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Chapel Perilous

Dec. 14th, 2006 | 12:43 pm
location: Melbourne Uni Asia Centre

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Performed in a hall next door to a church; the church itself had been converted into a fitness centre, actually called 'Chapel Fitness', which B said reminded her of Chapel Perilous, and spent the rest of the night trying to remember bits of Pilgrims Progress, but couldn't get past Slough of Despond. The play was pretty much a straight diet of blood, love and rhetoric. (I gasped at the bit with the hand.)

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Recent books/films

Oct. 31st, 2006 | 08:55 am
location: Middle Park on the black sofa

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Yes, but the 'critique' that Briony receives is so true of his own writing.

    The crystalline present moment is of course a worthy subject in itself, especially for poetry; it allows a writer to show his gifts, delve into mysteries of perception, present a stylised version of thought processes, permit the vagaries and unpredictability of the private self to be explored and so on. Who can doubt the value of this experimentation? However . . . our attention would have been held even more effectively had there been an underlying pull of simple narrative.

The Children of Men

I read the novel by PD James a while back, but honestly can't remember much about it except that it had an incredibly arresting first line. Thought the film was solid-but-not-brilliant sci-fi. Mum loved it: treatment of asylum seekers is the political issue she feels most strongly about, and it pinged all of her buttons.
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ACO at Hamer Hall

Oct. 9th, 2006 | 10:04 am
location: Middle Park on the black sofa

Saw the Australian Chamber Orchestra last night, just some quick impressions.

Les Elemens: 'Cahos', Jean-Fery Rebel

Discordant beginning, a muddled cluster of notes resolving to a major chord. Interesting opening to a program, especially this program, which was full of disturbed order, with works relating to each other through uneasy pauses, absences, and unsettling and even disruptive phrases (the exception being the Mass in C minor, although even that is slightly unbalancing because it is unfinished). Wouldn't mind hearing more of this composer.

Symphony 64 in A major "Tempora mutantur", Haydn

Full of strangely placed pauses and 5 and 13 bar phrases, all of which left an impression of disturbed time, odd numbers in music are always unsettling. I really want to track down the Largo.

The Unanswered Question, Charles Ives

Kept waiting for this to deepen into something more than atmospheric cacophony, so I suppose the title is apropos.

Mass in C minor, Mozart

Such a big work, felt maybe a bit too big for this group, especially the singers, but exhilarating conducting by Richard Tognetti.

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Bishop & Rice

Jun. 14th, 2006 | 08:49 pm

Sebastian by Anne Bishop
A dissonant mix of hot bad boy action and domesticity that just didn't do it for me. If I'm salivating over a bad boy, I don't want him domesticated. If I'm relaxing into a scene of domestic bliss, I don't want some dude in leather pants wandering through it.

The Vampire Chronicles books 5-9, by Anne Rice
Suffered from a surfeit of love. All the characters loved each other, and insta-loved any new characters that they encountered. Gone were the smothering relationships and the deadly male bitchiness that created such a tense, claustraphobic world in Interview with the Vampire. Little to no dramatic tension remained. Lowlights Highlights Lowlights Highlights: Lestat refers to himself as a goth. Lestat rants for two pages about the lukewarm reception to 'his' novel Memnoch the Devil.

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Negative capability

Jun. 13th, 2006 | 11:06 am

What Keats called 'negative capability' is the capability, esp. in an author, of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without striving for an opinion, fact or reason. He attributes the quality to Shakespeare, and calls its opposite the 'egotistical sublime' (which he attributes to Wordsworth). I always wanted to track down the letter in which Keats coined this famous phrase, and finally did so, only to find that it is actually two pages of gossip and bitching, and one single sentence about negative capability.

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The pearls that were his eyes

Jun. 6th, 2006 | 01:21 pm

This year's World Shakespeare Congress is being held in Brisbane. So close, yet so far! (I wondered, why have it there, since Brisbane is close to nowhere? Then I thought about it from the point of view of the organizers: sun, beaches, palm trees. Next year's World Shakespeare Congress: Vote #1, the Maldives!)

Stephen Greenblatt and Jonathan Bates among others discuss Shakespeare and religion on Radio National. Nothing really extraordinary is said, but lots of big names doing the saying.

