Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Review: Simon Boccanegra

What a masterful, majestic opera this is. As I was trying to explain the intricacies of the plot to my “date” last night, I realized that theatrically Boccanegra makes only slightly more sense than Puritani, but if you can find it in your heart to make some of the leaps of faith the story requires, the power of the music will carry you along. It may be Verdi’s subtlest, most refined score; Otello is appropriately unhinged, Don Carlo is grand and noble, and there are special wonders in each and every opera he wrote, but Boccanegra seems uniquely organic, delicate and inventive.

It was a wonderful performance. What an interesting artist Angela Gheorghiu has become! She exudes a grand, old-school confidence and stage presence. She’s one of the greatest singers in the world, and she knows it. The security of her singing, her musicianship and her polished, considered, earnest musicality allow her to go out on stage and just completely own what she does. The role of Amelia allows her to show off both her bright, strong top notes and her warm dramatic chest voice, as well as everything in between, with ample opportunities for forceful dramatic outbursts and softer, tender lyrical passages.

Marcello Giordani was in great voice, with none of the patchy, husky sound in the middle and tight top that sometimes mars his singing. Everything seemed completely aligned and rang heroically from top to bottom. Top notch.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is getting on a bit, and no longer has quite the space and ease around his higher notes, but instead of getting dry and woofy, like some lower voices do, his voice remains bright and clear. He was dramatically invested in the role, and brought to it the requisite nobility, even in moments of rage.

Baritone Vassily Gerello as the villain Paolo was just not in the same league as the rest of the cast. His voice is thin, nasal and monotone, and he employs stodgy, generic “acting” gestures. I will pound the table now so you know I’m frustrated! Serviceable. Next.

Conductor Fabio Luisi did a marvelous job; the comparison is a cliché and wrong-headed in many ways, but there is a Wagnerian degree of sensitivity to both the stage action and the unspoken emotions in the orchestral writing that more than make up for the confusing mistaken identities and other weaknesses of the libretto. The divine and unusual prelude to Act I is like Parsifal or some of Debussy; the music shimmers, spins and floats, seemingly without tempo or rhythm. It just exists, marvelously. The council scene at the end of the first act was electrifying; it’s difficult to believe that the opera’s magnificent dramatic climax was not part of the original 1857 version. The pit was flawless.

Then there was Thomas Hampson in the title role. I never thought I’d say this about a performer who sometimes is criticized for being too arch, too refined: it was too blustery and blunt. Sure, Boccanegra has his blustery and blunt moments, and Hampson’s voice was muscular, warm, resonant and authoritative throughout. Still, I felt that Hampson’s sensitivity and lyrical capability could have brought a greater range, a more varied vocal palate, than he did. Admittedly, this is me being super-nitpicky. It is a superior performance.

I wanted to make special mention of Michael Scott’s costumes; the fabrics were gorgeous, and I can’t imagine anyone who’d look better in those gowns than Angela Gheorghiu. All in all, a grand night at the Metropolitan Opera.


As it was probably my last night at the Met for a while, I wanted to especially savor the magical moment when the chandeliers rise and dim. Of course, I got distracted by late arrivals in our row and completely missed their ascent.


In other news, I understand that the Met is planning a new production of Bellini’s Norma to be directed by Robert Wilson. Great. An opera that needs blood-and-guts passion in order to work is going to be directed by someone who won’t let his actors move or use facial expressions.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Andy & The Met

The first time I laid eyes on the Metropolitan Opera was in August of 1993, when I came to New York to audition for the undergraduate program at the Manhattan School of Music. I was given a private backstage tour by the retired Met stalwart baritone Theodor Uppman, who sang there for decades in a variety of roles, most notably as Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, Pelleas in Pelleas et Mélisande, Marcello in La Bohème, and Papageno in Die Zauberflöte.

Mr. Uppman – who created the title role in the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd – was an old friend of the family; he lived next door to my mother when she was a little girl in North Hollywood, California, and my great-grandmother used to baby-sit his kids. I met him for the first time on that trip, and he was gracious enough to show me the cavernous auditorium, the vast stage and some of the rehearsal spaces during a quiet weekday in the off-season. He was a wonderful mentor to me during my years in conservatory; sadly, he passed away last year.

I “discovered” opera my senior year in high school; that year, and during my freshman year at Occidental College, I reserved every Saturday morning for the live Met radio broadcasts; I always followed along in a score from the library. The Met was this magical place on a magical island full of amazing, exciting people, which every night of the week boasted a top-class performance filled with in-demand singers from around the world. It seemed too wonderful to be real.

I arrived in New York on January 4, 1994. The very next night I was in the Family Circle at the Met, attending a performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia with Ruth Ann Swenson, Frank Lopardo, Mark Oswald, Enzo Dara and Jan-Hendrik Rootering. (It was supposed to be Thomas Hampson as Figaro, but he was ill; and no, I did not have to do any research to look up the cast, I remember every minute of it, even these 13 years later. I remember that Lopardo interpolated a gleaming high-C at the end of “Ecco ridente,” and noted that he hadn’t during the radio broadcast a week earlier.) I went back on the 8th, too, to see Les Troyens, but don’t remember nearly as much because it was fucking boring as hell. But I digress.

Since then, I have attended over 200 performances there. I used to keep a list, but I let it slide a while back and lost track. So many nights stand out in memory: three complete Ring Cycles, Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s debut, my idol Mirella Freni in Adriana Lecouvreur and Fedora (in which I later appeared with her in Zürich), Pavarotti in Tosca (twice), Andrea Chenier and Un Ballo in Maschera; Domingo in…oh, let’s see, Otello, Queen of Spades, Parsifal, Walküre, Carmen, Simon Boccanegra, La Forza del Destino, Idomeneo, and others. Kiri te Kanawa in Arabella and Nozze di Figaro; Hermann Prey in Fledermaus; Gwyneth Jones and Leonie Rysanek in Elektra…well, I could go on and on. While I was in school, I used to show up in standing room in the back of the Family Circle at least once a week.

Tonight I am heading back, for what promises to be the last time before I move out of New York. I am going with a close friend, someone I met during that first year at MSM all those long years ago. The opera is Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, with Angela Gheorghiu (whom I’ve seen in Bohème, Turandot, Traviata, Carmen, L’Elisir d’Amore, and Faust), Marcello Giordani (who starred in the second live opera I ever saw, La Fille du Régiment in Portland, and whose Met debut I attended, though I forget whether it was Traviata or Bohème), Ferruccio Furlanetto (whom I’ve never heard live), and Thomas Hampson, who’d better show up.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Christian" Political Priorities

The New York Times reports on its front page today about a recent meeting of the innocuously and vaguely titled Council for National Policy. There is nothing innocuous or vague about the group’s agenda, however. Formed in 1981 by Timothy LaHaye (co-author of the Left Behind novels), the group met this month at a Ritz-Carlton resort in Florida to seek a Christian conservative front-runner for the 2008 presidential race. Members include James Dobson, Grover Norquist and Jerry Falwell.

They're worried; Paul Weyrich told the Times there is “great anxiety” because “there is no outstanding conservative.” They’re not fooled by McCain. They have “declared their hostility” to Giuliani “because of his liberal views on abortion and gay rights and his three marriages.” I guess they don’t know about the cross-dressing yet.

They don’t like Romney; “members have used the council as a conduit to distribute a dossier prepared by a Massachusetts conservative group about liberal elements of his record on abortion, stem cell research and gay rights.” (Unmentioned by the Times or any of the interviewees, but surely a factor in this demographic, would be opposition to the idea of a Catholic or Mormon president.)

So who’s left? Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas? No, he “faced resistance from the limited-government, antitax wing of their movement.” Defender of Marriage, Denier of Global Warming and Evolution Foe Sam Brownback of Kansas? No, “foes of illegal immigration objected to his support for a temporary guest worker program, and some faulted him for touching only briefly on the threat of Islamic terrorists.”

The agenda that these men (and, they are all men) would legislate for this nation in the name of the Bible bears no resemblance to Biblical priorities. Homosexuality? Jesus didn’t mention it. Immigration? Exodus says, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (For emphasis, the verse reappears with a slight variation in the next chapter.) The most famous of all Jesus’ parables is the Good Samaritan. Taxes? See here and here. Yet Grover Norquist has given the candidates “a pledge not to raise income taxes.” (See what the Bible says about oaths.)

We should be seriously concerned about the focus on “Islamic fascism,” especially since there is no such thing. Yes, the terrorist threat from radical Muslims – and others; let us not forget Oklahoma City or the Unabomber or, this stuff – is real and serious. But if you understand the “theology” that drives this particular group, you will understand that they have no interest in solving the problems or even genuinely combating the threat. They want to provoke it. They want to edge us ever closer to World War III with Jerusalem as “ground zero” in order to trigger “the Rapture.”

These are the priorities of the religious conservative “kingmakers” – an apt political term these days if ever there was one. Each day, 30,000 people around the world, mostly children, die from starvation and curable disease. The United Nations has established a series of Millennium Development Goals to combat this and other related issues, which can be achieved if the governments of wealthy nations contribute just 0.7% of their GNP to the project. (The US has neither met this modest goal nor pledged to do so.) But while all of these candidates believe the government should be used to regulate what women do with their bodies or what consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom, none of the candidates received any praise (nor would they) for advocating the government use its power and resources to eradicate poverty. Given that Tim LaHaye believes that the Antichrist will manifest himself as Secretary General of the U.N., it’s not likely this group has any interest in cooperating.

Andrew Sullivan defines a “Christianist” as someone who holds “the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.” If only the agenda advanced by the Council for National Policy reflected Biblical priorities, it might be an apt description. These guys are just frauds.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Scripture vs. Reason & Reality

If you've been interested in the discussions below about reconciling and balancing what the Bible says with logic and reason and deferring to your own conscience and personal experience, especially as it relates to the topic of sexual orientation, then get thee hence to the always fantastic Slacktivist for some relevant insight.

*Disclaimer: I know the above is possibly the worst sentence I have ever written, but it's late and I'm tired and, hell, you know what I meant.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Think Again

There's a woman I hear regularly who preaches at the Fulton Street subway station in lower Manhattan. Her loud, Caribbean-accented voice thunders through the corridors as she warns harried commuters rushing to their jobs about the perils of Hell. "You must repent!" she insists.

What does it mean, to "repent"?

It's related to the Latin pensare, which means "to think." It's the same root from which we derive "pensive." One possible understanding of "repent," then, is "re-think."

Think. Thinking. Thinking again.

We hear a lot from the Christian world's louder voices about "repenting," but we hear very little about thinking. We hear much less about re-thinking.

We hear so little about it that somehow faith has become the antonym of thinking. Don't question, don't challenge, don't argue. Just believe. There are those within the Christian community who fear the human mind's critical and analytical capabilities -- surely the single gift above all others which sets mankind apart -- and regard them with suspicion.

Ironically, this tends to be the same group that places such emphasis on the literal authority of the Bible; don't think, you don't have to think, the Bible spells it all out for you. Yet with all their focus on scripture, they manage more often than not to miss what it says.

A search of the Gospel texts finds Jesus asking, "What do you think?" fourteen times. Jesus doesn't just tell us what we need to know and leave it at that; he wants to know what we think. He wants to engage us. He wants to challenge what it is we think we know; specifically, he wants to challenge what we think we know about God. Look at all the places in the Gospels where the apostles question Jesus. Does Jesus say, "How dare you question me, the Almighty Son of the Living God! Off with you!" No. He says, "What do you think?"

If only more Christians would ask, "What do you think?"

Think. Think again.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What God Has Joined Together

Disappointing news from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where last week the primates of the Anglican Communion met to discuss the issues threatening to tear apart this global body of Christians: the bishops adopted a “communiqué” with a series of “recommendations” for the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of Anglicanism.

To me a “recommendation” is a suggestion meant for serious consideration. However, the communiqué specifies that the Episcopal Church has seven months to comply with the “recommendations” or face a “reduced role” in the Communion. Recommendations don’t come with an “or else.” That’s an ultimatum.

The “recommendation” is that by September 2007, the Episcopal Church will agree to stop “authorizing” the blessing of same-sex unions and will no longer consecrate bishops who are not celibate outside of heterosexual marriage, i.e. gay bishops, even/especially those in committed relationships.

There are all manner of complicated issues in play here, regarding church structure and doctrine, as well as resistance by the more conservative bishops to our newly-elected presiding bishop, the first woman to hold that post. Father Jake opines that the fight isn’t really over issues of diversity; “That is the presenting issue; the canary in the coal mine. The foundational issue is about where the locus of authority will reside in the Anglicanism of the future. This proposal by the Primates is a direct challenge to our polity.”

