Sunday, November 22, 2015

Je voudrais des frites francaise, s'il vous plait...

Sometimes I wish I'm French...

France had the moral backbone to say no when we (the USA) tried to bully her into joining us to invade Iraq for the WMD that Iraq didn't have (tho, to be honest, it wasn't really about the WMD, was it? It was W's misguided notion of revenge... and still aimed at the wrong party). We know, of course, how that invasion ended and what ill was released from that SNAFU's pandora's box. And even after France got hit by ISIS last week, she still resolves to not blame the easy-to-pick-on innocents for the action of others, but to keep doing the right thing and accepting refugees from war-torn Syria. And even those French who lost loved ones during that attack responded like this:

“I won’t give you the gift of hating you” – Antoine Leiris’ powerful tribute to his wife, who died in the Bataclan during the #ParisAttacks
Posted by BBC News on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It takes strong moral fiber to stay true to one's values even when the going gets rough.

In the meanwhile, here in America, irrational xenophobia is the prevailing rage to which I say, give me French fries over 'freedom fries' any day. Vive liberté, fraternité, et egalité. 

I'm afraid hinged people tend to be less loud than unhinged ones... though please know that many Americans stand with you and don't share the view of those selfish bigots... And we will vote at the next election!

Friday, November 13, 2015


A week ago, after five hours on the bike I found myself near the top of Mt Rubidoux in Riverside, CA, contemplating the view from the World Peace Bridge. The barren granite hill by the river was purchased in 1906 by Frank A Miller and Henry Huntington, who developed it into a place to celebrate nature, peace and humanity.

Those who spend their lives building and nurturing community and peace are the ones we will remember, not those who intentionally set out to destroy innocent lives to satisfy their own political agenda.

Viva la France.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rolando Passages

When San Diegans hear about 'hidden' or 'secret' staircases, we think 'Mt Nebo, La Mesa'... Having ridden by all the staircases that lead from La Mesa Village up to the top of Nebo Hill, a few of the staircases there are indeed well hidden (though most are prominently marked with neon green pedestrians crossing signs), though they are rather far from secret. Heck, the City of La Mesa even has a hiking map denoting all of them on their webpage and a weekly organized walk around La Mesa that passes through many of the stairs. It's happily the worst kept secret in town!

At the same time, just a couple of miles to the west the decidedly understated neighborhood of Rolando is quietly housing its own set of secret passages and staircases. I had the chance to scout them all out a while back in what turns out to be a rather cool neighborhood walking route.

Many of the entrances to the passages are quite tricky to spot. It sure doesn't help that there is no curb cut where most of them enter the street, and some of them prove to be prime curbside parking spots! Be sure to wear a sturdy pair of footwear if you decide to try this hike out, though. Most of the passages involve at least a few steps, some are fairly steep, even.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bel Canto für Alle

*This article is a reprint from the original that I posted on the now defunct Associated Content website back around 2007. I'm afraid all the articles posted there are now lost except for a few saved in my aging hard-drive. So... there are some dated stuff in the post that have since been updated, like the definition of 'bel canto' in the Wikipedia article (that had really gotten a lot less narrow and 'conventional' in the last few years). A lot of the sentiments still apply, though.

Music is for everyone, and there is no accounting for taste. I listen mostly to classical music and opera these days... As you all may have noticed, we opera fans are a bunch of obnoxious nose-in-the-air snobs who screech like banshees when any attempt is made to popularize the genre or to make the opera more easily appreciated by people who can't read music or fluently speak at least three different languages - and the screeching only gets more hysterical if those unwashed folks dare to like any singer that we don't! From what I've seen of many of my fellow opera fans on sites like Youtube and other forums, that is an image that sticks worse than a hot wad of wet chewing gum on a road bike tire.

I don't know why many opera fans (at least the very loud ones) are so intolerant of the likes and dislikes of others. The genre is already over-saddled with centuries worth of baggage. (Most of the operas being performed at the theater near you are more than 100 yrs old). Even the most difficult of the arias found in them have, by now, been sung death many times over by various great and not so great singers ever since they were published. And the 'convention', the preconception that many accept as the standard way of performing a piece of music, has been taken for granted so much it's starting to resemble the smell of bodily discharge on the sidewalks of Downtown. After a while you come to expect it to always be there... and the 'whether it should be there or not' has became a forgotten question.

