Category Archives: 2020

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:

Reflections on Iran (An Excerpt from Dec. 2018)

In light of this week’s tragic events over Iran, I felt compelled to share a video I produced at the end of 2018. It captures my current thoughts and feelings about Iran (in conjunction with other countries visited that year). My heart goes out to the Iranian people and their uncertain future.

Here’s the video:

(The notes below are an edited version from the original post, “Wring out the Old”, from December, 2018.)

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

Turkey Wrap

Sadly, our weeklong foray into the dazzling Blue Aegean coast of Turkey has come to an end. Daughter Melissa‘s quest for the freshest, most creative food did not disappoint. I came for the connoiseur’s ride.

Turkish Food

Delicate bits of chopped morsels are packed with texture, flavor, and color to delight the senses. You swear you could eat like this every day, convinced of the variety and healthy ingredients.

Dolmas, eggplant spread with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, and artichoke with mustard sauce
Bodrum to Izmir

The four hour public bus from to Izmir to Bodrum followed the coast, was a safe and comfortable trip, and cost us each a hefty $6. In true Turkish hospitality, they even served tea and cookies! We gazed at the stark countryside, lit by the low winter sun behind turbulent clouds, as olive and tangerine groves slid past.

View of Mountains and farmland from bus
Bizim Lokanta

On arrival back in Izmir, we couldn‘t resist returning to the lokanta in the Bazaar where we had eaten earlier in the week.

Tongue soup, bulgar with fava beans, and cabbage rolls with thick, creamy yogurt
Kudos on two walls of this vest-pocket diner were self-explanatory
Bazaar Fun
It‘s a Wrap!
(Meatless) Kale and Cheese Wraps for a pittance

It‘s always bittersweet leaving a country, especially after such a short visit. But the food focus, imperial demands, abundance of land, and Mediterranean climate requires one to succumb to one of Turkey‘s finest features.

Emphasis on Ephesus

Our visit to the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey required an overnight stay in Izmir. Although we had a chance to get acclimated, we immediately took to the streets in search of lunch. Thanks to Melissa’s intrepid search for the tastiest food in any country and her Googling skills, we traipsed through the town’s nearby grand bazaar and after numerous twists and turns, tracked down a local locanta.

Izmir Locanta
Izmir Bazaar Favorite among locals

This is where the locals dine on some of the heartiest meals made with the freshest ingredients. We savored the sardine soup recommended by the gentleman sitting across from us. It’s one of those diners where you point to the big vats of steaming concoctions or decorated casseroles in order to get your meal secured!


Stewed Eggplant
Ephesus

The short 40 minute drive from Izmir to Bodrum jolted us into realizing how ancient the land in which we were traveling is. From biblical figures like John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and their pilgrim followers, to the largest civilization outside of Rome at its peak, it was hard not to be impressed by the significance and grandeur of Ephesus.

Once inhabited by 250,000, Ephesus is a UNESCO world heritage site and was carefully restored and brought to life. It is a relatively late-bake on the list, as its discovery is fairly recent and only a fraction of it has been uncovered.

The library at Ephesus

Highlights include the odeon, a theatre; an amphitheater, an agora, terrace houses, and a library. You can download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app for free and use it as you walk the site. All the details of what we saw were based on his excellent instructions. I highly recommend trying it out, and he certainly covers the major features. This fascinating site was once a thriving port city before the Persians, Alexander the Great, and the Goths each had their go at destroying it!

We decided to hire a car for a day to get from Izmir to Ephesus and Ephesus to Bodrum, our final destination. The only catch was making certain that we could call the driver after he dropped us off at the carpark at the top of the entrance to Ephesus. He was to meet us at the bottom of the hill at the exit 90 minutes later. Minor details: he had our bags in the boot!! We needed a backup just in case we could not find the driver. After a bit of cell phone finagling, conversations with hotel personnel, and a lot of good faith—we managed. Where we spent on the driver, we saved on time and the cost of a tour and guide. Just a reminder on how you can travel the way you want, with just a few creative tricks and determination to be a traveler and not a tourist.

Boviera

Known as “Boviera”, sparkling Aegean resort towns along the Western Turkish coast include Bodrum. It’s off-peak and chilly presently, but well worth the quiet solitude and even threats of rain to avoid the throngs of English-speaking tourists.

As close as you can get to the creatures being served at your table before they are caught!
Anchovies, artichokes with pineapple, cheese and walnuts, and squash in yogurt

Note: due to traveling light and leaving my Macbook at home for this brief trip, I am using my Iphone to compose and post photos. The capabilities are limited, but I hope you will still enjoy the material the same as regular posts!

Munchin’ in München (36 hours)

At the start of the New Year, dessert chef/ daughter Melissa and I are making a quick stopover in Munich en route to Western Turkey for a few days.

We searched high and low for tasty, affordable dishes. In Germany, it’s a challenge to avoid meat-forward or vegan counter-reactionary approaches. There seems to be very little in between.

Nevertheless, Melissa decided to go classic and identified the Cafe Luitpold. We indulged in a delicate croissant assemblage and a cheese plate for breakfast.

Cheese Plate at Cafe Luitpold

Meanwhile, our main objective for stopping in Munich was to hit as many museums in one day possible.

To digress, speeding thru museums when the kids were young helped. We broke into parent-child pairs for a one-hour treasure hunt. Finding famous pieces and objets d/art such as the Venus de Milo in Louvre was energizing. It helped each of us remember what we found!!

Quality was less relevant than quantity in order to win! I feel less guilty about subjecting our children after this daughter became an art history major.

Back to the ranch. We decided to tackle the Pinakothek Moderne today. It’s a behemoth museum that dwarfs artwork and erases any artist‘s notion of grandeur. The Reichstag-like atrium was wet with a pendulum-swinging, egg-shaped disco ball.

Pinakothek Atrium, Munich

After a short break, we visited the Brandhorst Museum across from the Modern. A huge Cy Twombly exhibition displayed his beautiful series on roses, as well as his Sketches and Scribbles.

Twombly’s Roses

The museum celebrated its tenth anniversary by providing souvenir cards of many artists’ works. It saved buying an exhibition catalog, that often are killers to transport home.

American contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons were well represented here, juxtaposed against German Expressionists and the Dusseldorf Academy faculty.

This is one museum worth visiting, and the late Thursday opening allowed viewers near-exclusive access to an amazing collection.

Jean Michel Basquiat, untitled, 1983
The Dancer by Oskar Schlemmer, 1922

(Author‘s Note): if you think we’re crazy to do two museums in one day, we scaled our goal back from the four in the Pinakothek collection that we had intended to visit!