11 April 2011

Passion, pianos, and Alice in Wonderland

Netflix and I have been good friends this week.

First, the mail brought me the DVD for Passion, Steven Sondheim's musical based on the movie Passione d'Amore (which is turn is based on the novel Fosca).  Plot: Italian soldier Giorgio is posted to a backwater town, leaving his beautiful (married) lover Clara in fancy Milan; he is kind to the ill-and-not-pretty-at-all sister (Fosca) of his commander (the commander later relates she was married to a con man who ruined both her health and fortune); she develops a wicked crush/obsession for Georgio; he rejects Fosca/visits Clara in Milan and Fosca almost dies; he is nice to Fosca again (at the behest of the doctor) and she gets better, the obsession gets worse; Fosca follows him around, causing gossip and more problems; the commander finds out, thinks Giorgio is leading Fosca on and challenges him to a duel; Giorgio realizes he doesn't love Clara anymore, he loves Fosca; Giorgio and Fosca have one night together, then he shoots her brother in the duel, and he winds up in the looney bin; Fosca dies.  It's very Italian, no?  With a beautiful Sondheim score.  I've had the cast recording with the amazing Donna Murphy as Fosca for some time but never saw the musical until now.  Love it.

I watched the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland (yes, finally).  It was OK.  I did like some of the characterizations and the idea that Alice thinks that her first trip to Wonderland was a dream since she's now a "grown-up" and childhood adventures are very far behind.  I thought Anne Hathaway's "vaporous" White Queen was hilarious, a good contrast to Helena Bonham Carter's crazy Red Queen.  Voice casting was excellent (Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat = very appropriate).  But the movie was too "Tim Burton" if you know what I mean.  Nice, but I felt like I'd seen the scenic elements before.

And then I watched Note by Note - a documentary about the making of a nine-foot, Steinway concert grand piano.  I loved it.  I watched it twice (it's on Netflix Instant right now, I don't remember what combination of watching/rating/liking got it to come up as a recommended title, but I'm really happy about it).  Steinway pianos are one of the few things in this world still made in almost the exact same way as they were 150 years ago - by hand.  The craftspeople who make them are amazing, skilled and dedicated.  It takes an entire year to build a concert grand piano and even the tiniest deviation can have a serious effect on how the piano sounds and plays.  Hats off to them.  The documentary also interviewed a number of classical and jazz pianists (Harry Connick, Jr., Helene Grimaud, Hank Jones, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Lang Lang, to name a few and they all play a little bit, too, so it's like a bonus piano concert) about how pianos can affect performance, something I'd never seriously thought about; when I was playing I just got whatever piano I got at a performance venue, I do remember complaining occasionally about how "stiff" a piano was but non-superstars can't be choosers (I did get to play ONCE on a nine-foot concert grand...it was AMAZING).  There is only one thing this documentary needed: better explanation about the steps in construction (like, what was all the clamping for in the middle of the process after the sound board had been put in?).  However, I've been fantasizing about how much I want a piano* since I watched this so any and all people who like pianos/piano playing/piano music should watch this.

*and I do want a piano; it's one thing I haven't yet acquired that I really miss.  I hated playing scales/practicing but I loved to just sit down and PLAY.  There's a reason I own a lot of Chopin sheet music even though I can't hardly play half of it.


  1. Have you considered one of those electric pianos you can plug into your computer? I know it's no substitute for the real thing, but I bet you can get one on the cheap from Craig's List and they do have the advantage of being easy to store.

    Until you can get a real one.

  2. CB - Thanks for the suggestion, but those keyboards sound terrible (bleah). There are certain electric pianos that do quite well at approximating how a piano feels when playing but the sound isn't rich, it's tinny (at least to my ear). Even the simplest upright piano has a resonation that a computer just can't replicate.