Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Opera as Farce

The last Met HD presentation was "La Fille du Regimente" and it was just wonderful. It's a bel canto comedy by Donizetti and the cast was full of great voices and great comedic performances. Lotsa laughs. The tenor, Juan Diego Florez is this Peruvian hunk with an amazing voice. I had heard on NPR that during the opening night at the Met, he had sung an unprecedented encore, and everyone was wondering if he would do it at the Saturday performance which was being telecast all over the world. It's the aria (Mes amis) which made Luciano famous because there are 9 high Cs, and Juan Diego hit them all perfectly. Well, he didn't do an encore Saturday, in spite of the fact that the audience at the Met and in the theater (and maybe other theaters) went nuts applauding and shouting, but he did do another unprecedented thing - he took a bow.

It wasn't just him, though. Natalie Dessay was the daughter of the regiment and she has a gorgeous voice and was extremely funny. They set the opera in the time of World War I, and she spent the whole first act wearing an undershirt and army trousers with suspenders and army boots. It was very much an old fashioned farce with a lot clever stage play. Everyone left the theater with huge smiles.

I know opera is an acquired taste, but there is something so magical about these programs that I think everyone ought to go at least once. The backstage interviews are a real treat. Watching the stage crew moving these massive sets around, hearing from the conductor, the set designers and others involved is really fascinating to me. You see these sweaty people and then they're on stage with their glorious voices - Wow! Next year they will be doing 12 HD transmissions, and while I won't get to all of them, I do look forward to some of my favorites.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Der Pabst

Is it only me, or does der Pabst sound a lot like Dr. Strangelove? Especially when the good doctor is making his speech about the undergound shelter where they will start a new world, complete with cattle to be slaughtered, and nubile women to start a new super race?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Can We Talk?

It has become obvious, in this
endless presidential campaigning, that it is dangerous to open one's mouth. Hillary "misspeaks" and Barack "misspeaks" and those brilliant, all-knowing debate monitors, or whatever George and Charlie call themselves, spend most of the debate posing "gotcha" questions which are not really questions, but unsubtle commentary. Having been accused of lobbing soft balls to Obama, they have now decided to make a reach for obscure and unimportant factoids, hoping to get the American voter stirred up. No flag in his lapel? WTF is that all about? Who cares? And those people who would care were out bowling anyway, or caressing their rifles. Every time someone decides to lay out a truth, hell is raised. Obama mentions that some Americans are bitter abut being left out of the loop and suddenly everyone's knickers are in a twist. Geraldine Ferrara is kicked out of the campaign because she made the mistake of reminding us that Obama is an African American. And, yes, I would like an elitist to be president for a change.

I have to admit that I got fed up rather early and switched channels to see who got kicked off "American Idol". Makes about as much sense as watching this farce. It has become apparent that both candidates had better just keep their mouths shut, because the ubiquitous media, in all its busy-ness, will be watching like a hawk, looking for anything to worry like a dog with a bone. (How's them metaphors for ya?) Any glitch will become magnified into something so significant, so egregious, that we will ignore what the axis of evil in Washington is doing. And John McCain may find himself the people's choice, or enough people's choice to continue the destruction of life as we know it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Opera for People Who Hate Opera

Last Saturday I went to the opera again, the HD version at a local theater. This time it was an old favorite, "La Boheme." That was the first opera I ever actually listened to. One Saturday afternoon many years ago, over the cracking of my father's peanut shells,(Every Saturday afternoon he enjoyed a sack of Planter's peanuts in the shell while listening to the Met broadcasts.) I heard this absolutely gorgeous voice singing the most beautiful song. "It's Jussi Bjoerling," my father said. "It's 'La Boheme'. Sit down and have a peanut." I did.
This production which I saw Saturday was really first rate. The tenor, Ramon Vargas, looks like a mini-Pavarotti and has a voice to match, simply lovely. The Mimi, Angela Gheorghiu, was a very sexy wench, even while coughing (you know she's doomed when she hacks a bit at her first entrance). Great voice. In fact the entire cast was an ensemble of wonderful voices.

Now there is no art that is so completely artificial as opera: ridiculous plots, sung dialogue, melodramatic acting. However, the music in this one grabs you by the throat. By the time Mimi is dying and coughing and singing, and Rodolfo is crying and clutching the little bonnet he bought her back in Act II, and the rest of the cast is sobbing ...well, I can only say that a lot of sniffling was heard throughout the sold-out theater.

