Sunday, 27 January 2013

Review: Doubt by the Minnesota Opera

At the risk of having to do several rosaries or whatever might be chosen for penance, I have to confess that I am not fond of contemporary opera and especially not when sung in English. Most of the time if you can understand the words, then it better be really really poetic or you are going to realize very quickly how ridiculous the plot is and then who can take it seriously? Nonetheless, despite the language and the time period of origin, there is absolutely no doubt that the Minnesota Opera's most recent offering is a marvelous production and well worth hearing and seeing.

We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see the first performance of the world premiere of Douglas Cuomo and John Patrick Shanley's new opera Doubt. The story revolves around a nun's suspicions about a priest and his interactions with a q12 year old boy at their school. This does not have the makings of anything I would want to see or hear on an opera stage ever!

From the first note and opening of the curtain, however, I was entranced. For a contemporary opera, I was sure there would be a yucky minimalist set. How wrong I could be!!  The scrim was raised and before us was a magnificent church interior with pews, pillars, enormous hanging lamps and a gigantic crucifix taking command of the scene. The colors would certainly I suspected be muted and depressing! Indeed no, the main character priest is clad in a lovely green surplice, the youth choir wears red and Paul Carey gives the 1960s parishioners  a variety of colorful period clothing that draws us into the action. The music is stunning, lyrical and melodic and not just the discordant sung dialog so typical of recent opera. There is ample discordancy too, but it used to effect, which means it is interesting, novel and poignant. This is an opera that can be enjoyed aesthetically through costumes, sets, music etc. and then there is the story! And what a story! This one twists and turns, challenges us intellectually and leaves no room for the comfort of certitude.

The direction and cast are stellar. Kudoes go out especially to Denyce Graves and her deliciously honeyed mezzo voice in the role of Mrs. Miller the parent of the boy who may or may not be being abused by the priest, Father Flynn. Christine Brewer, Matthew Worth and Adriana Zabala complete the perfect ensemble. There is no weak link here and all the performances shine.

I don't want to write too much about the opera itself, because I think it should be heard and viewed fresh. If you have seen the film, you already know what to expect, but honestly I liked the opera better than the film. Robert Brill's sets were awesome (in the original sense of the word.) He is inspired in his use of the gigantic crucifix gazing down from above in the church to echo the masculine patriarchy and the way he contrasts it to a hinter garden Mary statue with her back to us to show the situation of the nuns.

The sets beautifully support the themes of the narrative and are in concord with the beautiful music which of course becomes more discordant and alienated as the opera goes on.

The bottom line is you should get tickets and get to this opera any way you can. It is destined to be one of those that becomes a classic because of its beauty, tight structure and its intellectual complexity.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Beret Happy Holidays!

Well our trip to Texas this year was an adventure to say the least and I hope to put up a few blogs over the next week or so that describe the event. First I have to admit that spousal unit Chessguy BEGGED me to let us rent a car for the drive south this year, but did I listen? (Ahh, but more on that in another post.)

Today I want to show the berets I made for holiday gifts.)

As always, I waited for the last moment to do everything, so when things went wrong, (and of course they went very wrong) I had no recourse but to ride the waves onto the beach and hope that my board didn't splinter on the way!

I ordered the berets on ebay from China and of course they arrived in plenty of time, (really!) so I couldn't follow typical American practices of blaming the Chinese when things didn't go as planned. Maybe I could pin this on the Russians?

It turned out for some reason that all the black berets were smaller than the others and of course I ordered black and brown for the more conservative members of my family (read that as "the guys") and that meant they were all going to get hats that were way too small for them (but since they were knit and could stretch if needed, I didn't worry  - Plus I am relatively sure that none of them will EVER wear the darned things anyway!) I might as well have made them yarmulka's or wedding veils or headdresses like you see on the Las Vegas show girls (Come to think of it - that is what some of these resembled!)

The first one as prototype was for Spousal Unit Chessguy and it had (what else?) chess figures on it. I have no photo of it, even though it lives one little room away from where I am typing. I put a queen and some knights on a brown beret. First I tried gluing the figures on and then realized they probably wouldn't stick that way - so out came the sewing machine, the breaking of needles, the badly cut and rcut figures, and the messing with the tension knob. (NEVER EVER touch that knob!!! - It's like the red button in the white house! Once you touch it everyone is doomed!)