But why should new generations of artists be stuck with the ideas of past ones in the first place? Why shouldn't they explore new ground rather than just sticking to the same old singing style that pleases only the loudest (though probably not that heavily populated) segment of the audience while leaving the rest of us in the cold? And what if the 'convention' isn't even accurate and/or as long-lasting as they would claim it to be in the first place?

Take the characterization of what bel canto singing is from the wikipedia article;

"Bel canto singing characteristically focuses on perfect evenness throughout the voice, skillful legato, a light upper register, tremendous agility and flexibility, and a certain lyric, "sweet" timbre. Operas of the style feature extensive and florid ornamentation, requiring much in the way of fast scales and cadenzas. Bel canto emphasizes technique rather than volume: an exercise said to demonstrate its epitome involves a singer holding a lit candle to her mouth and singing without causing the flame to flicker."

Now... Bel canto music is the music of the early 19th century Italian opera... mainly those composed by Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti (and, arguably, the early Verdi operas), and the era when some of the greatest singers to ever lived (Giuditta Pasta, Maria Malibran-Garcia, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Isabella Colbran, Wilhelmina Schroeder-Devrient, were the superstars those great composers fell all over themselves to write opera roles for. The description given above pretty much accurately states the modern popular convention of how the music of this period is to be sung; in a voice that is perfectly even through out its range (same timbre on all notes), with easy fluidity and heavy emphasis on flawless technique and tonal beauty (hence bel canto... beautiful singing). And so, one of my favorite opera singers, one Vesselina Kasarova, is often the target of criticism that point to her register breaks and her aggressively drama-oriented style of singing with explicit aim of conveying the pathos of her operatic character rather than just singing the character's music beautifully (or tastefully... if we are to allow the critics their say).

(here she is, singing the utterly dashing Romeo in a performance of Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues)

How should I defend her? She does have the register breaks (the voice is not even, having many different colors in different regions of its vast range), and she is utterly aggressively dramatically inclined - willing to sound downright ugly rather than beautiful when the prevailing drama requires venom... even as she sings one of the most difficult bel canto virtuoso mezzo-soprano roles in the repertoire.

Well... listen to the clip above... and then read these:

1. "The characteristics of X's head-notes are almost diametrically opposed to the characteristics of her chest-notes; her falsetto is brilliant, rapid, pure, fluent and enchantingly light. As she approaches the lower part of this falsetto register, she can smorzare il canto (diminish her tone) to a point where the very fact of the existence of sound becomes uncertain. Without such a palette of breath-taking colour deep within her own being, and without such an extraordinary and compelling natural gift, X could never have achieved the over-mastering force of natural expression which we have learnt to associate with her - a miracle of emotional revelation, which is always true to nature and, although tempered by the intrinsic laws of ideal Beauty, always alive with that unmistakable, burning energy, that extraordinary dynamism which can electrify an entire theatre. But think how much pure artistry, and how much discipline and training has been necessary before this enthralling singer learned to harness the restive secrets of weaving such divine enchantments out of two different and utterly contrasting voices."

2. "It was not a creamy voice but had a distinct tang, rather like the bitter sweet taste of Seville oranges. What struck her audience most forcibly, however, was the intensity with which she sang. --- Alfred de Musset described her voice as 'a mixture of soprano and tenor, the lower part reminiscent of a cello, the higher that of a piano.' X's voice was resonant and clear, at once both bitter and sweet, but it was more than a voice, it was a soul singing." ...

3. "Her principal characteristic, however, was expression; and expression in all its features, shades, and varieties. From its loftiest epic flights, embracing the sublime of anger and the profoundly pathetic, down to the winning and playful. It is needless to recur to her expression in the most prominent parts of the Sonnambula and the Fidelio. But they who remember her in the Romeo, how piercing her tones of anguish! How intense the agony of her features! Or her look, attitude, and tones in the last scene of Gli orazzii e curiazzii, will store the reminiscence of them among the treasures of high art."

