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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Gregory G. H. Rihn's LiveJournal:

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Monday, June 13th, 2016
8:15 pm
Midsummer Masquerade: “Dieselpunk USO”
Saturday evening, the 11th, we drove up to the American Legion Hall in Mequon for the second Milwaukee area Midsummer Masquerade. The Legion hall is a small but nice venue, and the organizers had laid on a decent snack buffet included with the ticket price. Open bar prices were very reasonable also, at two dollars for a soft drink, and only three for a cocktail.

Live entertainment was provided by The Rat Package Cabaret Troupe, who put on two sets of World War II/Korean War Era song and dance. The performers, lead by Rich Mach and Lori Minetti, put on a good show and engaged with the audience. They had a good repertoire of songs, including short Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe tributes.

There wasn’t a huge turnout, but the people that were there dressed for the occasion and had a good time. According to signs, another Midsummer Masquerade/Dieselpunk USO is planned for 2017. If it comes off, we will have to share the info around to get some more people there.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/296255.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:14 pm
Made in Nerdwalkee
On Saturday afternoon, June 11th, we went to 42 Ale House for the “Made in Nerdwalkee” art and craft sale. This was a fascinating show, which has expanded from the function space to an outdoor tent (fortunately, not too hot when we were there). This was a really nifty show, that showed how technology has affected arts and crafts. Besides traditional jewelry, soaps, drawings, and fabric arts, there were also items made with Three-D printing, or computer-controlled laser cutting. We spent a good hour walking around the displays, chatting with the artists and admiring the goods and the many clever designs.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/296047.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:13 pm
One Night for “One Drop”
On Tuesday evening, June 7, we went to the cinema to see the digital broadcast of Cirque de Soliel’s charity benefit performance, “One Night for ‘One Drop’: Quest for Water”. This is an annual event in which Cirque de Soliel performers and production staff donate their time and skills to benefit the One Drop Foundation, which works to provide access to clean water in regions across the world.

Staged at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, the show began with an African-themed dance sequence, depicting life in a village in an arid region. The show’s viewpoint character, a young African boy (nine year old actor and dancer Miles Brown), goes to the nearby well to fetch water, but falls in, initiating a “down the rabbit hole” sequence of adventures in the underworld. These include a “water ballet” sequence, an “Inferno” sequence, and eleven others making up the hour and a half program.

Since the show is being performed on a standard indoor stage, much of the show is an extended dance review, although each scene includes aerial performers of some type. The background is a full-stage sized video projection, which adds fantastic ambiance to the acts. This could be a bit overwhelming at times, notably in the “Inferno” performance, where the red and black flaming background made it hard to pick out the aerial performers. As with every Cirque de Soliel show I have seen, the performers push the envelope of what is humanly possible. There’s at least one moment in each show where I say, “People can’t do that!” In this performance there were several: a person not only dancing on their hands, but leaping and bounding as well; a man balancing on two cylinders, one 90 degrees from the other; another man who could move isolated parts of his body by the action of individual muscles I would swear most people don’t even have. There were also some truly amazing child performers, such as twin aerialists Valerya and Veronika Tomanmova.

The Cirque performers were joined by volunteers from other Las Vegas shows, and by Grammy-nominated “X Factor” winner singer Leona Lewis, who performed her songs “Bleeding Love, “ and “Thunder”, and was very fine. She is justly famous for her amazing voice.

Kudos definitely to director Hassan El Hajjami, who pulled it all together, including moving in, setting up, and prepping the show in the Smith Center in 24 hours (rehearsals had been conducted in another space). This was a really beautiful and amazing performance for an excellent cause, and we were very glad to have seen it.

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Monday, June 6th, 2016
8:43 pm
June 6th, 2016, the end of an era.
Today, Monday, June 6th, was officially Georgie’s last day employed by the West Allis Public Library as she begins what we hope will be a long, creative, productive, and happy retirement. She’s enjoyed working at the library for 31 and a half years, since October of 1984. However, particularly of late, her work has gotten to be more and more “desktop tech support” and less and less of the human contact reference work she really enjoyed. When we calculated that pension and Social Security would equal the income she was getting from her typical hours, she decided it was time to take time for herself. The library will doubtless miss her graphic arts support, in particular the popular colorful posters for Summer Reading program and similar events, but the more-or-less steady demand of those jobs and her irregular work hours kept her from being able to put sustained effort into creative projects of her own. She plans now to set herself a regular schedule to work on the backlog of projects she has on hand.

Georgie got very nice personal letters of congratulation both from the Library Director and the Mayor of West Allis. This afternoon, her co-workers brought in tea and snacks for a nice get-together. Georgie got a lovely card in which more than one person expressed the sentiment that the library would not be the same without her.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/295554.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:42 pm
Skylight Opera Theater, “The Pirates of Penzance”
On Sunday afternoon, June 5th, we went to see the final production of this year’s Skylight season, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” This was as manic and active a production of the famous operetta as we have seen. All of the action was intensely choreographed, and, with the exception of the few slow numbers, the stage was a continuous whirl of color and action. The “silly” meter was cranked up to high, to the point that the production verged on self-parody at times, but it was all good fun, and we enjoyed it very much.

