The Blog


Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

There’s something fun brewing down on 52nd street. Opening April 17th, “Groundhog Day” is creating a comical storm on Broadway in the August Wilson theater. Based off the the 1993 movie, the show has been adopted into a two act musical with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (known for his working in writing the music for Matilda).

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For those who have not seen the show, Groundhog Day centers around a shallow, arrogant weatherman named Phil Connor, played by Andy Karl. Connor, known for his weather reports, is once again sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day event. Frustrated and disillusioned with being sent to a small town to report on a holiday that directly contradicts his own profession, Connor makes his disdain for being sent to report on the holiday abundantly clear. He irritably storms around the town, ignoring those around him and dismissing his cameraman and assistant producer Rita as they record

that the groundhog saw its shadow, meaning there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Later that day, he finally gets excited again — about leaving back for “anywhere but [Punxsutawney].” However, both weather and the local police overshadow his plans as the storm he predicted would not hit the town ends up dousing the small town with a heavy helping of snow and closing down all the roads and highways. Despite his best attempts to leave the town (portrayed with a miniature van circling around the stage), he is forced to spend one more night in little old Punxsutawney.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Upon waking up, however, Connor is confused as everyone in the town seems to be talking about Groundhog Day, even when it should be the next day. As he quickly realizes, he’s stuck in a loop — every morning he wakes up in the same bed and breakfast on Groundhog Day.

Throughout the show, Karl perfectly portrays Connor. As the days keep on repeating (marked with characters repeating lines and scenes happening again and again), even the audience can feel his frustration. Even when Connor goes to quite drastic measures to end the cycle, he fails. Eventually, Connor learns to use his “curse” for a greater good — he starts trying to improve the lives of others and is forced to finally think about those around him. Like he says in the show, no one realizes “how deep my shallowness goes.” But as his character develops, we see a new side of him as he learns to focus on being a better person and lifting up those around him — even if they won’t remember it the next day.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Likewise, his associate producer and later love interest Rita Hanson (played by Barrett Doss) is equally as splendid. Not willing to give into just any love interest coming her way, Hanson plays a strong woman who knows what she wants and refuses to settle for less. Hanson tells Connor, “You’re the lucky one–you get to try new things everyday,” when he tells her that he is stuck in a loop. It makes the audience think about what they would do if they could do anything without the consequences of facing tomorrow and the aftermath of a bad decision. Yet, sometimes you want to move forward in life, no matter the regrets you have. Time is a theme that the audience can’t seem to escape while watching the show: it leaves us with lingering questions about our own choices and how we use our time. Focusing too much on success or the future can make us ignore enjoying and contributing to the present.

“Groundhog Day” is a special show. Within two and a half hours, the audience watches the characters grapple with insecurities, rejection, love, and more in a show that is brilliantly hilarious and equally thought-provoking. With its mix of upbeat songs and an incredible story, this is a show that everyone should run and see. As Rita Hanson sings in the middle of Act II, “If I had my time again, I would do it all the same,” and when it comes to whether I would go back to see this show again, I’d have to agree.

Tickets to Groundhog Day can be purchased from here. The show also maintains a daily lottery for those interested in winning discounted tickets.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

“So beautiful,” whispered a captivated concertgoer behind me. Normally, any talking—or sound for that matter—is hurriedly and aggressively shushed by a “serious” audience member at the Met. Renée Fleming, however, seemed to provoke an admissible exception.

Fleming’s whirlwind return to the Met Opera’s season premiere of Der Rosenkavalier (music by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal) electrified the opera community. Last week, Fleming scared many by announcing that she would soon be leaving the opera stage. Fleming has since nixed the retirement idea, but the effect of the buzz was obvious: fans came in large numbers just in case this would be the last time that they could do so. In attendance as well were some of Fleming’s collaborators, who have sung with her over the years–coming to support her previously-presumed last run at the Met.

Fleming, for her part, plays the Marschallin: a middle-aged member of the Viennese aristocracy who sighs in anguish over the cruelness of aging. Fleming knows—and loves—the role. In her first solo at the end of Act 1, Fleming smartly addressed the silver rose—a symbol of youth and forthcoming happiness—with an imploring, wistful tone quality. Shortly after, her sweet, yet innerly despairing voice seized the audience’s empathy.

