Category: Media

By Yael Turitz (BC ’19)

I have a confession to make. I’m an addict.

No, I don’t struggle from alcoholism, or drug addiction, or even the newly psychologically recognized video-game addiction. I’m addicted to television.

I don’t mean to delegitimize the mental illness that is addiction. Thank God, I have never suffered from drug addiction or anything of the like and do not begin to claim I know what it feels like. And yet, I believe I too am an addict.

Addiction: “An unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something” (Merriam-Webster).

It’s 1AM on a Tuesday night and the man is turning his back on the only person who’s ever cared about him. His friend catches on, and suddenly it’s a brawl through the abandoned warehouse in Manhattan. With one knockout punch, it’s over. The screen turns black. I look over at my clock. 1:06AM. ABC’s Castle is over. My body is exhausted, but my mind is just getting started.

“Television is the bane of this generation.”

“The problem with today’s teenage population is that they spend too much time with their eyes glued to the television and never do anything productive with their time.”

“Studies have shown that people spend more time watching television today than they do working, or exercising, or having personal interactions.”

I’ve heard it all before. Grumbles of the men in my synagogue, the professors in my history class, my grandfather. But it can’t stop me.

My imagination thrusts into action. I take each individual character, major or minor, and imagine her background, his family life, his career plans, her goals. I forge relationships between characters, and I create new characters, to establish new bonds or to wedge distances between old ones. I get lost in my own mind.

I want to be a writer. Not a journalist, not an editor—a bona fide fiction writer. I know it’s crazy, idealistic, naïve- but nothing gets me going like a well-crafted story. My idols include people like Jane Austen and Aaron Sorkin.

When I watch an episode of the West Wing, I’m not aimlessly watching a laptop; I’m actively engaging with Josh and Donna and imagining just how beautiful Sorkin’s banter looked on a page. When I watched Downton Abbey each week (oh boy, here comes the loss-of-Downton tears), it wasn’t a time-waster; it was a gateway into a world of characters and story-lines I could mold in my mind. Episodes inspire me to do what I love.

It’s an addiction because it’s a need. Once I get going, there’s no stopping me. I need to see how my imagination from last week measures up against The Good Wife’s professional writers’. There’s an incredible satisfaction when I get it exactly right, and I get a bit smug if I think my story was better. Of course, many times I’m awed when the plot takes a twist I never saw coming. But I am only fully content when I’ve resolved this creative discourse going on in my head. Only then can I peacefully fall asleep.

Am I wasting my time? Sure, I could exercise more. (Actually, I probably should exercise more, but that’s beside the point.) And sure, sometimes I watch TV while procrastinating from doing work. But you know what? I resent the bad rap television has gotten. There are definitely shows out there- think Keeping Up With the Kardashians- that are a mindless waste of time. But quality television is not pointless. An episode of Homeland is just as gripping as Stephen King’s latest novel. Gilmore Girls’ script is as smart and creative as any Oscar Wilde play. And you can learn from shows like The Big Bang Theory or The Newsroom. I know many will hound me for attributing such greatness to the medium of modern television—but honestly, TV writers are some of the greatest creative minds of our time. And it’s not fair to them when we blatantly characterize their work as a “waste of time.”

I’m addicted to fiction, to plot-lines, to characters, to twists and turns. I get a high, all in my own mind, off of stories. Stories spark the creativity inside of me, and my passion for stories is fueled by shows on television. One day, I dream of being the one sitting behind the scenes as the cameras roll and the actors speak the words I’ve written. And one day, when you insult the medium of television, you’ll be insulting my hard work. TV writers deserve better than that. Our openness to creativity deserves better than that.

Also, if you need any series suggestions—hit me up.

 

Nearly a fifth of the operas appearing onstage this year at the Met were written by the 19th century Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, and together, they all provide the opportunity to experience the broad range of his artistic mastery. Already audiences have been treated to two of three operas of the “Tudor Trilogy,” dramas depicting the trials of British royalty and this season starring Sondra Radvanovksy. This season in March, two of his mirthful comedies share the stage. L’elisir d’amore (“The Elixir of Love”) opens at the end of this week, while Donizzetti’s outlandish farce Don Pasquale returned last Friday in a revival of an exuberant production by director Otto Schenk.

Beneath an evening of hilarious shenanigans lies a fairly simple plot. The old bachelor Don Pasquale has promised to bequeath a small fortune to his pouty nephew Ernesto as long as he agrees to marry the woman Pasquale has selected. Ernesto refuses, and Pasquale, with the aid of the wily Doctor Malatesta, decides to cast out Ernesto and find himself a young wife instead.

