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November 15, 2007

Speed 'Tosca'

Roll over, Flautist.

Here's Michael Kimmelman's story from this past Tuesday's New York Times about the new new thing in opera: "Tosca" in 90 minutes flat.

    Opera’s Newest Gimmick: The 90-Minute ‘Tosca’

    For months the Piccola Lirica company has been staging “Tosca” here, as its slogan says, “in miniatura.” The other night I stopped by to see it. It lasted about as long as some Italian governments: in just 90 minutes Scarpia was dead, Tosca had hurled herself off the parapet, and the audience was back strolling the streets, hunting for the perfect linguine alle vongole.

    In America one of the few bright spots for classical music now is said to be opera, with younger crowds attracted by trendy marketing and new works often dealing with topical issues. But it’s another story in the country of Verdi and Puccini, where, like Mimi, opera has been dying forever. When the soprano Cecilia Bartoli recently told a German newspaper that “opera in Italy is a museum with dusty exhibits,” she echoed the composer Luciano Berio, who in exasperation a dozen years ago called Italian opera administrators “cretins” and said half the Italian opera houses should be closed because production standards had fallen so low.

    Periodically some new Italian production comes along, ostensibly to save the national art form. “Tosca: Desperate Love,” concocted by an aging Italian soft-rock star in 2002, tried nuns stripping down to red lingerie in Act I, and an angel in jockey shorts swooping the dead Tosca up to heaven. Italian opera kept dying anyway.

    Walter Vergnano, who is general manager of the Turin Opera Theater and president of the association of Italy’s state opera companies, maintains that it isn’t really dying. Demand for tickets is higher than the available seats at the big opera houses, he said, and government support, cut to 184 million euros (about $267 million at the current exchange rate) in 2006 from 252 million (about $366 million, also at the current rate) in 2003, has gradually been restored.

    But young Italians don’t go to operas, he admitted, and new productions are rare. “It’s a consequence of the fact that musical education is missing,” he said. “This could seem strange to an American because we’re known as the land of music, but it’s true. What it means is that the public that goes to the opera is older than in other countries.”

    Even older, he might have said — never mind that generations weaned on Italian television and Euro-pop are bound to be unaccustomed to serious culture.

    Enter Piccola Lirica, which advertises itself as youth-friendly, meaning it hires fresh-faced singers and shrinks grand operas like “Tosca” from “Godfather” to “Pinocchio” length. It’s the CliffsNotes version of Puccini, fondly abridged.

    “When opera was born, there was no cinema, no TV, no fast food,” said Rossana Siclari, the company’s director, a thin, wide-eyed, 40-something Calabrian. We talked before the performance over proseccos at one of the tables in the theater’s lovely little whitewashed cafe, which doubles as the lobby.

    “Our society wants everything quickly,” she said. “Everything changes in the world.”

    Gianna Volpi, who condensed “Tosca,” stopped by. She supplied brief narrative links to make up for cuts, and even added a happy ending: the dead lovers reappear for a postmortem smooch. “We’re giving the audience more, not less,” Ms. Volpi said.

    That’s a matter of opinion.

    But with 200 performances scheduled for this year alone, her “Tosca” may become the most often performed opera production ever in Italy, albeit without a costly cast and orchestra in a theater seating thousands. Piccola Lirica employs five singers; the theater, Teatro Flaiano, where Anna Magnani, Monica Vitti and Aldo Fabrizi once performed, seats just 170.

    A few dozen patrons occupied about half of the plush blue orchestra seats the other night. It was an average-size crowd, Ms. Siclari said. They seemed to be mostly middle-aged tourists, chattering in German, French and Russian. The balcony was empty. There weren’t many young Italians.

    The first act took less time than the taxi line at Bayreuth. Most of the action, for practical reasons, had to be imagined offstage. A knife, an orange and a wicker basket sufficed for props. Alberto Profeta, as an ardent Cavaradossi, carried a shaky cast. The whole thing was like watching “Tosca” in an elevator.

    Silly, yes. But it was charming — touching, even. Intimacy can cast its own spell.

    Toscanini lamented three-quarters of a century ago that the advanced age of patrons for his NBC Symphony spelled imminent doom for classical music. But “the opera audience constantly renews itself, just at an older age,” Mr. Vergnano said about the current demographics of the Italian scene.

    He has a point about the serious music audience generally. Then he added, “I’m always surprised in these days of the Internet, television and special effects to see that people are still moved to tears at an opera, just as they were 150 years ago.”

    Which is the real issue. Stripped of spectacle, Piccola Lirica’s “Tosca” proved that immediacy and a little genuine pathos can suffice for a casual evening at the theater. Never mind that the orchestra was a quartet of eager young electronic keyboard players making sounds that seemed to emanate from tin cans and string — or that there hasn’t actually been an opera company of distinction in Rome for years.

    From the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the opera’s last act takes place, to the ancient neighborhood around the Teatro Flaiano, mobbed in the autumn evening with tourists and Romans doing what they always do, dodging traffic, looking at one another and the city, it briefly seemed as if not much had actually changed since Puccini’s day, that opera was still in the bloodstream here. Clearly Italian opera is like Rome, which is always said to be over the hill but remains indispensable.

