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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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Identification of a Woman

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I thought this film was by the maker of We All Loved Each Other So Much, an Italian film that knocked me off my feet years ago. It isn’t. I also thought it was made in the 60s or 70’s. It wasn’t. So that’s two strikes.

Identification of a Woman follows a woe-begone film director, who’s divorced (and we can all guess why after say half an hour with him), as he searches for a dream woman for a film. As he does, he also pursues Mavi, an aristocrat, who’s bored, boring and gorgeous (or at least pretty and thin — it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, right?). Early on some secret thug whom we never see, whose identity is never revealed sends a henchmen to tell the director, Niccolo to leave Mavi alone. She’s the property of the thug. As any decent film hero would do, Niccolo won’t have it. He remains with Mavi, who lacks any personality, while looking for and sometimes hiding from the thug.

Later Mavi ditches Niccolo. I suppose she was tired of his obsession with the thug and his ennui, but she herself had so little in her life that I don’t quite buy her leaving him, as broken as he was.

Then Niccolo meets another woman, a young actress who’s loved him from afar. They form a relationship in the last third of the movie and that peters out.

Mainly, the film’s supposed to examine an artist, who’s lost and drifting, who doesn’t understand women, probably because he over complicates relationships. There were certainly some good elements. I liked the scenes which had Niccolo and Mavi driving through dense fog, which was symbolic and probably hard to film, but on the whole this was ho hum. Disappointing.

There’s a lot of explicit sex scenes which are a counterpoint to the lack of understanding between the characters. They were a lot more intimate than you see in a Hollywood film. I admit I have no idea what the title means. Anyone?

Aida

As I’ve come to expect, the Lyric Opera‘s Aida blew me away. Since signing up for the Lyric’s NExT program that offers $20 student discount tickets, I’ve discovered that I really like opera, at least some operas. Although all the NExT tickets were gone by the time, I bought my tickets, I felt the $55 tickets would be a wise purchase and they were.

My friend Maryann and I went on a Friday afternoon and first went to the pre-opera lecture. WFMT‘s Carl Grapentine, who’s got a sonorous voice, offered background that made the opera all the more meaningful. We learned that Verdi was rejected when he applied to the conservatory in Milan, which today is called Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano. Ha! Take that!

Aida is Verdi’s 26th opera and was commissioned by an Egyptian khedive (i.e. viceroy, i.e. a king’s representative). Grapentine explained Aida’s genesis and story, and I highly encourage audience members to attend the free pre-opera lecture which starts an hour before the curtain.

Briefly, Aida has a plot Aristotle would love as the characters are tied together in such a way that only tragedy can result. Ethiopia and Egypt are at war. Aida is an Ethiopian slave serving the Egyptian princess, Amneris. Both women love the same man, Radames, a strapping young Egyptian warrior. He loves Aida, but becomes engaged to Amneris, who senses her fiancé has eyes for someone else. Who?

As if this isn’t enough drama, Aida is the daughter of the Ethiopian king Amonasro, who’s been captured by Radames. Every one of the three main characters’ hearts are divided between loyalty, patriotism and true love.

No one’s going to walk off into the sunset and though as a modern viewer of stories in every media available, I get a steady diet of happy endings, I’m perfectly fine with this tragedy. I wish Hollywood trusted in the power of tragedy as the Greeks and Shakespeare’s peers did. We don’t always need things tied up with a bow at the end. Really.

A feast for the eyes and ears, Aida features masterful singing, spectacular sets, lavish costumes, and beautiful dancing. The English translations for the Italian lyrics are projected overhead so that even those, like us, in the nosebleed seats can follow the story easily.

St Jospeph’s Day Parade, New Orleans


In Chicago since St. Joseph’s Day falls in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Day, we don’t celebrate it much. I know there are festivities at parishes with Italian members, but I’ve never been to one. In the BIg Easy they celebrate March 19th more. In the morning there’s a ritual for children in which they seek food at various shelters like the Holy Family trying to get a place at an inn on Christmas Eve and the children are turned away repeatedly. Then they go to the priest at the St. Joseph’s altar and are welcomed. I’d seen some of the floats and preparations near the convention center so in the evening Maryann and I went to the parade. It was probably the best parade I’ve ever been too. Starting with the Shriners, some on Harley’s and others in little cars handing out chains of beads, the parade wound around the French Quarter. The streets were quite narrow which gave the parade intimacy and getting these beads made it interactive.

After the Shriners came the Italian marchers in tuxedos, who handed out carnations in return for a kiss. Then came various bands, dancers and maids, i.e..young girls in white dresses resembling beauty queens waving like royalty. The parade has this great community-feel. The actor who played Jimmy on The Practice was there as a couple of local celebrities and  politicians.