Music for calming down

I don’t know about you, but “how do I make my dog throw up?” is not one of those questions I had ever been much in the habit of asking myself until this past week. On Sunday Finn ate a mushroom at the park, and today he ate what I think was probably a raisin. The remedy in both cases is “make the dog puke ASAP” and the way to do this is to mix a teaspoon or two of hydrogen peroxide with something that the unsuspecting dog will eat. Puppy hurls soon follow. Except in the case of my dog, who seems to be immune to the hydrogen peroxide trick. It gives him the heaves, but nothing comes up. Fortunately, the mushroom was harmless and the solitary raisin was below the toxicity dose (about 19g for a dog of Finn’s size) but imagine me, say, literally on fire and running in little circles and shrieking and clutching my hair and you will have a good idea of how I felt.

So now we are on the couch listening to Bach, specifically BWV 831. Finn saw that I was upset and was licking my face to comfort me, which was sweet. And he has taken to following me around – I went outside to get something from the car and when I came back up the steps I saw his little face framed in the window by the front door, waiting.

Also, I have discovered that when I play Ian Bostridge singing Bach in the car, Finn doesn’t whine. Who knew? (Clarification: that is, [Ian Bostridge singing Bach] played [in the car] not [playing a recording of] [Ian Bostridge singing Bach in the car])

Opera with Dog

I have been doing my best this evening to watch a Handel DVD, but success is limited. My dog is only four months old, and as a result everything goes into his mouth. Also, we have not had very many accidents, but I still have to watch him to see whether he has that “about to pee” look. It’s added an interesting sonic element to Handel, in that some of the best bits are interrupted by me saying “oy!” gently but firmly (“oy!” is Finn’s “no” word – I want him to associate his name with being praised, so we’ve settled on “oy!” for “no!/drop that!/do not even think about taking a puppy dump on that floor!”. I am proud to say that he knows what “oy!” means. Also, we are making excellent progress on “sit”.) And then I had to put Joyce on pause for like twenty minutes while Finn and I played ball. It’s not exactly “fetch” yet, but he’s cottoned on to the fact that when I catch his eye and say “ball!” the little object my hand is going to go bouncing down the hallway so that he can chase it, and the experience is not repeated unless he brings it back.

He will be asleep soon, as per picture below, and perhaps then I can get on to the DVD.

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Schubert / Fierrabras

The recent Salzburg production of Schubert’s opera Fierrabras is available for free via at the moment. I watched it because, well, one does. Although you can see why Schubert is known as a song writer rather than a composer of operas, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours.

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Saturday Puppy Post

2014-09-06 18.02.04This is my dog, Finn, who has taken a liking to the couch, especially when there are humans on it. He’s tired at the moment because we had a little adventure this morning – he tried to poop on an anthill, and the ants gave him what for. Much yipping ensued.

Meanwhile, I have been watching Schubert’s Fierrabras – it’s too bad Finn already has a name (his brother, who was adopted by someone else before we got to the shelter, was named Huck), because it strikes me that Fierrabras would be a very good name for a dog.

Joyce DiDonato / Stella di Napoli

One of my fondest opera memories is of being at the Houston Grand Opera a little over two years ago to hear Joyce DiDonato in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. It’s one of those operas that I seek out more as a chance to hear specific performers than for the opera itself. In Houston, I remember being simply mesmerized listening to the way her voice could sail through all the little twists and turns of ornamentation in a way that was both technically a thrill to listen to and dramatically compelling. There were several moments where she made the vocal line stop, hang in the air, and then in the same breath moved it on in a different direction – it was stunning. This recording reminded me of that experience, and not just because there is a selection from Maria Stuarda on it (it’s the prayer scene from the finale).

