Mermaids, Cats, and Pokemon Go

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Kristine Opolais as Rusalka

I guess whinging about not having done anything fun in a month worked, because in the three weeks after that, I attended an opera, painted for an art installation, and got a Twitter-length story published.

The opera:

I had gotten tickets for Dvořák’s Rusalka when I went to the Czech Republic last spring, but the opera was cancelled without notice. B-cat, being wonderful, took me to hear Met Opera’s brand new production for St. Valentine’s Day.

[Instant summary]
Rusalka is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, with the mermaid being a water nymph, her dad being the biggest downer of a water sprite, and her wood nymph friends being nicer than her crappy sisters. No one’s happy in the end.
[/sum]

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The costumes are gorgeous — Kristine Opolais’s water nymph dress is an entire pond floating with water lilies!! The Foreign Princess resembles Monica Bellucci’s Mirror Queen in The Brothers Grimm. The wood nymphs are good dancers, and one of the main trio is East Asian and a beautiful singer. And the Prince, Brandon Jovanovich, looks just like Michael Fassbender.

I’m usually not the biggest fan of German operas, but I love every single second of this one — the music, libretto, and acting combined. Rusalka is my new favourite opera.

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Having trouble smiling because I ran out of moisturiser and lip balm

The painting:

Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival put together a giant koinobori (those tube-shaped carp flags/kites) art installation for display in VanDusen Garden. “Giant” is no exaggeration when the diameter of each fish scale exceeds half my height.

B-cat and I painted our scales at Joy Kogawa House. Two strokes in, I remembered I don’t actually like painting, so I sped through the rest. Still, it’s neat to see how the painting changes with sunlight shining through the thin nylon (see above) vs. under indoor lighting, with a table underneath (see below).

The festival begins March 30, 2017.

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My cat (tentative title: “Kibble Sky”) and B-cat’s geometric shapes

The story:

Gotham Writers has posted results for its 16-word “memoir” — story summing up the year, technically — contest for 2016, and mine is one of the finalists. It’s not much of a story, but I’d say I managed to cram in a lot of information about the entire year (how 2016 is Pokemon Go?).

gotham 2016 memoir contest

To be clear, I only had Pokemon Go open at the crematorium because my entire extended family minus two members was playing it. It was a day-long funeral and I laughed and cried the entire time; don’t judge. And I only downloaded the game because, after the car accident, i.e. after being stuck on the couch in pain for two months, I really, really wanted to walk and run again. So the logical thing* to do was to install a bunch of apps that required real-life walking and running.

*It’s totally logical! I have a degree in philosophy!

Prague’s Queen of the Night

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At the Czech State Opera

The trip to Prague began with my mother leaving her phone charger and cash behind and B-cat’s printer running dry to spit out pale, dreamy Google maps for me.

I should be able to see everything anyway just by walking around, I thought.

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I’m not a fan of King’s Day (or researching local holidays before a trip)

After a 10-hour layover in Amsterdam (like what B-cat and I had last year, but with less map reading and more King’s Day), I abandoned my respectable plans of getting to the hotel by train, tram, and foot and hired a cab. The next morning, when my feet were no longer smooth piles of mush, I pulled out the faded maps and tickets and read that the first opera we were seeing would take place in June.

So I spent an hour apologising to the young man at reception as he played phone tag with the opera house on my behalf. Eventually we discovered that the Narodni Divadlo (National Theatre) had pushed back Rusalka from April to June without notice, emailed me the purchase confirmation with the original date, and switcheroo-ed the tiny-print dates on the .pdf tickets attached to the email. Very professional.

Thanks to my generally being lucky and good at walking (and so humble), my mother and I saw almost everything I wanted and official websites recommended, minus only a few distant sites — she decided the long train trips weren’t for her. Although we missed Dvorak’s very Czech piece on the first day, we caught Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) at the State Opera on the last.

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I knew the music would’ve been good no matter what, but Jana Sibera as the Queen of the Night managed to improve upon it. Martin Srejma’s Tamino is decent and Milos Horak’s Papageno is endearing, but Sibera blows them off the stage with her powerful voice, with more energy than the sun. Even my mother, who’d never heard an opera before and echoed my brother’s “Why not see a movie?”, left praising Sibera’s performance.

