This week: Shows at the New York Studio School, Victorian family rule & more.
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe, by Deborah Cadbury (PublicAffairs): It may strike a surprising note that a book on Queen Victoria’s extensive progeny begins with an account of the 1881 assassination of Alexander II, the Emperor of Russia by the terrorist group self-titled “the People’s Will.” After all, the reform-minded tsar was a contemporary of Victoria but of no relation: a brief courtship between the two in 1839 was cut short by Alexander’s father, Tsar Nicholas I. But the gaining momentum of anarchistic and revolutionary movements that the calamitous assassination portended was an important backdrop to Victoria’s attempts at dynasty-building and peace-keeping through the strategic betrothal of her issue to foreign powers. Of course, the monarchical network built by her forty-two grandchildren (among whom seven ascended to thrones across Europe) was infamously shattered during the First World War. Deborah Cadbury’s history of the family Victoria made with her husband Prince Albert, though perhaps a bit keen on invoking the British–European issues of today, is a compelling and insightful read. —AS
Exhibitions at The New York Studio School (through December 3 & 15): The New York Studio School continues its ambitious program of exhibitions with two eye-catching shows this month. At the school’s historic main gallery at 8 West 8th Street, through December 3, “Beauteous Strivings: Fritz Ascher, Works on Paper” presents thirty works made by the German Expressionist after 1945. Curated by The New Criterion’s Karen Wilkin, the exhibition examines this Jewish artist’s radical turn from figuration after the years he spent hiding from the Nazis in a ruined villa in Berlin-Grunewald. Meanwhile at the Studio School’s Sculpture Studio in Brooklyn, at 20 Jay Street # 307, “ColorSculpture” brings together a dozen contemporary artists whose work explores the role of color in form through a breadth of styles and materials. Curated by NYSS alumna Maud Bryt, the color-rich exhibition is open Fridays 2 to 6 p.m. and will conclude with an artist’s talk on December 15 at 6:30 p.m. —JP
Thaïs by Jules Massenet at the Metropolitan Opera (November 11–December 2): Thaïs may not be Massenet’s strongest opera—taking as its subject the life of a fourth-century saint, it lacks the verismo-like immediacy of the composer’s two great romances, Manon and Werther. Still, the opera is an excellent vehicle for a star soprano, and the career of Ailyn Pérez certainly appears headed in that direction: in a season that finds her playing lead roles at the Met in Le Nozze di Figaro and Roméo et Juliette, she appears first this Saturday afternoon as the legendary courtesan who finds salvation. Joining her for this fall revival as the licentious aristocrat Nicias is Jean-Françcois Borras, who has previously given two fine performances with the company in the title role of Werther. Gerald Finley stars as Athanaël, the monk who falls in love with Thaïs while trying to redeem her. Thaïs famously features one of the most celebrated orchestral solos in the operatic literature, the sublime entr’acte “Méditation” for violin; David Chan’s performance will surely be a highlight. Emmanuel Villaume, a leading interpreter of French lyric drama, conducts. —ECS
“Law’s Picture Books: The Yale Law Library Collection,” at the Grolier Club (through November 18): While the thought of the law conjures up images of dusty tomes with small type and copious footnotes, there is another obscure facet in the relationship between books and the law: illustration. For two more weeks an exceptional collection of 140 law-related manuscripts, books, pamphlets, and more, all illustrated, can be seen on the Grolier Club’s ground floor. While all are familiar with the image of blind Justice and her attendant scales, how many can claim familiarity with Clark Stoeckley’s “graphic account” of the trial of United States v. Manning, Bradley, Pfc.? The myriad objects of the show come from Yale’s Law Library, offering New Yorkers a chance to see highlights of the collection without the trek to New Haven. —BR
From the archive: “All that jazz” by Bruce Bawer (May 1992). On the literary career of Toni Morrison.
From the current issue: “Convenient & inconvenient monuments” by Gene Dattel. A historical overview of Civil War monuments in the United States.