These days, we are all subject to the whim of outside forces greater than ourselves. What happens in our individual day-to-day lives – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – can be affected by powers beyond our control. Sometimes good things happen to us, sometimes bad. And then there's the rest.
THE GOOD – SEEING NATALIE DESSAY IN CONCERT
The Tiny Goddess and I got lucky with our Los Angeles Philharmonic subscription. On our second-to-last concert of the season, we saw the remarkable NATALIE DESSAY, perhaps the biggest French opera star of the past twenty years, whom we had never seen. I have many of her CDs, but she never made it out to southern California to sing. At least, not that I was aware of. She's sung many times at the Santa Fe Opera, but we never saw her there either.
I had not actually noticed Dessay's name, buried in the "Vivaldi and Handel" listing in our subscription brochure, until a few days before the concert. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to finally see this huge international star at our own Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dessay retired from the opera stage in 2013 after thrilling audiences around the world for thirty-three years (Mark Swed in the LA Times review called her "one of the consummate music theater actresses of our day"), but she hasn't given up singing entirely. She still does concerts and is moving into other areas (no pun intended). So the chance to see her sing four arias from one of her most famous roles – Cleopatra in Handel's GIULIO CESARE – was most fortunate.
Dessay – nearing the age of 50 – was absolutely superb, fulfilling every expectation I might have had. She's not only played the role to acclaim onstage several times before, but she made a superb CD of this very music with the concert's conductor Emmanuelle Haim, an early music specialist. So they were very much at home with this material. (They are, in fact, touring this program all around the world, with the counter tenor Christophe Dumaux as Caesar and violinist Stephanie-Marie Degrand.)
Dessay is famed as a "singing actress." Not only does she possess a beautiful voice, she knows how to use it for maximum effect. As Mr. Swed wrote, "She brought a dramatic intensity to every utterance, whether flirtatious or terrifying. In the sad "Piangero," she was in complete vocal and theatrical control, whether reflecting profound gravity or alarming fury."
I've seen a very few genuine opera legends on stage: Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Jon Vickers, Placido Domingo. I'm very glad to have seen Natalie Dessay live. It was, retroactively, a Bucket List concert.
Here are some YouTube samples of her artistry:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4vB6DaJfQw -- Natalie Dessay recording "Se pieta" from GIULIO CESARE by Handel – in rehearsal with Emmanuelle Haim – this is what we saw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqZQXkLtP9s -- Natalie Dessay as Olympia the mechanical doll in TALES OF HOFFMAN
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LudkBPzCiiQ -- Natalie Dessay as the Queen of the Night in THE MAGIC FLUTE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZictSugEgxw -- Natalie Dessay doing the Mad Scene in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (17 minutes of brilliance)
and one special bon-bon --
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPeFMGkk9V8 -- Dessay doing the magnificent duet from Jacques Demy's "UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG" – "I Will Wait For You" (music by Michel Legrand) -- with her husband, baritone Laurent Naouri
BAD – NOT SEEING THE DODGERS ON TV
It's only April, and I'm already pissed off about not seeing the Dodgers on television again this season. Because of bad dealing and greed on all sides of the transaction – the Dodgers, Time Warner Cable, and DirecTV – 70% of the Los Angeles television viewing public is not seeing the Dodger games for a second season in a row. My cable company, Charter Communications, is caught up in the mess, and I am Dodger-less. (The only alternative is to go to Dish TV. Which is a possibility.)
The whole situation is a travesty. The fact is that everyone involved is guilty of Greed in the First Degree. Who knows where to start? The Dodgers currently have a payroll of $227 million a year, the largest in the history of organized team sports. Clayton Kershaw makes $31 million a year, Zack Greinke makes $27 million, Adrian Gonzalez makes $21 million, Carl Crawford makes $21 million, Andre Ethier makes $18 million (to sit on the bench), Jimmy Rollins makes $11 million, and Brett Anderson makes $10 million. On the other side, Glenn A. Britt, the head of Time Warner Cable, made $14 million last year and Michael White, the head of DirecTV, made $12 million. And those corporate guys have huge expense accounts and pay for nothing themselves: everything is expensed. You get the idea.
