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Monday, April 23, 2012
On April 12, 2012 our friend Ronan O'Casey (known to his close friends simply as Case) was playing poker at one of the small gambling parlors south of Los Angeles. He was, evidently, an extraordinary poker player, and that day he had just won $300, about which he called to report to his wife, Carol Tavris; "I'm on my way home," he announced. Our friend Roz Leader, through whom we had long ago met Case and Carol, reported that she could just see him proudly driving away in a bright blue blazer, perhaps a purple or dark blue handkerchief sprouting from his coat pocket; Case was, with regard to dress, somewhat of a dandy.
A few minutes later, he called Carol again to report that he had suddenly begun to feel strange, quite awful in fact. She advised him, since he was already on the freeway, to pull over to the side. The phone went dead. She attempted to call the police, but since she didn't know his precise whereabouts, a search was near impossible. A short time later, however, the police called back. A car had been spotted on one of the freeways, half on and half on the shoulder, with a body slumped over in the front seat. Having freed Case from the car and into the hands of a local hospital, rescuers flew him by helicopter to UCLA hospital; he was pronounced dead upon arrival. So, at the age of 89 ended the life of Ronan O'Casey.
By the time Howard and I had been introduced to Case at one of Roz's numerous dinner and holiday celebrations a number of years ago, he was, in some respects, a "man of the past," lovingly retelling his numerous stories of working with Michelangelo Antonioni in Blow Up (he played the dead body, a role which I describe in detail in My Year 2007: To the Dogs). But Case could also spin dozens of other stories, new and old, regarding his rich past as an actor (on the London stage in Kiss Me, Kate, The Odd Couple, and Detective Story; on TV as the well known character of Jeff Rogers in The Larkins from 1958-1963 and in films such as Nicholas Ray's Bitter Victory, with Richard Burton and Christopher Lee) as well as new events. Besides his acting career, Case had had an incredible life, was a marvelous cook, and could boast one of the most intelligent and perceptive wives, author and social psychologist Carol, anyone had ever met; she remains one of my very favorite of acquaintances.
Moreover, Case never stopped making new friends. Pomerance, who met him when he was writing a book on Antonioni, reported "I felt close to him." That was the way with Case, if one liked the man, one felt embraced.
Everyone was moved to tears. And, ultimately, when we looked around the room, seeking out the ghost of the man we knew would always hover over our lives, but would no longer be a living part of them, many of us muttered to ourselves, in a language characteristic to the man, "fuck." The dapper Irishman had died.
Los Angles, April 23, 2012
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Leonard Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti / performed by the Pacific Opera Project, Santa Monica, California (the production I saw was on Sunday, April 15, 2012)
In early April 2012, my companion Howard heard on the radio of a young Los Angeles opera company’s plans to revive their first operatic production, Trouble in Tahiti, in a small theater space in a Santa Monica park. He immediately called for tickets.
On Sunday, April 15th, the day after we had watched the HD-live production of the MET’s La Traviata, Howard and I attended this amateur production of the Pacific Opera Project. The singers, all of whom had performed in small companies and in lesser roles in professional opera groups, introduced themselves, first performing—almost as a sort of bonus and promotion for their upcoming production, in Pasadena, of Cosi Fan Tutte—a medley of works from the Bernstein songbook, including numbers from Wonderful Town and West Side Story. Although their performances were certainly competent, the actors hammed-up their numbers a great deal, and their vocal ranges were not always best suited for the musical theater numbers they performed.
Los Angeles, March 21, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
count downby Douglas Messerli
Francesco Maria Piave (libretto, after the play La dame aux camellias, by Alexandre Dumas fils), Giuseppe Verdi (music) La Traviata / the production I saw was the Met Opera HD Live broadcast on April 14, 2012
In some respects, this expressionistic set overstates everything, and certainly does not allow any dramatic tension about the inevitability of the plot. But it does free up the characters to symbolically enact a ritual which, after all, is not about story in the first place, but centered on the intense musical relationships of the three major characters: Violetta (Natalie Dessay), Alfredo (Matthew Polenzani), and his father Giorgio (Dimitri Hvorostovsky).
Dessay, a trained actress, begins the opera as a performer about to go on stage, the way many have described Judy Garland offstage just before her entry, her small frame suddenly rising into a figure slightly larger than life. Violetta, having recovered from a recent consumptive attack, is weak, not at all sure she might be able to attend the party she is throwing that night. But bit by bit she pulls together, transforming herself into the party girl in short red dress her guests—men and women all dressed in black and white suits—have come to expect. This “bacchanal,” however, is closer to a mined performance of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge than it is to Verdi’s original salon party. The champagne they drink is from empty glasses, the camellia obviously a silk flower. Dessay has not only to sing of “Sempre libera degg’io,” but, raised and lowered, on a red couch, must balance herself and dance upon the prop. She is, in short, less a consumptive woman confined to a couch than a jumping, singing acrobat. And any joys she may have in her party-life seem those that come from a successful theatrical performance than a lust for life. If Dessay was contrite, during the intermission, for having missed one of her high notes, it was easy for her appreciative audience to forgive her given her otherwise beautiful singing during her energetic apologia to the “good life.”
For Giorgio, Violetta is, at first, nothing more than a selfish courtesan out to steal his son’s money and affections. Gradually, however, when that vision proves difficult to sustain, he employs the usual tricks of men who cannot escape the petty limitations of a societally controlled life: his beautiful daughter will lose her fiancé if Alberto does not return home. Crueler yet, Giorgio tells Violetta of her own destiny, her loss of beauty and betrayal, perhaps, by Alfredo himself. As Violetta notes, the punishment for her libertine lifestyle comes not from God but from man. Even Giorgio, however, finally comes to recognize Violetta’s sacrifice, singing in a beautiful aria (Hvorostovsky at the top of his form) of her love and generosity.
So pure is Violetta’s love that she agrees, most reluctantly, to give up Alfredo and return to Paris, knowing now that her fate will be an early death. Accepting an invitation to her friend Flora’s costume ball, she pretends to take up once more with her former protector Baron Bouphol.
The party-goers, now carnival celebrants, reenter this cold waiting room once again, this time with another women, clad in red dress, strapped to the clock. Violetta is no longer the life of the party; she has almost been drained of life.
Sick and suffering, with just a few hours to live, she awaits the return of Alfredo who, having survived his duel with the Baron, has discovered the truth of Violetta’s abandonment and has written of her determination to see her once again. As in any grand opera, the lovers reunite to imagine the possibility of life as they once lived it, a reunification that the audience has known is impossible from the start. For a second, just before her death, the courtesan is relieved of all pain and age, until she faints away, both Alfredo and Giorgio left to face their own failures of faith in her love.
Some of the subtlety of this opera may have been lost in the symbolic posturings of Decker’s and Gussman’s vision, but the overall dramatic impact, particularly in Dessay’s powerful performance, remains, and La Traviata seldom wavers in its musical splendor as this grand courtesan had in her past.
Los Angeles, March 15, 2012