Monday, July 2, 2018

Impulsive Behavior Leads to Tragedy in TROVATORE

 Last week I went to my very first Live in HD Summer Encore (finally, after several unsuccessful tries).  The performance being broadcasted was the performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore from October 3rd, 2015, which I have already written about.  After seeing this a second time, I decided to focus on the main theme of this operatic staple. 

If there is one word that sums up Il Trovatore, it's passion.  Wild, unbridled, searing passion.  The opera is full of tempestuous emotions; pride, anger, love, hate, desperation, anguish.  There is not a peaceful moment in Il Trovatore, only lulls in the storm.  

All four of the main characters are ruled by emotions that eventually lead to their mutual downfalls.  They are so focused on their own desires that they rush into situations without thinking everything through and suffer the consequences.  Manrico is in love with Leanora, but the young Count di Luna is love with her as well, and when you have two men in love with the same women, you all too often get trouble.  While it may seem that di Luna is the more evil of the two, in truth they are both rash young men who are ruled by their hormones.  Both men severely reproach Leanora when it appears she does not love them.  When she decides to become a nun when she believes false reports of Manrico's death, they both run off to stop her.  And when di Luna captures Manrico's adopted mother, the Gypsy Azucena, Manrico impulsively rushes off to rescue her and is captured.  
       Making things even more nerve-racking is that Manrico is the long-lost younger brother for whom the Count has searched for twenty years.  But the two men don't recognize each other, and neither is willing to lay aside his pride and talk things over peacefully.  This ruins them both in the end.
      Leanora is so wildly in love for Manrico that she will do anything for his sake, whether it makes sense or not.  She begs the Count to punish her after confusing for Manrico in the darkness.  When she hears rumors of Manrico's death, she tries to enter a convent.  But when her lover shows up alive, she immediately rushes off with him get married.  When Manrico is captured and condemned to die after his impetuous rescue attempt, Leanora makes a false promise of love to di Luna in order to secure Manrico's freedom, then commits suicide rather than live without her beloved. 
    And meanwhile Azucena is desirous of revenge after di Luna's father had her mother burnt at the stake for trying to hurt the old Count's younger son, and it has left her more than a little unhinged.  She lives only for vengeance and even though she has raised Manrico as her own son, she does not truly care for him, only herself and her own anguish.  Azucena herself kidnapped him in hopes of killing him to avenge her mother, but adopted him after she accidentally killed her own baby son.  And she has been manipulating him in hopes that he will die to satisfy her wrath.  I would even go so far as to say that she deliberately lets herself be captured by di Luna's soldiers so that Manrico would come and rescue her, only to be captured and sent to death row. 
At the opera's end, Azucena practically tricks di Luna into his killing his own brother and Leanora lies dead after poisoning herself.  The result of all that passion and untamed emotion is destruction, destitution, and ultimately grief.  One can't help but feel for the Count di Luna as he looks at where all his passion and anger have led him, his family, and the woman he loved.  And the mad gypsy's evil laughter is the last thing we hear as the curtain falls. 



Sunday, June 24, 2018

Star Wars Bookmarks

Three years ago, I discovered the website known as Opera Bracelets.  This abstract form of storytelling uses colors, shapes, and symbols in the bracelet to describe a person, theme, or event in an opera.  I found the concept so fascinating that I decided to try it out for myself, only in this case using bookmarks.  

I made this set for my boyfriend for his birthday a few weeks ago.  He's an avid Star Wars fan and in particular likes the Prequel Trilogy.  One of his favorite characters (and mine) is Padme Naberrie Amidala, who served as both queen and senator of Naboo, and was the wife of Anakin Skywalker and mother of Luke and Leia.  I had wanted to do a bracelet inspired by her, but could not figure out how to do so considering how little time I spend beading.  Then my mom suggested that I do beaded bookmarks instead, which I did.

 So here are the Padme Naberrie Amidala Bookmarks.  A crown charm symbolizes Padme's role as queen, a wavy heart her love for Anakin, and baby feet represent the twins Luke and Leia. Orange-pink beads in the first bookmark represent Padme's youth and innocence, bright red beads in the second indicate her passionate love, and dark red beads in the third symbolize her heartbreak. Black beads hint at Padme's tragic fate, and black goldstone beads evoke the galactic setting. And round blue beads symbolize both Padme's home planet of Naboo, and her loyalty to the republic. 

I had a blast making these bookmarks, and hope to do some more like them later on. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Female Characters

I often hear about Strong Female Characters in stories.  In recent years I have heard the term used more and more frequently; so much so that I'm wondering if people even know what they are talking about.  
      Sure, we all love our women characters to be strong and independent.  I grew up with characters like Princess Leia and her mother Padme from Star Wars.  My favorite cartoon series (and by that I mean the only cartoon series I watch at all at this point) is all about young mares who learn about friendship and protect their home from evil.  But what is a Strong Female Character (SFC)?  And how do we differentiate between her and an Obligatory Feminist Archetype (OFA)?  

The first place to start would be characterization.  Does the woman have both strengths and weaknesses?  A good writer knows that that character is more interesting if she has qualities that are both good and bad.  For example, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series is very intelligent, in fact, she's the best student in Hogwarts.  She is not afraid to speak her mind and desires to help those who most need it.  But she can also be an annoying know-it-all and sometimes doesn't think her ideas through.  This combination of virtues and flaws make her an interesting three-dimensional character.  
      Another thing to consider is that an SFC can be found in any role, traditional or otherwise.  Molly Weasley is an example of an SFC in a more traditional feminine role, that of the stay-at-home mother.  She is devoted to her family and friends and cares about their safety.  She looks after the house while her husband is at work and her kids are at Hogwarts.  But she is certainly no pushover.  Anyone foolish enough to get between her and her family—particularly her childrenwill more than likely find themselves in the afterlife.  
     Teneniel Djo of the Star Wars franchise is an example of an SFC in a non-traditional female role, the Amazon.  She is a huntress who roams the planet Dathomir.  She is a tough warrior and does not shy away from a fight.  Although she does not know it as the Force, she knows she is powerful and proves an invaluable ally to Luke Skywalker and Company when they are on Dathomir.  But she is not without vulnerability.  She is wandering soul because she was ousted from her clan and is trying to avoid the evil Nightsisters.  And she gradually learns that a man may want to be her partner and not so much her slave.  
       And an SFC understands the value of companionship.  Even if she is a fiercely independent woman, she will acknowledge that she cannot do everything on her own.  She may not want the man to stand in front of her and take the bullet, but she will be more than happy if he's watching her back from a distance and taking down those whom she does not see coming. 

An OFA at first sounds like an SFC, but in fact she is a kind of Mary Sue.  The first thing to notice is that she will be an insufferable equality queen** who is always right.  Tauriel from the Hobbit films exhibits this behavior in The Desolation of Smaug when she bluntly says, "This is our fight." She is always right in the film and Thranduil is almost always wrong.  This is not a mark of strength but of arrogance.  The love-triangle thing didn't help matters either*.  
        The OFA can only be found in one role, an exaggerated form of tomboy known as the Girl-in-Boy's-Clothes.  This is a woman character who holds traditional feminine trappings in contempt and acts as tough as she possibly can and is always better than the men.  Rey from the Disney canon behaves like a tough girl every chance she gets.  She defeats an evil overlord in less than a minute and is more powerful than Luke Skywaker.  She uses her anger on a regular basis and belittles the men around her.  And Disney wants her to be role model? 
      Finally, the OFA's entire purpose is to promote an agenda.  She will not have any personality save for whatever socio-political ideas the author wants to trumpet.  This means that any other characters in the story who are not the OFA will fade into the background and have little to no relevance no matter how often they appear.  And when that happens, the story dies.  
To sum it all up Strong Female Characters are likeable, fun, and entertaining.  Obligatory Feminist Archetypes are annoying, insufferable, and boring.  A woman should not have to cast aside all things feminine in order to be strong.  And no one wants to be around anyone who thinks she's right all the time.  Obligatory Feminist Archetypes give Strong Female Characters a bad name and should never be used in stories again. 
If there is anyone reading this who bore witness to the horrific argument between me and my brother as we were leaving the now-defunct Eastgate Cinema in Madison on December 14th, 2013, I apologize for my rash behavior.  It was wrong of me to go into a purist fan rage in public. 

