Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Friday night started with Wings, Arthur Kopit's riveting play about as a former aviatrix recovering from a stroke, Constance Cummings won the Tony that year and rightly so. It was a tour-de-force and I remember coming out feeling both elated and emotionally disturbed. But that mood didn't last the rest of the evening because we headed down for dinner at The Cookery in the Village and two late night sets by this incredible woman:
As remarkable as Alberta Hunter is in this video she was more so in person. I have a few of her older recordings - from the 20s and 30s - and they are great but I honestly think she was better at 82 then she was at 28. Here's a sample of the young Alberta:
That's some back up group: Sidney Bechet playing the soprano sax, Louis Armstrong on trumpet and his wife Lil at the piano.
And the whole weekend went pretty much like that. Saturday lunch with friends at the Café des Artistes surrounded by those kitschily endearing Christy murals; that evening, Eubie! starring Gregory Hines and brother Maurice celebrating the music of Eubie Blake (who had writeen for Alberta Hunter back in the 20s); followed by dinner at Cafe Argentuil on the Upper East Side. Mass Sunday morning at St Mary the Virgin - smells, bells and their incredible choir doing Rossini, brunch at the Russian Tea Room where we saw Salvador Dali being fluffed up by an attentive hostess for his grand entrance. And the weekend ended with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in Sweeney Todd.
It was quite the weekend.
30 aprile - San Pio V papa
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Sorry that wasn't very Christian was it????? And like Tony I'm wondering why I can remember those things but not my Bancomat pin number!
29 aprile - Santa Caterina da Sienna
Monday, April 28, 2008
28 aprile - San Pietro Chanal
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Music: Bach's Prelude And Fugue No. 6 In D Minor BWV 851 - Praeludium from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 performed by Daniel Ben Pienaar.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
And here's the great Dinah Washington doing what is, without a doubt, the best version of Coward's Mad About the Boy
23 aprile - San Giorgio
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Laurent and I are heading out to Venice tomorrow - or at least I hope we are as he seems to be coming down with the flu. We're finally getting to attend a performance at the restored La Fenice Opera House - the last time we were in Venice, back in 2000, it was still under construction after the devestating fire. And I'm hoping we'll be able to attend the Patriarchal High Mass in honour of San Marco on the 25th before we head off to Vincenza for the rest of the weekend. Plus we've made dinner reservations at Osteria Oliva Nera - our friend Mark recommended it and when I checked the website I realized we had eaten there ten years ago. I had forgotten the name and strangely had asked Laurent a few days before if he remembered it - and eccola two days later Mark mentions it.
I've set publishing dates and times on a few things - including this post which is scheduled to go up at 2300 Rome time. We'll see how it works.
22 aprile - Santa Leonida
- Sunday was beautiful and sunny but the apartment still had a damp cold feel to it - our building is concrete with marble and terra cotta floors - so we left the house with jackets on. Totally unneeded! If the neon sign at the Farmacia was right it hit 31C by late in the afternoon. We wandered through the neighbourhood, stopped for a gelato, did a quick detour into the 3rd Century Basilica of Santa Constanza (though its just next door Laurent had never seen it) and sat in the condo complex park for a while. A nice way to spend a Sunday.
- Though it wasn't part of our normal Saturday subscription we decided to catch Handel's Alexander's Feast at the Academia this past Saturday night. Handel isn't really in the Italian blood so though it was a fine performance it missed the spark needed to set the piece on fire. However I must admit the young Slovak tenor Pavol Breslik was pretty to look at and he could sing too.
Its been years since I'd heard it and while rereading John Dryden's text I was struck by the following passage on the fallen Darius, dead on the battlefield:
Deserted at his utmost needSurely that last line is one of the saddest in English poetry.
By those his former bounty fed
On the bare earth expos'd he lies.
Without a friend to close his eyes.
- It is estimated that 50% of the people who ride the buses in Rome do so without a ticket. If caught there is a hefty fine - EURO150.00 or about CAD225.00 - but as the enforcers normally announce their intentions by congregating in uniform at the bus stops ...
Though Romans complain about their transit system we've found it exceptional, if at times crowded. A ticket costs E1.00 ($1.50 CAD)and is good for unlimited travel on any combination of transit for 75 minutes. A monthly pass is E30.00 ($45.00) - though I was asked two months ago if I qualified for the E20.00 Seniors Pass - the bitch! I understand that back home in Ottawa its now $3.00 per ride and a monthly pass is $73.00.
Saturday night the only option for getting around town was public transit. We tried to get a taxi from the Parco della Musica but there were none to be had. So we hopped on a Number 2 tram with a gang of football fans returning from a Roma game, changed at Piazza del Popolo to Metro A and again at Termini to Metro B. It only took us 30 minutes; the traffic was so bad that if we had waited for that taxi we'd probably still be sitting somewhere along Via Flaminia with a two days growth of beard.
- We were headed for I Fiori di Cina (Flowers of China) to meet our friends Vin and Larry for a late (well late by North American standards) dinner. By the time we got there it was 9:30 and the place was packed - so packed we couldn't get a table on the gay side!
The gay side???? Yeah I guess that does sort of require a bit of explaining. As our friend Kevin said after Laurent's birthday dinner: Well I guess I can cross eating at a Gay Chinese Restaurant in the Historic Centre of Rome off my list of things to do before I die. Its not that its officially gay, its just that its very, very, very gay friendly. The hostess knows most of the clients and seats people pretty much according to perceived sexuality - lesbians and gays to the right, straights to the left and undecideds where ever there's a free table.
But as I said on Saturday it was so packed we could only get a table on the left side - along with a table of 8 twinks - who were replaced by 8 daddy bears, a table of 4 hairdressers, two or three tables of gay couples and a table of 4 lesbians. The Straight side??? Yes! There was a table beside us and there was a straight couple sitting there.
- Yesterday (April 21) Rome officially turned 2761. Yes back on April 21, 751 BC Romulus and Remus tore themselves away from pulling on She-wolf nipples and founded a village on the slopes of the Palatine Hill. Buon compleanno Roma, you don't look a day over 2000!
22 aprile - Santa Leonida
Monday, April 21, 2008
But primarily he was an entertainer who self-deprecatingly said his only skill was "A Talent to Amuse." But it was one of the most brilliant talents of the 20th century - song writer, playwright, stage director, screenplay writer, film director, actor, singer, dancer and raconteur. There is a good reason he was called "The Master."
This clip is taken from a live 90 minutes special he and Mary Martin did on CBS back in 1955 - he said it was the most nerve-wracking 90 minutes of his life.
21 aprile - Sant'Anselmo
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Here are a few things that I've read and enjoyed over the past few weeks.
- One of my great inspirations when I first started blogging, the incredible Lynette over at Big Ass Belle posted a piece on prayer God's Golden Spotlight back at the end of March - yes its been that long since I shared. It came at a time for me when prayer seems to have, in a small way, reentered my life. And it's great to see Lynette posting again, even if for the moment it is only off and on.
- The newly shaven EvilGnome had an unusual sighting in the middle of Boston earlier this week. And his camera has come in handy for capturing the birds that are flocking to his neighbourhood. And in his wry way he shared his thoughts as he looked in the mirror razor in hand.
- As well as changing her profile picture (you can't mistake those naughty eyes) Sageweb had a transcendental experience in the grocery aisle that had me in stitches. And she ended the week with two great videos that are touching and reaffirming.
- That master storyteller Tater tells us about a bitter realization that changes a boy's life.
- Foodie Jonathan at Around Britain with A Paunch praises the joys of Heinz 57 and unveils a new upscale version that's coming on the market.
- For the past few weeks Jeff has been taking us on a Sunday drive through his neighbourhoods. It reminded me of the Sunday drives we often took when I was young - only in this case the driver is a heck of a lot better looking.
- And Elizabeth has been keeping us posted, as her time allows, on how things are progressing with KH after his surgery. Though I've removed the candle from the sidebar I'm still stopping in to light a candle for his recovery and to remind myself of the needs and concerns of so many of my friends.
You may have read some of these posts already - if not give them a visit. And if you have, what it would hurt you to take a second look?
19 aprile - Sant'Emma
Friday, April 18, 2008
Music: Bach's Prelude And Fugue No. 13 In F-Sharp Major BWV 882 - Praeludium from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 performed by Daniel Ben Pienaar.
18 aprile - San Galdino
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Harry, Joe, Bello: “Hello”, Nick!
Nick: Buono sera ragazzi
Sid and Happy: “Hello”!
Joe and Bello: “Dooda, dooda, day”
Harry: Sigari, Nick!
Joe: e whisky!
You could be forgiven for thinking I spent last Friday watching one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns without the subtitles but actually it was La fanciulla del west – Puccini’s take on David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West – in a very realistic production by Giancarlo Del Monaco at the Rome Opera. Premièred at the Metropolitan back in 1911 with Caruso (at left with Emmy Destinn and Guiseppe Amato) starring as the bandit-hero – the awkwardly named Dick Johnson – and Toscanini conducting, it never really gained a foothold in the permanent repertoire until the later part of the 20th century.
I have to admit that its not one of my favourite Puccini works so I wasn’t excited when it showed up as part of our subscription for the season. But then they announced that Daniela Dessi and hubby Fabio Armiliato would be starring in the “first” cast and I started praying to the gods of casting. By way of explanation performances are given here on consecutive days and as a result most productions are multi-cast. Specific casts are not announced until a month before the performance, so ya pays ya money and takes ya chances. So far this season we’ve ended up with first cast for the Tosca and the Fanciulla – a big YES to both. I had heard so much about Daniela Dessi from Opera Chic and Flipstinger that I just had to hear her and Fabio.
On the topic of Fabio, let’s get this out of the way first: a YouTube clip of a first night encore of his Ch'ella mi creda libro had the aficionados in certain circles carrying on like a pile o’stepped on rattlesnakes in a sack. I hadn’t seen that much venom spewed since Lucrezia Borgia was plying her trade across the river. Based on what I heard and saw at an entire performance, not just a brief clip, he did just fine. Was he a great Dick Johnson (god they have to do something about that name)vocally? No, but then who has been since Domingo? It was a good performance - of a piece, well thought through and compellingly sung and the Act 3 aria was heartbreaking. And no, he did not get an encore.
If the information on the Internet is correct baritone Silvano Carroli (Sheriff Jack Rance) is almost 70 and sadly in the first act he sounded every year of it. However in the Act 2 Poker scene he and Dessi played off each other vocally and dramatically to make it a tense climax to an act that already been pretty heady in the drama department.
Much of that drama was Dessi, a lyric soprano with astounding powers of communication. She may not have the full vocal power to be the ideal Minnie but she drew a nuanced portrait of a strong frontier woman - mother, teacher and lover. Puccini doesn't give Minnie any great show piece aria but Dessi didn't need one - her saloon keeper with the heart of gold had a golden voice throughout. A lovely little touch - just before she read the Bible to the miners she shyly slipped on a pair of glasses and with them the air of the old maid Minnie could become crept in.
Belasco would have loved Del Monaco's production (on loan from the Los Angeles Opera) - it was filled with realistic detail including a relentlessly falling snow during Act 2. Unfortunately the rescue scene was bungled with most of the action taking place too far upstage right for many of the audience to see. And Minnie did not come galloping in on horseback to save her bandit-lover. Having proven her horseman ship in Act 2 I'm sure that Dessi could have managed it while singing gloriously.
Gianluigi Gelmetti led a well-paced performance - he strikes me as a conductor of the Serfain school - always there to support the singers not necessarily to bring attention to himself. The gentleman of the Rome Opera disported themselves convincingly as cowboys, miners and banditos and even managed a bar room brawl with a fair bit of panache.
The production photos are from the Los Angeles Opera and are by Robert Millard.
17 aprile - San Giacomo di Campostello
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I wish I still had the album - it went to a second hand shop about 10 years ago - it had a translation but here is my own very rough version in English:
There's pretty little prostitute on the street corner over there.
She caters to the dreams and desires of her clients.
But when she finished for the evening goes to a local dance hall
in search of her own dreams.
Her man is a musician who plays there, an accordionist.
He's a funny looking little guy
who sets people dancing when he plays the Java.
She listens to the music he makes
but never dances.
She only watches her man, the
nervous play of his fingers on the keyboard.
She watches his whole body and
his music creeps along her skin
and enters her.
It takes her breath away
and her soul is entwined with his.
The little prostitute on the street corner is sad.
Her accordionist has gone to the war.
But when he returns they will buy a bar.
She'll work the cash, he'll be the boss.
And every night after they've closed
he'll take his accordion and play the Java
only for her.
She'll listen to the Java watching her little accordionist,
her eyes filled with love.
She'll watch the nervous play of his fingers on the keyboard.
She'll watch his whole body and his music will creep along her skin and enter her.
It will take her breath away and her soul will be entwined with
The little prostitute is alone on the street corner.
