Tag Archives: review

The veggie, the vegan, the raw.

My grandmother used to take my family to Chester, Connecticut once in a while. There was a French restaurant called Restaurant du Village that served the loveliest vegetable terrine.

Chester, Connecticut

Chester, Connecticut

I hadn’t been back to Chester in years. But now there’s a vegan/vegetarian/raw food restaurant there, named for its address: Six Main. It’s the subject of my latest food story. Read it here.


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Films about girls by guys.

I went to the Connecticut Out Film Fest last Wednesday night for a double bill of chick-chick flicks:

scene from "eloise's lover"A Different Kind of Love
Dir. Martin Dolensky, 2010, Czech Republic, 61 min

Eloise’s Lover
Dir. Jesús Garay, 2009, Spain, 92 min

I liked them – particularly Eloise’s Lover (scene pictured here) – but found them frustrating. Then I noticed that both films were directed by men. It explains a lot, particularly in the Czech film.

Here are some tropes the two have in common:

  • The “established” lesbian, the one who is out and comfortable with her identity, has long hair in an unconventional style. (You know, not so unconventional as to be short.)
  • Beginning to come out will leave you alienated from your mother or your kids (depending on which is featured in the plot), and definitely from your peers.
  • People will think you’re a perv, or will have awkward conversations in which they assert that they’re fine with it but warn you that everyone else will think you’re a perv.
  • Hooking up after having a crush seems to result in assumptions that a relationship will develop.
  • There’s no happy ending.

I can think of a lot of things that annoy me about the Czech film. Eva’s talking-head scenes gave away plot points so that other scenes didn’t have to do the storytelling as clearly. Daniella, the younger teacher, seemed to function as an adult, and she was supposed to be the one experienced with same-sex relationships; but when it came to dating, she had absolutely no capacity to think ahead or make rational decisions. (Getting it on in her classroom after school? Renting an apartment without even talking to the woman she wants to share it with? Not realizing that a woman with two kids will always have those two kids? If she’s that much of a moron, make her consistently a moron.)

The storytelling in Eloise’s Lover, fortunately, made a great contrast. With the way it cuts back and forth between the hospital and earlier scenes, you only sort of know where it’s going, and without knowing at all how the characters got there and how it ends. The characters made sense, and some lovely acting (Asia’s mother!) added depth. But the way the camera lingers on Eloise and Asia, particularly when they’re swimming and floating, just screams, “A man made this movie!”


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Drowning in Berg

After my last blog post, a fellow crank replied, “You’re cranky? Wozzeck’s Captain abuses him, his doc uses him for experiments, and his girl cheats on him.”

Good point.

Also, Wozzeck drowns. Then again, I practically drowned biking home from the New Haven train station in the driving rain. So we’re even there.

Alban Berg

I went to the Met today to catch the last performance of Wozzeck, and I’m so glad I did. I’d listened to recordings of the opera, and I’d heard excerpts of it in concert this past January with Janna Baty and the Yale Philharmonia, but I’d never seen it staged.

James Levine conducted, the first time I’d seen him, and the orchestra sounded fabulous. Through their performance, I reveled in Berg’s seemingly infinite palette, from the fleeting moments of tonality to the opera’s harshest crashes. The single-note crescendos before Act III were each a study in the myriad colors of a single pitch. The onstage musicians in Act II captured Berg’s half-illustrative, half-parodic tone. There were beautiful solos from the concertmaster and principal cello, fierce playing from the percussion section, and wonderfully subtle work from the brass.

I’m glad I saw the opera staged, but the best part of it was how it sounded.

The set’s high, looming walls and exposed square beams looked pretty cool, and they made good canvases for the striking lighting design, with its strong lines and deep shadows. But the set didn’t add anything in itself. It didn’t define spaces well: Marie’s house is only Marie’s house because of the bed. Wozzeck and Andre cut branches (or, rather, carry them around and tie them together) on a bare, raked stage. The tavern feels appropriately close and claustrophobic, particularly in the way it seems to funnel people toward its narrow upstage slot, but nothing about it communicates tavern-ness.

(If you had arrived late enough that you hadn’t had time to read the synopsis and freshen up your knowledge of the plot, you might think, “Where’d the party come from?” And only when the word “tavern” comes up on the Met titles do you realize where the scene is. I’m just saying.)

Robert Israel’s costumes were stronger than his set. (And if I could see anything of them from the family circle, that says something.) I liked the irony of Marie’s white dress, the just-below-the-knee length furthering the false suggestion of innocence. The doctor’s vest and watch chain perfectly captured his place in society and touched on his delusions of grandeur beyond his stature. That the boy wore Wozzeck’s hat in the last scene was a poignant touch.

