Friday, October 31, 2008

Turnabout is Fair Play

Bill Clinton for Marriage Equality

Via Andrew Sullivan:

"This is Bill Clinton calling to ask you to vote NO on Proposition 8 on Tuesday, November 4th. Proposition 8 would use state law to single out one group of Californians to be treated differently -- discriminating against members of our family, our friends and our co-workers. If I know one thing about California, I know that is not what you're about. That is not what America is about. Please vote NO on 8. It's unfair and it's wrong. Thank you."

Sullivan writes, "If he makes the difference, we can finally forgive him for DOMA."

I second that.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Barack Obama for President

This is a defining moment in American history, and the choice before us is clear. Barack Obama is the man we need to take the helm and steer us in a new direction.

At this point, there are only two justifications for supporting John McCain: short-sighted greed and fear.

Back in June, Obama headed to Florida to reassure Jewish voters. "Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama," he quipped. "Because, he sounds pretty scary." The Republican Party has spent all of its time manufacturing a grotesque caricature of the Democratic nominee that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original. John McCain has campaigned nearly exclusively on wild, fear-mongering claims about what Obama would "do" to the country, while offering almost nothing in terms of policy and vision.

John McCain has served his country admirably and once had broad, bi-partisan appeal. He is a true American hero who suffered unimaginable horrors in Vietnam. He has stood up for sensible policies on taxation, immigration, the treatment of detainees and campaign finance reform.

Unfortunately, that John McCain didn't run for President.

The John McCain that did run has so little idea of what to do for this country and so vague a concept of why anyone should vote for him that he had a create a straw bogeyman, banking his candidacy on fear and prejudice and hoping that he could convince moderates and independents that Barack Obama would be so terrible for America that we should prefer to prolong the Bush years.

The latest bizarre smear is that Obama is a "socialist" who wants to "spread the wealth around." The picture he paints is of a Robin Hood government, robbing hard-working Americans to give handouts to the poor and lazy. But all Obama wants to do is return us to the tax structure we had under the Clinton Administration. Republicans can chant all they like that higher taxes shrink the economy and eliminate jobs, but if you compare eight years of George W. Bush and eight years of William Jefferson Clinton, you'll see that our economy did just fine with the top 5% of Americans paying slightly more. Most Americans remember the economic boom of the 90s rather fondly. I, for one, certainly miss my Intel shares that used to trade at $145. (As I write, that stock is currently at $15.81.)

McCain accuses Obama of being naive on foreign policy, but the record demonstrates that he has been sound and prescient. Most Americans now understand that the war in Iraq was an enormous mistake. Whether Iraq can evolve into a functioning democratic society is not up to us and is not something we can unilaterally achieve through military force. We can't achieve it in Afghanistan, either, but at least there we can pour our resources into chasing down Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who remains free these seven years after 9/11. McCain speaks of diplomacy as if merely sitting down to negotiations with the likes of Castro or Ahmedinejad is some sort of enormous concession. But talking to our enemies doesn't mean we concede anything. It's the adult thing to do. Eight years of neocon-fantasy foreign policy should be enough to convince us that it doesn't work.

Obama's proposal for fixing healthcare in this country isn't perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. Frankly, the solution -- eliminating the scourge of for-profit private health insurance -- is presently politically untenable, so Obama has put forward the best we can do for now. McCain, on the other hand, has famously argued that we should eliminate consumer protections and government oversight so that we can do for healthcare what we did for the banking industry. His plan taxes healthcare benefits for the first time in history, with the express intent of driving employees to find their own coverage on the open market. In exchange, he offers them a tax credit that, in most cases, wouldn't even amount to half of the annual cost of a policy. He would allow insurance companies to exclude patients with pre-existing conditions.

