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Archive for the ‘on certain arts, writings and performances’ Category

No particular reason to post this here, except that I truly love this song and it brings back so many associations and memories.

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I am always fascinated when the inclusion of a famous song or classical piece in a movie gets it absolutely right. By that I mean that it not only perfectly reflects the mood and meaning of that movie scene but enhances its emotional impact in almost preternatural manner.

Such is the case with Shostakovich’s “Waltz No. 2” in Eyes Wide Shut. I simply can’t get it out my head however much I try. It is such a beautiful piece; flowery, passionate, romantic yet with that indelible tinge of mystery and haunting spookiness. As a theme music for that movie, Stanley Kubrick couldn’t have chosen any better. Enjoy:

What other well known music inclusions for movie soundtracks can you think of that gets it perfect? Off the top of my head, here are a few that give me the chills: “Johnny Came Marching Home” from Dr. Strangelove,  “Hello” from Bitter Moon, “Bang Bang” from Kill Bill, “Girl, You’ll be a Woman” from Pulp Fiction.

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Despite the title, this post is not going to be a complete list but more of a little story.

One day when I came back from a rather stressful day of school and in a really bad mood — I was thirteen at the time — my mom suggested I lie down on my bed, close my eyes and play Mozart’s Piano Concerto 15 on my little cassette player. I did as she said. And that was how it all began.

I discovered Mozart and I have been in love with his music ever since. His genius has helped me tide over so many difficult times.  He has made me laugh in childlike delight on so many occasions. I have occasionally tried to express my gratitude in posts like this and this but I don’t think they really do justice to his greatness.

And it would be wrong not to mention the other composers I have discovered since. Dvorak and his amazing ninth. Beethoven. Bach, Vivaldi, Strauss, Wagner. Tchaikovsky. Copland.

And oh, Bizet! I love Carmen. I could listen to the Habanera all my life. In fact I could watch every performance of Carmen that has ever taken place. I have come to appreciate opera more over the years. This aria from the Marriage of Figaro is magical. It is Mozart after all. But if I have to pick one piece that touches me most intensely — sends tingling sensations through my body and makes me feel part of some indescribable greatness — it would be this miracle. Has there ever been another song as moving? Operas are great. I am going to see one this week — Die Walkure — and the very thought makes me excited.

I cannot say I am anything close to an expert on classical music. I know nothing about the technical aspects of music. I can barely tell keys.  I can’t read. I can neither sing nor play any instrument. But I just love hearing the stuff. It makes me happy. It can make me happier than almost anything else can.

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The film reminded me of a Bangalore classroom years ago. Me and this-girl-who-was-not-yet-my-girlfriend were communicating via notes scribbled on paper. It was supposed to be a study session of course but when have such details dampened the excitement that comes with the early stages of a romance?

Come to think of it, I am pretty sure I still have those notes somewhere (I no longer have her).  And if I remember correctly, we not only communicated about our lives and likes in that furtive hour of under the desk note-passing but also about less likely things like Camus’ The Outsider and the social characteristics of young Indians. Heh.

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I discovered this fabulous piece of music through KUSC today. It has this quality of utter spontaneity and joie de vivre, building up to an absolutely triumphant finish. It lifts my mood everytime I hear it. Enjoy:

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TOI is a haven for extraordinary writing but today they have surpassed themselves. Have a look at this piece, titled “Have a heart.” It begins:

Manmohan Singh’s sternest critics will not deny that the prime minister is, if nothing else, all heart. And, regrettably, that heart is in trouble.

What eloquence, what depth of feeling. I wish I could write with half as much heart.

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Below is an abridged translation of the Habanera, currently my favourite song in all of opera.

When will I love you?
Good Lord, I don’t know,
Maybe never, maybe tomorrow.
But not today, that’s for sure.

Love is a rebellious bird
that nobody can tame,
and you call him quite in vain
if it suits him not to come.
Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer.

The bird you thought you had caught
beat its wings and flew away …
love stays away, you wait and wait;
when least expected, there it is!
All around you, swift, swift,
it comes, goes, then it returns …
you think you hold it fast, it flees
you think you’re free, it holds you fast.

Love is a Bohemian child,
it has never, ever, known law;
If you love me not, then I love you;
If I love you, you’d best beware!

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What’s so special about Carmen?

For one, the truly great music. Carmen is magical melody after magical melody. As for the orchestration, this is what Richard Strauss had to say:

“If you want to learn how to orchestrate, don’t study Wagner’s scores, study the score of Carmen. What wonderful economy, and how every note and every rest is in its proper place!”

Carmen also has a great story that is wonderfully presented. As the Wikipedia article points out, Carmen is extremely innovative in its drama: it alternates comic or sentimental scenes found traditionally in opera-comique with stark realism.

Yet, there is something beyond music or drama that lies at the heart of Carmen’s appeal to me. It is easy to distinguish good art; beyond that, things get very personal. The truly special works of art are those with qualities that talk to you, touch you, in ways that separate them fundamentally from others. Obviously, this aspect is highly subjective; this is why  people usually disagree on their favourite movie or piece of music even when they mostly agree on which movie or music is good.

The opera Carmen epitomizes liberty. The character Carmen is relentless in her passion for freedom. She is strong, extremely sexy and gives everything in her relationships with her lovers. However, she can never be possessed or exorcised of her passionate love for self-determination. For Carmen, all true interactions are voluntary and devoid of any notion of ownership of another person or duty to any institution.

