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July 24, 2010

Howling in the Nation's Capital

Waldman.jpgTo witness Anne Waldman in performance reading Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," a seminal poem of protest and despair, as well as her own brand of politically driven poems is to ride an emotional rollercoaster of incantatory voices--rabbi, sadhu, American Indian shaman, Gertrude Stein just to name those spiritual leaders who come to mind immediately. After Waldman's July 23, 2010, performance at the 5th & K Street Busboys and Poets, a Washington, DC restaurant chain supporting poetry in a big way, the Dresser asked this performer who Allen Ginsberg called his "spiritual wife," to talk about her incantatory style. Waldman said she studied Indian singing with American composer La Monte Young.

What she didn't say in that brief interaction after a riveting performance that caused sweat to run down her face under the hot lights during a record-breaking day of Washington summer weather was that she practices writing in the style of the Indian raga that builds through repetition and recombination moving in and out of possible climaxes. Also she has played in a gamelan orchestra for some years. There the music is circular, not linear, and the music ebbs and flows and never seems to conclude in the way western music is expected to end.

The format of the 8 pm program (there was also a 10 pm performance and a final performance on July 24) called "Howl in the City," was an hour and a half of introductory talking heads who surprisingly had exciting bits of information (more on that later), a warm-up act August.jpgby Chris August who is a ranking slam performance artist, Waldman's performance of "Howl" with an effective improvised score by a classical music string quartet led by violinist Matthew Hemerlein (originally the music was suppose to be Lee Hyla's score for "Howl" composed for the Kronos quartet), and Waldman reading of several of her own poems. Judging from the program brochure, which included other performance poets Kenny Carroll, and Venus Thrash, the Dresser suspects that each of the other programs had a different warm-up act. The program co-sponsored by Andy Shallal--owner of Busboys and Poets and Split This Rock under the leadership of Sarah Browning in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art where currently an exhibition of Allen Ginsberg's photographs hangs was funded in part by grants from Poets & Writers and the Alice Shaver Foundation and Passenger Bar. SB-Violinist.jpgQuartet.jpg

IN SEARCH OF GURU

What the Dresser knows about Anne Waldman is that she is a surprising combination of opposing ideas and actions. In the early 1980s, the Dresser went on business to Boulder, Colorado, where Waldman lives. To balance the trip (the Dresser had a day job but her night job was poetry), the Dresser called Waldman and asked if they could meet. Generously Waldman invited the unknown poet to her home where she was introduced to Waldman's first husband and baby son. Then the two poets went off to find a yogi guru who was supposed to give a lecture that night. When the guru could not be found, the two went to the Boulderado Hotel for drinks, switching gears from spirituality to hard spirits.

After the experience of Waldman's Busboys "Howl" reading, the Dresser could imagine this slender woman pulling off a scene like the one Stieg Larsson depicts where his character Lisbeth Salander downs two hard-core motorcycle thugs and rides off on one of their Harleys. For "Howl in the City," Waldman wore big jewelry--shoulder-length American Indian designer pieces the Dresser guesses, a large stone ring, and wide bracelet with some kind of large white stone shaped in a bar. Look out, dude, for that heavy jewelry! In the style of New Yorkers (and yes, she grew up in Manhattan), she wore black pants and black-on-black striped top with a long raw silk scarf in black with some white decoration (should the Dresser call that her tallis?). On her naked feet with painted toenails, she wore silver sandals with heels. Dude, the Dresser doesn't know if she kickboxes, but don't mess with her even if she is wearing stylish shoes that barely protect her feet. AWFull.jpg

The Dresser found Waldman's recitation of the Moloch rant of "Howl" scary. Moloch refers to (1) the Biblical idol in Leviticus to whom the Canaanites sacrificed children and (2) an industrial figure in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, a film that Ginsberg said influenced "Howl." There was something about the way Ginsberg's spiritual wife could slide from spoken voice to song, about how she was comfortable pausing to drink some unknown liquid from a white coffee cup between the sections of "Howl" and to stand back to hear the string players work their own mystical set of sounds that said this performer is a powerful being and clearly not a woman riding the coattail of the legendary Allen Ginsberg.


Continue reading "Howling in the Nation's Capital" »

July 26, 2010

Padrevia, Heart in a Bloody Cup

Thomas Pasatieri's name may not be a household moniker but it should be for those who attend new opera and current day film. The Dresser stands in awe of his record--twenty-two operas and film orchestrations that include: American Beauty, The Little Mermaid, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, Legends of the Fall, The Scent of a Woman, and others.