McCain is now attempting to make the argument that, after all these years in public service -- as a community organizer, as a professor, a state legislator and a senator and twenty months on the campaign trial in a 24/7 news cycle -- that we don't know who Barack Obama is. They are openly trying to align him with radical fringe elements of society and despicably claim that he is "pals" with terrorists. This is beneath contempt. He has generally allowed some of his supporters to believe that Obama is a "secret" Muslim, and has not even had the principle or the courage to stand up to this appalling bigotry to remind people that there is no religious litmus test for public office in this country, that we have many citizens of all faiths in the United States, including many native-born Muslims, and that Muslim-Americans are presently fighting and dying for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack Obama is not a Muslim but the only honorable response to the "accusation" is, "So what if he were?"

In his choice of a vice president, John McCain has selected a religious zealot who wears her ignorance as a badge of honor and calls it patriotic. Her job on the campaign trail has been to wink and fan the smoldering flames of ancient hatreds from our nation's ugly past.

On Tuesday, please vote Barack Obama for America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Religious Case Against Proposition 8

Next Tuesday, when California voters head to the polls to pick the next president, they will also be deciding on Proposition 8, which seeks to amend the state constitution and thereby nullify the state supreme court's ruling from earlier this year, which found that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Supporters of the proposition claim to be protecting "traditional" marriage from a threat that is clearly non-existent. Their entire campaign is based on lies, distortions and the absolutely preposterous notion that heterosexuals will opt for non-procreative same-sex relationships leading to the extinction of the human race, simply because the law says they can, as if homosexuality is contagious and can be legislated out of existence, rather than a biological phenomenon affecting a tiny percentage of the population.

One of the myths being pushed by supporters of the proposition is that a "no" vote would have a profoundly adverse effect on First Amendment guarantees of free speech and religious expression; in fact, the opposite is true.

Anti-gay forces are claiming that legalized gay marriage somehow gives the state the power to force clergy to perform same-sex marriages and would ban religious speech against homosexuality. These accusations are utterly without merit.

There is a difference in this country between civil marriage and religious marriage, whatever the protestations of the extreme right wing, that is very clearly illustrated: no state in the union requires the religious solemnization of a marriage nor recognizes a religious marriage without a civil license. Same-sex marriage does not change this.

The argument that churches would be "forced" to perform a marriage that was against their religious beliefs is utterly unfounded. For example, there is no limit to how many times a person can be legally married and divorced in the United States, but the Catholic church does not recognize the re-marriage of divorced persons. You can trot down to city hall and get your third, fourth, eighth license, whatever. But the government is absolutely powerless to require a Catholic priest to officiate at a marriage ceremony for you.

Most churches require couples counseling with a minister before a marriage ceremony; it's rare, but clergy have the pastoral right to decide a couple should not be married for whatever reason and decline to officiate. That can't stop them from obtaining a civil license.

Similarly, Catholics, Mormons and Orthodox and Conservative Jews oppose interfaith marriages. A Mormon can legally marry a Jew, but no church or synagogue can be compelled to host the ceremony or recognize the relationship. The plain truth is that federal and local governments already recognize the marriages of couples whose unions are opposed by various longstanding religious traditions.

Ask the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston how many same-sex marriages they have been forced to perform since 2003.

Far from protecting first amendment guarantees about the freedom of religion, Proposition 8 actually imperils them. One of the many bogus assumptions supporters of the proposition make is that to be "religious" means to be anti-gay. Some religious groups openly oppose Proposition 8.

Furthermore, religious groups including Unitarian Universalists, the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ and Conservative and Reform Jewish synagogues routinely bless same-sex unions. While the practice remains controversial in many other denominations, individual churches within mainline traditions (especially the Episcopal and Lutheran churches) often welcome and bless same-sex couples.

Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, recently had this to say: "Performing and blessing [same-sex] marriages is not simply theoretical. There are real people in congregations large and small who have waited sometimes for many years for this opportunity, and the witness of their faithful love has been an inspiration to me....While no one in this Diocese will be forced to move beyond what his or her conscience allows, we seek to provide that gracious space for those whose conscience compels them to bless the marriages of all faithful people as together we discern the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to lead us into all truth."

Thus, Proposition 8 does not protect religious expression at all but rather threatens the legitimate diversity of opinion on this issue among people of faith in the name of a narrow, fundamentalist orthodoxy. Legal recognition and protection of same-sex unions threatens no one and enhances freedom of religious expression in the State of California.

