Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This is thanks to Mike Mennonno (Mennonno Sapiens), who catches up at intervals with the South End Knitters who cover exposed ironwork rings and knobs on old stone gates and fences with fanciful knitted covers, a delightful form of People's Public Art.                                                                                                                                     


 The old scam in a totally new form, at least to me:

 I am presently in Iraq with the U.S. Army for peace keeping mission. I found $5,4OO,OOO near one of Saddam's old palaces during a rescue operation; I need your Urgent assistance to move this money out to a safer place. Please get back to me through my personal email: capt.darrenclinton@yahoo.com.hk for more details.


New Hampshire is being inundated with Republican candidates for the US Senate, fourteen of them so far, six considered major league.  There are two Democratic candidates who are active, both women.  All these candidates are identical to each other.

Here’s how: to a person, they are all outsiders, because to not be an outsider means to be an insider, and Washington DC insiders are the new equivalent of Islamic terrorists.  Not only are they all outsiders (“I’m a business man, NOT a politician!”; “I’m a prosecutor, NOT a politician!”), they all have a plan to end the bail-outs, balance the budget, eliminate the deficit, end earmarks, repeal “Obamacare”.  They will all create jobs, they will all put Washington back on track.  It’s the same plan, and they will each achieve it single-handedly.  They will bring Washington to its knees -- all by themselves.  Yeah, sure.

The attack ads began a month or so ago with liberal use of the word Liberal which is the new equivalent of “pinko, leftist Commie fellow traveler” (Google it if you don’t know – it makes great reading) and counter charges of being a secret insider because of always having been appointed to office, never elected  (Oooooh – good one!).  I commented to Fritz this morning that the sheer mass of TV commercials for candidates, some of them running five to eight times an hour, is enough to make me nostalgic for the car dealership ads that are being crowded out (“Ira!  Ira!  Nothing down at Ira!”)

We’re still two weeks away from the New Hampshire primaries.  I’m William Fregosi and I don’t approve of their messages.


Whatever it is, I do hope so!                                              

Monday, August 23, 2010


A Little More Nature

Today's Tumescent Tomato. It's very odd, but our garden is popping out tomatoes with these appendages this summer. I've never grown any that did this before.  Possibly there are male tomatoes?

One of our wild turkeys, one that Fritz refers to as "the rogue" because it is always alone and never with the flock; our last sight of them was in December when we were decorating the inside/outside Christmas tree and saw them walking across the property just below the big flower garden. I feel certain that the big feather I found is from this bird. Fritz was at the dining table in the kitchen, happened to look up and called me immediately when he saw the turkey on its way toward the new part of the vegetable garden . . .

. . . on its way past the asparagus bed (uphill of the bird) and the Brussels sprout/winter squash
bed, downhill.

Friday, August 20, 2010


For Love of Nature

I went outside the other afternoon after the heat of the day had broken to do a little watering. I happened to look down on the deck outside our bedroom and saw this feather lying there. It's a wild turkey tail feather and it was less than two feet from the wall of our bedroom. Whenever we've seen turkeys on the property, they've always been some distance from the house, but the one who dropped this obviously had no fear of coming very close.

Our tomato plants are bearing very heavily this summer, happy for all the sun and heat. This one looks as if he'd let his enthusiasm run away with him. Please feel free to provide any caption that pops into your heads.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Boston's Women of Opera and Music, Part Two

In 1975, The Associate Artists Opera, for which I had been the resident set designer for four years, began to experience financial difficulties and merged with two other smaller companies to form the Boston lyric Opera. There wasn't much activity for a while when I received a call from British conductor John Balme who was now running the fledgling company, asking me to return to be his designer and production manager. I agreed at once and began immediately, designing two seasons for Boston Lyric, which also provided production services to the brand new, now famous, Boston Early Music Festival, meaning that I designed their first two opera productions as well.

Balme's major project, Wagner's Ring of the Nibleung, cast with Boston musicians and mostly Boston singers, was performed in concert for one season, and staged in elemental sets for a second season. Boston critics had condescended to it (one asked why he should listen to a bunch of Bostonians when he could put on a recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and big stars), missing the point and the tremendous achievement entirely. The New York Times, on the other hand, was positively effusive in its praise and admiration for all involved when the production traveled to New York City.