I replaced the names with X, but do you know which singer the quotes above apply to? What if I tell you that No. 1 is the description of the voice of Giuditta Pasta by Stendhal, her contemporary critic in his The Life of Rossini? And that No. 2 is the description of Pauline Viardot-Garcia in Barbara Kendall Davies' The Life and Works of Pauline Viardot-Garcia? And that No. 3 refers to the voice of Maria Malibran-Garcia, as recounted in the Countess of Merlin's collection of Malibran's memoirs and letters?

What do you think of the modern convention of what bel canto singing should be now? None of these most acclaimed of singers of the bel canto era had a voice with seamlessly integrated registers (and does anyone remember that three-voices-in-one-throat and utterly divine stage-animal named Maria Callas?). They were known for their many vocal colors, their florid agility, and, most of all, for their drama-oriented style of singing and acting. While much of the modern critics and audience value seamless voice and technically perfect and musically beautiful singing that is easy on the ears, those who actually lived in the bel canto era were more keen on something else entirely. Stendhal devotes an entire chapter of his biography of Rossini to describe Pasta's voice, asserting that; "No voice whose timbre is completely incapable of variation can ever produce that kind of opaque, or as it were, suffocated tones, which is at once so moving and so natural in the portrayal of certain instants of violent emotion or passionate anguish. Mme. Pasta may indeed sing the same note in two different scenes; but, if the spiritual context is different it will not be the same sound."

More quote from Kendall-Davies' book: "The critic and writer, Julien Budden, observes that: the real explanation lies in the nineteen century attitude to vocal registers, a subject that has not so far received the attention it deserves. Musicologists who are eager at all cost to revive the performing traditions of a past age would do well to remember that some of them might prove unacceptable today, as for instance, the alternative method of portamento that Niccola Vaccai advocates for fast movements in his singing method of 1833 and which now exists only in pop and folk music. The ideal of an even quality from top to bottom of a singer's compass was unknown to Verdi's contemporaries. A sharp break, like a change of gear, between registers, so objectionable today, was tolerated then and indeed this yodeling effect can still be heard in certain pre-electric recordings, such as those made by the contralto Clara Butt."

So much for the notion of any long-lasting time-tested 'convention' of how a piece of music is supposed to be sung! While Julien Budden would caution that the accepted technique of the bel canto period wouldn't go over well with today's audience, I am compelled to add that it is utterly unreasonable to expect the singers to cope with the music that was composed for the real bel canto voices (with all that register breaks and falsetto and yodeling) while complying to the today's notion of bel canto singing. The expectation is not practical! Why do you think the roles written for people like Rubini or Davide are nearly never sung in their original key anymore?

Now... Not to knock on those who actually enjoy music just for music's sake. As I said before, there is no accounting for taste. What I am objecting to is the practice of applying one's own personal preference/taste as if it is the universal standard that others are obligated to adhere to. If you are looking for a beautifully sung Ariodante or Ruggiero or Sesto or Romeo or Charlotte or Carmen or Rosina, there are many wonderful lyric mezzo-soprani out there with a beautiful voice and technique that will please you. I'm sure they would very much enjoy your accolade (though perhaps not any vitriol you might feel like spewing toward their friends and colleague). Turning up to complain about singers you don't enjoy on the video clips that you supposedly don't care about, however, says a lot more about you than about them. The operatic stage is big enough to accommodate more than just one type of singers.

