April, Fathom events – Arthur C. Clark, the renowned English physicist and science fiction novelist, once wrote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Profiles of the Future, 1961), and this prescient observation is nowhere more apparent than today, 55 years later, with the phenomenal bursting forth of the Digital Age that has swept the globe over the past couple of decades and has impacted almost every aspect of our daily existence. Within this relatively brief period of time, digital technology has profoundly and irreversibly changed our lives … forever! We only have to ask ourselves, has our day-to-day routine been altered significantly by our smart phones, the internet, GPS, Hi-Definition TV & cinema , the inevitability of self-driving cars, or any of the other thousands of data tech innovations that pervade the very essence of our culture? I suspect most of us would unhesitatingly respond with a resounding “Yes, absolutely! “
You may justifiably ask, “What does all this have to do with Don Quixote?”, the venerable Russian ballet which was first performed in 1869 by the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow? Well, the current production of the enduring “Don”, viewed live for one night only on April 10, 2016, has been seen by thousands of people in hundreds of theatres throughout the world on giant Hi Definition digital cinema screens (Pathe´ shot for the big screen with 5.1 sound and 10 HD cameras creating up-close and vivid pictures 3-times the definition of 1080p TV!) and is essentially based (with considerable variation) on the same work choreographed 147 years ago in Moscow by the great Marius Petipa (1818-1910).*
What does the Data Revolution have to do with a 147 year old Russian ballet? That question was answered for me the evening of April 10th in my local movie theatre.
Pass the popcorn!
Thanks to transformational digital technology which has forever changed our lives with smart phones, the internet, emails, Facebook, etc., more people viewed the Bolshoi’s Don Quixote the one evening of April 10th than had ever seen it in the past 147 years of it’s existence! And if that’s not revolutionary, I don’t know what is! In 1776 when the Bolshoi was founded, for example, it could take six weeks to send a letter by square rigger across the Atlantic from London to New York. Now we communicate with people on the other side of the planet or even circling the earth in space stations in milliseconds, one thousandth of a second, which is almost “indistinguishable from magic.”
Today’s Don Quixote by the Bolshoi resembles Cervantes’ novel in name only, with the character of the Don only occasionally making rather awkward non-dancing appearances on stage, with the “heavy lifting” of the evening left almost exclusively to the very able chorus which is indicative of Alexander Gorsky’s** reworking of the Petipa original. Both Petipa and Gorsky continue to be credited with the choreography in the program notes, and Leon Minkus’ original score continues to thrill, but the ballet has once again been “updated” to suite the changing expectations and tastes of a modern audience by Alexei Fadeyechev, (Bolshoi artistic director,1998 – 2000), yet still retains all the grandeur, perfection of style and precision execution the Bolshoi has been known for in its celebrated 240 year history.
In 1917, Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the famed Ballets Russes, who transformed the world of ballet, ushering it into the modern age, issued a challenge to Jean Cocteau who had asked him what were his ideas regarding a ballet they were producing. Diaghilev famously replied, Etonne-moi!! … “Astonish me!!” and the result was the immortal Parade, produced by impresario Diaghilev, designed by Pablo Picasso, composed by Erik Satie, and set to a story by Cocteau.
It has been said that our digital world can only become more incredible over time, joining art and technology, in ways now unimaginable. “Magic?” Perhaps … “Astonishing?” Unquestionably!
* Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote was subsequently modified over the years by rival Bolshoi choreographer Alexander Gorsky who completely transformed the ballet in 1900, creating a version radically different from Petipa’s original which infuriated him, and Gorsky’s version continues to be a permanent part of the Bolshoi repertoire to this day. Petipa, who was born in Marseilles, France, is universally considered to be the single most influential ballet master and choreographer in ballet history.
** Alexander Gorsky (1871-1924) was a renowned Russian choreographer and a contemporary of Petipas’, both serving at the same time at the Bolshoi. However it was never an easy relationship. A quick check with Wikipedia reveals, “The largest change that Gorsky made to Petipa’s (Don Quixote) choreography was the action of the corps de ballet. Instead of being a moving background as the corps often was, they became an important part of the drama.” (Wikipedia … 2016 Apr 8, 02:33 UTC….)
