings of antiquities and because its collection of Old Master paintings is much larger than the collection of Old Master paintings at the Baltimore Museum Of Art. However, sometime I would like to visit the Baltimore Museum Of Art in order to see The Cone Collection, one of the finest collections anywhere of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Early Modernist painting.

Before our trip, Andrew told me that Baltimore was probably the best restaurant town in the United States. Based upon my experience two weekends ago, I don’t think I would argue with that assessment.

We planned to dine at three different restaurants while we were in Baltimore, but we ended up dining only at two. This was because I liked one restaurant so much that we returned for a second visit.

On Friday night, we ate dinner at a restaurant that is mostly visited for its seafood but which also offers other foods. Andrew and I ate seafood—seafood for a starter course and seafood for a main course—and it was very fine indeed.

On Saturday night we ate dinner at a restaurant known for its “new” American cuisine. The restaurant was stunning: the décor was stunning, the service was stunning, the food was stunning. We went all out: we ordered appetizer, soup, salad, starter course and main course. Everything was exceptional. It may have been the finest restaurant I ever visited.

I liked the restaurant so much that we returned for dinner on Sunday evening. We skipped the third restaurant on our list, believing that it could not possibly surpass the restaurant from Saturday night.

For our second visit, we only had two courses: a starter course and a main course. For our second visit to the restaurant, we were just as pleased as the first.

We have Andrew’s boss to thank for the restaurant selections. He is a native of Baltimore, has family members still living in Baltimore, and keeps up with Baltimore restaurants operating at the top of their games. He certainly steered us in the right direction.

After dinner, we went to the airport to catch our late flight home.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Do You Think Your Parents Might Enjoy A Luigi Nono Opera?"

Andrew and I definitely will be joining my family for a trip to Austria this summer.

We will spend the first week of August in Austria—that much is settled—and we will visit Salzburg, Melk, Vienna, Graz, Zell Am See, Kitzbuhel and Innsbruck.

At present we are trying to decide whether to add a few days in Bavaria to our Austrian journey. Once the Bavaria issue is out of the way, we will book our flights.

No one in my family has been to Austria, and it should be an interesting vacation for us.

This vacation will be devoted more to Alpine scenery than to historic and cultural attractions, but we nevertheless will explore the primary attractions of Vienna.

We will be in Salzburg during the Salzburg Festival, but we will not attend any Festival performances.

“Do you think your parents might enjoy a Luigi Nono opera?” was one of Andrew’s rhetorical questions to me—the Salzburg Festival will present a Luigi Nono opera this year—and I assured Andrew that my parents definitely would not be interested in hearing an atonal opera, no matter who wrote it, and that Andrew very well knew this.

“Then I guess we’ll have to forego the Luigi Nono” was Andrew’s response, his voice filled with fake disappointment.

“Yes, Nono would definitely be a no-no” was my rejoinder.

However, we WILL attend one opera performance during our vacation: a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien, featuring an international-level cast (Erwin Schrott, Hanno Muller-Brachmann, Veronique Gens) in a major new production. My mother wants to attend an opera performance while we are in Vienna, and “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien is the only option, since the Staatsoper and Volksoper are closed during the month of August.

I look forward to a visit to Theater An Der Wien because it was the theater in which my favorite opera, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, received its first performance in 1791. It was also the theater in which the first version of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” premiered in 1805. That both Mozart and Beethoven worked and conducted in a theater still in existence and still in use is quite an amazing thing.

Andrew says that, for the last few years, Theater An Der Wien has mounted its own international-level opera season each year, presenting ten productions in stagione, with international casts, international conductors and international stage directors. Its productions are rehearsed to a festival standard and have received worldwide acclaim. The performance of “Don Giovanni” we will attend will be only the second performance of the run.

I have never attended an opera performance in Europe—and neither have my parents, and neither have my sister and brother.

In fact, I believe my father has never attended an opera performance anywhere, and I know my sister and brother have never attended an opera performance in their lives.

Andrew and I will take a recording of “Don Giovanni” to Oklahoma when we return home for my brother’s high-school graduation late next month. The recording will give everyone a couple of months to become familiar with the opera.

I hope they don’t hate it.

If they dislike “Don Giovanni”, I shudder to think what might be their reactions to an opera by Luigi Nono!

BELATED CORRECTION ON 19 MAY 2009: Andrew had to remind me that I HAD attended an opera performance in Europe. In November 2006, we had attended a performance of Puccini's "La Boheme" at the Hamburg Staatsoper.

TWO BELATED CORRECTIONS ON 10 AUGUST 2009: (1) Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” did NOT receive its first performance at Theater An Der Wien, as the opera pre-dates the theater by ten years; and (2) the current Theater An Der Wien production of “Don Giovanni”, which ends its run on Friday, is NOT a new production.