Archive for the ‘music’ Category
I have no idea which interpretation of this Sting song will hold true for me on this most important of days, but it inspires me to start anew, continue looking and building forward, and choosing love and truth:
“I’m thinking in a brand new way…
The river’s wide, (I’ll) swim across.
We’re starting up a brand new day.”
(Here are the complete song lyrics.)
The gift of a song at the “right” time
Sometimes your first experience of a song can come at such a ripe, “right” time, it feels as if it were written expressly for you. The words seem to speak directly to you, and the state or space you’re currently in. Today that happened to me at church (www.uusf.org), thanks to the following hymn.
The entire song was beautifully relevant to me…but the third verse, in particular shot straight through to my heart. I am so thankful I attended the service. You just never know when a gift like this, including the entire rest of the beautiful and cohesive liturgy (crafted and led by recently ordained Denis Letourneau Paul and Lindasusan Ulrich), is going to come along. This inspiration is what drew me to become a member of the community a few years ago, and what keeps me going back.
After the service, I speedily went into the church office with hymnal in hand and asked them if I could make an (illegal) copy of it! Thankfully, the very helpful office asst. made me not one, but three copies. It’s not a text I would want to have lost track of! I hope you find it meaningful too.
“Just as Long as I Have Breath”
Words by Alicia S. Carpenter (1930- )
Music by Johann G. Ebeling (1637-1676)
Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.
Just as long as vision lasts, I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
in my dream and in my dark, always: that elusive spark.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.
Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.
If they ask what I did best, tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.
Words: © 1981 Alicia S. Carpenter
Eleven months ago CJ and I launched the plans for my 40th Birthday celebration at the stylish, Mid-Century resort: The Century Palm Springs. Taking our favorite band’s festive inspiration, and our plans to imbibe cocktails aplenty, we named the weekend “Pink Martini-Land!”
Fast forwarding to one week before our departure, CJ made the very happy discovery on facebook of the Pink Martini music video contest. When I saw that “Ohayoo Ohio” (“Hello Ohio”) was one of the options, it was clearly kismet (I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio). The stars had aligned, and we heeded their creative calling!
We hope you have even half as much fun as we did creating it! And now, we cross our fingers and hope that the judges get swept up into our world of muumuu runway shows, gleeful synchronized swimming, swingin’ faux percussion, “Mrs. Groper” (CJ as a baked Mrs. Roper-type) and more!
Thanks (again) to Vinyl Divas, I discovered the singer “Gohar Gasparyan.” I youtubed her, simply because her name was so eccentric, and her mug not exactly the prettiest. I immediately smelled a camp classic discovery. Well, I was both wrong, and right. Turns out, she was very lovingly considered “The Armenian Nightingale.” It struck me that each country or culture seems to have their diva…the one considered to be the greatest, and to inspire and somehow embody the spirit of the nation.
Here’s a look at some of the biggies. Some of these names immediately came to mind, but a few took a little more digging. Some are genuine classics, and a couple (ie: Gohar and Yma) have one foot firmly (if unintentionally) in camp. One of the qualifications of a true diva is a title, nickname, or single name (ala Cher), as most all of them prove. Pathos is a requirement, and often a tragic life and/or death the deal maker for that highest rung of fame in posterity. In some cases, an operatic diva reaches this highest level of mainstream public adoration, but only in those cases did I include them here. Of course, the diva phenom and the gay sensibility are inextricably linked, and although that is surely part of my own inspiration, it is not the focus here.
Gohar Gasparyan (’24 – ’07): “The Armenian Nightingale”
“In ’48, she migrated to Soviet Armenia, along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians from the Middle East.” Upon her death, she was billed “The greatest master of the Armenian Opera Theater, the People’s Artist of the USSR, the hero of the Social Labor, the National Artist of Armenia, the Mesrop Mashtots order-bearer, and the professor of the Yerevan State Konservatory after Komitas.” In her prime, she displayed beautiful control and range:
This video of “O beau pays“ from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots shows she had the chops, but no technical or interpretive greatness in western opera to qualify her as a true operatic legend outside of Armenian rep. She delivers priceless camp at 7:05, with a shameless peekaboo that will have you rolling! As with all true divas, she was still worshipped in her later years, when her voice and body were in decline, because her heart and expressivity were at their most potent (the accidental whistle on her “sh” consonants is precious).
I just discovered a colleague’s very stylish blog, and was inspired by her post asking “What Defines You?,” and her subsequent personal list. As a bit of a Top 10 List addict, I was fast on my way to rounding up my own. I’ve left jcm off the list, as it’s eminently clear that this blog defines me, but that’s just too easy, eh? Here they flow, in random order:
My 7th Birthday Photo
This photo (May ’77, Cincy, OH) conjures up the warm, sentimental feelings of uncomplicated youth, and a loving connection with my family. Although my folks aren’t pictured here, their nurturing presence is all around (and on the other side of the camera). The Winnie the Pooh cake was likely by my special request. I love the retro feel of the old square prints, with rounded corners.