Though it is an immensely complex issue, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts on the “blessing” of unions, even as a step short of the full sacrament of marriage.

One of the passages we must consider regarding the compatibility of homosexuality with Christian life is Romans 1:24-28; many take this to be the final word on the subject. Paul writes of men and women who “exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.” But Paul himself did not intend for us to take his letters unquestioningly at face value.

Twice (here and here) in 1 Corinthians, Paul exclaims “Judge for yourselves!” Significantly, the latter passage is one of Paul’s more controversial arguments. He says to us, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” Well…no, frankly. There aren’t many Christians today who worry over whether a woman must cover her head to pray; we took Paul at his word, judged this statement, and found it to be silly. (Jesus also asked “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”)

This is the only proper response to those who claim that in order to justify homosexuality using the Bible, we have to “pick and choose” our verses and ignore other passages. But we don’t just “pick and choose,” it’s called discernment, and it’s what Paul himself invited us to do. All Christians do it (especially the ones who claim they don’t).

We question Paul’s statement about “natural intercourse,” since the overwhelming majority of scientific knowledge on the subject points to biological causes for sexual orientation. Would Paul have made the same claim knowing what we know today? We question Paul’s statement in light of the radical welcome preached by Jesus. Paul and Jesus encouraged us to look around and judge for ourselves: what we see are committed same-sex couples of faith wanting to bring their relationship inside the church and be a part of it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

With This Kid, I Thee Wed

Just what is the definition of marriage?

Conservatives have made a lot of hay over the so-called attempt to “re-define” marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman has always been the law of our country, they argue. (Then of course they discovered that wasn’t technically true, which is why 37 states had to pass same-sex marriage bans and why they want to amend the Constitution.) But when pressed to actually define marriage, conservatives ran into trouble.

In Washington State last year, the top court ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was constitutional because “the legislature was entitled to believe that providing that only opposite-sex couples may marry will encourage procreation and child-rearing in a “traditional” nuclear family where children tend to thrive.” They rejected lower court arguments that procreation was not the central, defining element of civil marriage, saying, “marriage is traditionally linked to procreation and survival of the human race.”

Now an enterprising group of Washingtonians, calling themselves the Defense of Marriage Alliance, are attempting to tar conservatives with their own stick by putting an initiative on the ballot to legislate the court’s rulings.

The initiative, which has been accepted by the Washington Secretary of State, would make “procreation a requirement for valid marriage” in the state. It would also “add the phrase, “who are capable of having children with one another” to the legal definition of marriage; require that couples married in Washington file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage automatically annulled; require that couples married out of state file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage classed as “unrecognized;” establish a process for filing proof of procreation; and make it a criminal act for people in an unrecognized marriage to receive marriage benefits.”

All of these requirements have been advanced either as reasons why same-sex couples are not entitled to marriage or as ways to disadvantage them. They can be found, verbatim, in laws and court rulings from one end of the country to the other. So far, however, they have only been used against same-sex couples, and no one has ever before attempted to hold heterosexuals to their own impossible standards. The hope is that, should the initiatives pass, the Washington court will have to review its own assumptions about what constitutes a civil marriage and strike down the law as unconstitutional. At the very least, the effort will provoke further discussion about what marriage means and create additional awareness of the hardships and indignities faced by committed same-sex couples.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Photo Blogging: Winter in New York

New York can be very beautiful when it's snowing.

Unfortunately it doesn't take very long before it looks like this: the streets and sidewalks have been shoveled and plowed, forming icy mountains of frozen black slush covered with garbage and dog poop.

On a less negative note, I thought this was an interesting shot of 181st Street and the George Washington Bridge.

And of course, the obligatory cat photo.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It Takes One to Know One

So this afternoon I was on the A train heading downtown, when an obviously mentally off-kilter man sat down across from me. You know when you just see someone who is clearly insane? Yeah, that was this guy. (Why are they always wearing '70s era tinted aviator bifocals?)

Anyway, I paid him very little heed because a crazy guy with tacky eyewear is not particularly unusual in New York, even if he is talking to himself out loud.

