Friday, December 26, 2008

The day after Christmas

We had a quiet, wonderful Christmas: took a walk around the Embarcadero to see a great miniature village at the Hyatt SF, played two of our terrific new board games (Dominion and Ticket to Ride Europe), feasted on stuffing, etc., slept in and ate homemade crepes for breakfast. Today was for using Christmas presents: I listened to my new collection of "Wait, wait don't tell me," podcasts, started using my new SIGG water bottle, and munched on Belgian bonbons (Leonidas chocolates). Very satisfying all around.

As promised, here's a bit more on Dec. 22's double bill (Trinity Lyric Opera) of Amahl & the Night Visitors (Menotti)/ The Gift of the Magi (David Conte):

I've always had a soft spot for the Menotti opera: it's a great seasonal favorite, very approachable, and warm-hearted. (Plus the Mother was one of my first complete roles, way back when, which adds to the warm and fuzzy feelings.) This Amahl was nicely done, with minimal sets but excellent singing and acting by all--mezzo-soprano Lisa van der Ploeg as the Mother, sweet-voiced David Kerns as Amahl, Torlef Borsting, Gregory Stapp, and Brian Thorsett as the Three Kings, and Martin Bell as the ever-vigilent Page.

Likewise, I've always had a very soft, 20-tissue spot for O'Henry's beloved tale. Conte and librettist Nicholas Giardini broadened the story somewhat, adding useful dramatic and vocal balance by giving each of the two protagonists a best friend. The Three Kings (same trio of singers as in the first half) reappear as well, with a couple of offstage commentaries on the story. Lisa van der Plough and Torlef Borsting both took nice turns as comic foils to the sweet, wonderfully-expressive duo of Marnie Breckenridge and Andrew Garland. With readily excerptable arias and duets, Conte's fluid score is lyrical and graceful, as always. Despite the lack of an actual pit at the SFCM, John Kendall Bailey and the orchestra carried out both pieces with panache, and a good holiday time was had by all.
(Major Disclaimer: most of these folks are my friends and/ or colleagues, so I'm more than just a tad bit biased.)

The thread of the Three Kings and their gifts ties the two operas together into a well-connected seasonal package. Hopefully other opera companies will make this into a traditional double bill.

What I'm reading: Finished Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie.

When I first started this book,I put it down after a handful of pages for a few days. The next time I picked it up, I was hooked. At that point, I read the book in one quick gulp.
A YA coming-of-age tale with a 9th grade protagonist who--despite what he thinks--manages to lead a charmed life. Included several great strands beyond the primary plot: clever word play and word games, stealth English lessons, journal/diary entries to a person whom I won't name (plot spoiler otherwise). Although there were a couple of less-than-likely turns of events, the twists of the plot mostly rang very true, and the characters, especially the "hero," lingered with me for several days after I had finished the book.
Also finished the first volume (contains 3 issues, translated into English) of David B's autobiographical graphic novel Epileptic. Evocative, fantastic drawing style that tells a (thus far) sad story.

What I'm listening to: Wait, wait don't tell me, Saint-Saens' El desdichado (in a wonderful historic rendition from 1935 with baritone Pierre Bernac and soprano Leila Ben Sedira, singing the French-language version--this is such a cool duet, for those who've never heard it), various Kurt Weill songs (I do love Weill), and Leontyne Price!

What I'm working on: Reger's Marias Wiegenlied for a post-Christmas service, new Joseph Marx, Schoenberg, and Weill for a concert in February.

Hope everyone is having a lovely, cozy, healthy holiday!
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