Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Met Summer Encores

The various Madison movie theaters have finally gotten around to doing the Met Live in HD Summer Encores. I'm not going tonight, but I may recommend that my parents do so.  It's The Pearl Fishers tonight, but as much as I love Diana Damrau and Mariusz Kwiecien, I need to take care of some stuff at home.

The Met Live in HD Summer Encores are for the benefit of people who either couldn't make it during the regular season, or else they loved a particular performance so much that they want to see it again.  I'm not too fond of Nabucco because I feel that Verdi wasted a perfectly good plot (although the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves is certainly joy and a delight to listen to).  I think I may go to either Macbeth or Carmen.  I tried to take my mother to Macbeth but there was a malfunction in the projector that meant it couldn't be shown.  Carmen I just happen to love to death, even though I have a bee in my bonnet about the amount of sex and feminist ideas people like to put in it.  

I am so glad that the Madison cinemas are doing this.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


A Martian goes to a car dealership.  He says to the salesman, "I want the body green, the seats green, the steering wheel green, and the windows tinted green."  "Okay," says the salesman.  The Martian takes the car home and shows his wife.  "It's lovely," she says, "But what's with the color?".  "Flesh tones," says the Martian. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Medieval Times Round 2

Last year I made a list of the pros and cons of the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament just outside of Chicago.  I went there for the second time on Sunday and here is what I have to say on it.  

The tournament itself is a lot of fun.  I am a sucker for horse shows and unfortunately I do not go to them as much as I would like.  You have a group of six guys in roles of knights performing all sorts of crazy stunts on horseback, and then later duking it out on foot.  Now it's scripted in advance which knight is going to win because you're dealing with an animal that weighs two tons and has hooves that can break your skull.  Having ridden horses myself, I know precisely how dangerous working with these animals can be (I was bitten by the same horse twice).  I really have to admire the skill and nerve that these guys have, I mean I could never pull off a spear throw on horseback!  But these knights can nail it with seemingly no effort whatsoever.  
      Also, the guys playing the knights would've needed at least two decades of training in order to do the sorts of stunts they perform in the tournament.  I'm guessing that the men cannot be any younger than twenty eight nor any older than thirty seven.  And then the knights have to fight in hand-to-hand combat, so this is certainly not something for your average 10-year-old in 4-H.  But it is something worth seeing. 
Medieval Times has a fixed menu of tomato soup, Texas Toast, half a roast chicken, corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes, and whatever the dessert of the day is.  The food is good, although it is a little inauthentic.  Potatoes, tomatoes, and corn did not come to Europe until the rediscovery of America at the end of the 15th Century.  But then again you'd be hard pressed to get the average 21th Century American to try things like Roseye* and Roast Fowl in Cameline Sauce, so a bit of a tough break there.  Texas Toast is also not quite authentic, but it could also be a reference to the bread trenchers common to that time period.  The size of the chicken is much more manageable than last time although I still couldn't finish it.  There is a minor bit of authenticity as there is no silverware, so you have to eat with your hands.  

I still have a few complaints, in particular the noise and the paper crowns.  The announcer's loud shouting makes it hard for me to hear myself and gives me sensory overload within the span of a few minutes.  Thankfully I had earplugs this time so the noise was relatively tolerable.  Still, I was so startled when the announcer abruptly said that there would be a "knighting ceremony" that I made a dash for the other side of the building.  
       And I still don't like the paper crowns.  The color of the crowns correspond to whichever knight you will be rooting for (Red, Black and White, Yellow, Blue, Red and Yellow, or Green).  I'm not worried about whether or not the crown matches my clothes; if I'm given enough notice I can find an outfit that will match it.  But I personally feel that paper crowns are more appropriate for children than adults.  I felt very uncomfortable wearing the crown because of this.  

