Posted in Movie Reviews, Opera

No-Winter Notes

As I’m writing this, all forecasts say we’re going to hit 62 degrees this afternoon. It’s baseball weather. The last time we had a winter this mild (about 15 years ago if fading memory serves), the trees were blooming in late February. Despite the nay-sayers, yes Virginia, there is indeed global warming.

Does an actor or performer ever use up their ability to engage us? Is there ever a time when they reach into their bag of tricks and just can’t find the technique, the gesture or the intonation that surprises us and makes us remember how gifted they really are? Unfortunately, yes.

The Suave Mr. Morris

This past Saturday I heard the Met broadcast of Tosca, which featured Patricia Racette, Marcelo Alvarez and James Morris. It’s hard to believe, but Mr. Morris has 40 years at the Met under his belt, having made his debut at the tender age of 23 (he was a baby Don Giovanni four years later). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform an incredible range of roles—Philip II in Verdi’s Don Carlo, Iago, Wotan in Die Walkure, and Dr. Schoen, fatally caught in the web of Berg’s Lulu. Flipping the coin, he was all that you could want as Mozart’s Figaro. When Margaret Juntwait, announcer for the Met broadcasts, mentioned that Morris would soon be singing Claggart in Britten’s Billy Budd again, I thought “My God, what will the Met do when he retires?” I’ve seen him twice in the role, and can’t imagine anyone else bringing to the part what he does. On Saturday he was a wonderfully suave and menacing Scarpia who never let you forget he was an aristocrat, which is something most baritones overlook—it’s Baron Scarpia after all. Yes, his voice is showing some age, and as a bass-baritone some of Scarpia’s high notes were fudged or non-existent. But who cares when you hear an artist who never fails to surprise?

The next day I saw Albert Nobbs with Glenn Close in false nose and Charlie Chaplin pants and bowler. Albert may have been 19th century Irish, but when I see him, all I see is Patty Hewes from Damages. Somewhere along the line I became clued into her as an actor—her moves are predictable. It’s not shtik, which is a term I’d attach to Susan Sarandon, whose performances became very one-note for me as long ago as The Client, though she did a bang-up job in ‘Cradle’ Will Rock (And while I’m on the subject, I’ve got a long-standing bone to pick: Anne Bancroft was the image of Reggie as described in John Grisham’s novel, and should have gotten the movie role, no questions asked). On the other hand, Janet McTeer, who matches Albert Nobbs’s m.o. by disguising herself as a man, is tremendous. There’s one scene she steals (among several) that puts all this into perspective—when she, as Hubert, and Albert don dresses to walk along the beach. Glenn Close walks as Glenn Close, i.e., a woman. Janet McTeer manages to pull off a true Victor/Victoria—a woman playing a man playing a woman—displaying all guises simultaneously. It has to be seen to be believed. I think she’s a long shot to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but I’d love for her to do it.

Super Bowl Sunday is looming, but I’ve got a confession to make: even though I’m a Giants fan, I’m switching to PBS at 9:00 p.m. Nothing gets between me and Downton Abbey, especially now with the Spanish influenza epidemic on the horizon, Lady Mary facing perpetual blackmail from her sleaze of a fiance, Matthew–er–indisposed for marriage and Lavinia vowing that she can’t live without him. I don’t remember the last time I saw two characters as engaging or as right for each other as Lady Mary and Matthew, and if they’re not back together by the end of this season, I’ll be fuming for a year.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. Bet Punxsutawney Phil shows up wearing shades with a beer in his paw.

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