Friday, February 23, 2007

My trip to New York netted me the hearing of a rarely performed but exciting opera and the chance to hear a highly promising young Italian tenor break through into stardom.

"L'Arlesiana" turned out to be a vibrant slice-of-life drama by a composer much more known for decorative period romances. For those of you who know the plot to Bizet's "Carmen," Francesco Cilea's work is the reverse image, as if Don Jose had never left home, his domineering mother and lyric sweetheart by his side, but obsessed to the point of death by a seductive and manipulative woman he's become involved with in the city of Arles, whose memory courses through his veins like some kind of toxic aphrodisiac. This opera might be considered a second or even third rank Italian melodrama, but it packs a wallop with a good cast, and it has become famous for one aria in particular, "Frederic's Lament," first heard in 1907 when Enrico Caruso sang it at the premiere performance.

Giuseppe Filianoti dying as a suicide stripped to the waist in Massenet's "Werther"

Wednesday night that aria was sung by the young, good looking Giuseppe Filianoti with an astonishingly sure combination of desperate tension, gorgeous vocal tone and a daredevil willingness to take risks for the sake of dramatic truth. His reward was a yelling, foot-stamping ovation from audience, orchestra and chorus that went on for a couple of minutes with calls of Encore! which, after a quick consultation with conductor Eve Queler, he sang to yet another ovation. Signor Filianoti received good notices for his Metropolitan Opera debut earlier this season, but getting this kind of reception on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York unquestionably turns highly placed heads in the New York music scene and signals the arrival of a star performer.

The other big performance of the night was that of Marianne Cornetti, an industrial strength dramatic mezzo-soprano in the role of the mother, a real piece of work who reacts to one of her son's anguished bouts of depression with "Why don't you just tear my heart out right here?" It's always about Mamma, apparently. Oh, and the first words of her big aria in the last act translate as "Being a mother is perfect hell!" Somehow, one is not surprised when Frederic mounts the ladders to the highest gable of the family's barn and leaps to his death on the cobblestones below.

On a lighter note, I was up in New Hampshire early this morning for a meeting with Fritz, M (who's doing all the structural drawings for the house), and P, a prospective general contractor recommended by a close friend, an architect here in Cambridge whose designs P has been building for some years. It went very well. We walked up to view the house site (P had brought a sub-contractor who would be doing the excavation work) and then sat for about forty-five minutes with the plans down at the Center. P revealed some encouraging experience with high energy-efficient houses and the fact that his company has its own framing crew for whom my house would not present an impossible challenge. He also expressed real enthusiasm for doing the project.

P thinks the house will take from four to five months to complete and May 1 was placed on the table as a distinctly possible start date. Even if there are delays along the way, that would probably place us in the house by the end of October, very much within our hoped-for schedule. No offer was made today, nor did P venture any estimates of the cost of the building. All that will come later. Our next meeting with him will come March 9 when we visit a house he built up north of Concord, New Hampshire's capital. In the meanwhile, the consulting structural engineer will have finished his review of the construction drawings, and will have returned them to M. We can then immediately submit them to the town's Planning Board as part of our application for a building permit. We'll be interviewing a couple of other prospects for general contractor as insurance, but if we engage P, which looks like a reasonable assumption given how he interviewed today, all obstacles to breaking ground will have been eliminated.

Rhode Island is moving toward recognition of other states' same sex marriages and civil unions. This is a significant development. There is nothing in any of Rhode Island’s laws or in its Constitution to ban such recognition. The formation of a network of sympathetic states through which married or civilly united gay/lesbian couples can pass while keeping their rights will be a big step in solidifying the slender, painfully slow gains we're making. It's all in the Northeast so far--and virtually all in New England except for New Jersey--but I think it's going to gather momentum and become a force to reckon with.

Similarly, a Superior Court Judge today dismissed a suit brought by two sets of parents in the west suburban town of Lexington, declaring it perfectly legal to have discussions and assign readings concerning same-sex couples in the classroom. The Judge went on to affirm the principle that parents may not dictate the curriculum in public schools. The parents, who protested the reading of the book "King and King" about a male couple in their children's classroom, plan to appeal. But this IS Massachusetts after all, and I seriously doubt their chances.

The concert sounds like it was fabulous! I am so thrilled cause I got a friend's ticket (first row balcony) to Eugene Onegin tomorrow (uh, today). oh.mi.oh.mi. will definitely have the binocs out for this.

the house plans are moving along aren't they? so exciting - thanks for sharing them!
When you discuss opera, I feel like I should know more and be more into it. Sometimes I think I know how the dogs feel when I'm talking to them. I know you're saying something, and I'm sort of following along but much of it is beyond me. The one bright spot is that I did enjoy the singing when I went to the opera, but it just never grabbed me. ;)

Congrats on the house progress. I know from our own experience how exciting that is. It also can be a lot of work, depending upon how hands-on you need to be. We found that we needed to keep a lot of control, so things would come out how we wanted.

Yes, progress is definitely being made in gay rights. The amount of hatred and ignorance we need to fight is sad, but we're heading in the right direction.

I've been out of the US for so long (since 1982, except for shortish visits) that I've lost my hands on feel for American society. How is it that New England is so much more enlightened than the rest of the country? Is it simply a matter of education in the case of Massachusetts? How do you explain Vermont, which was hardly a bastion on liberalism when I lived in the US. And why hasn't more progress been made in NY? And then, there are other traditional bastions of liberalism, like the Pacific Northwest. Why have they been left behind on gay rights? Or has progress been made of which I am not aware?

As for the house, it sounds as things are coming along quite well, but my experience has been that time estimates are even more unreliable that expense estimates. All three of the contractors we got estimates from for the work on our Paris apartment said "two months." The costs were, as we expected, about 20% higher than the estimates, but the renovation on a small one bedroom apartment took six, not two months. Perhaps it's because the financial aspects of the written estimate are binding in France, but the time is not.
While the ruling is wonderful, the judge, I believe, allowed the parents to have their children excused from same sex relationships discussions.

I just wish they had taken that one extra step but I suppose we shoudl be thankful for what we got.
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