The Voice, or, Despite the Title This Post Is Not About Opera

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We interrupt our series on opera plots to bring you a special news bulletin: For the first time ever, my favorite from The Voice blind auditions has actually won!

Of course, I would have preferred to see Mia and Kimberly in the finale (along with Sawyer and Meghan) instead of Koryn and Joshua, but I’m beyond thrilled that the wise-beyond-his-years teenager came out on top.

While Sawyer’s performance of Neil Young’s “Old Man” might have epitomized his style, my favorite performance of his is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” from the Top 6 show:

Congratulations, Sawyer!

Opera Plots in 101 Words or Less, Act II

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Today, we continue with the plots of opera “warhorses”—those repertoire standards most likely to be referenced in pop culture. Again, despite any snark below, I love all of these works and heartily recommended them to anyone considering exploring the world of opera. The operas below represent the second half of the top ten most-performed operas in the world: Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, Rigoletto, and Don Giovanni. For the first half, please see the previous post in this series: Opera 101—Opera Plots in 101 Words or Less.*

So, if you don’t want to be like the hapless border guard in Hopscotch above, read on and learn how to distinguish the “Figaro!” of The Barber of Seville from the Figaro of The Marriage of Figaro.

SPOILER ALERT: Lots of weddings. And, of course, death. Circle of life don’t you know.

Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly (1904)
Based on: a short story by John Luther Long and a novel by Pierre Loti
Notable Cultural Reference: Fatal Attraction
Setting: Nagasaki, 1904

American naval officer Pinkerton rents a house for his Japanese child-bride, Cio-Cio San (aka Butterfly). Renting should’ve been a clue he wasn’t playing for keepsies—always get the deed, ladies. To make matters worse, her uncle turns the wedding guests against her for converting to Christianity. Pinkerton’s not good for much but manages to knock her up before skipping town. Fast forward three years: Butterfly waits patiently while maid Suzuki knows the score. But, wait, Pinkerton comes back! Unfortunately, he and his new American wife just want the kid. Butterfly celebrates by slicing her throat. Drama queen.
TL;DR: Miss Saigon

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “Un bel dì vedremo” and “Coro a bocca chiusa” (aka the Humming Chorus)

Gioachino Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) (1816)
Based on: a play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Notable Cultural Reference: Bugs Bunny: The Rabbit of Seville
Setting: Seville, 18th century

Pretty and rich Rosina is the ward of elderly Dr. Bartolo. Bartolo hopes to marry her once she’s of age, and schemes with music master Don Basilio to keep her secluded until then. Nevertheless, Count Almaviva has managed to woo her with some righteous balcony singing and enlists Figaro(!), Bartolo’s barber, to help him gain access to the house. Letter upon letter makes the rounds—sometimes even turning into laundry lists. Figaro(!) tries to distract Bartolo with a shave, but Bartolo is having none of it. He fails to stop the inevitable wedding, and seems mollified with promises of money, but…

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “Largo al factotum della città” (aka “Figaro!”)

Lucas Meachem is Figaro, the barber of Seville. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Lucas Meachem is Figaro, the barber of Seville. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786)
Based on: a play by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Notable Cultural Reference: The Shawshank Redemption, Trading Places
Setting: Seville, 18th century

The Marriage of Figaro is (surprise!) about the marriage of Figaro, former Sevillano barber, now valet to Count Almaviva. Although not really because it’s mostly about how the once-smitten count is now a cheating cheater who cheats. The countess (young Rosina all growed up) and her maid Susanna (Figaro’s fiancée) plot to catch him in action. Hijinks ensue, especially when old Dr. Bartolo arrives seeking payback from Figaro for screwing up his plans to screw Rosina. His secret weapon is Marcellina, who turns out to be Figaro’s long-lost mother, so that sort of backfires on him. Or does it? Double wedding!

