Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Karmic Retribution: Melton in Verdi’s Requiem

The ghosts of Verdi & BrittenSurely the ghosts of Verdi and Britten (not to mention St. Patty, aka Patricia Racette) conjured up this gift! After the very disappointing cancellation of Britten’s Peter Grimes at the San Francisco Opera, robbing diva Heidi Melton (and us) of her formal debut in a leading role (Ellen Orford) on its stage, what glorious news the title of this May 28th SFO “Media Advisory” bore:

SOPRANO HEIDI MELTON TO REPLACE PATRICIA RACETTE
IN MAY 29 VERDI REQUIEM CONCERT CONDUCTED BY
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA MUSIC DIRECTOR DONALD RUNNICLES

This was especially welcome, after Heidi had a cancellation of her own mid-week, from Berkeley Opera’s Annual Gala, celebrating their 30th anniversary. At the time, I didn’t care if she was only to sing a single aria, I had to be there. Little did anyone know that a few days later she’d be delivering up one of the most demanding and exciting parts in the entire Italian (opera) rep.

RunniclesThis performance was crafted in honor of Donald Runnicles, and his 17 years as Music Director of the SFO. Although I hadn’t originally intended to go, with Heidi on board, it was NOT be missed.

It was a sold-out house, packed to the gills. It was heartening to see this, as Runnicle’s commitment to the company, and investment in the evolution of the orchestra, choir, and artists has been invaluable. He has set the bar very high for Luisotti, and the orchestra on a trajectory for the finest quality. In particular, his musical tastes seem to be very in line with mine…built on a foundation of Mozart, Strauss and Wagner (a not so subtly german trio!).

After my friend scored a single last-minute seat in the Orchestra, I scaled the heights to find the last standing room spot in the Balcony (aka “nose-bleeds”). When the first notes of the Requiem started and I looked around me, I felt as if we were in our spiritual home, here to worship Verdi, Runnicles (and Heidi…NOT in that order!) at the altar of music. It sent a chill up my back. It’s so rare to experience rep like this in the opera house, so it was truly special.

I was reminded that where I stood was the real acoustic sweet spot of the house, and nowhere else can one hear such fine textures in the soundscape, far better than in the rear Orchestra, where I first scavenged for a spot. It does seem to favor voices over instruments, as the chorus actually seemed to overpower the orchestra a bit…but I’m certain that’s just a slight acoustic imbalance, and was hardly a problem.

When basso Andrea Silvestrelli sang his first “Kyrie”, out of him spilled a generous, throaty, almost “black” Russian-like tone. However, he was capable of reigning it in to render more tender expressions as well. It was hard to believe he could extend such a dark sound up to the upper reaches of his range. There is something wild and untamed about his instrument, which is also supported by hints of the Italianate lisp I most associate with the operatic lion himself, Corelli.

Mezzo Stephanie Blythe offered her signature smooth tone and sensitivity to the score, but knew when to draw some thrilling edge forth from her voice. Her recent Amnerises have likely helped take her even further to these Simionato extremes. She is a model for what it means to be a truly collaborative artist. When singing with Heidi, she would lean into her, look at her, and exchange in a real give-and-take, as the phrases allowed it. And, when not singing, she was rapt and intent on those who were…really listening. Beautiful!

Melton, Blythe, Secco & Silvestrelli

Tenor Stefano Secco was a shade lyric in this company, and relative to the great recordings I’ve grown accustomed to, but he sang with beauty of tone, blended well in the ensemble, and nailed every challenge in the score. He had the required squillo one is wanting from this piece.

It was overwhelming to see Heidi Melton perform this piece, on the stage of her beloved SFO, in her final year as an Adler Fellow. She has truly “arrived”, and it was clear she was meant to be, and deserved to be up there in that company. I’m so pleased that with the memory of this grand experience, she is supportively launched into her international career. I think her voice was born for Wagner and Strauss (german rep.), but she proved she is a worthy Verdian too. In particular, she shaped beautiful phrases in the “Salve me”, from voluminous fortes to caressed pianissimi. She also exhibited a lovely trill. She sustained a perfectly supported mezza voce in the Agnus Dei, and sang as one voice with Blythe. Perhaps because of the Caballe/Cossotto recording, I never feel this movement is conducted slowly enough, but imagine the breath support required to do so would be cruel. She commanded the stage in the scena Libera Me, and effectively rode the orchestra through its swells and crests.

