Saturday, April 30, 2016

Happy Walpurgisnacht! And Happy Eighth Birthday to Us!

And we're back! Actually, my internet problems were quickly resolved, but I took advantage of the break to take it easy for a bit. Work has been taking a lot out of me and I'm pondering job-hunting. At the end of the day, I'm horribly drained and can't focus on reading or blogging.

But it's Walpurgisnacht, I'm getting ready to head off to a friend's birthday party...and said friend is a magician, so this promises to be interesting.

Have a good one, folks!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Argh!

I may be gone for a bit, folks....my internet connection at home is gone. I suspect a burned-out router, and I need to call Verizon....and it's just when Verizon employees are on strike. This could be a mess. My apologies, dear readers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

April at the Phantom Concert Hall!

So we're off to that refurbished old concert hall yet again. The local orchestra is putting on a program of some fairly offbeat music. We hear some bits by lesser-known composers, and a few obscure pieces by well-known composers. Including this interesting piece by Rachmaninov...



It's a lovely piece, with undercurrents of darkness and menace that make for a slightly unsettling listening experience. It's not something easily

Afterward, it's down the street for a drink and light supper at a small restaurant down the street...Portuguese, you say? Sounds good....


Monday, March 28, 2016

Tales of Hoffmann: Signor Formica

Over the holiday weekend, I had time to finish a Hoffmann tale! "Signor Formica" is pretty interesting, but not from the usual perspectives.

And no, it's not about countertops.

"Signor Formica" tells a purportedly true adventure of Baroque-era painter Salvator Rosa, who was also a printmaker and poet, and had a remarkable life full of adventure. (That's a self-portrait above.) The story begins approximately in 1649, when Rosa returns to Rome after various adventures in Naples, including rumors of being involved with a group of banditti.

Rosa encounters some strange folk, including the unscrupulous Dr. Splendiano Accoramboni (called the "Pyramid Doctor" for his peculiar headwear), who treats ill artists in hopes of reaping paintings as payment...and only to let them die. Rosa manages to survive and send the doctor on his way, then befriends Antonio, a young barber/surgeon who's also an aspiring painter. Rosa praises a painting of Antonio's that depicts the Magdalen in a new and interesting way, and divines that it's a girl that Antonio is in love with. And of course, she's the ward of a forbidding old man, Pasquale Capuzzi di Senigaglia, a pretentious dandy who fancies himself a great composer and singer, but who is truly execrable. And Signore Pasquale has two great friends, a dwarf named Pitichinacchio and the aforementioned Pyramid Doctor.

The rest of the story goes into how Rosa cons and tricks Capuzzi and his friends, gets the lovers together, and how justice serves all.

It's not supernatural at all, but it's a good read. There's some meditating on art that doesn't overwhelm the story, and lots of funny action with plot and counterplot with Rosa and Antonio on one size and Capuzzi and his friends on the other. And while reading this, I kept thinking what a great comic opera or operetta it would make. And there's scenes set in the opera house that just call out for a talented composer to have fun composing bad music. (The "Signor Formica" of the title is an opera singer who seems to set out especially to communicate with, or embarrass, Capuzzi, and is one of the big players of the story.)

To wrap up, this is hardly the core of D&C material, but it's still a fun read that begs for a spirited adaptation somewhere along the line. It's also an intriguing early entry into the "fictional adventures of a real-life person" genre that we see so often today. So, not for everyone, but for those in need of a chuckle or two, check it out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Quick Personal Note

I haven't been posting much lately. It's a busy season at work and it's taking a lot out of me this year, and when I am home and have time to read I've been reading slowly. And on my laptop I've had problems with a persistent browser hijacker that crashes my Firefox and also tries to hijack Chrome. Grrr. I'm experimenting with various possible ways of handling it. Right now I just zapped all my extensions on FF and seeing how that works out. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of my browser extensions may be the problem.

When I do go out, I don't want to think about anything and just enjoy myself. I recently saw a performance by the Orlando-based troupe Phantasmagoria, called "Wicked Little Tales," in which they interpreted various stories (including "The Raven," Dickens' "Captain Murderer," and others, culminating in a chillingly dark rendition of "The Jabberwock"). It was an excellent evening and I strongly recommend them if they're in your town, or if you're in Orlando.

I'm going to take it easy for the rest of month, blog-wise. I'll continue reading and sampling things and if I get something good and can get my browser to work long enough to let me post it, I'll get it up. But don't be surprised if you don't hear anything from me for a couple of weeks....

Monday, March 7, 2016

March at the Phantom Opera House!

Tonight we're all dolled up in our vintage and bohemian finery...we're going to the opera!

The show is that old warhorse "Carmen," but it's effectively done, as you can see here...



"Carmen," despite its overfamiliarity, has a ton of great music, and when done right has a load of atmosphere. It can also be seen as a precursor to film noir, with its tale of a good man led astray by a heartless, manipulative woman. The song above sets things in motion...she warns them all that she's a danger, but still tempts and coaxes Don Jose to self-destruction.

Just think...where would actresses like Lizabeth Scott and Peggy Cummins be without Carmen?

Show's over...let's go back to my place for a bite, shall we?

Monday, February 29, 2016

BEAST IN VIEW by Margaret Millar

Wealthy, neurotic spinster Helen Clarvoe lives alone in a hotel suite in Los Angeles. She's begun to receive harassing phone calls from an Evelyn Merrick, phone calls that frighten her. She's estranged from her family since her father died, so she calls up Paul Blackshear, an investment banker who had dealings with her father, to find out what's going on.

Beast in View was first published in 1955 and won the Edgar award for Best Novel. It's easy to see why; this isn't a traditional mystery novel but a great, trendsetting  psychological suspense work. It takes us from the swank home of the Clarvoes to a pornographer's studio, a massage parlor, and elsewhere. Blackshear starts to fall for Helen, seeing her as someone who needs protection. Evelyn Merrick goes around, harassing people by telling the dirtiest secrets of those close to them, and two deaths occur before Blackshear finally tracks her down and discovers her devastating secret.

As fun reading as this is, there are some drawbacks. One is that the central concept is a bit hackneyed now and experienced readers will catch on quickly. Some of the psychology is a bit outdated; a gay character is handled in a rather odd manner, both cliched and somewhat sympathetic when you realize he's a seriously screwed-up person overall. But we're given looks into the heads of various characters, which makes for good reading. Millar knew human nature, that's for sure.

Millar (1915-1994) was a Canadian-born suspense writer who is criminally overlooked today. (Her husband, Kenneth Millar, wrote highly-regarded hard-boiled novels as Ross McDonald and is still in print. Shameful sexism, I say.) But her books are being rereleased in ebook formats and you can occasionally come across them in libraries and used book stores. BIV was filmed as an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" but little else of her work was filmed; a movie of another novel, The Iron Gates, was planned with Bette Davis in the lead, but Davis rejected the role as her character would be gone for the last third of the film, and the project died.

Beast in View is out there as an ebook and in used copies. Go find it, folks. This is cracking good reading.