Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Deserted Island Recording: RCA Red Seal’s Complete Opera CD Set of Rossini’s TANCREDI

Premiered on February 6th, 1813 at Teatro la Fenice in Venice, Tancredi (based on Voltaire’s 1760 tragedy, Tancrède) was Gioacchino Rossini‘s first successful foray into the realm of opera seria. The title character was based on a Norman knight called Tancred of Hauteville (not the Tancredi of Lecce whose star-crossed battle with Clorinda appears in Monteverdi’s 1624 madrigal). The plot is quite holey and the story progresses slowly, which is typical of opera seria: dramatic works where the action only takes place during long and boring accompanied recitative (sung speech)… when it isn’t interrupted by lengthy arias expressing a character’s (seemingly endlessly) specific thoughts. When sung well, one might actually wish for the character to think a little longer and a bit more often. When sung ill, though…. Bleh!

The music Rossini bestowed on this show is marvelously beautiful and dramatically apt. The overture was borrowed (this is Rossini, so what did you expect?) from his earlier opera called La pietra del paragone - a work sadly without enough paragon to keep it from disappearing into obscurity shortly after its premiere. At any rate, it serves Tancredi well (and vice versa, since it probably is the only bit of music from La pietra del paragone you’ll ever get to hear now. It is a minor miracle that there are recordings of this thing available!). The three main roles of Tancredi, Amenaide, and Argirio require nothing short of super-singers just to cope with their range and the virtuoso requirement - which is the main reason why the opera is so hard to stage these days. Three super-singers cost a lot of money!

The title role requires a true mezzo or contralto (he‘s gotta really bloom down there!) with great top extension and enough vocal agility to make your local auctioneers wonder why they can’t fit in as many words per second as the singer can fit notes into a musical beat… and sounds graceful while she is at it. Amenaide really requires a lyric soprano who can chirp with the best of the coloratura soprani out there (which is to say….an outsized helium-overdosed canary with a real voice). And then there is the unconscionably thankless role of Argirio: all the high notes and ringing tones and vocal acrobatics, and still only thirdly appreciated after the opera’s main couple.

And the story is:
Set in Syracuse, Italy circa 1005 AD: Tancredi, the young knight exiled since childhood from the city when his father (who ruled the city state) was deposed of by political rival, Argirio, returns to his homeland unannounced and incognito intended on helping to defend it against Solamir and his besieging Saracens (Moors)… And also to reunite with his sweetheart, Amenaide, Argirio’s beautiful only daughter. A complication arises, though, when Amenaide’s hand is promised to brash young General Orbazzano in return for his acceptance of Argirio’s status as the leader of Syracuse. Panicked by the notion of being married off to a brute she doesn’t love, Amenaide composes a letter to Tancredi - pleading for her rescue and deliverance and posts it in haste (and without addressing the envelope for fear of interception).

Alas, the fact that this is an operatic plot dictates that the letter just has to be intercepted and the addressee misconstrued to be Solamir (THE enemy!). Amenaide’s condemnation is led by Orbazzano and even seconded by her extremely (unjustifiably) disappointed father, who must now sign her death warrant for the crime of treason. Though he (idiotically) believes the charge against her to be true, Tancredi (still unrecognized for his true identity) promptly volunteers to defend her by challenging Orbazzano to a duel… and then proceeds to dispatching the brute so speedily that he doesn’t even get to sing about it (the chorus does that for us, which probably helps keeping this show from getting Wagnerian in length… And who would want THAT, eh?) before leading the Syracusians off into battle against Solamir and the besiegers.

There are two ways to end this tale on an operatic stage: the original Venetian audience loved the ‘happy ending’ where Tancredi returns triumphant after having slain Solamir and heard from the mouth of the dying man that Amenaide’s letter was actually meant for him (don’t ask me how Solamir would know for whom the letter was meant when he never got to see it in the first place. Since when is opera logical?). His reunion with Amenaide prompts a celebratory ensemble closing number that is sure to have the audience humming to themselves as they leave the theater.

Rossini (and other more dramatically aware folks), had a second thought and returned to the tragic ending that Voltaire’s novel dictates when he re-arranged the opera for its Ferrara premiere a few weeks later. In this ‘tragic ending’ Tancredi is victorious against Solamir but returns to Syracuse mortally wounded and learns that Amenaide’s letter was really meant for him as he lays dying on the stage - leaving the audience drenched in flood of tears (shed either in sympathy with the hero or in lamentation of the end to a musically spectacular evening… undoubtedly).