Maestro Runnicles led his forces with vigor, and let the score guide him, rather than imposing an “interpretation”. In my 15 years in the Bay Area, he is the only SFO Music Director I have “known”, so this is truly the end of an era, and a book-end on a glorious run. His presence and manner alone have always lent a gravitas and reverence to our Company, and this art form we cherish.

Having just attended the Requiem at the SF Symphony last season it was interesting to draw some comparisons. This piece is more standard rep for a Symphony Orch and Choruses’, and they had the benefit of an actual run, so this may have contributed to it being the cleaner and more nuanced performance. Christine Brewer and Stephanie Blythe (again) put their own magic imprint on the material (shades of Sutherland/Horne as Norma/Adalgisa). BUT, the Verdi Requiem is really more operatic in character than “oratorio” or “symphonic”, and was rightfully performed in the opera house this time around. And, the Opera Orchestra and Chorus delivered a take-no-prisoners drama, with red-blooded fervor…a bit rougher around the edges, but fully committed.

Afterwards, SFO General Director David Gockley, Chairman of the Board of Directors John Gunn, and President of the San Francisco Opera Association George Hume presented Maestro Runnicles with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Company to an artistic professional (created by Kurt Herbert Adler in 1970). This was a very moving tribute, especially since it’s not frequently given (and rarely to conductors). Other recipient highlights include: Dorothy Kirsten (1970), Leontyne Price (1977), Joan Sutherland (1984), Marilyn Horne (1990), Plácido Domingo (1994), Frederica von Stade (1997), Samuel Ramey (2003), Pamela Rosenberg (2005), and Ruth Ann Swenson (2008).

SFORunnicles offered a very heart-felt and sincere acceptance and acknowledgement of the SFO and SF as his home, and expressed his great love for all his fellow artists, and us, the SF audience. He offered a special mention of Heidi, who he shared could have had no idea two days before when she woke up what opportunity would come her way. AND, he made the official public announcement that she will be joining him at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, as a member of its famed ensemble. I felt so proud for Heidi…she must have just been beside herself. Having been so scarce on the mainstage of late, this was a true triumph of performance and recognition!

Oper FrankfurtAnd, there’s more good news to report on the horizon…her bio insert announced that she is scheduled to perform the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos and Ada in Wagner’s rarely heard Die Feen with Frankfurt Opera, both in 2011. That she would make her home in Germany, at least in the short term comes as no surprise, and I hope is a very nurturing setting for her rare gifts!

1/2 a Thriller

Yesterday I caught the second half of a flick on logo. I knew nothing of it going in, and, rarely get drawn into unfamiliar material this far in. Well, I was immediately addicted, and couldn’t let go.

The movie was No Night Is Too Long, a 2002 BBC dramatization based on the novel of the same name by Barbara Vine (a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell).

No Night Is Too Long

Unfortunately, TIVO doesn’t show it as airing again soon, so I figure I’ll just share my half-assed snapshot of it to peak your interest, and at least cobble together a synopsis and some eye candy. I’m not posting any of the very sexy youtube vids, because I don’t want to spoil those moments out of context.

The portion of the movie I caught revealed a taut thriller, with some very strong performances. Lee Williams as Tim Cornish is a yummy melange of Elijah Wood, Daniel Radcliffe and Tobey Maguire. He is a very good brooder, but offers a far more interesting characterization and layered performance than that. Marc Warren (as Dr. Ivo Steadman) and Mikela J. Mikael (as Isabel) round out the other memorable leads.

Lee Williams

And, yes, there is an operatic footnote here (as always)! The soundtrack features selections from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. A brief scene staging the reunion of Tim and Ivo is set in an opera house (with a staged Rosenkavalier performance), and uses the Presentation of the Rose (“Mir ist die Ehre wiederfahren”). The finale of the movie is literally accompanied by the instrumental ending of the famous Final Trio, and Ist ein Traum, as Tim plays an lp on his old turntable. The selections are woven seamlessly by composer Christopher Dedrick into his original musical to perfectly support the dramatic arc and outcome. Don’t miss this one!

