Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Stockhausen at the Concertgebouw, 1980

Eastside Road, November 9, 2015—
FOR VARIOUS REASONS there's no reason to go into here I've been re-reading a journal from thirty-five years ago, from which I have pulled thoughts on a production we saw at the Concertgebouw on June 14, 1980:
STOCKHAUSEN: Michaels Jugend / Michaels Heimkehr

The house was pretty well full, but one took the seats one wanted. Stockhausen was at his mixer in the center of the Concertgebouw. The concert began pretty well on time. Michael is the protagonist of Donnerstag, the (third?) of a seven-opera cycle called Light. “Michael’s Youth” is the first act, “Michael’s Legend” is Act III scene 1.

It’s hard to get an idea of the effect of the finished work, of course — except that it’s Teutonic, long and rambling, introspective (fictionally autobiographical), philosophical but not intellectually so. It made me think, often, of Hitler: a film from Germany: intelligent bricolage spun out. Stockhausen ran the whole show, credited with regie, costumes, choreography, everything in Heimkehr (save Mary Bauermeister’s “lichtcomposities”), the texts in both included traditional Hebrew texts, but were otherwise — therefore mostly — by Stockhausen.

Michaels Jugend was for very small forces and developed a sort of childhood-of-Siegfried narration. Three protagonists, each represented by three performers: singer, instrumentalist, dancer-mime: Michael (Robert Gambill, T; Markus Stockhausen, trumpet; Michèle Noiret); Ea (Annette Merinweather, S; Suzanne Stephens, bassethorn; Elizabeth Clarke); Lucifer (Matthias Hölle, B; Mark Tezak, trombone; Alain Lonati). Three continuous scenes: Childhood, Mondeva, Examen.

So: music began with a drone from the loudspeakers — a dozen or so — surrounding the audience. Drone largely electronic (and vocalized chorus?), one pedal, [illeg.] a mosaic of various overtones. House lights dim; Soprano, then Tenor enter; she sings the fifth of the pedal, he the sixth below her. Two or three times in the course of the act the pedal rose or fell a alf-step, and it [pedal] wasn’t always present, but it defined the “tonality” of the piece throughout: and tonal relationships began to dominate — even including Picardy thirds! — by the end of the act. The loudspeaker music was very quiet most of the time. The singers’ music was well written for voice — idiomatic and very effective, both solo and ensemble. Instrumental music was not like the vocal, but not as arbitrary as, e.g., Zeitmasse. A prominent piano part played by Majella Stockhausen served obbligato in scene 3. (Se program for further notes on articulation of scenario.)

IN GENERAL: mostly through-sung in traditional vocal technique, the three instruments often doubling voices. Harmonically tonally grounded, though approaching conventional major-minor tonal practice only at end. House loudspeakers very subtle reinforce, or counter, or punctuate, or accompany stage sound. Very simple, naïve; a childlike masque. Rather well received.

“Festival” (sc. 1) from Michaels Heimkehr (Act III). Full orchestra on Concertgebouw stage, with five eight-voice choruses. Soloists as in Michaels Jugend, but Michael Rosness replacing Robert Gambill. Musical material as in Jugend, but greater resources (still including the house loudspeakers) lead to more complex sound. Still, music is much more conservative than [for example] Aus dem sieben Tagen, often recalling Momente, Mixtur, Klavierstücke.

The melodic material was the organic result of a montage — mélange of tonal phrases, a process similar to Hymnen. And the “Biblical” sound often derived from parallel clusters, a rather Messiaenic sound. “Festival” more developed, varied, episodic than Jugend. The action more varied, with more subsidiary roles, and articulated by arbitrary activities: devil-mime [emerging] from globe, old lady with cane from audience (the rhythm of her stick leading the orchestra into a new “moment”), toy tank up inclined board, the three film segments (camera panning across Mary Bauermeister paintings, occasionally finding childlike drawings of a face, a figure). The music is clearly retrospective, and the action recalls Originale: Stockhausen seems bent on summing up his musical life in an operatic version, cosmically ambitious, of the late [Beethoven] quartets.

The performances were superb. A violist told me they rehearsed it for three weeks — too much, but Stockhausen insisted. The vocalists were magnificent, not only technically, but tonally too. “Heimkehr” got an extended ovation, with some ostentatious booking. Stockhausen directed the bows, pushing out various soloists from the lineup!

Stockhausen looks older, slacker, heavy, otherwise much the same. We talked some after the performance; he gave me his address. He seemed, well, a little spacey, but the evening must have been exhausting — and he’d been nervous as a cat before “Heimkehr,” which had been given its premiere.

What about the music? Interesting; slow; naïve; often uneventful; a little soft. Reserve judgment for the full piece until next year’s Milan premiere.

WELL, I NEVER got to the Milan premiere. I don't recall, now, if I was on the job at this performance; perhaps I took these notes in order to write a review for the Oakland Tribune, which actually paid me to attend occasional out-of-town performances — Carmel Bach Festival, Santa Fe Opera, even the Holland Festival if I paid my own transportation and per diem, while otherwise on leave or vacation. Imagine a local daily newspaper doing that today!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Inez Storer

Inez Storer: Allow Nothing To Worry You. Gallery 16 Editions, 2015. 104 pages. ISBN 98-0-9827671-5-3
Paintings by Inez Storer are on view at the Seager/Gray Gallery, 108 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, through November 8.

Eastside Road, November 1, 2015—
IS_Greta at Gatchina,40x48_press (1).jpg A CORNER OF THE BLEAK Gatchina Palace, outside St. Petersburg, as painted earlier this year by the California artist Inez Storer. And this is just a corner of the painting, too — or, rather, a detail taken from nearly the center of the painting, the entirety of which I'll set at the end of this post.

Before going further I should mention that I've known Inez for more than forty years, and that over that period she and her husband Andrew Romanoff have become friends. We don't see them often: They live in their corner of the area, we in ours; we're all busy; we all travel … but they're good friends, the sort with whom there can be silences, even quite long ones, and then the conversation resumes.

I met Inez in 1974, when she participated in a group show at the Mills College Art Gallery. In those days I taught a course in music history at Mills as an adjunct instructor, and I wrote cultural criticism, especially art criticism, for the Oakland Tribune. I was particularly struck with Inez's work. Reading the stuff that Charles Shere wrote can sometimes make me cringe now, but here's what I had to say:

A real find In this show is a painting by Inez Storer: "How to Land a Plane on a Painted Mountain.” The title may actually read "Pointed Mountain": the calligraphy is ambiguous, and so is the painting itself. Flatly executed in the lusciously “crude” style associated with Joan Brown, Fred Martin and Richard Diebenkorn, the picture is intelligent and sumptuous.

