This week: Danish furniture, ancien régime architecture, Borromini, Don Giovanni, Churchill & more.
The Chieftain and the Chair: The Rise of Danish Design in Postwar America, by Maggie Taft (University of Chicago Press): Danish Modern design has been a fixture of the American cultural imagination for so long as to appear an inevitable product of the international midcentury. On closer examination, its ascendancy proves most peculiar. Even in 1950–55, as Maggie Taft points out in The Chieftain and the Chair, Danish imports only made up .05 percent of the U.S. furniture industry; and yet the so-called Danish style seemed to be everywhere, fitting as comfortably in Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951) as in the pages of House Beautiful (which for its part deplored the International Style as “totalitarian”). Centering her study on Finn Juhl’s Chieftain Chair and Hans Wegner’s Round Chair, Taft shows how a small segment of the Danish furniture market—soon folded into a broader “Scandinavian” aesthetic, cannily developed and marketed for the booming American economy—came to rule both sides of the Atlantic. —RE
Visions of Arcadia: Pavilions and Follies of the Ancien Régime, by Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega (Rizzoli): Talleyrand said “Whoever did not live in the eighteenth century before the [French] Revolution does not know the sweetness of life and cannot imagine what happiness there can be in life.” But those looking for a taste might consult Visions of Arcadia: Pavilions and Follies of the Ancien Régime, out now from Rizzoli (those follies are architectural, mind you, not moral). Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega, acting as both watercolorists and historians, have produced a book at once beautiful and informative, vivifying these slight but impressive structures with illustrations of exteriors, interiors, and architectural details. This book is as lavish as the lives of its subjects were. —BR
About Borromini, by Deborah Rosenthal and Jed Perl (MAB Books): What is it about Francesco Borromini? The seventeenth-century architect helped define the Roman Baroque. His inventive play on the forms of antiquity has fascinated and perplexed us ever since. Deborah Rosenthal and Jed Perl have been thinking about Borromini since the couple’s stay some years ago at the American Academy in Rome. Now a limited edition hardbound book, published by Milton Art Bank Books, collects Rosenthal’s intaglio and linocut prints with Perl’s writings in an inspired dialogue with the enigmatic Italian master. —JP
Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera, New York (May 24 & 27, June 2): Three more dates remain this week and the next for the Met’s new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Jan Versweyveld’s Hispano-Brutalist stage design matches Ivo van Hove’s hard-nosed production, which casts Giovanni not as a lascivious swashbuckler but as a wiseguy gangster, smoking gun in hand. The result is, overall, intriguing, with a Dantean ending proving more successful than an odd, postmodern dance during the banquet scene. Stay for the cast, though: Peter Mattei brings bel canto suaveness to the title role, Adam Plachetka is hilarious as his assistant Leporello, and the three main sopranos acquit themselves wonderfully—Ying Fang as the gullable Zerlina, Ana María Martínez as the restless Donna Elvira, and Federica Lombardi as the driven Donna Anna. Nathalie Stutzmann conducts a textbook run-through. Against Van Hove’s grim backdrop, the humor in this dark comedy comes through stronger than I’ve ever experienced it—a must-see. —IS
“Winston Churchill’s Top Ten Tips for Leadership” featuring Andrew Roberts, at the New-York Historical Society (May 24): This Wednesday, the historian Andrew Roberts will give his final Distinguished Lehrman Fellow lecture at the New-York Historical Society on the leadership qualities of Winston Churchill. Roberts compiled his 2018 biography—praised as “brilliant” by Conrad Black in our December 2018 issue—of the British Bulldog using source material to which he had exclusive access, such as transcripts of War Cabinet meetings, unpublished memoirs, and hitherto unseen diaries and letters. Indeed, in a first for Churchill biographers, the Royal Family granted Roberts access to the private, thorough diary notes taken by King George VI after each weekly briefing by the prime minister. You can listen to one of the world’s preeminent Churchill scholars discuss the key attributes of this exceptional twentieth-century leader both in person and online. —JW
By the editors:
“Bringing back Stephen Sondheim and enduring a new Andrew Lloyd Webber”
Robert S. Erickson, The Spectator World
“Music for a While #75: A coronation, a swan & more.” Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but more important, plays music.
From the Archives:
“Travels in ‘The Waste Land,’” by Adam Kirsch (April 2005). On Lawrence Rainey’s scholarly new edition of The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose.
“Valhalla in Naples,” by George Loomis. On Die Walküre at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples.