Question: Can one knit a toe with six grams of yarn?

Teeny ball of yarn.

Answer: Hell yeah.

Teenier ball of yarn.

Question: Can Carrie finish a pair of socks in four days?

Answer: Hell no.

Here's the story. I cast on for Pomatomus on Friday after struggling with the Scottish Highlands over and over. The yarn is the Claudia Hand Painted Stormy Days from a few posts ago. (Sorry Jennie! I have never actually used Koigu, though I don't doubt that they are very similar, although the color is most accurately portrayed in the original post.) The only reason I decided to make this pattern right this second (aside from Opal's influence!) was that I had wound one of the skeins of the Claudia yarn into a ball a few days ago. No other sock yarn was wound and I was antsy. Pomatomus it was.

I worked on the sock a bit on Saturday. Then I read through the pattern. I mean really read through the pattern. No skimming, as I am wont to do. The pattern calls for Shelridge Farm Soft Touch Ultra Fingerling weight wool, which comes in skeins of 194 yards each. I dug through my bin of skein wrappers and found the one for the Claudia Hand Painted. One-hundred seventy-five yards. Nineteen yards difference. Almost 60 feet. That's a pretty fair difference.

The race was on. I had to know if I would have enough yarn. Suffice to say I spent a lot of time knitting a sock this weekend. I am not duplicating the effort to set some sort of crazy land speed knitting record. Not that I would likely break any records anyway. (Besides, my hands and wrists hurt now. Ow.)

I got lucky people. Really really lucky. I considered making the legs shorter to be safe, but threw caution to the wind and went for the full three pattern repeats whole hog. I weighed the yarn ball as I went along and was pretty sure I would have enough. I only hope I can get the same mileage out of the second skein. There's something like one gram left of the first ball.

ETA: I should probably note that I have relatively small feet, US size 7 1/2, and slightly narrow. Also, I knit the socks on US size 0 needles. Your mileage may vary.

In other news, something came in the mail for me this weekend:

This package is from somewhere called Republika Hrvatska... :)

Customs deems it "Ocarinjeno".


Sandra promised me some Croatian music and sent a few cool goodies along with it! You can see in the photo a cute tissue package (with some tissues!), lovely sewn heart, and a little skein of "Adamo and Eva". I wonder what I can make with it? Thank you Sandra! I Haven't listened to the CDs yet, but I will let you know what my impression is when I do! And in the meantime I shall have to scrounge around to see what I can reciprocate.... :)


Something's Fishy

I swear that I am not copying you Opal.

No, this is not Scottish Highlands. Scottish Highlands has been sent to the corner for a time-out.


I Puritani: The Bel Cantists Strike Back

You may be saying, "Hey, she said she went to Eugene Onegin on Tuesday... WE WANT TCHAIKOVSKY!" and then proceed to bang your knife and fork on the table. I did go to Eugene Onegin on Tuesday night but am skipping right over it (for now, but wait until you hear what happened!) in favor of a blow-by-blow of Thursday night's I Puritani.

You may recall (or not) that I have already seen this production back on January 3rd. When I started on this journey of classical gratification I had decided that I would only buy tickets to those works I had never seen before live, barring unusual circumstances. Compared with other forms of entertainment in this city a night at the opera can be relatively inexpensive, but it isn't free. At this point in my life there are a heck of a lot of pieces I've never seen.

I Puritani is one of those lovely operas of the "bel canto" tradition. Bel canto literally means "beautiful song", and it has largely been a vehicle for highly virtuosic singers to strut their vocal stuff. Joan Sutherland is a very famous bel canto singer, Beverly Sills is another. Maria Callas successfully straddled the division between bel canto operas and dramatic/verismo operas (for a while). And, of course, my favorite tenor, Rockwell Blake, was one of the first true male bel canto singers in modern times. The bel canto style is often derided for being nothing more than "fluff", and indeed the plots tend to be weaker (ie. more ridiculous) than most. (However, Callas and Blake proved that there could be so much more than just beautiful singing to bel canto opera.) What they lack in sophisticated and believable plot lines, however, they more than make up for with gorgeous orchestration and, if the singers are good, exquisite vocal performances full of ornamentation as unique as the singer.

The story: The setting is the English Civil Wars (1642 - 1651) between the Puritans (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers). The action takes Plymouth, which is a Puritan stronghold.

