Wednesday, November 30, 2005

 
There's a trend in the actor biographies that appear in the programs of local theater companies that I'd love to see end. Soon. Instead of just giving us information on what the actor has done in an organized, nicely written format, we start by hearing how incredibly, unbelievably happy the actor is to be appearing with the company. OK, believe me I know all actors are happy to be employed. At any given moment, 85% of the members of Actors Equity Association are NOT employed, so if the've got a gig they're just flying. But this almost universal vying to suck up to the employer company in print has become a tiresome cliché.

My program for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" lists three actors who are happy, three more who are delighted, one who's excited, two who are very excited, and one each who are glad, pleased, thrilled and, finally, tickled pink to be appearing. It gets worse. Several bios include thanks at the end to friends, family, lovers (straight and gay), God--you name it. There are also dedications of the performance to someone special and messages in acronyms that only one or two people will be able to understand. It looks like the program bio is morphing with the acceptance speech the actor hopes to deliver at Boston's annual Elliot Norton Award ceremony. It also looks uncomfortably like the program material at a grammar school production. Basingstoke! (Gilbert & Sullivan fans out there will understand that reference).

We're in another run of unseasonably warm weather days. Not that I'm complaining, given home heating costs this year. We reached the lower 60s in Boston on Tuesday and mild temperatures will persist through Thursday. When I came home on Tuesday night, the front of my house was covered with small, prettily patterned moths--probably 60 or 70 of them, all in the light from my outside light fixture. These guys were supposed to be dead a month ago. The fact that they popped up this week leads me to think they're a whole generation whose larvae were supposed to remain in hibernation over the winter and come out next spring. Well, they're here now. Amazing. So, will there be any moths next year or will the entire generation get wiped out when the cold returns this weekend?

Also, Fritz told me this morning that there's a daffodil up and getting ready to blossom by the flagstone walk leading down from the Center to his house. This season reversal is really something.

Below is an example of the latest spam I've been getting on my primary email account, the one provided by MIT that has supposedly unbreachable spam filters. Shorter and far more amusing than the long-winded Nigerian money transfer scams, they have internet translation site services written all over them:

Your case has been discussed to the important peoples, and upon precise weighing up, we are able to volunteer you the subsequent opening offer. Based upon precise weighing up you are eligible to acheive a generous rebate on your primary property investment.
Please go here to settle this juncture of the arrangement.Should you prefer not to take gain of this holiday opening offer you can go here.

Like to Hell, perhaps? I know better than to click on that. And right after Thanksgiving, a "precise weighing up" is probably NOT a good idea.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Will is ecstatic to the point of creaming his briefs to be back posting again at DesignerBlog. Since his last three posts (in which he was like totally overwhelmed, eternally grateful, and absolutely stupefied, respectively) he has designed Anouilh's "Leocadia" at MIT and been hired to design Lee Hoiby's "The Scarf" for Intermezzo, The New England Chamber Opera. Opera Pig that he is, he's also accepted an invitation to join Intermezzo's Board of Directors. Will wants to thank his wonderful husband for putting out on a regular basis (ILYFAAW), and his cat for allowing him into the bed she sleeps on. Thanks to my daughters for putting up with me all these years. Go New York City Opera!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

 
There's an amusing post script to my post on Carson McCullers and her book "Reflections in a Golden Eye." One of the topics that came up was how a young woman from a fairly sheltered background in the South could write with such conviction and confidence about the inner life of gay men, particularly conflicted gay men, and the world of soldiers on a military base.

We all knew that she had been an inhabitant of a most amazing bohemian household in Brooklyn, New York that is profiled in the book "February House" (our previous month's selection). Among the others at various times were British composer Benjamin Britten and his lover the tenor Peter Pears (in the U.S. having left Britain as Conscientious Objectors at the beginning of WWII in Europe), poet W.H. Auden, a couple of other gay men, and the famous, outrageous, quite wonderful Gypsy Rose Lee, stripper extraordinaire and at that time an aspiring writer. She and McCullers shared an entire floor of the house.

So her house-mates may well have given her some insight into the gay psyche, but the central confrontation of the book, one that begins the Captain's journey toward some self-knowledge, seems to have had a different origin. You can check it out in the last paragraphs of my previous post--the Captain is lying on the ground next to a horse after a terrifying ride and sees a young soldier, naked and leaning against a tree, looking down at him. The soldier steps right over the Captain and leads the animal away. One of the men in the group consulted a friend about McCullers and got this answer:

"And yes, Carson WAS gaudy. She was here [Yaddo], ya know. And the story goes around that one of the times she was here, at the same time as Katherine Anne Porter, Carson fell madly in love with K.A.P., who loathed her. And so to get K.A.P. to pay attention to her, Carson lay down naked in front of K.A.P.'s door. And what did K.A.P. do but walk out and STEP OVER HER!"

When is a plantain not just a piece of tropical fruit? When it's a sex toy, of course.

Some of you may already know how to do this but it came as (delightful) surprise to Fritz and me a couple of years ago at one of our big New Years country house parties.

One of the guys arrived with a big bag of plantains. Since the weekend had a pot luck aspect, we didn't think too much about this, assuming he was going to fry them for one of the dinners. Nothing like. Every now and then, he'd disappear with one of the other guests for half an hour or so. Word spread quickly that they'd "been plantained" by our charming and generous friend. Eventually we had our own turns getting plantained.

He'd take you upstairs to the room he'd settled into, you'd both get naked, and he'd pull a plantain from the bunch, deftly taking one end off with a sharp knife. Then he'd squeeze out the contents, leaving the strong but flexible plantain skin coated with remnants of the soft, slippery, sweet smelling fruit. Then, after some hand play to get you nice and hard if you weren't already, he'd slide the plantain on, get you off and send you back to the party very happy indeed.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

 
I left Boston for Fritz's on Saturday afternoon just before the weather turned really nasty. By 4pm when guys were supposed to begin arriving for the Sweat, Route 93 was turning into a sheet of ice. One of our friends called on a cell phone to tell us of the rapidly worsening conditions and I was able to talk him off 93 at exit 3 and up to us on less travelled roads. We started the fire to heat the rocks late, almost 5pm and eight of us entered the Sweat Lodge sometime after 6. Three latecomers joined us just as the rocks were beginning to lose their heat and the steam was less intense--still we had a good experience.

Our good friend who is a Catholic priest was there and he told me that morale is in the dumpster, that he and all the other gay priests he knows would walk if it weren't for the fact that they'd face a very uncertain future in the job market, be left without benefits and pensions, and still have in their hearts the calling to serve their god as best they can. I noted in the papers that a Bishop in the state of Washington has stated publicly that persecuting homosexuals is in direct contradiction to the Christian message and should have no place in the Catholic Church. I suspect he'll be thrown out of his position by the Vatican just as a Boston-area pastor was for exhibiting liberal opinions.

When we got back to the Center to shower and dress for dinner, two more had arrived so we were thirteen for the pot luck. This morning Fritz and I cleaned up out at the Sweat Lodge and did some errands before I left for Boston around 1pm. I was heading for my gay book group's monthly meeting where book of the month was "Reflections in a Golden Eye" by Carson McCullers.

Carson McCullers

I don't know that I've ever read a more homoerotic book. It most certainly isn't pornography but true erotica. McCullers set her novella at an army base in the South in the 1930s (the book was her second novel published in 1941). It involves a repressed, closeted Captain; his self-confident, dominant and passionate wife who's having an affaire with a married Major; the Major's chronically ill wife and the gay Filipino houseboy who's her close companion and "sister;" and finally, the enigmatic, brooding young soldier who is the object of the Captain's repressed lust. Oh yes, and the stallion of the Captain's wife who functions as a symbol of rampant male sexuality.

There are many over-the-top incidents in the plot that make perfect sense when read not as simple realism but as poetic metaphor for sexual desire, self -discovery, or self-destructive urges--most of them clothed in prose of startling sensuality:

"At first the Captain did not believe what he saw. Two yards from him, leaning against an oak tree, the young soldier whose face the Captain hated looked down at him. He was completely naked. His slim body glistened in the late sun. He stared at the Captain with vague, impersonal eyes as though looking at some insect he had never seen before. The Captain was too paralyzed by surprise to move. He tried to speak, but only a dry rattle came from his throat. As he watched him, the soldier turned his gaze to the horse. Firebird was soaked with sweat and there were welts on his rump. In one afternoon the horse seemed to have changed from a thoroughbred to a plug fit for the plow.

" The Captain lay between the soldier and the horse. The naked man did not bother to walk around his outstretched body. He left his place by the tree and lightly stepped over the officer. The Captain had a close view of the young soldier's bare foot; it was slim and delicately built, with a high instep marked by blue veins. The soldier untied the horse and put his hand on its muzzle in a caressing gesture. Then, without a glance at the Captain, he led the horse off into the dense woods."

We went for almost three hours on the book (there were seven of us) before wrapping up the meeting and deciding to discuss "Brokeback Mountain" as written by Annie Proulx and as filmed by Ang Lee very early next January.

Friday, November 25, 2005

 
Thanksgiving here at home was very warm and a lot of fun. There were six of us for dinner at 3pm. Fritz's sister started us off with her Mexican squash soup, a nice balance of chili spice and butternut squash with corn, onions, roasted red and yellow peppers and tomato. I opened a bottle of a good New York State champagne to go with.

The main course was a twelve pound turkey with Fritz's bread stuffing with sage, onion and chopped fresh apples. I made squash, brussels sprouts and a loaf of my honey wheat bread with dried cranberries, chopped dates and walnuts. Fritz's nephew brought a baby spinach salad with mango vinaigrette. I had Burgundy and Chardonnay to accompany dinner. Fritz's teaching colleague finished the meal off with two pies--pumpkin and apple/cranberry/ginger. After dinner we cleared the table and played the word game Perquackey which drew mixed reviews from the group. For one turn I got one X, three Is, one K, a B, an R, a Q (but no U), a J and something else totally useless. Fritz's nephew commented that it would have been a perfect hand if only we had been playing in Basque.

My younger daughter had come with her honey-colored miniature poodle Poopsie, a sweet, very funny little thing without a brain in her head but lots of affection to give. My cat was not being a good hostess, but things were surprisingly calm under the circumstances.

Today after breakfast, Fritz headed back to New Hampshire and I drove my daughter to one of Boston's grand old neighborhoods, South Boston (not to be confused with the upscale, largely gay South End) where she's finishing her weekend with an old friend from high school who has a condo there with her boyfriend.

On the way I told her of the short stories of Southie native J.G. Hayes, a gay author whose first collection "This Thing Called Courage" delighted author, editor and publisher with major sales. Hayes writes not of himself directly but of a wide vartiety of Southie types he grew up with and their struggle to maintain and foster some sort of gay identity in the midst of a conservative, even reactionary, Irish Catholic culture. His second collection "Now Batting for Boston" has just been published.

Southie may lose much of its identity, under stress currently from several fronts. Gentrification is driving housing prices sky high and breaking up long-standing neighborhoods. The Boston Archdiocease is closing and selling churches and schools that had been neighborhood anchors for decades. Huge development of a major convention center, hotels, restaurants, cruise line terminals and the infamous Big Dig are pressing down from the north. Famous for its "Code of Silence" that guarantees the police will have extreme difficulty investigating crimes committed by Southie natives, Southie itself may soon be a shadow of its former raucous, bustling self.

This afternoon I and a packed Symphony Hall audience cheered loud and long for the local premiere of "Neruda Songs," the long-awaited song cycle of love sonnets by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as set to music by American composer Peter Lieberson to be sung by his wife, the radiant mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson.

Neruda wrote the sonnets in honor of his life-long partner Matilde, and Lieberson's dedication of the score "to my beloved Lorraine" continues the tradition. The singer has been through a couple of hellish years, having been diagnosed with breast cancer during the same week her sister died of the disease. But she's been beating the cancer and today sounded magnificent in every part of her range, and with complete ease of vocal production. The poems are extraordinary, here's the last in the group, Sonnet XCII:

My love, if I die and you don’t---
My love, if you die and I don’t---
Let’s not give grief an even greater domain.
No expanse is greater than where we live.

Dust in the wheat, sand in the deserts,
time, wandering water, the vague wind
swept us on like sailing seeds.
We might not have found each other in time.

This meadow where we find ourselves,
O little infinity! we give it back.
But Love, this love has not ended:
just as it never had a birth, it has
no death: it is like a long river,
only changing lands, and changing lips.

Soloist and dediactee Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson

Lieberson's music is lyrical and sensuous, the harmonies tinged by the sound world of Debussy and the second Viennese School, while always sounding like Lieberson. The vocal line is gorgeous. The rest of the concert featured Strauss's "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" and a strong performance of Mahler's fourth symphony, but the Lieberson love songs were the big event of the concert, wonderful works that, if there's any justice, should become as popular as Strauss's "Four Last Songs." I wished Fritz had been with me, for us to hold hands and listen to one of the mostmoving expressions of undying love I have ever heard.

After the concert, I came home and quite happily made Turkey soup from the left-overs--from the sublime to the daily grind.

Thanks to blogger Hypoxic for the information that our homophobic former Nazi Youth Pope Benedict XVI wears red shoes by Prada (and sunglasses by Gucci). Obviously, no Vow of Poverty for THIS Pope.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

 

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Family begins arriving here on a 10am plane from JFK in New York. Others come by car later. It's a small gathering but should be fun. It's traditional: Turkey, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, fruit salad, pies and ice cream. The appetizer, black bean and spiced pumpkin soup, will be the slightly exotic event. I'll bake a honey wheat bread with dried fruits and nuts. We'll have champagne. We'll realize all over again how ludicrously fortunate we were to have found each other.

There's a light dusting of snow--maybe a half inch--over everything. A White Thanksgiving. Not an iconic image but pleasant.

John Kander and Fred Ebb

We spent last night having a tres nouvelle fusion dinner at Perdix in the South End, the price made possible from a coupon provided by the main event, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" performed at Speakeasy Stage. Neither of us had seen the Kander and Ebb musical version and it turned out to be most enjoyable, full of good eye candy and nicely if not spectacularly performed. There was an amusing incident in the men's room before the performance began that I'll leave for the next post when I have more time.

My best for a happy day to all who read me here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

 
Well, he says with no false modesty (actually, with no modesty of any kind), I've always suspected this:


You're an Expert Kisser

You're a kissing pro, but it's all about quality and not quantity
You've perfected your kissing technique and can knock anyone's socks off
And you're adaptable, giving each partner what they crave
When it comes down to it, your kisses are truly unforgettable

What Kind of Kisser Are You?


This morning coming down from Fritz's I saw gas being sold at two stations in Somerville for $1.99 and nine tenths. It's so good to see a gas station price sign with a 1 as the leading number again.

On CBS radio this morning there was a story that there are approximately 40 million people worldwide living with AIDS or HIV. (Sadly, word spread through the gay blogging community today that a blogger had died unexpectedly). Numbers of new infections are up in almost all countries except Uganda, Kenya and Thailand. Not so coincidentally, these countries lead the world in amount of money spent per capita of their populations on government supported sex education and safer sex programs.

Here in the U.S., the government panders to the religious right which is oh-so offended by people being in control of their bodies by having a little basic knowledge, and would rather just have them die--all in the name of "Christian charity," of course.

The fall-out from our alumni-50th anniversary of MIT theater weekend is going to be significant. The turn-out was good, the energy in the dining room dynamic. Several alums brought programs, reviews, and publicity pieces from their time working in theater at MIT for us to put in the archives. A number of them asked for us to do these reunions every five years and urged us to charge for them next time. They said they'd gladly pay. Some came from as far away as California and one man called on us this morning in the set shop to propose setting up an alumni fund to help support our activities in a tangible way.

During the cocktail hour before dinner Saturday night I found and connected with the gay alumni in about the first ten minutes. We made up a delightful, enjoyably raucous table that reconvened Sunday morning at the brunch in the theater's lobby before we struck the set. Something like 20 of them stayed for that, whether actually helping or just sitting in the auditorium and watching didn't matter. By that time they'd set their own style on the weekend and we were all feeling just fine.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

 

A quick breather

I actually have this entire morning off--for the first time in ages a Saturday morning free to get domestic: clean, vacuum, do my laundry, change beds and bake bread. I'm making a carroway rye with flax seeds (great for heart health) and chopped walnuts. I'm also finally getting to store my summer deck furniture and getting ahead for next week by laying out all the stuff I'll need to host Thanksgiving dinner.

Fritz is coming down to Boston this year. We'll have his sister and her son, my younger daughter and a woman who has been a teaching colleague of his for many years. My daughter was delighted but surprised to hear it's going to be traditional turkey, etc. and I gently reminded her that it was she and her sister who kept asking for six course Chinese and Korean dinners when they were young and still at home. At which she promptly asked if we could have Chinese on Christmas Eve, which I'm very happy to do. Ask for my pot stickers and you can get just about anything else you want.

Tonight at MIT we're hosting a pre-curtain dinner for a group of our alumni who had worked particularly in theater while at the Institute. It's the 50th anniversary of theater at MIT and we're hoping some of our former students might want to talk up and even contribute to the building of a desperately needed building with a black box theater and rehearsal facilities for theater, dance, and music that has been drawn up and ready to go for years but for lack of funding.


We don't put ourselves out as a pre-professional program but when our kids do go into professional theater, which they do with some frequency, their training here serves them very well. I wrote up the part of the exhibit that spotlights four who have made significant careers. James Woods acted and served on the student governing board. Faye Dunaway was never enrolled at MIT but at the Boston University Theater School. When she wasn't cast in B.U. productions, she'd cross the river and audition for MIT. In the days of 2% female enrollment at MIT--and given her talent and golden beauty--she did a lot of work that was highly appreciated at the time.

James Eckhouse is best known as Jason Priestly and Shannon Doherty's father in "Beverly Hills 90210" but has a huge resume as an actor and director in TV and movies. And there is Erland van Lidth de Jeude who died in his mid-30s. Erland was virtually a giant, six feet six and massively built with size 20 feet and a deep, booming bass-baritone voice (his mother, brother and sister all became successful opera singers). Erland was a sweet guy, delighted at our costume designer's ability to find him shoes and other garments that would fit without having parts of them cut away. He acted in several Hollywood movies while keeping up his wrestling, founding a company in New York City, and training his voice for the heroic Wagner baritone repertory. He died suddenly of heart failure leaving a wife and young family at the very beginning of what could have been a huge career in performing arts.

Tomorrow morning we say good-bye to our alumni at a brunch and strike the set of "Leocadia." And with the stage swept clean we start on the next project, of which more anon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 
Yesterday seventy-nine Senators, including large numbers of Republicans, voted in favor of a Resolution that calls for much greater accountability from the President concerning the war in Iraq. Though not as binding as law, it calls for detailed reports from Bush on the progress of the war but falls short of demanding plans for a timely withdrawal of American forces. Nevertheless, this vote is considered a huge challenge and warning to Bush--and from his own party this time which drafted the Resolution, not the Democrats. Whether he chooses to listen to reason or arrogantly go on "staying the course" remains to be seen, but it's encouraging that even the hard-core faithful have finally had enough.

Another ultra-conservative politician whose influence is in severe decline is our Governor Mitt Romney. He came to Masachusetts clearly determined to save us from our evil Liberal ways (paving the way for a Presidential bid, he hoped, in the process) and has fallen flat on his face consisently. The latest is his initiative to reinstate the death penalty here, which was defeated by only one vote the last time a governor tried to bring it back.

Whatever you may think of Romney, and I think very little of him indeed, he did his homework on this one and mounted a well coordinated campaign, which must make the two to one defeat of the bill he sponsored even more difficult to take. Right now he can't win for losing here and I'm so proud of Massachusetts.

With a fair amount of frequency home invasions, operation of drug labs, hidden brothels, violent murders, etc. are happening in pricey suburbs or quiet little towns all over New England. TV report crews love to get the stunned reaction of the neighbors: this is a small town and things like this don't happen here--they happen in the city. They were such lovely people--I can't believe they were sacrificing animals and engaging in sex orgies right here in the suburbs! And the one that always gets me--I guess we're just going to have to lock our doors from now on.

Doors come with locks--what do these guys think they're for? Maybe I'm too urban a creature, but you just lock your doors when you leave the house and even when you're at home and that's that. The myth that crime and illegal, dangerous activity is confined to evil inner city neighborhoods is dying hard.

The opera Monday night in New York was Gounod's really lovely, rather old fashioned "Romeo et Juliette." It turned out not to be an exciting evening. French soprano Natalie Dessay cancelled due to a heavy cold and the premiere was sung by American soprano Maureen O'Flynn who was admirably prepared, and very professional but who possessed no charm and not a trace of girlishness. Because the set for the production is huge but very restrained and formal, combined with the fact that the performance stubbornly failed to incandesce, it was a pleasant evening but something of a non-event.

However, just as soon as I slipped into my seat I saw that there was a genuine celebrity sitting just in front of me. In case I missed it, the steel rivets set in the back of his black cow hide vest spelled out "Mr. Fire Island Leather 2001." Mr. FIL was there with his boys--actually they were good-looking middle-aged daddy types with highly individual takes on facial hair and that aura muscle guys give off when compelled by circumstance to get into some sort of formal clothing.

Leather Daddy and opera-goer Mister Fire Island Leather 2001, courtesy of Google

They don't seem in any way uncomfortable, but you do notice the strain of cloth stretched over upper arms the thickness of most men's thighs or around barrell chests that don't want to be covered up. A kind of tension hangs in the air that signals a man who's very much aware of his own body.

He wore a flat leather pork-pie hat (that didn't block my view of the stage at all), the hatband of which was decorated with silver conchos. During intermission I congratulated him on winning the title and asked, pun very much intended, if he'd faced stiff competition. This sent a ripple of laughter through through the group and and set up a nice conversation. No flirting, though--I'd done that with the cute, curly-haired usher at the top of my aisle when I first arrived in the opera house. And he flirted right back, picking up his cue without missing a beat. I really love that in a man. If the action on stage was a bit slow, we made our own fun out in the auditorium.


There was one nice touch at the end of the single round of curtain calls, however. When the production team, director and designers--all of whom were making their debuts at the MET with this production--came out for bows, Scottish lighting designer David Cunningham sported a fully accessorized kilt with the requisite knee socks, sporan, and an evening jacket in black leather that drew appreciative comments from the gentlemen in the row in front of me.

Full evening kilt ensemble, cloth jacket

Monday, November 14, 2005

 

Watch this space

A lovely weekend, no matter how you slice it. It began, of course, with the Friday evening ceremony and dinner at Connecticut College that proved to be a very rich event with a couple of delightful and moving surprises. I have pictures that need to be shown to explain the full impact of it and I may or may not have time to get those downloaded and onto computer today (I'm heading down to New York City this afternoon for the opening of a new production of Gounod's ROMEO ET JULIETTE). But it will happen and it will contain the story of an extrordinary love and devotion between two men in the face of great challenges that's incredibly inspiring.

We got back from New London late Friday night and on Saturday headed up to Fritz's house in New Hampshire. The big job of the weekend, carried out in great autumn weather, was the construction of a safety railing next to a sloping path paved with slate flagstones that becomes very slippery with ice and snow in winter. We got it built Saturday afternoon and set into the ground Sunday morning.

Saturday night one of the teachers who was giving a weekend-long music class in the Masters degree program went with us to our favorite Japanese steak house and we finished the night playing Rummykub, mostly in hysterics. After four games, I finally won by two points when Fritz unwittingly set me up to go out with a truly dreadful set of tiles.

On Sunday, after cleaning up from digging postholes and pouring concrete, I drove back to Boston for a vocal recital at Symphony Hall by American dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt. Popularly known to her fans as Debbie, Voigt is the epitome of the modern female opera star. She completely avoids the attitudes and pretentions of the classic "prima donna," jokes with her audience and programs, as she did yesterday, a great deal of American song, including sets by William Bolcom, Charles Ives, Ben Moore, Amy Beach and Stephen Sondheim. Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss, whose music fits Voigt's shimmering, golden colored voice perfectly, filled out the program.

