Monday, April 28, 2008

Three Utterly Glorious Hours - Idomeneo - Opera Atelier

I am not sure either I or SillyWife had enormous expectations as we went yesterday to watch a Mozart opera unknown to both of us, "Idomeneo", as put on by Opera Atelier. We are determined Opera Atelier fans, though, after several years, simply because they can produce such stunning and unexpected excellence at times.

This production had got a lot of local press, largely because they had engaged Measha Brueggergosman, a fairly famous Canadian soprano, in one of the key roles. In the local press and also in a CBC show I saw the night before we attended, she got to hold forth on her participation, and was utterly charming, disarming, and amusing (observing that she had aspired as a schoolchild to appear in one of their productions so she could get into the costumes and the poster). Did she ever make the poster!!

Some other press was devoted to Michael Maniaci, a male soprano (!) taking on the role of Idamante.

So I went with a bit of skepticism, reflecting that they seemed to have done a lot more promotion than possibly preparation. I am accustomed to going to their productions having seen no hint of them in the local media, and enjoying the shows mightily, so seeing so much media attention I was worried about sell-out!

And so the show starts, and it immediately captivates, opening with Peggy Kriha Dye as Ilia - we are accustomed to seeing her in Opera Atelier productions, and she had a very long opening sequence, and was very compelling. At the end, Maniaci came out and was wonderful. The pace was great. And so it continued. The pace never slowed down before the intermission.

It featured all that Opera Atelier do so stunningly well - costuming, dance, respect for the music, respect for the performers while at the same time occasionally making them geometric objects carefully using gesture to express emotion to compound what is in the singing (this is not meant to dismiss - it is part of the sheer magic they produce).

By the intermission, SillyWife and I were exhausted, having never felt a moment of boredom in the proceedings, and having been exposed to the superb tenor (I assumed up till the intermission that he was a baritone - OK my pitch is not perfect) Kresimir Spicer, who was stunning as Idomeneo (too young for the role but then I have seen Albert Schultz play Hamlet).

In the intermission SillyWife went off and reported on a discussion with an acquaintance she had seen in the audience - she returned with the comment that "You keep thinking they cannot ever top the last show and then they just do". And much as I loved The Magic Flute I regarded up until now as their most stunning, succeeding a previous Marriage of Figaro from them, this was certainly taking over as the leader.

There were wonderful surprises. Particularly, Curtis Sullivan (a great regular in this company) did not get to open his mouth as Neptune until late in the show - but he did, and not before displaying some pretty convincing physicality as a sea-god. Olivier Laquerre had an essentially non-singing, and mostly non-acting role - he was SO great in their The Magic Flute. And effective here in the more modest role as Arbace.

The third act, post-intermission, felt a little hurried, and a little less dramatic, more likely the fault of Mozart, his librettist, and whoever they were both aping at the time. It was a little over-full of anthems (though there were a few before intermission), and the dancing seemed to be just filling time, but I half suspect this was part of genuinely reproducing the spirit of the show.

So one big point. By the end I had decided to stand for part of the ovation. My faithful readers know this does not happen much.

I had feared that a home-town crowd would go crazy for Brueggergosman, who was pretty good, and I must say extremely great-looking as costumed and made-up - and her singing was pretty good - a tad feeble in her opening aria, but more confident and audible after that one. I give her a ton of credit for slimming down to being so spectacular now. She could not have played this role with this company as she was a few years ago. Go check the poster linked to above.

I underestimated the audience I was in - it was after all a matinee audience, and that tends to fill with the older experienced folk who are not confident they can start a 3-hour show at 8 pm. But they have seen a lot.

So when the curtain calls came, Bruegergosman got about a quarter of the audience I could see up on their feet, and she was good, though I remained seated. When Maciani and Dye came forward, more people stood, including us, (rightly in my view - they were a level above), and then, to my great delight, when Spicer came forward, there was not only more standing but a great call out of the audience. This satisfied me that this audience were no fools.

Maybe the secret is just doing two shows a year. Whatever Opera Atelier are doing, they continue to amaze me. With an artform, baroque opera, you could not have convinced me ten years ago I would now make my main theatrical commitment from year to year.

Thank you Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Zingg (and all the others). What we get is major consumer surplus.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Don't Blame the Image Stabilization!

A couple of shots from my morning walks were a bit fuzzy on their main subjects, but are worth sharing. The subjects are interesting or cute.

Interesting. A pair of common mergansers, hanging around still. I thought the image stabilizer had failed, but if you look closely, the picture is sharp where it was actually focused. User error!

