“The cab stopped at the Soane Museum, which Laura Wing
had always wanted to see, a compatriot having once told her that it was one of
the most curious things in London and one of the least known. … The
heterogeneous objects collected by the late Sir John Soane are arranged in a
fine old dwelling-house, and the place gives one the impression of a sort of
Saturday afternoon of one's youth — a long, rummaging visit, under indulgent
care, to some eccentric and rather alarming old travelled person. Our young
friends wandered from room to room and thought everything queer and some few
objects interesting; Mr Wendover said it would be a very good place to find a
thing you couldn't find anywhere else — it illustrated the prudent virtue of
keeping. They took note of the sarcophagi and pagodas, the artless old maps and
medals. They admired the fine Hogarths; there were uncanny, unexpected objects
that Laura edged away from, that she would have preferred not to be in the room
with.” Henry James, A London Life, 1888
Sheila de Bretteville’s 1975 Women in
Design poster next to the Architectural Association’s 1973 California USA featuring the iconic
image of Marilyn with her skirt blowing up. Who’s speaking? About which L.A.?You could go on and on ….
Other delights: Alison
Knowles’s 1971 House of Dust! The sample glass panel for the PDC! The Charles
Moore model for an 100%-mirror Best Products façade! And Leonard Koren’s 1973
accordion-fold booklet 17 Beautiful Men
Taking a Shower!
Act 2 of Tosca is an
Everest of musical theater. Adolfo Hohenstein’s 1899 poster (above) expresses it
exactly: melodrama at its most outrageous and harrowing with love, injustice, and
oppression leading to rebellion and revenge. The scene combines showstopping
tunes (“Vissi d’arte”), a personification of totalitarianism worthy of Kafka
and Orwell (Baron Scarpia), a sympathetic personification of a wronged and
enraged Everywoman (Tosca), all accompanied by her lover’s cries from the
interrogation chamber. It remains topical, unfortunately for us.
Caird’s production sleepwalked through all this, omitting everything except the
showstopping tunes. You can coast pretty far on the music—and the orchestra
under Plácido Domingo resonated richly—but the voices of the principals were
loud rather than lovely. And Caird apparently neglected to inform the
principals that they were undertaking a theatrical presentation. Their gestures
and actions were uniformly awkward and unmeaning. It was a trip back to
the bad old days.
With opera productions
the problem often stems from misguided creativity: a directorial concept
(Flying Dutchman as Dr. Who), or visual design (fishpond in Tatyana’s bedroom).
This Tosca, however, had no ideas
whatsoever. The director let the performers flop about on stage at random, and
Bunny Christie’s sets and costumes were flat and unattractive without being
very functional. It was bad, but Dorothy Chandler was packed, and the audience
loudly applauded and cheered throughout. Better luck next season.