What We Feel and What We Mean
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Category — Theater

Meet the Artist: “Performing Langston Hughes”

I saw the works of Langston Hughes in a new light after watching David Mills’s amusing performance of various Hughes pieces.  Actually, before this performance, I was unaware that Hughes has also written 47 plays in addition to his poetry that I am more familiar with. I really enjoyed how Mills chose to put a several of Hughes’s short stories together into one big performance. He began the show in an unusual way- beginning before the audience even sees him on stage. Afterwards, the true art of David Mills and Langston Hughes is heard and seen. To enjoy the performance to the fullest, I believe that one has to listen closely to the various inflections, tones and pitches Mills carried with his voice. After all, he is a one-man show who has to portray a wide range of characters. He was very expressive in his acting and that in effect created the lack of need to have a different person for each different role. It was clever of Mills to perform one of his own works, “Great Adventure,” to juxtapose against Hughes’s “Merry Go Round.” Both works are related to segregation and racism, but Mills’s work is a more modern day interpretation of this social issue compared to Hughes’s piece. We see how that there are still difficulties for certain people to enjoy something as common as amusement park rides just because of racial prejudice. In this way, maybe Mills is also trying to say that Hughes has a profound impact on how societal issues are viewed in the past and present. What’s special about having particularly David Mills perform Langston Hughes is the kind of deeper understanding Mills has about Hughes’s life since Mills lived in Hughes’s old apartment for three years. Therefore, he could easily have seen Hughes’s life through his own eyes.

December 20, 2011   No Comments

Faust: The Opera

Although I cannot call myself knowledgeable about opera as an art form, I still thought Faust was absolutely incredible. Opera was a completely new experience for me. Up until now, I had seen shows on Broadway and been to concerts, but the opera was still completely foreign to me. Part of me feels like my praise for Faust is overblown, that I enjoyed it so much simply because I had never seen opera before. While this may be somewhat true, I still loved Faust and cannot wait to see another opera.

As an art form, opera is quite obviously very strenuous for those involved. I have a lot of respect for the singers, musicians, and directors who work to put on the show. The singers must show an immense amount of dedication towards their craft to be able to perform like that on a regular basis. The performer that played Mephistopheles, especially, was wonderful. He had charisma, his singing was clear and all eyes were on him whenever he was on stage.

My favorite part of the opera was the ending by far. After the majority of the play featured Marguerite’s demise, I was happy to see her redemption in the eyes of God. The scene of her walking up the stairs to heaven was haunting, with all of the singers in white lab coats chanting about her being saved. The end scene mirroring the first scene was another nice touch by the director in my opinion, showing the story had come full circle.

Besides the opera itself, I am in love with the ambiance of the opera house. Seeing everyone dressed to the nines with champagne glasses in their hands and the plush, red carpet on the floor just gives you the feeling that you are in the presence of something grandiose. The British ushers gave me that feeling as well (why do Americans perceive the British accent as high-class?).

After thinking about the opera for a couple of days (and formulating my own opinion about it), I wanted to see what the critical opinion of it was. I was expecting it to be very different because of my lack of knowledge about opera. What I found was that critics were very harsh about Faust, something I don’t necessarily agree with. A review of Faust in the New York Times says, “The production, though rich with ideas and theatrically daring, is finally rather clinical and oppressive.” I disagree with this vehemently.  Although I do see that at times Faust seemed cold and clinical, for the most part I thought it soared with emotion. Furthermore, the review criticizes the stage layout of the stairs on both sides. I, however, thought it was smart to have it organized like that to facilitate some of the key scenes in the show. This review really demonstrated to me how differently I saw the opera than the reviewer. Here is the link to the opera review: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/arts/music/a-review-of-the-metropolitan-operas-faust.html

December 20, 2011   No Comments

Macaulay SING Competition

On November 19th I went to the Macaulay SING performance to support my friends Maryam, Victoria and a few others. This was the 2nd competition date and as of then Hunter was first, Brooklyn 2nd, Queens 3rd and Baruch last. I was really excited to see what our school had put together since I knew they’ve been working hard on practicing for a couple of weeks.