ROSE_0080a

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

However, notwithstanding the positive aspects of Fleming’s work tonight, I do prefer her 2010 performance of the same role (Columbia faculty and students can find it through CLIO under the keyword “Met Opera on Demand”). In that performance, she lived the Marschallin: solemn tears slowly streamed down her face at the end of the “Mein schöner Schatz” duet in Act 1. Her phrasing and sepulchral tone made for an unforgettable moment.

Tonight’s conductor, Sebastian Weigle, again chose problematic tempos. The prelude, for example, was much too fast. Here, the music is declarative, demonstrative—overly confident and grandiose. Yet, Weigle seemed incredibly anxious, gesturing with extremely quick circular motions (so fast that his arms were just a blur to my eyes). By taking a quicker tempo, the music sounded too hectic and lost its appropriate gusto.

Weigle made a similarly poor decision in the last minutes of Act 3. Here, silvery chords in the high strings, winds, and percussion flutter downward. The descent should be reflective—it is the end of the opera!—and ethereal. However, it felt tossed-off, illy cared for–herky-jerky and uneven. I recognize that I was critical of Weigle’s lethargic tempo decisions for Fidelio, yet here he seems to have gone in the opposite direction. I do admit however, that future runs of the production might produce better results.

The Met orchestra impressed me —as it routinely does—with its stamina. In the middle of the third act, I heard a clarinetist–presumably either Inn-Hyuck Cho or Anton Rist–flawlessly execute a rapid lick that flickered between the clarion and altissimo registers. The passage was followed by a sustained, pianissimo high note. Both of these sections are incredibly difficult to play when with fresh energy. They’re almost a miracle after two and a half hours of continuous music.

Robert Carsen, the producer of the Met’s new take on Der Rosenkavalier, replaces the dusty, Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque setting with a bawdy production set when the opera was written (1911). Topless prostitutes pursue and are pursued by lustful Viennese men; Octavian, the Marschallin’s young lover, grabs his partner’s behind (what a great way to say, “Welcome back, Renée!”); and Sophie, Octavian’s new love, carelessly dances across one of her father’s howitzer (oddly placed in the living room of their modern palace).

ROSE_0907a

The playfulness of Octavian–performed by Elīna Garanča–and the Marschallin–sung by Renée Fleming–on display in Act 1. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Admittedly, I was skeptical when I learned about Carsen’s decision to set the third act in a brothel. Typically, it is staged in an inn, a “house of ill repute.” However, the text—the same one used for the inn setting—actually translates well in the new environs: it is believable that Sophie’s dad Faninal calls Octavian, who is disguised as Mariandel, a slut and it makes sense that Octavian assumes a baser dialect as a working-class Viennese woman (some funny lines include “Whad’ya mean?” and “I ain’t gonna drink no wine.”)

The one aspect of the brothel that felt most uncomfortable, however, was the onstage jazz quartet. Prostitutes pantomimed and synchronized fake playing on the clarinet, saxophone, double bass, and accordion. Not only was their supposed music not like the orchestra’s actual performance, but also the quartet implied 1920s Europe more than the 1910s. The production had a 1920s feel to it elsewhere as well, Octavian’s flapper-like costume in Act 1 being another example.  

I found Carsen’s incorporation of the Zeitgeist—especially Freudian ideas—rather compelling. When Sophie sings about her upcoming marriage, dreamlike clones of Sophie and her groom-to-be waltz behind her. Sophie is bathed in a yellow spotlight—the light of the real world—while the dancers behind her are enveloped in purple—a hue of the inner, thought world. Carsen’s decision illustrates how an individual’s inner thoughts and desires are experienced as real, even while awake.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Although this was seemingly The Renée Fleming Show, there are, of course, more singers in Der Rosenkavalier. Elīna Garanča as Octavian embodied the wide range of conflicting emotions of her character. At the end of the last act, Octavian is caught between the Marschallin and Sophie, unsure of who he should turn to. Here, Garanča’s expressions and voice illustrated Octavian’s distress well.

Erin Morley as Sophie sounded quite warm in the upper register, especially when she built up toward it. Unfortunately, she was sometimes overpowered by the orchestra, especially during a fast, staccato passage in Act 2. Overall, I found that her diction was unintelligible at times, but balance could be to blame.

