Friday, April 25, 2008

In Five Words: Submit Your Favorite Washington Places

A friend told me about a new trend for anyone with a story to tell. Reviewers have dubbed it a new art form: American Haiku. It's the Six-Word Memoir and there's a book to that effect, Not Quite What I Was Planning, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, containing many more than six words, available at Amazon.

So, why not create a local literary contest with a hometown theme? Better yet, if we can mix and mingle words to compose lyrics to an original musical composition, we gain an Ode to Washington. This launches our new Five Word Challenge: "Favorite Spot in Washington Area"

Only rule: Tell it in five words. You can submit as often as you like and the winners will go on to either celebrity or anonymity. My contribution? Northwest Branch reflects autumn's palette.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The AWWK Aria

Last night at the Kennedy Center for the Washington National Opera's Rigoletto (oh, I did say this would not be about mainstream arts, didn't I? Well, read on...), I noticed that people do not dress for opera anymore. And when I say "do not dress," I mean, anything goes. Sneakers and skirts -- yes, this is the Washington woman's work uniform -- jeans and tees. Not that I lament the "good old days" where Dior and dinner jackets were de rigueur, but it is nice to see afficionados make an effort.

It reminded me of my first exposure to opera as a kid growing up in Cincinnati. Women strutting in long gowns and peacocks spreading their splendid green and purple tails. Awwk! yes, peacocks! The Cincinnati Zoo Opera was absolutely a one-of-its-kind phenomenon, where the likes of Beverly Sills's coloratura soprano could be punctuated by the unscripted contrapuntal basso profundo trumpeting from The Elephant House. The Zoo's Pavilion fronted the aptly titled (and accurately labeled) Swan Lake. I vaguely recall long giraffe necks peering over at the singers to see what all the squawking was about. The stars of the Met absolutely clamored to play the house for the primates on Monkey Island!

Anyway, it occurred to me, watching Rigoletto, that this was exactly the kind of production that would be punched up by some monkey business. The supernumeraries in the crowd scenes actually seemed herded here and there. While Rigoletto sang his impassioned Act 2 aria about the townspeople abducting his beloved, innocent daughter, the sumptuously clad extras were clumped stage right, staring offstage. We the audience, in our sweats and hoodies, were not impressed.

This would not have happened at the Zoo Opera. As Time Magazine noted in a 1942 review: " Occasionally a lion roared; silver-haired Tenor Giovanni Martinelli roared louder.... Cincinnati's Zoo offers the only summer season of first-rate opera in the U.S. As first presented 20 years ago, scraps of opera vied with an ice show, merry-go-round, two dance floors. Gradually full-length opera muscled in. The inevitable deficits were met by the inevitable angels, Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft, wife of the half brother of William Howard Taft, and Mrs. Mary Emery, whose father-in-law made one of Cincinnati's first big real-estate fortunes. In 1934 the musicians themselves took over."

Of course, the beauty of the Zoo Op was its completely democratic appeal. Still, back in the day, even plumbers and gardeners dressed in dark suits replete with white hankies. If the likes of a former first family, the Tafts, could pull on girdles and stockings to dress in regal finery during Cincy's sweltering summers to mix with Metropolitan Opera stars and the King of the Jungle, shouldn't Washington's A-list, attending no less a landmark than the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, step out of their day-to-day skins as combatant elephants and donkeys? C'mon, D.C. -- show off your peacock walk. AWWK!