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: Overture, “Non più andrai”

Giuseppe Verdi, Rigoletto (1851)
Based on: a play by Victor Hugo
Notable Cultural Reference: Frasier: “Out with Dad”
Setting: Mantua, 16th century

Rigoletto, a hunchbacked court jester, keeps his beautiful daughter secluded lest she catch the duke’s roving eye. Too late! Gilda has secretly been making googly eyes at him in church. Furious over the jester’s endless mockery, cuckolded noblemen kidnap his “mistress” (i.e., Gilda), bringing her to the duke so he can have his way with her. Rigoletto vows revenge and hires an assassin. Despite knowing the duke’s a no-good scoundrel, Gilda sacrifices herself to save him. Idiot. As Rigoletto dumps the wrapped corpse in the river, he hears the duke singing and discovers it’s Gilda who’s dead. Aw, sad, frowny clown.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “La donna è mobile”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Don Giovanni (1787)
Based on: the legends of Don Juan
Notable Cultural Reference: Amadeus, Screamers
Setting: Seville, 17th century

Don Giovanni is a piece of work and serial rapist to boot. Fleeing his latest victim, Anna, he kills the Commendatore, her father. Anna and fiancé Ottavio swear vengeance against this unknown assailant. One of over 2000 (!!) abandoned conquests, Elvira is also looking for vengeance. When Giovanni tries to sex up bride Zerlina, Elvira reveals all and teams up with Anna and Ottavio. Sadly, this hapless trio lets Giovanni escape. But, never fear, the cold dish of revenge is served by the Commendatore, whose statue comes alive to attend a fabulous banquet where demons drag Giovanni down to hell. Well played.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto”, “Madamina, il catalogo è questo”

Tune in next time for Germans, Germans, Germans. Also, a ring. And a dwarf. Or maybe it’s a hobbit. I don’t know, I get them confused.

*If you are thinking of commenting that this should be “fewer” instead, please read this first.

Opera 101—Plots in 101 Words or Less*

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In honor of my late mother, who always wanted to teach a class in what she called “cocktail party culture” (this was before the heyday of “cultural literacy”) and because the subject came up recently on Twitter, I present the first in a series on the plots of well-known operas. So, when the next Marvel movie drops in that obscure opera reference (shout-out to @daisy_razor), you will be prepared.

Summarizing an opera plot is no mean feat, but I’ve tried my best to give you the major plot points and/or themes while keeping each description at or under my self-imposed 101-word limit. While at times this may seem to render the plot nonsensical, believe me, knowing more about it would probably not change that fact.

We start with the top ten most-performed operas in the world (as ranked by Operabase). Opera fans call these the warhorses, that is, popular staples that are used to lure the casual operagoers or newbies into the opera house. Besides Wagner (more on him later), these are the operas most likely to be referenced in pop culture. Despite my snarky attitude below, I love all of these works. They have great music and, if you are so inclined, any one would be a good introduction to the world of opera.

Today I’ll focus on the top five: La traviata, Carmen, La bohème, The Magic Flute, and Tosca. In my next post, I’ll take on Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, Rigoletto, and Don Giovanni.

SPOILER ALERT: Someone almost always dies!

Giuseppe Verdi, La traviata (1853)
Based on: a play by Alexandre Dumas (no, not that one, the other one)
Notable Cultural Reference: Pretty Woman
Setting: Paris, ca. 1850

Courtesan and all-around party girl Violetta is doomed (TB, natch), but she’s a hottie so Alfredo loves her anyway. She decides to take a chance on love and retire to the country. All is well until Alfredo’s father comes poking around and, behind his son’s back, convinces this “fallen woman” to leave Alfredo for the sake of his family’s reputation. And she does! She goes to Paris to celebrate with gypsies and matadors, because why not, and throws her new lover in Alfredo’s face. Stupid. Alfredo fights a duel but Violetta is the one who dies in the end.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (aka the drinking song)

Georges Bizet, Carmen (1875)
Based on: a novella by Prosper Mérimée
Notable Cultural Reference: The Bad News Bears
Setting: Seville, ca. 1820

Carmen works hard for the money in a cigarette factory. When she cuts a bitch during a fight, head dragoon Zuniga orders minion Don José to arrest her. Carmen uses her wily ways to free herself and José pays the piper with a month’s detention. In the meantime, sexy matador Escamillo comes to town. Oh, and there are smugglers, because why not? After all, José has to flee with someone after fighting Zuniga. Stupid. These life choices eventually bore Carmen, who runs off with Escamillo. Naturally, José then stalks and stabs Carmen during a bullfight. But he’s very sad about it.

