Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On a Silent Night

Probably you have heard the story of how soldiers during WWI laid down all hostilities for one day, for Christmas Day, and intermingled and played games and acted as friends and comrades, and even though they went back to fighting the next day, for that one day, Christmas Day, they had put all of that aside.

This is the story that Arizona Opera's latest production, Silent Night, was based on. That is, the opera, with music by Kevin Puts and libretto by Mark Campbell, was in turn based on the film Joyeux Noel. Perhaps that was why the piece flowed along much like a film would rather than an opera. Even though you could sense that the audience was moved, there weren't any gaps that allowed for the usual pauses of applause that are the norm for opera (opera audiences love to show their appreciation). In fact, that was just as well: pauses and applause would have removed the audience from being inside the story and this was one of those pieces that just pulled you in and kept you within the world.

Also seeing soldiers and bits of battles was different from usual at the opera. But still we had the main thing: music and singing that moved us emotionally. I've talked about maybe the shedding a tear thing at an aria, but the first act of Silent Night pretty much just had me weeping. This is where I start to wonder again if it's just me--except that this music won a Pulitzer Prize, so no, it isn't just me.

The story is war . . . and war stories are about people who are coming from all phases of life to a horrible existence. The mothers, the fathers, the children, the friends, the lovers, they all got their moment, each moment a chance for the audience to connect and weep at the idea of what that would be like--that is, for those of us who have been so fortunate as to not experience events quite like this. For those who have, well, that would be even another layer.

The performers in this sang the song of life . . . of heartbreak and pain and beauty. That's what made this opera so poignant. I will state that, while the first act just left me utterly stilled, the second act didn't have the same power. I would rate the piece as a whole higher if there hadn't been that difference between the two. Still, though, Silent Night remained a beautiful story of the deepest and most touching aspects of living.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Return of Lucia Micarelli

The first time I saw Lucia Micarelli was when she toured with Josh Groban on his Awake tour a while back. That was one of those times where you could say she blew my mind with her violin playing. She also introduced me to a new approach to music and helped launch my interest in music in general: I hadn't been listening to music much on my own before that. That was the time that I started browsing iTunes and Pandora to seek new things.

So when I had the opportunity to go see her again this past weekend, well, I had to go and see what it would be like to go and see her again years later.

She was playing at the Highlands Church in north Scottsdale. A good-looking, big church where it seems they have many such shows. Given the style of Lucia's music, I was a little surprised to see that I was practically the only person there who wasn't retired. (Not entirely unlike in fact going to church, then, eh?) But I hadn't been paying attention to the fact that this show was just one night of Arizona Musicfest. People were going for Musicfest, not for Lucia specifically. So then knowing that I might have been the only person there who had seen her play before made me excited to see how she would soon blow their minds, too.

She has certainly been working at her craft over the years. Now she incorporates more straight classical music, the intense pieces but also the delicate pieces. And the fiddle tunes highlight her liveliness. She also does some singing now. Her voice is exactly as it would be: rich and full and from the soul. I want to say that she has something of a jazz sound to the way that she sings.

It is possible that she drew some tears from me. Maybe it's just me; all the shows I watch nowadays end up having these moments of being beyond amazing. No, no, Lucia's music is that good.

And then it came, the same duo of songs that she played at Josh's concert years ago. "Aurora" and "Kashmir." Her intense violin playing running into rock violin playing. You could feel the audience reacting in pleasure and awe. Lucia isn't the only one nowadays to blend genres . . . but she does it better than any other violinist I've seen or heard. Her intensely emotional style is unlike any other.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Eternal Sunshine

I used to post about movies fairly regularly. I guess that stopped when I stopped watching new movies as often. Now I watch shows and YouTube. All those Disneyland videos are great for having on in the background while cleaning and such, but they do certainly end up taking up time, don't they? (Looking at you, Fresh Baked.) The reality is, I just watch less movies these days.

I did watch one recently, though. One that's been in my queue for years, as most of them have been. At this point, I browse my queue rather than other pages when I'm looking for something to watch; there's just so much in there. Anyway, I finally got around to watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Definitely there are aspects to this film that are very much me. Simply the style of it with that non-linear quality and with the emotions going in the forefront, above plot. Also the type of characters and relationships. The type of thing I tend to end up going for.

But what I want to focus on is a more general concept. Specifically, the movie talks about the idea of inevitable flaws in relationships. In a more general sense, though, I'm going to broaden that out and take it to life as a whole. Just as no relationship with be perfect and so you have to decide that you're willing to go through all the imperfections with someone, life is not perfect. And you have to decide to go through and take what is good and just work through the rest.

This movie stated that concept in such a matter of fact way. And all of the chaos that it took to get to that final statement in the end is quite a perfect reflection of how that realization happens in reality. Life is hard. We get pulled in all sorts of directions and we get confused and muddled and not sure of things. But when you realize that oh, this is how life is .  . . and that's okay--that's a good place to be in.

"Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" . . . is that something you want or not? It's tempting to think of the mind living in endless sunshine with not a spot in sight, but in reality spotlessness has nothing to do with reality. In reality, there are spots. And taking away the spots takes away all the good things, too. So we can think of the concept of eternal sunshine . . . and we can just be content with working with all the flaws.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Butlers: Pink Himalayan Salted Caramel Chocolates

Okay, I've probably been bending the chocolate rules a little too often lately. And normally I wouldn't bend them for packaged chocolates (that is, chocolates with a long shelf life versus fresh ones that only last two weeks). But World Market just gets me in the shopping mood, I guess. And I fell for the whole pink Himalayan salt and pink chocolate thing.

In fact, the pink chocolate is white chocolate that has been colored with beetroot. This way it looks the same color as pink salt. It's pretty. Honestly, as well, I was interested because Butlers Chocolates is from Ireland and I don't know if I've ever had any chocolate from Ireland. Just seeing the different ways that various countries approach chocolate can be worth bending the rules a bit occasionally.

I do appreciate that these are labeled as chocolates and not as truffles. Structure-wise, they're little, square chocolate cups with the top half of the inside being pink chocolate and the underneath being caramel. There is some salt on top, too. Very much the look of a dessert.

You definitely get a sweet, slightly chalky-flavored confection chocolate taste. There is, after all, white chocolate; that's where that chalk-reminiscent taste comes from. Now, the label calls the outside milk chocolate, but it's 58% cocoa. Americans would call that dark chocolate, so there is one little detail that's different with this being from a different country. Again, I kind of appreciate it being called milk chocolate because it certainly isn't dark. It's kind of a standard middle ground confection chocolate.

The caramel is nice, flowy and vanilla-flavored. Interesting way that they further reinforce the salted caramel aspect: there is salt on the bottom of each chocolate. So it hits your tongue as soon as you bite in. Pink salt is less salty than standard salt, so they did have to add a visually noticeable amount for it to be salty. It is certainly a noticeably salty flavor, though not too strong, either. Definitely a good balance.

So it's a nice little salted caramel chocolate, it's pretty, and it has a long shelf life. As chocolates with long shelf lives go, certainly this is one of the better ones. While not perhaps the best chocolates I've ever had, they're quite nice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Water

The water has changed. Perhaps.

I don't have a fear of water. But I don't like aquariums, that sort of thing. Even the fish tank sections in pet stores can be a little uncomfortable to be around. So it took me a little while to make it over to Odysea Aquarium.

There were likely a variety of factors involved (one being that their tanks are newer and cleaner than some and also better lit and smaller than some), but the tanks didn't much bother me. A little . . . but then it faded. I worried before getting to certain sections that I thought would be bad . . . and then wondered why I'd been worried.

I think I've mentioned that water is an element in my next book. So I'd thought that if I ever went to the aquarium, I might even want to bring a notebook to get some material. But there was nothing for me to write down.

Which, in fact, is quite fitting. Like most symbols, water has two sides: the good and the bad. Water is life and water is death. Like how red, for instance, is both love and hate. It's that flip from one to the other that I'm trying to explore in this book. Maybe that's why I haven't been working on it lately: I needed to flip myself before the theme could.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Firebird & La Sylphide

Aside from the fact that The Firebird was a premiere, Ballet Arizona had me at the mention of La Sylphide. A story about a man falling in love with a nymph and pictures suggesting that they'll be dancing around the woods? Count me in.

The latter played first and was the longer of the two pieces. It was lovely, reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty that I adore, except that this was new to me. Everything created that concept of magical love, love that sweeps James off his feet, not necessarily for the better. I do wish, though, that for the sylph's costume they chose something a little more nymph-like than ballerina-like. She was pretty and played that entrancing beauty, but I wanted a touch more fantasy and a touch more of a feeling of the woods in her look. Still, I could have gone to watch just this piece and been happy.

And then came The Firebird. Here I don't understand the main promotional image. I don't understand the name. Unless I slept through that part (not to say that I was sleeping; I wasn't), I didn't see any birds of fire. Anyways. The Firebird was a sci-fi fantasy ballet. Even as someone who has only really seen a few ballets, seeing something different was welcome. They made use of the giant screen to create a moving backdrop of space and the costumes were shiny and sharp instead of soft and pretty. So definitely a strong visual tone.

I had mixed feelings about the first scene. The choreography was pretty (and here I am using the word) and yet I didn't entirely understand it within the context of the plot. There was that sensual element to it and yet this part wasn't the love story and it was one woman with a group of men . . . so I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it all. Maybe it's just a case of the plot not coming through visually without reading it in the program (which, quite frankly, I always think it's easiest to read the program).

That first scene felt more sci-fi, while the second scene brought in more of that high fantasy feel. While I'm running dry on specific comments, overall it was a beautiful and visually different piece. When the Prince and the Princess had their scenes together, they did portray that falling in love concept (of course love was the theme in both pieces since this show was right around Valentine's Day). Something about it felt heavily conceptual, if that's the right word. This was why the plot didn't always necessarily come across just from watching. It fits, though, for both a visual (as in non-verbal) piece and for a fantasy piece.

Since I do like both fantasy and sci-fi, I enjoyed The Firebird. I'd see it again given the opportunity. It remains possible, though, that apart from the novelty of The Firebird, I may have liked La Sulphide more. It's the woods thing, probably: I have a weakness for love stories in the woods. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valerie Confections: Grand Homme Assortment

Ever since I had the Rose Petal Petits Fours from Valerie Confections a few years ago, I'd been wanting to try some of their Valentine's offerings. So since today is the year for everything, this year we have their Grand Homme Assortment. While the Grand Elle Assortment is very pretty, I thought that more of these flavors sounded appealing. Visually, though they have more of a standard look of heart shapes, they're still attractive.

Almond Toffee Hearts - These are the biggest hearts, so there are only two of them. I could go for a whole box of these. They're milk chocolate with little toffee and almond pieces. Caramel toffee flavor, nice and strong. This toffee isn't the hard kind; instead it has the perfect crunch and delivers the taste of sugar and vanilla, along with salt from the almonds. The milk chocolate wraps it all up in a flawless example of a high quality confection.

Caramelia Hearts - These blend in well with the Caramel Truffles, so it can be hard to tell them apart visually. The Caramelia ones are essentially a twist on plain truffles. They come with a light caramel taste and a super rich, vanilla ganache flavor. Also milk chocolate, so another sweet one.

Caramel Truffles - If you have these in two bites, they can break kind of awkwardly. The bottom is thicker and the rest is fairly thin. In fact, I do also have to note that with one of them, the bottom stuck to the paper, so the whole thing broke apart when I tried to pick it up. The caramel is gently free-flowing and of the darker flavored sort. No touch of salt.  The chocolate here is dark. Naturally, I would prefer the milk chocolate because I tend to prefer milk chocolate when it comes to confections. This chocolate, though, isn't bad (some dark chocolate confections I can't even stand); it tastes much like Ghirardelli. The darker tone does go well, though, with darker tone of the caramel and also helps to keep it all from veering too much into the candy-confection side.

Scotch Truffles - There are seven of these round truffles, so definitely the most of these. You get that alcohol hint right away. It's strong and yet also toned down enough that it doesn't overwhelm or take over the chocolate. In fact, they go together quite well. The Scotch enhances the rich concept of the ganache, giving a similar effect as a Champagne truffle. So quite nice; probably most people won't mind having the greatest amount of these in here. Personally, though, I'd have preferred more Almond Toffee Hearts or maybe Caramelia Hearts.

Black Pepper Truffles - Just three of these squares. The only pepper is that dash that's visible on top. The ganache is super smooth. The black pepper taste comes in when the chocolate is almost melted, because of course it goes quickly since it's mainly ganache. You can taste it but it isn't so strong that you're hit by coughing and spiciness. It's just kind of a warmth and a flavor. So here we have an example of subtle use of a strong ingredient. Just a touch of pepper and that's all that it needs. If it were stronger, it would make it more of a novelty and also not as good. As it was, this truffle made a nice addition to the mix, something a little darker to balance out the sweet chocolates.

And what did the homme think of the chocolates I chose? Well, I only got his opinion on three of them. Reluctantly, too, I might add. The almonds in the Toffee Hearts were too much for him; he said if he wanted healthy, he'd go to Whole Foods. As for the Caramelia Truffles, he liked the outside until he got to the ganache on the inside. He said that truffles sound like something British (they're not British) and aren't they something that pigs help you find in the forest (chocolate truffles are named after such truffles, yes, but they're not the same thing)? And the Black Pepper Truffles, well, I tried to give him the half of the truffle that didn't have pepper on it. What is this, Fear Factor, he said. He said that it tasted exactly the same as the Caramelia Truffle, except darker, he could taste the blackness in this one. Well, you can't win them all.

So while I suppose that yes, you do have to know your audience, overall I'd say that Valerie Confections is a wonderful example of gifting chocolate. They make confections but on a high quality level that stunned me last time and stunned me again this time. They keep things simple and do it all well--and quite beautifully, too.