It is now just a year since the death of the composer Elliott Carter and his absence still seems a little unreal. He lived a very long life—he died thirty-six days before his one hundred and fourth birthday—and he remained active up to the end, creating some of the warmest, most direct and intimate music of his career in his final years. Such longevity in itself is astounding: think of long-lived composers like Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Strauss, and Jean Sibelius, and then consider that all of them were either dead or retired at the point when Carter was embarking on his first and only opera, What’s Next?, at the age of eighty-eight, with another fifteen years of work yet ahead of him.
Director Charlotte Moore’s new production of Juno and the Paycock in the snug Irish Repertory Theatre negotiates the play’s difficult balance between farce and pathos with mixed success. The men are a motley assortment of loudmouths and knaves. Ciaran O’Reilly plays Boyle as a garrulous mixture of Falstaff and Ralph Kramden, while John Keating vividly brings out Joxer’s rodentine hypocrisy. Ed Malone is the pitiable son, Johnny, who lost an arm in the war for independence and mutters hollow bromides about principle, and James Russell is the foppish theosophist Charlie Bentham.
That the New York City Opera had kept going for seventy years was more than a little amazing. It had been a star-crossed organization for years, beset by strikes, warehouse fires, financial woes and the devastation of the early years of AIDS. Fortunately, throughout the years, there were always enough extraordinary young artists for the Opera to champion—Beverly Sills, Samuel Ramey, Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Carol Vaness, Sherrill Milnes, Frederica von Stade and David Daniels, to mention only some of the most famous. But it is the “habit” of the New York City Opera that I will miss the most. By that I mean its sheer presence in town, night after night, as it was from the 1940s through the 1990s and afterward.
Guantanamo tribunals differed from the other court drawings I’ve done. For instance, there were faces I was not allowed to draw, and each drawing could not leave the courtroom until a Pentagon official reviewed it. He would examine the art, occasionally have me erase some of the details, then sign and stamp the art once approved. Then I carried the sketches back, uploaded them to the media pool with descriptions, grabbed lunch, and got back for the afternoon session, going through three levels of security every time we entered or left the court area, always with an escort. Time is precious.
The prospect of getting to know Sun Ra’s massive, erratically organized oeuvre may seem discouraging. But giving up on the ability to know everything doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to total ignorance, either. That realization is a part of what is so welcome about Jazz at Lincoln Center’s embrace of the Sun Ra Arkestra this month.