Thursday, May 22, 2008

Two local church presentations: "Paul & Co."; "Nacascolo"

The Trinity Presbyterian Church on 16th Street in Arlington VA put on a children’s play Sunday (May 18) about one of the more “controversial” sequences in the Book of Acts. The play, named “Paul & Co.” by Mary Nelson Keithahn and John D. Horman covers some of Paul’s ministry with Timothy and Silas as in the passages from Acts 15:35 to 16:40 (the entire chapter 16). With a cast of about 25 elementary and middle school kids in pastel robes and period-piece costumes, it tries to be humorous, as the three apostles introduce themselves, meet the fortuneteller, and through the more serious passages as Paul winds up in prison. There were areas he could not go to minister and winds up in Macedonia. Later, to get out of trouble, he has to deal with the practical need not to “offend the Romans” too much, which is sung with some humor. The “color purple” as a symbol of extravagant unearned wealth and privilege (disturbing to the political Left) draws some laughs. The idea that one group of people in charge need to be placated socially and psychologically (as well as religiously) drives a lot of social controversy today. It also depicts the notions that many cultures do not allow "different" ideas because they believe they are "protecting" their members from themselves.

Actually, the passages take up some serious stuff that, read in a dramatic but outside of a religious context, invite a Hollywood like approach and almost could lead to an R-rated movie. The passages concerning the slave girl talk about the extreme capitalism and trafficking by the masters, and about the Jews bringing customs illegal for the Romans to observe (the early form of anti-Semitism).

Verse 3 in Chapter 16 reads literally, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places.” The religious interpretation was that this was not necessary for “salvation” but to get along with the Jewish people. If one ponders that this kind of intimate concern appeared, one wonders how much forced intimacy ancient societies expected.

A good interpretation is on "Enduring Word" here.

On Wednesday, May 21, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC put on a 40 minute slide show of about 470 slides, “Nacascolo,” about a trip that a group took to rural Nicaragua to help build the Evelyn Shockey Medical Clinic. The slides start with the flight from Reagan airport and actually show two volcanic lakes from the air, one green with sulfur compounds. They land in Managua (site of the 1972 earthquake) and take a bus called “Monster” to the rural town, where they camp in cramped and primitive quarters and work during the day, mixing and pouring concrete and with various other construction labors. The native population cooks for them and takes care of them, and the narration makes a point that the natives were immaculately clean, with all clothing manually washed, ironed and bleached. The houses were primitive with little in the way of contents; one home with solar panels had a black and white TV. Photography must have depended on imported battery power. This would make an effective independent film if video were added, which could happen if there were ever a return trip.

Update: July 6, 2008

Dr. Laura Parajon, a medical missionary working in Nicaragua, gave the sermon today at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, about Nacascolo. Also, she showed additional slides and video clips about the Nacascolo mission at a Sunday School gathering.

Update: July 13, 2008

Today the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA reported on a youth trip to Belize, which involved (after a tour of some Mayan ruins) volunteer work to improve child care in a village (Doublehead Cabbage). There were no slides or videos, but there was a whimsical "fireman's carry" demonstration. The organ music included two works by Mexican composers: Aspiracion, by Jose Jesus Estrada, and Toccatina, by Ramon Noble. On Monday (July 14) the NBC Today show would present the Blancaneau resort in Belize, owned by Francis Ford Coppola.

Update: April 16, 2009

Last night, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC reported on the opening of the Nacascolo Clinic, after a brief trip by a few members in late March, 2009. The living standards in the area are actually better than other surrounding communities. Curiously, despite the warm climate, the leaves are list in the winter, just as in the American mid south. The clinic will not have electricity yet, and the main treatments are nutrition and deworming (5 cents a treatment), to raise infant survival

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Gounod's opera Faust: compare to other works on Goethe's "problem"

The “problem” of Faust – essentially that one “sells his soul” in order to know good and evil, has been set to music numerous times, by Liszt, Mahler, Boito, Charles Gounod, and even Ferruccio Busoni.

Deutsch Grammophone (on its own, without a movie industry distributor) offers a DVD of the 1985 Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus of Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” conducted by Erich Binder. Francisco Araiza plays Faust, and Gabriela Benackova is Marguerite; Ruggero Raimondi is the Devil. The five acts are “compressed” into three with a few cuts, and the opera runs slightly under three hours. I don’t know why DG needed to split the DVD (full screen) onto two discs for this length of show; the second DVD runs just 70 minutes with about 8 minutes of applause. That reminds me of my awareness of a consumer back in the 1960s of just how much music companies could cram onto one side of a record (because of “inner groove distortion”), in the days before it was common to get Beethoven’s Ninth on just one disc.

I have always enjoyed the heaven storming climaxes at the end of the Liszt Faust Symphony (male chorus only), the Mahler Symphony #8 ("Symphony of a Thousand", a nickname Mahler did not approve) and Arrigo Boito’s opera, whose “Angelic Chorus” appears twice, the second with a majestic climax to the opera, even as “Satan whistles”. I saw that back in 1996 at the Kennedy Center and Samuel Ramey had plenty of fun with the Witches’ Sabbath scene. Boito’s “Mefistofele” was performed at age 26 (it probably was a teenage conception), seems to come from the “white hot passions” of youth, and provoked so much controversy in Italy that police closed it down.

Gounod’s conception (called simply "Faust"), while large scale, seems more lightweight in comparison most of the time. The ballet and march music is the most famous, but the music becomes melodramatic only toward the end, with fabulous French organ passages and the famous duet with its rising lilting theme. The visual impact of the final scene with the cloaked headless men (including a corpse from the coffin) leading Faust away to his demise is striking (it called to mind Washington Irving's "headless horseman"). The opera actually ends on a quiet chord (expanding and then diminishing), after the last choral climax; it doesn’t aim for the heavenstorming closes of some of the other romantic settings. The opening orchestra prelude is rather like a symphonic slow movement.

Visually, the most interesting images in the opera are the Golden Calf (to be used by Arnold Schoenberg in Moses and Aaron) and, at the end, the guillotine, giving the opera a certain political meaning.

I think a “modern” concept of the Faust problem is having to sell out on one’s own personal values to meet practical needs of other people, sometimes to get along, maybe even to survive.

Picture: A taste of David Lynch, perhaps. (Or maybe Andy Warhol.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bono and U2 live "Vertigo" rock concerts call for worldwide human rights (film "U2 3D")

The Irish rock group “U2” has captured highlights of its Southern hemisphere “Vertigo” tour, performed by Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr. and “The Edge” in soccer stadiums with multiple stages, complicated light shows with animated characters. The effort is a 3-D “live” concert film from Buenos Aries, Santiago, and Melbourne. Most of the film seems to come from the Buenos Aries venue.

The film rises to passion about human rights and expresses the mandate to “coexist” with the “x” a blue religious symbol. It talks about the concept of “One” in several languages and concepts, mentioning that there is one origin of Abrahamaic faith. It enumerates universal human lights with a display of all the major Latin American flags in video above. At one point the singer asks he if is supposed to shut up and keep a low profile, or stand up and be noticed for his passions. It is a curious concept and paradox. The last section of the show does a play on letters, which become words, sentences, and “lies.”

The film (officially called "U2 3D" in imdb) is distributed by National Geographic Entertainment and was filmed by “3uality” which appears to be a company in Ireland. It is shown in Imax 3-D theaters, and runs for 85 minutes. The crowd is active, and in 3-D seems a continuation of the stadium-seated auditorium crowd. The music editor is Carl Glanville.

The concerts have connection to some organizations, such as One, for global AIDS funding, and Greenpeace, for the environment, which today runs a story about the fate of polar bears.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Moon for the Misbegotten: DVD reproduced laconic 1975 Broadway performance

I had discussed “Iceman Cometh” on April 23, 2007 on this blog. Now, “A Moon for the Misbegotten” (DVD from Image, 1973 performance directed by Jose Qintero and Gordon Rigsny) of Eugene O’Neill’s play, seems a bit like a sequel to “Long Days Journey Into Night” but seems quite Spartan and linear in the Broadway version. The story concerns the relationship between “property owners” and tenant farmers, and the crossing of class boundaries when personal problems occur, but the unfolding is much leaner than that.

In the early 1920s, Jose Hogan (Colleen Dewhurst) and her father Phil (Ed Flanders) worry that the landlord James Tyrone Jr. (Jason Robards) will sell out from under them, leaving them homeless, and concoct a scheme to get to Tyrone by having him spend the night with her. What follows is a litany of all of Tyrone’s problems with the bottle and the loss of his mother. There is a lot of talk of the rationalizations that alcoholics often use. The setup reminds me vaguely of the problems renters can face today in light of the foreclosure crisis.

The setting is in the summer in New England, with a simple farm house and well. It could just as well be the Midwest. The play is rather like an Anton Webern quartet in its sparingness.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Revolutionary City: Outdoor colonial drama in Williamsburg

I visited the Revolutionary City dramatic stagings in Williamsburg in the spring of 2006, shortly after it opened. The outdoor drama takes place in two sessions on alternate days, each a bit over two hours, demonstrating the events that led up to the Revolutionary War and the daily life of colonists during and after the Revolutionary War.

The main link provided by Colonial Williamsburg is provided by Colonial Williamsburg, here. Another useful link is “Ready to Join the Revolution,” this.

The first session is “Collapse of the Royal Government” with much of the action at the old Capitol. The CW website gives the breakdown into further acts.

The second session (on alternate days) is “Citizens at War,” with much of the activity on the blocks around the Raleigh Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street.

Colonial Williamsburg recently added a session “Building a Nation” that plays on Mondays.

The skits, with professional actors, would be quite demanding to perform daily, in full colonial dress, with leggings.

For me, the “Citizens at War” skits were the most interesting and provided moral dilemmas that map to those of our days. For example, slaves are promised by the British that they will be freed if they rise up against their masters, and wonder what would happen to them if the British lose (which they did). A thirty year old carpenter looks for work making coffins and wants to join the Revolutionary Army for George Washington, but his wife expects him to stay home to look after his family.

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists looked to colonial militias to find soldiers. There is some dispute in reference sources as to whether they were “drafted” in the sense of more modern conscription (as in the Civil War, all the way to World War II and Vietnam). Often soldiers returned home to tend to farms or businesses or look after families.

The Capitol offers a dramatic tour which explains how the modern branches of US government derived from colonial times, with the courts originally coming from the aristocracy.