Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vancouver Opera's blogging experiment; Lucia storm; Florez speaks

One of the more interesting comment threads I've seen on a blog recently is this one on Opera Chic. It's about Vancouver Opera's live-blogging experiment during a recent performance of "Carmen". Note that the invited live-bloggers themselves chime in to make some points. I love that photo posted by OC. One commenter makes an apt comparison to the art of Caravaggio.

Noticing with great interest the storm of criticism on other blogs over the Lucia at the Met. Very instructive regarding voice types, suitable roles, possibility of an off-night, etc. (The related post titles in my blog roll have been roiling.)

My own opera news after a fashion: I just want to put in a pitch for the CD attached to Gramophone's February issue. The featured artist in the monthly interview is tenor Juan Diego Florez, talking about Bel Canto composers, Donizetti in particular. At forty minutes, this might be the longest interview yet in this series by Gramophone, but I wouldn't have minded if it had gone on longer. Florez's speaking voice is almost as lovely to hear as his singing voice. (Wonder if he could melt the ice on my front walk this morning, if I play one of Florez's albums outside on a portable player?)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

wintry mix; webby mix; Armenians singing in Turkish

We're having what some of the local weathermen call a wintry mix today. We've had snow, and I think we're getting some of Anthony Trollope's "half-frozen abominations". "Wintry mix" always sounds like a box of candy to me, but we know there's nothing sweet about the real thing.

The top of my web page where I view my blog at home looks a little mixed up, so I'm making sure that I can post. If any changes do affect my posting, I at least can afford to leave this blog put until I upgrade.

I have a CD on the player this evening which bears mentioning. I bought this some years ago: "Armenians on 8th Avenue", Crossroads label, released 1996. It's a collection of vintage recordings of various Armenian performers in cabarets on New York's 8th Avenue during the 1940's. What I learned from the album notes is that their repertoire was considered Anatolian music rather than of any particular nationality, and it was customary to sing these songs in Turkish (at least in the Armenian emigre community). The performers include names like Kanuni Garbis, Marko Melkon and "Sugar Mary" Vartanian.

A New Pipe Organ for Baltimore

I did not know that: John Bowen, director of Opera Vivente, is also organist and choirmaster at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, OV's headquarters. In addition to preparing for upcoming opera productions, Bowen just inspected a new organ to be delivered to the church soon. There is a link in Bowen's post to the Le Tourneau organ builder's web site. Emmanuel is getting a beautiful instrument, and congratulations to them!

(Intrigued, I hope Emmanuel can offer some recitals on the new organ.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

miscellany musical and literary (and support your local fuel fund)

It's getting colder again and snow might be on the way and more people are having money problems. I've been working on blocking up the worst draughts in the house while thinking of news we sometimes hear concerning house fires caused by candles and other means taken when some people can't afford electricity and heating. My utility bill comes with a separate contribution envelope for the Fuel Fund of Maryland, so I responded with a check.

~Another Arts Blog~
Found via Ionarts, another local arts blog: The Dressing, whose author did make it to Hydrogen Jukebox. I have to wait until I can get to a better computer before adding to my blog roll.

~Browsing at Borders Books~
Maybe I was in the wrong book store, but I browsed in the Columbia Borders last night and could not find any books by Robert Benchley (grandson Peter Benchley was represented on the shelves), and some notable large anthologies of poetry did not include Dorothy Parker. There was a paperback volume of her complete short stories, but I'm going to see first what I can find by her in collections I already have. Borders' in-store computers show that I can order plenty of Benchley's essay collections. (My last post was about the related movie, "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle".)

I'm hungrily watching Borders' short story anthology section for the next little volume in what seems to be a new series by the Everyman's Library publishing company. Short on additional notes by editors, long on great short fiction ranging from classic to more modern authors, they're compact books with beautiful bindings and coordinated dust covers that will look really fine shelved together. So far, I have "Ghost Stories", "Christmas Stories" and "Love Stories". Vladimir Nabokov and Elizabeth Bowen have won representation in all three of these first installations in the series. "Christmas Stories" is not all Christmassy. It ends with a delicious dysfunctional holiday story by Richard Ford.

~Master Classes, Upcoming Concerts~
Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman is in Baltimore this weekend. He just gave a master class at Peabody, and apparently he is performing with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra today. (Alas, the BCO is another group affected by the current hard times.) Veteran singer and Peabody faculty member John Shirley-Quirk is giving a master class at Peabody later this week. (See the Peabody Institute calendar of events in my links for more information.)

