Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn


When we became aware last year that Somtow would be in town for the production of “The Snow Dragon,” we said, “We must get together and do something.” Local SF fans Leah Zeldes Smith and Dick Smith took the idea and ran with it, setting up OperaCon, something probably unique in the annals of fandom, a relaxacon centered around an opera performance. The Smiths took the initiative in contacting the Skylight Music Theatre and reserving a block of tickets for what became a sold-out opening night.

They worked with the Skylight to arrange some particular events, especially the private question and answer session with Somtow at the Skylight Saturday afternoon, which included a look backstage and upclose examination of the Dragon puppet. The Skylight had “Welcome OperaCon” signs in the lobby, and we got little gift bags of chocolate as special guests, as well as an explicit invitation to the Skylight’s after party (which is generally open to “First Nighters”, but it was nice to be specifically asked. We had the opportunity to meet other members of the cast and crew, toast the production in champagne, and those who felt inclined could partake of a generous cold collation. (We were both still full from dinner--).

OperaCon began Thursday with move-in to a set of comfortable rooms on the sixth floor of the Hilton Milwaukee Center. Somtow had relocated from his Skylight-provided housing to rooms across the hall. A great deal of food and drink, name badges, program books, and tickets were brought in. Somtow provided the special edition librettos for each member, which he autographed. Members drifted in through the afternoon and into the evening, and the party was officially on.

We got back to the hotel Friday afternoon, bringing along the Snow Dragon cake that the Smiths had commissioned from Georgie, in order to celebrate their immanent thirtieth wedding anniversary. The cake was pronounced good, and safely stowed away until its Saturday evening unveiling. About four o’clock, I changed into my full white tie for the opening, and about four-thirty set off for the group dinner at the Milwaukee Ale House.

The Ale House is a “brew pub” occupying the ground floor of one of the restored Third Ward commercial buildings about two blocks from the Skylight. It has an extensive menu of food and its own home-brewed beers as well as many other craft beers. It is nice for a post-Industrial space, although the exposed brick tends to make the ambiance loud and hard to hold a conversation in. The Milwaukee Ale House management and staff were very accommodating for our group. A lot of Milwaukee restaurants don’t even take reservations on Friday night, let alone for groups of forty. The servers were cheerful and responsive, and we got our food in plenty of time to make it to the opera. Georgie and I had the fried cod fish fry, which was very good. Georgie had potato pancakes with hers, which she thought were tasty, but made with a bit too much flour. Others at the table, however, pronounced them “just like Grandma used to make,” so recipes can vary.

For a review of the Opera itself, see my separate article. It was good!

We left the after-party at the Skylight a bit before eleven PM, and went home to bed. We understand the party continued at the Hilton well into the morning hours.

Saturday morning, we came back to the Hilton, bringing along a cardamom coffee cake from Beans and Barley, and a couple of pies to celebrate the special Pi Day. (3/14/15--). (If you had a a sweet tooth, OperaCon was a great con for you. Besides Milwaukee coffee cake and Racine kringle, Leah had ordered "kaddush" cakes from Chicago, which were delicious dense confections full of cinnamon and sugar.)

The talk for the membership was scheduled for one thirty PM, back at the Skylight auditorium. For unknown reasons, Maestro Subbaraman never made it (the one disappointment of the weekend). One of the Skylight staffers gamely took the stage along with Somtow, who held forth about music and literature with his customary erudition and humor. My humorously intended opening question, “How do you justify your existence?” surprised us by eliciting the anecdote that Somtow had actually been a guest of the famous Trap Door Spiders dining club (Isaac Asimov, George Scithers, Lester Del Rey and others) who customarily began grilling their guests with that question. Somtow talked candidly about his career in music, his rejection by the Thai cultural establishment, his reinvention as a writer, and his calling back to music, this time greeted with more success.

At the end of the talk, we were permitted to go onstage, examine the back stage and look closely at (but not touch!) the Snow Dragon puppet, which was fascinating.

At this time, Georgie and I ditched OperaCon temporarily since we had tickets for the 5PM Early Music Now concert. (To be reviewed later.) We got back to the hotel approximately eight o'clock, just as gears were being shifted for the Smith's anniversary observation.

I helped cut and serve the cake and pies, and a good time was had by all. Again, we folded up before midnight, but I understand the party again ran long.

Sunday morning I checked back in at the Hilton, finding that the Smiths and other helpers had clean-up well in hand in an atmosphere of jolly contentment, and would not be moving out until Monday, so I hung out for a while and then went home to take care of business there.

OperaCon was a very nice time and a lovely event. Thanks to the Smiths for all their work in making it happen!

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Tags: fanac, science fiction conventions
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