Sung in: French
Memorable Music: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (aka the Habanera) and “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre” (aka Toréador)

Giacomo Puccini, La bohème (1896)
Based on: a collection of short stories by Henri Murger
Notable Cultural Reference: Moonstruck
Setting: Paris, ca. 1830

It’s cold. Guys, it’s so cold, best buds Marcello and Rodolfo burn their “art” to keep warm. But, never fear, musician Schaunard is here, and they all decide to squander his temporary good fortune out on the town with “philosopher” Colline. Sure the rent’s due, but whatevs. Before leaving, Rodolfo encounters Mimì and somehow woos her with tales of life as a poet. Proto–Carrie Bradshaw Musetta joins their party, sending current sugar daddy Alcindoro off to the shoemaker. Later, they stick him with the bill. Flash forward to Mimì with TB. Being poor sucks, y’all, medicine costs money. Mimì dies.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: the duet “O soave fanciulla”

In La bohème, Musetta gets rid of Alcindoro by claiming her shoe needs to be fixed. Sucker. Photo by Cory Weaver.

In La bohème, Musetta gets rid of Alcindoro by claiming her shoe needs to be fixed. Sucker. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) (1791)
Based on: the drug-induced fever dream of a Freemason (I’m guessing)
Notable Cultural Reference: Gossip Girl: “You’ve Got Yale!”
Setting: Egypt? Dune? (Again, I’m guessing)

Tamino is chased by a giant snake, faints, and is saved by three ladies-in-waiting. Typical. Lonely bird-catcher Papageno arrives and takes credit for their work. Typical. Nevertheless, these two “heroes” are enlisted to save Pamina, the Queen of the Night’s daughter, from Sarastro, reinforcer of the patriarchy. Magical musical instruments are distributed willy-nilly. Women are promised as prizes left and right. The Queen of the Night sings about hell’s vengeance boiling in her heart, because, of course. Tamino faces many trials but skates by on male privilege. The sun triumphs over the night because men know best and women are evil.

Sung in: German
Memorable Music: “Der Hölle Rache” (aka the one with the high F)

Giacomo Puccini, Tosca (1900)
Based on: a play by Victorien Sardou
Notable Cultural Reference: Quantum of Solace
Setting: Rome, June 1800

Cesare, an escaped political prisoner, seeks refuge in a church where his sister has hidden supplies. Sympathizer Mario, who is painting there, agrees to hide him. Mario loves Tosca but his portrait of Mary Magdalene looks suspiciously like Cesare’s sister. Tosca is mad jealous and Chief of Police Scarpia milks this fact to capture both men and have Tosca for himself. After hearing Mario tortured, Tosca tells all and agrees to submit to Scarpia. However, once he arranges the “mock” execution to save Mario, Tosca stabs him. But, snap! The execution is real, yo! Devastated, Tosca leaps to her death.

Sung in: Italian
Memorable Music: Tosca’s aria “Vissi d’arte”

Holy flying leap, Batman! I didn't see that coming. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Holy flying leap, Batman! I didn’t see that coming. Photo by Cory Weaver.

And on that happy note, tune in next time for summaries of Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, Rigoletto, and Don Giovanni.


*If you are thinking of commenting that this should be “fewer” instead, please read this first.

