L’Elisir d’Amore

The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, March 24.

L'Elisir d'Amore is exactly the sort of silly fluff that makes opera's roots as mass entertainment abundantly clear: if there were ever an opera that resembled some dumb contemporary rom com, this is it. The whole story turns on the staggering stupidity and naïveté of the main characters, whose repeated attempts to inspire love by feigning indifference are so over-the-top and petty that middle schoolers would find them childish.

And yet Donizetti's music is so beautiful and charming—and sung here with such joy and vivacity—that I could never be so dismissive when I'm actually experiencing it. If L'Elisir is a dumb rom com, it's the dumb rom com that I actually kind of love in spite of myself. Greater than the sum of its parts, L'Elisir is a work of alchemy.


Now playing at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway.

The central conceit of the musical Chicago—the vaudeville setup, in which every character is both acting out the story and performing for a literal audience*—is so strong, so sly and sharp, that it's all but impossible to screw up. So it's no surprise that the Broadway revival of Fred Ebb and John Kander's irrepressible classic is indeed unrepressed. The long-running production is like a well-oiled machine; having been around for more than fifteen years, it no longer attracts top-tier stars, but even the more modest parts keep things moving along. I mean, really, if you can't make "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango," and "Razzle Dazzle" fun, you have no business on a Broadway stage.

Cindy Sherman

Special exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art through June 11.

At first glance, artist Cindy Sherman, who first leapt to prominence in the 1970s, seems to have anticipated today's endlessly self-photographing, narcissistic culture because she, too, photographs herself. Just as many people now constantly capture images of themselves and curate entire galleries of them online, the MoMA's retrospective of Sherman's art features Sherman's face in all but a handful of the photographs.

And yet that's misleading, for though Sherman is the model for her photographs, she's never the subject. Before she ever snaps a photo, Sherman the artist has costumed and styled herself to create a character, often to such an extent that Sherman the individual is unrecognizable. Her art is self-obscuring, not self-revealing—which is not to say that it lacks a point of view. Her perspective (like that of any artist) is definitely there. When you look at one of Sherman's photographs, you're not simply looking at her; you're simultaneously looking at her and at not-her and through her eyes, and that strange paradox is part of what makes her work so fascinating.

Links of the week, 3/9/2012

My cousin Holly and her friend Allie are visiting this weekend—a spur-of-the-moment trip before Holly starts her new job next week (yay!)—so I'll have cool stuff to write about later.


On DVD and streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

At the Academy Awards, Moneyball was described more than once as a baseball movie. This drives me crazy. First, and most obviously, virtually all the action in the movie happens behind the scenes, so we see almost no gameplay whatsoever. But beyond that, most baseball movies are deeply romantic about the game; in fact, it's not just a game. Hell, in Bull Durham, it's a religion. Baseball movies are built around the idea that there is something exceptional and magical and unquantifiable about baseball.

Moneyball is a blunt repudiation of that idea. The whole point is that people's love of narratives and image, the whole mythology of baseball as America's pastime, has blinded them to the realities of how the game actually works and how it can be won. Moneyball is about boiling down all the would-be magic into cold, hard statistics. The fact that the team using those statistics is an underdog makes the coldness more palatable, but there's still something oddly unromantic in the fabric of the film, something that makes it an obvious outlier from the arena of baseball movies. And that, of course, is a big reason why I like it.

Links of the week, 3/2/2012

Last night I decided to celebrate my birthday (champagne! on a work night! yay!) rather than finish writing about Moneyball like I intended, but I still have links of the week.