This post is written in support of Write to Marry Day.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Practical Uses for Pornography

Over the weekend I was in the town of Monmouth, Oregon to lead another LGBT faith outreach workshop centered around the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So. Just to put this in context, the giant billboard alongside Highway 99W just north of town proclaims in bold red letters, "POLK COUNTY IS PALIN COUNTRY." (In 2004, Polk went for Bush by 12 points.)

After the screening, we broke up into small groups for discussion. I talked about the challenges of trying to conceal my sexuality as a teenager from a born-again father. "That must have been very difficult for you," said a concerned, sympathetic older woman. Then I recalled one of my more brilliant strategies.

"Yeah. I used to hide pictures of naked women in my bedroom for my dad to find, to throw him off the trail."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Where Have I Heard That Before?

From the New York Daily News:

"Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said the Arizona senator wasn't talking about "real New Yorkers."

"He's talking about Park Ave. and the upper West Side, which is inhabited by the liberal socialites and the media types who, yeah, are certainly elitists," King said.

As it happens, the U.S. zip code that's given the most to the McCain campaign - $909,128 - is Manhattan's 10021, which includes a swath of Park Ave. "

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Also this today from James Carville: "The reason Republicans are happy about Joe the Plumber is they're glad they got somebody hanging around a toilet other than Larry Craig."

Who's Got the Last Laugh Now?

Gail Collins' column from yesterday's New York Times brought back memories of my first-ever temp job as a telemarketer.

Picture it: Portland, Oregon, the fall of 1993. I was preparing to transfer to a school in New York City and took a semester off to live at home and work to save money for the move. I signed up with a temp agency.

When they called with the first assignment, they didn't really make clear that this was going to be a telemarketing job. I'm pretty sure they said I would be "handling the phones" at a comedy club downtown. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind -- anyone who knows me knows I hate telephones -- but I had to accept the first job.

I took an instant dislike to the manager of the club, the type of guy who obviously thinks of himself as a complete hot-shot. After telling me I didn't need to dress for work since the place wasn't open during the day, he showed me to a small, fluorescent-lit office where about four other people were sitting at folding tables with telephones and phonebooks.

"Here you go," he said, pointing to a chair and handing me a script.

"Hi, my name is _________________, and I'm calling from the Last Laugh Comedy Club in downtown Portland. Do you like to laugh? I thought so! The Last Laugh features today's hottest comics, including headliners from top-rated cable comedy shows. Can I interest you in a free pass for two to our club for this weekend?"


Now, this was before the days of fancy computer operations. I had an old-style touch-tone phone and a phonebook. We were under explicit instructions to ask for the person in the listing.

So, do you know who's home in the middle of the day? The unemployed, the elderly, sick people, and people who work the night shift. Very few of these folks are interested in free passes (with a two-drink minimum...) to a comedy club, and even fewer of them appreciate being awakened from their nap for the offer. I was hung up on. A lot. This exchange stayed in my memory:

Me: Hello, may I please speak with Mr. Edward Thomas?

[long, uncomfortable pause]

Fragile-sounding elderly voice on the other end: Who's calling, please?

Me: Hi there, my name is Andy, and I'm calling from the Last Laugh Comedy Club in downtown Portland. Is Mr. Thomas available?

Fragile voice: [after another awkward pause] Mr. Thomas has been dead for ten years, sir.

Me: [thinking silently, then why is he still in the white pages?!?!!?!] Oh. Ermm...well...I'm sorry to have bothered you...

That was one of the more successful conversations. The goal was to get them to give us their address so we could mail the flyer, which presumably they would present upon entry. The reason we were required to speak only with the person listed in the phonebook was because the management wanted to be sure we were sending the flyers to actual people; on my first day, the guy sitting next to me got reamed out by Mr. Hot Shot because a flyer came back marked "undeliverable." It was addressed to a guy named...Jim Shorts.

On my second day, Mr. Hot Shot told me I was "a natural" and that I had a really good "schpiel." This made me feel icky and it began to dawn on me that this was not actually a temp job, but professional limbo, where I supposed to linger indefinitely between hell and New York.

I called the temp agency back, explained that I was not comfortable in that environment, and asked if something else might be available. The receptionist who took my call was cheery and supportive and understanding and said, "No problem, Andy."

Except, she forgot to tell the person who assigned me. Which meant that no one told Mr. Hot Shot. So when I didn't show up the next day, he called the agency. The staffer called me and demanded to know why I hadn't gone to work; my explanation that I called yesterday and asked to be reassigned fell on deaf ears. "You embarrassed me in front of my client!" she shrieked, before hanging up on me.

I took a job at the mall, instead.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Greetings from a Fake American

I haven't written very much about the political world recently. Frankly, the prospect of a McCain presidency, however depressing and terrifying, is presently so unlikely that it animates me less than the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency did during the primaries. (And, in a couple of weeks, I presume I will be receiving apologies from the Clintonistas out there who insisted that Obama would be powerless in the face of constant Ayers/Wright/Hussein smears from the right.)

Don't get me wrong; it's not in the bag and Obama is right to warn against complacency. In one respect, this will be a fairly close election: I would be very surprised if Obama is more than five points ahead of McCain when the popular vote is tallied. However, I think the Democrats' electoral strategy is solid, and I'm glad our hopes aren't pinned on Ohio and Florida. Barack doesn't need either of them to win; this year he needs Pennsylvania and Virginia. If he gets those two, it's over. He can lose Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Florida, Indiana and North Carolina -- and he'll win at least some of them -- and still take the election. (I base that on the assumption that Obama wins CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VA, VT, WA & WI for a total of 272 electoral votes.)

I guess now is also a fine time to admit that I was wrong on this point.

However, I am being roused out of my blogging apathy by the recent common mantra from the McCain campaign and their supporters that they somehow represent "real" America. First there was John McCain's brother, who said that northern Virginia was "communist country," which was echoed by McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer when she talked about "real Virginia." Touting "small-town" values had always been a part of Sarah Palin's campaign schtick, but then she had to go off in North Carolina and talk about "real America," saying, "the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit," and lauded them for their "pro-America" stance. (She has since apologized for those remarks.) Rep. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota called for an "expose" of anti-American members of Congress.

So much for George W. Bush's 2000 strategy of campaigning on a message of bipartisanship and his famously worthless oath to be "a uniter, not a divider." We've now reached a point where supposedly serious people can say with a straight face that only parts of this country are "real" or "pro-America," and we have a candidate for the White House who can somehow claim that grass-roots efforts to register first time voters and get them to take advantage of the primary fundamental right bestowed on us by the Founders threatens to destroy "the fabric of democracy."

Yesterday, McCain and Palin clarified their stance in an interview to air tonight on NBC. In response to a request from Brian Williams to define what they meant by "elite," Palin said this: "Oh, I guess just people who think that they're better than anyone else."

McCain went on to elaborate that by "elite" he means the folks who live "in our nation's capital and in New York City," adding, "Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves."


Because, you know, our country's largest city and of course the capital don't have any "hard-working, middle-class Americans," just atheist feminist socialist gay-married immigrant welfare queens who drive Priuses, instead of American-made Cadillacs, on their way to abortion parties with a bottle of chardonnay in one hand and the Koran in the other.

The rhetoric from the right really is that bizarre these days. Consider Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina, who tried to deny that he warmed up a McCain rally crowd by saying, "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God" before he was exposed by a tape of the event.

You know, look: I'm a liberal. I'm gay, I drive a Honda, I live in an infamously progressive city, I believe climate change is real and has human causes, I think healthcare is a fundamental human right, I think the Iraq war was a mistake, I do not believe that all Muslims are terrorists, and I happen to like sushi, goat cheese, lattes, pinot noir and imported vodka. I supported Obama against Hillary in the primaries because she's too conservative for me. (Well, and she's a liar.) Sue me. But dangit, I was born in this country, I work hard (and make roughly one-fifth of Joe the Plumber's salary, apparently), I pay taxes and I frickin' go to church and believe in God. And I vote. I don't "hate" hard-working religious Americans, I am one.

