Monday, November 30, 2009


No, I mean neither Master Twist nor his incarnation in the popular Lionel Bart musical currently in revival yet again in London. Nor the Olivers Hardy nor Stone. But rather, that crisp, indescribably subtle English biscuit, the Bath Oliver, named for its 18th-century creator, Dr. William Oliver, in Bath.

I've been a fan of these biscuits—never call them crackers!—since first discovering them in adolescence—can't remember whether here or in their native Britain—and used to be able to find them on the shelves of the better NYC supermarkets. But no more. They have disappeared into the great maw of the specialty online grocery markets and are available only at very high prices. I'm about to make another visit to London and plan to scope out Sainsbury's, Tesco, and Marks and Spencer in hopes of squirreling away a few packets to take home. This all started because a friend, currently in Florida, who is also obsessed with these delightful tidbits, asked me to look for them. And the mouth-watering memory of their flakey crispness on my tongue was re-evoked.

B.O.s are good with or without cheese. I don't favor (favour?) jam on them, because its sweetness cancels out some of their delicate flavor (flavour?). At any rate, in addition to attending theater, ballet, and art exhibitions during my upcoming visit, I shall certainly make a market foray looking for the one and only Bath Oliver biscuits. Yum!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life at Lincoln Center

One wonders what the original production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni must have looked like onstage at the relatively tiny Estates Theater in Prague, where it received its premiere in 1787. One interesting fact that I’ve learned is that the protagonist was sung by a baritone only 24 years old.

One has learned to associate the role with someone perhaps in his early 40s, still hugely attractive, of course, who has actually had time for the 2,065 conquests enumerated by Leporello. I’ve heard many Dons, the most ideal interpreter being Cesare Siepi (pictured)—never heard Pinza live in the role, though I did hear him late in his career in Fanny on Broadway.

Last season the tall and charismatic Swede Peter Mattei made a suave, beautifully sung Don, more cruel than many, in Marthe Keller’s production at the Met. Last night, at the newly reconstituted New York City Opera, we had Christopher Alden’s take on the masterpiece, which looks as if it was influenced to some extent by G.W. Pabst’s Expressionist films of the 20s. For example, Elvira’s maid, who is given more of a walk-on than usual and who has been taken into the Don’s employ by the Supper Scene, is bewigged and made up to look like a plumper Louise Brooks. Our Don, clean-cut and well sung, looked a bit too scrubbed and wholesome as interpreted by the talented young Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch.

Musically, New York City Opera gave a generally satisfying performance. Among interesting details, the singers were permitted more ornamentation than I’ve heard at the Met, and the onstage orchestras for the ball and Supper Scene were still in the pit, with the Don occasionally gesturing toward the musicians. I did not object to the modernization, which didn’t come close to either various Eurotrash renderings or the Peter Sellars version set in gangland Harlem, except that people who don’t know the opera well may be confused. For us Don G. veterans (dare I say experts?), it’s an interesting take on one of the supreme achievements of any art in any era. And they do ignore many specifics of the libretto, including “spada al fianco” (“sword at his side”) and the fact that the “statua gentilissima” (“most gracious statue”) isn’t a statue at all, but a corpse who sits bolt upright in his coffin and sings.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Obsession

Well, here it comes again. Like many dancers, professional and amateur, I have been obsessed with The Red Shoes (1948) since the age of 13. I own both the VHS and DVD of it, and can quote large chunks of the dialogue. In other words, I'm a Red Shoes junkie. Also, unlike a lot of fans, I'm thoroughly familiar with the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, far more grisly than this admittedly tragic story. In Andersen, the heroine has to have her feet chopped off and replaced with wooden prosthetics in order to rid herself of the curse of eternal dancing.

About eleven years ago, I was able to vent my passion quite a bit by writing an article for Dance Magazine about the film on the 50th anniversary of its release. Sorry that the lovely stills from the film aren't included here:

But apparently the film will never be out of my system. No less a film maven than the great Martin Scorsese is of a similar mind. Starting today, the Film Forum will be showing yet another restoration, concentrating on the magnificent use of Technicolor:

Since I haven't seen the movie on the Big Screen in many years, I'm looking forward to seeing it today and silently mouthing the lines along with Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook.