Friday, March 29, 2019

Gnaw: Bananas Foster

Someone tell me, why do I keep bending my chocolate rules? This chocolate says nothing about being fair trade; it just says it's non-GMO (which is good) and suitable for vegetarians (which most chocolate should be, anyway). But it's from World Market, it says it's handcrafted in England, and it's a banana chocolate. So I bought it.

The overall style is casual. The bar comes in two layers, white chocolate over caramel chocolate (or 33% milk chocolate). It smells as you'd expect, like cream and banana--specifically that banana flavor that isn't one hundred percent true. More of a banana flavor than the flavor of banana. The ingredients do list "natural banana flavor," but I would imagine that could mean a variety of things.

You know what it tastes like? Duvalin candy. You know, that Mexican candy that has the little plastic dish and a plastic spoon to scoop out a creamy paste that's some combination of brown, pale yellow, or pink. I don't entirely know why, but I love that stuff--so I'm also loving this. The resemblance is strong, though this chocolate isn't as plastic in texture as the candy is--and certainly it should not be.

I can't exactly offer much more praise than to say that I like eating it. It's a sweet confection flavor of somewhat faux-feeling banana along with cream and caramel. Caramel that is almost more of a toffee flavor or a hard candy caramel. It's all super sweet and gets a bit greasy and there isn't anything to note about the chocolate. I've also had better examples of banana chocolate.

And yet all of the things that I want to call less than perfect about this chocolate are what make me enjoy it so much. Well, if we like some things that logic would convince us are not for us to like as much as we do, well, I suppose that's okay. I don't expect to be buying anything more from Gnaw just because they do bend my rules, but this bar is certainly disappearing quickly. So if you don't have my rules and you want a chocolate banana confection, go for a try.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Sleeping Beauty's 60th

I always end up stalking that little owl wearing a cape and hat--because I love it but I don't collect plushes and sometimes you just really need to stick with rules of what not to buy.

For those confused (probably everyone), the little owl is the one from Sleeping Beauty. When Aurora is in the forest recounting her dream, the animals find Philip's things and hold them up to create the companion Aurora speaks of, the physical "person" she can dance with. The owl wears his cape and hat while the rabbits take his boots. And then, of course, he discovers them all and takes the place of the animals in order to sing back to Aurora's song.

I was there in the Disney Store, holding that plush once more and saying that if they just made it in a figure instead, I would buy it. And then there it was, a figurine playset celebrating the film's 60th Anniversary that contained the said beloved owl. Aurora and Philip and Maleficent, et all, as well, but the owl was the one that made that set mine without a blink. Ah, I love the 60th; it also brought me a wonderful set of pins last month.

Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney animated films. I loved it first because I got the DVD on a trip to Disneyland, then because I loved the art and the music. Then I loved the good versus evil theme. And the way in which Philip fights for Aurora, the way that he loves her even when she's just a random girl he met in the woods, not a princess. The way that she dreams of him and then meets him. Provided you go along with the idea that it is a piece of art rather than a description of the reality of meeting and falling in love with someone, it is a beautiful piece about love. And about good versus evil. I'm all about the good versus evil stories.

Maybe the two, the love story and the good/evil story, combine and that's also why I love this movie. There is that two-sided element to all of it. Darkness in Maleficent and her abode and the thorny shadows she brings to the kingdom. Beauty in the jewels and the castle and the living forest and in Aurora herself. Feminine elements in Aurora, the fairies, the dancing and the singing. Masculine elements in Philip, the sword fighting, the dragon, the flames. A balance between two opposing, complementary elements.

Oh, and a little owl wearing a cape and a hat.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

I'm Sorry

I'm sorry for what I did when I couldn't breathe.

I'm sorry for what I said when I couldn't see.

Did I let the chaos out?

Now you see why I need to contain the chaos.

The stars only shine by burning, but we only love their shine because we forget that they're burning.

I'm sorry I let you see me burn.

I burn best in silence, where you can't see me.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Money on Honey: French Sea Salt Caramels

There are many different things that you might mean if you start talking about better quality chocolate. For the sake of the current product, better quality refers to fair trade ingredients and also somewhat more environmentally-friendly ingredients--and the greater availability of products like this. This bag of Dark Chocolate French Sea Salt Wildflower Honey Caramels from Money on Honey came from Walgreens. The chocolate and the sugar are fair trade. And the name comes from their use of honey instead of corn syrup for their caramel--they went ahead and went a unique route, put their money on the honey. Given all the products with genetically modified corn in them, I'm all for using less corn syrup; and given how great honey is, I'm all for using more honey.

The bag is basic; this is still just a mass-produced product. The chocolates are gold-wrapped basics. Dark chocolate pieces come with fat flecks of salt. They cut pretty cleanly because it's a pretty stiff caramel. A couple of chews in and you can taste the honey strongly. I don't think I remember tasting honey so strongly with the caramel from Untamed Confections. Maybe that's because Money on Honey specifically calls this Wildflower Honey Caramel rather than just caramel made with honey.

I'm certainly not complaining: honey is an excellent flavor, just as rich as it is sweet. The caramel takes center stage on this one. As such it's hard to really get a grasp on the chocolate, which is to be expected, though. Sprinkles of salt come in strong and sharp gasps. Now, that caramel truly does taste of caramel and of honey and not even so much of vanilla like caramel often does. So I would say that this is a unique caramel flavor. The flavor plus the soft and chewy texture make these pleasant confections.

So I'll give my stamp of approval. Long shelf life, better ingredients, pleasant flavor, fair trade. When you get all of these things in one, that's an overall improvement to the chocolate/candy scene.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Star Wars Live

When the Phoenix Symphony does something like performing the score of Star Wars live to the movie, the idea is usually that they're going to be bringing in an audience that doesn't normally go out to symphony hall. While granted I've never gone to one of Phoenix Symphony's own productions, I've hard them many times (for operas and ballets) and I've been to Symphony Hall many times--but this was the first time I had been to see a movie score live. So kind of opposite for me.

The concept had always seemed novel, definitely something I wanted to do at some point. I found out about this one kind of late on and thought, you know what, this month is the month of show after show for me, so why not just go for it. I highly recommend doing the same if you also have the opportunity to see a movie score you love live.

It's exactly as amazing as you would think that it would be. I've never seen A New Hope, so seeing it on a bigger screen and with an audience was nice--but also meant nothing compared to what it was to hear that music live. The sound is different when you see a movie like this because you're not really there to watch the movie. So the music is louder and the rest of the sounds of the movie are somewhat quieter than they would be in a movie theatre. You can still hear the dialogue and effects, etc.; it's just that the score takes center stage.

Visually, as well, yes, the screen is big, but it doesn't take up your entire field of vision like in a movie theater. And instead of performing half in hiding like they would for an opera or a ballet, here the symphony was set up on stage. The conductor had his own smaller screen in front of him to show the movie along with the "moving target" to help him maintain timing. That's the amazing thing: they have to stay in sync with the movie that is playing on the screen.

Seeing it all like this, you notice more about the music than you've previously noticed, even in a movie like this that you've seen many times. You notice when there is no music and you notice when there is subtle music that is almost imperceptible during normal film viewing. You notice the repeated themes more. You notice what instruments create which sounds. You notice the voices of the music. (Naturally, of course, a musical person will already have noticed more of this than a non-musical person, but I've already stated many times before that I am not such a musical person and I know many of us are not.)

That this score in particular is a powerful score we already know. I perhaps needn't stress that. I'll just say that yes, it is indeed strong and triumphant and tender and soft and exquisite and bold and touching . . . and powerful. And hearing it live only makes it more so.

Monday, March 18, 2019

In the Forest of Arden

Ha ha ha, Spring Break, Winter Break, three day weekends--these are phrases that not freeing and leisurely when you work in certain industries; rather, they are terrifying. When you're the person working so that everyone else may take their leisure time, all you do is work during their leisure time. So . . . even though I've had things to post about (since there are an abundance of shows going on this month and I seem to be making it to them all), I just haven't done so.

So I'll go ahead and bundle Southwest Shakespeare's latest plays into one post. They ran them together, anyways, so I suppose it's fitting enough. Now, often when they do this, there is one play that stands out over the other. This time, though, I was impressed with the quality of the performances in each one. The two plays in question are The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It.

Probably it's easier to say that the former was the better one. But that's because it was filled with humor and laughs and to have the audience constantly responding to all of that wittiness and energy was an experience. However, the delivery in As You Like It was just as much of quality; it was just less humor (although there was still certainly some).

The Taming of the Shrew was the play I was completely unfamiliar with. I'd heard of it, of course, but not much else. Knowing that it's one of those plays that can be . . . problematic for the modern scene, I found that they did very well with it. Maybe I'm just used to viewing things in context of timelines, but I wasn't offended by this play and I even felt like much of it could have been written today (as opposed to so many of my dear Victorian novels that I love but are definitely often quite dated in certain respects). So whether this was the careful choosing of which lines to use or the delivery or just the overall strutting and direction of the play (or most likely a combination), well done to everyone involved. It was just a fun comedy, making everyone laugh at the silliness of humanity and then ultimately ponder what our statements and our actions really mean in the end.

What As You Like It did best was to create that sense of the forest of Arden. Arden is that place that is a state of mind. Given that this play used the same set (a heavy structure with a balcony and doors and stairs) as the other (since the two were running at the same time, of course), I wondered how they would create the forest. Turns out they introduced it bit by bit. As the characters spend more time in the forest and get, in a sense, mentally deeper into the forest, the entire forest overlay emerges. Wonderful there. Once more, this was one of SWS's plays to feature music throughout. And in this case, the music helped to create that sense of the forest as this single moment in time, this state of mind, that helps the characters to ponder who they are.

Pondering, pondering in the forest that is our minds. Both plays, though different, contained that sense of pondering the self. We're in this forest--who are you and who am I? Do we know or do we have yet to discover? The discovery is a journey, that is certain.

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.