Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Year In Recap

A lot of things happened in 2010... even in my little corner of the big world. The ground was shaky here earlier in the year after a slew of earthquakes, though we haven't had a good jolt for many months now (which means that I have to invent up new excuses for my tendency to bump into things). Our summer was milder than usual, and rain arrived way ahead of schedule - rendering us quite a good colorful fall season.

I made many new friends, some in unlikely places. It's the one luck I do have that I keep running into really interesting, intelligent, decent and caring people online who are so nice to me even though we may never meet in real life (and the few that I have actually met are as wonderful as they seem in the cyber space!). You know who you are, I hope. Best of greetings to you all!

Another year and another move to a new living quarter... this time quite out of the city. It is hard getting anywhere from here via foot or public transportation, though I get to walk past a few hawks almost daily, and got to discover a few special places in the neighborhood. A fair compensation!

Got involved in a few projects I didn't mean to get involve in, though they all turned out ok. I discovered that I can still hit a golf ball without ending up causing anyone a serious bodily injury... Mentally, though, that is another story.
San Diego Opera stage crew changing set during La Traviata (April 2010)
Going to live opera performances at the San Diego Opera was a treat as usual. I finally got to hear Piotr Beczala live as Rodolfo in Puccini's La Boheme, and the rest of the cast was also quite fine. Never in my wildest dream did I think I'd get to see a staged performance of Verdi's Nabucco, but I did... in a pretty compelling staging at that. Richard Paul Fink was a commanding Nebuchadnezzar and Sylvie Valayre was as nasty as Abigaille needed to be. I was charmed by Ailyn Perez in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, though her husband, Stephen Costello pissed me off with his insistence on putting a fermata on nearly all of his high notes. Then Elizabeth Futral came back to town as a very fetching Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata, and it was a real pleasure to get to hear that opera's overture from the beautiful acoustic of the Civic Theater's upper balcony.

The SD Opera's 2011 season is still shortened to 4 operas due to the sluggish economy, though they do pack a lot of punches. Puccini's Turandot opens the season, followed by Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier that features the role debut for Anja Harteros as Die Marschallin. Ferrucio Furlanetto was to essay Baron Ochs for the first time here, but has decided to shelf that project for the time being, so we'll hear Andrew Greenan in the role instead. As our Octavian and Sophie will be the German mezzo Anke Vondung and Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi. Both of which I am very much looking forward to hearing live for the first time! Then Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello return as the ill-fated couple in Gounod's Faust. Another company debut is planned with Nino Surguladze in the title role of Bizet's Carmen.

I also went to a few Met HD opera broadcast to the movie theater in Mission Valley: Carmen with Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna, then Der Rosenkavalier with Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, and Christine Schaefer. Loved the former, though the latter was a really long evening (thanks in no small part to the two 50 minutes long intermissions! As if this opera isn't long enough on its own already!).

Elina Garanca, the nearly impossibly gorgeous in many ways Latvian mezzo-soprano is an artist over whom I have occasionally gotten publicly frustrated for her prioritization of clean singing over portrayal of the music's dramatic content (she says so herself in a 2009 interview with Matthew Gurewitsch) was a revelation. I first encountered her as Annio in the awesome DVD of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito from the 2003 Salzburg Festival and thought she had great potential. Though in subsequent CD and DVD encounters I was often frustratingly bored by her technical perfection...

But a talent like this shouldn't be given up on, and so I check back on her every so often. Giving people second and third chances is one of the few things in life that consistently pays back well. She is turning up quite more expressive than she once was... And sometimes even in surprisingly delightful manner!

Garanca in a much lighter mood with the drunk song from Offenbach's La Perichole.

I also went to a few symphony concerts around town. The San Diego Symphony Orchestra is now ranked quite respectably as a first tier American orchestra. I have mixed feelings about them... I love their wind and brass section, and the rest of the group are also technically fantastic. They turn up colorful and fiery at the opera, but in concert setting they often sound the notes beautifully without saying anything with them. This season is their 100th, and so quite a great line up of soloists headlining shows. The soloists usually leave after the first half, though, so the second half performances have been somewhat underwhelming by contrast (it's hard on drama-oriented audiences like me to go back to hearing pretty sound after a really communicative musical experience).

I also had a good time listening to the San Diego Master Chorale and the medieval music specialist group Courtly Noyse... and discovering many more wonderful young opera singers (another cheerful thank you to Samantha Farber at SONO Artists Consulting for facilitating delicious interviews with a few of them).

Alas, I didn't make it to Europe to catch my favorite muse, Vesselina Kasarova, in one of her best roles (Ruggiero in Handel's Alcina). I would get depressed about it, but was saved by reports of the many friends who managed to attend (most did in multiple shows!) and by the news that the Vienna shows were recorded for DVD release!

Wait a bit... I think I hear an owl from somewhere outside the window. Better go and see if I can catch a glimpse. Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season and fabulous 2011!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DADT Repealed At Last! Credits Where They Are Due...

It's been a long time coming, but that disgrace of a law known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell that has served as a cover for unfair discrimination against gays serving in the US military is finally repealed today. Looking back on it I am intrigued... The USA started out blazing the way toward valuation of fair play for all against the then prevalence of religious dictatorships (along with dictatorships that were using religions as cover for their oppression). Nowadays we are lagging behind other developed countries who are too busy fixing real pressing problems to indulge in nosing into and passing judgment on what some of their soldiers (and citizens in general) do in their private romantic lives.

There remain some who still endorse this anti-gay policy, indeed, claiming that allowing gay soldiers to not have to hide who they are (and giving free pass for anti-gays snitching to uproot career of good gay soldiers who aren't that interested in showing off their gayhood to begin with) will "destroy unit cohesion". To which I say, 'O ye of little faith. Just because you lots can't handle your own sexual bias doesn't mean that the rest of us can't! I have a lot more faith in the sensibility of the average American soldiers than you do. They have slept beside their gay brothers in arm under the pings of enemy bullets for years. I bet most of them even know which brothers and sisters are gay and which aren't and don't need additional drama some misguided overly religious folks insist on throwing their way'.

So here a little celebratory number for the now much more wholesome US armed force... Did you know this thing is taken from an opera?

"Well, now, my bumblebee, go on a spree,
catch up with the ship on the sea,
go down secretly,
get deep into a crack.
Good luck, Gvidon, fly,
only do not stay long!

- from Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov's Legend of Tsar Saltan.
  Translation taken from wikipedia.
 Prince Gvidon was sent into exile by a trick, but thanks to the Swan Bird (who sings this tune), he is temporarily transformed into a bumblebee so that he could go back home and visit his father, the Tsar Saltan, albeit incognito.

And giving credits where they are due... I must admit that like many others, I've thought Barack Obama a lot less principled and a lot more political than he apparently is. What can I say? The man is smarter than I am and even more patient. And I have undoubtedly suffered a bit from the prevalent American disease of 'I want this and this, and I want them NOW because I don't want to wait for them to be done properly syndrome'. It is a really nasty mental condition since it serves up unrealistic expectations while tending to gloss over the difficulties involved in the process of getting all those stuff done. With the feverishly partisan news reporting of recent years, it is easy to lose perspectives and forget to check for real status on things.

When Obama took office in January 2009 folks left, right, and middle agreed that our economy was heading for a catastrophic collapse on the scale of the 1929 - 1939 Great Depression. Republicans and Democrats alike predicted that the economy wouldn't even begin to recover for many years, and there wasn't much of an end in sight for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... and anyone who actually thought that healthcare reform could actually happen was likely way overly optimistic near the point of being delusional. Nearly two years later, much of those were done, and the much maligned stimulus (started under George W Bush and continued under Obama) has actually saved the economy (it didn't collapse. We still have a banking system, the auto-manufacturing industry, and the economy is actually on the upward slope again. Not as steep a slope as we'd wish for, but it is pointing up instead of down the way EVERYONE predicted it to still be doing by the end of 2010) and TARP, the 'bank bailout' is even projected to turn profit for the taxpayers!

Sure, things could be better, but they could also be a lot worse. And the truth of the matter is, they are verifiably a lot better than they were projected to be two years ago. Sometimes it pays to make sure that one's expectation doesn't keep upgrading itself to the point where no good deed can go unpunished...

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 2010

A weekend that was. Did some household chores,

walked a few pounds off the dog, 

and finding good chuckling instigators on Youtube...

Loud in its own way, ay?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Evolving Dog Day Afternoon

Indi half-dog-half-kangaroo (either half-kangaroo or half-jumping bean. I think the former isn't as big a genetic leap as the latter is) took me out for a stroll Sunday evening. It was cloudy and chilly. Probably in the mid 60's Fahrenheit (yes, that is "chilly" by a spoiled Southern Californian standard. If it ever gets cold enough here for the car doors to freeze shut, most of us would be unconscious and couldn't careless about using normal people's adjective in describing coldness).

I was bundled up in 3 layers and dreaming of steaming mugs of hot cocoa while furry Indi just went about her business with total indifference to the dropping temperature... Which, naturally, made me ponder about the 'common wisdom' that man is the most evolved species on the planet.

But, of course, man is not 'the most' evolved species on the planet. All the other species (hyperactive furry canines included) are just as evolved as we are! We just evolved differently to cope with our natural niche. And that's the same thing all the other living species do!

Drop an unarmed man into the middle of the wilderness anywhere with no tool whatsoever (knife and flint included), and most likely he won't survive anywhere nearly as well as all the other untooled local species can and do. Indi the kangadog, for one, is so well insulated by her fur that she'll be able to survive winter nights out without suffering hypothermia. Without my clothes, I probably won't be able to do that. And if the cold doesn't do me in, I'd probably starve because I'm not fast enough nor can I see well enough without my glasses to catch a rabbit or a panicky squirrel for dinner. 

Physically Indi the dog and Spooky the squirrel are much better adapted to the Southern Californian land environment than I am (and I can't live in water the way the sea bass and other fish can either). The one luck I and my fellow humans have, however, is that many many moons ago our human ancestor hit the genetic jackpot with brain development. Intelligence. It doesn't give us any physical advantage to other less intelligent species, but it along with the physical convenience of the opposable thumb allow us to improvise like no other earthlings could. We can't run as fast as the cheetahs can, but we thought up and built not only speedy cars but even rockets that can travel beyond our solar system. We can't see as well as the eagles do, but we thought up and created binoculars and even telescopes that can see galaxies forming so far away that it takes light 14 billion years to deliver their sight to us.

Having said that, having intelligence and using it are two different things. Why do I keep hearing people dissing the effort to reduce CO2 gas in the atmosphere and (hopefully) reversing the current global warming trend as if the natural- or unnatural- ness of its cause should make us behave differently? If you know that a moon-size meteor is taking a dead aim at planet Earth, would you not want the scientists to do everything possible to try to prevent the collision - regardless of how natural the event is? If you spot a naturally occurring wall of wild fire making a mad dash toward your house, would you not ask the firefighters to try to fight the blaze? Shall we sit prematurely defeated at home instead of organizing flood containing levees of sandbags when the river nearby overflows its banks?

Why should inaction be excused if man isn't the main cause of the current speedy warming trend (though the scientific consensus is that it is)? We are not trying to save the earth itself. The planet will survive the next ice ages as well as boiled ages with or without us. What the sensible people are trying to do is to do what is humanly possible to preserve the current earthly condition that supports our species' survival... regardless of whether its cause is more natural or man-made. Yes, the earth has seen many naturally heated and iced periods in the past. But why let it lapse into one of those humanly inhospitable conditions again if we can do anything at all that may prevent it???

The earth is going to be here whether Southern California turns into the bottom of a hot ocean or a frigid mile-thick glacier... You can either do what you can to prevent so drastic a climate change that will make it hard for your offspring to live or you can just sit on your hands while condemning others for causing you energy-inconveniences in their attempt to pass along a humanly viable earth to future generations. There is no escaping doom in the latter, whereas the former retains a possibility of survival. And if the driving force of this drastic climate change is more natural and our every efforts to stop and reverse it fails, at least the species will have gone down in fighting dignity rather than as a bunch of defeatists. If only all choices in life can be as clear cut!!!

PS: If you click on the link at 'climate change' to see the EPA's page on the phenomenon, be sure to read the footnote at the bottom of the page. It always bugs me how lay naysayers like to dismiss scientific views for the use of 'passive voice'. In the scientific world 'uncertainties' are measured on a very different scale as they are in lay conversations.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Off the Main Road: An Oasis by Discovery Park

I'm a country bumpkin and living in concrete forest cities sometimes depresses me. Oddly enough, the best cure for that is often to go out and walk a skewed hike. How is a hike skewed? By looking where you wouldn't normally look, of course.

This is a little creek hiding in plain sight near Discovery Park in Rancho del Rey area of Chula Vista. I've been by there several times without ever giving the little out-of-the-way grove of palm trees a second thought (ok, I confess I was interested once but was discouraged by the graffiti on the retaining wall up the hill from it... It looks like a druggie's hangout).

Yesterday, however, I was walking back from the store nearby when I spotted a lone hawk being harassed by a pack of three huge crows. It was a weird sight! The hawk went crashing into the eucalyptus grove on the hillside and just sat on a limb, ducking its head as the crows kept diving in to buzz him. I sneaked around and had a look at Mr. Hawk from below just before he flew off again. The last I saw of him he came circling back to the eucalyptus with something furry and yellowish in his beak, deftly maneuvering between the branches as the three crows tried to get at his lunch.

Looking back down on the ground level, though, I was surrounded by little birds! They were hard to photographed with my low-tech low-zoom camera, though, hopping from one bush to another as if cheering for the crows to drive that big fat flying predator away. There were a bunch of red-headed house finches up in the palm trees eating palm fruits. And the bushes were quaking with hopping golden crowned kinglets.
A golden crowned kinglet
And behind the bushes, of course, was this clear watered oasis...

If you were paying good attention you might have spotted the one icky thing in the creek.... An overturned shopping cart from the mall nearby. Thankfully there was just one of those and it was sort of tucked into a corner. The whole creek is only about 20 yds long, starting from a pipe outlet on the east end and disappearing underground behind a lone palm on the west end. On the whole, it really isn't much. But as a contrast to its citified surroundings.... it's a welcoming peaceful oasis!

Around town

It's the first week of December. I've had my first flu of the season, though that's not news comparing to many other things going on around town.

The San Diego Symphony celebrated its 100th birthday at the US Grant Hotel in Downtown on Friday with a big gala and a YoYo Ma concert. Balboa Park is all decked up for this year's December Night celebration while further to the northwest a group of Jews unsuccessfully tried to get La Jolla village to drop 'Christmas' from the name of its year end celebration (See? The world is not divided into Christians and Atheists. There are many other religions and its practitioners cohabiting the same country... and even the same town!).
Looking west on El Prado in Balboa Park
And up north in Escondido area they are prepping a house for demolition.... because the owner had this wonderful idea of making bombs and caching explosives all over the place. One of those got stepped on by a gardener (who, luckily, survived but is still recovering in a hospital). What can I say? San Diego is an eventful place!