Monthly Archives: November 2006

Coast of Utopia: Background Information

Coastofutopia_1 This afternoon, we will see Voyage, the first part of British playwright Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia trilogy.  Stoppard’s play follows the lives and ideas of a group of mid-nineteenth century revolutionary Russian thinkers. The work is fictional but deeply rooted in fact. The play centers around political thinker and publisher Alexander Herzin, played at the Lincoln Center by Tony award winner Brian F. O’Byrne. Reviewer and critic Vissarion Belinsky, author Ivan Turgenev, and eventual anarchist Michael Bakunin, played by Ethan Hawke, also figure prominently in the show.

Voyage takes place in 1830s Tsarist Russia, where the small wealthy, landed elite and powerful clergy dominated a small merchant class and millions upon millions of serfs living in conditions of slavery (for some perspective, serfdom was not abolished until 1861). Though revolutionary thought was flowing throughout Europe, particularly in France and Germany, in Russia censorship made teaching philosophy and writing about politics illegal.

The first act of Voyage begins in 1833 Tsarist Russia on the family estate of Michael Bukunin (Ethan Hawke) in the Russian countryside, with a bit of a Chekhov flavor. Bukunin is a Moscow University student with four sisters of marriageable age.  During summers between University sessions, Bukunin’s friends from University, including Belinsky and Turgenev, drop by and introduce their backgrounds and ideas.

The transition between the first and second act of Voyage is not chronological. The second act takes place in Moscow during the same years covered in Act One. Herzen (O’Byrne), the trilogy’s central character, is introduced and identified as a leader in University political circles. Bukunin, Herzen, and their friends preach freedom and struggle in the face of absolute censorship. At the end of Voyage, Herzen (O’Byrne), accused of harboring subversive ideas, is banished to Perm, 1000 km east of Moscow near the Asian border, and Bukunin (Hawke) is stripped of his noble rank and escapes into exile.

The remaining two segments of the Coast of Utopia trilogy, Shipwreck and Salvage follow Herzen through the 1848 revolution in Paris, political disillusionment, a scandalous affair between his wife and a German poet, the drowning of his mother and son, and finally into exile in London. Bukunin becomes an anarchist, in and out of prison. All together, the trilogy lasts for eight and a half hours and includes over forty actors.

In stark contrast to the later thought of Lenin and other Bolsheviks, the thinkers in Stoppard’s trilogy value and honor the individual.  With The Coast of Utopia, Stoppard celebrates the rich historical period that brought forth authors like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

Stoppard’s dialogue is witty but very intellectual, in the manner of Shaw. Tom Stoppard  is a renowned British playwright who has won three Tony Awards for Best Play: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” (1968), “Travesties” (1976), and “The Real Thing” (1984).

A single blog post cannot possibly do justice to the background of this piece. For more information, please check out The Lincoln Center Coast of Utopia website (an interview with Director Jack O’Brian, Notes on the play by LCT Dramaturge Anne Cattaneo, and a Lincoln Center Theater Review article by Tom Stoppard are particularly interesting). You may also want to read a New Yorker magazine article “The Revolutionist: The worldly idealist at the heart of Stoppard’s “Coast of Utopia”, October 30, 2006 by Keith Gesse.      

Michael_bakunin Hawke


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Internship Showcase: Sarah Ellis and the New York Musical Theater Festival

Nymf2_1 Sarah Ellis, dancer, pianist, and aspiring musical theater composer (she’s creating a new musical with fellow Duke in New Yorker Julia Robertson–it’s going to be incredible.  seriously, just wait for our post about it…), is interning this semester with the New York Musical Theater Festival. 

From September 10th through October 1st, the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) puts on over 30 new musicals throughout midtown Manhattan.  This year, during its third season, NYMF attracted over 36,400 attendees across all Festival events.  In today’s musical theater climate, where it costs between $10 and $15 million to produce a Broadway musical, the NYMF mission is to provide opportunities for new musical theater artists to stage their shows and to be discovered.

Here’s the word from Sarah about the latest and greatest at NYMF:   

"A lot of you have asked what I have been up to with the NY Musical Theatre Festival since the actual Festival ended a month ago.  The answer?  Preparing for the NYMF Awards Gala, which was held November 12 at the Hudson Theater!

