Monday, December 01, 2008

Thaïs, Uganda, Renderings

Saw Thaïs last night, at the Palace 9 in Metropolitan's HD. At 20 bucks a pop, it's a lot cheaper than going down to New York and getting nosebleed seats, but maybe not quite as exciting. The HD has some special features, which is that you get sweeping views from all vistas and up close, and you get a behind-the-scenes look at backstage during the scene changes and intermissions. But that is also its downfall--the mood gets a little wrecked when you see the cast coming out of a scene, and then the guys pulling the sets about. But it was amazing to watch, nonetheless.

The Met's backstage is HUGE. The set pieces were enormous--even on rollers it took six guys to move them. They were pretty quiet. And in the third act, second to last scene, when Thomas Hampson (the baritone) was coming offstage I could swear he was wiping away tears (it's when Athanaël's grieving for Thaïs, before he sets off to see her die).

You could also see the electronics, and the director(?) signaling for "the maestro to the pit." The interviews were a little dorky, but I liked hearing Hampson's speaking voice--it's quite nice. I don't like Renee Fleming's speaking voice, but she sure nails this part, and she can look like a courtesan. I mean, Jane Eaglen or Jessye Norman couldn't really pull that off. But you know I also really liked Nicias (Schade)--he's a great character--talk about a bad guy you just can't hate. Athanaël is kind of unlikeable, as leading men go, but I guess you come around to him during the duet in the desert.

The thing that kept bothering me was that if this is supposed to be 3 or 400 AD, why is there a gun? (the supertitles say "I'll shoot you," but it could be arrows) And what's with the outfits? I'm okay with modern productions--I really liked the Beat La Boheme, but the costume and set design seemed all over time. I tried really hard to suspend disbelief, but they were quirky choices to make and I just kept noticing. If I had been in the nosebleed seats, it wouldn't have mattered--it's all so impressionistic from up there. Massenet's music is good--the parts you remember are overture, not arias, except for the duet which I really liked.

The people in the audience (my audience, in Burlington) were mildly irritating. All middle-aged or older (no problem there, but all coupled and no one to wink at) and some of them were like, "oh, I know so and so, he's the double-bass, see him there," and, "when I go down to NY I sit right there in the front row on the left..." Etc. As they say here, "Jeezum!" And there was a naggy woman/ self-important man couple that we saw in the Chinese restaurant before, and then at the show, who were positive eye-rollers. And then there was the woman who moved seats because it sounded "muffled." She needs a hearing test because the sound was spot-on. Anyway, moving on...

My mom's going to Uganda. And I'm jealous. I want to be pleased for her--it's an 8 day trip where she'll be setting up student visits at Kampala's city hospital, and maybe community health visits outside the hospital, maybe outside the city. I wish I were going. I wish I were useful. In Yale's magazine (this is a partnership with the Yale Med School and Kampala University) they said that 1/2 the population there is infected with HIV (I'm not surprised--I've heard the figures before--but seriously dismayed that things aren't improving) and that 2/3 of the patients at Mulago Hospital either don't survive or die within months of leaving. So it's a lot of palliative care--really the last resort for people who are very sick. Families move in with the patients to care for them because the hospital is so understaffed. In some ways, the city, and the university and the hospital seem modern, and in other ways not. There were pictures of the lab equipment online, as well as the laundry drying on the lawn. Anyway, like I said, I wish I were going.

As far as HIV goes, while I'm thinking about it, I've noticed a lot of startling behavior here in the US, where we should know better and have the preventative resources to avoid transmission. And still people meet up for anonymous encounters, insisting upon NO condom....? I don't know what to think. This is not the 1970s, by which I mean we can no longer claim innocence of a problem.

And finally, work. I'm doing some renderings for Chuck (Chuck's garage) and Doug (the builder). Having some problems, communication-wise, about modernity and traditional design, and what Doug wants versus what Chuck wants. Decided to go with a Greene and Greene style craftsman approach, with wooden supports under the cantilever, a shingled second story and custom doors. If Doug actually makes these doors, I will be (pleasantly) surprised.

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