Act I: Elvira, the daughter of the commander of the fort (Gualtiero (Lord Walton)), has been promised in marriage to Riccardo (Sir Richard Forth), a Puritan. However, she loves Arturo (Lord Arthur Talbot), a Royalist. Elvira tells her uncle Giorgio (Sir George Walton) that she will die if she is forced to marry Riccardo. Giorgio assures her that he has convinced her father to let her marry Arturo instead. (Oddly, Elvira's uncle is much more important in the story than her father.) Everyone is happy (except Riccardo). Arturo arrives to the cheers of the people, which is odd since he is a Royalist and they are at war, but whatever. Like I said, it doesn't have to be particularly realistic. Arturo and Elvira express their love and are blessed by her father. She leaves to put on her wedding dress. In the meantime, an order is given to bring a prisoner to London for trial. While Elvira is away, Arturo discovers that the prisoner is none other than Queen Enrichetta (Queen Elisabeth), the widow of King Charles, to whom he is, of course, loyal. (Nobody else at Plymouth apparently know this.) He learns that she will be executed if brought to London, so he plans to escape with her using Elvira's bridal veil as a disguise. (Never mind the veil is sheer.) They are about to escape when Riccardo arrives. Thinking the woman is Elvira, whom he loves, he challenges Arturo. They start to fight. Enrichetta stops the fight by revealing herself as not Elvira, but the prisoner. Riccardo, ever the pragmatist, lets them escape knowing that it will be Arturo's ruin and the only way to get Elvira back. Elvira returns looking for Arturo. Riccardo tells her he has fled with the prisoner. Thinking he has abandoned her for another woman, Elvira collapses in despair. Are we having fun yet?

Act II: Giorgio tells the people of the stronghold that Elvira is engulfed in grief and sings a song about it. Riccardo arrives bearing an order from the parliament that Arturo be put to death for his treason (escaping with the prisoner). Elvira enters, mad as a hatter, not recognizing people (her uncle or her would-be suitor) and vacillates between extreme happiness and extreme sadness, in song, of course. This is the famous "mad scene" and famous for vocal pyrotechnics. Elvira departs. Giorgio convinces Riccardo that the only way to help Elvira is to find Arturo. They decide if he fights them they will fight him back, but if he comes as friend they will try to help him. Cue the stirring baritone-bass duet. (Very reminiscent of the "oath duet" of Verdi's Don Carlo by the way.

Act III: The troops are searching for Arturo. He avoids capture and is thankful to be back on his native soil (Plymouth). He is torn between his love for Elvira (otherwise, why come back?) and his loyalty to Stuart. He thinks he hears Elvira singing but no one answers. He sings his lament and then draws aside. Elvira enters, thinking she herself heard Arturo (I think) and wonders where he is. "Right here!" he proclaims! The mood then goes from joy (after all she was lost without him) to grief and suspicion (she still thinks he abandoned her). He tells her the "other woman" was the Queen. The mood swings back to joy as Elvira realizes she was not abandoned. But, their happiness is short-lived as the troops come in (along with Giorgio, Riccardo, and half of the town, go figure) to arrest him. Mood swings back to despair, Elvira claims she will die if they are separated again, grows pale and tremulous. She says if Arturo dies then she will die too. Arturo chastises the people for being so cruel. As he is about to be led away a messenger arrives announcing the defeat of the Royalists and pardon for all involved. (How convenient.) Che gioia! Arturo is released and he and Elvira are reunited.

I told you the plots can be a bit unbelievable. However, it doesn't matter. The most important thing in bel canto opera is the singing. If great drama and depth of feeling are obtainable that is spectacular (see above for Callas and Blake). But the singing is the thing.

So the first time I saw I Puritani it was with Anna Netrebko as Elvira and Eric Cutler as Arturo. I don't know how much people outside of the classical music world know about Anna Netrebko, but she is the darling of the critics and the media right now. She is extremely beautiful, thin and curvy, and is extremely enigmatic. I saw her last year as Gilda in Rigoletto as well (a very different role, as you might know.) She is always always the most energetic presence on stage and is a very believable actor. Every performance that she was scheduled for was sold out.


Unfortunately she is not a bel canto singer. She does have a nice sounding voice, don't get me wrong, but she has none of the vocal flexibility to do the many runs and fast and sophisticated ornamentation that is bel canto singing. She can't sing a trill to save her life. Her performance? A tour-de-force of acting. But all the running and twirling and flinging herself around the stage to portray the love-struck and then love-lorn Elvira impacts her technique negatively, besides which she doesn't have the necessary training in this style to begin with. Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed.

Added to this drama, Eric Cutler, the scheduled Arturo for the beginning of the run, had to be replaced at the dress rehearsal by Gregory Kunde, the scheduled Arturo for the end of the run. The first two performances, in which Kunde replaced Cutler, were apparently a disaster. There was pretty much universal panning of poor Kunde. People were saying things like why was he still singing, and it was a disgrace that the Met couldn't find a better replacement. I wasn't there so I don't know, and I didn't hear any Sirius broadcasts. Nevertheless, I was relieved that there was no tell-tale slip of paper in my program announcing a substitution on the 3rd. Cutler sang well - not brilliant, but well. (You could tell a little that he was coming off of a cold or something.)

