San Francisco, Day Three

Day three in San Francisco was a fun one, if busy.

Before I had left home, late look at San Francisco Opera's website allowed me to discover that Jake Heggie, the composer of Moby-Dick, was giving an interview Sunday morning, so once again, I pulled my rear end out of the comfy hotel bed and took myself on a hike through the hills of San Francisco to Grace Cathedral.

Heggie was interviewed by Dr. Jane Shaw, who is a dean of the cathedral, and who did an excellent job of drawing stories out of her guest. Heggie had actually been at the pre-opera talk of the performance of Moby-Dick that I had seen on Friday, so there was some overlap in the information, but it was nice to attend a talk where he was about to speak more about his work in general. I walked out of the talk determined to pick up the recording of his first opera Dead Man Walking.

I also walked out with his autograph. (Yay!)

I felt like a complete geek, but since I had brought my program in preparation of just this opportunity, and he came down from the stage to chat with a few people, I decided I had to say hi and an autograph request always makes a great icebreaker.

Besides, how many times do opera composers have people tell them "I loved your work so much that I flew several thousand miles so I could see it again." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the essential message.

After that there was just enough time to walk halfway back to the opera house, realize I'd lost my coat, race back to get it and arrive in the auditorium just in time for the pre-talk on Lohengrin.

Once again, my procrastination had kicked me in the behind. I was essentially walking into Lohengrin cold. As I joke with my friends, opera is a spoiler-friendly medium. The more you know in advance, the more you'll enjoy it. It's all about the nuance of one particular production and performance. In this case, I had a basic idea of the plot and I knew that as some point we'd have hear the wedding march that has become a mainstay of weddings.

Luckily, one of my seat partners was a lovely gentleman from Denver who had a similar propensity to travel for opera. He was in San Francisco to see this particular production of Lohengrin. We had lovely chats at the intermissions about opera in general and Wagner in particular.

Watching Lohengrin, I was reminded of a failed NaNoWriMo a couple years ago. I was writing a new version of the Bluebeard myth. I got the word count, but the story was just terrible. So terrible, I refuse to look at it to this day.

In Lohengrin, Elsa von Brabant has been accused of murdering her younger brother, in order that she can marry and fill the power vacuum through her husband. Her accusers, Telramund and his wife Ortund have made their own claim to the throne. Elsa, called to defend herself, describes a dream she had of a knight who will defend her honour and marry her. The herald calls for the knight to appear, but it's when Elsa add her voice to his that a stranger, led by a swan, appears.

Yes, a swan. That's Wagner for you.

The knight agrees to fight for Elsa's honour and promises to marry her, on one condition. She must never ask his name or where he comes from. (Yes, it's nuts, but when said knight looks like Brandon Jovanovich, one might be tempted to say yes.)

Of course, being opera, Elsa is not able to keep her promise. As my seat partner confessed, one wants to scream at the knight to keep Elsa away from Telmarund and Ortund. The doubts start to form in Elsa's mind, is her future husband really a monster -- what other reason would he have for being so secretive? (This reminded me so strongly of Psyche's sisters, who pour a similar poison into the heroine's ear.)

The knight and Elsa marry -- I find it interesting how prevalent their wedding march is in modern ceremonies, considering how disastrous this wedding is -- and Elsa cannot stand the suspense, breaking down and demanding the knight's name and origin.

Considering that the opera is named for him, it's not a surprise that we do find out the knight's name. Son of Parzifal, Lohengrin lives with the Grail knights until he is summoned to the mortal world to defend an innocent. There he may stay so long as no one knows his identity. One he is discovered, he must return to the Grail.

Otrund, who is a sorceress (*shrug*, Wagner) , rejoices over the betrayal. Lohengrin was the one man who could restore Elsa's brother -- who is not dead, but transformed into the swan. But as he departs, Lohengrin breaks the spell.

This production was interesting. The costumes and set were reminiscent of 1950s/1960s eastern Europe, but the marriage bower of Lohengrin and Elsa was set in a lightbox, with little to anchor it into the rest of the production. It was an interesting way to set off the fleeting moment of happiness between them.

I might see if I can find some DVDs of other productions. I have a feeling it might be time for another attempt at that Bluebeard story, which I still want to tell.

After Lohengrin, I met up with my friend Tracy for dinner and finally got to meet her new daughter Mélanie, who is the more cheerful, contented baby I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was so nice to have a writing chat directly after seeing an opera, as it was able to talk through various ideas it brought forward in my mind.

I went back to the hotel and though it was a short passage, I did get some fiction on the page for the first time in quite a while.

