In the middle of a house-move I came across many books I didn’t know I had, among them pamphlets that I had picked up for their curiosity value as long as twenty years ago, and tucked out of sight among the overpowering hardbacks. Busy as I was, now, in the turmoil, I couldn’t resist sitting down among the packing-cases to read How to Write a Good Letter: A Complete Guide to the Correct Manner of Letter Writing by John Barter, F.S.Sc., Revised and Enlarged by Gilbert Foyle (London, W. & G. Foyle, 135 Charing Cross Road, W.C., 1912).
Though Anthony Braxton’s contributions to jazz have been substantial, he has spent the last three decades on the genre’s fringes. A MacArthur Award-winning saxophonist, composer, and teacher, Braxton has released a number of acclaimed works, and has for years been a leading proponent of merging avant-garde jazz with contemporary art music. Yet when I spoke to him in early April, Braxton told me he was surprised to be included on the list of “Jazz Masters” honored by the National Endowment for the Arts, in January. And, once again, he was already looking ahead: more eager to talk about Richard Wagner and Karlheinz Stockhausen, influences on his own opera-cycle in progress, Trillium, the latest entry in which will have its premiere this month.
Too often ballet dancers are paired with flowers and satin in a pastel romanticization of what is, in truth, an uncompromising art, the most demanding on the body of all artistic pursuits. Boxers, meanwhile, are reduced to their swollen eyes, flying sweat, pooling blood and heaving torsos. But in John Goodman’s first solo exhibition in New York, he juxtaposes beautiful black and white images of both—his photographs of dancers of the Boston Ballet taken in 2004 alongside his photographs of boxers taken at the famed Times Square Gym in 1996. We can now see the infinite similarities between these sylphs and gladiators—and each takes on a new clarity.
Visiting “An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle,” it’s hard not to feel nostalgic…but for what? Perhaps for a time before young artists and recent MFA graduates were accustomed to droning on, with soporific self-seriousness, about their “art practice”; before the dictates of the art market had leached so much of the fun out of art; and before artists aspired to live in homes that closely resembled those of their wealthiest collectors.
To write the history of opera production, not only must one know the repertory well, but one needs to understand the extraordinary work of the many people involved backstage who make an operatic spectacle function. Few people are as capable of writing such a history as Evan Baker, author of the new book, From the Score to the Stage: An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging.