Monday, May 07, 2007

Five years

I got a little emotional dropping my ballot in the urn at the French Consulate Saturday afternoon. "A voté!" was called out. I selected the ballot bearing Ségolène Royal's name, though I voted more for the Socialist Party than for her, and knowing full well that Sarkozy was going to win. How not to get a little verklempt when doing one's citizen duty, especially for an election that may well be considered historic a few years (months?) hence? Perversely, I welcome Sarkozy's win. It's going to make things very interesting for France, a country that's often welcome an authoritarian figure at the helm in the past. We fear it and want it at the same time, seemingly unable to figure out how to deal with modernity without a manly man telling us what to do.

After leaving the Consulate, I crossed Central Park westward to attend The Tristan Project. I can't say I was as bowled over as most audience members. While often beautiful, Bill Viola's images also were a little obvious: fire and water to symbolize purification? What next, white means good and black is evil? I was also frustrated by the relative disconnect between the impassive behavior of the singers onstage (except for Anne Sofie von Otter, who looked and sounded stupendous) and the video unfurling above them. Yes yes yes, I understand what the point was, but to me it felt like empty illustration instead of two art forms enriching and illuminating each other. Even worse, the visuals looked a bit…passé at times, especially during the shakycam, Blair Witch moments. Technically, the use of video and screens felt more sophisticated—and better integrated in the overall concept—at the Justin Timberlake show. It's nice to see opera enter the 20th century; it'd be even nicer for it to enter the 21st.

This topic is obviously tricky because I really don't want to come across like one of those stereotypical NYC operagoers who screech that it's all about the music and no directors with ideas should apply. So yes, I love it that Lincoln Center put up some big $$$ bringing over The Tristan Project, and I much prefer this kind of failure to the Led Zeppirelli extravaganzas—you know, the huge ones that laboriously lift off the ground before going down in flames. And I'm eagerly awaiting Gérard Mortier's arrival, ’cause you can already tell he has Peter Gelb's number. But no, Tristan is not beyond criticism. But then, debate is good. Doesn't arguing over the artistic merits of a production beat arguing over, say, boring NYC obsessions like real estate or the latest foodie emporium? Right, thought so.

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