Month: March 2013

A Night at the Opera

Opera nights are always a time to pamper myself and all my senses, and not even think about what I choose to eat. They are feasts for the eyes, ears, and taste buds. A night at the Lyric is a total experience, worthy of dressing up.

When we arrive, after our tickets are scanned, we proceed to the elevator, to go up to the Bistro on the third floor. This is the first place where we are treated with elegance and special care. Each elevator has an elevator operator – a man dressed in a black tuxedo, like a butler on Downton Abbey. He genteelly asks us, “To the Bistro?”

“Yes,” we say and he punches the button for the third floor. As the door slides closed and the elevator begins moving, he tells us about the specials on the menu for the evening. Sometimes it’s Beef Bourguignon with a side salad and macaroons, or it could be Roast Duck with a delectable sauce to keep it moist, with a side salad or perhaps a potato. Each special has a name having to do with the opera: The Beef Bourguignon was called “La Bohème”. He also tells us the price: $25.00.

We never order the specials, but it’s fun to hear about them anyway. When the elevator door opens on the third floor, we go to the reception desk and are efficiently escorted to a tiny round brown and white marble-topped table already set with silverware, rolled white cloth napkins, and inviting glasses of ice water. The walls are filled with photographs of past Lyric productions of various operas. In one area of the restaurant, there is a glass case featuring the elegant gown worn by the lead female performer of a recent opera. This is always an elaborate costume, and gazing at it I always wonder how heavy and hot it must be, yet how the performer wears it with such apparent ease and grace as she moves about the stage singing her role.

We order from the regular menu, which consists of entrée salads, sandwich trios, filled pastries and a few other choices, all printed on one side of a narrow menu. The other side of the menu contains the wine list. We don’t generally order wine, because we want to stay awake for every beautiful moment of the opera. The coffee, however, is quite good: strong yet smooth, regular or decaf – they both taste the same. Tea and soda are also available. Occasionally my friend will order a glass of wine, and if she does, I might too.

Cobb salad - my entree at the Bistro before Lyric Opera performance of La Boheme.
Cobb salad – my entree at the Bistro before Lyric Opera performance of La Boheme.

Even though the portions are not large, the food is filling and always enough. Of course the restaurant would not want to encourage their patrons to take leftovers – imagine the smell of all that food in the auditorium! However, we do partake in a special treat: We order a dessert from the dessert menu, which will be ready and waiting for us when we come down at intermission.

It is usually about 6:30 when we are finished eating, ordering dessert and paying for our meal, and we take the stairs back down to the first floor, where there is a pre-opera lecture, at which we are told the story and background of the opera we are going to see, interspersed with snippets of arias, musical themes, or dramatic instrumentals. Programs in hand, we then head back upstairs – and we generally take the stairs, mindful of getting some exercise – usually our seats are four flights up, to the back of the first balcony, the cheapest seats, but by no means a lesser experience. The acoustics at the Lyric are absolutely wonderful, and if we cannot see the expressions on the characters’ faces, we take out a pair of small binoculars that fold up into a pocket-sized case to get a closer view. This has to be well-timed, however: generally the opera is sung in Italian, German or French, and I don’t want to miss the supertitles in English projected above the stage. That is why I try to plan my binocular use to moments when the singers are repeating the same line of text and I don’t have to read a translation of what’s being sung.

Before the opera starts, I read about the first act, or whatever comes before the intermission, usually while I am in the ladies’ room. You cannot leave while the opera is being performed because they will not let you back in until the intermission or an interval between acts, so it’s best to get this necessity out of the way beforehand.

Just before the performance begins, everyone is reminded to silence their “mobile communication devices”. Even so, sometimes someone suffers the mortification of having their phone ring, the ringtone usually in embarrassing dissonance with the music. People glance around to figure out where the sound is coming from and generally discover someone frantically groping for their phone in order to turn it off or subtly pushing it with their foot farther under the seat to muffle the sound until it stops ringing, while those around them glare at them with irritation.

Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for begins. The conductor of the orchestra comes out and is applauded, the musicians tune their instruments, and the opening overture begins. The heavy curtain is raised, revealing the

Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme (2013)
Rodolfo and Mimi in La Boheme (2013)

scenery which will be used for much of the opera. Sometimes it is somewhat plain, but often it is elegant and dramatic, complimenting the mood and setting of the opera. I remember one opera, Eugene Onegin, in which the entire stage was covered with brilliantly colored autumn leaves, through which the characters moved about, as a few leaves fell around them, covering the spaces they invariably made with their footsteps. Another took place at a dye factory and from the upper balcony, we could see vats of colored “dyes” (probably paint) in rustic hues of red, orange, yellow, brown and blue.  I often think that the balcony has a better view of the stage because we are looking down on it and can see the entire layout. Those on the main floor see the characters closer up, but miss some of the spectacular scenery laid out on the stage.

