All posts by VickieVictoria

Intrepid traveler. Architect and appreciator of design, art, language, opera, history, and anthropology.

MOM AND APPLE PIE

Restricted in traveling this year, I have been focusing my time with research on my mother’s life. As today is Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to pause and take stock of my discoveries and revelations.

As a Chinese immigrant, my mother, Oy Lum, was in many ways the typical story of a hard-working woman who managed to raise a family of five girls single-handed, on a factory worker’s intermittent wages. My father was institutionalized, and like many Chinese men in the early 20th Century in San Francisco, was unable to find sufficient work to maintain a living.

Sun Yat-sen

What surprised me was that my mother had attended the equivalent of a women’s junior college in her late teens. This girls’ school was founded in 1862 by one of her ancestors, when women were unable to become educated. Sun Yat Sen, China’s father of the democratic revolution in 1911, valued women’s education, and he would have supported the progressive school. The story “Butterfly Lovers”, was about a woman who played “Yentl” in order to go to school.

Unfortunately, most attendees were unable to apply their knowledge to any direct purpose. There were no jobs for women in those days. The school didn’t have the political and economic forces of a Radcliffe or Vassar College to help. Students were ahead of their times but for what my mother ended up doing in America, an education seemed hardly purposeful. Nevertheless, my mother quietly conveyed the importance of education. She was the opposite of a “helicopter” parent or “Tiger Mom” these days. Yes, she did encourage us, but her primary focus was on our well-being and not in micro-managing our lives. 

My quest for understanding my mother comes from the many stories she told me as a child about China. It was definitely perplexing. My cryptic training came from opera films she took me to see in San Francisco. When I asked her if she lived like the characters in the classic opera stories, she nodded emphatically. And yes, I took her literally. She and her family wore the costumes, moved in stilted fashion, and sang in screechy voices. Nevertheless, I loved them as they remind me of her.

Many years later, when I led my mother to visit her village for the first time in over 40 years, she was somewhat unmoved by its rural appearance. She simply surveilled the environment and agreed, yes, it hadn’t changed much. Outwardly, her life in the U.S. didn’t seem to have much effect on her either. Whether in limited English or in a dialect of Cantonese, she was a woman of few words.

In the end, my mother is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. It’s a timeless, picture-perfect cemetery that once forbade Chinese and dogs from being interred there. Despite options to return to China or being buried next to my father at the Chinese cemetery in Colma, she plotted meticulously and chose her crypt location in Oakland. After 98 years, this was not only her final home, but it spoke volumes on where she saw herself in peace and tranquility.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! With Shelter in Place heading into Week 3, Easter 2020 may be a more significant and memorable holiday than in the past.

Cameron Carpenter

In case you are looking for a little sparkle for your Easter, try this: https://youtu.be/d5O8cHI-vPY

If opera is not your thing, maybe organ music is?!? Cameron Carpenter is one of my favorite musicians. We saw him in Bamberg a few years ago to many accolades and a standing ovation from a stiff German crowd, then here at the San Francisco Symphony playing the score to the movie Battleship Potenko. He is a brilliant, creative dancer as well as classical and contemporary organist.

Cameron is good inspiration for us. Since all the talk is about what not to do with your hands, watching this clip of his performance might give you ideas what you CAN do with them. And your feet too!

Shelter in Place–Week 3 and Gavin Newsom

Three weeks ago, we were happily prepared to shelter in place when Governor Newsom mandated the requirement on March 18. The San Francisco Bay Area was one of the first to implement this restriction outside of Asia to contain the spread of the deadly corona virus. It was a novelty for the first two weeks.

Depending on when you start counting and entering into the lockdown, many Bay Area residents are beginning to feel more apprehensive. How long will this last? Is it really effective? Are we going to be living like this the rest of our lives?

Thankfully, in California with Gavin Newsome as our governor, we finally have some true leadership and direction. You can see the latest interview with Anderson Cooper here:

Meanwhile, what’s it like here at home in San Francisco? The days drift by for me with sketching, gardening, meditating and reading. In lieu of 6 hours on an IPhone, cooking is a productive time-killer. I finally tapped into those greasy cookbooks on the shelf near the kitchen and roasted pork belly with a Peruvian recipe last night. I also retrieved an easy, comforting flourless chocolate cookie recipe that I made at the beginning of lockdown. I even shared it on a recipe chain letter and sent it to a friend who ran out of flour and wanted to make a chocolate birthday cake.