Whichever version is used, this opera is sure to wow you with its gorgeous music. Tancredi’s entrance aria, O patria, was a major hit - so much so that the exasperated Wagner parodied its cabaletta (the virtuoso final part), di tanti palpiti, in the Act III Tailor’s Song of his own opera, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. In fact, this very cabaletta is also known to opera buffs as the Rice Aria according to the urban legend that Rossini dashed this little tune off in the same amount of time it would take to boil rice for dinner. Below is three successive servings of this thing from 3 different singers (they are identified at the bottom of this article).

These are all from live performances of the opera, of course (not recitals, but the whole thing), and all three mezzi are premier bel canto singers of their generations… I must admit, though, that I have a weakness for #3, who appears as a jaw-droppingly perfect acoustical incarnation of the mythical Syracusian young blood on the RCA Red Seal label’s 3CDs box set recording of this opera. If she sounds good here in the live clip, she is downright flawless in the stereo recording (which, of course, benefits from retakes and sound engineering…. And, this being Vesselina Kasarova we are talking about, there isn’t the usual trade off at the expense of dramatic commitment either).

Of course, Kasarova has a rather happy history when it comes to Tancredi. It was her taking over of the role, sight unseen and music unheard, on two weeks notice for Marilyn Horne at the 1992 Salzburg Summer Festival (commemorating Rossini’s 200th birth year that season), that proved to be her big breakthrough onto the operatic A-list. She also sang the part to critical acclaims (and audience raptures) when she debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1997 with Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York… from whence the live recording clip came. The RCA Red Seal set, though, was recorded in 1995 when the singer was only 30 years old and had a clear clarinet-like voice with a rather intoxicating tinge of smoky melancholy mixed into its polish port wine-ish texture. She could have just simply sung the music with that mesmerizing voice and the CD set would still be worth paying more than $50 for even if all the other cast members suck (which they emphatically don‘t), but the lass was already a consummate professional then and decided to also give us perhaps the most dramatically believable portrayal of the role available on commercial recordings, too.

Hers is an introspective and psychologically convincing character who suggests many more aspects of Tancredi than one would expect just reading the libretto and perusing the score. His heroic credential is so secure to him that he doesn’t feel the shallow need to broadcast it by the volume of his voice; instead it is in Kasarova’s pensive piano singing that convinces of the knight’s security and blue-bloodedness. Her ringing forte when Tancredi has his moments of Italian hot-blooded eruptions seals the deal regarding the character’s alpha-manhood. The swirl of vocal coloration and easefully natural dynamic variations and rubato (at times employing all of the above on a single sung word!)… This is no singer singing rehearsed music, this is a live person consolidating his own thoughts aloud for us to shamelessly eavesdrop on. And that, is a hard illusion to pull off, especially when all we can hear is her voice! Listen to this clip below and weep in gratitude of Sony Music (who owns RCA label) for making this performance available to us all for posterity!

Her Amenaide on this CD set is the Italian soprano (and another regular at Opernhaus Zurich, Kasarova’s de facto artistic home theater) Eva Mei. I should confess that her pinched sounding voice doesn’t usually strike my imagination, but here she is very fine indeed as the designated tragically misunderstood heroine - and it sure doesn’t hurt that her voice blends splendidly with Kasarova’s during their 2 gorgeous duets.

Listening to the CD I often can’t help musing if Rossini wouldn’t have seriously considered writing a longer part for Argirio to sing had he someone like Ramon Vargas, the tenor-with-the-voice-to-melt-even-gay-girls’-heart, at his employ when he sat down to compose the opera. To be sure, Pietro Todràn, the original Argirio, must have been a fine singer… But Vargas is just…. Vargas. Even straight guys drool all over themselves by the 2nd bar of his Pensa che sei mia figlia! Then we get to the 2nd act and he and Kasarova launch into their characters’ duet, M’abbraccia, Argirio/ Ah se de’ mali miei, and the drooling positively escalates to a pandemic condition, affecting wide enough a spectrum of gender identities that Dr. Kinsey himself would have founded a new branch of sexual psychology just to study the phenomenon (okay, okay, I exaggerated a bit… But that doesn‘t mean that it is advisable to listen to this dude sing this music without a good supply of bibs and towels on hand!).

