Public Radio

Wait, Wait in Berkeley

* Notes *
NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! returned to Cal Performances last night. Host Peter Sagal was as entertaining as ever, as was official judge and scorekeeper Carl Kasell. Kasell was particularly cute when he high-fived panelists Tom Bodett, Paula Poundstone, and Mo Rocca. The show ran long, so for 2 hours instead of 90 minutes, without an intermission. As one would expect, there were moments of utter hilarity, the Limerick Challenge was particularly funny. Oddly enough, there were also some jokes about Belgium, of all places.

The celebrity guest was mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who seems like a genuinely lovely person. Sagal mentioned that opera fans are both highly fanatical and rather elderly. Von Stade told a nice story about someone named Lois who goes to every Met performance. She also commented that new operas are important in building a younger audience, and cited the recent production of The Bonesetter's Daughter as an example of this in action.

* Tattling * 
The audience was enthused but well-behaved for the sold-out performance. There were no cellular phones, watch alarms, or even much talking. However, the person next to my companion had a five-course meal during the performance.

Musicals, Anne Frank, Opera in Parking Garages

AnaOn Super Tuesday I heard a segment on the BBC NewsPod dealing with some controversy over a Spanish musical about Anne Frank. Apparently it took 10 years for the producer, Rafael Alvero, to get the musical off the ground, and the Anne Frank-Fonds still has not granted Alvero rights. Board member Christoph Knoch spoke about how the life of Anne Frank is an  inappropriate subject of a musical. The Anne Frank Stichtung, which runs the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, approves of the musical.

Timothy Muller, a BBC journalist and composer of the musical Blair on Broadway was interviewed as well for this story, and he theorized that people would not have a problem with an opera about Anne Frank. It seemed quite likely that such an opera already existed, so I did a little research and noticed that not only has Grigory Fried written an opera entitled The Diary of Anne Frank, it is being performed by the Long Beach Opera on June 4, 5, and 8, 2008 in two parking garages in Los Angeles County.

I would be tempted to go if it were only San Francisco Opera were not putting on Das Rheingold just around that time. Note that none of the dates actually conflict, the Wagner opera will have performances on June 3 and 6.

The musical El Diario de Ana Frank: Un Canto a la Vida opens at the end of February at the Teatro Calderon in Madrid, and is set to run through the end of March.

BBC Article |El Diario de Ana Frank | The Diary of Anne Frank

Laughter and Opera

MladakhudoleyDoubtless you have heard that the current Dallas Opera production of Salomé was laughed at last Friday. By coincidence, just after reading The Dallas Morning News article on Salomé, I heard Radiolab's latest show entirely devoted to laughter. Particularly interesting were the segments on Dr. Jaak Panksepp's research on tickling rats and Dr. Robert Provine's work on chimp laughter. Among the theories on why humans laugh presented were to signal safety or play.

I wonder exactly what the audience was laughing at in Salomé, if it was simply the absurdity of the staging or something else. Mlada Khudoley (pictured) certainly does not look inappropriate as the dancing seductress.

Listening to Radiolab reminded me that they aired an hour-long special about opera earlier this year. Entitled "The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania," the program discusses the Ring Cycle at the Met in 2004. The show starts with the statement "Opera people are all nuts," which seems quite apt indeed. Jad Abumrad interviews Alex Ross, Speight Jenkins, Tony Kushner, Jane Eaglen and others in this amusing piece about Wagner's epic work.

Dallas Opera's Salomé | The Dallas Morning News Review | Pegasus News Review | Laughter Episode on Radiolab | The Ring and I on Radiolab

MTT and Deborah Voigt at SFS

Deborah_voigt* Notes *
Yesterday Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Knussen's Symphony No. 3, Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder, Barber's Andromache's Farewell, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 4. Soprano Deborah Voigt returned to San Francisco Symphony as the soloist for the Strauss and Barber, a performance she will reprise with MTT at Carnegie Hall in March.

These performances mark a premiere of Oliver Knussen's Symphony No. 3, Opus 18 at San Francisco Symphony. The piece, inspired by Ophelia from Hamlet, is quite short, only about 15 minutes long. The work has a strong percussive element, as the orchestration requires 28 percussion instruments divided among six musicians. The woodwinds and brass seemed to come out more than the strings, the overall effect was eerily metallic. The flutes parts were particularly disturbing, and I had a visceral reaction, it pained my intestines.

The Last Four Songs of Richard Strauss were written between 1946 and 1948. The first by composition, "Der Abendrot," is set to a poem by Joseph Eichendorff, and the three others are poems by Hermann Hesse. The music is lush and rather romantic, somewhat melancholic at first but ultimately tranquil. Deborah Voigt sounded tentative in "Frühling," but sang the other three songs wonderfully. Some of the syllables at ends of phrases were lost, I could barely hear the "Ruh" in "September" or the end of the word "verirren" in "Im Abendrot." Otherwise, Ms. Voigt's diction was clear, she pronounced the German accurately. She has fine control of her vibrato and her breathing and was not shrill in the least. As for the orchestra, the violin solos were strong, as were the piccolos in "Im Abendrot." My favorite moment was in "September" when Voigt's voice dissolved into the horn solo.

Samuel Barber's Andromache's Farewell had its first performance at SF Symphony last night as well. The text is John Patrick Creagh's translation of The Trojan Women. In the play, Talthybius has come to tell Andromache that her son, Astyanax, is to be thrown from the walls of Troy by the Greeks. Barber's piece is Andromache's farewell to her son. The subject appeals to me, but the music, sadly, did not. Voigt sang well, and her diction was quite clear in English.

The evening ended with a vivacious performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 in B-Flat Major, Opus 60.

* Tattling *
The performance was not full, and the audience was well-behaved, no watch alarms or cell phones went off. Some young ladies came in at the last second for the Knussen, in the middle of the First Tier. They did not seem to enjoy the music, and one of them aggressively turned the pages of her program. They whispered, but were not audible. They left after the piece, not waiting to hear Deborah Voigt at all.

The lights did not come up in time for the beginning of the Strauss, even though the poems and translations were printed in the program. Someone rustled a plastic bag during the words "Falling! Falling!" in Andromache. There was some muttering during the Barber, but most were silent for Beethoven, except for when MTT hopped off his podium during the 3rd movement, which made some laugh.

Michael Tilson Thomas had a question and answer segment after the performance. It was easy to hear why he has his own radio show, he is entertaining, saying that most conductors were "control freaks" and explaining his style was more like a director of actors. He considers music a wrestling match between instinct and intelligence. Amusingly, he also compared himself to the catcher in a flying trapeze act and mentioned that Wagner should not have written his own words.


Once_2* Notes *
The Irish film Once was released on DVD earlier this week. I saw it a few months ago, and was determined to dislike it, as it was advertised about a thousand times on NPR as being about musicians finding romance on the streets of Dublin. Imagine my surprise to learn Once is actually a musical of sorts, and a very charming one at that. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová sing and play well, their songs are pretty, though lyrically they do tend to veer toward the maudlin. One gets the impression that neither of them are truly actors, but they do work well together and were able to pull it off. The movie itself is sweet without being cloying.

* Tattling *
The patrons of the
Elmwood are usually subdued, if anyone is loud, it is usually me and my inappropriate laughter. There was one time when I could not stop laughing at Mulholland Drive. The audience of a dozen people for Once was silent and barely moved.

Saawariya on NPR

Saawariya Today NPR's Morning Edition aired a story on Sony and Saawariya, a film based on Dostoevsky's 1848 "White Nights." Saawariya was released the same weekend as Om Shanti Om, but was panned by critics, including Komal Nahata, the regular reviewer on the BBC Asian Network's Love Bollywood, who was interviewed for this story.

Both Saawariya and Om Shanti Om are still playing at the Naz 8 in Fremont. However, I was planning on seeing Aaja Nachle instead, though Nahata did not like it, Love Bollywood presenters Raj and Pablo did, and said the dancing was good. This is no surprise, given that Madhuri Dixit has training in Kathak, and the film Aaja Nachle is about saving a dance school.

Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om* Notes *
I have this particular friend who has attended every performance with me at
Seattle Opera. She is from the Bay Area, so we occasionally go to the opera in San Francisco when she is in town. Last year during the Thanksgiving holiday we spent 7 hours and 25 minutes listening to 3 operas in a mere 30 hours. This year I was not supposed to be around, so when my plans were changed at the last minute, I insisted that we see the opening of The Rake's Progress together, forcing her to travel from Fremont to San Francisco on BART early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving. Since she is moving to Germany at the end of the year, I figured I should let her spend some time with her family, and not drag her to see the Macbeth that showed yesterday and La Rondine, which was performed today. I thought the Macbeth would be particularly cruel to drag her to, considering she will be seeing plenty of Regieopern in Berlin. Additionally, the last time she heard Thomas Hampson was in Simon Boccanegra at the Met, and the last Macbeth she saw was pretty awful.

I regularly listen to the BBC Asian Network podcast of Love Bollywood, for I find the show rather entertaining. This year, their reviewer Komal Nahata has only liked one film, this being Om Shanti Om. The movie is also doing well at the box office. Since Fremont, where my dear friend is from and was staying this weekend, has a "Multicultural Entertainment Megaplex," I was sure Om Shanti Om would be there. As I suspected, the film was being shown every hour during the day, so I dragged my friend there 5 hours before her plane departed.

The film is absolutely hilarious, poking fun at the Hindi film industry with a charming light-heartedness. The first half is set in 1977, replete with fabulous costumes and glorious dance sequences. The second half is set in present day, and has tons of cameos and fun music. I laughed during many of the 168 minutes. Shah Rukh Khan was convincing both as a junior artist and a superstar. Newcomer Deepika Padukone makes a  beautiful leading lady, she was suitably dignified when called on to be so, and also quite silly when necessary. The songs are good fun, I especially enjoyed "Dard-E-Disco" (Pain of Disco).

* Tattling *
We were nearly 10 minutes late to the cinema, but because my friend's flight was at 7pm, we were obliged to see the 2pm show. We sat in the center section, right in front of a pair of men. I tried my best to slouch. There was some speaking on the part of the audience, but it was not terribly distracting.

As I drove my friend to the airport, I admitted that I had enjoyed Om Shanti Om more than The Rake's Progress, but would only see the film once more, at least, so I can see the beginning. Undoubtedly I will try to hear William Burden and Laura Aiken at least two more times.


* Notes *
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! was at Cal Performances for two nights on February 8 and 9, 2007. Both performances sold-out. The panelists were Sue Ellicott, Adam Felber, and Paula Poundstone. I attended the second show, which isn't the regular news quiz, but is on history, and will be aired when the show goes on hiatus.

Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell were both as charming as they are on the air. The special guest was Linda Ronstadt, and she was funnier than one might expect, though she did ramble on a few times.

* Tattling *
No cellular phones rang, as we were implored to turn them off before the taping began. There was no intermission, and it was very interesting to hear the differences from this live performance versus the edited 50 minute broadcast.