And then there is this other (other than beavers and squirrels) mammalian force (here I somehow got the camera to focus on the branch in front of the little rascal, and for good reason with no depth of field):

Monday, April 21, 2008

Making Lastman Look Good

Mel Lastman served as mayor of Toronto through a couple of terms. While flaky and unpredictable (often in good ways), his successor as Mayor has made it seem to me, among others, that Lastman ran a very effective administration as Mayor of Toronto. And there is some evidence in this note in the Wikipedia entry linked here:

In 2007, with the city facing a $575 million shortfall and struggling to make service cuts to immediately save $100 million, there were frequent calls for Lastman to run for mayor but he declined. Lastman sympathized that provincial downloading had burdened Toronto, but also criticized Miller's service cuts as hurting the quality of life while not going far enough to solve the shortfall. Lastman pointed out that spending had increased by $1.5 billion since he left office, and suggested that councillors had to consider measures since as contracting out services and cutting staff.

Now Mark Steyn makes me pleased to see that Lastman replaced Barbara Hall as Mayor. (Disclosures - I voted for Hall in that election, and for our current mayor Miller in his first run - both I now see as gross mistakes). Steyn stays clear in this column of his common fictions, and paints not just an appalling, and apparently correct, picture of Hall, but also of the arrogance of Ontario's Human Rights Commission.

Sure, she may have denied me my constitutional right to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial, but so what? That's a small price to pay in the noble campaign to eradicate "hate" from the Canadian psyche.


What if Ontarians just aren't as hateful as the Commissars require them to be? To modify Brecht, we need to elect a new people, if only to file more "human rights" complaints.

Terse, to the point, a little extreme, and worth a read.

And the punch-line takes me back to the title:

God Almighty, if we have to have ex-mayors of Toronto as anti-thought-crime enforcers, couldn't we at least have Mel Lastman?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Swan Building Site

I think they are setting up again where they failed so badly last year (not necessarily because of the choice of site).

As I watched yesterday morning they were clinging to the shoreline by last year's site.

One was studiously pulling up plants and laying them on the shore - here is s shot of the pulling up part:


Skin Deep?

Jonah Lehrer asks an interesting question and breaks my heart with quite a sweet video.

I hope he keeps pursuing the question.


A Lovely Sales Job

... for cats, from and to a degree for engineers.

Great lines along the way :

if you have three cats, you start to get to be that guy who has all those cats

like most engineers cats are pretty much willing to eat the same thing day after day after day

postmodern cardboard deconstruction ... floral arrangement regurgitation ... low-energy cardboard performance art ... Zoe will often provide feedback as an art critic

a method called corporal cuddling

Watch it here:

h/t Elms in the Yard

I also love their measuring the cats, and getting an aspect ratio,


Friday, April 18, 2008

The amateur ornithologist on the foot

So I know those male cardinals sit up in the trees and sing out their wildly aggressive and thrusting "twee-twee-twee-chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk" - with the number of repetitions of those sounds somewhat arbitrary (maybe less so were I careful studying).
So I am wandering this morning in Ashbridge's Bay and I see a male cardinal in some branches and his not doing the call above but rather "tsk-tsk-tsk". And I think, what is different?
I then notice a neighboring tree contains a cardinal making the same sound but the light does not allow me to see it as other than a shadow. So I develop the lovely fantasy that they are finally settling down to finding mates, and that this other cardinal is a female. At which point it flies down to a branch beside the original male, proves to be a male, and increases the call intensity. At which point a physical tussle ensues, joined shortly by a third male also going "tsk-tsk-tsk", while in the background marginally more distant cardinals are still doing the "twee-twee-twee-chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk". It is a battleground!
The kerfuffle becomes untrackable so I move on past the usual swans and buffleheads, among the cormorants, and around out to the lake where the few oldsqaws are still sitting. I feel sorry for most of the cardinals but what can I do?
Much later in the walk, in a significantly less contested part of the park, I find this fellow below, flitting about and displaying (have you ever seen a redder cardinal?) - he seems to feel no need to call at all. Perhaps a very slick beta male, deciding not to fight for prime real estate. We shall see- but is he not a beauty?!


Mammals of Arboreal Mass Destruction

This year the circumstantial evidence of the past was early supplanted by direct evidence. What has been lacking this year is circumstantial evidence - signs that the beaver is working on local trees.

This morning I finally noticed what the little mischief-maker has been up to. See here - note the lower tree trunks on the extreme sides of the photo:

As a result, these once beautiful trees are now doomed:

I am not sure what should be done to control this. Ashbridge's Bay has seen major destruction of its trees, not all because of the beaver.

The trees do not simply give up - look at this poor guy, with the clear evidence of castorial nastiness:


Joan Jackson, RIP

Of her, John Betjeman said:

She had bright cheeks, clear sun-burned skin, darting brown eyes, a shock of hair and happy smile. Her figure was a dream of strength and beauty.