We both marvelled at the flimsiness of the costumes the State Opera comissioned? borrowed? though — treasures like the semi-sheer dresses made of polyester lining material struggling to stretch over visible hoops that, for one of the Queen’s underlings, gave up and collapsed to one side during Act I. Papageno and Papagena’s outfits may belong on the hosts of some unpopular TV show for kids, but at least they seem to have sturdy construction and adequate amounts of fabric. And the paper plate sun medallion…

Really, the only time the shoddy wardrobe isn’t a distraction is when Sibera was on stage.

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Besides the opera, I saw three of the top libraries in Prague — two of which regularly appear in “World’s Most Beautiful Libraries” listicles — visited Konopiste Castle and the Kafka Museum, and fell into/crawled through a forest full of stinging nettle, among other things.

I’d recommend Prague to you for a culture-filled adventure in the cleanest city I’ve ever seen (that’s including Japan), but I want to go with B-cat in the near future and don’t want too many other tourists there. Haw haw.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

At Least the Audience isn’t Fickle: Rigoletto with Vancouver Opera

Having told a polite rep at Vancouver Opera who is definitely not the hound from hell we shall call Lauraine that I’d see at least Rigoletto this season, I went. But I made sure to get cheap seats.

Photo op at the end of Rigoletto
Photo op at the end of Rigoletto

I was reading about Manon beforehand and of course confused Rigoletto with the five-act opera. (Hopefully, the nice people beside us didn’t hear me misleading B-cat…) It didn’t help that there was a looong pause in Act I, between the Duke’s party and Rigoletto’s (Gordon Hawkin) meeting with Sparafucile, for the set change.

The set does look more traditional and cumbersome than usual — it makes the stage look cramped but more interesting than a half-hearted modernisation, so I’m not complaining. Except about the tacky projection of red streaks on the walls as Rigoletto vows revenge.

Bruce Sledge as the Duke offers up the most beautiful sounds of the evening. Yes, “La donna e mobile” is first amusing and then devastating, but Sledge’s duet with Simone Osborne‘s Gilda, his brief lament at the opening of Act II, and his exchange with the couriers are wonderful, too.

Hi, nosebleeds!
Hi, nosebleeds!

No one shines in much of the first act, though Sledge warms up and Cameron McPhail’s Monterone is quite good when the orchestra isn’t playing over him. Osborne’s gesticulating doesn’t make her convincing as a cloistered young girl fearful of yet happy about first love, but she makes up for it in the painful scene before the stabbing. Oh, and she sings beautifully.

Similarly, Hawkins’s taunting has no bite and his “struggle” with the courtiers is the most awkward choreography ever. B-cat didn’t feel emotionally vested in the character the whole evening. Still, Hawkins’s shuffle in jester attire and shaky, half-controlled movements betraying worry for his daughter are a heartbreaking sight.

Rigoletto at Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Rigoletto at Queen Elizabeth Theatre

With the exception of Carolyn Sproule’s disturbing Maddalena, who looks more attracted to her brother than to the Duke — no sister would slide her hand up a brother’s inner thigh that way, ma’am — VO’s Rigoletto is a good piece of tragedy.

You’ve missed this one, but Vancouver Opera’s Dark Sisters begins Nov. 26, 2015.

The Healthy-Sized Lady Sings

If you haven’t heard, Vancouver Opera is giving up on regular productions and switching to a “festival” format in 2017. This seems to be a cheerful way of saying it will put on fewer productions, at venues smaller than Queen Elizabeth Theatre, over a week or two each year and spend the rest of its time dabbling in smaller projects that aren’t putting on operas.

So the issue might not be customer service-related, but I did guess at VO’s financial troubles as it loosened restrictions for youth discounts — which, incidentally, I’ve never used — put on more and more operas that are new (read: unknown) or not even operas (Sweeney Todd etc.), and asked me to resubscribe, after ignoring me the previous season.

Grudges aside, this is sad news for local arts, sadder than when Ballet BC overcame bankruptcy only to abandon everything classical in its repertoire… unless you count The Nutcracker, which features borrowed dancers from Royal Winnipeg Ballet or Alberta Ballet.

It’s not Thursday, but this is worth a (worthless) TBT:

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Digital camera technology of the early 2000s, yo

The above was taken before my first live opera, VO’s production of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, circa 2005. It was a great experience.

On the way out, though, some elderly women loudly criticised my choice of footwear. (Come on, those were some awesome suede boots!) Maybe there’s something to be said for bringing in a younger audience after all.

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*Before you complain, I know VO isn’t dead. But its heyday might have passed into history like the willowy limbs of my 20-year-old self (see above).