As for me, there are enough singers around these days who sound and sing so alike that their identity isn't readily distinguishable even after the entire radio broadcast. I want someone who not only has a personality, but is also able to portray it, in all its shades, with a voice that I can identify within the first two notes I hear. I don't care if she isn't the prettiest or the vocally heftiest or the most adept at virtuoso vocal pyrotechnic around. I do care that when she opens her mouth and sings, I hear the utmost inner thoughts of a mythical character that has miraculously been restored to life even though he isn't called Lazarus, rather than just someone with a beautiful voice singing prettily about something somebody else should be feeling. If that isn't something that floats your boat, who is forcing you to watch or listen to them? Just leave them alone and go find the others that you like instead!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Just musing out loud quite topiclessly

Whew, what seriously wet (and literally electrifying) weather we had last weekend! When the local meteorologists mentioned that we might get a visit from remnant of Hurricane Dolores, I thought we might get some rain and cloud for maybe a day (or maybe just half a day). Instead, Coconut the English bulldog, and I were dodging lightning bolts during his visits to the doggies potty yard.

Took Coconut out for a walk after the first set of thunderstorms on Saturday.
Don't get me wrong, though, I'm really stoked that we got really good amount of rainfall over the weekend. We need quite a bit more just to raise the water levels in our local reservoirs to a more respectable level. As of last week, many of them were looking too much like dried up bush bowls than they did lakes.
El Capitan Reservoir a month ago. All the cars would have been submerged same time last year.
The east bit of Lake Hodges has been dry for so long it's now bush land rather than even dried lake.
In the meanwhile, I got to roll into Downtown for a bit yesterday. The place looks so different every time I drop in! There's a new park with some rather cool water features off 14th St in East Village that is still fenced off. The Callan Hotel on Island St in the Gaslamp no longer looks like an ill-maintained public toilet, and most of the restaurants along 4th and 5th are different from a year ago.
The new park off 14th at Island in East Village... looking amazingly lush and equipped with water display in the midst of the drought.

It's still there!
Guess what, that little tucked away Philippine Library and Museum on 5th Ave is still there... and mostly not-open as usual! I wonder how the place survives in such a prime location when it's closed for business most of the time...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Guest Announcement: San Diego Opera 2016 events

San Diego Opera Announces Opera Exposed 2016 Roster and Event
Audience Engagement Ensemble from the Company’s University Partnership Program to Present Free Community Concerts
San Diego, CA - San Diego Opera is pleased to announce the 2015-2016 Opera Exposed artists and events. Opera Exposed is a touring opera ensemble comprised of students from San Diego Opera’s University Partnership Program which currently includes vocal arts students from SDSU and Point Loma Nazarene University. All of the participants have auditioned into the program and represent San Diego Opera in recitals throughout the communities and neighborhoods of San Diego County, with a focus on underserved neighborhoods. In return, the students receive master classes with principal artists from San Diego Opera mainstage productions, meetings with senior staff, internships to bolster their resumés, in-and-out privileges for staging rehearsals and complimentary tickets to performances. This partnership offers young singers ample opportunities to hone their performance skills, while at the same time giving them a better idea of the processes of producing opera on a professional level.
“Last year, in the first season of Opera Exposed, we performed in neighborhoods and venues where San Diego Opera had not been before, like City Heights and Barrio Logan,” shares Dr. Nicolas Reveles, San Diego Opera’s Director of Education and Community Engagement. “This year will bring our first foray into the Diamond Neighborhood, the Malcolm X Library, as well as return visits to some of the venues where we performed last year. It’s tremendously exciting to bring opera to communities that haven’t yet experienced it, especially with these wonderful, enthusiastic young singers!”
All Opera Exposed recitals are free and are open to the public. Performance selections will vary from recital to recital but will include a selection of familiar opera arias, duets and ensembles from composers such as Puccini, Gounod, Mozart, Rossini, Leoncavallo, and Copland, among others.
The 2015-2016 Opera Exposed artists are:
San Diego State University
Alvin Almazan, tenor
Rachel Rothman, soprano
Lisa Parente, soprano
Ivan Ochoa, tenor
Amanda Olea, soprano
Nicholas Newton, baritone
Radames Gil, baritone
Point Loma Nazarene University
Kiana Bell, mezzo soprano
Carina Kazmierowicz, soprano
Jack French, baritone
Krista Wilford, soprano
Jonathan Lacayo, tenor
McKenna Slack, soprano
Kelsey Kammeraad, soprano