Rather than being nothing more than a moving part of the scenery, with Gorsky’s restaging, they bustle around the stage, “…breaking the symmetry and lines typical of Patina.” Gorsky added an element of playful lightheartedness to the new-found dynamism and significance of the chorus, characteristic the Bolshoi’s productions of “the Don” to this day. Alexander Gorsky is known today for his restating of Petipa’s ballets which include Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and of course, Don Quixote.
by Lidia Paulinska and Hugh McMahon
Fathom events – Hailed by The New York Times as “A gorgeous cinematic spectacle,” and in continuation of their invaluable cultural service by offering stunning live filmed performances, Fathom Events presented Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for a one night only screening on April 6, 2016 in over 700 movie theaters worldwide. It was truly an incomparable operatic and cinematographic event not to be missed!
Anthony Minghella’s* breathtaking production has delighted and thrilled audiences at the Met ever since it premiered in 2006. Soprano Kristine Opolais reprises her unanimously acclaimed performance in the title role opposite the extraordinary Roberto Alagna who masterfully portrays the American naval officer Pinkerton who abandons his delicate Japanese Butterfly and breaks her heart. Ms Opals was recently seen at the Met one month earlier in the title role of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut with Roberto Alagna in the role of her indomitably suitor des Grieux. That performance was also offered to movie-goers throughout the world compliments of Fathom Events.
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly had its world premiere in 1904 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. It was initially received poorly, but after numerous revisions it became a much-lauded success and today it is one of the most celebrated operas in the world. Puccini was inspired to create his opera after seeing a one-act play in London in the summer of 1900 titled Madame Butterfly, produced by the American theatrical impresario David Belasco. Belasco in turn had based his play on a short story by an American writer of little note by the name of John Luther Long.
The opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1907 with the composer in attendance and featured world-renowned tenor Enrico Caruso as Pinkerton. From that point onward, its popularity has never waned.
In addition to first-rate performances delivered by Ms Opals, Mr Alagna and the supporting cast and chorus, the simplicity of the production not only allows us to focus our attention on the performers without distraction, but also offers a milieu reminiscent of the austere minimalism of a Japanese Kabuki stage. Set Designer Michael Levine has created an unencumbered performance space, utilizing unadorned sliding framed fabric screens to indicate scene changes while upstage a broad staircase, extending the width of the massive Met stage, functions to herald significant entrances and exits.
Costumes by designer Han Feng, are traditional Kabuki in style, being grand and colorful when appropriate to character, and stand in bold contrast to an essentially bare stage. As in the Kabuki theatre, so too in this masterful production, our focus is drawn exclusively to the performers with appropriately minimalist production values in a subordinate yet supportive role.
The story is simple but the emotions run deep.
Captain Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, an American sea captain who, while visiting Japan, marries Cio-Cio-San, a beautiful Geisha nicknamed “Madama Butterfly.” He departs for America (and here Puccini interpolates a couple of bars from “The Star-Spangled Banner” as he does in every Pinkerton scene) and doesn’t return until three years later. By this time Butterfly has given birth to their son and Pinkerton has remarried, this time to an American with whom he returns to Japan. In despair, Butterfly, who has been faithfully awaiting his return, hopefully watching every ship that arrives in Nagasaki Harbor, takes her own life and Pinkerton, in realizing his folly, collapses in abject grief.
An additional indigenous Japanese theatre form Minghella was inspired by was the ancient Bunraku, the puppet or “doll” theatre of Japan. In this production, the puppets are manipulated by traditional three puppeteers, all veiled in black, from San Francisco’s Blind Summit Theatre, appearing initially in Act I representing Cio-Cio-San’s servants. In the Second Act her young son is represented by a puppet of remarkable life-like quality, and in the final act, puppets dramatize the conflict between Butterfly and Pinkerton in a dream-like play-within-a-play sequence.
This wonderful Metropolitan Opera production by Minghella is now celebrating it’s tenth anniversary and one can easily understand why it’s one of the Met’s more popular offerings and why Puccini’s masterpiece continues to be an enduring staple of the operatic repertoire around the world.
*Anthony Minghella (1954-2008) was a renowned British film director, producer, playwright, and screenwriter. His much-celebrated The English Patient won 9 Academy Awards in 1996, followed by The Talented Mr Ripley which garnered an additional 5 Oscars. In 2003 he won another Oscar for Cold Mountain. Minghella was married to Carolyn Choa who masterfully directed and choreographed this current production of his magnificent “ Butterfly” . He died of cancer in 2008 at the age of 54.
By Lidia Paulinska and Hugh McMahon
On Saturday March 19, 2016, scores of fortunate movie-goers in hundreds of select theaters throughout the U.S. were treated to a one-day-only cinematic presentation by Fathom Events of ”Berlin Philharmonic: The Beethoven Project” featuring one of the world’s greatest conductors, Sir Simon Rattle, leading the incomparable Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s greatest orchestras.
