Seven hundred years of Japanese history and tradition goes on display when the "Samurai: The Way of the Warrior" exhibit opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Friday. Composed of pieces from one of the most important private Samurai collections outside of Japan, "Warrior" includes rare and elegant examples of the samurai's complex armor and advanced weaponry, along with cavalry equipment and personal items. "The swords that they carried were exquisite works of art and incredibly technologically advanced," says Dr. David Temple, an anthropological curator for the museum. "The elaborate armor that they wore, the weaponry that they used, all of that communicated not only the traditions of the samurai but also the power of [the Japanese state they served]."
As heavy and bulky as some of the armor is, it would seem the samurai would find it difficult to walk, much less fight. Temple tells us much of what's on display is ceremonial regalia, rather than everyday outfitting. "You didn't use all of these [items] on the battlefield, but they were certainly adapted from the battlefield. The swords seen in the exhibit, for example, were extremely effective weapons, but they were more often used in ceremonial [functions] or as badges of honor for the elite. Bows would certainly be used more often on the battlefield."
The exhibit also includes ink wells, correspondence boxes and writing tools "You think, samurais writing? But it made perfect sense. In order to administer the government, they had to write decrees and keep records. They were administrating an empire and writing was important."
See "Samurai: The Way of the Warrior" 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Through September 7, 2015. 5555 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 713‑639‑4629 or visit hmns.org. $25.
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Before he became an internationally renowned filmmaker, François Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim) was a film critic. His scathing reviews for the influential film journal Cahiers du Cinéma earned him the nickname Gravedigger, and his audacious, idiosyncratic attacks on movies got him banned from the Cannes Film Festival. Despite his biting criticisms, he loved movies and worshipped Hollywood. Of all his cinema favorites, Alfred Hitchcock was the most influential on Truffaut's career. The 1983 Confidentially Yours (Vivement dimanche) was Truffaut's last movie, so it's fitting that it closes out the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's two-month-long tribute to the director on Saturday. Confidentially Yours is his homage, sort of, to the great Hitch, but with a lot of French twists and "new wave" accents.
Not exactly a capstone to Truffaut's amazing career, the lighthearted black-and-white film noir is actually a love letter to his mistress at the time, actress Fanny Ardant. Like a Gallic precursor to Julia Roberts, Ardant is radiantly alive on screen and the planes of her face nearly shoot out from the frame. In Yours, an adaptation of Charles Williams's pulp crime novel The Long Saturday Night, Ardant plays girl Friday to grumpy Jean-Louis Trintignant, who's been accused of murder. While not entirely convinced of his innocence, Ardant sets out to clear his name while he hides in the office, sulking and acting very, very French.
7 p.m. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑639‑7515 or visit mfah.org. $9.
On Saturday, get into gear (pun completely intended) for the FotoFest Bike Scramble ArtCrawl 2014. FotoFest International and ArtCrawl Houston first teamed up in 2010 and are teaming up again to offer Houstonians the chance to see the city's art from the seat of a bicycle. Jennifer Ward, associate curator and exhibitions coordinator for FotoFest, tells us, "The majority of the artist studios in the Warehouse District are not open to the public, and on this one day, they collectively open their doors and invite the city in for the ArtCrawl."
The FotoFest Bike Scramble is about discovery, says Ward. "It's about discovery of art, artists and the city itself. On the seat of a bicycle, it is an entirely different experience. You experience the city from a different perspective," she says. Participants can expect to cover approximately ten to 15 miles on a mostly flat route. Bikers visit six to seven venues, spending about 15 minutes at each venue meeting the artists and viewing art. There's also a break for lunch at the Houston Food Truck Park.
The FotoFest Bike Scramble Art Crawl starts at 10 a.m.on Saturday. Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street. For information, call 713-223-5522 or visit 2014biennial.fotofest.org. Free.
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Controversy and scandal have surrounded Mozart's landmark Requiem from the very beginning. An anonymous patron commissioned the work to commemorate the death of his wife. The patron may or may not have been planning to pass it off as his own composition. Mozart died before he completed the score; he may or may not have left instructions for its completion. His widow enlisted the help of several other composers to finish it after his death, so how much of what we'll hear during the Houston Symphony's weekend run of Mozart's Requiem + Beethoven was actually written by Mozart is still up for debate. (It's our pick for Sunday, but there's also a Saturday show.)
Betsy Cook Weber, director of the Houston Symphony Chorus, which is set to perform during the concert, enjoys the various stories swirling around Requiem -- up to a point. "There's been a great deal of rumor [about the piece], all of which has been debunked, I believe, but still I love a good story. It adds to the fun and the intrigue of the piece, even when we know that it's probably not true."
Among the rumors about the piece is that Mozart had a premonition of his death and knew he was writing the music for his own funeral. "I've always thought that was beside the point," says Weber. "I would think that any composer writing a requiem would be thinking about his own mortality. I'm positive Mozart thought about his death and mortality. Whether or not he thought it was going to come as quickly as it did, I'm not sure. In the end, it really is all about the music. It's the music that has sustained the piece, not the mysteries and rumors that surround it."
Beethoven's Overture to Coriolan and Overture to Egmont are also on the program, as is Brahms's Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny). Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts.
The music starts at 8 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713‑224‑7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $25 to $140.
It's your last chance to see Hänsel und Gretel currently being produced by Opera in the Heights. The show is based on the children's fairy tale, but our reviewer D. L. Groover calls it "operatic gold," filled with beautiful music and definitely meant for adult ears. The show's closing this weekend; performances are are Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances.
Mezzo-soprano Claudia Chapa sing her last performance as the Witch this weekend. The Witch is a sinister, evil character (she eats children, after all), but the role allows Chapa to explore the darker side of her personality and to experiment vocally with sounds. "[It's] been a challenge but ultimately extremely rewarding," she tells us. "I love singing this role."
Engelbert Humperdinck's opera is based on the fairy tale of the same name. Brother and sister Hänsel and Gretel wander in the forest, eventually finding a gingerbread house that's actually a trap set by the witch. "She's a predator that enjoys playing with her prey," Chapa says of her character, "but once she figures out that Hansel and Gretel are smarter than most of her victims, she resorts to using her magic."
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Chapa says that while the opera is accessible, it isn't without its dark moments. "[You] see Hansel and Gretel go through probably the scariest thing that any kids would ever encounter, and survive. You see the father and mother go from seeing their children as a major burden to being grateful they are still alive. [Ultimately], Hänsel und Gretel is growth and gratefulness."
Mezzo-sopranos Megan Berti and Hilary Ginther share the pants role of Hänsel; sopranos Allison Pohl and Katie Dixon share the role of Gretel. Along with Chapa, mezzo--soprano Jenni Bank performs as the Witch. Houston favorite Amanda Kingston, Brian Shircliffe and Cassandra Black round out the cast.
7:30 p.m. November 21 and 22, and 2.p.m. November 23. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For information, call 713‑861‑5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $35 to $67.
D.L. Groover and Kristina Nungaray contributed to this post.