Posted inReview

Communist Dissonance

At the beginning of the Chinese Communist Party propaganda movie-musical “The Wings of Songs,” a tune is playing, and there are attractive people frolicking. But, unlike “The Sound of Music,” the frolicking and the music never match. We have just been introduced to three boyish members of a band, the film’s protagonists, who are performing […]

Posted inOpinion

The Offensively Inoffensive

At a tandoori restaurant in Tel Aviv, an Israeli politician chastises a quixotic Norwegian diplomat: “When people talk to you, Terje, you should pay attention to what they actually say, and not just listen for what you want to hear.”  The scene is from “Oslo,” which began as a 2016 play and last weekend resurfaced […]

Posted inReview

The Society of the Spectacle

Modernist literature has a special fascination with Wagner. The voices of “Das Rheingold” and “Tristan und Isolde” drift across T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Virginia Woolf’s The Waves bears the imprint of the composer’s motivic method, along with the symbolism of the “Ring” Cycle and “Parsifal.” A lusty Wagnerian atavism is stamped all over […]

Posted inReview

Far Away, So Close

In this pandemic, with its necessity of physical distancing, opera—known for large-scale, human-intensive productions and larger-than-life immediacy—faces particular challenges. Many companies’ creative approaches to COVID-friendly performance have drawn on the past few decades of live broadcasts to bring their productions to house-bound, worldwide audiences. At the end of this first year, filmed opera produced during […]

Posted inInterview

Healthy Confusion

Alex Ross’s Wagernism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music was released in September to wide acclaim. In VAN, Alison Kinney described the book’s complex, nuanced approach to art and morality: “Ross recognizes, and reshapes, the world of Wagnerism as it is, for good and for bad, and makes room for the inadequacy of […]

Posted inReview

The Ecstasy of Knowledge

Early in Wagnerism: Art and Politics In the Shadow of Music, a history of the cult of fandom devoted to the operas of 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, Alex Ross drops a charming anecdote from the 1850s. Poet and critic Auguste de Gasperini told of being “subjugated” by Wagner’s music, suffering what Ross calls “an […]

Posted inRankings & Roundups

Piano Entanglements

In the spring, while stuck at home avoiding the coronavirus, I read Lea Singer’s forthcoming novel, The Piano Student, which tells the story of Vladimir Horowitz’s affair with a 23-year-old male protege, Nico Kauffman. Drawing from Horowitz’s actual letters to Kauffman, Singer depicts a forbidden relationship in which Horowitz vacillates between ardently declaring his love […]

Posted inRankings & Roundups

Keyboard Warriors

Stravinsky puts it pithily enough: Music “expresses nothing outside of itself.” It’s a dictum that puts critics like me on the back foot, accusing us of peddling only a pale and inadequate imitation of the thing itself. Those who can’t, write. But it also describes a deeper sense of music as incommensurable, elevated by thinkers […]

Posted inEssay

End Transmission

Early on in her debut essay collection, Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession, Alice Bolin gives us a definition of the Dead Girl genre: highlighted by the dark specter of a deceased female character—more often than not murdered—who is depicted with an alternating degree of mature sexualization and infantilizing naiveté that earns her […]