Tuesday, March 30, 2010

James Valenti Makes His Debut in La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera!

James Valenti, the handsome and vocally strong young American tenor seen in the photo above from his web site, made his Metropolitan Opera debut last night in the Met's 953 performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata."  I was especially excited to see Mr. Valenti perform the role of Alfredo, because in an unusual "six degrees of separation" experience, I first learned about this native New Jersey tenor through his mother.  She is a reader of my blog, and in December she was nice enough to inform me in an e-mail about her son's upcoming Met debut. She does not have her own blog, and does not usually make comments, but since she knew I was an opera fan, and that I often attended the Metropolitan Opera, she thought I might be interested to attend one of James' performances.

Although our selections of operas for this season were finished, my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to purchase tickets to the opening night of La Traviata, along with tickets for our daughter. This photo was taken last night of us standing in front of the fountain in the Lincoln Center plaza, before we went inside the opera house.

We were also happy to be able to see the beautiful and lavish Franco Zeffirelli La Traviata production one last time, as this is its final season, and next year the new production of La Traviata by Willy Decker will be set in modern times, with modern dress and sparser sets.  Actually, according to the Playbill program that I read last night, Verdi intended La Traviata to be in modern dress, when he wrote it in 1853, so the new production will be an  interesting interpretation to see next year.

As always, I had to stop to look at vintage opera costumes on display in the opera house -- this one was worn by Jerome Hines as Sarastro in Mozart's Die Zauberflote, between 1958 to 1979.

This costume, designed by Mark Chagall, was worn by Lucia Popp in the role of the Queen of the Night, also in Mozart's Die Zauberflote  It was worn between 1967 and 1970.

Looking up at the  opera house's atrium's chandelier's from the Family Circle balcony.

Looking out at the plaza during a very rainy night. New York City has received over eight inches of rain in the past few days!

A close up of the atrium's Swarovski crystal chandeliers.  This could have been a photo of my excited eyes sparkling as I watched the beautiful soprano Angela Gheorghiu portray the young and tragic heroine Violetta.  La Traviata literally translates to "The Fallen One," and is a tale about a young Parisian courtesan who becomes genuinely and passionately loved by Alfredo. Although at first resistant to his attention, as Violetta knows she suffers from a fatal disease and therefore wants to enjoy life and stay free, Violetta finally falls in love for the first time with Alfredo. They go off to live in the countryside, where Alfredo sings of his joy in the aria: "De miei bollenti spiriti – "Wild my dream of ecstasy!"  Mr. Valenti gave a strong and passionate rendidtion of this aria and received a long and thunderous applause from the appreciative Met audience!

Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont, expertly played by baritone Thomas Hampson, visits them and pleads with Violetta to send Alfredo back home as he has disgraced the family and this will prevent his sister from getting married. A heartbroken Violetta relents and unselfishly writes a farewell note to Alfredo. Before he receives it, a heartbroken Violetta sings: "Amami Alfredo – "Love me, Alfredo."

Of course, as with many Italian operas, love conquers, but the ending is tragic.The entire synopsis of La Traviata can be read on the Metropolitan Opera's web site here.

A view of the Metropolitan Opera house during an intermission.  Our seats were in the Family Circle tier, the highest tier in the house as this opera was destined  to be completely sold out, and since we bought our tickets late, we were happy to sit anywhere!  The acoustics are wonderful in this section, however, and I always bring a small pair of binoculars in order to see the performers better.  The Met has a system where you can read the lyrics of the arias as they are being sung by a device which is situated on the back of the chair rail in front of each seat. Appreciation of the opera is enhanced this way, and I often read along, but La Traviata was the first opera I was introduced to by a high school music teacher who was ardently in love with Violetta and Alfredo, and by the end of our music semester her entire class, especially myself, was equally in love with them.  I have listened to my recording of Beverly Sills singing the role of Violetta so many times over 35 years that I feel I know this opera by heart, and the haunting first violin strains from the orchestra in the prelude never ceases to give me chills of anticipation. 
The conductor was Leonard Statkin, and he admitted to not having conducted La Traviata before in his career on his web site blog. While I thought the orchestra performed up to par last night, The New York Times review of the performance was somewhat scathing in his review of Statkin.

Meanwhile, the New York Times review of James Valenti was this:  "The young American tenor James Valenti had a solid success in his Met debut as Alfredo. He is tall (over 6 feet 5 inches), handsome and physically agile: qualities reflected in his virile and attractive singing. His voice is not huge, but it carries well. He won a rousing ovation."  I was certainly one of those giving him a rousing ovation throughout his performances!