John Balm soon returned to England, succeeded by this hugely talented women:

Anne Ewers began in the trenches as an assistant director with the San Francisco Opera and took over the Boston Lyric in 1984, faced by scant resources and the outstanding debts of the three companies that were in the mix, exacerbated by the debt from the Ring project. Ewers settled down to a pattern she would repeat with troubled companies in future: instead of being cautious, she increased the length of the season, raised funds, and retired 1/2 million dollars of debt. She brought exciting, unfamiliar material into Boston, scoring a big success with Poulenc's great Dialogs of the Carmelites. When she left Boston in 1989, she handed over an established, secure, solvent and well organized company.

Having taken the Boston position specifically to gain administrative experience, Ewers then embarked on 12 years of gypsy-like life as an international stage director, from Isreal to New Zeeland and points in between. Armed with intimate knowledge of opera production as practitioner and manager, Ewers then secured the position of President and CEO of the Utah Symphony and the Utah Opera in 2002.

One of the first things Ewers did, originally experiencing intense opposition, was to merge the two companies, cutting costs to each, combining and streamlining the companies' management structure. Along the way she retired the debt and began to run a surplus, doubled the endowment, sent the Symphony in its first European tour, and founded an annual Festival -- all in five years, an astonishing achievement.

Again, Ewers left a company after five years, having transformed it completely and left it in an enviable condition. She decamped for Philadelphia in 2007, becoming President and CEO of the Kimmel Center and Manager of the Academy of Music which is home to eight performing arts companies. The job also includes running the city's Celebrity Series.

It didn't take five years this time. In just one season, Ewers paid off a $30 million debt, increased the endowment from $40 to $72 million, raised another $10 million to found a city-wide Festival and ended the year with a $1.2 million surplus.

I have no idea if the New York City Opera, which was in disastrous financial and organizational crisis two years ago, tried to lure Ewers away from Philadelphia but it would have been a very smart thing to do. Anne Ewers is rather obviously a skilled company savior.

Janice Mancini del Sesto became Boston Lyric's next long-term director, one with the strength and determination to loft the company into a much higher level of achievement. Casting improved and her music director Stephen Lord became the rock on which she would build a first rate "regional" company.

Mancini del Sesto was particularly successful at bringing emerging singers to Boston as well as getting established stars to appear in material that was fascinating but not usual for them. In the former category, Nathan Gunn's appearance in Faust as a very young baritone sounded from the first notes he sang like a future major artist, which is exactly what he proceeded to become. Patricia Racette, now a regular at the Metropolitan Opera in the great roles of the standard repertory was, eighteen years ago, close to a sensation as the three contrasting heroines of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann. The greatest of these emerging artists was a statuesque soprano with an astonishingly large and brilliant voice who was on the brink of giving up her operatic career for lack of recognition. Deborah Voigt blew the roof off the Majestic Theater as Ariadne in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in a performance whose reverberations reached New York City in record time. A major international career and a raft of continuing publicity followed closely on her BLO appearances.  And Voigt paid the company back generously by later, as a major star, giving a benefit fund-raising recital for Boston Lyric.

In the later category, the beloved, late, and dearly lamented Lorraine Hunt Lieberson gave BLO what I believe to be her only performances ever as Carmen, a highly complex, introverted characterization that was sung with intelligence and consistent beauty. At the height of her BLO career, Mancini del Sesto gave the city of Boston another Carmen, free and outdoors on the Common, that was expected to draw maybe a couple of thousand people. 150,000 showed up to launch the international career of the young, beautiful and sensuously voiced Jossie Perez in the title role.

