Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that you should go see West Side Story at the Lyric Opera. It’s a terrific musical and there are discount codes to get tickets for a good price.

I made dinner for Mother’s Day for my parents and two brothers’ families. I’m most proud of my key lime pie and the angel food cake that I decorated with Trader Joe’s small chocolate mousse tea cakes in the shape of flowers. Those were great and don’t think you must add them to a cake. On their own they’re addictive.

On Friday, my nephew broke his arm quite badly. He was in gym class and decided to jump over a volleyball, but instead he fell on the ball and went sailing. He was in surgery for 4 hours. By Saturday, he was smiling though very tired.

I finished reading Henri Duchemin and His Shadows by Emmanuel Bove, a French writer whom I discovered by using Literature-Map.com. Try Literature-Map and let me know if you find any new favorite writers.

I’m getting more active about applying for jobs. I look and look, but in ESL there aren’t many possibilities. In EFL (i.e. teaching English as a Foreign Language) the main employers are China and the Middle East. I’m done with China. Or I do hope I am. I spent many years there and liked my students, but China is cracking down on religious expression in a way I can’t overlook. (See this article as well.) Also, the PRC’s government needs to negotiate in good faith with its foreign trading partners. For decades they’ve gotten such sweet deals and they’ve stolen IP left and right. None of the computers I worked on at school or in a hotel had purchased Microsoft software. It was all pirated. That’s one example. I don’t want to help a country that’s not going to protect religious freedom. That same reason makes the Middle East a problem. I am trying to find work as an Instructional Designer here in the US. So far finding nearby opportunities and convincing an employer that I have the needed skills is difficult via a form on the internet. In conversation, I can make the case.

I’ve loved my library work, but the field is on a downward trend of just offering part time work.

 

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West Side Story

I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America

Lyrics from eLyrics.net

Sunday, after going to the Lyric Opera’s West Side Story, I woke up with the above tune playing in my head. Throughout the day, “Maria,” “There’s a Place for Us,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Tonight” played in my head. Boy, is this show packed with great songs. With a full orchestra the music is all the more powerful.

The most beautiful sound I ever heard
(Maria, Maria, Maria)
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word
(Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria
Maria, Maria)
Maria!

Read more: Westside Story – Maria Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Lyric’s production is four star. With great singing, stellar dancing, and marvelous expansive sets, this Romeo & Juliet tale is not to be missed. Often revivals decide to “update” a story, thus ruining a show with tinkering. The Lyric trusts the original to entertain and they’re right to do so.

There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere
copyright http://elyrics.net

It was a joy to watch this tragic tale of 20th century star-crossed lovers. Funny, how one can watch a show with failed love and even murder and leave the theater uplifted, but while the story does succeed in making one consider injustice and division, West Side Story, like Romeo and Juliet, succeeds in warming the heart and making the audience think. Go figure.

Elecktra

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Electktra & Klytämnestra (sic)

Last night I saw the Lyric Opera’s Electra by R. Strauss. I’d just read Agamemnon so I was lucky to see this story, which is the next in Aeschylus’ trilogy. When Agamemnon ends, when Clytemnestra (in German Klytämnestra) kills her husband because he killed their daughter Iphigeneia to appease the gods. Their son, Orestes is outraged and wants revenge.

This opera opens with some maids gossiping about Elektra, Orestes’ sister,  has been acting oddly. Only one maid stands up for the Elektra.

The setting is stark and dystopian. A columned palace has rubble all around. Everyone’s dressed in drab grays and browns. Later Elektra comes out and laments her father’s death. She asserts that her siblings and she will dance at their father’s tomb. Hmm. I suppose that was some custom in ancient days.

Kytämnestra comes on stage and she’s quite a sight. While I picture her as a Greek goddess, what I saw was truer to the composer’s vision, i.e. a solid German woman. The costume was much like the scenery – savage, brutal and dystopian. She looked more like a monster than a woman. I found it odd that neither Klytämnestra nor her ladies had sleeves. The bottom part of their gowns, though dark and depressing, seemed to cry out for sleeves of some kind. All these noble women had frightful, garish make up.

The story continues with lots of lamenting from Elektra, who does hope that her brother can take action and get justice for her father’s death. Chrysothemis, Elektra’s sister is somewhat caught in the middle, though she doesn’t see that there’s no safety in the middle. Chrysothemis just wants to get married and have a slew of children, but in a society so soaked in blood, that can’t happen. Klytämnestra expends her energy worrying about whether Orestes will seek justice through murder.

I found this story quite gory and very German, rather than Greek. The cast was heavier and the make up and sets were also dark and heavy. The performances were excellent except that sometimes Elektra waved her arms around in an odd way.

I was lucky to see the next installment of this ancient story, but I don’t think everyone needs to see it. My guess is that Il Traviata, which is also playing, is the better opera right now.

I Puritani

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Friday I got student tickets for the Lyric Opera Chicago’s production of I Puritani. Written by Vincente Bellini, I Peritani is the story of Elvira, a young girl in love with Arturo, but whose father promised a soldier named Riccardo that he could marry his daughter. Understandably, Elvira is beside herself.

