Thursday, September 20, 2007

Diacriticism Notes

AHHHH.. and kurde moll, what is the problem with the Polish words searches? Surely, there must be some ASCII issue that has so far prevented me from finding articles on people we like that just happen to have fancy Polish consonants in their names. (Mine is plain vanilla, luckily).
I am referring to two giants opera-dom, an established one- Ewa Podles (now officially websited) and upcoming one: Mariusz Trelinski, yes, trannylicious, or dark and drab as they see him. The buzz over his Boheme (ahh, Metro Weekly did notice the couch!) is getting louder.
But important spelling issues remain; it should be: Ewa Podleś & Mariusz Treliński.
The Goddess and the Gifted Troll. He is not ugly per se, but it does have a cultivated artistic skunkiness going in his general look.
Diacritic marks are sadly necessary for us; there is no option of writing them out in combination, as it is with German umlauts. But take a name like Podles, assuming it is even in nominative form and try searching Polish mags archives. Total mess...
... but here is the reason I was fuming about this issue: it's only now, after running some proper Treliński searches, that I dug up an interview (Polish link here) titled- ohhhhhh! - "I was born for Don Giovanni"! In which he speaks at lengths about a project that will end up taking two years of his time, the movie, a collaboration with - yes!- Marc (Boski) Minkowski: the Don Giovanni movie. The basic idea: Don is actually killed by Commandatore, and all that follows is just feverish imaginings, a "confrontation of his own myth". Interesting. Very interesting. Please, let's get it made AND available for us to see! After net gimmicks, and a year or so after it was premiered, where the heck is Kenneth Branagh's Magic Flute? Certainly not in cinemas near us, nor on DVD. I know it was actually made with a purpose of NOT making money. Let's hope the Trel-Mink Don movie, in the great tradition of the other Don classics, is a smash hit, DVD special editions, Oscar dripping Amazon best-seller. Just bring it on already!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Spastic Fantastic Sofa-isticated Entertainment

By chance or divine intervention, I scored tickets for the opening night of WNO's La Boheme. VRN came along, and there was room left for one Kipling Monkey, so Lalik, who just happened to match my ball gown

came along as well. On my part, the desire to see "the world's second [is Carmen still no 1?] most popular opera" live was mostly morbid curiosity- I have said enough on the topic of my feelings for La Big B, but I wanted to check out Trelinski's Production, and also experience the seasoner opener, for once.
We should have known that something was up when the monkey tried to escape!
He did some posing for pictures on the back of the seat in front of us, but just as we were about to sit down, I realized that I did not have him with me. Turns out, Lalik made it for the exit- but we intercepted him- found him hiding under a chair.
He did not come out at all for the rest of the evening. Just as well- there were such acts of animal cruelty in this opera! Some poor parrot got offed for being "annoying" and later on, there was talk of eating it roasted. Where are the vegan nazis of PETA when you need them?
As for the operatic event itself... for starters: music. Well, typical Puccini miasma, maybe just more trite than usual. The orchestra was good, no screw ups, everything sounded smooth as $hit from duck's a$$. I furrowed my brows a lot at many phrases and turns and twists and , if I may paraphrase a line from Amadeus, I would like to say "I did not know such music was possible! When one hears such music... what can one say but PUCCINI!"
Singing: Vittorio Hunko Grigolo was really good- he knows his schtick and target audience. He sounded LOUD on the high notes . He so EMOTED- when he flung himself to the wall, it was with such a tremendous bang... Oh, and that training with the late Big Lucy did not hurt either: excellent diction was his forte. Overall, the men did well, except for the Landlord, which put the big fat O in Twitchy Overacting. Marcello, sung by Hyung Yun, was too cute, moved well, and sang beautifully when one could actually hear him. The coat aria, done by Paolo Pieccholi, was the best bit.
The women: Adriana Damato, Mimi, was nicely rounded, vocally and otherwise, but her falling sickness bouts were executed with a grace of a wounded giraffe. Her table top dance was quite spunky though, and she died well. Nicolle Caballe, sounding like the little mouse that could, looked pretty in Acts III and IV, even though she was limping, but the platinum wig and dominatrix outfit she made her entrance in did her no favors. They both sounded underpowered, often inaudible. The chorus, dressed up mostly as assorted hookers and the children chorus, pimped out as bunnies, sounded fine.
So now to the best parts: the staging . I like!!! Thanks to the long wall imposed over it, the whole stage looked bigger and certainly different than usual. The photo loft where the Gellida action took place, complete with great rainfall effects, the Momus cafe, filled with iconic American figures (Chewbacca! Divine!) and the factory landscape which provided backdrop for the whining lovers' quarrels- all good. Sci-fi digs, even better. And it made sense to me. If La Boheme was Puccini's attempt to show young, aimless "artistic" posers tossing around stock emotions and trying to show off, then Trelinski showed it well enough in vaguely contemporary setting.
And now for the piece de resistance and the best part of the whole thing. The sofa!!!
Seen here, glowing white on stage, next to fluffy angel wings-
-the escapee Kipling monkey is in front-:

That white, imposing, solid, in your face sofa gave the best performance of the night.
It wasn't just the lightning that made it the center of attention in every act. It was SO THERE. And when that dead, cold, clammy hand of Mimi fell limp over it, you could practically feel its pain. No wonder the audience was teared up. Such a presence...
It was a triumph and a great hope for stage furniture everywhere! It can only be compared to the great performance of the Trebbs Salzburg Traviata sofa

(which, I believe, was sold at an auction recently and went into well deserved retirement)...
So, my final rating: on scale of 10, I give four KM monkey points, one for Trelinski, one for the the nice young singers, one for Grigolo and his sheer cheek, plus one BIG point for that incredible sofa. And VRN sez... And Inoarts, not so hot on the smutty staging. The Post-ed Tim Page - who started the "Nobody does not like Sara Lee and everybody loves La Boheme" cheerleading campaign weeks ago- pummels Trelinski pretty good.. with alliteration! gasp! Dark (huh?), drab, denatured etc. Yes,we need more Zeffirelli and nicely parked singers and classy starving people, or modern production that fully showcases important dramatic values of this evergreen drivel. I enjoyed WNO's/Trelinski Mm Butterfly outing, I would like me some deranged Tosca (with Matilla the Goddes - Met's plans), or good Turandot but enough is enough: let's scrounge enough money and see Trelinski's take on something worthy- Don Giovanni at LA Opera, perhaps? I have seen La Boheme live. Now I never have to see it again!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

GROUNDed in Georgetown

I saw the grand production of Amercan Opera Theatre's Ground last Friday; the Kipling monkey which got to go with me was Pitsy. Here he is, with the backdrop of the pseudo-Gothic spires of the G campus:

I have to admit, his Forest Green fur blended in nicely with the Georgetown landscape...
Other than hearing great things about this production when it debuted last year, I did not know what to expect and it was a big surprise. For this year's edition, in somewhat changed form, nothing but good reviews are coming from all sides - the Post, Michael Lodico at Ionarts, the "Ground is Heavenly" praise from Operatically Inclined CGK. Here's why I liked it so much.
On a very sweet note, Tim Nelson, the head honcho of AOT, opened this production with a short speech and dedication to all these artists who may have been "esthetically very different from" AOT, but who were important and who left us recently- LHL (sniff.... am still in denial about her death), Nilsson, Crespin, Sills and of course Pavarotti. Nice acknowledgment from such Enfants Terribles group like AOT, paying respect to the old guard. People change, opera goes on.
What you could call a plot in Ground is a simple thing. A Him is lonely, and meets Her, and they go through whole life cycle together, singing. And the band plays on.. Part I was at first only pleasant, but the whole thing kicked it into higher gear with Part II.
Since the singers had to carry this through, few words about them. Brian Cummings' voice has improved greatly; at his La Didone's outing as Iarbo, he often seemed unsure if he was really a countertenor, now it's a much smoother vocal ride, with some funny runs, but really nice sound. He still has a particular way of moving on stage; his trademark hops were especially endearing when the couple was at the young age/early stages of courtship. Elizabeth Barber was vocally underpowered at first; she improved as the show went on, but she expressed herself well enough, not just with the vocals. Blending in duets was a mixed business, but in the end- where it mattered- it was really good.
For the mini orchestra, I have nothing but high fives: most importantly, the three players managed to stay focused, crunching out repeating patterns of music.. even had a bit of fun in places- at the movement accompanying the couple's quarrel, the hitherto impeccably Baroque violin suddenly broke out into blue grassy mode.
The staging was sparse but very ingenious- the same silk sheet made for the bed and the baby, the flower vase told stories about my way/your way issues of cohabiting together, the collapsed wall of the little house made a very sad flower patch - and a grave?- but it was just enough to express a lot of things on a budget, and, methinks, without great compromises.
The projected titles also made sense to me, though people sitting behind me found them confusing. The common surtitle scheme in opera houses works by having most if not all the words simply translated, and the Ground's loosely connected words projected on screen may take getting used to. The brochure handed out was certainly made a on a cheap, and with a tipsy editor, but I only opened it at the beginning. In this production the link between the sung text and the story was tenuous anyway, and it made no sense to be rustling pages.
What actually surprised me was how I engaged in the story I became. From the first signs of baby onward, it felt like a connected, coherent and really emotional tale. The ending was perfect.
Pitsy the Monkey got little bored with Part I, but emerged at the break- which was, in a new fashion, accompanied by music and used to change the "scenery" (i.e. move the tealights):

and he absorbed Part II wistfully. Kipling Monkeys are tough to please, and this was a good sign.
And all this wonder from patchwork of music that, other than Monteverdi, I barely knew- Merula is the author of a piece called La Monica, and I like to see my name used for noble musical purposes, but that's all I heard of him so far.
I have high hopes for AOT. I hope staging of madrigals catches on! I would love to see few chosen pieces by Gesualdo presented with some smart stage business. My super favourites in the madrigal field, La Venexiana, got slugged recently for "sameness of mood" at their concert. Inventive stagings like Ground could help with easier digestion of not just madrigals... but I think early Baroque/Renaissance music lends itself beautifully to this treatment.

Monday, September 10, 2007

F is for a Fantastic Finnish Festival

My goodness, this is too good.
Is Finland the coolest place on Earth or what? I mean, the Finns seem to get it all: they brought us Nokia, and they care deeply about the things I happen to care deeply about: classical music, and music in general - and ski jumping. And they have such great, unique events- like this one: the Annual Air Guitar Festival.

"The world championships, which began as an offshoot of Oulu’s annual music video festival, have been held for 12 years in this small city of low wooden houses on Finland’s west coast. This year 19 men and one woman from 17 countries competed in the finals, trying to demonstrate to a panel of judges their charisma, technical skill and “airness.”

NYT article: Costumes Malfunction, but Never the Guitars

The official website of AGWC

I like the real live music with no mikes, but Bollywood lip syncing AND playing air guitar- these are two special kinds of artistic expression.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Luciano in Legoland

Few months ago, us and a band of Kipling monkeys flew to California, ostensibly to see San Diego Opera's production of Le Nozze di Figaro (Mariusz Kwiecien as the Count kicked a$$, and one very cool Valkyrie, Ms Sarah Castle, sang a powerhouse Cherubino) . We also visited few chosen places of interest. We had adventures () in the rugged (and surreal: ) landscape, under the CA sky () but we also found out opera in some very unexpected places.
The local Legoland (in Carlsbad, CA) has a small alley with several busts of the chosen famous people made of Legos. There is Einstein, and the Governator and then one statue which will sadly require adjustment of date, but manages to put across that big grin in plastic blocks.

Goodbye, Big Lucy.
I sometimes made fun of you and the hankie and your wonderfully dopey album covers...

but you were something else.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

B is for Boy Band

.. not just ANY boy band. THE Boy Band. For real.
Our intrepid glob trotting Nokia aficionado, VRN, alerted us to this glittering musical pearl.
Bunch of hunky guys professing their love to..:

the NEW Nokia N81. For real!
Nice try, guys! I'm a swivel type of gal and I love my bronze Nokia 7370. But, really, good sell.
It's not just classical music that these Finns do so well.
Speaking of nice Nokia guys, I recently went to a presentation by Jan Chipchase, from Nokia's design team, on Nokia's global search for the perfect phone. How could such cool thing happen at my workplace...Here's a shout out to Jan, whose Future Perfect blog is a thing of beauty and some deeper thought.
All the best to Nokia on their quest for - ehm, I have no idea what THIS is about. But I am surely it will be designed beautifully.

C is for Clean

I have been test driving the new Itunes plus- about which more later- and I decided that it would be good to obtain another recording of Mozart's Mass in C. "Another recording" does not mean getting the umpteenth version of, let's say, Mozart's Requiem (in any case, I only have a dozen of these) but rather getting something new and decent- the only great Mass I have is some ancient Marriner with von Otter and Kiri.
I remembered that Dessay and Gens recorded this recently with Langree. Voila - there it is, available on Itunes Plus. But wait- not only is it 256 bits and DRM free, it also has CLEAN LYRICS!!!!

Thank God, they bleeped out all the offensive Latin bits, but what about these secret hidden Masonic messages in the text? Plus we know how Mozart loved a good fart and ass kissing "on both cheeks". SO is it REALLY safe????
... I have looked at several versions of Carmina Banana on iTunes plus. Ha! No clean up there! So, roasting swans, clergy drinking in taverns, horny rouge touting wenches AND loosening the rims of virginity are OK, but Kyrie Eleison needs to be disinfected?
Totally confuscated now.

Soho the Dog Quiz

OK, I came up with my answers to this very wicked quiz.

1. What's the best quotation of a piece of music within another piece of music?
Figaro's Non più andrai in Don Giovanni. I had no idea it was there, and when I first sat down to listen to Don G, I barely knew Le Nozze, so when this piece came up, I scratched my head and said "Isn't this what Mozart plays in Amadeus when he is showing Salieri up..?" These days I know better, but it's such a cool cross-marketing.

2. Name the best classical crossover album ever made.
Am not a connosieur of crossover, but Juan Diego's Sentimiento Latino is preeety good.

3. Great piece with a terrible title.
There are number of Bach cantatas (especially The World is my Hospital series) with particularly nasty titles but Mein Herz schwimmt im Blut takes the crown.

4. If you had to choose: Benjamin Britten or Michael Tippett?
Benji. Silly question.

5. Who's your favorite spouse of a composer/performer? (Besides your own.)
The first Ms Gesualdo!

6. Terrible piece with a great title.
The Assassin Tree. Well, am not sure just how bad it is, but how can it live up to such a great title...?

7. What's the best use of a classical warhorse in a Hollywood movie?
I love The Smell of Valkyries in the Morning- so here's another vote for Wagner in Apocalypse Now, but my personal favorite is Il Dolce Suono from Lucia di Lammermoor in Fifth Element.

8. Name the worst classical crossover album ever made.
Any album by Renee Fleming would qualify, especially her Xmas Special (complete with the film edition), known as le Sacred Cow, but if I had to pick one, it would be her Handel album.
BTW, Amazon has removed my review of the Sacred Cheese for "spiteful content"- in other words, it was too scathing and funny and zee righteous Flemingos were pissed off- but a shorter version survives on iTunes. Jpeg version here:

9. If you had to choose: Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye?
Marvin. Better songs.


For early-music nerds: Name a completely and hopelessly historically uninformed recording that you nevertheless love.
Flagstad singing Gluck and Bach. So wrong. It's Flagstad. I love it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Eternal Setting Sun

Quite a bit of net noise of the US side, about the Eternal Sonata, has been heard recently. I did try the demo, found it chop socky, but I do feel warm and fuzzy at this latest sign of Japanese obsession with Szopen-san. ( like to spell it the normal way.. also, Mazurkis makes me squirm, it's Mazurki, that's the nice proper plural). BTW, Polka means either the crazy Czech dance, or simply, a Polish woman, like moi. The character in the game wears Dutch get up, complete with clogs- what a modernist approach.
Not that I ever understood why Japan hearts Szopen so much, and they keep turning up in droves at the International F C Competition every four years. Surely enough, there must be something to it, it's not just a thing for all things Western classical. Here, let me eat another bit of supremely tasty, ridiculously expensive Ryujin umeboshi plum...

... mmmm... ume. But, still not a clue.
One interesting thing is, who is the pianist providing the soundtrack in this game. Stanislav Bunin. Станислав Станиславович Бунин. Ha! His father's name was Stanislav, too! I knew he would "go places".
Not in any normal sense. His career as a pianist has been - not so much, which is notable becuase usually, once you win the IFCC, and at such a young age, the doors of great concert halls will open wide. Heck, even if you DON'T win... ask Ivan "Exploding Cancer Liver" Pogorevic. (my, he is crazy..)
But the thing is, I vividly remember that particular competition. I was in Poland, after all, tinkling the ivories with my tiny little hands. And I remember very well my teacher, Ms Krystyna Serafin, bless her soul, telling me that Bunin played heavy handed, and it was all political- a Russian had to win, even with other competitors being better. Of course, she was a in-your-face anti-Commie flare, just like the rest of us, I remember her playing at our Independence Day (November 11) concerts, but she knew piano playing and had a good ear (and bloody perfect pitch- it unnerved me to no end, when I hit a wrong key, to hear her scream from another room "It's G!"- how could she possibly know every note I played in every piece... later on, a gentleman who arrived to tune my piano, and who knew her as a child told me the secret).
Now, things being back to normal, it even happened that a Poland's own Rafal Blechacz won two years ago, and apparently totally on merit. (the link is to an NPR story with audio- and I have to give it to this NPR guy, he pronounces RB's name well enough).
Too bad in opera, it's still political.
And Bunin has settled in Japan, and is doing good. Good for him, he looked like a lost but honest soul. And I still love playing Szopen, not that I get to do it often enough- no piano at home- and not that I should. He had hands like gorilla, mine are small, and arpeggios are not the same as grabbing these big fat chords in one swoop.
I'm off to- no, I will NOT play the Bioshock game demo again. After I clubbed down some mutant with the crowbar, I got stuck at a door that would not open. I will probably continue to get my brain fried, reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.
Nephilim just got mentioned, and in a super cool context.
What a total mind f&ck, like nothing I ever read....