Sunday, May 29, 2011

 
With spring in high gear and the opera production finished and the scenery put into storage, it's been all about the property and the house and getting the gardens going. It's work I love. Getting the hoses laid out for watering all the various areas we've planted is the current big job. I have well over 200 feet to deploy with probably another 200 permanently laid in the ground, feeder hoses leading to junction points from which above ground hoses lead in various directions to water vegetables, berry bushes, fruit trees and ornamental plantings.

We close down the suet feeder in the late spring, summer and early fall when our woodpeckers and flickers have no lack of sources for food. We keep the seed feeder going for the pleasure of seeing all the birds in the area come just eight feet from our front windows all through the day. Squirrels do try to get into the feeder but as soon as their weight hits the feeding platform, the feeder closes up. They usually learn in the early spring that it's futile to try, and limit themselves to ground feeding for dropped seed, which I don't really mind at all. I was lucky to catch both bird and squirrel at the same time in this shot.

For our first three years in the new house, we were free of woodchucks (aka groundhogs) raiding our vegetable gardens. There was a very big, fat and hungry one living in a burrow by Fritz's old house downhill of the Center, who would clean out any garden his office manager planted by her wing of the building, and she eventually gave up on most of it.

This spring, we began to notice that something was clearing out spinach and lettuce growing in the cold frame that's now open for the warm weather. We saw a woodchuck running from the garden into the woods one day as we drove up the hill. Then a half dozen newly planted bulbs that Fritz had planted were dug up and eaten. So he got out the Have-a-Heart trap and set it near the cold frame between the second and third raised garden beds. The bait (a half apple) was eaten without springing the trap the first day, so he got out the WD-40, got all the working parts thoroughly freed up and the next day we caught this relatively little fellow.

We drove it across the Exeter River and opened the trap in a wooded area. After a moment's hesitation, off it went to freedom -- his and ours.

The daffodils are gone by now and it's time for the iris to blossom.

This Icelandic Poppy is new this year. Since this picture was taken, it put up a brilliantly yellow flower among the orange ones. I hadn't expected two colors from the same plant.

Yesterday I went out to water the planters under the four foot-deep solar overhangs around the house and saw that large numbers of bright red beetles were mating on the stand of lilies in front of our bedroom windows. There were at least two dozen couples going at it, with one or two more today.


Monday, May 23, 2011

 

 Fourteen years ago today, Fritz and I met at a friend's house in Cambridge, MA.  I was struck by a face of immense kindness, clear French blue eyes,  a lively sense of humor, vitality, intelligence -- there was an instant connection.  Three days later, each of us contacted the host on how to get in contact with the other, and we were off and running.  It has never faltered, but has deepened with the years and weathered some challenges life threw at us along the way.

We're off to Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, NH tonight to celebrate our anniversary (Thanks, Rick of Bandit Talks, for the recommendation!) and begin year 15!
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Some people say you know a country is in trouble when it starts allowing people of the same sex who love each other to form a legal union and have the obligations and benefits enjoyed by other couples.

I say a country is in trouble when it's political leaders seek to reduce our already degraded educational system, and throw retired people under the bus proposing to slash the financial support and health protection promised to the very senior citizens who raised and educated them, among other major accomplishments.  The following article points out the danger of eliminating arts education in our schools, a seriously misguided goal that will further cheat our children by impoverishing their imaginations, sensitivity and creativity.

But I believe most politicians know that an educated electorate is their biggest enemy.

Michael Kaiser
President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Future of the Arts/ The Future of America

Last week, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities released a study on arts education and the news is bleak. Taking information on a 2008 report from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Los Angeles Times recently reported: "Among children of a college graduate, 27% said they had never taken even one arts class, compared with 12% in 1982. For children of high school graduates, the number who'd never had any arts study rose from 30% nearly 30 years ago to 66% in 2008."

This radical diminution in exposure of children to arts education has dire consequences for our arts ecology as well as our nation as a whole.

Traditionally, young children were exposed to the arts by their families and their schools. I remember playing the triangle in nursery school, singing in music class in grade school and singing in chorus and playing in the orchestra throughout my junior and senior high school days. I was an exception. When most students entered high school, they stopped their arts participation as they focused on dating, college, career and creating a family. Most people ages 18-45 had little discretionary time and money and only returned to the arts when their children were grown and their careers flourished. This influx of middle-aged ticket buyers, subscribers, donors, volunteers and board members was essential for the health and vitality of our arts organizations.