After finishing the chess beret, it was time to work on the caps for the rest of the family. The first of these was supposed to be rather simple. I would use the Star Trek badge and put it on a beret for my sister " I.Heart.Spock.and"! I knew it would be beautiful. It was simple and stylish and perfect for this elegant sister. There was a circle with the inverted Federation V on top of it and it would be absolutely perfect!

I started cutting my felt. (Okay, so I was cheap - rather than buy a whole bunch of 12" square pieces that would cost dozens of dollars, I bought  a few squares in colors I knew I would need (white, pink and black - what was I thinking?!!) and then the sample smaller pieces (which had 8 colors each). This meant I had limited opportunities to mess up! (And by the way, I used them all!)

Well, after I had cut (and recut and then recut) my felt, I realized (Star-Trek connoisseur that I am) that when I looked at pictures of Kirk on the web - he didn't have that lovely elegant logo - in fact there was no circle inextricably glued to the inverted Federation V. There was only the V. That circle had been added for the Picard generation and Trekkies are nothing if not picky about keeping their facts straight, so I recut my emblem.  Then I sewed it (in a less than perfect fashion, alas) to the brown beret for sister "IHeartSpock".

I have to say in all honesty, that it looked pathetic: an irregularly sewn upside down V in white on a brown beret. So I painted it gold with water color pencils - it turned mustard color. Yuck! Then came the ink tints I had bought at the knitting conference. (They had been out of gold - so I had to use silver over the mustard/gold.) Okay - so now it looked grey, but that was the best I could do!

I had an idea!!!! - I could use silver beads to represent stars and give it a little razzle dazzle. I ran to the art room and pulled out the 6 drawers of beads and 3 unsorted shoe boxes. NO SILVER BEADS!!!


Okay, okay - calming myself!! I knew that in one of the shoe boxes was a huge jar of mixed beads - yanking it open (and of course spilling loose beads all over the floor) I discovered there were a few silver seed beads mixed in with the hundreds of other stray colors that came in the "Jumbo Seed Bead Collection for only $6.95". After an edifying afternoon of picking through beads, I still didn't have enough, so I grabbed some brown sparkly beads from another jar and a few gold ones. (Stars ARE different colors after all!) and began the laborious effort of sewing them onto the hat by hand. Three days later (and two days before we were to get into the car to leave for Texas) I had finished the first of the 7 remaining hats!


Here is that one:

So, I moved on to the project for my Mom. I had such visions of dashing cockades and abstract turquoise squiggles, but of course my felt samples had no turquoise, no bright blue, not even a respectable aquamarine for the blue beret I had chosen for my Mother.  I had bought a package of feathers at a craft store, (envisioning long arching pheasant tails and swaying ostrich feathers - but of course what I ended up with was more of a sort of cross between military chic and Salvation army donation reject (Yes, there are some things that are even too ugly for charity!) You can see "IHeartSpock" wearing her Star Trek model in the background. Doesn't she look thrilled?!:

(To be fair, my sister is not reacting to the beret, (I think) but to the long process of getting the photo taken, but that is a whole other tale of tribulation and misery!)

Okay, 2 down and 5 to go! Even though I was 0 for 2 in terms of executing my ambitious plans, I had this vision of a cute little purple hat with pink flowers for my other sister, "A Day Without a Hat is a Day without Meaning."  Sister DWAH makes her own hats and does an absolutely gorgeous job! I was really deluded to think I could come up with something attractive that she couldn't have knocked out herself in a couple of hours!  I started with the pink flowers (I did still have the pink felt even though supplies of everything else were dwindling). I plopped them onto the hat and brother was it boring, boring, boring!

Okay so I had a good 24 hours left before we were to leave - I could just whip out some crochet flowers to glue on top and that would give the objet a bit more interest! Oh yeah, I had to learn to crochet first!! Well, I did have some books, but of course I had no idea what all those squiggly lines in the instructions meant, so despite the fact that I followed four different patterns, the (sort of) medallions all came out the same: lopsided, identical and crude. That's all right, I could probably make them round with the way I glued them onto the hat, right?

So I stuck on some stems and the flowers (I was going for a repeat of simple and elegant) and then put the medallions on and know what? The thing was still sleep inducing!  It needed excitement. What could that be?  yeah, grass blades! So I glued them on - nope still uninteresting! When frantic it is time to turn to bling, right? So out came the beads! Now the thing looked like a K-mart blue-light special! The kind of thing you would only buy during a shopping frenzy, but at least it was done!