Storer's corner of the show is rich in many respects. There's a considerable variety to her work. expressed in paintings, drawings and assemblages. Her work is idea-oriented, but not merely cerebral: it always gives the eyeball its own rewards.

Many of the assemblages seem to parlay a methodical, almost compulsive rhythm, generated by continuingly accumulating details, into a fearful expression of emptiness and domesticity. "House Plans and Diagrams" is a three-level shallow wall-hung box, " each of the three “floors" strewn with glass marbles, each with a figure: a clock-gear-bellied, headless representation of pregnancy on the top; a doll's head on the middle; the beheaded doll standing on the lower level. Photos of a woman suddenly thrust out of the walls. The total picture is unnerving.

How to Land a Plane on a Painted Mountain
A series of drawings and paintings on the subject of dreams shows how introspective this painter is. "Dreams" presents a drawing of a bed, its headboard collaged in fabric scraps, a photograph of a sheep on the bed, a fragment of an old letter in sepia copperplate ink leading off the bed to an old-time group photo of a bunch of men in a campsite out West.

"Mountain Dream" incorporates a picture postcard into a painted landscape which turns into a bed somehow. The intellectual, "conceptual” aspect of the composition is underlined by two indications of size in the margins, making the final work part a painting, part its own sketch.

I liked How to Land a Plane on a Painted Mountain so much that I bought it. I bought a number of paintings during the years I worked as an art critic. I never ran the idea past my publisher: I wouldn't be surprised if he would have objected, citing the appearance of conflict of interest — an objection I generally disagree with: I think community of interest is closer to the mark. In any case since I've never sold, or wanted to sell, any work of art I've bought, no "interest" is really present.

I bought paintings because living with them continually reminded me to look, and taught me, I think, how to try to understand, and to make use of, the things I saw. This is the great gift of painters, of artists: they respond to the world for us. "The highest function of music," J.W.N. Sullivan writes, "is to express the musician's experience and his organization of it." (Beethoven: His Spiritual Development (Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), p. 34.) True of all the arts: he goes on to say "art is not superfluous… it exists to convey what cannot be otherwise conveyed."

LET'S COME BACK to the painting at hand, Greta at Gatchina Palace. Like How to Land a Plane on a Painted Mountain, it incorporates painting and collage on the technical level, and personal memory and meaning when it comes to the content. Inez's father was a pilot and an art director in Hollywood; he had emigrated from Germany to evade the Third Reich. Her husband's family, the imperial Romanovs, were deposed and indeed executed during the Russian Revolution. The Gatchina Palace was, I understand, one of their residences, and Inez and Andrew toured it recently.

There of course they took a number of photographs. Inez makes prints at Magnolia Editions in Oakland, and there, on their huge flatbed scanner, she was able to make digital photocollages; one result was layered on gesso on canvas to serve as the ground for the painting.

I think of many levels of meaning emerging from this technique, whose layers of both image and technical handling are like the layers of significance latent in our personal memories and experiences. Again, and forty years later, the final work is part a painting, part its own process. And as the viewer's eye explores it, particularly when the eye is informed by awareness and knowledge of the personal meaning within the work, the viewer repeats the painter's journey into and through the work.

I spent a fair amount of time with Greta at Gatchina Palace. (For me, that is: I'm an impatient attendant, always in a rush to experience more.) I investigated it close to; I crouched near the floor to look up at it; I backed slowly away from it; I approached it in a spiraling trajectory, with one eye closed, focussing on one detail or another. (Fortunately my patient companion was the only other person in the gallery at the moment.) I found a favorite focal point: the stanchion that can barely be made out in the corridor beyond the doorway in the corner of the room. You may be able to see, in the detail reproduced above, a white rope supported by that stanchion. You cannot see, unfortunately, the amazingly true depiction of the metallic shine at the base of the stanchion.

Inspected this actively, many aspects of the painting jump into relief. The lintel above the doorway thrusts away from the wall, and the marble lining the doorway jumps back and forth, now holding the picture plane, now flipping into perspective, helping to draw the eye through the passageway into that corridor.

This alternation is helped, of course, by the collision of the photorealist perspective of the walls and corner with the arbitrary flat grid of the checkerboard floor. Again the viewer, like the painter, is poised between two ways of interpreting what is seen. This is what contemplation leads to: the fuller understanding of what is seen, resulting from the superimposition on objective reality (if any such there be) of accumulated layers of meaning brought in from memory, from learning, perhaps from misleading commentary, certainly from interpretation. INFORMATION.

To look actively at a painting, both physically as I've described my gymnastics in the gallery and intellectually as I've suggested through the consideration of supplementary information — this is one of the great pleasures. It recapitulates one's confrontation of life itself. It's an indispensable part of criticism, and criticism, I'm afraid, is an indispensable aspect of my own approach to life. Criticism: "the study of the meaning and the value of art works." (Joseph Kerman: Contemplating Music: challenges to musicology, Harvard University Press, 1986.)

Inez and Andrew's personal experiences draw on Europe and America, the Third Reich and the Russian Revolution, Hollywood and Buckingham Palace, the events of the 1960s, the art and social setting of the San Francisco Bay Area, teaching, family, and the usual vicissitudes that accumulate in eighty or ninety years of life. By turns funny, absurd, sad, nostalgic, improbable, these experiences of course inform their work. In a sense their work is incomplete without the experiences, though of course the work also, contradictorily and fortunately, stands perfectly well without one's knowing of them.

Fortunately, an attractive, small, coherent, copiously and well illustrated book has just been published, presenting a fair number of Inez's paintings and prints, together with short but useful (and entertaining!) accounts of her life and work. Allow Nothing to Worry You is a small-format book, 8-¼ inches square, 104 pages, case-bound in hard covers, with texts by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Timothy Anglin Burgard, Bill Berkson, Maria Porges, Barbara Morris, and Inez herself, along with the expected lists of exhibitions and biographical notes.

