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The Met: Live in HD—Turandot

When my mother remarried this spring, I became part of a much larger blended family spread out across the continent.  I also gained new step-siblings, which is a relatively novel situation for an only child.  One of these is an award-winning younger step-brother who just made his debut performance with New York’s Metropolitan Opera last month, with my mother and stepfather in attendance.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to see my famous stepbrother in the Met’s grandiose production of Turandot, via The Met: Live in HD.  Now I’ve seen him perform with the TSO and other companies before, but that was a pale shadow of the sumptuous spectacle put on by the Met.  The staging, costumes and set design of Franco Zeffirelli’s Turandot are light years beyond the complexity of any other opera production I have ever seen in this country.  It simply beggars belief.

The experience of watching opera at the cinema is a tad surreal.  There’s the usual gaggle of teenaged ushers and attendants, and the usual refreshments (popcorn, candy, snacks) too.  In many ways it feels wrong to partake of high culture in such a lowbrow venue, but it does have its advantages.

One such advantage is that the audience sees through the lens of the cameras; allowing close-ups, medium and wide shots as they best fit the dramatic conceits of the scene.  And I will say that the Met’s camera work was excellent, fitting the flow of the story; only once or twice in the whole three hours did I feel that the director selected a sub-optimal shot.  Another is that the cameras go backstage during the two intermissions, interviewing cast and musicians, and permitting us to watch an army of stage hands tear down the first act set and replace it with the absolutely mammoth palace courtyard set for the second act (which takes no less than 30 minutes).

Saturday’s broadcast was, however, hampered by some severe technical difficulties (repeated breaks in audio/video feeds, between 5 and 15 seconds in duration) that reportedly emanated from the Met itself.  Cinema management at the location we attended smartly announced after the first act that due to the technical glitches, each patron would receive two complimentary “special event” passes, thus ensuring that we would, in all likelihood, end up using them to see two more “Met: Live in HD” performances (I’ve got my eye on Aida and Carmen).

Historically I have not been much of an opera seria enthusiast, and I tend to stay away from the sturm und drang of the Wagners—but like any kid who grew up watching Rabbit of Seville, I do have a sentimental fondness for the opera buffa genre.  This may be one of the few times I have outright enjoyed a traditional grand opera; although the first act of Turandot failed to hook me, I was completely reeled in by the second act; whether that is due to Puccini’s orchestration, Zeffirelli’s lavish staging, or the magical combination of the two, who can say.

But at the end of the day, I liked it.  I want to see more.

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The Flappettes

Once again ‘the Internet’ proves the adage that whatever you can think of already exists one Google-search away. So I should not be surprised to learn (although I am) that an all-female Toronto dance company—known as The Flappettes—specialises in keeping the Jazz Age flapper stylings of our great-grandparents alive.

Flappettes, originally uploaded by luluhop.

P1030540-USM, originally uploaded by Salsavaders.

P1030539-USM, originally uploaded by Salsavaders.

P1030541-USM, originally uploaded by Salsavaders.

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Ark of Arts

PDVD_031In Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men, the human population has become infertile, most of the world’s cities have been laid to waste, and only Britain remains somewhat intact.  Battersea Power Station has been turned into the Ministry of Art’s “Ark of Arts”—the repository of humanity’s priceless art treasures, salvaged from the wreck and ruin of less stable nations, now preserved for posterity.

You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that Canada is doing something like this, musically.  Via Torontoist:

Since 1985, the Canada Council for the Arts has been amassing (on a small scale) more than twenty-six million US dollars worth of antique instruments for the benefit of Canadian musicians. This week the Canada Council hosts the Musical Instrument Bank’s largest national competition ever to decide who will take home one of thirteen pieces—plus a cello bow—fabricated between 1689 and 1902. This week the competing Canadian musicians have played before a jury of three experts, and the winners, who will be announced today, will take home the instrument of their choice on loan for a period of three years. The fourteen winning musicians play a showcase performance tonight at the Glenn Gould studio (RSVP here for tickets), to be aired on Bill Richardson’s In Concert next Sunday (October 4). Glenn Gould Studio (Canadian Broadcasting Centre, 250 Front Street West), 10 a.m. (winners announced), 8 p.m. (performance), FREE.

I have to admit I am actually enthusiastic about this, preserving humanity’s musical heritage and making it available to exceptional Canadian performers is exactly what organisations like the Canada Council ought to be doing.  Now making a mental note to give them a one-time pass the next occasion somebody goes into a tizzy over arts funding.