**An equality queen is a woman who fights for equality in a self-righteous manner. 

Updated 5-16-18 at 6:13 pm

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Russian Music

It's not every day you get to hear Russian Folk Music live.  I've had the good fortune to experience it twice in one month.  The UW Madison's Russian Folk Orchestra is a mostly string ensemble made up of largely of balalaikas (a triangular lute), and domras (a relative of the mandolin).  Also included are a flute and oboe, a tambourine, and occasionally drums and chimes.  

My family went on April the 14th to see them RFO perform at the Stoughton Opera House, and then two nights ago I took my brother to see them perform at Oakwood Village in Madison. 

I could not find fault with the performance at all.  What I can say is that it's a very unique experience to hear these traditional instruments in action.  Some of the songs were traditional tunes, some were original pieces, and some were arrangements of Classical music redone for traditional instruments.  The maestro wrote a few interesting tunes, the one we heard performed was an instrumental piece based off of Pushkin's poem "The Cart of Life".  But perhaps the ones that stuck out to me the most were an arrangement of Scott Joplin's "The Easy Winners" of all things, the "Butterfly Polka", the Russian folk song "The Moon Shines", and an arrangement of Khachaturian's famous "Sabre Dance" from his ballet The Corsair

 I think I'll go see them again next season.

Monday, March 12, 2018

SEMIRAMIDE: Power Play in Ancient Mesopotamia

It's about time I did another review!

I had heard of Rossini's little-known opera Semiramide, but had never heard it before until this past Saturday.  Angela Meade sang the title role, with Elizabeth DeShong and Ildar Abdrazokov in the roles of the warrior Arsace and the villain Assur, respectively.  Javier Camarena was the lovelorn foreign king Indreno, whose role appears to be limited to a minor subplot.  And Ryan Speedo Green was Oroe, the high priest of Baal. 

Semiramide is based off of the legend of Semiramis, a notorious queen of Babylon who had many lovers and was married at least twice.  Perhaps one of the most well-known stories about her is that she succeeded the throne upon the death of her husband, Ninus, although some versions have Semiramis murdering Ninus.

The story is complicated, so I'll give a brief synopsis.

Semiramide is preparing to name a successor.  She is in love with the young warrior, Arsace, whom she has summoned to the palace.  But the conniving Assur wants the throne for himself, and he knows the queen's deep dark secret.  Fifteen years prior, the two of them poisoned Semiramide's husband, King Ninus.  Semiramide names Arsace her new husband and appoints him to be King of Babylon.  Arsace is unnerved by this, but then the ghost of King Ninus rises from the ground and tells Arsace that it is his destiny to rule.  But before he can do that, a victim must be sacrificed to avenge Ninus' murder.  No prizes for guessing who the victim turns out to be after all is said and done.  There is also the little subplot involving Indreno trying to woo a reluctant princess. 

The opera is rarely performed due to its intense vocal demands.  You need five virtuosos for the leading roles.  There are three arias for Semiramide in Act 1 alone!
    I could not find fault with the singers' performances.  However, compared some of Rossini's other works, this opera has very few notable stand-out moments.  Aside from Indreno's two arias, the moment that sticks out to me the most is the Act 2 duet between Semiramide and Arsace.  This scene is an absolutely gorgeous moment where two characters go through a whole range of emotions as they gradually understand who the other is. 
From the looks of Angela Meade's costumes, I think the same person who did the Met's most recent production of Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini did this production of Semiramide.  I say this because the color of her costume goes from royal purple and gold at the very beginning to light blue, then to red, and then to very dark purple at the end.  

The opera is one of those pieces where you go for the music and not the story.  Yeah, the story has some very good moments in it, but it takes a back seat to the music.  Now that doesn't mean I won't go see it again (in fact, I think I will), it just means that this opera doesn't have as much in it as Armida or La Cenerentola.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Writing Short Stories

How do you write a good detective story?  In particular, how do you handle a detective short story?  They're not going to be as long and complex as a full novel, so it's best to keep it simple.  
    You have to get the the solution in around ten to twelve pages.  This means no long and complicated backstories.  It also means that you have to set up the mystery fairly quickly, even if the murder happens halfway.  And the number of clues is reduced. 



A penguin walks into a bar.  "What will you have?", asks the bartender.  "Well," says the penguin, "I have to go through leopard seal territory several times a day, so I'll have a Canadian Club."