Category Archives: Commentary

A BLACK ACTOR’S UNREQUITED LOVE FOR SHAKESPEARE ·

 

(Patricia Storace’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 10/5.)

Keith Hamilton Cobb in American Moor

The first recorded African-American theater troupe, the African Company, was founded in New York City in 1821, a company that the white theater establishment was determined to crush. A contemporary report describes the police shutting down a performance, hustling the actors off to jail, “whereupon they were released by the magistrate only after they pledged never again to act Shakespeare.”

The works of Shakespeare were a contested possession in the United States, often used by white America to reassure itself of the country’s Anglo-Saxonness, assuaging its fear of being a creole nation, a mulatto people. In 1835, for example, former President John Quincy Adams wrote: “the great moral lesson of the tragedy of ‘Othello’ is, that black and white blood cannot be intermingled in marriage without a gross outrage upon the Law of Nature.” Nearly a century later, in 1932, his descendant Joseph Quincy Adams, the first director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, remarked in his inaugural address, “Shakespeare and America,” that Shakespeare’s works functioned, as they had during previous challenges, “during the period of foreign immigration, when the ethnic texture of our people was seriously altered,” to maintain the United States “in bonds of a common Anglo-Saxon culture.”

In the nineteenth century, Othello was a role played by white men, with only rare exceptions. An African-American actor named Ira Aldridge, who had made his debut with the African Company, emigrated to England in 1824 as the backstage assistant to an English actor. There, he not only practiced his craft, but won lasting acclaim and recognition as one of the great Shakespearean actors of the period, celebrated throughout Europe as the first black actor to play Othello, along with other leading roles in Shakespeare he couldn’t dream of playing in the United States. You can see one of the many portraits painted of Aldridge as Othello in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. He is described as having changed the very declamatory style—stylized and operatic—in which Othello had been played. Aldridge seemed to live the character rather than perform him.

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Photo: OnBostonStages

GILLIAN SLOVO: LETTER FROM INSIDE ·

Gillian Slovo

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Novelist Gillian Slovo’s letter to her mother, the anti-apartheid activist, Ruth First. Part of a series in which writers from around the world read letters on the theme of imprisonment, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis.

Oscar Wilde was incarcerated in Reading Prison between 1895 and 1897, enduring the Separate System, a harsh penal regime designed to eliminate any contact between prisoners. Wilde’s imprisonment led to one of his last great works – De Profundis, an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas written by Wilde in his prison cell.

Gillian Slovo’s novels include Ice Road, Red Dust and 10 Days.

Produced by Barney Rowntree and Jeremy Mortimer
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman

A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Photo: The Guardian

 

DIAHANN CARROLL, ACTRESS WHO BROKE BARRIERS WITH ‘JULIA,’ DIES AT 84 ·

(Margalit Fox’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/4; via Pam Green.)

Diahann Carroll, who more than half a century ago transcended racial barriers as the star of “Julia,” the first American television series to chronicle the life of a black professional woman, died on Friday at her home in West Hollywood, Calif. She was 84.

Her publicist, Jeffrey Lane, said the cause was complications of breast cancer. Ms. Carroll had survived the cancer in the 1990s and become a public advocate for screening and treatment.

A situation comedy broadcast on NBC from 1968 to 1971, “Julia” starred Ms. Carroll as Julia Baker, a widowed nurse with a young son. The show featured Marc Copage as Julia’s son, and Lloyd Nolan as the curmudgeonly but broad-minded doctor for whom she worked. (“Have you always been a Negro or are you just trying to be fashionable?” he asks Julia in an audacious, widely quoted line from the first episode.)

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REVIEW: A SPELLBINDING ‘ANTIGONE,’ BOTH TIMELESS AND URGENT (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/26; via Pam Green.)

An easily legible production of the ancient Greek tragedy borrows from the tradition of Noh theater at the Park Avenue Armory.

They make the gentlest rippling sound, these candlelit figures gliding ever so slowly through the water, perambulating around a spare scattering of boulders. In a vast, shallow pool, beneath the high-arched ceiling of the Park Avenue Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall, the hems of their filmy white kimonos trail along the surface.

The tableau is so tranquil that you might not even notice, as you take your seat, that you’re already being drawn into the ethereal, meditative otherworld where Satoshi Miyagi’s spellbinding “Antigone” will unfold.

An ancient Greek tragedy by way of Japan, it is visually and aurally splendrous — a large-cast spectacle, with hypnotically paced choreography borrowed from the tradition of Noh theater. Most of the principals here are played by two actors: one, kneeling in the water, to speak the dialogue; the other, on a nearby rock, to perform the movements.

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (38) ·

The fantastic is a glass of foaming champagne. . . . In The Snow Maiden there is exceptionally beautiful Russian epos, and in The Blue Bird an artistically interpreted symbol.

It is engaging to invent something that has never happened in life but is nevertheless a truth that lives in men and nations forever.  (MLIA)

STATEMENT REGARDING THE PASSING OF INTERNATIONAL OPERA STAR JESSYE NORMAN ·

(via Gwendolyn Quinn)

(New York, NY — September 30, 2019) — It is with deep sadness and sorrow that we announce the passing of international opera star Jessye Norman, in a statement issued by Norman’s family through the family’s spokesperson, Gwendolyn Quinn.

Norman, 74 years old, passed away today, Monday, September 30, 2019, at 7:54 a.m. ET at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, NY, where she was surrounded by loved ones. The official cause of death was septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015.

Norman was the eldest of two remaining siblings, James Norman and Elaine Sturkey, from a total of five children. “We are so proud of Jessye’s musical achievements and the inspiration that she provided to audiences around the world that will continue to be a source of joy. We are equally proud of her humanitarian endeavors addressing matters such as hunger, homelessness, youth development, and arts and culture education.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.

PLÁCIDO DOMINGO LEAVES MET OPERA AMID SEXUAL HARASSMENT INQUIRY ·

(Michael Cooper’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/24; via Pam Green.)

The star singer, accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, dropped out of Verdi’s “Macbeth” and indicated he would not return to the Met.

In an 11th-hour reversal, the superstar singer Plácido Domingo withdrew on Tuesday from the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” and indicated he would not return to the Met, amid rising tensions over the company’s response to allegations that he had sexually harassed multiple women.

Mr. Domingo’s withdrawal on the eve of the performance — opening night is Wednesday — came as a growing number of people who work at the Met expressed concern about his upcoming performances. Other American cultural institutions, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera, had already canceled Mr. Domingo’s upcoming appearances, citing the need to provide a safe workplace.

The backstage unease at the Met boiled over in recent days, including at a heated, sometimes emotional meeting that Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, held with orchestra and chorus members after the “Macbeth” dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon. Some of those at the meeting questioned what Mr. Domingo’s return said about the Met’s commitment to protecting women and rooting out sexual harassment.

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Photo: The New York Times