Sunday, February 24, 2013

A few complaints were lodged on a friend's Facebook page just after the end of Downton Abbey's Season 4, because he had revealed that Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens, had been killed in an automobile accident.  Apparently in some areas there was a slightly different schedule, and some people complained that a "Spoiler Alert" label should have been put on top of my friend's item because now that they knew the ending, there was no reason to watch the last episode.  

Actually, the scheduling of this series is rather strange.  The DVDs of Season 4 were being hawked on PBS before PBS showed a single one of the Season 4 episodes.  And reports were coming from England, where it is seen many months ahead of here, discussing some of the main plot points.

I have always wondered about the attitude that if you know the ending to a play or movie it's "ruined" for you.  I have encountered it a lot, and it makes it seem as if every play, movie or opera is a "who done it."  Perhaps, because I am in the theater/opera profession, I know that there is so much more going on in a production than just the outcome, the final scene.  So, after all the complaints that my friend had ruined the latest series of Downton,  I added this comment:

"Am I to take it that there is no value to seeing a dramatic presentation if one knows the ending in advance?   The characterizations by the cast; the beauty, appropriateness and skill of the designs; the quality of the writing; the social relevance or political comment in the theme -- none of these is worth seeing and enjoying if you know that "he or she dies in the end?"

"OMG, I guess I just ruined a lot of Shakespeare, most of the Greeks, and the entirety of 19th century opera for you all!"


Fritz is trying an experiment this winter, seeing if he can grow tomatoes indoors in our south-facing windows that build up quite a bit of heat on sunny days.  The heat obviously isn't anything like a really hot summer day nor is there an equivalent amount of humidity, conditions tomatoes like in order to set fruit.  This plant is the tallest at six feet; the flower cluster pictured is at about the four and a half foot level with other flower clusters coming higher up.  He also has two shorter plants, a four and a three foot, and both have flower clusters.  He's fertilized the flowers with a small water color brush I gave him and we'll see if we get anything.

Another weekend, another snow storm.  Two weeks ago we had an extremely serious storm that prevented me from going down to New York for an opera to which I had a ticket at the Metropolitan.  The storm was so devastating for audience travel that the MET, which has a lot of annoying fees involved with ticket purchase and exchange, offered out of towners a totally free even exchange that could be negotiated over the phone.  I wasn't able to get a ticket to the same opera (Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore) but to another (Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini) that I've never seen on stage and always wanted to.

Today I have a ticket in Boston to another rather obscure opera by a very major composer, Benjamin Britten's Owen Wingrave.  The storm isn't in a league with the big one two weeks ago and it is only an hour away.  New Hampshire has a very good track record on keeping the major roads open, so I should be able to make this one.  

Planning ticket purchases nine months to a year ahead, which you have to do with the Metropolitan, makes the buyer subject to unwelcome weather conditions and I do try to plan things with as few trips to New York as possible in heavy weather months (last winter, "The Winter That Never Was" was an incredibly helpful, but extremely rare event).  Some MET productions only play in January and February so sometimes I just have to take a chance.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reply I made to a thread on Facebook consisting of all the moth-eaten old idiocy that gay marriage destroys the institution of marriage, and that Christians will be forced to do things against their religion:

"To those who preach that same sex marriage harms heterosexual marriage, please produce:

"Proof that one, just  one heterosexual marriage was terminated because gay people can get married, or that one wife told her husband she was leaving him because gay marriage rendered their marriage meaningless.   Or:

"Proof that one engaged couple called their parents and said that since gays can marry there's no point for straights to marry any more, therefore they are canceling the wedding and just going to continue to live together.

"Hasn't happened! Heterosexuals have a strong track record of destroying marriage -- close to 50% of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce, and that statistic began BEFORE gay marriage ever existed. Wake up -- my husband and I are not the enemy. We believe in marriage. We believe in OUR marriage -- that's why we got married, not to destroy yours. Please use some common sense."



Oh, this is just WAY too delicious!  And it couldn't have happened to a more deserving Network.

Fox News appeared to have accidentally included a picture of a lesbian couple kissing at their wedding, to accompany an article written about traditional gender roles in marriage. 

The column, titled, To be happy, we must admit women and men aren’t ‘equal’, written by Suzanne Venker, discussed a “new way” of thinking about gender, which was being preached by “feminists”, causing men and women to have “no idea who’s supposed to do what”.

Ms Venker wrote: “Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical, interchangeable beings. Men and women may be capable of doing many of the same things, but that doesn’t mean they want to. That we don’t have more female CEOs or stay-at-home dads proves this in spades.”

She effectively goes on to blame women for a “battle of the sexes”.

The image in question was of an Alaskan lesbian couple, Stephanie Figarelle and Lela McArthur, who got married at the top of the Empire State Building in 2012.

Fox News has since replaced the picture of the couple with a stock image of male and female symbols.

Suzanne Venker was the niece of conservative anti-gay leader, Phyllis Schlafly, who has spoken out against equal marriage in the past.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Clemency, a one act opera of about an hour's duration by Scottish composer James MacMillan, was co-commissioned by the Boston Lyric Opera and a handfull of companies in the UK.  The U.S. premiere was in Boston last Wednesday night.  The plot springs off the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar in the Old Testament.  As Sarah hasn't borne any children, she suggests Abraham have sex with the servant Hagar to produce a child that Sarah can then take from her to be Abraham's heir.  The child is Ishmael.  Three angels arrive, are entertained at Abraham's place and reveal that, Sarah (who in 99 years old) will bear a child.  The child is Issac.  Sarah doesn't want Ishmael around as a rival to her own son as heir, so Hagar and Ishmael are driven away into the desert.  

All this cruelty and dishonesty is apparently just fine with Jehovah/Yahweh/G*d.  The angels turn out to be on their way to smite Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham pleads for clemency for the cities should as few as five virtuous people be found there -- clemency he somehow isn't able to show to Hagar whom he has exploited sexually and then thrown out. 

The opera was preceded by a performance of what is apparently Franz Schubert's earliest surviving song, Hagar's Lament, in which she wanders the desert desperate for water for her dying son.  An angel (they seem to be everywhere) leads her to a well and her child is saved.  The opera begins as soon as the song (actually a fifteen minute mini-drama) ends, joined to Clemency without any pause.  I wonder if this is the way it was premiered in England.  Hagar and her story cast a shadow on Abraham and Sarah for me.  If the song was not part of MacMillan's plan, then Abraham's pleas for clemency would have had a lot more moral weight, at least for me.  

I first encountered Mr.  MacMillan's music via CDs of his full length opera The Sacrifice, a strongly dramatic piece with a fine score that I liked very much.  I also liked the score of Clemency (which is being recorded live during the Boston run for commercial release).  Aside from the Hagar, who was dramatic but rather strenuous vocally with wild top notes, the singing was superb.  The three angels, sing in unison and were superb (two of them will appear in our company's performances of Benjamin Britten's The Prodigal Son in April).  Christine Abraham was eloquent as Sarah and David Kravitz, who will sing Governor Winthrop next January in the opera for which Fritz and I have just finished the libretto, was tremendous -- thrilling -- as Abraham.  The chamber orchestra sounded great as conducted by David Angus in MacMillan's compelling music.

A bonus for me was that the composer turned out to be sitting directly across the aisle from me.  When the performance ended, I got to have a short but very pleasant chat with him, mentioning my regard for The Sacrifice.  He was extremely nice and I hope we hear more of his music on this side of the Atlantic soon.

We had an historic storm in New England last Friday and Saturday with more snow than any other single storm since 1888.  Here are some images:  the hot tub;

the solar panels behind the raised garden beds on the hillside behind the house;

my car, grown to enormous proportions and quite beautifully sculpted by the winds;

the view from the front door of the cityscape sculpture and the shed down behind.

But inside, one of Fritz's amaryllis was in full bloom.  He has also tried an experiment this winter, growing tomatoes in the house in our sun-flooded south windows.  One plant is already over three feet tall and has put out flower buds that haven't quite opened yet.  I don't know if it's hot enough in the windows for tomatoes to set fruit, but I like his experiments very much and am hoping this one works.

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