And he made that dream the wonderfully nutty and very English poem "A Subaltern's Love Song", that features this wonderful combination of restraint and sense of detail informed by lust (note that they are in a car, and that she is on the right emphasizes that it is she driving the car).

And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice,

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

From the Telegraph obituary for this muse:

He was unable to attend her wedding to Harold Wycliffe Jackson, a Ministry of Information civil servant, in January 1945. But in September Betjeman hastily got in touch to ask if she minded if the poem was published in his collection, New Bats in Old Belfries. She assured him there was no objection, but asked for her name to be taken out of capital letters in the last line.

Some three years later Betjeman described her in a letter to the illustrator Roland Pym as "a lovely sturdy creole type girl with curly hair and strong arms and strapping frame and jolly smile and soft laughing voice, a girl to lean against for life and die adoring".


Since Betjeman was liberal with his affections, speculation about the relationship with his muse persisted over the years, not least when she attended Betjeman's memorial service in 1984.

But Joan Jackson took little notice, neither saying she was proud to have become his muse nor considering it a joke. She told one of her sons that Betjeman was married, and added: "I was in love with Dad."


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Avian Housing Market

... is not quite like the human one and is going to be booming here over the next several weeks.

In fact some home-building has already started, as this picture indicates.

For others the search is on. One regular sign of spring here has been a two-three day inspection by a pair of house finches (it has been going on for years so it may well not be the same pair each year) of our porch, which has two nice little ledges. However, it has never been selected as a building site. Now this year is the first in 22 years that no cat inhabits the house; though I imagine the much larger mammals that still do might be disqualifying factors. They are however engaged in the inspection once more.

Other creatures are still working on the preconditions for home-building. The morning audio environment at Ashbridge's Bay is dominated by trilling male redwings. (I am not sure I have even seen a female yet this year.) What I am sure I once knew but had forgotten is how thoroughly these little fellows throw themselves into their calls at this time of year - tail and wings spread, chest puffed, beak wide open (click on it to enlarge):

Meanwhile many who did not even bother with home-building during their visit here are on their way to where they will invest in housing. There are still a few oldsquaws lallygagging about here, far out in the water; the buffleheads continue to paddle around in the inner bay.

I don't think they will be here much longer.

One other bit of suspense - will the swans nest again where they have at least two of the last three years? Success has been spotty - no cygnets last year, and initially four the other year, which dropped quickly to one.


Monday, April 14, 2008

It is starting to feel like spring!

Finally, at Ashbridge's Bay, in the late afternoon.

There is some aggressive budding!

Not all the active birds are water birds!


Friday, April 11, 2008

Bird Life at Ashbridge's Bay

I am certainly enjoying the image stabilization features of my camera!

I cannot get a decent shot of the oldsquaws who were flocking and chattering like crazy out on the lake yesterday. When they are all talking, they put on quite a show.

I did find some buffleheads in the midst of migration.

And this pair, now checking out nesting sites, decided to come and pose for me:


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Better than Apes and Pigs, Perhaps

One should always take care getting knowledge of the other:

The chairman of the El Mouchidine mosque told the children from group 7 (aged 10) and their chaperones however that non-Muslims are dogs.

The story is too good to be true in some ways.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Pigs are Back at the Trough

The CRTC is holding what I would guess are sham hearings. I dearly hope I am wrong.

Television coverage today has featured the likes of R. H. Thomson, arguing of course, though not in these words, that he needs to be subsidized by government regulation. No doubt many others of his ilk will appear and make the same case.

As for me, I'd be delighted if many of the rules were dropped and we just had HBO and ESPN on our satellite or cable feed. And I would be even more delighted to put an end to the special pleading of the Canadian arts community, which simply embarrasses me with its assertion that the government has to support them to fight against the tastes of Canadian audiences.


A Sorry Decline

I have struggled myself a bit with my reactions to Barack Obama's 'race' speech (stirring and off the mark) but Christopher Hitchens lets go, reasonably, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. It is truly sad how we have sunk since then.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, I was 19 years old and fancifully considered myself to be far to the left of him. Notwithstanding that, he felt to me like one of my moral elders and tutors (as he still does).

To my surprise, the Dude was my age at the time!

Later in 1968, Bobby Kennedy would be killed. This left Ted, whose performance at the David Petraeus hearings today was a solid reminder of how limited the Kennedy magic was and is. Rambling and ridiculous, clearly working off notes, and still incoherent.

It was not so clear in 1968 how much we had lost, though it was devastating at the time.

The political choices in 1968 wound up being awful, and I fear we are back there again now.



The apple is getting ready:

And the lilac is even farther along!


Monday, April 07, 2008

It is a Great Comfort to Me

To see how brilliant and wacky young people continue to be.

