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Rigoletto

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I was lucky to get $20 Lyric Opera tickets, on the main floor no less, to see Verdi’s Rigoletto. The Lyric Opera Chicago hosts College Nights upping their game from the previous years, which offered $20 tickets but no extras. For College Night undergrads and graduate students were invited for sandwiches and soft drinks at 5:30 followed by a talk by the Technical Director.

The Technical Director’s talk was fascinating. We learned how the shows are selected a couple years in advance. After that the set designers design a model of the sets, which are then finished the summer before the opera season. In the summer, all the sets for the season are set up and the lighting is arranged and saved in a computer.

Since opera singing is so exhausting performers can’t sing day after day. So different shows are shown in repertory. This means the sets have to be changed every day. One day Rigoletto, the next Die Walküre, the next The Pearl Fishers. The space at Lyric is able to store the other days’ sets in space above the current set and it takes 4 hours, on a good day, to set up the day’s set. We also learned about the special certification needed to oversee open flames, when that’s needed for an opera. The certification is the same as needed to oversee an oil rig.

After this talk there was the usual pre-opera talk in the theater. This was outstanding as usual. We learned about how the story for Rigoletti came from Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, a play that was censored and closed after one performance, because it showed a licentious king. Verdi changed the king to a duke to be safe. Northern Italy was governed by Austria and they didn’t mind seeing an Italian duke made a fool of. While writing the opera, Verdi was quite secretive. He realized that the most familiar song from the opera, X would be a success. He wouldn’t allow the singer who was to sing it to take the music home with him.

As you’d expect the singing was divine. The story is about a court jester, Rigoletto, who gets in trouble for mocking the nobles and duke, which is his job. To get revenge, the nobles mistakenly kidnap his daughter who’s fallen in love with the philandering duke whom she met at church. She thinks he’s a penniless student, not a womanizing duke. The end is harsh and hinges on mistaken identity. I’ll write my thoughts below in the more section so there’s no spoilers.

The only criticism I have for this production is the set. Rigoletto’s home looks like a prison on the inside. Floor to ceiling, the rooms are concrete blocks with a concrete slab as the only furnishing. The stairs have metal handbags and are prison-like. Now Gilda is captive there so maybe the prison look was intentional. I thought it was just ugly. It’s a minor complaint.

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Sisters of the Gion

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While Memoirs of a Geisha painted a romantic portrait of geisha living in a Japanese Cinderella story, Sisters of Gion gives viewers a realistic view. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, who’s fond of creating films about vulnerable women, the Sisters of Gion we see are the older, trusting Umekichi and the more perceptive, jaded O-Mocha. Umekichi’s patron has gone flat broke. He has to sell his store and his family has to move back to his wife’s hometown in disgrace. The wife isn’t the least bit happy about the shame that accompanies this fall.

The patron, Furusawa-san, accepts Umekichi’s offer to put him up. O-Mocha is incredulous and miffed. Doesn’t Umekichi realize that they’re just barely scrimping by? How can they take in a penniless former merchant? Quiet Umekichi ignores her younger sister, occasionally saying something about tradition or being good to people.

O-Mocha is the practical sister. She realizes that her sister needs a new patron, pronto and to get one she’ll need to be seen in an exquisite kimono at a top level party. O-Mocha gets her sister the needed invitation and figures out how to hustle an assistant in a kimono shop to help her sister. Later when the shop assistant is found out, O-Mocha cozies up to the shop owner who she wants to be her patron.

O-Mocha sees the geisha life for what it is — a way for men to have young playthings. It’s not a path she appears to have chosen, but she’s determined not to be a victim in the system, if that’s a possibility in a male dominated society.

The film was absorbing and often beautiful. I admired O-Mocha’s spunk and wished her sister would take some of her advice. It’s a classic, I’d love to see again.

What Japanese Envy

A Western woman, who’s taken on Japanese style and speaks Japanese very well, asks people in Tokyo what they envy in foreigners.

Sugalabo

Simon and Martina, with the help of the very-talented Dan, have made an outstanding video about a chef in Tokyo, who has an incredible respect and interest in local ingredients and regional cultures.

I’d love to know how they got to join him in Ehime. Just start watching and see what you think. Would you want to try dinner at Sugalabo? I wonder how much that costs.

That @#@! Walt Disney!

I learned about this in my Introduction to Technology class, but Adam Conover explains the public domain issue more concisely and with wit.

There Was a Father

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R – Chishu Ryu as the father; L – Takashi Sakamoto as the vice principal

Directed by Ozu, one of my favourite directors, There Was a Father is an intimate look at a widower raising his one son before WWII. This  conscientious father quits teaching when a boy dies on a school trip. It wasn’t the father’s fault. He wasn’t the only teacher on the trip and he had told the boys not to go on the lake (though Western teachers would have run out to the pier when they saw the boys get in the books rather than continuing with their meal, I think).