Fast-forward three weeks. An announcement was made that Elizabeth Futral was to replace the original Elvira (I can't recall who it was to be - Makarena?) in the final performance of the run. The final performance, unlike the previous six or seven, was woefully undersold, and rumor had it that she was brought in to try to bolster ticket sales. I had just seen Futral in the world premeire run of The First Emperor a few weeks prior and thought she was really wonderful. I also saw her in Lucia di Lammermore last year at the Met, and have seen her in a video of Mathilde di Shabran from ten years ago (both also bel canto operas). So, a friend of mine and I decided to go to this last performance of the run, the first time for her and the second for me. I was a tad apprehensive, after all it was Kunde who was scheduled to sing Arturo, but I went with an open mind.

I am so glad that I went again. Although both were fairly tight in their first scenes, Futral in Act I Scene I, Kunde in Act I Scene III, they loosened up marvelously and gave glorious performances. When they both first started singing I really though "oh no...", but this seems to happen rather frequently. (Remember Patricia Racette in Act I of Don Carlo? Kind of on the icky side... but brilliant thereafter. Hmmm, actually I can't find any specific review of Son Carlo on this blog. Well, take my word for it that she was sharp for nearly the entire first act at the top of her range.) Futral I think might have been nervous - is this her first performance of this role anywhere? I thought I heard that somewhere. And Kunde - who knows. The role of Arturo is known as a killer among tenors (there are Ds and even an F above high C in the written score. An F people!) I'm not even sure if he sang the F, few tenors do, but my friend thought so. (I honestly couldn't even remember. I tend to think not, I've only ever seen/heard it once in a clip. Not even Blake sang the F.) But he definitely sang the D at the end and, holy cow, what a note! All of his high notes (barring those at the very beginning which resonated oddly and sounded somewhat unsupported) were extremely solid - no reaching at all! Nor for Futral, who has a fair number of notes above C all the way up to, I think, Eb. Both were pitch perfect all night, something which tends to really bother me if they are not. Futral has runs and ornamentation to spare, a brilliant top that she can sustain, and gorgeous trills. And she also happens to be beautiful. Bravi!

As for the rest of the cast, they were the same as the first time around I believe (I say this without actually checking so I could be wrong). Franco Vassallo as Riccardo was good, but had something of a flutter or something in his voice that prevented me from being fully enamoured with him. But he gave a solid, convincing performance of a scorned man. Oren Gradus as Giorgio had a warm bass voice that personally I really enjoyed. Several people have mentioned that it seemed he dropped down an octave in several spots and questioned why. I have no idea if he did this - I am not extremely familiar with the vocal line of the bass role. Still, he gave a fine performance. The baritone-bass duet in Act II didn't sizzle the way it really has the potential to do - I'm not sure if it was the singers, conductor, orchestra, or what. Maria Zifchak once again played Enrichetta and once again delivered. I think she is a fine performer and maybe one day we will see her in larger roles. (She also sang Emilia in Rossini's Otello last month at Carnegie Hall, a performance I have yet to review... (ah, I'll get to it one of these days!) Sadly, the house was not at all full (maybe 50 - 70%?), which is unfortunate because it was a fine, fine performance of a musically beautiful opera sung by real practitioners of the art form. In almost every instance I though that the singers deserved larger ovations that they actually got (although if the house was only half full...)

Are you still reading? Intrigued by I Puritani? Here are a couple of good clips you may be interested in (click on the links to be transported to YouTube):

Juan Diego Florez as Arturo in Act I - Watch it for the singing and his cuteness, but not for good drama (he tends to be a wee bit stiff, plus this looks like a pretty static production). This is the preeminent bel canto tenor today. :)

Gregory Kunde in the same scene - If Florez is not your cup of tea, try Kunde! He has a much different voice than Florez. This is twenty years ago - he sounded more worn on Thursday but honestly still quite good.

Joan Sutherland in Act II - The infamous "mad scene", though this early clip is just the very end. Sutherland made a superstar career out of singing these bel canto roles, and she (along with Sills and Callas) was at the forefront of the bel canto revival in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gregory Kunde and Luciana Serra in Act III - The reunion of the lovers. Watch her mood change from happy to sad to happy. (She tends a bit sharp at the beginning, but just ignore it and enjoy the scene.) The key words to listen for are "la regina" (the queen).

Are you still here? Ok, a teeny tiny bit of knitting content. I started another sock, in the lovely STR Scottish Highlands:


I am hating it. The above shot was my first try. I have subsequently ripped and restarted this sock about four times already. I think I have a pattern I can live with, but the sock is too embryonic right now to see anything, so you will have to wait until tomorrow to find out what I chose!

PS Ginny wins my love and adoration as the first (and only) person who wants to be on my blogroll! Ginny you are already on my list! But thank you thank you thank you for saying such nice things. You deserve a prize. (Hmmm, now what to I have that I can give away COUGHmohairandalpacaCOUGH?) :)

I Puritani: Take 2

A proper post to follow later today (I promise), but suffice to say that Elizabeth Futral kicks Anna Netrebko's butt in the bel canto department any day of the week, Gregory Kunde is highly underrated, and I am so, so, so glad that my friend made me go again. My palate is cleansed. I can once again enjoy I Puritani.