Thoma Hampson, Angela Gheorghiu, James Valenti and Leonard Slatkin taking bows at the conclusion of La Traviata.

It was an exciting opera night and I was thrilled to feel a part of the debut of a rising star in opera!  I wish James Valenti much success in his career and urge you to listen to samples of his past performances in other opera houses around the country, and the world, on his web site at this link, and I'm sure you will also become his fan!

I'm linking this post to "Outdoor Wednesday" at A Southern Daydreamer's blog.  Thanks Susan!

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Resurrection Angel at Green-Wood Cemetery

This stunningly beautiful angel in the photo mosaic above is a bronze memorial on top of a substantial granite base of a grave identified only by the name "Valentine."  It is one of the approximately 106,000 monuments in the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood Cemetery located in Brooklyn, New York, which was established in the year 1838.

(all photos will enlarge when clicked on)

The angel was sculpted by the Italian-born artist Aldofo Appoloni, (1855 - 1923), who sculpted several other funerary monuments, found both in the United States and Italy. His name appears on the eastern side of the base of the angel, along with the word "Roma."
One of his better known sculptures is Winged Victory on the "Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele" in Rome. The base of the angel also identifies that it was made at "G. Nisini Fuse" which is deemed as one of Italy's finest 19th century bronze foundries.

The words "Ego Sum Resurrectio Et Vita" are inscribed in the granite base, and translated from Latin as "I am the Resurrection and the Life."

The "G. Nisini Fuse" inscription at the western facing base of the angel.

The angel is exquisite!  Notice the realistic detail of the feathers in her wings and the delicate draping of her gauzy robes.

A view of the back of the angel's flowing robes.

Her expressive face, with eyes turned upward, and arms outstretched with open fingers, displays such a uplifting feeling of grace and motion!  It is truly a valuable work of art worthy of being in the finest museum, and is one of my favorite sculptures among many beautiful ones in the cemetery.


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Friday, March 26, 2010

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company

If you are a frequent reader of my blog you know I am a very proud life long resident of Brooklyn, New York, and that I always try to show this large and populous borough of the City of New York in a positive way, but even I was surprised to learn that Superheros like to shop here!  Are there really true Superheros in the world today?

 (all photos will enlarge when clicked on)

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company store is located at 372 5th Ave., Brooklyn, New York, between 5th and 6th Street in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn.

If you click on to enlarge this photo you will read their supply list and a list of services. They advertise "one stop for all your foe battling needs."  Hmmm...I think that a service that even non superheroes could use!

Peeking into the window I saw cans of omnipotence, bravery, immortality and an alternate universe.

Curious, I decided to go inside. The signs in the photo mosaic above were prominently displayed in the lobby.  It all sounds so official!

This was the first view I saw of the store when I walked in.  Superhero capes and costumes were for sale, but I could see that this was not just a costume store.

They also had the supplies a Superhero and his, or her, sidekick might need! There were cans of things like gravity and anti gravity, x-ray vision, muscle, invincibility and intelligence.

There were boxes full of devices, such as invisibility detection goggles and night vision binoculars. There was even an evil blob containment capsule!

The economy sized plastic jugs of telekinesis, telepathy and e.s.p. seemed to be big sellers.

Need replacement parts for your cyborg robot?  Step right up and order them here!

During the time I was browsing in the store I saw two little Superheros use this special "devillainizer" wind chamber to make sure their capes were not corrupted.

Although all the items shown here are actually for sale, both at the store and through mail order from the web site, the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company is not just a novelty store, it is literally a front for the charitable non profit organization called  826NYC, with all sales going to the organization. 

 826NYC is dedicated towards supporting students ages 6 to18 to develop their creative and expository writing skills, and it also helps teachers to inspire their students to write.  826NYC provides free drop-in tutoring, after-school workshops, in-schools tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications.

  Inside the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company store there are "secret" rooms located behind the shelves, where free after school drop in tutoring sessions are held Sunday through Thursday, along with special after school and summer workshops ranging from playful to practical, and taught by volunteer writers, artists, educators and publishing professionals.

826 National was founded in 2002 by author David Eggers and co-founder Nínive Calegari, at the flagship location in San Francisco, known as 826 Valencia. It has since grown into seven more chapters across the country: Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Boston, and Washington D.C., several of which offer a unique storefront retail experiences as fundraisers, all with different themes.

826NYC's writing center opened its doors in September 2004. Since then their programs have offered well over one thousand students opportunities to improve their writing and to work side by side with community volunteers.

Do you want to learn more about the services of 826?  Watch this informative Youtube video.  Pay attention towards the end of the video and you'll see the secret passage to the tutoring room in the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store revealed.