There are younger and prettier girls, no one wants her anymore.
Her man - he never come back from the war.
Adieu to all her dreams, her life is meaningless now.
She drags her tired body into a local dive.
There is someone else playing the Java.
She listens to the Java
She hears the Java
She closes her eyes and see his fingers nervously
running over the keyboard.
The music creeps on her skin, and goes into her body.
And to forget she begins to dance.
Alone she turns in circles to the music.
Stop the Music!
17 aprile - San Lamberto
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Most towns are not large - Bologna, the largest, boasts a population of 350,000, Reggio nell'Emilia is the fourth largest with around 167,000 inhabitants. In all the major cities and towns of the Region the Centri Storici (Historic Centres)are primarily pedestrian areas and bicycles are the preferred style of transportation. Though not as prestigious as Bologna, Parma, Modena or Ravenna, Reggio Emilia is a pleasant city showing its prosperity in a quiet way. I counted 12 bookstores and 14 men's clothing stores in Centro alone and there are extensive city works projects to restore streets, buildings and squares.
15 aprile - Sant'Annibale
Monday, April 14, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
So was it worth the time, effort and money? Well let's just say it was one of the most exciting evenings I've spent at an opera in the past 20 years. From the first notes of the overture (the wonderful Mahler Chamber Orchestra)Abbado's Fidelio had a drive and dramatic tension which made the more introspective moments even more moving. The Canon was lyrically breathtaking and the Prisoners' chorus (the men of the Arnold Schoenberg Chor)heartbreaking in its simplicity. The great second act hymn to freedom was almost hysterical in its joy but both Abbado and stage director Chris Klaus told us that joy was to be short-lived.
This was Klaus's first opera production and in many ways it showed. The action had been moved forward to the French Revolution and the guillotine was an ever present threat. At times it also became a senseless distraction - Giorgio Surjan was totally upstaged as one was assembled behind him when he launched into his "Gold" aria. But many of Klaus's images where disturbing and beautiful, often at the same time - the hooded, faceless prisoners crawling on their bellies from darkness into the light of spring; a wheelchair bound Don Pizzaro(a chilling Albert Dohmen), his body as crippled as his mind; Marzelline (Julie Kleiter) turning in horror and disgust from the unmasked Leonore; the constant grovelling and money grabbing Rocco (Surjan)as ready to turn on his old master as he is to grovel for the new; and the final image of the chorus that had been so joyfully hymning freedom once again trapped and overshadowed by guards and a rank of guillotines. Florestan, now the new prison governor, had learned nothing from his imprisonment and nothing would change. It was chilling but all of a piece with Abbado's dark view.
Both conductor and director where blessed with singers who committed themselves to this bleak vision. Anja Kampe's Leonore (right) was strongly drawn and sung; and if her blazing Absecheulicher! garnered no applause it was because Abbado would countenance none as he pushed the drama on. Though Clifton Forbis had all the required power for Florestan's great aria I found his voice tight and there was a constriction in much of his phrasing. The discovery of the evening was Kleiter - Mozart-like in her exchanges with Jorg Schneider (Jacquino) her voice blended beautifully with those around her and her Marzelline was a completely drawn character. Klaus achieved that with all of the singers - they delivered their lengthy spoken dialogue with conviction and only occasionally lapsed into operatic acting.
Ultimately the evening - despite the ensemble curtain calls I wrote about previously - was Abbado's vision of Fidelio - raw and terrible in its darkness. And I repeat it was one of the most exciting evenings I've spent in an opera house in 20 years.
The production photos are by Alfredo Anceschi. This production will play several performances each in Madrid, Baden-Baden,Ferrara and Modena over the next year. It will be interesting to see how it develops over that time - I may just head up to Modena to see it again next year.
13 aprile - San Martino Ignacio
Friday, April 11, 2008
Again it is not my place to comment on the political situation here but I am struck by some of the posters that appear on the streets.
In Reggio Emilia:
The first Lega Nord poster simply says: Enough Taxes, Enough Rome! The second with the Indian Head says: They were not able to put rules on immigration. Now they live on Reserves. Think of that!
At my street corner:
This second poster from Forza Nuova is more disturbing in its imagery.
I must stress that the two parties involved are extremes however I've noticed that at least one of the candidates for Prime Minister has been cultivating a subtle image of a leader from the 30s - except he has decided not to shave off his newly transplanted hair.
11 aprile - San Stanislao