- Essay Prompt: How is war portrayed in Henry IV compared to the original G.I. Joe cartoon? (50 points)
- List 3 themes in Tosca, and for each list at least 1 work of art where that theme exists. (20 points).
- 1-2 paragraph response: Is repetition and reuse of old tropes a good thing or a bad thing in modern music? (30 points)
- Extra Credit: In the St. Ann’s Warehouse version of Henry IV, what did Henry IV say to Falstaff when he interrupted his serious discussion with Prince Hal using a child’s rattle? (10 points)
- “Would you please go away, Falstaff? I am having an important conversation with my son.”
- “Leave or I throw you in the dungeon.”
- “Fuck off, this isn’t your scene!”
- “Why yes, Falstaff, please shake that baby rattle again and make the audience’s suspension of disbelief go even lower than it already is!”
Last Saturday, I went to see the 1925 opera, “The Merry Widow,” by Franz Lehar. “The Merry Widow” tells the story of the titular widow, who married a French banker and upon his death inherited about two million francs. The Widow hails from Petrovenia (or Pontevedro in the original libretto), a fictionalized version of Montenegro. Unfortunately, Petrovenia is bankrupt, and so the government wants access to her fortune. Thus, the Petrovenian king tasks his ambassador with having the widow marry a Petrovenian count.
This isn’t easy, as the widow is harassed by suitors everywhere she goes, and so she doesn’t tend to be trusting of any man. I can’t help but think that Petrovenia seems to embrace trickle-down economics a little too readily; I seriously doubt one millionaire is going to really breathe new life the Petrovenian economy on her own. There’s also a subplot involving the ambassador’s wife and a minor character being in love, but the wife considering her marriage sacred, and the plot is filled with shenanigans involving mushy romance.
This is a romantic comedy from before romantic comedies were a thing. The acting was top-notch, the singers were lovely, and the costumes and sets were well-designed. Overall, it was a very satisfying three hours.
On Thursday, I had the good fortune of seeing Henry IV performed at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Unusually, this performance actually took place before the theater’s inaugural season. Everything about the play was unusual. The stage setup is a concrete square with a large metal cage around it, surrounded by four bleachers. You are locked into this cage at the beginning of the performance, and not permitted to leave until it is over. That’s right: No intermissions. Just 2 hours and 15 minutes of amazing acting. Another twist on the old formula is that the play is set in a women’s prison. I expected it to be the O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Henry IV’s Odyssey, but it turned out that the women’s prison part just meant that it was staged as if it was an art program at a women’s prison. That meant no elaborate props, theatrics, swordplay, or costumes. Everything was casual and modern. The women all wore modern clothing, like hoodies and T-shirts, the swords were replaced with toy guns, the honorable duel between Prince Hal of Wales and “Hotspur” Percy was done as a fistfight (where they were actually across the stage from each other, pantomiming getting hit, dodging, and blocking), and there was quite a bit of absurd comedy thrown in as well. For example, during a serious conversation between Henry IV and his son, the fat comic relief character, Falstaff, bursts into the scene twice with a noisemaker right behind Prince Hal. This prompts Henry IV to yell, “Fuck off, this isn’t your scene!” Falstaff promptly runs away. There were other fourth-wall breaking moments, like when the actress playing one of the wives broke into tears onstage and had to run off. One of the guards (yes, there were prison guards at all four corners of the stage) comes to her aid and “comforts” her, telling her that they would carry on without her. She promptly ended up playing random background characters, and is present during the closing bow, so my fears that she got a distressing phone call backstage were dispelled. All in all, St. Ann’s interpretation of Henry IV is a breathtaking new twist on an old idea.
I know this is a bit late, but I had a lot on my mind. Anyway, Tosca takes place in Rome during the Napoleonic Invasion of Italy in 1800. It is known for depictions of murder, torture, and suicide, and tells the tale of a painter who secretly supports Napoleon (thinking that he will institute a republic in Rome), attempting to hide one of Napoleon’s supporters (who escaped from prison) from the authorities while avoiding the suspicions of his lover, Tosca, who believes him to be unfaithful for reasons that won’t go into. It is an extremely dark opera, where every major character dies, onscreen or offscreen, and the protagonists almost completely fail. It was still an interesting show, however. To my untrained ear, each and every singer sounded extremely talented, though an opera connoisseur might be able to prove otherwise. I was very entertained, overall.