I don’t know if the stage changes are particularly clumsy, or if there’s a particular dramatic reason to bring the curtain down every three minutes, but the curtain did a lot of falling and rising. It really kills the dramatic momentum of a scene to see the curtain begin to descend. What’s wrong with a blackout once in a while? Or in letting the audience watch the set changes? It’s not like there were a whole lot of props to move on and off stage. I thought back to the Met’s Boris Godunov and remembered how the transitions swept that (very long) opera from one scene to the next in a single breath.

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Hungry? Sushi.

My latest Bargain Bites column in the Hartford Courant is now up. I reviewed the new Sushi Palace in North Haven, because what’s a better bargain than all-you-can-eat sushi, tempura, maki, dumplings, seaweed salad, miso soup, teriyaki, Japanese noodles, red bean ice cream, and – well, you get the idea.

Thanks to everyone who waited patiently (or at least with the pretense of patience) while I photographed their food that they were so eager to eat.

I’m starting to get a little better at low-light indoor photography, but I still have a lot of work to do. Too much bokeh in these shots.

Read my scoop here.

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Watered and buried

The introduction to my latest concert review is up.

For the record: I did not write the headline. “Waterbury” twice in one headline, in the Waterbury newspaper? Gah. And most of the article is behind a paywall, but I’ve put a link below, in case you’re curious. (I should also state that this is the fastest I’ve ever – ever – had to write a review.)

Fortunately, the print version (pdf) had a much better headline – which I also didn’t write.

Also, I love the one web comment:
“Would have been nice to read about this BEFORE the concert. ”

To which I would like to reply:
Dear sir or madam: It’s a review. You can’t write a review before the concert even takes place.

Besides, it looks like the paper did run a preview of the event.

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But I *will* make Cardillac puns.

Because what’s a better response to depravity in opera than to make flippant puns? (Cardillac is pronounced car-dee-yak. Like a cross between a car and a kayak, but different.)

I went up to Boston on Sunday to see the New England premiere of Hindemith’s opera, and damn, why isn’t it performed more often?

In other news, I couldn’t resist titling my reviewCardillac: arresting.” And then my friend and fellow music journalist Chris wrote:

Love your title! (and review). I would have not been able to resist making 4 or 5 more heart attack jokes in the course of a review (“don’t bypass this show!” “Sylvan gave a heart-stopping performance” etc.), which only shows how much more class you possess than me, Ms. Astmann.

It’s really not an issue of class. Sadly, I was so tired when I was writing that it didn’t even occur to me to pepper my review with puns! But my fatigue-induced neglect is your heart-pumping opportunity. Bring on your best cardiac puns in the comments section. And read my review if you feel like it.

And if you’re in Boston, please please please go see the last performance of Cardillac tonight.


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Brunch and an opera

1. I went into the city yesterday to have brunch with some friends from my Galapagos trip and to see a new opera called Piazza Navona.

Brunch was delicious. I may forever need to eat eggs benedict on cheddar-jalapeño biscuits. And chipotle hollandaise is a beautiful thing.

2. I remember the actual Piazza Navona, though I haven’t been there in ten years. It’s in Rome, right near the apartment where my brother spent a lovely semester as a college junior. I visited him there, and I remember walking through the piazza many times on my way to the bakery tucked in one corner. I also remember how delicious the food was on that trip. There seems to be a theme here.

3. When I go to a new opera, I generally expect to see something with edges. I expect to hear some dissonance, see some angst, and have my thoughts provoked.

Yesterday, I settled into my seat on the train and started reading the libretto to Piazza Navona, which the composer had kindly sent me. And I couldn’t believe how fluffy it was: a totally improbable romantic comedy of errors.

Having just read Bill Buford’s Heat, in which he wrote about his experience in numerous Italian restaurant kitchens, I found myself thinking, “But they’d never promote him to executive chef after he’s then cooked all of one meal!” And why was this character the brother of that one? Totally gratuitous. And why do characters talk about falling in love when they’ve just met someone? Come on, that never works. The whole thing seemed like a romanticized, Eat Pray Love vision of Rome. So that was the attitude I walked into the theater with.

Fortunately, the production itself made this fluffernutter rather enjoyable. Here’s my review at Parterre.

4. Since they’d cut the three-act opera down to 75 continuous minutes, I spent more time eating than I did at the opera. I’m not sure I like what that implies about me.

But my meal was almost as memorable as the opera, and the opera was partly about memorable food, and all in all the day was lovely.


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