Tag Archives: Museum artwork

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.

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!

Day 57-60: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu…from Salzburg

Apologies for the premature post a couple of days ago, to those of you signed up for notifications. I pressed “Publish” by mistake! THIS is my final post to everyone, with love, from Salzburg. After sixty days of travel, ten cities, and 11 flights (not environmentally correct, admittedly), I successfully completed my complicated travel plans!

The past six years have been amazing travels, from UNESCO World Heritage sites in Uzbekistan; two trips on the Trans-Siberian Express East and West from Beijing including Mongolia; Morocco, Iran, and this year, to the Caucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Each year, they were anchored in German language study programs followed by trips to various countries in Asia.

We often think of Europeans cities such as Paris, Rome or Berlin as destinations, and not countries to which they belong. This year, I learned more about Portugal and Austria than about the major cities that lie in them.

As for differences between Europeans with Americans, the environment comes to mind. Europeans are more aware and definitely ahead in terms of public transportation. They seem to live modestly within their means, and are less about themselves. I can still overhear conversations between bratty entitled Americans that make me grateful for my Asian face.

On the other hand, the food quality and waste seem to be lacking here. An article last year in the NY Times reported on the food waste. It was evident in the food markets (shown here, albeit pristine and among the most beautiful) and even in the run of the mill supermarkets. Perhaps their denial of GMO’s has to do with the selected supply and demand.

The ethnic food is institutionalized here. Just as we did in the States in the Sixties, fast food became the alternative to hot prepared restaurant food.

The Currywurst in Germany was among the first, so now it represents what every immigrant dreams about: its own take-away. Yesterday I bought my Japanese-style chicken teriyaki and rice from a hawker, who spoke in broken English but actually was Chinese. The fast food with a mixed message he was selling is a sign of the times—processed ethnic food that is predictable and a reasonable facsimile of food remembered from 50 years ago.

It wasn’t cheap—10 Euros. I can rationalize the cost for the overhead needed by families to make up for all their sacrifices in education, income and risk to reestablish in a new country. Hopefully in the future authentic ethnic food will be in greater demand as food origins are better appreciated and customers are more sophisticated.

Kunst Historisches Museum

This huge repository for the Italian and Flemish masters keeps an incredible collection of European art. The slide show includes the following in order of appearance below (but not chronicalogically): Breughel, Vermeer, Durer, Raphael, and Rembrandt

If you were wondering where all the artifacts from early Mediterranean civilizations had gone, you could probably find many of them here, like those in the “mummy” room:

Leopold Museum

My last-minute museum fix was to the Leopold Museum. Leopold was a private philanthropist who decided to collect art after he saw the collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and became a patrin of the arts.

I was swept away by the entire collection. The “Modern” section told the story of the Vienna Werkstatt. Architects, artists, literary figures, and designers all gathered together to form the “Vienna Werkstatt”, that preceded the Bauhaus. Here are some of the exquisite design pieces from the period around 1900, in the Jugendstil:

Primarily led by Klimt, the group seceeded from the conservative Vienna Kunsthaus. The group then later became fragmented and Klimt and others left the Secessionists. He was also embroiled with the University of Vienna’s administration over the paintings, “Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence“.

We read and discussed this argument in our German class. Klimt was criticizing his benefactors. The faculty considered the nude figures pornographic and removed them from the ceiling where they were located.

This would not be so earth-shaking today, as many artists push their boundaries. Names like Ai-Wei-Wei came up. It was interesting to note, that while most of the European students were familiar with his name, none of the Chinese students knew of him.

You can read more about the Leopold Museum collection here: https://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en/museum/museum-history.

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was an artist unbeknownst to me. He donated his collection to the Museum, so it may explain his prominence there.

I was drawn to the graphic nature of his work, powerful compositions, and emotional content. Being an aspiring artist, I studied his choice of color, figure drawing skill, and architectural themes intently. If you are interested you can read more about him here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele

Miscellaneous Pieces

You may remember the Salzburg Music Festival from the film, “the Sound of Music”, where the Von Trapp Family made their debut. This weekend escape served as a finale of sorts for my travels. The ultimate purpose was to see “Adriana Lecouvreur” starring Anna Netrebko, Yuri Eyvazov (her husband), and Anita Rachvelishvili.

These are superstars in their prime in the opera world. I don’t know if there ever will be such a dynamic combination of singers performing such a highly dramatic opera.

The story takes place in 1730 and is about a theater actress, who became involved in a three-way triangle. There are many twists and turns about actresses playing their roles so well that they forget about their own lives and vulnerabilities.

This was Anna Netrebko’s greatest artistic challenge, not only as a singer but as an actress. You could only imagine what she is feeling after her own marital tribulations, on top of singing to her current spouse!!

Anna Netrebko, who did not respond to immediate audience approval at the end, was just recovering from her own performance. She was so immersed in the role, that she had forgotten that she was only performing! I could see how audience applause nearly destroyed the moment she was feeling. To jolt her out of one intense emotion of dying over spurned love (she won the battle but lost the war), the instant accolades were at first irrelevant. I could only imagine that feeling as it took some time for me to recover myself (from the performance, not spurned love!)

Earlier in the morning. I attended a Mozart concert. It was the usual Mozart fare offered by the Mozarteum Orchestra (who coincidentally played “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Salzburg Festival.

I flashed back to one of my favorite movies, “Amadeus”. This came up in our class and was dismissed as “Hollywood”, implying that it wasn’t an authentic interpretation of Mozart. I defended the industry by indicating that the film launched the career of Milos Forman, a Czech.

Not being satisfied with my own answer. I googled “Amadeus”. You can read more about the film here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeus_(film)

It led to further searches about the producer, Saul Zaentz, who turned out to be from the Bay Area and a former agent for Credence Clearwater Revival.

The fascinating life story of the producer was interwoven with a legal case with John Fogerty of the CCR. It even went to the Supreme Court! You can read about it here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Zaentz

Since this is my last post, I want to thank everyone for joining me. Your words of encouragement and comments were sincerely appreciated. I hope we will have an opportunity in the future to travel with each other!

If you haven’t already commented online, feel free to write to me at vifongit@gmail.com!!

PS. Further apologies for any mistakes in this post. I am rushing to catch my flight!!

Day 53-56: Ravishing, Vanishing Vienna Woulds

Okay, this is going to be a fast landing. I am uploading a cache of pictures from this week’s class tours: the Friedhof, or Cemetery outside Vienna, where many prominent and famous people of Vienna are buried; the Insider’s Walking Tour of Vienna in the oldest area from the Middle Ages; and the collections from the Decorative Art Museum

Vienna Central Cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof)

Established in 1874, this cemetery reminded me of the one in Montparnasse, Paris. The loess soil in the outskirts of town was considered a better site for interment, especially after the cemetery had to be moved a couple of times. The first location inside the walls of the original city was bulging at the seams before long, so districts outside the city walls began to create cemeteries for specific ethnic and religious groups.

With so many people dying from the plague and pestilence in the 13th C, plots became scarce. Dogs were digging up the bones of those who had been laid in shallow graves and reintroducing body parts and diseases into areas occupied by those still alive. Soon these local cemeteries became too crowded.

This time the cemetery was centralized. Cemeteries from individual churches were combined, but it created new challenges. Being nearly an hour outside the city, it was difficult for relatives to attend to their dearly departed. Administrators found clever ways to encourage people to buy and maintain plots in the new location.

They provided a grand church for services, leased and subleased unused plots, and offered a park-like setting with a cafe to enhance visits. There were strict rules to maintain supply and demand. A “Famous Composers” section with the remains of famous composers like Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Brahms and Mozart was created to attract tourists. The wealthy built artistic monuments and used expensive materials to flaunt their prestige and wealth.

It’s a pretty good guess that one of the Hapsburgs had a hand in creating nearly every institution in Vienna, and this cemetery is no exception.

Decorative Arts Museum (Museum für Angewandte Kunst)

The applied arts museum offers an extensive collection of Baroque, Rococo, and Art Nouveau era furniture, household items, and special exhibitions..

Names like Biedermeier, Jugendstil, and Thonet–remind me of the not insignificant role of Austrian design. The Vienna Werkstatt reflected early European modern design. It was was influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement in England.

Back Streets of Vienna

I had dismissed Vienna as being pretty dry and uneventful until this week. The class outings picked up the pace and delivered pretty juicy stories about the history of Vienna. In three prior visits, I was completely unaware of the medieval section of the city. After starting at the edge of the old harbor to the Donau, we wound our way through crooked alleys and a labyrinthine course, passing many exclusive cafes, shops and historic businesses. We emerged by the end of the tour at the doorstep to St. Stephan’s Church in the heart of town.

The Greek Orthodox Church in the area was a reminder of the waves of immigrants who had populated Vienna and contributed to its growth and success.

A C Level Class for a C Level Student

Hey, I’m happy just to participate, as hubby Gee Kin would say. Here are a few parting pictures of our group, that included an Italian priest, three Chinese German language teachers, an Irish German teacher, a Belgian EU administrator, a Norwegian statistics consultant, and me.

This post is likely to be the second to last post for the trip. I am getting ready for the wrap in Salzburg, Austria this weekend. Look for it and let me know what you think of this year’s travels with myself and others!

Day 49-52: Ba-Da Boom

Thanks to the Alps, there are plenty of resorts in Europe endowed with natural spring waters. The Europeans love to indulge in the purported therapeutic value. The Austrians are no less dedicated to magical wonders. Just one hour outside of Vienna lies a hidden gem known as Baden bei Wien (Bad is not bad, but good, for “Bath”).

That is, if you count having a casino as a gem. It’s a package deal, with a free music performance nearly every day in the summer in a toned-down version of Las Vegas or in a Riviera Wanna-Be. There are also miles of garden paths for “wandering” (a German-speaking country’s favorite past time), pedestrian-free shopping streets, and Baroque-era historical buildings. I even discovered one advertised as: “Beethoven slept here”.

Aside from the cutesiness, this little town is an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Vienna is alot like Paris–overwhelmingly huge boulevards, huge art collections, and huge burning heat waves.

After a week communicating exclusively in German and starved by little or no English, my brain has had trouble with the cultural shift. Scrambling for a translation within whatever comes closest, glue exuding from my eyelids when I didn’t comprehend answers to questions, and the flippant responses emitting from my ignorance definitely caused Angst (a German word). Try a week of this and you will understand how I felt.

The planned mini-getaway with and from myself helped me to recover. Since there were no performances at the Vienna Opera House during the month of July, I searched my trusted opera.com website and learned that the nearest opera performances were listed in Baden bei Wien.

The “operas” were more like musicals, but the underemployed opera performers were very highly skilled and talented. This was a performance of “The Vogelhandler”, or the “Bird Trader”.

Beethoven Museum

The small town, not unlike Bath, England, yielded an unexpected find. Beethoven had spent many holidays in Bad bei Wien during his residency in Vienna. The museum provided interesting facts about Beethoven’s life, health, and companions.

Beethoven’s deafness was well-known, but he also suffered from various ailments. (See the diagram showing his various sicknesses.) His moving journal notes, posted on music stands, indicated how much pain he endured and how he tried to find doctors and remedies, to little or no avail.

Despite these illnesses while he was in Baden bei Wien during the latter part of his life, Beethoven managed to write some of his best work. The Ninth Symphony, the Eroica Symphony, and Missa Solemnis were among some of the pieces written while he lived here. A summary of his arrival in Baden and a sample of the various voices and instruments he wrote in his music are shown below. (Click on images to increase for easier viewing).

A video showed the individual instruments or voices presented during a performance of the NInth Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting at the BBC Prom. The complicated nature and integration of pieces are demonstrated. Watch the colors on the left screen as they coordinate to the music graphically, while the voices and instruments are shown on the right screen below.

Although I didn’t expect to be coming to Baden bei Wien to learn about Beethoven, I found this tiny museum packed with moving and compassionate information about purportedly the world’s best classical composer. It made up for the operas that I had come to see.

I also managed to get a few sketches in!

Day 41-45: Bom Dia Lisboa!

After spending a week with a dozen companions in the Algarve, it took a bit of adjustment to being alone again. Fortunately sketching buddy Karen accompanied me to Lisbon for her return flight to San Francisco. She adeptly led me to the Neya Lisbon Ecohotel where we were staying. The hotel promotes saving the environment, even if it’s just a marketing ploy.

Use of solar panels, thermal and acoustic windows, separated garbage bins in every room, and reusing towels are commonplace for most hotels, but they don’t advertise it. Every little bit helps, so his hotel has got the right idea. I’m not sure that I can quote any other hotel chain in the U.S. or Europe that includes it in their name. If nothing else, you end up with a younger and more conscientious clientele.

I’m spending a few days here exploring on my own. Lisbon city streets are narrow crooked alleyways that hug the steep hillsides until they burst at the seams with long strings of steps. You are reminded of Telegraph Hill or Montrmartre as you carefully scale the steep paths and are glad that you aren’t sporting five-inch heels from the Ott’s.

The paved cobbles are slippery from hundreds of years of footfall. I wondered how many souls (pardon the pun) it took to shine them. Occasionally a patch of roughed up cobbles provided relief to the attentiveness needed to descend them.

Mentally, I had no trouble skiing down the hill toward town and paused to savor the tiled facades and ironwork that were so compatible with each other. Even the laundry hung out to dry seemed to add an artistic swoop, as if to apologize for the untiled surface.

Castelo S. Jorge

I scaled the top of the 11th Century fortress castle. It was crenillated with lookouts that made shooting from below a challenge. The views from the fort were spectacular and peeking through the openings made you wish could dodge target practice. Other than that…overrun with tourists like me.

Pena Palace, Sintra

Despite being a world heritage site, Sintra was another destination overrun by tourists. It diminished my appreciation of the area’s man-made beauty. Tucked into the hills outside Lisbon, the national park was transformed from a barren hill to lush forest.

The palace itself looked a little bit like Disneyland, especially the bright colors. Its Moorish features and gardens were obscured by short rooms that lacked the high drama normally found in other European palaces. Pena was built by Ferdinand II, who ruled from 1837-53, and his two wives. One was an opera singer so you can imagine the level of high maintenance required on his part.

The Museum of the Orient

Okay, this wasn’t my first goal for museum googling. My first futile attempt was to the Archaeological Museum. The entrance was blocked by a parade for the 150th year of the Police Academy, who were out at least 150-strong: a great time to commit a crime!

The second attempt was to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, located on the port side of a four-lane highway and railway line with no pedestrian crossing. I finally settled on the Orient Museum, that was also on the port side of the same highway and railway line, but WITH a pedestrian crossing!

150th Anniversary of Police Academy

Thanks to Vasco da Gama, who was responsible for the world trade routes to Asia as early as 1511! Macau and the Straits of Malacca were discovered in 1515, so they overcame the Silk Road drudgery of camel packs, winter snows, and sandstorms.

Had I thought about it, my Silk Road research and adventures could have been supplemented by tracing the Portuguese sea routes. Ach! Earlier freighters would have charted a simpler course. But…scurvy and mutinies…water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink…which was worse–the vast desert or the vast ocean?!?

This museum held me captive for over three hours. I read nearly every caption, to absorb the stories they told on porcelain, between the traders and the traded. As the market developed for the silk and porcelains, so shifted original Chinese themes to Western ones. The hunters became the hunted, and vice versa. Maritime prowess, religion, love of nature, and paganism were common topics that eventually drifted into the images depicted.

The Chinese found a liking to tobacco for both medicinal and euphoric purposes. Snuff bottles became popular and coveted. Opium became the new normal.

My HK friends will appreciate the material in this museum as it relates to Macau. Just north of Macau lies my family’s stomping ground in Zhongshan, China. It’s no wonder that the Southern Chinese were commercially influenced by 500 years of Portuguese presence, and they were already well into trading before the British arrived in 1851. A few of the well-curated artifacts are below.

Chinese Opera Exhibit

A separate permanent exhibit in the Museum of the Orient enhanced my research on Chinese Opera. The curators did an excellent job in presenting the topic to those unfamiliar with this form of integrated music and art. The costumes and descriptions were well preserved and comprehensive.

They clearly identified the four character types: the official, the maiden, the warrior, and the comic. The films that were shown were exemplary, not only of traditional opera, but one also described the complications during and after the Cultural Revolution by a ballet performer in the “Red Detachment of Women”. She was purged after the fall of the Gang of Four.

Shoes were of particular interest to me. Opera performers did not have bound feet, but they imitated those who did. They wore “high-heeled sneakers” with pedestals. If you wondered why Chinese opera performers were so deliberate in their actions, it’s because they couldn’t walk in those damn shoes! They had to balance themselves on platforms or pedestals and could easily trip on their costumes. The good news is that the pedestals allowed the fringes to flop over the edges and shimmy in a beguiling way.

One other note about this fascinating exhibit. Because of their heavy costumes, performers wore a shield of bamboo in between, so their skin could sweat! Just like bamboo mats. See the bamboo curtain below.

There were many other artifacts that mesmerized me for an entire afternoon. Here were just a few of the artistic pieces presented:

My apologies for this indulgence. They connect many dots in my historical knowledge of the Silk Road and the connection between East and West. Coming to Lisbon and seeing the artifacts at this museum was an unexpected delight. The museum gave me a deeper understanding of how two worlds collided and found a purpose.

Etch a Sketch

Just so you don’t think I have abandoned my sketching, here are a few from sitting at train stations and leftovers from Olhao:

Finale in Lisbon

An open air concert with the Portuguese Symphony outside the Teatro S. Carlo! The sound and film crew were more interesting to watch from behind. Apologies for the blocked view of the symphony. (Give the video some time to load).

I’m off to Vienna, so look for my posting from there mid-week!

Day 26-29: Armenian Rhapsody

The Haghartsin Monastery and Churches range from the 10th-13th Centuries, and are a fascinating example of early medieval/late Byzantine architecture. The heavy basalt walls protected the churches from earthquakes, but a considerable amount of renovation and restoration work was still needed.

The thick walls supported small chapels with heavy domes made of stone. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the structures provided a timeless quality and soothing relief to the 90+ degree weather. The main church is dedicated to St. Gregory. You can read more about it here: https://www.advantour.com/armenia/tavush/agartsin-monastery.htm

Along Lake Sevan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, the Sevanarank Monastery was built in 874. It’s surprising to find these early examples of Christian architecture that never made it into the art history lectures. Our Eurocentric focus has neglected the early beginnings of ecumenical architecture.

I am now customizing my own studies of architectural history and history. By visiting the trans-Caucasus countries, I realize how little we have learned about these countries and the significant roles they played during the “Dark Ages” in feudal and medieval Europe. We could have been learning about what was developing in other parts of the world, especially where it was not “dark”.

Want people?

Followers have noted that my photos are strangely absent of people. I’m not sure whether it is a blessing or a curse, but I do tend to avoid inadvertent passers-by to preserve my architectural shots. It takes some patience but basically a stealth-bomber approach as soon as the coast is clear. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get distracted by interesting people who are the subject matter themselves. And don’t be misled. There are plenty of tourists wandering around everywhere, so I may in fact be distorting the scene. The good news: we have run into very few Americans along our route.

Groups of Tourists descend from the Cascade Monument, Yerevan, Armenia

Food for Thought

With a bit of effort, delicious healthy food such as vegetable plates with presentation flair are inexpensive and available.

Cafesjian Center for the Arts

As part of the “Cascade”, an outdoor stairway system that ascends halfway up a steep hill in the middle of the city, an art museum is located adjacent to the escalator system serving the stairs. Sculpture is placed in layers as one moves along the escalators and views artwork at an enjoyable pace. The Cascade Monument was erected to commemorate the 2780th anniversary of the founding of Yerevan with an equal number of stairs.

Genocide Museum, Yerevan, Armenia

No visit would be complete without learning about the Armenian Genocide in 1915-20. An estim 600,000 and 1.5 million people were systemmatically killed by Turks in three phases: first by forcing men into labor groups without means of survival; next, by decapitating intellectuals and leaders of Armenia; and third, by rounding up women and children and sending them into the desert. The Turkish government has yet to acknowledge its responsibility in causing so many deaths.

All Armenians (3 million) and the Armenian diaspora (approx. 8 million) know about this tragedy. Funds for public and private projects such as the Cafesjian Center are sponsored by Armenians living outside of Armenia to help support the country today.

Armenia was the first countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Unless you majored in Religion or Theological Studies, you probably would not be familiar with the numerous stories fron the Old and New Testament quoted when visiting the early Armenian Christian churches. They helped to shed light on the activities of about 1100 years between the 3rd C CE and the 13th C. CE of devout Christian belief and that continues today.

Coincidentally, Gregory “the Illuminator” had a lot to do with the designating of sites or inspiring a number of them.

The Holy See of Armenia was the residence of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a monastery, and cathedral. It contained a museum in which the hierarchical aspects of the Catholica, archbishop and bishop, such as vestments, decorative items and tapestries were preserved. One of the most interesting was a reliquary covered by a piece of petrified wood purported to be from Noah’s ark.

Zvartnots Cathedral

What appeared from a distance to look like a version of Stonehenge, the ruins of this round cathedral served as the holy see, until an earthquake collapsed the stone dome above it. Only the arches and columns remain, as well as remains of the dormitories for monks and communal spaces.

Geghard Monastery

This UNESCO listed monastery and church complex was started in the 3rd C CE and was partly carved into the mountain. Many small caves behind the monastery were used by the monks for individual meditation.

We’re very sad to leave this part of the world behind. The wealth of UNESCO world sites speak for its significance in the development of mankind and societies. Politics reign above all and challenge our knowledge of these misunderstood countries. While we were only able to digest a few statistics and a small portion of its legacy, we are inspired to pursue further studies about the Caucasus.

Day 19: Baku, Azerbaijan

City Sights

We headed to the high point of the city for an overview of the city skyline. At -28m below sea level, it is inperceptible that the area was covered by water, then receded multiple times in the past. The Caspian is called a sea for this reason–that the salt water from what was once part of the ocean differentiates it from from a fresh-water lake.

The Martyr’s shrine commemorates the 200 fallen rebels who led the second revolution in 1990. While being freed from Soviet rule and becoming independent, this was not the first attempt. Azerbaijan was established as a nation in 1920 as told by the Ali and Nino story I mentioned in the last post. Its success was short-lived however. The Russians came back and dominated the country for another 70 years before they relinquished power.

The Flaming Towers are Baku’s latest hotel, office, and condominium high rises that proudly display the city’s oil wealth and future. The capital of Azerbaijan was moved to Baku in the 12th century to this prominent peninsula on the west side of the Caspian Sea.

Shirvan Shah’s Palace and Museum

Architecture Inside Baku’s Old City Walls

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old City in Baku has renovated its historic buildings for public view.

Miniature Book Museum

Founded by an Azerbaijani woman, this museum contains over 8,000 volumes of miniature reproductions from books collected throughout the world, including Western, eastern, and local literature. This museum is cited in the Guiness Book of Records!

Baku’s Friendly People

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

This new building designed by Zaha Hadid, the world-famous Iraqi architect, has won numerous international accolades for its sweeping bold design. The museum displays Azeri culture and commemorates Azerbaijan’s former president, Heydar Aliyev.

Hadid created a vision and inspiration for the next generation of architects. Its womby curves and vast proportions offers a three-dimensional fly-through in real time. From the exterior, the building looks like a huge beached whale.

Museum Collection and Interior Details

Art Doll Collection

I couldn’t help but become fixated not only by the historic costumes and expressive faces of the dolls in this collection, but also by the exquisite, life-like hand gestures.

Day 15-16: Buntes Republik Neustadt

The hugest annual block party, known as the Neustadt United Republic, is happening this weekend in Dresden. I live in the midst of Neustadt’s six block radius, where three days of music, food, amusement, and dancing are rocking ’round the clock.

Families, old and young, sprinkle the age span of the predominantly young crowds. There are plenty of Goths and tattoed skins everywhere to offer endless studies of humankind. Cops discretely surrounded all street entryways and checked big bags, but you hardly noticed their presence once you passed the gauntlet from the edges.

Fortunately, my apartment is tucked behind a group of buildings in a cool, quiet courtyard that offers a quick and easy respite from the street action. I felt entirely safe and comfortable in “my hood.” The Neustadt “Buntes Republic” has been an amazing celebration of youth and a testament to good event planning.

Classicism and Romanticism in Dresden

A free access museum ticket, with compliments of the Goethe Institute, gave me incentive to revisit all the Old Masters Galleries and beautiful collections of regental splendor in the Residence and Zwinger Museums. I found two masterpieces that I remembered from my art history class at UC Berkeley! I almost gasped when I actually saw the Raphael and Vermeer works. They were totally overlooked by other visitors. Cranach also made his way onto my radar, especially after seeing dedicated works in Weimar.

The Turkish Kammer, or Chamber, contains some of my favorite museum pieces. The horses with armor and saddles, the swords, and the huge tapistried tent gives you a flavor of the power of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday.

The porcelain gallery would have been a chore had it not been for a few of the early Qing dynasty pieces from around 1700-1730 that paralleled Augustus the Strong’s reign as King of Poland and as Elector in Saxony. Meissen porcelain was developed after studying highly admired and coveted Chinese porcelain techniques. The figurines reminded me of the early Han pieces from Dunhuang and Chengdu. These galleries, made to emulate Versailles, were fun to rip through, in perfect condition and with no visitors!

After seeing the Michelangelo drawing exhibition at the Met in New York City, I was drawn to the Rembrandt drawing exhibit in Dresden. The fine sketches and studies by Rembrandt were not only awe-inspiring to me, but a number of famous painters such as Goya and Max Beckmann took to imitating Rembrandt’s style.

Dresden beats “Florence on the Arno”

The image often used in referring to Dresden is “Florence on the Elbe”, especially after Italian master Canaletto painted the famous river that snakes artistically through the town. After gliding over the river on gleaming tram rails numerous times this week, I have grown fond of the impressive Baroque skyline, the dominating Frauenkircke and the serene Elbe backdrop.

My memory of the Arno was that it was hectic. We stayed as a family in a pensione with a room directly exposed to the river with the roadway alongside it. The scooters beeped and honked all night long. After leaving the windows open to catch the breeze, the residual night noise drove us into a daytime stupor.

Another time, another view painted by a follower of Canaletto

Dresden first hit my radar in an Art History class. Many of the Romantic era classical paintings were located in Dresden. The city stuck in my curiosity bucket until I matched intuition with knowledge.

Weekend Wrap

In the sleepy daytime I had a chance to catch up with German friends for a “Grill Party” in their garden. Germans are intimately tied to nature and passionate about their gardens. It was a relaxing afternoon closing out a busy week of German classes, museum visits and evening musical performances.