Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Barber of Seville comes to life on film

The Barber of Seville
Live on HD in the Movies

The latest in the New York Metropolitan Opera’s 2014-2015 season “Live in HD” movie theater simulcasts will feature one of the most popular operas of all time: Gioacchino Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” aka, “The Barber of Seville.”

Yes indeed, that lovable working class hero Figaro is back again to thwart convention, instigate romance and, of course, make plenty of money on the side for his various non-tonsorial services.

Hosted by soprano Deborah Voigt, Saturday’s live broadcast production will feature British baritone Christopher Maltman in his Met debut in the title role; soprano Isabel Leonard as the saucy Rosina; and, as the lovestruck Count Almaviva, the incomparable Lawrence Brownlee whom Washington National Opera and Washington Concert Opera fans will remember as the compact tenor with the brilliantly big voice.

But this Met production takes a novel approach. From its costuming to its relatively spare but always moving sets, the company’s current production is traditional all the way, which is rather refreshing in an era when everything gets an update and all costumes are varying shades of Euro-gray.

The Met production, however, is loaded with colorful costuming, whirling windows and doors, à la French farce, and plenty of madcap attitude, likely coming across as its composer, Gioacchino Rossini, would have approved.

In some ways, however, this production is further enhanced by a decidedly un-traditional surprise: the addition of a “passerelle”—essentially a four-sided runway—that extends the stage all the way around the orchestra pit. It brings the singers and their voices closes to the audience at key intervals, and gives them a chance to get up close and personal with the audience to share witty asides almost as if this were a vaudeville show.

In this photo, two of the singers are getting up close and personal with the audience.

In the best sight gag of the show, the passerelle also enables Figaro to start hustling the front row audience members, passing out his business cards to a number of them during the curtain call.

All three vocalists are superb in this simulcast edition. Mr. Maltman is robust and humorously devious as Figaro, delivering that character’s famous aria “Largo al factotum” with the boastful panache it requires, and adding vocal heft and wit to each successive ensemble.

Soprano Isabel Leonard, whom we greatly enjoyed earlier this season as a gawky Cherubino in Mozart’s earlier but equally beloved “Marriage of Figaro,” abandons the trousers from that role to become Rosina, the object of Count Almaviva’s passions, in this one. The switch is perfect and complete. Ms. Leonard possesses an angelic soprano voice and it lit up the stage in this weekend’s performance.

Last but certainly not least among the principals is the phenomenal tenor, Lawrence Brownlee, as the lovestruck Almaviva. As an expert in bel canto and coloratura singing, Mr. Brownlee currently has no equal in the opinion of this reviewer. He loads his showier showpieces with unbelievably complex ornamentation, hitting every note, even in the most rapid figures, elegantly and cleanly, adding in near-perfect diction to boot.

Rather than review the opera in my own words, I chose to take bits and pieces of two reviews from the same sight.

Suffice it to say that this production of ‘Barber’ was all that it should be.  As to be expected in opera buffo, there was a lot going on on the stage at any given moment so, unless you paid close attention, you probably missed a few of the more subtle actions.

My partner and I took my eleven- and thirteen-year-old grandchildren to this production and, to our surprise and delight, ‘Barber’ managed to hold the attention of two children who were more accustomed to using their various electronic gadgets than focusing on a performance.

As it happens, the first opera performance I ever attended was several centuries ago, when I was thirteen, and my grandparents took me to a production of The Barber of Seville, at the Carr Auditorium in Orlando.  I don’t recall much about that evening, but I still have the program in a box–somewhere.

If these delightful Met live in HD performances come to a theater in your city, you should take advantage.  They are worth it.  Tickets in our city were $24 for adults $22 for seniors and $18 for children.  Not cheap, but a bargain when you consider the cost of going to New York to see the operas in person.  Speaking as an opera fan who has seen a number of Met performances in Lincoln Center over the years, I have to say, these Met Live in HD performances are definitely the next best thing to being there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Colonoscopy Journal

ABOUT THE WRITER: The Author is a Prize-winning humour columnist for a daily paper...