The supporting cast is all well done, of course, and Roberto Abbado’s work with the Munich Radio Orchestra and the Chorus of the Bavarian Radio is superb. I would say more about them (because they really do deserve a lot more than just a sentence’s worth of praise each), but isn’t this essay already long enough to wrap around the globe twice (with a few inches left to spare)? Really, if I haven’t convinced you of the purchase-worthiness of this recording of this opera, then a thousand or so more words would likely not make any difference (though perhaps the knowledge that the CD set‘s high price is really a bargain considering how it comes with BOTH versions of the opera - in their entirety - would?). Tancredi’s popularity faded toward the end of the 19th century when it fell completely out of the standard repertoire at all major opera houses…. and was only revived with the rebirth of bel canto enthusiasm in the mid 20th century, thanks in no small part to Marilyn Horne and colleagues. Now we are blessed with the likes of Bernadette Manca di Nissa, Daniella Barcelona, Ewa Podles, and the scintillating-beyond-words Vesselina Kasarova…

I am not sad to have missed Viardot-Garcia, Malibran, Pasta, and even Ferrier. I have heard the current crop of spectacular bel canto singers and I dare say that even Rossini himself would likely be thrilled to death to hear his music reverberating through operatic halls and even private dens (thanks to the stereo) today with them as media. If you have a passion for opera and exquisitely sung music, go out and buy a recording of Rossini’s Tancredi today. There are a few good ones around now, but if I could needle you a bit more for it, the one CD set of the thing that you can’t afford to not have is the RCA Red Seal box set with Roberto Abbado presiding over Kasarova, Mei, Vargas, Peeters, Paulsen, and Cangemi.

If you arrived here from my AssociatedContent’s Tancredi’s O Patria article, click here to return there… or not.

Mystery Tancredis from the sample clip: (1) Daniella Barcelona, (2) Marilyn Horne, (3) Vesselina Kasarova.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A foggy little heatwave...

Greetings from Didacus the Saintly on the southern shore of California. We've been having a heatwave again with summerly temperature, so I hopped on bus 901 yesterday morning hoping to catch some breezy relief at the beach. I toted the camera with me, of course, looking to catch some good beach photos to adorn my AC beach articles with... Unfortunately, the cooler weather on the waterfront yesterday was made possible by the as-stubborn-as-the-sticky-chewed-gum-under-your-shoes marine fog. This....

... was downtown looking particularly shady from the Coronado Bridge at around 10AM. Even Hotel Del Coronado looked rather less than impressive when you can't see for more than a city block ahead, so I bypassed it and went straight down to Silver Strand State Beach right south of the Navy SEALs' training facility. This is the thin stretch of sand bar that connects Coronado to the mainland, of course. There isn't a windbreak anywhere, and so smart people tend to stay off it when the weather gets like this.

I've been out of school long enough to no longer qualify as smart, though, so I practically owned that beach yesterday morning... along with a few least terns and sprinting godwits (there's one in the center of the photo below).

After a while I gave up and caught another bus 901 south looking to catch a northbound Blue Line trolley back to downtown from Iris Ave Station... but then I figured that the day was still young (and somewhat sultrily smoky), so I hop on a bus 934 and headed for Imperial Beach instead....

Stopping at Tijuana River Estuary on the way there. On a clear day you could see into Tijuana, Mexico from the visitor center. But this day was obviously anything but clear, so I went around trying to catch some rare birds on the salt marsh.

There weren't many, to be sure, but I did run into this flock of white crowned sparrows occupying a bush on a hiking trail...

And this egret was roaming around all by himself in the middle of the marsh.... making me wish for a proper high zoom camera than this point and shoot Kodak.

The Estuary is just a few blocks south of Imperial Beach fishing pier, and that was where I headed next, still looking to bag some good beach photos. 
 They say you should be able to see the high rises of downtown's Columbia District from the tip of the pier (with red-roofed Hotel Del in front of them to boot), but, 2 hrs and a basketful of fish and chips later,

that gray curtain was still hanging over the island. I pointed my cameras at the surfing locals out of sheer frustration. There were a few good surfers there, though the waves weren't that big, I think.


So... after all the exertions... no spectacular beach photos for yours truly, though I was very happy to visit the Tijuana River Estuary. Now if I could just find the wit to write all the places up properly...

Friday, September 18, 2009

What doeth thou, Waltraud Meier?

Waltraud Meier, the German dramatic mezzo-soprano, is another combustible operatic fire hazard I find nearly impossible to ignore when she is on the stage.

