Peaches

Peaches-1There is a new kid on our block. Peaches is an apricot toy poodle. He’s about 6 years old and he has a heart condition. He moved in with us on Sunday and has begun to make himself at home. We didn’t realize how dull our lives had become.

Peaches was a bit of a surprise in several ways. We have had a couple of standard schnauzers, and it is about 2 1/2 years since Gigi passed on–the result of a brain tumor. We had gotten used to that size dog and didn’t really want a smaller one. Additionally, we thought we were going to inherit  a great dane named Annie, so Peaches was a real surprise. The great dane is still a possibility at some time in the future. Wouldn’t that be a thing to watch–the great dane and the toy poodle.

How did this come about, you might ask. Go on. Ask. You might as well because I’m going to tell you anyway. It happened because my Muse plays the harp. La Muse is a professional musician (piano, organ, and harp) who spends much of her time playing for hospice patients. And, much of the rest of it playing memorial services. She prefers playing for patients who are “actively dying”–you knew that was a process, right? Spending time with these patients in their last hours or minutes, she can often help the patient with pain or with “terminal agitation” through judicious application of therapeutic music. I’m not sure how this works. My explanation by analogy with the test for “is it a duck”, is that she looks like an angel, sounds like an angel, and acts like an angel, so she must be one.

Peaches belonged to one of her patients. When the patient passed, Peaches went to live with the patient’s son. But the son already had three other dogs (two of them big), and uncountable numbers of little grandchildren running around the place. It wasn’t an ideal situation for a new little dog, so Peaches whipped out his laptop (everybody has one these days, don’t they) and sent us an email asking if he could come stay with us. And, here he is.

The situation with Annie is much the same, but the story is not yet over. Her owner was on hospice, but wasn’t ready to give up Annie, so she is still there as his companion. Someday we may get an email from her, too.

Daughter of the Regiment

We generally go to 3 of the 5 operas in Santa Fe each summer. After two heavy tragedies, last night’s Daughter of the Regiment, a comic opera in the French style, was a welcome change. The plot is inconsequential except for the excuses to sing in a variety of formats. The tenor, Tonio, has  a lot of good parts, but this opera in known for the famous tenor aria often called the Nine High Cs aria for a reason you can probably guess. Most of the aria is pitched about a fifth below the C and the tenor teases you by popping up to the C for one note and then quickly dropping back (which, in my view as a tenor, is not all that hard). The last C, however, is a long held note, and the tenor last night, Alek Schrader, did a beautiful job.

For you non-tenors, the C in question is the one above middle C in the piano. This is generally right at the top of the range for real tenors. For those people singing tenor who were drafted from the Baritone section, it is generally well above the top of the range.

Tonio is paired with Marie, the daughter of the regiment (she was found as a baby on the battlefield and was raised by the regiment). Last night’s Marie was Anna Christy who played the part beautifully. This part has been sung by many distinguished singers including  Lily Pons in the 40s, Joan Sutherland (against Luciano Pavarotti) in the 60s, and more recently Natalie Dessay.

This was Donizetti’s first opera after he arrived in Parisin 1840. It didn’t do well when it opened but eventually it became popular. The regiment in question is french and there is lots of martial music (the regiment boasted of itself that it was the best regiment in the French Army because it had an open line of credit at every bar in France). The opera eventually became so popular it was performed every Bastille Day for many years.

Once again the evening was beautiful. All the rain was earlier in the day, so we enjoyed our tailgate picnic before the performance. We drifted into the theater just before the opera started, and were treated to a beautiful production. It was everything a Santa Fe Opera evening can be.

Cold Mountain

The Santa Fe opera is producing the World Premier of Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon with libretto by Gene Scheer. We saw it last Saturday.

It is, in many ways, a very modern production. Dissonant music. A set consisting of a “pile of scrap lumber”, sort of like a giant pick-up-sticks. The set was intended to convey the destruction of the South after the war was mostly over, and it did a good job of that. Interesting lighting and spectacular projections (i’ve never seen anything like that). There was some sort of invisible screen at the front of the stage on which they projected things like a starry sky and falling snow. The screen must have been there all the time, but it was neither visually nor acoustically in the way. Spectacular, but not at all like projecting things on big screens like the side of a building.