On Thursday, I went to see the ABT’s 75th Anniversary show at Lincoln Theater. There were three ballets in a row, the first two not having much of a story. The third on the other hand was perhaps the best stage show I’ve ever seen. It’s called The Green Table, and it was choreographed in 1932 as an anti-war statement. It opens with suit-wearing dancers in fiendish masks resembling old men seeming to be negotiating. These “Gentlemen In Black” as the Playbill calls them, are meant to represent diplomats. The diplomacy inevitably fails, resulting in a war. There is a dancer in skull paint, meant to represent Death, as well as several young men wearing helmets meant to represent soldiers, three women in dresses meant to represent their wives, and a character in a tight white shirt and a bowler hat called the “Profiteer,” who I can only assume is an arms manufacturer or someone else who profits off of war. In the course of the story, every character ends up dying and following Death to their eternal rest, only for the first scene, the one with the Gentlemen In Black, to repeat movement for movement. Thus, the ballet ends, with the cycle of politics and warfare continuing onwards, seemingly for eternity. As you can probably tell, this is a highly cynical ballet, in sharp contrast to the whimsy of classics like the Nutcracker. The Green Table deserves far more attention than it gets in our culture.
I am staring down at a black slate panel. Engraved in the panel, which reflects some of the sunlight back at me, are the names “Robert Louis Scandole,” “Robert C. McLaughlin Jr.”, “Johnathan Neff Cappe,” “Andrew Alameno,” and “Timothy J. Finnerty.” There are other names, stretching down the panel for what seems like infinity. Looking slightly higher up, I can see a massive yet elegantly made hole in the ground. It is similarly made jet black, yet highly reflective, like a kind of black marble. Water runs down the sides of the hole in streams, gather down in what looks like a foot-high pool, and slowly makes its way to the center of the pool, where it falls down a second hole that is deep enough and at a shallow enough angle from where I am standing that I cannot see the bottom.
I am staring upwards at a large building. It is an example of modern art reminiscent of the famous Sydney Opera House. It a large white, curved building that arches forwards towards me, resembling perhaps part of the body of a massive worm or serpent burrowing into the ground. There are countless spines extending diagonally upwards and to the left and right of the central body that appear to curve further outwards the further you go down the structure like a human ribcage. At the front, there is a crest-like shape that serves as a cap to the structure’s flowing spines. Running down the center of the structure appears to be a glass window, likely a ceiling. There is a large fence separating me from the structure.
I am in an extremely gaudy and elegant building. A church, to be specific. I can see a memorial to a famous naval captain who lived in the 1800s. His name is blocked out by shadow, as the text is covered by a large arch supported by two terra cotta-colored columns. The arch is decorated with an etched floral pattern. The part of the text that is not covered in darkness reads, “…of CHARLESTON August/Died at WASHINGTON August 4, 1865/A Naval officer for 38 years/Without a superior. above all sectional feeling/He distinguished himself in the service of the/UNION, in command of a Frigate at PORT ROYAL,/at SUMTER in command of as Monitor,/at MOBILE BAY as Fleet Captain/and Commander of the Flag Ship HARTFORD./A JUST MAN, TRUE PATRIOT AND GOOD CHRISTIAN.” Several words on the memorial are written in a larger font size than others. Below the text is a small roof-like structure, on which is etched the capital Greek letter alpha (A) inscribed in the capital Greek letter omega (Ω).
In front of the fence are various people milling about doing various things. Two young women in brightly-colored shirts and black sunglasses are having their picture taken by a man in blue wearing a black backpack. To their left and my right, a large group of citizens are walking across the frame, speaking to each other as they do so.
I see a young man and a young woman, walking next to each other. Only their right sides are visible to me. The man is a tall fellow with brown, close-cropped hair, a grey shirt, blue pants and brown leather shoes. Not much of the woman is visible from here, only her blonde hair, black backpack with blue water bottle sticking out conspicuously. and similar blue jeans and brown shoes. There are multiple thin trees around them, kept from growing too thick by restrictive concrete bricks around their bases. They stand separately from the crowd gathering by the hole.
On the empty stretch of hardwood floor between the church benches and the altar, several teenagers with bags and headphones pass by, my fellow students here to record the art. But staring towards the altar, seemingly oblivious to the students walking by her, is a middle-aged woman. She is wearing a black and beige leopard print shirt that showcases her girth, along with a brown, posh-looking handbag, black cloth pants that reveal her ankles, and black slip-on shoes. She has a golden bracelet on her wrist, her hands clasped. She has curly hair and thick black-rimmed glasses.
When I went to the museum, I had already seen the majority of the featured exhibits, but I found myself lost. I didn’t know what group I needed to go to, I got separated from my group twice, and if I hadn’t friended a group member on Facebook, I may as well have walked out of the museum right there because there was no way I was getting back to them. The people I met were friendly, and I got to know quite a few participants. However, I’m a regular at the Brooklyn Museum, and I’ve already seen the majority of the permanent paintings there. In the Faile exhibit, a lot of the electronics were broken. Most of my group (myself included) disliked the sneaker exhibit as well. The only real upsides were the people, and the interesting discussions we could have about the paintings. No matter how many times you see a piece of media, having someone else to view it with injects new life into it and makes it interesting.