Thursday, August 27, 2015

Knee High

I'm two weeks past having my right knee replaced. Still somewhat stiff and swollen but I'm walking, going up and down the stairs fairly easily, and doing a lot of exercises twice daily to make the whole thing work in the end. It seems only slightly crazy that my "good" knee, i.e., the one which I plan to replace two months from now, feels better than good, now. 

The experience, on the whole, has been highly positive. The surgeon and the physical therapists have been great, as have been the home health nurse and the caretaker-in-chief, Eileen. Spending five days more in rehab was on the whole worth it for the more intensive physical therapy.

Either I could go right home and people would come to my house with therapy and home health care. Or I could go into what is called rehab for some days or weeks. Rehab sounded like a good choice. It meant I would be taken to physical therapy twice a day, and given some occupational therapy as well. The rehab unit--the physical therapy part, that is, and although less needed for my particular surgery, the occupational therapy--was excellent and stretched my capacities as those needed to be. 

Apart from the therapy, however, I was in a nursing home. And that's just what the contract for services that I signed said it was. Ostensibly they have tried to combine the two functions, but when you leave the therapy rooms, you are in a nursing home. This means reduced levels of service from what you expect in a hospital and a reduced level of competence in basic skills.

Things that I know all too much about, like legal liability and corporate structuring, help make this so. Example: if you are in one of these units, and it is attached to a hospital, it may not have access to the medical specialists that the hospital has available. It is a separate structure, designed to keep costs down.

Because you might fall, for liability reasons it struck me that no one encourages you to begin learning to get around without a walker. The five nights I spent in rehab were worthwhile because I began to get into the specific routine of focused exercises. This was highly desirable, since our house has lots of steps, with not all vital functions on the same floor.  This is also why I was eligible for rehab. But after five nights in this unit, I began to see that the experience wasn't desirable for me psychologically.

So, yes, all appears to be working out for the best. This is also an experience that draws on what might not be my most outstanding virtue: patience. Yes, for this procedure to work, doing the exercises is critical, but results are cumulative and I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Opera As It Should Be

My second night at the Santa Fe Opera was a fine experience: Verdi's Rigoletto tends to bring out the best in most productions. And as with other highly popular operas, it can withstand crazy ideas for new productions, not that that was what happened here. I forced myself to remember that summer opera--even at its most renowned venues like this one--is a chance to test out old and new operas that lack the popularity of  Rigoletto, as well as singers who are on the way up.

The combination of Georgia Jarman as Gilda and Quinn Kelsey as Rigoletto was magical; they clicked as a classic Verdian father-daughter duo. Brian Sledge was a respectable Duke, not that this isn't the most sordid tenor role, since he is thoroughly awful and gets away with everything. His penalty, I suggest, was the tepid round of applause following his rendition of La Donna e mobile, the opera's most famous aria and probably one of the two or three most famous numbers in opera. It made me recall how Pavarotti attracted exultation by holding that final note of the song for what seemed an interminable time.

Kelsey had a fine rich baritone but while he was wonderful for much of the opera, I thought he disappeared in the famous last-act quartet. Jarman is a comer--she shone in caro nome's coloratura and trills as well as in the taxing final-act music for Gilda. Peixer Chen was a memorable Sparafucile, especially for holding the last low note when he repeats his name to Rigoletto while, in this production, he walks across the stage much as the legendary Rosa Ponselle was known to do.

Rigoletto is a wrenching tragedy. When well done, the characters reach your inner self and you feel for them, well, for Rigoletto and Gilda, anyway. Rigoletto is truly a fool, in life as in his profession of jester. But you see more beneath his surface than in the most celebrated operatic clown, Canio in Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. You also feel deep pangs of grief for Gilda's loss of both innocence and life. And you are revulsed by the "vile race of courtiers".

Mostly, though, you are overwhelmed by Verdi's seemingly endless flow of melody and every form of operatic singing: aria, cabaletta, quartet, trio, duet. From the opening questa o quella to the quartet, bella figure del amore, and in between, my own favorite, the Rigoletto-Gilda duet at the end of the penultimate act, the music flows with genius and brilliance.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Taos or/a Bust

So yesterday we drove to Taos from Santa Fe. It was a day trip I've long intended to make so here we were with enough time in Santa Fe to do it. Some guides suggest taking the High Road up and the Low Road back; others recommend the opposite. I don't think it matters a whole lot. You see some of the Rio Grande Gorge on the Low Road and it's nice, as was the friendly desk officer at the National Parks Service center for that part of the Rio Grande valley. Best sight was the view of the mountains looming past Taos.

But neither route lived up to its advance ballyhoo, and nor did Taos itself. I suppose I mayn't have enjoyed all the views on the High Road since I had to focus just a tad on driving, but I have had to do that for most of my life when negotiating the curves on the Bear Mountain Bridge Road high above the Hudson, so I'll leave it at that.

Taos has lots of galleries, which if that's your thing, probably makes a big difference, as it does, but to a far lesser degree, it would seem, in Santa Fe. Even the guidebooks concede that Taos Plaza is one sleazy commercial strip but there seemed to be a lot of those. The Taos Pueblo has history--inhabited for the past 1000 years or so--but yesterday they were doing road work so you had to park quite a ways away and wait for a shuttle--yes, you know the drill and I suppose my patience was not weighing in at record high levels, so, since I figured I wasn't going to scale the ladders anyway...

But we did head out to the Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM, to locals) which is a fine collection of Southwestern jewelry, religious objects and paintings, pottery, some paintings, and more. Learning about Maria Montoya's pottery--e.g., black relief on black--was excellent but if, as one source touted, this was the best museum in Taos, I missed little by skipping the rest.

Santa Fe is a delight, even if we're resisting that music tempting us to open up a restaurant here. There are already plenty of more than decent eateries and lots else going on. On the day we got here there was a sold-out chamber music concert and a Shakespeare company was doing The Tempest. I did come especially for the opera and so far, that's been superb, along with that marvelous line of the mountains and sunset looming out past the stage as the show starts.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Daughter of the Regiment

Seeing tonight's performance of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment at the Santa Fe Opera completes my trifecta--now, and with tomorrow night's Rigoletto here, I've managed to attend the three great U.S. summer opera venues: Santa Fe, St. Louis, and Glimmerglass (Cooperstown). It was a delightful evening, that maximized the opera bouffe character of Donizetti's work.

Kevin Burdette as Sgt. Sulpice was the pillar of the comedy as he danced, mugged, twisted, and, yes, sang his way to the audience's delight, fully deserved. Anna Christy in the title soprano role looked more, both in Act I military uniform and Act II aristocratic heir, like Olympia the doll in Act I of Tales of Hoffmann. Alek Shrader has a fine tenor that made his performance as Tonio. Phyllis Pancella, the veteran mezzo who joins hands with Sulpice at the end, lent her part, the Marquise of Berkenfeld some gravitas as well as humanity that it has often lacked in other productions.

For me, Santa Fe has the right idea in emphasizing the comic qualities of the opera which premiered at Paris's Opera-Comique. It's been more than half a lifetime since I was ever so lucky to see the incredible production at the Metropolitan in 1972, which starred no less than Joan Sutherland. As always, Sutherland made the coloratura singing look easy and her famously large frame looked great in a military uniform; she submitted to looking fairly ridiculous in her Act II gowns when transported to the Marquise's chateau.

Sutherland's most marvelous gift, though, in addition to her always glorious singing, was bringing along a then-little-known Italian tenor for his Met debut, a triumphant one, needless to say: Luciano Pavarotti. While Shrader could match Luciano's famed performing the nine high C's in Donizetti's score for the tenor's big aria, he could not equal the presence and beauty of Pavarotti's voice that was sprung then upon America for the first time.

It was pleasing to read the recounting of that great debut in the feature article in the Santa Fe program. The pre-performance lecturer, a former radio host of opera programs on New York's  WQXR, neglected to mention it, somehow managing to give some of the interesting history of the opera's performances in the U.S. and leaving out its finest moment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

California Dreaming

People are often surprised that I enjoy visiting California on vacations. Oh sure, there's always some business involved, since I do manage to keep up with colleagues and previous business partners on these trips. But I just like spending time in California. Sure, there's a drought. And when you leave the coast, it can get hot, almost as delightful as Washington in July or August. But in Marin County, where I happen to be now, the views I pass almost everywhere are spectacular. The temperature is just about as temperate as in San Francisco, which shares with New York the distinction of being the only places inevitably referred to as The City.

Last night I saw Anna Deavere Smith perform her one-woman show at the Berkeley Rep, entitled Notes From the Field, etc. In it she portrays a series of about 20 characters, male and female, black, white, and Asian, concerned with how our educational system fails so many of its poorer students, who then end up in prison.  One of the characters she inhabited is a judge I met when assessing drug court at a Yurok tribe reservation in the northernmost part of California; the judge works as a municipal court judge in San Francisco but one weekend a month, drives many hours to the reservation to preside over tribal courts there.