The fair outside the dining area/arena is so-so.  I love shopping and buying souvenirs, but unfortunately most of the stuff being sold tends to be either thirty-dollar knick knacks that I have no place to put, expensive-yet-obligatory T-Shirts, shot glasses that no one ever really uses, or stuff aimed at children under the age of ten.  That's not to say I can't find something I like.  Snow-globes are fun every now and then.  Last year the shopping stalls were selling peacock feather fans (a perfect addition to my diva outfit).  And there is always some kind of jewelry that I can get for my sister.  
    And then there is a booth for getting swords and daggers.  This is the most expensive souvenir anyone can get and you would outright have to plan months in advance to get one of these.  And you also have to have a place to put such a thing.  Considering that these are weapons we're talking about, it is certainly an adults-only booth.  Not that I'm complaining or anything, if I had some place in my house to put one of those swords or daggers, I'd get one.  I remember when I was thirteen I wanted a replica of Legolas' longbow from the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novels.  I just want to be able to get one of those swords without busting my bank.

Other things worth noting are as follows:

1. There is a falconer who lets a Peregrine Falcon fly over the heads of the audience.  This is something that would appeal to my ornithology-loving older brother.  

2. The king character looks like he could be either Ar-Pharazôn from Tolkien's The Silmarillion or else Denethor.  While not necessarily bad, I still can't help noting the similarity in appearance. 

3. You get called either "my lord" if you're a man or "my lady" if you're a woman.  This can either be cute, amusing, or irritating depending on your perspective.  I personally found it annoying.   

4. There is a story in the tournament involving the herald of a northern king.  This particular rider looks like the offspring of an Uruk and an Easterling and is about as scrupulous.  

5. The knights' colors are all based off of real-life heraldry symbols.  For example, the Blue Knight gets his colors from the Fench Fleur de Lis.  The Red and Yellow Knight is inspired by old Germanic symbols.  And the Red Knight is modeled off of what appears to be a combination of the heraldry symbols of Castilla and León.  

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm giving Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament a 7.  The tournament is the best part on account of being a superbly executed display of agility and guts.  And the food is good even if it is on the inauthentic side.  But the noise levels are way too overpowering for my liking and require earplugs in order to be tolerable.  And I still find the paper crowns very kiddish.  The fair is okay depending on what you're looking for, although I still have a difficult time finding something that I like amidst the collectables and kids' toys.  The place is still fun, but it's not going to be on my own personal destinations list.  Although if my boyfriend asks me to come with him again, then I'll do so.  

Oh, and for anyone reading this who was at the 4:30 performance on Sunday, June 4th, if you heard some weirdo shouting "Fredericksburg!" and "Chickamauga!", that was me.  Don't ask me why I did that.  
*Fried Fish with Roses and Almonds.  You can find the recipe in the cookbook Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

High Society, Marriage, And Mayhem In Vienna

 If you've never heard of Richard Strauss' opera Der Rosenkavalier, where have you been?  This opera could be considered the early 20th Century counterpart to Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.  And it's not hard to see why; you've got a lonely noblewoman, a teenage boy with the hots for said noblewoman, you have the pretty teenage girl whom the boy ends up with in the end, and you've got the lascivious baritone character.  And there are all sorts of crazy deceptions and shenanigans before it gets cleared at the end.  
    Despite their parallels Rosenkavalier and Fiagro are two entirely different pieces.  Besides the obvious musical differences, Figaro is a wacky and lighthearted rom com with the lascivious Count recognizing that he messed up and reconciling with his wife.  Rosenkavalier by contrast is a more sophisticated piece with a lot of bittersweet elements relating to the Marschallin and the passing of time.  

Today's performance of Der Rosenkavalier featured soprano Renee Flemming and mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča in their final performances of their signature roles or the
Marschallin and her teenage lover the Count Octavian.  Soprano Erin Morley was the Fraulein Sophie von Faninal, the sixteen-year-old girl who falls in love with Octavian.  And baritone Günther Groissböck was licentious and overbearing Baron Ochs (with a name like that, what do you expect?).

The plot has many twists and turns so I'm going to give a very basic synopsis.  The thirty two-year-old Marschallin has been carrying on an affair with the seventeen-year-old Count Octavian for some time.  However, the Marschallin knows the affair will not last much longer because she is already married and fifteen years older than Octavian.  When the boorish Baron Ochs comes to talk about his engagement to the young and pretty Sophie von Faninal, the Marschallin sends Octavian to deliver the traditional gift of a silver rose to the bride-to-be.  Octavian does this willingly, but when he sees Sophie for the first time, he falls instantly in love with her.  Horrified at the prospect of Sophie marrying a creep like Ochs, Octavian becomes determined to protect her at all costs.  And a lot of wild and crazy hijinks ensue before the final trio.  

This new production updated the setting from the mid-18th Century to the year 1910 (the year the opera first premiered).  The idea behind the production was the theme of time passing.  In 1910 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in its final days, and political tensions throughout Europe were sowing the seeds of World War I.  It's as if the production is saying that the world of Marschallin and Octavian is going to get blown away by bloody carnage in four short years (yikes!). 
    Act 1 is in the Marschallin's spacious bedchamber with it's various antechambers and mid-19th Century architecture.  Footmen open and close each of the double doors in almost perfect unison whenever someone enters or leaves.  At one point the Marschallin recieves guests in the room, including an Italian tenor (performed in this production by Matthew Polenzani channeling Enrico Caruso). 
     Act 2 takes place in Herr von Faninal's much more spartan house with grey walls and an ancient Greek battle scene adorning the upper wall.  And von Faninal somehow has enough money and egotism to have two massive anti-aircraft guns in his living room.  Patient servants struggle to put the finishing touches on Sophie's wedding dress while she's fidgeting excitedly waiting for her bridegroom.  The baron's soldiers drink and brawl while von Faninal's majordomo tired to stop their rowdy behavior. 
     And then Act 3 is set in an overly decorated brothel, complete with slightly dim lighting and borderline nauseating 19th Century erotic pictures.  Prostitutes in little more than bodices and stockings revel with soldiers in full uniform.  A proprietor who looks like the great-grandfather of Dr. Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and is just as creepy I might add), assists Octavian who wants to teach Ochs a lesson.  "Apparitions" in the form of half naked men randomly walking in and out of the room and nightmare fuel/brain bleach images of dancing harlots frighten the Baron (and me). 

Renee Flemming fits the role of the Marschallin like a glove.  This is the only time I will ever see her perform the role, but she was superb.  And while the Marschallin doesn't appear much (she dominates Act 1, but is absent in Act 2 and only appears toward the end of Act 3), her character is very rich and layered.  And Flemming knows how to bring out the range of emotions very well.  In Act 1 in particular, the Marschallin's mood shifts between happy, sad, annoyed, nervous,amused, delighted, it's no wonder that Flemming calls the role demanding.  The Marschallin is married, but her husband is away at war much of the time, and so she's desperately lonely.  This may explain her consuming obsession with time and fear of growing old.  But she also knows that Octavian will leave her for a girl closer in age to him, and that it will be better for both of them if their love affair ends.  And it does in a glorious trio
    This is the third time I have seen Elīna Garanča Live in HD.  This is also her last performance as Octavian.  This role is a very demanding role for mezzo because there is a lot of music, and Richard Strauss' music isn't the easiest to sing.  But Garanča nailed this role.  She is very convincing as a boy, although it was easier to believe she was a boy playing a girl in Act 1 than in act 3.  While Octavian has frequently been compared to the page boy Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, his character is vastly different.  Unlike Cherubino, Octavian is a nobleman.  While he is a hormonal seventeen-year-old boy who wants to live in the now, he now has more responsibilities and needs to grow up.  From the looks of it, Octavian's father must have died because otherwise he wouldn't have the title of Count already.  
     Erin Morley is a relatively new performer whom I have only just heard recently.  She was very good as Sophie, although I am getting tired of the popular trope of making heroines feisty.  But that minor annoyance didn't mean that I hated Morley's performance.  In fact, she was splendid.  Even if Sophie is not as big a role as Octavian, it's still demanding and requires someone like Morley to handle the music and acting.  Sophie sticks up for herself when she says that she won't marry a man who doesn't love her.  It should be worth noting that Sophie is initially enthusiastic about the marriage until Ochs himself shows up.  And when he starts examining her like a prize mare instead of properly kissing her hand when he meets her, that's when she protests.  
      And now we come to Günther Groissböck as the Baron Ochs.  Along with Octavian, this role is a very demanding one.  Not only does the baron have a huge range (low E flat to high G sharp), but this production really amped up the physical action.  Ochs is a boor, a creep, and treats everyone around him like dirt, even those he considers his equals.  Devoid of empathy and  tenderness, he brags about his engagement to the Marschallin while harassing the disguised Octavian, only wants Sophie because of her father's bank account, and acts like he's been mortally injured when he receives a very minor flesh wound.  And Groissböck nailed this role.  