Now comes the real treat: the feast for the eyes and ears. Glorious music enfolds us and we are drawn in to the scene on stage, feeling the emotions of the characters through the soprano’s exhilarating high notes, the bass’s impressive low notes, and the intricate harmonies of the soprano’s and tenor’s love duet. The color, the dramatic ups and downs of the music, the palpable excitement of the singers as they sing their arias, duets and trios – it’s an incredible, enticing show.

Finally the curtain goes down at the intermission and we quickly get up, leaving our coats, binoculars and other unnecessary items at our seats, and head back down to the Bistro.

We give our name at the reception desk and are immediately shown to our table, where the elegantly designed, delectable desserts await us. A dessert

Dessert at intermission of La Boheme
Dessert at intermission of La Boheme

called Freud’s Fantasy (topped with a long, slender cookie that looks quite phallic); a flourless chocolate cake; a chocolate mousse dipped and covered in chocolate and caramel, and topped with a chocolate wafer; an apple crisp; or if you want to watch your weight, a fruit plate or a serving of macaroons. I take a picture of my dessert with my cell phone and post it on Facebook with a caption indicating what opera we are experiencing.

Intermission is usually 25 minutes, and how quickly it goes! We have already paid for our dessert but we barely have time to finish before we hear a series of bell tones, indicating 10 minutes, then 5 minutes, to curtain time. I rush to the washroom – by now there is no line out the door – and we always manage to get back to our seats in time.

My friend was told to bring tissue to La Bohème – it is a tearjerker, and no matter how implausible, the stories of the operas always draw me in and I feel everything I’m supposed to feel. Often operas end with someone dying or some kind of tragedy. Somehow the emotion of this type of ending stays with me the longest, the mood lingering on the Metra ride home, and throughout the night.

Every time I wake up during the night, I remember the music, the story, or the mood of what I’ve seen the night before. I can still taste the experience the next morning or long afterward as the aria melodies replay in my head, until they fragment into forgetfulness. No matter what I’ve forgotten, I know that soon I will have another thrilling experience to look forward to: the next time I attend a Lyric Opera performance.

The Daily Post: To go or not to go?

March 2nd’s prompt: Beach, mountain, forest, or somewhere else entirely?

I would like to visit just about anywhere in the world. I enjoy beaches, but mountains and forests even more so. The beauty of natural landforms all over our planet are worth seeing, as well as man made ones. I would like to see:

  • The mountains and glaciers of Alaska
  • The forests of the Northwestern U.S. and Canada
  • The beaches of the Polynesian and Micronesian islands
  • The culture, art and music of Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The cultures of India and the nations of the Far East
  • Germany’s Black Forest
  • Tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and the Amazon basin
  • Castles and cliffs of Ireland
  • Rivers and lakes of Eastern Europe
  • The Amazon River
  • Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Fjords of Norway and Chile
  • The large heads of Easter Island and the Olmecs of Mexico
  • The countries of “Down under”: Australia and New Zealand

I want to revisit:

  • Forests of pinheiros paranaenses in Parana, Brazil
  • Brazilian cities including: Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Brasilia, Salvador
  • The beaches of Buzios, Brazil
  • Machu Picchu, Peru (and visit other Inca sites I didn’t visit before)
  • Mexico, including Mayan ruins, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Tenochtitlan and other Aztec ruins

I know there are many other places that I have forgotten to mention, because really, I would like to travel everywhere on the globe, except for one continent:

March 3rd’s prompt: Is there a place in the world you never want to visit? Where, and why not?

I don’t think I ever want to visit Antarctica. I don’t think I could stand the cold, the isolation, the freezing wind blowing snow in my face. Not a tree or other living thing; nothing to block the monotony of a snowy, icy surface as far as the eye can see. There are glacial plateaus, and a coastline that might offer lots of photo opps, but I would worry that the ship would get caught in the ice! I love penguins, but will have to be content to see them in nature documentaries or at the zoo.

In contrast, I would love to go to Alaska. It’s cold there, too, but if I go in the Northern Hemisphere summer (which is when I have vacation), the scenery there is beautiful – mountains, glaciers, lakes.

Not so Antarctica! Some may find a desolate, stark beauty there, but to me it is sort of terrifying. A penguin’s egg, if it falls off its parents’ feet onto the ice, can freeze in seconds, killing the baby inside. Imagine a human being walking on that icy continent: any exposed part of your face or body can freeze quickly, and really, does bundling up with several layers REALLY keep out the cold? No, thanks! I may go most places on the globe, and visit every continent, except that frozen one at the South Pole.

Peru 2008: Cusco Day 1, Part 2: Shaman, jewelry, museums, dance

June 30, 2008

When I look at my pictures and see what time they were taken, I’m amazed that we went so quickly from one place to another. I don’t remember feeling rushed, but at the end of the day, I was exhausted! So I guess it shows how determined I was to document the trip that in the evening, I either wrote in my journal, or sent an email home from an Internet cafe (when one was available). June 30, however, was not one of those days. So I continue blogging about this day based on my and my husband’s pictures and whatever I can remember or glean from sources online.