To tell the truth, she is rather hard to label nowadays... What other mezzo today can sing Elisabeth (in Tannhaeuser) or Isolde like she can? This clip is from the DVD documentary of her called
Waltraud Meier: Ich folge dem innern Triebe (I Follow A Voice Within Me). The title is taken from one of Mahler's Lieder... which probably fits her well. It also reminds me of what another favorite mezzo of mine, Vesselina Kasarova, likes to say - ich folge meinem Intuition (I follow my intuition). Hmmmph! Maybe that's why these gals are splendidly expressive artists while I'm a stiff nerd (my instinct sucks... and that's an understatement).

At any rate, upon watching this DVD I was persuaded to give my DVDs of Wagner's Lohengrin another try (have 3 of them, but sadly none has Meier as Ortrud... which means that a shopping trip is in order). I had already reviewed the Met DVD with Peter Hoffmann and Eva Marton as Lohengrin and Elsa (with the great Leonie Rysanek as Ortrud)... Somehow didn't like it that much. Last night I had a go at another DVD from the Bayreuth Festival with Hoffmann again as Lohengrin (in much better vocal shape there), Karan Armstrong as Elsa, and Elizabeth Connell as Ortrud.

Armstrong's husband, Goetz Friedrich, directed the show and it shows! It's a much more gripping story telling with good use of light and the Bayreuth stage. Somehow I'm not all that sold on Armstrong as Elsa (though I was quite impressed with her wide shoulders)... Elizabeth Connell... she doesn't look like an Ortrud, nor does she sound like one, but man, that lass can really act! She's this small little gal with a sweet voice that exudes meanness that makes your skin crawls. If she physically resembles her stage presence, she'd be something like 8 foot tall.

Anyhow... as much as I liked last night's viewing, the 3rd Lohengrin DVD will have to wait a while before getting on my 'at bat' tray. This weekend is reserved for a bel canto revival at yours truly.

What Makes Leon Natker (and the Lyric Opera San Diego) Tick?

Leon Natker, the General Director of the Lyric Opera San Diego, has been in show business practically ever since he made his stage debut as the Major General in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirate of Penzance when he was only 12 yrs old. He studied at Juilliard and Roosevelt University and has since worked both on and off the stage at various noted opera houses as a performer and stage director. Now he runs the show at America’s Finest City’s Birch North Park Theatre where the classical music loving locals can drop in to catch anything from classic film screenings (the theatre was built in 1928 as San Diego’s first talkie movie house) to musicals and light operas. That, along with his master classes and teaching assignments, make for a busy schedule. And so I was quite thrilled when he consented to a cyber interview this past week.

Smorg: How did you get into the business of running an opera house?
LN: I was a free lance performer and stage director, I had directed a production for this company and was subsequently asked to become the Artistic Director which I accepted. From there I was eventually appointed
General Director. (In opera land that encompasses being the Exec. Dir and producer)

Smorg: The LOSD puts a lot of effort into education programs to make opera more accessible to the public, especially grade school kids. Are you keeping track of how many youngsters who participate in your programs stay interested in the opera as they grow older?
LN: We have participated over the years in several national studies. All of them have come to the same conclusion, education must be active not passive to develop a continuing interest in the art form. In other words
programs that allow children to participate in performance, through actual projects and then let them see full productions, work. Three singers and a piano coming to do a mini-show in a school is a waste of everyone's time and money. That's why we have an academy and the dress rehearsal program. We do not send singers out to schools.

Smorg: It seems that once an American teenager had given opera music a try, he tends to like it ok. The trick is in getting him to try in the first place. What is the LOSD doing to entice po
p/rock-oriented audience to sampling opera and musicals?
LN: First of all we do everything in English which I believe is essential to engaging new audiences no matter what their age. We also have a more intimate venue not a 2000 - 3000 seat barn, which is closer to a European Opera House. We encourage younger audiences through ticket subsidies and by doing shows that would appeal to younger audiences. We don't do the standard opera fair that has everyone dead in the last scene after
singing long static, sad duets.

Smorg: There seem to be two competing ideas among opera fans about how much the opera should reach out to the mainstream audience. One faction considers the non-traditional staging and modernizing theatrical trend to be ‘cheapening the experience’ or ‘destroying the integrity of the art form in order to draw in new money’, while the other faction sees opera as something that needs to adapt to the new demands of the new era/audience in order to merit its survival. What is your take on the problem? Is there a viable common ground where we can make opera competitively popular among the mainstream audience without totally turning it into upscale Broadway show?
LN: Innovative productions are fine as long as they help illuminate the text. If they are just for sensationalism they are not going to have any lasting effect on the music theater world. They are just controversial for PR's sake. I think the problem is that too many of these director's really want to write new operas and don't know how or can't find a producer. We must make room for new works and ideas but we must never pervert an
existing work. That doesn't mean you need to do the same production for fifty years, it does mean you need to be thoughtful and understand the text both the words and the music when you plan a new production.