To pay for all this, the Dodgers made a deal for $8.35 billion with Time Warner Cable that created a pressure to raise subscription prices far beyond what DirecTV and other pay-TV operators were willing to pay. And they balked. They refused to pass along the rate increase or allow subscribers to cherry-pick the sports programming. As it is, the average cable subscriber pays about $20 for sports, whether they are fans or not. My bill, with two premium channel set-ups plus two basic cable hook-ups, is ridiculous. I can see where the cable TV companies said, "Enough!"
Everything is at a standstill. Time Warner Cable refuses to adjust the deal, agree to arbitration, or allow some games to be shown on free TV – KOCE – which they did at the end of last season. In response, the Dodgers have raised ticket prices to stratospheric levels. The Dodgers drew more than 3 million fans to the Stadium last year and made money. The good field box seats that the Tiny Goddess and I sat in a couple of seasons ago for $135 a seat – not even the very best seats -- are now $700 a pop! (That's even more than the opera.) Who can afford to pay these prices? Who can take a family? Is it all corporate expense accounts and billionaires?
In any case, nothing is happening and there are no Dodger games on the TV horizon.
That means several things for me: finding more Dodger games on radio, for sure. I'll get my VIN SCULLY fix that way. (His voice is a comfort to me, like hearing a Beatles or a Byrds song. I can't imagine how the southern Californians who grew up on his broadcasts feel about the loss of his perfect Hall-of-Fame delivery.) Scully is 87 and has been broadcasting Dodger games since 1950, the year before I was born. How much longer can he keep going?
This situation is really going to bug me when the NBA season ends in June, and I really want to focus on baseball. For now, I have basketball, but when we get into summer, I'm going to want my baseball.
What can I do? Rig my computer to bypass the local blackout on mlb.com like some people are doing? I don't think so. It's pretty outrageous: I already pay a huge cable bill. Granted, I roll in all my Internet connections and televisions into one bill, but it should be enough to cover what is now the #1 team in town (especially since the Lakers are on a long, rocky road to oblivion.)
I could always abandon the Dodgers. I did it once before. You see, I was born in Brooklyn and when Walter O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957 --- just when I was growing up – I was surrounded by people such as my father who now hated the Dodgers and put a "coise" on them. (That's "curse" in Brooklyn-ese.) I actually grew up feeling animosity towards the Dodgers because they abandoned Brooklyn, and I liked the St. Louis Cardinals instead. I don't think I'm going to abandon the Dodgers, but the Bums and their bum management are truly testing their fans' loyalty.
Hey, worst comes to worse, I'll watch the Angels.
Meanwhile, here are some YouTube memories of Dodger greatness
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLexiZHy9wI -- Vin Scully's Top Five Calls
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDgMXFBHLP0 -- Sandy Koufax pitching
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtMYgMigdAo -- Dodgers vs. Yankees, Game 1 of the 1963 World Series (Koufax vs. Ford)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8kHqpz6Ngc -- The Dodgers' Greatest Moments
THE UGLY – THE WORLD SITUATION
I generally keep politics out of this blog. (I'm saving all my political fire for my new novel.) But I spend a lot of time reading about politics and world affairs, watching political shows on TV, and reading as much as I can about current events that interest me. Every morning I read The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. I watch MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. (I am, like most men, a manic channel-changer and drive the Tiny Goddess absolutely crazy. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, "Men don't want to see what's on TV; they want to see what else is on TV.") I read The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and as much smart stuff that I can get off the Web as I can. (I highly recommend Arts & Letters Daily.com, the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education -- http://www.aldaily.com)
So I've also been exposed to the Ugly: the chaos in the Middle East ... more police murders of black people ... the too-early beginning of the 2016 Presidential race ... the drought in California and the climate change deniers ... the oppression of women almost wherever you look ... the worsening of traffic congestion throughout southern California ... the economic squeeze on working people wherever I look.
I can't look away from the news, no matter how much I might want to. I'm a news junkie. But sometimes it gets even me – a basically cheerful person – a little downhearted. It's hard not to see things getting worse. And that is an ugly feeling.
Let me banish that temporarily with some feel-good moments:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXmaSCt4ZE -- Curtis Mayfield, neglected soul master, singing "People Get Ready" – live from Germany
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNkjDuSVXiE -- Monty Python's "Argument Clinic"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-407iUd_pFY -- Joe Cocker and Mad Dogs & Englishmen singing "Space Captain"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VFVRPsChkQ -- Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QKUIe_bqAo -- U2 – "One" – live from Slane Castle, Ireland, 2001