31 March 2014

Spring Is Here/Aprill Is the Cruelest Month

Spring Is Here/Aprill Is the Cruelest Month

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

25 March 2014

The Annunciation, 1325 - 1966

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. Here is a brief survey of some paintings depicting that announcement, that hailing, that "Ave," from the angel, Gabriel, to the Virgin. In some cases, the hail itself is painted into golden words on the canvas. Enjoy.

1325, Ohrid Annunciation Icon 

1333, Simone Martini, Annunciation

1427, The Master of Flémalle, Mérode Altarpiece

1434, Fra Angelico

1437, Fra Angelico, "The Annunciation"

1445, Zanobi Strozzi, about 1440-5

1450, Fra Filippo Lippi, Annunciation

1475, Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation

1608, Caravaggio, Annunciation

1610, Peter Paul Rubens, Annunciation

1850, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini

1898, Henry Ossawa Tanner, the Annunciation

1900, William Brassey Hole, Annunciation

20th century (1950?), Unknown Artist, Chinese, The Annunciation to the Shepherds

1966, Sadao Watanabe, The Annunciation

Late 20th/Early 21st Century Coloring Book

10 March 2014



Dream is the scorpion of sleep
But memory is the scorpion of time
Sleep is the scorpion of night
You will always get stung

Scorpius! You rode my back
You promised me!
Yet here we both die in
The middle of the river.

L. Steve Schmersal, Sleep, March 2014.

06 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

Who are you that
You wait and wait,
You wait until
I will be gone?

Who is it you
Who waits and won't
Stop waiting? I,
Will not, I will,

I will not stop
Waiting for you
To stop waiting.
When is over?

What do you want
That you wait and
You will not stop
And you wait? Why

Do you make it
So, so make it
This way? Why, what
Do you want from

Me, what do you
Make with your wait-
Ing? What: who: why
Won't you say yes?

Why are you the
Who that waits so
Where wait you, why
Is your know a no?

L. Steve Schmersal, Ash Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, 2014

04 March 2014

On Street Scene and the Promise of American Opera

What to say about Street Scene...?

Kurt Weill called this show a "Broadway opera." As one of the most important (I know I throw that word around a lot) composers of German opera in the 20s and 30s, I strongly feel we should listen to him. Stephen Sondheim says that if it's played in an opera house it's an opera, on Broadway it's musical theater. I agree with this sentiment to a certain degree, but I basically disagree. Was Sweeney Todd an opera when the now lost New York City Opera performed it? Of course it was. But this postmodern reading that changes the content by changing the context misses a particular point that I would like to attempt to make now: Weill was initially an opera composer--both opera and anti-opera--but when he came to the States, his calling to compose for the stage made him learn the idiom of Broadway so as to continue that trajectory, but with at least Street Scene, the three mini-operas in Lady in the Dark, and the often-called oratorio-structure of Lost in the Stars, Weill was pushing a generic difference that often gets lost in the wash. Street Scene was his major attempt to really make sense out of these questions, and the questions are: 1. what is American opera? 2. what is "American opera" founded upon? 3. can it escape the gravitational pull of Broadway?

The answers are as follows: 1. we still don't know. 2. we're not sure, but we have ideas. 3. it should not.

There still is no American opera. Still. But opera comes from the "national" culture--just as theater does--and what I want to say is this: There would be no West Side Story without Street Scene; Bernstein continued Weill's project to found an American opera tradition; it begins with Broadway and ends somewhere else; we haven't found it yet.

But Show Boat, Porgy and BessStreet Scene, and certainly Loesser's brilliant, The Most Happy Fella, will show someone the way. Somewhere there is a place for us.

03 March 2014

On the Oscars

A special Academy Award. Of merit. Was bestowed upon on ALL the men. And women. Who have worked in film laboratories since movies were invented. Director Christopher Nolan accepted on their behalf.
Are you kidding me? THESE people are the people who make film happen. And the fact that the "Academy"-- which is a nominal insult, literally and nominally, to Plato, at the very least--feels it's acceptable to belatedly recognize, in such an offhand fashion, tonight, the numberless, nameless people who have slaved under the yolk of this nonsense, "since movies were invented," is the bend sinister of all Oscar ceremonies, heretofore. But what do I know? I haven't lived for all time, after all, nor have I lived since movies were invented. Please.

Please give me the sacred monsters of yesteryear--please give me movie stars like Burt Lancaster and Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis--actors who at least understood that, while these people went unnamed, they were the only reason movie stars had a career. That silence measures more greatly than this current too-little-too-late propaganda treatment with no individuals to name. Not one. Not a one.

Where is your "Schindler's List"? Where are the people you have saved from death and forgetfulness? You don't even have one. As much as that film repels me, in an almost meaningless way Schindler's List at least did remember the "Schindler Jews." Can you imagine such a term? "The Schindler Jews." Child, this is the world we live in.

It's almost--almost, and I distinctly said "almost"--like the half-hearted recognition of war heroes or victims of Shoah that we hear of every day, these days, which is also quite, quite, and very, very much too late. Only the problem is this: those earlier sacrifices weren't done willingly. Yet, in peacetime or war, under National Socialism or Holyrood, the late-term memory of the machine that grinds us into dirt for worms, that only belatedly remembers we existed at all at any point--seventy, fifty, twenty years, ten years later--doesn't redeem any of them in any way, whatsoever. Good luck. Good luck with this "Oscars'" world. I only hope you could ever do better with it than I ever could.

It is indispensably disgusting. And this message of history is what you should take home, in my, very humble, opinion. History never leaves us. You only have to read it. But apparently it never means you won't repeat it.