Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Le Gay Weekend

October 24, 2011

Angela Gheorghiu Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Don’t ask me how, but I spent quite a bit of time in a movie theater this past weekend. I tend to favor live performances over filmed ones, but the stars aligned and instead I saw perhaps two of the gayest possible things I probably could back to back in less than 24 hours. And since my regular readers know how much I love pretty, sexually ambiguous performers, or so I’m told, it will not surprise you to know that one of these was an encore screening of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur from the Royal Opera House last December starring Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu and the other was Andrew Haigh’s recent romance, Weekend. The two were surprisingly similar in content with their rampant drug abuse, whispered heart-felt secrets, and male hawtness. Or then again maybe it was just me.

That hawtness in David McVicar’s smart production of Adriana Lecouvreur radiated from Mr. Kaufmann. His hair alone is awe-inspiring and his robust, warm tenor was at its best in the role of the Count of Saxony, Maurizio. Why Olga Borodina and Gheorghiu might be warring over his affections seemed perfectly natural to me. But there is a lesson here Kaufmann-lovers: as with Maurizio, if he promises to marry you, there are legions of other paramours that will no doubt be happy to put a price on your head. Gheorghiu gets a bad rap as a temperamental diva, and I realizes haters gotta hate. But lord can she sing this sort of thing better than anyone going. Even some of the cornier gestures in her acting toolbox seem somehow endearing here. When the curtain on Adrianna’s dressing room is pulled back in Act I to reveal Gheorghiu bent forward in prayer, I was bemused, but soon found myself completely wrapped up in a believable winning turn in this role. Her death scene, having handled the Princess' now poisoned flowers, was especially affecting. Mark Elder led a lush, glowing performance from the orchestra. My only regret is that the camera work didn't do justice to McVicar's dark brooding staging, and the moments that the cameras did pan back to include the full stage were some of the visually strongest images of the whole night. The performance will screen again at several Laemmle's locations around Southern California on Nov 1 if you've missed it.

Tom Cullen and Chris New Photo: Quinnford & Scout/Sundance Selects
Meanwhile, the lovers in Andrew Haigh’s Weekend face a very different contemporary set of obstacles. Two gay men meet on a Friday night in what starts out as a sexual hook-up but soon evolves into something greater in just four extended meetings over a drug-fueled 48 hours. Haigh’s partially improvised script pulls in loads of personal and cultural politics into this blooming intimacy between Glen, a savvy art-student, and Russell, a comparatively reserved lifeguard. The film revels in a low-budget, independent look with shots sometimes partially blocked by architectural features and sound that comes from someplace else. And while I often wondered if renting a boom mic would have bankrupted the production, I couldn’t help but admire the underlying sincerity and honesty of the final product. At times the coincidences in the plot do go a bit too far. There are some interesting meta- overtones to the film as well. Glen, a great Chris New, often pontificates that no one is really interested in gay art. Specifically he notes that straight people have no interest in it at all, and gay men are only interested if it involves explicit sexual content. And yet Haigh’s film, has been placed in a similar position as much of the PR around its American release has emphasized the “universal” nature of its themes in an effort to gain a wider audience. Russell, the equally excellent Tom Cullen, is less politically motivated than Glen and believes in an essential goodness and bravery in love that Glen seems skeptical of. Glen continues to feel that the cards will always be stacked against them. However, given the film’s less than riding-off-into-the-sunset ending, Haigh’s gay romance may not distance itself as much as it would intend to from the long history of tragic endings for gay male love affairs à la Brokeback Mountain. Just as Glen might surmise, the relationship between “gay” and “happy” may still be farther apart than the dominant culture, (or its internalized subcultural variant) is willing to allow. But Weekend is an excellent film and considering how few gay-themed films achieve this level of quality, that is an achievement in itself.


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