Smorg: The small-ish auditorium of Birch North Park Theatre is probably a lot more similar to the sort of theatres that the pre-Wagner composers had in mind when they orchestrated their opera (unlike the 2000+ seat monsters of North America and some newer European houses). Do you have any plan on presenting Baroque or Classical period operas with a small period instrument orchestra there sometimes (something that probably won’t go over well in the cavernous sound-eating halls like
the San Diego Civic Theater or the Dorothea Chandler Pavilion)? Perhaps a small-cast work like Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice?
LN: Our theater is like many European houses. Our American houses tend to be barns. We have done several Bel Canto operas as well as Mozart, Haydn, Pergolesi and Bach over the years and will be doing Barber of Seville
and Don Giovanni soon. I don't think Handel would do well with our audience. It tends to be very static.

Smorg: Do you see a lot of cross-pollinating audience that attend both the film screenings and also the opera and musicals at Birch Theatre?
LN: If you mean the musical films yes. The classic film audience does not tend to be a musical theater audience although we have seen some people getting interested and cross pollinating. I think the longer the venue is opened the more of that we will see. It's about developing and educating the audience.

Smorg: How long does it usually take to prepare to stage an opera or a musical? Do you have to be around to supervise the whole thing or do you generally leave it to an artistic/stage director or the conductor?
LN: Since I both direct and conduct I'm often the person doing much of that work. We usually rehearse for four to five weeks depending on the piece. There is several months of planning that happens with the designers and
production manager prior to starting the rehearsal. Sometimes there may be several years of planning once a show is scheduled.

Smorg: What do you enjoy most about your job?
LN: Working wit other artists, whether they be old pros or young developing artists. That's where the joy is.

Smorg: What do you think is the most misunderstood part of your job?
LN: The day to day fundraising. It's always a struggle and in this economy it's a nightmare.

Smorg: What vision do you have for the Lyric Opera and North Park Theatre for the community? Where would you like to see the company, say, 10 yrs from now?
LN: My vision is about the academy. I want to see that grow beyond just a summer program. I want the theater to be a place where new audiences can develop at an affordable price and new artists can develop.
there is always room for growth. I'd like to see the community embrace the theater more and not be afraid of it.

I think there are a lot of misconceptions in our community about what goes on in the theater and who can participate. I believe the theater is for everyone. The north Park Theater is not a place for snobby people in expensive clothes. Anyone can afford to come to show and there is nothing like a live performance. TV and movies are still just shadows. The experience of sitting in a theater with live people singing and dancing and acting is unique and something everyone should be able to experience.

Smorg: Any favorite on-the-job anecdote?
LN: Yes, one of our patrons has a grandson. He wanted to introduce the boy to our performances so he made a deal with the kid. Grandpa would take him to a baseball game if he would come to see Pirates of Penzance.
After the kid saw Pirates he asked Grandpa for season tickets to Lyric Opera not the Padres, and has remained a subscriber ever since.

How about that! I feel much better now that I know I’m not the only one to get poached into this addictive thing that is opera unexpectedly during a fun comedy. Single ticket to a performance there costs only $32-52 (and there's a discount if you subscribe to the entire season plus the perk of a free pass to the pre-opera lecture). Money well spent and entertained in my book!

Lyric Opera San Diego performs at Birch North Park Theatre: 2891 University Avenue (at 29th Ave in North Park), San Diego, CA 92104. Tel (619) 231-5714. Website:

2009-2010 Season:(click on name of show for sample clip of famous music from each show)
October 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 2009: Cole Porter's ANYTHING GOES
November 13, 15, 19, 21, 22, 2009: Engelbert Humperdinck's HANSEL AND GRETEL
February 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21: Stephen Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
March 6: PRITI GANDHI IN RECITAL (A Special Event - not included in the season price)
March 26, 28 April 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11: Gilbert & Sullivan's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE

Monday, September 14, 2009

Philosophy is the plague of the bored...

