Sunday, May 13, 2007

Post-Modernism dines on La Traviata

The Canadian Opera Company revived its production of La Traviata and I saw it last night. Too bad. The singing was superb, the sound of the building an architectural wonder, the orchestra excellent, the sets sometimes beautiful, sometimes puzzling and the stage directions positively hostile to the intentions of music. Every time we were about to feel something profound, the stage director would send some inconsequential figure to do some absurdly meaningless or, worse, meaningful gesture that pulled us away from what Verdi created.

It started at the Overture. A bunch of klieg lights on two floor-to-ceiling towers glared at the audience and between them a Victorian lady who seemed to double as death and who was cast, perplexingly, as Violetta’s maid! No doubt this was intended to be a social commentary on Victorian mores, the disease against which modern freedoms—oops—post-modern freedoms were to be the cure. I don’t even want to think about issues of class involved here except to say that they are far too heady to be carried on the waif-like frame of this simple and beautiful music. I suppose it’s true in a trivial sort of way, that convention brought Violetta, Alfredo and Germond low, but this shouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind: one should connect to the characters and feel for them. There was a disjoint between what Verdi was trying to say and what the clever producers here had in mind and that disjoint led to a loss of energy.

“You can’t get good help nowadays” was what I was thinking when Violetta was dying, not, I think, the reaction Verdi was going for, and she seemed to be dying in a laundromat too. How fun, I thought, for this production, since we’re having fun with it anyway, to have Marxist banter—in the Groucho sense—either in a cigar-smoking guy on the corner of the stage or in dueling surtitles saying “I’d fire that maid!… You can’t get good help anymore…” to mock the staging.

There wasn’t a single curtain call. Alan Opie’s Germond was a cut above perfect: his part was sung with extraordinary verve, wit and understanding. His timber was all light and air. James Valenti as Alfredo is a great young tenor and a pretty good actor despite the absurdity and limitations of the set designs. Inva Mula (Violetta), after making apologies for her battle with laryngitis after the first act, settled in and performed wonderfully: the apology seemed to relax her and she stopped overreaching. And not a single curtain call? I blame the director entirely for the lack of patron zeal. They’d be standing and screaming with joy if the stage directions didn’t fight every inch of the way with the music and singers.

Don’t misunderstand me, the production wasn’t garbage. If it were, it would have been carted off long ago. It’s worse than garbage—it’s the rotting corpse of post-modernism, born dead, feeding off itself and the arts of the past. Can’t we get a wooden stake for this beast and declare the birth of the post-post-modernist movement? Of course not, silly—post-modernism was designed to be sexless and sterile.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thank Yous (and R.I.P.s)

This post has finally been reconstituted after I mistakenly erased this blog and the name was taken over by spammers. The original date of publication was January 13th, 2006. I've made one change: I've reversed the order of Thank yous and RIPs because one friend, scanning too quickly, saw my face, read "RIP," and started to cry.


Thanks to all my family, my brother and sister first of all, who did so much to organize the fundraising, who pulled their hair out, who wheedled, cajoled, charmed and pleaded as needed; to my uncles and aunts and cousins, other more distant (though not in sentiment) relatives, friends, friends of friends, choir members, for their prayers and good wishes and for their hard earned cash, much of it was needed and what was needed was found.

The following must be thanked by name:
David Goorevitch and Annette Frymer (both of whom also nursed me back to health)
Trudy and Arieh Reich (both of whom also nursed me back to health)
Jerry Mayer
Len Sonmor and Louise Carbert
Gayle and Leibel Wolfe
Harold and Jean Mayer
Dena and Skip Ruffalo
Bev Sonmor
Mike and Beryl Nahornick
Evelyn Aimis
Larry and Elke Ereshevsky (who also nursed me back to health)
Harry Rice
Rae and Ralph Sanders
Sara Frymer
Gary and Brenda Nahornick
Heather Marshall and Guenther Zuern
Bernie and Gayle Fratkin
Shereii Shomayim Congregation
The Wonderful Gernerous Citizens of Oranit, Israel (my sister’s town)
Patty Talbot
Steven Boldovich and Jackie Campbell
Harry Frymer and Lillian Chow
My wonderful friends at the MNJCC Choir with whom I sing
Marsha and David Ratner
Leah Lachs
Esther and George Rubin
Pete and Alicia Lombardo
Hana and Harold Somers
Diane Riley
And to those I have left out, please accept my gratitude and apologies.


To the wonderful and professional people and Soutwest Florida Regional Medical Clinic Transplant Unit, especially

Drs. Burtch, Zucker, Schwartz, Vansickler and their teams, including Michelle Mahoney, Drs. Libby, Conrey, Magnus and their nurses. To Dave Mainous, to David Spann, to Cindy Baker and the rest of the administration of SWFRMC. Thanks.

