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Under a moonlit sky in Milan, my friend and I discovered a rare evening treat: an ingenious pairing of art and music. Enclosed behind the Castle walls, for only 15 Euros, we thrilled to dramatic staging of details from the paintings of Caravaggio accompanied by the Milano Chamber Orchestra playing Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Monteverdi among others.
Three actors fromTeatri 35captivated us as they deftly draped fabric around themselves changing scenes, positions, and dress 19 times using only the billowy material. They enacted images from Caravaggio’s artwork, then adapted final postures, posing like statues for up to a minute or so while Baroque music enveloped the emotional staging. How they held the poses for as long as they did was astonishing to witness.
Called Vivant Tableaux (Living Paintings), this performance technique of scenic representations originated in the Eighteenth Century and gained popularity in the Nineteenth.
Another night we watched an operatic rendition of Cinderella, using student actors in a parody of the fashion industry as a setting. Among the more amusing takes we recognized were four men in white, pony-tailed wigs and sunglasses lampooning Karl Lagerfeld, and a blond-wigged woman spoofing Donatella Versace in expression and gestures. Though clever and amusing, the performance–accompanied by the beautiful operatic voices of students–went on too long.
We noted (but did not go) that Notturni in Castello (Nights at the Castle) planned a fantasy Harry Potter performance another evening. Clearly, the Castle has something for everyone.
Innovative concerts starting at 9 PM en plein air at Castello Sforzesco run from June through August. You can buy tickets in advance on the grounds during the day. For more information: https://www.notturnincastello.it/
Henry James (photogravure above in 1906 and painting of him in 1862) equated the art of the writer with that of the artist, declaring he saw no difference in their acts of creation. In The Art of Fiction, he wrote, “… the honour of one is the honour of another.” Fascinated with the visual arts, James often explored the artistic process, inspiration, and influence of art in his novels.
I thought I’d run in, glance at the Morgan Library exhibit for a half hour and be on my way, but I lingered for two hours. So engaged was I that I read the accompanying wall text—a rarity for me when many museum labels are often, in my humble opinion, a bullshit attempt to be erudite but are frequently just obtuse. Instead, I found myself absorbed in the text, laughing aloud at entertaining stories and James’ numerous observations about his artistic circle of friends such as James McNeill Whistler, John La Farge, and John Singer Sargent among others. Many of his friends were players in James’ novels, and their lives were fodder for his plots. Much of this is clearly evident in images and text selected.
Early in his career, James himself attempted to paint, but–determined to avoid mediocrity–opted instead to write painterly novels, clearly an inspiration to the co-curators, Declan Kiely, head of the Morgan’s Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, and novelist Colm Tóibín. They collected an enticing selection of artwork–paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculptures, photographs, as well as the written word–books, manuscripts, and letters from museums and private collections in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. They have assembled vivid stories of artistic connectivity. It’s an inspired exhibit.
Aptly titled “You Break It, You Make It,” Bette Ann Libby’s Mosaic Workshops in the Green Mountains (also Boston) are creative and fun. Not to mention therapeutic. Grab that hammer and smash your old ceramics to bits. (Go ahead, imagine whatever–or whomever– you want.) If you don’t have any old dishes, don’t worry. Bette Ann has enough shards for any project you have in mind, along with all the safety apparatus, cement, and grouting you need. It’s a messy business, but the process is all-engrossing, and, I promise, you won’t think of anything that has stressed you out. For a day and a half, your focus is design intensive. No need to bring any snacks either. Bette Ann not only teaches you the basics and inspires you, she also feeds you well. (Full disclosure: Bette Ann has been my friend since college days.)
This was my fourth mosaic workshop and I’d participate again. The first couple of times, I had specific designs in mind. The third time I was clueless and just made an abstract. This time, having been too busy to give it much advance thought, I settled on my house number—a Bette Ann suggestion.
Considering that you are shattering shards, the workshop location could not be more peaceful. Whether you are juggling pieces of glass, mirror, or ceramics, this hands-on mosaic workshop is an adventure in recycled art.
Last few days to see Val Lewton From Hollywood to Breezewood, a retrospective of one of the most talented Washington (by way of Hollywood) artists. Former exhibit designer for Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, Val Lewton had a supreme and unique command of color and composition. (Full disclosure I’m friends with his widow, Claudia Manizozzi (also a painter), and knew Val from my former Smithsonian days. I also own two of his paintings as well as one of Claudia’s. And I wish I had wall space for more.)
