Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Of Liza and Huxley and a Real New World. . .

I was browsing the newspapers a couple of weeks ago, rolling my eyeballs at the mediocre reviews of Britney Spears' concert and wondering why anyone would shell out so much money to basically watch someone lipsynch on a jumbotron. And then I turned the page and there was an ad for Liza Minnelli's concert and I thought well, now there's someone real - she'll be belting out every word herself, backed by a great band and in a venue where you can actually see the star without having to squint at a huge video screen.

I immediately went and ordered a ticket. And how glad I am that I did. The concert was last night and it was terrific. What incredible energy! I was exhausted by intermission, just from watching her. She was funny, gracious and the power in her voice was incredible. I feel very privileged to be able to say I've now heard her sing "Cabaret" live. And I teared up, both when she sang about watching her mother perform, and during the encores where in complete contrast to all the flamboyant, powerful numbers, she beautifully sang "Everytime We Say Good-bye" with just a piano accompaniment. During her last encore, she was completely alone on the stage, sequins replaced by a t-shirt, high heels shoes kicked off, lit by a lone spotlight and then, "I'll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places. . . "

Of course another great reason to go to Roy Thomson Hall, is to check out their music store in the lobby where I always find the most unusual stuff. Last night's find was a 1956 radio dramatization of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where Huxley himself plays the narrator, and with an original score by Bernard Herrman (which is really why I bought the CD - Herrman is an incredible composer doing the scores for lots of Hitchcock movies such as Vertigo and North by Northwest, but also Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451 and so on). I've only listened to a bit of it, but I'm enjoying it so far. Huxley's voice has an old-fashioned, but elegant school teacher tone to it and the score is like a mysteriously sinister lullaby. In the accompanying booklet, they quote from a Time article describing the challenges of getting the sound effects just right:

"It took three radio sound men, a control-room engineer and five hours of hard work to create the sound that was heard for less than 30 seconds on the air. The sound consisted of a ticking metronome, tom-tom beats, bubbling water, air hose, cow moo, boing! (two types) oscillator, dripping water (two types) and three kinds of wine glasses clicking against each other. Judiciously blended and recorded on tape, the effect was still not quite right. Then the tape was played backward with a little echo added. That did it. The sound depicted the manufacturing of babies in the radio version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World."
The notes also talk about how this production was an attempt to revive CBS's Columbia Workshop which had produced a lot of experimental radio drama in the late 1930s before television arrived to lure the audience away. I however, am going backwards and rediscovering the joys of radio. I've just recently cancelled my cable tv, deciding that there was nothing worth watching that was worth the $500 annual fee and I was wasting far too much time on my couch, lazily sucked into persuing inane programming. So my television set now exists solely to allow me to watch DVDs. I don't think I'll miss it. The older I get, the more I crave real experiences - theatre, live music, travelling, walking - and if I'm lazing on my couch, I want to be accompanied by a good book, or be listening to great music. Or perhaps now, a radio drama.

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