Le nozze di Figaro

The Opening Credits on the screen in Klyde Warren Park

The Opening Credits on the screen in Klyde Warren Park

Over the last couple of years, I have seen two simulcasts of the Dallas Opera, both at Cowboy’s Stadium on the giant video screen. First was Turandot and then, a year later, The Barber of Seville. Despite the compromises in seeing an opera in a football stadium – I enjoyed both performances… a lot.

So now, I found out that the Dallas Opera was doing another simulcast on opening night, this time The Marriage of Figaro, and outdoors at Klyde Warren Park, instead of the stadium. This looked great to me, I’m a big fan of Klyde Warren and it’s a sequel to The Barber of Seville. Plus it’s free. Plus I have never seen a Mozart Opera.

I shoved a thick blanket into a backpack and took the DART train downtown after work. I thought of taking my bicycle, but decided to walk it anyway. I hurt my foot (Plantar fasciitis) a couple weeks ago backpacking, but managed to limp my way down to the park. I arrived early, so I was able to stake out some grassy real estate right in front of the giant screen.

As I was waiting I finished reading Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata. It was interesting to compare the novella with the opera. Although they could not be any different in tone… and of course in the ending, the two shared a lot of theme in ideas of jealousy, the treatment of women, and how love can turn unhappy. Although The Marriage of Figaro is billed as a light farce – a comedic farce – there is deep meaning and sadness concealed under a layer of genius.

The opera was great. The park was a better setting than the stadium – the sound system was so much better. Without the echoing of the vast dome, the sound came through loud and clear.

The start of the third act.

The start of the third act.

It was also fun watching all the other people at the park. Most arrived in big groups with packs full of tupperware containers bulging with food and coolers of wine. As they drank and ate – the behavior on the lawn became as slapstick as the ones on the screen.

The crowd behind me at The Marriage of Figaro at Klyde Warren Park

The crowd behind me at The Marriage of Figaro at Klyde Warren Park

They said there were four thousand people watching the simulcast.

They said there were four thousand people watching the simulcast.

The only problem was one of time and comfort. I arrived at the park at five o’clock and the opera ended around midnight. That means I was stuck on a blanket in the grass for seven hours. That’s too long – I’m too old for that. I was awfully sore when I rode the train back home in the wee early hours.

Going to the Barber

It was right at a year ago that I went to The Death Star in Arlington to see a simulcast of The Dallas Opera’s Production of Turandot.

Cowboys Stadium - The Death Star

Cowboys Stadium – The Death Star

I went mostly for the experience of an odd event (seeing an opera in an enormous Texas Football dome) but it was a transformative event. Now I’m an opera fan.

In the past year I managed to see Carmen at the Winspear and a handful of other simulcasts. Now it was time for another evening at the massive home of the Cowboys (now called AT&T stadium). The Dallas Opera was showing The Barber of Seville.

Candy wasn’t able to go, so I was on my own. I took some time off and left work early – wanting to get to the Mid-Cities before the Friday rush hour traffic choked the transport system. As I worked my way through the freeway system (the stadium is over 35 miles from where I work/live) I thought about how I have worked to get away from a car-oriented lifestyle. I think I drive about a third of the miles that I used to. It’s a bit of a shock when I’m forced to fight my way across the city like that – though so many people do it all day, every day.

I arrived extra early, found some food, and sat in the parking lot (it was a warm, beautiful day) and finished a long Kindle book I’ve been fighting through for a while. That was actually sort of nice.

Because I was one of the first people in I had my choice of seats. I ended up right in the middle, right beside the little patio where they were doing the filming of the introductions and stuff. The showing didn’t seem to get as much attention as last year – and the crowd looked like it might have been a little smaller. Still, it was a few thousands – a lot of people for an opera.

First they showed a Bugs Bunny Cartoon – The Rabbit of Seville, of course.

Then the opera started.

It’s a surprisingly good place to see something like that. Of course, the acoustics are horrible. There isn’t much you can do about the cavernous echo in a vast chamber like that. They did the best – the floor was lined with an array of massive speakers pointed outward. Still, it sounded like a second orchestra was hammering away slightly out of tune and far away. But your ears get used to it and it wasn’t half bad.

The High Definition Screen in Cowboy’s Stadium is famous around the world and to see it live… it is even more impressive than that. The whole setup is disconcerting to look at – the mind simply can’t comprehend an indoor space that large. It’s a shock to see a tiny ant-like person walking across an open area – and your mind realizes exactly what you are looking at. When you tip your head slightly up the screen completely fills your field of view with its ten million plus LED-lit pixels.