One other thing. As you may have noticed, my blogroll is embarrassingly short. This is because I haven't touched it since I first set up the blog six months ago. The really really embarassing thing is that my Bloglines account (is that what you would call it?) actually consists of 106 feeds. I need to do something about that. One-hundred six feeds take a hell of a long time to read every day, and there are other things I should be doing during at least some of that time. Sooooooo... if you visit me here in my humble little abode and think that maybe I would like to read your own blog, leave me a comment saying so. (Don't forget to include your site address!) I'm going to be pruning the blogroll, but will add you to the list! Those of you I trade comments or emails with frequently don't need to - you are already on my blogroll! I think you probably know who you are. But feel free to comment anyway. Comments are nice. :)

That's it for now! Remember, I promise to post again later, cross my heart and hope to die. There may even be some knitting content.

ETA: I started writing the promised post (complete with pictures!) but am simply too exhausted to get through it. Tomorrow morning dear friends! And Sandra - there was a little pink card in my mailbox this afternoon saying I had a package at the post office... maybe it's your package? I'll find out tomorrow!


USPS: We (Don't) Deliver

Since I live in an apartment building with no doorman, I frequently have to make the (approximately) five minute hike to my post office to pick up packages. (Those of you who are city dwellers are nodding your heads in agreement. Those of you who are not are saying, "Doorman? People have those? People who are not rich?" The answer is, well, yes and no. And do you think they leave packages on the front stoop of the building if no one answers the door? Ha.)

Anyway, last Friday I got one of those cards in my mailbox saying I had a package, but it took me until yesterday to actually make it to the PO. Whoever I heard about The Loopy Ewe from (Alison?), this is your fault:

New sock yarn.

Cherry Tree Hill in Cabin Fever (very autumnal).

Cherry Tree Hill in Java (mmmmm).

Claudia Hand Painted in Stormy Day (just like today).

Good thing I went yesterday - today we are having an ice storm. (They promise me snow and this is what I get.) Will somebody please tell me why the government is not closed down for this?


I did go to Eugene Onegin last night - review to follow!


More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

Project Specs:
Pattern: Monkey Socks by Cookie A. from Knitty Winter 2006
Yarn: Cherry Tree Hill Supersock (100% superwash merino) in Blues/Purples
Needles: 5 US size 0 (2 mm) metal dpns
Size: CO 64 stitches to fit a slightly narrow US size 7 1/2 foot
Started: 31 January 2007
Finished: 13 January 2007
Pattern Mods: Worked 1 1/2 inches of twisted rib at the cuffs instead of 1 inch.

Did anyone else notice that the legs of the Monkeys pictured in Knitty have seven pattern repeats, rather than the six as described in the pattern? I started out with 4 oz (= 113.4 g) of yarn and ended up with 22 g left over. Considering that I had approximately 1/5 of the yarn left over I'm sure I could have managed at least an additional pattern repeat, plus a longer cuff. Oh, well!

There is almost no pooling with these socks (almost - you can see the weird splotch of red that shows up in both, though in a slightly different spot). Still, the pattern breaks up the horizontal stripes, and I love the way the motif flows from the center outward, or from the outside in, depending on your perspective. I definitely would make these again. But for now... what next?

Lesson learned: Socks can be knitted in 2 weeks with just a little bit of dedication. Opal you beat me to the punch!

Tomorrow: Eugene Onegin!


Barry Barry Funny

If you like Dave Barry, or at least know of him and do not snarl derisively at the mention of his name, then by all means go and read his 2006 Year in Review.

I know, I'm a little out of the loop, but enjoy.

PS You might need to be American to appreciate about 93% of the jokes. The other 7% are funny no matter who you are. :)


Trellis Scarf

The gift, she is finished! You were right Veronique, it is indeed a Trellis Scarf:

Originally meant as a gift for my roommate for Chaunukah, then Christmas, then New Years... well, February 18th is Chinese New Year this year. Happy Chinese New Year roomie! 2007 is the Year of the Pig!

Project Specs:
Pattern: Trellis Scarf from IK Spring 2005
Yarn: Karabela lace mohair, 61% superkid mohair, 8% wool, 31% polamidic fibre
Needles: US size 4 (3.5mm) wooden straights
Size: CO 59 stitches; finished dimensions are 9.5" x 67"
Started: 28 August 2006 (This is the first reference to it that I have, but 2 pattern repeats were completed at that time already, so actually somewhat before that.)
Finished: 10 February 2007
Pattern Mods: Used the Karabella instead of KnitPicks alpaca cloud, which doesn't matter in the allergy department since I seem to be allergic to that as well... Also did 22 pattern repeats (see previous post) instead of 23.