So, are there true Superheros in the world today?  Yes!  Each and every 826 National volunteer and all the children who participate in literacy programs throughout the country are Superheros.  Hopefully, they will someday make the world a better place.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Humbled by the Forces of Nature

I have featured this very pretty and peaceful park, called Marine Park, on my blog in the past. It is located in the Marine Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.  I often walk there, and have always enjoyed the views of the beautiful trees through all the seasons.

 Last weekend, while I was away in Colorado, a terrible Nor'easter storm hit the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and came with tremendous downpours of rain and winds as high as 60 to 70 miles an hour.

The storm's devastation to the park was especially hard. Half a century and older trees came tumbling down in Marine Park as if they were thin and light as matchsticks.

One by one, they fell.

Some toppled like dominoes one upon the other.

Luckily this happened during the night and no one was in the park to be injured or killed, although many cars that were parked along side the park were destroyed.

The people who live in the home across the street reported on TV that the sound of all the falling trees was deafening.

It was a reminder that no natter who we are, or what we are, life is fleeting, and we should never take a day for granted. 

The park department has been busy cutting the trees into movable pieces and then wood chipping them to recycle them.  As I approached this pile of wood chips I saw steam rising up from it as if the spirits of the trees was dissipating into the air. It was very sad and humbling to see what once was a thing of beauty reduced to a pile of wood chips.

"Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
A land of trees that stand;
Where trees are fallen there is grief;
I love no leafless land."

- A.E. Housman

But, as with all things in nature, there is rebirth!.  Many trees still remain to share their glory and the early morning geese and seagulls still find refuge in the park's grass. They were a moving carpet of life and a sign that life goes on and recovery follows

Signs of Spring were everywhere!

I hope the park's  trees will be replaced and the cycle of life and renewal will go on.

"Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory.
They speak his praises without flattery, and they are
blessings to children yet unborn."

 Lord Orrery, 1749

I am adding this post to Outdoor Wednesday at Susan's blog "A Southern Daydreamer" Please visit Susan's blog today to see her post and links to all the blog participating.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

La Boheme, Metropolitan Opera, NYC

On the evening of March 17th. my husband and I went to Lincoln Center in Manhattan to see the 1,216th Metropolitan Opera performance of Giacomo Pucini's La Boheme. (all photos will enlarge when clicked on)

Although it was a slightly hazy evening it was nice to see the opera house in the light again when we arrived,  as the days are getting longer.

A photo mosaic of the beautiful new fountain in the Josie Robertson Plaza in front of the opera house. It is a favorite gathering place for those waiting for friends, or to spend a few minutes chatting before going inside.

Because it was St. Patrick's Day we saw quite a few revelers near Lincoln Center and I couldn't resist taking a photo of this happy fellow wearing a kilt and carrying bagpipes.

Inside the opera house I stopped to admire the current vintage costumes on display. The set above and below were from the opera Carmen.  The Metropolitan Opera had put on a brand new production of Carmen this year, to much critical acclaim.

The General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, has been changing many of the productions of favorite operas over the past few years, in an effort to "revitalize opera and connect it to a wider audience," and while we understand his desire to make the Met's productions fresh and modern, my husband and I are particularly fond of all the Franco Zeffirelli productions, and it was one of the reasons we decided to attend La Boeme this season, as we fear it's beautiful and elaborate set and staging will be retired in the near future.  It is also one of our favorite operas, as it is for many, as the tender love story of Mimi and Roldolfo is sentimental, beautiful, and filled with many exquisite arias that never fail to bring a tear to the eye.  If you've never seen an opera before this is the one I'd recommend to be your first. 

Marco Armiliato was the conductor, with soprano Anna Netrebko as Mimi, tenor Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo, and an audience favorite was coloratura soprano Ruth Ann Swenson as Musetta.  The entire synopsis of La Boheme can be read at this link.  As always the opera house responded with a long ovation at the end of this perennial gem.

If I still had music on my blog, this would be the aria from act one of La Boheme that would be playing, “Che gelida manina,” as sung by the dearly missed tenor Lucciano Pavorotti in a 1990 San Francisco production. It is in this scene that the poor poet Roldolfo and his neighbor Mimi first met, and feeling an immediate attraction to her, he tells her of his dreams.  Perhaps you'd like to listen to it for a few minutes?

I'm linking this post to Mosaic Monday on Mary's blog The Little Red House.  Please visit Mary today and see her beautiful spring flower mosaic and visit the links to other blogs participating today.  Thanks, Mary, for hosting this popular event each week!

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