I particularly like Berkson's comments, with its final paragraph:

Storer has spoken of her vistas as having "no perspective, no beginning or end." Even so, seeing what happens within them, the viewer knows the size and distance appropriate to any detail, and the scale of the territory at large. Props — a ladder, a dinghy, a family of chairs, a cap, a monkey dropped on a Parisian thoroughfare — lend leverage, both graphic and psychological. That fabulations so thoroughly nuanced can come across as declarative throughout, so all-there at a glance, is a measure of Storer's commitment. Poise, the work invites us think, amid the indignities of human self-awareness, is no soulless window dressing, but a wonder regained by turns.

BUT LET'S LOOK, finally, at the painting we started out with, Greta at Gatchina Palace.
IS_Greta at Gatchina,40x48_press.jpg
Inez Storer: Greta at Gatchina Palace (2015). Mixed media on panel, 46x46 inches
The room is seen as it is, abandoned and in disrepair, and as it was or might have been, opulent in its rococo decoration. Hollywood, and things not being as they seem. An improbable blue kitchen chair (Berkson felicitously refers to it as "perennially talismanic"). A painting of Greta Garbo, recognizably in Inez Storer's style. The inevitable red carpet, leading inexorably to that doorway, and the passageway to an unintended destination out of sight around a corner. A large window illuminating the interior while concealing the world beyond, and its source of light. Vermeer's incessant and obsessive tilework floor.

Hans Hofmann would recognize the "push-pull" of the planes of color and pattern, though he'd be unlikely to approve the possibly narrative implications of the imagery containing them. Even on my computer screen I fall into this painting as I gaze at it; my gaze is itself a passageway leading me into it. Seen with one eye, while my head moves slowly before the image, or quickly approaches, then backs away from the screen, the perspectives change and develop. Somehow the contradictions of planes and perspectives enter into a kind of conversation, exploring various possible arrangements, of resolutions.

Storer's work has been called "magic realism" — the term comes from literary criticism, specifically describing such Latin American authors as Borges — but I think this painting disdains questions of category. It doesn't matter, either, that the work involves so many techniques. Since Picasso and Braque glued newspaper clippings to their paintngs, a century ago and more, painting has meant more than the application of colored pastes to flat expanses of cloth or paper. Painting is the act of bringing color and texture to a visual consideration or expression of meaning.

A painting like this, a life like Inez's, can instruct us in the possibilities, perhaps even the methods, of resolving apparent contradictions; of enlarging meaning; of expanding our awareness, not only of a painting, but of our own lives, and of the world they engage.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Three Plays in Pasadena

Eastside Road, October 28, 2015—
•Georges Feydau: A Flea in Her Ear.
•Jean Anouilh: Antigone.
•Arthur Miller: All My Sons.
A Noise Within, Pasadena, seen October 23-25

Rafael Goldstein (Camille), Jill Hill (Lucienne), Geoff Elliott (Chandebise): A Flea in Her Ear at A Noise Within
Photo: Craig Schwartz
Plays seen at A Noise Within

2001: Hay Fever (Coward)

2002-03: Macbeth; The Triumph of Love (Marivaux); The Cherry Orchard (Chekov); Bus Stop (Inge); Measure for Measure; The King Stag (Gozzi)

2003-04: Coriolanus; The Miser (Moliere); The Price (Miller); Electra (Euripides); Twelfth Night; The Matchmaker (Wilder)

2004-05: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Homecoming (Pinter); A Flea in Her Ear (Feydeau); Julius Caesar; The School for Wives (Molière); Mourning Becomes Electra (O’Neill)

2005-06: Othello; Picnic (Inge); The Master Builder (Ibsen); Ubu Roi (Jarry); Arms and the Man (Shaw); The Tempest

2006-07: Phaedra (Racine); A Touch of the Poet (O’Neill); As You Like It; Romeo and Juliet; Loot (Orton)

2007-08: The Winter’s Tale; Waiting for Godot (Beckett); Dear Brutus (Barrie); Henry IV, Part One; Don Juan (Moliere); The Night of the Iguana (Williams)

2008-09: Hamlet; The Rainmaker (Nash); Oliver Twist (Neil Bartlett); The Taming of the Shrew; Ghosts (Ibsen); The Rehearsal (Anouilh)

2009-10: Richard III; Crime & Punishment (Dostoyevsky, ad. Campell & Columbus); Noises Off (Frayn); Waiting for Godot (Beckett); Much Ado About Nothing; Awake & Sing! (Odets); The Playboy of the Western World (Synge)

2010-11: Measure for Measure; Blithe Spirit (Coward); Great Expectations (Dickens); Noises Off (Frayn); The Comedy of Errors; The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (Williams); The Chairs (Ionesco)

2011-12 (inaugural Pasadena season): Twelfth Night; Desire Under the Elms (O’Neill); Noises Off (Frayn); Anthony and Cleopatra; The Illusion (Corneille, ad. Kushner); The Bungler (Molière, ad. & tr. Wilbur)

2012-13: Cymbeline; The Doctor’s Dilemma (Shaw); The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck, ad. Frank Galati); The Beaux’ Stratagem (Farquhar, ad. Wilder & Ludwig) (we did not see Eurydice (Ruhl))

2013-14: Pericles, Prince of Tyre; The Guardsman (Molnár); Endgame (Beckett); Tartuffe (Molière, tr. Richard Wilbur); Macbeth; Come Back, Little Sheba (Inge)

2014-15: The Tempest; The Importance of Being Earnest (Wilde); The Dance of Death (Strindberg, ad. & tr. Conor McPherson); The Threepenny Opera (Brecht-Weill); Le Mariage de Figaro (Beaumarchais, ad. & tr. Charles Morey); Julius Caesar

2015-16: A Flea in Her Ear (Feydeau, ad. & tr. David Ives); Antigone (Anouilh, ad. & tr. Robertson Dean); All My Sons (Miller).

Scheduled for spring 2016: Romeo and Juliet; You Never Can Tell (Shaw); Six Characters in Search of an Author (Pirandello, ad. & tr. Robert Brustein)

WE REMAIN ENTHUSIASTIC about this professional repertory theater company, to the point that we devote a fair piece of change to our subscriptions, drive hundreds of miles to see their productions, and do what we can to persuade friends to do the same. A Noise Within — hereafter ANW: the name is a stage direction in Hamlet — rewards us with six plays a year, scheduling them in repertory so we can see them all on two jaunts of (usually) four days each, three plays in the fall, the remaining three in spring. We met them in 2001, when we chanced on their exuberant production of Noel Coward's Hay Fever; we subscribed the next year, and you can see our rewards — over eighty performances seen! — in a box here. (Many of them have been discussed in previous posts here.)

WE BEGAN with farce. Farce: French for "stuffing," in the sense of minced food stuffed into a cooked dish. Usually that's some kind of cheap filler; and the first "farces" in the theatrical sense were in fact comedies played between the acts of a more serious drama.

A Flea in Her Ear is, I think, the quintessential French farce: fast and ironic, with a complex sex-based plot set on a cast of urbane, petty-bourgeois people driven by confusion and hypocrisy. The plot rests on a wife's belief her husband is dallying with another woman: a friend writes a letter for her, purporting to ask the husband to an assignation; the wife will be there, of course, to catch him out. (Cf. Beaumarchais: Le mariage de Figaro.)

The cast is large. Act 1: Husband, wife, husband's business partner, wife's best friend, her Spanish husband, nephew-with-speech-defect, doctor, butler, maid. Act 2 (dubious hotel): hotelkeep, his slatternly wife, his senile uncle, a drunk porter, a maid. In Act 3, of course, everyone is involved. To give an idea of the plot, here's a paragraph from the program's synopsis:

Meanwhile, Camille, the young nephew of Victor, is overjoyed to have his speech impediment corrected by a new silver palate from Dr. Finache. In celebration, he and the household cook, Antoinette, also hurry to the Frisky Puss Hotel, followed by Étienne, the jealous husband of Antoinette. Dr. Finache, also looking for a bit of fun, decides to go to the hotel in search of his own afternoon rendezvous…
Mistaken identities, secret walls, runs up and down stairs, recognized handwriting, familiar fragrances, kicks in the behind. It's a very physical comedy, skillfully directed (Julia Rodriguez-Elliott), evenly cast, and played with the precision that allows improvisation that you find only in repertory companies.

For all its riotous humor — you think of the Marx Brothers — their are affecting passages, moments when aging, or uncertainty, or class distinction passes quickly across the action, like a quick cloud across the summer sun. And Feydau is particularly good, I think, at presenting the feminine point of view: there are strong parts here for actresses.

I'll introduce you to the principals with just a few adjectives; they're all great fun to watch, both for their acting and for the characters they represent:

Etienne, the butler: Alan Blumenfeld, stately and arch
Camille, the nephew: Rafael Goldstein, quite hilarious
Dr. Finache, resourceful and amusing
Lucienne, the wife's friend: Jill Hill, nimble, suave, and affecting
Raymonde Chandebise, the wife: Elyse Mirto, often deep, quick, affecting
Victor Emmanuel Chandebise, the suspect husband
Geoff Elliott, solid, untiring, well-rounded
Romain, the business partner: Jonathan Bray, amusingly bland and self-involved
Don Carlos Homénidés de Histangua: Luis Fernandez-Gil, stock Spanish and very funny
Ferraillon, the hotelkeep: Jeremy Rabb, fully in character and unexpectedly funny…
They're all funny; no one actor runs away with this play. What's intense is how they manage to be entertaining: with the lines and situations, of course, that's a given. But beyond that they're making fun of the French, of the subject of the play, of farce itself. When the two young women meet and begin their conniving they are so Parisienne they brought a number of Paris friends to mind. The second-act slapstick laughs at its own tradition. At the close of the play, Romain's total unawareness reveals the unimportance of everything that's happened (or, likely, ever will happen).

All this is heightened by Fred Kinney's scenic design and Angela Colin's costumes that seem absolutely perfect. The Chandebise apartment is a marvelous portrait of the 1950s, the most recent time, Blumenfeld noted in the talkback after the performance, that the play could be set in, before the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism but recent enough to be enjoyed with a bit of nostalgia. Everything from wallpaper to candy-dish seems thoughtfully chosen to suggest both the taste and the folly of the time. And the costumes! You have to see to believe.

Lorna Raver (Nurse); Emily James (Antigone): Antigone at A Noise Within
Photo: Craig Schwartz
THE DIAMETRICAL OPPOSITE of French farce must be the co ol intellectual French drama of the 1930s and '40s, and no better example of that could be found than Jean Anouilh's Antigone. It is based, of course, on Sophocles' early tragedy, part of the Theban cycle, in which Antigone disobeys Creon's shocking and sacrilegious order that her fallen brother Polynices not be buried.

Anouilh's setting of the story, though, was written and even produced in occupied Paris in the early 1940s. You could see the writing and production of the play as a parallel to Sophocles' story: attention to the sacred rites, whether burial or theater at its most moral and civic, in the face of tyrannical censorship and manipulation.

This Antigone is as French as Feydau: clear, formal, neutral, cool, measured. In this adaptation it begins among the ruins of war, and Chorus — the understated Inger Tudor — summons the cast forth with her introductions, rather than identifying already present actors. Much of the quality of this production depends on a counterpoint between Chorus's narrative neutrality and emotional realism in the other major characters: Emily James's determined Antigone, Eric Curtis Johnson's bullish yet finally defeated Creon; Kyla Garcia's supporting, finally comprehending Ismene (sister of Antigone); Rafael Goldstein's simple, troubled Guard.

This production presents a new adaptation and translation, by Robertson Dean, a longtime affiliate of ANW (and an impressive actor). I haven't read the original French, but spot-checking suggests the translation (which Dean says is the first into English since the 1950s) is faithful to Anouilh, both his script and his intentions; and the scenic adaptation goes a long way to bridging a gap that might easily separate mid-century French and postmodern American audiences.

The opening tableau, for example: fragments of columns, broken furniture, toys and dolls, anonymous weapons; a tinny prewar radio console: we know we're in the ruins of war; it's vaguely of our time; but the anguish is due as much to our awareness of its timelessness and inevitability as it is to any direct impact on ourselves.

Dean's direction carefully tiptoes another discontinuity, that between drama and contemplation, exactly in parallel with Anouilh's intent, I think. Perhaps it is too careful: the audience comes away from the performance, I think, not exactly sure of what it has witnessed, or how it should respond. But as often happens, the significance of this Antigone, its moral weight and persuasion, grow in one's mind in the hours after leaving the theater.

I thought, while watching the play, how odd it was that A Flea in Her Ear should seem up-to-the-minute and crisp while Anouilh's cool Antigone seems a bit dated: fifty years ago it would have been the other way round. A few days after seeing them, I no longer consider the question. Good theater — and this borders on great theater — does that; it encourages the mind to forget about topicality, immediate relevance; to attend rather to timelessness and universality.

