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Split personality. Liking the arts, especially opera, and hockey and Los Toros. I know, I know THAT one is non pc currently. But I can't help it saw some in Spain and got hooked, but good. But on the other hand right now opera and hockey are in the forefront!

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Need Hockey Fans feel slighted?

Well,  wouldn't you ?
 When today's WSJ devotes 7, count'em, seven pages to Soccer, but NOT even one small paragraph to the epic battle for the Stanley Cup that is currently playing between EAST and WEST (USA) as the NY Rangers face off to LA Kings.

Hockey, the fastest sport on feet - ahem, skates.

Sure car-racing or horse-racing maybe faster, but IMO the swift and yet elegant way those skaters race after that little black puck is gripping! And colorful. And exciting!

And speaking of hockey, you may know that Houston is one of the few large cities without a hockey team, since the Houston Aeros were moved to DesMoines, Iowa and re-named Iowa Wild. I remember some games here, when the edge of the seat was were we all hung out if not on our feet clapping and yelling! And after the move, Better Half and I drove to San Antonio several times to get our hockey fix...even though the Rampage are not that good.
BUT... One of BH 's faves Jed Ortmeyer
went to play for the Rampage - and so .. there we were!
Meanwhile at home now, we watch the Stanley Cup Play off Games.. and how!!!

Me, I am rooting for the Kings.
But before that, I did for the Habs, especially after their goalie was badly injured and the youngster D. Tokarski, came in 'cold' so to speak, and acquitted himself very well, IMO.  And an Austrian skater was there as well.. ThomasVanek, whom we remembered from 2013 European play offs.

But, the best team won that round and so, here I am now rooting for the Kings.

But am pleased, too, that a former Aeros, Benoit Pouliot, skates for the Rangers, and skates well and fast! And how about Martin St. Louis? We saw him in Tampa, so are happy he is doing this well with the Rangers.
Anyway, more exciting play off Hockey to come
I have a feeling that this will be an epic battle.
Both teams are truly good.
And fast.
And have alert goalies.
Their offense is good, their defense is as well.
Lady Luck will have her work cut out!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The House of Mirth

.


I must have read it a loooong time ago. I don't truly remember,  but re-reading it yesterday in these times of  'selfies', was an eye-opener.  It constantly amazes me how little society has changed over the last century. 
The importance of being "the right kind, rich, thin, young looking" was as important in Wharton' tony times, as it is now in these times of immediate self aggrandizing.
 

In Wharton's book the protagonist, a formerly rich, now pretent-to-be rich-to fit-in Lily Bart finds out the hard way, that beauty alone is not enough, regardless of  the right 'family' connections. She   learns that trying desperately to match "the Jones", when one has only limited monetary resources even with the 'asset of beauty' eventually does not work. Despite the fact that she realizes that the lifestyle she has followed relying on her beauty and connections has turned out to be very wrong, she is incapable to cut back successfully her life style. She is, in the end, aware of her debts and makes good on them. Despite offers to become a kept woman, or betray a perceived friend, her newly re-found morale will not let her. She takes the only way out she can imagine! She is, after all, addicted to being known as beautiful, young and no-longer marriage material.. Sadly.
Now I am sure, others may read something different into this novel. Some will heap hatred on the 'robber barons' of that time, disdain on the vast wealth some garnered by hook or crook, or sneer at the 'empty headed' society women with their French couture and their ostentatious life style. And laugh at the desperate need to fawn on perceived 'betters' as long as they have a title or even more money!
But is this time any different?
We have the silicon barons; we have men who made their money by sailing close to the law, or even outside the law (drugs); we have wealthy 'trophy wives' who travel to Paris or Milan for their clothes; shop at boutiques for overpriced things; and we have the 'nouveaux riches' Justin Bieber and his ilk, the likes of 'A Rod' and his ilk, the Oprahs of TV, and her ilk! We have cosmetic surgery to keep artificial youth. And we have the "health watchdogs" who seem intent to prohibit which ever is the "current fad" of "Food bad for you" and dictate how one ought to look. Regardless of what talent one has, vide the recent storm over reviewers' critiques of opera singer's looks instead of voice!.




Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nabucco... Giuseppe Verdi


From Covent Garden. River Oaks Theater, this morning to a crowd of - 50?
Which is many more than at the 2 productions (Les Vespres Siciliennes, Prince Igor, and Parsifal) seen earlier. And who, I may confidently state, was completely awed. The power of Verdi's Music just cannot be gainsaid! As were my friend and I.
VIVA VERDI!
Awed by the indestructible Placido Doming singing with baritonal power the forte parts of NABUCCO

(albeit his piano was a bit underwhelming), acting with conviction and surprising agilit, physically (he can get up from his knees much better than I could ;-), and of course, vocally-still.
Awed by the humongous range and power of Liudmyla Monastyrka-here in a video clip (Milan in the same production).


The Ukrainian Soprano fluted her pianissimi with a clarity, belted out her fortes with ringing steeliness; growled low and twittered high. An incredible Abigaille... most likely the best as Abigaille. HGO goers will remember her AIDA (post of 10/16/13)
Monastyrska as Abigaille -photocredit Catherine ASHMORE for ROH
Care and Pizzolato, Photo Catherine Ashmore for ROH
Bass BaritonVitalij Kowaljow was a most sonorous Zaccaria, Andrea Care a handsome Ismaele with a clear and strong tenor, Marianna Pizzolato a sweet voiced Fenena with a strong sound, IMO, more soprano than mezzo; and Bass Robert Lloyd as Gran Sacerdote who sang adequately but not as strong as I have heard him in the past; David Butt Phillip, Tenor, was Abdalla, but, IMO, did not impress sufficiently, while the small part of Anna was sung by young soprano Dusica Bijelic.
The orchestra was guided superbly by Maestro Luisotti, who gave the score, so it seemed to me, a fresh and different reading. Daniele Abbado gave the old story of greed, jealousy, dominance and true belief in God, a novel way, setting it in an almost unidentifiable area, and period - although the uniformly blah looking costumes (who were the Hebrew who the Babylonians?) with not much difference there to ID who were who,  hinted at the 30's (specially when the women disrobed prior to execution), yet the design - sparse and geometric in its way, was modernistic and never distracted from the plot and the music (by Alison Chitty), projections and lighting were well done.
Of course, everyone KNOWS Va Pensiero, the Hebrews longing for light and home, sung very well by the chorus of ROH (Royal Opera House), which Riccardo Muti asked the public, when he conducted Nabucco in Rome, to sing along in protest against Berlusconi (as in the video clip above)....and Verdi most certainly meant it to be the unofficial Italian anthem during Italy's occupation by French and Austrian troops.

The travails of train travels - Mother Nature plays rough?


I am here now, when I should have been on the way to Sacramento to catch  the Coastal starlight for Los Angeles tomorrow morning (early) and The Getty Museum. Well, these will just have to wait for another time.

On Mother's Day we fly (relatively calm flight) North to land in Denver (Dome of courthouse?)
in a light snow fall with, BRRRR, 32  degrees.
Monday will see us boarding the California Zephyr (a daily Train from Chicago-Sacramento)
by 8 AM. Well, we are in the brand spanking new Denver Union station, but not the Zephyr! Waiting for it becomes a challenge. Snow falls in wetly plump flakes, the wind is biting, the station has NO warm waiting area, and NO cafe to buy any warm or cold drinks, or food! But in the basement on the
way to the ladies and gents, there still rests an OLD, OLD big wall safe

framed like an old master by a carved lintel and sides :-) - maybe from the late 1800... Wild West times?
Across the street on the corner, the life saver for chilled waiting-for-the-train travelers, an old and warmly welcoming wood paneled bookstore,  and coffee shop. We spend 5 hrs there reading and sipping, and having a sandwich, as do many others! I finish a book off the low price used book cart and put it back, I buy several others. I have also a book I finished on the plane and give it to the cashier, she loves the author and is happy! I am happy, too.Then she brings over a big chocolate cookie as thanks. I am tempted but ... the cookie goes to the window clerk at the station for her courtesy in making some changes to our itinerary WHEN we think the train would ONLY be a couple hours late. We'd get off in Reno, rent car, drive to Tahoe, back to Reno, then hop the train to Sacramento on the 18th, to stay the night, then get the Coastal Starlight to LA. Or so we think.

