Building a Better Kitty Trap

Having a perfectly normal and splendid day? Stop and reconsider. Chances are it could be vastly improved by luring certain persons into a bear trap.

My wife and I enjoyed Met Opera HD last night at the local theatre, Puccini's Tosca, which neither of us had seen before. The singing was good, the acting was fabulous, especially for an Opera. George Gagnidze's clammy and glisteningly piscine Scarpia[2] was superbly evil, sporting Napoleonic/Dark-Cityish steampunky henchmen in sunglasses, optional black top hats, rakish black Caesars, and black leather coats. $18 to see a Met Opera with most of the sound, and a far better view than much more paid is definitely a treat-- especially without having to be in Manhattan! I may be in a large city now, but I didn't grow up in one, just that small-to-mid-sized one that spurned the Olympics (and not because Vesuvius had erupted, yes, that's a very respectable declination). Boettcher's and Central City Opera's English-language productions were fun growing up, but after awhile I got sick of seeing mostly Shakespeare Operas, and in a smaller production usually one person impresses and the rest is a grab bag, for better, worse, or worse that's comedically better (such as zealous fully-clothed humping in Romeo and Juliet, and of course the fabulous cupid-stooges in Die Zauberflote). Meanwhile with the Met, almost everyone is impressive and hard-working, and when they interview the singers or designers, you can tell that, beneath the impressive credentials, they're really super hard-core geeks. This is not to say I don't believe in supporting local artists doing the very hard work of trying to get paid for what they do, improving, and clawing their way forward despite the criticism (who me? I'm just a poor person robbing his poor neighbor, move along, that's what we do around here). No, I'm simply celebrating that technology now allows one to enjoy the fruits of choice.

Tosca was a lot of fun, but once Tosca herself (Karita Mattila) appeared for ending bows we left. "There's nothing to miss, it's just a bunch of clapping and bowing," one of us commented. Well, we were wrong. Apparently, the director, Luc Bondy, showed up and was booed out for failing to adequately replace Zeffirelli's hallowed quarter-century-old production. So much for a missed Met meta moment.

I saw Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet at 16. Not only did it feature d'Artagnan/Logan Five Michael York as Tybalt, it was the first strange experience of a movie containing nudity be not only a sanctioned experience-- but one that also counted towards school work. Fancy that! Speaking of which, I really wonder what it's like to tell people to moon the audience you have a part in a Met Opera production, and then have to cough out that you're one of Scarpia's slutty Regency-dayglo-go-go girls-- whose bare-butt moons the audience while mock-blowing him during a solo. I'm glad contemporary art has rooted around deep enough in pomo that the humorous and utterly ridiculous are now okay in really expensive art. Right, because foursomes are seriously highbrow.

Madame X

I was glad to finally get to see Madame X [2] at the Metropolitan Art Museum last New Year's, though given the shadows, varnish and glare, I am still very confused as to what her hairdo actually was other than a lump of rats. I still think Sargent's sketch and the Met's luscious portrait by Boldini of Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough are much easier on the eyes. I suffered a fairly significant crush on the latter as a teenager, though I was conflicted by serious competing feelings for the feisty Alice Roosevelt whom I considered preferable due to intelligence and pluck. My normal powers in daydreams included space-time travel, control over matter, and immortality, which poses problems since you end up spending a lot of time waiting around (such as most of the 1800's) for a particular interesting person. Meanwhile, other less interesting but pretty people develop horrible crushes on you and you have to... consider the many different possibilities of what you'd do with that!

Yes, including Hugo and Millie here is an anachronism since Madame X was displayed at the 1884 Paris Salon-- or it's simply a tourist photo from a jaunt on a Hugo/Tesla plasma time machine!

Note that a majority of the visceral details in the wikipedia entries on these two were not available to me at the time. I instead had to rely a few cursory, romanticized and child-safe paragraphs and pictures in the Time Life This Fabulous Century: 1900-1910 which I renewed at least 7 times in a row from the library.

If you're unfamiliar with the painting's history, Sargent was infatuated with this woman who was a gem if you liked strange features and "perchlorate of potash skin" or some such. He submitted it to the evil French salon, scandal resulted. Firstly, because her shoulder strap was off (which seems ludicrous given Bugnereau's normal fare of buck-naked cheesecake girls ridiculously posed on tables, er ocean waves or other "academic" fare, though I admit The Broken Pitcher [2] is well done), secondly because Madame Gautreau was a married member of Parisian society making the result bite much deeper. Sargent stole the painting to repaint the strap properly, and resubmitted it, yet the damage was already done. Like Verdi's poor Violetta, Gautreau was "driven" from Paris back to her country home in disgrace, and Sargent later sold the painting to the Met saying "I suppose it's the best thing I've done." The small-minded Parisian Prom Queens and Kings prevailed in the near term, but Gautreau left the deeper historical mark. There's bitterness all around, but we get a great painting out of it and a nice nasty story about insufferable Parisian High Society.

The large question is, how much of the panting's historical importance is due to the scandal versus the painting as an image rendered by Sargent? I would contend after seeing it that the painting would stand up quite well to any portrait from any time without the story. Gautreau is such an unusual subject, and, even approaching the work skeptically, Sargent's handling is impressive, particularly the execution of her arm, even if her dress is fudged in places, who cares. Simply his choice of the strange Gautreau at that time for such a monumental work may be the largest factor. She'd be striking even today, far outclassing the supposedly gritty yet superficial Outwin Boochever finalists. OB would, of course, only accept Gautreau if she were painted from projected photograph in acid colors and some bleak factory landscape with some gimmicky American painting history reference-- because that's what matters and what makes the best paintings the best, right? You'd think the whole modernism fetish thing was already long dead, but apparently not.

Millie likes acid, too. Sounds like a play date. I'm sure she'd have a really great time-- and since history's all about who can use a pen at the end, it'd be mutual.

Millicent Lavoisier

The illustrated adventures of two mice in Edwardian England. Hugo is fond of besieging London gentry with explosives and steampunk gadgetry while Millie relishes in melting them with acids and armies of reanimated zombie kitties.

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