Deborah Voigt In concert gown and casual

She's also become involved in the battle over weight, an issue that has had implications well beyond the world of opera and become a big feminist political issue into the bargain. Voigt began her career as a big girl but was always a strikingly beautiful woman who moved well on stage. However there was a famous international incident in London that changed her life. She had been engaged by the Covent Garden Opera for one of her signature roles for which she is world-renouned, the title role in Strauss's ARIADNE AUF NAXOS. The management knew her figure and the production was already designed so they knew the costumes, which were modern dress. The director and designer, however, declared that she would look ridiculous in the "little black cocktail dress" they had chosen for the character. Covent Garden bought out her contract and dismissed her from the production.

It went public, which Covent Garden never should have allowed. Voigt returned to the U.S. and scheduled a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. She had Ben Moore write a song for her to use as an encore piece poking gentle fun at her famed Wagnerian roles and including the line "the profession's a mess, then there's this whole thing about a little black dress" that stopped the number with a two minute standing ovation.

But she also changed her life. Always candid about the weight issue (in one interview for Opera News held at a New York restaurant she mentioned she'd rather be eating anything other than the plate of grilled vegetables in front of her), she took the plunge and had the stomach stapling operation. The soprano who walked out on the stage of Symphony Hall to a big reception yesterday stood tall, statuesque and with a figure not large but voluptuous, the kind of figure in which Lillian Russell at the turn of the 20th century or Mae West in 1930s Hollywood looked sensational. Slimmer even than in the photos above, and singing with power, style and gorgeous tone, she looked like an artist who might even be invited back to put on that little black dress sometime soon.





Friday, November 11, 2005

 

Celebrating my personal veteran today

This evening Fritz and I will be guests of honor at Connecticut College's Shain Library. Appropriately on Veterans' Day, my late father's collection of artifacts, correspondence, technical manuals, bombing computation equipment and personal items from his service as a bombardier in World War II will begin three months on public exhibition and then become part of a research collection.

Shain Library reading/exhibit room and facade

When my step-mother died in December of 2000, I inherited a mass of family photos and documents, most of them with no supporting information--dates, names, places, nothing. However my father's memorabilia was intact, well packed in original folders and boxes, and in excellent condition. The question was, what to do with it? She had hoped it could go to a museum but the relevant ones (Framlingham in England--housed in the buildings of his former air base--or Arizona in the U.S.) were overrun with such material.

Three years ago, I was in New York having lunch with friends from New London, CT before a performance we were seeing together, and I asked L what she was working on currently. As director of special collections for Connecticut College, she was almost finished curating a gift from a local widow--her husband's collection, much like my father's. L discussed the Library's hope that this gift might become the basis of a research collection of the military careers of WWII veterans from southern Connecticut. The penny dropped for me--my father (and I as well) had grown up summers at his mother's summer house just outside New London. When I asked L if the Library would be interested in what I had to offer, she was extremely interested, and my family's strong New London connection qualified the material for inclusion in the Library's plans.

Today's program begins at 5:00 pm. Viewing the exhibit of the two men's collections will be followed by a small ceremony and dinner for about 30 guests. An article has already appeared in the local papers and there may be some press at the ceremony as well. Both men were flyers in the 8th Air Force, my father a highly decorated bombardier, Lt. Irwin a navigator whose plane was shot down over Germany and who suffered from extremely variable quality of medical care during a year or more as a prisoner of war. His widow, a delightful Irish lady, will be present as will one of my cousins and his wife from New Jersey.


My father's medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart

Mrs. Irwin and I will speak, as will another local veteran who has become the unofficial Poet Laureate of the New London area. He's 86 years old and will read one of his poems as a memorial. In an email that I received this morning, L mentions that he will be accompanied by "his longtime friend and companion, Richard." It looks as if all the men involved in the ceremony will be gay.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

 

Coming up for air at last

Final dress rehearsal for "Leocadia" went very well last night. There's an old theatrical tradition (superstition) that a bad dress rehearsal means a great opening.

Leocadia: Salon in the Chateau of the Duchess

From emperical evidence I can report that a bad dress rehearsal may well mean that the production isn't in good shape and isn't ready to open.

After the final curtain last night, I checked with the director who had no notes for me at all. We shared a big bear hug, very happy. I made a final check with the props master (aka our Master of Backstage Feng Shui for his precisely planned off-stage organization and the operating room cleanliness with which he maintains all of stage left) and took possession of any props that had been removed from the production or had been for rehearsal only and were now replaced by the real thing. I thanked everyone and went home.

We had photographs taken of each set under lights and here are three of them. The show looks very good, the more so because our lighting designer is wonderful at dealing with the bad hanging positions (way too low and not always in the right place) in our theater. She's not afraid of color and pattern, either.

Leocadia: the Inn of Ste. Anne de Pouldu

When I threw this wall at her, bright orange so that it could positively vibrate with heat and light in the glorious sunrise called for in the script, she went through dozens of gels and patterns before getting what we had both envisioned, and she absolutely nailed it.