Wikipedia offers a great synopsis, and a note on a nuance between the movie and book, which I shamelessly borrow.:

“The plot follows a creative writing student from Suffolk named Tim Cornish, an exceptional student who leads a promiscuous lifestyle. A series of chance meetings with Dr. Ivo Steadman, a lecturer at his University, lead to a relationship between Tim and Ivo. All goes well until Ivo becomes extremely busy with issues regarding his university lectures. Tim decides to tease Ivo about sexual advances he is receiving from others, resulting in Ivo becoming violent towards Tim. Despite his reservations about Ivo’s behaviour, Tim agrees to accompany him to Alaska. However, complications arise which lead to Ivo postponing the trip while he supervises a cruise, leaving a reluctant Tim in their hotel. Tim then meets and becomes infatuated with a woman named Isabel, and they have a brief affair. When Ivo returns, he is met with an unenthusiastic Tim, who is still in love with Isabel and is growing impatient with Ivo. They then journey by boat to a remote island. The journey, during which Ivo rapes Tim, is made even more turbulent by Ivo’s suspicions that Tim has had an affair.

Eventually, Ivo and Tim have a heated argument about the affair on the remote island they have sailed to. Before Ivo has a chance to leave, Tim reveals the name of the person he had an affair with. This drives Ivo into a rage, and in the ensuing fight Tim accidentally throws him against a rocky moutainside, leaving him unconscious. Believing he has killed Ivo, Tim manages to flee back to the UK without creating any suspicion. There he unsuccessfully searches for Isabel. Meanwhile, Ivo, who was not actually killed and has escaped from the island where Tim left him, confronts Isabel about the affair. Ivo then reveals that, unbeknownst to Tim, Isabel is actually his sister who was asked to keep an eye on Tim’s behaviour while Ivo was away supervising the cruise, explaining his earlier anger. Soon, Tim begins to receive anonymous letters making it clear that someone is aware of his crime. Eventually, Ivo turns up in person at Tim’s house and discusses the previous events with him. Ironically, on leaving Tim’s house, Ivo is murdered by a deranged drifter. In contrast to the end of the novel, which suggested Isabel and Tim could rekindle their relationship, the film’s closing scene shows Tim unable to open his door and let Isabel into his house.”

Bringin’ Sexy (On-Ice Mullet) Back?

Rachel Getting Married posterThanks to NetFlix, we just watched Rachel Getting Married. It is easily one of the most painfully real films I’ve ever witnessed. I say “witness”, because it really is like peering into a dysfunctional family experience, and never once feels scripted. There are multiple cringe-worthy moments, packed with awkward, painful exchanges. However, there are moments of levity…this next one being one of them. (Mather Zickel is the film’s eye candy.)

I’ll set the stage: the bride-to-be’s (Rachel, played by Rosemarie DeWitt) troubled sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) has just returned home for her nuptials, after 9 months of rehab. They reminisce and dish about a mutual friend’s steamy fantasy. It stars an unlikely (although currently topical) protagonist. Emma, the (current) Maid of Honor looks on anxiously as they revel in their sisterly connection.:

RACHEL
Angela Paylin is coming to the wedding.

KYM (right on top of her)
I ate so much cookie dough and did so many whip-its with Angela Paylin.

RACHEL
I know. And she confessed to you her secret Elvis Stojko fantasy. I spied on you.

KYM
Oh my god…

EMMA
Elvis Stojko the figure skater?

RACHEL
In her fantasy, she was wearing her hair up and very serious, responsible eyeglasses, because she was a world renowned judge at the Winter Olympics for Men’s Figure Skating. And Elvis Stojko was skating in the finals to Could It Be Magic for the gold medal. And just when Barry Manilow is singing “…now, now, now and hold on fast…” there’s this electric connection between them and he stops in the middle of his triple lutz…axel…

KYM
And he skates over to the judges table, all panting and sweaty, with his spangly Neil Diamond shirt open to the chest…

RACHEL
There is silence as he stops in front of her, their eyes lock, and he reaches for her hand… and Angela takes it!