Well, time was pressing and I had to get on to "Avant garde Not Nerdy Niece Artist" (Annna). I wanted to do something real cutting edge with her beret. I had chosen red and I decided to cut out pieces of the beret and put felt behind the holes in order to make it look ultra hyper-post-modern punky. Of course after I cut the first hole, I realized these berets were knit! Yes, KNIT!!  Time for camomile tea and percocet. (Indeed, I was in medically verifiable panic and pain!)

HOWEVER, knitting classes to the rescue!!  Had it not been just a few months before that IHeartSpock and I had sat in on a course on "Steeking"?  Indeed, once in class, we had dismissed the whole idea when we learned you actually had to ccccccuuuttttt a hole in your knitting. To heck with that!! We knew what happened when you got even the tiniest hole in your panty-hose and a big hole right across your knitting!!  But desperate times called for desperate measures - so it was off to the sewing machine to steek (and of course I cheated by adding lots of fabric glue and it worked, mostly.) I also made the most funky tassel I could imagine and once again the thing I had an unusual object. This one looked like road kill that was way past its prime. The answer was of course beads!! I left Annna's beret drying and moved onto Annna's fiancĂ©, it was after all one of a kind!

Annna's Fiancé (Sebastian) is a writer interested in Latin American culture, so I wanted this one to be cool and politically salient. I decided to do something with Aztec gods, since I had also purchased a variety of books on Aztec culture for his holiday gift and thought a theme might be brilliant way to make him like me! But have you looked at those Aztec gods? They're COMPLICATED with multiple colors and lots of tiny details!!

Nope, that wasn't going to happen! I cancelled my order immediately and decided he should change his interests over to the Mayans! Now there is a visually sensible culture!  I quickly settled on a Mayan god of death. I figured with that generation that if it has to do with Death then it's cool and I cut him out of felt, gave him some outlines with my Sharpie and glued him onto the hat with a few matching feathers. (Never mind that the Mayan god of death didn't have feathers!) It looked good! I liked it (and Sebastian wasn't going to wear it anyway, so I considered it done.) This one, by the way, is my favorite of all the hats I did and the one that I personally would wear myself:

The hard ones were left: Rabbi Uncle Bob and my nephew "Just Playing Electric Guitar" (JPEG).  Since Rabbi Uncle Bob is a mathematician, I spent several hours looking for a simple, but obscure formula appropriate for a topologist.

(You know what? Math formulas for the most part just aren't simple! I had pretty much learned that in the calculus class I sat in on a year ago, but I guess I forgot!).

Since I had a do-nut hole as far as ideas go, I decided to run with it and I took the formula for a Torus, wrote it out and then used sharpie pens to draw a sort of a torus-like shape to glue on the hat. It took me hours to cut out all the math symbols, but at long last it was done and I only had JPEG to worry about.

JPEG loves to play guitar and wants to be a musician. It was midnight now and  I knew that I had to do a famous guitar and put it on his cap! But what guitar is famous and the most recognizable (and belongs to a credible musician) ?  Well there was only one I could think of, so I set to work trying to do a psychedelic flying V guitar. I couldn't cut all those colors out of felt and still have the image be small enough to be worn by a guy, so I knew I had to paint it. I got out my acrylic paints and painted the white part of the guitar. The felt just sucked all the color in and you couldn't even see where I had put the color. I thought, well that would dry and then I could paint a second coat and it would work fine! WRONG! The second coat got sucked in too (and so did the third and the fourth!)

Not to panic! I had gel pens, maybe they would work! .......WRONG!! The felt sucked the gel pen ink in right along with the acrylic. It was like some kind of black hole! Okay, maybe white out would do it? Nope! Gesso? I couldn't find it, so I grabbed this other tube of acrylic paint. It WORKED! (Only it turned out it wasn't acrylic paint - it was water-mixable oil paint - which meant it would dry some time after next Independence Day! )

I had to start over. I managed to get enough layers of acrylic on for fret board to be visible and then it was time for the psychedelic paisley! You guessed it - the only possible answer was embroidery and beads! I spent the night sewing beads onto the guitar in the geometric shapes characteristic of this famous Gibson guitar. Here is the original

  ......and here is what I came up with (And yeah - Hendrix played it upside down, I know!)

I wrapped everything quickly and climbed into bed - we had a long drive ahead of us and I slept the sleep of the unawakened dead - exhausted, but relieved I would have gifts for everyone this January when we met for our gathering.

Here we all are in our finery (except Sebastian who had to leave for school).

Now I'm wishing I'd made myself one. I feel like the black sheep.
Oh yeah, .... never mind!