The Republican Party, as embodied today by John McCain, has no message for the country and no vision for the future aside from a rude, non-sensical belief that (at least) half the country is fake, unpatriotic, hateful, lazy, elitist and amoral. Their ideas and policies are so exhausted and bankrupt that their last remaining argument is a spurious claim that they represent the "real" America. No wonder conservatives of principle are deserting in droves to endorse Obama.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Flew the Coop

Well, I guess you can't make chicken paprika without chicken.

I bought chicken, but it seems not to have made it into the shopping bag I brought home. I would go back to the store for it, but that was, oh, four hours ago now. What I can't believe is that I unpacked all my groceries when I got home and didn't notice. I only made the sad discovery once I set everything out on the counter five minutes ago to start cooking and couldn't find the chicken in the refrigerator.

I am an idiot.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Opera Review: Elektra in Seattle

There was much to admire on the opening night of Seattle Opera's Elektra by Richard Strauss, but nonetheless I have to admit I came away a bit disappointed.

Taking on the title role, soprano Janice Baird -- who became famous earlier this year when she made her Met debut jumping into the middle of an in-progress Tristan und Isolde -- sang the smartest, most secure Elektra I've ever heard. Though it took her a few minutes for the voice to gain full power and lustre, she sang radiantly through her nearly two hours on stage, and finished sounding like she was ready to do it again. Everything was wonderfully aligned, her rich tone shimmered up and down the scale, and her high notes were perfectly in tune and vibrant, whether she was singing full out or sweetly and delicately in the second half of the recognition scene. Unlike many Elektras -- who shriek, wail, scoop, caterwaul and sometimes actually scream to get through the killer role -- Baird was completely in control...which was part of the problem. You see, Elektra is not in control. Elektra is nuts.

Now, I'm not saying a wonderful artist with a long, promising career ahead of her should sabotage her vocal future by adopting all the vulgarities of her colleagues, but Baird just didn't convey much of Elektra's shattered personality. Her vocal restraint was mirrored by her physical performance. This is a woman so obsessed with revenge that it's literally what keeps her alive: at the end of the opera, she simply drops dead from relief. Baird didn't begin to approach the necessary level of fixation and desperation. But damn, she can sing.

As her sister Chrysothemis, German soprano Irmgard Vilsmaier was much more succesful in protraying the fragile, jumpy, shell-shocked survivor of an abusive househould. She looked like she'd shriek if you said "boo." Which is a safe bet, because she did shriek. A lot.

At first she displayed a rich, warm voice, but soon ran out of steam in the high-flying aria "Ich kann nicht sitzen," stumbling badly on the climactic high B-flat. She did the same thing on the high B in the final duet, finding herself unable to sustain the tone for the full duration the score requires, almost causing an orchestral fender-bender in the process. Maybe she was ill or just having an especially bad night? If not...I think she needs to visit mezzo-land, where she might thrive at lower altitudes.

Veteran mezzo Rosalind Plowright as Queen Klytaemnestra was a horror. (In a good way. ) Finally we got some old-fashioned scenery-chewing and a healthy balance of good singing and cheesy vocal histrionics. (Her "und schlachte, schlachte, schlachte Opfer um Opfer" was a particular highlight.)

Alfred Walker sang a beautiful, if not particularly passionate, Orest. Gorgeous voice, but we could have used a little more personality and warmth after he revealed his identity to his long-lost sister. I'm not clear why Richard Margison -- a sturdy and reliable if not especially compelling tenor who has sung all the leading roles in all the great houses of the world -- took on the brief and ungrateful role of Aegisthus, usually reserved for tenors who are on their way out. He sounded fine to me...when you could hear him. I don't know where he was during the murder scene, but he was utterly inaudible. "Help, murder! Doesn't anyone hear me?" read the supertitles.