A list of currently scheduled Opera Exposed recitals is below. As recitals are added they can be found online at
August 15, 3:00pm                 Malcolm X Library
                                                5148 Market Street
                                                San Diego, CA 92114
August 30, 3:30pm                 Carlsbad Music Festival
                                                Magee Park, 258 Beech Street
                                                Carlsbad, CA 92008
September 30, 6:00pm          Weingart/City Heights Performance Annex
                                                3795 Fairmount Avenue
                                                San Diego, CA 92105
October 10, 7:00pm               Hillcrest Wind Ensemble Concert    
                                                First Unitarian Universalist Church
                                                4190 Front Street
                                                San Diego, CA 92103
October 18, 2:00pm               Central Library Downtown
                                                330 Park Boulevard
                                                San Diego, CA 92101
October 25, 2:00pm               Hope United Methodist Church
                                                16550 Bernardo Heights Parkway
                                                Rancho Bernardo, CA 92128
November 22, 2:00pm           El Cajon Public Library
                                                201 E. Douglas
                                                El Cajon, CA 92020
January 20, 11:30am             LGBT Center
                                                3909 Centre Street
                                                San Diego, CA 92103
The 2015-2016 International Season
René Barbera in Recital                                                                    September 19, 2015
Patricia Racette “Diva on Detour”                                                   November 14, 2015
Tosca                                                   Giacomo Puccini                  February 13, 16, 19 and 21 (mat), 2016
Ferruccio Furlanetto in Concert                                                       March 5, 2016
Madama Butterfly                                Giacomo Puccini                  April 16, 19, 22 and 24 (mat), 2016
Great Scott                                          Jake Heggie                          May 7, 10, 15 and 15 (mat), 2016

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fifth Element Madness...

Roommie and I had a movie night last night to celebrate his return from a visit to the (extremely) rainy Midwest. The main feature for the evening was... The Fifth Element. It, of course, features a rather famous solo aria/fight sequence scene with a rather cool mix of a hardcore bel canto aria and techno dance music.

The first part of the solo (until 3:14 into the clip) is the 'Il dolce suono' bit from the very famous Mad Scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Albanian soprano Inva Mula Tchako provides the voice for the diva. Here she is, in person.

Does her voice sound different live versus in the Fifth Element clip? Sound editing (in this case, especially reverb-ing) can be a marvelous thing when done right! Don't get me wrong, I'm not even close to knocking her. I rather quite enjoy the Diva Plavalaguna mad scene/music mix... It goes really awesomely with the fight sequence it shares the scene with (tho I'm not quite sold on how fragile the aliens that Leeloo knocks out are).

Anyhow, it's like listening to Queen's heavily process/synthesized music (and, if you must know, Queen is like my all time favorite rock band. Freddie forever!). It's amazing what they cook up in the stereo... Of course, if you had ever gone to any Queen concert, it never sounds the same live. They use so many sound effects to create the vintage Queen sound that it is just not possible to replicate in live setting.

Of course, sound mixing/editing has come a long way since the days of Queen (when all the effects were actually done and recorded rather than digitally manipulated post-recording). There are music snobs who would poo-poo such a thing, but I think there definitely is a place for this. It's like a specialized art form that allows you to experience what the artists hear in their head that they can't do naturally. As far as I'm concerned, getting good glimpses of Freddie Mercury or Brian May or Eric Serra (the composer that created the Fifth Element mix)'s fantasies is a treat!

The trick is to recognize what you hear and admire it for what it is... and what it isn't. The Diva Plavalaguna scene is a cool and memorable (if weird) bit of faux opera enhancement of a weird movie (that obviously did something right to attain its cult following status). It's too bad nobody can sing/sound like that in real life... Though if you go to the opera house near you and get a ticket when they put on a bel canto show (you know, stuff by Rossini, Bellini or Donizetti), you can get yourselves quite amazed by what real life opera singers can do with their voice live... without even the use of microphone, all while acting. I mean... have you listened to Lucia's whole mad scene where the first part of the Fifth Element scene comes from?

