Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Heidi Melton: The Official Berlin E-Interview

Since I first sang the praises of my friend, soprano Heidi Melton on jcm, she has moved several steps closer to the exposure that her prodigious gifts hinted at. I’m very excited to share with you (Melton fans and newbies alike) my new e-interview with her: she, in Berlin, sidled up to her laptop with frosty brew-in-hand, and me, in San Francisco, eagerly awaiting her return to SFO, in 2011. Ah, it’s the next best thing to sitting down in-person at a pub!

It’s not surprising that, despite the 5,657 miles between us, her appeal, warmth, irrepressible sense of humor, and passion for her art still shine through. Enjoy this glimpse into her life, career and heart…

Photo: Kristin Hoebermann

jcm: What is your very first memory of singing or performing?

HM: I suppose that my first memory of music would be of my grandma sitting next to me on the piano bench, teaching me how to play. It is how I spent the majority of my formative years, and was very gratifying.

jcm: Are you from a musical family? Or, were your gifts helped along in any way in your childhood home?

HM: My family has always loved music, although not necessarily opera. But, they have really started finding an appreciation for it — except for my sister, who still feels that opera sounds like someone is stepping on nails! My grandma went to college for piano performance, so that was always a part of my home, but I will admit to not really discovering opera until I was about 14 or 15.

jcm: Have you always been on track to be a performer, and when did your trajectory shift towards opera?

HM: When I first started applying to undergraduate schools, I did so under music performance and music education. I applied mostly to state schools in Washington, but I had my one “pie in the sky” school, which was the Eastman School of Music. I was accepted into Eastman, but only as a music education major. I wasn’t good enough to get into their performance program. Anyhow, I’ve never been good at accepting a “no,” so I worked hard and juried into performance, and haven’t looked back.

jcm: When did it become clear that your voice was that very special and true dramatic soprano, like one of your favorites, Régine Crespin, or perhaps even a Hochdramatische (“heroic”), like another favorite, Astrid Varnay? Is it a pressure, or instead empowering to know you hold this rare gift?

HM: It does seem to be heading in that direction, doesn’t it? I do consider it a gift, and with any gift comes responsibility, so I am just trying to do all that I can to ensure that I give “the beast” everything that it needs to be the best it can be. But to answer your question, it is both a pressure and empowering.

Continue reading interview —>

“EMERGENCY Cabaret Relief: Haiti” Fundraiser

Date: Monday, February 15, 2010
Time: 7:00 – 10:00pm
Location: San Francisco Community Music Center (SFCMC)
Street: 544 Capp St.
Price: $15.00 or $20.00 (incl. drink ticket)

Join Jessica Coker, Soila Hughes and Leanne (“Anita Cocktail”) Borghesi — aka Busty, Over-the-Top, Outrageous, Brawds, Singin! (B.O.O.B.S!) — and friends for “EMERGENCY Cabaret Relief: Haiti”, an evening of song and performance to benefit those affected by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Buy Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets (seating is limited)


Under the musical direction of Ben Prince, the evening will feature performances by the cabaret trio B.O.O.B.S!, as well as other stars of San Francisco’s theatre and cabaret community, including Jennifer Coker, Amanda Dolan, Lonnie Haley, Charles Huff, Christina Miglino, John McCullough, Sara Moore, Shane Ray, Alex Rodriguez, Jef Valentine, Paul Ziller (with CJ Anderson, my partner), Daniel Umili, Daniel Velazquez, Chris Yorro, and Sharon Boggs! With a program of show-stopping and heartfelt numbers, this evening is sure to lift your spirits.

100% of proceeds from the event will benefit Partners In Health (PIH), a Boston-based organization that provides medical care to poor communities around the world. PIHs work in Haiti began 25 years ago with a single clinic and today it is one of the largest providers of health care in Haiti.

In addition to the performance, there will be a raffle, and wine and refreshments (pay with donations). For directions and parking information, visit sfcmc.org.

We hope to you will join us for this special evening!

