Monday, August 30, 2010

LOST & FOUND: People & Pets (Aug2010)

A friend and I have taken to taking photos of 'lost & found' posters we run into on the streets of San Diego, California. The last couple of weeks yielded these. If you live or work or are visiting coastal San Diego area, keep your eyes out for them, would you?


Kasandra 'Kassy' Reyes: 16 years old. 5'7" (about 170 cm) tall, 135 lbs (about 61 kg). Black hair, brown eyes. Last seen in Eastlake area of Chula Vista on August 24th, 2010 with Jacob 'Jake' Gallardo (also pictured on poster). If spotted please call Chula Vista Police at (619) 691-5151. 


1. Abby the female poodle in Rancho del Rey area of Chula Vista is still lost (since July 2nd, 2010). If found please call (619) 755-7771 or (619) 495-8284
2. Coco the long tailed white cat with small spots of black hairs on his head is missing in Rancho del Rey area of Chula Vista. If found please call (619) 307-1571
3. A nameless reddish brown puppy is missing in Heritage area of Chula Vista. If found please call (619) 271-8395 or (619) 781-3920.
4. Kenzie the brown Chihuahua mix is missing in University Height area (the corner of Monroe and Hamilton) of San Diego since August 21st, 2010. If found please call (858) 405-6747.

 1. A brown and white dog was found in Rancho del Rey area of Chula Vista. If you are looking for a dog resembling the one photographed on the poster, call (619) 869-7741.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I Love Vesselina Kasarova

I am often asked why I enjoy listening to Vesselina Kasarova so much. A fair question considering how much she dominates my classical and opera music essays and reviews... and youtube channel. Don't think that I don't think about the danger of being so emotionally invested on an artist whose work I review both for work and for pleasure, though. I do.... A lot. It is a main reason why I don't usually go and meet performers backstage even when invited.
That said, here is what I consider one of the biggest compliments ever paid to me (albeit from behind my back and with a distinctly uncomplimentary intent):

The comment was caused when the youtuber left a slew of stuff he misguidedly called 'constructive criticism' at the youtube clip I post of Kasarova singing Carmen's Habanera during a song recital in the Netherlands in 1994. I don't know about others' sensibility, but I can hardly see the constructiveness in:
"Sounds like a whale vomitting: imprecise rhythm, blemishes in the coloratura, gratuitous glottal, etc. Very unusual for her but hardly surprising. What did Kasarova expect to happen with her forced technique? This is my favourite piece of music in existence, so this video is truly repulsive to me. Susan Graham and Anne Sofie von Otter are the real Ariodante's."
Since I let stand uncontested plenty of 'Don't like this singing. Prefer another's' comments there and elsewhere, I don't feel the slightest bit bad about my ability to let others fairly criticize Kasarova and other favorite singers... As long as the criticism is fair and not just a cover for personal attack on the performers or other youtubers.

At any rate, the part I regard as highly complimentary for my sensibility is the last part of the comment the troll posted on another youtube opera fans with the same big-dick-complex comes in the last bit of it:
"Good grief, even when Kasarova makes mistakes that Smorg even admits, she turns it around saying that it improves the music."

That... is what I strive to do when reviewing music. I don't omit the mistakes that my favorite singers make or the 'flaws' in their instrument. But I do my best to put into context what these irregularities bring to or take away from the performance. And even Kasarova is not exempt from that. That is what I think a good music critic/reviewer/writer ought to do. 

I may not succeed all the time, and there are performances that are so bad that they give no new or unusual insight to provide the show with a context worth dwelling on. But hopefully most of the time I am able to separate 'deciphering what the musicians are trying to do or communicate' from 'imposing wantonly on their performance my own personal standard/preference'. And so, when I read that even people who regard themselves my enemies notice with glee that I do state my all time favorite artist's flaws and vocal irregularities in my reviews of her performance and that I try to relate what those irregularities communicate in her story-telling. It is a compliment of the highest order for what I have been trying to do all along!

But back to the big question of why Vesselina Kasarova is such a big part of my life. Short answer: survival. She was unknowingly there when I needed someone the most (as she has been, equally as unknowingly, there for many others who still write to tell me every so often how their experience with her lift their spirits). And she has qualities that easily outlast the episode.

La Kasarova has a very complex and multi-layered singing voice that I find endlessly fascinating in its melancholic depth and kaleidoscopic coloration.... And she has a knack for acting; both vocally and theatrically, with this rare ability to endow her opera characters with all sorts of insecurities and emotional angst that she probably wouldn't dare to express in real life. 

I discovered her sometime in 2005 when I was having a rather rough time. In a ruinous health condition and distanced yet again by the one woman I can't stop loving, I spent much of my time in a dark depression away from everyone. Then I chanced on Kasarova's voice on a cable TV program singing the music I normally detested: opera. And, suddenly, for the first time in my excessively even-keeled left-brain-oriented life, I understood the value of good drama. It connects you with others and lessens the sense of vulnerability in real life. 

(Youtube video of Penelope's entrance scene to Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria. Posted by Arashi)

Thereafter, whenever I feel quite sucky and ill-understood I'd put her on the stereo and let her rant and rave in my place. It is sort of therapeutic since I don't really talk to anyone in real life and tend to keep my stress to myself. I'd listen to the lass sing something achy from I Capuleti e i Montecchi or Ariodante or La clemenza di Tito and allow myself to imagine that there is at least one person out there who had been there and knows exactly what it feels like. 