No, actually, we didn't. I'm sure it wasn't Margison's fault, because we couldn't hear the chorus, either, in the glorious finale. I was in the chorus as an apprentice at Santa Fe, so I know what to listen for, and it just wasn't there. They should fix that.

Among the smaller roles, mezzo Melissa Parks as the Third Servant was a standout, with a powerful, voluptuous tone.

The production, by Chris Alexander, was only so-so. Wolfram Skalicki's set gave no hint of classical Greece and instead looked like it was borrowed from one of those corny episodes of Stargate Atlantis on SciFi, where they visit yet another new planet where everyone seems to be living in medieval England and the climate looks just like British Columbia. Alexander missed that Elektra is a very, very lonely opera. Aside from the opening bit with the five maids and the overseer and Klytaemnestra's entrace, there are never more than two singers on stage at a time. This production was too busy; instead of staging a goofy battle between Orestes' men (where did they come from?) and the palace guards (who looked like they wandered in from Monty Python's Holy Grail), complete with clanking swords and unconvincing grunts from the actors distracting from the gorgeous music, if they felt they needed more people on stage, they should have just trotted out the chorus, so we could hear them.

Under Lawrence Renes the Seattle Opera Orchestra played magnificently. McCaw Hall is my new favorite opera house, not least because of the wonderful acoustics. I'll be back in the early spring for their Erwartung/Bluebeard's Castle double bill.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grey Goose Was Made for Drinking, Not Bashing

A disturbing story via Andrew Sullivan.

Oh, and ps, Maureen Dowd still sucks. Or, should I say, Maureen Dowd etiam combibo.

OH! and PPS, we are 100 days away from the end of the Bush Presidency. Can I get a "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah"?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Opera Review: Salome in Hi-Def

First, a note to the Met website people: please post the complete cast list, not just the principal artists. Because this information is unavailable, I'll have to refer to some performers by character name only.

Today's live high-definition broadcast of Richard Strauss' Salome from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera reminded me again how valuable this project is. In addition to being a front-row seat to a world-class performance at semi-reasonable prices ($24 in the movie theater, versus $275 for orchestra prime in the house), viewers get a rare chance to see what's going on behind the scenes at the performance. Salome, being a single, salacious one-acter, had no intermission features, but we were treated to a brief introduction by dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt moonlighting as host. We were there for the moment when the afternoon's star, soprano Karita Mattila, opened the door of her dressing room, beamed into the camera and said, in faintly Finnish-tinted English, "Let's kick ass!" as the camera followed her to the stage.

And kick ass, she did.

There's a special place in my heart for Salome, not just because it's kinda twisted: it was the occasion of my European debut in November 2000, in the teeny role of the Cappadocian at the Zurich Opera under the baton of Valery Gergiev. Plus, where else can you get a Bible story featuring nude dancing as told by Oscar Wilde and set to music by my favorite composer? How can you go wrong?

The amazing thing about Salome is that it still seems shocking and modern 103 years after its premiere. It's two decades older than Turandot, but still comes off edgy and risqué. The audience for today's broadcast at Cedar Mill Crossing in Beaverton -- also generally two decades older than Turandot -- visibly and audibly shifted in their seats in discomfort at some of the purpler moments. They may have thought they were ready to see a woman sing to a severed head (though, the lady behind me too loudly commented that the head in question was unnecessarily realistic), but they were unprepared for the subtitles to reveal just what it is that she's singing: "You would not let me kiss your mouth, Jochanaan, but I will kiss it now! I will bite it with my teeth, as one bites a ripe fruit." Good stuff.

In the title role, Karita Mattila gave a glorious performance. Previously when I have heard her live, especially in the similar role of Chrysothemis in the same composer's Elektra, her top lacked focus and could occasionally be dry and husky. Today, however, the highest notes were spun like shining silver threads, even as the high-definition close-ups revealed the physical effort it takes to sing this role. Her middle voice was plummy and opulent and her frequent forays into the chest register were strong and expressive; she sailed through both the high, light lyrical moments and the powerful outbursts of passion and fury. She was fascinating to watch, engaged in every moment; she was petulant, manipulative, charming, seductive, outrageous and unhinged. The opera world should be forever grateful that this artist has been captured for posterity in her prime in this role.

