Don Carlo Expects the Spanish Inquisition

An unlooked for side effect at the dress rehearsal of Don Carlo

ghosts of tech weeks past

As I entered the empty house at the Metropolitan Opera and walked down the aisle, I was hit with sudden pangs of tense anxiety and adrenaline when I saw them. There was the lighting board and stage manager’s station set up in the middle of the orchestra. Only now it is, of course, a lighting computer.

I haven’t directed a play for almost 20 years, but in an instant I was reflexively steeling myself for the exhaustion of techs and dress.

Without realizing why, I was compelled to walk back out and get a cup of coffee from the hoity concession stand for $5. But really, it was very good coffee.

I quipped that I would probably start having the dreams again too. And sure enough, I had the endless tech rehearsal disaster dream last night.

Times Change and So Do Sets

I must wonder how many of the old opera buffs there were ruffled by the modern sets of the Met’s Don Carlo, the tale that answers the musical question, ‘Will sacrificing all chance of personal happiness for the sake of duty and honor save you from the Spanish Inquisition?’

They’ve used these sets for some years now, but it takes a long time for hardliners to except change at the Met as anything but heretical.

I thought Bob Crowley’s designs were effective and quite clever, with a touch of Max Reinhardt about some of them, even if I also wonder what the Met’s grand old ultra-realistic sets might have been like.

I must confess, some relief came from knowing I had not the responsibility of making sure none those many performers bumped into the furniture.

DonCarlo at the Metropolitan Opera

photo: Metropolitan Opera

Tickets for Verdi’s Don Carlo start at $27, with 8 performances beginning March 30, through April 25.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conductor, Nicholas Hytner production.

Starring Carlo Yonghoon Lee and Barbara Frittoli, with Ekaterina Gubanova, James Morris, and Ferruccio Furlanetto reprising his portrayal of King Philip, and a One Man’s World special mention for the charismatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing the role of the Marquis de Posa.


Gas explosion destroys another chunk of NYC history

Newsweek provides historical perspective on the impact of Thursday’s devastating explosion and fire in New York City

A wonderful “obituary” of the block that has been decimated by Thursday’s gas explosion

It housed a mayoral residence in the 1850s, reputedly a well-known speakeasy at the end of the Yiddish Broadway era, and of course the gear fab, retro kitsch and clothing store that was Love Saves the Day, which moved out of town in 2009.

“To see no building where there was a building was heartbreaking,” says (LSD’s owner Richard ) Herson, 68. “That was like the heart of the East Village, and I know it’s going to affect a lot of people.”

east-village-explosion B Hider Reuters Newsweek

Thanks to Naomi Rosenblatt of Heliotrope Books for the link!

Celtic Genes in the Modern UK – Monday Map

An article published in the scientific journal Nature reveals discoveries in the genetic history of the British-Celtic people.

celt gene map

Much of today’s British population reflects the geopolitical situation that existed there 1,500 years ago. More startling is the finding that the Celts were not one homogenized, racially connected population.

According to the abstract of the article, genetic data was scrutinized from a “carefully chosen geographically diverse sample of 2,039 individuals from the United Kingdom” and was compared with the “regional genetic differentiation and differing patterns of shared ancestry with 6,209 individuals from across Europe.” The British group consisted of people whose four grandparents all came from the same rural area, suggesting longtime residency.

Distant Relations

I remember seeing a television special about a neolithic corpse found well-preserved in a cave overlooking a community in Northwest England. Scientists were able to get a good sample of his DNA, which they compared to the DNA of a classroom of young students from the nearby town. One person in that classroom, the teacher in fact, turned out to be a match. He was a direct decedent of the ancient Briton found in the cave!

But these recent discoveries show this may not be all that unusual an occurrence.

Two significant surprises arose once the data from this large study was analyzed. First of all, while their findings show an expected migration of Europeans into Southeastern England before and after the Roman occupation, their genetic contribution to the current population is less than half. Even more surprising is the fact that the Celts of Britain were not a single racial group, but truly separate peoples confined to specific regions, which were connected through culture and tradition, but were not actually related to one another.

It has been assumed that the Anglo-Saxons had replaced the Celts after pushing them to the outermost fringes of the landmass through a series of conquests. It is now clear that they mixed and mingled with them to a much larger extent than previously supposed.

Unlike the Viking and Norman invaders who ruled large sections of Britain for many years but left little to no genetic markers among the general population, the Anglo-Saxons lived separately from the original inhabitants for only a short time before they began to intermarry with Celts on their way to creating the modern Englishman.

Rather than being exterminated through war or the introduction of disease, the local Celts more likely were assimilated into the new culture.

Unique to Themselves

But the biggest surprise for me comes when looking into the Celtic connection. The Celts were anything but a single people. The findings “show that in non-Saxon parts of the United Kingdom, there exist genetically differentiated subgroups rather than a general ‘Celtic’ population.”

As the map illustrates, some of the most interesting discoveries include:

The Southeast English contain a notable amount of Celtic blood melded with Anglo-Saxon.

The Cornish, while Celts, are more closely related to the English than previously thought, but remain distinct from the people of Devon, just as the people of Devon remain genetically distinct from the rest of England.

The Welsh bear no genetic relationship with the Scots, and the Northern Welsh are less closely related to the Southern Welsh than the Scots or Cornish are to the English.

The Northern English consist of different groups, all more closely related to their ancient locals than to the southerners, while some are more closely related to the Scots than others.

The two major genetic groups of Northern Ireland remain separate from the “Irish” and from each other after all these years, one having been there since the ancient kingdoms centered on Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula and the Isle of Islay, the other migrating from the Scottish Lowlands around 1600.