Günther Groissböck–a holdover from Fidelio–swaggered with pride, aggression, and self-absorption as the predatorial Baron Ochs. In Act 2, he engaged with Sophie in a vocal battle of sorts, his crescendoing vocal presence overpowering his soon-to-be wife (who he caustically likened to an “unbroken foal”). The Ochs is easily one of the easiest-to-hate characters in opera.

But the night was Fleming’s. At curtain call, the audience enthusiastically expressed joy for her return and relief for her operatic stay. It was her voice—combined with the prowess of the Met orchestra—that led my fellow concertgoer to exclaim, “So beautiful.” It is for these cherished musical moments that we go to the opera and for which you should let yourself come too.

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier runs through May 13, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live May 13, at 12:30 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org.

 

 

Graphic made by Laura Elizabeth Hand, CC’19

“I’m just too busy.”

“Can’t; got to go to Butler.”

“Just because you want me to come doesn’t mean I will.”

For most Columbia students, keeping track of the number of times their friends and classmates have “flaked” on them or turned down their offers to hang out because of their “busyness” is an impossible task. This can easily be seen in both conversations with peers and the stark difference between the number of people who sign up for events at Columbia versus the number of people who actually show up. As a student body, we are each obsessed with the idea that we do not have downtime. You always need to be working and getting ahead while also espousing the idea that you’re failing all your classes and cannot find enough hours in the day to sleep, let alone let loose and fun. Despite the constant Spec op-eds and Facebook rants bemoaning Columbia’s stress culture and lacking mental health resources, when it comes to us individually doing our parts to remedy the problems we continue to critique, we don’t because we value our own reasons for being stressed above others’ reasons.

“I need to get into medical school.”

“I care about my education.”

“I have to get a 4.0; I’m trying to get into a good law school.”

In each one of these sentiments, we create a metaphorical barrier, an us versus them mentality. We perpetuate the idea that there is a goal we need to constantly struggle to capture and that to a certain extent, those around us are trying to distract us from it.

But what does it mean to be busy? How can we both enjoy the benefits of being students living and learning in America’s busiest city while also capturing these goals? In many ways, we should look to the message encapsulated in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, “Sunday in the Park with George.”

For those who have not heard of the show before, it follows the artistic process of famous artist Georges Seurat as he creates and develops the painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Throughout the first act, Seurat is completely fixated on drawing sketches of the people who are ultimately portrayed in his famous painting. As he works on the piece and obsesses over “Finishing the Hat”, he fails to consider the lives and feelings of those around him.

“Finishing the Hat” performed by Jake Gyllenhaal

 

In particular, the audience is exposed to the romantic relationship between Seurat and Dot, the latter being the role played by Ashford. Gyllenhaal who plays his role perfectly as he time and time again dismisses and chides Dot as she complains about having to stand still under the hot sun while Seurat sketches her. Seurat’s goal is to develop a work of art completely like no other. He has had the idea and now is steadfast in achieving its completion. Despite listening to complaints from his love Dot, Seurat does not truly hear and process them as they conflict with his direct desires. Dot even tells him:

Yes, George, run to your work.
Hide behind your painting.
I have come to tell you I am leaving because I thought you might
care to know-foolish of me, because you care about nothing-

In being so passionate about his goal, he forgets the people in his own life. As the plot develops and Dot eventually moves on, after realizing she cannot stay with Seurat, he still fails to address it, instead retreating further into his work.

Like a Columbia student dedicating so much time to their specific craft, they lean on it as their excuse and crutch. Just as Seurat in the production cannot escape his work, we too cannot see beyond our work: our looming deadlines, upcoming exams, next club/board/committee/council meetings, impending fellowship and scholarship applications, and imminent job and internship interviews. The list of work we each have goes on and on, adding to our lists of reasons to skip that food truck fair in Brooklyn we talked with our friends about for months, or miss seeing that old friend who is visiting NYC over break, or cancel plans to go to that free (or extremely cheap) event that we RSVP’d to as going on Facebook. We look at the world and people around us in the same manner that Dot describes as being characteristic of George:

As if he sees you and he doesn’t all at once.

Instead of fully valuing those around us and the opportunities we have, we simply ignore them — out of sight out of mind — and obsess over our work. And while we did come here to learn, we need to really understand that there is more to a Columbia education than just mentally locking ourselves into libraries and priding ourselves in unhealthy sleep habits.