“Ce saint voyage a nom Progrès……........ This holy voyage in the name of Progress.
De temps en temps, ils s’arrêtent,…....... From time to time it pauses,
rêveur, attentive, haletants, puis repartent. .. dreams, waits, hesitates, before resuming.
En route! Ils s’appellent, ils s’aident, ils vont!. On the way! They are called, aided, and went!
Les horizons aux horizons succedent,…. From horizons to succeeding horizons,
Les plateaux aux plateaux, les sommets aux sommets,.. From plateau to plateau, from summits to summits,
On avance toujours, on n’arrive jamais.. Always advancing, never arriving.”
- Victor Hugo, Les Châtiments
I guess Albert Camus will compare what Hugo wrote to Sisyphus and his boulder… The fun is in the upward journey and the little spark of hope that grows in your mind as you near the summit. We might just make it this time! Though, of course, Sisyphus’ suffering is in having to keep being disappointed when the thing rolls back down the hill just before he could get to the top (and escape from his punishment), mostly because it happens so close to ‘arriving’ where he
wanted. So the myth of Sisyphus is something of a half empty/filled glass.

I’d say… it’s more humane (and tilted toward hopefulness) to say that the ideal one wants to reach lays just beyond the horizon. You’d never get to it either (since the horizon has this nasty habit of receding as you approach it), but at least you can’t even get near the thing (and so wouldn‘t be steeped in higher and higher hope with elapsed time) in the first place.
So what’s the point of this post? I haven’t a clue… Just wasting my brain cells musing in words and thought it more fun to also waste a few other folks’ time as well… while I’m at it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weekend and Sunshine...

Wochenend und Sonnenschein,
Und dann mit dir im Wald allein,
Weiter brauch ich nichts zum Glücklichsein.
Wochenend und Sonnenschein!

Über uns die Lerche zieht,
Sie singt genau wie wir ein Lied,
Alle Vöglein stimmen frvhlich ein,
Wochenend und Sonnenschein!

Kein Auto, keine Chaussee,
Und niemand in unster Näh.
Tief im Wald nur ich und du,
Der Herrgott drückt ein Auge zu,
Denn er schenkt uns ja zum Glücklichsein.
Wochenend und Sonnenschein!

Nur sechs Tage sind der Arbeit,
Doch am siebten Tag sollst du ruhn,
Sprach der Herrgott, doch wir haben
Auch am siebten Tage zu un
Wochenend und Sonnenschein!
- Charles Amberg

Photos: 1. North Beach in Del Mar, 2. Coronado Beach, 3. Del Mar (across railroad), 4. William Heath Davis House in Gaslamp Quarter

Friday, September 11, 2009

Factual Fiction?

About the only thing Dick Cheney did really well by me when he was Vice President was his endorsement of as a premiere non-partisan fact-checker of what nonsense politicians try to blow by us. I still think the best thing for everyone is for each of us to read up on all the bills and other topics we want to pipe up about for ourselves, but then many just haven't got the time. and are my favorite places to run rumors and other smelly propaganda emails by to screen out BS from facts.

If only people like Congressman Wilson and his fact-deficient disciples would do the same, then perhaps they wouldn't spend so much of their time making fools of themselves on national television...

But then... are these folks really interested in actually knowing what they are talking about before talking about it? If they are, then perhaps I (and many of my friends) wouldn't keep getting fact-free propaganda emails that claim that Obama is an illegal alien who's trying to turn the country into pre-WWII Germany while plotting to euthanize all geriatrics and brainwash all grade school kids, would I? And these loonies are even trying to pack loaded guns into his town hall meetings now. Just how crazy must their leaders sound before the flock realize the blatant senselessness of it all?

The Art of Photography at Lyceum Theatre in Downtown

One of the coolest things about living in San Diego is all the freebie cultural events we get to see here. Thanks to another great tip off by my friend Berenice, I spent yesterday afternoon roaming around the subterranean gallery at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza in downtown perusing some really interesting photos by a bunch of admirably creative photographer...

The free exhibit is called the Art of Photography, and it is open now until November 1st, 2009.

This... is my favorite. It's almost like a photographic version of a Mobius strip, isn't it? What's inside or outside?

If you happen into downtown San Diego between now and November 1st, drop by at the Lyceum Theatre Gallery at Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego (underground level with entrance from Broadway Circle... where the blue obelisk is). I can really hang down here all day (the place is nicely air-conditioned and has a lot of comfy sofas to perch on).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

From the squishy shaky ground...

Every now and then I dump off my excess books at the local Salvation Army Store before checking their book sections to see if there's any good book I can pick up for a dollar. The check out line was moving slowly so I got to look around a bit and spotted this sign...

This store will sell you heavy things but won't help you put it in your car even if you're a frail looking 80 yrs old grandma because they're afraid that you'd sue them if you happen to twist an ankle while helping them load the stuff... or the store helper would if he twists his ankle. To hell with good will, right? Everybody is so fearful of the law even though they aren't criminal. And why shouldn't you be fearful of the law if you live in America? There are so many of them even lawyers can't keep them straight!