Isn't it mad how someone could sing like that over a live orchestra with no sound enhancement at all?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Guest review: La voix humaine and Bluebeard's Castle in Wiesbaden

Guest review courtesy of Mr John Carnegie, submitted promptly and all the delay is down to yours truly's tardiness in reformatting and minor editing stuff. Thank you, John! 


The week beginning Sunday 19th April was due to be one of the busiest in Vesselina Kasarova’s schedule this year: two performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde given between her first two performances as Judit in Bartók’s one act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. I managed to contrive that I had to be nearby in Germany during the week and had booked for the opening performance of the Bartók and the second of the Mahler ones. However, VK cancelled both of her Mahler performances –ostensibly through illness. So I’m afraid  that I am only able to report on her performance in the Bartók.

If she had taken part in the concert in the Beethoven-Saal in Stuttgart’s Leiderhalle, she would have experienced an excellent fellow soloist (Stephen Gould – the first tenor I have encountered who has managed to ride over the orchestra in the notoriously taxing first song), a meticulous conductor (Gabriel Feltz – whose concern for incisive detail was perhaps at the expense of the broader flow of the piece as a whole) and a superb orchestra (the Stuttgarter Philharmoniker – who were at home with this music in a way they weren’t quite in the Mozart symphony that constituted the first half of the programme). On the other hand, VK would  have found an unfocussed and inattentive audience – unsettled perhaps by the curious architecture of the Beethoven-Saal in which there is not a single instance of symmetry.

As the full orchestra was not required for the Mozart, I found myself sitting next to one of the violin sections as I opened my programme to discover that Janina Baechle was to substitute for VK. Upon hearing my exclamation of disappointment at reading this announcement, the violinist assured me that Fraulein Baechle was by no means an inferior substitute – which indeed turned out to be the case. However, given VK’s evident vocal health in Wiesbaden on the previous Sunday, I was curious to learn from the violinist that Fraulein Baechle was already in place the very next morning for  rehearsals for the first of the Mahler  performances in Aschaffenburg on Tuesday.

Anyway, on a happier note, on to the Bartók. The Hessisches Staatstheater inWiesbaden is like a smaller version of the Zűrich Opernhaus at which VK had (until recently) been such a fixture, she must have felt very comfortable performing there. However, given that Duke Bluebeard’s Castle is one of my favourite operas and that some of VK’s recent performances (such as the patchy recital in Amsterdam and her somewhat underwhelming CD rendition of La mort de Cléopâtre) have been less than perfect, I admit that I arrived at the Staatstheater prepared to be disappointed. I need not have worried. For her, the evening was a triumph on the level of her superb Romeo opposite Anna  Netrebko in Munich or her assured contribution to that delightful recent China meets Europe CD.

However, despite a nearly full and buzzingly expectant audience, the evening did not start auspiciously. The first half of the double bill was a performance of Poulenc’s LaVoix Humaine. It starred (and I use the word advisedly) Julia Migenes as the solitary female who is the only onstage character in this rarely performed piece based on the Jean Cocteau monodrama. Ms Migenes’s previous fame had been the principal focus of the publicity campaign to sell the double bill and she was being feted the following evening with a gala performance at the local art house cinema of the film of Carmen in which she appeared opposite Domingo. However, on the evidence of the Poulenc, she is now very much a faded star. She still has manifest stage presence but played the protagonist on an unvaried note of petulance throughout and she under-projected much of the text.

After this,  the Bartók came as a great relief.  Granted the (very good) Hessisches Staatsorchester is much smaller than the vast forces specified by the composer but a bigger band might have overwhelmed the theatre’s acoustics. As it was, there wasn’t enough room for them all in the pit and the harps had to take their places in a box –giving their part on unexpected prominence. The production turned out to be one of the best of the many versions of the opera I have seen. Uwe Eric Laufenberg (who is also the theatre’s Intendant) was clearly influenced (how could he not be?) by the opera’s close parallels with the currently trendy Fifty Shades of Grey.  Bluebeard’s castle becomes his top floor penthouse accessed by lift. VK’s Judit enters into it with an Anastasia Steele-like fascinated faux innocence. The opening of the first door (to Bluebeard’s torture chamber) becomes the opening of his laptop to reveal the hidden images there. At the end, in a dubiously distinct departure from Bartók’s reinvention of the original legend, Bluebeard’s former wives are ghosts rather than still living and Bluebeard stabs Judit to death before she herself becomes a ghost.

