I just finished reading Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova by Elaine Feinstein. I've read many sad biographies (most recently Klemperer's diaries), but I think this is the saddest biography I have read in a long time. After Akhmatova lived through the Russian Revolution, many deaths (during the siege of St. Petersburg, or friends who were murdered outright by the NKDV/KGB, or those who died in the gulag), her son was again imprisoned and her work was again banned after World War II. It was so overwhelming, I couldn't read another word. I almost couldn't finish it at all. While she certainly had her foibles, Akhmatova was extraordinary as a person and a poet. I cannot recommend Feinstein's life or her, and Feinstein's translations of her poetry, more highly.
There are some fantastic photographs of North Brother Island and its ruined hospital at the above link to The Kingston Lounge. The photographer/writer is Richard J. Nickel, Jr., who I'll certainly look for in the future. The island isn't linked to Long Island or Manhattan by bridge, tunnel or ferry, and is located in the midst of Hell Gate (that water is fast and dangerous- I've seen it). North Brother is now a bird sanctuary. This is the hospital where Typhoid Mary did her time, among other people.
I meant to blog about this earlier, but was distracted by either the play or the fact that my kitchen ceiling continues to leak nearly 4 months after the tornado. Gerry Rafferty died on January 4th. He wrote two of my favorite pop song when I was in my youth: "Stuck in the Middle with You" and "Baker Street." I was quite the Sherlock Holmes junkie in those days (both the stories and the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies), and to have a pop song however tangentially related to Holmes, who lived on Baker Street, was just the coolest thing ever. That aside, it is a beautifully put- together, evocative lyric that anyone who has ever felt despair and tried to climb out of it can relate to. Not to mention that fantastic sax solo. Unfortunately, Rafferty did not "give up the booze" as the song says, and it pretty much killed him at 63. Link to Times obit above; photo credit Photofest.
For the past two weeks, Anthony Tommasini has been painstakingly assembling a list of his top ten classical composers. It appears in tomorrow's Arts and Leisure section (link to the full article above). His ranked list is: 1.Bach 2.Beethoven 3.Mozart 4.Schubert 5.Debussy 6.Stravinsky 7.Brahms 8.Verdi 9.Wagner 10.Bartok I couldn't stop thinking about my list, as soon as he started his. I posted one list on WQXR's website earlier this week, and then I took another stab at it today. It's difficult enough to make the list, so I really didn't rank it. Well, I ranked 1-4 (who are the same as Tommasini's), but once you get through those four, it's infinitely more difficult. The rest of my list is: 5.Ravel 6.Verdi 7.Chopin 8.Haydn 9.Bartok 10.a whole bunch of guys (all guys, I'm afraid), running neck and neck: Richard Strauss; Benjamin Britten; Claude Debussy; Gabriel Faure; Dmitri Shostakovich; Leo Delibe; Olivier Messaien; Johannes Brahms My 10+ list would include: Robert Schuman (Kinderszenen); Ralph Vaughan Williams (Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis); Franz Liszt (Mefisto Waltz); Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky (Pathetique); Leonard Bernstein ("Candide"); Adam Guettel ("The Light in the Piazza"). Yes, there's even a living, breathing composer on the list- imagine!
So we teched the play last night in the gallery itself. Since I last wrote, through the efforts of Mr. Grigolia-Rosenbaum, we have acquired a costume designer. And not just any costume designer, but the lovely and talented Sidney Shannon, who I assisted at the Milk Can Theatre six or seven years ago. The opposite photo is by Tom Bovo, which captures Jacob in Sidney's giant carp head, Cotton in her NY taxi driver costume, and the photo of Tom's that the play is based on hung on the wall behind them. Melanie thought that was the best place to situate the actors in the space, and it looks really great. The above photo is mine (the blurry one), but it does grab the actors' faces. So, come to 440 Gallery (440 Sixth Ave., near 9th Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn) tomorrow for shows at 7:30 and 8:30, as part of Tom Bovo's My New York. Of course the R train isn't running this weekend, but you can take the N to 4th Avenue/Ninth Street. There will be wine and snacks and admission is free. Link to the gallery above.
My boyfriend is a photographer. For years, I have been staring at this photograph of his, trying to figure out what these fish are up to with the taxi. He is having his first solo show since college, which opens Thursday night at 440 Gallery, 440 Sixth Avenue near 9th Street in Brooklyn. There's an opening party, 6-9 and it's free. Take the R to 4th Avenue/9th Street, or the F to 7th Avenue. When Tom got the dates for his show, he told me he wanted to commission me to write a play about a photograph in the show. I actually did have a difficult time deciding. I was all set to write about mannequins in a window (440 Gallery has some lovely bowed windows to put actors in), but I decided on the fish. The photograph is untitled, which kind of makes me crazy- playwrights don't do that). I started writing in October, and last week we assembled our merry band for the first rehearsal: Melanie Sutherland is directing, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum plays Karl Carp and the lovely Cotton Wright is Mo Avakian the taxi driver. Jacob and Cotton and I have worked together a lot; Melanie and I worked on "7 Sins in 60 Minutes." I was trying to count how many plays of mine Jacob had worked on- I think he's acted in six, directed one and then been in a bunch of readings. Cotton was in "Kansas Faust" and "Deconstruction," and many readings. We froze the script yesterday, so now I just have to worry about props and the program. More photos to come.