As students, we need to break out of using our work and goals as an excuse. Dedicate more time to trying something new, leaving Butler and going off-campus, finding the color and lights that can brighten our days rather than groveling. As much as having dreams and passions is great, so is being able to explore new topics and brighten the day of others by just listening to them and putting in the effort to get to know more about them and their passions.

Tickets to “Sunday in the Park with George” can be purchased here. Performances run until April 23rd, 2017.

Photo Courtesy of Bradley Davison (CC ’17)

Want to avoid getting that 8:40 section of the last Core class you need to take? Hurry over to SSOL then, but don’t forget to import your classes from Vergil first. As of today, rising seniors in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences can begin registering for classes.

If you’re still unsure of what classes you want to take, we have a LionGuide to help you with that.

And just remember, this is your last time registering for fall semester, so don’t play yourself.

It’s finally registration time, so you’ve likely already loaded up your schedule with as many classes as possible. However, you’ve still got plenty of chances left to edit that list, and to help you in that task, The Lion staff has compiled a list of favorite classes that we’ve heard from students.

Data Structures with Paul Blaer

“Blaer is literally the man. I loved every moment of his cheesy jokes and he made learning really easy. He also was super approachable and offered a ton of support if you asked. Definitely recommend this class for anyone (and if you’re a CS major, you have to take it).”

The American Presidency or something with Peter Awn

“Islam with Peter Awn was by far the best course I’ve had at Columbia. He’s an outstanding lecturer, and you actually will not want to miss any of the classes just because of how good his lectures are. That’s not in the course catalog anymore,  I’ll link you to something else. If you’re into politics, The American Presidency with Richard Pious is an incredible class.

The guy knows a ton, and he has a lot of personal anecdotes to relay based either on his research or his individual encounters with some of the people he lectures about. Plus his book (Why Presidents Fail) is one of the few professor-authored required readings that you will ever actually enjoy. It’s well-written and really, really interesting. I loved this class and I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in American politics, whether or not you’re a PoliSci person.”

History of the Modern Middle East

“Khalidi is super smart and very entertaining. Even though the class meets early, I liked going to the lectures. The take-home midterm essays were a good method to test knowledge and get you to learn without forcing you to cram random facts in your head. Also, it covers a global core requirement.”

Galaxies, and Cosmology and Cellular and Molecular Immunology

“‘Favorite class” is kind of a weird thing to say. Does it mean “enjoyable?” I’ve taken a lot of classes here that taught me a lot about an interesting subject but beat me senseless in the process (looking at you, Orgo). I will therefore submit two different kinds of favorites:

Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology with Prof. Putman fits squarely into the enjoyable category. Learning the basics on everything from how stars generate elements, to how we measure distance in the universe to what happened in the time immediately after the Big Bang was fascinating. The class even made me consider a major in Astronomy until I figured out that I am bad at physics. There’s a problem set every once in a while, but it’s fairly trivial. Most of the class consisted of knowing how to use some provided formulas.

In the more difficult but really interesting category, I would put Cellular and Molecular Immunology with Solomon Mowshowitz. Immunology is an extremely complicated, but fascinating subject and Mowshowitz teaches it with aplomb and a decent sense of humor to boot. He also brings in really interesting guest lecturers. The TAs were also a great resource, at least when I took the course. It’s not particularly easy, but if you put in the work, a good grade is well within reach.”

Any class with Professor Tamara Mann Tweel

“God she is so brilliant. Probably the best manager of seminar conversation I had at Columbia, period. Kind, always prepared for class, and deeply insightful. Professor Tweel has a historical perspective that stretches beyond – in examining the roots of “philanthropy”, we went all the way back to early Christian concepts of charity right through nitty-gritty stuff like U.S. tax policy and how it incentivizes a certain kind of charitable giving. She is both a believer in institutions and demands powerful critiques of them and changes to them, which I found helpful in my own path of studying how social change happens in the U.S.”

