Friday, June 25, 2010

The Ring: 14 hours in 4 minutes

Okay. Let's do this. 14 hours in 4 minutes.

Opera 1: Das Rheingold

The dwarf Alberich starts the whole thing in motion by stealing the gold from the Rhinemaidens. The Rhinemaidens are seductive young beauties and as Alberich flirts with them, one by one they clown him and call him ugly. He gets pissed. When they brag about the gold and tell him that the only way someone can take it is if they renounce love, he's like - sure, why not? It's not like I'm getting in love from you guys. Screw love!

Only problem is that this gold when fashioned into a ring makes the ring holder super powerful. And power is like a drug.


Meanwhile, Wotan, god of everything, has got the two giants Fasolt and Fafner to build Valhalla, his pimped out crib. Once completed, the giants are all - hey give us our payment! You said we could have Fricka's sister! (Fricka is Wotan's wife.)

Wotan's like oh eff - my wife will kill me. His buddy Loge (god of fire) tells him about this ring that Alberich has and the two go down to Niebelheim (land of the dwarfs) to steal it. And they do - remarkably easy, too.

Alberich is pissed and puts a curse on the ring.

Since its gold gave me
measureless might,
now may its magic bring
death to whoever wears it!
Whoever possesses it
shall be consumed with care,
and whoever has it not
be gnawed with envy!
Each shall itch
to possess it,
but none in it
shall find pleasure!
Thus, in direst distress,
the Niblung blesses
his ring!

Sure enough when Wotan gives the gold/ring to the giants Fasolt and Fafner as payment for services rendered, they start fighting and one of them kills the other. Just like Cain and Abel. Fafner turns himself into a dragon and sits on the gold and ring.

Wotan's like, oh shit. Maybe this curse thing is for real, after all.

Fade to black.

Opera 2: Die Walkure

So this one woman Sieglinde is in this really lousy marriage. Her husband hits her and is all "serve the meal for us men!" One day this hot guy named Siegmund comes knocking at her door and there are instant sparks. Unfortunatley, Siegmund is running away from people who wanted to kill him (red flag #1). Then Sieglinde finds out that the people that are chasing Siegmund are acutally related to her hated husband who now wants to kill Siegmund as well (red flag #2). And then Seligmund finds out that Siegmund is actually her twin brother (red flag #3).

But Wagner is a total romantic, and their love and resulting duet is one of the highlights of the cycle. Placido Domingo at the ripe old age of 67 knocked this out of the park. The half black/white face thing symbolizes their twin nature as well as their half divinity.

Sieglinde points her brother/lover to Notung, his trusty sword that was stuck in a tree by his (her) father Wotan, Excalibur style. Many men have tried to remove the sword, but all have failed. He pulls it out with ease, symbolizing their union. Now he has something to fight the husband with.

Wotan wants to protect his son Siegmund, so he asks his daughter, the fierce warrior Brunhilde of the Valkyries, to lend a helping hand.

But there's trouble. Fricka, Wotan's wife with the crazy long arms, is the goddess of marriage and fidelity. She was like, "uh huh - oh no they didn't! Bitch cheated on her husband and they're twins. This is some Jerry Springer shit, yo! Turn your back on your boy. Don't even think about helping him anymore." Wotan's like, "Fine. Slow your roll." But he's sad about it.

Brunhilde was fully prepared to ride into battle and defend Siegmund. But now her dad Wotan was like, absolutely not. You can't because my wife said it wasn't cool. But Brunhilde knew what her Wotan really wanted, so she helped Siegmund anyway. That's my girl.

Brunhilde helps and tells Siegmund that he must come with her to the saftey of Valhalla, but he doesn't want to leave his love (sister) Sieglinde. Brunhilde is touched and protects Siegmund from the jealous husband's spear.

But you can't go against Wotan. He finds out and he pissed. He breaks Siegmund's sword and vows to punish Brunhilde.

Brunhilde tries to get shelter from her Valkyrie sisters as they ride into battle to pick up fallen heroes. No dice. Loved their costumes and their horses. The figure in the middle is a symbol of Wotan.

Wotan arrives and sentences his brave and fearless daughter who rides with her sisters in battle to the life of a mere mortal. She is to be put to sleep and awakened by the any man that stumbles across her. Her dress changes from black and white to black, white, and red - symbolizing her new found mortality.

She begs forgiveness and explains that she was just trying to do what Wotan really wanted to do deep inside. She wanted to protect Sieglinde and her unborn child. She was touched by the fact that Siegmund didn't want to leave Sieglinde behind when she came to take him to Valhalla.

Wotan relents, and changes his punishment. Instead of being woken up by any man, she will be awoken by a true hero.

Farewell, you bold,
wonderful child!
You, my heart's
holiest pride.
Farewell, farewell, farewell!

If I must reject you
and may not lovingly
greet you again with my greeting,
if you may no longer
ride beside me,
or bring me mead at table;
if I must lose
you whom I loved
you, laughing joy of my eyes:
then a bridal fire
shall burn for you,
as it never burned for any bride!
A blaze of flame
shall burn round the rock;
with devouring terror
let it scare the fainthearted;
let cowards run away
from BrĂ¼nnhilde's rock!

I'm not going to lie - tears here.

He gets Loge (the devil looking fire man) to encircle her rock with a magic blue fire that can only be broached by someone who knows no fear.

Die Walkure ends. LOVED this one.

Opera 3: Siegfried

This one's kind of like a fairy tale.

Okay, Siegfried is the incestuous child of Siegmund and Sieglinde. He's also the hero.

He's been raised by the dwarf Mime and Mime's basic goal is to get the hero to win back the infamous ring. But he hates Mime and minces no words about it.

Much you've taught me, Mime,
and much I've learned from you;
but what you most sought to teach me
I never succeeded in learning:
how to tolerate you.
Ouch. Total dysfunctional relationship. It gets worse. lol

Siegfried knows that his father had this great sword, but that it got broken. So he decides to forge it again himself, in my favorite male aria. Super catchy with the ho hai!s

Seigfried needs to learn fear, so Mime takes him to the dragon Fafner that is guarding the gold and the ring. He's crafty, that one.

After he conquers the dragon, Mime plans to poison Seigfired so he can have the ring all to himself. Seigfriend kills the dragon/Fafner pretty easily with his fancy new sword/light saber.

After he licks the dragon blood off his hands, he can understand Mime's murderous thoughts. So he kills him too.

Then a bird tells him about a beautiful woman (Brunhilde) guarded by a magic fire that can only be awakened by someone that has no fear.

When he sees her, he is overcome by her beauty. He kisses Brunhilde and she awakens with one of my favorite arias of the entire cycle.

So beautiful. (This is the part when the guys sitting next to me burst out in racking sobs. Tears are one thing - but keep that shiz quiet.)

They sing a love duet and awakened by the love of a woman, Siegfried changes colors. That is quite the consummation.

All is good... for now... lol

Monday, June 21, 2010

LA Opera: Four Gold-en Rings...

So if you've been anywhere in earshot (IRL or virtual) from me in the past few days, you've heard me ranting and raving about LA Opera's production of the Ring, or if you want to to get technical - Der Ring des Nibelungen. It has turned me into a veritable madwoman.

(Warning: A nuanced, in-depth analysis of all thing Ring and Wagner is clearly beyond me as I'm just a neophyte, so you'll just have to settle for my slightly incoherent ramblings.)

But if you read nothing else, know that regardless of your affinity towards opera, it is worth seeing at least one of these for several reasons.
  1. The plot is really interesting. Like Star Wars? Lord of the Rings? Virtually any comic book? It's all here. You'll see dragons, dwarfs, giants, gods, serpents, warrior women... it's truly epic. It's not your usual love triangle which ends up with a woman sprawled on stage in Act 3 - here the whole shebang goes up in a blaze of glory.
  2. The music is varied and beautiful. You get the Ride of Valkyries (cue Apocalpyse Now helicopters), but you also get beautiful love duets. Check out the beginning of the entire work in Das Rheingold - that E flat minor opening evokes the bottom of the river, the womb, the primordial muck that we all arose from... so primal and beautiful. Then the music rises as you travel from the depths of the murky bottom up through waves until you break through the surface. The best prelude of any opera I've ever heard - amazing how much visual imagery is present in the orchestration.
  3. There's lots of dialogue that is quite witty. Like in Die Walkure when Wotan's wife Fricka is on the warpath and demands an audience with him, his daughter Brunhilde makes a hasty exit saying:
I prefer not to engage
in skirmishes like this,
much as I love bold
men's battles.
So see how you survive the storm
I am glad to leave you in the lurch.

Heh. Funny stuff. Even powerful Brunhilde can't deal with domestic strife.