Benjamin Robinson was a handsome and stalwart Frederic, and Julie Tabash Kelsheimer an attractive and forceful Mabel. Both had gorgeous voices and lead an excellent cast. Drew Brhel as Major-General Stanley and Diane Lane as Ruth were splendid in their important comic roles, and sang well as well.
As mentioned, a lot of the scenes were almost continuous dance and action: the intense choreography by Ryan Cappleman, and the stage business as directed by Shawna Lucy, were continuous and seamlessly integrated.

The set, with its postcard backgrounds, worked well with the action, and incorporated its own set of jokes. The women’s shirtwaist outfits for the first act were more 1900 style than 1879, but they were attractive and pretty and that was sufficient.

The orchestra, under the direction of noted Gilbert and Sullivan director Robert Linder, performed with out noticeable flaw, and supported the singers at just the right level.

A very enjoyable afternoon at the opera, with just as much energy as we could stand.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/295268.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:41 pm
Villa Terrace, Garden Opening
Sunday, June 5th, we stopped in to the Villa Terrace Museum for the annual opening of its Renaissance garden. This amazing site stretches down the bluff from the Villa atop it down to the shores of Lake Michigan, incorporating handsome mature plantings, and a spectacular staircase fountain.

This year, the grounds included an installation art piece by local environmental artist Roy Staab. The piece, entitled “Shadow Dance” consists of huge overlapping hoops of bundled reeds, five circles and an ellipse, overlapping and suspended at different levels on a framework of saplings. The work is very impressive when viewed from above from the Villa, and when walking around it on the lawn. To examine it up close and see the uniformity and precision of the bundling and lacing is croggling, as is the perfect circumference of the circles, knowing that he does all this work by hand. The weather and the gardens were beautiful.

The Villa also has a photograph show of a selection of Mr. Staab’s other installations, called “Suspended in Time,” and a collection of art baskets curated by Staab, “Beyond Baskets,” all of which were very interesting.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/294938.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:40 pm
A Bigger Splash
A Bigger Splash is the new indie movie featuring Tilda Swinton, whom we will generally go to see anytime. We went to see it at the Oriental Theatre Saturday evening, June 4th. In this film, Swinton plays Marianne, a famous rock singer, who has just had throat surgery in an attempt to save her failing voice. She and her lover, Paul, (Matthias Schoenaerts) are living in seclusion on the Italian island of Pantelleria, in hopes of a peaceful and quiet convalescence. This dream goes glimmering when they are descended upon by Harry (Ralph Feinnes), Marianne’s former producer and also former lover. He is accompanied by an attractive young woman (Dakota Johnson), who Marianne and Paul are surprised to find is Harry’s recently discovered daughter, Penelope.

Marianne is not supposed to be talking while recovering; Paul is a reticent fellow, and Penelope is sulky, so Harry (Feinnes) has as much dialog as the other three put together. Harry is a manic personality, seeming determined to be the life of the party even if no one else wants a party. He’s also an incessant manipulator, wheedler and grifter. When you notice that his blizzard of verbiage includes frequent digs at Paul, and references to the “good old days” when, coincidently, he and Marianne were together, that his purpose becomes clear. Marianne and Paul think they know Harry, and think they owe Harry, and so are inclined to tolerate his presence. We viewers, not burdened with that baggage, can quickly tell that Harry is using his verbal tools to try to drive wedges between Paul and Marianne so that he can get Marianne back. Further, he’s brought Penelope along in order to try to distract Paul while he does it.

The movie is a complex and multilayered story of seduction, misdirection, and desperation. Lushly photographed, the film contrasts the austere beauty of Pantelleria, with the sensuous bodies and lifestyles of the characters. All of the main characters have nude or semi-nude scenes, tastefully done and in context, though definitely adult. Again, the narcissistic Harry has the most and longest scenes, including the “full Monty”. (Fortunately, Mr. Feinnes has a pretty good body, especially for a 52-year old man--.)

The plot works out to a tragic climax, redeemed by an ironic and timely twist ending. Highly recommended for adult viewers with a taste for drama.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/294797.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:39 pm
Lunching at “Le Reve”
June 4th, we went to Le Reve restaurant in the “Village” of Wauwatosa for luncheon. I had the Canard BLT, which was duck confit, bacon, arugula, tomato, and tarragon aioli on a toasted baguette. Georgie had the Pan Bagnat, which was chicken breast, watercress, tomato, basil tapenade, and roasted caper aioli on a soft bun. Both of these were delicious. We split an order of “pommes frites,” which were basically standard french fries, but nicely done and with a very tasty garlic aioli with them. Georgie had a nice green salad with her sandwich. Lunch time is a bit early for wine for us, so we accompanied the meals with a pleasant sparking lemonade.

Service was attentive and quick, as usual for Le Reve. We took home a Napoleon slice and a Valrhona chocolate tart from their bakery case for later, both of which were perfect and delicious. Le Reve continues to be one of our favorite restaurants, although we hear they are getting a new chef. We hope changes under the new regime will not be too radical.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/294509.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
8:38 pm
Love & Friendship
Tuesday evening, May 31st, we went to the Downer Theater to see the new movie, Love and Friendship, adapted from Jane Austen’s unfinished work, “Lady Susan.” The adaptation was done by Whit Stillman who is also the film’s director.

Unusually for Austen, instead of being set in the 18-teens, the story takes place in the late 1770’s-early 1780’s, as the “American War” is recently over. Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is recently widowed and left penniless. Her primary mission in life is to find an advantageous marriage for her talented but shy daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), and secondarily for herself. She complicates matters for herself due to her due to her own desires, since, as the story opens, we see that she is being thrown out of the house of her friend, Lady Manwairing (Jenn Murray), who quite correctly believes that Lady Sarah has been too friendly with her husband.
She is able to take refuge with her late husband’s brother, Sir Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his family, which she uses as a base of operations to continue trying to make a match between her daughter and the wealthy but intractably stupid Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), while cultivating a relationship of her own with the young and handsome Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel).

The course of true love never did run smooth, and that of calculated matrimony even less so, as there are considerable complications before the plot works out.

Mr. Stillman is not quite up to Jane Austen’s level as a writer of dialog, and most of the wit and snark that we look for in adaptations of her novels is missing. This is mostly made up for by Lady Susan’s bottomless fount of invention. A master manipulator, she is never at a loss, even when nearly caught red-handed entertaining one man while keeping another on her string.

The plot works out in what we thought was the sensible fashion, although the denouement is brought about with some off-screen slight of hand, so a bit unsatisfying. On the other hand, the film is shot on location in Ireland, so both settings and costumes are fine to look at. Beckinsale gives a fascinating performance, and the cast of supporting characters, including Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Fry, and Jemma Redgrave, is just splendid, so it all adds up to a pleasant little movie.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/294269.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016
6:18 pm
Captain America: Civil War
On Saturday evening, May 21, we went to see the latest Marvel superhero movie, Captain America: Civil War. While Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the nominal protagonist, it is really part of the mainstream "Avengers" plotline, as most of the Avengers (with the exception of Thor and Hulk) appear, as well as some new important characters.

The plot opens in Lagos, Nigeria, where the Avengers are on stake-out, waiting for action by mercenary criminal Crossbones (Frank Grillo). Crossbones and his gang succeed in seizing a dangerous biological sample. The Avengers manage to recover the sample in a relatively low-profile exploit, but things go wrong when Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) redirects the blast of Crossbones' suicide bomb away from Captain America, but loses control and damages an apartment building, killing envoys of the reclusive nation of Wakanda.

The team gets raked over the coals, ignoring the fact that the Skrull invasion of New York, the Ultron incidents, and the Lagos situation would all have ended far worse had the Avengers not intervened. They are presented with the "Sokovia Accords", named for the East European country devastated by Ultron, a United Nations resolution which requires that the Avengers operate only under the oversight of a U.N. panel. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) supports the measure due to guilt feelings. Rogers, however, objects, arguing that individual conscience is a better guide than political agendas.

Stark and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) go to the United Nations complex in Vienna for the signing of the accords. The building is attacked by a vehicle-borne IED, which kills King T'Chaka of Wakanda. When Bucky Barnes, the "Winter Soldier" (Sebastian Stan), is implicated in the attack, a three-way manhunt begins. Cap and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), try to get to Barnes before an international task force with shoot-on-sight orders, managed by Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman, refreshingly playing a jerky government thug--), while T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), now King of Wakanda, hunts Barnes for his own revenge. This snowballs into a major confrontation, with none of the respective players knowing that they are being manipulated by another unknown hand.

Captain America: Civil War, does a nice job of encapsulating the freedom versus accountability debate that raged in the pages of Marvel comics, and handles the subject with both dignity and passion. While there is right on both sides, Captain America's position is of course the sentimental favorite. To the movie-maker's credit, the issue is not wrapped up at the end of this film, although we can see which way the wind is blowing.

I do tend to agree with other critics that this may be one of the best superhero movies made to date, although not without its flaws. I didn't find Tony Stark's berserkergang in the final combat particularly believable, it seemed out of character. It was good to see the new characters, which I thought were done generally well: Black Panther, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, new to me, not having seen the Ant-Man movie), and Tom Holland as the newest Spider-Man. Peter Parker is somewhat of a problematical characterization, since Downey's Stark gets all the wisecracks that have long been Spider-Man's trademark, and Scott Lang/Ant-Man has some of the humor, which leaves Parker as a hyper-nerdy kid. (Spider-Man<http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4043618/?ref_=tt_trv_qu>: [to Bucky] "You have a metal arm? That is AWESOME, dude!") Time will tell if this will stand up for long--. I found the characterization of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) to be interesting and well tied-in with the theme of the movie and totally unlike the comics' Baron Zemo, who was Marvel's second-string Doctor Doom.

Next up from the Marvel Movie Machine is Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbach, and coming out this November. Of course, they had a trailer for it along with Captain America, and it looks great, potentially. We look forward to it.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/293811.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
6:15 pm
Milwaukee Ballet, Alice (in Wonderland)
On Sunday afternoon, May 22, we went to the Marcus Center to see Alice (in Wonderland), a story ballet choreographed by Septime Webre, with music by Matthew Pierce.

The story is largely based on the familiar Lewis Carroll story, with observable influences from the Royal Ballet version, specifically the prolog with Alice's family; and the recent Tim Burton movie, in which Alice slays the Jabberwock.

The ballet opens with Alice (Alana Griffith) drowsing in an armchair on an otherwise bare and colorless stage. She awakens and performs a short, poignant, pas d'ane. Then, things get chaotic as members of her family and household enter: annoying sisters (Valerie Harmon, Itzel Hernandez), domineering mother (Susan Gartell), absent-minded father (Patrick Howell), dotard grandfather (Marc Petrocci), somnolent grandmother (Lahna Vanderbush), and put-upon butler (Parker Brasser-Vos). All of these appear later as wonderland characters. Then Lewis Carroll (Alexandre Ferreira) enters and sets up for a family portrait photograph. As the picture is taken, lights change and the White Rabbit (Brasser-Vos) enters and invites Alice down the "rabbit hole," in this case portrayed as a giant keyhole.