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Crazy coloratura

Jun. 2nd, 2006 | 10:54 am
location: Middle Park on the black sofa
music: Vivaldi

Music blogging with YSI links:

The "Diva" aria from the movie The Fifth Element. Sarah Brightman is the soprano, with an awful lot of help from a computer. This is pre-Farinelli, and you can hear each of the places where her voice cuts out and the computer cuts in. To hear a soprano do something similar without a computer:

Doppo un'orrida rocella from Griselda, Vivaldi
Vivaldi wrote this bravura ("showoff") aria for his favourite castrato. It gives a rare insight into the kind of insane technical fireworks that the great castrati opera singers regularly set off during performances, as Vivaldi did not let his performers improvise or ornament but instead wrote the ornamentation into the score. It's full of coloratura passages, and--possibly even more demanding--is built around a series of enormous leaps, some as wide as a twelfth. It's not an aria that you necessarily listen to for aural pleasure, but rather to marvel at the virtuosity of the performer. The mezzo-soprano is Cecilia Bartoli, who shows that the virtuoso girls can bring it as much as the virtuoso eunuchs. No computers here: just Bartoli's inhuman talent.

It's too ornamented for my taste musically, but I'd love to see Griselda live just for the "Whoa" factor: two hours of this crazy coloratura. It's hard to imagine a singer who could pull it off. If they didn't die of exhaustion by the end, the audience would.

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May. 26th, 2006 | 10:18 am
location: Middle Park

The difficulty I'm having with an antihero protagonist is in creating enough of a sense of forward motion to propel the reader through the narrative. Hero-protagonists solve problems, and this provides forward impetus: the reader wants to see the problem solved; problem-->solution is a natural forward progression of steps. Antiheroes cause problems, and it's too easy for the narrative to appear aimless.

I notice that in The Lymond Chronicles (the classic antihero series) the forward impetus comes in the form of quests--the quest for Jonathan Crouch, the quest to find the child, the quest to find proof of L's birth--it's probably no accident that the only book in the series without an overt quest is also generally regarded as the series low-light (Queen's Play). Travel also provides an illusion of forward motion, and a classic formula of fantasy is quest over vast tracks of land. K suggests that crime-genre is essentially a location-bound quest in which the object is information.

The most obvious source of tension in antihero stories is the possibility of redemption for the antihero. Actually, going back to Dunnett, the redemption plot (sprinkled with quests) lies at the heart of the Niccolo series. And Niccolo's shift from redeemable-antihero to hero-redeemer (of Henry) in Gemini is one of the most emotionally powerful parts of the series. But this is a difficult edge to balance on, because the antihero if redeemed loses his or her value. Similarly, while antiheroes can engage in quests, if they are given too much agency while remaining unredeemed, they seem less like antiheroes, and more like villains.

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Recent Shakespeare

May. 20th, 2006 | 05:52 pm

The Taming of the Shrew, a Melbourne University Theatrical Production

Lucentio stole the show, incredibly, considering that Lucentio is usually lowest on the dizzying list of show-stealing characters in Shrew. He gamboled! He bounded! He was blissfully in love!

Like most productions, this one laboured to redeem the ending by letting Kate in on the joke, which sometimes almost works, but never quite works, because no matter what reading you arm yourself with, you can never quite forget that she was starved and tortured with sleep deprivation first. It was S's first experience of the play, and the ending, even with its modern refit, shocked her into incoherence.

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May. 14th, 2006 | 10:03 pm

Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

I relaxed into the late middle ages because this world had the feudal system, also a King with a name like Gunthar, but then people started shooting guns and there were tribal plains-people being displaced by civilized man and military academies and also frontier towns and it was okay feudal system meets America early 1700s. Then a man rode past on a bicycle. Temporal whiplash! Unless it was along the lines of, hey, no, everyone knows Gunthar Da Vinci the Crazy Inventor and his Crazy One Off Invention the Bicycle. The larger problem was that the various components of the society were evolved at different levels with no explanation of why eg a feudal world but with a bicycle, many urbanized workers yet there has never been social revolution, nor even the most basic women's rights movement, and there is no apparent middle class. Verdict: A bit of a jumbled mishmash. Ships remains favourite.

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