Monday, November 22, 2010


Puccini's La Fanciulla del West is celebrating its 100th anniversary next month, with the Met, home of the opera's prima, reviving its 1991 Giancarlo del Monaco production. There is an excellent website devoted to the anniversary (hat tip to Marion Lignana Rosenberg for introducing me to it) which includes a "virtual museum" of photos from Met productions, posters, and other memorabilia.

Among the contents of the virtual museum are the covers and title pages of two books on Native American lore and music that Puccini owned. If you're curious about these works, you can read them on Google Books: The Indians' Book, edited by Natalie Curtis Burlin; and Indian Story and Song by Alice Cunningham Fletcher. I haven't gotten deep enough in these to discover which melodies, if any, wound up in the score, but these are rich sources for amateur musical detectives.

(The novelization of the play can also be found on Google Books, although I can't find a public-domain edition of the play itself.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Verdi Duecento

I want to commend Marion Lignana Rosenberg, whom I had admired from afar and now is a friend, for her splendid new Verdi blog, Verdi Duecento. As we close in on the Verdi bicentennial in 2013--one reason to look forward to the future--this blog will be an essential guide. Marion's scholarship and insights are superb, and she never posts unless she has something genuinely shrewd or new to impart. The three-segment interview with Philip Gossett, who is editing the Verdi critical edition, is a particular highlight.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The Times ran a cute article today about an enterprising green-energy group that got some towns in Kansas to adopt more environmentally friendly practices by appealing to local values and steering clear of mentioning global warming (link to the story appears below).

The group, the Climate and Energy Project, deserve mad props for having achieved real success and, more importantly, for listening to the actual concerns of real people, rather than imposing solutions from on high.

Still ... no matter how important it is to honor the worldview of those who may not share your own, there are facts that really cannot be put in dispute, and there are times when, quite simply, some people--even if they are a bunch of atheistic eggheads--are right, and other people are wrong.

The article quotes a farmer who "discounts" global warming but whose "ears pricked up when project workers came to town to talk about harnessing wind power. 'There is no sense in our dependency on foreign oil,' he said, 'especially since we have got this resource here.'"

I don't want to rain on the fine work of the Climate and Energy Project, but someone needs to break it to this guy that unless we start strapping sails to our cars, producing cleaner electricity through wind power (which doesn't add carbon to the atmosphere the way a coal-fired electric plant does and thus does not contribute to ... global warming) really has little to do with ending our dependency on foreign oil.

In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Green Energy - Series -

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Loyal readers of this blog will remember that I think the music of the French composer Albéric Magnard is more estimable than his obscurity warrants. Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra, who have done so much for the cause of French music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, will be performing Magnard's third, and final, opera, Bérénice, in concert on Sunday, January 30, at Carnegie Hall, and I will be there! (More details here.) I do not believe that this opera has been performed in North America--I am not even sure if it has been performed anywhere since its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in 1911.

If you're interested in boning up before the concert, the score can be found at the IMSLP. Gaston Carraud's biography of Magnard can be downloaded from the collection of the University of Ottawa via

Knowing his music only from scores and recordings, I am looking forward to what will be the first time that I will have the opportunity to hear it performed live.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Best American Science Writing 2010

I'm excited to announce that the latest edition of the annual science anthology that I edit, The Best American Science Writing 2010, is now available at your favorite bookstore. Not, however, available for Kindles yet.

The Kids are All Darwinian

I felt the way a lot people did about "The Kids are All Right"--that it presented characters who can be both likable and awful, that it caught some moments of genuine and natural feeling, and that when it trusted itself it achieved both real comedy and real insight. But I also wonder if anyone noticed, as I did, that the heart of the story was a kind of natural-world allegory of a struggle by two alphas over a troop or herd (in this case, a family). Mark Ruffalo's and Annette Benning's characters are the alphas, and the tension between the two of them is about competition and domination; Julianne Moore's character and the "kids" of the title are the subordinates who are long for and resent these powerful presences in their lives. Will Ruffalo topple Benning, or will she maintain her hold on power?