Pasquale is beside himself when Malatesta offers him the hand of his docile sister Sophronia, but little does he know that this delicate bride is none other than Norina, Ernesto’s beloved, in disguise. Before the ink can dry on their false marriage contract, Norina turns into a demanding shrew and terrorizes Pasquale unceasingly until he abandons any hope of marital bliss. Eventually, the young lovers are ultimately reunited, everyone is reconciled, and all join in proclaiming the opera’s wry moral: Only trouble awaits the old man who weds a young wife.

As the curmudgeonly Pasquale, rotund Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri returned to the Met after past triumphs as the scheming Doctor Dulcamara in “L’elisir d’amore” and the buffoonish title character in Verdi’s “Falstaff.” A “maestro” of farce, Maestri brings impeccable timing and telling facial expressions to every outsized character he plays and excels at patter singing, a hallmark of Italian comic opera during which long lines of text are declaimed at great speed.

Making an exciting Met debut, soprano Eleonora Buratto conveyed Norina’s dual sweetness and cunning with lustrous timbre and dynamic physicality. Early on, the top of her range tended to get away from her, but as the evening progressed, she focused her tone and offered pure, creamy singing. Hers is a voice that will undoubtedly become rounded and more secure with time, but even on this occasion, she managed to blend nicely with her colleagues.

Rising Mexican tenor Javier Camarena played Ernesto, lending his supple instrument to yet another successful interpretation of beloved Bel Canto character. In this repertoire, there is often a risk that a tenor’s bright tone can grate on the ear, but Camarena’s warm, heartfelt voice and masterfully fluid phrasing always ensure great lyricism. The prolonged applause he received after his Act 2 aria “Povero Ernesto” was well deserved.

Rounding out the ensemble, Levente Molnár brought spirited panache to his portrayal of Malatesta, not only matching his colleagues’ winning stage presence and rapid-fire singing, but also bringing a rich depth to more expressive moments. On the podium, conductor Marizio Bennini evoked spirited color and Italianate style from the orchestra and chorus, though his pacing often got ahead of the action onstage, forcing the singers to struggle to keep up with the accelerated tempi.

While we await the end of winter’s chill, the lovable antics of “Don Pasquale” should warm the hearts of Columbia students desperately seeking an escape from impending midterms.

Performances of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale continue through March 18, with this Saturday’s matinee performance being broadcast live on WQXR 105.9FM. More information can be found online at metopera.org

Last night, Columbia University No Budget Sketch Show (CUSS) released their newest video, “Shmasterpieces of Western Lit: The Odyssey,” a video showcasing an overview of Homer’s Odyssey… from a different point of view.

Watch the video below.

Want to feature your club’s updates here? Email submissions@columbialion.com

The Varsity Show began with a tour guide singing a catchy song about how great Columbia University is. At this point, I thought the Varsity Show would be a chipper piece about extolling the virtues of our great university.

As soon as an offstage actor threw a shoe at the tour guide and yelled, “No one gives a fuck!” I knew I was sorely mistaken.

The show loosely followed an alumni couple trying to decide if Columbia is the right school for their daughter — who hasn’t been born yet. The tour guide takes them to a typical Columbia classroom filled with stereotypical students and a drunk Professor. After an argument about why “the classics” are the classics (and if they should be considered classics after all), the class launches into dark tune called “There’s A Dead White Man Inside Us All.”

The alumni couple is fairly traumatized by the classroom discussion and discuss a world before trigger warnings, “safety spaces,” racism, and homophobia (which came about when “Ellen Degeneres invented it.”).

The couple then launches into “Greener Pastures,” a song that tells how they met each other and how the good old days are gone. This song wasn’t as strong as the first, but the faux ballet-like choreography was highly entertaining.

After the dance, a guy from Beta runs across the stage, handing out flyers for an upcoming party. The couple begs the tour guide for permission to go, and the tour guide reluctantly grants it.

Before the party, the audience sees the sisters of a sorority preparing. The preparation isn’t what you’d expect; the leader of the sisters urges them to remember the four B’s: “boobs, boos, boys, and backstabbing.” The couple goes to the party and is accepted by their respective Greek life group. When they question the slightly illegal things that are going on at the party, the entire group bursts into a rock song, “Leaders Tomorrow.” The song was about how the kids at the party are going places even though it doesn’t seem like it during their partying shenanigans. This was when the cast really showed their dancing skills. There had been dancing in “A Dead White Man Inside Us All, but it had mostly been sitting down. This dancing was fast-paced and intense, yet the cast was able to keep up their vocals and enunciation as they sang.

