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How I survived leaping forward an hour, a four long Russian opera, a temp drop from 85°F to 31°F in 12 hours, and more SNOW‽

When you live in the Wicket City, you’ve always got something or other to bitch about. So, I been a bit lax in the last day or four about updating my daily status. My obvious excuse would be that nothing was happening.  But, I’d have  to clarify that comment to admit, that I really didn’t feel like making anything happen! OK, I was in a winter’s end slump, I can’t adapt to DST time changes anymore, and I think I’m getting older and crankier. Or maybe I was bitten by the ennui bug. I’m sure Oscar Hammerstein would have been able to knock out a ton of memorable lyrics to describe or explain my mood or condition. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm really describes my condition or state of mind.

I did risk the possibility of winter rain storm last Saturday by heading over to the Art Museum’s Auditorium to attend a delayed showing of the MET Live in HD broadcast of Borodin’s rarely performed opera, PRINCE IGOR.prince_igor

Now, Prince Igor, is an opera that almost everyone reading this post would recognize. Unfortunately, they would recognize it as KISMET, because Borodin was a real whiz at writing a catchy tune and couple of guys named Forrest and Wright “borrowed” his Russian music for some Arabian Nights lyrics they had written for a Broadway Musical.  Actually, while Borodin spent over 18-years writing his opera, (He had a dual career as a chemist first and then a musical composer second or third.)  and he died before it ever was performed. His friends Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov gathered all the bits and pieces and patched it together as a finished performable opera. And for the past 100 years it reappeared in a variety of versions. Saturday’s four and a half hour version was the latest. While I had quibbles with some of the director/adaptor’s choices with this production, I had none with Borodin’s original musical and storytelling creativity.

After the opera I managed to disappear into one of the Museum’s works …DSC09277

and discover what this drinking jug …DSC09281

probably contained. DSC09282

I don’t think it was goat’s milk.

As you might have guessed, our weather has been fluctuating like a whirling dervish for the past week. A cold weekend …DSC09288

followed by a Monday and Tuesday full of sun and temps in the upper 80s! Then yesterday afternoon the temp started dropping … dropping some 54 degrees! Thankfully, I survived that, too. And the overnight snow the weather wizards had been threatening us with yesterday turned out to be a lot of rain.  Oh, well, that’s life in the Wicket City.

MY DAILY CALENDAR – DAY 348 – DECEMBER 14, 2013

MY DAILY CALENDAR FOR SATURDAY, DAY 348 OF 2013:  Guess what?  It snowed last night! And there on the breast of the new-fallen snow I beheld …

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Saint Louis in the snow on Art Hill in Forest Park!

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I also went to see FALSTAFF live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City!  A great production. Falstaff 2

 

A great performance!

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And a totally enjoyable day!

MY DAILY CALENDAR…DAY 299 – OCTOBER 26, 2013

MY DAILY CALENDAR FOR SATURDAY, DAY 299 OF 2013:  Well, I got up 15-minutes before the alarm went off this morning because Mlle. Renee insisted I get up and let her out. There’s nothing like a cold, wet dog nose running up your neck to your chin to get you up and out of bed in the morning. It was just a well, since today was opera day for me. So I got up, made coffee and toast, put out Renee’s kibble and water bowl refill, shave-showered, dressed and headed over to the Art Museum. With all the construction and remodeling work completed, the Met Opera Live in HD satellite broadcasts have returned to my favorite opera venue THE FARRELL AUDITORIUM at the museum. Far superior to the local megaplex where the singing has to compete with explosions, car chases and special sound effects bleeding through the adjoining theaters. The stereo sound, seating and general atmosphere is better, too.DSC07998

Today’s opera was Dmitri Shostakovich’s THE NOSE …DSC08001

The opera (based on Nicoli Gogol’s satirical short story) was first performed in 1930 in Russia, and not seen again until 1974. The Met’s production is unique in that it combines the life performance with motion picture projections.

NoseEven for an opera, the plot and storyline is rather far-fetched. A minor official goes to a barber for a shave and wakes up the next morning to find his nose missing. The nose in the meantime starts out on a life of its own … even attaining a higher rank than the man. Since my taste in opera is basically late 19th and early 20th century works, Shostakovich’s opera takes a while to assimilate. Probably, three or four days. The production was interesting though. Check this clip from the Met production to see what I mean.

Since it is the weekend, there is no origami challenge, but here’s a Mensa Puzzle.26

Squares and quadrangles don’t count.

