Thursday, May 21, 2009


I went to see Rossini's La Cenerentola at the movies last night--the last of the Metropolitan Opera HDTV broadcasts for this season, the encore of the May 9 performance. I was one of a small handful of people in the audience not over 65, and I can safely say that it was the only time I've seen a nun in a wimple at River East 21, but it was still quite rock and roll. The only (rokkritik) word for Rossini is propulsive.

I'm glad there was a whole seat between me and other viewers because I couldn't help bouncing around in ways you wouldn't in an opera house--tapping my toes and paddling my paws and such. I was all twitchy just waiting for it to start, eating my pretzel and ICEE (you gotta have snacks), thinking about how great (horrible) a singalong opera would be and how great opera-based Movie Quiz!-style questions would be, as fierce opera queens vied to be the first to bark the right answer.

Lawrence Brownlee sang a beautiful prince, although again, as with Florez in the other Met HDTV production I saw (Barber of Seville), he is a very technically accomplished and very short tenor without an enormous amount of acting range (he had two spressions: angry/not angry). The last scene, with the giant wedding cake, was cool but also seemed designed to try to make him really super-tall, no foolin, although he looked a little like a short candle on top.

That isn't very nice of me. Sigh. I mean--shoot. Whatever it takes, right? Can .01% of the world do what he does? But there's no way around the fact that this is a movie, not an in-person performance--if I were at the Met listening to his voice fill the hall I think I wouldn't have the same reaction that I do watching it all on a 2-D screen, whether I want to or not. Although really for me this is more about acting ability than height.

Elina Garanca, on the other hand, almost looked like a movie Cinderella who happened to be an opera star. I have never seen anybody appear to expend so little physical energy singing--not only that, singing the way you have to to hit those crazy Rossini runs and fill that house. For the first two minutes she was onscreen and off and on the rest of the opera I was sure she was lip synching. It was only towards the end and her big ballbuster finale (bootleg version here--turn it all the way the frick up) that you could even really see her intakes of breath or mouth open significantly. She must have the lungs of a thousand synchronized swimmers, not to mention unholy acoustics collapsed right there into her head--it was really kind of amazing the way her mouth distorted only as if she were talking when she sang, even during big changes in volume and speed. Combined with the fact that she has the looks and poise of an animated Disney heroine, it was pretty surreal (and brings up the inevitable specter of Cecilia Bartoli, at the other end of the mezzo twitch scale).

As I said I've only been to two of these HDTV broadcasts, but I am convinced that part of why they work is actually seeing singers expend effort--sing--perform--close-up. Blips and glitches and beads of sweat don't mar the experience, they add to it. It's like watching sports. This is what you can't see from even the closest seat, really, in person. So when somebody makes it look so effortless, as with Garanca, it's almost a little flat, especially as your mind is already casting about, processing the acoustics of a miced performance and trying to match up all the visual/audio cues. She has an astonishing voice, though, with a really interesting full lower range. Would love to hear her do other roles.

Most of the singers were really wonderful, period, especially John Relyea as Alidoro, who altogether is very hot with his slightly stephenkingsy good looks and unbelievably deep voice--I almost died listening him during the half-time show. Thomas Hampson was the MC, asking the questions, and he was dorky, I thought. He has a slightly strangulated, Wink Martindale kind of speaking voice, with a weird lateral lisp, and his interview style made me wincey.

It didn't matter though, nor the fact that the imagery on screen felt mutely-lit and dark, nor that not all the speakers were on (I think?), nor that the pantomime of the evil stepsisters was kinda tedious. The whole experience was fun. The ensemble singing was especially exhilarating, such as in "Questo è un nodo avviluppato," with all that fierce, contained power. Rossini is just cool. Watching the orchestra during the overture was an amazing experience--he really makes musicians work. I love feeling his giddy autocratic joy in the pyrotechnics and aching beauty he demands of performers, hundreds of years later.
The HVAC system in our building has been switched to a/'s officially spring in Chicago. Springslidingquicklyintosummer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

* In one of those odd coincidences, I turned on Alton Brown the night I made the epic mac & cheese and he was making fromage fort, which is basically what I was making, mit starch. That man really gets up my nose, between the breathless faux extemporaneous delivery and the fact that he says "timperature" instead of "temperature." Among other gripes. Anyhow. The mac & cheese is still hanging in. It can be a fun game, thinking of ways to use up what you have: making smoothies with the dregs of juice bottles and sorbet containers and seltzer, throwing things in marinades, whatever. At least, so I'm telling myself. Success last week: defrosted flank steak in a lime juice/soy marinade and served cold in a salad with more lime juice vinaigrette. Oh and with mac and cheese on the side NO WAY.