The Best of Spokane: Buttercups, Fizzles & Knives

There’s SO much to say about the past two weekends of US Nationals: triumphs, let-downs, new faces, and the like. Here’s a saucy snapshot of less obvious highlights that I’ll take away from Spokane, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Lutz is to Flutz as Twizzles are to…


jcm’s newly coined term: “fizzles” = botched twizzles.

What a crime that the U.S. Olympic Ice Dance Team selection essentially came down to this element, and that it trumped what the discipline should really be about…connection, interpretation, and expression! Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre’s fourth place finish (likely thanks to fizzles) was heartbreaking. I fear that this over-valued element will be a deal breaker in Vancouver too.

Skaters, Skaters, Skaters


Tiger Beat Award: Mark Ladwig. Pushing aside Bommentre…he’s my new skating crush du jour. Evora & Ladwig’s unexpected win and emotional reaction also raised his temperature on my hawtness meter.

Most promise: Christine Gao: I agree, “Gao” = “Wow”; Armin Mahbanoozadeh: grace, style, and still memorable despite a nagging hip injury; Yankowskas & Couglin: star quality, great expression and performance TO the audience.

Most Blades of Glory: Ben Agosto’s FD costume. Whew!? What are they thinking? Trying WAY too hard to be a Ruskie!

Sentimental favorites prooved they were just that (this time): Bradley, Navarro & Bommentre, Cohen, and Inoue & Baldwin ALL just missed the podium or Olympic Team selection.

Interesting program discovery: Bebe Liang’s LP, made up of Dvorak, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff selections. It was refreshing, as I hadn’t seen it all season. It was also perfectly suited to her: high energy, driven, and rhythmic. Although she gave a good performance, too bad she didn’t nail it. Will she have her moment?

Skating Great who went largely unnoticed: Lisa-Marie Allen, four-time Nationals’ medalist was the Technical Specialist.

Off-ice couples:
Out: Tanith & Evan
In: Amanda Evora & Jeremy Barrett (both earned a ticket to Vancouver!)
(Rumored) In: Tanith & Charlie (of Marlie), Nastia Liukin & Evan

From the Boards: Coaches


Most welcome new presence: Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen. They both have a very calm and grounding presence for Jeremy, and the TV audience. I love her, and Jason has never looked better.

In: Jim Peterson. His visible emotion from the boards was deeply moving. His commitment to the sport and his teams is so evident in these reactions, AND in the result, as both U.S. Olympic pairs teams are his (and Lyndon Johnston’s)!

Out: Dalilah Sappenfield. In 2008 she had the first place novice, junior, and senior pairs. I’m sure she’ll reign again, but had a much lower profile this year.

Not so Gaga


Biggest missed opportunity (aside from Navarro & Bommentre’s already mentioned woes): Johnny could have come out as Top in his rivalry with Evan, and wrestled away the silver. Evan opened the door, and Johnny closed it. No, he likely couldn’t have beaten Jeremy here, but this time Evan was not unbeatable.

Most hootchie: Trina Pratt & Chris Obzansky. Their country OD, which oooozed Texan sexy (and bust!), made me both swoon AND gag just a little. They are Shpilband protégés, and show real promise.

It sucks to be them: Castile & Okolski. Their LP, although carried over from last season, was very beautiful and satisfying. It’s so sad their success has been sidelined by her injuries. I hope they make a comeback, if they stick with competitive skating at least another season.

Most underrated achievement: Inoue & Baldwin garnering a bronze medal, at ages 33 and 36, and with a throw triple axel! Like ‘em or not, that’s astounding and worthy of note. Even though I’m not a fan, and cringed at John’s Plushy-esque gloat after Rena landed the 3ATh, I thought they were robbed of the silver.

Commentating & Public Opinion


Best quotes: “I keep saying, the sunshine that pours out of her…I wanna call her the buttercup of all time.” — Dick Button (about Mirai); “Such a precarious relationship between skater and ice...you’ve got knives on your feet…and (try to) make something impossible look easy.” — Scott Hamilton (during Sasha’s warm-up)

Village Idiot Award: Dick Button. Whew…he’s totally lost me. As a friend said, “he’s becoming a caricature of himself”. And, I used to really hang on his words.