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WTF iTunes

On the International Scale of Annoyance, on which 0 is “I have just had a nice drink and am floating in a warm bath listening to Mozart” and 100 is “I have Ebola” this is probably more of a 4 than a 97, but I discovered today while driving to work that several files of my recording of Igor Kipnis playing BWV 825, 826, and 828 were skipping. It sounded as though bits of the file were missing; in addition to this, my iPod and (after pursuing the matter further) iTunes did not play the last two seconds of several of the files. This is a recording that I re-ripped a few months ago for higher audio quality. I’ve had it for years, since graduate school – it’s one of my favorites.

At first I was terrified that all my old CDs had started to disintegrate, but the CD played fine in both my stereo and on my computer, which indicated that neither the disc itself nor my laptop’s optical drive were the problem. Re-ripping the CD in iTunes with error correction on fixed some of the files, but not all. I ended up re-ripping it again with XLD and this solved the problem as far as I have been able to determine. Which means that iTunes is probably the culprit.

On the other hand, in the process of getting to the bottom of this mystery I have listened to the recording at least twice now with quite close attention due to listening for skips and jumps, and I can certainly say that I still like it.

Also, I hear that Joyce DiDonato’s new recording is pretty good. Perhaps some day the US mail will deliver my copy of it.


Deep Thoughts About Fish

I was watching the Martin Kušej production of The Flying Dutchman again this past weekend. At the very beginning, as the storm batters Daland’s ship, there is vlcsnap-00001a shot of the empty stage. Or rather not empty. There’s a fish there, flopping. I got distracted by this for some reason and spent at least three or for seconds wondering whether I was being beaten over the head with something in a metaphorical way (there is a FISH that is OUT of the WATER. FISH. OUT OF WATER) or whether it was not also sort of funny, because it flops, and it made me wonder if the people who made the props had hacked one of those singing fish things that people put on their walls so that it would move about a little bit but not make any noise.



Yes, I do have better things to do. I just choose not to.


Also, did you know that the startle reflex of an armadillo is to launch itself straight up into the air to about the height of the bottom of a car, and that’s why you so often see dead ones on the road?

I was driving home last night listening to the end of Tristan und Isolde. The Liebestod is useful if you need to have a good cry. I didn’t, but I got one anyway, and it led to one of those moments where most of my brain is listening to Wagner and coordinating the waterworks, but another part of it was pointing out to me that I was driving down an unlit country road in the dark with tears streaming down my cheeks, and this exactly how people end up hitting deer and getting in a wreck. (It was later pointed out to me that this particular combination of circumstances is actually probably not, as a rule, how people hit deer, but you know what I mean.)

I did not hit any deer, but I may stick to string quartets and Handel recitals for driving in the future.

Weekend 8-24-14

This past week has been kind of a bust, culminating this past evening in mildly burned curry, spilled beer, an Andrew Manze CD with a scratch on it, and my landline not working. And there is a massive spider (about 3″ with legs) lurking on my porch. It’s the sort that hides under things.

On the other hand, my landlord sold the subdivided house I live in to someone who is now living next door, and who mowed the entire lawn today, including my half, and didn’t mention anything about extra money when I mentioned getting a dog. (I think the bar for domestic animals around here is fairly low – he said as long as it’s not vicious, it’s fine. I am going to try to find a healthy mutt sort of puppy that I can train to be 1. housebroken 2. tolerant of opera 3. not vicious. I am also going to find a healthy responsible sort of graduate student who can dog-sit every so often in return for prompt and generous remuneration.)

And also, I got this optical cable for use in playing DVDs on my computer. My stereo plays DVDs and can be hooked to a TV, but I don’t have one of those, which means that when I watch a DVD, it’s on my laptop with the audio plugged into the stereo. My stereo also has an optical line-in, and my Macbook an optical line-out, which I am told provides better audio quality. So, I have been re-watching some DVDs with the audio going out via optical rather then 3.5mm cable. It’s probably an illusion, but part of me thinks it does sound better. (But perhaps this is just my brain attempting to compensate for the knowledge that I just spent $20 on a cable.)


