pallas_athena: (tarot)
There are many more urgent things I should be doing right now than writing about how much I love Saga. But Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have reached in and grabbed my cerebellum in one hand and my heart in the other and twisted until telling the Universe of my fierce passion for Saga is all I can do right now.

First things first: Saga is not safe for work, children, or those easily offended by nudity, sexual content, gore, foul language, and so on. Saga has all these things in abundance (and the nudity is fairly evenly spread across genders and species.)

There are very few comics I buy in single issues; usually, no matter how great the story, I'm happy to wait for the collections to come out. Saga is different. This series has given me such a burning, visceral desire to know what happens next that I may as well cable-tie myself to the rack in my local comics emporium till the next one comes out.

The heart of the premise is simple: Alana and Marko, members of two perpetually warring species, have run off to get married, quitting their respective armies. Now both sides have agents in hot pursuit of the two deserters and their newborn daughter.

The creative team do a particularly good job of depicting what happens when two cultures have been at war for a time stretching past living memory. Cynicism and black humour among the forces on the ground are matched by the callous, calculated ruthlessness of those in power. No side is portrayed as 'right'; nobody on either side believes their own propaganda any more. Both armies are composed of draftees who'd rather be anywhere but here.

In addition, we have aliens speaking Esperanto; an assassin with the torso of the Venus de Milo and the abdomen of a giant spider; a rocket ship that's really a tree (or possibly vice versa); a friendly teenage ghost who floats around trailing intestines; and a large hairless cat who can tell when you're lying. In Saga the beautiful and the disgusting lie cheek-by-jowl from the very first panel, and the story they combine to tell is believable and utterly human.

So: if this sounds like something you're up for, then go buy the first collection and await further instructions from Vaughan, Staples, Alana, Marko, The Will, The Stalk, Izabel, Lying Cat and company. Issue 9 is out in two days, so you know where I'll be cable-tied to. Bring scissors, will you?
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Tonight I saw British mezzo Alice Coote sing Schubert's Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall. Since I'm preparing my own Winterreise at the moment, I think this might be the moment to start writing about it.

Das Liederbloggen )
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Books about Venice I have read and liked:

Nonfiction:

A Venetian Affair, Andrea di Robilant
In the attic of the family palazzo, Robilant found and decoded a stash of 18th-century love letters which form the nucleus of this book. The intertwined lives of the two illicit lovers, Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, take the reader from Venice to Paris and finally to London. A lovely snapshot of eighteenth-century Venetian society, guest-starring Casanova. Speaking of whom:

Histoire de ma vie, Giacomo Casanova
Probably mostly nonfiction, and such a fantastic read you don't care.

A History Of Venice, John Julius Norwich
A bit drier than his three-volume history of Byzantium, but still worth reading. A thorough history of the city from the founding to the fall.

City Of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire, Roger Crowley
Currently reading this. The author is an expert on naval history, and he chronicles the era of Venetian mastery of the seas starting from the Fourth Crusade. Good to read in tandem with Norwich; well written with a nice sense of narrative.

Fiction:

The Passion, Jeanette Winterson
This is the book that made me want to visit Venice, and the book I took with me when I finally did. The female Venetian protagonist, Villanelle, is a spellbinding narrator; the male French protagonist, Henri, a cook in Napoleon's army, is more of a pathetic figure, and his sections of the book aren't as much fun. Worth it, though.

Consuelo: A Romance of Venice, George Sand
Opera singers, composers and spooky latter-day Hussites: it's like she wrote it with me in mind. Our heroine is an intrepid mezzo-soprano who starts out as a penniless orphan with a good heart and a fine voice as her only assets. If you're not a music geek, you might find this book boring; if you're a singer, you'll find it riveting. Only the first third or so of the book is set in Venice; Consuelo then takes off across Europe accompanied by the young Joseph Haydn. And what of the enigmatic Count von Rudolstadt? What indeed.

Scherzo, Tad Williams
Any book whose narrator describes himself in the first chapter as "debollocked" is okay by me. Yes, our hero is an operatic castrato and keen observer of the lifestyles of the powerful... which comes in handy when there's a murder mystery to solve. Well-written, sexy and funny as all hell, with ample footnotes referring to books that don't exist. Guest-starring Voltaire and Casanova (again. Is there any book set in Venice in which he doesn't appear?)

...And of course, I'd never miss an opportunity to link back to my own Venetian carnival story. Feel free to throw fruit. Just no pineapples, is all I ask.
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Tonight I went to see a new opera that I really enjoyed.