A Cautionary Tale

Or, Why One Should Always Read the Pattern Before Forging Ahead.

Last night I decided that, since I was only 1 pattern repeat plus the edge chart away from finishing a certain Secret Project, that I would dedicate myself to finishing said project so that I would would get it over with and never have to knit with the vile mohair ever again. So between emails and web surfing and television I blazed through the last repeat and the end chart. I then looked at the instructions to see if it had anything to say about binding off. This is what I saw:

Rep rows 1 - 16 [of Lace Chart] 23 times, or as many times as desired, then work rows 1 - 8 once more. Change to Ending Chart and work rows 1 - 13 once...

That part in italics and highlighted in red? Yeah, I didn't do that. In other words, the last 21 rows were wrong.

Did I mention that this is mohair?

My fix:

Step 1. Since I don't use lifelines because lifelines are for wusses (kidding, it is because I am lazy) I have nothing to rip back to. What to do? Find the place in the knitting that looked like row 9 on the chart and impale it with a thousand pins or so (I only used 723). I figure that going not far enough is better than going too far. In addition, round 9 is easy to find (it contains the 5 into 7 clusters, which I vow to never ever knit again, ever.) Look closely at the photo and you may be able to see the pins. Also possibly some teardrops.

Step 2. Yank the needle out in one fell swoop. You have to do it this way - it's like a Band-aid. Try not to faint. Below we have 59 (that's fifty-nine) teeny stitches running free.

Step 3. Make yarn vomit. Since this is lace weight mohair it actually looks more like the structure of a protein, but I digress. If you are wise you wind the newly liberated yarn into a ball, or around the rest of the skein as you work. I was not wise. It was actually not that difficult to free the yarn, except in the knit-3-together stitches (sl 1, k2tog, psso). I found that with the mohair it was easiest and neatest to hold down the fabric with the palm of one hand and pull at the tail with short, sharp, yanks parallel to the direction of the fabric. In other words, pull away from the knitted edge rather than up at a 90 degree angle to it. Because that would just make a mess. This freed the stitches on the live row pretty easily and left the rest of the fabric in peace. The pins effectively stopped me from ripping too far. A little bit of alcohol may be beneficial at this point to calm the nerves.

Step 4. To remove the pinned row take the pins out one at a time as you work across the row. Then, very slowly and carefully, since you have no safety net at this point, rip the next row below. No rushing, no yanking, and no crying. This put me at row 8, which is where I wanted to be.

Step 5. Carefully thread the free loops (59 for me!) back on the needle and pray that there are the correct number of stitches available. I got them all on the first try! Don't worry about the orientation of the stitches on the first pass, just get them on the needle. You can rearrange them later if they are backwards (about half of mine were initially backwards. Celebratory drinks are now in order, as you have ripped back a piece of evil lace mohair and lived to tell the tale.

Step 6. Resist the urge to throw the project out the window and knit the Ending Chart. The astute observer will note that this will actually give me 22 pattern repeats (I think), since I did not reknit any of the Lace Chart repeats. I ripped the 13 rows if the Ending Chart and the last 8 rows of pattern repeat 23. It doesn't matter, the Secret Project is plenty big and besides, I am allergic to mohair remember and I wasn't going to do it anyway.

The evil Secret Project is now resting in anticipation of its big reveal:

What is the lesson we have learned here? We don't need no stinkin' lifelines. Oh yeah, and it would be a good idea to read twice and knit once rather than skim off-handedly once and curse a lot later.



Last night's Jenůfa, by Czech composer Leoš Janáček, was electric. It matters little that there were likely very few (if any?) in the house last night that could actually understand Janáček's work in the original Czech. The applause at the end of the evening was testiment enough to the audience's appreciation of composer, conductor, orchestra, and singers. There were no Czechs in the cast, aside from the very talented conductor, Jirí Bělohlávek, so it's anyones guess as to the accuracy of pronunciation and diction. Does anyone know how difficult to sing in Czech? There certainly a lot of "strange" looking marks in the alphabet. However, my sources (the internet) tell me that although there are an intimidating 42 letters in the Czech alphabet, each letter corresponds to one sound, thereby possibly making it easier to pronounce (in theory) by a non-speaker, or at least, to decipher. I have heard that Czech is related to Polish, and I would submit that (to me at least) Polish is a difficult language to pronounce.

The Readers Digest synopsis is thus: Jenůfa loves Števa, who says he loves her back but doesn't seem to want to marry her. Laca loves Jenůfa, but Jenůfa thinks he is daft. Števa gets drunk because he avoids being drafted into the army, and the Kostalnička tells Jenůfa and Števa that they cannot marry until he passes a year without getting drunk. Jenůfa dispairs because she is pregnant with Števa's child. (Think about what this means in Moravia in the 19th century.) Laca becomes jealous of Števa, and slashes Jenůfa's face in a rage. Števa no longer stands by Jenůfa and now says he will not marry her. The Kostalnička, who is Jenůfa's stepmother, hides Jenůfa until the baby is born. The Kostalnička tries to convince Števa to marry Jenůfa but he refuses. Laca arrives and confesses he still is in love with Jenůfa. The Kostalnička tests his resolve by telling him about the baby. He is horrified, but still proclaims love. She tells Laca the baby died, which is a lie. The Kostalnička drugs Jenůfa, takes the baby, and drowns him in the river. She tells Jenůfa that she (Jenůfa) had a fever and the baby died. Jenůfa believes her. Jenůfa and Laca prepare to marry. Some village men find the body of a baby in the river. Jenůfa is horrified to realize it is hers. The villagers think she is a murderer (as well as an unwed mother) and want to stone her. The Kostalnička confesses it was she who did the deed and is led off. Jenůfa tells Laca that she cannot marry him because she would not tie her awful fate to his. He says, as long as they are together, what else matters?

(I might also mention that Števa and Laca are half-brothers and that Števa and Jenůfa are both the grandchildren of Grandmother Buryja, though the Kostalnička is not her daughter. It is a strange and twisted family tree, not actually explained in the opera, but is in the play on which it is based. Good thing Laca gets the girl in the end.)

The production itself was odd, and distancing. Huge unit sets consisting of wooden walls that extended from the sides of the stage at the front towards the center of the stage at the back, dominated the stage. In the first and third acts presumably they represent the walls of the mill, a central "character" of the opera, although the centerground changes from Act 1 to Act 3. In Act 1 we see a triangular wooden platform intruded upon (built around?) a large, mostly-flat rock in the center - in Act 3 we see the same triangular wooden platform but now strewn with large boulders upon the platform itself. Act 2 however, which is set at the Kostalnička's house, was truly bizarre. The walls were again in place, but closed in the back to form an inverted "v", and there was an enormous boulder, at least 8 feet heigh and 15 feet long, in the center of the stage around and in front of which all of the action occurs. Are we to believe that the Kostalnička lives under a rock? I'm sure some deep symbolism was intended, but it was lost on this listener. During Act 2, when Jenůfa is in the midst of her drug-induced delirium, the back of the "v" opens up to reveal the outdoors, represented by a simple deep blue light and the Met's famous snow falling down. It is a winter night, and the Kostalnička has drugged Jenůfa, taken her baby, and gone to drown him in the river - the simple imagery is vivid and intense.

The singers were by and large wonderful. As I mentioned, I have no knowledge of Czech and so have no idea about the pronounciation factor, but all projected very well. On the male side of the roster we had Finnish tenor Jorma Silvasti as Jenůfa's lover Števa and English tenor Kim Begley as his rival, Laca. Both men had big, bright voices that carried all the way up to the top of the house. They sang their respective roles effectively, especially Begley, whose role required him to be spiteful, morose, dispairing, and hopeful, in turns. Both were very secure and had unforced tops which they reached into with ease. I also couldn't help but notice that the two voices were very similar in tone. The only small problem in the portrayals were their ages - they were both clearly older than the characters they portrayed. One would have been able to overlook this fact completely had it been for several references to their (espcially Laca's) youth made in the text. There were several smaller male roles as well, and we got to see one of my favorite Met artists, Paul Pliska, as the Mayor in Act 3.

On the female side we had Finnish soprano Karita Mattila in the title role and German soprano Anja Silja as the Kostalnička. Mattila is no youngster - she won the very first Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1983 (You may recall that the enigmatic Hvorostovsky also won this prestigeous competition in 1989.) Yet her Jenůfa is so young and naive that you believe she is this peasant girl on the verge of adulthood. Her voice was radiant and full, always beautiful in tone, and soared above the staff and above the other voices in ensemble. My only reservation with her performance was her physical acting in Acts 1 and 2 - the tripping and flailing and general lack of motor coordination rather gave one the impression of a "simple" person, if you catch my meaning, or one who is very young (too young to be getting married). Jenůfa is clearly neither, as her intelligence is referred to in the first act (she is "as smart as a man" - ha! - and has taught several younger children to read) and she obviously is old enough to get married. The ungainliness vanishes in Act 3, suggesting it was all part of the act, so to speak. (Reviews of her Salome at the Met a few years back also suggest this...) The rest of the physicality of the performance was wonderful however - the running about (barefoot no less!) in Act 1 and her actions and reactions while in the sleeping potion delirium are perfect.

Anja Silja is a veteran of the operatic stage, having made her operatic debut all the way back in 1959. Her portrayal of the Kostalnička is both chilling and haunting, if not beautiful. All the notes are there, and accurate, but much of the role was sung in a choppy, sort of spoken style, which was starkly contrasted to Mattila's beautiful lines. Our introduction to the Kostalnička in Act 1 paints her as a rather one-dimensional character, a characature of the "strict matroness", but Acts 2 and 3 provide deeper insight. Regardless of any vocal shortcomings, it was an emotionally wrought performance, and the tension between the two women was palpable.

A mention should also be said for Barbara Dever, who plays Grandmother Buryja. She sang with a strong, warm tone, and her acting was impeccable. Grandmother Buryja is an old blind woman, and Devers spends half of the first act tottering around the stage, in a very convincing fashion, with her walking stick, sometimes walking into rocks and such. (Part of Act 3 as well, the poor woman!)

The orchestral work was splendidly conducted by Jirí Bělohlávek and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra sounded as good as ever. Though I am unfamiliar with the score, the music seemed subtly and deftly executed, from the first tones of the xylophone to the final crashing chords. There was but one bit of orchestral mayhem, in the final bars of the opera - were the horns supposed to be so squally? (I'm uncertain.) The music is familiar and yet not familiar. The score seems to straddle two musical styles, the very lyrical, aria-based forms of the 19th century, and the more free flowing musical ideas of the 20th (and indeed, this opera was written, or at least premiered, in 1904). There are some set pieces, like Jenůfa's beautiful prayer to the Virgin Mary in Act 2, and the chorus' drinking song in Act 1, while other times the melodic lines seem more turbulent and unstructured. Like the use of the xylophone in the opening moments - and what an unexpected and yet perfect musical character to set the tone! - there are many instances of simple figures in the instruments supporting the lines of the singers. In fact, the orchestra supports the singers the entire opera, providing a perfect raft on which to float and, when necessary, launch themselves from.

The audience was extremely well-behaved (very little coughing occurring) and extremely polite. Since the work does not quite sound conventional (as, say, Rigoletto) it was almost as though members were uncertain when, or even if, they were allowed to clap mid-act. As such, there was no applause whatsoever to interrupt the mood and flow of each act, which worked well to sustain the tension and emotion in the house and on stage. At the end of each act the applause was quite loud. And the ovation at the end was a thunderous applause replete with calls of Bravi! It was well-deserved.

I don't know how well this opera will translate to a radio audience with no visuals or translations to guide them, but I think that the score, along with Mattila's performance, should be enough to persuade you to give it a listen. If you're interested it will be the Met's live Saturday matinee broadcast on February 17th.

There was a time that I never would have thought to go to an opera in Czech, or Russian, or German, or even English. It was strictly Italian fare, with a little bit of French thrown in for flavor. Don't get me wrong, I love Italian and French opera. But thankfully that time was short and I can now sample a broader palate of operatic delights


Hey Hey We're the Monkees

Am I the only person who watched the reruns of The Monkees back in the 80s? For me it was like a brand new show, since I was not actually alive in the 60s. I loved this show, the crazy hijinks, the music, and most especially Davy Jones. :) That guy was cute no matter what generation you belonged to.

(OK, you got me, I liked watching The Partridge Family too. And yes, David Cassidy was way cute too.)

Speaking of monkeys, I currently have some hanging around the house right now!

You know how monkeys always seem to be scratching? Perhaps they are allergic to alpaca. Like me.

Last night I wore the almost-knee-high Beaded Rib Socks out to dinner with my roommate at Mill, the most excellent Korean restaurant I know of in the city. (Actually it is the only Korean restaurant I know of in upper Manhattan, and, though I don't live there now, I used to live on the Upper West Side practically around the block from the reataurant.) The were very warm... and very itchy. I had even work stockings (tights) on underneath them to try to quell the sensation, to no avail. But here's the kicker - when I got home I was sitting on the couch playing with Mary when I leaned down towards the floor, and it felt like my throat was going to close up. And I instantly (within 3 minutes) had a pounding headache. Yeah. I don't remember it being this bad when I was knitting them. Regardless, I can't keep them. Whatever they are made of I am massively allergic to. (The alpaca claim is unsubstantiated but for the fact that I have had a similar reaction to KnitPicks Alpaca Cloud; however, I also have a similar reaction to mohair...) It was so unspeakably unpleasant. Merry Christmas roomie! Luckily she wears almost the same size shoes as me.

Let's try this again. Speaking of monkeys...

Once upon a time there was a little innocuous ball of yarn. The ball was sad because it wasn't a sock. (A pair of socks, actually, but the ball of yarn was not very bright, as it was yarn and could not count or reason or do anything of the sort.)

I'm so sad. I wish I were a sock.

The little ball of yarn sighed and sighed and soon the knitter took pity and cast on for a sock...

Monkey Sock pattern by the talented Cookie.
To be found in Knitty Winter 2006.

And suddenly, as though Emeril had wandered into the neighborhood, BAM! There was a sock!

In Cherry Tree Hill, Blues and Purples.

And it was good.

Love the Monkey pattern!

The inspiration to try out Monkey was due to Opal - thanks Opal! Her Monkeys are looking pretty gorgeous (and I covet the Black Purl. Covet it.) I actually have finished the first and am on the first pattern repeat past the cuff on the second. Did somebody say this pattern was addictive? I'll agree. And that is only doing a few rows here and a few rows there. Since last Wednesday! It is pretty easy to memorize after a few repeats, and I can knit it with merely a glance at the stitch pattern before each row to remind myself where I am. The bias stitch pattern does a great job of breaking up the stripes that I dislike so much.

Oh yes, there is one more monkey:

Sometimes I talk like a monkey, just ask my mommy.

It's true.


Odds and Ends

I thought I might take the time to address a few odds and ends while working today! Stay tuned for a more comprehensive post (with photos you can be assured) later.

1. Punxsutawney Phil has proclaimed that spring is on the way! However, there was a slight snow shower this morning during my morning commute (small, dry flakes that drifted down form the sky it fits and starts - it was not nearly as romantic as the huge wet flakes that fell Wednesday night, but neither was it as wet). Dare we believe the predictions of a ten-pound rodent? I'm fairly certain his track record is not so great. I will be disappointed if we pass a winter without a "major weather event".

2. For Anonymous (who are you? And will you be there?) – JDF had better sing Ah! Mes amis… or I will throw things at him from the balcony… :) Actually I think it is rather unlikely that he won’t sing it, given that it is such a big piece of the fame puzzle for him.

3. For Veronique - Lots of operas have been translated into lots of different languages. I believe the ability to do this (in modern times) rests on the status of the copyright. (Not that there was no such thing as copyrights in the past, but I’m speaking specifically to the issue of translation.) If there are any copyright lawyers out there that want to correct me feel free – I am merely speculating here. Copyright laws vary (I believe) from country to country, but I think the general “rule” is something like a work remains in copyright until 70 years after the composers’ death. There might be some other rule about date-from-composition as well (95 years rings a bell for some reason). Once a work is out of copyright, the presenting company does not have to pay royalties. I suppose this also means they can modify the work in any way in which they see fit, without getting the permission of the copyright holder. Since Mozart died in 1791, copyright would not seem to be an issue here. (Incidentally, I’ve heard talk that copyright issues are probably why we won’t hear Strauss on Sirius – the later works are too “new” and the Met won’t want to pay to play them.)

Interestingly, I’ve heard that composers in the past expected their works to be translated into the vernacular of the countries those works were exported to. This resulted in a lot of operas being translated into other languages. Verdi’s Don Carlo was originally presented in Paris, in French, as Don Carlos. It was a short while later translated, with Verdi’s blessing, if not help (I don’t know the exact circumstances) into Italian for performance in Italy. (Both versions are frequently performed today). Extant examples abound. For example, Gounod’s Faust, a French opera, was presented in Italian for the opening gala at the Old Met in 1883. In fact, it seems in the early years of the Met, many operas were presented in languages other than their originals. The Met opera database notes that *Romeo et Juliette, another work by Gounod, presented on November 16, 1891 was the first instance of a French opera being presented at the Met in French, instead of Italian or German. Prior to that time we see Faust (Gounod), Robert le Diable (Meyerbeer), Mignon (Thomas), and Carmen (Bizet) presented in Italian and Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer), La Dame Blanche (Boeildieu), Guillaume Tell (Rossini), Les Prophete (Meyerbeer), and Carmen (again) presented in German. We also see some German operas like Lohengrin, Tannhauser, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Der Fliegende Hollander (all by Wagner), and Martha (von Flotow) presented in Italian. However, some non-Italian operas retained their original languages early-on; for example, Der Freischutz (von Weber) and Die Walkurie (Wagner) both premiered at the Met in German.

In terms of opera in English, there seems to be some history of this at New York City Opera has done its share of English-language productions (Rossini’s La Cenerentola in 1980, Der Freishutz in 1981, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel in 2006 are just a few). The Met has also done some famous English-language productions in the past, including Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in the 1950s and 1960s, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus in the 1950s and 1960s, and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel beginning in 1946 and continuing all the way through to 1997. Incidentally, Hansel and Gretel will be revived again next season. (I assume it is a revival since there is no mention of a new production in the works.)

This post has gone on far longer than I had intended. My point is that operas in English is not a new idea, and certainly translating certain operas into English can have a positive effect on attracting new patrons to the theaters. Certainly the prospect of sitting through a performance of anything in a language they are unfamiliar with can be daunting to one who has never been to an opera before. Opera in translation does loose something, especially when the text is tied inextricably to the music, as it often is. One can argue it is not what the composer intended. But the tradeoff may be a fair one. The Met Magic Flute, though a tad odd-sounding at times (and I don't even speak German!) and missing some beautiful music (it was abridged as well as in translation) was a thoroughly charming piece of work.

*Sorry purists – it will take too long for me to look up all the proper accents using a character map, so this post will be sans marks!