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This week: A serene set of shows & a ponderous nose
A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr., by Alvin S. Felzenberg (Yale University Press): This is a book I have been eagerly awaiting for some time. Alvin Felzenberg, a seasoned and canny political advisor, has been working for years on what turns out to be a magisterial biography of William F. Buckley Jr. In A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr., Felzenberg deploys the foil of Buckley’s personal relationships with American Presidents from Nixon to George W. Bush to chronicle Buckley’s own evolution as a political thinker. Widely hailed—and lambasted—as the man who rescued American conservatism from the desert of irrelevance, Buckley was a man of enormous culture, complexity, and not a little invigorating contradiction. Felzenberg captures the toute ensemble, telling the story of modern America’s most vital conservative force in prose that is as enlivening as it is illuminating. No one with an interest in the past six decades of American history will want to miss this wonderful and irreplaceable book. —RK
“La Biennale di Venezia 2017” at the Giardini and the Arsenale in Venice, Italy (May 13–November 28): “La Biennale di Venezia 2017” opens this week, and with it comes the biennial question, “See you in Venice?” This year there may be good reason to visit this cultural thunderdome of the nations. The “57th International Art Exhibition,” the Bienniale’s central group show, looks to bring some poetry to the Arsenale and Giardini with “VIVA ARTE VIVA”: “a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests,” explains the curator Christine Macel. Meanwhile, as the most serene republic gets turned into a cacophony of events, “Mark Tobey: Threading Light” brings together eighty paintings by the enigmatic abstractionist to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in an exhibition organized by the Addison Gallery and the curator Debra Bricker Balken. —JP
Cyrano de Bergérac performed by the Metropolitan Opera (through May 13): I’d never have guessed that an opera by Franco Alfano would have stood out as one of the highlights of the spring season—but the current run of his little-known realization of Cyrano de Bergérac at the Met proved to be a deeply emotional performance, featuring Roberto Alagna in the title role. Alagna gives one of the most wonderfully crafted, nuanced portrayals of his New York career, finding the essential wit of the king of Panache, and making the tragic depths of the character all the more poignant therefore. The balcony scene, in which Cyrano poses as his friend to try to help him win the love of the beautiful Roxane, is a masterfully crafted mixture of comic and tragic elements. Roxane has proven to be a breakout role for Jennifer Rowley, whose firm, bright soprano and enchanting presence make her ideal as the unattainable love interest. —ECS
“When the Towers Fell” at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum (May 16): Galway Kinnel’s poem “When the Towers Fell” concludes with a quatrain about the regular rhythms of life returning to New York months after the 9/11 attacks: “The banker is talking to London/ Humberto is delivering breakfast sandwiches . . .” In advance of Memorial Day, however—the day set aside to forego those regular rhythms and remember the heroes of our country’s dark moments—the 9/11 Museum at the World Trade Center will host a reading of poems about the attacks which will allow attendees to reflect from outside the rush of their normal routines. Co-hosted by the Poetry Foundation, the event on May 16 will feature Galway’s poem and others, as well as access to “Rendering the Unthinkable,” an exhibition of art inspired by 9/11 on view at the museum through September 12. —MU
From the archive: “Radical history” by Harvey Klehr: On shoddy & politicized scholarship.
From the current issue: “Doubling in Dublin” by Dominic Green: On The Real People of Joyce’s Ulysses by Vivien Igoe.