Tosca And The Golden Retriever Puppy

Or, I Am Never Going To See Bryn

We bought the tickets as soon as the season came out. For those who aren’t slavish followers of this blog, well, I have a giant fan crush on Bryn Terfel, the Welsh baritone who has made the province of operatic bad boys his domain. (“Bad Boys” is actually the title of a CD he cut, whose tracks range from Verdi to Sondheim.) He was the Hot Wotan of the first Ring Cycle I ever followed in toto, bringing a lower abdominal thrum to the usually soporific and didactic matter that Wagner gave to his “head god, and a crashing bore” [Dame Anna Russell]. Wotan is recycled Schopenhauer, mostly. Bryn made him romantic and, as a father sentencing his best loved daughter to common humanity, heartbreaking. (The by-play in their earlier scenes was globus hystericus to someone who once imagined she had a father’s love and learned otherwise.) The idea of him doing Scarpia — the blow-molded, double acting bastard operagoers love to hate — was slam-dunk irresistible.

And then some sort of shit hit the fan. I’m not sure in what order. Only, Bryn backed out, citing vocal fatigue, which a singer has to take seriously; then the soprano jumped ship; maybe before or after that, Jonas Kaufman, who is always and forever getting the vapors, abdicated the romantic tenor lead Mario Cavaradossi; last but not least, the Met ejected James Levine, who ferfrigsake back in the 80s my connections at the New England Conservatory and the Met knew all about him cornholing little boys and paying off their parents but somehow it took that long for the Met management to tweak on it. Whatever.

So I almost said to the Engineer, Give the tickets away. Glad I didn’t. If I couldn’t have Bryn, Željko Lučić was not at all shabby. I am doomed to see a good singing actor as Rigoletto and then see him in my very next Tosca (starting with Cornell MacNeil, who may have inaugurated the quill pen thing, of which more later).  Lučić’s Rigoletto — he testified that he had been told to play the scathing court fool as Don Rickles, but had no idea what was meant — totally did not suck. His Scarpia was dire, all too believable, full of baritone engine vibration, and imbued with the smugness of a man who has been getting his way for long enough that he takes it for granted.

I have this theory about Scarpia — the dreaded police chief of Rome whose word can send a man to the gallows and for whom, as Cavaradossi says, the confessor and the hangman are his procurers. I say he is a commoner. I speculate that, “Barone” Scarpia notwithstanding, he came from humble, even from despised peasantry — reference Anakin Skywalker for people whose fictive milieu is more modern —  and that one of the grim joys of his life is wielding the power of life and death over the nobility. The text yields tantalizing tells.  “Carnefice,” mocks the tortured but defiant Cavaradossi — repeating the word for emphasis — meaning “hangman,” a job not typically given to the upper class. Archly, earlier in the scene, Scarpia requires Cavaradossi’s attendance,  saying “Introducete il cavaliere”: “Bring in the gentleman.” Cavaradossi is a kinda witless, idealistic, well off member of a sort of creative class, working as a painter in the Church of Sant’ Andrea for sure, but also the owner of a secluded villa with all kinds of grounds, if you listen to his arias about snogging with Tosca therein. A bit young for that not to be inherited. And Scarpia: you sense him enjoying the harvest of Tosca, the fiery artiste,  only so much more because she is the favorite of the Queen. These are the passions of an arriviste, a man with something to prove.

But whatever. It was Cavaradossi who stole the show, which is a funny thing to say about a tenor lead, but I have always found the character a giant snore. He is noble, he loves Tosca, he gambles and loses his life, he should be a romantic blockbuster, but I’ve always found him a stiff, the kind of preux chevalier that we are told we ought to idealize zzzzzz. Bad-boy Scarpia always got my sidelong glance instead. Then along comes Grigolo, pawing over the soprano like the boyfriend who used to forget my parents were in the room, and most delightfully, bouncing up and down during the intermission interviews like a Golden Retriever puppy, extolling the idealism that goads Cavaradossi to tell the escaped political prisoner “I will save your ass!” and volunteering to continue the conversation after time’s-up you-have-to-prep-Act-II because “I am fine! It’s only Tosca!” At the curtain call I was half convinced he was going to leap down and possibly crowd surf his way through the orchestra pit. Watch this one.

