Sunday, 21 August 2016

The annual cultural trip to Santiago de Chile.

I've now been here for just over half a week and haven't let the grass grow under my feet. The first high point of my stay was being upgraded by the hotel from a suite to the penthouse duplex because of necessary plumbing in the original flat. Nice start! There's even a roof terrace with a parasol which I've been able to use as it's really not cold here, despite it being winter, apparently.

As I've written before, cinema and theatre are cheap to attend here, so I don't spend much time at home in the evenings. I'll gradually add to this list as my stay progresses:

 Not a bad film, the Chilean critics being pretty kind to this sub-Hollywood love story which nevertheless adequately paints the broad brush strokes of that extraordinary settlement a few hundred miles south of Santiago as well as bravely implicating the collusion of the German government of the time in covering up for Paul Schäfer and some vile practices of Pinochet's henchmen in the basement.

Now this was a completely different kettle of fish. Tired of always being asked by his family when he's going to get married and settle down, a forty-something filmmaker decided to make a film about his situation. It sounds quite promising but the result was dreadfully boring and pretty pointless, to say the least. Oh well.

I've just got in from seeing this theatre piece. It was excellent, an interesting and highly amusing take on swingers and what could happen if it all goes wrong. If you're in Santiago, I really recommend you see it.

You have to see this film, it's a must. I only went as it was playing in my favourite little art house cinema near my luxury penthouse duplex, but I'm glad I did. Once again, very thought-provoking and highly amusing at the same time with a fairly unexpected twist in the tail.

Paolo Sorrentino's film, Youth, is worth watching. Interesting performances by Michael Caine as a retired composer/conductor and Harvey Keitel as a waning film director, on holiday in a sort of Swiss spa-cum-sanitorium, reflecting on life, observing youth etc. The girl on the poster is Romanian model Madalina Ghenea, who plays a freshly-crowned Miss Universe, spending a week at the establishment. It's really a bit part, she has hardly any screen time, the story concentrating on Michael Caine's gradual rapprochement with his family via a series of unrelated events as well as Harvey Keitel's attempts to make his career-defining magnum opus. It's a gentle, slow-moving film with the odd kitschy moment and worth a couple of hours of anyone's time.

Nice performance last night of this classic with an exclusively South American cast under the expert baton of Pedro-Pablo Prudencio. A couple of debatable casting elements, but otherwise worthy of this reputable stage.

Dios es un lujo - God is a luxury - has been running, on and off, at the Teatro del Puente here in Santiago for the last six years. It tells the story of three prostitutes, a trans and a drug addict lumped together in a police cell. They talk about their lives, their fears, their beliefs…it's extremely well done with no special effects - in fact, there's no scenery whatsoever, just lighting - but acting talent to burn. There are still a couple of performances to go, so if you're in Santiago, head over to the Parque Forestal and take it in. It's more than worth the CLP6000 (c.€8) ticket price. Runs an hour.

Just got back from this pleasant piece of burlesque comedy. Excellent performance from Magdalena Max-Neef as the successful psychiatrist and sexologist Luisa and wife of the somewhat 'busy' Andrès:

The camping up is a bit OTT, but the point is well-made in a still extremely conservative society. The Teatro San Ginés is the largest neighbourhood comedy theatre I've been to here and the ticket price reflected that: more than double some of the others but still respectable at around €16. It's a larger operation all round.

Teatro Ictus always puts on good work and the diction is invariably excellent, so I get more for my money. Tonight was the dress rehearsal of Okupación, premiered in 2005 and revived now. It's a reflection on whether secondary schools should be privatised…
…or whether they should remain entirely publicly funded. It's a Mrs. Merton question of course, and I didn't get the impression the piece or the debate had been updated since it last played here. The central question - should pupils be trained to be marketable products or should schools continue to form rational and inquisitive human beings - is over-simplistic and didn't address the subject in sufficient depth, neglecting the more important issue of whether our schools should be more pragmatic in orientating pupils towards the existing job market; an important shade of grey which, sadly, made no appearance in this play. Still, a well-performed, entertaining way to spend ninety minutes.

El Biógrafo conveniently had a programme change the other day, bringing in La Chispa de la Vida for Se Dio Vuole. Released in 2011, the English title is As Luck Would Have It and features Salma Hayek as the wife of a somewhat depressed, out-of-work former advertising whizzkid who tries reactivating old contacts to get his working life back on track. The rest of the cast, which includes José Mota and Juan Luis Galiardo, is excellent, though largely unknown in the English-speaking world, hence all the advertising centring on Salma Hayek, I suppose. It's a nicely done, albeit not terribly subtle commentary on contemporary society's obsession with celebrity. The plot lacks depth and the end predictable. Worth seeing, nevertheless.

Tonight, it's the premiere of Puccini's La Bohème at the Teatro Municipal. It's a nice production which makes no waves, is decently acted and well sung. It'll be a good evening.

So that's pretty much it from Santiago this year. In addition to those activities listed above, I've been to the National History Museum, The Violeta Parra Museum and The National Museum of Military History, before taking a trip out to Lonquén yesterday. Got back into yoga with ten early morning classes, sampled some excellent Chilean red wines and had a few excellent meals out, of which Bocanariz was probably the best. It's a great place to be. Don't just take my word for it…

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Chile in winter. But it's not chilly.

It seems that the only times I post now are when I'm not actually in Toulouse, which rather negates the original point of the blog. Toulouse is taken up with family, work and the rest and, in any case, I don't honestly see how my everyday life could interest anybody. Not sure how my irregular life could either, but there you go.

I've now been back in Chile for just over thirty-six hours and have already started getting my fill of this worthy country's cultural cornucopia. OK, so I started reasonably light this evening, taking in Colonia Dignidad or The Colony as it's known in English. I've known about this rather shady establishment for a few years now, so was intrigued when I saw a film had been based around it. Seeing the cast, it was clear that it wouldn't be too hard-hitting, but the important points were made and Michael Nyqvist was exceptional as cult führer Paul Schäfer. I've been wanting to take a trip down to see the place, now rebaptised as Villa Bavaria and open to tourists; it must be beyond surreal.
Tomorrow, it's off to see Godard's Adieu au langage, or Adios al lenguaje, as it's billed here. Never knowingly seen one of his films before.

This summer is unusual in another way, too. It's the first time in twelve years I haven't gone to northern Bavaria to participate in the world's oldest music festival. Going on holiday with the family instead and coming to Chile to work on Puccini is infinitely preferable.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Centre Pompidou Metz. A good place to learn something.

I fear Metz may be a little short on things to do when I'm not holed up in a rehearsal studio but it does have its own Centre Pompidou. Independent of its Parisian sister and considerably smaller it nonetheless has a good range of exhibitions, films, theatre performances and the like. I paid €10 to see two exhibitions and an installation, but, had I waited a week, I could have added a film and another exhibition for a paltry two extra euros.

The main exhibit was a collection of super-sized artworks on loan from the Paris centre, some of which were part of the International Exhibition of 1937. Now, if there was one element I'd prize above all others from this afternoon's ambulations, it would be the twenty-minute film of that event. I'd heard about the exhibition but had never taken any interest in it. Today, seeing the sheer scale of it I was gobsmacked. If your knowledge of it is as sketchy as mine is, spend some time researching it, it's utterly unbelievable. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union won médailles d'or for their pavilions:

Albert Speer, unsurprisingly, was responsible for the edifice on the left, Boris Iofan for the one on the right. Here's a bit of Soviet propaganda to go with it:

Here's a short film worth watching:

It's part of the footage I saw this afternoon, filmed by the…PCF, the French Communist Party! They still have a fabulously gallo-soviet head office:

Rather funny that the PCF is moribund. You could probably get all its members into one of the restrooms, these days.

Anyhow, back to the Centre Pompidou. There were Picassos (Picassi?), Miròs and Kandinskys, an excellent exhibit on telepathy in art and a rather moving installation by Tadashi Kawamata, reconstructing a fish's eye view of the tons of driftwood caused by the Japanese tsunami of 2011. Here's a picture to give you some kind of idea:

The installation was in the form of a 100 yard-long wave, over your head and consisted of bits of scrap wood nailed together, suspended from the ceiling. Extraordinarily simple, but devastatingly effective.

I need to find an art house cinema. I like this culture vulture existence.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Metz, one of those Franco-German tennis balls of recent history.

I don't know whether any of you know Metz (mainly because I don't know any of you, but that's by the by), but it's a city of around 120,000 inhabitants, sitting on the Moselle river in the Lorraine region of France, just south of Luxembourg. It was founded around 1000 years BC and has had a pretty riotous history, amongst other things being confiscated by Romans in the Middle Ages and, more famously, playing the role of the ball in a tennis match started in 1871 between Henri Leconte and Boris Becker.

So why did everyone want Metz? Commerce? Its strategic location? Maybe. It certainly wasn't for the weather. It's rained every day since I arrived here a week ago to do a production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Today is sunny, but it's the only dry day forecast until February 16th, and that's iffy, apparently, with the probability of rain a mere 30%, as opposed to the 150% it's been so far.

Arriving in Metz, I was struck by how German the place looked. The architecture of and around the railway station is resolutely Wilhelminian: no-nonsense, spiked helmet monoliths to eternity. Built in the early 1900's, it's called the Imperial Quarter, quartier impérial or Kaiserviertel It was like arriving in Koblenz back in 1987 for my first full-time job. Even the shop names were German: Roediger, Knieff etc. The first couple of days were like one of those strange dreams you have: you're in a country, but everyone's speaking a foreign language. I felt I was in Germany, but everyone was speaking French.

The true centre is much more recognisably French. In the second half of the 18th century, Maréchal Belle-Isle commissioned the architect Jacques-François Blondel to create a centre around the cathedral, and he came up with the Place d'armes:

and the place de la Comédie, where my opera house is situated:

That's it on the left. All very pretty, I'm sure you'll agree. Needless to say, none of these photos were taken by me this last week. The square outside the theatre is currently bereft of gardens, yet the excellent restaurant next door, El Theatris, drags a few tables out in the infrequent moments when Noah isn't sailing by.

In truth, the centre is really beautiful, apparently. I say that because, thanks to the euro-permadrizzle we're all stoically enduring, it's practically impossible to see any buildings. I did visit the cathedral this afternoon after rehearsal, and it's pretty damned impressive:

That's the view we get from the stage door when we leave the building. As it's always pitch black when we finish, we see the local Jaumont stone of God's Lantern (its nickname) illuminated:

…and  very impressive it is, too. I then slither over to by bike in the rain and get back to my flat fifteen minutes later, saturated.

Metz also has a branch of the Centre Pompidou, funnily enough. I'm going there tomorrow as it's not only our free day, but rain is also forecast. A solo indoor pursuit is therefore preferable and visiting an arts complex beats the other option.

Metz also has a decent library and media centre. They let me join after running my passport past Interpol (or Europol or whatever they're called this week) and shot to the top of my list of fave places when they proved to have not only the recording of Béatrice et Bénédict I was looking for, but also the entire opus of Benoît Duteutre, my favourite contemporary French author. Armed with enough words and music to stave off the hardiest of inclemencies I cycled back to the flat in the fading sun. The bike I rented from the council already has a broken brake cable. In true gallo-soviet fashion, I won't be able to get this fixed until Monday afternoon; heaven forefend you should provide tourist services at the weekend.

I hope there'll be a bit more light during the day these next few weeks, or that they at least floodlight some of the more picturesque buildings during office hours. Coming from Toulouse, where we live on top of a hill with a view of the Pyrenees, living in half-light is somewhat depressing. I can understand why so many Swedes top themselves in winter. Anyhow, despite the work at the opera being immensely enjoyable, the midsummer night is likely to remain a dream until it's time to head back down south in a month's time…