I had my iPod on shuffle so I couldn't hear what he was talking to himself about. I was listening to ABBA's "Fernando" and, well, I like this song, so maybe, yeah, I was kind of bobbing my head and grooving in my seat to this great tune.

I looked up and the crazy guy rolled his eyes at me as if to say, "What a looney."

A First Time for Everything

Probably the last thing anyone -- myself included -- ever expected me to post on my blog was a link to a video of a woman doing a striptease routine. VERY, VERY NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

However, you have got to see this.

Hat tip: Useless! Worthless! Insipid!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Past the Point of No Return

I broke my lease today.

Believing Bellini

Anyone looking for evidence to support the idea that opera is more about music than drama need look no further than Vincenzo Bellini’s final work; the old adage “what’s too silly to be said can be sung” applies all too aptly to I Puritani.

The plot concerns a 17th century English puritan girl, Elvira, whose kindly gay uncle Giorgio somehow manages to convince her father to allow her to marry her sweetheart Arturo, even though he is a Catholic and a Royalist. (These are some very progressive Puritans.) When Arturo, just before the wedding, discovers that the Puritans are keeping the recently widowed Catholic queen prisoner – though she is free to wander around and sing with everyone else – he flees with her by walking out the front door. Elvira assumes she has been abandoned, and loses her sanity. She finds it again briefly in the third act when Arturo finally returns, but when the Puritans inform her that he has been condemned to death it’s back to crazytown. Fortunately, just moments later – indeed, a mere minute and seventeen seconds on the famous Callas recording – messengers from Cromwell arrive and announce a general pardon to Stuart loyalists, and Elvira regains her composure. I think today we’d call her bi-polar.

The only reason that the opera is still on the boards 170 years later is because the music – when the singing is good – is divine. There are endless opportunities for vocal virtuosity, including several “notes only dogs can hear,” as Beverly Sills put it. The tenor gets a high C-sharp in his opening aria, followed in the third act by a high D. Bellini also wrote an F above high-C for the tenor, but that’s generally ducked. (This recorded snippet of a San Francisco performance in the 1970s shows – hilariously – why.) In last night’s PBS telecast of a recent Metropolitan Opera performance the voices were largely outstanding.

The weak link was Franco Vassallo as Arturo’s jealous Puritan rival Riccardo. As the only native Italian speaker in the cast, he managed to be the only performer to convey a total lack of emotional connection to his text. He plowed through the beautiful aria “Ah, per sempre” with nary a nuance or dynamic other than forte, unless you count poor intonation as nuance. I’m not typically* in favor of cuts in the score, but if you’re not going to do anything at all with the second verse of a cabaletta, I shouldn’t have to hear it.

Canadian bass John Relyea is wonderful; it takes his kind of smooth, legato singing to navigate the interval leaps of the beautiful second act aria “Cinta di fiori.” It holds up the action like a jackknifed truck on the expressway, but becomes a pleasure when it’s that well-sung.

Poor Eric Cutler. In person, he’s really, really good-looking, a very nice match for Anna Netrebko. Unfortunately his hairstyle (not sure if that was a wig) and goatee were highly unflattering, it was like a comedic caricature of “Italian tenor.” He was disturbingly nasal for his opening aria “A te, o cara,” but his voice rounded out and warmed up for the difficult third act. (The death-defying duet “Vieni fra queste braccia,” with its high D’s, was transposed down a half-step.) Just fix the hair; he looks like Luigi from the pizza parlor.

The telecast’s co-host Beverly Sills, herself a famous Elvira and renowned actress, said there wasn’t much one could do with parts of this opera other than stand center stage with your arms down and sing beautifully. Until I saw Anna Netrebko, I would have agreed with her.

I really didn’t think it was possibly to effectively “act” Elvira, but Netrebko managed. And it wasn’t hokey, stagey “operatic” acting that looks so horrible on televison, it was just a constant awareness of her character’s situation and feeling behind every note. She even managed to make the famously undramatic – but pretty -- “mad scene” compelling. In the third act when Arturo says he has been away for three months and she replies, “No…three centuries, three centuries of anguish,” she was heartbreaking. She made Bellini believable, no small feat.

Her voice is unusually warm and dark for sopranos in this repertoire; she may not have the coloratura agility or the brilliant, easy top of some of her illustrious predecessors in the role, but it is phenomenal singing nonetheless. The thrill of her high E flat is not its security, but the risk she takes with it. That said, she could probably leave out a few of the earlier unwritten interpolations; the high D in the duet with Relyea was about two flutters of vibrato shy of a yelp.

The performance was very good; the telecast was excellent. I particularly liked the shots from the wings with the singers’ backs to the camera looking out across the orchestra at the audience and conductor. It’s pointless to try to make televised opera look “realistic”; this gave the viewer an exciting “insider” look. The intermission features – with Renee Fleming doing her best Katie Couric impersonation – were educational and entertaining. It was exceptionally gracious of Netrebko to agree to be interviewed in her dressing room between acts; she was charming and funny. I think it’s extremely helpful for people to discover that “opera singers” can be low-key, witty…and thin! I never expected to watch the entire broadcast, but I stayed entranced until the final high D.

*Puritani, as with most Bellini operas, benefits from judicious cutting.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Two Masters of Marcus Ross

On Monday The New York Times ran a fascinating article on Dr. Marcus Ross, a “young earth creationist” who believes the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, but nevertheless recently received a PhD in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island after submitting a dissertation – described by his adviser as “impeccable” and “strictly scientific” – on mosasaurs, which disappeared around 65 million years ago.

Dr. Ross defends his approach by saying “the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another.” That’s true, but they are not interchangeable, equal dimensions of study. One doesn’t attempt to define the mystery of baptism through chemistry, and you shouldn’t attempt to fit geology within the confines of Genesis.

The Times article poses a number of interesting, difficult questions, among them: “Can a student produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held beliefs?”

Dr. Ross’ approach is highly suspect, largely because it is not intellectually honest to insist on a literal understanding of the Bible. There is no possible coherent understanding of an anthology of ancient writings by different authors in different places at different points in history that does not admit to the impossibility of reconciling the countless inconsistencies between – and often within – the texts. Even Genesis contradicts its own account of creation by the second chapter.

The scientific community is rightly concerned that Ross and others like him will use their academic credentials to lend an impression of authority and credibility to anti-scientific views. Ross now teaches earth science at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Of course, it would be wrong – and unconstitutional – to establish ideological litmus tests for college graduates.

The only solution is for mainstream Christians to speak louder and more often about our faith’s relationship to its sacred writings. The spiritual truths are independent of the understandably limited scientific experience of the Biblical authors. A “literal understanding” of the Bible is a misguided and spiritually impoverished one; Christianity believes that the Scriptures were inspired, not dictated. We must continue to expose Christian Fundamentalists for having abandoned the fundamentals of Christianity. Christianity and science are not in opposition. Insistence on literalism undermines both scientific and religious integrity.

Dr. Ross claims he can objectively navigate between the two opposing paradigms, but Jesus taught that we cannot serve two masters. That’s one verse Dr. Ross should consider taking literally.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Best Valentine's Day Ever

Dear Friend in Wisconsin,

I know you said earlier that I did not have to acknowledge receipt of your gifts or thank you, but I feel awkward not being able to do so. Thank you for your kindness and incredible generosity.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Don't Feed the Bass After Midnight

The New York Times has an absolutely glowing review of the revival of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera, starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Renee Fleming and Ramon Vargas, conducted by Valery Gergiev. I love this staging, and happen to have been at the premiere in 1997. The production team was soundly booed on opening night, apparently for not providing a Zeffirelli-esque series of opulent dioramas. I thought the stark simplicity was incredibly beautiful, and the moment during the famous Letter Scene when Tatiana stepped outside of her "room" and ran around in circles in the autumn leaves covering the stage was unforgettable.

Alas, something has gone subtly but hilariously awry in Anthony Tommasini's review. He wrote, "[T]he powerful Russian bass Sergei Aleksashkin was very moving as the decent older Prince Gremlin."

The character's name is Gremin.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


My project for this weekend was to clean out the file cabinet and pack up the stuff I have to keep but definitely won't need before I move.

Unfortunately it seems that in addition to bank statements, invoices, insurance statements and the like, I've also been keeping cockroaches in there. Ew! So I went off to the store this morning to pick up a can of Raid so I could gas the files before I pack them up and then spray out the file cabinet, since that's one of the things I'm planning on selling (at a bargain price!) before I leave.