After a falling scene cleverly done with both "flying" effects and puppetry, Alice lands in the hall of doors, which involves some clever choreography with the doors and gremlin-like beings that control them. Alice's growing was also neatly done, as she raised up on the flying wires, her skirt lengthening, eventually revealing another dancer's feet below.

There are a lot of scenes and characters, so I'm not going to go over all of them. All were very good, but particularly notable were Davit Hovhannisyan as the Dodo, dancing very powerfully and athletically; Garret Glassman and Marc Petrocci as the Fish Footman and the Frog Footman, who dance a fun, bluesy pas de tres with Alice; Timothy O'Donnell and Barry Molina as the Duchess and her Cook, who have a duet where the Duchess assumes the "male" role, lifting and twirling the Cook; and Marize Fumaro as the Caterpillar, who worked in remarkable concert with the "Guys in White" (characters, eventually "cards", who do scene shifting and other character support) who lift and move her body through the sinuous movements of the Caterpillar; and James Gilmer as the Cheshire Cat, who performed a jazzy, seductive dance with Alice.

Speaking of seduction brings up the character of the Queen of Hearts, danced with great power by Susan Gartell. This character is both sexual and dangerous. In her earlier appearances, she wields a riding crop while being carried around by bare-chested Guys in White, and sometimes literally using them as stair steps. This makes one wonder if there isn't supposed to be a bit of an "Electra complex" going on between Alice and her mother, which is a bit jarring in what's otherwise presented as a very child-friendly ballet. (Young members of the Ballet School make delightfully cute appearances as baby flamingos (inevitably parodying the "Dance of the Cygnets"), piglets, cards, and hedgehogs.)

In the second act, the Queen's croquet game goes badly when the Queen loses, blaming the hedgehogs. Alice intervenes to save them, but is forced to flee into the forest. The Queen unleashes the Jabberwock to hunt her, which is a wonderful large puppet. Alice slays it with the help of The Mad Hatter (Mr. Ferreira) and Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee (Mr. Glassman and Mr. Petrocci), and a Vorpal Sword found conveniently to hand. Alice and friends are rounded up by the card soldiers to confront the angry Queen, at which point Alice realizes they are only cards. The other characters disappear, and Alice awakes in her chair at home.

The structure of the ballet is a somewhat uncomfortable fusion between "classical" ballet and story ballet. (We are somewhat spoiled by Michael Pink's smooth transitions and through-composed choreography.) Quite a few scenes just end, with no intervening action. When characters are done with a solo, they frequently just leap off into the wings and vanish. The large dance number for the corps, semi-obligatory for classical ballet, was inserted as a lengthy dance after the Caucus Race, with the dancers costumed as Flamingos, which don't appear in Carroll until the Croquet Game. This dance did nothing to advance the story, and could have been shorter with no loss.

It was nice that the composer, Matthew Pierce, not only attended, but conducted the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra and played solo violin as well. The score was pleasant to listen to, although I recall it as being mainly rhythmic accompaniment for dancing, with nothing in the way of memorable tunes.

The costumes, by Liz Vandal were fantastical and attractive. One curious thing was that the Flamingo dancers head pieces had the beaks on backward, but that was the only really strange detail.

Criticisms aside, we enjoyed this ballet very much. It was both beautiful and amusing to watch and listen to, and we were very glad to have seen it.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/293589.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
6:13 pm
Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices, “Ten Years Together, Ou
On Friday evening, May 20th, we went to Next Act Theatre for the 10th Anniversary concert by Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices.

This was a very energetic and joyous vocal concert. The company opened with a medley from the Strauss operetta A Night in Venice: “The Party of the Year,” “Gaiety in Venice,” and “When You’re in Love.” They continued in the operetta mode with a piece from Franz Lehar’s The Land of Smiles, “One More Ball.”

Then, they introduced “The Hard Knock Kids,” a group of students from Zablocki school, “wrangled” by chorus member Barbara Czarkowski, on “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music.

One of the featured soloists, Geraint Wilkes, was unfortunately ill that night, so Artistic Director Trefor Williams filled in with a solo on a traditional Welsh ballad (I’m afraid I didn’t catch the title), which he juxtaposed with the “South Wales pub version,” which had humorous English lyrics to the same tune.

The chorus then continued with a very lively version of “When the Saints go Marchin’ In,” followed by “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” by Eric Idle, from The Life of Brian.

The group had a very upbeat and interesting arrangement of Route 66, which has been a past favorite, and ended the first half back in The Land of Smiles, with “Patiently Smiling,” and “You Are My Heart’s Delight.”

The second half opened with ‘We’ll Keep a Welcome,” by Jones, Joshua, and Harper, followed by a lovely solo by Claire Bilicki on “O Mio Babbino Caro,” from the opera Gianni Schicchi.

Next, was a nice version of “Follow Me,” by John Denver, and a rousing rendition of “Seize the Day,” from the musical Newsies.

Then, the kids were back for, “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” from Annie, which was simply charming.

Mr. Williams soloed again with “If I Can Help Somebody,” a very moving anthem. The chorus took over again with “At the End of the Day,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables.