The startling fact revealed in the statistics in this new arts education report is that we cannot expect this trend to continue. Will someone with no arts experiences as a child automatically become a subscriber or donor to the arts when they hit middle age? Will they volunteer at a local dance school? Will they be willing to join the board of a theater company? I doubt it.

If not, where will the earned and unearned income for the arts come from in 20 or 30 years? The arts suffer from inflation more than other industries owing to our difficulty improving productivity. We need to add income more quickly rather than less quickly than other sectors of the economy.

As dire as the consequences may be for our field, they are much more serious for our economy as a whole.  The United States no longer depends on manufacturing as the central element of our economy. Less than 20% of our gross domestic product now comes from manufacturing, the lowest level among developed countries.

Our economic future depends on a work force that must be creative problem solvers, those who can invent new products and create new software. This means our educational system must produce creative, problem-solving graduates.  Who better to play a role in exercising the creative minds of our children than we in the arts? How are students going to build confidence in their abilities to create if they are not given access to education that goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic?

Those who argue that investing in arts education is frivolous are simply wrong. We do our children and grandchildren no favor by reducing deficits by cutting educational opportunities.  But arts organizations are going to have to do more and better arts education in the coming years; we are going to have to work together to create smarter, stronger more efficient arts programming for children.

The health of our field and of our nation is at stake.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

 
I was going to lead off with something else, but This came to me from my daughter in Salem, Oregon and I just can't stop looking at it.  My granddaughter Sasha Julia, now just over 20 months old, looking radiant, with her hair done exactly the way I used to do her mother's hair at that age and looking just as delightfully happy as her mother used to.

We're going out to visit later in the summer, combining a visit to them with a little vacation for ourselves, a boat trip through the southern Alaska archipelago, and a visit with some friends in Seattle and Portland.  It would be lovely if there weren't a full continent between us but there is and we deal with it as best we can.

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The opera whose libretto we wrote opened last Saturday night.  That's the reason I haven't blogged in so long.  The technical and dress rehearsal period the week before went very well but was full of long days.  We had a super director, a chic and very bright British lady who had directed for the company last January which is when we discovered that we worked together really well, and so it was this time.

The opera was called A Place of Beauty, a title Fritz chose as it was how Isabella Stewart Gardner referred to the Venetian Palazzo-inspired building she built in the Back bay fens area of Boston to house the spectacular collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings, furniture, tapestries, manuscripts, and architectural element, etc. she and he late husband had collected, and in which she lived.

The two performances were preceded by a 40 minute talk we gave along with composer Robert Edward Smith and our aforementioned director, Kirsten Cairns.  The opening was officially sold out although some few people who had bought tickets didn't show up.  The rehearsals the week before had improved steadily in both ensemble and individual performance.  The opening went superbly; the audience was enthusiastic.

For the reception afterward David Feltner, our conductor who was responsible for running it, chose to serve exactly what Isabella had served to her guests the night she opened the palazzo, which she had named Fenway Court -- champagne and doughnuts.  Isabella liked doughnuts and thought everybody should, too.  Novelist Edith Wharton was NOT amused and there was apparently a delicious little set-to between the two women as Wharton rather ostentatiously stalked out of the place.

We had thought that the cast couldn't get any better but the Sunday matinee was even more emotionally focused and the singers' diction was just one notch clearer and more precise.  Again, Barbara Kilduff nailed the long final scene we had constructed for her beginning with her elegy at Jack's death, going through her crisis wondering if she could succeed building the place herself, pulling herself together and taking charge like a Greek Fury to get it exactly right, her reconciling with Boston society in the person of our archetypal character The Boston Matron, and her deciding to remain forever in the building to await the return of the many paintings stolen in the infamous 1990 massive art heist.   Again, there was a very demonstrative audience.

When the calls were over and the curtain came down, we grouped for a couple of pictures, did all the standard hugging and wished it wasn't over.  Then we took the scenic units apart, packed them up and came home.  Tired but very happy, Fritz and I stopped for Chinese in Derry and talked about what an amazing part of our lives it had been for the last thirteen months.

Some pictures:

Barbara Kilduff (Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Bavarian and Hamburg State Operas, etc.) as Isabella reliving the opening reception of Fenway Court, memories of her late husband triggered by a bouquet of violets.  Behind her is an"empty frame," representative of the seven empty frames left behind by the art thieves whose burglary opens the opera and brings Isabella back through the ether to defend her creation.  The face of the scenic muslin in the frame is painted with a neutral color, but the back of the muslin is painted with the brocade pattern John Singer Sargent used as a background for his famous portrait of Isabella.  In the very last moments of the opera, Barbara assumed the pose, and a light shone on the rear of the flat, causing the back-painting to show through: 

 
There was a little gasp from some in the audience as Barbara/Isabella became the famous portrait, standing serenely forever to guard her unique creation; then the lights slowly faded and the opera ended.

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We have a great friend named Al Jaeger.  Al is a well known and highly respected potter/ceramic artist here in New Hampshire whose work has been exhibited frequently and is now on exhibit at several museums.  These two works of his (all of his pieces are inspired by the landscapes through which he travels and the buildings he finds wherever he goes) hang outside our front door.  This week, I took a plunge and bought this one of his . . .

. . .  inspired by a trip to Switzerland.  Al's slab-built sculptures are glazed and fired to be exhibited outdoors or indoors.  This one now occupies a corner of the planter that's outside our bedroom windows and directly under the two shown in the upper picture.


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Starr, sacked out on the stone counter that's always warm because of the Aga stove below it.  Starr is 15 now and she likes her warm places.


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The big English Country Garden in front of the house, everything flourishing in this extra cool and rainy spring.

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Broadway Legend Arthur Laurents Dies

Openly gay Broadway legend Arthur Laurents has died at the age of 93.
Theater Mania reports:
Laurents was best known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim, including writing the books for West Side Story and Gypsy (earning Tony nominations for both), Anyone Can Whistle, and Do I Hear a Waltz. Early in his career, Laurents wrote such plays as Home of the Brave and The Time of the Cuckoo. In later years, he wrote and directed the musicals The Madwoman of Central Park West and Nick & Nora. Laurents directed the 1975, 1989, and 2008 revivals of Gypsy, each of which earned Tony Awards for its respective leading ladies, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, and Patti LuPone. He also directed the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story.
Laurents was temporarily blacklisted during the McCarthy era after a review of one of his plays was published in the Communist Party USA newspaper.

NOTE: Laurents asked that his obituaries include this line: "He was predeceased by his partner, Tom Hatcher, with whom he had lived in happiness for more than 50 years."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

 
It's been a week since I last posted, and a very busy one.  Load-in for for the opera's props and scenery into the Boston Conservatory of Music Theater is Saturday at noon; then there's a full run-through, probably two if all goes well, between 2 and 5pm.  I will pull all the props from various places, but mostly from my old stock at MIT, tomorrow afternoon.  Everything is built, and all the set pieces are painted except one that doesn't have to be put in until next Tuesday so everything's in pretty good shape. 

Our director, a smart and very skilled British lady, had the idea that since our libretto tells the story of Isabella Stewart Gardner's life in the arts leading to her building her iconic Museum as a memory play, she wanted the setting to be the Museum.  Everyone who enters or exits during a scene would do so through a doorway that was also a museum-style frame.  Above is one of the two gilded doorways lying on its side.  They're both built to come apart and be bundled for transportation.  They'll be mounted on rolling platforms and braced to look like they're on an easel.

There are also four actual easels in the design, mounted back to back on two other rolling platforms, each one holding a large painting that will suggest the location for a scene.  Three of the four are copies I've painted of work by artists known to Isabella Gardner or part of her inner circle.  Two are by John Singer Sargent; this one will play behind a scene in art dealer Bernard Berenson's office. 

It is, of course, Venice.  For many years, the Gardners spent a couple of months a year in Venice in a palazzo on the Grand Canal.  That palazzo became the model for Isabella's Museum building with its famous interior courtyard covered by a glass, greenhouse-style roof.  It's believed to be the first such covered atrium to be built in the United States.  The night in January, 1904 when Isabella opened the Museum with a huge party for Boston society (including many who had snubbed her because of her unconventional ways and close associations with the "bohemian" arts and gay communities), it looked somewhat like this:

The entire building was lit by candlelight.  I found a picture of the courtyard more or less as it was then with two story-tall palm trees and flowers in bloom, which stunned the guests on an icy winter night, and painted it as I imagined it might have looked with candelabra everywhere.

The set was built using a large amount of the scrap lumber, some left over from construction of the house, some from Fritz's barn, including all the picture frames.  I bought some decorative bits at Lowe's and cut them up and the results aren't too far off from what's in actual museums.

It's nine days to opening -- it's an exciting time!

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