However, she soon learns her father’s reconsidered and will permit her to marry Arturo. It all sounds grand, except to Riccardo, who’s now jealously plotting against his rival. Unaware of Riccardo’s response, Elvira is on Cloud 9 and preparing for her wedding.

The story takes place in the 17th century England when the Royalists are at war with the Puritans. The disposed queen, Enrichetta has been captured and brought to the castle where the opera takes place. She’s able to hang out wherever she likes for some reason. As she’s sitting in a courtyard, Elvira sees her and decides the best way to see how her veil looks is to put it on this other woman she doesn’t know. Queen Enrichetta dazzles in the veil. For some reason, Elvira leaves the queen forgetting the veil. What ensues is a case of mistaken identity when Arturo promises to help Queen Enrichetta escape. He’s seen by Riccardo, who plots to show Elvira her fiancé “cheating on her” with the queen.

The music and singing was heavenly. During the first intermission, college night attendees could attend a Q & A session with a woman who works with technical aspects of the production. This was informative, but I’d prefer it if they speaker prepared about 5 minutes of a talk and then opened the floor to questions. As I don’t know opera well, I am not able to think up questions.

Before Act II began, a man announced that the singer playing Elvira had taken ill and the understudy took over. She did a fine job, on par with the star, to my unsophisticated ear.

For the second intermission, the curtain was up and a stage manager narrated what the 50+ professionals were doing to transform the set. That was fascinating to see.

The opera lasts 3 hours and 35 minutes and since I either get the 10:35 pm train or I have to wait till 12:15 am, I wouldn’t get home till 1 am, which I wasn’t in the mood for such a late night so I left after the second intermission. I’ll have to find a DVD of this opera to see the ending. While the story is quite contrived, the singing, music, costumes and set made I Purtani excellent.

Lyric’s Bel Canto

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Chicago’s Lyric Opera is now showing Bel Canto, a new opera based on Ann Patchett’s novel about the hostage situation in Peru in the 199o’s. Patchett added to the real event by creating a cast of characters, adding some romance and cross-cultural lessons.

Bel Canto takes place in Peru when the Vice President has throws a party for an important Japanese business man who’s a big opera lover. Soprano Roxane Cox, Mr. Hosokawa’s favourite singer, will perform. Thus the opera opens with the excited arrival of guests to a once in a lifetime event.

Yet early on the mood is transformed when guerrilla soldiers storm the mansion and take everyone inside hostage. Like the real event, the guests are held hostage for 4 months. During that time, romances blossom, cultural barriers crack and crumble.

Except for the very end, the opera follows the plot of the novel. I thought the music was wonderful, but some lyrics were too mundane such as a the piece between a rebel woman and a translator who’re in love. When they’re in the kitchen for some private space, they sing of pots and pans and saltshaker and amor. It didn’t work for me. All in all, Bel Canto is an accessible opera that fans of the novel will enjoy, especially if the composer goes back and makes some of the lyrics more poetic rather than mundane.

Also, the audience doesn’t get as intimate a sense of the characters as we did with the book. Now, of course, opera is a different art form, but great operas masterfully communicate the desires and thoughts, Bel Canto can too.

Readers, PBS’ Great Performances taped the opera when I was there so you don’t have to spend $50-289 to see it. Even though there were some rough spots, it’s well worth watching on TV.

More reviews

Safe & Sound blog
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Wall St. Journal

 

 

Lyric’s Hansel und Gretel

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The Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Engelbert Humperdink’s (the original Humperdink, not the pop singer) Hansel und Gretel. As you’d expect the music was heavenly and the story was compelling. This version emphasized the hunger and poverty this family experienced. The first act portrays how this family has no food other than a small jug of milk, probably 2 cups full, hardly enough for a family of four. The children lament how they’re starving and long for food. During the pre-opera lecture, we were reminded  that before a neighbor gave Hansel and Gretel‘s family the milk, the probably hadn’t eaten breakfast or dinner the night before. Yet when they get rambunctious and are cavorting around the kitchen they break the milk jug losing the only food the family has.

The mother returns and is furious when she learns that the milk’s gone. She sends Hansel and Gretel into the forest to get a large bowl full of berries. After they leave, their father returns and fortunately, he’s sold all his goods, the brooms he makes, and has bought a large bag of food. Their problems are over. When father learns that the children are off in the woods, he’s alarmed. The forest is dangerous. A terrible witch who preys on children lives there. What was mother thinking?

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The second act is set in the forest, done with a minimal naturalistic style, with dark, foreboding visuals. Again the music is moving and the visuals compel. The highlight of the act was when the children say their prayers singing to the 14 angels who protect them.

Opera newcomers would appreciate this performance as the story is so familiar and the music is beautifully sung. There are some differences from the cozier versions of the story we usually hear. The mother is not a stepmother. The scenes with the bread crumbs aren’t here and we don’t see a colorful candy house. So the artistry of the sets isn’t what you’d expect, but the visuals do express the theme of hunger and hard times well.

All in all, this production of Hansel und Gretel pulls us in from start to finish.

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.