Day Four was a lovely day with fandoria and her son, then attending Fight Night at the Winchester House.


San Francisco, Day Two: There she blows!

Saturday was an early start, as the boat was to depart at 8:00 am and there were several admonishments to be on time or be left behind.

I was sailing with the Oceanic Society and they do put together a good trip. The naturalist was both knowledgable and fun.

We saw harbour porpoises & sea lions on the way out of San Francisco bay. Once at the Farallon Islands, despite the fact that it was not breeding season, we saw several species of birds along with a grey whale. There wasn't a huge amount of activity, so they took us out to the continental shelf, where we came across a couple humpbacks who were rather shy. We decided to tempt the dolphins who were riding the whales' wake to come and ride our bow wake -- which was likely the most exciting part of the day for everyone. I tried for a couple of pics on my iPhone, with the expected results.

That said, I might have had more fun if I hadn't been seasick. Sadly, I even threw up. Twice. But at least I was still able to move around and see the marine life. As I've been getting older, I've been noticing a tendency to motion-sickness. I thought I had taken enough precautions, and I certainly took enough that the day ended with a positive balance, but I was still a little disappointed.

Two highlights:

The feeling of being in a tiny craft on top of all that water. Gitte’s whole world was beneath my feet, and I could see next to none of it.

I heard whales breathing, which is one of my new favourite sounds.

Once back at the pier the deck hand (lovely woman) advised me to eat as soon as I felt I could, as it would help set me to rights again. I'd planned to go into the Mission that evening to dine at Café Gratitude, but decided instead on a restaurant on Market, closer to the hotel. (I do love the veg-friendliness of San Francisco.) After dinner, I went back to the hotel and indulged myself in some bad cable television until I fell asleep at about 7:30pm. Which was just as well, as the next day was a talk on Moby-Dick, a performance of Lohengrin and dinner with Tracy. All were delightful, but more on that very soon.


San Francisco, Day One: Long Walks and Moby-Dick (1st performance)

Have I still not posted about all the San Francisco stuff? Shame on me.

I loved, loved, being back there. It's perhaps a little clichéd and New Age-y to talk about cities having heartbeats, but I do love the rhythm of San Francisco.

My hotel was literally a three minute walk from the Opera House and once I had dumped my things, I went for a wander down Market Street, stopping at Walgreens on the way for some sunblock and Dramamine in preparation for the whale watching the next day. When I found myself at the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building. In snooping through the shops I found a lovely organic market that had vegan wraps to go, one of which I bought for Saturday's lunch. Coming out again, I thought "Oh, I'll just go right and make sure I know where AT&T park is, so I can find the boat in the morning."

I did find the park but it was quite a ways down Embarcadero. At that point my legs were feeling decidedly jelly-like. Luckily, the purchase of the sandwich left me with change for trolley fair back and once I figured out how to pay a cash fare (you get in the front car and pay the driver), I was whisked back to Van Ness Avenue. I got myself all dolled up and headed out.

When I went to SF Opera for the Ring, I splurged for orchestra seats. This time I was in the rear balcony and it was from this vantage point that I realized just how large the War Memorial Opera House is. Also, I should have rented opera glasses, but by then I had climbed all the way up, and in any case, that performance was to listen more than watch.

Have I mentioned how much I love this opera? I realize I never did review the production that was in my hometown, so here we go.

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Even just thinking back over the production, I'm so thankful I took the trip, but there's a little irony in it. Part of the reason I took it was that I didn't know when I would have another chance to see it (Jay performing in it only tips the scales). The program noted that this production was being filmed for PBS's Great Performances series. Which means it is likely to come out on DVD, and if so, I can watch Jay as Ahab anytime I want. (There will also be a CD of highlights from the Dallas production with Ben Heppner, which I will likely buy as well.)

Oh yes, Jay. I was going to stalk him at the stage door, wasn't I?

Breaking news: early flight + long walk + late night performance = very tired. I did go around to the stage door and waited a bit for Jay, but decided I wouldn't be coherent enough to talk to him and so chickened out, telling myself I'd wait for him at the other performance*. I also had to get up early for the whale watching, so I went back to the hotel and collapsed.

*Spoiler: I did and he was lovely, but that story's for a different post.

Home? Already?

At SFO. They're pre boarding my flight as I type.

Short version:
Cate gets seasick on whale watching boats.
The Winchester House puts on an awesome haunt.
Moby-Dick gets better every time. Relatedly, people in opera boxes are somewhat traditionalist and Jay Morris and Jake Heggie are both very sweet to their fans. (I have autographs!)
Lohengrin may be another new fave. Very Bluebeard.

More detailed posts when I get home.


Leaving on a jet plane!

Again, so, so sorry for my silence.

The trouble with splitting the blog is that when I'm not writing and have no opera news, I'm a bit silent here.

But I'm off on Friday for San Francisco! Opera and writing galore! Not only will I see Moby Dick (twice) and Lohengrin, I'm also going whale watching, having a flashlight tour of the Winchester House, and I have dates with two online friends to share a meal and chat about writing.

I also had a character motive and a setting click, laying out the plotline of my second Blakeney novel like a red carpet. (NaNo project, perhaps?)


Cate's happy opera day

It seems the opera gods love me today.

I wandered into the library of the Banff Centre, looking to write for a while, and in searching out a good place to camp out, I see a row of opera DVDs. Naturally, I have a look. Renée Flemming, a few other vaguely interesting ones. Then my eyes see an ultrasilm case with "Le Nozze di Figaro" on the side.

We all know how I feel about Figaro, so pulled it down to see if anyone interesting is in it.

Hells, yes, there's someone interesting. It's the production with Dorothea Röschmann as Susanna that's out of print. (!!!!)

The case is empty, and it's on a shelf marked "for library use only" so I take it over to the information counter. Taking my "Artist's Card" as hostage, the lovely librarian gives me the DVD, a bagful of remotes and a set of headphones sending me upstairs to the big screen TV viewing area.

Sidenote: It hurts to wear headphones for three and a half hours straight.

When I returned all the paraphernalia, the librarian commented that I wasn't kidding about my afternoon plans being shot.

I enjoyed the production, and Röschmann was a fabulous Susanna, but in the end I find I still prefer the production from the Royal Opera where she plays the Countess.

Other than Röschmann, the best part was Cherubino, who was a complete little shit (and who stepped way over the sexual assault line from a modern standpoint). What's usually the Countess's ribbon was in this production a pair of thong underwear, which at one point Cherubino stuffs in his mouth.

The opera news continued when I released my ears (those headphones hurt!), came back to my room and checked my Facebook page.

It seems the Ben Heppner has dropped out of the San Francisco run of Moby Dick for personal reasons. While I'm sad that Heppner feels he can't perform, I was thrilled to see that SFO have announced the JayMo is taking the entirety of the run. Chalk up one more in the Being the Understudy column for Jay!

This also means I get to see him perform twice, after all. I'm a little concerned that my performances are now at what will be the end of a long run, but I'll trust him to take care of himself.

Okay, and in writing this, I've just flipped channels for background noise and found the Met Ring Cycle's Die Walküre.

I was going to write about how the writing gods are loving me too, but it seems the opera ones won't shut up.


Officially an artist. I have the ID card to prove it.

I've made it safe and sound at the Banff Centre and have got most of the arrival craziness dealt with. The first thing I did was get lost trying to drive around to the parking lot by the dorm. Once I found that and dumped my stuff in my room, I had to go round and get my Artist Card, which has my plan meal (yay for not being a Starving Artist!). The Artist Card comes complete with the worst picture of me ever -- but it was taken with a web cam so what can you do.

I have a little time before dinner and orientation so I might go for a little walk. Stupid me forgot my camera, but I do have my phone, so there might be some grainy pictures of some beautiful scenery on my Facebook page.

Not sure how much I'll be posting, but I might come here when I get stuck.


Those damned Candarians...

I spent last night cleaning up demon blood.

A friend who volunteers for a local theatre told me they needed cleanup crew for Evil Dead the Musical. I foolishly signed up.

The blood is, I'm told, a mix of cornsyrup and soap. Sticky as heck, but water-soluble. Because the last time this show was in town, the stage became too slippery, the show was rechoreographed so more blood ended up in the Splatter Zone. The folks coming out were absolutely drenched. I was the one handing out car seat covers to those who didn't realize just how "bloody" they would be upon exiting.

We spray and wipe down the chairs and stack them away while the stage is being shopvacced. Then we spray and squeegee and shopvac and spray and squeegee and shopvac until someone finally calls it "as good as we can do". Then we mop twice.

At that point the volunteers are sent home. We had two volunteers and two crew on the floor, so it only took about forty-five minutes, but who know how much other stuff had to be done.

I'm back tonight and then on Sunday. They want four volunteers per night, but often have none, so I think I'll see about helping out a couple more times.

And hey, how many people can but "demon blood cleanup" on their resume?