The Thinking 
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A Nihilist at the Opera

October 28, 2009

The eroticism of this photograph of Finnish soprano Karita Mattila in the title role of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca, one of the most beloved of Italian operas, gives you some idea of what it’s like when one of today’s hip nihilists takes over a traditional art form. This production was booed by Met fans on its opening night in September and after seeing it in a movie theater last night, I understood why. The sets are dark, sterile and chilling. The characters depart from the text and the whole thing is perversely sexual. It sneers at the famous romance of Tosca with pornographic embellishments.

In Act I, Cavadorossi, the painter played here by Marcelo Álvarez, works on a towering canvas of Mary Magdalene that sits on scaffolding and dominates the church scene. In contrast to the previous production’s historically faithful rendering of the sanctuary of an ornate Roman cathedral, the interior here resembles a bleak Soho warehouse, perhaps awaiting a few abstract paintings for decor. One of Mary Magdalene’s breasts is fully bared. As the painter and his lover Tosca perform their sumptuous arias, an enormous looming nipple is visible in the background. Tosca, who takes a knife at one point to the canvas, seems mentally unhinged and sexually coarse (for a moment, she grips her lover between her legs). There is another blatant swipe at Christianity when the evil Scarpia takes a statue of the Virgin Mary in his hands and lewdly embraces it.

Three whores are featured in Act II, characters who never appear in the libretto. One has a breast fully bared as the curtain parts and they wear gauzy dresses with no underwear beneath. One woman kneels on a sofa for several minutes with her back to the audience and Scarpia slaps her behind. All three embrace Scarpia, pawing his body, and one of the women performs oral sex on the villain.

I saw a live performance of Tosca at the Met years ago. It was an unforgettable thrill as  Tosca leapt to her death from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo.  That was moving, while this new version, in which Tosca’s suicide is rendered in a strange abstract gesture, was depressing. The production is the work of Swiss-born avante-garde director Luc Bondy, who spoke dismissively of the negative reaction during an intermission interview and of his urgent desire to get at “truth” in the characters. “Truth”  here refers to ugliness and sexual reductionism. He dispensed with one of the most famous gestures in the production: the devout Tosca’s placement of lit candles around the body of Scarpia, whom she has just murdered. Mattila, who was excellent in the role despite the staging, mentioned in her interview that, under Bondy’s direction, she had tried to instill her character with an intensity that comes “from the pubic bone.”  (We were treated to generous views of her breasts too as she bent over Cavadorossi with a low-cut gown.)

Peter Gelb has assumed complete control as general manager of the Met for the first time this year. Here is yet another cultural impresario who justifies trashing beauty and form for the sake of attracting the masses. Ultimately, it is not commercial interests that reign here. It is a spirit of hatred against beauty, life, and God. Tosca, with its heart-wrenching call to higher sentiment, must be destroyed.


Why Modern Design is Anti-Woman and Anti-Family

October 28, 2009

                                           Interior Design Magazine/ Photo by Eric Laignel.

Natalie writes in response to the previous post on interior design:  


I was interested in your thoughts on current interior design trends and the rise in minimalism. First, minimalism is a very masculine style, and one could say that the more androgynous the feminine ideal becomes (the ideal female figure and personality becoming increasingly boyish) the more our homes reflect the change. Also, like extreme thinness, minimalism is a class-based aspiration, the more people have the less they want to show, any kind of opulence is seen as bad taste. Why is this so? Perhaps there is a strong bias against femininity in design circles: a bias against the opulence of the traditional female form and against the female home. [Laura: That had never occurred to me! Fascinating.]

Secondly, I think there is a link between increased consumerism over the past decade and the rise of minimalism. There is a strange dissonance between the “patriotism” of buying more stuff and our minimalistic homes – we buy and then we chuck it out to make room and space. I also think it is important to note that the rise of minimalism coincided with the rise in esoteric spirituality in the West – many disciples of minimalism believe themselves to be cleansing their spirits in some unfathomable way. [Again, this is an excellent observation.]

Thirdly, minimalism is not a style conducive to successful family life, no matter how it has been sold to us. It is not comfortable; it requires extreme effort to maintain; you cannot close doors on mess if your house is on an open plan; and most importantly it is not child-friendly. [Amen!] It is a style which celebrates the rise of the consuming individual, an individualistic style and not one which can function at a family level. We have lost the sense that our homes are places of comfort, hospitality and nurture; they are simply reflections of individual taste and our monetary worth, homes are assets. 

However, it is my belief that minimalism is on the wane, particularly in Europe. The UK has seen the rise of the new domestic style, and a concurrent rise of many articles on “high flying” women choosing the domestic sphere over commerce. However, the new domestic style is very much sold to us a kind of vintage make-believe, a style which plunders a more domestic past for its inspiration, and as someone interested in design (it’s in my blood – a family business) I find this to be a little cowardly, and too tongue in cheek to be taken seriously. [Yes, this trend toward retro-chic is unserious and cynical.]  The only way forward is to bravely ignore trends and follow William Morris’ advice and buy only things which we consider to be either beautiful or useful.

Laura writes:

Thank you, Natalie!                                                                              

William Morris wallpaper

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