Sir Simon has been the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic since 2002 and prior to that, rose to international prominence as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra where he served for 18 years. After the expiration of his current contract in 2018 with the Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle will become Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra. He is universally hailed as one of the greatest conductors of all time, and seeing him in action from our cinematic vantage point clearly confirmed that laudatory accolade.
The wonderful “up-close and personal” experience this filmed live performance afforded us, allowed a glimpse into Rattle’s very personal and intimate method of conducting — interacting with gesture and expressions of delight with each orchestra member — a wink here — a grin there — always reciprocated — always incredibly animated and dynamic … and always all-embracing. His love for his orchestra and what they are collectively creating informs and enhances every aspect of Beethoven’s genius.
“Berlin Philharmonic: The Beethoven Project” was divided into two parts, separated by a brief intermission.
Part I, “Living With Beethoven,” was a brilliantly informative documentary featuring on-the-spot backstage interviews with Rattle and members of the Philharmonic who explored the intricacies of Beethoven’s masterful symphonies and their approach to these masterpieces. One orchestra member for example claimed Beethoven demanded a lot of “”blowing, bowing, and banging,” whimsically reflecting on the vitality and power of the composer’s symphonies and the necessary creative effort it takes to reveal that power. Horns, fiddles and drums certainly, but most importantly, the musical genius to communicate what Beethoven was offering to all of us, and no group of musicians are better prepared to do that than the Berlin Philharmonic under the guidance of the legendary Sir Simon.
These candid interviews afforded us a wonderful introduction and understanding of the two complete symphonies that were to follow in Part II.
The first work on the program in the second half was the sunny and gracefully cheerful 4th Symphony in B-flat major. This popular piece in four movements is characterized by light instrumentation, not unlike that of Joseph Hayden with whom Beethoven had studied a decade earlier. Happily, in the documentary, Rattle’s piano demo of the adagio (“slow movement”) in the symphony’s intro to the first movement perfectly prepared us for what was to come.
Beethoven composed his 4th Symphony in the summer of 1808 and dedicated it to Count Franz von Oppersdorff who had incidentally offered him a great deal of money to compose a new symphony for him. Beethoven completed piece in one short month proving that cash is a great motivator … even among geniuses.
The second piece offered in Part II was one Beethoven claimed to be one of his best works: the 7th Symphony in A major which premiered in Vienna in 1813. He composed this work while recuperating at a spa in Teplice and dedicated it to his host, Count Moritz von Fries.
The second movement of the 7th, the allegretto (“a little lively”), is so enormously popular, it is often performed separately; it is known for it’s use of dance-like rhythms with a reliance on the string section, backed up by clarinets.
Overall it was memorable event. Too valuable to miss.
by Lidia Paulinska and Hugh McMahon
On Sunday, March 13, 2016, Fathom Events presented a live cinematic performance of “Spartacus,” the Bolshoi Ballet’s signature piece, viewed by fortunate movie-goers for one showing only in 500 cinemas worldwide. This epic ballet premiered in Moscow in 1968, marking the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, and 48 years later it continues to exhibit all the energy, fervor, and raw brawn which has characterized the very essence of the Bolshoi’s male dancers ever since.
Staged by the legendary choreographer Yuri Grigororvich with an oddly cinematic but functional score by Aram Khachaturian, “Spartacus” is nothing short of spectacular in its display of space-devouring leaps and astonishing Olympic athleticism by its two principal male dancers: The incomparable Mikhail Lobukhin in the title role of Spartacus, leader of an unsuccessful slave revolt against the evil Roman ruler Marcus Licinius Crassus, powerfully performed by Alexander Volchkov. Both Lobukhin and Volchkov are the very personifications of the unbridled male energy and muscularity the Bolshoi has come to be known for, and accordingly, in the case of “Spartacus,” subtlety of expression is definitely not it’s strong suite. With successive decades and interpretations of this iconic work, we’ve come to expect nothing short of broadly expressed, passionate male heroism and this current production doesn’t disappoint; in the world of ballet, the role of Spartacus stands as the coveted tour de force piece for every principal dancer to aspire to.
Ably complimenting the merciless Crassus is his cunning and crafty courtesan, Aegina, performed seductively by the beautiful Svetlana Zakharova whose flowing, erotic movements contrast with the harsh, angular, war-like virility of the male dancers.
The fourth principal in this remarkable production is Anna Nikulina who plays the pure and virtuous Phrygia, wife of Spartacus, a role in absolute contrast to the vampish, glittering, and irrepressible Aegina. However, the contrast is so great, I feel Nikulina’s demeanor, and even her drab costuming depict her as a bit too bland, even considering her character’s “slave” status. Yet all is redeemed by her exquisite partnering with Lobukhin in their wonderful pas de deux, a breathtaking show-stopper with each successive lift more incredible than the former, and possessing a lyrical, subtle beauty so uncharacteristic of this muscular piece in general. The contrast works beautifully.
On balance, “Spartacus” is an historic treasure that has fortunately not become an historic artifact even after almost a half century. A dynamism prevails throughout, from the very first scene with Crassus in command of a gold-clad army, wielding shields and spears, dynamically lunge-jumping and forward leg kicking reminiscent of Fascism, to the horrific “crucifixion” of Spartacus in the final act, lifelessly impaled on the bloody tips of dozens of spears, held high above the heads of his victorious slayers. “Spartacus” intrigued us and held our attention.
The redoubtable Metropolitan Opera of New York has done it again! A carefully crafted and finely balanced production of one of Giacomo Puccini’s twelve operas, Manon Lescault, a work in four acts composed in 1893, was offered for one night only on March 9, 2016 and shown simultaneously in 1,400 movie theaters in 50 countries throughout the world. It was an operatic gem not to be missed.
Puccini’s tragic love story is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chavalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévos. In 1884, a French composer by the name of Jules Massanet had written an opera titled Manon, and although based on the same novel, it has never reached the international acclaim as has Puccini’s work. In addition, another French composer by the name of Daniel Auber had also written an opera on the same subject with the title Manon Lascaut in 1883, but like Massanet’s work, it too is considered to be inferior to Puccini’s enduring composition.
The story deals with the urgency of young love and is the tragic tale of a beautiful young woman, Manon, who is ultimately destroyed by her conflicting needs for erotic love and a life of opulence and luxury. She is obsessively pursued by her young lover des Geieux for whom she yearns while being held captive by Gerona, a wealthy old lech who offers her a loveless life of luxury she willingly accepts. In the end, this conflict of desire leads to her loss of riches, love, and finally life itself.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut premiered February 1, 1893 at Teatro Regio in Turin. It was Puccini’s third opera and his first great success. It was first performed in New York at the Metropolitan Opera on January 18, 1907 in the presence of the composer himself with Enrico Caruso in the role of des Grieux and legendary Arturo Toscanini conducting.
Puccini’s next work following Manon Lescaut was La Bohéme which premiered in Turin in 1896, conducted also by Arturo Toscanini and remains one of the most popular operas ever written. Puccini’s next work after La Bohéme was Tosca (1900) followed by Madama Butterfly which premiered at La Scala in 1904.
This latest Metropolitan Opera production of Manon Lescaut, brilliantly staged by the incomparable Sir Richard Eyre, was wonderfully accessible in a crisp, clean modern style, set as it was in 1941 Nazi-occupied France; it was magnificently balanced, melding voice, orchestra, costume and set design into one unified organic whole. The compact cast was perfect, featuring soprano Kristine Opolais in the title role and tenor Roberto Alagna as her distraught lover des Grieux. The leads were ably complimented by baritone Massimo Cavalletti as Manon’s protective brother Lescaut, and the ever-villainous bass Brindley Sherratt as the lecherous old Gerona. The Met’s Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi expertly lead the stirring score.
This was a production not to be missed and through the unfailing production expertise of Fathom Events, it was made available to be enjoyed by audiences world-wide.
Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was written 40 years ago by Freddie Mercury. It is a song that put the band on the top of music arena. It has spent 14 weeks at number one, giving it the fourth longest stay at the top of the chart. Bohemian Rhapsody is in a list of the all-time best sellers, with 2.36 million copies sold. It is a six-minute suite of the style called progressive rock that abandons the danceable beat that defines earlier styles and is more likely to experiment with compositional structure, instrumentation, harmony, rhythm, and lyrical content.
As Fathom Event continues to search a unique content this time is bringing the legendary rock band to select cinemas nationwide in Queen: A Night in Bohemia, specially restored and re-mixed for the big screen on Tuesday, March 8. Commemorating the recent 40th anniversary, this special event showcases the first-ever live recording of the record-breaking song and includes a never-before-seen documentary featuring archive footage and interviews with all four members of the band. The screening captured Christmas Eve 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London concert accompanying with documentary that deep into Queen’s archives to tell the story of iconic band.
Tickets for the event on March 8 can be found at Fathom Events at www.fathomevents.com/event/queen-a-night-in-bohemia