And while I'm ranting... Just ran into another acquaintance who had somehow warped into yet another Jesus-freak since the last time we met. I was a JF once. I know how the mind works there, but then I had the advantage of having grown out of it by the time I hit 27. It is sort of frustrating to see someone who used to make good sense all of the sudden turns into a robotic Bible-citing parrot. Definitely a progress in the wrong
direction... And, as anyone familiar with how American evangelical Christians are these day would predict, our conversation quite preposterously landed on Darwin vs the Bible. I posted what I feel about people who base all their argument on what the bible says a while back, of course, so I won't repeat myself.

What really bugs me, though, is this notion that just because one is now a Christian one automatically knows all there is to know about things that haven't got anything to do with Christianity to begin with. Why is it that none of the Christian fundamentalists who have tried to convince me that Evolution dictates that life came from nothing and that the liberals want more laws because they want to impose social Darwinism on us all actually know anything about what science and evolution and social Darwinism actually say to begin with? Worse yet, they don't even realize that they are the ones who are espousing the very ideas (something came out of
nothing, more laws/regulation means applied Social Darwinism, etc) they are supposedly fighting against!

Evolution is a theory of biology that address how the diversity of life on planet earth came about. It doesn't say anything about how the first life as we know it came to be... much less how the universe itself came to be (that's a question for astrophysicists, not biologists). And the physicists don't believe that something came out of nothing 'at the beginning of time' either. If anything, the Big Bang theory posits that it was space-time and everything else that existed that got bunched up into the infinitestimally small singularity that then expanded into the cooler and much bigger universe we're living in today. That's why the physicists are busy trying to come up with a grand unifying theory... they know that both Einstein's general relativity and Quantum Mechanics break down at the beginning because the universe at time zero was not only fantastically small, but it was also fantastically dense as well. The people who go around saying that the scientists think that something came from
nothing have no clue what the heck they're talking about. Even the notion of 'empty' space in science really isn't empty anymore, thanks to Quantum Mechanics (quantum particles continuously pop into existence and annihilation each other, so the sum total at any given time is zero, but it is a very active zero rather than static!).

On the other hand, had they thought about the position they're championing out loud for a minute, 'something coming out of nothing' is precisely what special creation dictates. God spoke, and poof, something popped up into being from nothing... Definitely not something any scientist is espousing.

(AronRa... if I could ever have a crush on a dude, he (or, rather, his brain) would be it!)
Darwin's theory was and is only a scientific theory meant to enable scientists to decipher how the diversity of life on earth came about and related to one another. It was never put forward as a social theory where 'survival of the fittest' is to be the rule of the land. Now... I don't like the idea of having more laws and regulations myself. I think there are already too many petty little laws that nobody pays any attention to and not enough
sound judgment being practiced. All the same, the lefties aren't proposing rules and regulations to force 'survival of the fittest' on people. They are doing it to prevent 'survival of the fittest' from actually playing itself out in society! All the medicines and technology that science enables are being used to keep more of us alive longer and more comfortably... regardless of what defective genes we carry.

In short; if you apply Social Darwinism on real human society you don't get socialism. What you'll get is an unrestrained free market capitalism where everybody only does what is best for himself and the 'self-regulation' turns up something much more macabre than what the short-sighted right-winged fundies are capable of foreseeing! Try growing some bacteria on a petri dish and witness exactly what self-regulation is... real life isn't
as neat as the text book would have you believe. The population growth chart doesn't see a smooth transition from exponential growth curve to the stabilized equilibrium line when there are real organisms involved. The line is wiggly.
The 'straight' line represents the averaged population... It's akin to looking at the US weather map and expecting St. Louis, Missouri to get hit by multiple tornadoes every year because the isotherm showing where the cold northern air meet with the moist warm air from the Gulf of Mexico passes right through the city. In reality, though, half of the tornadoes in the area happen north of the city, and the other half to the south of it and St. Louis itself rarely gets hit at all.... even though the line drives right through the place. In a totally unrestricted free-market, the wiggliness of the thing will represent real human casualties. To heck with Jon Stossel and his ill-founded self-regulating skating rink analogy. In real life it only takes one spectacularly bad driver with a big and speedy car to cause a major traffic accident. And it isn't realistic to expect every single drivers on the road (some are professional drivers, most are not, and many are inexperience newbies) to be able to detect every potential car-wreckers out there. There is a LOT of room between socialism and judiciously regulated free market... and anarchy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Very Russian Finale to the San Diego Symphony’s 2009 Summer Pops Concert Series

There is hardly a more family-friendly way to cool off a summer evening than to spend the few hours after sunset at the breezy Embarcadero Marina Park South with the San Diego Symphony. This Labor Day weekend ushered in the Summer Pops concert series’ finale with 3 evenings of music from Tchaikovsky and his contemporaries under the baton of Matthew Garbutt (who celebrated his birthday on stage Saturday).