I'm a little biased, because most of the cast and chorus were people I know. Also, I only got a couple hours' sleep last night, so my judgement may be a tad hazy. But Piccard In Space, by Will Gregory of Goldfrapp fame, made me exceedingly happy, and I'm very, very glad I heard it. Here's their publicity spiel:

Will Gregory’s debut opera is a classic adventure about the brilliant physicist, Auguste Piccard. On a mission to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, he takes to the skies with his assistant in an airtight capsule. Travelling to a record-breaking 51,000 feet, they survive being roasted by the sun, toxic balls of mercury and crashing into the Alps. Clearly not a blackboard and chalk type of scientist, Piccard became world front-page news in 1931 and the inspiration for Hergé's cartoon character Professor Calculus in the Adventures of Tintin series.

Review below )
Piccard in Space will be broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday 13 April at 7pm. If you listen, I'd be intrigued to know what you thought of it.
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[livejournal.com profile] speedlime's visit is something I look forward to every year. It's typical of her magnificent generosity of soul that she chooses to spend her birthday in London with yours truly. (And then I generally spend mine with her family in DC. The German cookies and Glühwein make it a party not to be missed.)

This year we also spent a few days in Paris. While we were there, it snowed, making the whole city look like an especially misty Monet painting. It was beautiful, but also meant that some places we wanted to see were closed. Paris deals with snow even less well than London: it's like the whole city goes Ô MON DIEU QUOI LE FOUTRE IL NEIGE NOUS DEVONS FERMER TOUTES LES CHOSES INTÉRESSANTES.

One of the these places was the Sainte-Chapelle. I'd never seen it, but Speedy recalled being entranced by the windows as a child. Since we couldn't see it during the day, we booked tickets for a concert there that evening: Baroque flourishes, including Pachelbel's Canon in D and Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
So how was the concert? )
Meanwhile, I'm heading back to the US tomorrow. See some of you (including [livejournal.com profile] speedlime) there!
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I saw some absolutely lovely Shakespeare yesterday at the Globe: Henry IV parts I and II.

Part of what I love about the Henry IV plays is that they're all about relationships: primarily, of course, Prince Hal's with his father and Falstaff, but also the Percys, the Glendower-Mortimers and the "family" of rogues and reprobates who surround Falstaff and Quickly. Even Shallow and Silence, brief as their stage-time is, are first-class bros.

In this production, all the relationships are absolutely believable. That's rare: in many productions the Henry IV-Hal-Falstaff triangle reduces everyone else to mere satellites. But in this show-- holy hell, the Percys! This is the first Henry IV I've seen in which the Percys (Sam Crane and Lorna Stuart) were believable as a couple. Hallelujah, they manage to make Lady Percy not annoying! Her wild, rough, sexy relationship with Hotspur makes perfect sense. It makes the scene with Glendower and the Mortimers (another relationship beautifully expressed in a mere moment of stage-time) amazing and beautiful and painful and poignant.
Further reviewage hereunder )

Meanwhile, my hometown gets to experience Shakespeare's Hamlet in the original Klingon. The director tells us: "He whines, he vacillates, he sacrifices his Klingon heritage... 'Hamlet' is seditious, because it sends the wrong message to the Klingon youth."
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Today I happened to be in a tell-me-a-story mood, so I booked online to be told one in the crypt of St Pancras Church. The ticket-booking site was one of those which annoyingly make you register, and I tend to exact revenge on those by getting creative when they ask me to fill in a title. This one even asked for a preferred salutation, which I guessed was some sort of log-in thing.

However, when I turned up at the church and gave my name, a bemused box-office lady greeted me as "O Great and Mighty Omniscient Light Source." Which should teach me a thing or two about messing with websites.

The evening itself was, in an understated fashion, extraordinary. A young man with a beautiful voice has teamed up with members of Punchdrunk Theatre for a reading of two M. R. James ghost stories. I'm glad I didn't read them before heading out; nor shall I reveal any details of what was within... but I left the church feeling hyperaware of fleeting details and ambient sounds, with an eye particularly attuned to the movement of shadows. If you have a free evening before 13 March, I highly recommend witnessing this strange-yet-felicitous performance.

Before the show, I swung by the comic book shop near the British Museum and scored a copy of P. Craig Russell's version of Neil Gaiman's The Dream Hunters. Gaiman initially published this as a prose story with extremely fine illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano, but Russell has adapted it into a full-on graphic novel, and it's pretty much everything you'd hope for from both Russell and Gaiman.

