Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Looking for a must-see play in New York?  "RED" is the one. Starring Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko, written by John Logan and directed by Michael Grandage, it's one of the two theatrical works we've seen that brilliantly explores creativity in the visual arts, the evolving of art, and the angst of the artist. (The other is "Sunday in the Park" by Sondheim and Lapine, a musical about Georges Seurat.)  "RED" focuses on a specific issue that Rothko agonized over -- whether to fulfill a multiple-painting commission by the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.  This dilemma for Rothko serves as a platform to explore broader issues that he and all artists have always faced. "RED" is a play that combines first-class acting, writing and direction -- you can't ask for more than that.

This remarkable 37-year-old person, who has walked across Afghanistan, spent time in the foreign service, governed an Iraqi province, run an NGO in Kabul, served in the British Army's Black Watch regiment, written two books, produced a BBC documentary on Lawrence of Arabia, and held a professorship at Harvard, is now actively campaigning for the MP seat in Penrith and the Border (northwestern England).  It amuses me to see photos of this erstwhile international star now in the hustings talking (and listening) to farmers and pensioners about their parochial issues.

The election has been called for May 6.  Penrith is a safe Tory seat, so whatever happens to the Conservatives nationally -- whether the party can snatch defeat from onetime certain victory -- it's a pretty sure bet that this wunderkind will enter Parliament next month and become a force in British politics.

Imagine my surprise.  Last week, Donna and I were dinner guests at the Opera Club in the Metropolitan Opera House, with Tosca to follow.  We were all dressed up in formal attire (as is required by the club). Upon arriving at the club on the dress-circle level, we  were greeted by the maître d' with this gracious declaration to me:  "You cannot dine here unless you take off your waistcoat. You must take it off." Why, I asked?  "Because it has color."  "You're joking, I said."  He wasn't. 

Now, I'm pretty proud of my waistcoat collection.  Vests are one of the few opportunities for a man to dress formally and yet add a subtle individual touch.  But not at the Opera Club.  Black and white only!  Absolutely no color allowed.

Yes, my waistcoat did indeed have color -- see photo.  I violated the high aesthetic standard of the Opera Club.

So we reached a stand-off.  I wouldn't remove my waistcoat, and this officious maître d' wouldn't let me in.  (His tux, by the way, was properly 100% black and white.)  

Resolution?  We ditched the Opera Club all went instead to the Grand Tier restaurant, where, even though completely booked, the refreshingly gracious maître d' found a table for our party, and, as they say, a delightful meal was had by all.

And as to Tosca?  This new production, which opened in the fall, was excoriated by the critics.  In the performance we saw last week, there was a new cast, but pretty much the same maligned staging as earlier in the season.  Guess what?  It was fine.  Even more than fine. The cast was top-notch:  the versatile Patricia Racette as Tosca, the rising star tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi, and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as Scarpia -- a meaner, more villainous Scarpia you'll never see.  These singers, along with some pretty good music to work with by Puccini, made us not only love the performance but forget about some earlier unpleasantness. 

Robert Parker makes a good living from the wine industry, with the Wine Advocate newsletter, his 100-point rating system, books, columns, lectures, consulting, et al.  What he doesn't make is good sense.  At least to me.  

He used to have a column in BusinessWeek, but it hasn't appeared for a while. (Wonder why?) I went back to some of his old BW columns to remind me of how obtuse his wine reviews actually were.  Admittedly, it's not easy for anyone to describe the taste of wine in words, and to differentiate among the thousands of different varieties and vintages.  And no one will pay you for writing that "this wine tastes good, that one is really good, that other one not so good..."  You need a gimmick.

Parker has a gimmick -- a vocabulary that is mind-boggling in its pretentious obscurity.  What in the world is he talking about?  To illustrate, I've plucked some descriptive words (from hundreds) that appear in his columns, words that purportedly are there to help the reader discern the taste of wines:

Crushed rock
Damp forest
Forest floor
Lemon oil
Pencil lead (I kid you not)
Steak tartare
Wheat thins

"Hey, Mr. Sommelier.  I'd like to order a bottle of wine with, say, a hint of pencil lead, a trace of forest floor, and a suggestion of steak tartare?  But please, no crushed rock today -- I just came from the dentist."

Former Treasury Secretary, former Citigroup Chairman of the Executive Committee, former Goldman Sachs Co-Chairman, former Master of the Universe, photographed recently testifying before Congress, responding to the question: "Mr. Rubin, how do  you explain the reasons for the financial crisis?"

Some are blessed at birth with talent:  

Mozart - music
Picasso - art
Shakespeare - writing

And then there are those of us who are born with ridiculous talents.  For instance, the ability to balance just about anything on one's nose or chin.  This, by the way, is a talent that has absolutely no known utility.


  1. Jane-Howard Hammerstein, DrinkerApril 20, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    Couldn't have remarked upon Parker's choice of words had I been you. But here's the catch ... from my own end of the stemware: be all that as it may and is, I still scan Parker with some regularity because (1) I know what he MEANS relative to the northern Rhônes and Piedmont Italians and Aussie Syrahs I favor. (2) When I have some of his remarks in a file, I've — thanx to him — happily gulped some 2003s before 2001s. (3) There is no three. He's a bullshit artist. It's just that he's one of MY bullshit artists.

  2. Yeah, right .......

  3. Meant the Balance Beam on your face....

  4. Fiddlesticks! That balancing act brought Compaq great attention - at least at the Release 1.0 conferences I attended. As I recall, you were as close to a rock star there as Paul Allen playing in the rock group. It was long ago, back when Bill Gates was merely a millionaire, but I remember it vividly.
    Far more effective way of 'building the brand' than quoting feeds and speeds. BTW - I can wiggle my ears :)

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