I recently wrote a guide to ballet called Celestial Bodies and working on it my thoughts often turned to “Queen-Moon,” as John Keats called her. The French kings who nurtured classical dance in its formative years—the 17th and 18th centuries—allied themselves with the omnipotent sun. But in the middle of the 19th century, when the ballerina rose as ruler of the art form—a phosphorescence of white tulle in the ballets La Sylphide, Giselle, and Swan Lake—she was allied with the moon. The gold sun was classical. The silvered moon, romantic.
Poets admire both, but they tend to gaze and you can’t look long at the sun. The moon, shining with reflected light, welcomes gazing and patiently listens to longing. So, yes, hymns to the sun pop up now and then, but it is the moon that moves poets and artists, just as it draws the tides and spurs the seasonal migration of birds. “A Midsummer Noon’s Daydream” was never written. The love madness of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream requires the Luna in lunatic. In Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, the Druid priestess of the title prays to the moon in the singular aria “Casta Diva” (“Pure goddess, who casts silver light upon these sacred trees”). The sound is spectral, sterling, rising.
The love madness of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream requires the Luna in lunatic.
This year, the 50th since American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps upon her surface, the moon is It girl, ballerina, and La Divina. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through September 22, “Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography” explores the camera’s relationship with our planet’s only natural satellite, from the early 19th century to the present. At the Palazzo Madama, in Turin, the exhibition “Dalla Terra Alla Luna” (From the Earth to the Moon, until November 11) concentrates on painted responses to the moon (Chagall! Klee! Calder!) and its influence on writers such as Dante, Giacomo Leopardi, and Italo Calvino. “Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion”—on view at the Brooklyn Museum through January 5, 2020—reminds us that the intrepid Cardin, who introduced his “Cosmocorps” line of mini shifts in 1964, was one of the first designers to aim for outer space. And at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, the space-themed, mid-century toy collection “Black Box: A Cabinet of Robotic Curiosities”—think visionary vintage—is up through September 30.
This year, the moon is It girl, ballerina, and La Divina.
Perhaps no other ballet is as moonstruck as Frederick Ashton’s Monotones II. Choreographed in 1965 to Erik Satie’s unearthly Trois Gymnopédies, it was inspired by America’s unmanned moon landings. Entranced and entrancing, Monotones II is on the Royal Ballet program of October 10 and 11, in London. Norma, meanwhile, is programmed at 13 opera houses during the 2019–2020 season: especially recommended are productions at the Ravenna Festival (directed by Cristina Mazzavillani Muti, wife of Riccardo, November 1–8, 2019), the Boston Lyric Opera (with Russian soprano Elena Stikhina, March 13–22, 2020), and Theater an der Wien (with Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian, May 15–22, 2020). For its ravishing “Song to the Moon,” look to Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka, whose title character is a water nymph wishing to be human. The opera is scheduled at Theater an der Wien (September 8–30), the Bolshoi Theatre (October 9–13), and the Canadian Opera Company (October 12–26).
And if you find yourself in Providence, Rhode Island, don’t miss the “Circa ’70” coffee and tea service at RISD, displayed in “Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850–1970,” an exhibition running through December 1. Conceived by Donald H. Colflesh in 1958, produced by Gorham in 1960, it’s a family of refined sterling space capsules, with handles that recall Hippolyta in Shakespeare’s Midsummer, her description of the crescent moon—“like to a silver bow / new-bent in heaven.”
Laura Jacobs is the editor of AIR MAIL’s Arts Intelligence Report