Friday, September 30, 2011

La Boheme, duet Marcello, Mimi

Speravo di trovarvi qui

Sarah Fletcher, soprano - Ken Sabalza, baritone
Josh Brown, pianist

Fat Chance Opera, August 2011

See also:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fruit on Grafted Branches

In 1963 the railroad moved us to Oregon
Dad had not seen his cousins Sam and Savario since the war
It must have been during his six months at the Vancouver Barracks
After twenty years, we drove to visit them in Washington

At the table in Grandma's kitchen I'd heard their names
These sons of Italy and of my grandfather's brother
I knew them as well as I knew my grandfather
He died before I was born

Puget Sound and the Olympics were the only landmarks Dad needed
to find their houses on the Hilltop in Tacoma, a safer neighborhood then
I hadn't imagined they'd heard of me
But when we arrived, they knew my name

The Calabrese dialect was rich on the men's tongues
Ida and Yolanda, sisters-in-law, told the stories for my sister and me
I was fourteen and my sister ten
Ida told stories we didn't understand
but Yolanda spoke well

Of how Sam and Savario together built Savario's and Yolanda's house
The spacious brick house on Wilkeson Street
In the back yard they grafted apple, pear, peach, and plum branches into a single tree

Next door, on the corner, they built Sam's and Ida's place
A smaller, white wood-frame house

Savario worked as a longshoreman
Sam building cabinetry

Savario spoke jovial Italo-American
When English failed him, Yolanda explained

Mom tried to follow Ida in Calabrese
Dad remembered the dialect and explained both ways

If Sam and Savario were my father's cousins
What did that make their kids to my sister and me?
Julie, Patty, Joey, Cecilia, and Sammy
We got acquainted in the shade of Sam's fig tree

We saw that Joey's speech was slow
His eyes were full of love
But punks on the block bullied him
Sammy was then too small to intervene
Defending her brother, Cecilia was tough

The girls taught my sister a few words
The Italian for eggs, toast, a cup of coffee
In the morning Yolanda verified her nascent diction

We wandered to an elementary school yard
Sammy played in the sand
Aspiring to be in a muscle magazine
I did pull-ups on a galvanized bar

Domenic, their friend, was learning to drive
He came by and took Patty for a ride

Ten years after we went home to Oregon
the University of Washington brought me back again

I drove past the port, up to the Hilltop neighborhood
By the reservoir and elementary school

Savario and Yolanda hadn't changed
Sam had more English by then
The houses were the same
They knew my name

Both families came to my first wedding
The mafia, my former brother-in-law said
Sam offered to help with repairs to the old house I'd bought
Five years later the house was not my problem

When the families came to my parents 50th wedding anniversary, I had remarried
Julie and Patty had children of their own
In a Lutheran Church, we sang  love songs from Broadway shows
My Norwegian mother won the Reformation at home

How did another ten years pass?
We started getting together for funerals

The last time I walked with the men through the neighborhood
Sam said of Savario, "He forget everything."
My father was there, before he too began to forget

When Savario died, St. Rita's Church consoled survivors around his casket

Sam died in his chair, his memory intact, of a heart attack
Another line of people stood at the altar of St. Rita's

Sam's offer of help with my first house was not uncommon
Neighbors didn't call the plumber, they called Sam

A woman, whom as a girl, Sam and Ida had loved
Stood to lament the passing of her friend
She had frequently stayed for dinner

Her father was a deserter
Her mother worked nights
Sam always waited for her to put the napkin on her lap

He saved every ripe fig for Ida

Everybody worried about Joey, a still boyish, fiftyish man
The priest said, "You'll have to help your mother.
"Are you OK?"
Joey was calm and said he was OK

Cecilia and Sam Jr. check on their mom
Joey works part-time at the YMCA
He knows a lot of baseball statistics from watching TV
Occasional he goes to a Pilots' game
The house is the same

Not long after Sam's funeral, Yolanda began to forget
Julie and Patty, retired from teaching, cared for her
She seemed content until she was gone

Two years ago, we got together at Cecilia's for Christmas dinner
Dad and Mom came on the train
There was a football game on Art's big screen

Ida held my hand in hers again
Come and see us, she said

I said that we would
The crucifixes in those houses know my name

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Art of Family Photographs

Late 1940s photos from the family collection.