The Staatstheater’s Music Director Zsolt Hamar was on conducting duties that evening and a very precise and inspiring job he made of it. As Bluebeard, Gerd Grochowski (who will play Wagner’s Dutchman at Wiesbaden next season) proved to be a most acceptable substitute for the previously announced Johannes Martin Kränzle. Subdued at first (and quite rightly so in terms of both production and opera), he developed stature from the opening of the fifth door onwards into the reluctant dominance required by the text.

However, the emotional and artistic centre of the performance was VK’s Judit. Looking much younger than her years, she succeeded in capturing all the facets of Judit’s complex character from wide-eyed fascination to shocked acceptance of the horrendous bargain she has made. Vocally, there was scarcely a trace of the all too audible inbreathing problems she had been displaying of late and she easily managedto impose herself over even the most extreme moments of orchestration. Of particular note was her subtly stunned realisation on the opening of fourth door (the garden of flowers) of a sense of utter hopelessness. This was the pivotal moment in what was arichly satisfying portrayal.

At the end of the performance, it was audibly clear that  –  despite Ms Migenes’s somewhat presumptively grandstanding re-entry into the centre of the curtain call line-up – it was VK who got by far the biggest ovation during the solo calls.

All in all then, a marvellous evening for VK and she was visibly delighted by the result. She is due to perform in appear in three out of the four performances of the production in Wiesbaden in June.  Provided that she turns up, anybody who can make it along will be richly rewarded.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where in the world is Vesselina Kasarova? (Spring 2015)

It's been a long long while since my last Vesselina Kasarova post! Smorg's favorite opera singer (and all around cool gal) has been enjoying a stellar 2015 season, however. She gave a very well received Handel recital in Karlsruhe, Germany, in March, which left fans old and new optimistic for more Baroque concerts in her future.

Vesselina Kasarova & Gerd Grochowski in Herzog Blaubarts Burg at Staadtstheater Wiesbaden. (Foto: Monika & Karl Forster)
And, this past weekend, VK drew scores of rave reviews for her role debut as Judit in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle at Wiesbaden. More performances of this show are still to come on April 25th and June 10, 14, 21. In the meanwhile, there are the concerts of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in Stuttgart, Berlioz's La mort de Cleopatre in Basel, a Rossini concert in Basel, an Offenbachiade in Heidenheim, and more role debut as Handel's Solomon (in a concert performance) at St Michaelis in Hamburg. I'm tellin' ya'. It's an exciting time to be a Kasarova-fan!

Her unofficial updated schedule can be found on the Kasarova Schedule page, of course. And if you know of any performance date that isn't listed, please feel free to let me know! (Leave a comment... or email the addy on the side-bar).

On another note, I'm afraid Lincoln Center didn't like that I had posted the commercially not-available video broadcast of The Ballad of Baby Doe from the since defunct NYCO on Youtube and flagged them for copyright violation. There being multiple videos (I could only post 15 minute long clips then) of that show, it instantly caused the deletion of my channel, which, unfortunately, also meant that most of the Kasarova Youtube clips went down with that ship. I'm in the process of re-uploading the non-commercial stuff... but it'll take a while.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bancroft Rock House & Bancroft Ranch House Museums in Spring Valley

I was easy spinning home on my road bike from a group ride down in Bonita a few weekends ago on the inland route through La Presa and Spring Valley when I happened to look right into a narrow lane off Kenwood Dr and spotted a rather magnificent looking stone house that, despite there being no sign around pointing to one, had got to be some sort of a historical structure. What to do but to veer in to investigate?