There is a simplicity to my memories of childhood, and of these such moments…no crowded party, or branded birthday theme (seemingly requisite these days), just closeness and joy. I’m so thankful to have the foundation that my upbringing provided me. Funnily enough, CJ has a photo that is almost exactly the same (parallel lives?). Now, just two months from my 40th bday, I suppose I’m a bona fide “adult”!?
“Peristeriona” Ceramic Vase
This vase holds all the memories of CJ’s and my beautiful around-the-world journey together…Hong Kong to Greece to Senegal. It was something I had dreamt of doing for decades, while I racked up frequent flyer miles!
We purchased this in a charming little shop on Sifnos, an authentic, less touristy Greek Island option that we both long to return to one day. The yellow and black colors call to mind the brilliant glow of the sun, and the contrasting shadows, on the traditional white structures and breezy hillsides.
CJ and I have the gift of travelling very well together, and our time on this island was one of our most special yet…divine food, a white-knuckle scooter ride through the hills, and lots of R&R by the sea.
There’s been SO much press and discussion about Johnny’s “STARS On Ice” exclusion, and of him wanting to produce his own alternative show, complete with his Lady Gaga. I didn’t trust that any producer could get this off the ground as a tour…MAYBE as a one-time tv special (Johnny, please prove me wrong!). So, with my wildest fantasies sparked, I took the bull by the horns, and dreamt up something truly “family friendly” (nudge nudge, wink wink): “GAY STARS On Ice & Friends!” Instead of creating an entirely new name, it’s a more effective rubbing-in-the-face to alter it slightly…and “RAINBOWS On Ice” just doesn’t have any ring to it.
Some would argue that “STARS On Ice” IS essentially “GAY STARS On Ice…” already, in everything but name. However, the reaction to Johnny’s request for inclusion has clued us into the fact that this is not the case, at least as per some of the mainstream target audience. No, surprisingly, Johnny hasn’t verbally “come out,” but he upholds “gay” where it counts, and I, and gay kids everywhere applaud him for that.
My concept is for an independent skating show that would travel to only the hippest urban spots, aka the biggest gay cities: SF, NY, LA, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Dallas, Miami, etc. Oh, and the top-billing sponsor (ala Smuckers) goes to the maker of Twinkies® and Ho-Hos®…not to mention Sno Balls®! Yes, that’s “Hostess’ GAY Stars on Ice!”
The programs and performances would tip the scales in favor of the campy, flamboyant, and festive. BUT, there would be plenty of true, heartfelt gravitas as well, with a strong nod to high-classical repertoire (ie: from full-length ballet, and opera). It would honor and encourage the young aesthetic and spirit, AND the old gays.
What would be forbidden? Typical Pro/EX-skating fare: cheesy-sexy-faker rock (ala Michael Weiss, Josef Sabovcik, and just about any American pair’s EX), alpha-male, testosterone-filled movie soundtracks (ala Eldredge), karate-inspired numbers (ala Stojko), vanilla hip-hop (ala Belbin & Agosto, and Evan Lysacek), and so on. Basically, all the stuff that makes me yawn and avoid most Pro shows altogether these days.
What makes something “gay“ (besides the skater)? In short…1) a triumphant rising-from-the-ashes return of a diva (see Bobek and Harding); 2) male face makeup and glitter (ie: Johnny doing Gaga); 3) pride anthems (see Sandhu and Sawyer’s programs); 4) a nod to the older gay generation(s), who paved the way and, yes, we know, had it much harder (see Cranston); 5) plenty of pop and opera diva icons; and all this:
Program (Act I)
Vogue — Complete Cast
If You Were Gay (from Avenue Q) – Brian Boitano & Brian Orser
One (LIVE, by Adam Lambert) – Denise Biellmann
Bad Romance (LIVE, by Lady Gaga) – Johnny Weir
It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green (by Kermit) – Rudy Galindo
Guess Who I Saw Today (by Nancy Wilson, AMAZING video!) – Weir, Gregory
You Gotta Have a Gimmick (from Gypsy) – Tonya Harding
Sag Mir Wo die Blumen Sind (Where Have All the Flowers Gone?) (Marlene Dietrich) – Katarina Witt
Sisters (from White Christmas) – Stéphane Lambiel & Rudy Galindo (featuring a throw triple axel)
Act II: Le Lac Des Cygnes (from Swan Lake) – ALL the boys in tutus (ala Les Ballets du Trockadero)
Opera in the Park: Redux
Just when the dust began to settle on the DIVA Totem Pole, the 2002 SF Opera in the Park rolled around. Knowing the bar was high, and wanting to make it even more fun for friends, I took a different strategy: interactivity!
I sourced the most iconic and expressive diva portraits I could get my hands on to create quickie cut-out masks. They had to be high-resolution enough to print out cleanly at actual size. This was during my heyday of designing the SF Ballet Nutcracker collateral. I had just used a similar mask idea for their direct mail brochure, with many of the characters from their production (but with eye holes, rather than mouth holes).
The Divas & Divo
I dug up hot shots of Birgit Nilsson’s icy Met Turandot (complete with one ton bejeweled crown), Regina Resnik’s tragic Klytemnestra, and June Anderson mugging in a photoshoot. But, I branched out a bit too, including Wagnerian basso Hagen (with imposing helmet, singer unknown), as well as two popular divas: 1960’s “Color Me…” Barbra, and AI Kelly “Moments Like This” Clarkson.
The pictures make me laugh out loud every time I rediscover them. The lips look positively labial. I reigned over the proceedings here as Turandot. A Streisand fanatic friend immediately got his paws on Babs (and even did her mannered hands, see above). My friends brought these TO LIFE!
As I sign off for now, I share with you Nilsson singing Turandot’s ruthless aria “In Questa Reggia” (and lookin’ like buttah) at Arena Macerata in ’71, for some bonus dementia!
In the quieter, darker, colder days of January, in addition to looking ahead to what the year will bring, and setting goals, it’s always especially nice to reflect back on the previous year, to recall and relive some of its finest moments. So, it is in that spirit that I share my Top 10 LIVE Performances List for the year.
1. Hair on Broadway (8/2): I’ve certainly said enough about this love-rock musical on my blog in the past 6 months, but for good reason. Attending the acclaimed Broadway production with CJ and some dear friends was deeply moving, and a wonderful way to further launch me into my ACLO production. Although the singing style was more “pop” than I’d like (relative to the original productions), when seeing it live, any stylistic qualms fell away, and the raw honesty of the production swept me away. Steel Burkhardt was a surprisingly good understudy for Will Swenson, as Berger.
2. Heidi Melton Recitals: (2/4) Her Salon at the Rex featured Purcell, Berg, Messiaen, Debussy, and Bolcom; (10/20) Her LIEDER ALIVE! recital second half at the SF Conservatory featured Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. Now in Berlin preparing for her Deutsche Oper Berlin debut, and just off her Met debut in Elektra, she thankfully gave San Francisco two satisfying recitals before her departure. The first was very casual in spirit, much like the salons of old, I imagine…a great artist sidled up to the piano, friends and fans with cocktails in hand, and the artist just telling stories, in words and song. Perfect! The second prooved her Wagnerian chops in the demanding Wesendonck.
3. The Cockettes’ Pearls Over Shanghai (8/15): Straight from The Cockettes’ closet and into The Thrillpeddlers’ Hypnodrome…this irresistable tale is told in glitter, technicolor, pasties, and skin, with raw, campy delivery, and a bawdy flavor. I am happy to now be a part of this production, its first revival since its creation in the late ’60s. John Waters just graced our audience. Don’t miss it!
5. Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment at SF Opera (10/22): This Pelly production is an example of a fresh take on an opera that enhances a classic, not apologizes for or covers it up. Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez struck the perfect balance of bel canto purity and knee-slapping hijinx. It was genuinely funny throughout…true laughter spilled forth from the audience, not just the polite opera-laughter one is accustomed to. Meredith Arwady’s turn as The Marquise de Berkenfeld was beyond her years in comedic timing, and positively ebullient.
6. Next to Normal on Broadway (8/2): Like really good therapy…onstage. Vocal chops for days from all 6 performers. Alice Ripley may be crazy, but she’s perfect in this role, and the show lives up to its buzz.
7. Verdi’s Requiem at SF Opera (5/29): This was a moving farewell for Donald Runnicles. Heidi Melton and Stephanie Blythe melded beautifully. Melton stepped in last minute for an ailing Patricia Racette. The performance just crackled with emotion and commitment. And, how special to experience a sacred choral masterwork in our opera house!
8. Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess at SF Opera (6/12): To finally hear this score performed live in its original operatic context was a true thrill, especially after growing so fond of pop and jazz renditions for decades. Laquita Mitchell and Eric Owens lovingly gave 120%.
9. Rossini’s Semiramide at Caramoor (7/31): In this case especially, it’s hard to separate memories of the setting and journey from the performance itself, but the warm summer air, cultivated audience, and Queer Opera Punk friends in tow helped make it very memorable. It starred bel canto masters Angela Meade, Vivica Genaux, Lawrence Brownlee, and Daniel Mobbs. And, how lovely to discover my old choir friend Heather Meyer in the chorale!
10. Paul Taylor Dance Company at YBCA (5/2): This Program C included Arden Court, (Music by William Boyce: Symphonic Excerpts), Private Domain (Music by Iannis Xenakis: Atrees), and Offenbach Overtures (including La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein and Berbe-Bleue Overtures). Unfortunately, this year held few dance performances for me, but, at least included this one! CJ’s high school acquaintance Rob Kleinendorst is a long-time company member. The Offenbach was absolutely hysterical, not the sort of tone I expected from the company. A real fresh surprise! Last time I saw their tour, I was floored by their dramatic, apocalyptic Promethian Fire. Although not intentional, it felt like a 9/11 tribute. Well, this Offenbach couldn’t be more different, and shows their breadth.
Honorable Mentions: South Pacific Tour, GG Theatre, SF; American Idiot, Berkeley Rep (World Premiere, and Broadway-bound); Kylie Minogue concert, Fox Theatre, Oakland, CA; Pink Martini in concert, Davies Symphony Hall, SF; Souvenir, with Judy Kaye and Donald Corren, Geary Theatre, SF; SF Opera Auditions for the General Director (David Gockley) highlights: Michael Sumuel’s “O! Du mein holder Abendstern”, Ryan Belongie’s “Cara Sposa” and Nathaniel Peake’s “Salut demeure chaste et pure” and “Ah! lève-toi soleil!”.
Overrated/Yawners: In the Next Room: The Vibrator Play, Berkeley Rep (now on Broadway?! I fell asleep.); Billy Elliot on Broadway (some great moments and some great dancing do not a great musical make).
Looking for some fresh (if not new) Christmas/Holiday/Winter music to add to your annual listening tradition? I know, nobody really buys or listens to “albums” anymore, with our iTunes-driven music world being so song-centric. Well, that may be true most of the time, but at Christmastime I’m still quite album-centric, since I prefer to pack my cds away with the decorations, and essentially rediscover them each year.
Plenty of the mainstream classics are among my annual favs too, including those by John Denver & The Muppets, Vince Guaraldi, The Carpenters, Leontyne Price, and Mariah Carey. BUT, it’s a relief to have less touted treasures to lean on, especially when the classics are getting overplayed…like right about now! Please weigh in on your own rarer holiday favorites.
“Images de Noël”: Karina Gauvin (’99)
A phenomenal, underrated crystalline soprano, who specializes in baroque repertoire. Here, she offers spirited renditions of holiday-themed art songs.
“The Christmas Album: Original Masters”: Various Artists (’03)
Vintage German/Austrian favorites, originally recorded from ’52 to ’70. Includes greats Gundula Janowitz, Fritz Wunderlich and Hermann Prey. You’ll feel like you’re having a Christmas in Salzburg! The retro graphics are charming too.
“Carols From the Old and New Worlds”: Theatre of Voices (’93)
I first experienced this album thanks to my old voice teacher, who was a member of Theatre of Voices at the time of this recording. It features TIGHT harmonies that feel authentically old world, but still fresh.
“A Cold December Night”: Erin Bode (’08)
This album offers perfect winter simplicity, delivered in Bode’s gentle spirit.
“Classic Christmas”: Billy Gilman (’00)
This is easily my most fun and cheerful Christmas album…it’ll make you feel a bit more like a kid again.
“The Hotel Café Presents: Winter Songs”: Various Artists (’08)
A great compilation of atmospheric, moody contemporary performances, including many originals. Tracks 1, 7, 11, and 15 are favs.
“Christmas Means Love”: Joan Osborne (’95)
Originally released by Barnes & Nobles, this album didn’t get wide enough distribution. You’ve gotta listen to “What Do Bad Girls Get?”. Her inspired pipes are showcased throughout!
“Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas”: Various Artists (’89)
There is NO better jazz compilation than this. All tracks are mid-century recordings, performed by jazz greats. Originally given to me as a gift, it has become a necessary annual tradition for me! Truly perfect!
“An Oscar Peterson Christmas”: Oscar Peterson (’95)
Tired of Guaraldi, but you like the whole jazzy Christmas thang? This is another great option.
“Hymns Carols and Songs Sbout Snow”: Tuck Andress (’91)
Of Tuck & Patti fame, Andress offers up some gentle renditions of the classics.
“Christmas Disco”: The Mistletoe Disco Band (’78)
Wanna shake things up a bit (literally!)? I grew up on this album, and was SO obsessed with the girl on the cover (or, was it her outfit?)! This is some of THE finest Christmas cheese, and the periodic sexy back-up singers are priceless.
“The Bells of Dublin”: The Chieftains (’91)
I’m honestly not sure how many or few have this album, but I’ve never heard it get any play on the radio, nor heard a friend reference it. So, I’m going to assume it’s not as well known as it should be. Do some vicarious travel to Ireland, thanks to this cd.
So, pour a glass of egg nog, nestle under your most comfy blanket (with a loved one, pet or just yourself), and enjoy some less “played” tunage!