Monday, October 20, 2008

Waxing Lyrical About Simple Pleasures

A recent email from a friend who's currently posted overseas was most encouraging, since I get heckled from time to time for who knows what reason.

An update about photos - I'm not allowed to share those from the F1 race, because they're not "official". As for the ones from Egypt, I will put more up the next time I log on from home ( which is becoming pretty rare these days ).

This entry will focus on a few miscellaneous events, all of which share a common theme.

Sun Festival Gala Concert 18th October 2008

I purchased tickets the very morning they were released online, more as an early birthday present for my mom, who LOVES Robert Redford.

She's disappointed about his last-minute absence, but the evening was nonetheless enjoyable, because of the programme's variety, and Geoffrey Rush's humour and humility.

The full-capacity audience comprised a large number of Caucasians, with many of the men decked out in formal suits and tuxedos.

The Academies Festival Orchestra, which was specially convened for this event, consisted of young musicians from local and foreign conservatories. They were indeed impressive, displaying great competence and even some showmanship as they covered an eclectic repertoire featuring Prokofiev, Strauss, Puccini, Bernstein and Gershwin.

I'm no expert on classical music ( at least in comparison with the true connoisseurs ), but I'd like to think that I have a pretty good ear where tone and technique are concerned. In these particular areas, the orchestra definitely deserves accolades.

Before starting his segment, Mr. Rush deadpanned, "I've always dreamt of being Robert Redford", to raucous laughter and applause. His narrative lasted approximately 30 minutes, and was quite entertaining. However, my mother couldn't help commenting at the end about how she would've preferred to see Mr. Redford instead.

After the intermission, I was pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Rush take a seat with his teenage son somewhere in the 4th / 5th row, along the left aisle. Yes, they were sitting with us mortals! Those around him looked shocked at first, but settled in nicely thereafter, and I could see Mr. Rush's profile clearly even though I was maybe 12-13 rows diagonally behind him. His mane of puffy grey hair is a dead giveaway. :)

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's segment came next, interspersed with instrumental performances by the orchestra ( during which she would leave for short interludes ) and items by the Vienna Boys Choir.

The latter proved to be sorely disappointing. Perhaps the hype proved too overwhelming for them, or, more likely, the song choices were less than inspiring. Having served on the RJC Chorale for 2 years, I can understand a choir master / mistress wanting to diversify, but listening to little boys belt discordant - not to mention depressing - pieces only serves to dampen one's spirits.

Thank goodness for Dame Kiri, who proved why she's one of the world's premier sopranos. Dressed in a glamourous azure(?) sequined gown and cloak, and positively dripping with diamonds, she was statuesque and regal as she stood on-stage, occasionally letting loose and swaying to the beat ( on a Bernstein number ).

But her voice was the true star of the night, buoyed by the Esplanade Concert Hall's incomparable acoustics. She expertly controlled every detail, adjusting volume and tone, adding little nuances, and hitting impossibly high registers with effortless ease.

I am no fan of opera, but Dame Kiri is the only soprano I will pay money to see, at least just once. It was worth every single cent.

The audience was a little reserved, bestowing a standing ovation only after she performed an encore item from Madame Butterfly ( breath-taking! ). We were treated to a total of 3 encores, no less!

After the concert ended, I kept my eyes on Mr. Rush, and spotted him walking to a nook near the stage before disappearing behind a wall. I saw people exiting through the same route, but upon venturing in the same direction after most of the hall had emptied, I stumbled upon Mr. Rush himself, still standing behind the wall, chatting with 4-5 Caucasians. He was facing me directly, but engaged in conversation. I was only about 3 metres away, and got a REALLY good look at him, which was great! :)
He's a lot taller than I expected, and I'm very sure he would've chatted with me if I'd had the guts to approach him. His son's rather tiny for his age, but very cute. :)

Ah well, I'm glad to have gotten close to yet another Oscar winner ( in addition to Kevin Kline and Nicolas Cage from my U.S. trip last year ).

Special mention goes to Julian Reynolds, who conducted the orchestra for Dame Kiri's and the Vienna Boys' performances. His energetic body language was such a pleasure to watch! Like an Energizer bunny fused with one of those cymbal-banging monkey toys. I kid you not. :)

Next up, Peter Cincotti's concert on Tuesday. Haven't seen him since Rome in 2005. Hope I'll have the opportunity to say hello.

Something Else I'm Greatly Looking Forward To

The Bridge Project's staging of A Winter's Tale, a collaboration between our local SRT, the Brooklyn Academy Of Music and London's Old Vic Theatre ( the latter currently run by my favourite actor, the very accomplished Kevin Spacey ).

I don't want to be presumptive, but in mid-2007, I emailed the Old Vic about the SRT's collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which resulted in Sir Ian McKellan coming to Singapore to perform in King Lear. I asked if Mr. Spacey would consider working with the SRT to bring some plays to our shores, but didn't receive a reply.

So when I read about the Bridge Project in the newspaper, I couldn't help wondering if my email made an impact after all. If it did, then I couldn't be happier. If not, it doesn't really matter either.

My greatest wish, however, is to see Mr. Spacey on the Esplanade stage someday soon. I've followed his career closely for almost 10 years now, and he consistently receives rave reviews for his stage performances. The Iceman Cometh is probably his most famous work to date. And a friend of mine who managed to catch him on Broadway not too long ago, in Moon For The Misbegotten, told me he's absolutely mesmerizing.

And speaking of mesmerizing, I'm currently hooked on ( or, more accurately, desperately addicted to ) Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, a 500-plus-page paperback that traces King Henry VIII's affairs with the Boleyn sisters. I haven't seen the film adaptation yet ( starring Eric Bana, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman ), but the novel is keeping me up late into the night because it's just so bloody good. Reads a little like some fluffy romance at certain points, but the historical detail helps lift it above the usual Judith McNaught / Julie Garwood fare ( I know, because I've read them before :)).