After quitting teaching because of his feelings of guilt, the father takes a job in a factory and sends his son who’s about 9 to a boarding school. Like all Ozu films, the story is simple and concentrates on the quieter aspects of familial relationships. Ozu’s very observant like a nature photographer who creeps up on his subjects so as not to disturb them and thereby captures how they really are when they aren’t aware of being observed.

At different points the boy presents his case for coming home. He sees family as most important. However the father exhorts his son to work hard. That’s every Japanese person’s duty, to put aside personal desires, however good, to work hard as their greater duty.

There Was a Father was a pre-war movie that complied with the government’s orders for filmmakers to put out films that lined up with their propaganda efforts. Ozu makes the duty theme clear, yet elegant. The film’s a touching look at Japan and family life during hard times.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts.

Other great photos:

On Toilets in China: A Study

Toilet Adventures from Bill Callahan on Vimeo.

It’s bad manners to discuss toilet activities. But the topic often comes up when people recount their first experiences in China. For many, confronting a squat toilet for the first time is a shock.

This fundamental encounter with the unknown can tell us about the relation of purity and danger, public and private space, and the role of the state in China’s rapidly changing society. Such abstract calculations come to life on the toilet according to five stages, starting with “shock.”

“Toilet Adventures” is designed to provoke discussion of such experiential, theoretical and ethical issues.

A social scientist put together this documentary consisting of interviews with mainly non-Chinese people regarding their attitudes towards toilets in China. Most visited before China opened up in the 1980s. The interviews reveal a lot about the individual and his or her culture as they do about China.

About Urumqi

Urumqi's Grand Bazaar

Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar

Some facts about Urumqi:

  1. Burqa’s are forbidden. Women can wear headscarves and colorful traditional outfits that are modest, but they must show their faces.
  2. The government frowns upon fasting during Ramadan. They insist that all restaurants stay open all day long. From what I could tell many Muslims, didn’t fast as they were eating throughout the day.
  3. There’s security everywhere — as I’ve written and it’s so tiring.
  4. Uighurs drink tea with jam in it to sweeten it. It’s very tasty. Try it at home!
  5. In Urumqi by the Grand Bazaar a man sells wonderful cups of soft-serve orange sherbet that tastes like soft Dreamsicles™.
  6. Young men are forbidden by law to wear beards. Old men can wear them, though.
  7. The Uighurs pretty much live in the south part of the city and the Han and other Chinese ethnic groups stick to the north.
  8. No water, yogurt or lighters are allowed on the BRT buses.
  9. You have to go through two security checkpoints at the airport: one when you enter and another after you check in.
  10. People in Xinjiang don’t smile much, but I’m not surprised.
  11. Uighurs make good meat pockets that make for good snacks or lunch. You can buy them on the street.
  12. Uighurs are famous for their bread.

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Urumqi

Mural

Mural

Before returning to the US, I ventured out to the wild west of China, to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. Xingjiang’s a huge province (c.637,000 sq mi/1,650,257 sq km; 1994 estimated population 16,050,000; 2000 population 18,459,511 according to the Columbia Gazetteer of the World), full of resources. It’s been is described as a coal boat in a sea of oil. On top of that there’s gold, silver, sapphires and several other minerals.

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The territory has been held by a variety of nations. In 200 BC the Han Chinese gained control. Since then it’s been held by Uzbeks, Tibetans, Uigurs, Mongols, Arabs, Manchus and Chinese. This history creates disputes still as the Uighurs, who’re a Central Asian ethnic group with a Turkic language, used to make up 90% of the population 50 or so years ago, now make up around 50% as Han and other Chinese ethnic groups have moved in to manage the resources and area.

I did want to see a different side of China and I did. Urumqi, the capital, has a strong Uighur look in the part of the city where the Grand Bazaar and International Bazaar are. Wandering around this area, you’ll see vendors selling dried fruits, textiles, ornate tea sets, traditional clothing, fur and daggers. The International Bazaar is written up in all the guidebooks, but you should also walk around the neighborhood it’s set in to get a real feel for life in Urumqi.

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One aspect of this real life is the heavy presence of army and police. I’ll describe more of this tomorrow, but basically everywhere you go you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint, or two, to enter. Since there have been incidents of violence against the Chinese by Uighur separatists, the Chinese have cracked down. Hard.

Work Cited

“Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.” Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online. 2015. Columbia University Press. 15 Jul. 2015. <http://www.columbiagazetteer.org/main/ViewPlace/158323>

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