Damned by faint praise: Emily Hughes (AGAIN!). In the old days Dick Button would repeatedly talk about “her great smile” (instead of any actual skating attributes.) Well, here are some new doozies used to describe her: “The victory is in being here.”, “She really worked towards a challenge, and you have to give that credit.”, “(She’s) the photo-negative (of Czisny.)”, “They (Hugheses) all skate for the right reasons, just because they love it.” WTF? You know she wants to win just as much as the other gurlz.

Most overlooked: Jeremy Barrett. The commentator’s focus was almost solely on Caydee Denney. YES, she is a sensational competitor and great for this sport, but he matched her element by element, skill by skill, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Blatant commentator favoritism: Nagasu, Davis & White, Navarro & Bommentre, and Bradley were given the benefit of the doubt, while Flatt, Weir, and Inoue & Baldwin’s achievements were downplayed. It was pretty shameless. Flatt’s win felt like a let down, because of the way it was portrayed, following Nagasu.

Most tired opinion in the blogosphere: (to paraphrase) “I should have known to expect this from Sasha.” Sure, some may consider what she did brave, others foolish, but either way, as Sandra Bezic put it, you can’t expect a fairy tale comeback at Nationals without some competitive preparation beforehand. Even Super-Evgeni had Rostelcom Cup before Russian Nationals. What she did in the SP was amazing, and she should be lauded for doing as well as she did.

My Nationals’ podium predictions: I was 6 for 12 (exact placements), and 10 for 12 (correct skaters on podium). Meh! But, not too bad. The Cohen/Nagasu wildcards, and McBru meltdowns were impossible to foresee. ALL my wish list items were met, except the last one. Ah well…you can’t have everything!

Next up…Vancouver!!!

Davis & White vs. Belbin & Agosto: A Comparison

Aunt Joyce’s Ice Cream Stand has shared a fascinating video (posted on youtube by a cangp08), allowing you to cross-compare the Compulsory Dances of the top two U.S. Ice Dance Teams, currently competing at Spokane Nationals. Although it’s not possible to fully absorb the details of both performances in this manner, you CAN easily compare overall speed and expression.

[UPDATE: Sadly, the referenced video has been removed from youtube. If it reappears, I will repost it, or please notify me if you find it elsewhere. In the meantime, I’ve posted a similar Belbin & Agosto / Virtue & Moir comparison video to at least share the split-screen technique.]

With this CD, Davis & White scored an American record (45.42), and Belbin & Agosto (Belgosto”) were second (45.02).

After reviewing it, I have to agree with the result. Technically they are VERY comparable, although D&W appear to have slightly steadier/smoother edges. But, for me the deal breaker is that D&W embody the spirit of “Golden Waltz” more fully. They skate more completely as one, and exude greater effervescence, giving their dance more lilt and “lift” (not in the literal sense). Their connection is not surprising, given that they’ve skated together for 13 years!

Here’s a technical question for a CoP geek greater than I: Does Belbin & Agosto’s lift at the end of the program provide garner any additional points? Or, is it considered purely interpretive in this context, as this waltz itself is supposed to allow the judges to compare CDs apple-to-apples?

All this being said, the point difference is so minimal that the results of the OD and FD will surely decide this title. In this top two race, I’m not rooting for either team over the otherso, may the best team win!

However, in the race for the bronze, I’m very pleased that my favs, Navarro & Bommentre, came out on top in this round (37.60). The team generally favored for the bronze, Samuelson & Bates, are close behind, in fourth (37.36).

New Pair Threaten to Crash Olympic Party

Brand spankin’ new Siberian Pairs Team Chesty Fishnetskaya and Viacheslav Alloverya may just be the wild card in Vancouver. Here is their recent exhibition program, displaying peerless program components and costuming (click on video to watch):

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

Noone needs to be told how dire the state of emergency is in Haiti, following the devastating earthquake on January 12th. Although there are surely many disaster-response organizations doing good work, my familiarity with Doctors Without Borders encourages me to share this link. Through my friend John, who is in the DWB network, I know that this organization does invaluable work in responding to such disasters. Click on this banner image below to make a donation!:

Read the most recent SF Chron article: Haiti aid flow grows; feuds over reaching victims. The death toll may reach 200,000. Although no less tragic, that’s nearly two times the civilian death toll in the six year war in Iraq.