Finally, Nr. 5 Zephyr rolls in at about 1 PM! We hear departing riders (Chicago to Denver), that they spent hours evacuating the train and sheltering from tornadoes in Nebraska, even having dinner there, how that was done I have no clue, I mean the dining car and staff evacuated too, or did they? But done it was, so we were told by our train mates, who hailed from New Zealand, Australia and the UK... us being the sole US passengers in that coach.
We clamber aboard and up to the second level rooms.
And settle in.....alas for more waiting and waiting.

After having to scrounge around for a second engine (needed to pull that train up and over the Continental divide and parts further West), an Amtrak one not in working condition at all, a Union Pacific one is finally found, which, sadly, needs some (minor?) repairs on brakes  (yikes-imagine brakes NOT working on those steep gradients!!!)
Meanwhile a freight train has first crack over the track. Do YOU know why? Freight train companies OWN the tracks, and Passenger trains are only guests, riding the rails AFTER FREIGHTS!
Almost 5 PM now and we are OFF, slowly moving past Coors Field and points West.  Steadily climbing higher and higher onto snowy fields while Denver sinks back in the twilight..
Looking East down toward Denver
Behind us a tunnel
We reach and stop at Winter Park-Fraser, ride through tunnel after tunnel, steam past snow ladden trees and slopes; in the distance a dam. The 10 minutes long Moffat Tunnel is breached, we have dined (rather good food) while watching elk and deer foraging in the snow and - stop again - at Granby. For several hours, yet! More delay. Why? Waiting for the relief crew, who are "on the way" to take over. Meanwhile the eastbound Zephyr steams past down towards Denver, 2 freight trains rattle past us on the way West and out of sight.
And we wait.
Ah, the relief crew IS here.And off we chug. Up the narrow slope past some rushing streams and into the dark -with snow flurries.
Rushing streamlet-snowy trees
We bed down and the chugging lolls us to sleep, but wait  - we stop! AGAIN.
There is commotion at the back of our coach (the last one). I climb out onto the passage way - hello - there are two crew members hanging out the back door playing flashlights behind on the narrow track ...while talking with the engineer(s) who are up front/back??? What's going on on? The train starts backwards, slowly, slowly, down a curvy track guided via walky-talky ? to the engineers by the flashlight-wielding crew members. I recall  reading about such in 'old wild west' books and seeing it in movies...except of course in those days the crew would have walked in the snowy tracks wielding lanterns while several crew would be station along the length of train yelling instructions to the engineer at front, now back, of train ;-)
Christmas card view in May ?
A curve now and again, all downhill; snow flurries, I barely see the abyss on the right, but clearly see the brown wetly shining rock wall to the left. And slowly we return to the East. Where we stop. Over night, at least!
Why??? Because ahead a rock/mud slide blocks the track. Which in my thinking must have happened AFTER those two freight trains went west, why? Well, they sure did NOT come back past us. While we waited for the relief crew!
Sunrise somewhere in the Rockies
We try to sleep, but the compartment gets chillier, by 4 AM I am freezing and wear almost every stitch of clothing I have in the carry-on. And then, the lights go out and the toilet flush is not working. By 6 AM, a huddle of passengers collects near the (I want to say samowar-lol, but we are in USA) so it's a big coffee urn, which the sleeper car attendant (a lovely-smiling lady) has finally plugged in as we have electricity again! We wait, some of us sneak a cuppa... it is weak, but HOT!
Another announcement. The rockslide is too large and may take 3-4 days to clear.
We are heading back to Denver. We have a decent breakfast and marvel at the beauty of the snowy mountains now lying glistening in the morning sun under a blue sky!

