April 2010

Goddamn, It’s Long!

Gotterdammerung.jpgOperas by Richard Wagner are notoriously lengthy.  The final opera in the composer’s four-opera Ring Cycle–Götterdämmerung, or “Twilight of the Gods”–is one of the longest.  Depending on the conductor’s pacing, the opera’s three acts with intermissions can clock in at close to six hours. 

Because of its length, this opera (one of my favorites, by the way) has been affectionately dubbed “Goddamn, It’s Long!”, a play on its German title.

When we embark on the journey that is the final opera of this saga, some of my colleagues have been known to comment to one another that, in the time it takes to perform the opera, we could take a trans-Atlantic flight and be in Europe.

How ironic, then, that at the conclusion of last night’s Mets game, my husband commented that the game had lasted about the same amount of time as Götterdämmerung, albeit without the blazing pyre–The Immolation Scene–that concludes that opera.

Another irony about last night was this:

HoffmannHeldNetrebko.jpgI often talk baseball with my good friend and opera colleague, bass-baritone Alan Held, pictured at left with Anna Netrebko.  (If you saw the recent PBS telecast of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann from the MET, you saw him in the villain roles.) 

Hailing from Illinois, Alan is a died-in-the-wool Cardinals fan.  Although he is not one to gloat, I did take my share of ribbing from him during the 2006 Post Season.

Although we had not corresponded prior to the Mets’ arrival in St. Louis for the three-game series, I fully expected to get a message from him following Friday night’s Cardinal win at the Mets’ expense.

Saturday began for me with a matinee performance of La Traviata.  At the conclusion of the opera a little after 4PM, I tuned my radio to the game on the drive home.  I watched the game on TV at home, waiting as long as I dared possible (about the time of the amazing Cora catch in foul territory) and then drove back in to the city for the evening performance of Tosca.

Desperately hoping to see a Mets win, I stayed tuned to the game via MLB.com’s At Bat and SlingBox.  But when the orchestra tuned, the curtain went up, and my phone was turned off, the game was still scoreless.

Following the fortissimo closing chords of Act I, I quickly turned on my phone.  Much to my surprise, not only was the game still going, but not a single run had been recorded.

Surprised at not having heard from Alan, before returning to the orchestra pit for Act II, I quickly typed and posted this message to his Facebook Wall: 

“Wow! Can you BELIEVE how our teams are battling it out at Busch Stadium?! Watched at home after playing Traviata, started Tosca, and am watching now at first intermission! Here we go to the bottom of the SIXTEENTH!”

Cavaradossi was tortured mercilessly by Scarpia’s minions, Tosca sang passionately about her lifelong devotion to art, Scarpia pressed Tosca for sexual favors in exchange for her boyfriend’s safe release from prison, Tosca stabbed Scarpia, and the currtain came down.  All of this had transpired during Act II and yet, although runs had now been scored, the game had still not ended.

With the aid of MLB.com’s At Bat, I did “see” the game’s conclusion–barely–before running into the pit for the beginning of the final act of the opera.

But over the course of twenty long innings, I still hadn’t heard back from my favorite Cardinals fan. 

Wasn’t he watching this FANTASTIC game??  Where in the world was he??!! 

I got my answer when I checked Facebook this morning:  

“WOW!!! I only just now got in from “Gotterdammerung” and dinner here in L.A. Unbelievable. 2-1 in 20. That’s incredible–and that neither teamed scored until the 19th??? I just can’t get my mind around this one. How I would have loved to have seen this pitcher’s duel—and the Cards outhit the Mets but nobody could score. I’ve got to read about this one.”

Of course! 

It was then that I remembered that Alan was on the West Coast performing the role of Gunther in performances of–you guessed it:  Gotterdammerung! 

 

Shocker and Awe

MVP0113201002.JPGI wake up this morning so happy for the Mets and for Mike Pelfrey. 

I’m also feeling a certain pride:  this young pitcher attended and played for my alma mater.  This Wichita State Shocker (pictured below with an unidentified fan, ca. 2005) has shown the New York Mets and Major League baseball just what hardy “Midwestern stock” can do!

Keep it up, Big Pelf! (Pictured at right with my daughter, January 2010.)

 
Pelfreyca2005.jpg
 

Swinging on JR Day

Brooklyn%20Dodgers%20bum%20and%20ebbetts%20field%20pennant%20oct%2019.jpgA Musical Tribute to
Jackie Robinson
Sixty-three years to the day he broke baseball’s color barrier.
Featuring the
Count Basie Orchestra
in a performance from 1949.
 
 

Reyes Returns


041101.04.jpg
In honor of National Poetry Month, I challenged myself to write a

tanka poem to accompany this photo I took of Jose Reyes.  The photo catches him just prior to the beginning of Friday Saturday night’s game–awaiting his opportunity to run out of the dugout and on to the field for his very first game back with the team since he went on the DL in May 2009.

  


Sinew struggling in

its unfamiliar stillness

sight of prey beckons.

 

flesh healed, the captive struggles

delay’s wound most torturous  

 

April is National Poetry Month.  To receive daily poems by e-mail throughout the month, sign up at Poets.org and at Knopf Poetry.

 

 

Passing On the Art

alg_mets_koufax.jpgListening to last night’s game on WFAN while in my seat at Citi Field watching the game–my modus operandiI was reminded by Howie Rose that last night’s starter was one of the pitchers on our staff who had been given the unique opportunity of having the legendary Sandy Koufax as a tutor at Port St. Lucie during Spring Training.  Specifically, credit for helping Jon Niese to refine his 12-to-6 curveball supposedly goes to the great Dodger left-hander. (Photo by Simmons for New York Daily News.)

This is not the first spring that Koufax has played mentor to our young pitching staff, but it got me thinking, once again, what a daunting thing it must be to “do your stuff” with any sort of confidence and self-assurance in front of a master of the art such as Koufax.  John Maine was quoted as saying, “I got a little nervous when I heard he would be watching my bullpen session.” 

As my husband and I talked later about the scenario, he exclaimed, “It would be like taking composition lessons with MOZART!”

  • Or like taking piano lessons with BEETHOVEN!

Pianist/composer Carl Czerny‘s father started him on the piano, but he later went on to study with Hummel, Salieri and, yes, Beethoven.  Not only was Beethoven known to have a most disagreeable temperament, but he strikes me as the type of genius that would have trouble relating to and absolutely no patience for those not as gifted as himself.

  • Or like taking oboe lessons with my noted teacher, Richard Woodhams (pictured, at left.)

40025_300.jpgAs a young, aspiring oboe student about to be awarded my Bachelor of Music degree from Wichita State Univesity (alma mater of Mike Pelfrey), I auditioned for and was one of only two students accepted as a graduate oboe major of Mr. Woodhams at Temple University for the fall of 1985.

While I was thrilled and honored to have been accepted and this guy’s oboe playing I had known and worshipped through recordings and broadcasts for years, I found that my first few lessons with him didn’t seem to go so well.  Mr. Woodhams seemed slightly irritated with me…dismissive.  Was he beginning to regret having selected me to be part of his class?

I suspected that my talent and dedication were not in question but that perhaps my inability to play my best in front of him due to my being totally and completely intimidated by this God of the Oboe had something to do with any lack of patience on his part.  My incessant questions and requests for clarification of his suggestions were not helping the matter either.

At this point, I cautioned myself that I was going to be missing out on a unique opportunity to learn, grown, and absorb advice and musical demonstrations if I didn’t alter my approach.  Yes, I told myself, this amazing artist performed daily on the stage of the Academy of Music in Philadephia–where his teacher and his teacher’s teacher had previously held the same post of Principal Oboe–but he obviously sensed I had some potential.  The idolization of this person was standing in the way of my benefitting from his wisdom and expertise.

Asking my teacher how he was producing the sound I was striving so hard to emulate and having him respond, “I don’t KNOW!  It should just sound like THIS!” led me to eventually figure out (1) that he didn’t like being asked to overanalyze his technique and (2) that he wanted me to figure things out on my own through trial-and-error and by using my ears.

Besides learning to keep my questions to a minimum, I also began playing up to my potential during my lessons as I gained self-confidence.

Even figuring out my teacher’s preferred teaching style and being able to summon some false bravado for an hour each week, I never did waken on Sunday mornings–the day of my lessons–feeling anything but a sense of foreboding and apprehension.

Soaking up a reed, putting together my instrument, and blowing a few warm-up notes in front of Richard Woodhams initially felt just as agonizingly foolhardy to me as John Maine and others must have felt putting on a glove, picking up a ball, and stepping on the mound in front of the likes of Sandy Koufax.

***

 In the course of thinking about being a student of the oboe versus being a student of pitching, I had another interesting thought.

