Monday, January 27, 2003

Cultural note: Barcelona is quite a civilized place to live. It has a brand-new "National" Theater and 34 other stages for plays. Stuff that you might have heard of that's currently on includes "The Vagina Monologues" (hey, I didn't say it was all good or anything), "La Casa de Bernarda Alba" (there's always a Lorca revival on), "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (there's almost always a David Mamet on, too), "Excess" by Neil La Bute, and "Arsenic and Old Lace". There are two bits of existential pretentiousness on, one by Bergman and the other by Camus. There are two local comic "showmen" on, Ángel Pavlovsky and idiotarian Pepe Rubianes, the internationally-known mime group El Tricicle, four musicals (two local originals) that I've never heard of before, and two plays by local dramatists (J.M. Segarra and J.M. Benet i Jornet, both of whom are also pretentious as all hell, but hey, at least they're producing local drama in big theaters and people go to see it). Local favorite actors Joan Pera and Paco Morán, who are very funny and who always have a crowd-pleaser--these guys' shows, Neil Simon-like comedies, run for months and sell out on the weekends--have another one out. Part of their schtick is they adapt these foreign plays so that the characters and their actions fit in with Catalan and Spanish daily life and popular culture--Oscar is a Barça fan, of course, in their version of "The Odd Couple". Also, fitting in with bilingual real life here in Barcelona, Pera (the straight man) speaks Catalan on stage and Morán (the clown) speaks Spanish. It's a masterful formula. Everybody's happy linguistically and can sit back and enjoy the show.

I am not much of a fan of classical music and don't claim to understand it, but if you like that sort of thing, Barcelona has a first-class opera house, the recently rebuilt and expanded Liceu, and two major concert halls, the much-criticized new Auditori and the Art Nouveau Palau de la Música Catalana, inside a spectacular Domenech and Montaner building. If you're a music fan you'll want to make a concert at the Palau part of your agenda while here. There's something on almost every night and prices are quite cheap. You don't have to dress up though, like, leather shoes, slacks, and a shirt with a collar might be nice.

There's a major trend that I've noticed here. All kinds of Eastern European orchestras are touring Western Europe playing popular favorites. They are advertised on billboards and with stick-up posters around the city. Coming to Barcelona soon are the Bielorussian Chamber Orchestra doing Handel's "Water Music" and Vivaldi's "Four Seasons", the Bulgarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus doing chorales by Verdi and Bizet and "Carmina Burana", the Minsk Symphony doing De Falla's "Aranjuez", Rachmaninoff's Second concert for piano, "Swan Lake", and "Scheheradze", and the Russian National Orchestra and Chorus doing Bach's "Passion of Saint Matthew", Beethoven's Ninth, and Schubert's Unfinished. They must be making money doing this, giving the people what they want, and they must not have been making too much dough back home because if they had been, they'd be there, not here.

The Communists produced too many classically-trained musicians, more than their internal market could support, and not enough pop and rock and gadinga-dinga music. This is a beautiful example of the laws of supply and demand--there's not enough demand and too much supply of classical music in Eastern Europe since Communists disdained pop music and trained musicians only in classical styles, underemployed Eastern classical musicians see there's money in the West but not much demand, they create a demand by advertising they're going to play pieces that ordinary Joes like me have actually heard before, and they carry around prestigious-sounding names to reassure the casual concert-goer that he's seeing a real quality performance.

Meanwhile, I'll bet five bucks that Western pop groups are raking it in in Eastern Europe due to the lack of tradition of commercial pop over there. I know there are a lot of American groups playing American music--country, blues, gospel, rockabilly--who tour around Western Europe calling themselves authentic Americans with real roots and soul. There are a lot of Europeans interested in those kinds of music, but not enough of them to make that stuff part of the mainstream over here--but enough to pack a club. What these Americans are is competent bar bands who'd make a decent living back home but get treated as if they were, like, the real thing over here. Often, if it's a smaller band playing in a small club, only the frontman will be American and his sidekicks will be locals.

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