Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Worlds: the Best & the Worst

Worst Makeover: Oksana Domnina’s dye job. Remember the beautiful woman she used to be, with that lightness and spark? Now I feel like she’s “putting on” the apparently requisite mean-russian-chick-act (think Totmianina, or Weir… jk, I love Johnny). Or, perhaps she thought she would be taken more seriously as a non-blond. Looks like she may have been right. Tanith… perhaps you should go back to brown? Although, I suppose Shae-Lynn Bourne’s ’03 Worlds’ gold prooves my blonde conspiracy theory wrong.

Most Likely Separated at Birth: Evan Lysacek & George Hamilton. Evan, please loose the tan! And, Sarah Meier & Katie Holmes. Look out Sarah, Tom’s the really needy type.

Hamilton & Lysacek: Tanned Wonders

Biggest Star-in-the-Making: Russia’s Andrei Lutai: beautiful positions, true dancing ability, and great presence on the ice.

Most Overplayed Songs: The Swan, by Saint-Saens (in at least 3 programs), The Matrix (in at least 5 programs), Romeo & Juliet, by Rota (in at least 3 programs). At least pull out the Prokofiev R&J peeps!

Most Overscored Skates: Kavaguti/Smirnov LP: perhaps their difficult lifts rack up the points, but it was messy and unsteady to me. Rochette’s Concerto Aranjuez LP: she has a refreshing maturity in this field, but she was also far from perfect, and I felt should been awarded the bronze medal behind Ando.

Biggest Surprise: Denis Ten (KAZ) LP. I’m sure his fans weren’t surprised, but I had never seen him skate. He’s one of the shortest male competitors, but commands the ice (ala Scotty Hamilton). He nailed a perfect, graceful and inspired program, which blew the roof off Staples Center.

Most Proud Moments: Denny/Barrett (USA) clean and energetic LP (again!). Rachael Flatt’s solid LP: she has to be the most consistent US ladies skater since Kwan.

Truest Jumping Clapping Moments: Lysacek’s winning Rhapsody in Blue LP. These are the skating moments I live for… emotional, triumphant, historic (ie: first US mens’ World champion in 13 years), happen “in the zone”, and feel almost pre-destined, since they seem to emerge with such ease. Yu-Na’s transcendent Scherazade LP. She is a already a legend to me, in the Chen Lu, Kwan category.

Photo by jumping clapping man

Photo by jumping clapping man

Biggest Gasps: Kavaguti/Smirnov’s missed quad throw. It looked like she almost did a face plant into the ice. But, since she is a human rubber band, she just bounced back up.

Biggest Disappointment: One of my pairs favs Pang/Tong were off the podium this time. I hope they rebound at the next Worlds and Olympics.

Most Historic Moment: Rochette won the Canadian women’s first World Championships medal in 21 years, since Liz Manley won the silver medal in ’88. Yu-Na Kim became the first World Figure Skating Champion from Korea.

Photo by jumping clapping man

Photo by jumping clapping man

Best Eye Candy: Joubert, Contesti, Szolkowy, Van Der Perren, Ponsero, Tong, Kovalevski, Buntin, Brubaker, Fernandez… who can decide? I am amazed that this current star quality alone doesn’t draw thousands more skating fans to the sport (calling all those HStM fans out there!?). When Contesti skates, it’s like being wooed by the leading man in a great romantic comedy. I can’t wait to see what he does next season.

Biggest Crowd: The ladies free skate drew a capacity crowd of 12,064!

And the Winners Are…

No, not of the Worlds… of my Worlds’ Podium Prediction Contest!

Congratulations to the winners:

“pjmurray” of Blazing Blades won both the ladies’ and pairs’ divisions. His ladies’ prediction had multiple ties but early voting gave him the advantage.

“Aaron” of Axels, Loops & Spins won the ice dance division, despite predicting Khoklova/Novitski to win (who didn’t even medal). Like with the CoP, his points just added up!

“dh” won the mens’ division, with a near win in the pairs.

Photo by Becca Staed

Photo by Becca Staed

It looks like being a prominent figure skating blogger stands you in good stead (to borrow an overused Dick Button phrase) in skating contests! Perhaps that’s no surprise, as they’ve got their fingers on the pulse of who’s hot and who’s not.

Although my predictions don’t count, I enjoyed a 5 point lead in my mens’ division submission.

Prizes will be distributed within the next week. Thanks again to those who participated. Keep an eye out for possible future predictions contests. And, look for my World’s recap posts and personal LIVE photos later in the week!!!

Melton Wins George London Award

I am thrilled to report some very high profile recognition just bestowed upon soprano Heidi Melton, whom I’ve touted here before.

She is one of six winners being awarded the prestigious George London Award (that’s a $10,000.00 prize each!). Specifically, she won the Kirsten Flagstad Memorial Award, “for a singer with Wagnerian potential”. And, that she has in spades. By my count, there are at least six former and current San Francisco Opera Merolinis/Adlers on the list.

Photo by Shawn Ehlers (Heidi is fourth from the left.)

Photo by Shawn Ehlers (Heidi is fourth from the left.)

The details are featured in this NY Times article. I was amused by this excerpt from it, and imagine Heidi may have had something to do with it.:
Gilder Lehrman Hall is a beautifully designed and acoustically warm space but a dangerous place for singers with something to prove. Despite its intimate size, some of the women, evidently determined to show that their voices could potentially fill the Metropolitan Opera House, inflicted eardrum-shattering moments on listeners.”

As if this is something to complain about?! This is the kind of voice that the opera world desperately needs now. This sort of sonic thrill is what Dame Jones, Eva Marton and Birgit Nilsson used to offer that we all crave. Yes, it’s important for a singer to be able to gauge the dynamics appropriate for a given venue, but a Wagnerian singer hardly need apologize, when in a competition with the namesake of a Wagnerian great. Opera critics and fans bemoan the lack of true dramatic sopranos on the scene. They should celebrate the assets of those when they do come along. Thankfully, the judges did!

Here are further excerpts:
“Highlights of the afternoon included an expressive rendition of “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Amanda Majeski, a soprano; a stellar performance of “Ah, la paterna mano” from Macbeth by Sean Panikkar, a tenor; and “Ritorna vincitor” from Aida sung with dramatic flair by Yannick-Muriel Noah, a soprano.

They were among the six winners of $10,000 George London Awards. The other three were Arthur Espiritu, a tenor; Marjorie Owens, a soprano; and Heidi Melton…

Eight singers were given George London Foundation Encouragement Awards of $1,000 each, including Jordan Bisch, a bass, for his characterful rendition of “La Calunnia” from The Barber of Seville; Layla Claire, a soprano, for a vibrant “Mi tradi” from Don Giovanni; and Michael Anthony McGee, a baritone, for an impassioned rendition of “Aleko’s Cavatina” from Aleko.

Also, Merola/Adler’s own Daveda Karenas (mezzo-soprano), was one of the recipients of the Encouragement Award.

The Hottest Fan Sign in Staples Center

The hottest fan sign in Staples Center!

Show Me Da Moneeeeeehh!

The following was lifted from Just in case we forget what’s at stake here… this is the list of the booty! And, if you haven’t ever heard of the World Standing Bonus, Tomas Verner, Carolina Kostner, Savchenko/Szolkowy, and Meryl Davis/Charlie White are currently in the lead to walk home with a big wad, whether they win this competition or not (assuming they don’t fall too far).

Worlds’ Prize Money:

Men and Ladies:
1st place US$ 45,000
2nd place US$ 27,000
3rd place US$ 18,000

Pairs and Dance (per couple):
1st place US$ 67,500
2nd place US$ 40,500
3rd place US$ 27,000

World Standings Bonus:

By competing in the ISU World Figure Skating Championships the athletes earn points towards the World Standings as well. The three skaters/couples per discipline having earned most World Standing points during the 2008/2009 season will be awarded with the World Standings Bonus. The following amounts will be awarded to the concerned skaters/couples:

Ladies & Men:
1st: US$ 45,000

Pairs & Dance (per couple):
1st: US$ 67,500

So far, Tomas Verner is leading the Men’s standings with 1824 points ahead of Takahiko Kozuka (1800 points) and Patrick Chan (1765 points). Carolina Kostner has 2054 points and is ahead of Yu-Na Kim (1960 points) and Mao Aasa (1880 points). Savchenko/Szolkowy have 2138 points while Qing Pang/Jian Tong got 2040 points so far. Currently in third place are Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov (RUS) at 1931 points. Meryl Davis/Charlie White lead the bonus race for the ice dancers with 1888 points with Federica Faiella/Massimo Scali (1739 points) and Sinead Kerr/John Kerr (1578 points) following in second and third.

On Top of the Worlds

(I’m fast trying to use up my Worlds’ puns.) And… we’re off… to the Magic Castle, in the City of Angels!!!

My LA ’09 Worlds music mix is all baked and ready to go. It includes the following gems, featuring some skatin’ tunes, and recent party favs, among others. Yes, there is plenty of fromage here.:

LA '09 Worlds Mix

Be sure to follow my LIVE tweets Worlds results updates.

I’m most rooting for favorites Yu-Na, Nobunari, Aliona & Robin, and Tessa/Scott! For the U.S., my fingers are most crossed for Alissa, Jeremy, Meryl/Charlie, and Caydee/Jeremy. Yes, I’m on first-name basis with them all ;-).

Evgeni (Plushenko) predicted the following:

“It’s going to be (France’s Brian) Joubert for sure on the podium, (American Evan) Lysacek and (Jeremy) Abbott,” Plushenko said. “How? I don’t know, but those three guys.”

Now I have to get making my fabulous “Alissa Put the Sizzle Back in Czisny!” sign (or insert other punny exclamation), to support our girl, and perhaps even get me on TV to boot.

Hopefully it’ll be as fun as the Salt Lake Games. I recently dug up this fabulous photo. It was utter serendipity… we discovered that we had by chance worn the Olympic colors, and that since there were 5 of us, we were the LIVING Olympic rings!

The LIVING Olympic Rings

The LIVING Olympic Rings

And, I smell a controversy, although it may be great for conjuring up much needed skating viewership. If the presumed tactic reflected in this video is attempted again on Yu-Na in LA, I’ll be waiting in the kiss-and-cry with my knee bat! (Could it be Mao? Please, say it isn’t so!).

I was pleased to discover some fellow athletes’ words of support on the Worlds website, and a bit amused to find a few celebrity messages in the mix, such as this one from Miz Wilhelmina Slater (aka Vanessa Williams):

“This year’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships brings exciting talent to the ice in Los Angeles and I for one will be watching and sending my best wishes and support to all of the skaters. You have each worked hard to earn a spot in this competition and I congratulate you all on a job well done!”

And, I was thrilled to find in my e-mailbox yesterday a response from Alissa Czisny herself. I had extended a greeting of support, and also shared my #2 all-time favorite skate with her (Denise Biellmann’s Beau Soir, composed by Debussy, and choreographed by Robin Cousins), as its elegance and Denise’s spinning ability reminds me of her.:

“Thank you for your support of my skating and for your encouraging email. I appreciate the suggestion for the music, also! I wish you the best!”

Check back the week following Worlds for my highlights of the experience.

…Comes in Threes

> “Violetta”, “Manon”, “The Countess”

> La Traviata, Manon, Capriccio

> Verdi, Massenet, Strauss

> Lacroix, Lagerfeld, Galliano

> Levine, Armiliato, Summers

ALL this and more:
The Metropolitan Opera Opening Night
Starring Renée Fleming

San Francisco channel & airdate (check local listings):
Sun, Mar 22, 2009 — 1:00 pm

Although she is one of the favorite operatic punching bags of online opera-queens, she got where she did for a reason (sumptuous tone, undeniable beauty, and commitment to her craft), and has a lot to offer. No, she may not dig to the deepest levels of kunst-divadom, and has her jazzy and often unidiomatic way with phrases, but when I’ve seen her live she has always delivered… and then some. So, don’t miss out on this historic gala!

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Here’s the promotional pitch:
“Renée Fleming, one of the world’s leading sopranos, headlines the opening night gala of the Met’s 125th anniversary season (recorded last September), featuring fully-staged excerpts from three of her favorite operas. Joined by tenor Ramon Vargas, baritones Thomas Hampson and Dwayne Croft, and bass Robert Lloyd, Fleming appears in the second act of Verdi’s La Traviata, the third act of Massenet’s Manon, and the final scene from Strauss’s Capriccio. Music Director James Levine and Maestros Marco Armiliato and Patrick Summers share the podium for this gala event.”

The Weight of the Worlds

My Worlds’ Podium Prediction Contest is technically closed, but I’m allowing a 1-day grace period for dawdlers (til midnight tonight), and you can still post to it for fun after today. Thanks to those who took part in voting! The winners will be announced the week following Worlds, and the prizes given out shortly after. Skaters hit the Worlds’ ice this sunday for official practice sessions!

The contest outcome should be interesting. It’s amusing to see all the same skaters in the mix, shuffled around in a seemingly randomly manner. Although this of course makes sense, as unexpected results are exactly that, and impossible to foresee. For example, who’s going to bet on Tomas Verner as the champion? If the perfect storm strikes his more favored contenders and he has the skate of his life it could happen… but it’s a long shot.

Photo by Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Photo by Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

The submissions clearly show that both Patrick Chan and Yu-Na Kim have the weight of the Worlds in expectations on their shoulders (pardon the pun). This is exactly why it can be so difficult for a skater to come into an event as the favorite, although neither have won Worlds before. This clearly has been Yu-Na’s season, so it really is hers to lose. Patrick’s near meltdown at the Grand Prix Final makes him ever less so the obvious choice.

The most interesting submission is Aaron’s for ice dance, in which he predicts Khoklova/Novitski winning it, and Virtue/Moir nowhere to be found in his top 4 standing. Her recent surgery must have at least this fan doubting a quick return to top form.

Dan Pelle/The Spokesman ReviewAnd, the submissions pretty evenly weigh out in the Abbott vs. Lysacek rivalry (with noone predicting either of them will walk away with the gold). That’s probably about right, as From Kidquest, April '07it seems that the side of the bed they get up on, or direction the wind blows will decide who trumps who, and whether Evan will land his quad or not. I remember years and years of watching Michael Weiss attempt the quad. I’m guessing his rate of success was about 5-10% (I can still hear Dick Button balking at his repeated and mostly failed attempts). Well, with Evan I imagine it’s more like 35-40%, but still feels a bit like a gamble each time.

I’m not in favor of our sport becoming ALL about the jumps, but I do think it would be interesting to have access to actual jump stats that gave you a true X for X ratio of attempts versus successful landings. This ISU page (I LOVE this page) comes close to that level of detail, but not quite. I’m thinking more on the level of those crazy baseball fans that sit with their pencil and tables during every game and track EVERYTHING! I guess I’m only a thread away from being like one of them, huh?

Just an amusing aside. Getting “jumping clapping man” up and running has been such an interesting journey for me so far, even though I’ve only been at it for a couple of months now. The stats you can access in your dashboard are amazing. It’s quite a powerful tool. Well, it appears someone (perhaps you) recently found my blog by using the follwing search engine key words: “japan zhang naked ice dancing”. I wish I actually had something to offer that would fulfill the “naked ice dancing” portion of this search. But, certainly not the “japan zhang naked” part.

My “Desert Island” Skates

As a true “fanatic”, assembling my “Desert Island” Top Ten Lists of operas, recordings, movies, skating performances, and so on is part of my “religion”. These über-favorites spring easily from my memory, because they have resonated to me on such a deep level (although it is always a challenge to narrow the list to JUST ten).

My "Desert Island"!

This time up I’m focusing on favorite all-time skates, in which ALL the stars align… choreography, music, competitive triumph, expression, and in the case of these videos, the performance itself (thankfully captured for posterity). These transcend skating as “sport”, and express something on a heightened spirit and soul level. They make me really feel something. I’ve tried to include more than just the universal favorites (although a few of those are in here too). Rather than revealing a total bias towards classical/semi-classical and operatic repertoire, I honestly feel the finest skaters are most transported by this genre, and offer something extra when performing to it.:

10. A tie — a study in ice dance contrast, stunning flash vs. simple elegance:
Annisina/Peizerat: Time to Say Goodbye, EX, ’99 Worlds
Dubreuil/Lauzon: Somewhere in Time, FD, ’06 Worlds

9. The Protopopovs: Ave Maria, LP, ’84 World Pros
Amazingly, Lyudmila was 48, and Oleg 51.

8. Janet Lynn: Afternoon of a Faun, EX, ’83
This was her televised “swan song” performance. She sure went out in top form with this iconic program.