The BBB and BBQ Tour

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Last month I took an incredible trip through Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana that I dubbed the BBB and BBQ Tour (or Baths, Blues, Bayou, and Barbecue). While many of the places we visited might not be obvious traveler must-sees, as my sister pointed out to me, it was a trip where we were really able to connect with a place and the people. You can read about the three Bs in more detail at Worth the Detour, but here are some of my favorite images from the journey.

The Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park.

The Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park.

Japanese magnolias at the Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Japanese magnolias at the Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The “Tulip Extravaganza” at Garvan Woodland Gardens.

Lake Ouachita from the Caddo Bend Trail in Ouachita National Forest.

Lake Ouachita from the Caddo Bend Trail in Ouachita National Forest.

The South Main Arts District near the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

The South Main Arts District near the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

The grounds of the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

The grounds of the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Bathroom signs from Abe's Barbecue in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Bathroom signs from Abe’s Barbecue in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

The Dockery Service Station at Dockery Farms in Cleveland, Mississippi.

The Dockery Service Station at Dockery Farms in Cleveland, Mississippi.

Wisconsin monument in the Vicksburg National Military Park. The fate of the Maltese Falcon is a mystery no more.

Wisconsin monument in the Vicksburg National Military Park. The fate of the Maltese Falcon is a mystery no more.

Stanton Hall, part of the annual “Pilgrimage” in Natchez, Mississippi.

The enormous crawfish that greets you as you pull into the Bayou Cabins in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

The enormous crawfish that greets you as you pull into the Bayou Cabins in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

Proud as a peacock in the Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island, Louisiana.

Proud as a peacock in the Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island, Louisiana.

Still loud and proud in the Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island.

Still loud and proud in the Rip Van Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island.

A live oak at the Joseph Jefferson Mansion on Jefferson Island.

A live oak at the Joseph Jefferson Mansion on Jefferson Island.

A barred owl at Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

A barred owl at Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

An anhinga spreads its wings at Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

An anhinga spreads its wings at Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

Sunset on Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

Sunset on Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

Looking out towards the Mississippi River from Oak Alley Plantation.

Looking out towards the Mississippi River from Oak Alley Plantation.

Mardi Gras beads hanging on a Garden District porch in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras beads hanging on a Garden District porch in New Orleans.

All in all, it was a fabulous road trip that I heartily recommend.

The Voice: Blindsides, Battles, Knockouts

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Since the live playoffs of The Voice have gotten us down to the top twelve and the elimination rounds are finally upon us (and that is where I generally start to check out mentally, if not also physically), I thought it might be fun to review the best performances in each round to date.

Best of the Blinds

This is a talented group and most blind auditions were very good. However, only a few really captivated me with their performance or song choice.

Maybe it’s because I just came back from a trip to Mississippi, but by far my favorite audition was Sawyer Fredericks with “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow” (despite the fact that he looks a little like my cheater ex-boyfriend).

Close on his country heels was Cody Wickline, who gave me a new appreciation for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones.

In the singing chops category, I’d have to give top prize to Caitlin Caporale with a rendition of “Impossible” that had Christina kicking herself.

Finally, neck and neck for the Janis Joplin Award were Hannah Kirby with “The Letter” and Sarah Potenza with “Stay with Me” (eventually the two would battle it out on “Gimme Shelter”).

Others I liked in the Blinds include: Anthony Riley (“I Got You”), Brian Johnson (“Reason to Believe”), Brooke Adee (“Skinny Love”), India Carney (“New York State of Mind”), Jeremy Gaynor (“Superstar”), Joshua Davis (“I Shall Be Released”), Lowell Oakley (“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”), Meghan Linsey (“Love Hurts”), Mia Z (“The Thrill is Gone”), Nathan Hermida (“Sure Thing”), Sonic (“Money on My Mind”), Travis Ewing (“Say My Name”), and Treeva Gibson (“Young and Beautiful”).

Team and/or song choices that I just didn’t get include: Ashley Morgan (“I Wanna Dance With Somebody”), Blaze Johnson (“How to Save a Life”), Brenna Yaeger (“The House That Built Me”), Deanna Johnson (“All I Want”), Kimberly Nichole (“Nutbush City Limits”), Rob Taylor (“I Want You”), and Tonya Boyd-Cannon (“Happy”).

Best of the Battles

As with the blind auditions, there was very little to complain about talent-wise in the battle rounds. There were a few odd song choices on the part of the coaches, but thankfully the early days of absolutely dreadful song picks seem to be behind us.

Best in Girl Power: “Put The Gun Down” by Ashley Morgan & Mia Z
I didn’t like Ashley in the Blinds, but it’s always a good sign when a battle gets me to buy the original. I love Mia more and more each day.

Best Arrangement: “Hound Dog” by Kimberly Nichole & Lowell Oakley
This bluesy performance was just all-around enjoyable. Kimberly redeemed her song selection from the Blinds and Lowell proved he could do something other than just croon.

Most Mesmerizing: “Stay” by Clinton Washington & India Carney.
We didn’t get to see Clinton’s audition but he certainly made an impression here, matching powerhouse India breath for breath. Definitely the most emotional performance of the Battles.

Best of the Knockouts

The Knockouts are always dicey. Song choice plays a huge role here and there are often spectacular wins and epic fails. Heads and shoulders above the rest was “Wasted Love” (a song which had its debut in the Season 7 finale) by Sarah Potenza.

I was also impressed with Meghan Linsey, who took on “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and showcased both her beautiful voice and stage experience.

Another veteran, Joshua Davis, delivered an impeccable rendition of “Arms of a Woman” that probably had women swooning in the aisles. His voice is just so soothing.

Coming from nowhere was Koryn Hawthorne with an energized performance of “Try” by P!nk. I wish we had seen her Battles performance.

For the most part, I think the judges have made good calls throughout the season, and the Knockouts were no exception. Ashley rightly left after choosing to compete with Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” and Travis flailed with his choice of “I Don’t Want to Be” by Gavin DeGraw. However, as God is my witness, I have no idea why Deanna is still in the competition at this point (“Listen to Your Heart”? Really?). Also, I’m still not getting Rob or Tonya; they are good singers but I don’t connect with them at all.

Best of the Playoffs

Going into the playoff round, I had a pretty good idea of who I wanted to see on each team and I’m happy to say my favorites mostly delivered on their promise. A few I would have liked to see pull off an upset (Nathan Hermida, Brooke Adee) didn’t come up to scratch, but I’m mostly happy with the Top Twelve.

Mia Z continued her reign as the blues queen with one of my favorites, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers via Eva Cassidy.

I finally saw the appeal of Kimberly Nichole with her performance of “What’s Up” by Linda Perry.

And, even though I really don’t love falsettos, there’s no denying Rob Taylor deserved a top spot with the appropriately named “Earned It” by The Weeknd (stupidest band name ever).

Going Forward

At the end of the live playoffs, here’s how the teams stand:
TEAM ADAM: Deanna and Joshua (Coach Save: Brian)
TEAM BLAKE: Corey and Meghan (Coach Save: Hannah)
TEAM CHRISTINA: India and Kimberly (Coach Save: Rob)
TEAM PHARRELL: Mia and Sawyer (Coach Save: Koryn)

I thought Blake and Pharrell had deeper benches going into this round and I admit I would have liked to see anyone from their teams over Deanna and Rob, but with each team getting three slots that just wasn’t going to happen.

While I don’t have a problem with any of the coach saves, I’m very sorry to see Sarah go. I’ll also miss seeing what Lowell would have come up with, though I understand Pharrell’s choice of Koryn. And I’d still rather have Cody representing country than Corey, but that ship sailed long ago.

In the end, the top twelve are all great singers. At this point, I’d say Pharrell has the edge with two really unique voices in Mia and Sawyer. Both of them have been favorites of mine since the Blinds. After them, I’m probably most rooting for India, Kimberly, and Meghan.

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