When the great economic crunch hit, donor money dried up and attendance fell as ticket buyers set their priorities on basic necessities rather than opera tickets. Mancini del Sesto had two choices: forge ahead with interesting repertory and strong box office appeal artists, or fall back on the standard works that everyone knows and loves and hope to ride out the storm; unfortunately, in a very musically sophisticated city, she chose the wrong one. She declared in the pages of the Boston Globe that the company would henceforth focus on "the top 20" and she announced a season that included tried and true works many of which would be repeats from the very recent past. The idea was to keep the loyalty of subscribers from Boston's moneyed and rather conservative western suburbs. What happened was that subscribers from the city itself AND the suburbs dropped their subscriptions because of the uninteresting offerings. Her departure from the company was announced shortly thereafter.

Mancini del Sesto's successor is Esther Nelson, a solid administrator who has now completed her first season at the helm of Boston Lyric. She has advocated a return to more varied and interesting repertory, but the jury is still out on how she produces it. She began with the eternal Carmen, decently if not spectacularly cast, but put only about 75% of Bizet's great score on stage. In a hack job of brutal proportions, cuts were made in about 50% of the numbers, several of which were dropped from the opera altogether,including one of Carmen's great moments, the Gypsy Song that opens Act 2. The lively and important characters Frasquita and Mercedes were reduced to walk-ons. As the opera limped on, its structure and shape becoming ever more obscured by the cuts, I began to make note with surprise of the few numbers that weren't either removed completely or eviscerated by having their middle sections cut out of them. Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart and the company itself were savaged in the press for this travesty. 

One hopeful development is the introduction of one non-mainstream opera every year produced in an alternate or non-traditional venue.  Last season it was Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw starring the charismatic soprano Emily Pulley and magnificent old veteran Joyce Castle, performed in an old armory in the city's Back Bay.  (Next season it is the legendary Emperor of Atlantis, written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp by composer Viktor Ullmann and librettist Peter Kien.  The Nazis saw through the fairy tale setting and realized that Hitler was being satirized; Ullmann and Kein were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and the opera was banned.)   

The season ended with a poorly directed production of Mozart's Idomeneo, well conducted but inconsistently sung and dramatically inert. Boston Lyric's future is still somewhat in doubt.

To be concluded next time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I'm three days late for this -- I'd blame the oral surgery early in the week, but the truth is that I just lost count. DesignerBlog debuted on August 8, 2003 and has been a constant pleasure to write. The main personal benefit for me has been the large number of great people with whom I have had the opportunity to share ideas, humor, caring, and in many happy cases, personal meeting that has led to lasting friendship.

Thanks to all of you who have entered and enriched my life. I look forward to our continuing adventure together!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The weekend at Cooperstown was an extra kick this year because of the opportunity to spend time with friends in addition to all my usual activities.

Friday afternoon, I made what turned out to be a very minor detour from my normal route to meet fellow blogger Sean Breen for lunch at his place. It became obvious very quickly that we had a lot in common as fellow artists whose houses are set up to entertain large numbers of friends, who eat simply but very well, who are both highly active and continually curious about life, and are blessed with patient, loving husbands who appreciate the high energy unpredictability of their mates. I said good-bye happy to know that on Sunday morning a brunch had been planned about 25 miles east of where I stay in the Cooperstown area at which I would get to spend more time with Sean, meet his husband Jeffrey and their housemate Josh, and have a welcome reunion with blogger friend Thom and boyfriend Richard.


It has become evident that the departed directorship in place at the Glimmerglass Opera for the last five years wasn't brilliant on several points, among them dealing with the economic downturn. Also, one or two seasons had featured less than compelling repertory and some lower ticket sales. One result
this summer was that the scenic designers were told that they had to pull everything required to realize their design concepts out of standing stock from old productions, adapting or repainting as required. Sometimes adversity stimulates creativity -- for the most part this summer, the productions were smart, atmospheric and set the performers off very well. Next year the new administration of American director Francesca Zambello will have taken complete control, but some of the changes and new events that she envisions were in place this year and promise a much fuller and richer experience at what she is renaming the Glimmerglass Opera Festival.

There were four operas this year: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (A well-cast production filled with a lot of personal character detail and strongly conducted by incoming Music Director David Angus); Puccini's Tosca, the old favorite updated to the World War I era with three first-rate soloists including a terrific performance of the villainous Baron Scarpia by Lester Lynch; Handel's Tolomeo in its very first stage performance in North America, the setting surrealistic, witty and imaginative -- which some found threatening for some reason but which I loved; and The Tender Land by beloved American composer Aaron Copland.

Copland is known for having developed a lyrical, distinctly "American sound" in such works as the ballets Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and in movie scores like Our Town, The Red Pony and two or three others. But Copland's magic was very scarce in the 40 minute first act that consists largely of dialog with very few "aria opportunities" to let his gift for long lovely melodies show forth. Combined with the rather simplistic text written by Copland's boyfriend at the time, act one seemed a LONG 40 minutes. Some amusement was to be had during the intermission when two wags entertained their friends by chanting a parody of the sung dialog:

Well, I'm going to the men's room now.

OK, we'll see you later.

Yes, later, later.

Somehow Copland never found the secret of writing expressive, compelling music for dialog, as opposed to Puccini, Mozart and, especially, Leos Janacek whose dialog crackles with interest and energy. Acts two and three fared much better because the libretto gave the Copland more set piece opportunities: arias, duets an ensemble scenes a number of which were quite lovely. But one can see why this opera is rarely encountered. As the composer wrote the piece to be performable by young singers, the entire cast came from Glimmerglass's Young American Artist program and they performed with distinction. The YAA always take supporting roles at Glimmerglass but here they were the whole show, and they will be again next summer at a specially priced "family matinee" of Bizet's Carmen.

When not at the opera I hit the antique barns that are very special in the Cooperstown area. In the cavernous basement of one I found almost all the pieces I need for an outdoor art project I've had in mind for a while (more on that as it develops), while upstairs I found a piece Fritz and I have wanted to accent our gardens -- something sculptural.

With a warm patina of rust, this finial spire and weather vane pennant at 5'-6" tall was just what we've been looking for. Fritz was delighted when I unloaded it at home Monday morning.

The brunch was planned at the American Hotel in Sharon Springs, NY. When I first saw the hotel in the mid-90s during my first years traveling to Cooperstown, it was an abandoned, decaying remnant of a grand hotel in a sleepy village that had been a major resort in an area of mineral springs and handsome mineral water bath houses, all gone to seed. A revival began a decade or so ago when Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe who had settled in great numbers in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, discovered that mineral baths of they type they had left behind existed in the U.S. not too far away.

Suddenly, the area began to revive. Sharon Springs and neighboring Cherry Valley began to enjoy boom times. Good friends of Sean and Jeffery's, Doug and Garth, bought the American and restored it. The baths were renovated.

Charming old, neglected buildings became art galleries, bed and breakfasts, and cafés. Doug and Garth are good friends, in turn, of the stars of the Green Planet reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys which is shot entirely in and around Sharon Springs, often with Doug and Garth on camera.

There were six of us at brunch, it was great to see Thom again, Doug held forth at every opportunity, hilarity ensued.

Our new garden centerpiece in place where it will eventually stand after I arrange a secure base for it and get it coated with a weatherproof sealer.


Well, this morning I was spinning through my friend links on Facebook and got to the aforementioned Mr. Breen's page.

Sean had begun his day by posting this magnificent statement that I immediately commented should be read on the floors of both houses of the Congress, and in the legislatures of all 50 states. Posted here with his permission:

Dear Citizens who feel they should discriminate against and harass me and impose your beliefs and opinions on me and mine and demote me to a legal second class citizen:

I may not like you. Hell, I may hate you and want to punch you in the face some times. I may disagree with you vehemently, seriously oppose your religious views, your philosophies and your opinions about people, places and things. I may hate where you shop, how you dress, how you raise your children, what you drive and every tacky thing about your family picnics, weddings, lifestyles, homes and hobbies. I may never want to be your neighbor, work for or with you, share a room or a shower with you or even engage in small talk on public transit. But I would never deign to try to legally ban you from or remove your civil and legal rights and protections and equality solely because you're not my cup of tea. Ever. And I don't feel this way because a god or government or society told me to. I feel this way because I think it is the moral, ethical, proper, just and fair way to live and thrive in a society with my fellow people - as equals.

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