Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Parrot Jungle sucks

Note: more pictures will be posted later

Unless you have a mean parrot fetish (and it's cool if you do), Miami's Parrot Jungle Island is skippable. The place is built on sensationalism (Liger! Crocosauros! Albino alligator!) and massive amounts of concrete; I like to refer to it as (Parrot) Concrete Jungle. At least the weather in Miami is gorgeous (70 degrees, mostly sunny, low humidity). Under such skies, pacing in a parking lot would have beat spending another day in dismal Cambridge.

The first creature I wanted to see was the liger, the lion-tiger hybrid that grows to enormous sizes. Parrot Jungle says that their liger stands 12 feet tall and weighs 900 pounds. I quickly found the exhibit and for a good ten minutes I admired the liger, which paced back and forth near the front of the exhibit and frequently made eye contact with gawkers. I thought it was kind of odd that the liger, though large, was white, because the pictures around the exhibit showed a goldish animal.

Imagine my surprise when the creature walked to the rear of the exhibit and stood up on its hind legs, and right next to it, from behind a tree, emerged a monster twice its size. Turns out I had been looking at a white bengal tiger all along. I was so caught up in feeling stultified that the awe didn't quite set in, and my liger encounter ended up being quite anticlimactic. It didn't help that the first behavior I saw this majestic creature perform was urination.


Next on the list was Crocosaurus. I stumbled upon this creature, because there was no sign at the upper level of the serpentarium, from which I first spotted this saltwater crocodile. The sign on the lower level said that it measures nearly 20 feet long and weighs 2,000 pounds, which makes it the largest crocodile in captivity in the US. Basking, the animal remained still, only once moving a leg.

The exhibit is mere spectacle. There was no information about saltwater crocodiles, nothing about diet, habitat, reproduction. Like the liger exhibit, which featured clips of the animal making appearances on Leno and other TV shows, and to which was annexed a kiosk offering stuffed toy ligers for sale, this was set up as mere entertainment. Could have been a circus (minus the fun).

It's not only the stars who suffer from pathetic displays. I paraphrase a card at the serpentarium: "The Jamaican boa is not only the largest snake in Jamaica, but also the most attractive." Thank you for the accurate zoological research. Snakes don't register on my zoodar, but I'm glad to know that the folks at Parrot Jungle know hott when they see it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Status check

Just meta-blogical moment to take stock of things . . .

I'm launching this blog on January 8th, just after Renee Fleming's concert with the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Since October I've been accumulating posts and testing them out with friends and a link on my Facebook profile. Site traffic has been way better than I would ever have expected, given that beyond these two avenues I have done no promotion.

Over the last few days I've been preparing three entries, plus finished versions of posts that are up here but in some state of incompleteness. I've left some unfinished work up here to gauge interest (who knew so many people wanted to read about the "Dolly Parton Paradox"?) The finished products will all be in place sometime between now and January 8th.

I've reread what I have so far and I've been thinking about where I want to go with this. I've always felt that blogs about people's personal struggles were so damn boring. I started this blog mainly to comment on the performances (indeed, the non-Facebook visitors to this blog have almost all been seekers of such things as "nathan gunn", "american tragedy" or "renee fleming") and events (readings, lectures, symposia) that I attend. But I'll also share tidbits about my experience as a literature graduate student at Harvard. It's colorful enough to merit blogspace.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

When the conductor steals the show

I attended my first opera at the Met in late April or early May of 2001. I was in the second row of the orchestra--not bad for my first time, huh?--and Catherine Malfitano sang her legendary Emilia Marty on the closing night of the season. Though I had been attending classical performances since 1994, this was my first in a great house.

One thing I noticed was the visibility of the conductor, who stands on a rather high platform. (As a matter of fact, the orchestra is very visible at the Met. More on this another time.) The conductor at my first Met evening was none other than Sir Charles Mackerras, a man so closely associated with the operas of Leoš Janáček that I couldn't help but count his presence among the highlights of my Met initiation.

However, at this performance, and at all but two of the 23 other Met operas I have attended since, I don't believe I ever paid the slightest attention to the conductor. The first exception was that evening last September when, once again, I sat in the second row of the orchestra, this time in the very center and therefore directly behind Jesus Lopez-Cobos, who frequently blocked my view of Renee Fleming in Manon.

The second exception occurred on Saturday afternoon at the matinee of Carmen. I'm talking about Philippe Jordan. When he walked out, I was struck by his youthful looks. It turns out he was born in 1974. He made his Met debut in 2002. But I didn't know any of this during the performance. I only knew that I was so sucked in by his energy and charm that I spent half of the performance with my eyes on him, even at the height of the over-the-top spectacle of this production.

A ball of enery, he seemed to breathe this work, throwing wicked smiles here and there, sometimes bending down so low that he disappeared, and, most strikingly to me, mouthing during every chorus bit! Without fail. And even during some of the arias, he "sang" along, especially at cadenzas, holding his mouth wide open, as if he were the one singing. He commanded what sounded to my ears like a taut performance from that glorious orchestra. From my sixth-row orchestra seat, fortuitously located to the side, it was hard to focus on Marcello Giordani (not in his best voice that afternoon, with a good deal of difficulty in transitioning between registers) and what's-her-name who sang Carmen (gorgeous sound--evenness in all registers; warm, rich tone--but, physically, poorly cast).

At least there was Escamillo. Escamillo is supposed to embody masculinity, virility, all that. Like the Met production, he has to be played over-the-top. And Erwin Schrott certainly did that, even miming the muttering of sweet nothings and making extensive eye contact with Carmen and the other ladies. Oh, and Ana Maria Martinez, in her debut role in the Met, was a stunning Micaela. She has a gorgeous, elegant sound. It's not a metallic sound; it's more like a good light cream. I'm sure she'll be a big hit at her London Traviatas.