Next up was “Rhythm of Life,” from Sweet Charity, and an audience sing-along on “Edelweiss” from Sound of Music.

The concert wound up with “King Champagne” from Die Fledermaus, and “Goodbye!” from The Producers.

This concert was full of lovely music, very well sung. A couple of songs were accompanied by dancers Sian Davis and Matthew Nienhaus, notably “One More Ball,” and did a very nice job.

We’ve enjoyed MMV concerts before, and probably will again soon, as they have a very ambitious and interesting 2016-2017 season coming up.

milwaukeemetrovoices.org

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Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
8:51 pm
Florentine Opera, “Die Fledermaus”
On Sunday afternoon, May 15th, we went to the Marcus Center for a very beautiful and enjoyable production of Johann Strauss’ operetta, “Die Fledermaus.” There was an attractive set, on loan from the Virginia Opera, consisting of enormous paintings of lush nudes at the sides, and a gigantic Bacchanal at the back, indicative of the decadent times. (The originals were painted by Viennese artist Hans Makart, very famous in his day.) No expense seemed to have been spared on the gorgeous costumes, especially those worn by Inna Dukach as Rosalinde.

The various singers seemed to have great fun with the elaborate practical joke/revenge plot initiated against Eisenstein (Corey McKern) by Dr. Falke (Jonathan Beyer), which involves luring Eisenstein to a party under false pretenses while he supposed to be reporting to jail for having kicked a tax collector.

At the party, Eisenstein makes trouble for himself by flirting with his masked wife, who’s there because her would-be lover Alfred (John Pickle), has been arrested and taken to jail in Eisenstein’s place.

The plot all works out with great good humor, and a healthy addition of local references and inside jokes. Alfred is advised by jailer Frosch (William Theisen) to call “Gruber Law Offices” when he asks for a lawyer: Alfred, a singer whose voice Rosalinde finds ravishing, sings snatches of Tosca, Turandot, and, in the jail cell, “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen.” Eisenstein gets in on the fun, crooning “I’m Going to Maxime’s” (from The Merry Widow, by Strauss’ competitor Franz Lehar) on the way to the party.

Mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider in the role of “Prince Orlofsky” presented the character as an homage to the late musician Prince, sporting his trademark hairdo, and wispy mustache and facial hair. She also had a good repertoire of rock-star poses and gestures down. Jamie-Rose Guarrine was very funny as the truant chambermaid, Adele.

All the cast and the chorus sang wonderfully well, and were well supported by the orchestra under the direction of Maestro Joseph Rescigno. It was a lovely afternoon at the opera.
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8:50 pm
A Disappearing
On Saturday evening, May 14th, we went to the Walker’s Point Center for the Performing Arts to see “A Disappearing”, the Midwest premier of a new play by Milwaukee playwright Mark Wyss, who also produced. (Mark is also my next-door neighbor, and he and his wife Sandra, who designed the sets for the show, have worked on a number of the same productions I have in the past.)

“A Disappearing” was originally presented in a shorter form at the Albuquerque short play festival in 2014, where it won “Audience Favorite”. This was the first showing of the expanded version.

The play opens as lights come up on the kitchen of Alan and Claire, a suburban couple (Ryan H. Nelson and Michelle White). It’s evident a child’s birthday party is in progress from the cake, hats, and presents on the table. Alan, Claire, and “The Great Marvin” enter, with an argument already in progress. Marvin (Luke Summers) is the magician Claire hired to entertain at their son’s party. Marvin has evidently succeeded in making a heckling child, Tommy, disappear, to general consternation, since he has no idea how he did it, or how, or if, the child can be returned. He may have gone “where lost socks go,” as Marvin speculates.

A tumultuous debate ensues as Alan and Claire try to get their minds around what has happened and wonder what to do. Marvin is alternately appalled and delighted by his new-found power. After a wide-ranging and hilarious discussion, which includes the possible monetization of making inconvenient people go away, Alan takes on the duty of phoning Tommy’s parents to deliver the bad news. The act ends as he is on the phone to them.

Then, the audience moved from the “blue box” performance space at the back of the building, to the front room of the Center, representing the living room of Tommy’s parents, Sheila and Rob (Marilou Davido and John McGreal). They are a slightly younger, somewhat more yuppie couple, who are trying to enjoy a bit of “alone time” while Tommy’s at the party. This has marginal success, since Tommy intrudes even without being their, which results in a discussion about their troublesome child, in which Rob wistfully speculates on what life would be like without Tommy. They are just beginning to settle down when the phone rings, and we hear the other side of Alan’s call. This devolves from incredulity through dismay to hysteria as the message sinks in that their only child has indeed disappeared into thin air.

The third act was back in the “blue box,” now Alan and Claire’s living room. Sheila and Rob have arrived, and recriminations fly thick and fast, while possible solutions are thin on the ground. The play works out as a very funny, very black comedy, which dares to ask the question probably hidden in the hearts of most parents when looking at the fruit of their loins in those inevitable unlovely moments, “what if?”

All of the actors did a very fine job with Mr. Wyss’ edgy script. Direction, by Tim Kietzman, made sure the action and dialog was fast and appropriately furious. We found the delivery, especially of the argumentative scenes, to be very believable, and the wording naturalistic.

We had a fine time at “A Disappearing” and enjoyed very much, as did the rest of the audience. “A Disappearing” continues Friday and Saturday, the 20th and 21st. Tickets can be had at

www.adisappearing.eventbrite.com

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8:48 pm
Spaces and Traces 2016, Historic Water Tower Neighborhood
On Saturday morning, May 14th, we went on the annual Historic Milwaukee “Spaces and Traces” tour of homes, which this year was in the “Historic Water Tower Neighborhood.” This area of the city is on the north side along the lakeshore, and, for purposes of this tour, was bounded on the north by East Hartford Avenue, and on the south by East Windsor Place.

We began the tour at the Joseph and Charlotte Friend house on N. Hackett Ave., which was a handsome and spacious 1896 Queen Anne style home, and continued to the Emmons E. Chapin house on N. Summit, also a Queen Anne built in 1894, and the John F. Dahlman “Investment” house, a Federal revival, also on Summit. (For these tours, the houses are designated by the names of the original owners/residents. The current owners remain anonymous for privacy’s sake.)

We then went up to the north edge of the tour area and got to see one of the real jewels of the tour, the Orrin W. and Harriet H. Robertson house on North Lake Drive. If you know Milwaukee, you know that North Lake Drive is one of the most prestigious addresses, and the site of many fine homes. The Robertson house is such a one.

The house was built in 1912 after the Robertsons had toured France, and designed by noted Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler after the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau at the Robertson’s request. Built between 1518 and 1527, this château is considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture.

Although for about twenty years from the 1960’s to the 1980’s the house belongs to various orders of nuns and used as a retreat, the house has been carefully restored and furnished with thematically appropriate pieces. A striking feature of the design is the corner turrets, which give the house a very fairy-tale air. The side facing the lake has a very clear view out to the horizon across a long lawn stretching to the bluff edge.

Next, we visited the W.B Rubin Duplex on N. Summit Ave. This 1911 Prairie Style building is about as different from the Robertson house as can be, with its modernistic flat roof and rectangular lines. Now a condominium, the two units have been decorated in different styles by the respective owners, but both in ways congenial to the building. The first floor in particular was furnished with Prairie-style furniture. The upper unit had combined the original flat with the third-floor servant’s quarters, which were used as a very spacious and ultra-modern master suite.
After that, we went down to the south end of the tour area to see the Elizabeth Black house, which shows influences of French Provincial design. Built in 1926 for the then elderly spinster, the house incorporates an elevator, which is still functional. This is also one of the first houses in Milwaukee I have seen that boasts a purpose-built wine cellar (although it was not likely noted as that on the Prohibition-Era blueprints). The rooms we were allowed to see were spacious and beautiful.

Our final stop was the “tavern room” of the Becker-Fitch house on E Back Bay Street, another property overlooking the lake. This room, designed and decorated to look like a rustic Irish pub, was added to the 1895 home in 1923, as a “den”. It has a separate entrance down the drive to the back, and was well situated for “discreet” entertaining.

This year’s tour was particularly good, and we enjoyed it (despite the unseasonably chilly weather).

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Friday, May 13th, 2016
4:39 pm
Cantare Chorale: An Evening of Song
  On Saturday, May 7th, we went to the South Milwaukee High School Auditorium (also known as the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center) for a performance by the Cantare Chorale. This is a community choral group, new to us, but which has members we know and have heard in other groups.

Although it was an evening of generally pleasant music, I can’t say that we enjoyed it all that much, a fact that I attribute to the Director, Lani M. Knutson.  As a rule,the arrangements chosen were neither inspiring nor challenging . Tempos were homogenous and uniform, and dynamic changes almost non-existent.

Problems were immediately noticeable with the opening number, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” I am used to hearing this song done joyously, but the arrangement made it sound more like grim duty. The following pieces, “Hallelujah, Amen,” from Judas Maccabeus, by George Frideric Handel;  “Ave Verum Corpus,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place,” by Johannes Brahms,  all suffered from metronomic tempos and monotonous volumes.  That the chorus was being held down became apparent on the final crescendo of Jean Sibelius’ “Onward, Ye Peoples!,” which was the first time that the voices really filled the hall.

“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” was presented in an unsatisfying homogenized arrangement without a trace of “the Blues.” Although we were glad to hear all the words to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” I conjecture that the lack of the jazz bounce for which the piece is famous contributed to the audience’s tepid response when asked to sing along.

The first half of the concert was nominally “sacred” music; the second half was more eclectic, but with an emphasis on show music. “It’s A Grand Night for Singing,” opened the half, but still without the swing and sway one is accustomed to hearing. “Yesterday,” was essentially a solo with some choral accompaniment. Regrettably, the soloist was not having a good night, starting flat, then recovering, but not making the high notes later in this deceptively difficult piece.

Having been in a production of “Oliver!” myself, I was well able to judge that the songs in a medley from the show were mostly up to tempo.Some energy almost showed itself on “Oom Pa Pah,” and the soloist on “Who Will Buy?” demonstrated that there was genuine vocal power available in the group. However, you wouldn’t have known that from the frustrating presentation of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which requires an intensity, and a swelling and receding in the volume levels that just was not there. I had to restrain myself from standing up and shouting, “Sing out, for God’s sake!”

The medley that followed, “Irving Berlin’s America,” had some good points, but, again, I was annoyed by the total lack of emphasis on songs such as “No Business Like Show Business,” which needs to be a punchy song, to wit: “There’s NO business like SHOW business, like NO business I KNOW!” It would perhaps have been well to have ended with the Berlin medley, but the concert wrapped up with “Lullaby (Good Night My Angel)”by Billy Joel, which was unmemorable.

What was disappointing was that we know people in this group, and they are capable of being SO MUCH better. What could have been an exciting and interesting evening of music ended up being just –nice—and insipid.

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Wednesday, May 4th, 2016
7:28 pm
The Jungle Book (2016)
Last night (May 3rd) we saw the new movie of The Jungle Book, and were very pleased with it. The CGI world is just gorgeous, and the animated animal effects, although subtly fantastic, are quite believable and easy to accept.

Neel Sethi, who, as Mowgli, is the only major character not animated, is amazingly good. He’s a charming kid, but not too cute, who looks about as much like the 1967 animated Mowgli as a human being could. He has a very expressive face, and acts very well, especially considering that most of the time he’s working with puppets and stand-ins for the other actors. He also has a good degree of athleticism, handing the character’s running and jumping quite credibly, although I suspect the more dangerous stunts were also computer augmented.

Despite the awesome cast of actors providing animal voices, I frankly wasn’t as impressed. Sir Ben Kingsley, inheriting the role of the reluctantly kind Bagheera from Sebastian Cabot, gave the role the right mixture of concern and annoyance, but many actors could have done that. Scarlett Johanssen didn’t really bring anything special to the role of Kaa. Idris Elba was unobjectionable as Shere Khan, but I remember George Sanders as bringing a greater menace to the vocal role in 1967.

The roles of Balloo and King Louie were re-written substantially, partially as part of the general updating of the script, and perhaps partly to take advantage of the talents of the assigned actors. Bill Murray’s Balloo is a wheedling con-artist, something Murray does very well, but which is quite different than the joyous loafer role given to singer Phil Harris. In the 1967 movie, the role of King Louie was also given to a performer best known for music, jazz man Louis Prima, who made the most of his musical number, “I Wanna Be Like You.” In the new film, King Louie is voiced by Christopher Walken, who does one of the things he does best, making the monstrous character quite creepy. Interestingly, the 1967 movie was noted for its edgy casting, not only in Sanders, known mostly for classy dramas, but Harris, who had invented the boozy entertainer character later patented by Dean Martin, and Prima, who, having been married five times, was not what one usually expected to be found associated with movies for children. (Both Harris and Prima went on to work with Disney on other projects.)

A word about the songs: the movie retains parts of the 1967 songs “Bare Necessities,” “Trust in Me,” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” but they are more integrated into the action and not done as set pieces. Murray is no singer and there’s no attempt to match Harris’ performance. Walken, who actually has a song-and-dance background, made King Louie’s song a megalomanical rant, which implies the question, if he wants to be (like) you, who do you get to be afterward? Johanssen gets to do a full-length and more seductive version of “Trust In Me” as part of the end titles, which are cleverly done and worth sitting through.

The updating of the script adds back some of the drama and darkness of Kipling’s work that had been sacrificed for humor in the 1967 film. In particular, the climactic confrontation with Shere Khan was exciting and satisfying. Other, more solemn elements, such as the “Law of the Pack,” and the awesomeness of the elephants, added gravity to the film.

Interestingly, the movie also departs from the 1967 version at the ending, in which Mowgli, despite having in many ways become a “man,” and no longer a “man-cub,” does NOT leave the jungle—which leaves the door open for a possible sequel.

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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016
5:44 pm
Trump Names Running Mate!
Having accepted the National Enquirer conspiracy theory that Cuban expatriates, including the father of Senator Ted Cruz, were involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump went on to declare:

That, if elected, he will deport all extraterrestrial Aliens from Area 51, and force them to pay for a wall around the planet:

That he will defeat ISIS by conscripting Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) into the Special Forces and parachuting them into Syria:

And, that, when nominated, his Vice-Presidential nominee will be Elvis Presley, " a real American, and a true patriot."

Mr. Presley was unavailable for comment.

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
7:38 pm
Philomusica Quartet

On Monday evening, April 25th, we went to Schwan Hall on the Wisconsin Lutheran College campus to hear a concert by the Philomusica string quartet.  Founded in 2008, the Philomusica Quartet is Wisconsin Lutheran’s resident string quartet, is well known regionally, and has played across the country.

The group’s members are Alexander Mandl, violinist and conductor; Jeanyi Kim, violinist; Nathan Hackett, violist; and Adrien Zitoun, cellist.  Among other work, Dr. Mandl is Concertmaster of the Racine and the Kenosha Symphonies, and a faculty member at Wisconsin Lutheran and other institutions.  Jeanyi Kim is Associate Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony and Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra.  Mr. Hackett is a member of the Milwaukee Symphony, principal violist for Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, and faculty at Wisconsin Lutheran.  Mr. Zitoun is also a member of the Milwaukee Symphony, Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, and the Wisconsin Lutheran faculty. The busy artists also work with a large number of different groups and institutions.

The program consisted of the Quartettsatz in C-minor, D. 703, by Franz Schubert; String Quintet in D Major, K. 593, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Quartettsatz is an interesting piece, part of planned multi-movement quartet that Schubert planned but never finished.  It begins with a dramatic theme, that transitions to a lyrical second theme, and a peaceful third theme, before the recapitulation and closing coda.