The show ended with the cast brandishing signs for the show’s official dates. Everyone left in a breath of exhilaration.

The Varsity Show Preview wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. Instead of the ragtag variety show I expected, it was a musical-quality show with a satirical edge. The Varsity Show wasn’t afraid to comment on uncomfortable things I realized as true. Not only did it make me think, but it made me chuckle. There’s no doubt this uncanny mix of truth and humor will delight almost everyone.

The Varsity Show runs from April 29 – May 2. You can grab your tickets here.

Most operas have the (unfair) reputation of being long, drawn-out affairs that require multiple hours of concentration. While it is true that there are some gargantuan opuses in the standard repertory, others get the job done in just an hour. Often multiple of these compact one-act works are presented together to offer a full night of entertainment. The most famous of these pairings is of two Italian operas composed within three years of each other, just before the turn of the last century – “Cavalleria rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “I pagliacci”. Last month, these two classics were presented in a production by Sir David McVicar for the first performance in a month-long run at the Metropolitan Opera.

While the operas were not originally intended to be presented together, each is a gripping drama focused on the extraordinary trials of seemingly ordinary people. McVicar capitalized on these similarities and set both on the same piazza in a small Southern Italian town roughly fifty years apart. Before “Cavalleria” begins, the peasant woman Santuzza has been excommunicated due to her dalliances outside of wedlock with the local villager, Turiddu. Over the course of the opera, not only does she grapple with her outsider status, she must also face the revelation that Turiddu has abandoned her and taken up with a married woman.

After the intermission, we return to the same square, now just after the Second World War, as a troupe of clowns and acrobats arrives to entertain the townspeople. Unfortunately, Canio, the leader of the performers, discovers that his wife has moved on to another, younger lover, and his jealously and rage ultimately come to head during that evening’s performance with tragic results.

It was often hard to believe that the same director created both stagings. McVicar’s take on “Cavalleria” was stiff and drab, bereft of any of the genuine emotional urgency that throbs on every page of Mascagni’s score. Instead, much of the direction relied on the oversized melodramatic gestures that did little to convey the truth that lies at the piece’s heart. In contrast, his “Pagliacci” was inspired! At times, the production was incredibly funny and engaging, and these mirthful moments helped make the heartrending climax so much more impactful.

As the tortured Santuzza, soprano-turned-mezzosoprano Violetta Urmana sang with a warm, rounded tone that revealed the character’s inner virtue. Unfortunately, the upper limits of the role stressed her vocal capabilities and resulted in strained high notes. Even though his singing lacked much dimension, South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee still brought an Italianate color to his performance of Turiddu; however, his reliance on insincere histrionics undermined his portrayal.

Mezzosoprano Ginger Costa-Jackson brought a supple sound to her role as Lola, the new object of Turiddu’s affection, while Ambroggio Maestri’s robust baritone seemed underserved in his somewhat wooden interpretation of Lola’s husband Alfio.

This season, tenor Roberto Alagna celebrates two decades since his Met debut, and he returned on this occasion as Canio, a role in which he has performed to acclaim around the globe. Alagna’s clean timbre has become clouded with time, and he spent much of the night forcefully delivering his music. His true strengths lay in his skill as an actor; he deftly portrayed the uncontrollable mix of love, anger, and despair that ultimately lead the character to commit murder.

As his wife Nedda, soprano Barbara Frittoli struggled to execute the role’s higher passages and offered only rare moments of penetrating singing in the middle of her range. George Gagnidze expertly rendered the dual personae of Tonio, a lecherous clown who forces himself upon Nedda backstage but is nothing but laughs before the public. With a strong, virile baritone, Alexey Lavrov brought much-needed heat as Silvio, Nedda’s ardent lover.

Audiences have come to rely on Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi for the wealth of color that he can draw from his musicians, and this performance was no exception. Luisi guided the orchestra and chorus though a reading of both pieces that was imbued with musical depth and dramatic integrity.

These operas are classics of the Italian operatic repertory and feature two of the best scores of the late nineteenth century. The music, along with the brilliant staging of “I pagliacci,” should appeal to Columbia students interested in the art form; however, the inconsistencies throughout cannot be avoided. It may be better to wait for another work from the same period to be performed later in the season – possibly the new production of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” which opens in just a few weeks.

Performances of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “I pagliacci” run through February 26. More information can be found online at www.metopera.org.