Check both these videos out, especially if you have ever been a graduate student in anything.

h/t Brad DeLong, and, judging from his performances, I would say he should hold onto that day job.

P.S. Right at the end of the first video, the building where I spent a few years flew by. Very nostalgic!


No Love Lost Here

A follow-up on this morning's beaver.

Click this one to enlarge and check out the evil eye I am getting.


The Evidence is no Longer Circumstantial

Over the past few years my walks and jogs at Ashbridge's Bay have featured significant circumstantial evidence of beaver activity - the lodge growing in size, gnawed tree trunks, etc. This morning I got treated to eyewitness evidence!

This creature was surprisingly untroubled by my presence and in fact swam up to the shore and stared me down near the lodge.

Signs of spring abound - robins hopping about, the din of redwing trilling, and the odd sighting as well.

The oldsquaws are still around and somewhat elusive of the camera. Migrations are clearly underway - it is not common to see a Merganser here, but one was visiting this morning.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Atonement - I was surprised

My readers know I am a great Ian McEwan fan - I am really looking forward to reading "On Chesil Beach", except for the possible identification with the protagonists.

I read "Atonement" a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it, but found myself annoyed by its post-modernist denouement.

Friday, captive, and useless, in a hotel room, I chose to watch the movie in my room. I had very low expectations - I am not a big Keira Knightley fan, though perhaps I should have had hopes from the fact that McEwan had a big role in the production of the movie.

In the end I was very positively surprised. Somehow in the movie, seeing the old Briony, it was more acceptable to have the tables turned.

I so look forward to watching it with SillyWife.


Who is Steve Leech?

It is the Jeopardy answer, for me, to the 'question', "Charlton Heston's finest role".

I am with Norm in remembering the stunning opening to the utterly great The Big Country.

But in many ways, while St. Gregory Peck contributes a great deal to this tale of taming the old west, Charlton Heston made a real mark in playing Steve Leech, a basically decent guy caught between two worlds. He moved the role between the sympathetic and the less so - stuck to old retributive values, he was baffled by Peck's character, who understood completely the futility of tit for tat.

The movie popped up a couple of weeks ago on TV, and I tuned in initially just to enjoy that opening sequence that Norm is so enthusiastic about, and in the end, I stayed through the whole very long film.

Heston features in the great fight scene in the movie, another great essay on the futility of personal revenge. He is brilliant and beautiful through the whole movie.

Check out this picture.

If it were not for the multitude of jackass (the word is too kind, as it leaves out the layer of malice) behaviors of Michael Moore, I would regard his sneaky attack on a Charlton Heston in early stages of Alzheimer's as particularly loathsome. But I imagine there is much worse I know little of.

Farewell, Charlton Heston. You brought a lot of pleasure to my life.


What I Could do with those Hundred Dollar Bills

I know EclectEcon was asking a rhetorical question in his comment on this post but I thought a picture is worth a thousand words for those who might have been genuinely curious.

By the way, this hotel/casino accepted my hundred dollar bills without blinking an eye (for modestly priced meals, not bets).


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cushman also gets CanStage's Fire

And knows a lot more about it than me and SillyWife - though I think his calls are really good.

The first-act curtain of Fire really lights one. Two, actually. On one side of the stage, there's Ted Dykstra, as a first-generation rock 'n' roller not unlike Jerry Lee Lewis, shaking the theatre as he pounds out Good Golly Miss Molly on voice and piano. On the other, there's Rick Roberts as a Bible-belt minister with resemblances to Jimmy Swaggart, finding his feet and his voice on his first venture into a radio studio.

100% AMEN! That was the moment in the show that made it worth the 2 and a half hours for me.

He also hits a point I did not know how to articulate:

Nicole Underhay gives herself over as fully to Molly who, what with having the first and last speeches, emerges as both chorus and protagonist. The actress can carry it; the character can't. Simply, it isn't about her.

The actress was superb. The role failed her.

I remain pleased CanStage did this show and that we went. But all its virtues were played out before intermission. If you want to see a half a fine show, buy a ticket and leave in the middle.


Best Line this Morning from the TV

Her blonde hair is so beautiful, but why would she dye her roots black?

A catty remark from an MTV show - more on this in a later post, as it seems MTV has committed itself in a large way to experiments in game theory.

Just look at the picture, don't read the post

Time for a cat picture.

Time to Rent "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" again

Though never a toker myself, I found this post very funny:

We spent five minutes listing toppings until we figured out that I was trying to remember how to say: “Sun dried Tomatoes.” When you said: “We'll bake that right up for you,” we both started laughing uncontrollably.


"Better" than Nothing, I suppose

Hat tips to the usual suspects.

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