I had never read the book, so I started at the beginning of the week. I don’t have much reading time and am a pretty slow reader, anyway, so I only got through about 130 pages by opera time. My impression was the book presented colorful, poetic, and interesting impressions of the characters, but there wasn’t anything I would have put in an opera. That only shows you how much I know about being a librettist–several episodes from the early part of the book appeared in the opera.

Cold Mountain is in southwest North Carolina. At the time of the civil war, it was very remote, and by the end of the war, life was very hard there. Not knowing where it i located, I looked it up with a mapping program. From looking at the map, one could guess that things haven’t changed too much since the war. There are still very few roads, but some of them are now paved. Much of it is National Forest land and few people live there even today. I imagine life is still difficult and government still has difficulty being relevant.

Saturday was another beautiful summer evening. We drove our little motorhome up to stay in our friends’ driveway so we wouldn’t have to spend the hour or so to drive home after the opera–I’m getting too old to like getting home and going to bed after midnight, so the driveway surfing option was very attractive and worked out well. Getting up and going to breakfast with our friends was also very nice. I think we’ll do it again this week when we go to see “Daughter of the Regiment.”

Cold Mountain is a very intense opera. It took so much concentration on the singers that it was midway through the first act before I realized I hadn’t really been paying any attention to the orchestra. It takes work, but I think a second hearing would be very enjoyable. There were also a couple of male chorus pieces that were spectacular. If you get a chance to see it, you should do so!

Rigoletto

Rigoletto tonight in Santa Fe.

It’s a hot summer day here and in Santa Fe where we are headed for a performance of Rigoletto. We do this about 3 times every summer. Drive to Santa Fe, meet our opera-going friends at their house and drive to the theater together. We have a tradition of a tailgate picnic in the parking lot. The last few years, we have indulged in the gourmet picnics offered through the opera, so we sit in the parking lot with a table cloth covered card table, sipping a chilled glass of wine and eating a wonderful picnic meal. There is a lecture about the opera at 7–always worth attending even if you know the opera, and then the performance begins at 8.

Rigoletto seems to have come out of the same nineteenth century tradition that produced melodramas in the American west. It is almost comically tragic. The tragic end occurs in the midst of a raging storm. One of the interesting things about the Santa Fe theater is that it is partly open. You can see through the stage to the mountains to the west. And, although it is currently very hot, there is a strong possibility that there will be a thunder storm around 10 pm, just when it would be needed in the plot.

Whether the natural storm materializes or not, there will be raging and storm clouds in the theater, and it will be a great entertainment.

in Paradisum

in Paradisum is an antiphon sung at the end of a Requiem mass as the departed is being removed from the church. It offers the wish that the departed will be welcomed to paradise by a chorus of angels. Through the centuries, composers have used this antiphon as a vehicle for tone paintings of their vision of Paradise. Some have produced pieces of surpassing beauty–I think, in particular of Fauré.

Of course, Paradise has a visual component as well as an auditory component. Over the last weekend I have been there and seen it. I didn’t have a near death experience. It was much simpler than that, but I can report that Paradise is sublimely beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR

My Muse and I went to Chama, NM to ride the train. We stayed in an RV park right on the Chama River close to the Chama Station. When we checked in, we were instructed that every morning we had to either  be on the train or down at the river  waving at the recently departed as it went by, so we did some of each. The C&TSRR is right on the New Mexico/Colorado border, and the route actually crosses the border 11 times in the run from Chama to Antonito, CO. The route was chosen by the Denver & Rio Grande RR in the 1870s, and completed as far as Durango in 1880. The track from Chama to Durango no longer exists.

Rocky Mountain High Country

Rocky Mountain High Country

This is high country. Chama and Antonito are both above 7800 feet and the track runs through Cumbres pass at over 10000 feet. The scene at the left is over 9000 feet. By this altitude, exercise is becoming difficult if you are not acclimated because the amount of oxygen in the air is less than 75% of sea level. But, if you are acclimated, this can be a wonderful life. Look at those beautiful yellow flowers. They are Dandelions. I don’t think there are that many even in your lawn.

