Sunday, September 30, 2007

Opera Review: Carmen

Portland Opera's season-opening production of Bizet's Carmen closed last night to a well-deserved standing ovation. Despite an unfortunately off-kilter conceptualization of the title role, the strong cast gave a committed, passionate performance.

Jossie Perez is a lucky lady. Her natural beauty and shapely figure would have been enough to dominate the stage even without her beautiful, fearless, musical and expressive singing. Her rich, vibrant, flexible voice pealed effortlessly over the orchestra, despite an announcement that she was suffering from a sinus infection which had caused her to sit out the previous night. I'm going to guess, then, that some of the less distinct vowels in her French and a few high notes that edged toward shrill were the results of her illness. I spent much of the evening thinking about other roles I'd like to her her do; Favorita's Leonora came to mind as well as -- someday -- Amneris.

The character of Carmen is often described as "wild," but Perez was unhinged. Carmen is shrewd, she is manipulative, she is both wise and fickle, and she wields her immense sexual power deftly. For the first act, Perez was not in the zone, though she was tamer in later parts of the opera, probably because her predatory, psychosexual tramp was reigned in by what's actually written in the score. This was a Carmen whose closest stage relative is the Beggar Woman from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

In the first act, there is supposed to be a wonderful dramatic symmetry between Carmen (and the text of her famous opening aria, the Habanera) and Don Jose; if you love me, I don't love you, but if I love you, watch out! That's the summary of the whole situation; Carmen has no interest in the drooling horndogs who show up like clockwork every day to ogle her on her breaks from the cigarette factory; she sings and dances for them, yes, but the message is clear: keep dreamin'. But suddenly there is Don Jose, who doesn't pay attention at all. Carmen is intrigued. She likes a challenge.

Unfortunately the Portland production was more of a Gypsies Gone Wild version; Carmen poured water over her breasts and then proceeded to give the men of the square a free lapdance. When her attention turned to Jose, it was closer to outrage that he was disinterested in her garish burlesque.

Richard Troxell used his lighter, lyric tenor wisely in the difficult role of Don Jose, singing beautifully but with restraint for most of the evening in order to deliver in the heftier final scenes. The final confrontation between the two lovers was electric. As the bullfighter Escamillo, Mark S. Doss brought the requisite swagger and bravado to the stage along with a deep, rich voice and secure, bronze-toned high notes; nonetheless, his Escamillo was long on off-putting arrogance and short on innate charm.

As Micaela, Portland favorite Maureen O'Flynn won warm applause; her characterization of the sweet, trusting country girl who displays surprising courage was good, but there were many places where her intonation tilted flat.

The smaller roles were mostly strongly sung; Carmen's four companions (Dancaire, Remendado, Frasquita and Mercedes) were all undertaken by Portland Opera Studio members and they were promising, indeed. Sharin Apostolou as Frasquita, in particular, delighted with bubbly stage presence and an easy, sparkling top. The chorus sounded great.

I confess Carmen is not my favorite opera; it's nice, I see why it's so beloved, but it doesn't really captivate me until the last act, which for me is one of a handful of perfectly self-contained acts in opera. Despite my misgivings about certain other moments in this production, the staging of Carmen's murder was first-class. All in all, an auspicious opening to a promising new season.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Shucks. Crud. Shoot. Frack. Goll-darnit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's "Ell-Oh-Ell," not "Lawl"

Our President is hooked on phonics.

Through an oversight, a draft copy of the President's address to the United Nations was posted on the U.N. website, including phonetic renderings of polysyllabic words to aid Bush's pronunciation.

As if there were any doubt, this serves as conclusive proof that our President is utterly ignorant of global affairs. How is it that someone who has served as the leader of the United States of America for more than six years needs a reminder on how to pronounce 'Mugabe'? (It was rendered, "moo-GAH-bee," no joke.) Okay, it's not "Smith," but don't you think the American President would have heard enough about the Zimbabwean despot to recall his name? How did they think he'd say it? Muggabee? MOO-gayb? Sheesh.

They also had to help him with the name of the new French President. You know, the guy Bush recently hosted at his father's ken-ee-BUNK-port compound? They spelled it out, "sar-KO-zee," which technically isn't even right. That's the Crawford version. The French would pronounce it "sa(r)-ko-ZEE."

I confess, I have a thing about pronunciation. I've even been ridiculed for my insistence on saying "ka-ra-o-ke," instead of "Carrie-Okie." (Hey, I'm sorry, I had three years of Japanese in high school and was an exchange student. I had to abandon "Toh-kyoh" in favor of the more familiar Toe-Key-Oh because no one knew what the hell I was talking about.) And, if I were addressing the UN, I would probably have to practice saying Kyrgyzstan a few times, sure. But I would practice because I would care, because it demonstrates interest in and respect for the people and the nation.

I think there's something admirable in having a President who knows how to pronounce difficult and/or foreign words. I think there is something shameful in having a President who is so disinterested in the world that he can't even bother to remember the names of his recent houseguests and needs second-grade-level phonetics to maneuver around the names of his colleagues on the world stage. And shame on us for not even expecting the leader of the United States of America to be able to write his own speech.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dear Assisi,


Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's like a mouse, with better arms

One of the things I like about my new apartment is that the complex has a nice little fitness center. I've been working out now about 5-6 days a week for the last four months, and while I can tell the difference, I didn't really think it was visibly apparent.

Today, however, someone at my current temp job referred to me as a "gym rat." I took that as a compliment (though, I think I'd prefer gym bunny).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

3rd Blogiversary!

Three years ago today, I called in sick to work and decided to start a blog. I think I thought I'd become Daily Kos overnight, so I started blogging up a storm. My first day's posts included a rant on Iraq that was longer than anyone would care to read, a bratwurst recipe and other assorted nonsense. I'm glad I got over that.

Thank you to the 10 of you who continue to check in regularly. I'm sorry this blog isn't what it once was; hopefully, once things get a little more settled in my new life here in Oregon, the Muse will return and I'll be inspired once again to write thoughtful, provocative posts.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Busy Week!

This week I was in-between temp jobs, but determined to make the most of it. I'm actually really glad that it worked out this way, even though it was a week without a paycheck. I worked the entire summer without a day off; if I'd stayed at my previous job, during this period I'd have earned five vacation days!

Monday I spent the morning organizing, planning, and scheduling appointments. Then I spent the afternoon by the pool. It may have been the last nice day of the year. Tuesday was 9/11, so I blogged a little, went to morning prayer, and then finally saw the optometrist for the first time in over two years. Wednesday Comcast came to repair my cable, then I had an interview for the temp job that will be occupying me for the next two weeks, and then I saw the dentist...for the first time since 2004, according to their records. (Eeep! But, no cavities!)

Thursday was a big day. I took the car into a new mechanic to have a sensor replaced, since I thought the last mechanic was rude. They also gave it a thorough going-over and a clean bill of health. So, let's hope. Conveniently, the mechanic is across the street from the local U-HAUL, so after I dropped off the car I went and picked up a van. First my stepfather and I brought down my grandmother's old sofa which has been stashed in the garage since she moved back to California. (Trust me, the pattern looked great in her place; it's...a little busy, perhaps, for its current setting. We're on the hunt for a slipcover, probably in dark sage or teal. Let me know what you think!) Then my mother bravely accompanied me on a trip out to Portland's new IKEA. We picked out a desk and a new media center/bookcase for the living room, as well as a bed and a dresser for the bedroom. The bedroom furniture I wanted was sold out, so I'll have to order that. But we got the rest into the van and I spent the remainder of the week assembling it and getting my apartment cleaned and organized for the coming week.

So, big thanks to my mother and stepfather and, especially, Rocky, who really helped with the furniture construction.

Rocky ponders whether the instruction graphics make any sense.


Are these supposed to be different heights? You screwed up again, didn't you?

Okay, yeah, now this is starting to look like a file cabinet.

Which is the left and which is the right side? I can't tell the difference.

Ta-dah! Media center! Whoo!

Rocky realizes his toy has gone under the sofa. Again.

We had a brief rainshower this afternoon, and then the ravens were out on the lawn hunting worms. Here's Rocky stalking the birdies. Why he didn't just actually get on the sill, I don't know. He preferred to hang there for a while. Whatever.

And, after a week full of excitement, here are my babies relaxing on the new sofa.

I thought this was a great picture of Rocky. it just me, or is Starbuck giving me the finger? (She is a native of Queens, after all.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Any Mac users out there?

I bought a wireless router. My Mac says I am connected to "Linksys" and the signal is at full strength, but no webpages will load. Help?

UPDATE: And, we're good to go!

The moral of this story, apparently, is, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again, call friends in panic, try again, have some Diet Coke, consult various geek websites, try again, call tech support at: BestBuy, Linksys, try again, call Linksys back, read your favorite Psalm, listen to the automated set-up line instructions twice, and try again."

A special thanks to KR who called to give me a pep-talk. : )

Oh, and also...I found the antique Lohengrin score! I'd packed it separately in another box. So, that's good. I think the rest are gone. : (

Friday, September 14, 2007

Senza di te languisce il cor

I have begun unpacking the boxes of books, thanks to the addition of a shelf set for the living room. I wasn't 100% strict in my labeling, and it is possible that a complete opera score or two still lurks in one of these other boxes that just says "books," but everything I had labeled "scores" has been opened, so I have an idea now what the post office lost, and it's not pretty.

Currently Missing in Action:

La Cenerentola (Ricordi)
Don Giovanni
(Bärenreiter ed.)
Ernani (Ricordi)
Faust (Schirmer hardbound)
Lohengrin (antique...this was like 2nd ed. Schirmer, beautiful)
Lucia di Lammermoor (Schirmer)
Le Nozze di Figaro (Bärenreiter)
Tosca (Ricordi)
La Traviata (Schirmer)
Die Walküre (Schirmer hardbound)

The Figaro really kills was just a very special score to me. Never mind that it cost about $85 in the first place. It had all my notes in it from having coached it extensively with people at school, at the Metropolitan Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Zürich Opera and master classes and lessons from folks who sorta kinda knew the opera, like Samuel Ramey, Christa Ludwig and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The contents of this box were worth hundreds of dollars, but "priceless" is truly the better description. Those were some staples of my repertoire there. What's a baritone to do without his Don Giovanni? And truly, I was the awesomest Dandini.

So, a wag of the finger at the post office. Sigh.

Also yesterday, someone (I'm not naming names...Starbuck) hopped up on the fireplace mantel and knocked down my giant Canaletto print that I brought back from Venice. Aside from a couple of scratches, the print is okay, but the glass shattered into 856,234 pieces. I know this because I spent an hour picking them up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


What I remember most is the silence.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, began like every other day.

I was running a little bit late for work at my temp job on the Upper East Side, but it was a casual environment so despite the time I went ahead and walked across Central Park instead of catching the M79 bus to 5th Avenue because the weather was spectacular. It was warm but not especially humid, and the sky was a royal blue. There wasn't a cloud to be seen.

It was about quarter to nine.

I had my Discman with me (no iPods yet) and was listening to the second act of Parsifal (the Karajan, with Vejzovic and Hofmann) as I took my usual loop around the top of the Great Lawn, with its famous panoramic view of the wall of midtown skyscrapers rising from the tree-lined perimeter of the park. I was just approaching the lawn when a distraught-looking man tried to get my attention as he pointed southward to the sky. I figured he was just another looney, so I ignored him.

But a few steps later, I glanced out toward the city and noticed a small, black cloud over the tops of the towers, which like an inkblot began to spread ominously over the skyline.

At that time of day, the park is filled with unleashed dogs and their owners. At the top of the oval path, a few of us gathered to speculate: obviously a building was on fire somewhere. "Hope everyone's all right," someone said.

Then a park worker drove up in his big green pickup. "Do you know what's going on?" we asked him. "They say a plane flew into the World Trade Center," he replied.

We looked at the crystalline sky. What? How, on a day like today, could someone possibly fly into a building? I don't think any of us were thinking airliner. And we were certainly thinking accident. The guy turned up the volume on the truck's radio.

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen...we're...we're getting an unconfirmed report that a second plane has struck the second tower," the incredulous voice on the radio said.

Among the small group that had gathered to watch, there were various responses of "Nah, no way," "Someone's confused," "Couldn't be," "Just a rumor," and things to that effect.

Then the voice spoke again: "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can confirm it now, a second airliner has struck the second tower. Both World Trade Center towers are on fire."


You know that phrase, "weak in the knees"? In that awful moment, it became clear, without anyone having to say it, that the city was under attack. People were dead. A lot of people were dead. As I turned again to see the expanding plume of smoke speeding toward Brooklyn, my stomach clutched and my head reeled as I steadied myself on the fence surrounding the lawn.

Our small group dispersed quickly and silently.

As I headed toward my job on 75th Street, I passed a playground on the south side of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; toddlers were running and swinging and chasing each other and squealing with joy, while Caribbean nannies and stay-at-home moms sat peacefully on benches in the shade. I envied them their collective innocence, short-lived as it was about to be.

By the time I reached the job, the Pentagon had been struck, as well, and the media were warning of hundreds of airliners still in the sky. As the company was housed in a national historic landmark, we soon received a phonecall from the police ordering us to evacuate.

The subways were closed and the buses were mobbed, so there was nothing for it but to begin the seven-and-a-half mile walk home, and I headed across Central Park once again. The noxious plume from the catastrophe, like the darkness that wends its way out of Mordor before the final siege of Minas Tirith, hung like a banner of death over the city: the funeral pyre of nearly 3,000 innocents.

No one was walking their dog in the park now. No children were playing.

At the corner of 86th and Central Park West, an elderly man was standing in front of the building, tears running down his face. "It fell down," he said to me, his voice quaking and cracking with anguish.

"What?" I asked, unsure of what I'd heard.

"The fell down." My mind could not wrap itself around the imagined vision of a 110-story skyscraper, a global icon, falling down. I simply could not picture it; could not accept it as belonging to the realm of the possible.

When I reached Broadway, the owners of a bodega had set a television set on folding chair on the sidewalk so passersby could see the news. I had missed the collapse of the second tower by seconds; all that was visible was that awful, boiling grey cloud of debris where there ought to have been gleaming silver buildings.

The city had been sealed off; the bridges and tunnels were closed, and there was nothing for anyone to do but go home (if you could). There was hardly any traffic at all on Broadway, save the occasional loaded cab or jam-packed bus. Now and then there would be an ambulance, sirens wailing.

What was remarkable was the silence. No one spoke. There was no music playing anywhere. Only sirens.

Two and a half hours later I reached my apartment. I called my parents to let them know I was okay, and then spent the rest of the afternoon in stunned, silent grief, nauseous and scared, as I wondered what was next, and tried to come to terms with the discovery that there were people in the world who wanted to kill me.

I would spend nearly six years wondering what was next. From that moment on, I never once set foot on a bus or a subway or a plane or stepped inside a theater or any other public place and didn't worry about a bomb or other atrocity. Though I had been, thankfully, far from the World Trade Center at the time and never in any danger, I began to have nightmares and panic attacks. On the subway, my chest would constrict, my heart would begin to ache and I'd have to get off at the next stop and walk around above ground until the nausea went away. I was often late for work.

Some days I called in sick, because I just couldn't get on the train.

Once I fled a performance at the Metropolitan Opera, mid-aria. The sweat began pouring down my brow and the familiar, tight-chested "I think I want to puke" sensation overtook me, and I headed for the exit.

I think it's no coincidence that I lost my voice in 2002.

I don't speak often of these things. It hurts to remember; it hurts to remember a day when strangers came among us, into the heart of my beautiful, beloved city, to hurt us. To kill people, to incinerate them in a blinding red-orange flash, or to strand them with the options of leaping to their deaths or waiting for 100 ceilings to come crashing down on top of them. It hurts to remember how this tragedy was appropriated to justify a war of utter insanity. It hurts to remember the previously unknown anxiety that began to haunt me daily, manifested in a physical disorder which, slowly, night by night as I suffered through recurring nightmares of being blown apart on the subway, dismantled my dreams and a decade of hard work, literally eating away my career aspirations in baths of stomach acid.

Now, 3000 miles and six years later, I realize that in many ways, I'm still fleeing the attack.

Monday, September 10, 2007

You've Seen Two, You've Seen 'Em All

Since I'm presently between temp-jobs, I am doing my utmost to take advantage of this free time and be super productive. Among the many competing priorities, however, is my determination to get some quality pool-time in before the weather turns.

So this afternoon, after spending the morning updating my resume and setting up appointments for the rest of the week, I took a book and my iPod to go soak up some sun.

There were some tweenage girls hanging out at the pool, one of them rather generously endowed, as it were, in a somewhat ill-fitting strapless bikini top that could barely contain her. Eventually, physics being what it is, as she was bending over to fish something out of her bag, the snap in the back broke free as she squealed in horror.

Her friends could not contain their laughter, and I myself could not repress a smirk. She looked at me and said, "Oh, my God, I'm so sorry, I'm so embarrassed!"

I said, "Eh, I'm gay," and went back to my book.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

So Much for Sleeping In

As is her wont on colder evenings, Starbuck likes to crawl under the covers and curl up next to me in bed. Last night, I was sleeping on my stomach, and she crawled onto my back and did that little paw-kneading thing. Aww.

Which was all well and good until Rocky spied this lump moving under the quilt and decided to pounce.

Claws. In Back. Ow.

: (

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ciao, Luciano

I thought it would be easy to say something about this amazing man, but when the subject is an artist upon whom every superlative in the world has (rightfully) been heaped for over forty years, it's hard to come up with anything that isn't already a cliche.

The terms "diva" and "divo" are too lightly and too often tossed around these days, but with Pavarotti, the divinity was palpable. Unquestionably, he was one of the most gifted human beings of all times.

His gifts were such that it didn't matter that he couldn't read music well, had difficulty singing in any language other than Italian, and rarely ventured out of the canon of 19th century Italian opera. But he was a master. That voice. It was gold.

I count myself exceedingly blessed to have heard him perform a couple of times. The first would have been a Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1994, shortly after my arrival in New York. I'm afraid he kind of phoned that one in; his Tosca, Ghena Dimitrova, didn't seem to inspire particular passion in her tenor. However, I caught another Tosca a few years later, with Carol Vaness in the title role and Sherrill Milnes as Baron Scarpia, and THAT was electric. They were all glorious that night, but Pavarotti was especially thrilling. That will remain my favorite memory of him.

I also heard him do Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (he struggled that night) and Giordano's Andrea Chenier (he sang well, but was having knee problems and was rather inert). Still, I feel lucky to have witnessed those nights. He also came here to Portland to do a New Year's Eve concert at the Memorial Coliseum in 1998 (I think that's the year). I can't really imagine a less glamorous venue than the Trailblazer's cavernous, boxy old home, but it accommodated the thousands of Portlanders who wanted to go, and it gave me the opportunity to hear him sing two of the arias for which he was most famous: "Che gelida manina" from La Boheme and of course, "Nessun dorma," from Turandot.

Somewhere, in all these piles of unpacked boxes I brought with me from New York, is a budget CD of "Opera Highlights" my mother got me when I was still in high school. It's a pirate recording -- snippets of radio broadcasts or secretly taped performances put onto a CD and sold for $3.99. It includes a recording of Pavarotti singing La Boheme in Italy in 1969, as I recall, back when he was still young (34!) and not yet the great international superstar. The audience literally gasps after the aria's high C. I wish I could find it now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The End is Near!

Friday will be my last day at the temp job. Talk about your basic TGIF.

Now, I've definitely had worse temp assignments. Back in New York, I worked for vindictive psychopaths, a CEO who didn't know how to use email, another CEO who expensed a lap dance to a client, a realtor who dictated memos to his 8 year old son, a broker who advised me to buy a stock that promptly tanked, a loan officer who wanted me to FedEx a document to a company located in the same building, and a guy named Jesus. Not "hay-soos," but "gee-zuss." In my time I've probably asked God for any number of ridiculous things, but I've never felt so awkward as when I queried, "Jesus, may I take my lunch break now?"

I tried to call him "Mr. Garcia," but he said, "You can call me Jesus."

Still, the present gig ranks near the top in terms of boredom. The position has been filled, and I've been "training" the new person for a week and a half now. Umm...I think she's got the hang of it.

Today I received exactly one email, at 8:41 a.m.: I was cc'd on a memo about a phone conference that got moved to later in the afternoon, something that didn't affect me in the slightest.

A few projects came our way today, and to be polite I always said, "Would you like me to do that?" but the new gal would always say, "No, I need the practice, so I prefer to do it now while you're still here and I can ask questions if necessary." An eminently reasonable response, but it still left me with bupkus to do.

I am now openly reading The New York Times there. Go ahead. Make. My. Day.

Some people there have expressed dismay (some of it, I think, genuine) that I am moving on. When pressed for a reason, I have been disciplined enough in the past to respond that I'm looking for an assignment that more closely matches my skills and ambitions. Today somehow what came out of my mouth was, "Well, frankly, I'm tired of sitting around waiting to be handed projects that other people have deemed too boring to bother with."

Monday, September 03, 2007

Larry Craig's No-Alternative Universe

Why do gay men have sex in public restrooms?

It's behavior like that of which Senator Larry Craig of Idaho stands accused (and, significantly, pled guilty) which serves to reinforce the notion among social conservatives that homosexuality is intrinsically deviant and that gay people aim to make a mockery of marriage. What they fail to acknowledge is that they have deliberately created, and seek to maintain, a world where gay people have no alternative.

The longing for intimacy is a powerful one; it is not simply about sex, but sex can be a strong, if temporary, antidote to the anxiety and depression one feels in the absence of a meaningful, emotionally intimate relationship. Sex can also be an antidote to low self-esteem, confirmation that you are worthy enough and attractive enough for another person to want to be sexual with you, to have someone want you, even for just a moment. A validation.

Imagine now -- though, some of us do not have to -- that you have been raised to believe that an emotionally intimate relationship with the people you are physically and romantically attracted to is not just an impossibility, but even a sickness, an unforgivable abomination in the sight of God. Now your depression and frustration that you do not have a relationship is compounded by unsympathetic cultural attitudes that argue you should not have one. You only want what everyone else wants, and what most people appear to have, but for you it is sick, dirty, sinful, shameful. Your life is a desperate veneer of "normality" covering a seething cauldron of self-loathing, disgust, fear and futile desire; you struggle to control and conceal and live in terror of discovery. You worry that you could lose your friends, your family and your career. (As Senator Craig's case points out, these are not idle concerns.)

But the primordial urge to connect intimately with another human being can be overwhelming. Put another way, the person society tells us we should be is often overcome by the person we are. (Society is often wrong; that's why we universally love underdog stories.) Forget homosexuality; celibacy is what is unnatural.

Anonymous sex in public restrooms and other places sounds dangerous; and it is. But for generations of gay men, it was the safest possible option. Think about that.

The self-righteous moral values crowd likes to wrinkle its collective nose in disgust at the thought of men having sex in a bathroom stall, but they also want to leave us no option. They don't want to allow us to live healthy, open, normal lives; they drive gay men to anonymous encounters in parking lots and rest stops for fear of our lives and then blame us for immoral "lifestyles." Of course we tap our feet in bathrooms and wait to see if anyone taps back; necessity is the mother of invention. In many places in the United States and around the world, the simple act of smiling and saying "hello" could result in physical violence, imprisonment or murder.

Forget sex in airport bathrooms; until the Supreme Court ruling in 2003, even sexual intimacy between two consenting adults of the same gender in a private residence was a prosecutable offense. No place was "safe."

The "values" crowd claims we can't form loving, committed, monogamous relationships, but when they see us walking down the street hand in hand they yell at us; they pass laws -- constitutional amendments, no less -- making it illegal for us to commit our lives to one another. They claim we only want promiscuous, hedonistic lives, and then show up to protest our weddings.

They create a world where it's unsafe and illegal to be open and honest and then arrest us for trying to be discrete.