A plethora of opera livestreams continue. All the major houses sponsor their own versions. I have followed Metopera loyally. During Wagner Week 2, I combined sketching with the music. Here are a few of the die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdammerung characters:

Meanwhile, idle time passes quickly by looking out the window:

The San Francisco Chronicle

We started following the San Francisco Chronicle, our local newspaper, again so we could get updated statistics on local media about the corona virus. But I still follow Deutsche Welle for reliable world news. Willie Brown, our former San Francisco mayor, wrote about a couple of jokes in his column:

I still haven’t decided where to go for Easter — the living room or the bedroom.

Classified ad: Single man with toilet paper seeks woman with hand sanitizer for good clean fun.

And from the man: it’s better 6 feet apart than 6 feet under.

Easter Flashback

Addendum: Here’s a link to my posting from Easter Island in 2017: https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2017/10/15/day-9-10-easter-island-moai/

Fun and Games While Sequestered

If I were a carpenter…I could build the addition to our house in the backyard. And if I were a musician, I could post my daily performances like Igor (see igor-levit.de on twitter). I’d practice every day anyway, so why not share those wasted moments?

Unfortunately, since I am neither, I have to find my own diversions. I am spending an inordinate amount of time watching live stream opera performances. It’s easy to find distractions to multi-task during these long seances. I even reverted to sketching opera singers. They are perfect material since they are often standing in one position for a period of time long enough to be captured on paper.

I discovered this earlier while watching the Biden/Sanders debate (Featured image above). Politicians making their pitch at the podium is another excellent venue to stalk portrait figures. Naturally live and in 3-D is ideal but given our sequestered circumstances, who’s counting?!?

My last few posts have been focused on opera. Here is one last hurrah: if you are still groping around for livestreams, here is the ultimate, comprehensive list, compliments of operawire.com:

A Comprehensive List of All Opera Companies Offering Free Streaming Services Right Now

It will at least help you to imagine being in one of the many great opera houses in the world! The list should last you for quite awhile.

Just for some comic relief, I started some pilates exercises on line. Here’s one I am trying if you are interested: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/ss/slideshow-15-pilates-moves. We follow the active exercises with a 20-minute meditation.

And here are a few photos from this week of daughters quarantined at an undisclosed location:

Be sure to share what you are doing during this unprecedented time in our lives! Are you eating and cooking? Taking naps? Writing a book?!? Would love to hear from you!!

More Opera Livestream Diversions

As of yesterday, six Bay Area Counties are requiring a “Shelter in Place”. No non-essential travel or activities outside the home, possibly until July! That puts further impetus on our staying indoors and remaining calm.

Some of you have expressed an interest in the opera live-streams cropping up in the past few days. Here are a few additional opera websites offering performances online:

https://operawire.com/staatsoper-unter-den-linden-announces-streaming-program-through-mid-april/.

You can watch the Marriage of Figaro here:

https://www.staatsoper-stuttgart.de/spielplan/oper-trotz-corona/

For those of you curious about opera, it’s a perfect way to introduce yourselves to the form. You can download the libretto online to translate each opera and follow along.

These websites have had livestream offerings in the past, but they have not been widely used in the U.S. They are perfectly poised to share their excellent repertoires.

The links may be imperfect, as the websites may require you to download their apps, create an account, or sign up for a temporary membership. After all, if it’s free! You may need to invest some effort, patience and ingenuity. It’s worth the bother.

To get right to the source of real time updates, I recommend going directly to Operawire.com or on twitter for schedules and updates. Here an excerpt from the twitter feed:

  • @MetOpera Nightly Streams
  • @WrStaatsoper Daily Streams
  • @Rof_Pesaro Streams
  • @TeatroRegio di Torino Streams
  • @teatromassimo di Palermo

Let’s get creative and make the most of an unpredictable, uncontrollable situation. Under these dire circumstances, I have convinced myself that virtual travel can be a substitute for physical travel. Thanks to the internet, we can explore the world in different ways from what we have been doing in the past.

A few more suggestions I have followed: make a family emergency plan for your family. Call a different friend everyday to renew an old relationship worn by too much attention to electronic media! Get inspired! We can get through this together!!

Opera Streams during Quarantine

Having returned home less than a week ago from London and New York, I found myself facing the corona virus shutdown. Life has turned itself upside down and inside out in ways we have never experienced in our lifetime.

I’m not sure that I can bring much encouragement nor solace to the picture. Maybe attempting to maintain those parts of your life that are normal, and that you are capable of controlling, are important. So I have decided to continue communicating what I can through this website, for those of you who are interested.

If you are feeling isolated, here are a few interesting suggestions that I have discovered on Twitter feeds. A number of opera companies are offering live streams of past performances.

