Ina Garten Da Vida

Normally I don’t like to go dragging other people into the muck that is my blog life, but the following e-mail correspondence was just too good not to share.  When I received the first message from my boy B-Dubbs in LA, I knew it was going to be a special day:

From: B-Dubbs

Subject: culinary psycho

i have become frighteningly obsessed with ina garten.

to the point that i want to murder that fucker jeffrey in his sleep and take ina back to my apartment to live with me and my girlfriend.  in his fucking sleep.  the smug fuck.

From: willcwhite

Subject: re: culinary psycho

I know — what IS it about her???

The food, to be sure, but then it’s so much more.  It’s her attitude towards the food and towards life in general I think.  It’s the fact that she keeps a full stable of gay men to decorate her dining room table.  It’s the fact that she invariably calls the most complicated dishes simple, and breezily mentions that you could use a good canned chicken stock, but homemade is so much better.

She’s the only one on that whole Food Network that’s worth a damn!  I actually kind of like Jeffrey… actually, on second thought, what I really like is when Ina talks about Jeffrey… about how much he’ll like a particular dish, ingredient or piece of silverware.  You know she’s really just using him as an alter ego to amplify her own opinions.

Have you seen any of the episodes with her friend “TR”?  Major hottie.

Is TR the graying one who buys desert and worked in her restaurant as a young lad?

Yeah, maybe that’s what bugs me about Jeffrey.  He’s neither one of her gay mob, nor one of her uncomfortable female friends who are watching their weight.  He’s just away during the weeks on business.  When he should be at home with his genius fucking wife.  He should be chopping shit for her.  He should be giving her never-ending backrubs.  He should be bringing her bushells of red fresh cut roses every fucking time he walks through that door.

Because, as I said, if he’s not, a psychotic fan like myself is liable to do something highly illegal.

And yeah, her vibe is certainly about much more than food.  It’s about dark collared untucked oxfords that look best on the beach in the hamptons during the off season.  It’s about 5 sticks of butter when a dollop of olive oil would probably do the trick.  It’s about all the fish merchants and wine store clerks who may or may not actually know her name.

She’s just a fantastic human being.  And she deserves better.

And, yes, for sure the only one on that network worth a damn (although The Neelys for sure have something special going, even if they probably secretly hate each other)

the very one: http://trpescod.com/

good stuff.

let’s admit though, that Mr. Pescod is a bit of an outlier among the usual Barefoot guest crowd looks-wise…not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Concern with looks is really kinda below Ina’s socioeconomic/intellectual strata, wouldn’t ya say?

Oh I definitely would say.  Yes, you’re right about the looks and also, he is a pretty rare visitor (although increasingly featured). The real old school ugly gay men are the core of the program — how many florists can there possibly be in the East Hamptons?

Quiz: what’s Ina’s favorite flower?

fuck, now you’re testing the limits of my ability to actually pay attention to what the hell she’s saying rather than sort of just zoning out to her general lilt.

um….the big white ones with a shitload of petals?

all i know is that there are definitely arranged by her friend Michael.  how bad can THAT be?

did you watch the clips from Barefoot on TR’s website?  Look under the “host” tab

Answer: orange roses.  Just a tip in case you’re ever invited to the same party as her…

You turn up that volume, Ina!  God, I really can’t get enough.

who wouldn’t want that?

ina with orange roses

Just when I thought it was too late to get Bernstein between my legs…

A really excellent 36 hours in NYC with my good friend El Bensón.  Time was spent with his friends Diego and Sanra, proprietors of the tiny, ultra-hip Casa Felix in Buenos Aires.  When I asked Diego about his style of cuisine, he gave the ideal response: “I cook fish and vegetables”.  Brilliant.  From now on, when people ask me what kind of music I write, I’m going to say, “I write music for voices and instruments.”

Lovely breakfast with Dick Scanlan of Broadway fame who tended to agree with me that the state of Broadway orchestrations these days is in a shambles (though he’s been unbelievably lucky in that regard when it comes to his projects!)

Took in the Francis Bacon Retrospective at the MET.  Some great stuff; I especially love his large scale sense of balance in his big triptychs, but many of the individual works leave me cold.  I’d say I’m about 60% a fan.  Did anybody who saw the exhibit think of Alien Resurrection looking at some of his early stuff though?