7. Michelle Kwan: Rachmaninoff, SP, ’02 Olympics
I was lucky enough to be there, although every performance of this program on youtube is near perfect. She clearly really felt in her groove with it. Her East of Eden, ’01 Nats SP was a close second.

6. Oksana Bauil: Swan Lake, SP, ’94 Olympics
Her Swan EX from the same Olympics is on equal par.

5. Sale/Pelletier: Tristan und Isolde, LP, ’01 Worlds
And, their Love Story is of course legendary, for it’s flirtatiousness and storytelling.

4. Chen Lu: Butterfly Lovers, LP, ’98 Olympics
The expression of her own culture through this music is transcendent. Her ’96 Worlds Rach. was perfection too.

3. Shen/Zhao: Turandot, LP, ’03 Worlds
They waited for this day for a long time. And, boy did they deserve it.

2. Denise Biellmann: Beau Soir (Debussy), LP, ’99 World Pros
One of her last competitions, at 37 years old. A testimony to her training and commitment to her sport.

1. Matt Savoie: The Mission, LP, ’06 Nats
I had waited two decades for someone to skate to this soundtrack. It was worth the wait. This is what I love about skating: intense focus, meaningful storytelling… and pure soaring!

Gordeeva/Grinkov’s Moonlight Sonata, Angela Nikodinov’s Sleeping Beauty, Lucinda Ruh’s mezmerizing, modern Prayer Cycle: Mercy (by Alanis Morissette), Kurt Brownings’ sexy, flamenco Naya, Klimova/Ponomarenko’s Bach, and anything by John Curry almost made the list, but something had to get cut, and some of these aren’t on youtube yet. Let’s hope the upcoming Worlds provide a new one for my list! And, if you demanded I select some non-classical favs, I’d note Kwan’s Fields of Gold, Cohen’s Don’t Rain on My Parade, Nikodinov’s To Love You More, and Underhill/Martini’s Unchained Melody. It’s interesting how MOST all of the duos I selected are actual couples. The added dimension of having an off-ice relationship/romance must offer skaters entry into something even deeper.

What skates would you take on your “desert island”? [Next up will surely be my “desert island” operatic divas/divos, and their recordings.]

The Final Countdown…5 Days!

BTW, if you’ve never sampled one of the finest pieces of musical fromage, The Final Countdown, by the Swedish rock band Europe, now is your chance. My former coworkers brought this little bit of happy into my life:

Yes, this song reached No. 1 in 25 countries, including the UK. WTF?

As most of you skating fans already know, the first big wallop was dealt to the Worlds line-up in the withdrawal of last year’s ice dance champions Delobel & Schoenfelder. Her should injury apparently didn’t heal quickly enough for them to compete.

Although they are among my favorites in the current crop of competitive ice dance teams, this certainly bodes well for the U.S. teams, further opening up the possibility of us having two teams on the podium. They will have to skate their best to achieve this, but it is possible.

This would be the first time since the 1966 Worlds, in Davos, Switzerland that two American ice dance teams would share the podium at Worlds, receiving the silver and bronze that year (and would be only the second time EVER!). This have never been achieved at any Olympics. So, my fingers are crossed for a repeat on this rare piece of Worlds’ history

With the withdrawal, I now predict that Davis & White will win the silver, and Belbin & Agosto the pewter (updating my previous prediction). Of course, I hope I’m wrong about B&A’s placement.

While ice dance is the focus, here’s my favorite team-of-all-time’s winning ’92 Olympic Free Dance. They had the perfect balance of technique, expression, restraint, creativity, elegance, beauty, and sensuality:

It is your last chance to enter my Worlds Podium Predictions Contest. FYI, your email address will NOT be used for any purpose, or distributed to any list, and will only be visible to me (not readers) via your username. This is ONLY for fun. Don’t miss out… voting ends March 20th.