This performance was a success, and a good way for two of opera's greatest stars to say good bye to signature roles. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Here I am wondering if my favorite Russian baritone will come back to the stage, and wouldn't you know it, he does a surprise performance at the Met's 50th Annniversay-At-Lincoln-Center Gala!  Either Dima is made of iron, or else he's got Rainbow Dash's determination. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Addendum on Documentaries Post

As I've been binging on the Space Race (and right in the middle of finishing a Titanic/Eastland project no less!), I have made a couple of further observations about documentaries.  I did not mention these in my main post on the topic and so I will speak of them here.  

The first thing I talked about was listening to how writers use the language in the documentary.  A good writer will be precise in his language and back up his assertions with facts. 
    Sometimes you will get a piece about something in history or science that isn't very well-known.  This is to be expected as history and science are always on the move.  But beware of titles that say "The Untold Story", "The True/Real Story", "The Forgotten Story", or anything like that.  Titles like these sound dramatic and may get the viewer interested, but they make an assertion that may or may not be true.  
        I have read and reread a book called The Sinking of the EASTLAND: America's Forgotten Tragedy.  This is one of the few cases in which the "forgotten" label is justified.  The capsizing has become largely obscure despite happening right in the middle of the Chicago Harbor.  So when the book says that it's a forgotten tragedy, I can believe it.  
        Last week I saw a documentary called "Apollo 13: The Real Story".  How are the makers sure that it's the "real story"?  Most people in the U.S. know about the incident and so to try to claim that there is a real story is foolish at best. 

Which brings me to my second point.  Take note of the documentary's tone.  Every now and then you will get a documentary written by someone with an axe to grind be it political, social, or whatever.  When that happens you sometimes get conspiracy theories.  And conspiracy theories will be heavy handed and unpleasant.  Last week I tried watching a documentary called Secret Space: The Soyuz 1 Coverup.  I wanted to know about the Soyuz 1 disaster that killed Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov.  The documentary indulged in the Ilyushin myth and even claimed that Yuri Gagarin's death in a plane crash was engineered by Brezhnev.  And the narration throughout the documentary was harsh and unsubtle.  
     It is true that the Soviet government tried to cover up a lot of things.  But the conspiracy theories and overall harsh tone of the documentary made it unwatchable.  

I like documentaries that are objective with their language.  If you want to say that something is the "Untold/Real/Forgotten Story" or whatever, you have to be able to back up your assertion.  While something may be genuinely obscure like in the case of the Eastland, others may seem obscure but turn out to be little more than fringe activities that had been part of an ongoing issue.  Or it may turn out be a conspiracy theory, which means someone is telling a lie.  Use language precisely.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Can someone please explain why a very good documentary on the Soviet Space Program is produced by a company with the name UFOTV?