Deborah Strang as Kate, All My Sons, A Noise Within.
Photo: Craig Schwartz
WE WERE BROUGHT home from France with an early play by an established midcentury American playwright. In spite of his own address to universals, to my taste at least Arthur Miller's plays are dated. In setting his universals on detailed and specific American situations, Miller risked losing view of those universals. We think of Willy Loman as his character, not his significance. The virtue of course is that the character is more than a straw man, a type: in good directoral hands (as here) Miller's work is gripping whatever its period.

All My Sons is a fairly early play: 1947, two years before Death of a Salesman, which it often foretells. Its plot is centered on its recent history: Joe Keller owns a machine shop which provided some defective parts to the Air Force during the (Second World) war; he shifted responsibility to a partner who was imprisoned; his older son was lost in that war, and his wife clings to the belief her son will return.

Into this setting Miller introduces the younger son, Chris; his girl friend Lydia — who had been the older brother's intended — and Lydia's brother George. Thinking him guilty, Lydia has spurned her father, the falsely imprisoned partner; George has been persuaded of the facts of the case; the drama plays out to its inevitable conclusion.

It's a well-made play, even to Chekhov's familiar formula; and the rich detail of Miller's characters (I haven't mentioned lesser roles just as well fleshed out) and their middle-America small-town setting make it interesting, even absorbing. You like most of these people so much you're disturbed (as you're intended to be) by their anguish, by the hopelessness of their yearnings and evasions.

The play was directed by Geoff Elliott, who also plays the leading role, the factory owner Joe Keller. We've seen Elliott in a lot of plays: with his wife Julia Rodriguez-Elliott he founded A Noise Within, in 1992; and he's been the central lead actor in the years since. His portrayals are deep, complex, yet directly presented; they come (as do others in this repertory company) both from sympathetic and seemingly intuitive understanding of the roles and from intelligent and committed awareness of the theatrical tradition.

Opposite him was another company stalwart, Deborah Strang, whose portrait of Kate Keller, the wife and mother, was both intense and affecting. Strang is a magnificent actor; we've seen her dominate many productions — never stealing scenes, but energizing productions even when upstage and silent.

Maegan McConnell and Rafael Goldstein were just as solid, gripping even, as the young couple. (This was the third role we'd seen Goldstein play in three nights, all very different, each penetrating and endearing and intelligent.) The supporting cast were capable, but Miller, I think, depends more on a cast divided between major and minor roles than does either Feydau or Anouilh, a quality that threatens sometimes to move his theater closer to journalism than literature.

Again, the physical production was absolutely first-rate: Frederica Nascimento's scenic design, Leah Piehl's costumes, James Taylor's lighting, and the music and sound by Robert Oriol. All three of these plays were thoughtfully installed in the ANW venue, a half-thrust stage in a house offering fine sight-lines and no distant seats (though occasionally acoustically flawed).

I'd willingly go back to any of these three productions; they reach, I think, an unusually consistent level and a very high one at that.

• A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Boulevard, Pasadena, California; 626-356-3100;

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

West Edge Opera

•Alban Berg: Lulu.
Jonathan Khuner, music director;
Elkhanah Pulitzer, stage director
seen July 25 and Aug. 2, 2015.
•Laura Kaminsky: As One.
Bryan Nies, music director;
Mark Streshinsky, stage director;
film by Kimberly Reed
seen July 31, 2015.
•Claudio Monteverdi:
Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria
Gilbert Martinez, music director
Mark Streshinky, stage director
seen Aug. 1, 2015.
Eastside Road, August 3, 2015—
IF OPERA AS WE (I) know it has a future in our country, the oligarchic United States of America, then I think West Edge Opera, headquartered in the culturally forward San Francisco Bay Area of California, is showing the way. The repertory is exploratory; the means are practical and well scaled; the artistic direction is secure and expert. Productions are mounted in various venues, chosen for cost effectiveness, marketing value, and I believe appropriateness to the work in question.

West Edge is an outgrowth, I believe, of Berkeley Opera, founded in that enlightened city some years ago by the Berkeley conductor Jonathan Khuner, a musical genius (in my opinion), heir to a great musical tradition, seasoned opera worker (coach, prompter, conductor), a graceful intellect and a true enthusiast of musical modernism. I've known him, though not well, for many years. I played bass drum in Ravel's La Valse under his direction, many years ago in a community orchestra. I narrated, as a sort of compère, a production of Beethoven's Fidelio under his baton more recently (but again a number of years back). And I recall running into him after a San Francisco Symphony performance of Gurrelieder : when I enthused at the accuracy and spirit of the performance of the long and complex piece he agreed, but noted that a flute note had been transposed an octave in a chord in a loud tutti passage. Khuner is attentive, observant, quick-witted, and utterly modest; his musicians enjoy working with him.

Earlier this year we saw a West Edge concert production of Rossini's Zelmira (reported on this blog in February), and I've already reported here on this month's Lulu, which impressed us so much we bought tickets for a repeat performance yesterday. The result was that we saw the entire summer season, three operas, in three consecutive days, each time driving an hour each way for the experience. And I retain my enthusiasm for the company, and look forward to next year.

That's not to say I thought the run an unqualified success. Laura Kaminsky's As One is not really an opera, I think, but a dramatic song-cycle, cast on two singers and accompanied visually by a film projected onto panels behind them, musically by a string quartet playing busily throughout. The lyrics, by Mark Campbell, in English, are basically a series of more or less dramatic monologues in which the protagonist of the piece evolves from a twelve-year-old boy to a mature woman. The subject matter is gender identity, and in my opinion the most valuable aspect of the subject and its treatment here, after of course the matter of tolerance for individual means of coping with identity and society, is the awareness that in most of us there are moments, awarenesses, and attitudes that are both masculine and feminine as our society has conventionally typified such things.

The two singers who together portrayed the protagonist, Hannah Before and Hannah After, were winning, persuasive, musically secure: mezzosoprano Brenda Patterson and baritone Dan Kempson looked similar enough (stature apart) to portray a single character, and their voices blended seamlessly in the occasional duet and more frequent overlapping solo lines. Their physical acting, too, handled Mark Streshinsky's low-keyed staging persuasively.

There are however two problems with As One : the libretto is pedestrian, more a description of an individual's character than a portrayal; and the music too often lacks — well, edge and character. Not always: I was intrigued by the Janáček-meets-minimalism quality of the opening scene; and the long aria toward the close, rhapsodic in its confrontation at last with Nature (the Norwegian fjords) rather than Society, seemed finally to get off the ground, to soar in vocal skies I normally associate with Richard Strauss and Mahler. In the intervening hour, though, the music was mostly vocal cantilena accompanied by literally descriptive and rhythmically busy string-quartet writing, tonal, consonant, and to my ear aimless.