For the Mozart quintet, the group was joined by violist Matthew Michelic, who is currently on the faculty of the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, and who, like the other players, has a diverse and distinguished work history.  This quintet was one of Mozart’s last two string quintets, which were anonymously commissioned at a time when Mozart’s fortunes were at a low ebb.  The work seems to have cheered Mozart up somewhat, as the Allegro first movement is quite cheerful, the second movement Adagio, slow and sighing, but not sad, graceful and, at times, almost fragile.  The third movement Menuetto is bright and humorous, and the fourth movement Allegro is based on a lively “Tarantella” structure.

The Quartet has been working its way through all of Beethoven’s string quartets, and we were privileged to hear them finish the journey with Number 14. Monumental, particularly by quartet standards, the piece has seven movements, played without interruption, which amounts to forty intense minutes of music. I found this piece in some ways to be more playful than “typical” Beethoven, perhaps in part because Beethoven by this time had pretty much thrown over conventions about the quartet form. The lengthy fifth movement Presto was particularly invigorating, and was followed by the short , Adagio quasi un poco andante. This was a good entrée to the finale Allegro, which was the most dramatic and sober—most “Beethoven-like”—part of the quartet.

All of the musicians displayed the highest degree of skill and ability in interpreting the music, and the concert was very well received by an enthusiastic audience.  We enjoyed it particularly for the uplifting character of the music.

The Philomusica Quartet has announced their Wisconsin Lutheran concert schedule for next season, which looks very interesting.  Doubtless we will attend some, events permitting.

http://www.philomusicaquartet.com/Philomusica/Home.html


 

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Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
7:05 pm
April and the Extraordinary World
The new French animated Steampunk movie, billed as April and the Extraordinary World, opened Friday, April 22nd, in Milwaukee. We saw it on Saturday the 23rd.

April and the Extraordinary World is the title used for English distribution. The French title, Avril et le monde truqué, more accurately translates to "April and the Twisted World." The "Twisted World" is a fair description of this Steampunk dystopia, which has its roots in France's Second Empire, which is on the verge of war with Prussia. Emperor Napoleon III has engaged a scientist to create a serum that will make his soldiers invincible. The serum has not had the desired effect, and the Emperor orders the experiments destroyed, which results in a catastrophic explosion, killing the Emperor.

This is the point at which history twists aside from our world. With the death of the Emperor, war is averted and peace made. However, leading scientists world-wide begin to disappear, which causes technology to stagnate. By 1931, reliance on steam power has not only exhausted Europe's supplies of coal, but deforested the continent as charcoal has become a strategic resource.

The movie is based on a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, creator of "Adele Blanc-Sec," and his character design style is quite distinctive. Scenery and backgrounds depict a fascinating Steampunk Paris, with the skyline defined by the twin Eiffel Towers, the cable-car railroad, and a colossal martial statue of Napoleon III dominating the world.

In 1931, the son of the original scientist, Gustave (French voice by Jean Rochefort), his son, Paul (Oliver Gourmet), daughter-in-law Annette (Macha Grenon), are attempting to continue the family work on the Ultimate Serum, while in hiding from the French police, because all available scientists are being conscripted to design new weapons for the Empire. Their young daughter, April (Angela Galluppo) assists where she can. They are raided by the police, led by Inspector Pizoni (Benoît Brière), who combines the persistence of a Javert with the ineptitude of a Clouseau. (Tardi typically depicts the French police as corrupt, brutal, and stupid. For some reason, many have Italian surnames--.) In the resulting debacle, Gustave escapes, Paul and Annette are lost in the explosion of a cable car, and April is sent to an orphanage, from which she escapes with the aid of her scientifically enhanced cat, Darwin (voice by Phillippe Katherine).

Then, we flash forward to 1941. April is grown up (now voiced by Marion Cotillard) and continuing her clandestine work on the family's serum project. The demoted Pizoni has her under unofficial surveillance by a parolee, Julius, (Marc-Andre Grondin), in hopes she will lead him to her grandfather, who is still at large. There is a war in progress between France and the United States over access to Canadian forests. Meanwhile, the mysterious force behind the abduction of scientists begins to close in on April and her work.

The story of how this all plays out is a grand adventure, with the settings, including the desert that is now rural France, well realized, and the Steampunk and other alternative technology creations depicted being worth the price of admission. I liked the fact that grown-up April is a rather plain-faced, square-shouldered young woman, not conventionally beautiful. Julius, the eventual and reluctant male lead, is a classic Parisian street youth, not conventionally handsome. Tardi's convention of drawing eyes with only black pupils but no irises is a bit unsettling at first, but one grows used to it. The characters as written are all very strong and well done, including April's grandfather, Gustave, who is the ultimate scientist.

One significant disappointment of the movie is that the ultimate crisis/climax very strongly parallels that of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. However, getting to that point, and, ultimately, past that point to a very satisfying conclusion, is very much worth the ride.

Recommended for Steampunks everywhere.

The main feature was preceded by two animated shorts, "French Roast," dealing with the embarrassment of a gentleman (drawn as sort of a French John Cleese) who, having had coffee in a café, discovers he hasn't got his wallet. Humorous complications ensue, in a beautifully drawn little movie. In the second one, "In Between," a young woman's social anxieties manifest as a cartoony blue 'crocodile' that follows her everywhere. This one was cute, sweet, and funny. These are both worth looking up, and can be found on YouTube.

French Roast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbmsid57MXw

In Between: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xp22IYL2uU

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