I don't know Kasarova personally and won't presume to know what sort of distresses she must have had in her life in order to be able to inject into her voice such devastating pathos... But I know that she grew up an only child in behind-the-iron-curtain Bulgaria where her granddad was a political prisoner and her dad drove a cab for a living because he was denied university education by the communists. She had to do well in school and conservatory to survive the fierce competition (the Soviet sucked at most things except for the arts and sports, apparently) and secure a chance to escape to the West, so I'm pretty convinced that she has a good capacity for empathy. Even if she hadn't experienced the exact things her operatic characters go through in the course of the preposterous stories (and that is being quite charitable... a lot of opera have such holey plots they make Emmenthaler looks like solid granite block by comparison), there certainly is enough tragedies and downers in her memory bank to allow her to approximate them very convincingly. And that is all that matters to me, really...

My favorite down song is actually rather morbidly humorous in the context of the opera story... Ariodante thinks his fiancee had cheated on him, so he goes and tries to drown himself in the sea, moaning along this 'I'm so hard done by' tune as he wades into the crashing cold waves... But then instead of going under and be done with it along with the final notes, the ocean coughs the dude back ashore very much alive, mad, and now also very wet... to add to the indignity of it all. Talk about being incompetent as an operatic superhero - the idiot can't even kill himself properly! But then the opera was named after him, so we can't very well have Ariodante drown half way into the story. As the plot goes, he dries up and gets back into town, finds out that the girl hadn't betrayed him after all and ends the opera on a happy note (lest the opera audience leave the auditorium feeling too down and depressed to patronize the fine restaurants and drinking bars on their way home... That would just be sucky for the local economy).

What listening to this does for me, though, is giving me the opportunity to indulge in some self-pitying by proxy. I can't bring myself to express what Ariodante spends nearly 15 minutes intoning in the piece, so I sort of let myself think that Kasarova/Ariodante is doing that on my behave. And, miracle of miracles, I feel so much better at the end of it while am still able to placate my overly proud conscience with the fact that I hadn't actually voiced such a humiliating emotional defeat myself. Another person is doing it and I just sort of latch on for the ride. It is only additionally cool that the person who voices the thing for me is also benefiting from the same sort of thing... letting her deepest angst out of her system under the cover of the opera character she is portraying. It is a sort of communal Schadenfreude in a Schizophrenic sort of way.

And to top it off, by all accounts Kasarova is one of the most well grounded and pleasant normal person off the stage. She is very well liked and well spoken. She is candid at interviews but goes out of her way to stick with the issues rather than personally attack others (she only names people to praise them)... and she dares to talk about the unpleasant parts of the opera business that less courageous souls wouldn't dare to risk touching them. 

I suspect many younger singers are grateful for the light she shines on the troubles they must face but can't publicly talk about without risking their nascent career in doing so. And also for blazing the trail in her will to use unconventional techniques at the service of story-telling in her performances even when that draws repeated critical face slaps in the mainstream media. She gives us audience more stylistic performance options to choose from in the days when most singers sound so alike that they can hardly be identified based on their voice alone, and she also takes the heat off younger singers who would love to do the same thing against the established trend toward institutional sterilization of the operatic singing voice.

And for that... I absolutely love the gal and those who are and who give her the support she needs in order to be able to deliver and live all that in relative happiness. Life is short and there are many who spend theirs without leaving much impact on others. Kasarova may not have set out to do it, but she is one whose impacts on many lives will outlast her career and even her lifetime. It is a sort of immortality that is well earned and worthy of cherishing, in my moderately humble opinion.

And.... if this extended rambling doesn't cure you of being nice enough to ask me anything about opera and/or Vesselina Kasarova ever again, then nothing will!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Local discovery: a tree house in Chula Vista

You know how you can walk past something special almost everyday for months and never stop to notice it? I just had another episode of that a week or so ago. Indi, the roommate's Rottweiler look-alike (she has recently been DNA tested and turns up the penultimate mutt... an even mix of four different non-Rottweiler breeds. I'm not quite buying it considering that I can see no characteristic of a chow chow, but plenty of tendency to excessively salivate when exercising or when thinking foody thoughts), go out for a walk on most evening just before sunset. And we often pass through this park up the road... and sometimes we would veer off into the little trail into the brushes toward another housing community. Though... we usually only walk the trail in only one direction. This time we ran into a bunch of mountain bikers and decided to head back out, which was how I suddenly noticed something not particularly natural about this quiet little tree tugged to the north side of the trail head. 

I'm sure I've seen many types of tree branches, but not ones like these. So naturally I headed up to investigate and got to see the surrounding area from an unfamiliar viewpoint.

It isn't a full scale tree house per se, but a great little hide away place to sit on and watch over the park nearby... I'm not stating its exactly location, of course, lest some over-zealous city official finds out and try to have it torn down.

The next time you go out walking around the neighborhood, though, be sure to look around. You never know what fun places may be hiding in plain sight!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Clouds are the celestial spice

Southern California and its Mediterranean climate isn't all that hospitable to clouds, especially during the dry summer months. So, I indulged myself a bit while out walking around last week and enjoying its unseasonably cloudy cool sky.

Laid on the cushy green grass in a park and trying to sort out what sort of atmospheric conditions were happening up high to facilitate different types of clouds and even that hypnotic looking spectral ball on the western sky, an unexpected piece of music popped up in my head. It was unexpected because I hadn't heard it since over a year ago... the last time I popped the excellent CD set of Offenbach's Orphee aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) from the Opera de Lyon with Marc Minkowski conducting into my stereo. What you hear in this clip is a bit of the overture...

Addictively psychedelic, isn't it? 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Hiya all:
I'm afraid a nasty spy/malware got my laptop (blame it on the left-click-happy Window Vista for clicking links I didn't intend to click!). Am currently offline until the thing is fixed... which would mean a few days at least. 

Really, I almost wish there really is a hell just for the benefit of crooks like computer hackers who can't be bothered to do something more constructive with their lives aside from making these viruses go and attack other people's livelihood! Nuts!!!!