To the I.V. nurse Yvonne for introducing me to a certain brush. To the "goat mouth," Nikki, who says I'll keep my kidney till the day I die, at least 30 years hence. Her family says she's a "goat mouth" because what she predicts comes true.

To Herbia, "the love-bug"

To the former circus performer, Margaret.

To Chloe, To Dale, the supervisor of nurses whose name, unfortunately, escapes me.

To the stern nurse who sat at the desk bellowing "MASK!" every time left my room without a mask over my face

To the artist Behrens for getting his faded images placed in the corridor. Nothing, absolutely nothing helped alleviate the boredom of walks in sterile corridors with a post in my right hand and a Foley bag in the other than those figures Mr. Behrens hid in his gardens, mourning, making love, holding out their helping hands. A painting is in the hidden content. The secondary meaning is the true meaning. The first layer is just a suit of clothing.

To Steve Anderson for new friendship in an unlikely place (and to Dawn). I pray your kidney will last forever, Steve.

To those who gave nothing but prayed for me and wished me well: you have accomplished more than you know.


R.I.P. Paul Smith, gentle-man and death-fighter, who succumbed to cancer in November, 2005 while I was recuperating from a transplant in Fort Myers, Florida. We spoke by phone message, me telling him how much his friendship meant to me and he, sounding like a kid, full of encouragement. Go on, Danny, he said, and live a full rich life. I suspected I’d never see him again but when one is offered a perfect match, one gets on the plane, regrets and all.

Paul came down with kidney disease in his 20s and was lucky enough to receive dialysis when space was limited and was one of the first people to receive a transplant. His lasted 30 years and I met him when he was waiting for his second. He had been waiting about five years and Paul instantly befriended me. Always good-natured and fundamentally decent, Paul was shepharded through his initial trauma by a Jewish man named Micky who refused to let Paul give up. He didn’t and, after the transplant, became a social worker so he could help people.

I lost other friends too. In the nearly five years of dialysis I remember the following people dying:
Betty Davidson
Lawrence Wong
Wayne Liberty
Mr. Giddens
Joe Tritt
Mrs. Bhogal
Ralph Halpern
Neil Matchett
Norman Chu
Mr. Ng
There were others, I’m sure, whose names I’ve forgotten. I pray Maria Imaculata Matoroso is doing well in Calabria, and others: Esther, Jennifer, Jo-Ann, Zaf, Atilla, Dave, Frank, Leroy, Paul M., and Dominique and Gail who both got transplants…

Update: Jo-Ann Robinson died in the winter of '06 after a long fight with Scleroderma which took out her original kidneys, her transplanted kidney and a list of other organs I don't have the heart to mention. Jo-Ann was a beautiful person. She left a 14 year old daughter.

Update (February 22, 2009): Jennifer Choo-Chee got a transplant a few months ago! Just half a year earlier she was given no hope whatever of getting onto the list because she had too many antibodies in her blood. They are making great strides in transplantation: now they can even transplant organs of different blood types. A better solution is the living donor transplant swap: people who aren't a good match for their loved ones get matched up with others and they swap organs. Living donation is best. It can be scheduled, the living organ is never put on ice, the donor can now be up and about much more quickly now due to the new keyhole surgery pioneered at Toronto General Hospital.

Update (February 22, 2009): My beloved uncle Jerry died on May 1, 2008 due to a perforated bowel. He is deeply missed. Jerry got a transplant 23 years ago and it worked very well for a long time before he had to go back on dialysis just a few months earlier. Jerry was born in a plywood shack on Fort Road in Edmonton and his father died before he was born. He was orphaned at 11 and went on to study Linguistics at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, where he received the Governor-General's Gold Medal for scholastics. He earned his Masters and Doctorate in Pennsylvania and taught first at the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin and then, until his retirement at Fordham University in the city he loved, New York. He leaves a longtime boyfriend and many devoted and loving family members. He was planning to get back on the transplant list for a second go. Jerry wasn't through with life even if life was through with him. For ten days he fought cascading multiple organ failure with an astounding will and, just as we could see the blood come back to his face and feel the heat from three of his four extremities he gave up the ghost.

Update (February 22, 2009): My friend Eric Layman, author of "To A Stark And Clean Place" and "The Brightest Fire" died only a few days before my uncle Jerry. Eric died from complications related to emphysema. We never discussed a lung transplant. We ought to have. There are a couple of excellent eulogies here in the Globe and Mail and The Canadian Jewish News, where he worked. There's a small Wikipedia entry here. Eric's integrity was awesome. His life and death taught me that you can have any one thing you want so long as it's one thing. Eric wanted art through poetry and he was honoured for it. Between one and two hundred met to celebrate his life last summer. A man who speaks his mind is rare: when we lost Eric, we lost a whole city. I will try to find out where to get his books and when I do so, I'll post the link here.