The Pirates of Penzance

Not long ago Ann and I went to Evanston to see a production of The Pirates of Penzance by a troupe known as the Savoyaires, directed by Amy Uhl (choreography) and Timothy Semanik (music). I’d seen it advertised in the Iolanthe program last spring, and it occurred to me that I’d never seen it on stage. So I wanted to go.

img492I saw the Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt movie version sometime in the mid-80s at the Vanderbilt cinema. It was essentially a filming of the 1980 Broadway production. I’m not sure what it was, but I remember the movie being a little off. A little stiff.

Maybe it didn’t offer enough of that jolly good time that you should get from Gilbert & Sullivan. We got that from the Savoyaires, who didn’t need an elaborate venue to pull it off. The show was staged in a sizable but plain junior high school auditorium, complete with an orchestra.

Phillip Dothard played the Pirate King with gusto, and Sahara Glasener-Boles brought the right amount of sauciness to the part of Ruth. Of course what everyone was waiting for was the Major-General to show up and sing his signature song. An actor named Bill Chamberlain did that part.

“How did he learn to do that?” Ann asked later.

“Practice,” I said, though in fact, even if I had the voice, I doubt that I could ever do “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”

And while Chamberlain was very good, he didn’t quite get all of the enunciation. Close enough, though. He was definitely part of the jolly good fun.

The program included “A Pirates of Penzance Glossary,” including the likes of Babylonic cuneiform, The Frogs of Aristophanes and Heliogabalus, whom it described as an “infamously depraved Roman emperor.”

“What was he depraved about?” Ann asked.

I couldn’t remember. It had been years since I’d read about him. A vague sense of perversion clings to him, but I wonder if there’s much to it. Ancient historians liked gossip and lurid invention as much as anyone else, and so did not-so-ancient historians.

“To confound the order of the season and climate, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements,” Gibbon wrote of the boy-emperor.

He also wrote: “It may seem probable, the vices and follies of Elagabalus have been adorned by fancy, and blackened by prejudice.” In other words, dress as a woman a few times and people will make up all kinds of stories about you, especially if you’re emperor.

Ah, well. I will leave it to learned sages to argue over Heliogabalus. Next year’s production by the Savoyaires is Ruddigore, another G&S I’ve never seen staged. I’ll try to go.

Millennium Carillon, Naperville

Near Riverwalk Park in Naperville is the Millennium Carillon, which is in a 160-foot structure called Moser Tower. Though the tower wasn’t completed until 2007, work began in 1999 and it must have been partially finished soon after, because I’m pretty sure we listened to its bells as part of the city’s Independence Day celebration in 2001, or maybe 2002.
Millennium Carillon, NapervilleIt’s possible to pay $3 and take a tour of the tower, but I didn’t have time for it on Friday. It’s 253 steps up to its observation deck, so we better visit before we get much older. Also, before the tower gets much older. It’s possible the tower will be gone in a few years.

“Cracks and deterioration of its concrete walls could cause pieces to fall ‘without notice,’ and corrosion of structural steel connections could decrease the building’s stability, a consultant found in a two-year, $50,000 study of the tower’s condition,” Marie Wilson writes in the Daily Herald.

“Options include fixing the structure and maintaining it as-is, fixing it and improving the base to help prevent future corrosion, or maintaining it for a while and then tearing it down.”

Such problems after only 10 years. Luckily, nothing fell without notice when I visited (though shouldn’t that be “without warning”?). I’m not a structural engineer, but it sounds like corners were cut during the original building. Of course, it was a money problem.

“The most expensive options would involve upgrading the bottom of the tower to match original designs by Charles Vincent George Architects, which called for the lower 72 feet and 9 inches to be enclosed in glass and temperature-controlled, Novack said.

“Enclosure plans were scrapped when the Millennium Carillon Foundation, which conducted the first phase of work in 1999 to 2001, ran of out of money.”

According to the Naperville Park District, the Millennium Carillon is the fourth largest in North America and one of the “grand” carillons of the world, featuring 72 bells spanning six octaves. Didn’t hear the bells during this visit. Concerts are inconveniently on weekday evenings. Inconvenient for non-residents, that is.

Near the tower is a bronze of Harold and Margaret Moser, who ponied up $1 million for the tower’s construction.
Harold & Margaret Moser statueBeginning after WWII — and that was the time to subdivide in earnest out in the suburbs — Harold Moser was a major residential developer in Naperville, credited with building at least 10,000 houses in the area. His nickname was Mr. Naperville, and a plaque on the back of the statue calls them Mr. and Mrs. Naperville.

They both died in 2001. The statue, by Barton Gunderson, dates from 2009.

Mr. & Mrs. Naperville

It’s fitting to honor the Mosers in bronze, but their smiles are a little unnerving.

St. John Cantius, Chicago

On Sunday I visited St. John Cantius, a Catholic parish church in what’s called the River West neighborhood, east of the Kennedy Expressway and west of the North Branch of the Chicago River. It’s easily accessible via the El, which is in fact a subway by the time you get near St. John Cantius.

St. John Cantius, ChicagoThe church was part of a wave of Polish-style Catholic churches built in Chicago more than 100 years ago, as the city local Polish population expanded mightily. I’d seen a few of these churches before — St. Adalbert and St. Stanislaus Kostka, for instance — but not this one.

“Designed by Adolphus Druiding and completed in 1898, St. John Cantius Church took five years to build,” the church web site says. “The imposing 130 ft. tower is readily seen from the nearby Kennedy Expressway.”
St. John Cantius“The unique baroque interior has remained intact for more than a century and is known for both its opulence and grand scale — reminiscent of the sumptuous art and architecture of 18th-century Krakow. In 2012, St. John’s completed an ambitious restoration, returning the lavish interior to its original splendor.”
St. John Cantius, ChicagoSt. John Cantius, ChicagoI also wanted to visit so I could hear a Latin mass, or part of one anyway. According to the church bulletin, I arrived in time for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine High Mass in Latin). Actually I was a little early, so I sat for a while in a back pew and admired the interior, as a pleasant wind blew in through the main doors and on my back, adding additional texture to the experience.

By the time the mass began, the sizable church was fairly full, though not packed, with a diversity of ages. I haven’t seen that many women cover their heads in quite a while, including some elaborate lace coverings.

Soon the church was filled with music. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t see the choir or the other musicians up in the balcony, but I surely did hear them. I’ve had only spotty exposure to sacred music, but that didn’t keeping me from understanding how astonishingly good it was.

Much more impressive, it turned out, than the priests and their Latin, mainly because I wasn’t within hearing range of much of it. Mostly I heard a hum of words, a few of which I could pick out. Not that I would have understood all of it anyway. Some other time at some other mass I’ll sit closer. My impression is that Latin is a pleasing language to hear.

Regarding St. John Cantius’ music, the church says: “Our Sunday Masses regularly feature Gregorian chant, chanted by our schola cantorum and by the congregation. The parishioners of St. John Cantius are intent on preserving the choral traditions of the Roman Rite which gives Gregorian chant ‘pride of place.’

“Additionally, the people of St. John Cantius work to preserve the patrimony of liturgical music that comes from the Renaissance period and from the Viennese choral tradition. But our choirs also sing modern choral works that are consonant with the Roman tradition of sacred music.” More about the church’s music is on this short video.

Thursday Trifles

My wooden back scratcher — one of earliest inventions of mankind, for sure, and still one of the best — still has its label attached. I just noticed that. A product of Daiso Japan, it was acquired in Japan early this year and brought to me as o-miyagi.

The label is in Japanese and English. The English WARNING says:

Please understand that there is a risk of having mold and bugs since this is made of natural material.
Please do not use this for any other purpose than what it should be.
Please follow the garbage segregation rules imposed by local municipality.

Here’s a picture from Lou Mitchell’s last month. “A Millennial Couple at Breakfast.”

Millennials

The flag between them is a Cubs W flag. They were all over when the Cubs were in the World Series, and you still see them sometimes. Ann asked me what it stood for. I said, Win. She said, couldn’t that be for any team anywhere? I assured her that that kind of reasoning has no place in sports fandom.

Here’s an article about Carvana. That’s a company that develops automobile vending machines. Or rather, mechanical towers that dispense cars previously acquired online. I’d never heard of it before. They’re in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, among other places, so maybe I ought to take a look at one.

A few weeks ago, there was a thing going around Facebook: List 10 musical acts, nine of which you’ve seen, one you haven’t. Others are invited to guess which is the one you haven’t seen. Pointless but harmless. I refuse to do it on Facebook, but I will here. Alphabetically.

The Bobs
Chubby Checker
Irwin Hepplewhite & the Terrifying Papoose Jockeys
Gustav Leonhardt
Bob Marley
Natalie Merchant
Bill Monroe
Taj Mahal
They Might Be Giants
Francis Xavier & the Holy Roman Empire

Ravinia Circular ’17

We received the 2017 Ravinia Festival circular in the mail recently. Like last year, I decided to check to see whose tickets command the biggest bucks at the storied north suburban outdoor venue. Last year was something of a mystery, but never mind. This year, less so, at least in my opinion, but in any case at a price I’m unwilling to pay.

Who are the top draws? Performers commanding more than $100 for reserved pavilion seats include Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Hager, Common, Diana Krall, Moody Blues, Sheryl Crow, Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, Tony Bennett, Darius Rucker, Santana, Alanis Morissette, John Mellencamp, Frankie Valli, and Stevie Nicks.

My reaction to the entertainers on the list is hm, interesting; or, they’re still around (alive)?; or who? All first-water performers, no doubt, but no one should charge that much, at least according to the Elvis Test, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.

Note the prices on these 1957 Elvis posters. Prices vary, but $3 is toward the upper end. Accounting for inflation over the last 60 years, $3 then = $26.31 in our time. Add another $5 or so because sound systems are so much better now, and another $5 because Ravinia is such a nice place, and needs to be maintained. I’ll even throw in a few more dollars just to round things up. So no ticket for a singer should cost more than $40, because no one is better than Elvis in his prime. A ridiculous idea, maybe, but I like it.

Who gets less than $40 at Ravinia? This year, the CSO for some of its concerts, and a scattering of classical performers. But I will say this for Ravinia: some of the lawn seats for its concerts, which is the place to be anyway unless it’s raining, are reasonable at $10 (though they’re jacked up during A-list concerts).

The top draw this year, according to the accountants, is Stevie Nicks at $200. She’s pushing 70 pretty hard these days, and I hope she’s as mellifluous as she was when I saw Fleetwood Mac on August 17, 1980, at the HemisFair Arena. No doubt her 2017 show would push all the right nostalgia buttons. But I can find ways to do that for a lot less.

Al Stewart at City Winery

Considering his longstanding love of wine, it seemed fitting that Al Stewart appeared at City Winery in Chicago last Thursday. I don’t share his oenophilia — I like the idea of wine more than wine itself — but I can appreciate an enthusiasm like that. Still, it didn’t matter to me exactly where he was playing. Some time ago, I decided to catch his shows whenever they were convenient to where I happened to be, and anywhere in the Chicago area is close enough.

City Winery is a relatively new place, taking its current form on the near West Side of Chicago only in 2012, and as such, it was a pioneering venue in that part of the city. Just before the music started, an announcer said, “City Winery’s not just a kitschy name. We actually make wine here. All those barrels in the back are filled with our wine, aging for your consumption.”

Carefully stowed barrels dominate the back of City Winery’s music room. The place also has a number of other rooms, including a large restaurant space forming the front of the building. All together, it’s a handsome interior space, characterized by brick walls and barrels and bottles, and the acoustics are good.

I’ve seen Stewart with a band, with sidemen, and by himself. This time, he had a band backing him, the young but talented Empty Pockets. They did a set before Stewart came out, including a fine version of “Fever.” The band’s relative youth caused Stewart to marvel at one point that he was being backed by musicians who weren’t born when the music they were playing came out, but who had the jam down pat anyway. That wouldn’t be quite so remarkable in a classical or jazz context, but I suppose it still is in popular music.

Though not a member of Empty Pockets, sax man (and flautist) Marc Macisso joined Stewart and the band for the concert too. He blew his sax like a man possessed, and did a fine job on the flute as well. On a number of Al Stewart songs, the sax is a defining sound, so it was good Macisso was on hand. He reminded me of the saxophonist who killed it with Stewart during his 1989 Park West concert, who might have been Phil Kenzie (who played on the record Stewart was promoting at the time), though I’m not sure.

The set list for the City Winery concert was different than any other of his that I’ve seen. After a handful of songs — “Sirens of Titan,” “Antarctica,” “Time Passages” — Stewart and the band played all of the songs from the album Year of the Cat in order.

The bonus was Stewart’s usual entertaining patter between the songs. “This brings me to Year of the Cat,” he said by way of introducing the songs. “It was a shock for me. I was an English folk singer playing in coffee bars, and all of the sudden people bought this thing, and I wasn’t sure why. I did begin on a very commercial note by writing a song about an English seafarer from 1591, Richard Grenville. This is a subject that most disco artists at the time were embracing.”

Stewart was being coy. If ever he did a polished commercial record, it was Year of the Cat (except maybe Last Days of the Century, which wasn’t as good). Alan Parsons produced Year, after all. The first song, “Lord Grenville,” does indeed mention Richard Grenville. He of “Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one.” I believe listening to the song in 1976 was the first time I’d ever heard of him.

About the next song — “On the Border,” a favorite of mine since I acquired the record 40 years ago — he said, “I thought we’d continue with mass popular appeal by doing a song about the Basque separatist movement, the crisis in Rhodesia and the fall of the British Empire, and amazingly this one actually made the top 40. I have no idea how that was possible. I can only assume the disk jockeys didn’t listen to the lyrics.”

For a long time I thought the song was about the Spanish Civil War, but I’ll defer to the songwriter. But it doesn’t really have to be about anything so specific.

Regarding “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It” — my least favorite cut on the record — he said, “It has far too many words. If I’d known when I was 30 that I’d be singing it when I was 70, I’d have written half as many words.”

Stewart said that his favorite song on the album is “Flying Sorcery,” which was not top 40, but a fine tune all the same. “It concerns two lovers. I turned them into airplanes. They take off from the same airport but they get caught up in a fog bank and land at separate airports. Obviously that means they’re breaking up.”

I never quite took that from the song, but no matter. It has some wonderful lyrics, including, “You were taking off in Tiger Moths/Your wings against the brush-strokes of the day.” The brush-strokes of the day. What a way to describe the sky. It occurs to me that he’s done other songs with aeronautic images (not on Year), such as “The Immelman Turn” and “Fields of France.” (“When Lindy Comes to Town” talks about flight, too, but it’s a particular historic event.)

He mentioned some alternate lyrics to the song “Year of the Cat,” though not in as much detail as recorded on this Songfacts page, based on a 2015 performance. I think everyone was pretty glad that the final lyrics came out the way they did, including Stewart.

On the whole, Al Stewart was in fine fettle on Thursday. His voice is still clear and his guitar playing is impressively energetic for a man of 71. He also seems to enjoy himself thoroughly on stage, which must be why he still tours. Hope he’s got more years yet.

Iolanthe

Snow last night, first time it’s stuck in quite a while. But only a few inches, not like the East Coast.

This year the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Co., a nonprofit based in Hyde Park that does performances one weekend of the year at the University of Chicago’s handsome Mandell Hall, produced Iolanthe. I have fond memories of the company’s Yeomen of the Guard, which Lilly and I saw two years ago, so we all went on Friday (except Lilly, whose spring break hasn’t started yet).

img462Like last time, we ate at Salonica’s first. The face on the telephone pole is still down the street, on the way to the theater.

The show was just as much fun as Yeomen. More, since I knew some of the songs better, including everyone’s favorite lord-marching-trumpets-braying number, which saw a mellifluous chorus of lords spill out from the stage and into the aisles and back, and the renowned patter song about insomnia and the weird dreams of shallow and disturbed sleep.

According to The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian C. Bradley, parts of which are online, “[Gilbert] had, in fact, experimented with the metre later used for the nightmare song in a poem entitled ‘Sixty-Three and Sixty-Four,’ which appeared in Fun in 1864 and which began:

Oh, you who complain that the drawing’s insane, or too much for your noodles have found it.
But listen a minute, I’ll tell you what’s in it — completely explain and expound it.

An earlier poem by Gilbert, ‘The Return from My Berth,’ which appeared in Punch in October 1864, gives a more lurid account of a Channel crossing:

The big Channel steamer is rolling,
Frenchmen around me are bilious and fat
And prone on the floor are behaving unheedingly,
It’s a ‘sick transit,’ but never mind that!

Matthan Ring Black was in fine form with the patter, and the rest of his Lord Chancellor part. Everyone else did very well, but I was especially taken with Claire DiVizio, who did the Fairy Queen, and David Govertsen, who not only amused everyone with Private Willis’ single song, but stood perfectly still in the lobby in his bright red guard uniform as the audience filed in. Perhaps that’s a G&S tradition I don’t know about, but in any case he was there.

Private Willis also got the biggest laugh of the evening:

That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!

Of course, there’s Victorian context to that, but a modern one as well.

Yuriko liked it, and Ann, who’s developing a taste for musical theater, said she enjoyed the show a lot. I never had such a taste as a teenager, though I did (mostly) enjoy the successive senior plays put on at my high school toward the end of each school year, all of which happened to be musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, The Mikado, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story.

One more thing, which if I knew, I’d forgotten: Iolanthe apparently inspired Chief Justice William Rehnquist to add gold stripes to his robe in 1995. Guess he decided that a powdered wig as well would be a bit much.

Ravinia Circular ’16

The annual circular advertising this summer’s shows at Ravinia Festival arrived in the mail recently. Wonder how long printed circulars of this kind will be mailed at all, but for now they are.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the venue, but I’ve enjoyed all of my visits, such as the long-ago August night in 1989 when a lunar eclipse was visible high over the concert. Or our attendance of a children’s concert in July 2002.

Ravinia 2002Ravinia, in Highland Park, Ill., on the North Shore, is the Midwest’s Wolf Trap. Or rather, since Ravinia’s a lot older than Wolf Trap, with outdoor music performances held there for more than 100 years — Wolf Trap is the Ravinia of the East Coast, open only since 1970.

In any case, Ravinia gets some A-list acts, and charges accordingly. Prices are for seats in the pavilion or for lawn seating, and they’re printed on the circular. Some of the concerts, especially lawn seating for some classical musicians, charge a reasonable $10, and I’d seriously consider paying $25 to hear the CSO play the entirety of The Planets while I relax on the lawn. (And ponder whether that should be “The Planets” or The Planets.)

On the other hand, I was curious to see who commands the highest pavilion seating ticket prices. Is it Bob Dylan? No. Paul Simon? No. Don Henley? Dolly Parton? Diana Ross? Nope. Those are all close, but Duran Duran tops the list at $160 a pavilion seat, and a steep $55 for a lawn ticket. Moreover, they’re playing two nights in a row, which is fairly rare at Ravinia.

Am I missing something? I remember Duran Duran as a tolerable early ’80s band that had a handful of hits. Must be their fan base is larger than I realize. Even so, here’s something I’m sure I’m missing: Duran Duran at Ravinia for $160 a pop.

Arlo Guthrie ’86

Here’s one thing about Arlo Guthrie, at least as he was 30 years ago: his distinctive, sometimes squeaky voice was exactly the same in person as on his recordings, as you might hear on “Alice’s Restaurant.” Other than that, I don’t remember a lot about the concert, not even whether he sang-spoke that particular song. He probably did. It’s also likely he did “City of New Orleans” and some of his father’s songs.

Guthrie86He also went on a short tirade about the metric system after telling a possibly true story about encountering a Canadian who didn’t understand the line in “The Garden Song” that goes, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m going to make this garden grow.” Remarkably, there’s an ’80s clip of him in Austin singing that song, and sure enough, he tells the story about the Canadian (a border guard). In the show I saw, I remember him proclaiming, “There’s no poetry to the metric system!”

I’ll go along with that, but he needn’t have worried too much; the customary system still abides in the U.S. some 30 years later. Americans aren’t sophisticated about some things, but we are sophisticated enough to use and understand two systems of measurement at the same time.

Portland Ramble

I didn’t care how good Voodoo Doughnut in Portland was supposed to be, I wasn’t going to wait in this kind of line to buy any.

Voodoo DoughnutsDowntown Portland on a summer Saturday teems with people, more than most mid-sized U.S. cities I’ve encountered. The obvious tourists were a minority. So were the obviously homeless, though they seemed more numerous than in most cities this size (and statistically, it’s a sad fact). Mostly, I think conventionally housed Portlanders were downtown because it’s an interesting place to be on the weekend. Good for Portland.

One reason is because of the food trucks, which cluster in various places. I had a falafel at one. Not the best falafel I’ve ever had, but good enough for a walkabout in a new city.

food trucks, PortlandOne place I was determined not to miss was Powell’s Books. Otherwise known as Powell’s City of Books, an apt nickname.
Powell's Books, Aug 22, 2015The place is enormous: a full city block with 68,000 square feet of floor space on four floors, divided thematically into color-coded rooms (the Blue Room, the Green Room, and so on). The store says it has more than a million new and used books, and I believe it. I went in without a plan, and I stuck to it, just wandering from room to room and floor to floor, looking at titles and opening books and enjoying myself. I was there about an hour, and could have spent longer. (This article captures the joy well; the writer might have even been there at the same time as me.)

I couldn’t leave without buying something — that would be wrong, since it’s important to support an independent bookstore against the Amazon tide, besides being good to have another book. So I bought Why Orwell Matters (2002) by Christopher Hitchens, which I read almost all of on the return plane ride. I also bought a clutch of postcards. As you’d expect, Powell’s had more than the usual Portland-themed tourist cards.

I’ve never seen more tattooed people in one place than in Portland, including Brooklyn (admittedly, it was October) or Camden Town in London (admittedly, it was 20+ years ago) or any warm-weather mass event I’ve been to recently, such as the Wisconsin State Fair. Summertime clothing was no doubt a factor, but I also think being in Portland was too. Mostly the ink was visible on arms and legs and backs, as you’d except, but not always.
TattoosBefore going, I’d read about the Portland Saturday Market, which has been a local event since the early ’70s. By the time I was walking around in the city, I’d forgotten about it. I happened across it anyway. Besides a wealth of vendors, there were some excellent musicians.

Saturday Market, PortlandAccompanied by a dancer.
Dance!At Pioneer Square, the fellow in the yellow was doing a bit of street preaching. Screaming, that is.
Screaming for JesusHis theology sounded like pure Jack Chick, though he might not agree with him in all the particulars. The fellow in black facing him (not the one with the Turn or Burn in Hell shirt) was not amused by the man’s preaching, and was screaming back. Before long, the cops showed up.
Portland copsI didn’t hear the discussion, but I suspect all parties concerned were being told not to take things to the next level, i.e., a fistfight. I passed by the same intersection about 30 minutes later, and the preacher was still there (with a different set of detractors), so I guess no physical violence broke out. Seemed like a near thing, though.