Unfortunately, as the object of her desire, baritone Juha Uusitalo disappointed. His voice lacked the magisterial depth and warmth of the role's greatest exponents, which robbed Jochanaan of his prophetic authority. Even if Strauss envisioned his Baptist as a pompous, sexophobic fundamentalist blowhard, he still wrote beautiful, soaring music for him; I've always viewed Jochanaan as being in something of a permanent trance: wild, staring eyes and torrents of rich sound pouring out of a figure as solid and immovable as a boulder. Uusitalo's physical struggles with the role were a distraction.

Tenor Kim Begley was excellent as the sleazy, manic King Herod; Hungarian mezzo Ildiko Komlosi as his wife Herodias almost upstaged him just by virtue of her resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor, but she sang well, too: her forceful outbursts were as commanding as her easy stage presence.

As the tormented captain Narraboth, tenor Joseph Kaiser looked adorable; the power required to clear Strauss' orchestra eluded him in a couple of spots, but it's evident that he has a pretty voice and knows what he's doing. I'd like to hear him in something else. The Page sang adequately, but did not sound remotely German. In the prize comprimario role of First Nazarene (no, I'm not being snarky, it's really a plum small part) the phenomenal bass (thanks, Met Opera, for not putting his name on the web, sheesh!!!) displayed in spades what Uusitalo's Jochanaan lacked: here was a voice of immense power produced almost effortlessly, with dark bronze rivers of sound welling upward from his golden throat. Despite his ringing, heroic top, he might be too low a bass to comfortably sing Jochanaan, but I hope this is someone the Met is grooming for other roles...King Philip comes to mind. And I might be picky and biased, since clearly I own this part, but David Won as the Cappadocian (I remembered his name from the credits) couldn't possibly have looked less interested in the questions he was asking the First Soldier, mellifluously sung by (name unavailable on the website).

The Met Opera management did alert us via the press that for the broadcast, while Ms. Mattila would indeed go full-monty in the famous Dance of the Seven Veils (or, as Parterre's La Cieca put it, "jam out with her clam out"), the cameras would discretely pan away; as it happened, we got a shot of Herod's delighted leer. I imagine this was, in Janet Jackson's wake, an attempt to avoid the ire of the FCC. Because, you know, it's okay to show a woman's face covered in blood after she's been kissing a decapitated head, but God forbid we see her breasts or, gasp, a little tuft of high-definition fur. This is a century-old opera based on a Bible story, and we still can't handle some of it. Small wonder that it was yanked off the boards of the Met after a single performance in 1907 and banned for twenty-seven years.

On a local technical note, I am wondering if they forgot to turn on some of the speakers at the theater in Beaverton today; I recall being overwhelmed by sound during last season's Macbeth, with the floor literally vibrating. While that may have been a tetch much, today only the speakers directly behind the screen were in operation; the sound was fine, but the experience lacked the visceral thrill -- and part of the point -- of seeing an opera in high-definition in a digital movie theater.

Might Have to Wait Until Next Week to Retire

The Year-to-Date Rate of Return on my 401(k) is now -41.4%.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Must Have Been Some Crash

From today's Oregonian:

"Wolf said the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro hardtop was northbound on 135th at high speed when it rolled and came to rest against the side of a home on the corner. A passenger was ejected during the crash. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue responders found him on the roof of the home. He was lowered and transported to OHSU."

Who Told You You're Allowed to Rain on My Cookie Parade?

Damn this economy!!!!!

While driving to work this morning, I heard on NPR that Mother's Cookies filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. They were unable to get a loan to make payroll.

Those pink and white frosted circus animal cookies were one of my absolute most-needed comfort foods for bad days. Definitive proof that George W. Bush has wrecked the country.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wonder if That Means Anything?

Last night I dreamed I moved to San Francisco and forgot to tell my father.