My second pilgrimage to Lenny’s grave followed (the first was in ’03):

me and lenny

lenny between my legs

punkplay at the OHIO Theatre, a work which my friends in the Hipster Élite of the NYC Theatre Intelligentsia (that’s how I roll) had been heavily anticipating.  I didn’t expect to enjoy a play about Punk Rock so much; the very reason I did enjoy it was that it wasn’t about Punk Rock.  It’s a show about coming-of-age, and the Punk Rock setting serves the theme quite well… but the it’s such a universal idea that it worked just as well (OK, maybe better) when it set in Mexico in Y tu mamá también.

A mere 8 hour drive after all these shannanigans, I wound up amidst the unbelievable stillness and serenity of Coastal Maine.  More on that later.

L’Art sur l’art

hour-of-the-wolfRegular readers of this blog (and Italians the world over) will recollect a long-ago post in which I avowed my dislike of Fellini’s “8 1/2”.  I remain unrepentent on that point, but the great thing is that this weekend I saw a film that has much the same style and message, but in my mind is so very much better: Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf” (“Vargtimmen”).

Here is a movie about the artist’s process, frustrations and, most importantly, insecurities.  I immediately identified with the message of this film, the idea of isolation and the fears that an artist faces on a daily basis.  “8 1/2” simply left me cold, alienated and bored.

Of course, “8 1/2” is actually about a film-maker, whereas in HotW, a painter stands in for Bergman.  No concerns there.  However, this does get me thinking about the immense amount of art that concerns the artistic process, and the particulars a given artistic medium.

My favorite, and possibly the earliest example of a film about film-making has got to be “The Cameraman’s Revenge”, a parable about infidelity among the insects, created by the Polish entomologist Ladislas Starevich:

TV about TV goes back to at least the Jack Benny Program, and up through Seinfeld, and to a new favorite of mine, Extras. Painting about painting, well isn’t that kind of what the 20th century was about?  Examples of writing about writing are too numerous to mention.  Ballet about ballet?  Well, I have no idea, but I have a sneaking suspicion that much of Tchaikovsky’s music is Music about Ballet.

And then of course, there’s music about music.  Here, I immediately think of Stravinsky, who said, and I quote:

In general, I consider that music is only able to solve musical problems; and nothing else, neither the literary nor the picturesque, can be in music of any real interest. The play of the musical elements is the thing.

Well put, Igor.  Or, even better put: http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/Octet%20trim.mp3

This is actually the main reason why I find myself so interested in Rufus Wainwright’s new opera, Prima Donna, despite all of the nasty gossip about it — it’s subject is opera about opera.  How many of those do we have, really?  Tosca, I suppose, and… I can’t really think of any others (though there must be some).  There’s opera about singers (Meistersinger, et al…) but I can’t really think of any opera about opera, though I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the only trail left for new opera.

[And Mary Zimmerman’s bogus staging of “La Sonnambula” at the Met does not count, but it does perhaps indicate that the opera world is crying out for some new repertoire that would cover these issues, but they just don’t know how to get it.]

Of course, the list of backstage musicals goes on and on and on, from Kiss Me, Kate to A Chorus Line.  Oh, speaking of which, I saw this great movie yesterday, all about the casting of the 2005 revival of A Chorus Line: Every Little Step.  There’s a film about auditioning for a musical that is about auditioning for a musical.  It’s so meta that my head is schpinning.

Giant

jamesdeangiant

Let me begin by saying that Giant most definitely IS a musical.  I say this because its composer-lyricist, Michael John LaChiusa, made it very clear in a 2005 article in Opera News that most of what masquerades on Broadway as The Musical is nothing but:

I’m old-school about what makes a musical a musical.  Lyric, music, libretto, choreography — all work in equal parts to spin out the drama.  And the best of craftmanship is employed, craftsmanship that nods to the past and leans to the future: a great song is something we think we’ve heard before but haven’t.  A real musical makes perfect symmetry out of the muck of diverse and eclectic sources, and transcends those sources.  A real musical is organic in all its parts.  It’s equal parts intelligence and heart.  It can never be realistic theater, only realistic in its humanity.  But who wants that in 2005?  We’re into reality programming, after all — which is hardly real at all.  It’s post-America America: we want faux!

Wow, did he get Slavoj Žižek to write that last bit?  How terribly Lacanian.

Anyway, Giant at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, is ostensibly based on Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name, but I wouldn’t really know about that.  I never read the book myself, but I did see the movie (another Žižekian conceit, although he claims only to read the DVD covers…)  Luckily for me though, Jonathan Yardley did read the book, and wrote about reading it, and says that the movie is way better anyway, so I feel quite content.