The line up contained well known favorites (Tchaikovsky’s Slavic March and 1812 Overture) as well as some rarely performed treats (Balakirev’s Overture on Three Russian Folk Songs, the 1st movement from Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, the 4th movement from Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana suite and Dances Cosaque from his opera, Mazeppa). With the nearly full moon presiding over the partly cloudy evening, the winds section (and its new principal oboist) really earned its pay in casting a convincingly Slavic aura over the marina. The concertmaster, Jeff Thayer, also proved a very smooth virtuoso through out the evening
that featured many solo violin passages, though I wish he had turned up the heat a few notches during the Mozartiana variation.

The capacity Saturday night audience was also treated to impromptu additions of two excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s celebrated Swan Lake Suite, with the Dance of the Swans being guest-conducted by young Saul Garcia. Apparently one of the series’ sponsor had bought the right to conduct a number and generously donated it to allow a budding local youngster the chance to cue up a major Symphony on a real stage. The young man took his turn with aplomb and drew a decent round of applause from the appreciative crowd.

The show, of course, ended with Tchaikovsky’s timelessly blustery 1812 Overture (as in how Napoleon got his butt kicked by the rebounding Russian Empire during the winter of 1812) that finished in high-octane salvos of theatrical cannons and firework displays on the bay… along with the added brass courtesy of the US Navy Band Southwest (from nearby NAS North Island). The firework started a couple of beats early, but the cannons were right on cue and loud enough to cause many in the audience to jump right out of their seats (and some loose pants).

All in all, it was a fittingly spectacular ending to the summer pops concert season for the San Diego Symphony, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary during the 2010-11 season. Yours truly is sufficiently impressed with the quality of the performance and the decidedly community-minded attitude of the entire outfit that I’m resolved to patronize the businesses (Sycuan, Manpower, Fidelity Investment, etc) that sponsored this show whenever possible to show my appreciation for their support to a local asset like the SD Symphony. No good deed shall go unpunished!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Parkour at Zoro Garden

It was so hot earlier this week I hopped on the bus up to Balboa Park to seek relief from the heat at one of my favorite afternoon quiet spots in town, Zoro Garden, the sunken stone garden that used to serve as the area's nudist colony. Apparently I wasn't the only one that liked the place. A bunch of youngsters were there hopping up and down across the garden's steep stone aisles...


Apparently they were practicing Parkour (or Free Running), a new urban sport where one treats ones' surrounding as natural obstacle course to be traversed as efficiently as possible in a straight line and
without outside help (or gadget). To tell the truth, watching them I wished they were at least wearing a helmet. Nobody's head is made of sterner stuff than the real rocks of those steep aisle...

Pork satay
Nam Tok beef
Afterward, I treated myself with a trip to Asia Cafe in Chollas Creek. It's one of the best kept gastronomic secrets in San Diego, I think. If you're ever in town and feel like having a go at really authentic Laotian food without breaking your budget (most entrees here go for $4.50-6.00!), the place is at the northeast corner of Market and 47th Street east of downtown. It's open from 10:30AM-6PM Wednesday-Monday.

Pho noodle soup

I can't cook worth a sniff, but I sure can eat a lot of these even with my low budget!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Another favorite opera singer: Mireille Delunsch

If you’ve read more than a few of my operatic ramblings, then you already know of my fondness for the deep voiced mezzos… and some dark voiced sopranos. What really attract me to an artist, though, is his/her ability to make me forget that I’m watching/listening to a performance and get really transported into the story he/she is selling. Somehow it seems that the darker and deeper voices are better equipped for that than the lighter high voices are…. With some exceptions, of course.

The French soprano Mireille Delunsch has a sleek voice that doesn’t grab me even in the repertoire that suits her the most (French Baroque), but when you can both see and hear the lass…

(Youtube clip posted by Foly90: Delunsch exploring how she portrays her characters with sample of her as the Governess from Britten's The Turn of the Shrew, Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata, and La Folie in Rameau's Platée)
What can I say? Elle une artiste! And with a brain to match her artistic imagination at that!