KYM
To the roar of the crowd and the shock of the Olympic judges! And he pulls her out of her chair, undoes her hair, and they skate as a pair to the rest of the song!

Elvis Stojko on The SimpsonsRACHEL
And he gets disqualified but he doesn’t care!

EMMA
Where’d she get the skates from?

(They collapse in laughter. Kym studies her ass in the mirror.)

+ + + + + + + +

Could this fantasy (and this caricature) be what Elvis meant by more “masculine”?

A Very Early Snow: USOC Preview

…and, when it snows, it pours. Or, something like that.

These USOC Winter Portraits” were taken at Smashbox Studios, in LA (May 12 & 15th). They serve as a very exciting preview of all the US Olympic aspirations the upcoming season holds. I felt like a little boy who got a big peak into his biggest gift under the Christmas tree. See the entire photoshoot at Universal Sports’ photo gallery. But, trust me, these snow angels give the best face in these selects.

Evan sure appears to be sending a cold breeze up Johnny’s back:
“Brrrrrrr” (translated from Russian). Looks like Jeremy is hoping to summon up “may the force be with you”, in his Obi-Wan Kenobi look-alike portrait. And, Mirai’s on-ice exuberance seems to be MIA in her shoot…thankfully, she shines when the pressure is on. Speaking of MIA, no M.K.? The door is closing fast!

Now, enjoy our US hopefuls as the Brady Bunch (if you’re too young to get that, enjoy this morsel of ’70s cheese.):

Evan & JohnnySashaJeffrey & AlissaRachael & Belgosto

Zhang & McBruDavite & WagnerMroz & Nagasu

“No one is Jesus” —Sparkly Boy

PSoI PosterPop Star on Ice

Saturday, June 27, 11:00am
Castro Theatre, San Francisco
SF International LGBT Film Festival

“How many other Olympic athletes would let themselves be filmed in a bubble bath and blonde wig gleefully play-acting the Russian interviewer to another naked man (in this case, “best friend” Paris)?” — Jeff Campbell

I am sooooo there!

Find the screening nearest you.

Billy, N2N, RoA, or Shrek?

The Year of the “Hair”

I am thankful that the stars (and planets) aligned to make it so. First, I rediscover my love for the song Where Do I Go?, and purchase the music to prepare it for my music ministry at church. Second, an inspired new Broadway production opens on March 31st. [Enjoy a rehearsal video of Aquarius.] Third, my beloved niece and God-daughter catches the bug, adopting the show as one of her favorites, and embracing it’s milieu (a gal after my own heart).

HAIR!

Finally, to top it all off, after years of talking about HAVING to perform in the show, I discover that the local theatre company ACLO is putting it on in the fall, and thankfully get cast (the details of my exact role are still being ironed out in callbacks). I have had a blast doing a variety of shows over the past 5 years, and many have been great growth opportunities, but not since I was in West Side Story at Broadway By the Bay in ’04 have I been in one of my Top 5 shows!

Productions

Our production runs September 12 – 27 in the historic Kofman Theatre in Alameda, CA. And, I’ll have the privilege of seeing the Broadway production on August 2nd, hopefully with all the current cast members.

CCM's Production of "Hair"My love affair with the show seems to have really gotten going in ’89, when I attended a CCM production, at my University of Cincinnati. I had just graduated from high school and was a freshman in the College of DAAP. The show knocked me over. It was one of those truly life-altering experiences, where you feel your very fiber is transformed in some way. I had plenty of insecurities back then, particularly about my body. This show gave me permission to strip those away, embrace the gift of my body, and celebrate it. It was as if a huge layer of fear had been pealed away. Of course other layers still remained, but this was a huge step in the right direction. To this day, I can remember how effective the charming but forceful Sam Samuelson was as Claude (I had seen him as a fantastic Joseph there too), and how Beth Blankenship embodied the mother-nature-scaled presence required for Aquarius, with her rock-solid belt and larger-than-life persona.

I spent countless all-nighters in my home studio working on graphic design projects, singing along with the Broadway soundtrack (White Boys, Walking in Space, Sodomy, and Easy to Be Hard were the most overplayed). The original Off-Broadway production opened in October ’67 at the Public Theater. It was then overhauled and moved to Broadway in April ’68. Enjoy an exhaustive history of the show and all its deets on Wikipedia, or this tribute site.

Hair Movie PosterMy roommate in my first West Coast apartment in Noe Valley (’93) proved to be the Kathy Bates of Hair fan-dome. He had at least 25 international Hair record albums…in German, Spanish, and seemingly endless languages. Enjoy this excerpt from an eccentric Hebrew production. The ’05 Actor’s Fund benefit recording provided a much needed fresh take on the musical. Although the album is not spot-on, it included one of my favorite new artists Jennifer Hudson singing a soulful rendition of Easy to Be Hard. A VERY unlikely Sheila, she nevertheless delivers a great (although a bit too slow) “studio” version.

Gavin Creel

The new Broadway production features the finest male musical theatre performer of his generation, Gavin Creel, as Claude. This performer can do no wrong, in my mind. I discovered him via the Broadway cast recording of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Honestly, I would never have imagined him a candidate for the role of Claude, as his ultra-tender tone, and tendency towards pop-inspired melismas don’t seem like an obvious choice for this fresh-off-the-farm character. But, I’m thrilled such a great artist is engaged in such an acclaimed production, and now nominated for another Tony! This video shows him in beautiful form in more familiar territory.

New Broadway Production

Controversies

The show explored the prominent themes of the hippie movement, and ‘60s: race, drugs, nudity and sexual freedom, pacifism and environmentalism, religion and astrology, literary themes and symbolism. Theatre writer Scott Miller explained why the movement embraced these themes:

“Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again…. [Long] hair was the hippies’ flag—their… symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song “My Conviction”). It symbolized equality between men and women.”

These themes brought about much controversy, in their divisiveness. A Mexican production survived only one performance, and was shut-down by the government for being “detrimental to the morals of youth” (Wikipedia). Claude, in essence, battles out the opposing moral sides of the primary love vs. war dilemma of the era, in having to decide whether or not to resist the draft, as his friends had.

Love-InThe original Off-Broadway productions did not have the oft-discussed nudity. But, all “twenty seconds” of it were integrated by the new director Tom O’Horgan in its original Broadway reincarnation. The concept was “inspired by two men who took off their clothes to antagonize the police during an informal anti-war gathering” (Wikipedia). The familiar controversy over this nudity has reared its head yet again. The verdict is still out on whether our ACLO production will include it, or not. Apparently, concerns voiced by the school that owns the theatre may put a kabbosh on it. For some cast members that will provide relief, for others disappointment. We shall see!

Surprising Associations

I was shocked (and tickled) to discover this telegram from the legendary diva Callas, to the original Broadway cast. Who in a million years would have pictured her in that audience? Not moi!

Madame Callas Telegram

Amusingly, Leonard Bernstein remarked that “the songs are just laundry lists” and walked out of the Broadway production. Perhaps the true freedom portrayed in the show wasn’t in his vocabulary and scared him, as he was a man that lived, in essence, a double life.

Disco diva Donna Summer appeared in a German production! She is shown here singing Aquarius.

What’s Next?

The new Broadway cast album goes on sale May 26th! And, check out a scene
American Soldier, lyricist Jim Rado’s new show.

In the coming weeks my role in the ACLO production will be determined. They are two roles that could not be more different. I can’t wait for more to be revealed, and to begin rehearsals!

Keeping Tabs on Heidi Melton

Heidi MeltonThanks to operabase.com I discovered that while diva Heidi Melton is in the middle of her career-first run as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser at Opéra National de Bordeaux, she already has quite a line-up of early career roles next season at Deutsche Oper Berlin! I presume this is in addition to her duties covering Brewer’s Alceste, and Voigt’s Chrysothemis.

2009

September – December: Die Frau ohne Schatten, Kinderstimmen / Stimmen der Ungeborenen, Conductors: U Schirmer / Rogister / A Kober

September ’09 – April ’10: Die Zauberflöte, Erste Dame, Conducter: Foremny

2010

February – March: Der Rosenkavalier, Marianne Leitmetzerin,
Conductor: Runnicles

April: Die Walküre, Helmwige, Conductor: Runnicles

April – May: Gotterdammerung, Dritte Norn, Conductor: Runnicles

May: Nabucco, Anna, Conductor: J Fiore

Click here to see her actual posted schedule, and search for your own favorite artist’s upcoming performances by clicking in the left side nav on “Artists”.

Upcoming, Bay Area:

Berkeley Opera’s 2009 Annual Gala
Sunday, May 31, 4:00 – 7:00pm
At Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
Funds raised at the Gala support Berkeley Opera’s 30th Anniversary Season productions. With sopranos Heidi Melton (Adler Fellow 2007-2009) and Nicolle Foland (Adler Fellow 1995-1996) and bass Kenneth Kellogg (Adler Fellow 2008-2009). Tickets: $65. (510) 841-1903, berkeleyopera@gmail.com, or www.berkeleyopera.org.

If you hear of any additional upcoming performances by Heidi, please post them here in Comments. Thanks! We have to enjoy her Bay Area performances before she becomes more scarce here.

‘Chanté, You Stay!’

OK, so after plunging the depths with the most spiritually transcendent music, now is the time to soar to some outrageous heights. Did you watch Season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, on LOGO? (I’ve found the re-runs to be the most re-watchable reality TV…as it ripens with age.) If not, brace yourself for Season 2, AND be a part of changing its fate.

Drag Race

Stop throwing your money away, making phone calls to vote for your American Idol favs. Start casting FREE online votes for aspiring Drag Race contestants (1 vote allowed per day for each potential contestant)! And, there are currently 4 of my favorite San Francisco Queens already in the running to get on the show.

Go to my public profile to see my Dream Queens/favs. NO, I’m not in the running, just touting my favs. Here’s the scoop on each of them:

Mercedez Munro

Mercedez MunroMercedez is a statuesque beauty and major talent. She is an incredible dancer (ala Janet Jackson), and has the biggest heart. She is Miss Gay San Francisco 2006, and I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with her. VOTE FOR MERCEDEZ!

Ginger Snap

Ginger SnapGinger has the sexiest hips, second only to Mae West, and did one of my all-time fav routines at Desperate Divas 2008, as the Incan Princess Yma Sumac (RIP). She is the entertaining hostess of “Snapalicious” at Deco Lounge. VOTE FOR GINGER!

Pollo Del Mar

Pollo del MarPollo has the best name in the biz (but not yet a Taco Bell meal), is an unforgettable and vibrant persona. She never disappoints with great costuming and performance concepts! She is Miss Trannyshack 2007. VOTE FOR POLLO!

Raya Light

Raya LightRaya shocks me each time I see her perform. She is queen of filth, and is flawless in her lip-synching and commitment to her art. She has the hottest 6-pack on any drag queen, and is known to go full monty without batting an eyelash. VOTE FOR RAYA!

…but you can’t take the gay outta skating

Aaron at Axels, Loops & Spins has brought to the public forum some important perspectives on the recent controversial Skate Canada PR campaign. Thankfully, jumping clapping man’s voice is a part of this commentary. See the complete story Time to ‘Man Up’ on the Ice?,” on gay.com’s Gay Sports Blog.

Blades of Glory

Here’s the excerpt including my commentary:

What are gay fans of figure skating saying about all this? “We need to get to the place of embracing the fact that our sport NEEDS, and should encourage and nurture BOTH the artistic and athletic skating qualities” says Paul Ziller, Figure Skating fan and fellow blogger. These are the yin and the yang, or right and the left brain of figure skating. When both “sides” thrive, they offer a certain tenuous equation that makes skating so compelling, a symbiotic relationship that encourages the constant evolution of the entire “package” of a skater and the system, and therefore maintains the interest of and debate among fans and foes alike.” Ziller continues, “Sadly, for the Canadian Federation, Elvis Stojko, and/or skating fans/critics to try to make this into a simple discussion of gay vs. straight is small-minded, offensive, and abhorrent. It’s as comedic as Miss California purporting that marriage should ONLY be between “opposite” sexes… when a large part of pageant fans and supporters are gay men. In the skating community we clearly have the same large fan base. No, it’s not the whole fan base, but it’s a large enough part that our voice should be heard, and is likely no minority.”

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