 

Mountain ranch.

Mountain ranch.

Here is another view. I love these high mountain meadows; the broad, glaciated valleys; snow on the mountain tops and even at our level. The rivers, which seem to be everywhere, were running high. The snow pack was low last winter, but there have been several weeks of frequent rains. I like New York, too. But, that isn’t Paradise. This is.

I Have Had Singing

Last Week was rehearsal week. The concerts were Saturday and Sunday, and they went beautifully. Good audiences despite quite a bit of competition, and performances that were worthy and reflective of the effort that went into their making. As I commented before, there were several pieces that really resonated with me, so I really enjoyed the concerts. The week was intense. The concerts were intense. And, now, for a while, nothing—we are finished for this season, and I already miss it.

The title of this post, I Have Had Singing, is the title of a choral work by Steven Sametz, a wonderfully creative composer and the Choral Director at Lehigh University. This piece was not on our concert this year, but I have sung it several times, and I often use the title to express how I feel at this time of the year, when the season is over and the summer hiatus has begun. The text of the piece comes from a work by Ronald Blythe called Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village.

“The singing. There was so much singing then, and this was my pleasure, too.
We all sang, the boys in the fields, the chapels were full of singing, always singing,
always singing. Here I lie. I have had pleasure enough. I have had singing. I have had singing.”

That’s how I feel today. I have had singing. It was my pleasure. But, for the moment, I have had pleasure enough. It is time to be immersed in the beautiful memories.

When fall arrives, it will be time to take up singing again to create more beauty and spread loving kindness to our audiences. Our first concert, in September, is at the ruins of Quarai, one of the three Spanish missions in the Salinas Valley in New Mexico. We sing in the church, which has almost complete walls, but no roof. The Park Service brings in chairs (much better repose than the dirt floor), and we sing to between 125 and 150 people on what is usually a glorious Sunday afternoon. Then it will be time to take up singing once again.

Concert Week

I sing with a men’s ensemble called de Profundis, Latin for Out of the Depths. We have concerts this weekend, which means 3 rehearsals this week. We are 14 singers plus a director who perform a wide variety of music from the renaissance to last week (sometimes even the arrangement of the hour–our director is a composer and arranger), and in a wide variety of languages. This concert, for example, includes an Indian raga, in some language from the Indian subcontinent, a Russian church piece (many of those are Old Slavonic, but this is composed and is actually Russian), a Palestrina piece in Latin, a Schubert piece in German, and a piece in Georgian. We also sing in a variety of venues, and did a preview of some of this repertoire a couple of weeks ago at Ghost Ranch and the Benedictine Monastery “across the road” (“across the road” also includes the 15 miles down the dirt road on the other side). Look here for more about those events.

The language component is an important part of the group’s personality. We live in a Spanish speaking area, so there are many pieces in Spanish. At the winter concert, there is always Hebrew. We have sung Chinese, Japanese, and Tagalog; French and Italian; African languages, Eastern  European languages; Inuit and other Native American languages, and, sometimes, even English. Last spring, we went to Wales, so we sang several pieces in Welsh (surprisingly hard). A few years ago, we did a Christmas piece in Slovenian. At intermission, a couple appeared who identified themselves as Slovenian. They said they thought they were the only Slovenes in the city, and they were so grateful to hear their language in an unexpected place.

This concert is about Transformations, one of the most familiar being death. For example, I do not sleep (“Do not stand by my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep…”) by Darryl Lynn Wylie, Sing to me of Heaven by Daniel Gawthrop, Come Sing to Me of Heaven arranged by J. Aaron McDermid, and Loving Kindness by Stephen Paulus, which I wrote about here a few days ago. I found that I resonate strongly with several of them. I even said “I want to hear that at my funeral” a couple of times (not that I am expecting that any time soon).

I have enjoyed preparing this concert. I love the group. I love the music. And, I love presenting the concerts, but this week is very intense, and I will also love being past the concerts.