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, known to its Oakland audience simply as Ulysses, is a very different kettle of fish. Premiered in Venice in 1641, it is with the same composer's L'Incoronazione di Poppea one of the oldest operas in the working repertory but not, of course, frequently produced. West Edge proved the error of this, as it was entertaining, often moving, often very funny, and always both interesting and refreshing.

Where As One had been produced in a sort of warehouse nightclub setting (though with conventional row seating and without table service, which would have improved things), Ulisse was mounted on a platform thrust stage, its runways embracing the improvised pit, in an immense former steel-mill in industrial Oakland. This is a long way from the splendors of Renaissance theater, of course; but it did point up the stock theatrics which underlie more evolved theater. Strashinsky's staging made me think from time to time of Shakespeare's mechanicals' production of Piramus and Thisbe; of commedia dell'arte; even of traditional Italian puppet theater.

Opera is classically defined, by Italians at least, as dramma per musica, drama through music. Every member of this cast moved and expressed himself physically with real acting skill, whether dramatic or comic: but the success of the event was above all musical. Monteverdi's vocal lines are superficially not that far from Kaminsky's: cantilena, consonant, generally conservative in dynamic and pitch range. They are very different though in terms of definition, structure, variation of tempo and dynamic; and melodically they have character and contour, steering one's attention rather than lulling it. And the accompaniment, while similarly string-oriented, modest in number, and steady in its support, is refreshing and supple.

Music director Gilbert Martinez, who directs the Berkeley organization MusicSources, Center for Historically Informed Performance, led the pit band from one of its two harpsichords, turning also to a small reed-organ to accompany the angry sea-god Neptune in his two appearances. Otherwise the instrumentation comprised two violins, two violas, a viola da gamba, and most prominent of all harp and theorbo: plucked instruments whose range and resonance supported the singers with great resonance and rich color. (The theorbo, especially the bass theorbo, must be one of the most eloquent inventions of all time.)

Monteverdi's libretto, by Giacamo Badoardo, is generally faithful to Homer's Odyssey, but reduces Penelope's many suitors to three comic characters, their protracted and relentless slaughter to a momentary burlesque. Ulysses's emotional return to his homeland shore, however, and Penelope's poignant constancy and suffering, are quite moving both in Monteverdi's (and Badoardo's) treatment and in this production's performance. Baritone Nikolas Nackley's Ulysses was secure, melodic, often tender; mezzo Sara Couden's contralto-directed voice gave Penelope a grave, innig quality that was very affecting.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the opera is its depiction of the gods, whose interference in human affairs portrays in theatrical terms the inner weaknesses, proclivities, desires, and ambivalences our own time explains through psychology and, increasingly, politics. In this performing edition the action is framed by discussions in which Jupiter, as god in chief, acting at the urging of Minerva, protectress of the Greeks and especially Ulysses, persuades Neptune, who'd favored the Trojans and punished Ulysses for the last twenty years, to let the poor man go home.

Of the three, Minerva is by far the most important, appearing at pivotal moments throughout the drama. The role was brilliantly sung and effectively acted by soprano Kindra Scharich; tenor Gary Rushchman was a pleasant Jupiter; Aaron Sørensen an effective Neptune. Those two were also two of the three suitors, Pisandro and Anationoo, and Sørensen's bass voice was as strong as a buffo as it was dramatic in the villainous role.

Michael Desnoyers was sympathetic as the shepherd Eumete; Johanna Bronk supportive as Telemaco; Jonathan Smucker effective as Anfinomo; Charlotte Goupille Lebret affecting as Melanto. The Leandra Watson's costumes were simple for the most part, decorative in the case of the gods.

Of the three productions, though, it was that of Lulu that was especially impressive. Complex, big in every way, daring in every way, Berg's opera and West Edge's production seemed logical, effortless, inevitable. Both audiences I saw were moved, gripped by the opera and its performance. West Edge is a company to watch, not only for fascinating entertainmemnt for its local audiences, but for what it suggests for the future and for other communities. The great heritage of music theater can be adapted to present needs and resources: it requires nothing more than nerve and talent.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


•Alban Berg: Lulu.
West Edge Opera,
Jonathan Khuner, music director;
Elkhanah Pulitzer, stage director
seen in Oakland, California,
July 25, 2015.
repeat performances:
Aug. 2, 2 pm; Aug. 8, 8 pm
information online:
Lulu First Scene Hi Res.jpg
Philip Skinner as Dr. Schön, Emma McNairy as Lulu; Act I of Alban Berg's Lulu.
Photo: Lucille Lawrence
Eastside Road, July 28, 2015—
We saw Alban Berg’s opera Lulu the other night, produced by the East Bay’s West Edge Opera in the abandoned Southern Pacific railroad station in Oakland (California). I can only say the event was phenomenal: we were so impressed we immediately bought tickets for a return hearing, this coming Sunday (August 2).

Berg wrote the opera, his second, between roughly 1930 and 1935, leaving it unfinished at his death. For years it was known only by its first two acts though the third act was virtually complete in short score and much of its orchestration had been completed for the suite Berg had extracted from the opera for concert purposes. Berg’s widow refused access to the manuscript, however, and it was only on her death, in 1976, that advances could be made toward realizing a complete performing version of the opera.

The opera is scored for twelve singers and large orchestra: woodwinds in threes plus saxophone; four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, and tuba; an active six-performer percussion section including vibraphone; important harp and piano parts; and a full string ensemble; a 16-piece off-stage jazz band including banjo (most of these can come from the pit orchestra).

Many of the vocal roles are quite demanding; the music is written in Berg’s version of Schoenberg’s “twelve-tone” system and is often dissonant, wide-ranging, and precise; the subject-matter of the opera is dark, violent at times, and discomforting; and Berg’s stage directions are carefully calculated and expressed in detail.

The result, certainly here in California, has been a very limited number of performances and productions, and those I’ve seen (San Francisco Opera, 1965 with Evelyn Lear; 1971 with Anja Silja) were truncated, rather routine in their staging, and frustrating.

A pity, because Lulu is one of the great operas of its or any century. On the first level, it’s arresting, fascinating, with a “story” that speaks to both its and our time and a score that resourcefully exploits the most fascinating and athletic possibilities of its voices and instruments.