Eastern Montana landscape.  My grandfather was a railroad section foreman.

They couldn't keep my mother down on the farm.  Her Norwegian parents weren't prepared when she married into the Italian family of the previous photos, but everybody got used to the idea.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Drama of a Grey Day

A Douglas Fir towers in the sky
Magnolia blossoms still cling to branches where they dried

Workmen in leather gloves raise the dust
A laboring engine pumps slurry under sinking concrete

In our friends absence
After seven or eight weeks, their house sold

Rao left supervision of a hundred engineers
To assist Nirupama during her father's heart surgery in India

The decision to sell the house...
Dissatisfaction with career, interviews with a competitor

Family concerns
The house has too many stairs if the parents move here

Recovery presumed, Nirupama's father abruptly died
Prayers to Jesus and the gods still hang in the air

Yesterday or a month ago, we laughed together
Their brown-eyed boy, Anniru, climbed my chair

Rao has returned to the apartment and work
Nirupama says later in September

After she settles her worst ordeal ever

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twenty Fifth Anniversary # 25!

Punctuate it!
Twenty five years 25!
! #25
Since the day we were married

Dinner at The Pomegranate
Didn't do it

The trip to Spain?
We didn't do it

Twenty five years
Since we were younger
Now we're better
Not at tennis
Which we've neglected

But our legs have gone the distance
Rocky and Apollo Creed
We've slugged it out
We keep bouncing back

You are the most inspirational player on our team
A dream team

Best friend
The joy of my life

Best friend and only lover
Best lover and only friend

I love you
I am inspired
To sing with you
An everlasting duet

This is a silver-haired anniversary for you
A sparse-haired anniversary for me

I tend toward histrionics
At any thought of your absence
While I abandon you for days to work
But this afternoon, you've left me
For four hours

Time to contemplate the trip to Spain
That we didn't do
A week and four days ago
On the actual 25th anniversary of our marriage

Time to imagine another 25 years
In compensation for an event without punctuation
A celebration in prose, in lower case
It didn't hurt much after singing poetry for so long
Our symphony of love songs

Where are we going next?
It seems having not gone, or not often, anyway
Has been a confinement that made us sing
Like the caged bird of that novel that I didn't read
Having sung behind bars long enough on my own
And then in joyful ardor, knowing you

We began, having more fun together than lunging at life alone
Then about sunset before an evening at the opera
I asked, what is love and are we in it?
Your smile answered my jest
And somehow you sustained the humor
For months that resembled immolations that night on the stage

We have the future
It need not resemble the past
Though we surely could have done worse
We might yet break the world record for bliss

We wanted to live in the nineteenth century with Verdi, Brahms, and Schumann
The world made us work as if their art had never existed

You fought attorneys and wrote land-use code
I wrangled truck drivers, worked as a medical tech
Then I discovered C++  and read Microcosm
We skimmed the twentieth century and landed in the twenty first
Where ever we're going, it will be high-tech

This is the only way I can get you to read my blog
So what I have I got to make it worth the click?
Where is my paean to a gorgeous goddess?
Ha!  It was a trick
You'll have to keep reading week after week.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Watching Tomatoes Ripen

Sunshine has been a slow starter this year
A neighbor called it summer in September
Now it's eight-five degrees and dry
A couple of more months of this will be fine

Squash and tomatoes are trying to ripen
The fig tree is loaded with figs, still green
Inhale the peaceful flood of this day
Wait for red, yellow, and brown in the leaves

It always takes me by surprise
The plulse of the earth in the yard
In here it's too still to breathe
And  the sky...    Let's go back outside

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Die Meere

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)         Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827)
Audio Track

Alle Winde schlafen
auf dem Spiegel der Flut;
kühle Schatten des Abends
decken die Müden zu

Luna hängt sich Schleier
über ihr Gesicht,
schwebt in dämmernden Träumen
über die Wasser hin

Alles, alles stille
auf dem weiten Meer!
Nur mein Herz will nimmer
mit zu Ruhe gehn

In der Liebe Fluten
treibt es her und hin,
wo die Stürme nicht ruhen
bis der Nachen sinkt


All the winds sleep
on the mirror of the flood
cool shadows of evening
cover the weary

The moon draws a veil
across her face,
floating in twilight dreams
over the water

Everything, everything is still
on the wide sea!
Only my heart will never
find peace

The tide of love
drags it here and there,
where storms never rest
until the boat sinks

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You can have a Career in the Arts

Yes, you can, and you don't have to be Sammy Davis Jr.

It is liberating to contemplate art that is essentially art and not hype.  When it began to dawn on me that music can get along fine without all the puff that sells music, I was listening to a duet from Verdi's La Traviata, that of Violetta and the elder Germont, at a recital in the studio of a vocal coach in the Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle.  Something clicked.  This is the real thing!  There were maybe twenty five people in the audience, but the singing was better than many professionals I'd heard at Seattle Opera or on recordings. The ohhh sensation was a bit like the feeling that hit me, when I was a kid and I realized that my father's friends were more interesting than any of the actors in the movies. Dad took me occasionally to the Orpheum Theater because I liked Victor Mature on the big screen, but Dad's Italian relatives and friends, I soon realized, were a lot more fun than Demetrius and the Gladiators, or Shark Hunters, and there were more real cowboys in my mother's family than in any of John Wayne's westerns.

When I read John Steinbeck's novels, I began to realize they were about people I knew, some of whom I respected and loved and others who were a real pain, but Steinbeck, most of the time, could connect his lyric prose to farm families and fishermen who meant something to me.  I'd had some encouragement from writing instructors in English composition classes.  I thought, hell, I can do this, and I started writing a novel.  Before I knew how big a fish I had on the line, I had written three novels, one of which got me to finish school and my degree at the University of Washington.  Of course, the first novel was supposed to make me rich, but things turned out much better than that.  I hadn't realized how rich I already was until I started dredging up pieces of my life to memorialize in print.  There are many definitions of fiction.  Mine is living everything that you missed while it happened.

What is art anyway?  Well, OK, that's too big for a blog post of the dimensions I have in mind, but I can tell you what art isn't.  It's not an aspiring poet who reads something by Theodore Roethke and then tries to write in the most Roethke-rhythmic vein imaginable. This is some reflection of a world that shimmered momentarily in Theodore Roethke's mind.  A professor who taught writing at the University of Washington, who knew Roethke, told me he could be a windbag. Why revive verbiage from somebody else's reflection of a world long gone, when you have the world vividly focused right in front of you?  I suppose it seems better to live on Guggenheim fellowships and the salary of a tenured professor than work at Home Depot and write poetry at the lunch counter, but my former instructor said Roethke had to drag him to a bar and corner him for an afternoon to have a conversation.  I've had fine conversations while working for a living, with people who really wanted to talk.

Artistic authenticity is putting your work in front of people in some old-fangled auditorium, preferably without amplification.  Get up and read, sing, or play your instrument for people who haven't paid fifty bucks for the privilege of hearing you.  Some of them will appreciate the experience and remember it.  There is a recent account of Joshua Bell playing his violin in a subway station in New York City.  Most people walked right past him, oblivious to what they were hearing.  Play for anybody who will listen.  When nobody will listen, listen to yourself play, or play for your laptop computer.  I'll add a link to you from my blog.

I met my wife in a music studio.  For nearly thirty years since then we have both had careers in the arts, or serious arts distractions; it's all a matter of perspective.  Art is embellishment of life--the reincarnation of life, inhalation and exhalation of life, singing.  When I was in high school on the track team, there was a hurdler who sang in the shower: "There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them ringing.  No I never heard them at all, 'til there was you... "  It was nearly fifty years ago, but I still remember his lyric gift. He had a career that meant more to me than most of the singers I've heard since. And I've been onstage with some stunners!

Your artistic career is authentic, more so for not being hyped into the monstrous proportions everywhere cavorting on digital screens.  Put your work online. Read it for your friends.  Have a party!  When all else fails, food will draw an audience.  And it's fun, not a scary and scarring experience that gives new meaning to the idea of suffering for art.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Give Me some Stout-Hearted Men

Fat Chance Opera has men and women with heart! 

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget.