Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Other Woman

As is so often the case, fact is more interesting than fiction.  The other woman during Stravinsky's years in Paris was Vera de Bosset, not Coco Channel.  The two engaged in an illicit affair while he produced short compositions for the French piano manufacturer Pleyel.  Eventually, Vera would become a major part of Igor's life, traveling with him throughout the 20s and 30s, with the two eventually getting married after Stravinsky's first wife, Katerina, died in 1939.  They settled in the United States.

Of course, one can still speculate that Igor and Coco may have been more than casual acquaintances in Paris, but Vera was a woman closer to Igor's heart and soul.  One who did understand his music, and wasn't just a "shopkeeper" ; )
The portrait is by Sergei Soudeikin, depicting Vera as she would have appeared in 1920.  You can view the painting at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rite of Spring

In many ways Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is the gift that keeps on giving, even if Parisians in 1913 had no way of knowing this when the audience broke out into riot over the premiere of what would become Stravinsky's signature work.  I thought Jan Kounen captured the riotous atmosphere quite well in the opening sequence of his movie.  Here is a link to the production by the Joffrey Ballet in 1987, which presented the ballet as it was seen in 1913.  And, here is a copy of the musical score.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Coco After Chanel

It seems that Coco & Igor is more a beautifully imagined story than it is a biography.  The movie is based on a novel that presumed a relationship between them during his time in Paris in 1920.  The only problem is that Igor Stravinsky seems like little more than a "boy toy" played between Coco and his deeply jealous wife, Katerina.  The women in this movie are by far the most captivating to watch, while Mads Mikkelsen pretty much plays Stravinsky like a rube, at least when it comes to affairs of the heart.

I won't hold this against Mads, because I have enjoyed him in other movies, but he seems clearly miscast as Stravinsky, right down to his heavy Russian accent.  If you are going to invite Yelena Morozova to play Katerina, why not invite Oleg Menshikov or Vladimir Mashkov to play Stravinsky. Much better for a Russian actor to speak with a heavy French accent than it is to have a Danish actor struggle with two languages.

As a film, Coco & Igor is beautiful to watch.  It plays out like a sonata, with sparse dialog, conveying much less than do the impeccable sets, lighting and clothing that take you back to 1920. This is after Coco became Chanel and had established her House and was scrutinizing what would become her famous perfume.  The camera soaks up every detail right down to the art deco etchings on Stravinsky's brandy snifter as he works out the final revisions to his Rite of Spring, which had been so badly received before the war. That he owed any debt of gratitude to Coco Chanel for this is highly unlikely, but it would be nice to think so.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

La Bayadère

My wife and I went to a production of La Bayadère last night at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre.  The LNOBT director has come under fire for the major investment made into the stage and backdrops, but it seems like money well spent judging by the lavish production we saw last night.  No live elephants or tigers, as in the original 1877 Moscow production, but the luscious palms and ancient temple of the first scene transported you back in time.

It was a very traditional interpretation of the classical 3-act ballet by Altynai Asylmuratova and Liudmila Kovaliova.  The scenes were presented more as showcases for the dancers than creating an emotional resonance between dancers.  The little idol, glazed in sparkling gold paint, is the star of the wedding scene, even with Solor brought in on a huge brightly painted elephant.  You get very little feeling for the love between Solor and the temple dancer Nikiya until her solo dance in the second act before the Rajah, the warrior and his prized bride, Gamzatti.  Little does lovely Nikiya know that Gamzatti planted a deadly cobra in the bowl of roses that were offered her in the name of Solor.

Similarly, one doesn't really sense the love the High Brahmin harbors for Nikiya when he offers to restore her life with an antidote for the poison.  She tosses the vial away refusing to accept his offer, choosing to die in the arms of Solor.  The poor warrior falls into a deep sorrow that only a snake charmer can rescue him from by transporting Solor into a kingdom of shadows where he is reunited with his true love.  While this "dream sequence" starts off on an excellent note with a hypnotizing troupe of dancers streaming down from the Himalayas, the love between Solor and Nikiya is barely felt.  Instead, we are treated to a lovely array of dances, much like the wedding scene in the second act.  One very much wants to see Solor and Nikiya come together emotionally, not just physically.

No doubt the play was a big hit in its day.  There are some wonderfully choreographed scenes that faithfully retain the original sequences of Marius Petipa.  He staged a number of classic productions in the 19th century, including Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  The music doesn't fair so well.  The composition by Ludwig Minkus is rather repetitive and clunky.  There have been a number of revivals over the years.  Perhaps the most famous being that of the great Nureyev, when he restored the full length ballet at the Paris Opera in 1991.

La Bayadère, or Bajaderė as it is called in Lithuanian, was first shown in 2007 with Nerijus Juška and Miki Hamanaka in the lead roles.  Last night we saw Romas Ceizaris and Nailia Adigamova in the leads.  Both were excellent and Nailia Adigamova very lovely in the fatal wedding scene dance.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Remembering Vysotsky

Vladimir Vysotsky is probably known more as a singer than an actor, but for years he dominated the Soviet stage and screen with his commanding presence.  His first performance was in Sverstnitsy (1959), or Teenagers.  His last production was Little Tragedies, a television mini-series based on stories by Pushkin.  This week, Russian television showed a retrospective of his career and his relationship with Marina Vladi, one of Godard's favorite muses.  Vysotsky and Vladi only appeared in one movie together, The Two of Them.  He was born on January 25, but alas he cut his life short with vodka and morphine.  He died of heart failure in Moscow in 1980.
Photograph by James Andanson, March 1980, courtesy of Corbis