That's my new obsession -- English royal history, circa Tudors era, to be exact. I have the HBO series The Tudors to thank. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is excellent as the hot-tempered, conflicted monarch, and the production boasts splendid costume designs, tight scripts, and superb direction. Who would've thought that 4-5 episodes dwelling on Henry's efforts to divorce his wife Katherine would be so compelling?

Am now eyeing Gregory's latest novel, The Other Queen, which will feature Mary Queen Of Scots. I'm all ready for more sleepless nights. :)

And, last but not least, a short comment about the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections.
After watching 2 Presidential debates and 1 V.P. showdown, I will be horrified if the Republicans win - again. George W. Bush's successful re-election was a shock, and Americans need to learn from their mistakes, dammit!

My main concern should Obama win, is his safety. In the most recent debate, he voiced unhappiness about McCain's supporters yelling "Kill him!" when Obama appeared at rallies. Considering Colin Powell's own refusal to stand for office for similar worries in the past, it's obvious that there're those who will not tolerate an African-American leader, and who are fanatical enough to provoke a civil war should an assassination attempt prove successful.

I only hope such a day will never come to pass.

Before I sign off, a short rundown of films I recently caught:

No Country For Old Men - Disappointing, because I'm familiar with the Coen brothers' work, and this comes nowhere close to their best, i.e. Fargo and Raising Arizona. The storytelling here isn't as strong as I expected, considering the Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins. However, Javier Bardem is bone-chillingly terrifying - his Oscar is well-deserved.

There Will Be Blood - I LOVE this movie. An original screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson, vividly interpreted by Daniel Day-Lewis, and brilliantly supported by co-star Paul Dano. The latter's portrayal of a charismatic priest who falls prey to his own inner demons is marvelous to watch. Day-Lewis is, as always, masterful. He makes Daniel Plainview utterly irredeemable yet pitiful at the same time. Highly recommended.

1408 - Based on a Stephen King novel, this horror flick stars John Cusack, looking worn out as he struggles to stay alive and sane in an infamous haunted hotel room. The movie isn't half as good as Cusack's better films ( Say Anything and Grosse Point Blank, to name two ), but his performance here is definitely the most emotional I've ever seen. Recommended only for Stephen King fans and John Cusack diehards.

21 - Caught this en route to Egypt. Stars Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey ( the latter's the only reason I bothered to even watch this ). Turns out to be a pretty good flick, tracing the true exploits of a group of M.I.T. geniuses who perfect the art of card-counting and use their skills to win big in Vegas. Spacey's role as a mentoring professor is multi-faceted and at times frightening. Watch for the confrontation scene between Spacey and Sturgess. That cold stare is guaranteed to stop one's heart.

Deception - Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman star in a decent thriller about an exclusive sex club that leads to blackmail and murder. Starts off interestingly enough, but deflates in the last half hour. Doesn't help that damsel in distress Michelle Williams is bland and has zero chemistry with McGregor. The least she can do is take her clothes off like the rest of the women, no?

Sex And The City: The Movie - This one, on the other hand, has so many sex scenes I'm surprised KrisWorld screened an uncensored version. Lots of humping and pumping going on, but thankfully, it actually helps propel the plot. Turns out to be a frivolous tale when you really think about it, but the ride is pretty fun, so I'm not complaining.

The Counterfeiters - Best Foreign Film Oscar winner this year, but lacks the oomph factor. Holocaust atrocities are kept discreetly hidden behind wooden fences and walls. If you want a bigger dose of reality, watch Schindler's List.

The Savages - Thorougly enjoyed this one. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a hoot as a lovesick professor of philosophy, and Laura Linney is fabulous as his neurotic sister. The chemistry is so strong you actually believe they're siblings, and the script is both hilarious and insightful. Still, no-one does family dysfunction as well as Wes Anderson, so give The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou a try.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Renting this DVD proved to be a strange coincidence, since I got it days before it was announced that Geoffrey Rush would replace Robert Redford at the Sun Festival gala concert ( Rush plays shrewd advisor Walsingham in the movie ). This sequel covers Elizabeth's war with Spain, as England's Protestants fight the Catholics. There's an assassination attempt, lots of political intrigue, and of course, a sweeping romance involving a love triangle. Clive Owen is dashing as the pirate Walter Raleigh, and Cate Blanchett has got to be the most gorgeous woman on the face of the earth, since she can pile on the two-way cake, wear costumes that make her look like a pontianak, and STILL look impossibly beautiful. Try THAT, Angelina!

On the telly, there's The Celebrity Apprentice, which just started its run a few days ago. Don't expect big movie stars on this one, but there're some famous sportsmen, musicians and models, my favourite of whom is Gene Simmons from Kiss. This hard rocker who wears Gothic makeup on stage is a softspoken mogul when out of the spotlight. Plus, he's got a wicked sense of humour, and had me in stitches.

Also, the latest season of Whose Line Is It Anyway? is back on cable, complete with wacky skits and show-stopping improv singing. Comic genius at its best.

Coming attractions: Recount, an HBO original movie starring ( yet again ) Kevin Spacey, to be shown on November 1st. And... the new Beverly Hills 90210 hits our screens Nov 4th.
Don't bother watching Grey's Anatomy Season 4, which has degenerated into pure drivel ( Isabel saves a dying deer in episode 1, and Meredith discovers she has a half-sister - I caught this in Cairo, and consider it a huge waste of time ).

Have a good week ahead.

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