Surprisingly a lot more people then I thought came to support them. I felt like the crowd was a good one since they usually clapped enthusiastically after every act and they had a good sense of humor too. I noticed that a lot of parents came to support their children. First up was Brooklyn’s team. I feel like they had a really creative idea and theirs was the one that made me laugh the most the whole night. Their overall theme was that Facebook had taken over the cyber world. The characters in the performance were on a quest to overthrow Mark Zuckerberg the creator of Facebook. Sites like You Tube, Hulu, and Myspace worked together to find the Facebook creator. The idea behind it was very original and they had a good play on words throughout the performance. I loved the jokes they used and reactions of the actors involved.

Next up was Baruch. Their performance was probably the one I liked the least out of the whole night. They had a typical love story idea where the guy was chasing the girl but the girl didn’t like the guy. In the end the girl fell for the guy and they sang a love song together in the end.  Although the actors sang pretty well, I felt like the story itself wasn’t that great and could have been more original. Overall though they had more of a cute performance.

After Baruch came Queens. I feel like the cast here had pretty good vocals. The idea between theirs was that the world was ending. I like how each person in the performance had their own story to unfold before it was time for the world to end. They all sought out to live their last day in the world to the fullest so they could die with no regrets. It was funny yet somewhat expected that in the end no one ended up dying. The performance on their part was great though and they brought in a lot of musical talent.

Last but not least was Hunter. Although I was supporting our colleagues of Brooklyn the whole time, I have to say that Hunter took the show away. Their musical talent was overwhelming. They focused on the idea of tourists coming into New York City and being corrupted by the likes of the people here. I was extremely impressed by their pianist since I used to play the piano myself. Throughout the whole night he was on cue and his music allowed the performance to flow smoothly and show the transition between scenes. It was also funny how he the pianist became part of the performance while in the Baruch one they pianist just played the piano the whole time and that was it. Everyone in the cast had great vocal ability and allowed it to shine throughout the night.

Sadly Brooklyn didn’t win and Hunter did win. It wasn’t surprising that Hunter won because everyone expected them to. What was surprising to me what that Brooklyn went from 2nd place to tying with Baruch at last place in the end. I feel like it might have been because Brooklyn had the least singing parts compared to the other performances and it is a SING competition. Compared to the other performances, Brooklyn definitely had the funniest and wittiest performance. I had a great time watching all the performances and I was glad my friends enjoyed themselves.

December 11, 2011   No Comments

The Metropolitan Opera: Faust

I want to start off by saying that I expected the opera to be something completely different than what it actually was. Clearly, I never had any kind of exposure to this type of art and I judged it just on what it seemed like. To me, the opera was just a place where people sang things that were completely alien and had nothing that I can relate to. After my first trip to the opera, I realized how mistaken I was.

The opera turned out to be something totally relatable, well, at least Faust did. It was just an amazing story that involved many interesting elements that are normally found in your typical movie. The fact that it was in another language made it even more interesting. People were upset that they had to look at the subtitles in order to understand the plot. I think that this is a unique attribute that makes the opera different from all the other forms of storytelling. I don’t even think you can consider it storytelling. It’s so much more especially with the live orchestra and amazing dance and athletic performances.

For those who were complaining about having to alternate between the performers and subtitles, I don’t really think it was that bad, especially since we were sitting so high up (another thing that many complained about) it meant that the angle our eyes made with the stage was very close to the angle made with the subtitles screen. So instead of having to actually shift the positions of our heads, which is what I’m assuming those sitting closer to the stage had to do, we could’ve just shifted our eyes, a less of a bother! Two negatives make a positive!

Overall, the opera was a great combination of theater and music- one that I would definitely experience again.

December 6, 2011   No Comments

Dr. Faustus en Français

Il y a une raison pour tout. Dans l’opéra, Faust, la langue était le français, par opposition à son emplacement en Amérique. La langue est l’un des meilleursmoyens pour transmettre une émotion vraie – Traduction peut affecter sa clarté et la description de manière irrévocable.

Faust was an extremely interesting production. Firstly, its setting was a work of art on its own. The MET opera house is incredibly beautiful, any other adjective to describe it would be an insult to its structure. The stairs, the atmosphere, the crowd – all of it was so entrancing. It almost felt like we were all in a different world. Being the premiere of a new opera, it felt more like a gala with elegant women in dresses that I can only dream of affording and dapper men in spiffy tuxedos.