My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved-ones, and to the spirit of those whose lives were cut mercilessly short. I offer up the prayer and plea that the rescue and relief efforts be able to reach those in need as soon as possible.

“Pearls Over Shanghai” Welcomes John Waters

Cast with John Waters and Sebastian (me as Hung Lo, fifth from right).

For our January 8th show, we were graced with the presence of John Waters, as well as Sebastian, director of multiple Cockettes’ movies. The evening had a very special allure, thanks to their presence in the audience. Enjoy these vibrant photo moments from that performance, by fabulous photographer Dan Nicoletta.

Madame Gin Sling (Rumi Missabu) lears.

“Your evil wish is my command, HONEY!”

Lili Frustrata (Eric Tyson Wertz) prepares for her tragi-operatic "Un Bel Di" opening.

Experience a taste of Lili’s fragile suffering here (ala Tebaldi).

A whore (Kegel Kater) gives beautiful face.

I’d pay for two fistfuls of Yuans for that!

3 Occidental Sisters: Delightful, Deluxe, & Delicious (Adeola Role, Liza Bouterage & Miss Sheldra).

They are all “free, white, AND virgin”…at least when they arrive.

Lottie Wu (Kära Andrea Emry) and Hank (Will McMichael) gettin' naughty.

What else would you expect from a “Jaded Hussy”?

Mother Fu (Russell Blackwood) instructs.

Mother Fu sure knows how to “THICKEN the plot”!

In January, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Cockettes’ and their opening of “Pearls…” at The Palace theatre in San Francisco, there is a special “After Glow” floor show, featuring some fabulous drag king action! This image is from a scene from The Cockettes’ Hot Greeks:

The boys gettin' it on, on the front line (Kegel Kater, Nancy French & L. Ron Hubby).

From whores to boys. They sure do clean-up well!

Here are just a few more of the colorful faces at the Hypnodrome.:

Scrumbly Koldewyn, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, Michael Phillis, Addy Role, Jef Valentine, ME as Hung Lo

And, enjoy our latest slideshow by cast member Liza Bouterage, of Nicoletta’s and David Wilson’s photos. (I’m the final Chang image, at 1:19.)

Don’t miss it!!! We run til April 24th!

Stéphane Lambiel to Debut New Competitive FS

Lambiel Takes On Opera

I was ecstatic when I read the following update from Stéphane Lambiel, regarding his competitive long program.:

“Lambiel says he is….only (interested) in impressing the judges with his new free program set to music from the opera La Traviata.”

(Read the complete article here.)

What an exciting prospect this is…the perfect melding of opera and skating, if done well. The score of Verdi’s opera La Traviata offers a sweeping and contrasting range of emotion, rhythm, tone, and melody: festive to tragic, grand to intimate, loving to vengeful, lilting to mournful. I hope his program music captures that breadth, and that he includes a portion of the atmospheric overture. I believe Europeans next week will be the debut of this program. The only other La Traviata programs I can recall are Cappellini and Lanotte’s FD, from the ’07 season, and Slutskaya’s FS, from ’03.

His comment means he is replacing his previous Tango FS, “Otoño Porteño” by Astor Piazzolla (arr. by Ensamble Nuevo Tango). It was a fine program, but not a real Olympic-stage grabber, and although passionate, too rhythmically monotonous for my taste, and a bit too much more of the same, considering his latin programs of the past. Thankfully, he will be keeping his William Tell Overture SP. It is one of my favorites!

Counting Him Out? Watch Your Back!

It seems most podium predictors thus far are counting him out for medal contention in Vancouver. Although Europeans will be the moment of truth on whether he is in top competitive form or not, he is too great a skater to ever count out.

The “only” in his comment was in regards to meeting Plushenko head-to-head for the first time since the 2006 Torino Olympics. He noted that “he is not interested in their rivalry”. It’s so hard to believe that that much competitive time has passed, and that they’re both back in the game now!

Go Stéphane!!!

What’s a Flying Layback Spin, you ask?

An online forum on this technical element piqued my interest. Amusingly, it was referred to there as “very dangerous” and a “safety hazard”, which of course only made it sound all the more compelling (shades of the Iron Lotus, in Blades of Glory, at 0:52 and 4:37)!

Curiously, there is a flying layback spin listed on the ISU CoP, as “FLSp”. Yet, I’d never seen one executed, at least that I could recall.

Thankfully, youtube.com came to the rescue. Although the following samples may not be executed perfectly, you get the idea. In other words, it’s not unlike a flying sit spin, in that it is a traditional layback spin, preceded by a rotating/spinning hop.

Sample 1 (at 3:30):
Executed by Ji Eun-Choi (KOR), 2006 4CC FP

Sample 2:
Executed by “Gotoh1YuchiLover001″

Sample 1 appears to maintain the same foot for both the hop and the spin, but Sample 2 appears to have a change in the foot (ie: more of a hop-over). I can’t speak to which is technically correct. Can you shed any light on that technical detail?

jcm’s USFS Nationals’ Podium Predictions

Chime in with your own predictions! If you wish to take part in my Olympics’ Podium Predictions Contest, click here.

Ladies

(2 berths)

1. Rachael Flatt
2. Sasha Cohen
3. Ashley Wagner

IF Sasha withdraws:

1. Rachael Flatt
2. Ashley Wagner
3. Alissa Czisny

Although Sasha has confirmed her attendance as recently as last week, I’m providing a backup plan, as I’m still suspicious. If she competes, I predict her jumps will be sketchy as always, but her artistry and spirals will elevate her past Ashley. I love Alissa, and über-rooted for her at ’09 Worlds in LA. But, since she effectively lost our third spot there, I feel she had her shot (as well as her moment as Nationals’ Champion), and will karmically sit this one out.

Men’s

(3 berths)

1. Evan Lysacek
2. Johnny Weir
3. Jeremy Abbott

I think Evan has just been too consistent and confident to rule out, despite my biases (see below). Although Jeremy has more scoring potential than Johnny, I give Johnny the edge because of his season thus far. With Ryan Bradley & Brandon Mroz threatening to unleash a gauntlet of quads (ie: planning 3 quads each!) they could really shake things up, but I’m not betting on it. I don’t think Adam Rippon will get control of his 3A enough this time, but he will easily reign in the next Olympic season. And, Stephen Carriere has seemingly faded as a real threat.

Pairs

(2 berths)

1. McLaughlin & Brubaker (McBru”)
2. Denney & Barrett
3. Inoue & Baldwin

McBru will get on top of their programs enough to eek out another Nationals’ title. Denney & Barrett will play second fiddle this one LAST time. And, Inoue & Baldwin will just miss making the Olympic team. Although I salute their staying power and persistence, I don’t root for them this time, whether they land their throw 3A, or not. I just don’t think they have Olympic podium potential anymore, even on their best day.

Ice Dance

(3 berths)

1. Davis & White (Marlie”)
2. Belbin & Agosto
3. Samuelson & Bates

It’s becoming clearer and clearer, this may be Marlie’s first time to wrestle the Nationals’ crown from Belbin & Agosto in a head-to-head. Samuelson & Bates technical skating (ie: twizzles and speed) will land them bronze, a rung down from last season’s result. Fresh from Juniors, the Shibutanis and Chock & Zuerlein could shake things up for the bronze medal!

Wish List

These are my personal favs, and special requests.:

Flatt: to become a first-time Nationals’ Champion, and make the Olympic team
Weir: to become a four-time Nationals’ Champion, or at least get to Olympics
Abbott: to skate his best this season, and make the Olympic team
Jonathan Cassar: to get some tv air time, and be introduced to skating viewers
Denney & Barrett: to become first-time Nationals’ Champions
Navarro & Bommetre: to make the Olympic team (fingers crossed!)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.