Back to Denver
We arrive at Union Station, there this day's Zephyr waits.It was more or less ON TIME, but now will be taking off several hours late because all Sacramento bound Passengers (those that wished to go on) transfer to it, and the train (and all to come in the next 3-4 days) will be re-routed via Wyoming! The short destination riders (say Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction etc) will be bused!
We and a few others, elect to get off and go back home (in our case, because the Lake Tahoe/Reno portion of our trip would have been totally lost). We spend a night relax, and sleeping soundly at a hotel near the airport having taken the bus from Union Station and the courtesy van to the hotel, and hop on a full plane back to Houston on Wednesday.
As a first I get my palms swiped, usually I get a pat down alone. No, I did not handle explosives etc. May have wanted to explode due to frustration, but must concede, customer service personnel at Amtrak office was most courteous and we are getting a refund with apologies, and a voucher for future travel (? as if; maybe we will-but NO over nighters!).
A strange thing... we arrive back home and find an e-mail notice from SW Air about a delayed departure of our flight, DUH? Which took off from Denver ON TIME, arrived early in Austin, continued quickly to Hobby? 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bizet's Carmen at HGO

So, you say, you know CARMEN!
As I know CARMEN? I have seen and heard the Carmens of, among others, Agnes Baltsa (yes..that long ago-see clip ), sexy Julia Migenes (in the famous filmed version at Ronda with a young (and sexy, too) Domingo), leopard clad Denyce Graves,  more classical Beatrice Uriah Monzon, and others. The sole exception is Beyonces attempt as Carmen most recently.
As I much younger opera lover I really liked Carmen. And as I (I confess) like las Corridas a las cinco de las tardes, especially. There is something in los toros, that I also find in Operas and Hockey! The excitement, the music, the individual feats of action, the unrealistic drama.......sorry, I digress!
Aging, gracefully I hope, Carmen became just another popular opera whilst appreciating the rarer gems. And so I went to HGO's Dress rehearsal of CARMEN with pleasant anticipation because several in the cast were 'old' acquaintances, singers from past operas, and studio.
And guess, what...I was captivated again by this Carmen. Ana Maria Martinez simply IS Carmen. With flair, with grace, defiance, come-hither, and repulse. She dances really well, looks ravishing, acts impressively all the while singing sultrily or scathingly.  Using her astonishing voice superbly. One can readily believe all men are at her feet in adulation. Martinez is HOT!
Her Don Jose is Brandon Jovanovich and HE matches her in HOTness ;-) with a clear tenor, flexible and expressive; he, too acts very well.
Ryan McKinny is an energetic acrobatic Escamillo, his voice IMO is a bit too husky for the part. But he acquits himself with pundonor como una famosa espada ought. Natalya Romaniv's Micaela is played and sung quite prettily as it ought to be; she is, after all, goodness personified.
Of the other members in order of appearance:
Morales is Samuel Schultz, a newcomer, he does it well, in this somewhat easily overlooked, cameo, role.
Robert Gleadow returns as Zuniga and sounds suitably officerlike.
Uliana Alexyuk sings Frasquita sweetly with a clear sound,
Carolyn Sproule is Mercedes, who matches Uliana in sound.
As Dancaire, Reginald Smith, Jr., powerfully overshadows his comrade in arms, Remendado, sung by John McVeigh. I recall well McVeigh's somewhat distinct tenor from his time here, and in productions heard on the radio. Here he sounds lost beside the big voiced Smith.
What makes this production so exciting and DIFFERENT were the dancers.
On the, primarily, spare set (by David Rockwell)  and unusually lit brighter than I have seen (by Donald Holder),
the solo dancer, as el toro, was Rasta Thomas. AND HE WAS EXCELLENT!
The costumes (by Julie Weiss) for the dancers outshone the others with the exception of Martinez's which seemed painted on in a most pleasing (or should that be teasing way?)
The children's chorus (directed by Karen Reeves) sing and act prettily, and the HGO Chorus, as we have come to expect, sing well as usual under the direction of Chorus Master Richard Bado. 
Rob Ashford as Director and Choreographer essays several innovative ideas which makes this production better than many I have seen in the past.
HGO orchester is energetically, at times too (lol) energetically requiring the drinking of lots of water, conducted by, a very youthful, Rory Macdonald.
Looks like the whole cast and creative team is YOUNG.
And that, chers readers, gives me hope for the survival of opera into the future. Young singers, young creative teams..  and - hopefully - young audiences. All is not lost on planet Opera, methinks.

Monday, April 21, 2014

On Running, and other ruminations.

I am running. Left leg up right leg up - running. 
Mindlessly running. Left leg right leg.  
Aimlessly running. Left leg right leg - endlessly running.

And then I wake
Do I have  legs, still? 

Slowly I sit up and look.
They are here. 
And do ache as IF I had been really running - 
endlessly running. aimlessly running, mindlessly running.

In the sallow light that creeps through the slats, they are  pale, achingly blue. 
**********************************************************

Two Cats.
There are two cats I visited recently.

Lalloo of the velvet fur - an elegant older gentleman. 
Calmly looking a the world 



 Hazer with the silky stripes and hints of russet -  younger sleeker.
Loves to chew..on toes, shoes, and watch out -  maybe fingers.
Hazer (not Hazen as in a certain Hockeyplayer) is still young and energetic. 
Plays with a glittery blue 'thing' . 
Or with a long string batting at it, and CHEWING it!

Lalloo looks on languidly: "Ah that youngster"

I leave becalmed - good bye till next time.
***********************************************************************

Am I In the mood... for something danceable? 
Hmmm...yes...listening to 
Swing, Jive and such and tapping toes. Fun! **************************************************************************

Loosing a friend, even only because her decision is made to go off Facebook, is hard to do.
I was always looking forward to her dispensing wisps of wisdom. 
Posting pictures dishes (some yummier that others even if I wouldn't eat them).
And sharing thoughts and wishful dreamings.
It is good to share one's dreams and hopeful wishes.
****************************************************************************

 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Decisions: U verse vs xfinity? Satellite or cable?

You know something, I really could care less.
Watching TV is not foremost on my agenda. So I left it up to Better Half and he is going for Uverse and WiFi enabled TV! More to study how to operate that.
Methinks I am being dragged willy-nilly into the electronic world. Do I really want to? I'd be perfectly happy watching how I do it now, those 10 hrs a week (a bit more if a LONG opera is being broadcast ;-), otherwise I do watch DVDs, read and listen to CDs.

And not Bluetooth either! These old ears are perfectly satisfied with those sounds, and looks ;-).
Books are, have been, and always will be THE thing for me.
Friends (?) urge me to get a kindle. So much easier when traveling.
But what do I do when I read so fast...oh, of course spend more on books in the clouds!
When cruising there are libraries with books in multiple languages and I had fun reading German, French (slow), Spanish (somewhat faster) and , of course, English ones.


As I prefer short flights one middling large tome will get me through 3-4 hrs of being a sardine-in-air! After arrival (at least in USA) I make a beeline to the nearest thrift shop to select a number depending on the length of stay. Usually there are good sales and so I never lack books. After reading I 'donate' them back to the thrift store or trade them for others. So why pay 14 -25 $ for kindle enabled book which I can read in 3-4 hrs, 


As an example about a year ago I bought the paperback version of a certain (tome) book for $ 0.66, then checked to see what Kindle would charge for it - it was at least $ 15.00, then. None of the advertised $ 0.99 (at that time) books were of the slightest interest to me.
But all those that did catch my eyes seemed to be around $ 15.00-20.00 (then). So, for that trip of 10 days - say I read one book a day at $ 0.99 or better yet $ 0.66 - I'd spent $ 9.99 or $ 6.99...which would get me on Kindle not even ONE desired book!


Sure I could load the kindle up with whatever numbers are possible, but then again..
what to do after.
Will Kindle take them back?
Trade them in for another?
Kind "Kindle readers" please do enlighten me!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Das Rheingold a la La Fura dels Baus-Final Dress Rehearsal

I came with an open mind and had no earthly (!) clue what to expect of another 'modern' 'regie' production. The use of huge projections has become routine, methinks, and in this case IT truly made the piece, no doubt about that: the ring of fire, the black hole=entry to Nibelheim in bowels of the earth, the machinery of mass production of golden eggs being fertilized to produce ever more slaves. Which appeared as hung carcasses tended to by black clad 'evil spirits' under the whip of Alberich. 
These 'enslaved' carcasses were performed by an aptly named 'corps de ballet' (lol), who also served as gold treasure and Valhallas' cage walls in the stunning finale.


Now to the story - in brief:  Three Rhinemaidens frolic in water tanks attempting synchronized swimming moves, while mocking and teasing a bemused Alberich. Who retaliated by stealing the gold which will give him unheard powers whilst taking away any chance for real love!
Wotan has hired two giants Fafner and Fasolt to build Valhalla as home for the gods in payment of Freia, his sister-in-law who tends the trees and fruits which keep the gods immortal.