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Reading Revelation Before Bed

Last night I dreamed I lived in a beautiful old house out in the country, surrounded by eagles and flying leopards.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Rocky & Starbuck at the Feast of St. Francis

Opera Review: La Traviata

Hi...okay, I know, I promised a blog about my trip to the beach. It's still coming. Probably. I don't know. I've been busy. I would like to get back to blogging more. We'll see. Anyway, for the three of you still bothering to check this blog, here's a new post.

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I didn't mean to be a jerk. Really, I didn't. But when the woman sitting next to me at La Traviata at Portland Opera this evening asked between the 2nd and 3rd acts, "Have you seen this performance before?" I looked at her as if she'd asked, "Purple baby horticulture breadfruit shirking?" I sort of cocked my head and said, "I'm sorry, what was the question?" She smiled and repeated earnestly, "Have you seen this performance before?"

Well...what could I say? To an opera fan, the performance is what's happening that evening. To me, it was tantamount to asking, "Have you experienced these exact three hours in time before?" The production is the series of performances mounted with this cast, this set, this conductor and this stage director in this house; I suppose that's what she meant, and I could have said no, but she irritated me so I just said, "I have seen La Traviata many times." Which is true. I could have added, "I have sung La Traviata," too, but I wanted the conversation to end.

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It was pretty good. I give it a B.

There was much to admire in Stephen Lord's handling of the orchestra, in particular the careful attention to dynamics (the long, steady crescendo and accelerando at the end of the Brindisi, for example), and I especially liked the extra "oomph" in the chords underneath "Prendi, quest'e l'immagine," which seemed to convey the cruel inevitability of the finale. I was glad to hear Alfredo's cabaletta, often cut, but not thrilled with the inclusion of Germont's cabaletta (even more often cut, but for good reason), and not convinced both verses of "Addio del passato" were merited.

The many comprimario roles were ably sung, though Brendan Tuohy's goofy Gastone was annoying. Portland native and local favorite Richard Zeller sang a commanding Germont with excellent legato and easy high notes, although the top sounded a bit woolly. Tenor Richard Troxell did not impress quite as much as he did as last season's Don Jose; though ardently sung, he didn't possess the agility for the Brindisi and struggled with some of the more dramatic passages. "O mio rimmorso" was energetic and for the most part very well done, though it's not traditional to drop out for the last eight bars unless you are going to interpolate the final high-C.

Maria Kanyova's Violetta was uneven, though she received rapturous applause at the curtain call. She has a beautiful, secure lyric soprano voice, but the coloratura fireworks of the first act test her limits. At times she opted for an irreverent straight tone in the cabaletta as an expressive choice, but then her voice lost bloom and sounded amateur. I could tell from the first D-flat that she didn't have an E-flat (at least, not tonight), but she tried it anyway, which was a mistake; you shouldn't cap a perfectly competent "Sempre libera" (a notoriously difficult piece -- though she lagged behind the beat in the roulades) with a screechy high note that's not in the score. If you have it, great. If you don't, Verdi didn't ask for it. It sounded like she stepped on something cold and slimy.

Many of her best moments were in the long duet with Zeller in the second act, which perfectly suits her voice. "Amami, Alfredo" gave me goosebumps. She was excellent in the brief third act, displaying a perfectly shimmery pianissimo at the end of her last aria. Her voice blended beautifully with Troxell's, though their chemistry didn't sizzle to the back of the house.

The production, by James Robinson for Opera Colorado and the Boston Lyric Opera is low-frills but adequate; the first act was suitably opulent, but red gowns in a room with all-red decor was a bit redundant. The all-white set for the first part of Act II made it look as if it were set in winter, though no one aside from Germont seemed dressed for the weather. Directing for Portland Opera, Jennifer Nicoll made some interesting choices, some more successful than others. She badly misjudged the end of the second act, having Alfredo retreat to the wings to the laughter of the chorus, when the clear sentiment of the moment is outrage. I am guessing she is also to blame for turning Gastone into a hybrid of Jar-Jar Binks and Rosie O'Donnell. Otherwise the performance was conventional.

Stay tuned: in two weeks I'll be reviewing opening night of Seattle Opera's Elektra.