There is a fine show of J.M.W. Turner's paintings and drawings at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. If you managed to see the movie, Mr. Turner, a while back, you should make it your business to see this show. Turner is increasingly seen as a key influence in the development of modern art. His fascination with light, usually on water, presaged the Luminists and then, perhaps most significantly, the Impressionists: Monet, for example, derives much of his technique directly from Turner. Turner, in turn, acknowledged what he learned from distinguished forebears who included Solomon van Ruysdaal, the Dutch landscape master, and Claude Lorrain, the early French engraver and painter of landscapes who more or less invented the field.

When driving to see a colleague in Sacramento, I recalled my first time headed that way when my friend living there suggested I stop at the then-famous Nut Tree--a combination of a store selling things you don't need, mostly to tourists, and a restaurant--in Vacaville. The signs for the Nut Tree are still there but I never could put my finger on the enterprise amid the numerous shopping malls and other indicia of how the area has developed. I did feel that another vestige of the older California had become hidden from view.

Lastly and by no means least, I had the pleasure of savoring sand dabs, a small, delicate, delicious, fish found in these parts. It has adorned the menus of San Francisco seafood places for generations. Twice in one day may have been pushing it, but should you find yourself in Sam's Grill, an establishment dating back to the 49-er days--no, not the NFL team--order them before they run out. It even says (Limited) after their entry on the menu.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Management Information

Ours is now an information-dominated society. We supposedly all make our carefully-formulated decisions drawing on "evidence-based" findings. But is it really different from the way people have always behaved--and responded to requests for accurate reports? The current revival of interest in the greatest children's book author of our time, Dr. Seuss, with the publication of a recently-discovered manuscript reminded me in this regard of his questioning conclusion of The Cat in the Hat:

should we tell her
the things that went on there that day?

should we tell her about it?
now, what SHOULD we do?
what would YOU do
if your mother asked YOU?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oozing Charm From Every Pore

It was a day of loss--Theo Bikel and E. L. Doctorow dying on the same day.  But it's hard to be sad about Bikel--he was 91 and had had a very amazing life.  He had become known for playing all kinds of relatively modest roles on stage and in the movies, as well as for his folk singing. And he did originate the role of Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music on Broadway--a show I've studiously avoided for decades but figure at least he likely contributed a bit of authenticity to its schmalz.

Many will remember him as the most frequent portrayer of Tevye in Fiddler, which is fine, although as with every role Zero Mostel originated, it's hard for anyone to succeed completely when following in those footsteps. But Bikel donned the dairyman's overalls more than 2,000 times so I figure he earned his recognition and probably would have told you that it was a most reliable payday.  And given how many other accomplishments he earned on stage and in film, this was no James O'Neill stuck playing The Count of Monte Cristo to the exclusion of all else.

Bikel lent a note of charm to anything he played.  Supporting parts are not supposed to steal from the leads, yet you were enraptured when he appeared. His history--growing up in pre-war Austria and disclaiming any interest in "Viennese heritage" in view of how the posturing "first victims" had behaved toward "my people"--featuring a start in performing in, of all places, Palestine between the wars gave him a worldliness few possessed.

Moreover, he was a true union champion. He rose to the occasion during Equity's 1960 strike and after serving on many committees, was the union's president for many years and then headed the actors' international, the Four A's, for a quarter-century. Wouldn't we have been far better off had he, instead of another supporting player who headed a theatrical union, become America's first President who had served as a union prez?

Doctorow's legacy is more complex but equally stupendous. He had a way of planting you in the era of his loosely-related historical novels, most notably Ragtime. But his most enduring one may turn out to be The Book of Daniel, his imagining of what a son of the Rosenbergs might have experienced. As with so many artists, he saw the craziness of the Rosenberg furor for what it was: yes, we know Julius Rosenberg was guilty, and definitely that even the prosecutors knew Ethel wasn't, but what Sam Roberts and others have shown is that far from being "the crime of the century"--J. Edgar Hoover's phoney assertion--the Russians likely already had received all the nuclear secrets they needed from Klaus Fuchs, who was sentenced in Britain to a brief five years and then high-tailed it to Moscow.

Doctorow had the ability to get you beneath the skin of his characters so you felt yourself the torments they were experiencing. I remember getting annoyed with some of his archetypes in Ragtime until realizing that he had caught a particular character perfectly, like Mother's Younger Brother.  He too was willing to speak up for what he believed--and what he believed made sense.