Yoncheva was the Tosca — at long last — who really came across as a naive, sweet, vulnerable but brave kid versus a narcissistic high-maintenance diva, and the Met found its feet again after a grotesque production full of crass crap like lingerie-clad bimbos and statue-snogging. Does every opera production owe us a resurrection of the original time period? Not necessarily, but this one should be labeled “Welcome Back.”

But I still need to see Bryn before I die. There’s a Vienna Opera recording, and bits from Britain, but it’s not the Met live. Exophthalmic expressions notwithstanding, and the weird costume and signature fuck ’em Bryn hairdo: just listen to the oil and glycerine:

Oh. I said I’d get back to the quill pen. A bit of stage business. Scarpia writes a safe-conduct note for Tosca and her lover as exchange for her submission to him — all in vocal silence, over a slow orchestral vamp — and approaching her to collect his part of the bargain, runs the feather along her bare neck and shoulder, to her visible shudder. It looks like the schtick has been retired, but MacNeil did it and so did Diaz, to Renata Scotto, whose eyes widened in rivalry to Terfel’s here. Brr. Love dem bad boys.








Kissing Your Ass Goodbye

When I was a gradeschooler — a little precocious, so that I turned eight in the fourth grade — they handed out babycrap-brown pamphlets in school engrossed with the logo of the Civil Defense department. The illustrations, creepily like the happy family line drawings in some magazine ads for condiments or appliances, depicted a white suburban nuclear family digging a fallout shelter, stocking it with supplies, assembling a chemical toilet, and all the other activities that would supposedly help people survive a nuclear attack. There was no allusion to what one would experience once it was possible to come out of the fallout shelter, or what people in congested city centers with tall buildings and no subways were supposed to do.

In class, we were instructed in the duck and cover. You were to get down under your desk, if the air raid siren alerted to an imminent strike, hunker with your head between your knees, and remain there until an all clear if one came; after a while some of us became limber enough to kiss our asses goodbye, had we been introduced to that concept.

Lacking the phrase, however, I kind of knew that was the likely outcome. I have always lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC, a pleasant hour’s walk from the White House (at least for a serious walker), and the time a squirrel committed actinic seppuku on the transformer at the end of my family’s driveway, flooding my bedroom with noise and flash, I was prone on the floor before I could think: I always expected the first strike to be right here. The day we were instructed to time our walks home so that teachers would know whether to retain us in the school building or send us home to die with our families, I went full eyeroll and caught the usual ride that was a daily arrangement at the end of parental errands. It pissed off the teacher. Tough.

So here we are. Today in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes, somewhat chidingly, that Americans are “shrugging towards Doomsday,” aware that nuclear war is more likely than it’s been in decades but simply going on with their lives as if everything were normal. I don’t know how to respond to his tone; what, exactly, are we supposed to be doing? Spilling into the streets to protest? Not a bad idea, only thousands of people are doing that already, not, granted, solely or even primarily about nuclear war but certainly about xenophobia, toxic nationalism and ugly-Americanism. Working to elect a Congress that will put curbs on a puerile President who tweets about the size of his button? Check, but the election isn’t for ten more months. I don’t know what we can do about Korea’s leadership from where we stand, but it’s sobering to think everything could be shot to hell essentially because of two men with power complexes and narcissistic indifference to the entire rest of the world. Whatever, I refuse to dig a hole in my back yard and stockpile supplies in the idiotic delusion that anyone would want to survive a nuclear strike, aside from which, if there were more than a few hits, the whole world would succumb to nuclear winter anyway.

Arguably, more people ought to be thinking about the horror implicit in the state of the world generally and America’s current leadership specifically, and considerably less about the Kardashians, or Tide Pods. I just don’t know whether outcry would even be heard over the uproar that already is the 24-hour news cycle. Though our news outlets could help. If CNN can schedule talking heads for long quarter-hours about Rand Paul getting the shit kicked out of him or the latest gossamer scrap of rumor floating up from the Mueller investigation, they could spend some time on what a nuclear conflict could mean. The media have woken people up before. Maybe I’m a little unusual and other people aren’t thinking: what if I do survive, what then? Will my partner be at work or will we have a chance to say goodbye? Should I try to find a suicide pill so I won’t have to see what the world is likely to become? Maybe other people didn’t read the memoirs of the people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I did, when I was ten, and I didn’t get an honest night’s sleep for a year.

But if, on a day to day basis, anyone has a better idea of what a private citizen can do, other than going to the gym and doing the wash and reading the best books and taking care of our pets, oh, and trying to stay limber enough to kiss our asses goodbye, please throw it out there.


A New Year’s Visit From Spain

I should have put this on the stereo. Well, you always think of these things later.

A bit before Christmas, I got a call from someone who wanted to know if I was home to take a delivery that day. Fortunately, working from my house, I am generally home to take deliveries, although Federal Express has a stunning track record of arriving in my absence when there is a package that needs to be signed for. (I think FedEx and I are going to end up in the MMA ring eventually, after the month’s supply of cat food that someone stole off my front steps because the deliveryman couldn’t be arsed to put it inside the porch as directed; then there was the sixty pound crate of kitty litter that blocked me in when I tried to leave the house… but I digress.)

So I answered the door a bit after seven in the evening, and there was Vanessa, looking about twelve (I noticed more and more that everyone looks about twelve), holding out a beribboned gift bag containing two bottles and telling me that it was a gift from… well, from the miraculous Az.

(Click that link. You know you want to.)

See, Az is one-half the reason I am even on here still after nearly ten years. No one has heard from Stiletto, the blogger who tempted me onto WordPress, in a dog’s age, but it was Az who caught my attention on the also defunct blog of one Frontier Former Editor, a journalist and aviation fan who pun-wrestled me to a draw in a contest with a World War II Luftwaffe theme. There she was, represented by a blog icon of a black kitty — her familiar of blessed memory, Azar — kibitzing and well, a kitty, and the rest is history.

Since then I’ve gotten me a live-in Engineer who’s a culinary genius, and she’s built an astounding business leading travelers around the tapas bars of Seville, and become a dear-God certified sherry educator, meaning that when I asked what we should eat with the sleek twin bottles of Palo Cortado and Manzanilla, I got an e-mail screed that took me three days to read through at leisure. And will have to go back to.

So here is what we had for New Year’s Eve:


For the Manzanilla, Marcona almonds, spiralized vegetable bird’s nests, and marinated olives;

For the Palo Cortado, deviled eggs, mushrooms stuffed with herbed (out of my front yard) goat cheese laced with port, vermouth sec and garlic.

Everything else at random. The Brussels sprouts were best with the Palo Cortado. Yes, Brussels sprouts are edible.

We ate divinely and re-watched the hilarious and wonderful Man from U.N.C.L.E. remake and entered the New Year with, nearly, hope. Because I have had Post-Trump Stress Disorder for over a year and it has been hard to hope, this night’s experience was not small.

And not least, it convinces me that whatever anyone else says about the Internet for good or ill, the Web ranks as one of the Machineries of Joy so termed by Ray Bradbury in a short story published when I was ten; an invention of human cleverness that can connect the lonely, exalt the spirit, expand the human family and its reach into the cosmos.

I believe it is the golden Azahar’s birthday tomorrow, or where she is, today. I raise my glass. Full of Oloroso, which she taught me about last year.

Bis hundert zwanzig.

And because I can’t go for five minutes without thinking about opera, here’s Manzanilla in music:





Def Not My Workout

But at the end of a freaking surreal year, it may be just the envoi we need here.

Bonus cool: the glass artist, Jen Detlefsen, is the Navy Vet daughter of Secretary of Strip Mining the Interior Ryan Zinke, who does not seem to share her father’s politics.

The Princess Industrial Complex isn’t going anywhere. Instead of fighting against a landslide of pink, I choose to rewrite the narrative of what it means to be a princess, and in doing so reject pink’s stigma as a color of weakness and frivolity. Enter a decadently adorned, glittering space in which femmes of all types are welcome to build strength, backbone and confidence. This journey is just getting started – get your glow on and share how you #liftlikeaprincess with me.

Not really something I plan to try (I am across the street, up six flights of stairs and on the other side of the building from femme, and still remember being the butchest thing and the only chromosomal female at a cookout hosted by a trans woman and her friends). Though I could get behind one of those cast glass kettlebells — two of my favorite things in one package (glass art and weights). If only they weren’t pink. And if only Virginia Beach weren’t at the other end of the state.

