Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Book of Longing and Philip Glass

"A" took me to see the Philip Glass opera "The Book of Longing" (Leonard Cohen) at the Fowler Centre (as part of the NZ International Arts Festival). It was great fun, prior to which Glass made a free appearance at the Town Hall. The place was bulging with people in the aisles, hanging from the walls. Glass entered the small stage looking like a frumpy old man in his rumpled casual attire (but very handsome in black during the show). I took this photo of him from the third row. He sat very still but every time I tried to shoot him, he moved. The New Zealanders wanted him to talk but he said, ask me questions. And so they did.

He talked mostly about working with Leonard Cohen over many years because Cohen was up at Baldy Mountain meditating and he had to wait till he came down, which he did after five years, (because of a woman).

He said English is the hardest language to sing -- too many words end in consonants. He consulted singers David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon and Susan Vega to learn how to use the voice with Cohen's poetry in his opera, which he entitled, "The Book of Longing" The same title of a book of drawings, poems and this and that by the Canadian poet/singer. Glass also said he was really grateful when he asked Cohen about his contribution to the opera and Cohen said, me words, you music.

After the show, I wondered why Glass used professional opera singers when in fact a little of Susan Vega would have been closer to Cohen and maybe give the show a bit of a kick. I said to "A" Patti Smith or Deborah Harry would have been a nice addition to the show. "A" gave it careful thought and then said, "They would have been too expensive." Yeah, I guess so, but everyone wants to go to New Zealand, the other alternative is using people here. There is a strong music scene here.

Motown is everywhere I go

The Four Tops. New World Suupermarket, Willis Street, Wellington.

USA oranges in New Zealand

New World Supermarket, downtown Wellington
From the "i don't get it" file

USA oranges are $3.99/kg, which is less than New Zealand oranges at $4.99/kg.
1 kg = 2.2 pounds.

How does that carbon footprint calculation go again? Some writers from America refused to come here for "Readers and Writers" week, claiming the best thing anyone can do for the planet is not fly. That may be true but it doesn't apply to New Zealanders. The Kiwis have to fly.

So which America, eh?
Sometimes the sign says "USA...oranges" Sometimes it says, "American..."
Why does everyone assume "American" always means USA. It doesn't!! More on this 'americanismizin in new zealand' in a new essay.....April 1 2008.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Songs of Kurt Weill - a review

New Zealand International Arts Festival.
The ensemble of New Zealand musicians opened with "Mack the Knife." I hate this song, never understood the attraction of singing about a man who slices up people. But then I never heard the song sung in German before by a beautiful woman wearing boots reminiscent of the SS.
Read the full review in Lumiere:

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ruthie Bird & The King of Hearts - Review

Ruthie Bird and the King of Hearts
Written and directed by Ellie Smith
Fringe 2008, BATS Theatre, 29 February - 8th March 2008
photo: courtesy Ellie Smith

"Ruthie Bird and the King of Hearts," may be Ellie Smith's first play but it is a very mature work. Smith, a well-known New Zealand actor and singer brings her theatrical experience to her writing and directing. "Ruthie Bird" is about Ruthie and her son, the King of Hearts who are homeless and living their lives on the street. Two other characters, Ginna, the photographer and Rostyn Kemp, a drugged out sweet talking weirdo weave in and out of their lives.

Read the full review published in The New Zealand Performing Arts and Directory:

Zarathustra Said - a Review

Alan Brunton's Death Song
"Zarathustra Said," by Alan Brunton, Directed by Lilicherie McGregor, at Happy, Wellington Fringe Festival, 2008
photo: courtesy Lilicherie McGregor

"Zarathustra Said" began in the dark, the space softly illuminated by candles around small rocks near pillars. Sounds of live music filled the space as three musicians in white suits entered playing their instruments: a clarinet, a horn, and a plastic toy horn. They marched and strutted, followed by three characters: a nymph in white rags who climbed the bar, her face, arms and legs dusted by white clay; next the Master of Ceremonies in a tux and white face with painted red cheeks and bow lips who greeted the audience with a stance as if she could swallow us whole; the Butcher menacing and proud; and walking on her hands a sexy blonde wearing a very short dress. This was just the beginning of "Zarathustra Said."
To read more see full review at New Zealand's Performing Arts & Directory, Theatre Review:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Tama Tu Tama Ora Review

Photo: publicity shot for the Festival (very old photo)
Maori Music from New Zealand International Arts Festival, Feb., 2008
Tama Tu Tama Ora performed popular Maori songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s to an enthusiastic audience, many who were familiar with the songs. In between songs, an MC read from a clipboard facts and dates about Maori history, repeating that the songs are an expression of Maori anger, pride, protest, grief, optimism and hope. I don’t know about the anger part; the musicians looked like they were having far too much fun.
To read more see my review published in The Lumiere Reader:

Monday, March 03, 2008

Newtown Festival and Motown

We were walking down the street when we heard the beat
Man, I can't go anywhere without hearing Motown. The Four Tops' Sugar Pie Honey Bunch was coming in loud and clear and I looked up at the stage and there was a man with a guitar singing my hometown blues, but he was white. Next to him two female singers, backed by the usual rock and roll instruments. They call themselves HEATWAVE, the name of which of course comes from a song by Martha and the Vandellas, a Motown group! They were good so V and I stuck around. The blonde singer introduced the next song by Aretha Franklin, "Think." Aretha was not with Motown but she was from Detroit! I was getting whoozy.

By this point I was so homesick, I just wanted to sit down on the curb and cry. The funny thing is I haven't lived in Detroit since 1981, but here in New Zealand any Detroit reference makes me homesick like crazy.

That's the thing with good music, if you grew up with it, you were lucky because it lives forever. The blonde, who looked to be in her 20's belted out the Motown sound as if she was Cris Clark, the only white chick signed with Motown. She had the hit, "Love's Gone Bad" in the 60's. She was also Barry Gordy's girlfriend; tall blonde, beautiful and she had soul. I guess the Motown sound will never die, people keep performing and recording the songs over and over. I do a mean Love's Gone Bad myself.

American Woman at Newtown Festival

American Woman in the Newtown Festival.
Moving on, leaving those memories behind we came across a large crowd surrounding a woman alone on top of a soap box, Bruce Springsteen came out of very bad speakers and she was threatening to tear up the Wellington phone book, dressed in red white and blue stripes. First she reminded us that she was from the u s of a, and this was how she made a living and please please please put a ten or a five in the hat.

Big Wall Big Hit

As part of the International Arts Festival, this wall at the side of the Te Papa Museum was a big hit. Total strangers interacted with each other's shadows, dancing and chasing and in one case, someone reaching down for my camera.