When he renegs on this 'contract' the giants take Freia hostage until Wotan provides them with the gold of the Nibelungs. Of which the crafty Loge has informed him and urged him to get.

The clip is from the La Fura dels Baus production, just not with Stefan Margita as Loge.


Meanwhile the gods hang in their 'cherry pickers' gasping for air from oxygen masks until Wotan can return with the spoils from Nibelheim in the bowels of the earth.


Accompanied by crafty Loge whizzing around on electric wheels - red back lit - Loge is after all the God of Fire, Wotan descends into an abyss where machines whirr, slaves are hung like slaughterhouse carcasses, to meet up with Mime who was forced by Alberich to forge a helmet which is empowering the wearer to become invisible and/or shape change, and also a RING from the Rheingold. The whole idea of this slaughterhouse (those hooks reminding of the ones Anti Nazis were hung in June 1944 after the blundered assassination attempt by Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators ?) and concentration camp (using slaves to work work work);  the egg production and destruction (are they meant to herald the (misguided) attempt to clone the perfect.. what? Humans? Slaves)? That concept is to deep for me, but what was one to infer from all those images?


Loge, gets Alberich to show those powers and when he is changed into a small toad - to  great laughter from the audience BTW, he is, naturally, captured, forced to hand over all the gold (in the form of the corps de ballet wriggling forms lit up with golden colors) and, finally as Wotan chops off his finger, THE RING.


Erda rises from the earth to warn Wotan and persuades him to turn over the ring on top of all that gold. The Giants return Freia and the curse starts by Fafner killing Fasolt. Rejuvenated Donner causes thunderstorms, Froh a rainbow bridge, and the gods move into Valhalla to be encircled by the (still ) hanging but moving ballets de corps bodies in lieu of a protective wall.


Musically, the cast and orchestra, under the gifted baton of Patrick Summers, sang and played well. Kudos to all for a uninterrupted 2 and half hours of Wagnerian sounds. I was very pleased by Tenor Iain Paterson's Wotan, Kristinn Sigmundson's Fasolt and Meredith Arwady's Erda.
Stefan Margita's Loge surpassed my expectancy with a clear ringing tenor with evil and sarcastic shadings, when appropriate. Alberich, sund by Christopher Purves started slow but ended with a powerful interpretation of fury!
Tenor Chad Shelton's Froh seemed a bit pressed vocally but the reason for that became clear at curtain, he was on crutches due to a foot injury. Of course, towering above the stage in his 'cherry picker' it was not noticeable ;-)!
Ryan McKinny's warm deep voice, while beautiful modulated and enunciated, lacked a bit of the expected Wagnerian heft. Maybe he was conserving his voice for the 'real' performances, as may have done Jamie Barton, the Fricka.
Melody Moore's Freia sounded scratchy at times, allergies?  Or maybe it was the weird cone headpiece she and Erda wore. Hers in white, Erda's black!
The 3 Rheinmaiden did a very good job singing after immersions whilst holding breath. But they had obvious fun splashing REAL water!!! Oh, yes, it was real water. Catherine Martin's mezzo voiced Wellgunde, Andrea Carroll's Woglinde and Renee Tatum's Flosshilde  matched up very nicely.
Rodell Rosel's Mime was at times inaudible, his whispers to Wotan caused by allergies? saving voice? or ? Otherwise he did a creditable job.
Andrea Silvistrelli's growly voiced Fafner, was not as growly as he has sounded in the past in other roles at HGO. Could it be that his Italian larynx (lol) had trouble wrapping itself around German syllables?  Well, whatever.
Both giants in their 'leggo inspired monster towers with Hampelmann like legs and arms ending in pincer claws' certainly seemed threatening enough. And yet the whole hit me (at least) with an  "oh gee, another techie effort to please the 'young audiences weaned on such from the film industry"? but it may have worked  judging from the enthusiastic applause and hollerings of a - mostly- YOUNGER audience with the true blue "older" opera fans sprinkled here and there.
Overall I liked it and would recommend it.