May you have the power to lift all your burdens lightly in the New Year.

Lost Ancestors

Film composers crib classical works all the time. Forex, I sat up with a jolt, decades ago, at the premiere of The Empire Strikes Back when I realized I was hearing a parlayed version of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto behind the action in the Cloud City of Bespin. But last night, just letting the classical station run in an access of blessed relief at the end of the annual onslaught of Christmas dreck — who wants to hear the same string trio version of “Jingle Bells” six times a day? — something hit me between the eyes.

Just the first few bars. Go on, listen. Same key, even.

I’ve been a Trekkie all my life. And not only is Mahler on my Top Ten composer list, that one is my favorite of his symphonies; it’s even “our song” of poignant memory, the one whose A-theme gave my late and ex husband an opening to speak to me for the first time (“Are you whistling Mahler’s First, or the Songs of a Wayfarer?” Trick question; the answer is “yes,” because he recycled the melody).

How did I miss this?

An American Classic

I deeply distrust unexpected knocks on the door, especially after dark. So when Thomas M. McCabe the Second (not “Jr.”) hammered for entry on the night before the night before Christmas, I was mostly all “oh fuck go away” and hoping it was one of the nabes with misdelivered mail.

Thomas M. McCabe the Second was over seventy, gray of hair, stooped of shoulder, caparisoned in a satiny Redskins jacket and visibly distraught. He wanted to know if he could use our phone. In these days of cell phones this sort of thing happens less often than it used to, although there’s been one other instance in the last couple of years. Thomas McCabe, however, really needed help. He was shaking in a way that would have done credit to an advanced Parkinson’s patient and he really did not seem to be tracking. He had two flat tires, he said. Went over something. I think he actually must have blown them both on the curb of the median.

The Engineer got a phone handset and the ritual of calling the insurance company and summoning a tow truck began. He had been at a Christmas party thrown by his ex wife where he got to see all his kids and grandkids, said Thomas McCabe. Oughta be home by now. Had this car five years, never a problem. He kept apologizing for all the shaking.

“Shake like crazy if you want,” I coached him. “This happens it’s a specialty of mine. The shakin is part of the shock reaction. It’s what gets you a re-set. You just let it happen till it’s done.”

You detect I was diverting into my American Old Home dialect because that is what I heard coming from him. If you talk to me under normal conditions you will hear something that sounds vaguely academic crossed with the BBC accent, though I invoke American Redneck at the drop of a hat.

Thomas M. McCabe, I learned over the ensuing hour, hailed from the Canaan Valley in West Virginia before moving here. He was seventy-six. His folks had been in WV long enough they pretty much dominated the land holdings around where he grew up. He had served in the Air Force, I’m figuring Vietnam era.

“Most days, I just wear jeans, but I dressed all up for the party,” he said ruefully as the chilly December breezes blew through our clothes out on the porch where we were keeping an eye out for the tow truck.

The Engineer did the yeoman work: accepting a text message from the insurance company showing the tow company’s provenance and destination, writing down details, knocking on the neighbors’ door to ask if they could move their pickup and make space for the tow truck to hitch up. I just kept telling Thomas M. McCabe that for crying out loud, why are we here if we aren’t gonna look out for each other?

“Well that’s what I think,” he said. But he was still painfully over-grateful when we dropped him at his apartment ten minutes away, after a fairly complicated interaction with the driver of a flatbed tow truck and an expedition to a garage behind some desiderate Seven-Eleven off the local state highway. He seemed not to have taken in that the insurance was going to spot him a rental to be delivered in the morning, and remarked that he’d have to eat sparingly till he could get to the market. I kept reminding him that he could not only get to the market with his rental car but to all his family’s holiday events. He kept thanking us for helping and writing things down.

He asked if he owed us anything.

“Will y’all HUSH?” I rebounded without even thinking. From his reaction, it was the right way to say it.

I wanted to hug him, but that didn’t seem like his style or generation.

He debarked from the Engineer’s car, carrying a bag of O’Doul’s Dark and a tray of fudge that his family had pressed on him. I can imagine worse hangovers.