Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy Birthday, Giuseppe Verdi!

For your Monday Music: a feast for the senses!

Today is the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Most people know that Verdi was one of the greatest opera composers of all time, but even if Verdi's name doesn't ring a bell (or clang any anvils even), there are numerous hummable Verdi tunes that many people actually do know. They just don't realize that they have been humming Verdi until they hear the tunes performed (in a flash mob, for instance)!

Giuseppe Verdi had a long and eventful life. An agnostic atheist, Verdi managed to escape a lifetime of composing and performing sacred music for the church - the fate of most composers throughout history - and succeeded in earning a comfortable living. He was interested in the complex challenges of the human condition and one of the reasons for his outstanding success was that he broke new ground by exploring deeper ethical and emotional themes. Such work requires a depth of artistic honesty which would have been impossible in a religious context. As his first wife, Margherita, wrote:

“Never, absolutely never, would he [Verdi] settle in Busetto. Having dedicated himself to theatre music, he would succeed in that and not in music for the church.”. 

As if that wasn't all cool enough, Verdi was also a man who knew his way around the kitchen! He enjoyed cooking and dining with friends and family and he created many of his own unique recipes.  Here is one that I invite you to try to celebrate the great composer's birthday:

Risotto Giuseppe Verdi's Style
¾ lb. Carnaroli rice
2 oz. butter
3 oz. mushrooms
3 oz. asparagus tips
3 oz. Prosciutto di Parma
3 oz. canned tomatoes
3 ½ tablespoons light cream
4 cups meat broth
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to taste
½ onion, thinly sliced


(25 minutes preparation + 16 minutes cooking)

Clean and finely mince the onion. Clean and thinly slice the mushrooms. Clean and blanch the asparagus in salted water: cool them in water and ice. Mince the prosciutto finely. Blanch the tomatoes, peel, seed and cut them into cubes.

In a pot melt ¼ of the butter, add the onion and slowly cook it until soft and golden. Add the rice and toast it for about 1 minute.
Add the broth, 1 ladle at the time, waiting until it has been absorbed before adding the next one.

After 8-10 minutes, add mushrooms, prosciutto, asparagus and tomatoes.

Stir well, cook for another 2 minutes and add the cream.
When the rice is “al dente” (about 18 minutes), add butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, then stir well and cover with a lid. Let it rest for 2 minutes and serve. Serves 4.

(This recipe was created by the French chef Henri-Paul Pellapratt (1869-1952), the "father of modern French cooking", who dedicated it to maestro Verdi. via NPR)

Last and best of all - for your listening pleasure, here is a terrific video taken from the Metropolitan Opera HD series featuring the company singing "Va Pensiero" (also known as the "Hebrew Slaves Chorus"). It is hard to believe that this stirring piece - one of Verdi's most well-known and beloved - comes from one of the composer's earliest works. It is from Nabucco, Verdi's first successful opera which catapulted him to the 19th century equivalent of stardom at the age of 34.

Va Pensiero (English lyrics)

"Fly, thought, on wings of gold,
go settle upon the slopes and the hills
where the sweet airs of our
native soil smell soft and mild!
Greet the banks of the river Jordan
and Zion's tumbled towers.
Oh, my country, so lovely and lost!
Oh remembrance so dear yet unhappy! ..."

"You may have the entire universe, if I may have Italy." 
 -Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813 - 1901)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I'm With Her And We're Stronger Together!

(This essay was first posted in March 2012. Reposting with slight edits to reflect more recent historic events. :) )

On Shakesville, Melissa McEwan now and then posts a photo of my idol, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  She made a joke about how often she posts these photos and several commenters echoed what I was thinking - she could post them every day and I might actually visit her blog even more often, not less often! Hillary is that much of a draw to me.

I was one of those housewives Hillary did not choose to be like back in the 1990's (though my kids can tell you I was stronger on "exploring" and crafts than I was on baking cookies),  and yet I could not understand the uproar over her remarks back then.  That was my first glimpse into the hatred that conservative women have for progressive women and it was probably my first inkling of just how deep and complicated the schisms in American society have become. This will be one of many posts on this topic.

What Hillary was pointing to was the truth...

What Hillary was pointing to was the truth: in spite of the lie that we can "have it all", women can't be everything they would like to be - at least not at the same time - not really.  We can be full-time homemakers, but then we will not be respected as persons who have something to say outside of domestic issues.  We can be full-time employed workers (and obviously full-time moms still), but then we are vilified by the stay-at-home contingent as 'bad mothers'. Many of us can and must be something in between- struggling to be both full-time moms and part-time workers - and discovering the awful truth that we are not allowed to feel good about either of them. Hillary wanted to make a difference in this country, but she knew that in order to do that she would not be able to stay at home full-time, even if she had wanted to do so.

Many of us can and must be something in between- struggling to be both full-time moms and part-time workers - and discovering the awful truth that we are not allowed to feel good about either of them. 

I found Hillary refreshingly honest, admirably capable and formidably intelligent.  I knew what she was saying - women just don't get to do both of those things in our culture, not really, and she was speaking to that - I found her impressive and likable.  I heard in her remarks the painful conundrum that is a woman's experience in public life - no matter what she did, she was going to be wrong and ridiculed for even trying. And yet, she did keep working. She did continue to work and she did continue to put herself out there in public life. She has never stopped trying to make a difference for women in the world, and she has succeeded.

Women the world over are inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  I am inspired by her.

Women the world over are inspired by Hillary Clinton. I am inspired by her. Men the world over are inspired by her, too, and this is a fact which has become even more evident in recent months as both women and men have lined up to endorse and support her nomination as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.

Here is a short clip from the Women in the World summit held in March 2012 at the Lincoln Center. Hillary urges women to be "fearless"in fighting for equality, justice and civil rights for women.  Coming from someone who has had to be fearless in the face of unremitting attacks in the public sphere,  her words have particular power.

We are entering what is likely to be one of the ugliest and most exhausting presidential campaigns in American history.  I will have Hillary Clinton's back. More importantly, millions of men and women all across this country will have her back, too. They get it - we are stronger together.

Let's do this, America!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Loving Vincent - Bringing Painting to Life in Exciting Biographical Film

Starry Night Over the Rhone - Vincent van Gogh 1888-89

If this film project is even half as good as it looks like it will be, it will be worth clearing your schedule to go see it. The concept reminds me a little of the very cool and thought-provoking film Waking Life. Except in reverse.

Café Terrace at Night - 1888
Waking Life used animation software to convert actual film footage of live actors into drawn-looking, animated film.

Loving Vincent uses animation techniques to bring actual paintings in the style of Vincent van Gogh to life. The story of van Gogh's life is told with the visual component completely composed of modern artists' renditions of his famous paintings and then animating them.

This has got to be one of the most exciting forays into animated film that I have ever seen. The trailer is thrilling - the artist's style has been lovingly recreated and faithfully matched with the timeline of van Gogh's life.

I'm at a loss for words to describe how interesting this project sounds. Visually gorgeous, a compelling and fascinating story and a unique and groundbreaking approach to filmmaking.  It cannot arrive in theaters near me quickly enough!

Check out the trailer!