It’s not the size of the thing that impresses – it’s the quality. It brightness, sharpness, and overall quality of image is better than the best HDTV you will see anywhere else. They did a great job of filming. You can see details never visible in the opera house except in the most expensive of seats. That’s usually a good thing – except when you get to see how hard the performers work and how much they sweat.

The opera itself was a hoot. It was the first comic opera I had seen and that took a little getting used to. It emphasizes the fact that for many places at many times Opera was an entertainment for everybody. The Barber of Seville is sort of an Adam Sandler movie with great music. A lot of pratfalls, mugging, crude jokes, and corny romance. And a happy ending, of course.

I enjoyed how they put in a sort of conflict in the second act. Evil Bartolo shows Rosina her letter that she wrote to “Lindoro” and convinces her Lindoro is only using her on orders from Count Almaviva. She believes him and is sad. But when Lindoro arrives and she lights into him all he has to do is reveal that he really is Almaviva and all is fine. The conflict is solved so easily and quickly that it is almost a satire – saying that in the world of Figaro no sadness is allowed to exist for more than a quick aria or two.

The music, of course, is a masterpiece. The overture justifies its fame, and Figaro’s opening number, Largo al factotum is a hoot.

The time went by fast, and everybody was happy in the end. Next door to the stadium is the Ranger’s Ballpark and the baseball game ended (the home team won 1-0 on a walkoff in the eleventh inning) at about the same time – so the traffic getting out was tough… but it was still all smiles. I had tried to park in such a way that I could get out easier, but that didn’t work – it was truly a futile precaution.

What I learned this week, February 21, 2014

A skyscraper towers over the water feature in Beck Park

A skyscraper towers over the water feature in Beck Park

A Better Carpenter Plaza

The past and current green space plans for downtown Dallas aren’t thinking comprehensively about how development nor economics of urban spaces work. They’re band-aids to cover up mistakes rather than generate real value.


It’s not about the nail
“Don’t try to fix it. I just need you to listen.” Every man has heard these words. And they are the law of the land. No matter what.

The Wind Rises

If The Wind Rises is indeed the final film from Hayao Miyazaki—the animation master has both announced and rescinded his retirement—he leaves us with a moving, meaningful farewell. Based on Miyazaki’s own manga, this Oscar nominee for Animated Feature Film plays the gentle notes of a Japanese countryside against the impending horror of World War Two, Miyazaki seeing it all through the myopic eyes of a budding aeronautic engineer.

Examples of past Miyazaki genius:

Spirited Away trailer

Castle in the Sky trailer

Nausicaa trailer

For the last few decades one of the things I marked my life with was the release of each Hayao Miyazaki film… from Totoro to Mononoke, on to Spirited Away (a masterpice) with Nausica and Laputa and Howl’s Moving Castle and more and more thrown in for good measure. It gave me a feeling of periodic genius.

It looks like this has come to an end (really this time – he has threatened retirement before) and I will miss it – but the collection of work is stil out there.

Might be time to rewatch a few.

top ten underrated Studio Ghibli Films

The #1 movie on this list is Grave of the Fireflies – the most heartbreaking film I’ve ever seen.


I like some of the new Fat Bike designs - but this is a little much... maybe a lot much.

I like some of the new Fat Bike designs – but this is a little much… maybe a lot much.

Should You Buy a Fat Bike?

If you’re not familiar with fat bikes like the Salsa Mukluk or Surly Moonlander, think of a two-wheeled monster truck with you as the motor.

“Fat bikes allow people to ride bicycles in places that previously were simply not possible,” says Peter Koski, product development engineer at Salsa.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/recreation/off-road/should-you-buy-a-fat-bike-16492959


Math Explains Likely Long Shots, Miracles and Winning the Lottery [Excerpt]

Why you should not be surprised when long shots, miracles and other extraordinary events occur—even when the same six winning lottery numbers come up in two successive drawings


 10 Deliciously Complex TV Villians
I always say that in terms of entertainment, espectially visual, thriller-type entertainment, it’s not the hero that’s important… it’s the villian. Give me an interesting, complex villian over some goody-two-shoes anytime.

The fountain in back of the Richardson Library. (click to enlarge)

The fountain in back of the Richardson Library.
(click to enlarge)

These Are The 10 Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America


I only live in one of these, but I do live in one… and I have spent significant time in four of them and been in eight.

top ten opera lyrics

It doesn’t get any better


Statistics Say We Should Take Friday Off From Work. All The Fridays, Forever And Ever.


