Tag Archives: Performances

SILK ROAD Adventure #5B: Isfahani Style (Cont’d from Part A)

From the last post, our itinerary started in Tehran, then south to Shiraz. In this second half of travels to Iran, we are visiting Isfahan, then plying our way north to Yasd, Isfahan, and back to Tehran.

Isfahan

Isfahan represents one of the great architectural cities of the world, and now I know why. The magnificent scale of site planning, building design and decoration are fully integrated. Many of the civic buildings surround what used to be a polo field and display the pride and beauty of Persia. (Yes, Persia and Iran is used interchangeably).

In the 16th Century, the Safavids defeated the Ottomans. During this triumphant period, Shah Abbas developed this square, which is the largest in the world. Islamic art and architecture flourished with distinctive elements. The public Mosque with twin towers dominates one end of the square. The architect’s signature is written on a tile discreetly placed to the side of the building. It avoids the front face and competing with the orientation towards Mecca. If only all architects were as humble!

After designing and building the Mosque, which is now a UNESCO World heritage site, the architect went away and returned after six months. He managed to convince the king that he was waiting to see whether the massive structure, with all its solid stone, brick and tilework, would cause settlement. (Yeah, right!!)

Everyone was relieved that it hadn’t, and the architect could still get his tea in Isfahan. Maybe the architect and structural engineer for the Millennium Tower in San Francisco were taking their sabbaticals before they got the bad news.

To the side is the private mosque, known as the Shah’s mosque. Daylighting illuminates verses on walls. As the sun rotates and casts light on various exposures, appropriate poetry is spotlighted naturally. The inside of the dome is also decorated with flecks of gold to cleverly simulate a spotlit tromp l’oeil effect.

This is only a glimpse of the many beautiful buildings with intricate floral tilework and awe-inspiring domes that are signatory to Isfahani architecture. The Shah’s Palace contained a music room with deep cutouts that made you feel as if you were inside a gigantic violin. And the Entertainment Center for the Shah displayed beautiful period paintings. While depiction of human figures was not allowed, these paintings represented non-Muslims such as Georgians or Indians. Some faces on the paintings were later marred or removed.

Persians enjoy strolling in the world-famous gardens built on the desert oasis and along the Zayandeh River. Sadly, the river is dammed to provide water to Yasd and farmers in the desert and as a result it runs dry. The Khaju Bridge that originally spanned the river is used as a leisurely stroll for Isfahanians. Local singers gather under the bridge to spar with other talented folk opera afficinados.  Here’s a short video of one of the talented regulars:

While I normally focus on historic architecture and museum artwork, this trip has engaged me in taking more photos of people in the streets. I have not been shy about asking for posed photos of strangers, because they are universally handsome and graceful in their poses and demeanor. You can’t help but want to capture some of this spirit that delights visitors to Iran and endears you to the people.

Where We Didn’t Go

Apparently the hottest place on earth is in Iran. Fortunately, it wasn’t on the menu. We got the details from our guide as he drove us from Yasd to Isfahan. A year ago, he took a couple of people out to see sand towers that appear like high rises. He reported to the police before entering the desert and notified them that he and a tourist couple were entering the zone. If you go missing after an hour, they come to get you.

They each brought a bottle of water to drink. On arrival he began to feel faint and told the travelers that he had to leave right away. He found out afterwards that you need to drink water every few minutes in order to stay hydrated. Food shrivels once it hits high temperatures of 76 degrees C. (equivalent to 167 degrees!!)

Driving through in the car reduces some of the effect until you get out. Abdullah had the AC on but the wife insisted on having full effect of windows open. He tried not to think what would happen if his car broke down as he seldom saw anyone on the road returning.

The second time, he accompanied two male travelers who wanted to get their thrills as extreme sportsmen. Once they got in, they encountered a sandstorm, that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Fortunately, they were on the edge of it and after it blew past they were able to see what they wanted. They tried dripping water on the stones to watch how fast the water would be sucked dry. Others were frying eggs.

He has returned the second time to be ready to escort any of you for his third foray to a place that’s hot (literally) on the adventure trail. Sorry that this is only a second-hand story, but if you are interested in more, you can go to https://www.livescience.com/19700-hottest-place-earth.html for another great story about the Lut Desert in Iran.

Speaking of water and lack thereof, here’s a picture of the water bottle we recently purchased. Being a Muslim country, Iran does not allow liquor to be drunk or sold. This plastic bottle is shaped like a flask of liquor, or even worse, it makes me think of some toxic lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol. Its shape can’t be understood, but it seems to make sense for grasping (or gasping) purposes. Maybe drinking from cases of these will be part of the desert ritual as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner searches for those precious drops.

IMG_0291

Only 2 days left of blissful travel in a clean country with exceptionally kind and handsome people with a deep sense of their history and humanity.

Here’s a bonus video of delightful young, uninhibited girls playing in the evening. They capture the spirit of a safe and secure life. This was taken in a shopping area around 10pm at night. I feel far safer here than any country I have ever visited.

(This post was created on April 18, 2018 and edited April 22,2018.

Kool in Kashan

Midway between Tehran and Isfahan lies Kashan. One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Fin Garden highlights traditional Persian landscape design with fountains, channels and reflecting pools. These design principles trace back to the 6th Century and Cyrus the Great.

Local tourists love to visit these parks. On a particularly busy “weekend” Friday, the sites were crowded but the feeling was festive. Persians are courteous and never pushy, so it always seems like you are part of the public experience, not against it. Each person, including you, is entertainment material.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where large divans or platforms shaped like a huge sofa surrounded by a low back/barricade offered guests an alternative to traditional tables. The design defined a semi-private space, where groups or families could sit cross legged, enjoy the food, but not miss out on the activity outside their spaces.

The nearby town housed merchants who became wealthy from the textiles, carpets and tile produced in the area. Door knockers on a pair of entry doors differentiated men from women arriving by the sound of the knock. That was a pretty ingenious communication device!

The local bath house was an important community space and lavish design details encouraged members to use the club’s facilities!

I couldn’t help but to continue a few of my forays into people pictures. I was starting to get really comfortable doing this, again because the faces of the individuals are so engaging and CALM. Young girls may be a bit giddy, but overall everyone whose pictures I took were inviting, elegant and never intimidated or negative.

Below, here’s a video of the adorable little girl shown above:

(This post was created on April 20, 2018)

Iranic Irony in Tehran Terroir

Iran can be considered as a country of contradictions. We certainly experienced many of them, but certainly not without challenging our own values and assumptions about what it means to be a citizen of the world, of one’s country, and about human beings and their treatment towards each other.

Iran currently produces no wine. But like wine, the struggle to survive, the endurance, and the flavor come from the people. As mentioned in earlier posts, the most remarkable takeaway was the unique character of Iranians. They are proud. They are animated. And they are a kind and gentle people.

Everywhere we visited, people were not only good to us, but good to each other. There is a high value on the family. In the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, there’s no jostling, little noise, and a graceful poise.

Naturally, as travelers in a foreign country, we notice the aspects that are different from what we consider normal in our own countries. But being in Iran has had a profound effect on how we think about human interaction.

Maybe it’s because life is tougher in many ways, and there’s so much misunderstanding about the country.  But there appears to be a genuine friendliness that is inherent in Iranians. Hospitality is in the DNA of every Iranian. There is an elegant flow in body language, facial expressions, and greetings to one another.

The newest gesture we learned is placing your hand over your heart to express many words:  “I’m thankful”, “I’m sorry”, “I feel for you“, “I’m happy that you’re happy”. It was an unfamiliar gesture of hand to heart.  We tried it out and found that it was a quite natural act to put your hand over your heart, especially meaningful between strangers.  We hope we won’t lose this stress-reducing contribution to the world. Our guide taught us. After studying his natural behavior, we wanted to do it too. These habits could certainly be considered by others, where the “in your face mentality” is the new normal.

The Iranian’s sense of history is profound. Had it not been for the depth of it and my obvious ignorance, I probably would not have ventured here. Indeed, it’s all here, in its raw, all-inspiring splendor. From the earliest settlements around 2,000 BC that predated the Greek and Roman civilizations to the latest shopping mall outside Tehran (complete with fast food outlets sans American chains), Iran is country that is proud of its history. It is one that has had to become self-sufficient. It is stifled by political, cultural and economic events.

This is a country of very handsome people. We stare at their faces, and see the lines of character and beauty that appear from nowhere. My imaginary pen draws each face, each feature, with love and affection. Clothing shrouds the natural beauty of the women, so exceptionally high value is placed on their facial features and how they manage them.

Within a very short duration of time, we were hooked on Iran. It wasn’t expected. It’s definitely not what the media world tells us. After a short overnight layover in  St. Goarhausen ( in second home Germany) and a few days in Manhattan, we have come back to recover our thoughts and perspective on Iran. Like our own, a country like Iran is full of contradictions. We wish the people well and a hopeful future.

Below are a couple of galleries of people and places that capture our fanstastic experience:

Iran can be considered as a country of contradictions. We certainly experienced many of them, but certainly not without challenging our own values and assumptions about what it means to be a citizen of the world, of one’s country, and about human beings and their treatment towards each other.

Iran currently produces no wine. But like wine, the struggle to survive, the endurance, and the flavor come from the people. As mentioned in earlier posts, the most remarkable takeaway was the unique character of Iranians. They are proud. They are animated. And they are a kind and gentle people.

Everywhere we visited, people were not only good to us, but good to each other. There is a high value on the family. In the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, there’s no jostling, little noise, and a graceful poise.

Naturally, as travelers in a foreign country, we notice the aspects that are different from what we consider normal in our own countries. But being in Iran has had a profound effect on how we think about human interaction.

Maybe it’s because life is tougher in many ways, and there’s so much misunderstanding about the country.  But there appears to be a genuine friendliness that is inherent in Iranians. Hospitality is in the DNA of every Iranian. There is an elegant flow in body language, facial expressions, and greetings to one another.

The newest gesture we learned is placing your hand over your heart to express many words:  “I’m thankful”, “I’m sorry”, “I feel for you“, “I’m happy that you’re happy”. It was an unfamiliar gesture of hand to heart.  We tried it out and found that it was a quite natural act to put your hand over your heart, especially meaningful between strangers.  We hope we won’t lose this stress-reducing contribution to the world. Our guide taught us. After studying his natural behavior, we wanted to do it too. These habits could certainly be considered by others, where the “in your face mentality” is the new normal.

The Iranian’s sense of history is profound. Had it not been for the depth of it and my obvious ignorance, I probably would not have ventured here. Indeed, it’s all here, in its raw, all-inspiring splendor. From the earliest settlements around 2,000 BC that predated the Greek and Roman civilizations to the latest shopping mall outside Tehran (complete with fast food outlets sans American chains), Iran is country that is proud of its history. It is one that has had to become self-sufficient. It is stifled by political, cultural and economic events.

This is a country of very handsome people. We stare at their faces, and see the lines of character and beauty that appear from nowhere. My imaginary pen draws each face, each feature, with love and affection. Clothing shrouds the natural beauty of the women, so exceptionally high value is placed on their facial features and how they manage them.

Within a very short duration of time, we were hooked on Iran. It wasn’t expected. It’s definitely not what the media world tells us. After a short overnight layover in  St. Goarhausen ( in second home Germany) and a few days in Manhattan, we have come back to recover our thoughts and perspective on Iran. Like our own, a country like Iran is full of contradictions. We wish the people well and a hopeful future.

Below are a couple of galleries of people and places that capture our fanstastic experience:

Swivel-Chair Pop-Up: Join us for a Zoom Party with Sara Ishikawa, former UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture, and Peter Basmajian, AIA, of Richards Basmajian, Hong Kong, for a crazy, 40-year delayed world catchup— with Iran as the backdrop—on Saturday, August 7, 8pm (PST). Send me an email at vifongit@gmail.com and I will send you the link!

CORRECTION: THE DATE IS SATURDAY, AUGUST 8, AT 8PM!

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.

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.

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!!

Days 10-14: Pfingsten Fling

Pfingsten stands for Pentacost, the Christian holy day celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Germans have a good excuse to enjoy the summer weather, join friends for barbeques in their community gardens, play music, and of course, drink beer. The extended three-day holiday gave me a chance to take day trips from Dresden, soak up more cultural events, and to hear music, music, music in the span of a whirlwind weekend between classes.

Hellerau, Germany

Hellerau, one of the first planned unit developments in the world, lies just north of Dresden. We found an excuse to visit there to celebrate the long holiday weekend and to see an open interactive dance performance in the festival hall.

Generously proportioned single family houses are tucked behind tidy gardens surrounded by fences. Each prominent sloping roof was built with design and care. Skylights not only provide light into the deep interiors, but some are also roof hatches. Newer codes require a landing outside the roof hatch if it is accessible, and a ship’s ladder provides access to the rooftop chimney. It seems like alot of getup just to solve a maintenance issue. Older houses do not have such complicated construction. And newer modern buldings are, yes, a showpiece in the neighborhood.

The Hellerau murals from the Forties show the Russian influence and the movement of troops through Moscow to Germany and Poland.

The Altstadt Music Crawl

Performers at the All-Day Musical Event in Altmarkt during Pfingsten weekend showcased numerous musical groups and genres. Music is everywhere in Dresden and delightfully unavoidable. We raced around the Residenz Schloss, the Kulturepalast, and the Japanese Palace, all within a stone’s throw of the Elbe River, to see a Brass Ensemble, rock bands, and choral groups (including featured image above) making music throughout the city center.

Handel’s Birthplace in Halle, Germany

About two hours west of Dresden lies Handel’s birthplace. The Handel Museum contained many unique historic instruments including organs, pianos, and wind instruments. A stirring poster advertising Handel music demonstrated the simplicity and power of propagandistic advertising. While the museum is not as informative as those in Leipzig for Bach, Mendelsohn and Schumann, it was still a worthwhile and pleasant excursion.

the Border between Poland and Germany (Görlitz)

Our German friends Hanne and Jens planned a special outing by car to Görlitz, about an hour east and outside of Dresden. They met me and Vladimir, a classmate from my first German class in Dresden, outside my Neustadt apartment. Being a holiday on Monday, it appeared that most of Germany was still working off the hangovers from too much beer the night before or was busy getting grills ready for the barby.

The town turned out to be a collection of historic buildings, lovingly restored to its 16th Century splendor. The St. Peters and Paul’s Evangelical Church on the German side was a massive building graced with many decorative elements. Artwork and sculpture complimented the sturdy structures thoughout the town.

Another Night at the Semper Opera, Dresden

A final performance of Carmen at Semperoper included a cast of thousands, modern clothing, and lackluster singing. The evening air outside provided lovely views of the city center and a refreshing pause between acts.

The Albertinum Museum, Dresden

The Albertinum was one of my “Go-Backs”, after German partner Jim reminded me that this museum contains paintings by one of my favorite artists–German Expressionist Otto Dix.

In addition, the Albertinum has impressive representative works of Chagall, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, as well as those by German favorites such as Gerhard Richter and Max Liebermann. The slide show gives you a feel for each of these works.

And below are just a few of the random collection of works that I particularly liked. Portraiture and hands are appealing to me as I learn to draw and study the human figure.