TabuteauTosca.gifThe “Cy Young” of oboists–at least in America–is considered to be Marcel Tabuteau (pictured at right with Arturo Toscanini.)  He did play briefly at the Metropolitan Opera, but most of his career was spent as Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra and teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music.  Many of his students went on to become eminent oboists and teachers in this country.  One of them, John de Lancie, succeeded his teacher as Principal Oboist in the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as at Curtis, passing along Tabuteau’s teachings and playing style to many future professional oboists, including Woodhams.

While held in great esteem not only by oboists but by woodwind players in general, stories of Tabuteau’s irritability and stinginess have circulated through the years.  Blessed with a real knowledge of reed making and skilled with scraping on and refining oboe reeds–critical to any oboist’s success–he reputedly withheld at least some of this valuable knowledge, even from his own students.  (Photo of one of my reeds, below.)

My reed.jpgScraping on my reed during a series of lessons I had with John de Lancie at the Aspen Music Festival, he told of studying with Tabuteau and him agreeing to scrape on his reeds to try to improve their response, but only after turning his back to the young de Lancie.  By doing so, de Lancie could see neither where on the reed Tabuteau scraped nor how much cane he took off.

For the most part, I think, information about reed making is more generally known and widely available, especially in the Internet age.  But thinking about Tabuteau’s well-guarded reed “secrets” made me wonder what pitching sages–even retired ones–have been possessive of any “tricks of the trade” that they discovered along the way.

From a purely selfish standpoint, I hope the players lucky enough to have spent time with Koufax listened intently, hung on his every word, and absorbed as much as possible from this Hall-of-Famer…half-scared out of their wits or not.

 

 

Uneven Performance

Image = thumbs-up-down.jpgThose of us that were not part of the mass exodus at the stunning conclusion of the seventh inning last night were rewarded in some small part yesterday, if not given the pleasure of a Mets win.


50364505.jpgNot a Good Night for the Tenor

Often, at the MET, if a singer is feeling “under the weather”, an official comes out onstage prior to the performance to announce that so-and-so “is suffering from a cold but has graciously decided to sing and asks for your understanding.”

Those of us sitting in the orchestra pit have heard these announcements more than just occasionally and often joke to each other that, in spite of not having any good reeds, we will each nonetheless perform.

No such disclaimers would ever occur in baseball, of course:  announcing to the opposition that your starting pitcher might not be having his best day would be tantamount to forfeiting the game.  However, when your starter is not consistently getting his regular velocity on his fast ball, it doesn’t take an announcement over the public address system for fans to notice.

And such was the case last night with John Maine’s first outing of the season on “Opening Night 2010″ at Citi Field.

While he wasn’t awful, last night’s performance did not actually inspire you, if you are a Mets fan.

Major Memory Lapse

If there was one lesson the team and, specifically, Jerry Manuel and the coaching staff would’ve taken away from last season, I would’ve hoped it would have been the need to address what were some terrible base-running decisions and lapses of concentration on the base paths.

While Razor Shines certainly cannot be blamed for last night’s seventh-inning fatal error on Fernando Tatis’s part, the sight of Fernando being thrown out at the plate in an attempt to take advantage of a wild pitch by Veras–with David Wright up to bat with the bases loaded–seemed a continuation of last season’s faulty judgements.


040710.01crop.jpgRinging High Notes

In spite of the huge disappointment that was the end of the seventh, and the less-than-stellar outing by Maine, there were a few highlights worth the Yankees/Red Sox-length of the game:

  • A triple by Cora:  an exciting start to the bottom of the first.
  • An amazing catch by Jason Bay in the top of the fourth.
  • The excitement of seeing Mejia’s (pictured, at right; speed pitch, photo below) and Tejada’s first Major League appearances.
  • A Jose Reyes-like rattling of Marlins pitcher Nunez by Gary Matthews, Jr., invoking a balk.
  • Watching a comeback–during which time a “We Believe in Comebacks” promo played on the scoreboard.  While the power surge did not result in a win, it did show a collective resolve and grit that I do not remember seeing much of last season.

040710.03.jpgAlthough I woke up this morning feeling tired and somewhat frustrated that I had stayed at the stadium so late with so little to show for it, I’m trying to focus on these “high notes” and hope the team will build on those.