I loved the fact that we were all so high up. This way, we could all appreciate the immense grandeur of the MET. Also, we had no problem seeing the whole production of Faust. If we were on any other level, there would definitely be some structures obscuring our view. Also, being so high up, we had the privilege of seeing the whole orchestra as well as the chandelier rising.

I have studied French for more than half my life, but, to my undeniable sadness, I could not understand the language. I tried not to read the translator, but I could only catch a few words here and there. I was quite forlorn about that because I truly looked forward to absorbing the opera in French as it was meant to be and not with subtitles. Nonetheless, the singing was beautiful. The sound emitted from those artists’ mouths was nothing less than magical. How it could reach our level without the use of microphones is beyond my comprehension. It most definitely is a physics principle.

Thank goodness we went over the storyline in class or else I truly would have been lost. It took me a while to realize that they actually went back in time in order for Monsieur Faust to be with Mademoiselle Marguerite. But, it was magnificent. Each actor played their role with fluidity and grace. They each were their own respective character. The conflict in the play was so well done. The fact that it was all so modern: the devil, hell, the setting – it’s just sheer genius! Who would have thought to put such a period opera in the twentieth century? The director of the play is an irrefutable genius.

The opera is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It has no comparison. The television cannot capture the atmosphere of your fellow watchers. It cannot give you the same emotion as the actors’ voices. You need to watch an opera with your own eyes. The opera is your experience; the television somewhat creates it for you already, so there is no originality on your part. You can interpret the opera in any way you want while the television is already a bit biased by showing you a section of the stage whilst you can be watching the whole panorama of it and absorbing it all in. On television, you are just looking at the opera. At the opera, you are the one experiencing it.

I absolutely loved the opera. My only wish was that I was not completely lost in the final third of the opera.I was completely dazzled by this modern production of Faust.

December 6, 2011   1 Comment

The Metropolitan Opera: Faust

I had rushed to the Metropolitan Opera because I misunderstood the time the opera was actually going to start but thankfully I made it just in time. I was entranced by the grand, red, velvet staircase that led my up to my seat. As I was going up, I also noted all the different types of people that attended this event. There were obviously very wealthy people but many “normal” middle class people were there as well. The opera is truly an event enjoyed and admired by all.

I admit that I was kind of scared as I was going up to my seat (I’m deathly afraid of heights!). The auditorium was so grand that I thought I was going to fall right down but I calmed down to take in everything that was going on around me. I think the best part about our seats was that we could actually see the whole auditorium. If we were up in the front, I do not think we could have actually seen how gorgeous it really was. I was amazed at how beautiful the intricate chandeliers looked as they went up to the ceiling when the opera started.

Throughout the first two acts, I did not know how to get the translator screen in front of me to work so I just relied on the facial expressions of the actors and the tone of the music to get an understanding of what was going on. The music is obviously an integral part of the opera but I did not realize how much of an impact it would have on me. By not reading the translator, I got to fully appreciate the music. I could not believe the sound that one sole person could emit. Their singing literally filled up the whole auditorium! Their musical range was pretty amazing. Not to mention the orchestra. Listening to the orchestra was my favorite part of the whole performance. Each different component of the orchestra is so important to the overall sound of the orchestra. Its kind of like the saying “there is so such thing as a small role” but in this case I think it truly applies.

Now for the actual plot of the play. Because of my confusion with the translator in the first two acts, I was kind of confused in the beginning but I eventually got the gist of what was going on. The concept of the plot was interesting. I think Dr. Ugoretz mentioned this before but it reminded me of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. I also thought the props and stage were set up beautifully. They moved through and between the scenes so swiftly. In a matter of minutes a beautiful new setting was in place.

Would I rather watch an opera on television? Most definitely not! I would not feel the music, orchestra, actors, auditorium or the people around me.  In that case we might as go through life watching everything on a television screen. For example, traveling to another country in person versus watching someone on a travel channel are two completely different experiences.

I was really excited to visit the opera and I am glad to say that it lived up to my expectations. The grandeur of the auditorium, the stage/set design and the orchestra truly amazed me.

December 6, 2011   No Comments

Faust at the Metropolitan Opera.

I entered the Metropolitan Opera with aching feet, weariness from a long day of school, and excitement for entering such a classy, upscale place. My first opera on an opening night. How riveting!

I found our seats to be quite nice. Although we were very high up, I liked being able to see the orchestra pit and the chandeliers rise. And sitting at such a high distance off the ground was thrilling. (A side note, before going to the Opera, I read some articles about a man who committed suicide by falling off from the balcony seats. That’s what was going through my mind, sitting so high up.)

I really enjoyed the orchestral music. I was very impressed by the expertise of the orchestra. And the fact that it was live made the music even more enjoyable. The vocalists were also amazing. I was in awe from the control they had over their voices and by the level of intensity of their singing. Their voices were strong and beautiful.

I especially loved it when the ensemble would sing together. A hundred voices (am I exaggerating?) singing at once. Each time massive groups of people sang, the music was so powerful, it sent chills through my body. I loved it!

A difficulty I did have, though, was reading the subtitles and watching the performers. It was exhausting looking back and forth at the text and the stage because they were so far apart. I would read the subtitles in fear that I would miss something big on stage.

However, this was quite an experience.

December 6, 2011   No Comments

Night at the Opera

I personally walked into the Opera that day with a negative attitude. I had a huge exam early next morning and the last thing I wanted to do was be in the middle in Manhattan until late at night and get home a 1am. Also from all the media that has brainwashed me over the years, I thought the Opera wouldn’t be interesting to me since it’s always portrayed as a “rich” people thing and all I would feel the whole night is the high pitched voices of people.

I however was wrong, and even with the negative attitude I came in, the art of Opera itself proved to me how magnificent it was. I was already speechless as I approached the building. The lights sparkled and the fountains were beautiful. As I walked in elegance just screamed from the place. The stairs were a milky marble white with an elegant red carpet on top. People who came often made their ways up the stairs. I myself had to stop and absorb my surroundings. A huge chandelier hanged from the center and as you got up the stairs you could peer from the balcony the grandeur of the place. After just simply admiring the place, I found my seat. Even though we were pretty high up, I found myself pretty comfortable and it wasn’t hard to see the stage at all. The only thing was that the people were smaller but I could still clearly tell what was going on the whole night.

As the lights dimmed, this anticipation grew in me even though I came in with no anticipating at all. The atmosphere of sitting in there was completely different from sitting in a movie theater. Everyone expected total respect from everyone else and it was a no nonsense atmosphere. When the lights finally turned off I could see on the curtains of the stage a woman. It was somewhat eerie in the  beginning to see this woman’s face projected on the curtain. It was also interesting how they did this whenever it was intermission. Natasha who sat next to me was especially disturbed by the projection of the woman.

My favorite part of the opera was the orchestra. I have a great appreciation for music since I used to be a musician myself. The orchestra was simply beautiful. I could close my eyes and hear the sounds coming together. From the orchestra itself you can tell what’s happening with the actors because it’s the orchestra that sets the mood. Another thing that impressed me was the scene changes. I’ve never been to an opera before so I was really surprised when they just moved the furniture and placed new things right in front of us. Usually in school plays and stuff they would close the curtain or make it completely dark for a minute to change the set. What impressed me even more was how natural the scene change was. It took them like 20 seconds as all the actors on stage would simply just take a piece of the set with them like it was nothing. The way they set the subtitles in the Opera was also really interesting. In the very beginning I kept thinking to myself, why I was the only one reading the subtitles? My friend however told me she was reading it too and I was like how is that possible your screen is completely dark. I however looked over and saw in fact the subtitles were on. It showed me how much consideration the people made in order to make everyone’s opera experience great. They didn’t want the light from the subtitles to interfere with everyone’s experience.

Last but not least are the amazing voices of those who were a part of the opera. I have never been so impressed with people I don’t really understand. I didn’t really read the subtitles that much because I already knew the plot and only looked at them once in awhile when I truly didn’t get what was happening. The whole time I was just listening to people sing in French and it felt like I understood it in a way. The voices they have just wrap around you. It wasn’t hard to hear them at all even though we were so far away. When Marina Poplavskaya who played Marguerite hit her high notes I was stunned yet scared for her voice. It was amazing to listen to these people sing without losing their breath or falling out of tempo.