Texan turning Japanese sake into a Lone Star tipple

What could be more Texas than this? Rice grown in Texas fields first planted by settlers more than a century ago, processed by a Texan in the heart of the capital, Austin, and sold under the product name “Rising Star.”

Welcome to the world of the Texas Sake Company, almost certainly the first – and most certainly the only – commercial brewer of the Japanese rice wine operating in the Lone Star State.

What I learned this week, January 31, 2014

Bob Mankoff picks his 11 favorite New Yorker cartoons ever


Not from the New Yorker:

you-may-be-a-wiener

(Not Quite Their Sense of Humor)
This was from an ad (a blow-in card to be exact) for the National Lampoon, back in the mid-70’s. I’m not sure why, but at the time I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I still sorta think it is.


I was thrashing around late last night in a fit of mountain cedar allergy related insomnia and turned the television on for distraction. I caught the end credits for some movie and was reminded that there is an actress named Imogen Poots.

Imogen Poots! What a great name. It seems to be her real, given name, too. I wish she wasn’t real, beacuse I’d love to use that as a character name.

Now I can’t.


Paleo-Powered Breakfast: Eggs Baked in Avocado


Paste Magazine has been going state to state, listing up and coming bands. They finally get to Texas.

12 Texas Bands You Should Listen To Now

Now! Dammit!

Dallas bands Fox and the Bird, and Mystery Skulls (though they are now in LA) are listed, plus Metroplex Music Quaker City Night Hawks (Fort Worth), and Bonnie Whitmore (Denton).


This Is the Williamsburg of Your City: A Map of Hip America


Cleaning your DSLR Sensor: Tips and Advice


7 Things You Must Carry in Your Car This Winter
Every car should have an emergency kit that includes supplies such as jumper cables and first-aid supplies. But there are some essential winter items you need to carry once the temperature drops. Plus: Why you should buy those winter tires.


The Barber of Seville Simulcast at the Cowboys Stadium

Another opera at the Death Star. B there or B []


The opposite of Paranoia isn’t Sanity, it’s Ignorance.


Carmen at the Winspear

Lobby of the Winspear Opera House

Lobby of the Winspear Opera House – taken during the opening festivities three years ago.

Winspear

The interior of the Winspear, taken when it first opened.

Ever since we stumbled into the unexpected awesomeness that was Turandot at the Death Star – I have been jonesin’ for some more opera. I managed to take in a couple of Met Simulcasts at local movie theaters – which was extra cool – but there is no substitute for the real thing.

Despite our poverty at the moment, I splurged and bought tickets to the Dallas Opera’s production of Carmen at the Winspear. Wanting to enjoy the show with the minimum of folderol I chose the Sunday matinee. The tickets have been magneted on the refrigerator for months… finally, today was the day. I was psyched.

I have always loved the music of Carmen – I have had an album of the orchesteral suite on my own personal heavy rotation for thirty years. It is a treat to hear the familiar melodies on their home turf, so to speak.

The only problem I have with Carmen is one of those stubborn stray childhood memories. Implanted like an intractable splinter is the remembrance of a particular episode of Gilligan’s Island… where the castaways produce a homegrown play of their own device. It is a musical version of Hamlet, set to well known opera themes – in particular a couple of the more famous melodies from Carmen.

The combination of the serious genius of Shakespeare and the classic musical stylings of Bizet mixed with the silly sitcom technique caused a rift in the time-space continuum and a permanent spot of damage in my young brain. The corruption persists to this day. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to The Toreador Song without hearing the Skipper singing, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be….”

And then, Gilligan singing “To be or not to be,” to the tune of Habanera… Oh, man, I wish I had never heard that….

But, other than that, I love the music.

And hearing it live was especially special. So much of the music we hear today (all of it, really) is electronically amplified. Even live music is miked and boomed out over speakers. To hear the complexity and delicacy of the orchestra and the voices within the exquisite acoustics of a place like the Winspear with no intermediary between the instruments and performers and your eardrums is a pure treat… something to be treasured and remembered, experienced whenever possible.

Now, because I am poor, we could only afford nosebleed seats – way up in the top, only three rows down from the ceiling (though, since I bought them on the first day, they were in the center). It wasn’t bad at all. The sound was still perfect and, although we couldn’t make out the emotion in the faces of the performers, the staring-down-on the relatively narrow staging gave the production a three-dimensional look that staring straight through the proscenium from a floor seat doesn’t boast.

As we went to the elevator before the performance the attending woman said, “Sixth Floor – Now at the intermission, go down to the fifth floor if you want to buy something. That’s actually a great place because there is a balcony outside.” So that’s what we did. I really enjoyed the few minutes out on the balcony, looking down onto the familiar reflecting pool and across the arts district… you could even see past the highways on to Fair Park – a beautiful view. The massive aluminum grid of the sunscreen was only a few feet over our heads.