Bancroft Rock House Museum.
St James Ct is a nondescript dirt lane and skirts by a fenced in park that I suddenly recognized as the spring that gave Spring Valley its name. I was on the east side of the Bancroft Ranch House museum and the stone structure that perched on the high ground above it is the Bancroft Rock House, an unmanned museum on the ground of Bancroft County Park with wide dirt parking lot and lots of information boards and even an automated voice-box curator, so to speak.

The spring that gave Spring Valley its name.
It's pretty cool in a rather impersonal way. After a while I decided to scoot around the corner to 9050 Memory Ln to see if the Bancroft Ranch House Museum was open (I had stopped by there a few times before and it was always closed). This time, I was in luck! A local couple was unlocking the gate as I rolled in. They turned out to be past presidents of the Spring Valley Historical Society, the keeper of the museum!

Bancroft Ranch House Museum.

The Bancroft Ranch House Museum doesn't get many visitors, though, so they were quite pleased that I decided to look in and made me feel quite at home while one scooted off to look for the resident groundkeeper, the walking encyclopedia of all things Spring Valley by the name of Mr Jim Van Meter. The Ranch House Museum is not affiliated with the Bancroft County Park & the Rock House Museum next door. It is a community run place manned by volunteers with a passion for local history and preservation. A wonderful place to visit between 1-4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
It's a well preserved ranch house with lots of artifacts and stories to be told.
I even got this nice tote bag for a souvenir!
I only meant to drop in for a quick look around before scooting on home, but ended up staying for over two hours and had a lovely time chatting and hanging out with Mr Van Meter and other volunteers who dropped in to deposit stuff for the upcoming fundraiser sale.

Spring Valley Historical Society's friendly volunteers at the Bancroft Ranch House.
Thanks a bunch, guys and gals, I had the best visit and will definitely come back again!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Guest Announcement: SDSU Coast to Coast Concert (22 March 2015 at Montezuma Hall)

SDSU’s Coast to Coast Concert Showcases Premiere Work, Faculty Stars, and New Facilities
SDSU Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra set highlight concert in Montezuma Hall, new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union

(San Diego) – The SDSU Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra present Coast to Coast, a concert featuring music inspired by two of America’s great cities, New York and San Diego, on Sunday, March 22 at 7:00 p.m. in the beautiful, new Montezuma Hall of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.   

Tickets for Coast to Coast are $10, general admission, and $5 students, and can be purchased online at or at the box office one hour before performance.  Free admission for high school band and orchestra students.

Coast to Coast will highlight the talents of two of SDSU’s top ensembles, the SDSU Wind Symphony, conducted by Shannon Kitelinger, and the SDSU Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Gerdes, as well as faculty members from the School of Music and Dance, and San Diego Symphony members.  

Jazz faculty Richard Thompson will perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  Composition professor Joseph Waters’s newest piece Suite Noir, inspired by San Diego, will receive its world premiere with the SDSU Symphony and the new music ensemble SWARMIUS.  Other pieces will include Three Sketches, composed by Professor Emeritus Merle Hogg, and Quiet City by Aaron Copland, featuring solos by SDSU faculty and San Diego Symphony members John Wilds (trumpet), and Sarah Skuster (oboe).

This semester, the Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra are inviting students, alumni and community members to ‘come home’ to SDSU.  “We have a semester of concerts geared toward engaging our alumni by highlighting our students, faculty, and new facilities,” said Shannon Kitelinger, Director of Bands.  The Coast to Coast concert will display what SDSU has to offer on several levels; our talented faculty, splendid student performers and the beautiful new facilities at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.”

Still To Come in the Arts at SDSU:

A Thousand Plates Through March 30, 2015, SDSU Downtown Gallery
SDSU Opera Theatre: Baroque To Britten April 10 – 12, 2015, Smith Recital Hall
SDSU Jazz Ensemble with Sunny Wilkinson April 16, 2015, Smith Recital Hall
Lux Boreal: Fit/Misfit April 19, 2015, Dance Studio Theatre
The Great American Trailer Park Musical April 24 – May 3, 2015, Don Powell Theatre 
To Be Certain of the Dawn April 25, 2015, College Avenue Baptist Church