This first level will leave many of us confused and either fatigued or exhilarated, possibly both. It’s a pity many do not go on to explore the work further, as Lulu is as fascinating intellectually — both as a historical document and as a work of art — as it is telling emotionally.

Perhaps it will become better known now, as in 2009 the Eberhard Kloke, one of two or three composers who have tackled the problem of orchestrating the third act, completed a reduction of Berg’s orchestration. West Edge used an orchestra of only twenty musicians: single winds (two clarinets), one percussionist, harp, piano, and nine strings.

I can think of few opera performances I’ve seen as impressively rewarding as this Lulu. Every member of the cast brought real intelligence to his role, projecting character and drama both physically and vocally, and looking the role perfectly persuasively. In addition, the voices themselves were marvelous: accurate, the vocal lines nicely phrased, the leaps landing persuasively on pitch, the dynamic contrasts well managed, ensemble singing (and fast-intercut interpolations, which Berg’s often conversational style requires) thoughtfully and effectively handled.

The opera centers of course on its title role, and I can’t imagine a better Lulu than Emma McNairy, who sings and acts with utter conviction and fabulous technique. But the rest of the cast is equally successful: Philip Skinner suave and controlling as Schön; Alexander Boyer as the warm, sympathetic, vulnerable Alwa; Buffy Baggott as a tender, at times uncomprehending Geschwitz; Bojan Kneževič as the sinister, shadowy Schigolch; Zachary Altman strutting and cynical as the Animal Trainer, strutting and stupid as the Athlete; and lesser roles were equal, taken by Erin Neff, Joseph Raymond Meyers, Michael Jankosky, Michael Crozier and Audrey Douglass.

The entire effort was Jonathan Khuner’s baby, and he conducted it not only well but apparently effortlessly — having, I’m sure, rehearsed and coached it with precision, economy, and persuasion. His orchestra supported the production with impressive élan.

And nearly as welcome, in some ways perhaps even more: Elkhanah Pulitzer’s stage direction, on Chad Owens’s economical and resourceful set (and with Christine Crook’s admirable costumes), respected Berg’s indications almost to the letter. Opera is supposed to be a total art form, appealing to eye, ear, heart, and brain with an integral, focussed event. Too often stage directors (and the producers who engage them) are willing to subvert the composer and librettist — in the case of Lulu, Berg is both — by superimposing a third artistic vision on an already complex work.

That did not happen at West Edge, and the result was a Lulu its composer would recognize and, I think, approve enthusiastically. The lagniappe to all this perfection and authenticity was the setting, a huge, brooding, used-up railroad station that seemed to be — visually, architecturally, even acoustically — a metaphor for the ruined first half of the twentieth century; the worn-out, no longer appreciated or maintained shell of what was once an elaborate, beautiful, and even practical accommodation of men and women of all classes of society.

There’s much more to say. I haven’t mentioned the admirable film, for example, cunningly structured by Jeremy Knight to accompany Berg’s ingenious centerpiece interlude, a forerunner of Robert Wilson’s “knee play” device articulating the drama’s exposition and calamitous resolution. I haven’t mentioned the intelligently translated supertitles, alas too frequently fading out against the buff concrete walls on which they’re projected (can the text-stye be changed to “outline”?)

I haven’t made an attempt at presenting the opera itself, which Wikipedia will do for me; and, beyond, George Perle’s fine book on the opera; and, for those who can use it, Erwin Stein’s masterly piano reduction of the first two acts, available for the downloading online.

Most unhappily of all I haven’t sufficiently sung the praises of conductor, crew, and cast; I don’t think I can rise to the task. This was a superb evening of theater, a magnificent interpretation of a masterpiece, a provocative and absorbing performance with what will be, I know, a long-lasting finish.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Hotels in Italy

Eastside Road, June 7, 2015—

IN A MONTH in Italy, May 6 through June 3, we stayed in thirteen different apartments, hotels, and agriturismi, relying on four sources for suggestions: Airbnb;;; and previous knowledge. During that time the euro hovered at about $1.20. The most expensive lodging we found was €77, for an apartment with kitchen; a couple of other places were in the neighborhood of $75 to 80 a night; many others were significantly less. I list all below:



Naples and vicinity: 


•Parco Eva (Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 167/6, Naples). We were here seven nights, 6-12 May 2015. It is a comfortable apartment with a good-sized sitting room, an almost equally large bedroom, with a small, efficient kitchen separating them. We found the place through Airbnb ("Spacious Apartment in 1900s Palazzo"), and the hosts were charming, helpful, and attentive. The apartment is on the second floor of its building, which is reached from the top (fifth) floor of another building in front; both have elevators, though a few steps must be climbed to get to the first. The building entrance is perhaps a fifty-meter walk up a fairly steep driveway leading from a guarded gate on the busy Corso Vittorio Emanuele, but the apartments are very quiet.
While the buildings are a good way from the center of the old city — a half hour's leisurely walk, I'd say — one of the three Naples foniculare is a five-minute walk from the gate; it leads down to the Chiaia area, with its shops and restaurants, and up to the rather staid but very rewarding Vomero quarter, from whence another funicular will drop you quickly into the heart of the old city.

A half hour's drive south of Naples will bring you to •La Vecchia Quercia (Via Montevetrano 4, Località Cantina di Campigliano, 84099 San Cipriano Picentino (Salerno); We spent one night there, May 13, having remembered it from a stay five years ago; and we found it all we'd recalled and then some: a fine, spacious bedroom with its own little terrace, on a farmstead out in the country, with an excellent dinner and a copious breakfast provided by a gracious, intelligent, cosmopolitan hostess.


Here we stayed in two agriturismi and one apartment. Nothing could have been more different than the two agriturismi, lodgings on working farms, found through the Italian website, which offers a useful iPhone app. •BioAgriturismo Tenuta Montenuovo (Contrada Montenuovo, 85030 Calvera (PZ); +39 0973 198 5022) offered a comfortable but rather bare-bones room, WiFi only in the restaurant dining-room and on its terrace, but an absolutely marvelous dinner and a fine breakfast. (14 May 2015) •Masseria Cardillo (SS 407 via Bassentana km 97.5, 75012 Bernalda (MT); +39 0835 748992;, on the other hand, gave us a stunning room — huge, with a vaulted brick ceiling, elegant furnishings, and a private terrace with table and chairs. And a public sitting room big as a soccer-field and much more elegant, with fireplaces and groupings of sofas; as well as huge lawns, a pergola, a swimming pool and tennis court. Dinner was good though not as exciting as Tenuta Montenuovo’s; and the Roman ruins at Metaponto were conveniently close. (15 May 2015)

In the touristy town of Matera we stayed in •Apartment Casa Tonia (Vicolo Fornaci 7, Matera, 75100; +39 331 1541555), an apartment carved out of a storefront, with a kitchen, sitting room, and bath downstairs, bedroom-loft upstairs — rather an awkward arrangement for an extended stay, I’d think, but reasonably comfortable for a short one. We had trouble finding the place, as our GPS insisted on taking us to Vico Fornaci Vecchi, and we never could determine whether the apartment was on a Vico or a Vicolo. Whatever it is, it’s a pedestrian street, but a covered parking garage is nearby. (16 May 2015;


Just when we were wondering where we’d spend the night we noticed a roadside sign advertising •Agriturismo La Crianza (SP per Torchieroto, km. 3, 73018 Squinzano; +39 328 2487622;, not far from Lecce. Our room was so comfortable and the farm so quiiet that we spent two nights here, using the place as a base from which to explore Lecce and even Gallipoli. The breakfast was nothing to write home about; we dined out; I didn’t notice any swimming pool in the extensive olive grove; but the people were very nice and our room pleasant and comfortable. (17-18 May 2015)

Lazio and Rome:

On the drive from Puglia to Rome, encouraged by a Slow Food restaurant recommendation, we drove by way of Campobasso, where provided us with the •Cascina Garden Hotel (Contrada Tappino 61, Campobasso, 86100, Italy; +39 087 498024). The hotel’s high in a hilltop suburb, with parking in its courtyard, a reasonably good breakfast, WiFi in the room, and a comfortable bed. (19 May 2015)

Outside of Rome, not wanting to deal with parking issues, we stayed at another suggestion: •Villa Del Patrizio (via di Castelfusano 21, Ostia Antica 00124; +39 06565.57386). The place looked pretty sketchy to me at first, a little like Santa Monica in the 1950s, raffish and unkempt from the outside, with parking on the shoulder of the street; but the one-flight-up room was very nice, with its own little outside terrace, a comfortable bed, clean bath, and good WiFi, and there was a pleasant, cheap little trattoria next door. (20 May 2015)

In Rome itself we had a room from Airbnb ("Bright Room With Balcony Up vatican") in the quiet, primarily residential quarter of Monteverde (Viale di Villa Pamphili, 132 Int. 4, Rome), a big bedroom with balcony, two bathrooms shared with the other three bedrooms (one of which is occupied by the host), with a fine cafe across the street for breakfast but also a well-equipped kitchen for providing our own (and even a simple supper of pasta and salad when we wished). Our host, a young actor, was charming, intelligent, and very helpful, and I’d spend another week here any time. Parking on street; a city bus stop in front of the building. (21-27 May) 


The provincial capital Grosseto provided a convenient overnight on the several-hour drive from Rome to Monferrato, and there we spent the night at the •Grand Hotel Bastiani (Piazza Gioberti 64, 58100 Grosseto;  +39 056 420047). This was a real bargain found on The deskclerk told us we’d booked perhaps the most beautiful room in the hotel, a very well maintained and updated old hotel a two-minute walk from the main square and the cathedral in this quiet, walled old city. The room was utterly quiet and very comfortable, handsomely furnished, and had windows on two sides, overlooking the quiet streets. Parking is outside the city wall, a block away except on market day, when you have to park farther off. Fine breakfast, but WiFi didn’t reach to our room. (27 May)


Arriving in Monferrato, near Asti, the day before our extended booking, we crashed in the •B&B La Riviera, via Orlassolo 18, Arignano, Castelnuovo Don Bosco 10020; +39 3332263640) near the small city of Chieri. Our room was again quiet and comfortable, the breakfast decent, the WiFi acceptable, and parking no trouble at all on what seems to be a horse-training estate run by a handsome and intelligent young man who couldn’t have been nicer. (28 May,


Our mainstay in Monferrato, though, is the •B&B I Mandorli (Via Troglia 1/3, Cardona di Alfiano Natta; +39.335.6197718; We first stayed here fifteen years ago and have returned several times since. (You can read more about it on my website.) The proprietors, Gabriella and Franco Rampi, are a delightful, thoughtful, humane couple dedicated to an ethical country life. The rooms are quiet, comfortable, beautiful; and the setting is one of the most enchanting landscapes I know. Breakfasts are copious and delicious, and the countryside abounds in good, authentic, traditional restaurants. This will always be one of our favorite places in the world for a relaxing sojourn. (29 May-2 June)

The evening before flying from Torino’s airport we stayed in the •Hotel Cascina Di Corte (Via Castellamonte 2, Venaria Reale 10078; +39 01145932783), found through and chosen for its location, ten minutes or so from the airport and fifteen minutes or so from a remarkable restaurant. The hotel turned out to be right around the corner from Venaria’s amazing Reggio, perhaps Piedmont’s equivalent to Versailles, with beautiful, huge gardens. Our room was, again, quiet and comfortable, with a fine bath, quick WiFi, enthusiastic and helpful desk service, and a fine breakfast. (3 June)

Notes on restaurant dining can be found here

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


Via Toglia, Cardona, June 3, 2015—

A WEEK NOW since I've posted here, and I knew it would be thus: we've been in this hamlet in a tranquil corner of Monferrato, rather a backwater of Piemonte, for a family gathering; twenty-six of us at one point, and there's been neither time nor inclination to ruminate on things.

This morning, though, everything's packed away. We have this one more day in Italy; then fly home. Such transitional moments always leave me… not sad, exactly; I know the best moments will return, and that if they don't I most likely won't know it. Nor are emotions mixed. Such transitional moments put me in a suspended state of mind, observing and experiencing detachedly. I don't enjoy the present, for the most part; I bask in it, as I sit in the sun. To enjoy is to take: to take enjoyment used to be a common phrase, when English-speakers were perhaps both more honest and more discerning than they often are today. To bask is to participate, to merge.

Well, these dozen posts from Italy will have to do for now. I suppose I'll take up the thread again in a few days; I hate to leave you in a Roman tomb, when so many more contemporary conversations are to be shared. Sixteen thousand words isn't bad, if I may congratulate myself; and if you want to know where the last two weeks have taken us, you can find out at Eating Every Day… or by watching Dominique's video…