The musical retains the film’s epic proportions (it runs a full 4 hours), but whereas the film has enough room for the material’s Big Messages, the musical is overstuffed, as though the authors were desperately trying to encapsulate all the important moments and ideas, and simply had to stop short at the end of hour number 4.

Giant seems like good enough material for a musical, and the authors mostly do right by it.  LaChiusa’s score is really good, as are Bruce Coughlin and Larry Hochman’s orchestrations, despite some pervasive sound problems resulting from the orchestra — yes a real Orchestra! — playing above the stage.  The form, however, is a bit bland — we progress from scene to scene, song to song, without any larger dramatic or thematic connections emerging from the journey.

In fact, I think this show is too much Musical, and not enough Giant.  Also, I didn’t appreciate the writers de-clawing Bick of some of his less attractive characteristics; his interaction with Leslie and the Mexicans upon his arrival at Reata takes on a markedly different tone than it does in the film.  I also didn’t really care for the re-scoring of Jett as a wacko rather than a weirdo, but I suppose it works, or rather would have, had we been allowed to see a real character arch from scene to scene, rather than just an abrupt change in demeanor an hour later.

And now my real gripe, addressed to the Signature Theater, of Alrington, VA: I know it’s a long show and all, but you’ve got to allow me at least enough time to go to the bathroom and grab a cup of coffee, AND drink it before you herd me back into the theater.  And then, when I sneak my coffee to my seat, as I simply have to if I don’t want to waste my $2, please don’t send your obnoxious, geriatric “Volunteer” patrol to advise me to “be careful” with it.  I know I’m supposed to be careful, idiot.

Anyway, it was a good show with good songs, good acting and singing, etc. but I think the authors could re-format the piece, stretching out certain scenes and ideas, and cutting others altogether.  The point of a Musical, as Mr. LaChiusa so aptly pointed out, is to transcend its source material, not follow it slavishly.  Show Boat is a four hour musical (also based on an Edna Ferber novel) but it’s not too long.  Neither is this show, but I think that with a little re-working, we could leave the theater feeling like we got even more than our 4 hour’s worth.

That had not occurred to us, Dude.

Just back from the Island Nation of Japan. Three interesting things that came up while I was out:

1) You can watch the entirety of the 2009 Malko Conducting Competition here.  It makes for fascinating viewing, round by round.

2) John von Rhein weighs in on orchestral economics (particularly those of the Chicago Symphony) and recommends that conductors as well as musicians put caps on their salaries in 2011.  The subject of top-level salaries in classical music is something that I’m sure musicians at all levels have pondered at one point or another.

The thing is, I think von Rhein may have a point, but I think it’s for all the wrong reasons.

In one sense, it seems that orchestra unions are bleeding their parent organizations dry by insisting on such high salaries for their players.  The counter argument is that these musicians are just as highly trained and specialized as their colleagues in other fields, and they often have to make huge sacrifices to afford a high quality instrument (string players in particular may have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for their equipment).

Musicians often point to the bloated number of administrative staff and their respective salaries in some of these organizations.  This may be worth investigation as well.  As to the question of conductors, it does seem like some of these salaries are awfully high — especially considering that most music directors of the biggies conduct only 12 weeks of the season.  Is that really worth $1.5 million (in the case of the NY Phil)?

Hard to say… I guess they’re paying it, so somebody must think that’s what it’s worth.  A high profile conductor adds caché to an orchestra, and public knowledge of his impressive salary may help add to that allure among certain sections of the audience.

To me, the question ought to come down to the market itself, but that never happens in the world of high-profile arts organizations.

What I particularly dislike about JvR’s article is that he sees fit to dole out specific advice to the management of the CSO.  The balance sheet of a multi-million dollar organization like the CSO is necessarily complex, and I doubt that Herr von Rhein is familiar with all the details.  In fact, I even overheard Deborah Card, president of the CSO, respond to JvR in the following words:

card_deborah1“Look, I’ve got certain information, certain things have come to light, and uh, has it ever occurred to you, man, that given the nature of all this new shit, that, uh, instead of running around blaming me, that this whole thing might just be, not, you know, not just such a simple, but uh, you know –”

As such, I don’t think it’s part of his job as a music critic to publicly offer financial advice to the groups that he covers.  Plus, if John Boy thinks that he’s adding something novel to this particular debate, he may want to look over Peter Dobrin’s article from two months ago.

3) This video begs to be watched: