Don Giovanni - MET

Well, yet another Mozart opera and yet another production showcasing middling singers.

I think it is really poor of the MET to invite performers (if you want to give them that name) onto their stage when they can't even be heard over the harpsichord during recitatives.  Obviously this is the new normal.  This is the end result of cronyism and nepotism; pure, unadulterated mediocrity.  This is what happens when opera companies don't groom their own, local talent.  Instead they rely on the "Star System" which is really just a cock fight fest in which rich people push their own pet singers into the ring.

I'm tired of it.  I'm tired of paying for it.  I'm being taken for a ride while the MET powers laugh at me being a sucker born last minute.

The production stage set values?  Wonderful as always.  I can't ever fault the MET for not being opulent in their sets and costumes.

The chorus?  Very nice, very lively and focused.  I'm sure there are any number of singers in the chorus who could have filled the lead roles reliably, more so than the "stars".

The only singers who didn't embarrass themselves were Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna, Paul Appleby as Don Ottavio (I remember liking him last year), and Matthew Rose as Masetto.  Honorable mentions were Serena Malfi as Zerlina and Kwangchul Youn as The Commendatore.  My quibble with the last two have more to do with style rather than ability.  Ms. Malfi had only one color to her voice....brassy.  I suppose she was worried about being heard.  That wasn't the problem, the problem was that she sounded the same in each aria.  There was very little acting involved in her performance.  On the other hand Kwangchul's voice was lovely but all over the place.  His voice for the most part was above the orchestra but then it would fall out.  He has a big voice, but he needs more control.

I'm starting to believe that MET performances are only worthwhile if a really big star is among the cast.  Such as last year when I saw Placido Domingo's Simon Boccanegra.  Every singer in that production was top drawer.  But then again, Domingo wouldn't stand for nothing less than top drawer talent performing with him.  But that would mean missing out on old standbys and interesting productions if they don't have superstars cast.

All I do know is that Mozart deserves better.  He isn't a throwaway piece of candy for the masses.  He composed for big voices just as much as Wagner composed for the Ring Cycle.  It is criminal that these productions are being wasted on singers who aren't up to the challenge.



The original Westworld film was one of my spine chilling favorites as a child.  Who could forget the relentless Yul Brenner chasing down Richard Benjamin through the wild west straight back to medieval world than roman world.  It was such a low, trashy, grind house,sci-fi sploitation funhouse that James Cameron decided to remake the last half hour and call it Terminator.  So when I heard that it was being remade as a TV series I was disappointed.  They were going to take something that never took itself seriously and turn it into a high concept SERIOUS project.

Have they?

Yes, they have BUT they kept to the origin spirit.  So it is a series that looks good, looks fancy but underneath it is still a trashy, eerie, grind-house sci-fi splotation.  In fact they have expanded on the story even acknowledge the previous film but not top it.

Now, the series doesn't jump into the main story line that consists of Richard Benjamin's original character.  Instead it spends some time introducing the viewer to the Westworld "Hosts" or androids and the Westworld employees. Right away we see that management are opposed to one another.  The head manager just wants a glorified DisneyWorld, the narrative manager wants something as sleazy as possible, the technicians behind the magic are just fascinated with their creations.  None more so than Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Ford.  Ford keeps adding odd bits of programming, pushing the self-awareness factor.  Maybe he has pushed it too far.  Because the hosts are starting to exhibit little ticks and ignore their narratives.  We also see the main techs starting to favor some of the hosts; Ford mourns for decommissioned androids, Jeffrey Wright's Bernard Lowe has taken a fatherly interest in genesis robot, Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood).

Of course, the series is part of the whole Alchemical, Singularity, MKultra story themes that are so popular in culture today.  The robots are controlled by key phrases.  They each have their own handler.  There are motifs of mirrors and  memories.  The show goes crazy referencing all the most popular robot films from the 70s such as The Stepford Wives and Demon Seed.

What seems to be the theme in this iteration of Westworld is love against violence.  The first robot to rebel or come into awareness is Dolores' Father.  We eventually discover some chilling background information about him. But it also adds weight to his words that everything he is at the moment, the reason for his changed personality, the reason for his whole being is Dolores.  It seems that the story about his "love" for his daughter has become all too true and his foremost thought is to save his daughter from "Westworld".  It seems that the father may have discovered a key phrase that will save his child.

Dolores is a very engaging character, ever friendly and optimistic even when the worst horrors are visited upon her due to story lines or guest crimes.  As each day drags out (about 6 in the first episode), we the viewers begin to get worn down from bad ends that Dolores meets even though she can't remember.  It makes you wonder how the Westworld employees deal with all the havoc the guests enact upon their characters.  How do you deal with the rape, murder and other violence?  We get hints from past stories/worlds that stories included cannibalism, sexual abuse, genocide and more.  Even more horrific, children androids are also present in Westworld.  In a world where human guests get to enact their most violent fantasies....well it is enough to make you sick that this world doesn't even turn away those crimes.  Because it is always real, my friends.  The human brain does not differentiate.  And allowing your most violent impulses out makes it that much easier to seek out the same in "regular' life.

During the second episode we get further information about Westworld.  It seems to consist of above and below ground levels.  The guests take trains to the park.  The timeline seems to be in an indeterminate future but definitely at least 100 years from now considering the advanced technology.  We are not aware yet of how much of Westworld is real and how much is virtual reality.  When the original Richard Benjamin character arrives we just get a quick glimpse of how guests enter the park.

On the whole, I like the series.  It is a creepy delight, a perfect pastime for the Halloween season.


Clips from La Bayadere - Herman Cornejo, Maria Kochetkova, Joy Womack and the Kremlin Ballet

Joy Womack acquits herself quite well against superstars Cornejo and Kochetkova.  I'm excited she was able to dance with them both.

Incidentally, Cornejo is not dancing in ABT's fall season.  Which is a bit of a disappointment since they are performing Prodigal Son.  Anyway he looks perfect in this clip.  I've read around the ballet sites that some are speculating that he will take early retirement from ABT and then just do the touring circuit, working with different choreographers and branching out into more modern dance styles.  Alot of dancers have done it.  It adds a few more performing years into a dancer's career by forgoing a punishing ballet company schedule that is harder on older dancers.

I suppose we will know one way or the other soon enough.


Jewels - New York City Ballet

I haven't seen Jewels in many years.  So I purchased a ticket for the recent performance scheduled of it at NYCB.

I'm sorry to say, the company has let standards fall for this Icon of their company.  The saddest element is that the fallen state of the ballet is completely avoidable.  It would only require the ballet masters, AD and others to put their egos aside and call back Jacques D'Amboise and Suzanne Farrell for coaching duties.  However that is something that seems impossible at the moment.  But I find it ironic that the Balanchine Trust which is so fanatic about protecting the ballet image IP and style, have allowed the founding company to lose the technique to dance this ballet.

Emeralds is in the best state of the whole ballet.  There seems to be a knowledgeable coach that has trained the dancers very well.  Abi Stafford, in the lead, had wonderful, expressive Undine like arms.  Unfortunately, her bourrees were ungainly.  I couldn't figure out if it was because of the angle I was viewing the ballet or because she was uncomfortable with the step.  She seemed too concerned with how much stage she was covering.  I don't know, it seemed off to me and the only drop in quality in her dancing.  The dancer who truly impressed me in this section was Ashley Laracey.  She was the full package here, graceful both classical and neo-classical. Her body was relaxed and unforced in the steps.  I wished she was in more of the ballet.  In the corps, Miriam Miller was lovely and very quickly sinuous for a tall dancer.



Dude, Where the hell is my Fosse?

In 1966, a year before Jewels premiered, Bob Fosse had his juggernaut hit Sweet Charity.  It was a game changer, it influenced and still influences the dance world. It began a period that was white hot for Fosse and he then proceeded to create the film version of Sweet Charity, then Cabaret, Pippin etc.  Balanchine did not choreograph in a vacuum.  He had his influences and Fosse had to be one of them.

Below is a clip from Sweet Charity.  Notice the tension in the bodies of the dancers.  Then the use of percussive, quick releases in the dancers pelvises, chests and shoulders.  Immediately the tension is then reasserted for the next step.  Also note that Jazz work requires strict isolation in the hips, stomach, chest, arms, legs.  That allows Jazz dancers to move as a whole but also to isolate a body part to extend musicality in dance style.  The cool sexuality to it was all Fosse. 

Now see the same style in Eddie Villella and Patricia McBride   The hip thrusts, the muscle isolation and shoulder releases. 

The original dancers just like Balanchine were contemporaries of Fosse.  They knew the style they wanted to reference and it shows in this ballet.  At least it does with the originals.  Sadly the Jazz is missing in the current cast.  The muscle isolation is non-existent which has muddied the steps.  The dancers know they have to hit iconic poses, but they lack the Ballet Jazz amalgamation technique to achieve the build up to those poses.

The dancers weren't lacking in enthusiasm.  I just wish the enthusiasm did more for them in this ballet section.  It doesn't.  Megan Fairchild has what it takes, she seems to know the kind of style that is needed.  But it hasn't jelled in her body.  She would get a jazz isolation but then drop it to race to the next step.  She just needs a good coach.  Isn't McBride allowed to coach?  The other two leads were woefully miscast.  Joaquin de Luz looks like Villella but he doesn't have the same temperament.  He doesn't run hot and cold like Villella did.  He can't switch from serious to playful.  So he just stays in playful mood.  Savannah Lowery, instead of turning herself into a cool jazz ballet princess, just decided to emphasize the gymnastic aspect.  She also seemed too tall and ungainly for the role.  This role requires a long, narrow, cat like silhouette.  Her gymnastic approach was also evident in the corps as well.  There just wasn't a lot of style here.  Everyone was lost.

Diamonds is in the most sorrowful state.  Someone, somewhere decided that Balanchine was trying to ape Swan Lake.  NO, NO, NO!  This ballet is not romantic even though it does have romantic elements.  This section is a love letter to Imperial ballet of Balanchine's youth.  The quickness, regal demeanor and purity of technique.  But that isn't what is being danced by NYCB.

I specifically purchased a ticket to this performance because Sara Mearns was not performing.  I saw clips of her dancing the role and she insists on pushing sentimentality.  If only she would hold back, the sentimentality is already in the piece.  She doesn't need to add it.

Teresa Reichlen was a bit purer, a bit more reserved.  But she also added superfluous elements.  Such as becoming the Swan Queen.  She had overly precious bourrees that just looked out of place.  Luckily she didn't start flapping her "wings" as well.

The degradation hasn't reached the Corps yet.  They all danced well.  But the only one with the true spirit of go-for-broke, I-don't-care-if-I-fall-flat-on-my-face was Alexa Maxwell.  A close second was Ashley Hod.  Olivia Boisson stood out in the corps.  I wish she would catch the casting eye and get larger roles.  She has such a lovely composed presence on stage.

Well, I hope NYCB can save this ballet.  Because right now, it isn't Balanchine.  It isn't worth the money they are charging for it.  At this rate, NYCB could be any other company dancing it.

The only company that dances it in the true original style is Pacific Northwest Ballet.  And you know why? They had their dancers coached by the original artists.  Small wonders, hey?  NYCB bring back these Balanchine dancers as coaches.  YOU NEED THEM.  Either that or stop performing this ballet, you don't do it justice.

The Real Diamonds

Eddie does Jazz and teaches PNB how to do it.


Peaky Blinders - Pilot

I didn't subscribe to Netflix until recently for Stranger Things.  There has been another Netflix only series that has a lot of hype and that is Peaky Blinders.

This show.  This show is a red, hot mess.  But a very watchable mess.  I must admit.

It is entirely too impressed with itself, treading in the wake of its more expensive and adept inspiration Boardwalk Empire.  The Peaky Blinders are a small potatoes gang in Birmingham that specializes in horse betting.  But one of the leaders is getting antsy and desires to be bigger deal.  All this to contemporary rock music.  Yes, this show is a music video with the heavy lifting acting being left on the shoulders of/ Sam Neill and Helen McCrory. Everyone else poses like models in a music video.  Which, as I just mentioned, it is.

Its a shame because the set designer tries really hard to replicate 1919.  However the costume designer didn't get the memo of the time period.  So people are dressed in costumes that date any time from 1917 to 1925.

But the show is so ham fisted that it telegraphs its plot points through its silly, anachronistic costumes.


In regards to lady cop, I couldn't believe that the Peaky crowd didn't find anything off about this wee Irish lass suddenly turning up looking odd and suspicious.  I saw COP written all over her from the first minute, that big reveal about her was no surprise.  Maybe if they had, oh you know, put her hair up like the following advertisement, it would have been more exciting.

These women look rather modern.  No one needs their hair down.  They look like they can handle cop duties.  Whatever.

Then there is the Peaky sister who thinks she is starring in Back to the Future.

You don't need money, don't take fame
Don't need no credit card to ride this train

 This sister must have taken Marty and Biff's book of horse championships.  Maybe that is why the family horse betting business is doing well.  They got all their tidbits from 1926.  I bet she is an H.G. Wells groupie.

The contemporary music is awful.  It doesn't make the show cool.  It just immediately points out how fakey fake everything is and everyone is playing dress up for a show.  Now, Boardwalk Empire also used contemporary sounds and it annoyed me just as much.  But at least it made up for the missteps by filling the episodes with lush, original recording 1920s period music.  1919 music isn't as arcane as everyone thinks.  Many of the hits from that period were recycled in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s.  Believe me most viewers will know the tunes.  We don't need to listen to bloody rock music.

Those are my complaints, now I don't think the show is altogether awful.  Many elements are very good.  It is just stupid mistakes like the ones I listed that bring it all down.  But I don't think I will be binge watching all 3 seasons.


The Living Revolution Continues!

Comrades, remember my Kommunalka resurgence post from Palo Alto, San Francisco and other areas in the tech corridor of CA?

Well there is a juicy update my fellow workers.

Sob!  Poor Widdle Zuckerberg is barred from knocking down a whole neighborhood of houses that he purchased near his home.  It seems he cannot turn this neighborhood into his own private mega-estate.

Oh the feels!

Comrades, You are just not moving into your shared rabbit hutches fast enough!  You are failing to exult in the glories of communal living and repudiate the concept of private property.  This is getting in the way of Zuckerberg and friends from knocking down your old homes!  This can not do.  This will not do!

Go, Californian Comrades to your shared living spaces NOW!


Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell

It is finally starting to feel like Fall now, my favorite time of year.  And it gets me into the mood to look back, remember, refresh then renew.  Ever since I was little, Fall always felt like the natural beginning of the new year.

The trees haven't turned yet but I can't wait for colored leaves.

This Glen Campbell song takes me back to my childhood and Fall seasons past in Alaska and Canada.  It reminds me of trips on the AlCan highway.  Talk about gorgeous, vast and sometimes a bit spooky.  Maybe one day I will see it all again.