New York Metopera

In an effort to continue providing opera to its audience members, the Met Opera will host “Nightly Met Opera Streams” on its official website to audiences worldwide.

These free streams will present encores of past performances from its famed Live in HD series. The encore presentations will begin at 7:30 p.m. each night on the company’s official website and will then be available for an additional 20 hours thereafter. Each showcase will also be viewable on the Met Opera on demand apps.

“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb in a press release. “Every night, we’ll be offering a different complete operatic gem from our collection of HD presentations from the past 14 years.”

The first week of the schedule is as follows:

Monday, March 16 – Bizet’s “Carmen

Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna. Transmitted live on January 16, 2010.

Tuesday, March 17 – Puccini’s “La Bohème”

Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas. Transmitted live on April 5, 2008.

Wednesday, March 18 – Verdi’s “Il Trovatore

Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna NetrebkoDolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Transmitted live on October 3, 2015.

Thursday, March 19 – Verdi’s “La Traviata

Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey. Transmitted live on December 15, 2018.

Friday, March 20 – Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment

Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. Transmitted live on April 26, 2008.

Saturday, March 21 – Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”

(Per Operawire feed)

Munich Opera

If you want to see Munich opera offerings, check out https://operlive.de or staatsoper.de

Joyce diDonato

Joyce DiDonato and Piotr Beczala will present excerpts from Massenet’s “Werther” from Didonato’s living room.

DiDonato and Beczala announced that on March 15 they will sing excerpts accompanied by harpist Emmanuel Ceysson and pianist Howard Watkins.

DiDonato announced the news via Instagram and Facebook and added, “Tune in and consider throwing some support to artist funds (to be listed!) http://www.facebook.com/JoyceDiDonatoOfficial”

Both singers were expected to perform the work at the Metropolitan Opera on March 16 through March 31. However, due to the coronavirus performances were canceled.

The live stream will be shown on Facebook and Instagram and will begin at 3 p.m Eastern. (That means west coasters will have to catch it at noon).

(From Operawire feed)

You can also use joycedidonato at her Instagram site.

Joyce diDonato took this selfie of us after the Metopera performance of Agrippina on Feb. 29!
Teatro Massimo, Palermo

I found another website that has free livestreams operas and ballet, at http://www.teatromassimo.it/eng/teatro-massimo-tv-495/. I just finished seeing excellent productions of two of my favorite operas, Cavallera Rusticana and Pagliacci, as well as a delightful production of the Nutcracker.

As we are about to enter uncertain times, I hope some of these offerings will help to calm the soul with beautiful music. It helped me!

Note: I haven’t verified whether these links work until after I post, so apologies in advance!! Some material above has been extracted from the Operawire twitter feed, with thanks to David Salazar, the editor.

Addendum (3/15/20): just received from Operawire: you can see many of Vienna State Opera’s past performances at:

http://www.staatsoperlive.com/

For details of schedule, go to:

Vienna State Opera to Offer Daily Live Streams From its Opera Archives

Glyndebourne Opera Finals, Kensington Museums, and Fidelio

Glyndebourne Opera Finals

Among the six finalists, Edward Nelson from S. California won this year’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup. A baritone, he was a former student of the San Francisco Opera Merola Program and an Adler Fellow. It was particularly exciting for me to see the international reputation and success of our own local training programs. Along with the first prize, Edward will receive a principal role in a major European opera house.

One of my favorite finalists, American tenor Eric Ferring, won third prize. His Mozart choices were sung with beautifully articulated German and particularly moved me. I anticipate he will be performing some challenging German operas on the European stages in the near future. Another one of my favorite finalists was soprano Meigui Zhang from China. She was also a graduate of the Merola. Unfortunately, she did not place in the top three winners. I was pleased that my top three choices of the twenty contestants made it to the final rounds.

Overall, I was thrilled to attend both the Glyndebourne and Metopera finals for the first time. It provided insight on the training, technical skill, artistry, and determination required to become a professional opera singer. I now know some of the next generation’s exciting star performers.

Tutankhamun Exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, London

Located in Sloane Square, the Saatchi Gallery hosted a special exhibition of Tutankhamun making its way around the world. Tutankhamun was a boy who became king when he was around nine in ca. 1200 BC, and died when he was only 18.

The videos below explain the extensive methodology and preparation for the burial of Tutankhamun.

The treasures accompanying Tutankhamun’s mummy protected and assured his after life. The family tree traces his lineage from his father, Akhenaten, and grandfather Amenhotep. Both Tutankhamen and Akhenaten married their sisters, which may have contributed to multiple defects in the family. You can read about them here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutankhamun

More exquisite artifacts show the high level of skill of artisans that produced wood, gold and stone carvings for the royal tomb. The layout of the tomb shows what Carter discovered in 1922. The pieces will be permanently installed in the museum in Egypt now under construction.

Natural History Museum, Kensington

A quick walk down the block from the hotel to the Natural History Museum confirmed my suspicion. The dinosaurs were the highlight, with the blue whale suspended in the Great Hall perfectly proportioned to its size.

Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington

The V&A, just another block further, reminded me of the British propensity to collect. But of course, it is always done tastefully. The giant Chihuly Murano glass sculpture barely made a statement within the monumental scale of the domed entrance. On the other hand, the Shah’s carpet, was imposing as the largest Oriental carpet in the world (a Kashan). But in the end, my favorite was a period Chinese cheong sam from the 1920-34 era at the time my mother immigrated to America.

Fidelio at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, was performed this year at the Royal Opera House to celebrate the composer’s 250th anniversary. The story is, like all operas, complicated and convoluted. Based on a true story during the French Revolution, it is a testament to marital loyalty (a long foregone concept). Fidelio’s wife, Leonore, attempts to save her husband from prison by posing as a prison guard. She gains the confidence of the prison official in order to free her husband. That’s it in a nutshell.

The new production by a German director was very choppy. In the first act, the historical setting is preserved, but the second act suddently jolts us into a modern day setting. The chorus, clad in black, serves as the audience in judging the scene. Fidelio, played by superstar Jonas Kaufmann, sings his chained lament before he is freed. Kaufmann performed for a total of only about ten minutes! The real star was Leonore, played by Lise Davidsen.

My apologies for the length of this post and the big cultural data dump. I couldn’t resist sharing these educational experiences. And yes, corona virus is everywhere and something to be concerned about. The news and alarm rolled into each country I visited like a slow but sure tidal wave–first in California as I was leaving, then New York, followed by the U.K at the end.

So, it looks like travel plans are on hold for awhile until further notice. I sincerely hope that this world-wide health problem will all come to pass quickly, teach us to be more vigilant and kind to each other, and that traveling with myself and others will again be as blissful and unencumbered as it has been over the past six years. Stay well and safe.

Picasso and Glyndebourne Semi-Finals

If you wanted to live and die opera and art, the UK is the place to be (next to Germany). Of course no one I know has this level of idiosyncratic passion as me, nor the idiocy. Nevertheless, I am here and indulging in two of my favorite interests.

Picasso and Paper

The Royal Academy of Art exhibition on PIcasso and Paper reminded me of the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition on Michelangelo a couple of years ago. Four hundred years later, Picasso had a few tips to share. His sketchbooks were treasures to study and admire:

As an avid student of sketching, I wondered about artists’ techniques and their process of making art. The Picasso exhibition was a real-time, home school crash course in the fundamentals of figure drawing. It also clearly displayed composition, line weight, and exploration beyond the obvious. Here are a few quick insights I gathered from the Grand Master (see captions):

And finally, these are a few colorful favorites among hundreds of items scattered throughout the exhibition:

If you want to find out the actual titles of the images above, go to https://shop.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/exhibition-ranges/picasso-and-paper. Like the Michelangelo Exhibition, my studying the early inception of Picasso’s artwork helped me to appreciate the master and the depth of his brilliance.

Glyndebourne Opera Semi-Final Competition

Now, on to Glyndebourne. There were twenty contestants in the competition, already culled from many trials in different countries. The finalists selected were: Eric Ferring, Tenor, from the US; Meigui Zhang, Soprano, from China; Siphokazi Molteno, Mezzo from S. Aftrica; Sungho Kim, Tenor, from Korea; Alexandra Lowe, Soprano, from the U.K; and Edward Nelson, Baritone from the U.S. (See photo below, with Jury chair (far left) and other contestants (in background)

It was great to see diversity among the finalists, as well as a good showing from the Americans. Edward Nelson was a graduate of the Adler program at SF Opera, so there were many candidates to feel proud of supporting.

Like artwork, I found the competition helpful in deconstructing the mysteries of opera. My choices coming from an untrained ear were based on the following criteria:

1. Do they have stage presence?

2. Can they carry the notes to the back of the room?

3. Do they convey their lust and excitement for opera?

4. Do they have confidence in their command of the foreign language they are singing in?

5. Can they sing pianissimo as well as at full blast?

6. Are the notes smooth and effortless?

The opera house was small and intimate. Nevertheless, think about reaching the back of the room with your instrument. Built of wood, this circular, modern building is similar to the Globe Theater. It is located a half hour south of Gatwick Airport on the way to Brighton. The surrounding countryside was beautifully groomed and lusciously green. The U.K. is blessed with plenty of rain, an enviable environment coming from California.

Amazing Egon Schiele and Agrippina

Arriving in New York City always gets your heart pumping faster. I came to see: an exhibition of Egon Schiele drawings at the Galerie St. Etienne; the opera Agrippina; and the 2020 Metopera competition.

Galerie St. Etienne

The Egon Schiele work was part of a Viennese and German Expressionist exhibition held by the Galerie St. Etienne. The grandfather of Jane Kallir established the gallery 80 years ago after leaving Austria in 1939.

Many of the pieces in the exhibition were from private collections, so they are rarely seen. Jane Kallir’s grandfather was unable to sell the pieces by unknown artists he brought to America, so he donated them to museums such as the Guggenheim and National Gallery. They repaid him by loaning those pieces back for this special commemorative celebration.

A few of the works were presented by the curator and gallery owner, Jane Kallir. The Klimt painting of an island (detail below) was influenced by Monet.

In the Otto Dix portrait, the perspective of the subject is in question. Does the portrait reflect the person, or is it the artist’s interpretation of the subject? In this case, it may show the nobleness of the prostitute that served men of power and influence. They reflect complicated questions of what, why and how the portrait artist paints his or her subject matter.

Jane Kallir, Owner of St. Etienne, giving a talk about Egon Schiele and others in the exhibition

Egon Schiele is my favorite artist. He was prolific in his figure drawings and captured curvature of the human body, facial expressions, and hands precisely. He died at a young age of 28 in 1918.

Agrippina
Curtain call

I rushed to the afternoon performance of Agrippina at the Metopera. After an exhilarating combination of beautiful music by Handel and delightful staging, I met Joyce diDonato, the diva superieure.

Metopera Grand Finals

After a delightful afternoon of opera classics sung by contestants from across the country and China, the winners included my favorites Jonah Hoskins, a tenor from Sarasota Springs, Utah (second from right); and Alexandria Shiner, a soprano from Waterford, Michigan. See https://www.playbill.com/article/metropolitan-opera-names-the-5-up-and-coming-opera-singers-to-win-the-2020-national-council-auditions

Lisa Oropesa, who won the contest in 2005, served as the host for the event. She graciously donated $25,000 in gratitude for the fame and fortune the competition brought to her. Javier Camerena, a current opera star, sang two arias. I look forward to seeing many of these emerging stars on the opera stage in the future.

Eurydice in Los Angeles

Over the weekend, my college roommate and I flew down to Los Angeles from San Francisco for a mini-break to see the world premiere of “Eurydice”. Librettist Sarah Ruhl and composer Matthew Aucoin gave a pre-performance talk on their work.

Based on a classic Greek story, Eurydice rushes to Hades to seek her dead father on her wedding day. Her husband, Orpheus, follows her to bring her back. However, he is instructed to not look back at her. In a moment of weakness, he looks and loses her a second time. This tragic love tale is told from Eurodice’s point of view.

The music moved the story, the stage sets were sophisticated, and the choreography was delightful. Yet it seemed to drift at times and lose its direction. I was surprised that critics from both the New York Times and LA Times were gracious and forgiving of Aucoin’s work.

The following day, we attended a sketching event in the sculpture gallery of the Getty Center. The free museum offers great sketching opportunities in the galleries.

With the expanded public transit system, you can reach many sights by bus and metro. Getting to the Getty by public transit required some careful planning, but we proved that it was possible to spend an entire weekend filled with activities and events without a car in LA.

My sketch of one of the Puttis by Tacco

Staying at the Miyako Hotel in J-Town was a great choice. It was well located near Union Station, Disney and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, restaurants and public transit.

Our restaurant picks included Carlitos Gardel on Melrose Avenue, Manuela in the Arts District in East LA, and Jist around the corner from the Miyako for Sunday Brunch.

Year of the Rat

The Lunar New Year brings renewed energy to the onset of a sluggish winter. Here are a few reminders from a friend about the origin of various Chinese myths and legends: https://chinesenewyear.net/myths/. To inspire you, look for the red pockets and panties.

Over the weekend, I hosted a San Francisco Sketchers event. A tidy corps of sketchers drew for two hours straight in the atrium at the Sandler Neursciences Center at UCSF. The architectural curves and angles provided plenty of challenges. You could barely hear a pin drop during the entire time!

At the end, we were rewarded by sharing each other’s sketches.

And here were my contributions: