Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Jessye Norman, 1945 - 2019

I really have nothing to add to the cascade of tributes these last few days. Instead, while her Strauss and Wagner are getting plenty of social media airtime, I thought I'd post a bit of her Carmen documentary. She took a lot of critical heat for this project at the time -- her involvement with the role upset the gatekeepers -- but I like this clip (and the doc in general) because it shows her exercising her tremendous art in the less-guarded environs of the recording studio...which is to say, having fun.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

virtual airwaves

It's late September, time to dust off the SiriusXM account and tune in to live Met broadcasts, should a person be so inclined. You can find the whole live Met webcast schedule for Sirius here, and the weekly free livestreams on the Met website here. Note: for the first two months of the season, some webcasts will be hosted on Sirius and others on the Met Opera site. There is a reason for this, but suffice it to say if you're a USian completist opera nerd, you should probably subscribe to SiriusXM's online service.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


Happy Alcohol n' Ordnance Day, Americanistanians. Here's a page from Clara Barton's diary, a little piece of history just for you...

courtesy LOC

Sunday, May 12, 2019


BBC 3's Music Matters recent ep. on transgender opera singers, plus Deborah Warner on Billy Budd, can be found here.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Cathy Barton 1955 - 2019

Cathy Barton's compendium of songs and tunes was pretty much inexhaustible, and she was a killer banjo player, and she had a voice you could listen to all day. Everything in her cover of Gail Davies' Grandma's Song applies, except the "old" and swap out Oklahoma for Missouri. Over forty years, she and her husband Dave Para taught those old folk songs (and some newer ones), and those old tunes, to countless people. And if you wanted to know how a reindeer got into a song from the Ozarks, they could surely tell you. A rock-solid legacy, but gone too soon.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The truth of what we are: Richard II @ NTLive

A few weeks ago we took advantage of a lull in the snow to take in the NT Live of Simon Russell Beale's Richard II, in a very stripped down and streamlined version from the Almeida Theatre directed by Joe Hill-Gibbons. RII is a wordy play with a big cast and a lot of complicated ground to cover, so clocking in at two hours is quite a feat of editing.

And edit they did. The play is stripped of props, costumes, a lot of its text, and doors. Three walls and a floor of riveted industrial steel plates contain every scene, with a luminescent ceiling that provides most of the lighting. Nobody leaves or enters -- nobody can leave or enter, which is pretty much the point -- and the whole cast (in street clothes except for a gold paperboard crown) is on stage at all times. Everyone but Richard and Bolingbroke shuffle roles. Saskia Reeves, who starts the play as Bushey, plays all her other roles smeared in the blood of her first character's execution. There is something poetic, if uncomfortable, in that, nor is anyone spared: buckets line the walls marked Water, Soil, and Blood, and over the course of the play, used for various purposes, their contents mire this scepter'd isle and her people in an inescapably vile slough of ambition, betrayal, and murder. Nowhere is this better brought home than in the comedic yet horrifying lightning-round of internecine accusation and gratuitous gage-casting that Bolingbroke (Leo Bill), newly-crowned, realizes he is completely powerless to stop. He looks very tired by then.

Given the lack of frills and extras, blocking and choreography count for a great deal. Much is accomplished by various clusterings of the secondary characters, whose function is often chorus-like and underscores the precarious nature of allegiance under duress. You can't always tell who any of them are or where they're placing their bets, but in the end of course it doesn't matter.

Simon Russell Beale gets to start the play with Richard's ending soliloquy, a device that frames history as theater and makes everything flashback until the speech comes around again toward the end of the play. Certain other changes are deftly managed, like the garden scene where normally the Queen would be in conversation with her ladies - the ladies' lines are given to Richard here. So it becomes a dialogue in which Richard's sense of self as king is briskly torn down as each frivolous pastime he offers, each remnant of his days of safety, is rejected in favor of some grim alternative in this new reality.

SRB made his name as an actor on his keen sense of detail in a line, and he is no dogmatic follower of inherited interpretation or straitjacketing adherence to meter. So, in any text you think you know well, he can make a chasm open up suddenly at your feet. Here, in the Westminster scene, it was when he's asked leave to go "Whither you will, so I were from your sights", and Bolingbroke says "Go some of you and convey him to the Tower." There's a moment's hesitation as Richard processes what that means, and we feel some of that sudden vertigo - that palmer's walking staff would never be an option.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

"No man is greater than his mother..."

The Library of Congress has posted up a collection of Women's Suffrage-related sheet music (both pro and anti, it should be noted) just in time for enterprising USian musos who need a few chunes for the 19th Amendment ratification centennial.

Febb Burn writes a letter to her Senator. Image via

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Year in Vet Bills

2018 was the year I had more opportunity to learn about feline oncology than the last three times we went through this combined, because we finally have a veterinary oncologist less than three hours away. One of the few side-effects of feline chemotherapy is it eats your arts budget and all your attention. First things first. I'll save you all the boring details, if you want to talk about L-CHOP and lomustine or the economics of the specialty vet biz, hit me up through back channels. Otherwise, Happy New Year, and I look forward to reading about all your collective gallivantings in 2019...

update: thanks dehggi and DtO for your good wishes. And kudos for battling through Google's automated anti-comment defense system, which doesn't even let me comment on my posts anymore, gmail sign-on notwithstanding. (Srsly, Google people?)

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Conductor Jane Glover reads from her book Handel in London in five 15 minute episodes currently posted up on BBC 4's Book of the Week website.

Kevin Puts' Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, which has been touring houses in the worldwide operatic hinterlands and had quite a spectacular production at Glimmerglass this past summer, is posted up on the BBC Radio 3 website in Opera North's recent concert outing. This young opera has already had multiple productions, but look for Tomer Zvulun's especially breathtaking one at an opera house near you.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

off the clock

The Met streams the opener of its new production of La Traviata this Tuesday, 12/4, at 7:55pm ET, with Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. You can check it out here if they remember to put the player back up.

A Thousand Sharp Little Points

George Herbert Walker Bush, 1924 - 2018

"The long memory is the most radical idea in America." - U. Utah Phillips

from the documentary How to Survive a Plague, by David France