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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!


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.
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?