Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Master

On Sunday, I finished reading Colm Toibin's The Master. Tom had bought it because we both enjoyed Brooklyn so much. The Master is a very different kind of novel. Toibin channels Henry James, and manages to write about the writer's process in a way I've never seen before. I think if you're a writer and/or have read a lot of James, that may help your appreciation of Toibin's mastery. I really thought it was astonishing- one of those books you hate to finish. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered one of his sources (Lyndall Gordon's book on James) from alibris.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lost in the Stars

On Friday night, a group of musician friends and I went to see Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars at City Center Encores. One friend told me her dad had recently told her that singers aren't really musicians, and I told her my father would have said the same, if he hasn't already. He takes a dim view of musicians as true appreciators of music; he warned me against studying too much, because it would make music seem too much like work. I took There was one composer among us, and the rest were singers. But I studied theory in college and I'm still singing, so I think I'm unscathed.
In my youth, I'd listened to my parents' original cast recording, and I'd had a really hard time with it. The choral music just seemed wrong in a Broadway musical. Of course, Weill was doing just that- he was trying to do something different. There were only two songs that stuck with me- the title number and The Little Grey House.
I loved the chance to see even a truncated version of it. And it surprised me that however mediocre some of Anderson's (never think of him as a lyricist, do you?) lyrics are, the music is so engulfing the songs work in spite of the words.
There was a snarky review of Lost in the Stars in the Times on Saturday, where Mr. Isherwood took great umbrage at the libretto. In my experience, no one goes to Encores to revisit an old book. Besides, there's no way to be sure what is Anderson's original, and what's David Ives' rewrite (I've always envied him that rewrite job- must be a lot of fun). The novel that the libretto is based on (Cry, the Beloved County by Alan Paton; I had to read it in high school and it was rough going) was written by a white South African, Anderson was a white America, and Weill grew up in Dessau, the son of a cantor. This is not going to be verisimilitude in regard to the black African experience. Add in the fact that it was written in 1949 (perhaps we're a little more sensitive to colonialism and race relations these days), and it seems unfair to me to take it out of context and dismiss it as simplistic. Or as my friend composer John Prestianni said, "Who would have thought anyone was writing about apartheid for Broadway in the 1940s?" Indeed!
Photos: via NY Daily News, Chuck Cooper as Stephen Kumalo and Sharon Washington as Grace Kumalo (who I worked with many years ago at the Yale Summer Cabaret- we were in a musical of Eric Ehn's together); and Quentin Earl Darrington as Leader, with the ensemble.