I'm not sure if I've seen a film that has had this kind of evolutionary-psychology approach woven into its story. This isn't a simplistic, social-Darwinist-type of thing. It's more subtle. I even wonder if the filmmakers intended it, or whether it's just a quality inherent in the story, or so ingrained in the filmmakers' worldview as to be unconscious.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Obama on Roth, Roth on Obama

Funny what you find on a French web site: Le Magazine-Litteraire has an item that quotes from an interview that Barack Obama gave to Jerry Goldberg--an interview that I can't find on the web--in which he is quoted as saying (translating back into English from the French): "I often say in jest that my intellectual development came about, without my knowing it, through reading Jewish writers and scholars. From theologians to Philip Roth, they have helped me forge my sensibility." ("Je dis souvent en plaisantant que ma formation intellectuelle s’est faite à mon insu, à travers la lecture d’écrivains et d’universitaires juifs. Des théologiens à Philip Roth, ils m’ont aidé à forger ma sensibilité.")

The item then goes on to quote from an interview Roth gave Der Spiegel in which he says kind things about Obama before adding (translating back from the French, itself a translation of the German): "But don't write that I'm going to vote for him [Obama]! This is the kiss of death. I rarely vote for the winner." ("Mais n’écrivez surtout pas que je vais voter pour lui ! Ce serait le baiser de la mort : je vote rarement pour le gagnant.")

Five-Minute Record Review

Donizetti's Roberto Devereux is so well known as a sopranos' opera--thanks in no small part to Beverly Sills's traversal of the so-called "Three Queens," a ridiculous piece of marketing that would have baffled Donizetti--that it's easy to forget that the title role belongs to a tenor. Naxos's recording of a live performance from the Bergamo music festival makes a good case for the centrality of the tenor part. Massimiliano Pisapia's Roberto is beautifully sung, if a touch veristic. His voice may need some ripening--the upper register sometimes seems poorly blended with the rest of the voice--but the intonation is good and the overall tone is virile and lyric.

The rest of the cast is quite good, too. Dmitra Theodossiu's Elisabetta may not hurl thunderbolts like Gencer, and perhaps she doesn't pull off the floating pianissimi that some other singers perfected, but she has the notes and the temperament. Federica Bragaglia's lyric soprano hardens a little in the high notes but overall fits the role's character ably. The conductor Marcello Rota paces the performance intelligently. Worth checking out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bad Signage

I saw this ad for the French Toast line of clothes on the side of the M104 bus ... in "Manhatten." Doesn't anyone proofread anymore?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Upcoming Issue of Opera News

The September issue of Opera News is hitting newstands now, and it's really worth seeking out. (Its content is not yet up on the Opera News web site.) Just to point out a few highlights:

  • Renee Fleming on current singers: "I just sang a gala last night in Montreal. ... It was Matthew Polenzani, Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato and me. And they were just spectacular. Spectacular. Those three artists have it all. Stage presence and beauty and charm and unbelievable virtuosity and charisma. There are probably fifteen singers about whom that could be said right now, and ten years ago, there ... three, maybe. The bar is very high right now." (from her cover-story interview with F. Paul Driscoll)
  • A profile of the likeable, up-and-coming American tenor Lawrence Brownlee.
  • Some perceptive comments on Leonard Bernstein's much-maligned Mass, from Nico Muhly. One sample: "I have always liked to think about Mass as a Christian appropriation of the pagan holiday that is West Side Story."
  • And, in the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, yours truly has a signed article in the august pages of the world's pre-eminent opera magazine: a book review of a memoir by Michael Kaiser, who runs the Kennedy Center in Washington.

And, yes, I do work for the Metropolitan Opera Guild, publisher of Opera News, but I'm writing this of my own volition.