Quality time in NYC

My reason for this very short visit unfortunately passed away on April 24th...Benjamin Barber just had to ask me to come and collaborate with him and I complied… unfortunately for the first and sadly last time, Ben wasn’t there anymore when I came…or was he? 

Meeting Ben’s widow, my graceful and precious friend Leah Barber, in the very building which Hannah Arendt inhabited wasn’t only sad and moving, but it had also a density which made my dear Ben almost tangible presence in his sofa,at his desk,in his Barber dining room…and in his book, published on the month of his death which he didn’t have time to sign for me but which Leah signed with the most moving expression of friendship and affection ….

So despite the short time which had been meant to be totally dedicated to Benjamin, I decided to enjoy in his honor a “Barber” quality weekend.

First surprise, my Swiss flight had turned out to be a United Airlines flight which landed 2 hours late (business as usual these days). When I asked the crew how they coped with the post 3411 flight , they said it was business as usual (well.. my plane was 1/4 empty…), that it wasn’t an UA crew and that their CEO apologized too much and promised this would never happen again!
  So, as soon as I arrived (after 1 hour and a half queuing at Newark immigration…and as much in the shuttle at rush hour Friday thus doubling my flight time!), I scarcely took a shower before attending what will probably remain as one of my most exciting opera experiences. Although I’m far from being a Wagner fan, Der Fliegende Holländer  has always been my favorite …but this version with Amber Wagner as Senta and Michael Wolle in the title role was out of this world…only because of these two and the fantastic conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin who literally marathoned the 3 hours without intermission…the rest of the cast didn’t impress me. But the very fact that I never fell asleep after my journey is revealing of the high impression the performance left on me.

I wish I could say the same about Franco Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac starring Roberto Alagna and Jennifer Rowley (magnificent)…although I disagree ( probably because I’m not yet “old and silly enough” with the Martin  Berheimer’s paper in the New York Times harsh judgment of the Flying Dutchman :

to anyone old and silly enough to remember Hans Hotter or George London in the role, he sounded bland (…)As Senta, the heroine, Amber Wagner’s lush dramatic soprano sounded shrill even on the rare occasions when it was not subjected to undue force. 

I fully agree with NY Times Corinna Da Fonseca’s comment 

The music is an unappealing mix of syrupy textures and tart harmonies (…). Alfano’s biggest shortcoming is his inability to capture that bittersweet tension. 

To summarize… why bother? I almost cried as stage settings were exceptionally good…but this is the best proof that if an opera is unknown, there has to be a reason some times…Alagna? I can’t say…we could hardly hear him under that heavy nose. He has a long breath and each aria seemed just even more endless!

One last comment about the MET…it’s outrageously expensive and frankly I’ll see ten good plays on Broadway for the price of one good seat at the MET. That’s the only instance I find New York at fault but I’ll say this: go to Covent Garden! 

Needless to say, a visit to New York means at least one or two museums. I enjoyed as usual the Guggenheim (click here for more)which is never disappointing and in line with the new page I dedicated to the great collectors… and thanks to Dario, my childhood friend, I discovered the High Line,totally new to me, and the New Whitney holding a thought provoking Biennial 

Yet honestly felt more attracted to the good old American classics

And this magnificent poem I dedicated in loving memory of Ben….

September 1, 1939 by W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973
 I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright 

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can 

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return. 
Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire 

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

“I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the deaf,

Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

Let me finish this quality weekend report with a few words about friendship. If Ben taught me anything, it’s his death which will influence me the most. Let me explain…Ben was a dear friend for over 20 years, yet we never said a word about our friendship, we could spend years not speaking to each other yet knowing we could count on each other whenever necessary….except that when we finally decided to have that heart to heart conversation, it was just too late.

I suppose this is what prompted me to meet again Dario … until now we both had been too busy with our hectic lives… He is an extremely talented jazz pianist and film music composer so for many years, he was hard to meet…until May 24

And you know what, it felt great, we have still a lot in common, our lives, so different, were still very true to what we had been when we last met some 30 years ago. It’s a warm and deep feeling of understanding and friendship and it concluded a wonderful weekend, proving once more how much we should trust life to take care of our paths along this One World of ours!

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