And When is This Free Thursday

Last Thursday I saw Vancouver Opera‘s free production of Stickboy tailored to high school students but performed for adults (under 35) at a wine reception. Jillian Christmas opened with a spoken word performance featuring two poems I’d heard at Vancouver Writers Fest.

Wine and cheese: the lavender-streaked cheese that tasted of berries was best. (What was it?)

But first, I have updates on the hellish adventure that is VO customer service. As you may recall, the story began when a rep we shall call Doreen tried to get me to resubscribe to VO by being a bit of a thug. I complained at the next opera; someone told me to email; my email was ignored. In the next chapter, someone at VO saw that blog post and told me to contact them again; my email was ignored again.

Chapter 3: Someone at VO called to solicit donations. I summed up the above as refusal. She transferred me to her manager, who declared she’d look into this and get back to me for closure. Still no word a month later.

If there was any doubt about my tone here or on the phone, let me clarify that I find all this unprofessional and infuriating. I’m glad there’s nothing left in the season but a musical and the Orientalistastic Madama Butterfly, because screw VO.


The stage

As for Stickboy, the music often weakens where it should affirm the words, and at times the piece is less opera than musical. The version we saw has a particularly small cast, which inspires clever stage setup and character changes, but again does not help the sound. The writer (Shane Koyczan) manages to portray the bullying experience among boys in a realistic and moving way, however. The most effective scenes are those that speak more universally of love, e.g. when the Boy and his grandmother pass each other notes under the door, and when the Boy graduates.

So, screw VO, but read about the good things they’re doing with Stickboy in schools.


Tchaikovsky with VSO

B-cat expects these to be his busiest few months in grad school (MSc in Physics), so we used up our free vouchers from Vancouver Symphony Orchestra while he had a weekend to spare. The first concert that sounded interesting was Tchaikovsky and the Mermaid: mainly Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major and Zemlinsky’s The Mermaid.

Great seats at the Orpheum

As mentioned last Hallowe’en, I haven’t been attending VSO concerts regularly, partly because I get my classical symphony fix through ballet and opera. Another reason is that, after years of $10 student tickets followed by years of free tickets (a close friend worked for VSO), the experience just didn’t seem special anymore.

What a crass, first-world complaint. I know.

If all guest musicians were as good as Augustin Hadelich, though, things might be different. Often the long, unaccompanied solos by the singer or violinist or pianist simply become tiring hurdles to get over before the orchestra kicks back in. Even with Lang Lang.

But Hadelich is skilled without sounding like he’s exercising skills. Not only does he play beautifully without the ridiculous, grotesque heaving and writhing many violinists affect on stage — like actors who say every word dramatically, without regard to meaning — but at one point that evening his sound was pure music seemingly far removed from any earthly instrument, an energy flowing from the stage and filling the theatre like light.

It was the most unreal feeling. I’d never had such an experience with VSO.

And then Hadelich played us an encore piece.


The next concert in VSO’s Masterworks Diamond series will be on March 12. Of course there are other concerts before then, but Beethoven’s Emperor is a particularly good one. I actually wish I appreciated it more.