Carmen is willing to live life only on her own terms.  As this book correctly points out, Carmen is “brash, vicious and callous”, yet the quality that defines her over and above all this is “her willingness to be Carmen, a determination to be free and follow her own bliss.” Carmen never gives up her “tireless obsession to control her own destiny.” And this extends beyond mere action, it is a fundamental part of her morality. In the final scene, even when Carmen knows that she will die she refuses to compromise on her principles, instead she courageously faces her fate. Her death is not a dessert for her sins but a consequence of her essential nobility in an ignoble world; her refusal to give up her self-ownership to another person.

(Of course, early audiences and critics did not view it the same way. Carmen was universally denounced as a vile, immoral, shockingly offensive creation.  Times have changed — modern audiences would undoubtedly be more sympathetic to my vision of Carmen as a flawed but heroic character murdered by a jealous man who is her moral and emotional inferior. That’s another aspect of all great art, like life they have many contradictory interpretations.)

It is these thematic elements of Carmen that, for me, lift it from a great opera to something far more special. Like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Polanski’s Bitter Moon and Hardy’s A mathematician’s apology, Carmen talks to me in that special way that is both infinitely subtle and passionately stirring. It will forever be a part of my heart.

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As I was watching the opera today, it struck me that there were some remarkable similarities between the character of Carmen and a person I loved a long time ago.

I was thinking of this just now and suddenly remembered that her cellphone ring tone used to be the March of the Toreador. She really liked the ring tone and googled it up one day to see its origin. And that is how both of us heard of Bizet and Carmen for the very first time.

Update: While searching on Youtube, I discovered this very cute video:

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I went to see the LA Opera production of  Carmen today.

What can I say about Carmen that hasn’t been said before? I had been waiting to see it for three years. Too often when your expectations are that high, you end up disappointed. Not so with this one.

It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. It was the most worthwhile $20 I have ever spent.

When you combine a great story with absolutely magical music you get Carmen. I could of course nitpick. The tenors weren’t that great, Carmen could have been prettier. But the music alone was worth it. Carmen’s voice was fabulous.

And who would have guessed that the opera with the most perfect music ever would also have as its central character a seductive, fiercely independent woman who fears neither heaven nor hell but only believes in freedom and prefers to choose death than compromise on her liberty?

Embedded below are my favourite pieces from Bizet’s masterpiece. Enjoy.




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I can’t make up my mind! I first heard Evita in high school and fell in love. Years went by and my favourite changed to The Phantom of the Opera. It stayed so for a long time till a year ago when I heard Evita again and started preferring it again. Then I heard Jesus Christ Superstar (for the first time) only a months ago and was blown away. JCS was my favourite, till an hour ago, when I re-heard Evita in full. And now I once again think that Evita has the most consistently good music of any ALW musical!

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Eugene Volokh takes apart a New York Times editorial in his inimitable style:

The New York Times editorializes in favor of “sound gun-control laws.” Which ones? “Reasonable gun-control laws,” which can now be enacted following the “gun lobby”‘s defeat in November. (No word on the success of the “gay lobby,” “abortion lobby,” “women’s lobby,” and so on.)

I’m all for sound and reasonable gun-control laws. Who wouldn’t be? By definition, they are sound and reasonable, not the unsound and unreasonable kind that I oppose. (I should note that nearly everyone supports some gun control laws that they see as sound and reasonable, if only, say, bans on violent felons’ possessing guns, or if you really insist on minimalism, bans on violent felons’ possessing guns in prison.) Now if only the Times tells us exactly what those laws are — all I see in the editorial is a quote from President-Elect Obama about “keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals,” and nothing beyond that — then we might have a conversation. I’d prefer a conversation on the substance, but even a conversation on the political question on which the Times is focusing would require some specifics. It’s hard to gauge voters’ likely reactions to proposals that aren’t identified.

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Click here to read an updated version of Atlas Shrugged in light of the current financial crisis..

(Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution)

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In view of certain recent events, it seems appropriate to re-post this wonderful video.

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The New York Times has a nice article on “Blasted”, the extremely violent play that has been shocking — and wowing — audiences and disturbing the actors themselves.

The Soho Rep production has been unnerving theatergoers since its first preview, which sold out like every subsequent performance, and it has earned strong notices that have led to two extensions, now through Dec. 21.

No one was more disturbed by “Blasted” than its director, Sarah Benson, and the three cast members, yet they have found inventive ways to cope with the nightly torture sessions. (For one thing, no matinees. Double duty would be too much.)

[…] “It messed with my head, in preparations for the play; it was very disturbing,” Ms. Benson said. “I was actually depressed.” Mr. Cancelmi, who commits the most violent acts against Mr. Birney’s character, said the first reading of the play was “enormously upsetting,” but he and the other actors settled on what he called a “very workmanlike approach” that settled their emotions as rehearsals began.

“In a play like this,” Mr. Birney added, “if you had to live through this that way, you’d blow your brains out.”

Hmm… I would love to see the play if I ever get the chance!

And hats off to the actors. I have a deep admiration for artists who love their work deeply and are prepared to suffer any degree of distress — Heath Ledger being a tragic example — in their quest for perfection.

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