Why I Love P. Craig Russell is a topic for another time, but in the interim his blog is full of reasons to be cheerful on a winter's night.
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I haven't been posting much here. One of my unwritten-yet-mandatory rules of blogging is "Don't post unless you have something interesting to say."

Not that there's been a lack of material: [livejournal.com profile] speedlime and I prepared our usual Thanksgiving dinner, saw some amazing art, and went to Istanbul! Then [livejournal.com profile] esdi_leanne, for her birthday, decided to recreate the dinner party from that one scene in Rocky Horror-- and truly epic it was. I never cease to be amazed at the excellently inspired madness of my friends.

Just before leaving for DC, I saw the Royal Opera's der Rosenkavalier. This opera is like an old friend in whom you keep discovering new reasons to love them.
Then and now )
So there have been interesting things happening, but when there's been the time to write about them I haven't seemed able to muster the enthusiasm. I could blame the grey of winter for this, but I think it's probably some mental flaw instead.

I hope all of you are staying warm. Firelight and friends are the best antidote to winter.
pallas_athena: (Default)
On Halloween night, since I was neither in Oxford nor Whitby, I headed to the Royal Festival Hall to see Steve Reich. Yes, the man himself was in town for a performance with the London Sinfonietta; the show was long since sold out, of course, but they were screening it live in the RFH's ballroom for free. I got to hear "Sextet" and Music For 18 Musicians, both of which were ...

I'm struggling for an adjective here. I could use an anodyne one like "lovely", but this music is not lovely. Its nature requires you to commit to it on its own terms. It is made with the precision of the gods of geometry; with an exactitude that leaves no room for mercy. It is not music that makes you think. It is music that renders you, after a while, incapable of thought. It has the mathematical inexorability of Bach with added metallophones and maracas. It is, in short, Steve Reich.
...or that's one way of looking at it )
pallas_athena: (Default)
On Halloween night, since I was neither in Oxford nor Whitby, I headed to the Royal Festival Hall to see Steve Reich. Yes, the man himself was in town for a performance with the London Sinfonietta; the show was long since sold out, of course, but they were screening it live in the RFH's ballroom for free. I got to hear "Sextet" and Music For 18 Musicians, both of which were ...

I'm struggling for an adjective here. I could use an anodyne one like "lovely", but this music is not lovely. Its nature requires you to commit to it on its own terms. It is made with the precision of the gods of geometry; with an exactitude that leaves no room for mercy. It is not music that makes you think. It is music that renders you, after a while, incapable of thought. It has the mathematical inexorability of Bach with added metallophones and maracas. It is, in short, Steve Reich.
...or that's one way of looking at it )
pallas_athena: (Default)
"And what's the point of a revolution without general copulation?"
--Peter Weiss, Marat/Sade

Lately I've been reading A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel, who just won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall. I'm more than halfway through, and I have to admit it: I love this book. After wading through wheelbarrowloads of poorly-written "popular history" and poorly-researched historical fiction, it's an amazing feeling to find someone, at last, doing it right.

I have one other confession to make: I was a teenage French Revolution geek. Michelet and Twelve Who Ruled had pride of place on my shelves, along with a plethora of other books in English and French. I sang the Carmagnole and Ça Ira in the school hallways, and dated my papers by the Revolutionary calendar. So when I say that Mantel's novel has the French Revolution Geek Seal Of Approval, you'll know those aren't idle words.
Spoiler: Monarchs fall, everyone dies )
pallas_athena: (Default)
"And what's the point of a revolution without general copulation?"
--Peter Weiss, Marat/Sade

Lately I've been reading A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel, who just won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall. I'm more than halfway through, and I have to admit it: I love this book. After wading through wheelbarrowloads of poorly-written "popular history" and poorly-researched historical fiction, it's an amazing feeling to find someone, at last, doing it right.

I have one other confession to make: I was a teenage French Revolution geek. Michelet and Twelve Who Ruled had pride of place on my shelves, along with a plethora of other books in English and French. I sang the Carmagnole and Ça Ira in the school hallways, and dated my papers by the Revolutionary calendar. So when I say that Mantel's novel has the French Revolution Geek Seal Of Approval, you'll know those aren't idle words.
Spoiler: Monarchs fall, everyone dies )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Last night's Proms were quite amazing. First up was the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whom I love, with Norrington being a tremendous tart at the helm and Joyce DiDonato singing.

For non-classical types: the OAE are Britain's premier period-instruments orchestra, which means that every piece they play they play is played on instruments from the same period it was composed. For an example, check out this Wikipedia page on the violin. Gut strings, rather than modern nylon, make a huge difference: there are few things lovelier than the sound of proper Baroque strings, like silk veils falling through space.

Period brass is a whole different kettle of fish. Valves (those finger keys you get on modern brass instruments) are a nineteenth-century thing; earlier than that, a brass player needed to produce all the notes using only airflow and lip tension (and, for horn players, one hand in the bell.) You're also limited to the specific key your instrument is in; you can only change key by attaching different lengths of tubing, called crooks, to your horn. This can be tiresome, but it has its moments: slide on an extra-long crook, and your Baroque horn becomes an instant tuba!

So basically, early brass is REALLY hard to play well. Watching the OAE perform Handel's Water Music last night, with the natural brass doing all those rapid fanfares in thirds, I was awestruck by how glorious and easy they made it sound. (When they got around to Mendelssohn's Scottish symphony, THAT was when the unholy farting noises began.)
So how was the concert? iPlayer links below. )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Last night's Proms were quite amazing. First up was the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whom I love, with Norrington being a tremendous tart at the helm and Joyce DiDonato singing.

For non-classical types: the OAE are Britain's premier period-instruments orchestra, which means that every piece they play they play is played on instruments from the same period it was composed. For an example, check out this Wikipedia page on the violin. Gut strings, rather than modern nylon, make a huge difference: there are few things lovelier than the sound of proper Baroque strings, like silk veils falling through space.

Period brass is a whole different kettle of fish. Valves (those finger keys you get on modern brass instruments) are a nineteenth-century thing; earlier than that, a brass player needed to produce all the notes using only airflow and lip tension (and, for horn players, one hand in the bell.) You're also limited to the specific key your instrument is in; you can only change key by attaching different lengths of tubing, called crooks, to your horn. This can be tiresome, but it has its moments: slide on an extra-long crook, and your Baroque horn becomes an instant tuba!

So basically, early brass is REALLY hard to play well. Watching the OAE perform Handel's Water Music last night, with the natural brass doing all those rapid fanfares in thirds, I was awestruck by how glorious and easy they made it sound. (When they got around to Mendelssohn's Scottish symphony, THAT was when the unholy farting noises began.)
So how was the concert? iPlayer links below. )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Tuesday: Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience at the Proms. Good performances, but way too many mortifying memory associations. Promming in an overheated arena full of intensely spoddish people with poor impulse control did nothing to help. However, Felicity Palmer was, is and ever shall be awesome.

Wednesday: Handel Prom: the Sixteen with Harry Christopher conducting; Alastair Ross, organ; and Carolyn Sampson, soprano. Excellent! Sampson's arias from Semele were sung with beautiful teasing mischief. The mirror aria ("Myself I shall adore, if I persist in gazing") is a notorious soprano deathtrap: it's a long one, and if it's not sung brilliantly it can seem interminable. Ms Sampson rose to the challenge and made it sound easy. Well worth listening to on iPlayer.

Later: Philip Glass Prom: the Violin Concerto, followed by the newish Seventh Symphony's first performance in Britain. So amazing. iPlayer: listen to this one late at night. Glass himself gave a brief interview beforehand and took a bow afterwards; one voice booed. However, getting booed at the Proms is sort of an accolade for a composer; sign of the times, I guess. Still, it's puzzling: if the name Philip Glass is on the programme, surely by now you know what you're going to get? If you don't like it, why not stay home and amuse yourself by booing the radio?

Tonight: three short shows at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival at Riverside Studios. This is a festival for new, strange, off-the-wall stuff; it's great fun.

At 7pm, there was Mark Glentworth's Ula, an opera-in-progress about an American writer who encounters some mysterious people on the coast of Scotland; this was well sung, played and staged, but I found the music kind of forgettable.

At 8.30, my friend Pete was singing the part of the Shadow in Shadowplays, which turns out to be a lovely, haunting piece. Lighting and projection were used to great effect, and the company (4 singers, 2 dancers, 2 instrumentalists, no conductor) played together really well. The libretto is kind of lame, and that holds the first scenes back a bit; but later there were some lovely ensembles.

Then at 10, there was the strangest piece of all: Nicholas Brown's As Have I Now Memoyre, not so much an opera as a sound-and-art installation with singers. We wandered into a black-box room awash with ambient sound; then a singer began, softly, to sing; stagehands entered and hung various partitions and curtains in the room, on which a girl began incribing Elizabethan text as we listeners wandered and watched. I don't really know how to describe it beyond that, except to say that it was a lovely, mindblowing experience.