All in all I had a great time at the Opera and enjoyed Faust immensely. I remember not wanting to stay in the Opera for about 4 hours but when I was actually there I was surprised each time intermission came in because time passed by so fast. Having this experience gave me a new found appreciation of a different type of art. I would go to the Opera again if given the chance to in the future.

December 6, 2011   No Comments

Meet the Artist–David Mills/Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Last Tuesday, I went to the Macaulay building to see David Mills perform his interpretation of some of Langston Hughes’s works. I personally really enjoyed his performance and was interested to see how he interpreted some of Hughes’s more famous poems.

I was really amazed at his commitment to the work. To be able to perform so many of Hughes’s poems and short stories in such a short amount of time demonstrate his passion for both literature and for theatre. I was especially taken by his performance of Madam Alberta K. The whole thing, besides being funny and humorous, brought to life for me the social and economic struggles of someone like Madam. I think it is surely a testament to Mills as a performer that by his third Madam sketch, I wasn’t seeing Mills anymore. I was seeing Madam Alberta K.

I also found it really interesting to learn more about Mills as a poet and author himself. Someone in the audience asked about how influential Hughes was as a poet on his own work, both consciously and subconsciously. Mills came to the realization that one of his poems, “Great Adventures,” greatly mirrored Hughes’s own poem “Merry-Go-Round.” I found it extremely interesting that subconsciously Mills mirrored his poetry on Hughes’s, albeit with a much more modern take on the same theme.

Mills’s performance of “Great Adventures” was greatly enjoyable as well. This part really demonstrated to me the difference between text and performance. If I was to read the text of the poem, I can guarantee I would not have enjoyed it as much. Having Mills himself perform the poem gives the watchers a much more in depth look at the theme of the poem, the intentions behind some of the word choices and the meaning behind the seemingly innocuous inserts that appeared in the poem.

Lastly, I feel the biggest accomplishment of Mills was to spark my interest in Langston Hughes. In middle school, I had read his more famous works like “Dream Deferred” and “Crystal Stair.” Watching the performance introduced me to his other less-known works like the Madam stories and “Merry-Go-Round.” I am proud to write that before writing this post, I actually read some of Hughes’s poetry and short stories. I am truly in awe of Hughes’s prowess both as a poet and as a social commentator.

November 6, 2011   No Comments

Meeting “Langston Hughes”

This last Tuesday, November 1st, Allen, Victoria and I traveled together to the Macaulay Building for the Meet the Artist event about Langston Hughes. I must first say that I did not at all enjoy the performance. I didn’t. But, I did appreciate the effort of David Mills in interpreting Langston Hughes’ work.

David Mills was very interesting, to say the least. He moved from one character to the next with grace and art. It was, in its own way, very beautiful. He embodied each character he portrayed very convincingly. He used minimal props, set and lighting, but he used all of it effectively. Imagination was key in the minds of all the viewers. Without it, you would just think that David was a bit mental.

I honestly cannot say much about his performance because I never enjoyed Langston Hughes. I could not recognize the poems nor the short stories that he was trying to perform. I was a bit lost, so I could not enjoy it. But, I did appreciate his effort in trying to impersonate the characters of such an elaborate writer. Mr. Mill’s passion in the works of Langston Hughes was so apparent. It was the first “one-man” show I have ever seen, and it was very good.

He then treated all of us to an original of his own, “Great Adventures.” Now that was a poem I did enjoy. It showed how intelligent Mr. Mills is as well as his talent in the art of poetry. The one line I can remember from the poem was “I lived in Siberia… I mean Suburbia.” I was laughing at that line. It was a fast-paced poem with a lot of movement between stanzas.

All in all, David Mills is a fabulous performer. He is excellent at interpreting Langston Hughes. If I was more of an “English Poetry” lover, then I most definitely would have enjoyed the performance more. But, I appreciate his passion, effort and love for two great forms of art: acting and writing.

November 6, 2011   No Comments