DADDY, DON'T TOUCH ME

padrevia.jpgOn July 24, 2010, the Dresser attended the last performance of Opera Alterna's Capital Fringe Festivalproduction of Padrevia, a one-act that Pasatieri premiered in 1967. The story is drawn from Boccaccio's Decameron and is a tale about a possessive father named King Tancred who is keeping his beautiful daughter Gismonda in isolation at Castle Padrevia. She despairs over her father's attention and is lonely for a suitable companion. She considers taking her life and asks the new gardener Guiscardo to compress poisonous leaves that she will carry in her amulet until such time that she can no longer stand to live. While he does what she asks, Guiscardo convinces her to live and they fall in love. When the jealous father discovers them, Guiscardo is executed and his heart is delivered to Gismonda in a royal court chalice. She mixes the poison from her amulet into Guiscardo's blood, drinks the lethal cocktail, and dies. King Tancred hardly blinks a tear but falls on his daughter's body to kiss her passionately. It's a compact story that suits opera well. In Pasatieri's opera, an actor narrates and three singers enact the tale.

THE MUSICAL CHALLENGES

To date, the Dresser has also seen productions of other Pasatieri operas, including The Women (a one-act premiered 1965) and Signor Deluso (a one-act premiered 1974). She has also seen excerpts done in New City Opera's 2006 VOX showcase of Frau Margot (a three-act opera premiered 2007). What the Dresser knows from experiencing these productions (three out the four were produced by Opera Alterna) is that the neo-romantic music of Pasatieri requires subtle interpretation, particularly in the soprano parts. Having heard the outstanding soprano Lauren Flanigan sing excerpts from Frau Margot in the 2006 VOX showcase of new operatic work (she was also the soprano who premiered the work for the Fort Worth Opera in 2007), the Dresser has tuned her ear to the standard set by Flanigan. While Daniele Lorio, who sings the role of Gismonda, is a capable performer--the acting for her death scene was horrifically absorbing, Pasatieri's music does not seem suited to her capabilities. Even so, there were notable bits of vocal performance that the Dresser enjoyed, including her duet with tenor Siddhartha Misra (Guiscardo). Misra's entire performance was impressively good. Baritone Tad Czyzewski as King Tancred gives a suitable performance as does actor Chris Dwyer doubling in the role of narrator and guard who delivers the bloody heart.

To be fair to Opera Alterna and its artistic director Jay Brock who has a theater not an opera background, the Dresser finds it exceedingly adventurous that this small company has gained the cooperation of such a prolific composer whose work one would not ordinarily be exposed to. Working with the resources provided by the supporting contributors to the Capital Fringe Festival (Padrevia was produced in the Mead Theatre of Studio Theatre, one of the better venues offered to the Capital Fringe Festival) also presents significant challenges. For example, the entire set of five performances of Padrevia was done with an out-of-tune piano. What were Brock's and his music director Jeffry Newberger's options? The Dresser knows that this theater company, like most small performing arts companies, struggles financially. Even if they had a sugar-mommy/sugar-daddy, how easy would it have been to immediately schedule a piano tuner and how well would the tuning have held for that particular instrument (after all, not all pianos are created equally)?

The bigger question for the Dresser was how did the singers manage? While standing around the kitchen of a friend's house last night, the Dresser got into a conversation with a musician and a multi-arts performer. Both veteran performers know the rigor of showing up at an unknown venue with little time to correct deficiencies in the resources provided. Neither the musician nor the singer-dancer thought it was unusual that singers for a low-budget theater production had to put up with a miserably out-of-tune piano. They both said essentially the same thing--each performer has to figure out whom to rely on and do the best he or she can to stay true to the intention of the creative work. The Dresser gets this and understands that a different standard has to be applied in such a situation. Maybe what the Dresser realizes from this casual conversation is that it is possible to create a memorable performance, such as the one Siddhartha Misra managed to achieve, regardless of flawed resources.

Leslie McGrath equates hunger of the stomach with sexual appetite in her poem "How to Wolf a Cook." While the poem spins from MFK Fisher's book How to Cook a Wolf and plays with the Red Riding Hood fairy tale, there is an element of cannibalism that links this poem to Padrevia. In the case of King Tancred, he ends the opera literally feeding off his daughter's lips while she has consumed her lover's blood. Both poem and opera speak to the corruption of innocence.

HOW TO WOLF A COOK

Prepare the mise en scène: lower the lights
and pour from her slim-necked carafe a half glass
of something chilled, astringent. Now let
your ravening gaze travel her nether-curves
as she spoons the stew or ladles the soup
into a shallow bowl and dresses it
with thyme she's torn from the stem.
You notice her thumbprint in the biscuit
as you bite down, a bit of gristle buried
in a chunk of lamb, the potatoes
neither raw nor soft, but to the tooth.
She's in your mouth, wrestling
your tongue into an admission
of hunger--no, need--you'll speak
her words, your breath scented of her resin.
And once you've polished her off, toe to toque,
you'll wipe your trembling mouth on her red cloak.

by Leslie McGrath
from Opulent hunger, Opulent rage

Copyright © 2009 Leslie McGrath


Photo: Nickie Brock

About July 2010

This page contains all entries posted to The Dressing in July 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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