All three of those shows plus others are on again tonight, and still more all through the weekend, at the Riverside Studios near Hammersmith tube: if you're up for some entertaining musical strangeness, I highly recommend checking it out. Tickets are a mere £6 per show, or less if you see more than one; also, there's an excellent bar with a terrace overlooking the river. See you there.
pallas_athena: (Default)
Tuesday: Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience at the Proms. Good performances, but way too many mortifying memory associations. Promming in an overheated arena full of intensely spoddish people with poor impulse control did nothing to help. However, Felicity Palmer was, is and ever shall be awesome.

Wednesday: Handel Prom: the Sixteen with Harry Christopher conducting; Alastair Ross, organ; and Carolyn Sampson, soprano. Excellent! Sampson's arias from Semele were sung with beautiful teasing mischief. The mirror aria ("Myself I shall adore, if I persist in gazing") is a notorious soprano deathtrap: it's a long one, and if it's not sung brilliantly it can seem interminable. Ms Sampson rose to the challenge and made it sound easy. Well worth listening to on iPlayer.

Later: Philip Glass Prom: the Violin Concerto, followed by the newish Seventh Symphony's first performance in Britain. So amazing. iPlayer: listen to this one late at night. Glass himself gave a brief interview beforehand and took a bow afterwards; one voice booed. However, getting booed at the Proms is sort of an accolade for a composer; sign of the times, I guess. Still, it's puzzling: if the name Philip Glass is on the programme, surely by now you know what you're going to get? If you don't like it, why not stay home and amuse yourself by booing the radio?

Tonight: three short shows at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival at Riverside Studios. This is a festival for new, strange, off-the-wall stuff; it's great fun.

At 7pm, there was Mark Glentworth's Ula, an opera-in-progress about an American writer who encounters some mysterious people on the coast of Scotland; this was well sung, played and staged, but I found the music kind of forgettable.

At 8.30, my friend Pete was singing the part of the Shadow in Shadowplays, which turns out to be a lovely, haunting piece. Lighting and projection were used to great effect, and the company (4 singers, 2 dancers, 2 instrumentalists, no conductor) played together really well. The libretto is kind of lame, and that holds the first scenes back a bit; but later there were some lovely ensembles.

Then at 10, there was the strangest piece of all: Nicholas Brown's As Have I Now Memoyre, not so much an opera as a sound-and-art installation with singers. We wandered into a black-box room awash with ambient sound; then a singer began, softly, to sing; stagehands entered and hung various partitions and curtains in the room, on which a girl began incribing Elizabethan text as we listeners wandered and watched. I don't really know how to describe it beyond that, except to say that it was a lovely, mindblowing experience.

All three of those shows plus others are on again tonight, and still more all through the weekend, at the Riverside Studios near Hammersmith tube: if you're up for some entertaining musical strangeness, I highly recommend checking it out. Tickets are a mere £6 per show, or less if you see more than one; also, there's an excellent bar with a terrace overlooking the river. See you there.
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It's been a term of obscure operas in Oxford: earlier this summer I saw some friends sing in Schubert's Fierrabras, and tonight I went to the first performance in years of Donald Swann's Perelandra.

Yes, that's Donald Swann as in Flanders and Swann. Like Dudley Moore, he was a better composer than the comedy stuff gave him room for. He was also a big old fantasy nerd: he knew JRR Tolkien and set quite a few of his songs to music. (They're good, if a bit simplistic in places. Treebeard's song is my favourite. I rather prefer Stephen Oliver's settings, composed for the BBC radio dramatisation back in the Second Age.)
How was it? )
pallas_athena: (Default)
It's been a term of obscure operas in Oxford: earlier this summer I saw some friends sing in Schubert's Fierrabras, and tonight I went to the first performance in years of Donald Swann's Perelandra.

Yes, that's Donald Swann as in Flanders and Swann. Like Dudley Moore, he was a better composer than the comedy stuff gave him room for. He was also a big old fantasy nerd: he knew JRR Tolkien and set quite a few of his songs to music. (They're good, if a bit simplistic in places. Treebeard's song is my favourite. I rather prefer Stephen Oliver's settings, composed for the BBC radio dramatisation back in the Second Age.)
How was it? )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Since so many of my recent nights out have been plagued by the Demons of Wrongness, it is a relief to report that tonight, for once, everything went right.
A Lebanese sausage, an Italian partsong, and thou/ Beside me doing stupid things with dateballs )
pallas_athena: (Default)
Since so many of my recent nights out have been plagued by the Demons of Wrongness, it is a relief to report that tonight, for once, everything went right.
A Lebanese sausage, an Italian partsong, and thou/ Beside me doing stupid things with dateballs )

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