Trammell Crow Center and the Winspear Sunscreen

Trammell Crow Center and the Winspear Sunscreen

The aluminum grid of the Winspear Opera House sunshade - very high overhead, reflected in the pool.

The aluminum grid of the Winspear Opera House sunshade – very high overhead, reflected in the pool.

The opera is not a quick thing – it takes up the whole day (though for me, the actual performance goes by all too quickly). But it is an experience that I have come to treasure – a special form of entertainment. The history of it, the people watching at the performance, and especially the industry and expertise of everyone associated with the show makes is so worth the effort and expense.

Now I have to look ahead… what to see next? Maybe Death and the Powers? It looks like it will be simulcast all over the world, maybe you can join me?

Coloratura

Renée Fleming in the finale of Armida at the Met.

Renée Fleming in the finale of Armida at the Met.

There are few things in life as much fun as falling down a rabbit hole.

Ever since Candy and I went to see Turandot at the Death Star I have been fascinated by the world of Opera and have been learning about it – if only a little bit at a time.

The only problem is that Opera is an expensive rabbit hole and I am broker than broke right now. But there are ways, there are always ways – to be cheap and to find stuff for free. One way to reduce the cost of Opera is to not see it live, but to find simulcast productions. The Met has a series of HD broadcasts and, right now, they are replaying old ones. I was able to score free tickets to a broadcast of Carmen a couple weeks ago, and really enjoyed it.

Before Carmen, they showed previews of upcoming broadcasts and I made note of the wild finale of Rossini’s Armida. Wednesday, after work, even though I was exhausted, I drove up into Plano to watch the repeat broadcast of the opera on a big HD screen at a movie theater there.

The Met’s production, with Renée Fleming and Lawrence Brownlee didn’t get very good reviews (from a Blog, from the New York Times) but it was more than entertaining for my uneducated ears. I especially enjoyed the ballet in the second movement (even with the odd tutu-wearing demons)… maybe that’s another rabbit hole. I enjoyed the singing more than I expected. I even enjoyed the hokey representation of the characters of Love (a young girl) and Vengeance (who looked like he might have been in Metallica) – battling over Armida’s soul.

I did some research into Rossini and Armida, learning that it is a late example of Bel Canto – a term I had heard but never understood before. The florid singing, the coloratura, is what most people, the unwashed masses, make fun of when they think of Opera – but in context it is beautiful and expressive.

I studied the story of Armida and Rinaldo. It’s a classic tale and the basis of many operas and paintings. The bare story of the opera is simple and melodramatic, but there are a few dimensions that I found fascinating. Armida is the classic story of a powerful woman brought down by love, and then jilted. But unlike, say Dido, she is not ultimately defeated. She does not kill herself. Struggling at the end between Love and Vengeance – she chooses the latter.

Rinaldo and Armida, by Francesco Hayez

Rinaldo and Armida, by Francesco Hayez

Slowly I build my knowledge and my repertoire. Oh, and I did buy tickets to the Dallas Opera’s live version of Carmen at the Winspear Opera House in October (the matinee performance on the 27th). The tickets are nosebleed –but I’m excited about actually going to see it live. There will be another broadcast performance on the 25th – in Klyde Warren Park, and I plan on going to see that too.

Doing the research on the styles and history of opera brought back one memory from the spiderwebby recesses in my mind. Prior to, say, 1800, the most prized voices were of the Castrado. In seventh grade (or so) I took a fairly serious (for seventh grade) class in music theory. I still remember studying Jazz and the Blues and having the teacher playing instruments behind our backs and having us figure out what they were (the sound difference between a trumpet and a cornet is hard, but can be done).

We did study a little bit about Opera and its history. The teacher mentioned the Castrado. But she said, and I still remember her exact words, “They had a special operation on their… uhh… throat when they were children that caused them to have high voices. They don’t do that anymore.”

Yeah, right. On their throats. I guess she didn’t have much choice other than to lie to us – those were more innocent times. It didn’t sound right to me, though. Something was wrong, and that’s why, I suppose, I remember her saying that to this day. I knew enough to suspect what the word Castrato meant.

But I couldn’t believe it. She had said “Throat” and that made some sense. Surely, I thought at the time, nobody would cut their kids’ balls off simply to make them sing higher for the rest of their life.

That was too horrible to comprehend.

I didn’t know.