Colonoscopy Journal:

I called my friend Andy Sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy.

A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a colour diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through London.

Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner.

I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn't really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, 'HE'S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR ARSE!'

I left Andy's office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called 'MoviPrep,' which comes in a box large enough to hold a microwave oven. I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now, suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of England's enemies.

I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous.

Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn't eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken soup, which is basicallywater, only with less flavour.

Then, in the evening, I took the MoviPrep. You mix two packets of powder together in a one-litreplastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a litre is about 32 gallons). Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes - and here I am being kind - like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.

The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humour, state that after you drink it, 'a loose, watery bowel movement may result.'

This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground.

MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don't want to be too graphic here, but, have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrepexperience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, shitting violently. You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another litre ofMoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.

After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep.

The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep shitting. I was thinking, 'What if I shit on Andy?' How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough.

At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the hell the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts, the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more naked than when you are actually naked.

Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep..
At first I was pissed off that I hadn't thought of this, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too hammered to make it to the bathroom, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.

When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point..

Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anaesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand.

There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, 'Dancing Queen' had to be the least appropriate.

'You want me to turn it up?' said Andy, from somewhere behind me...

'Ha ha,' I said. And then it was time, the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

I have no idea. Really. I slept through it. One moment, ABBA was yelling 'Dancing Queen, feel the beat of the tambourine,' and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood.

Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that It was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colours. I have never been prouder of an internal organ.

On the subject of Colonoscopies...
Colonoscopies are no joke, but these comments during the exam were quite humorous..... A physician claimed that the following are actual comments made by his patients (predominately male) while he was performing their colonoscopies:

1. Take it easy Doc. You're boldly going where no man has gone before.

2. 'Find Lord Lucan yet?'

3. 'Can you hear me NOW?'

4. 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?'

5. 'You know, in Glasgow, we're now legally married.'

6. 'Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?'

7. 'You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out...'

8. 'Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!'

9. 'If your hand doesn't fit, you must quit!'

10. 'Hey, Doc, let me know if you find my dignity.'

11. 'You used to be an executive at Lehmans Bank, didn't you?'

And the best one of all:

12. 'Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?'

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center

Orlando has a new multi-million dollar performing arts center, The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.  The grand opening has featured several performances, one of which we drove down to Orlando last night to attend.

The Phillips Center currently has two theater venues, The Walt Disney Theater, seating around 2,700 people, and a much more intimate venue seating around 300 people.  An additional venue designed more for performances of classical music is on the drawing boards, but, as I understand it, not yet underway.

The Dr. Phillips Center is immediately south of downtown Orlando, and is easy to access.  Unfortunately, for us, we decided to take the Turnpike to Orlando, and the East-West Expressway to a point near the theater.  When we left the toll road, we had to make our way through one of the worst areas in the city (not a fun experience after dark).  Because we arrived an hour before the event, we found a parking space ($10) in an off-street lot just across the street from the theater.

The building is modernistic in design, and quite striking.

The lobby area is vast, covering several levels, and somewhat cold in terms of decor.  The walls are in shades of light blue, and the ceilings are painted girders, support beams, and pips.  There was a long curving bar area serving sandwiches and drinks.  I ordered a glass (cup) of Pinot Noir, and found the price ($9) kind of high.

The Walt Disney Theater is decorated in earth tones and, in contrast to the lobby area, is a very warm room.  The seats are very comfortable, and large enough that you don't feel cramped--either side by side, or from front to back.  Beverages are permitted in the theater, and a convenient cup holder is attached to the joints in back of the seats.

Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff, is a perennial favorite.   Carmina Burana is the name given to a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century. The pieces are mostly bawdy, irreverent, and satirical. They were written principally in Medieval Latin; a few in Middle High German, and some with traces of Old French or Provençal. Some are macaronic, a mixture of Latin and German or French vernacular.

Twenty-four poems from Carmina Burana were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936. Orff's composition quickly became popular and a staple piece of the classical music repertoire. The opening and closing movement, "O Fortuna", has been used in numerous films.

Participating in the performance were the Orlando Ballet Theater; The Orchestra and Chorus of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, which organization will be commemorating its 80th anniversary next year at their annual Bach Festival.  The chorus was augmented by the Rollins College Choir.

The above photo appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

The ballet was stunningly choreographed, and the company was superbly trained, and totally in synch with each other.  I won't even go into the amazing male bodies on display!  Suffice it to say there wasn't a spare ounce of flesh on any one them.  It's hard to imagine the price these young dancers have to pay to keep their bodies so fit.

The music, while mostly excellent, suffered from the poor acoustics in the theater.  The Walt Disney Theater was clearly designed for miked/amplified Broadway type productions, and is ill-suited for classical music.  The reviewer in the Orlando paper said much the same thing, although not quite as strongly.

A production of Carmina Burana calls for three soloists, Baritone, Tenor, and Soprano.  The soloists were good, but because they were standing near and a bit behind the proscenium arch, a good portion of the sound they produced never made it into the theater.  The choir suffered slightly from the same problem, but because there were nearly 200 singers, their crisp singing still came through.

Because we were there very early, my partner and I sat in the lobby for quite a while, watching the passing parade of people, most of whom were fairly well dressed, some of whom were dressed to the nines, as the saying goes.

The Phillips Center is a beautiful building, but when it comes to performances of classical music and opera, the venerable Bob Carr Auditorium is a much better venue.

For your Dictionary

These should be in the dictionary.

    A person who has stopped growing at both ends

    And is now growing in the middle.



    A place where women curl up and dye.




    The only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead.



    A body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.



    Mud with the juice squeezed out.



    Someone who is usually me-deep in conversation.



    Cold Storage.



    Cutting money in half without damaging the paper.



    An insect that makes you like flies better.



    A grape with a sunburn.



    Something you tell to one person at a time.



    A bunch of bones with the person scraped off.



    The pain that drives you to extraction.



    One of the greatest Labor saving devices of today.



    An honest opinion openly expressed.



    And MY Personal Favourite!!



    Something other people have, similar to my character lines.



So true.

Is that a backpack?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Six months without!

My partner and I have now gone six months without television, and guess what?  Life goes on.
We watch DVDs, of which we have a good collection, and that's it.  News and weather are available on the Internet for free.

Every time I'm exposed to television in someone else's house, I can't help but notice that the programming seems to have sunk well below the level of the lowest common denominator.  And that's pretty darn low.

Weeks go by without a set being turned on in our house, although we sometimes have a 'movie night'.

Another person who attended government schools

Enjoying the great outdoors

Monday, November 17, 2014

A cure that is definitely NOT worse than the disease!

My maternal grandmother suffered from full-blown asthma, and that's not a fun thing to have.  I witnessed her having a full-scale attack when I was sixteen, and it scared the crap out of me.

Nobody in my generation inherited the asthma from her, but many of us do have hay fever/allergy problems to one degree or another.  When you've experiencing a total hay fever attack, your sinuses can produce more snot than you can say grace over.  And they can fill up your chest overnight.  After that comes bronchitis, and the racking often dry coughs it produces.

Being allergic to codeine, I can't take the strong cough syrups to stop the coughing and bronchial spasms, but that's okay.  Years ago, I discovered a much better remedy:  Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry. 

One sip of Harvey's warms those bronchial tubes immediately, and the spasms stop.  I kid you not.  Almost any liqueur, Drambuie, for example, will do the same thing, but I like Harvey's better.

So, here's to the best damn specific for bronchial coughs ever invented.

Good one

Muscles in motion

Friday, November 14, 2014