This week: Ladies of the frontier, an Adès premiere & more.  

Giovanni Battista Beinaschi, The Martyrdom of Saint Peter, ca. 1660–65, Oil on canvas, Robert Simon Fine Art


The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring, by Paul Beston (Rowman & Littlefield): From John L. Sullivan’s rise out of Boston’s Irish tenements to Mike Tyson’s scandalous fall from grace after biting the ear of Evander Holyfield, the cult of celebrity endowed to American heavyweight boxing champions was a powerful cultural force in the twentieth century. Indeed, American boxers held a vise-like grip on the heavyweight title, reigning for all but about fifteen years of the entire century. The fame and fortune bestowed on these kingly figures—whose elevated and celebrated status often clashed with American class, racial, and social standards—as well as America’s extreme obsession with the “sweet science,” are fascinating topics of our social history. In The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring by Paul Beston (the managing editor of City Journal), this history, of a bygone era in which these titans of masculinity ruled the imagination of America, is compellingly and comprehensively told. —AS


Jusepe de Ribera, King David, 1616, Oil on canvas, Galerie G. Sarti

TEFAF New York Fall at the Park Avenue Armory (October 28–November 1): Founded nearly thirty years ago in Holland, TEFAF Maastricht has long been a preeminent art fair featuring an advertised “7,000 years of art history.” Looking to expand from its Netherlandish origins, while educating an American collecting public where “Old Master” has come to mean anything pre-1945, TEFAF came stateside last year with a fair that transformed the Park Avenue Armory into an ethereal treasury of art history. This weekend the fair returns, occupying two floors of the splendidly restored Armory while making the case that art has a history with a capacity to captivate. —JP


Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel at The Metropolitan Opera (October 26–November 21): In most years, the major dates to circle on the Metropolitan Opera’s calendar are the new productions of classic repertoire—such as the new Tosca staging set to debut on New Year’s Eve. This fall, though, the marquee event (or at least the one I’m most excited about) is the American premiere of Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel, set to play this Thursday. Adès is one of the leading composers of the day, having demonstrated in previous successes like The Tempest that his modernist language has a keen lyrical strain that can sustain a full-length opera. His latest work for the stage is an adaptation of a cult classic, Luis Buñuel’s 1962 surrealist film examining the animalistic impulses that lie buried within even the highest of society types. A superb ensemble cast including Sally Matthews, Iestyn Davies, and Alice Coote will perform the work, with Adès himself in the pit. —ECS


The Fight, by Jonathan Leaf, presented by the Storm Theatre Company at Grand Hall (October 26–November 18): The Fight, a play written by Jonathan Leaf, a longtime contributor to The New Criterion, recounts the dramatic intellectual struggle between Phyllis Schlafly and Gloria Steinem in the 1960s and ’70s that “split the feminist movement.” Inspired by actual events and diligently researched, the play delves deep into struggles, both the personal and public, between these two women. With its eye on this inflection point in the feminist movement, the play is enduringly relevant. It is being presented by the Storm Theatre Company at Grand Hall (440 Grand Street). —AS


Martha (The Searchers), by Julia K. Gleich, presented by Gleich Dances at the Mark Morris Dance Center (October 27–29): Over seventy years since “Appalachian Spring,” the subject of pioneering women, both in the history of America and in the history of dance, calls out for artistic exploration. With a three-day run starting this Friday, the choreographer Julia K. Gleich will premiere Martha (The Searchers), a new ballet inspired by the 1956 film by John Ford, named after its pioneering female lead (and echoing the pioneering choreographer Martha Graham). With sets by the artist Elana Herzog, the production at the Mark Morris Dance Center by Norte Maar continues this organization’s history of artistic cross-collaboration and presenting new work by women choreographers. —JP


Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance (October 26): Despite Robert Adam’s glorious architectural achievement and lasting influence on British architecture, he is still too little known, especially in America. He was born and died too soon (b. 1728, d. 1792) for the later flourishing American empire to take up his designs, and besides, his idiom was so rooted in the collective British experience of the Grand Tour that the language couldn’t speak to Americans who lacked that singular encounter. Though Adamesque elements were deployed by American practitioners of the Beaux-arts, by the twentieth century the style was so removed from the man that his name languished (and continues to do so) in a sort of obscurity. Jeremy Musson, the author of a new book on Adam and the former architectural editor at Country Life, will do his part to offer a corrective, speaking Thursday on Robert Adam’s country house design, in a talk put on by The Royal Oak Foundation and the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. —BR

From the archive: “A schoolboy’s guide to war” by Andrew Stuttaford (October 2014). On how England’s public school boys won the First World War.

From the current issue: “The prancing pen” by Brooke Allen. A review of Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee.

Broadcast: David Pryce-Jones and James Panero discuss “Miłosz Among the Ruins,” David’s essay from the September 2017 issue of The New Criterion.Harlem Renaissance

Click here for a full archive of past Critic’s Notebooks.

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