I picked up the smallest can they had. I didn't really look at it other than to check that it said "Raid" and "Ant & Roach."

Apparently someone at SC Johnson had the bright idea of creating scented Raid. What a horrible stench!

I came home with "Country Fresh Scent." What I want to know is, which country? New Jersey?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Switch Hitting

Casual social euphemisms for sexual orientation often involve sports metaphors. More than once I can recall a straight woman asking me about a cute guy we've just spotted, "Is he on my team or yours?"

So here's an interesting poll from CNN this morning: "If a player with your favorite team came out as gay, how would you react?"

The options to respond are:

a) Support the player; or,

b) Change teams.

Presently, with more than 48,000 votes, 22% would change teams.

The Colbert Report Report

Have you ever wondered where we got the phrase "bitter cold"?

I'll tell you: stand outside a television studio at the far end of West 54th Street in 23-degree weather for an hour, and bitter may be the only feeling you have left.

At least they have you line up in an alley alongside the building under a plastic canopy which blocked the frigid wind coming off the Hudson River. (The wind chill brought the apparent temperature to 5.) Still, by the time they finally opened the doors, I had lost all sensation in my toes other than pain and did not have the manual dexterity necessary to turn off my cell phone. I had an undershirt, a button-down shirt, a heavy sweater and a long wool coat, big wool scarf, heavy socks, corduroy pants and two pairs of underwear. (Tighty-whities for moral support, and flannel boxers for that warm fuzzy feeling.)

The show itself was great fun. I was really impressed that during the entire taping there were only two takes they had to re-do. I thought tonight's word -- "silence" -- was one of his very best. We were also delighted that Stephen happened to mention Battlestar Galactica. As a whole it was highly entertaining and I totally recommend attending a taping. Just wait for better weather. Oh, and word to the wise: show up on time. Seriously.

I admit I had reservations about the guest, but I remembered a cardinal rule: don't judge a book by its author's hairstyle. Actually what Mr. Pinker had to say seemed rather interesting. I was curious to know more, but of course in this particular venue, the spotlight is always on Colbert and so the guests never really get a chance to say much of interest.

The show airs again tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. I don't believe there are any audience shots, so no point in straining your eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of me.


Brief rant: in the waiting area inside there's a television, which I guess was tuned to Comedy Central. I didn't really notice the program that was on. I just noticed an anti-smoking campaign ad that featured severed human limbs poking out of garbage cans around Manhattan. Apparently, according to this advertisement, more people die of lung cancer every month than there are public garbage cans in all of New York City.

Ummm, more one legged Vietnam veteran Jewish lesbians of color are killed by lightning during trapeze performances in Ecuador each month than there are trash cans in New York City. Hello.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Which Brings Us to Tonight's Word

Audience member.

As part of my "things I have to do before I leave New York" plan, I am going to be in The Colbert Report's studio audience tonight. (Yes, The Daily Show is on the list, too.)

I'm excited, but somewhat dismayed that we are advised to get in line by 4:30 before they "open the doors" at 6:00 for the 7:00 taping. (The show airs at 11:30 and again tomorrow at 8:30). Presently it's 13 degrees, and the forecast calls for snow with a high of 26. Actually, 26 might seem downright mild compared to the last three days. Still, it's not exactly ideal weather for standing around outside for 90 minutes.

According to the website, tonight's guest is Steven Pinker, author of The Humanities and Human Nature. No offense to Mr. Pinker, but I'm going to spend my 90 minutes in line hoping something comes up and he has to cancel and he is replaced at the last minute by Jake Gyllenhaal.

UPDATE: Oh dear. According to Wikipedia, Mr. Pinker is an atheist and an "ally" of Richard Dawkins. Now I'm really wishing it was Jake Gyllenhaal.

UPDATED UPDATE: It was fun! Details tomorrow. I thought the guest was interesting.


I think it's beginning to sink in what "leaving New York" is going to mean. I wouldn't say I'm having second thoughts; I've been wanting this for a long time, and it's clear to me that appreciating all that is wonderful about New York is not the same thing as wanting to live here.

Still, I think that first morning in Portland is going to be something of a shock.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

What's Wrong With New York: Part 183

You'd think $1,000 a month would at least get you a thermostat.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Now She Takes the High Road

''This is a baby,'' Vice President Cheney's daughter Mary said at a forum in New York on Wednesday. ''This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate by people on either side of an issue. It is my child.''

Last week the Veep grew testy in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer when the subject of Mary's pregnancy was raised, insisting this is a private matter.

I'd give them both resounding snap-snap you go, girls, except unfortunately this righteous indignation rings hollow and hypocritical.

Let us not forget that Cheney serves as second in command to a President who has several times publicly called for an amendment to the Constitution to prevent Mary Cheney's family from having any meaningful legal status. Let us not forget that Karl Rove -- whose father was gay -- engineered getting 11 anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballots for the November 2004 election to increase the wingnut turnout.

Dick Cheney has betrayed the best interests and civil rights of his own daughter -- and now grandchild -- in order to serve an administration that turned gay people and committed same-sex relationships into the very brand of rhetorical props that Mary now claims to disdain. I didn't realize that "family values" meant sacrificing your own flesh and blood on the altar of political expedience.

Bush, Cheney and Rove courted the support of people who believe that Mary's relationship and pregnancy are threats to our very civilization. They continue to demonize people just like Mary on a daily basis, and continue to "accuse" liberal Democrats of supporting gay marriage. They rode to power on a message of fear and prejudice, trivializing the relationships and dignity of millions of Americans in the process.

Now you're angry, Mary? Because finally you're feeling victimized and cheapened by the ugly debate over your civil rights?

Wish you'd spoken up a few years ago. You brought this on yourself.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Molly Ivins; "A" is for Ass-Clown; Joe Biden

I was shocked and saddened last night to read about the death of my favorite political writer, Molly Ivins.

The byline on her columns read, "Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings." She combined a healthy liberal outrage with a folksy but nevertheless razor-sharp wit. It was classic muckraking with a uniquely American irreverence.

Her specialty was George W. Bush. Having chronicled Texas politics since the 70s, she had closely monitored his path to power and exposed many Bush administration policies that were under the mainstream media's radar. She made you laugh, but at the end of her essays, you usually wanted to cry or scream or both.


It's no secret that one of my biggest problems with New York is life with the MTA. It's bad enough that my daily commute starts out by walking ten minutes in the wrong direction in order to get on the A train where I can get a seat, instead of using the station that's across the street from my apartment. (Sometimes even then I can't get a seat, if there are delays.) Since it's a solid 50-minute ride to Fulton Street, trust me, a seat is important.

This morning I was sitting at the end of one of the three-seater benches that faces into the aisle. Around 145th Street, I noticed that the guy sitting on the bench to my left facing me was resting his New York Post on my shoulder and using me as a desk to fill out the sudoku puzzle. Yes, he was writing on me. I was too shocked to say anything, plus he looked kinda scary. So I just let it go.

At 34th Street we sat and waited for an unusually long time. Eventually they announced that they were having door problems and asked us to be patient. (If New Yorkers wouldn't thrust anything they can find into the doors -- hands, feet, umbrellas, bags and yes, I've even seen a woman push a stroller with a baby in it into a set of closing doors -- maybe they wouldn't break. To be fair, however, *many* times I've heard "[ding-dong] stand clear of the closing doors" before the passengers have even finished getting off.) After a few more minutes, they apologized again for the delay and encouraged us to transfer to other subway lines.

No sooner had I stepped off the train did the doors close and the train continued on its way.


As I was already late, I thought I'd transfer to the 2/3 express line, since it has the closest stop to my office anyway. Wow, what an experience in social darwinism that is! Forget politely lining up on either side of the train doors to let passengers off. The minute the doors open, everyone just collides. I couldn't even get on the first #2 that came because so many people just jumped the queue and pushed their way in.

It's moments like this when I remember my investigative reports on living conditions in Portland back in November. I introduced myself to a random lady on the MAX train, told her I was considering relocating and inquired if it would be okay to ask her a couple questions about her commute. "How often," I wanted to know, "are you late to work because of train delays or because the train simply isn't running?"

She blinked and said, "What do you mean?"


Oh, my God, Joe Biden. You clown! Buh-bye-den.


Now available on my personal copy of Molly Ivins' classic Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America. UPDATE: Sold! ( Thanks, G!)