Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prince of Foxes

I just finished a relaxing evening reading Joseph Volpe's memoir about his years as dictator -- I mean general manager -- of the Metropolitan Opera. Volpe, who started as a carpenter there, was general manager for most of my life, and had quite a hard-nosed reputation. Definitely worth a read for his side of the controversies and tragedies but also of the ins and outs of juggling operas, scenery, budgets, and social obligations in probably the toughest job in the business. No real laugh-out-loud anecdotes, but worth it for the opera fan!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Check me in ten

Years, that is. I started reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, this year's Booker Prize-winner about Thomas Cromwell, and it certainly is good. But I am Tudored out by all my historical mystery and fiction reading on the cardio machines over the last few years. I think I need to take a break and go back to it later. It's extremely rare that I do such a thing with a book that I actually do like, but this time I think it's a necessity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Run. Hide.

Incidentally, I don't usually post terrible reviews... which may mean that I just don't read things I think will be terrible, or something like that. But I've been meaning to post for a while: Russell Brand's My Booky Wook? Not. Funny. At all. Not even interesting. Maybe if you're a giant fan of his, but otherwise it's just a lot of drugs.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Depression, rainbow-colored

I pause in my never-ending bibliographing to think of more fun things. I finally saw The Lovely Bones, though perhaps not the way it was meant to be seen, since I was watching it on a five-inch airplane screen. Nevertheless, I can attest to its visual beauty, which was not enough to make up for a somewhat choppy and unbalanced screenplay. It was a best-selling novel about how a family deals with the murder of their twelve-year-old daughter/sister, including her own perspective from heaven. I remember reading an interesting column that speculated that it was one of the 9/11 boom books because it gave a sense that horrible, tragic things could happen, and perhaps no closure could really ever be seen, but it existed nevertheless out there in the cosmos. Interesting. Possible.

This was Peter Jackson's first big project after Lord of the Rings, and it was a good departure for him -- but still bearing the marks of some of the flaws of LOTR, like dialogue that sounds good if you're really into the intense emotion of the moment but just sounds ridiculous later. He doesn't go in much for understatement, but here I think Saoirse Ronan's acting saved him -- she's good at being intense but not hysterical, a quality I hope she will keep as she grows up.

I hate to make judgments like this, but I think that the book, weepy as it was, was better. They cut some of the key scenes, at least for me, and smoothed out the plot a bit too much. Almost the only scene that really stayed with me from the book is the one where Susie's sister wants to hear which body part they found in the field, and the father goes and gets a mixing bowl for her to throw up in before he sits her down to tell her. None of that in the film; Susie's body stays well hidden forever, even if her spirit shows up now and then -- something which also is hard to make subtle in a visual medium, and maybe is best left for the imagination.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Portmanteau word of the day

I haven't posted about opera lately, but I'm completely obsessed with Nathan Gunn right now. He has a great sound, but he's more famous for being a "barihunk." For more on barihunks, see this fellow's blog. I discovered it years ago when he first featured my friend Lee Poulis as a new young barihunk. And I can say with great affection that Lee is most definitely hunky, but also is a really good person, ever since college, and a constantly developing and improving singer and performer. I still remember in college when I heard him rehearsing La Boheme while I was duct taping the backdrop; I hadn't heard him since the year before, and I turned around with my jaw dropped, just like a sitcom. From 19 to 20, he had just made a vocal leap, and he's been leaping ever since.

It's both good and sad that looks have become of increasing interest in opera casting. Audiences are demanding more realism and the celebrity culture has leaked even into opera's world. Gunn has managed to cross over on the strength of his acting and looks; this youtube clip of him singing "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Camelot in a Live from Lincoln Center! production is pretty jawdropping itself.

Baritones have an advantage in hunkiness, though. The conventional wisdom is that baritones tend to be taller and leaner (James Morris, Thomas Hampson, John Relyea, Gunn... the list is endless), and tenors shorter and stouter. Something about the vocal column and the diaphragm and all that. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, like the six-foot-plus superstar tenor Placido Domingo, but then again he started in his youth as a baritone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Peace and quiet, Irish style


This is a photo taken from Salthill, the seaside resort suburb below Galway. It's quiet at this time of year, but I did see some nutcase swimmers and a couple of enterprising fishermen gathering mussels. As a matter of fact, I picked a clump, and my crazy parents actually boiled them in the hotel teakettle and ate them.

See that little cliff? It's considerably farther away and higher than it looks, so I hiked to it. For the last mile or two, I was the only person around, and I'm sure that when I got up on the cliff, people for a good twenty miles could see me walking around. The cliff itself was gently sloped and easy to climb, but getting there was terrible. The land was privately owned, so I had to clamber over the rocky beach. I could have used hiking boots.

All in all, a lovely hike, and if I had had the foresight to bring food, it would have been a nice windy picnic up there.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010



It nearly killed me, but I was not allowed to drink in Ireland. I was on some serious antibiotics, and it's not that they would have stopped working if I drank (I would have been willing to risk it), but it would have made me even sicker than I already was. Deathly ill, apparently.

Nonetheless, I sneaked a delicious sip here and there. Here's our skillfully pulled Guinness at the Hotel Meyrick in Galway. None of the other bars bothered with such artistry.
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rocks and trees

Had a great time in Ireland, conference and all. Here's a photo of Kylemore Abbey in County Mayo, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Built in the 1800s by the son of a hugely wealthy cotton merchant (Me, loudly, "SO THIS WAS BUILT WITH SLAVERY MONEY? Oh, should I have said that louder for the nuns to hear?") and sold to the Catholic church in 1920 or so. It's a couple hours' drive northwest of Galway, in a gorgeous, secluded, windswept location with high mountains, a small lake, and a few wandering sheep. Just an incredible place.