I have long been fascinated with building cranes that pierce the sky at construction sites, marveling how something so industrial can be so elegant against the sky. Val Lewton elevates these same scenes and more with his paintbrush to create penetrating and cinematic close-ups of mundane cityscapes: trucks, construction sites, cranes, shovels, gas stations, cars, highways, taxis, traffic jams, smoke stacks, police call boxes. From wrecked and razed construction sites to massive in your face truck cabs you can feel the power of the movement on the road.
Val makes the ordinary extraordinary in such diverse images as his colorful, overflowing paint cans and his Dale City depictions of suburban sprawl. All on view just till August 13th. If you miss it, check out the accompanying full color catalog with essay by former Washington Post critic, Ben Forgey.
I love Al Pacino so when my
dinner plans were cancelled at the last minute, I decided to check out David
Mamet’s new play, “China Doll,” on
the recommendation of a friend.
I expected fine acting and a
thought-provoking play from Mamet, but with the exception of a few clever lines
that drew audience applause especially in reference to politicians, the ranting
from Pacino’s unlikable, white-haired old character mostly put me to
sleep. Not Pacino’s fault entirely. At
two plus hours, the script was repetitive and Pacino is basically in monologue
mode. There’s only one other actor on stage with him who serves as his
ambitious but milquetoast aid. As great an actor as Pacino is, the material is
At times it seemed phoned
in. Which is funny since the whole play is mostly Pacino talking on the phone
through his Bluetooth earpiece to imaginary people on the line: his much
younger fiancée, his lawyer, and his business connections. But we never hear their side of the
Pacino’s character, Mickey
Ross, rants and raves and apologizes. He’s old. He’s rich. He’s self-absorbed. And
he just bought a $60 million plane for his fiancée to secure her affection. He
also has some rivalry going on with his former mentor’s son who’s running for
governor. This part of the script was
indecipherable. And most of the one-sided dialogue was irrelevant. Sad to say, even
Pacino’s talent wasn’t enough.
Spoiler alert: At the end he
does a nasty deed with his model plane. It all seems absurd. As does the life
of Mickey Ross and this play. Its limited engagement mercifully ends Jan. 31.
When I worked for the Smithsonian in my other life, I used to tell my staff not to eat their lunch at their desks. Many of them thought they had so much work to do, that they would be more productive if they worked through lunch. They weren’t.
Everyone needs a break, not necessarily a vacation (though that is always a fine idea), but a break from routine. “I don’t care if you don’t take a full hour,” I said, “but at least get up and take a walk around the block.”
Dictionary.com defines diversion in part as “the act of… turning aside, as from a course or purpose, a distraction from business, care, etc.; recreation; amusement; a pastime.” My Oxford dictionary app says it’s “the act of changing direction or use of something” (your brain perhaps), and “something that takes attention away from what is happening.”
Seems simple enough, but how often in our overly connected world do we do that? I believe it’s critical to good health—mental and physical (all the better if you go on a walkabout).
What exactly would we miss if we distract ourselves momentarily? Now, I’m not advocating procrastination—it does seem a close relative and certainly I’m guilty of that big time—but a little procrastination and diversion can be enlightening.
I once heard a buyer from Neiman Marcus, relay this story:
“Stanley Marcus asked us what we did on our fashion buying trip to Italy,” he said. “I told him all the appointments we had, all the meetings, all the things we accomplished.”
He interrupted me and asked, “but what did you do?”
“So I began again and he interrupted, repeating “but what did you do?”
“Clearly, I didn’t understand what he was getting at. So he explained that we did the company a disservice if all we did was work. ‘Go out to the opera, go to a museum,’ he said, ‘immerse yourself in the culture. You’ll be a much better employee.’”
That bit of philosophy has always resonated with me. I get some of my best ideas when I’m away from my normal routine. This isn’t brain science. It works.
So here I am in Denver at the 6th North American Conference of the Historical Novel Society. I’m attending seminars in an attempt to jump-start a historical novel idea. I’ve never written fiction before so I thought I’d pick up a few pointers. A few of the seminars are worthwhile and some not so much—except for the distraction they provide me. Because ideas, as I was always fond of telling my staff, come from everywhere. We all know about the light bulb that blinks brightly in the shower.
Friday, I had a free afternoon and took the light rail to downtown Denver, wandered the bustling 16th Street Mall (mostly pedestrian outdoor street) and checked out the newly renovated Union Station (photo above). Tomorrow, before leaving, Denver, I plan to visit at least one museum—all fodder for new ideas, related or not.
Tomorrow, back to Paris diversions.
Photos below from Historical Novel Society Conference Costume Banquet.