Then again, didn’t the psycho in American Psycho listen to Huey Lewis and the News?

There is a video up on Slate about how villains in popular culture like classical music. I watched the whole thing, hoping for an argument as to, you know, why this might be so, but the makers of the video got lazy and didn’t bother.

My theory is that for a lot of people, classical music is appropriate for villains because it evokes both power held by means of exclusion (intellectuals, WASPS, aristocrats) and a sort of sinister “here is this strange, stylized thing that you don’t get and this other person does, and doesn’t that make you distrust them a little – what other strange information or dangerous tastes might they have?” In the clips in the video, villains are often shown enjoying it while cooly doing or being responsible for horrible things. It’s the music of people who believe they are above the rules. Or who are somehow false, many-layered in a dark way, disconnected or wrongly connected within, etc.

But a taste for this sort thing can also be used to code a character as weird in a pitiable way – I remember a show about a Boston public school that used to be on when I was in college, which was often strangely anti-intellectual given what it was about; the cool teachers got together after hours and played bad jazz, while the teacher who blasted Dvořák in his car was condescended to by both the storylines and the other characters.

Classical music: the sign of an inherently disordered relationship to other people and/or the world?

Karita Mattila / Arias & Scenes

519s7sYS8fLAs noted earlier, I opened this CD to find that it was signed, which was a most pleasant surprise. Given my luck this past week, I am tempted to purchase another copy of one or the other of my favorite recordings, just to see what would happen . . . though of course it doesn’t work that way.

But the real draw here is of course in what is on the recording itself. My neighbors (my apartment is a subdivided house) have moved away, leaving behind a grill and a potted plant that I intend to appropriate once I am sure they are well and truly gone, but more to the point, I can cause the walls of this building to vibrate with opera and no one is going to be bothered. And this is quite a good recording for wall-vibration purposes. I bought it because I enjoyed Mattila’s Elisabeth in the Théatre du Châtelet performance of Don Carlos that I listened to a while back, and I like this for many of the same reasons that I enjoyed that.

Some of the selections on this recording are familiar in the sense that I have heard the opera in question before (e.g. the sections of Wagner and Strauss) but the recital on the whole made me realize what a Handel-thru-Mozart-and-sometimes-Verdi rut I tend to run in most of the time. There is something to be said for listening to operas in languages that you understand not a word of, in my case, Russian or Czech. The scene from Janáček’s Jenufa was one of my favorite parts of this – and she’s recorded the whole thing, which may be next on my list.  But I am obliged to admit, I enjoyed the Puccini (“in quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut) too. This recording is one of those that puts me in a ‘who cares what the text says’ mood; you can figure out the general drift of the selection from how it sounds and how it’s sung, and as with Don Carlos I found myself simply enjoying the sound of Mattila’s voice.

Wednesday Handwriting Analysis

So I got a used recording of Dvořák’s Rusalka that turns out to have some writing in it. A deep discussion with a friend and much googling for pictures of Renée Fleming’s autograph followed. I was initially skeptical because I couldn’t find the accent mark over the e, but it was pointed out to me that it’s half hidden in the word above it. I remain skeptical, though, partly due to my ambivalence about autographs. On the one hand, why is it important that someone signs a booklet, or a concert program? On the other, in certain cases if I had the opportunity to ask and could be assured that I would not say something really embarrassingly stupid in the process, there would totally be some framed concert programs on my wall.


Verdi – Don Carlos / Théâtre du Châtelet 1996

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Mel Gibson directed Don Carlos? I raise the question because in this version, directed for the Theatre du Chatelet by Luc Bondy, there is a moment in Posa’s death scene where I’m pretty sure I heard drops of the fake blood, of which there is plenty, land on the floor. But I am going to assume that this was just an accident of microphone placement. (To answer my initial question: I suspect that the auto-da-fe scene would somehow become much longer than it normally is and they would kill Posa with a spiked mace rather than a gun. This would also take much longer than is customary.)

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