Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Psst. It’s a Heist. Let’s Sing About It.

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 27, 2014 @ 8:11 pm PDT

Operaworks - The Heistuserpic=ucla-csunTwo or so years ago, we discovered a really interesting program at CSUN. It is called Operaworks, and it’s goal is to make better Opera singers. The advanced artist program, which just concluded, has a slightly different specific goal: to teach opera singers how to “be” on stage. In their training, opera singers are taught to stand and sing in a formalized position. But to be effective in opera, they need to learn how to act — how to move, how to interact with others, how to tell stories with their movements, how to create personas that go beyond the areas. Each year in this program they bring together 30 or so graduate or newly performing singers. They come up with a theme, personas, and then select arias from their repertoires that might fit. They then improvise these areas into a through story, present two performances, and its gone for the year.

Today we saw the second performance. Sorry, you missed it. Try again next year.

This year’s performance was called “The Heist”. It was based on the story of an imaginary crime family called the Mezzos. I certainly won’t be able to tell you the full story, because I simply didn’t catch it all. But let’s try (and note that I’m doing this from memory, and was a bit drowsy from my migraine meds during the first act).

The first act was called “The Family Meeting”. It was essentially a cocktail party where different members of the Mezzo family were interacting. These included Giovanni Mezzo and his wife Holly. After a heist went wrong, Giovanni has gone into hiding. Holly is the mother of Amber Rose, Angela, Annie, Ricardo, and adopted son Angky. Annie lives in the bottle and is a hopeless drunk; AmberRose is the daddy’s girl; Angela is the caretaker of the family; Ricardo is the oldest son, trying to take his father’s place; and Angky, the adopted son who is betrothed to Anastasia, part of the family that killed Giovanni’s father. Also at the party is Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti, widow of Giacomo Carminotti and younger sister of Holly. Rebecca is the mother of Tara, who on her last job killed a bank teller and is suffering from PTSD. Also at the party is Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo, Ricardo’s wife; Baby, who got caught up in the family; and Mark Markson, the family legal counsel and sometimes pianist. As the party goes on, we move from character to character seeing the interplay; the party concludes with the announcement that there is going to be one last heist.

Arias in Act One were: Adele’s Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Annie Sherman as Annie Mezzo]; Czàrdàs (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Rebecca Peterson as Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti]; O wär ich schon (Fidelio | Ludwig van Beethoven) [Anastasia Malliaras as Anastasia Basso]; The Tower Aria (The Turn of the Screw | Benjamin Britten) [Tara Morrow as Tara Mezzo-Carminotti];  La Promessa (Giacchino Rossini) [Lauren Corcoran as Lauren O'Donnell Mezzo]; Dearest Mama (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Cristina Foster as Baby]; Una Furtiva Lagrima (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti) [Ricardo Mota as Ricardo Mezzo]; Steal Me, Sweet Thief (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angela De Venuto as Angela Mezzo]; When The Air Sings of Summer (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angky Budiardjono as Angky Mezzo]; Don’t Say a Word (Dead Man Walking | Jake Heggie) [Holly Seebach as Holly Mezzo]; and I Go To Him (The Rake’s Progress | Igor Stravinsky) [AmberRose Dische as AmberRose Mezzo]. Mark Robson was at the piano.

The memorable performance in Act One was Annie Sherman as the drunk Annie Mezzo — she was just a delight to watch through the entire act, both as the drunk and how she interacted with others.

Act Two is the actual heist, and takes place at the Bank. The characters we meet here are Erin Desjardins, a student about to graduate from high school and her French cousin, Rachelle Desjardins; Manon Elias, a Kim Kardashian-type at the bank with her boyfriend, commercial real estate giant Andrew Gold. Mary Silverstein, the bank manager and Magdaline Small, the bank teller;  Katherine Sullivan, a high-school English teacher; Noel Strand and Sean Faust, the bank guards; Kelly the bank heist manager and her new robber Crystal; and Karlos Keys, a security guard who enjoys playing piano more. Most of the act is the interaction between the characters. When the heist occurs, the manager is forced to open the silver vault. Katherine organizes the guard and the others to overpower the watchman, and they storm the vault. During the melee, Samantha Mezzo is shot.

Arias in Act Two were Laurie’s Song (The Tender Land | Aaron Copland) [Erin White as Erin Desjardins]; O Mio Babbino (Gianni Schicchi | Giacomo Puccini) [Rahel Moore as Manon Elias]; En Fermant Les Yeux (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Andrew Zimmerman as Andrew Gold]; Nun Eilt Herbei (The Merry Wives of Windsor | Otto Nicolai) [Kelly Rubinsohn as Kelly]; Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen (Guiditta | Franz Lehar) [Crystal Kim as Crystal]; Je Suis Encor (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Rachel Rosenberg as Rachelle Desjardins]; Come Now a Roundel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Benjamin Britten) [Magdaline Small as Magdaline Small]; The Silver Aria (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Mary Harrod as Mary Silverstein]; Prendi, Per Me (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti); and Chacun Le Sait (La Fille Du Régiment | Gaetano Donizetti) [Katherine Sullivan as Katherine Sullivan]. Pianists were Nola Strand and Kelly Horsted.

Notable performances in Act Two were Crystal as the naive thief and Erin White with her opening song. My wife liked the clueless bank manager (Mary Harrod) and Rahel Moore as the golddigger.

Act Three takes place at the hospital afterwards. The characters we meet here include the hospital personnel: Sangeetha Ekambaram the head nurse; Brenna Johnson, an RN; her husband Dr. Joe Johnson; and Eric Zingermann, the intake clerk who dreams of a bigger career on the concert stage. We also meet Sarah Westbrook, a gold-digging bored housewife who has secret assignations with Dr. Joe; Megan, a local hypochondriac; Alice Beurre a new bride and her maid of honor, Beth; Marina, the new clown doctor, and Tascha, whose father was injured picking strawberries. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Samantha Mezzo, who was shot in the heist. This act is mostly the interactions between the characters, concluding with Samantha’s death.

Arias in Act Three were: Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Hamlet | Ambroise Thomas) [Megan Supina as Megan]; O Mon Fernand / Kommit Ein Schlanker (La Favorite | Gaetano Donizetti) / (Der Freischütz | Carl Maria von Weber) [Alice Chung as Alice Beurre / Elizabeth Sterling as Beth]; Je Veux Vivre (Roméo Et Juliette | Charles Gounod) [Sangeetha Ekambaram as Sangeetha Ekambaram]; Pauline’s Aria (Pique Dame | Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky) [Marina Kesler as Marina]; Madamina, Il Catalogo é questo (Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart) [Brent Hetherington as Dr. Joe Johnson]; Svegliatevi Nei Core [Giulio Cesare | George Frederick Händel) [Tascha Anderson as Tascha]; Ouvre Ton Coeur (Georges Bizet) [Sarah Dudley as Sara Westbrook]; Things Change, Jo (Little Women | Mark Adamo) [Brenna Casey as Brenna Johnson]; and Emily’s Aria (Our Town | Ned Rorem) [Samantha Lax as Samantha Mezzo]. Eric Sedgwick was the pianist.

Notable performances in Act Three were Megan as the hypochondriac. My wife liked Brenna Casey.

Turning to the technical side, umm, well they didn’t say much. Sean Dennehy was the Stage Director, Julia Aks was the Assistant Stage Director, and Ann Baltz as the Artistic Director.

Look for the next Operaworks production in July 2015. You can sign up for their mailing list at http://www.operaworks.org/.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I've been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I've been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I'm a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


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Thanksgiving Left-Over News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 30, 2013 @ 12:49 pm PDT

Observation StewAh, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Time to sit down to a hearty bowl of Turkey Stew, with nice chucks of news:

  • Smelling The Subway. This is a real interesting article (and quite likely of interest to Andrew Ducker and those in the UK). A fellow who has synaesthesia, a neurological condition which prompts an involuntary reaction to sensory experiences, tastes things that he hears. In particular, place names provoke real tastes and intense cravings for particular foods. Using this knowledge, he has made a “taste map” of the London Underground. For example, to this fellow, Tottenham Court Road provokes a particularly strong taste of a sausage and egg breakfast, whilst nearby Bond Street prompts the less appealing tang of hairspray. Among the flavors that appear on the map are apple pie, bubble and squeak, HP sauce, purple grapes, chicken soup and soft boiled egg. Others include sweets such as love hearts, poppets, soft wine gums and jelly tots. Obscure flavors include coal dust, putrid meat, burnt rubber, wet wool, pencil eraser, fuzzy felt and dried blood.
  • Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite warped authors is Shel Silverstein. His kids stuff is great; his adult stuff is even better. He was also an accomplished songwriter, penning many folk and comedy songs. Here’s an interesting article on the unlikely way he rose to fame. Here’s a hint: Whenever you read his children’s stuff, look for the hidden subversive adult message.
  • I’m Bored. Many of us, I’m sure, get bored. But most of us don’t make it their job to boredom. Luckily, there are researchers that do. Did you know, for example, that there are five types of boredom … one more than researchers expected? (Well, you did if you were bored enough to listen to Wait Wait).  The types of boredom that they expected were: (1) Indifferent boredom, a relaxing and slightly positive type of boredom that “reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world”; (2)Calibrating boredom, the slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts and “a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation”; (3) Searching boredom, the kind that makes you feel restless and leaves you “actively seeking out specific ways of minimizing feelings of boredom”; and (4) Reactant boredom, which is so bad that it prompts sufferers “to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid those responsible for this situation (e.g., teachers).” What they discovered was a fifth type of boredom: Apathetic boredom. I’d go on, but I’m sure you’re bored by now.
  • Next on Wait Wait. Do you ever see scientific studies, and go “That’ll be on Wait Wait”. Here’s one for Wait Wait: Sexual frustration decreases lifespan — at least in flies. Specifically, the chemical attractant wafting from a female fruit fly shortened the lifespan of male flies when the femme fatale didn’t deliver on the signal’s promise, according to a new study.
  • Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning. I’m a morning person. In fact, I often get up just shortly before my alarm goes off. Turns out, there’s a reason why. It’s due to having a very accurate body clock. The body happens to love predictability. Your body is most efficient when there’s a routine to follow. So if you hit the hay the same time each night and awake the same time each morning, your body locks that behavior in.  The implication of this, of course, is that having constantly changing bedtimes and waking times puts stress on your body. That’s one of the reasons that, for me, sleeping me means sleeping until 530am.
  • Good News for Steve Stepanek. Dr. Steve Stepanek is one of the folks I work with regularly at CSUN, as he is head of the Computer Science Liaison Council. The Daily Sundial is reporting that Steve just got elected to the CSU Board of Trustees. That’s great news — they’ve got a great educator, an engineer, and a computer scientist (as well as a train aficionado) as a member.
  • Eating the Brain. One last science related item: Scientists have discovered an overlooked type of brain cell that may be responsible for learning. What it does is prune connections (essentially, eating them) in the brain, permitting new connections (and thus new learning) to be recorded. This could carry important implications for the battle against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for psychiatric disorders, and for the nagging loss of memory that comes with aging.


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What Is It With Opera Singers and Sex?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 28, 2013 @ 8:31 pm PDT

Operaworks 2013 - Exposureuserpic=dramamasksI’m not normally an opera person. Live theatre – bring it on. Musicals and light opera – I’m right there. But full on opera? I’ve actually never been to one, unless you count Porgy and Bess (Houston Grand Opera back in 1976). That said, last year we found a form of opera that I really like. It is the culmination of the advance session at a training program at CSUN called Operaworks. It is a special performance that is, essentially, an opera mashup. However, it’s not a mashup in the normal sense, nor is it a “stand up and perform” concert either. Let me explain.

Operaworks is a program for advanced performers. These artists already know how to sing — they have bachelors, masters, and even doctorates in music and many have performed professionally. But although they know how to sing, what they don’t know is how to perform: how to act on stage, how to move in a non-operative fashion, how to interact with other characters on stage, and how to do the things that moves the student from being a “singer” to being a “performer”.  This is what they learn in the advanced program. For their culmination, each student in the program selects an aria from whatever opera they want. They then create characters to go with their arias, figure out how they will interact, construct a somewhat coherent storyline (but no real plot), do slight costuming, and perform it.

The resulting “show” is not a traditional show, nor a traditional opera. You have a summary of the characters and a list of the arias, but there is no real story nor point to make. This doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict — there’s lots of conflict and emotion, and you spend your time watching groups of characters interacting. However, it doesn’t have the traditional progression of a single protagonist to achieve a goal against obstacles. To those that know opera (which I don’t), you go to hear the arias and assess how well they are performed. You won’t find that from me. Rather, I listen to the beautiful music and voices and hear the emotion of the characters, and judge how well that fits with the performance from the characters. Every year is unique, and this is something you truly won’t see somewhere else. Operaworks for this year is done, but I strongly suggest you friend them on Facebook or otherwise get on their mailing list, and go to next year’s show.

Let me describe this year’s show and characters. This will be rough, as I’m doing it from memory and the information they provided in the program.  This year’s show was called “Exposure”, and the through-theme appeared to be characters exposing their emotions and inner wants. What did they want? This year, it appears to be love and sex. Hmmm, last year they wanted love and sex as well. I sense a theme for opera singers here. This year’s production also interspersed poetry from Ackerman, Akhmatova, Baudelaire, Cummings, Ded, Dickenson, Donne, Eliot, Erdrich, Gibran, Griswold, Hughes, Hugo, Millay, O’Hara, Oliver, O’Meally, Rilke, Ryan, Silverstein, Supertramp, and Updike.

The first act (“Asylum/Funeral”) was really two half acts that were not the really closely related. The first act took place in an asylum of some form, in which we meet a number of patients and their doctors. It’s hard to describe the story, so I’ll go through the characters and their arias in the order sung. We first see Kylena (Kylena Parks (FB)), who is being held in the asylum against her will. She’s in a wheelchair, being berated by Dr. Emmanuel (Emmanuel Cruz/FB), the head doctor.  She sings “Willow Song” (The Ballad of Baby Doe, Moore). In parallel to this, Erin A. (Erin Alcorn (FB)), a patient traumatized by an abusive doctor, is expressing sorrow at the plight of fellow patents through the song “Prendi, per me sei libero” (L’Elisir D’Amore, Donizetti). We next meet Roland (Roland Mills (FB)), a psychiatrist at the asylum dealing with sex addiction. He is interacting with Joannah (Joannah Ball (FB)), an exotic dancer trapped in the asylum. She sings “Saper vorrestte” (Un Ball in Maschere, Verdi), while at the same time Rebecca R (Rebecca Richardson (FB)), the head administrator of the asylum, sings “Vilja-Lied” (Die Lustige Witwe, Lehár). At this point, Dr. Emmanuel asserts himself, singing “O Colombina, il tenero fido Arlecchin” (I Pagliacci, Leoncavallo). We next meet Serena (Serena Eduljee (FB)), a former patient who has escaped and returned for revenge. She sings “S’altro che lagrime” (La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart). Lastly, we meet Carami (Carami Hilaire (FB)), who has been forced to seduce clients for money, but wants to meet someone she loves. She sings the last aria in the Asylum half, “Come in quest’ora bruna” (Simon Boccanegra, Verdi). This half ends with all the patients and other doctors killing Dr. Emmanuel.

Some observations on this half. First, as you can see, summarizing the story is difficult. My attention was more focused on just watching the interactions between characters, and the movements and interactions of characters in the background. A few things stand out in my mind. First, all of the performers were exceptional singers (to my untrained ear) and beautiful to watch — both in their facial expressions and their movements. This was true throughout the show. I was also impressed how they worked to stay in character, and appeared to be enjoying acting things out.

The second half of Act One (“Funeral”) took place at Dr. Emmanuel’s funeral, and dealt with all of the weird family interactions and relationship between the survivors (yup, this is opera). It started with his children, Alexandra and Madison, mourning his passing. Elizaveta (Elizaveta Agladze (FB)) enters. Elizveta has one of the better full character descriptions in the show: “Elizaventa is a lame prostitute working for Dr. Emmanuel, while secretly having a love affair with his daughter, Alexandra. Her leg was maimed in an encounter with an especially enthusiastic BDSM client.” [I'm sure this says something about the secret life of opera singers :-) ] She sings “O mio Fernando” (La Favorita, Donizetti), expressing her love for Alexandra. Alexandra (Alexandra Fees/FB) is at the funeral with her husband Philippe (Philippe Pierce (FB)), who is torn between staying with Alexandra and leaving her for her sister, Madison. She sings the aria “Comme autrefois dans la nuit” (Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Bizet) while Phillippe sings “O blonde Cèrés” (Les Troyens, Belioz).  Trying to prevent further problems, Sylvia (Sylvia Baba (FB)), Alexandra’s daughter, is attempting to prevent her aunt Madison from reconnecting with her father. She sings “Tu che di gel sei cinta” (Turandot, Puccini).  Adding to the mess at the funeral is Will (Will Vestal/FB), who has had difficulty with women. He is currently engaged to Madison, but still in love with Natalie (Natalie Dewey/FB) — a rich hieress who turned him down, but now regrets it and is still in love with him.  Will sings “Io già t’amai” (Rodelinda, Händel) to Natalie, and she sings “Mi chiamano Mimì” (La Bohème, Puccini). Aine (Aine Hakamatsuka/FB) uses this to prove to Madison at Will does not love her, singing “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” (Falstaff, Verdi). At the end, everything does unravel, as Philippe leaves Alexandra for Madison, and Madison (Madison Smith (FB)) sings “Martern aller Arten” (Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart).

The latter half of Act One was much more understandable, given the crazy family dynamics. It was interesting to watch the character interactions, and as always, the voices and faces were just beautiful.

Act Two was titled “Speakeasy Brothel” and had no connection to Act One. I found this act much harder to follow, but much more interesting to watch (likely due to the nature of the characters and their costumes — did I mention that all of the performers were exceedingly beautiful/handsome?). This act basically dealt with brothel owners attempting to control their prostitutes, and dealing with family dynamics. The act started with Beth (Beth Hoselton (FB)), a swinger and performer at the Gatsby Brothel. She is married to Shane, but Shane is in love with Alyssa. Beth opens the act by singing “Chacun le sait” (Le Fille du Régiment, Donizetti). We next meet another performer at the brothel, Danielle (Danielle Lozano (FB)), the seductive bisexual. She sings “Silver Aria” (The Ballad of Baby Doe, Moore). Lastly, we’re introduced to Rainelle (Rainelle Krause (FB)), the “successful narcissistic dominatrix” (although I didn’t see much narcissistic in the performance, and the main dominatrix element was a very tight leather corset — it was amazing how she sang “Ah! non credea mirarti” (La Sonnambula, Bellini) with it on). Into this mix comes Kevin (Kevin Peters (FB)), a pimp without a stable of women. He’s looking for new girls at the Gatsby, but instead finds Erin O. (Erin O’Meally (FB)), a drag queen who only wants acceptance for who she is.  While Kevin sings “È un folle, é un ville affetto” (Alcina, Händel), Erin sings “De qué me sirve” (Los Diamantes de la Corona, Barbieri). Also working at the brothel is Alyssa (Alyssa Marshall (FB)), a bouncer and entertainer, who sings “Deh vieni, non tardar” (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart), expressing a secret passion for Shane (the husband of Beth, who we met at the opening of the act). Shane (Nicholas “Shane” Tapley/FB) responds by singing “Una furtiva lagrima” (L’Elisir D’Amore, Donizetti). Trying to regain control of her brothel, the madam, Mariya (Mariya Kaganskaya (FB)) sings “Kuma’s Arioso” (The Enchantress, Tchaikovsky).  We then meet some more of the prostitutes at the brothel. First is Amanda (Amanda Workman (FB)), a troubled shy prostitute in love with her cousin’s fiancé, who sings “Einst träumte meiner sel’gen Base” (Der Freischütz, von Weber). There is also Lauren (Lauren Barchi (FB)), who is consumed by drink and abusive relationships. Lauren sings “Piangerò la sorte mia” (Giulio Cesare, Händel). Into this mix is added Barbee (Barbee Monk/FB), a rival brothel owner who wants to steal some prostitutes. She also wants forgiveness from Aaron (Erin Gonzalez), who has come to the brothel to see his sister for advice about a recent breakup. Barbee interacts with Andrea (Andrea Lyons/FB), a prostitute who wants help finding a new job and a new life. While Barbee sings “Quando m’en vo” (La Bohème, Puccini), Andrea sings “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi, Puccini). Aaron (Erin G.) then responds to Barbee and his sister, singing “Che farò senza Euridice” (Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck). Responding to all of this is Rebecca C. (Rebecca Coberly (FB)), who will ruin anyone who will take what is hers. She sings “Donde lieta uscì” (La Bohème, Puccini). Also trying to take away prostitutes is the other bouncer, Philip (Philip Morgan/FB), who sings “Here I stand…” (The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky). Last in the mix is Laura (Laura Perkett (FB)), a socialite, who wants to apologize to her daughter, and have her come back home. She sings “I go, I go to him” (The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky).

This act was much more visually interesting, but I found it harder to follow what story there was. Still, the music was so pretty :-).

Turning briefly to the technical… music was provided by Daniel Gledhill and Kelly Horsted in Act One, and Douglas Sumi and Margaret Singer in Act Two. Jennifer Potell was the stage manager. Staging was very simple: a backdrop with a simple supertitle of the basic theme of each aria, and simple lighting. A few props.

OperaWorks is an annual program whose summer program is held at CSUN.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with Nine at DOMA Theatre Ensemble (FB). That will be followed by “The Apple Tree” at ELATE/Lincoln Stegman]. Otherwise, August is currently completely open due to vacation planning, although we may see a show at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido at the end of the month (depending on price), or at another venue in San Diego. September may bring Sarah Ruhl’s In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play at the Production Company/Secret Rose (FB) and “Blue Man Group” at the Hollywood Bowl. The middle of the month may bring “The Vagina Monologues” at REP East (FB), and the end definitely sees us back at REP East (FB) for “God of Carnage” (September 28). October 5th brings “Breath and Imagination” at the Colony Theatre (FB), as well as the Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) production of “Kiss Me Kate” at the end of the month (October 26). November will start (hopefully) with “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at Actors Rep of Simi (FB), as well as ARTS’s Nottingham Village (FB) (a one-weekend ren-faire-ish market — tickets are now on sale). November will conclude with “Play It Again Sam” at REP East (FB) at the end of the month (November 23), and “Miracle on S. Division Street” at the Colony Theatre (FB).  The fall should also bring a production of “Carrie – The Musical (FB) by Transfer Theatre, but the specific dates have not been announced. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013/2014 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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University News of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 23, 2013 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=calToday’s news chum brings a number of items related to my favorite schools – UC Berkeley and CSUN:

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Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 17, 2013 @ 5:32 pm PDT

userpic=ucla-csunThis week, UC Berkeley ends its spring semester (and students have to be out of the dorms by 10am the day after finals end). So colleges are on my mind this week. Here are two articles (I really tried to find a third) about our family alma-maters:

  • UCLA. Back when I was at UCLA, one of our favorite underground activities was a hike through the steam tunnels. Usually we would enter through the portal in the basement of Boelter Hall (someone in the Computer Club had a master key), and we would wander through the tunnels, usually up to the underground bridge near Murphy Hall. I bring this up because the Daily Bruin has posted a photographic tour of the tunnels. There weren’t as many pictures as I would like, but it does bring back memories.
  • CSUN/UC Berkeley. I ran across an interesting opinion piece on the website of the Daily Sundial at CSUN. This piece looks at the identity of CSUN, and constrasts it with that of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. The conclusion: “CSUN may have a non-existent party scene like UCSB, it may not have diverse student housing cooperatives or the prestige of UC Berkeley. It may have no strong culture to identify with and it might have no definitive identity in the scope of UCs and CSUs other than “that commuter school,” but that’s fine. I wanted an education, and I took what I could get. Being able to drive 30 minutes to school every day from the stability of my mom’s house is exactly what I need. CSUN is the only university that offered me the luxury of not having to turn my world upside down to get a degree. Maybe we lose out on a definitive identity,  but I’m okay with that.”

In closing, I wish all the college graduates out there good luck, and I’d like to reassure those high school graduates that you’ll survive the first year of whatever school you choose.

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News Chum Stew: CSUN, PIs, Words, Brats on Bikes, Wine, and Purim

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 23, 2013 @ 7:00 am PDT

userpic=bicyclingWell, it’s (ummm) Saturday again… time to clear out the miscellaneous accumulated news chum links:

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Teach Your Children Well

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 23, 2013 @ 11:33 am PDT

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles related to education:

  • The Middle “R”: The Ventura County Star has an interesting article on California’s writing standards: particularly, the standard that requires cursive to be taught. It’s an interesting debate: in this era where “typing”  (or is that “keyboarding”) is a required skill (when I grew up, it was optional), is there a need for two styles of writing: block and cursive? Is block sufficient? In particular, is block sufficient to provide a unique written signature upon which we still depend? As for me, I know my normal writing style is a mix of block and cursive, with a signature that doesn’t match either. But what about you? Do you still use cursive?
  • GPAs above 4.0. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, the best grade you could get was a 4.0; perhaps a 4.2 if you got an A+. Nowadays, AP classes permit even higher grades, and students are going to college with a whole portfolio of AP classes. Universities are fighting back. Here’s an example: Darthmouth has announced they will no longer accept AP credit. The concern is that AP courses do not resemble actual college courses in any way–for one thing, they are “teach to the standard test”.
  • Community Colleges. Community colleges are in trouble; in fact, the community college in San Francisco is on accreditation-watch and may close. So Gov. Brown is trying to rescue the institution (which is vitally important to the middle-and-lower tier HS students — it is a way to get the education HS didn’t provide and get the associates degree — a vital stepping stone to CSU or UC). Brown’s goal is to keep community colleges affordable, keep classes accessible and move students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. His plan is to limit the number of credits students can accumulate, with a cap on state-subsidized classes at 90 units. Students who exceed that to pay the full cost of instruction, about $190 per semester unit versus $46 per unit. He would also change the funding formula to reflect students who complete the class, not students enrolled at the 3rd-week.
  • Online Courses. The Internet (founded, I should note, at my alma-mater UCLA) has revolutionized education. Earlier this week my daughter posted about the distance between two courses, noting that the second course (which was a 700 person Astronomy lecture) had a webcast that the professor was encouraging students to watch instead of attending†. The impact of the Internet is also seen in funding — based on direction from Gov. Brown, the UC Regents are exploring expanding online courses, although they are not sure whether they will make or save any money.  I think online courses can work if done right — in particular, they need the equivalent of face-to-face small sections to encourage student discussion and critical thinking on the topic. These sections could also be online, but if the online course is lecture only, it won’t be successful.
    [†: PS to my daughter if you are reading this: I encourage you to go the lectures anyway. Not only are you likely to meet interesting people outside of your discipline (History ≠ Astronomy), but you are likely to be able to see the board better, and being at the lecture will eliminate distractions.]
  • Paying for College. There were all sorts of things hidden in the fiscal cliff legislation — that probably doesn’t surprise you. Providing goodies to congresscritters (or there constituencies) is a way to get a bill through. I’ve previously mentioned the commuter benefit. Here’s another. The bill extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit “allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for college expenses, (which) benefits 9 million families a year.” It also extended a few more tax deductions and credits until the end of 2013 and gave permanent status for employer-provided education expenses, the Student Loan Interest Deduction and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. I know that these will affect us — both the credit and the interest deduction (we are paying the interest on our daughter’s loans until she graduates). Alas, there may be some cuts to Federal Work Study programs.

Music: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Original Broadway Cast): “The Sound of Money”

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Opera in The Cloud

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 22, 2012 @ 9:17 am PDT

The Cloud by OperaWorksWhen we were planning the shows for my wife’s birthday weekend, one of the shows on Goldstar had a description that said: “Each year at OperaWorks, the company creates a new opera out of a mash-up of famous arias and scenes from the opera canon. Taking the pieces that mean something to each performer, adding improvised dialogue and working them together into an original story allows both performers and audience to connect to these classical works from a contemporary viewpoint, and of course, it is never boring! If you are an old hand at opera then you will appreciate the way old favorites are transformed by a new context. If you are new to the scene, this is a great introduction to a genre that’s often hard to understand for the uninitiated.”

An opera mash-up. This sounded neat and different and fun and something completely out of our normal sphere of traditional plays, musical theatre, dance, or concerts. So last night saw us at CSUN for “The Cloud“, the final production of the 26th edition of OperaWorks.

OperaWorks (as the programs director noted at the start of the performance) is a program that brings together a group of aspiring opera performers (usually college age), and teaches them the business. That is, it doesn’t teach them how to sing, but rather how to perform: how to act on stage, how to move in a non-operative fashion, how to interact with other characters on stage, and how to do the things that moves the student from being a “singer” to being a “performer”. The production we saw was the culmination of this year’s advanced artist program. The students in the program each selected an aria from whatever opera they wanted. They then combined them, created characters, created a storyline, and performed it. The result was fascinating–something that I (as a more traditional theatre audience) hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t understand the arias (other than what was in the program), but I could feel the emotion. The only indication the songs were out of context was the shifting language of the words. It was just wonderful.

The program was constructed as three acts. Just before each act, the audience was given a sheet listing the arias and the characters in that act. I’ll try to summarize these and comment on what I saw.

Act I took place in a New York Subway. There were a few basic storylines that interacted, ending up (as most operas do) with death. As the act opens, we see the characters on the subway. The first interaction is between Lindsay (Lindsay ReigelFB), a janitor, and Jenna (Jenna SiladieFB). They had been in rehab together; Lindsay made it out, but Jenna didn’t. Lindsay tries to convince Jenna to try again, but Jenna resists, singing “Voyons, Manon” (Manon, Jules Massenet). Jenna then interacts with Anna (Anna WardFB), who is obsessed with her cell phone. She sings “O luce de quest anima” (Linda de Chamounix, Donizetti) [O light of my life, I will only live for you] about her love of her cell phone. Jenna convinces her to try drugs instead. Other characters we meet over the course of the act include Alexis (Alexis Alfaro), who is looking to meet his love from the Internet, Alina (Alina Roitstein/FB). Alina, however, has a secret that only Madame Lavonna (Amanda McGarryFB), the owner of a high-end escort service, knows. Madame Lavonna, always on the lookout for talent, attempts to recruit Kimberly (Kimberly Waite/FB), a runaway needing money. Lavonna also has to deal with the departure of one of her top escorts, Lisa (Lisa Stidham). Lisa is leaving to be with Brendan (Brendan Stone), a former CEO of a large hedge fund company, fired for unethical business practices after his now ex-wife, Cass (Cass PanuskaFB) turned him in.  Cass is also in the subway, wandering and pregnant, living as a pickpocket. Anyway, Lavonna doesn’t want Lisa to leave, so she dispatches Alyssa (Alyssa Narum/FB) to kill her. Alyssa is a paid assassin working for Madame Lavonna; she is also Kimberly’s estranged sister and doesn’t want her to go work for the Madame. Lastly, playing piano was Kelly Trackarumblin (Kelly HorstedFB), the last of a long line of toll both operators.

This is much more complicated than one sees in the simplified world of music theatre. I’m sure most of this is due to the nature of the mashup, but I also understand convoluted stories and characters are traditional in the opera world. Arias in the act, other than ones I mentioned above, were “Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön” (Die Zauberflöte, Mozart); “In uomini, in soldati” (Così fan tutte, Mozart); “Ma quando tornerai” (Alcina, Händel), “Warm as the Autumn Light” (The Ballad of Baby Doe, Moore); “Notre amour” (Fauré), “Que fais-tu, blance tourerelle” (Roméo et Juliette, Gounod), “Hence, hence, Iris hence away!” (Semele, Händel), “Je veux vivre dans la reve” (Roméo et Juliette, Gounod), and “Dove sono i bei momenti” (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart). Of course, the artists did a wonderful job with the music. Watching them sing you could see that they love this music; you could also see how an opera singer sings differently than a musical theatre performer. Where I saw this most was when Cass Panuska was singing her Mozart aria. She appears to be pregnant in real life, and it was fascinating to watch the muscles in her diaphragm move her baby as she sang. What a wonderful way to be rocked to sleep! You don’t see that power and concentration in a typical musical theatre performer. What was more interesting in this act was watching the artists deal with being actors: creating characters, even if they were in the background. I noticed this particularly in the movements of Jenna in the background, who stayed in character as the drug addict, or Alyssa slinking around as the assassin (as well as the movements of Cass, who was sneaking around stealing things). About the only negative here (which was truly minor) was Amanda’s Madame Lavonna. Her singing voice was wonderful, but a couple of times her speaking voice had more of the operatic timber to it than did any other character.  But that’s truly minor; the performances here were wonderful.

Act II was completely different. Act II took place in a wax museum (they said it was abandoned, but an abandoned museum wouldn’t be putting up new displays or have a guard). As in “Night at the Museum”, the waxworks come alive in the evening and interact with each other. The quest for love was a big theme here: both between the characters, and between the guard and one of the mannequins who is currently characterless. This act opened with the guard, Josef (Josef Curtis/FB) bringing in Dasha (Dasha JensenFB), a confused mannequin stripped of her identity, longing to be touched. Watching this is Annalise (Annalise BelnapFB), a teenager lost in drug addition. Other characters in the wax museum were  Dorothy Louise Taliaferro “Del” Martin (Maria BellancaFB), the first lesbian to be married in California; “Del” was in love with Melissa Scott (Alyssa Callaghan/FB), a pastor in denial about her porn star past. Scott is loved by Dr. Homer Adkins (Anthony Whitson-MartiniFB), a chemist who has trouble accepting the relationship. Also at the museum is Lolita Lebrón (Zohaniris Torres/FB), a Puerto Rico nationalist, Louise Ranier (Meera CrowFB), the first woman to win two consecutive Oscars; Charlotte Brontë (Isabella IvyFB), the author of Jayne Eyre; Selena Quintanilla (Andrea FloresFB), the Queen of Tejano Music, and Walter Hagan (Daniel Hunter-Holly), a professional golfer. No real relationships here, other than the fact that Hagan is a womanizer and attempts to hit on anything (which naturally evokes reactions in the other characters–particularly Lolita Lebrón. Liberace (Eric SedgwickFB) was at the piano.

Arias in Act II were “Lonely House (Street Scene, Weill); “Je suis encor tout étourdie” (Manon, Massenet); “When the air sings of summer” (The Old Maid and the Thief, Menotti), “Meine Lippen, sie Küßen so heiß” (Giuditta, Lehár); “Canto Negro” (Cinco Canciones Negras, Montsalvatge), “Regnava nel silenzio” (Lucia de Lammermoor, Donizetti), “Vedrai, carino” (Don Giovanni, Mozart), “Nobles seigneurs, salut!” (Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer), “La maja y el ruiseñor” (Goyescas, Granados), “Vedró mentr’io sospiro (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart), “Chévere” (Cinco Canciones Negras, Montsalvatge), and “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (La Rondine, Puccini). As in Act I, the singing her was top-notch; I was particuarly taken by the performances by Zohaniris Torres, Maria Bellance, Isabella Ivy, and in particular, Dasha Jensen. Jensen was remarkable especially because her costume permitted one to watch her incredible muscle control. Again, it was also fun to watch the artists learn to play characters, in particular Ivy’s Brontë, Bellanca’s Martin, the anger and interactions between Hunter-Holly’s Hagan and Whitson-Martini’s Adkins, and the fire and anger of Torres’ Lebrón.

Act III was the inspiration for the title of the piece, as it takes place in the Internet cloud. Yes, yes, I know — but we’re dealing with opera folks, not engineers like me… so suspend your disbelief (just like you did when you watched Tron). We’re introduced to the cloud through Erin (Erin AndersonFB), an “oracle” who can connect you with any information in exchange for “likes”. As the act begins, we meet Simon (Simon BarradFB), a porn start who has become addicted to his own sexually-deviant website. Simon has created a virus, Sarah (Sarah YoungFB) and unleashed it to destroy the Internet in order to reconnect with Tiffany (Tiffany MortensenFB), his former love. Opposing Simon are Karen (Karen Hogle Brown), an online website hosts who controls Simon through sexual addition, and Alex (Alexandra HillFB), a CIA spy on a mission to prevent the attack. Erin, the Oracle, directs Alex to talk to Greg (Gregory VoinierFB), Simon’s business parter, who is now focused on Jessica (Jessica VadneyFB), an online reality-sex star. Greg is estranged from his daughter, Laurel (Laurel Semerdjian/FB), who is looking for love online to deal with her desk job at the CIA. Lastly, Tiffany is supported by Theresa (Theresa PilzFB), the avatar of her deceased mother. Overseeing this all is HRH Kevin (Kevin BylsmaFB), the all knowing all seeing pianist CEO of the Universe.

Arias in Act III were “Come now a roundel” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten); “Come scoglio” (Così fan tutte, Mozart), “No word from Tom” (The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky), “Smanie implacabili” (Così fan tutte, Mozart), “Vision fugitive” (Hérodiade, Massenet), “Be kind and courteous” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten), “Laurie’s Song” (The Tender Land, Copland), “Der Hölle Rache” (Die Zauberflöte, Mozart), “Flowers bring to every year” (The Rape of Lucretia, Britten),  “Pierrot’s Tanzlied” (Die Tote Stadt, Korngold), and the finale, “Des cendres de ton coeur, réchauffe ton génie” (Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Offenbach). Again, the singing was at the top of the game; in particular, the finale when all of the artists came together to blow the roof off the recital hall. But, of course, the focus wasn’t the singing, it was the acting. A particular standout here was Erin Anderson, who was in character throughout the intermission (handing out “likes” for the OperaWorks Facebook page); her behavior reminded me of the marionette’s from Wisdom 2116. It was also fun to watch her interaction with Jessica Vadney. Jessica was very, umm, well endowed, which worked well with her character as an online sex star. In a battle to get more “likes” with Erin, the interchange over chests (as Erin was much less endowed) was quite well played. Of course, as operas will do, there was lots of death in this one, including the death of the Internet (which troubled me — I was wondering if it was a reflection of the artists on the problems created by technology).

So, over these three acts, was there a theme? I think so, and it was essentially the same theme that we saw Friday night in Fluffy Bunnies: the search for a love and meaningful relationships.

[ETA: Here are some pictures of the production.]

This production also got me thinking about the differences between traditional “Musicals” and “Opera”. After all, there are some sung-through musicals — look at Evita, Sweeney Todd, Rent, and even productions such as The Pirates of Penzance. What makes these musicals as opposed to opera. Is it the style of the music? The style of the performance? Particular conventions of the story? This production got me curious about that, and the only way to find out is to attend more opera to see the difference.

Turning to the technical. The stage (as well as the entire recital hall) was adorned with pillars that were covered with pictures that either (a) reflected characters in the wax museum, (b) reflected characters in “the cloud”, or (c) reflected the individuals in the program. It was fascinating to wander around and look at these; they actually also provided props for use in Act III.  Lighting was a mixture of normal leikos and overhead lights that could be individually controlled. For the most part, this worked well, although there were times the stage was not lit as it should have been, or the focus was off slightly. This was probably an artifact of the recital hall; the normal stages were probably unavailable due to TADW productions. There was no program credit for lighting design. This production didn’t need any sound design, given the voices. From what I could determine, costumes were provided by the artists themselves; there was no program credit for costumes. Zeffin Quinn Hollis (FB) was the stage director.

OperaWorks is an annual program whose summer program is held at CSUN. There is one more performance of “The Cloud” at 2:00 pm today. Tickets are available at the door or online.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Next weekend sees us at a more traditional musical, specifically “Meet Me In St. Louis” at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks. August has a bit less, as we’re going to have some vacation days and will be taking Erin to start UC Berkeley. We’ve only got two shows scheduled: “Memphis” at the Pantages at the beginning of the month, and Play Dates” at REP East at the end of the month. As an aside: we will be vacationing in Palm Springs, so if anyone knows of live theatre going on there in August, let me know. In September theatre activity resumes, beginning with “Blame It On Beckett” at the Colony Theatre on September 1 and “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. I”m also looking into “Silence: The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre, which starts September 8 and runs through December, and Xanadu” at DOMA, which starts September 7 and runs for about 3 weeks. October brings some traveling for family: the Cal Parents Weekend at UCB (looking less likely now), and the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno. It will also bring “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing) and a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11-12). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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