There are four separate operas that comprise the Ring cycle:

  • Das Rheingold
  • Die Walkure
  • Siegfried
  • Gotterdammerung

Typically, opera companies will perform one of them during a particular season - they stand on their own perfectly fine. Wagner makes sure to put a little exposition at various points to give folks the background from the previous operas and each tells a coherent story with exciting climaxes.

But if you have the chance to do the entire Ring cycle in a crazy crash course, it does have some benefits. A major one is that it is easier to remember all the motifs or musical themes that Wagner uses to connect the story. So for example, the joyous song praising the gold from the Rhine sung by the Rheinmaidens in Das Rheingold is repeated at the start of Siegfriend (but in a more sinister fashion as the pure Rhine gold has been corrupted into a ring by power-hungry creatures). Another benefit is that it's easier to remember all the complex relationships with the characters. And finally, apparently there are Ring Nuts who travel around the world to watch the entire cycle - having these back to back (to back to back) performances definitely cuts down on travel time.

Now on to the LA Opera rendition... A bit of background - Los Angeles Opera has only been around for 27 years and in order to be mentioned in the same breath as the the Big Kids (i.e., SanFo, New York), Music Director James Conlon felt they needed to put on the entire Ring Cycle. And so began the Herculean effort.

They brought on director Achim Freyer who is a modernist influenced by Brecht (I tried to read some more info about him, but couldn't understand a damn thing). The production is, well, a little "out there." lol Think Salvador Dali meets George Lucas meets Jim Henson.

At first I was worried about having a totally avant-garde production as my introduction to the Ring, but after watching the first two operas, I fully get Freyer's world. Not only do I get it, I want to strap on a papier-mache puppet head and cavort on stage with a bullwhip and a ball gag in the blue spectral light.

There's something so fantastically beautiful and other worldly about it. It looks like a surreal painting. Many of the costumes are tricky to move, so singers often deliver their lines with only arm gestures. A large scrim is placed over the stage (occasionally projections are placed on it) but it gives the performance a sort of uni-dimensional quality that makes it even look more like art.

It's amazing that the singers were able to give such nuanced performances wearing such outlandish costumes (designed by the director and his daughter).

Aberlich, the catalyst of the story who steals gold to make the eponymous ring from the Rhinemaidens after renouncing love, wears a large dwarf head that completely covers his face.

Fricka, wife of Wotan (the sort of head Zeus god) has eerily outstretched arms with light-up hands. She's the god of marriage and home and hearth, so maybe the arms are supposed to symbolize her nuturing nature. Or maybe it represents her far-ranging reach into the lives of everyone on stage (she gets Wotan to turn his back on his children).

Wotan has black facepaint on for most of the operas and wears a metal cage around his head. His disembodied eye that he sacrificed to marry Fricka lights up and is positioned at different places on the stage - on the bottom corner, on top in the rafters, etc.

Loge, god of fire, and someone whose crafty ways led conductor James Conlon to term "the first lawyer" looks like a devil. With four arms.

I don't know if I'm my way to Ring Nut status, but I am sort of wondering what it would be like to see a more traditional staging of the work... I'm not quite ready to go the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, but a quick google search has informed me that a certain opera company in a certain large metropolitan city that I'm intimately familiar with is going to be doing Das Rheingold and Die Walkure during their 2010-2011 year... Sounds like a date. :)

Anywho... more to follow!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Two lumps, Please: Flight of the Conchords @ the Hollywood Bowl


After hanging out for a couple of hours at the UCLA Jazz/Reggae Festival, I was whisked off to the Hollywood Bowl by Mr. Insom for concert #2 of the day - Flight of the Conchords.

Pulling into the parking lot, I was handed a white piece of paper that specified all of the things we were not allowed to bring in upon pain of death and dismemberment: cameras, recording devices, umbrellas, blah blah blah, alcohol (?!), glass bottles (?!!!). I was beyond pissed. One of the best things about the Hollywood Bowl is sitting outside with a bottle of wine and drinking. How dare they try and take that away from me! Besides, I had already selected a perfect bottle for the evening - Les Jeunes Rose, a Grenache/Mourvedre blend from Curt Schalchlin, the young owner and only employee of Sans Liege Wines. Sans Liege is in its second vintage and does small batches (as few as 200 cases for some varietals) and I'm totally going to become a club member.

It's okay, said Mr. Insom, we can just buy a bottle. What?! Hellz no. I wasn't about to let something like a stupid piece of paper prevent me from my perfect summer evening wine so I could shell out $30 for a bottle of Yellow Tail. I headed to the Hollywood Bowl store to look for a container I could transfer my wine into. Found a coffee mug. Price: $15.00 Yikes. And only enough room for about two glasses. Nuts. Looked around some more. Saw something behind the counter... "Hey could I see that sports bottle?" I examined it closely. It looked big enough. Definitely not glass. Turned it over and saw the $3.00 price tag. I broke out into a grin. The guy behind the counter saw me inspecting the bottle.

"Are you thinking of putting a bottle of wine in there?"
"Of course not - that's against the rules." I'm no dummy, dude.
"Well, if you were, it would fit."
"How interesting. Good thing I'm not."

I pay and make a beeline for the exit. A woman sees me leaving the store and asks me where I got the sports bottle from. I point the way, adding that it was only 3 bucks and it fits a whole bottle of wine. Her eyes light up and she gestures frantically to her buddy. I rinse out the bottle, and walk back to the car to christen my sports bottle.



Okay, now that I got my wine adventures out of the way, let's talk about the show.

What can be said about Flight of the Conchords, that hasn't been said already? They're from New Zealand. They sing funny songs. They have regular band meetings with their manager Murray. They are beloved by white people. This performance at the Hollywood Bowl wrapped up their spring tour that traveled through Europe and the United States. I was impressed that they were even going to be at the Bowl - it seats over 17,500 - but they had a nearly sold out house. Lots of "Mels". Heh heh.


We had to get their early to pick up our tickets. It was nice to eat a leisurely meal and hang out in our seats as opposed to rushing like we always do and trying to eat quietly during the performance. lol Plus, we had time to check out our fellow audience members. Mr. Insomniac spotted Timothy Olyphant, who is starring in the new FX drama Justified. It's pretty good and he's pretty hot in it. I give the show mega bonus points because Walter Goggins of FX's retired The Shield is also part of the cast and I am a huge fan. Anywho, here he is. You'll have to take my word for it.


I got a kick at how sparse the stage was. Just some stools, mic stands, and some odds and ends in the cavernous band shell of the Bowl.


I was so disappointed when the guys decided to leave HBO after only two seasons of their Emmy nominated show. Watching them sing on stage is awesome, don't get me wrong, but I like the fly dance moves, their charmingly realistic apartment, the supporting cast (Murray!), and their wardrobe. I regret not showing up in one of these numbers.

I think they were really able to flesh out their characters through the HBO show. The guy sitting next to me who was "in the business" (who isn't in this town?) said that HBO had offered them the chance to come back whenever they want in whatever format they wish. I can see how writing 12 30-minute episodes and original songs can be pretty demanding - so here's hoping they find room to do a one hour special or something.

They opened with the Robots - one of my favorite songs! - and Jemaine embedded a nice Ahnold Schwarzenegger impression for a cool California touch. Sparing no expense, they were accompanied on most of their songs by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which actually consisted of a lone cellist named Nigel.



The set list:

1. Robots
2. The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)
3. Hurt Feelings (Tears of a Rapper)
4. If You're Into It
5. Albi
6. Jenny
7. Korean Karaoke (Oh, Dance, Baby)
8. 1353 (Woo Song)
9. You Don't Love Me Anymore
10. Think About It
11. Business Time
12. Song for Epileptic Dogs
13. Inner City Pressure
14. I'm Not Crying
15. Boom!
16. Back On The Road
17. Bowie
18. Demon Woman
19. Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor / Rock the Party
20. Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros
21. We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady
22. Sugalumps (Ballad version)


In between their songs, they did their adorable little patter.

Was this person filming in high def? Sheesh. Crowd participation gone wrong (but oh so right) during the Epileptic Dogs

Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor/ Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros / We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady / Sugalumps (Ballad bump 'n grind loverboy version)

For the encore performance of Suga(r) Lumps Bret and Jemaine danced along the pool circle of the bowl and hung out in the audience.

See how awesome and exciting it was from my typically horrible iphone Hollywood Bowl pics?


Now here's a video from robotronik:

Can I just say that we received strict instructions not to bring in any cameras? lol How do these people do it? I love how from the moment the concert starts you see the LCD screens of tons of people's digital cameras. I guess I was more concerned about sneaking in my booze than picture taking.

All in all, great time. I bought this t-shirt. :)