A word about my father and tenors. I think he was a frustrated singer. I think in his head he was Jussi Bjoerling. He used to make fun of most of the bad ones, especially this one ancient guy who was still singing well into the forties. His last name was Martinelli and he sounded as if he had a noose around his neck which was being slowly tightened. My father would put down his peanuts and throw his head back and entertain us with his Martinelli imitation. They were both pretty irritating actually. Another one he hated was Lauritz Melchior, the great Helden tenor. That's a particular voice used in Wagnerian roles, but can sound like someone gargling when not done well. My father did the gargling kind whenever "Tristan" was on. Melchior had been very good, but he ended up in bad MGM musicals in the fifties, beaming and making the okay sign at reedy sopranos like Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell.

The next HD opera will be at the end of April and is "The Daughter of the Regiment" and is deliberately funny. We were shown a preview from the London production. In that version Dawn French, "The Vicar of Dibley" played a non-singing role. Unfortunately she won't be in the Met version.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Let's Get Real

Okay, I've said it before and I'm saying it again: C'mon Al, step up now. My photo-shopped knight in shining armor is the best bet for the Democrats in November. Everyone I have asked in an exclusive survey has agreed" In a New York minute I would vote for him rather than the two who are currently campaigning." "You bet!" "He's the Man!" (No offense intended toward the non-man candidate.) "Sure." These are only a few of the positive comments I have received in this informal, but very thorough poll conducted among Democrats. (I do not know enough Republicans to ask. They are too busy forwarding scurrilous emails blaming the Democratic congress for the price of oil and the mortgage crisis.)
It has become apparent that Hillary has put her foot in her mouth once too often. How could you claim to have been shot at when your life is an ongoing TV show? I have found it offensive when people have accused her of lying, but she seems to have a loose relationship with the truth. The word "misspeak" became popular during the Reagan administration when they let Ronnie open his mouth without a teleprompter. I don't like to think we may be hearing it used again.
I also do not like some of the methods being used in her campaign, which smack of stale, out-dated old political tactics. I get the feeling that they are digging hard to find things to lessen Obama's reputation.

About Obama: Yes, he's a terrific speaker, is intelligent, is charming, is inspiring, has leadership qualities galore. We've been there before. I remember Adlai Stevenson, probably my favorite presidential candidate of all time, the only one whose speeches I actually listened to. Adlai, like Obama, was the choice of academics and educated folks. The rest of the people called him an egghead and voted for genial everyman(and war hero)Ike. Maybe people can accept smart after 7 years of terminally dumb, but every time my educated, liberal friends are enthusiastic about someone like Obama , he gets royally dumped in the general election. Americans like regular guys. Regular not too smart guys.

Now Al is very smart, too, of course, but I think he can win big over John McCain, who has that regular guy thing going for him. Al is already a winner, he's not the stiff the media has tried to paint him, he's an environmental hero (except to the flat earth folks) and above all, he is admired around the world and could mend the damage caused by the ignorance and incompetence we've suffered under for these past years. I could even see him bowling. Yeah, it would be another white male but it would also be a Democrat back in the White House and I'm not too sure we'll get there otherwise this time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Maple Syrup and Pancakes

Last Sunday was the final pancake breakfast of the annual maple syrup season here in Northeastern Ohio. Every Sunday in March there are various venues where one can feast on pancakes and sausage smothered in local maple syrup. These breakfasts are run by volunteers who use the proceeds for community projects. Since this is the Western Reserve, many of our small towns have a distinctly New England flavor.
We have usually gone up to Burton in Geauga County, a town with a lovely village green on which is an operating sugar shack. Their breakfasts take place in the fire station which used to be an opera house. It is huge and the breakfast are run with amazing efficiency. Since it is not too far from Cleveland, there are always hordes of city folk, driving down to get their "country" fix, and the wait can take up to an hour or so, but no one seems to mind. If you go later, in the early afternoon, you can go right up to the big, sunny room where the volunteers lead you to one of the many tables. These are all-you-can-eat affairs, so people usually waddle when they leave.

This year we went to Shalersville which is a crossroads non-town without any charm. The breakfast is served in the village hall, a non-descript contemporary building. They are not so efficient as the Burton crowd but the food is even better. It is sponsored by the Goodell Maple Farm and everyone knows that their syrup is prime. We went early and didn't have much of a wait, but by the time we left, the line was out the door. Since it was the last Sunday in March, everyone probably realized that this was the last chance until next year. And we lost one Sunday to Easter (no offense to the risen Lord).

There is still plenty of maple syrup and maple candy available, of course, but until next year, we're on our own for a pancake breakfast. It's not quite the same. There are those who claim that Norman Rockwell's world never existed. Those people have never been to a Northeastern Ohio pancake breakfast.