This star-studded gala honoring Kevin McCollum was a fundraising event that included a reception, dinner, awards show, performance, and VIP after-party.  The other interns and I (see the photo below–I’m third from the left) worked the event, so it was very exciting to check in stars like Sutton Foster, Bob Martin, Anthony Rapp, Kelli O’Hara, and everyone’s favorite Broadway producer, Manny Azenberg!


The performance was probably the highlight of the evening; Kevin McCollum performed his own version of "I Don’t Wanna Show Off" from The Drowsy Chaperone, and [title of show] brilliantly rewrote their opening song to roast Kevin. 

I had the chance to speak with the cast of [title of show] at the after-party, as well, and they were thrilled to hear that several of us were writing musicals for our final projects.  They encouraged us

to keep killing those vampires!

Hope you enjoy these photos from the event!"



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[title of show]…Good Memories!

Thanks to Laura and Jodi’s super fun performance from their upcoming (and way cool) musical [monkey] in class today, I came back to the New Yorker needing a serious [title of show] fix!  Check out 1. the new [title of show] tracks posted under "Sweet Tunes" in the sidebar 2. the [title of show] MySpace page–friend them!,  and 3. the TicketCentral interview video from YouTube.

(FYI for non-Duke in New Yorkers: Early in the semester we saw and very much enjoyed the Off-Broadway musical [title of show] at the Vineyard Theater.  Written and performed by Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell, and Heidi Blickenstaff , a Duke alum and a guest speaker in class–we love you Heidi!,   [title of show] is a musical about the making of…well…itself.  After three extensions and a re-release at the Vineyard, the show had a very successful run, but it is now closed.  The show and the actors who wrote and performed it are awesome–everyone should check out the soundtrack!)

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Final Project Showcase: JONES GALLERY

Sj3_5 For her final project, our resident art history expert Samantha Jones is creating and stocking a chic Manhattan art gallery. 

The website is still a work-in-progress, but if  you’re in the market for collage, definitely drop by the Jones Gallery.  You’ll learn about the gallery’s most recent show "What Could You Make?" and see some striking artwork by a certain Ms. Samantha Fuller…


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Tosca and Madama Butterfly: Portrayals and Perceptions of East and West

                                                                                                     Over the past coupleButterfly1 weeks we’ve seen two of the most famous and widely-known operas ever created: Puccini’s Tosca and his Madama Butterfly, both at the Met.  Each production was beautiful and incredible to see. While with Tosca we experienced a traditional, literal, no-holds-barred approach to opera, with Madama Butterfly we saw a new metaphoric, symbolic, and somewhat abstract performance of a Puccini classic.

A comparison of Tosca and Madama Butterfly brings up interesting questions of the portrayal of the East versus the West. Tosca premiered in 1900, followed by Butterfly in 1904. How does Puccini’s vision of the European past as performed in Tosca compare to his vision of the Far East as performed in Madama Butterfly? Today, could the Met have pulled off an abstract staging of Tosca as it did for Madama Butterfly? How does the Met’s current staging of Butterfly reflect modern perceptions and stereotypes of Asia and Japan? 

Please feel free to discuss these questions and share any other thoughts you may have had in the comments section of this post!                                                                                                                                                   
Tosca2 Butterfly2

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Madama Butterfly Soprano

On Thursday in class we discussed the performance of Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San in the Met’s current production of Madama Butterfly.  While we all agreed that Gallardo-Domas has an incredible voice, some of us were distracted by her very expressive and dramatic body movements throughout the performance. 

For comparison’s sake, here are two video clips, one of Cristina Gallardo-Domas singing "Un bel di vendremo" in 2003 and the second of opera legend Renata Tebaldi singing the same piece in the late 1950s.   Let us know what you think.

1. Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Madama Butterfly "Un bel di vendremo", Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 2003

2. Renata Tebaldi, Madama Butterfly "Un bel dì vedremo", first recording in color for television, about 1959, never broadcasted


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Maria Callas: Tosca

As discussed in class, Maria Callas (1923-1977) was one of the best known opera stars of the post-World War II era.  She made her professional debut on July 4, 1941 at the Athens Opera singing the role of Tosca.  For more information on Callas and her career, check out the official Maria Callas website.

Here you can watch a video clip of Callas and Tito Gobbi singing the opening of Tosca’s second act at the Royal Opera Covent Garden.   If you’re inspired, go ahead and comment about this video, Callas, or the performance of Tosca we saw at the Met!

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