I’ve seen soloists performing with the TSO using some of these rare instruments, but their provenance was never mentioned in the performance or the guide.  I had assumed that some wealthy private patron had ponied up the dollars to get his or her mitts on these rare instruments, and then awarded them to the artist.

This is a worthy endeavour by the Canada Council, I hope they maintain it.

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Epica: Never Enough

After an extensive search, The Company is pleased to announce the selection of Dutch group Epica as the official Symphonic Metal Band-in-Residence of Taylor Empire Airways.  We would like to extend our thanks and best wishes to former title-holder Nightwish, who had a pretty good run.  No hard feelings, fellas.  It’s just that we have an affection for classically-trained sopranos, and after Tarja Turunen was ejected from Nightwish in 2005 and replaced with Annette Olzon, the band’s soundscape has been, in our opinion, less polished.  Which is not to say that Ms. Olzon is not talented; but her vocals aren’t our cup of tea.

On the other hand Epica is still equipped with a servicable mezzo-soprano (one Simone Simons), and the band’s musical stylings are indeed very similar to that of Nightwish; in fact the Nightwish album Oceanborn is specifically cited as one of Ms. Simons’ inspirations to take classical singing lessons.  So without further adieu, here is Epica:

As a clarifying note, I would also like to assure the Board and Shareholders that the selection of Epica has absolutely nothing to do with this:


Simone Simons

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Mike Oldfield: Five Miles Out

The irony of this song is that a lot of its aviation-related terminology is correct, but because it’s Mike Oldfield, the vocals are all distorted with electronica and you can’t really tell what’s being said.

Incidentally, if you happen to be flying in a light twin which is suddenly overtaken by a hurricane, you won’t be able to climb out—hurricane cloud formations tend to top out somewhere between 45-52,000 feet.

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The Red Panda Adventures


In the tradition of the great mystery men of radio, pulp fiction and the golden age of comics comes The Red Panda, famed protector of 1930s Toronto! Hiding his true identity as on of the city’s wealthiest men behind a bright red domino mask, The Red Panda dispenses two-fisted pulp justice with strength, courage and eerie hypnotic powers. Joined in his quest by that Famed Fighting Female The Flying Squirrel, this Terrific Twosome holds high the lamp of justice in a dark time!

      1. Red Panda Adventures - Riddle of the Sphinx

Every now and then the Internet yields up an astonishing find that defies all expectations.  The Red Panda Adventures, a series of half-hour podcasts by local writer and actor Gregg Taylor (no relation) is one such find.  Set in pre-war Toronto, it is the eminently entertaining chronicle of a Canadian superhero created in the style of early pulp radio serials.   The original miniseries had six episodes set in the Second World War, with Red Panda fighting assorted evil, Nazi henchmen.  It was intended to be the pilot for a traditional, commercial broadcast effort that never came to pass.  In 2004, Mr. Taylor decided to release them as free podcasts/audio downloads on the site of his indie theatre company, Decoder Ring Theatre.

The response was overwhelming, and in 2005 he retooled Decoder Ring Theatre to focus on producing audio content and not live theatre work.  He wrote and produced a series of all-new Red Panda episodes, set somewhat earlier in Depression-era Toronto (the file I have linked above is the first of this series).  The new Red Panda Adventures were also released free to the public, with a modest request for listener donations if they enjoyed the product.  Four years and some fifty-odd episodes later, Taylor and Decoder Ring Theatre are still releasing Red Panda episodes to the general public.  For free.  This month they celebrated the millionth download of their audio programs.

The pulp adventure format has proved so popular that Mr. Taylor has branched out into Red Panda books and spawned another audio series: Black Jack Justice, noir-ish detective stories set in 1950s Toronto.  Black Jack Justice has also recently fielded its own comic.  Decoder Ring Theatre has grown in popularity to the point where it is hosting other writers’ creations as well, such as Matt Wallace’s Deck Gibson series (kind of an homage to Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon-style space opera).

The truly remarkable thing is that the vast majority of content is freely available.  I’m sure avid listeners donate regularly, and I’d be willing to bet Mr. Taylor has other, commercial “day jobs” to pay the bills, but I am also astounded at the prolific creativity of the man.  If the story of Gregg Taylor and Decoder Ring Theatre tells us anything, is it not that Canadian media producers need millions of dollars to keep feeding us the same old unpopular tropes and localised ripoffs of American shows.  It is that the basic building block of entertainment is, first and foremost, a really good story.  If you have good stories to tell, people will keep coming back for more—and be willing to pay for it.

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