Wond'ring aloud

Summer would appear to be in full swing and so I have been spending much of my time in the Michigan countryside, enjoying the outdoor air and balmy breezes from the (currently) placid lake which gives this state its name.

I recently had dinner with the founder of the Washington Wagner Society, and when the conversation was steered around to the matter of opera performances on the horizon, I couldn't think of which or when that would be. The best I could answer would be that it would be "something" at the Lyric in Chicago- and that was likely a safe bet. Summer is perhaps the "doldrums" for opera performances, as the major theatres are closed. No Santa Fé for me this year. I have yet to visit Glimmerglass or any other summer theatre. No Cincinnatti. No Bayreuth (sigh).

So my opera at the moment is coming from a stereo system, and the quiet of the countryside lends itself well to classical music wafting from the living room through an open window. No chorus of car alarms and police sirens:  no endless variations on the "Buddy can you spare a dime?" aria I hear daily back in Chicago.

As I am not retired and have to work for a living, the time which I have to spend listening to opera is limited. Perhaps that is a good thing as it makes me look forward to my own time, away from work, so much the more. So I get to hear it in the car on long trips and on my days off from work.

I am sure it would not amaze you to know that I have listened to some Wagner music every day of my life for the past 6 years or so when I fell under its spell, like millions before me. I would be lying if I said his was the only music I listened to, or that opera was all I heard. The CD player in the car currently has a K.D. Lang disc in situ and before that it was Weather Report and before that it was the English guitarist Steve Topping. If you shone a bright light in my face, dripped water on my head, and asked me to name the most exciting or enjoyable musical experience of the past year I would have to choose between a Heppner Tristan at the Lyric, and Ibrahim Ferrer in the glorious Chicago Theatre. There was also the Dame Edna Everidge extravaganza in the "tucked away Booth Theatre" just off Broadway in New York.

Variety is the spice of life, as they say, but if I am coming over to your house for dinner (now THERE'S an idea!!) don't make the mistake of thinking "he must be tired of potatoes" and reaching for the cous-cous or pasta. I am from Ireland and the potato is part of my rich heritage.

One thing you notice when you spend as much time in the countryside as I am fortunate enough to do, is that the wildlife resident there has had enough of the great outdoors and would like nothing more than to curl up in front of your fireplace and get three square meals a day. Everytime you open a screen door to refresh your beer glass (a chilled underground tank being for now too costly) a legion of flying things follow you in and start buzzing around the lamps or trying to open the fridge door.

Currently in residence is Señor Mousie who delights in running across the floor and hiding behind the stereo system, and is so unstealthy he may as well blow a small mouse-trumpet before he makes his charge along the living room wall. I hear they like cheese almost as much as do I, and so I have set traps to catch and dispatch him.

Only last week the prize garden which has had neighbors craning their necks over the electrified fence was attacked by the munching bandito known as the "woodchuck" or groundhog, which up until now has been allowed to live under the deck. The landscaper, Tom, immediately offered to shoot it for free, but we settled on a professional trapper for humane reasons.

So it was that the woodchuck was no match for the wiles of Randy the trapper. As soon as he emerged for his twilight stroll and saw the baited carrots and apples, he was into the cage and the door slammed behind him. I spent much of the evening sitting close to him and pointing to the Coneflowers which he had been dining on. He didn't argue or try to shift the blame to the chipmunk that also lives under the same deck.

I was awakened at 5 am by a terrific thunder and lightning extravaganza. Torrential rain poured down and danced in the garden lights. I ran out barely clothed to cover the poor already-soaked fellow and tried to imagine just how scared he must be at this time.

Next morning Randy came to escort him to his new home in some woods nearby. So all ended well.

Maybe it is just a symptom of the battle for space on a crowded planet, said he, waxing philosophical. I carry my "ideal countryside" experience in my head, according to my expectations for pleasure and enjoyment, and so it is when I go to the opera. I have an idea of how I want the evening to look and sound, and if there is an errant tenor or director gnawing on my musical flowers, then I would like the opportunity to trap them in a cage afterward and give them a talking to.

First on my list would be the tenor Alan Woodrow who brings not a lustre to his name on a recent DVD issue of the classic opera, Tannhäuser, recorded in the Téatro San Carlo. Who on Earth put up the money to have this recorded and distributed? I was already fully warned in the first few bars of the magnificent prelude as some of the woodwinds struggled for breath. Things got really out of hand when Alan began to "sing". The production notes on the DVD listed among his roles Monastatos, and here he was on stage in Tannhäuser. He looks very nervous and well he might be: no amount of digital wizardry exists to correct his flat shouting, and the fact that the ditzy costumier dressed him in white tights and a pair of those Arabian slippers that curl up at the end made his embarrassment complete.

Now the really good news! Alan is your Siegfried in the next Seattle Ring Cycle!

I love Seattle. I love the opera house. Great band. Speight Jenkins is normally sound of mind (excusing the casting of John Giering de Haan as Siegfried which backfired back in '95) but to give this kind of work to Alan Woodrow is asking for trouble. As a result I won't be attending the Ring in question and will not be a contributor as before when the collection plate comes around.

I hope to be in Bayreuth and not Seattle in August 2001. Lord knows what their Ring might be like, but at least Woodrow will not be among the performers.

Bayreuth has Alan Titus as Wotan....huh? They need to get over themselves and invite James Morris again- the Bayreuth stage deserves the best Wotan of the age. I doubt if Nike Wagner would pass him by, were she in charge. But that is for the future.

Meantime- have you ever wondered how they name cars and what names don't make the cut?
I have driven more than 20 different cars in the past 6 months or so, as I rent from Avis; Nissan "Altima", Buick "Le Sabre", Jeep "Grand Cherokee", Dodge "Durango" etc.

Some of the names that never made it from the "Think Tank"......
Daewoo "Deplorable"
Dodge "Deadly"
Ford "Fart"
Ford "Fiasco"
Hyundai "Heap"
Izuzu "Ignoramus"
Jaguar "Junky"
Kia "Krappy"
Lexus "Lobotomy"
Mazda "Mangler"
Nissan "Numbskull"
Opel " 'Orribile"
Peugeot "Pathetique"
Pontiac "Poseur"
Rover "Repairbill"
Saturn "Sucky"
Toyota "Tacky"

Wisely BMW, Volvo, and Mercedes stick to numbering their cars.


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