* Shopping for shoes at Zappos seems to be (unless I'm missing a workaround) an extremely gender normative experience. Some people's feet are just ping pong paddles, okay? Not male, not female.

* Hand to my heart, it appears a bagpipe player has moved into my apartment building. A bagpipe player who practices. I like saying this because it's ridiculous, but honestly I enjoy the sound. And it's better than the rumbling shudder of idling buses out on my street belching exhaust for hours and hours.

* Cat #1 fucked up Cat #2 in a knock-down ultimate cat fight challenge over the weekend. Tears were shed, yelps were yelped, Cat #1 ended up in cat jail and #2 had to be wooed out, paws bloodied and spirit cowed (and cranky, since she's a cat). All seems to be fine now, but cripes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Unemployed Cookery

I made a successful bash at Unemployed Chili for a potluck last week (see paparazzi photo, left), a freezer/pantry-cleaning concoction of roasted chicken breast, cannellini beans, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, garlic, fresh thyme, chili spices. Gallons and gallons of the stuff. It was good, but I've been eating it for a week straight (with Greek yoghurt and crackers), so it was time to...

...think about another thing I could cook that would involve taking a lot of things out of the freezer and turning them into a new thing I could put in the freezer.

I don't eat a lot of cheese, so when I have some that seems like it might outrun me, I throw it in the freezer. I pulled out every cheese I could find except the rind of good parmeggiano I'm saving for if I ever make minestrone or something, and created:

Macaroni and Freezer Cheez
containing therein a heartening comingling of cheeses and pastas

* Bunged in the refrigerator to thaw and get to know each other for a couple days: Huge wedge of untouched brie (yes I said brie), aged cheddar, swiss, havarti, pre-grated mild cheddar, the last of a container of soft cream cheese and some slices of American! And some grated parmeggiano/romano mix for good measure. Oh the huddled masses. Notice the impatient and un food processor-ly way in which cheese is hacked into rough chunks (above).

* Flung together: a sauce made by rendering bacon lardons, making a roux with the bacon fat (once bacon removed) and some butter, then adding mostly chicken stock and one can of condensed milk (right? evaporated? I forget). At least a quart and a half of stock, I think. For flavor, pepper, dry mustard, paprika, Worchestershire--no salt. Huge sauce. Tons of sauce. Impatience again a guiding force as I fling the cheese in without waiting for the previous handfuls to melt completely, resulting in Pockets of Swiss in final product.

* Get exhausted, let the sauce cool down. Takes about three hours, with occasional stirs of the volcanic mixture, which thickens enormously.

* Cooked: all kinds of pasta from open boxes in the cupboard. But I still should have cooked more! I boiled farfalle, elbow macaroni, baby penne, and ditalini--shakings from various boxes--and it still wasn't enough. Also, got impatient and didn't boil it long enough, but as I hate anything more cooked than al dente pasta with a passion, that's okay. I figure I'll be microwaving this stuff for weeks anyhow. Boil pasta, drain carefully, mix with the sauce. Reserve a little cooking water just in case.

* Eaten! Nice bowlful seen here, topped with a sprinkling of the bacon, which should really be turned into a crunchy bread topping, but I don't have a roaster/baking pan to bake the mac and cheese in anyhow, so the whole thing is going to be stored in the extremely thin aluminum chili pot, so thin that when I cook with it I put it on top of a Le Creuset frying pan, the heaviest thing I own.

It's good! Thrilled I put no salt in it, as you can imagine it's all pretty salty. And I like the combination of cheeses. Now I have a huge pot of mac and cheese and still a ton of cheese sauce, so it's time to buy a lot of Lactaid and broccoli. And freeze again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Call me nutsy, but doesn't Franco Corelli's ha-ha-ha-ha-ha at the end of "Non piangere, Liu" sound like Stewie's crazy laugh? That is all.

Monday, May 11, 2009

And I remember going one night to a famous restaurant, the quiet, subtly lighted kind like the Chambord, with a man who was healthier than almost anyone I ever met, because he had just emerged from months of dreadful illness, the quiet, subtly mortal kind. He still moved cautiously and spoke in a somewhat awed voice, and with a courteous but matter-of-fact apology he ordered milk toast for himself, hinting meanwhile at untold gastronomical delights for me.

. . . Helpless, a little hysterical under our super-genteel exteriors, my friend and I waited.

"R Is for Romantic"
An Alphabet for Gourmets, M.F.K. Fisher

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sometimes you know as sure as the sun coming up that this will be a day you drag your bathrobe tie in the toilet water. Just going to happen.

Also, I think that "Lola" may be in my top five fav rock songs list. It just keeps banging around up there. Among other fabulousnesses, it resolves so well, unlike lots of other great pop songs, that descend badly from a good chorus to a bad verse or vice versa or whatever. It just swells and swells and swells.

What a horrible concept Desert Island Discs thing is in some ways. Despite all the ways we limit what we listen to, what we experience, how yucky to be stuck with one thing. Or five things. Or even just good things! Surely that's one of the perqs as a human, getting to roll around in all of it...

Scratchings from the world of mingy cultural minutiae

Getting pissed about yet another dumb generalization about Maria Callas (I'm not an avowed Callas freak but those comments still make me nuts; fat/thin/slumping/good posture/savant/hardworker/whatever) led to Playing YooToob for a while this afternoon, opera-style. Clicking and clicking and searching and comparing and listening and getting all worked up, aria after aria. Thing to thing to thing.

It's a very short hop from Callas to Tosca in general (with some serious Rossini tangents...note: I am determined to see the Met HDTV Cenerentola encore). And that landed me, as per usual, at a Te Deum fest, one of my fav things in opera, period, full-stop, since the time I was really way too young to yell "illanguidir con spasimo d'amor" along with Scarpia. I usually try the Ruggiero Raimondi, the Bryn Terfel, the Sherrill Milnes, others; today I tried a little Dmitri Hvorostovsky, whom I'd never heard sing that. Anyhow.

That's how I found a clip from Quantum of Solace that incorporates in one scene the Te Deum from a futuristic production of Tosca, actually recorded (so I read) at the Brengenz Festival in Vienna in 2007, with Sebastien Soules as Scarpia. Which is kind of cool and chic and internationale.

But in actuality...oh meh. Ehhh...meh. The music in the scene is so bad! Twerked and ProToolsed and edited or something. Lacking (very) the qualities that make that music--and that scene--so great: the strong orchestral role; the tolling rhythm; the layers of types of music; the slight but daring drone in Scarpia's part; the sheer evil! It's incredibly flattened out.

Soules himself is extremely meh, although who knows how he actually sounded before he was sound engineered. He sounds a little like a yelping tenor rather than a baritone, Scarpia being the baddest bad baritone who ever toned. Even the visuals of Soules make him look more like Cavaradossi, the beleaguered poet shirt-ed tenor, than Scarps. He looks all...anguished. Scarpia's a bad-ass. Did they think people wouldn't get that it was opera if there wasn't a tenor?

The other thing I'm noticing (which seems related in a 3T way) is that this piece of music seems to be in a fair way to be nessundormaed, if I may coin a snooty phrase; people are kind of glomming onto it the way the Turandot aria was commandeered in the 90s ("I love this song!").

Which was painful--this phenom led to a lot of really really bad recordings of that piece. And I know I'm being a crashing snob. And people have done this since the beginning of time! (Remember all the John Williams commercials for classical music turned into popular music in the 70s? "You may know Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto as 'Tonight We Love.'") But the Te Deum is so incredibly cool in situ; it's not a snippet, it's not a gobbet, it's not a commercial. It's dramatic and subversive; a guy ranting in church about disavowing god and seducing a woman! Somehow that stuff all goes away in scenes like the one in Q of S.

Which I guess it's supposed to, except that somewhere they are leveraging its oomph. Maybe that's just life. I know I am being a bit ridiculous and everything is commandeered for everything now. And look at me saying this after a bunch of YooToobing, which is totally gobbets and blips and snippets. There is just something about how modern movies borrow scenes from opera that is kinda lame, period, independent of the fact that I like opera and would rather see the opera itself than a kinda lame movie that kinda lamely uses a lame version of the music to lamely leverage the unconvincing drama of its lame plot. It's just often too referential, in a lazy ways. Too second-hand. Not sure about Cavalleria Rusticana and Godfather III, btw, since I don't want to watch Al Pacino get greased.

[Sidebar: The Quantum of Solace logo has been driving me nuts in a needly underground way, and I know why now that I've actually looked at it. Those Os...the O in "of" and "Solace" that are linked by font/placement and part of the "007" bit. NO! Oh man, no. It's bad to emphasis that O in of, first of all; you don't know where to put emphasis in your head correctly as a result, having it dumped on the preposition there. Plus they are Os, not 0s, which also clanks when you link it up with the seven (and the gun). It's not horrible, it just...does not please.]

And with this, I think I've used up my cranky gouty old bachelor lawyer gripes about cultural matters for a couple weeks. But there you go. The other possible name for this blog at one point was Cahiers du Whatever I Think, so...yeah, fuck it. There you go.

Nel tuo cuor s'annida Scarpia!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

1. I have indulged in a truly juvenile, puerile, embarrassing, ridiculous, idiotic, high school screen saver! Fun. Every once in a while there are advantages to not having a job.

2. Funniest word I heard from a Frenchman recently: whooped, in this case as in whooped cream. Also: attentionnate. Cool new adjective, that.

3. I just have to say it, because it's been coming up a lot recently. I DON'T BELIEVE IN THE OXFORD COMMA (most of the time). I don't like it. If you feel like you can't be friends with me anymore, I understand. But I just can't do it.

4. The whole snooty smug billmaher/sethmacfarlane/atheistic axis, if I may lick my finger and put it in the air to take a half-assed reading of the zeitgeist for a moment, is starting to irk me. It's limited. In all the ways that it justly charges fire-breathing religion to be.

5. The proper way to respond to difficult kenkens: fling your pencil across the room. Cripes!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Acting on a pash for all things Chocolate and Mint, I had a surge through Walgreen's last night and came out with Andes Mints, Junior Mints, a few Lindor Truffle Mints and Mint Chocolate M&Ms Premiums. The winner? From a purely chocolate/mint POV? The fancypants new M&Ms, which have an odd speckled sort of metallic-looking paint on their outsides. Outsides which do NOT include the traditional M&Ms candy shell exoskeleton, by the way. Just an initially firm give under your teeth. They had the best balance of chocolate and mint. I like the Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate with Mint Filling Squares even better, but Walgreen's was out of those. Better than any of these? Fazermints, which are getting harder to find out and about. Mmmm...fazzerr.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sexy thought of the day: why no American chiropodist industry?

Friday, May 01, 2009

stuff...I like stuff

* I have now seen Marty twice, and I wonder now how I ever didn't want to see it. It's such a great movie: such great structure, great dialogue. And who knew I really liked Ernest Borgnine. That movie grabbed me by the lapels and made me watch it, once I got close enough. Love that.

* On the other side of things: I recently watched Love and Other Disasters, basically to see a hilarious 2.5-minute Dawn French bit, which you can watch here. The bit was good--again--as was about one minute of unrelated dialogue towards the end. The rest: yick.

* There is something about the four-main-guys format of Family Guy and King of the Hill that makes you constantly wonder which one's your favorite. The correct answer, by the way? Quagmire and Dale. Every time.

* It's very (alternately) lilies-of-the-field and exasperating to do deep breathing/stretching next to two cats. They sort of look at you like...cripes. You're working awfully hard at something we never ever ever have to think about.

* I descended into the Billy Goat the other day and felt overwhelmed with...feeling. All sorts of layers of reactions (touristy; I still get tweaked being offered "cheeps" and "coke"); nostalgic (remembering all the time logged at Billy Goat II in my 20s); happy (I love to order their double hamburger and eat the two patties open-faced on the separate halves of the bun); familiarity (newsguy on the TV was one I'd dealt with at my old job); angsty about the crash of civilization (yellowed bylines of now bankrupt papers; the empty spots where payphones were, thinking about Studs), amped up by the drone of the evening news. I'm starting to think the only analogy for years in journalism really is the military. I felt like a vet at a VFW or something, overblown as that sounds, although it wasn't all about that. It's just not a very neutral space, somehow. I always get torqued up there. Love those little flat hamburgers, though!

Other random food pensées:

* Bell peppers are the throw pillows of the cooking world. And vice versa (in things culinary).

* I am dying for a savory bistro meal of roasted chicken accompanied by a brilliant simple salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette and chicken juices. Some wine and good bread. Must achieve.

* God help me if I ever see an ad for Domino's Bread Bowl Pasta™ when I'm drunk. Good golly.

* I would like to see cooking shows actually prep veg real-time, especially greens. Just cause. Watch them wash and clean and wash and wash and dry pounds of spinach. Let's see you do that for thirty minutes.

* I dunno abut J. Pepin's new show. There are flashes of the old amazing Jacques, but oh. Oh. Oh.

* Must try the no ice cream machine chocolate ice cream from Cook's Illustrated folks! Looks fabulous.

* Why is white American cheese so much better than orange? It can't just be red n yellow dye.
I know I'm not the only one who hears LL Cool J as the voice in the headline, "Don't Call It a Swine Flu."