Gay artist David Hockney has opened a very large artistic can of worms. In an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS-TV, Hockney discussed his new book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters ( Thames & Hudson, 2001 ) , the accompanying 300-page illustrated text for his BBC documentary. Hockney suggests that many artists in the various realist schools from the 15th century through Andy Warhol used projected images of one kind or another to form the bases for their paintings.
Hockney, born in England in 1937, came to maturity at the height of the furor over the famous Wolfenden Report that led to the decriminalization of homosexuality in England. [ Lesbianism had never been a formal crime in Great Britian ( though Radclyff Hall's classic 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness underwent an obscenity trial in London ) , because Queen Victoria didn't think women would behave in such manner. ] Hockney was "out" from his student days, and has been the subject of TV documentaries, biographies and an autobiography. Writers on homosexuality in art from Emmanuel Cooper to James Saslow have long dissected his popularity. Hockney was to defend his proposition that "visual aids" have been used by painters [ including the bi-sexual Caravaggio ( 1573-1610 ) and American Thomas Eakins ( 1844-1916 ) whose homo-erotic works have given rise to speculation about his sexual orientation ] at a New York University Institute of the Humanities conference the weekend of Dec. 1.
Richard B. Woodward writing in The New York Times ( "The Truth is Out: How Realists Could Be So Realistic" Nov. 25, 2001 ) discusses Hockney's book along with Thomas Eakin's "scandalous" practice of using photographs revealed during the current retrospective of his work at the Phildelphia Museum of Art. Woodward cites other artists who relied on optical devices such as magic lanterns, camera obscura, and camera lucida to obtain their realistic canvasses.
The New York City Opera staged a modern dress version of Bellini's "I Capuleti E I Montecchi" with a very butch-looking Romeo in a three-piece suit. Newspaper ads for the production showed the mezzo-Romeo and soprano-Giulietta in a protracted kiss. The Lyric Opera of Chicago's offering of "Capuleti" ( without vocal comparisons ) was hampered by a "femme" Romeo.
Opera is about theatre as much as voice or music. Theatre has always depended on illusion. The Lyric's production suffered, in my estimation, by having Vessalina Kasarova, in the "trouser role" as Romeo, try to manage the same costume worn by Tatiana Troyanos in her 1984-'85 performances here. Even Troyanos was hard put to look like a young man in the Italian-made lavender tunic with pleated skirt; but her height, thigh-high boots, and body language helped carry the illusion. At the opening night performance, mezzo-soprano Kasarova, in the same costume ( apparently altered for her shorter stature ) was often distracting as she repeatedly effected a little "kick dance" with her cloak and sword. The too-long cloak with heavy hem, was obviously difficult to negotiate. Advance ads for the season had shown Kasarova in the costume she wore as the King of Crete's son in "Idomeneo." Pictured as Idamante ( a part originally written by Mozart for a castrato ) with her hair tied back in the manner of cinema swashbucklers, shirt with flowing sleeves, vest and tights...she gave promise of being a believable young man. The Lyric handicapped her by curling her hair and putting her in the Troyanos tunic ( which looked like a pleated dress ) . Bel Canto operas are not for all tastes; poor Romeo was indeed additionally hampered. Some "Capuleti" stage effects, however, were nothing short of spectacular...as evidence the audience's universal gasp as the curtain opened on the splendor of the beautifully attired wedding guests with golden masks in the final scene of the first act.
Queer at Sea
Sometimes I wish there were a way to get subscription prices, while picking only the works we want to see out of the Lyric's season...none of the subscriptions offered the choices we would have preferred. In order to get the two "trouser role" offerings "I Capuleti E I Montecchi" and "Hansel and Gretel" at the cheapest price, we had to forgo "Billy Budd" and were saddled instead with tickets for five hours of Wagner's "Parsifal" which we can't even give away. I remarked on this in the elevator during the "Capuleti" intermission. Old friend ( former Mattachine Midwest president and local PFLAG founder ) Guy Warner was doing the ups and downs in his retirement. A smartly dressed, dignified passenger was aghast. We were obviously peasants to him; but I sat through five hours of "Tristan and Isolde" years back with a former lover. The passionate duet "Liebesnacht" which ran about three-quarters of an hour held me in sway. But, even the beautiful music of the "Liebestod" couldn't keep me from squirming during an entire third act made up of two grandly endowed bodies, one in death throes, lying prone on stage singing for nearly two hours. ( So die already. )
We would have happily traded "Parsifal" tickets for "Street Scene" or "Billy Budd." I listened to the opening night WFMT simulcast and concluded "Street Scene" would have to be seen to be totally appreciated. However, Samuel Ramey as the villainous Claggert in "Billy Budd" could be conjured up in my mind from his "Date with the Devil." My Wagner partner, who saw the production at dress rehearsal, liked Ramey and said Nathan Gunn as Billy had "a good voice and fit the part in a Hollywood way." But her overwhelming praise went to the entire cast, saying principals, minor roles, and even the boys' chorus contributed to making it a great ensemble production. She felt gay composer Benjamin Britten's homo-erotic subtext was palpable throughout.
Copyright 2001 by Marie J. Kuda. e-mail: email@example.com