A shaman for tourists

Yes, I know, there are people who perform “traditional” rituals for tourists as their livelihood, and that they may not be truly “authentic” but I am glad they exist so that I, as a tourist in Peru, was able to learn about some of their practices and get a glimpse of what the traditional rituals are like. Without them, I would not have ever found out anything about traditional medicine as performed by shamans, and OAT does go out of its way to expose its tours to a variety of cultural experiences, unlike many mainstream tour companies.

Ceremonial preparation includes coca leaves and other plant material
Ceremonial preparation includes coca leaves and other plant material

When we arrived at the ceremony that OAT had arranged for us, the shaman had laid the ceremonial materials on the rug in front of him. This ceremony was a sort of blessing and “stress reliever.” The shaman gathered a sample of these materials into a bundle, which he held up for us to breathe (“life”) into.

Raw00668Then he said intoned prayers in Quechua as he shook this bundle up and down our bodies, front and back.

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Dale is being blessed
Dale is being blessed

595He repeated this procedure with each of the individuals in our group who wanted to participate. I think he prepared a new bundle for each person, although I can’t remember.

From the shaman ceremony, we went to Grupo Ama Arte Mágico Andino Joyería, a jewelry workshop and store, where we were able to see artisans making jewelry pieces using silver, gold, stones and other materials.

599Raw00670There was, of course, a shop attached to this studio where we were invited to buy jewelry made there. I purchased a pendant in the shape of the Inca sacred symbol (with the three tiers representing the sky, earth and underground) made of silver with a purple inlay and a small turquoise stone in the center, and a silver chain to wear it with.

Just outside the studio, my husband took this picture of a young weaver, which is one of my favorite pictures, because of the weaver’s facial features and expression, the loom at which he sits, and the color of his clothing, skeins of yarn and weavings.

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Afterward we visited Museo Inka and Museo de Arte Popular, two of the best museums in Cusco, containing a variety of ancient and modern artifacts of Peru, made by local artists. We also visited Museo de Arte Contemporaneo.

Photos of any kind were not allowed in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, but we were allowed to take photos without flash in the other two museums. Dale took a lot of pictures in both Museo Inka and in the Museo de Arte Popular, capturing the unique, unusual, or personally relevant. I did not take pictures in these museums, relying on Dale for these, because I couldn’t figure out at the time how to turn off the flash on my new digital camera.

Raw00675 Raw00673 Raw00676Also in the museum in which these photos were taken, was a great example of the ekeko, god of abundance (modern version). You can hang representations of many things that you want, including a house (miniature), foam (representing a mattress – a good bed for sleeping), confetti (for good luck), money (either miniature versions of bills or yarn, because if you sell wool, you get money), a bag of tiny balls (food), TV set, car, and a heart (love), among many other things. Tobacco leaves are considered sacred and are used by shamans, and other plants which make you feel good may also be found on the ekeko. It is custom to light a cigarette butt on Tuesdays and Fridays, and put it in the ekeko‘s mouth; you then make wishes and say prayers. The smoke of tobacco, marijuana or coca invokes sacred spirits.

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The other museum, probably the Museum of Popular Art, contained many small sculptures of daily scenes, the Nativity (I collect nativity scenes from around the world), masks, etc.

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Before and after, we explored some buildings and plazas of Cusco:

This statue was left over from  Inti Raymi, festival of the sun god. My son Jayme poses next to it.
This statue was left over from Inti Raymi, festival of the sun god. My son Jayme poses next to it.
Church of Santo Domingo, built on the site of the Koricancha
Church of Santo Domingo, built on the site of the Koricancha

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Plaza de Armas in late afternoon
Plaza de Armas in late afternoon

This church, I believe, is "La Compania."
This church, I believe, is “La Compania.”
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas
fountain and children in Plaza de Armas
fountain and children in Plaza de Armas
Shops and restaurants that surround the square
Shops and restaurants that surround the square
The plaza is a good place to relax and hang out after work
The plaza is a good place to relax and hang out after work

Near our hotel, Hotel Don Carlos on Avenida El Sol, is a cultural center, Danza del Centro Qosqo (another way to spell Cusco). We learned that there was going to be a show of traditional dances at 6 pm that evening, so we set out after a short rest at the hotel.

In the end, Dale and I did not stay for the entire performance. We were tired and hungry, so after we looked at some of the mannequins with traditional costumes, we left and walked to the Plaza de Armas to find a place to eat.

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Mannequins in native costumes, the one on the left is from Ollantaytambo
Mannequins in native costumes, the one on the left is from Ollantaytambo
Mannequin in costume of Chinchero district, province of Urubamba
Mannequin in costume of Chinchero district, province of Urubamba
Musical instruments and decorative two handled jar
Musical instruments and decorative two handled jar

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Costumes from the province of Acomayo
Costumes from the province of Acomayo

We did some window shopping on the way back to Hotel Don Carlos. Exhausted after this long and eventful day, we went to bed soon afterward, which is why I did not write in my journal that day!