 

Opening Day Highlights

040510.02.jpg

    • The gorgeous weather.  Sunny, in the 70′s:  an Ernie Banks kind of day.
    • Seeing my daughter’s reaction when she saw for the first time where our new seats are located at Citi Field.  She was so blown away by the incredible view and the fact that her Dad had made all this possible that she actually shed tears. 
    • 040510.04.jpgHearing fans loudly boo the entire Marlins staff, coaches, and players as they were introduced.
    • Laughing out loud when fans actually booed the first Mets that were then introduced:  Ray Ramirez, Head Trainer; Mike Herbst, Assistant Trainer; Rick Slate, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator; and John Zajac, Physical Therapist.  Obviously, there are a sizable number of fans that hold these guys accountable at least in some part for the lack of information on players’ injuries and the often questionable treatment of those
       injuries.  (They had company, by the way:  the fans booed Oliver Perez as well.
    •  

    • 040510.01.jpg
       
      A reminder of the Mets’ winning past:  a member of a Mets World Series team–Darryl Strawberry–throwing out the first pitch.
    • The first Mets home run, a two-run contribution, courtesy of David Wright.
    •  
      040510.03.jpgJason Bay’s first at-bat as a Met in which he hit a single.
    •  Listening to the familiar voice of Howie Rose all afternoon as he introduced the two teams and their staff and coaches, and later, on WFAN as he called the game, including his signature, “Put it in the books!”
    • Hearing the strains of BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business”–always played at the end of every Mets’ home win-
      -for the first time this season.
    •  

      Here’s hoping we’ll have lots more sunny days, tears of joy, David Wright home runs, Jason Bay hits, good outings by Santana, Mets wins, and encores of Howie’s call and “Takin’ Care of Business” in the days to come.

    “Tomorrow, tomorrow. I LOVE ya, tomorrow.”

    piazza.jpg“You’re only a day a- way!”

    Yessirree, ONE DAY and we’re back in full swing (pun intended) with baseball in Queens…

    …ready or not.

    Whatever disappointments Mets fans may have with how little was done in the off-season to improve upon the 2009 team, I can personally vouch for the fact that major improvements have at least been made to the stadium itself.  Fans disgruntled by the lack of Mets history and imagery on display at Citi Field will be thrilled to see all that has been done since their last visit.

    I had the pleasure of seeing the new Mets Hall of Fame and Museum this morning prior to seeing the team workout.  Although there was a sizable crowd this morning, the layout of the museum is such that the space seems open and not claustrophobic.  (The high ceilings–from which pennants are suspended–contribute to the spacious feeling.)

    Video displays, placques, display cases, and lots of photos reproduced in both small and large formats serve to honor Mets players and historic moments in franchise history in a simple but aesthetically pleasing design.

    Below are photos of just a few of the items on display:

     

    040410.06.jpg

    040410.03.jpg
    040410.05.jpg

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    At top: Game 6 ball from the 1986 World Series; bottom left: Endy Chavez’s jersey from Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS; bottom right: 1969 World Series trophy.

    Besides the HOF and Museum itself, also new this season are photos and reproductions of baseball cards throughout the park as well as commemorative tiles installed in the Fan Walk on the periphery of the stadium:  

    040410.02.jpgCongratulations and special thanks to the Mets organization for listening to fans’ impassioned pleas for more visible franchise history and tributes on view at the Mets’ new home!

    Three, Two…

    Triple.jpgFinishing up a very busy week at the opera kept me from continuing my countdown to Opening Day in a timely manner, but here’s an attempt to catch up.

    Yesterday marked THREE days.  The word three made me first think of three strikes, and then, the unassisted triple play I witnessed at CitiField at the end of last season.

    Trying to start the season on an optimistic note, here’s hoping we see a lot of TRIPLES by Jose Reyes in the upcoming season. 

    ******

     

    Mets_vs_Yankees.jpgWhile word associations with “two” and “baseball” first brought to mind “double”, I’ve decided to choose for the two-day mark the TWO teams here in New York.  Here’s hoping that the Mets’ 2010 season serves to remind those who have forgotten that there are, in fact, two teams in this here town!

     

     

     

    Four More!

    img4F.gifThe countdown to Opening Day has now reached the number FOUR.

    Word association with “four” for the average baseball fan would probably first elicit the response, “Base on Balls”, i.e., the rule awarding first base to a batter who has taken four pitches outside the strike zone.

    For some reason, though, the first word I associated with the word “four” was a specific pitch:  the FOUR-seam fastball.

     J. J. Putz’s short tenure with the Mets turned out to be a major disappointment–for him as well as for fans.  Due to injury, we saw very little of him–and he’s not even a Met anymore. 

    Nevertheless, I’ll include in this post the following video featuring J. J. Putz demonstrating the proper pitching grips for fastballs, including the FOUR-SEAMER:

     

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