Month: October, 2007

How times have changed

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007 | All Things, NYC History

It is remarkable how much this transit hub at the southwest entrance to Central Park has changed over the years. I remember a time not too long ago — more than five years, but less than ten — when I would detour well out of my way to avoid this gritty roundabout and its forbidding maze of scaffolding. Columbus Circle was home to a shantytown in the early 1990s, and as recently as 2002, the surrounding area was still considered “a little seedy, bits of pre-Giuliani New York.” Enter one shiny 2.8 million square foot complex with its pricy residences, five star hotel, world class performance venue and (of course) shopping mall and it’s an entirely different scene. These days, Columbus Circle sits within (money) throwing distance of three of the city’s most expensive restaurants: Masa, Per Se and Jean Georges.

And of course, just a couple blocks north: starchitect Robert A.M. Stern’s ultra-luxury condominium tower 15 Central Park West, where former CEO of Citigroup Sanford Weill acquired a $42.4 million penthouse in August — low floor maids’ suites sold separately.

So where did all the homeless go?

Renovations to the circle itself were completed in Summer 2005 and included new benches, plantings and water fountains by WET Design, the firm responsible for the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Columbus Circle fountain

Columbus Circle fountain

Fun fact: The Christopher Columbus monument at the circle’s center is the point at which distances to and from New York City are officially measured; just as in Boston, the highway miles are measured not to the city limits, but to the Massachusetts State House dome.

Columbus Circle fountain

Flickr preview: glimpse a less sanitized New York at the graffiti artists’ reception at Ye Olde Carlton Arms Hotel (November 1, 2007)

There's 1 comment so far

Aida at the Met

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Music

At the Met tonight for our first opera of the 2007-2008 season: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.

The last time I saw Aida on stage, it was not the 1871 opera, but the Tim Rice and Elton John musical based on it. In that Tony-winning Disney version, Canadian R&B singer-songwriter Deborah Cox portrayed the eponymous princess; we got our tickets as part of the 2004 Republican National Convention swag package that NL received for her duties as a California delegate.

The general outlines of the story, though, remain pretty much the same. Verdi’s opera was itself based on an outline of a story by French scholar and Egyptologist Auguste Mariette. At its crux is the love triangle between Aida, an enslaved Nubian princess, Amneris, an Egyptian princess, and Radamès, the Egyptian soldier they both love. Aida has all the elements one expects from grand opera: tragedy, love, betrayal, melodrama, conflict. And once more, The Met trotted out its traditional 1988 staging; the climactic Act II spectacle was resplendent with its moving pillars and platforms, and its procession of a cast of dozens: singers, acrobats and dancers, piles of corpses, and at least half a dozen horses.

I tried to get a surreptitious shot here, with only limited success. I had to turn off the video display on the digital camera so as not to emit that telltale glow.


We were informed by a paper insert in our programs that Sicilian-French tenor Roberto Alagna would be subbing for Marco Berti as Radamès that Tuesday night. The Times ran a review of the Met’s rotating cast of male leads this season. When Berti fell ill, Alagna stepped in as his last-minute replacement, withdrawing from his starring B.F. Pinkerton role in Monday night’s Madama Butterfly to prepare for the vocally demanding challenges of Aida — his third major role at the Met in as many weeks. (Alagna is also starring in this season’s Roméo et Juliette.)

Alagna had considered retiring the role of Radamès from his repertory after his infamous mid-performance walkout at La Scala last year. No such problems this night though; as the tenor finished the celebrated first-act “Celeste Aida” — the role’s most famous aria (and the number after which he received boos at La Scala: tough crowd!) — the Met audience responded with loud, appreciative cheers.

Below, the plaza from which French soprano Natalie Dessay‘s performance in Lucia di Lammermoor debuted on screens and in Times Square on opening night last month. Lucia’s famous third-act mad scene has made Dessay the face of this Metropolitan Opera season. Her wild-eyed visage has been printed on the cover of every Playbill I’ve seen so far.

Met Opera House

Lincoln Center fountain

First look: flickr photos from the Halloween performance of Fuerzabruta — now in its 18-week limited run at the Daryl Roth Theatre.

There are 3 comments

The Language of Experience

Monday, October 15th, 2007 | All Things, Books, Events

Back at the Donnell Library Center across the street from the MoMA for The 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Awards presentation and reception. As with last year’s event, the evening celebrated outstanding books by writers of color, with the goal of increasing visibility for non-mainstream groups and ensuring that current literature represents the diversity of the American people.

The recipients of the 2007 Beyond Margins Awards are:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun
Ernest Hardy for Blood Beats: Vol. 1
Harryette Mullen for Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse & Drudge
Alberto Álvaro Ríos for The Theater of Night

Authors Jaime Manrique (pictured below) and Sonia Sanchez (minus her signature dreads: she cut them off after a debilitating bout with the flu a few months ago) offered the welcoming remarks and introduction before ceding the stage to the three readers who would be excerpting the winning works.

Jaime Manrique

Monique T.D. Truong read from Nigerian author Adichie’s political epic, which in June also won the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Marie Ponsot, who like Sanchez is a Frost Medal winner for “distinguished lifetime service to American poetry,” presented the poetry readings by Mullen and Ríos. I especially liked “Explaining a Husband” from Ríos’ collection of poems, which follows a couple in a United States-Mexico border town through their youth, marriage and old age.

Marie Ponsot

Author Adam Haslett, who in 2006 shared the PEN/Malamud Award with writer Tobias Wolff, counts author (and former teacher) Jonathan Franzen among his fans — which swirled up some controversy when Franzen picked Haslett’s debut story collection as the second book club selection for The Today Show‘s series in 2002. Tonight, though, Haslett was here to read from Hardy’s book of essays.

Adam Haslett

Afterwards, Hardy and Mullen joined Sanchez on the stage for a conversation about their inspirations (James Baldwin being a major one, across the board) and the challenges facing writers of color today.

PEN panel

The PEN website carries excerpts from the winning author’s books, audio clips of the readings, and photos far better than the ones I was able to take from the audience.

There's 1 comment so far