Turandot at the Death Star

Most of you know about Cowboys Stadium. A lot of folks call it Jerryworld, after Jerry Jones, of course – but I refer to it as the Death Star. It is a structure of almost unimaginable size. When you are driving around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the thing will, often unexpectedly, be spotted looming on the horizon like a giant scoop of steely ice cream. You will look, and then realize how far away it is. I’ve seen the thing from just west of Mesquite – a good forty miles away.

Cowboys Stadium - The Death Star

Cowboys Stadium – The Death Star

Its purpose, of course, is to be the home of the Dallas Cowboys, America’s (nowadays mediocre) Team. But it is also used for other purposes, from concerts to monster truck rallies. I’ve seen a basketball game there.

Other than its gargantuan size, the stadium’s most famous attribute is its video screen. A four-sided apparatus (two large screens on the sides, and two small ones on the ends) that hangs down from the roof over the field, it simply has to be seen to be believed. The first thing that strikes you is the size – 72 feet tall and 160 feet wide. But what is jaw-droppingly amazing is the quality and brightness of the picture it displays. It is better than real… it is real life re-imagined on a grand scale.

So when I read that they were going to put that screen to a unique use – they were going to simulcast a production of the Dallas Opera’s production of Turandot from the Winspear Opera House onto those giant screen, I had to be there.

Turandot simulcast at Cowboys Stadium.

Turandot simulcast at Cowboys Stadium.

I have to admit, the main reason I wanted to go was simply the uniqueness of the event. Grand, full-scale, opera being piped live into the gargantuan shrine of huge sweaty sportsmen… this was something I had to see – the collision of two very different worlds. I picked up tickets for Candy and I, and marked the calendar to drive out there.

We had our doubts. I had seen some light opera over the years, but never a whole production of grand opera. What would it be like on a giant video screen? Candy especially didn’t think it would be all that – and almost didn’t go. She asked, “It isn’t long is it?”

“Yes, it’s very long.”

“They aren’t singing in another language are they?”

“Yes, it’s in Italian, but there will be subtitles.”

In the end, we made the drive. There were twenty-nine thousand people there. I don’t think there have been very many live opera performances with (counting the folks at the Winspear) thirty five or so thousand spectators. Before the festivities started, the crowd was pretty restless and innervated.

I wanted to get there on time because before the opera itself started they showed a cartoon on the big screen. It’s what most folks think of when they think of opera – What’s Up Opera, with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. You know… “Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!”

Elmer Fudd on the Giant Screen

Elmer Fudd on the Giant Screen

And then, after another mini-opera modeled after Julia Child baking a chocolate cake and a bunch of interviews, the performance started.

It was greatness. It was fucking amazing. It was fantastic. It was a thing of exquisite beauty.

When you see little bits of a Grand Opera – the overdone costumes and makeup, the melodramatic stories, the talking-in-music – it seem sort of silly, weird, and overly precious. But when you put it together like this, done well, it is an overpowering emotional experience.

I remember, in the middle of the third act, looking sideways at the massive crowd packed into the steeply sloping seats staring out at that video screen, mouths gaping, completely taken in, enraptured. I don’t see how anyone with anything approaching an open mind could not be amazed and enthralled at what they saw.

Oh, and Candy loved it too. She had brought her iPad so she could read if she was bored. It never came out of its case. She said it was beautiful and amazing. She was especially impressed with Antonello Palombi, the tenor playing Prince Calàf. Here’s an interesting story from his Wikipedia Page:

On 10 December 2006 he was thrust into the media spotlight in Franco Zeffirelli’s new production of Aida at La Scala, which opened the theatre’s 2006/2007 season. During the second night of the run, Palombi took over the role of Radames when Roberto Alagna walked off the stage after booing from the loggione (opera fans who sit in the less-expensive seats at the very back of the Scala). Palombi entered on stage wearing jeans and a black shirt to finish the act, and returned in costume after the interval to sing the remainder of the opera.

Nobody was booing from Cowboys Stadium. It’s pretty odd to see folks giving a standing ovation to performers that aren’t even there.

How was it on the screen? Not bad. Some of the closeups were a little strange – seeing things like beads of sweat or imperfections in makeup blown up to the size of a schoolbus was disconcerting. They did as good a job with the sound as they could – the vast open space echoes terribly, of course, but they had extra speakers and subwoofers lining the field and it wasn’t as bad as you would think.

So – now I’m pumped. I really want to see one of these live now. Remember, those folks are singing live… really live – they are not miked. The purpose of the simulcast was to introduce folks to something they might not otherwise see and get them interested… and it worked, in spades.

Oh man, in October they are doing Carmen at the Winspear…. I wonder if I can save enough money for tickets.