    It survives every attempt to save it.


Up top, "Tosca" done right, as performed by Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi at Covent Garden in 1964.

November 15, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Giant Sunglasses — Your future's so bright, you gotta wear Mega Shades


Yo, clifyt — these are so you.

From the website:

    Mega Shades Giant Sunglasses

    Hollywood stars wear sunglasses to blend in with the crowd, but there's no chance of that with these ocular attention-getters.

    Each pair of plastic Mega Shades is over 10" wide, which definitely qualifies them as comically large.

    In fact, these glasses are uproariously funny even to spinsters, curmudgeons and grumps!

    Fits most adult faces.


November 15, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Worst ad campaign of the year by a major company


I burst out laughing every time I see one of their TV commercials, which always end with somebody saying, "Shop victoriously!"

What a joke.

The wheels are really coming off at this once-booming company.

I wonder how many millions of dollars they invested in an ad campaign which might as well have been spearheaded by a non-native English speaker.

"All your base are belong to us."

Yeah, that guy.

It doesn't even scan right, besides being nonsensical.

You can pick up a "Shop Victoriously" bumper sticker on eBay (where else?) for $3 if you act quickly.

It's not as if eBay isn't in the habit of brain-dead ad campaigns — they've been going on for years now.

November 15, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'World's smallest precision electric guitar'


From the website:

    World's Smallest Precision Electric Guitar

    This six-string guitar is the smallest precision electric guitar available.

    At 26.5" long, it is 1/6th the size of a standard guitar, yet it has 20 frets and a 1.75" wide fretboard with a 12" fret radius, so you can still practice your chords and fingering on its 20.25" scale without adjusting your playing style.

    Its injection-molded high-impact polymer composite body is filled with billions of tiny air bubbles that reproduce the cellular structure of wood, giving the guitar the same resonant properties of hardwoods used in standard-sized guitars without the expansion and contraction associated with wood.

    The guitar has a dual-coil pickup that can provide either single-coil or "humbucker" tone, controlled by a pickup selector switch in the guitar's base.

    It has concentric tone and volume controls, allowing you to adjust each individually.

    An included adjustable strap snaps into pre-formed holes in the guitar's body and the side of the fretboard, allowing you to hold the guitar at your preferred height.

    Requires amplifier (not included).

    Includes carrying case.

    26.5"L x 6"W x 1.5"D.

    3.5 lbs.


November 15, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Quetzalcoatl Nest — by Javier Senosiain


The Mexican architect designed this estate in 2005.

His website is replete with photos of this and many other extraordinary creations.

A June, 2003 article in Interior Design explored the architect's home in Mexico City.

Here's a link to an interview with the architect about the house featured up top.

November 15, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Switchblade Comb


Mos def not TSA-friendly.

From the website:

    Delinquents with Combs

    You’ve heard the stories: gangs of well-coiffed hoodlums terrorizing the streets with jars of pomade and pocket combs.

    It’s about time you invested in some protection for your ’do.

    Each of these 9" (22.9 cm) long (when open), metal and plastic switchblade combs snaps open with the push of a button and also features a safety lock to prevent unexpected deployment.


November 15, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'The best sandwich on earth'


It's the barbecue pork sandwich (above) at the Skylight Inn (below) in Ayden, North Carolina, according to none other than Alan Richman, a food critic for some two decades who's probably eaten as many sandwiches as anyone on our planet.


In an article in the November, 2007 issue of Condé Nast Traveler, he listed and described his top 20 iconic American dishes.

He wrote, "At the Skylight Inn, which has been around since 1947, the pork is cooked on hickory and oak, enhanced with a spicy vinegar-based sauce, topped with finely textured coleslaw, reunited with crunchy bits of fat and skin from the pig, and placed on a hamburger bun.... The first time I visited the restaurant, I ate two of them."


Another reviewer wrote, "During our twenty minutes there, we were the only customers sitting at any of the six tables — the rest, about thirty of them, were to-go customers, all ordering the only food entree on the menu: coarsely chopped pork from the whole hog, sprinkled with a sauce of vinegar and red pepper flakes."

The Skylight Inn is located at 4618 S. Lee St. (tel: 252-746-4113).


The sandwich costs $2.50.

November 15, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ratchet Corkscrew


What took them so long?

I guess it's a long and twisty road from Craftsman tools to the culinary space.

Glad they finally made it.

From websites:

    Wine Ratchet Corkscrew — Opening Wine is Now as Easy as 1-2-3!

    A ratchet inside this corkscrew makes it easy to insert into the cork (no more twisting your wrist round and round) — then use the ergonomic grip to power out the cork.

    Unlike the mechanical levers and tricks of many corkscrews, this sleek design lets you hear the "pop."

    And, because not all corks are made alike, this opener comes with two screw bits to use with different size corks.

    Its ergonomic handle and contemporary good looks make it a pleasure to use.

    • Includes two stainless steel snap–in screwbits that release with the push of a button

    • Use the 2" wire for older, longer corks and the 1" auger for younger, shorter corks

    • Stainless steel, hook–shaped foil cutter is safely housed inside the hefty handle

    • 5¾" x 4½" x 1½"

    • Four-piece set

    • Wipe clean



Red or Black Chrome.


November 15, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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