I've read some good reviews of recent Baltimore Symphony concerts on Ionarts and Clef Notes. I still plan to go to the all-Russian program concert at the Meyerhoff this coming Saturday. There is also a recital by baritone Ryan de Ryke at An die Musik on Friday night. Of course, I'm choosing this recital out of many other events, classical and jazz, on An die Musik's busy calendar (also in my links list).

~Watching and Listening to a Favorite Movie~
Watched Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers" for the 111th time this weekend. Christopher Komeda's score makes some interesting listening, varying from what sounds to me like 1960's pop-influenced vocal background music to the more eerie effects he achieves for scenes such as when the camera wanders over the weird portraits of the Krolock family. From extra features on the "Chinatown" DVD: Komeda was Polanski's favorite film music composer, and he would have employed him for that later movie if not for a tragic accident. There are a gay vampire and a Jewish vampire in the vampire tribe, with appropriate twists, but I wouldn't recommend the movie for your corporation's next diversity event. Love that scene where the Count first breaks into the inn with the snow and Komeda's deep strings swirling around him. Filmed (mostly?) in England's Shepperton Studios, but where is that fabulous Gothic pile of a castle?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A movie: "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle"

I'm just mulling over this movie which I watched last night and must watch again soon. I stumbled on the DVD in the sale bin at Borders the other night, but I had to check a couple of reviews before purchasing. They wavered over how good the movie was but were enthusiastic about some of the character portrayals. They also implied that I should take an anti-depressant before viewing. I had a beer instead. What the hell? Most of the characters in the movie were drinking, and a lot, too.

The movie was released in 1994, directed by Alan Rudolph. Watching it was like a crash course in American culture and society of the early 20th century. Mrs. Parker is poet, author and heavy drinker with suicidal tendencies, Dorothy S. Parker. The supporting cast can be summed up as her fellow artists who formed an informal dinner and discussion group that came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table, which took place at New York's Algonquin Hotel in the 1920's. Not all of these artists are fully fleshed out in the movie -- there are too many! -- and they become a circus of wits in the background. The reviews I checked rightly praised Campbell Scott as Robert Benchley and Matthew Broderick as Charles MacArthur, who we do get to know better. (I also liked the portrayal of Alexander Woollcott, a large person in every sense, played by Tom McGowan.)

As the movie progressed, I recognized names I had seen in Jon Winokur's Curmudgeon books, which include curmudgeoness Parker. Reading the essay on Benchley in "The Big Curmudgeon" this morning explained a lot of other things going on in the movie -- note Campbell Scott's rendition of Benchley's comic monologue, "The Treasurer's Report". Harpo Marx is also hanging around at the Round Table's parties in other locations. Other luminaries' names come up here and there, and at one point Parker asks at a party, "Who's that sitting with Deems Taylor?" Yes, apparently composer and music critic Taylor was part of this circle.

The movie plays a clever trick by having some sequences in black and white and some in color. A comment is intended, with a clue given by Parker near the beginning. I don't want to give the game away, but some of the black and white scenes are of Parker reciting her poetry to the camera. This seems a better introduction to her poetry than reading it for the first time in a book. Reviews describe actress Jennifer Jason Leigh's portrayal of Parker as eccentric, a bit hard to take for the full length of the movie, but I assume that Leigh is basing her interpretation on what was known about Parker. I didn't find it hard to take, and the poem recital scenes are very engaging.

Later in life, Parker was in one of those celebrity marriages in which the husband was gay, and the fact was acknowledged by the wife. We get to see some of husband Alan Campbell in the movie, but it's a very small sub-plot. [CORRECTION: I seem to be mistaken here, but it's what I gleaned from watching the movie. Other sources, including a documentary in the DVD's extra features, indicate that Dorothy and Alan did not get along, and Dorothy made insinuations.]

Campbell Scott is a fascinating actor, one I don't recognize right away as I see each of his movies, so varied is his work. He's Robert Benchley here. He is also not to be missed in "Big Night" and "The Impostors". I will be watching out for more movies featuring Scott in the cast. I'll also be doing a little more reading before I watch "Mrs. Parker" again.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In the eye of the storm: Inauguration festivities and Hydrogen Jukebox

Briefly, because Ollie the Cat is upset at my blogging on: Inauguration Day traffic was lighter than expected, even lighter than a normal day, in my neck of the suburbs. I think I missed the early rush of people traveling from Baltimore to DC. (If you could have seen the warnings we were getting about traffic that day....) Anyway, apparently a lot of people who made it into DC did not make it to their ultimate destination, and many had trouble getting back out of DC.

After seeing the photographs on the Yugen blog, I regret even more not being able to get to Georgetown for a performance of "Hydrogen Jukebox". Please see Yugen in my blog roll for some striking images from the production and comments from Director Timothy Nelson. It sounds like it was a great show!

Here's a link to the photos of Hydrogen Jukebox on Yugen.

Speaking of the blog roll: That's my main newspaper now. I have enjoyed watching the titles of other bloggers' latest posts related to current events rolling by over the past few days.

Carlo Bergonzi ~ his visit to Baltimore

Opera Chic just posted about Carlo Bergonzi's receiving a Lifetime Achievement award. If the accolade identifying someone as one of the greatest in his field of the century seems overused, it's not lightly given in Bergonzi's case. He truly was one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century. His voice graces many classic opera recordings (in my collection, too), but we also heard him once in performance here in Baltimore. In the early or middle 1990's, Bergonzi sang the role of Nemorino in Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'amore" for Baltimore Opera. It was one of opera's typical contradictions -- a sixty-year-old man in the role of a young lover -- but it's the voice that really counts, and it didn't matter whether Bergonzi was in his twenties or sixties. I remember that this performance was announced as his last one in North America. He was retiring while still in good voice, and he sounded great that night.

Here's a link to Opera Chic's post on various MIDEM awards for Bergonzi and other artists (including a favorite countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monotonous Forest in DC

Bruce Hodges, writer of Monotonous Forest (see my blog roll), is now in DC, ready to join the Inauguration Day crowds. He plans more posts about the experience.

Here in the suburbs, it appears that just enough snow fell today to make things look pretty without gumming up tomorrow's expected heavy traffic even more. I hope to catch some of the proceedings on television.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

just linking out loud

I've added a few more links to my blog list and music sites' list. The latest post feature in the blog roll really helps, and reading the post titles all the way down the list at a given moment sometimes creates lovely, absurdist found poems. As in former blogs I've kept, the blog list includes bloggers near and far, and the music list is more local. I'm also finding out more about concert-going opportunities closer to home here in Columbia and Howard County, Maryland.

making Texas toast with California sourdough

First, I note that Yellow Barn Music School is scheduled to play at An die Musik in Baltimore tomorrow evening. I've been looking at their information, and I hope to get into Baltimore to hear their performance of Janacek, Schumann and Steven Mackey.

My plans for this long weekend are changing by the hour. I will not make it to HJ at Georgetown, but I must put in a good word about the Davis Center box office and the campus parking authority for quick, helpful responses in a phone message and e-mail. I could not call back to get a ticket because of mundane personal circumstances I won't go into. Tonight's performance is sold out. I'm already searching for reviews to see how things are going with the production.

Any readers in the region already know how cold it is around here now. A quip I heard the other day: "It's cold enough to make you throw shoes at Al Gore." If you want figures, they're getting down in the single digits, Fahrenheit, at night, and the wind chill on some days has made the cold downright polar. (Scant snow is visible on cars in the mornings; possibly some real snowfall is coming soon.)

Thankfully, it is expected to warm up to around the freezing point for Inauguration Day. Preparations for Tuesday's Event indicate that if I can't get into DC to join the crowds, I can watch the ripple effect on the roads out here in the suburbs. I already celebrated in Election Day's long lines and will mention that I voted for Mr. Obama. His beautiful family's time in the White House will be the stuff of opera (more of the good than the bad stuff, I hope).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Byzantine Entertainment (a book quote)

"Alongside supplies of bread, the state also guaranteed public entertainment, which took place in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, renovated by Constantine I. This racing arena was designed to seat the entire population of the city, senators and dignitaries on the marble seats nearest the track, with the rest seated on wooden benches above, and even women and children packed into the standing room at the top. The Byzantines were passionate enthusiasts for horse and chariot racing and very partisan in their support for teams identified by colour. The Reds, Whites, Greens and Blues, imported from Rome, were organized by professional corporations. By the sixth century, only the Greens and Blues were significant, but they had become large, powerful bodies with full responsibility not only for racing but also for displays of gymnastics, athletics, boxing, wild animals, pantomime, dancing and singing, which filled the entractes between the races."

--from "Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire" by Judith Herrin (published in US and Canada in 2008)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Playlist: Three Ladies in Vocal Music

~ Elena Cecchi Fedi, soprano, with Auser Musici ensemble: "Or si m'avveggio, oh Amore", cantatas for soprano by Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) on Hyperion (2008)

~ Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano, accompanied by piano and Chamber Players of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra: "Gomidas Songs", by Armenian composer Gomidas Vartabed (early 20th century) on Nonesuch (2008)

~ Savina Yannatou with the Primavera en Salonico ensemble: "Sumiglia", interpretations of folk songs from various cultures around the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, on ECM (2005). I recently rediscovered this disc in my collection. One of the highlights I've been listening to frequently is "Tulbah", a Palestinian wedding song, but the whole recital is wonderful to hear in one listening.