Philosophy and Feminism

“If you’re new to philosophy, Philosophy and Feminism with Christia Mercer is also life changing for a lot of people (it covers not only feminism, but also intersectionality, the prison industrial complex, and the role of science today)”

Critical Approaches in Social and Cultural Theory

“has changed how I think about everything. 12/10”

War, Peace, and Strategy

“If you’re a political science major, especially in international relations, it’s easy to lose perspective on what you’re talking about after a certain point. Sure, you know your theories well enough, but when and how should states apply them? Why do certain states favor one approach to another? How do non-state actors factor in? How does “power balancing” actually work when it comes to the part where shots are fired? And once the guns do go off, why does one side win and the other lose?

Professor Betts and his mammoth reading list can actually get close to answering all of these questions and more. He’s a fascinating lecturer with endless Cold War annecdotes that are worth taking the class for in themselves, but most of all, what you read in this class will change how you look at war, politics, and political science itself. This is one of those life-changing classes, so don’t let the workload (or Betts) scare you off. At the very least, download the syllabus and add it to your summer reading.”

Black Intellectuals

” I took a class called Black Intellectuals, which was absolutely fantastic. He [Professor Frank Guridy] holds a great space for class discussion, has radical politics in this inclusive way that makes people comfortable, and is an open-minded guy. As a Afro-Dominican man, one lens he brings is the importance of international influence on American radical traditions (as well as the impact of going abroad on the activists themselves). I learned so much. Oh and no bullshitting in his classroom.”

Computing in Context

“My favorite class has been Computing in Context with Professor Adam Cannon. The class was a great intro to coding for people new to Computer Science and taught me so much. Even two years later, I still use the concepts I learned in the class. I think it’s only offered in the fall now, but if you want to try Computer Science class, I highly recommend starting with this over 1004”

Art and Music Hum

“My favorite classes were art/music hum because they felt like a no-pressure environment where you could actually learn things or not, as you pleased, without much repercussion. And that freedom, along with the lack of pressure to know every single thing on every single slide, meant that I actually felt interested in learning the subject matter.

It’s like when you get assigned a book in high school that you would’ve enjoyed had it been for pleasure, but now that there’s discussion questions and essays to write, you kind of already hate it. I know classes are heavily professor-dependent, but in general, I feel like classes are run so I can walk in, sit down, and talk about what I see/hear — forget problem sets, equation sheets, or memorizing tons of studies to know what’s going on.”

Romantic Poetry

“Erik Gray is the current director of the English Undergrad department and a veritable god of reading. If you’re considering an English major, take this class and you’ll be convinced (Literary Texts and Critical Methods is pretty scary, but required.) Gray has a soothing and melodious voice, and he knows everything about everything, basically. Also, poetry classes don’t pose a serious amount of reading, and the assessments aren’t that daunting either. You’ll have fun. Who doesn’t love reading about daffodils?”

Principles of Economics

“Gulati is a superstar in the econ department who is known for his global political economy work. At Columbia, he’s famous for being on the American FIFA board and his amazing (but intimidating) lecture quality. Be there early—his classes often start at 8:30, and he’s known to sign add/drop forms for all except the latecomers.”

“The class may kill you but the man is worth it! A tremendous teacher and the President of U.S. Soccer (if you’re into that stuff). You won’t be disappointed.”

Science of Psychology

“The quintessential psychology class. Science of Psychology is known for being a good alternative to Astro for the science requirement and is one of the lighter pre-med classes. Multiple-choice tests remind you of high school. For those new to the subject, it can be fascinating to learn about why people think the way they do. For the more neuroscience-y types, Mind, Brain, and Behavior is an excellent follow-up.”

The Social World

“A great introduction to the field of sociology. It’s heavy on the readings and has weekly quizzes and response papers, but it will make you rethink the extent of the inequalities present in society. To quote CULPA, ‘As you choose which classes you should take at an institution that charges us upwards of $50,000 for a supposed world class education, ask yourself if you want to be challenged.'”

Intro to Java (CS 1004)

“Although required for most SEAS majors, many CC students also take this class to learn more about the hard coding behind the technology they use every day. Projects can get pretty challenging, but people often work in groups. Adam Cannon is a great lecturer and often convinces otherwise science-shy students to give computer science a chance.”

Colloquium on East Asian Texts

“The go-to Global Core option. Its nickname is Asia Hum, and the similarities to Lit Hum are striking. Professor de Bary makes the “Analects of Confucius” come alive. The final is an oral presentation, which can be intimidating, but as long as you’ve been following the readings, it’s not too bad. It’s a good counterpart to the Western-dominated canon of the Core.”