Enviable Lineage

As an American, my heritage derived from Scottish, English, and Welsh ancestry is fascinating to me. Since we have a relatively short history on this side of the world, I am also fascinated by the sheer depth of unbroken years where peoples ate, drank, and were merry among their friends and family in places like England for eons before recorded history.

And I find it remarkable and amazing that a place the size of Britain, which is roughly as large as Ohio and the southern part of Michigan, had such unique and different kinds of people, with their own ways and idiosyncrasies, and still do to this very day.

It is hoped these recent findings shall provided added inspiration for the modern resurgence in regional pride and the celebration of local customs and culture across the United Kingdom. For example, only in recent years has the official Received Pronunciation taught at school made room for accents of “regional colour” among the announcers and personalities heard on the BBC. The more the merrier, I say.

And you can read more about these recent scientific findings in the very nice article at the BBC website HERE.

Read the article abstract, see more maps, or purchase the full article at Nature‘s website HERE.


NYYS Masters Scheherazade’s Mysteries – Concert Review

And Beethoven’s Many Moods

With Joshua Gersen conducting,  guest star Elena Urioste shone bright in Beethoven’s violin concerto, opus 61, followed by an NYYS ensemble rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, op. 35, full of memory, passion, and promise. I couldn’t have been more delighted.

“I have no idea whose credenza Urioste was interpreting at the end of the first movement, but it was punctuated by dramatic double stops, with fluid runs up the neck, and heart-piercing tone in the lengthy sustain she achieved time and again in the highest notes, clear and poignant as tears in sunlight. And all of it crowned by a marvelous passage where she accompanied her own trebly melody with a sonorous counterpoint across the lower strings….

During the interval, the stage lost the featured soloist, and gained considerably more orchestra members, including a second row of bassists and the full complement of percussionists required to achieve the depth and splendor of Rimsky-Korsakov’s lavish tone poem…Their performance across all four movements was magnificent.”

Read the Full Review

Persia, Exotic and Mysterious

Monday Map – Persia in 1676, according to John Speed of London

Few places named upon earth evoked more potential for exotic wonderment than Persia,  the crossroads of empires and home to many different strains of ancient peoples.

Persia 1676 antique map

From the ancient Persian empire, through Alexander the Great, to the various waves of Arab and even Chinese influence, to the Great Mongol hoards, Persia had absorbed an astonishing array of cultural influences by the time of the expansion of Islam and Arab influence took permanent hold.

But it was the Hazār Afsānah, a collection of Persian and Indian folk tales compiled in the Middle Ages that insured that Persia would forever be associated with exotic adventure.

Known today as One Thousand and One Nights, the collection was expanded to include other famous tales from that part the region, featuring the likes of Ali Baba and those forty thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor.

A colossal version of this map may be zoomed in on at This Web Site.

And many other antique maps of Persia can be found HERE.

Nels Cline and Jules Lage Live

Somebody’s been practicing with a metronome! And its Julian Lage and Nels Cline.

A mid-sixties Gibson Barney Kessel model (Nels Cline) and a Manzer Bluenote (Julian Lage) together in some amazing space jam Jazz.

I must confess I only knew of Cline as a guitarist in the progressive folk country phenomenon Wilco. What a great and unexpected turn of the ear. Tasty and oh so impressive.

Their collaboration is available on the record Room, available at iTunes and other music outlets.

Best $20 ticket in NYC – this Sunday, 2 PM, Carnegie Hall

All of yous.

Yes every single one of you in the tri-state area.

Yous needs to do yousself the favor and go to Carnegie Hall this Sunday at 2pm for the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra’s concert.

Bring the kids.

They are so spectacular you will not believe they are all 20 or younger.

AND the program includes Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op.35!!!

If you have never seen a live orchestra concert, or not in a long time, or your kids haven’t, go see it. Every seat is $20, at Carnegie Hall!  It is the best $20 ticket in NYC.

Get Tickets

Joshua Gersen, conductor
Elena Urioste, violinBeethoven: Violin Concerto, op. 61
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, op. 35

Guest Artist

Elena Urioste

Recently selected as a BBC New Generation Artist, Elena Urioste has been hailed by critics and audiences for her rich tone, nuanced lyricism, and commanding stage presence. Since making her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age thirteen, she has appeared with major orchestras in the U.S. and abroad, including the London and New York Philharmonics, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and the Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and National symphony orchestras. Elena has collaborated with acclaimed conductors Sir Mark Elder, Keith Lockhart and Robert Spano; pianists Mitsuko Uchida, Christopher O’Riley, and Michael Brown; cellists Carter Brey and Zuill Bailey; and violinists Shlomo Mintz and Cho-Liang Lin. She has been a featured artist at the Marlboro, Ravinia, and La Jolla music festivals, among others.


Joshua Gersen

The New York Philharmonic has announced that Joshua Gersen has been appointed the orchestra’s new Assistant Conductor, commencing with the 2015/16 season.

Gersen will continue to serve as music director and principal conductor for the New York Youth Symphony concurrently with his newly appointed position at the Philharmonic.

Congratulations JD!

Carnegie Hall

Dora the Explorer turns 85

Still full of papaya juice and vinegar

The real-life inspiration for the cartoon character beloved by millions, Dora the Explorer gave up exploring decades ago and has been enjoying a quite retirement in the aptly named Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, recently saying, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Pango Pango.”

Dora the Explorer turns 85

OK, actually it is my mom posing with the stickers she patiently endured for the sake of a happy three-year-old girl.