Smoke-Free Carmen: After an opera company in Auckland was criticized for showing "offensive cleavage" in ads for its production of "Carmen," Denis Dutton, who teaches the philosophy of art at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, drafted a scenario for a politically correct "Carmen," free of "inappropriate role models and behaviorable messages regarding gender relations, animal rights issues and tobacco consumption."
In Dutton's Act 1 scenario, "The first scene takes place in a square in Seville. Young factory workers spill into the street for their morning break of fresh fruit. One of them, the dark Gypsy Carmen, sings a lovely habanera, reminding us that love occurs between all genders, races and body types. Before returning to the factory, Carmen throws a rose to the Basque soldier Don Jose. A fight breaks out between two of the young persons in the factory, and while trying to instruct them on the futility of violence, Carmen is arrested. Don Jose is ordered to guard her, but she persuades him to allow her to escape, explaining that they are all victims of patriarchal oppression."
Act 2 takes place "in the smoke-free environment of a vegetarian restaurant." When Carmen and Don Jose vow to live together, he agrees that he will do the ironing. In Act 3, Don Jose and other members of the Animal Liberation Collective plot "to end the exploitation of bulls." Don Jose, jealous of the bullfighter Escamillo and suffering from low self-esteem, is advised to seek anger-management counseling.
In the last act, Carmen tells Jose (who recalls "repressed childhood memories of satanic rituals, where he was forced to drink blood, eat babies and smoke cheap, unfiltered cigarettes") that he must "begin the healing process by getting a bath and a shave. The two lovers embrace and detail plans to offer workshops in cultural identity and empowerment. The bull wins."
Dutton's piece was originally published on his very lively Web site, Arts and Letters Daily (www.cybereditions.com/aldaily), which is updated six days per week with provocative, intelligent articles, drawn from many sources, on a variety of arts-related topics.
Documentaries: Two music documentaries of unusual interest will be shown Wednesday on Channel 26. At 8 p.m. on "Great Performances," Placido Domingo will narrate the story of Wagner's last opera and sing highlights of its title role in "Parsifal: The Search for the Holy Grail," which he calls "one of the central stories of the last 2,000 years." It is a stark drama of the struggle between the forces of good and evil, with Domingo resisting the temptations of the wicked sorceress Kundry and a whole corps of uninhibited "flower maidens." Discussions by various authorities, including Wagner's grandson Wolfgang, focus on the story's symbolism and its role in Wagner's life and thought, including the subliminal appeal for Nordic racial purity that made it Hitler's favorite opera. Besides highlights of performances in St. Petersburg, conducted by Valery Gergiev, and at the Ravello Festival in Italy, film clips briefly present other treatments of the Grail legend with heroes as diverse as Monty Python and Indiana Jones.
At 9:30, the documentary "Landowska: Uncommon Visionary" will present the life, career and music of one of the century's most influential musicians, Wanda Landowska, who revived the harpsichord as a mainstream instrument in the face of strong opposition and even ridicule by some pianists and critics. She established the harpsichord's value in the performance of baroque music, and inspired some of the 20th century's most distinctive compositions, including Poulenc's "Concert Champetre" and Falla's Harpsichord Concerto. Rare footage of Landowska in performance and interviews is included, as well as remarks by friends and rivals.
Both a documentary and a unique, complete performance is the first video opera production issued by RCA/BMG in the DVD format: "Turandot at the Forbidden City of Beijing" (BMG 60917). Filmed on location, at the spot where Puccini's legendary Chinese princess finally fell in love after having one suitor after another beheaded, this production originated in Italy and was transported to Beijing for nine performances last summer. It is expertly sung and acted (with many features of traditional Chinese opera deftly slipped in by director Zhang Yimou), but the visuals--costumes and Chinese buildings, statuary and landscapes--make it unique. It was seen recently on public TV, but the DVD format goes far beyond the possibilities of network TV. DVD options include, besides the opera performance in dazzling sound and images, a spoken plot summary, a soundtrack recording with still photos, a documentary on the making of this production, the option of changing the camera angle in some scenes, flawless freeze-frame and the choice of six languages for the subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Japanese or Chinese.
The Fourth: How did the "1812" Overture, which was inspired by a war between France and Russia, become a standard part of our Fourth of July celebrations?
I suspect that the custom can be traced back to Arthur Fiedler, who conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra in this spectacular opus, complete with fireworks, at free outdoor concerts in Boston year after year. His orchestra proves equally adept in this music under the direction of Keith Lockhart in its newest recording, "A Splash of Pops" (RCA 63516), which turns out to be an archetypal Fourth of July concert, complete with a chorus for patriotic songs. Except for Tchaikovsky, the music is American, including "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (which has a more singable melody and more inspiring lyrics than the national anthem chosen by act of Congress), "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy" and, the mandatory finale, "Stars and Stripes Forever."
CAPTION: PLACIDO DOMINGO. . . as Parsifal on PBS