MY DAILY CALENDAR…DAY 280 – OCTOBER 7, 2013

MY DAILY CALENDAR FOR MONDAY, DAY 280 OF 2013: Well, I’ve had a very busy and exciting weekend. On Saturday, I went to the first Met Opera Live in HD broadcast of the Fall Season at the newly refurbished theater in the Saint Louis Art Museum. On the way to the theater I checked out some new art …

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Chiura Obata’s Hanging Scroll Setting Sun Of Sacramento Valley (1922)

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Striding Eagle - Venetian Carving – 16th Century

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 And finally a gigantic wall filling painting by Roy Lichtenstein in the hallway leading to the newly refurbished Farrell Auditorium.

DSC07826The Auditorium has always been a great venue with wood paneled walls for great acoustics.  The restoration has added new carpeting, seating a new larger permanent screen and first class stereo sound system. And the video projection system is even brighter and sharper.  In other words, it was made for showing the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD satellite transmissions.Met Opera

The opera, Tchaikovsky’s retelling of the Pushkin novel Eugene Onegin was first rate. A GREAT OPENING to the opera season!

Today’s Origami Challenge – Japanese Lanterns:DSC07848

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Today’s Mensa Puzzle:DSC07851

THIS WEEKEND’S RANDOM POTPOURRI

pot·pour·ri  n. pl. pot·pour·ris
1. A combination of incongruous things
2. A miscellaneous anthology or collection of observations from a cranky old curmudgeon

ITEM 1:  I am convinced that I should never be allowed to wander through the stupidmarket without an armed guardian. The reason is … I am attracted by the words NEW, SPECIAL, SAVE, TRY THIS, LIMITED TIME, and JUST WHAT YOU WANTED.  On my trip to the grocery yesterday, I went through the bakery to pick up a plain loaf of seedless rye bread when I saw this sign…

TRY THE CRO-SAN-NUT!

The cross between a flakey buttery croissant …

And a luscious jelly filled doughnut!DSC07766

Being a firm believer in the premise that I have never met a jelly doughnut that I didn’t like, I bought one for my Saturday morning breakfast.

THE TASTE TEST RESULTS: Less than favorable! The fried croissant was cut in half and the raspberry jelly was spread between the two halves. This allowed the expose jelly to dry out somewhat. Unfortunately, this did not stop the jelly between the two layers from leaking out and falling on your hand, lap and kitchen floor. The croissant wasn’t flakey or buttery either. It was somewhat dry and stiffly chewy. End result … it didn’t excite my taste buds, and I had to wash my hands, lap and kitchen floor. Minus FIVE on the would I buy again scale.

ITEM 2: Mayhem and possible murder in the kitchen cupboard. While I was using my Swiffer Wetjet to clean the leaked cro-san-nut jelly off the kitchen floor … (if an 80+ year old lady can on TV, so can I) … I discovered Woody on the kitchen floor.DSC07768He had been living on the top shelf of the kitchen china cabinet. He apparently leaped or was pushed from his shelf sometime during the night. Possible suspects who share the shelf include …

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LUMPYDSCF1111

SQUEEK

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and this motley crew … known to be gremlins, demons or werewolves.

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ITEM 3Just received the last publication from the Saint Louis Art Museum …SLAM

The cover features Setting Sun Over Sacramento Valley by Japanese-American artist Cuira Obata. It is a new gift to the Museum and it will be on display with three of his other works for a special exhibition.

The Museum also announced that the Metropolitan Opera LIVE In HD satellite Broadcasts will return to the newly refurbished Museum Auditorium in October. I first started going to the opera showings there in 2008, but because of the construction work at the museum I had to switch to a local movie house for the past two years. I bought my tickets for the first half of this season last week. First opera coming up is Tchaikovsky’s romantic Eugene Onegin with a finale that takes place in a blinding snowstorm. You definitely will be hearing more on this topic.Bill's  Move2 1

ITEM 4: In case you were wondering, I was considering a second photo for Friday’s Weekly Photo Challenge. It was a photo I’ve featured in the blog before showing a colorful mural created by kids and displayed in the entrance to the Wash U Metro Station.Kid Mural

It also qualified as SATURATED.


ITEM 5: Observations From A Cranky Curmudgeon – while I am quite fond of a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea for breakfast, I today decided that iced Earl Grey tea is not my glass of tea.

POTPOURRI PROVERB OF THE DAY

THE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS SHOULD BE CHANGED ON A REGULAR BASIS, LIKE A PAIR OF DIRTY SOCKS.

DAILY CALENDAR CHALLENGE #062 – MARCH 3

#1 THE ORIGAMI CALENDAR CHALLENGE – SUNDAY SPECIAL

DSC05777 Well, since I mastered my weekend learning lesson on Saturday, I decided to use what I learned last week (Kite Base) to illustrate my Saturday afternoon visit to the opera via the Met’s Live In HD theater broadcast of Wagner’s Parsifal. Here’s the review I posted to my opera group.

Parsifal … loved the performers and their performances, but thought the tempi was a tad slow at times. (Sure, it only ran on for six hours.) However, I absolutely desisted the director-gone-rampant production. The post-apocalyptic scorched earth set with never-ending cloud projections was the dreariest I’ve seen since the new Tosca. And I won’t even go into the pool of blood covering the stage. And didn’t anyone else think the knights lumbering over the top of hill in act 3 resembled something out of Night Of The Living Dead. Attendance at my theater was down to about a fourth of the usual. After performance chatter was about 85% negative. ParsifalHistoricTraditional setting of the opera.parsifalAct1Setting for the new production.Parsifaltoday The pool of blood covering the stage.

And here is my origami visualization of the opera …ParsifalSwanSwan swimming in the pool of blood.

#2  MENSA PUZZLE CALENDAR – SUNDAY PUZZLE MY SISTER’S DIARYDSC05780

Well, since I never had a sister I never had to worry about getting into her diary. And if I did have a sister, I would advise her to make like Leonardo d.V. and use backwards writing (mirror writing) like I did. BTW, the guest chicken is named the Hubba Bubba Birdie.

#3 THE PAGE-A-DAY PUZZLE CALENDAR –  WORD CROSSDSC05775

OK, I’ll give you a clue on this one.  is the letter in the green box where the two words cross.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON WITH WOLFGANG …

Esquire Saturday, I took a trip over to my favorite movie theater. The listing of films on the marquee looked like it was going to be a variations on a theme day. But my attraction wasn’t even listed.

I was there to spend the afternoon with Wolfgang …SatAftWolf

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that is, or actually one of many operas he wrote. You really can’t go wrong when you spend the afternoon with the music of Wolfgang and I had never heard today’s production La Clemenza di Tito (AKA, The Clemency of Titus) before.

 

wamActually, it was the last opera he wrote. He fell ill during its premiere in Prague in September of 1791 and died on December 5 of that year at the age of 35. Yes, he was young, but remember he was composing music and performing since before he was five.

I didn’t know much about the opera, other than one of main male characters was played by a woman. That happened a lot in operas written during the eighteenth century. And when they didn’t put a woman in pants in the role they used a castrati which was basically a gelded tenor which really makes my knees lock when I think about it. What I didn’t know about this opera was that two of the main male characters were played by women. And since the opera is set in the early days of the Roman Empire about 79 AD neither of the two women in a pants roles were actually wearing pants. In Roman warrior style both of their costumes consisted of leather breast plates, strap kilts and boots. (OK, for one brief moment I did giggle briefly thinking about a band of Lesbian bikers.) But both of the sopranos were outstanding, and they dominated the stage with their vocal performances.Tito

Basically, the opera was a melodrama set in ancient Rome and most of the plot was telegraphed. But the production, the performances and most important the music  was some of the best I’ve seen and heard this season. My Live in HD rating five stars ☆☆☆☆☆ and five high notes ♪♪♪♪♪

SATURDAY AFTERNOON AT THE MET

Well, it’s that time again. The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD performances are again being beamed via satellite transmission to my local movie house.

 

 

And that is the fantastic Art Deco ESQUIRE which happens to be the same age as me … though it has been repeatedly modernized over the years with all the technical wizardry I unfortunately lack.Today the Met kicked off their season with a brand new production of the classic …

The Elixir Of Love

The opera is a comedy written by Gaetano Donizetti and the new production is fantastic and so are the singers … Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien. It tells the story of a charming country bumpkin Nemorino who is in love with Adina the owner of the local farm who spurns his romantic intentions. During a work break on the farm, Adina reads a story about how Tristan used a magic potion to wow and win the lovely Isolde.

As luck would have a patent medicine peddler arrives in town and sells Nemorino a bottle of this Elixir Of Love which in reality is nothing but a cheap bottle of wine which sends Nemorino on a cheaper drunk. Then the plot complications begin. To make Nemorino jealous Adina agrees to marry Belcore (a conceited military man) and Nemorino buys even more elixir and gets even drunker. Unknown to Nemorino his uncle dies and leaves him a fortune. The peddler finds out about this and tells all the girls in town who naturally covet the former bumpkin. This makes Adina jealous and Nemorino realizes that she actually loves him. This leads him to sing the aria “Una furtiva lagrima” which brought down the house.

Yes, the aria is really sad, because though Adina loves him, it is for all the wrong reasons. But the composer realized he needed a real show-stopper at this point in the opera and a sad song was just the way to do it. It was also the way to come up with the tenor aria that would become the most popular in opera repertory. Naturally all the nitty-gritty details are resolved for a happy ending.

The set design was fantastic … using painted three-dimensional sets that created the effect of a two-dimensional paintings.

All in all … a totally enjoyable rainy day afternoon!

Note: The video clip features Juan Diego Florenz currently one of bel canto opera’s top singer/actors

 

 

MOVING ON TO VALHALLA!

I woke Saturday morning to a world shrouded in fog and mists …

which was a fitting start for a day I would spend enclosed in a theater watching an epic six-hour operatic filled with gods, demigods, dragons, dwarfs, giants, and a HERO!  Yes, it was time for SIEGFRIED –the third part of the Metropolitan Opera’s new Wagnerian Ring Cycle which was transmitted live via high-definition satellite to theaters around the world.

SIEGFRIED is the orphaned child of an incestuous relationship between Siegmund and Sieglinde who are the twin offspring of the god Wotan and a human who has been raised since birth by the Nibelung dwarf Mime. Siegfried is a youth of 18 who has never known fear and Mime who doesn’t even like him has only raised him to kill the giant Fafner who has been magically transformed in to a dragon and guards the gold originally stolen from the Nibelung by Wotan two operas earlier.

If that sounds complicated, it is!  And the part of Siegfried is the most challenging in all of opera. The tenor who sings it is on stage singing almost all the time during the opera’s five to six-hour length. To complicate matters even more, two tenors who were supposed to sing the role were forced to drop out because illness — the second falling ill just two days prior to the dress rehearsal.

Enter the hero … from Paris, Texas?  Jay Hunter Morris is a young tenor who had sung the role in another production of the opera this summer in San Francisco. Flying to New York and working non-stop with the director he was able to master the role for the opening night performance. On stage he sings like a heroic German demigod, but behind the scenes he sounds like a down home boy who is “thrilled to be singing in such of fantastic theater in front of such a big band.”

His performance and the entire production was totally mind-blowing!

I’m adding two video clips to capture a bit of the performance. To capture the full effect of the stage design, I’d suggest clicking the small square formed by four arrows in the lower right hand corner of each video box to view in full screen glory.

The first is from act one where Siegfried forges his mighty sword Nothung.  Check the water cascading over the edge of the stage into the pool.

The second is the opening of the third act and it demonstrates the gigantic movable stage that becomes the scenery with the  aid of 3-D projections. Watch Wotan turn the lake into the top of a craggy mountain.

The opera received a tremendous ovation both at the Met and in the Esquire where I saw it. And thanks to the conductor who keep the music flowing at a steady pace, the opera actually finished a half hour ahead of schedule. Best production so far this year!

A DAY AT THE OPERA!

Saint Louis is a wonderful city, but it really doesn’t offer a lot of opportunity for witnessing GRAND OPERA.  Sure, we have Opera Theater at the Loretto-Hilton in the spring and early summer, and the Union Opera Company  and Opera On The Hill at random times in local churches. But as good as they are, they don’t come close to GRAND OPERA performed in a real OPERA HOUSE.  Perhaps someday when the old Kiel (or whatever they’re renaming it) Opera House is restored we’ll be able to see opera as it was meant to be seen. Until then, the only thing we have that comes close to GRAND OPERA is the Metropolitan Opera Company’s LIVE in HD broadcasts presented via satellite in several local movie houses (and hopefully once again in the Art Museum’s auditorium once they get done with all the construction and reconstruction now going on). 

IDEA! Wouldn’t it be great if the Art Museum could show one of the Met’s HD productions on a giant screen on ART HILL during the summer?

So, yesterday was my day at the opera … and I do mean DAY, because yesterday’s performance was Wagner’s Die Walküre,

which has a running time of five and a half  hours including two half hour intermissions. So I got up early to get Mlle. Renee up so she could run around outside for a while. It was raining, so basically she just watched the rain come down while I ate breakfast and then made myself a tuna salad on whole wheat bread with pepperjack cheese for one of the intermissions. I also packed five Hershey Special Dark Chocolate Nuggets w/Almonds for the second intermission and a bottle of half frozen water. And I was ready to jump on the Metro Bus and head over to the Esquire where the opera was being shown.

I have been waiting my entire life to see a live production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and it appears the Met’s HD broadcasts are the closest I’m going to get to it.  Last fall I saw the first opera Das Rheingold and I was totally enthralled and couldn’t wait for the second installment to be broadcast. I was actually the first person to arrive at the theater when the doors opened at 10:15 and I was able to get my usual center/center seat. OK, so I might have a slight OCD problem about getting the right seat for the best sound and viewing enjoyment.

The opera was scheduled to start at 11:05. I don’t know why they always tell you the show is supposed to start on the hour, because but they never actually start until five-minutes after … must be some kind of theatrical or operatic tradition.  Well, 11:05 came and went and a THERE WILL BE A SLIGHT DELAY sign was projected on the screen.  This was followed by an in unison audience response of  “OH, NO! THE MACHINE WON’T START!”  For those of you who are not in the opera inner circle, THE MACHINE is this giant hydro-mechanical computerized contraption that was designed to serve as the stage set for all four of the Ring operas. It consists of a dozen and a half  “planks”  on a center axis that are supposed rise, fall, twist and bend to become with the aid of multiple projections the various settings for the opera. THE MACHINE has also been known to  become inoperable at times leaving both cast and audience hanging. Yesterday morning was one of the times, and the start of the opera was delayed for 45-minutes.

THE MACHINE got the opera off to an impressive start supporting Wagner’s magnificent music with visuals of the snowstorm and Siegmund’s chase through the woods before metamorphosing in Hunding’s cottage where the wounded Siegmund collapses. Without getting into the plot of the opera I must say the cast was outstanding. Jonas Haufmann was totally heroic in both voice and looks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcYmsXCjF0k&feature=related

Eva-Maria Westbroek was a perfect match as his twin sister and lover Sieglinde. And Hans-Peter König completed the first act trio with true menace as Hunding, Siedlinde’s husband.

Unfortunately little problems came up in the first act. Hunding’s cottage was set in a trough between the front of the stage and the machine and it looked like the actors were walking in a ditch. (And a woman sitting next to me who had just returned from seeing the production live in NYC, said that when someone sang from the trough the sing was muffled.) Also I wasn’t impressed with the idea of using the hilt of Nothung the magic sword enbedded in the ash tree as a coathook. Though the scene when Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree sent goosebumps running up and down my arms. That ended when the sword looked like something I would have made as a kid from two pieces of scrap wood painted aluminum. Couldn’t the afford a real sword?

In the second act Bryn Terfel reappears as Wotan looking a lot better with an eyepatch than he did with the Veronica Lake hairdo in Das Rheingold.

Deborah Voight  also make her first appearance as Wotan’s daughter and favorite Valkyrie Brunnhilde. Both did first-rate vocal work, but Ms. Voight needs a bit more acting experience and/or direction before she can claim the role as her own. I also found the close-ups of Terfel’s facial distortions as he sings somewhat annoying.

Stephanie Blythe stole the act singing the part of Fricka, Wotan’s wife.  Shades of  TV’s The Good Wife.

Act 3 is supposed to the dynamic in the opera. It opens with the unforgettable Ride of the Valkyries and ends with Wotan’s powerful monologue and the Magic Fire that surrounds the sleeping Brunnhilde. The production and THE MACHINE failed in both cases. The Valkyries straddling individual planks of the machine like seesaws was more reminiscent of a somewhat obscene mechanical bull ride in a bad Texas bar than it was of warrior maidens riding their magnificent steeds. 
And the “magic fire” effect wasn’t very magic; actually it could have used the help of a lot of boy scouts. I don’t know it was a failure of THE MACHINE’s projections or the inability of the video cameras the truly capture the intended look of the effect, but Saturday’s production as screened in my theater did not look anything like this rehearsal photo of the scene the Met had released. Hopefully director Robert Lepage will put a bit more effort and creativity into the next two episodes of the Ring scheduled for next season. Also THE MACHINE needs to be overhauled to produce the super-awesome effects Wagner wrote into the script.

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