We open tonight. I'm down to the details today, the small "grace notes" that give a set a little sparkle here and there. These are not in response to the director, these are the things I've been waiting to get to do during the days and weeks when bigger issues had to have priority.

Leocadia: The Ice Cream Vendor's Wagon

Today I get to take a cast iron early 19th century clock and turn it into a neo-classic mantle clock from the French Directoire; then I add the odd tassel to a drape or some small painted detail to a wall mural.

Tomorrow I go into my office/studio a little late and begin a major archeological dig to find my desk and drafting table, to catch up a little on my paperwork in preparation for Monday of next week--when I begin to design our next poroduction.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

 

Of rehearsals and restaurants

It's well after midnight and I should be nackered, as the British say, but I'm wired from the evening's tech/dress rehearsal and the drive home. I've read my mail, paid my bills and am hoping a blog entry may calm me down enough to get me ready to sleep (along with a good wank which always helps).

Sunday was the pivotal day. We had a cue-to-cue rehearsal with actors scheduled for 1pm and a complete tech run-through at 6pm. The difference is that in a cue-to-cue you don't perform the whole show. You just perform a couple of lines before any sound, light or set shift cue and then do the cue over and over again until everybody gets things right. By some miracle we flew through the cue-to-cue. I then did my standard work- through-dinner-break routine, doing as many of my notes as I could while the stage was empty and the cast and crew elsewhere. Then I slipped out as everyone was getting ready for the complete run-through with tech, got dinner from the convenience store on campus, and settled into one of the handicap platforms at the back of the theater which is my habitual command post during this long and demanding weekend and three days of tech and dress rehearsals.

Monday morning I was in very early--7:45am and I worked all day on the trees that had been botched in construction. I added new branches I had cut and painted and applied the silk foliage sprays we had bought--25 dozen--until the flaws were concealed and the trees looked really great. We had another good rehearsal Monday night and I think we'll be in shape to open on Thursday.


Sunday morning was the second Boston-area gay bloggers' gathering at Hai La Moon in Chinatown. Bryan (That's Interesting) had assured us it's currently the best dim sum in Boston and whether or not that's strictly true, it was VERY good indeed--once we got seated. We were called to our table about ten after 11am--our gathering time--but didn't get to sit at it for another 25 minutes. I was concerned only because I had to leave at noon to get to the theater and I was hungry. But I had a good 25 minutes , enough time to dig into a lot of great food and get to know Sean (Seanlandia) who hadn't been at the first meeting and who's a really nice guy with a subtle, charming sense of humor. For the rest we were Bryan, myself, Keith (Data Jockey), and JC (Ex Post Facto) who joined me in demolishing a pile of baby steamed clams in sauce in no time at all.

Karl (Adventures in Gastronomy) and Jeff (Esoteric Diversions) were supposed to join us but weren't able to make it. I was worried something had happened to worsen Karl's mother's condition on the Cape, but that fortunately wasn't the case. Jeff was being a good husband and taking care of Moe who was quite ill. We've really GOT to get Jeff to one of these gatherings.

There seems to be a pattern. Our first meal was at the loud, chaotic and really good Border Cafe. Our second was at the loud, chaotic and really good Hai La Moon. Where will Bryan have us gathering next?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

 

Deadlines, Ms. Dahl, and my Dearest

I'm working to tough deadlines this week; the first technical rehearsal with actors for our production of "Leocadia" by Anouilh is tomorrow. For those of you who are unfamiliar with theatrical production, tech rehearsals are long, often maddeningly frustrating but absolutely vital steps in getting a play, opera or ballet on stage. They're the very first time when all the elements of a production come together in one place to be coordinated--sets, costumes, lighting, sound, projections or other apecial effects, actors. The stage run crew learns to manipulate the scenic units for the first time, dressers learn just how little time they have to get the lead from one ball gown into her travelling dress, and actors repeat an entrance or bit of business any number of times until the sound cue, their motion, and the light cue happen in exact synchronization.

Tech rehearsals often go on for eight to ten hours, sometimes for two days in a production of extreme complexity. Just as dancers and musicians have to get an action "into their bodies" so they can execute it without thinking, all of us have to internalize the timing, the feel of the rising light levels, and the speed with which a unit has to move on or off stage so that it all happens perfectly every time.

Our tech rehearsal begins at 1:00 pm tomorrow, so I'll have at least an hour together with several of the Boston-area gay bloggers at Hei La Moon in Chinatown for dim-sum. If anyone from Boston is reading this who did not hear of this event already, please come join us--we'll be seven or eight gay men enjoying what a young Chinese-American friend of mine calls "the golf balls of death" and other delicacies. This is the second gathering and I hope there'll be interest in having a lot more in future.

Anyway, my work schedule recently has been roughly 7:30 am to about 8:00 pm at MIT. In the early mornng I get into the theater to paint and keep working on the stage floor for a couple of hours. Then I head to our design/production building to upholster chairs, paint scenery, build drapes and make table linens, etc., fitting in teaching the occasional class and whatever administrative work is required at the moment. By Thursday of this week my brain was really fried and Friday was painful but I pushed through.

Dynamic Soprano Tracy Dahl

Friday night I had a ticket to Boston Lyric Opera's production of "Lucie de Lammermoor," the almost unknown French revision and translation made for Paris by Gaetano Donizetti from his smash hit "Lucia di Lammermoor." A night watching someone else's production was exactly what I needed. Canadian soprano Tracy Dahl, a petite butterball of intense nerveous energy in this role, sang with daring and finesse and got a huge reception. And hot, suave, shaven-headed and goateed French baritone Gaetan Laperriere can sing to me any time he wants, in any venue, anywhwere.

Immediately after the final curtain, I drove north to spend the night with Fritz. On paper it looked silly--I would drive for an hour or so to slip into bed with him around midnight, have an early breakfast with him and head right back down here, But it was immensely theraputic to be curled up around him for the night and to wake up with him holding me. And if I hadn't gone, given our schedules, we wouldn't have seen each other for almost two weeks which I just wasn't prepared to have happen.

Update: in the latest poll, Bush's approval rating has dropped to 37%; those who "strongly disapprove" are now up to 42% and and the remainder disapprove to some lesser extent or are numb in expectation of what heating their homes will cost this winter.

Here in Boston, two conflicting reports are circulating in the media: NSTAR, one of our major electric and natural gas suppliers, has a public service announcement on the radio claiming that 67% of our natural gas need was purchased or is under contract, at pre-hurricane prices. There will be no shortage, they claim. Simultaneously, WBZ radio news reports that several of our electric power plants are natural gas-fired, that there is not going to be enough, that serious conservation is necessary and that rolling blackouts for both business and residential customers will be probable throughout the heating season.

One surely can't have it both ways.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

 
I was out to dinner with friends in the Government Center area last night, one of those faux Irish Pubs that are sprouting like mushrooms all around the city. As L said, they're the Disney version of a real pub, even if some of them are actual pubs that have been dismantled and shipped over here. Somehow they all wind up looking plastic and a bit cheesy.

Well, the Kinsale is a transplant and it does look fake because it was built in Ireland for the export market but never used as a bar there. L and J chose it for the menu which looked good and reasonable. They're here from New London, Connecticut for a conference L had to attend and were paying a stiff price for a tiny room at the Parker House hotel, so reasonable meals were appealing. There was a total of one--one--dish on the menu that was even remotely Irish and that was Shepherd's Pie. L and I both ordered it and weren't sorry that we did. J opted for the trout special. I know the Irish have trout but I suspect that crusting it in crushed macadamia nuts and blackening it isn't quite what they used to enjoy in "the auld sod."

If the menu featured the current fusion chic, the beer was pretty authentic. All beer was on draft and came in 16, 20 and 24 ounce glasses. New England microbreweries were featured along with champs like Guinness and excellent regional breweries like Ommegang just outside Cooperstown, New York where the beer is brewed like champagne with a secondary fermentation in the bottle. J and I bring cases of the stuff home when we hit Cooperstown in the summer for out annual trips to the Glimmerglass summer opera festival.

L is special collections librarian at the Connecticut College Library and has curated my late father's extensive collection of memorabilia from his time as a bombardier over Nazi Europe during the Second World War. I inventoried and prepared the collection when I learned that the College accepted a similar grouping of photos, documents and equipment from New London native Lt. Frederick Irwin. My father, who spent every summer with his family just outside New London, had saved EVERYTHING--all of a bombardier's equipment, extensive correspondence and his fully annotated flight log, making it an extremely valuable subject for research purposes. More after Veterans Day when the two collections are placed on exhibit, and a small ceremony and dinner mark their availability to the scholarly community.

My friend Karl from "Adventures in Gastronomy" tagged me for a meme (Karl got it from Thom on "Thoughts Made Bald") that involves
1) Delve into your blog archive.
2) Find your 23rd post.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
OK, boys, here it is: "All this works well for me and I intend to keep at it until I get to an age when taking the train and a hotel room for the night is the best and safest way."

I love it. It sounds like I'm planning sexual encounters in far-off cities far into the future. As if. In fact, the subject of the post was my frequent travel to New York City for theater and opera performances. I'll drive down in the morning, see a performance and then drive right back. If it's an evening performance, I'll drive an hour or so and then either stay the night with a friend or take a motel room somewhere along Interstate 95. I'm becoming pretty familiar with all the reasonably priced motels in southwestern Connecticut. Fritz, who is very indulgent of my opera-going, thinks I'm nuts and others of my friends just shake their heads.

The men's room in the Sofitel hotel in Queenstown, South Africa

I wonder if the interior designer who came up with this scheme has an alternate version with giant photos of men checking out the packages at the urinals.


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