Old in San Diego (subtitle: What ever happened to class??)

When I first heard the characters Mama Morton and Velma Kelly sing the duet “What Ever Happened to Class” from the Kander/Ebb/Fosse musical Chicago, my derriere became a size or two smaller from laughing so hard.  Even though the characters are from the days of Prohibition, their social commentary about men, women, and the ‘youth of today’ (although bawdily delivered) struck a chord!  The audience roared at how generation after generation, we who have grown and matured, at one point begin to complain about the young men and women (or boys and girls) that follow behind us some 20-30 years later.  Well, I am about to join the old fogeys, because this past weekend I officially became: “Old in San Diego”!!!!

Did you ever wake up one day and realize that you have ‘grown old’??  I must tell you, it is akin to when we awoke one day to realize that our childhood was now past.  We were not children anymore; and that neighborhood game of ‘kick the can’ didn’t hold the same relish that it once had.  The annual showing of The Wizard of Oz on network TV, and the plethora of animated Christmas specials no longer held us in the grips of anticipation for a solid week or two before airing.  No; our childhoods were over…and it was sad.  Now that I am officially an old fogey (story coming up, believe me); I am not sad at all:  I am just MAD!!!

In an effort to enjoy the few weekends of summer that remain, my lady-friend and I decided to go somewhere neither of us had ever been.  I suggested San Diego, and she eagerly agreed.  Plane tickets? Check! What about hotel?  Let’s do some research!! Result:  The Andaz Hotel, San Diego…one of the Hyatt Hotel chain’s newest brand of boutique offerings worldwide, that soon became the site of my reverse “Benjamin Button At High Speed” revelation.  I chose this hotel because it is part of the Hyatt family, with whom I enjoy very high status as a frequent guest…much the same way that I enjoy the highest ‘frequent flyer status’ with United Airlines.  I build up points toward future stays, enjoy room upgrades, late check-outs, early check-ins, and other little niceties that help build brand loyalty.  Well if this past weekend’s experience is any arbiter of the Hyatt corporation’s attempt to hold on to their most loyal customers, they had better get back to the drawing board very quickly!!  However, if it is their intent to build a new customer base that consists of drunk, giggling 20-something females (whose breasts are as big and as fake as their laughs), Hollywood wannabes, L.A. styled losers, Jersey Shore male knock-offs, and unattractive snide Snooki imitators (not that she is any great prize herself); then they are doing a great job!!  You see, this boutique hotel is for the young and tragically hip, or men in their 60’s trying desperately to dress and act in their 40’s, and spoiled foul-mouthed 20-somethings who act as if they are 16 year old girls and boys.  Each person a study in practiced irony.

But before you start to lose heart, rest assured that all the above are duly complemented by under-staffed, under-educated hotel bartenders who only know greetings such as “Hey Bud”, and etiquette responses such as “Thanks Man”.  And we mustn’t forget the absent minded, air-headed cocktail waitresses on the rooftop, and the other uncaring, ‘overwhelmed’ hotel staff who walk around doing nothing (with the exception of the pool cleaning lady), and looking all the more superior for it–and why not, they’re being paid!!

And the crowning touch would have to be the elevator/velvet rope goon squad who pose as security/crowd control officers who don black suits, wear their “I’m a Secret Service Agent” earpiece, and act as if they are doing us all a favor by opening the velvet rope to allow us access to the elevators that take us up to the rooftop night-club, down to the basement night-club, or over to the adjacent lobby night-club.  This is especially irritating to hotel guests, like myself, who are supposed to have the run of the place as VIP’s.  Well, all I was trying to do was get to my room one night…just for the record…but was told I had to be patient!!!

This phony-baloney, restrictive, “you must be a member” attitude, simply alienates we 40-somethings who are neither/nor, but betwixt and between two worlds with nowhere to go, but with some dollars to spend–believe me–you should have seen the hotel bill at check-out time.  Is this what I am spending my hard earned disposable income on??  This time the answer was an unfortunate ‘yes’, but it will also be the last, I can assure you.

But it goes further than that:  All through the very animated Gaslamp District of beautiful San Diego–with it’s stunning historic buildings, trendy restaurants, no-recession style spending, and ample night-club scene (whose music is so heart palpitatingly loud, your body actually vibrates as you walk down the street), all I could see were clones: Every girl dressed in the same arrestingly short, napkin-sized dresses.  All with the same Kim Kardashian hair-style, super-sized eyelashes, and too tall shoes (yes, they were actually falling off/out of them as they walked).  Every man dressed in the same ill fitting denim jeans that slouch so far down the ankle that they look like the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs as they curled under Dorothy’s fallen Kansas home.  All with flat Ked’s-style sneakers on their feet (you know guys, the ones we 40-somethings wore when we were 8 years old!), and ratty t-shirts, or too tight plaid shirts with the shirt tails hanging out–I know, I know: “That’s the style“…I have seen Abercrombie and Fitch ads!!

And this is what these slutty-dressed (as they ‘giggily’ referred to themselves, believe it or not), drunken women go for these days??? (and vice-versa)…a bunch of equally slutty looking, sloppy, under-dressed, drunken, rude men?!?!???!  (And believe me, they were rude!)

Well OK, if that’s how it is–a race to the bottom; I guess I will simply admit that I have indeed now become ‘old’, an old complaining fogey…and it happened in San Diego.  But I simply must ask you my friends:

What ever happened to class????


P.s. I must, for the sake of fairness, sincerely compliment a few of the hotel staff who tried their best to be accommodating–but they were simply too young and inexperienced to know what it meant to provide meaningful service to their guests–or too overwhelmed by the wave of incompetence that permeates the staff of this hotel.  Furthermore, I am far from a prude, but I prefer to dress nicely for my girlfriend–which means pressed pants and shirts, a blazer or suit, and dress shoes when we go out.  It’s a respect thing…

Opera Review: Wozzeck, Santa Fe Opera-July 30, 2011

There have been many ‘soldier portrayals/characters’ in the annals of the operatic forum; from the comic, blustering Belcore in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, all the way to a cross between Gomer Pyle and Forrest Gump in the character of Josef Schweik in Kurka’s rather contemporary opera The Good Soldier Schweik, that dates as recently as the 1950’s.  However, there is likely no more a tragic, pathetic soldier-figure as Franz Wozzeck, as represented in Alban Berg’s disturbing 1925 opera, aptly (and simply) entitled Wozzeck.

As part of their balanced approach to operatic programming, the Santa Fe Opera rolled out a stark, and stunning, remount of their decade old production to great effect on Saturday July 30, 2011.  With darkened skies, impressive lightning, and a chilling breeze in the air; it would seem that the weather conspired in accord with the theater’s open air design to deliver an ominous ambiance that associated itself with the stage proceedings.

While musically and dramatically Wozzeck may not be for everyone, and is hardly ever box-office gold; this overall theatrical masterpiece is a must see for anyone wishing to be left speechless after the final lighting cue fades to black.  The cast was, simply put, marvelous.  In my effort to supply full disclosure to my readers, it is no secret that I have been a multi-year, rostered artist with the Santa Fe Opera.  However, this season I am merely visiting Santa Fe after concluding a very successful Ring Cycle presentation in San Francisco earlier in July.  I decided to take in a few operas in the role of spectator and supporter of the art form (and yes, my colleagues too).  But make no mistake, after decades in show-business I believe that I have earned the right to a few of my own conclusions; and therefore write this review devoid of any particular bias.

The cast, headed by Richard Paul Fink, was solid and unrelenting both vocally and (for the most part) dramatically.  Mr. Fink who possesses a rock solid, if somewhat–at times–too muscular, bass voice (with an impressive upper extension) was simply superb as the title character.  It was somewhat amusing for me to watch Eric Owens (as the megalomaniac Doctor) and Mr. Fink sing side by side–as my most vivid memories of them both are as watching them separately dispatch the role of Alberich in Wagner’s Das Rheingold, with great distinction each!  (I made my Metropolitan Opera debut as Mime with Mr. Fink as Alberich in Das Rheingold, and was duly impressed by Mr. Owens in the Met’s current production this past fall.)

Nicola Beller Carbone also distinguished herself as Marie, Wozzeck’s girlfriend/common law spouse.  She sings powerfully but almost too hysterically at certain moments in the first two acts–coming close to pushing her fine soprano toward stridency.  However, she saves her finest and most impressive singing for a touching and frighteningly predictive Act III aria where she displayed very impressive pianissimi–something that is extremely hard to pull off after such robust, emotive vocalism–as is required of her in Acts I and II.  Ms. Carbone also exudes an overt, yet simmering sexuality that enhances her characterization.

Also impressive were Robert Brubaker (The Captain), whose penetrating tenor easily filled the sometimes finicky opera pavilion; and Stuart Skelton as The Drum Major.  Rounding out the fine cast were Patricia Risley as Margret, Jason Slayden as Andres, and Randall Bills in the small, but rather poignant role of The Fool.  Special mention should be made of Zechariah Baca, acting the role of Wozzeck and Marie’s young son.  His non-comprehension regarding the death of both of his parents at the conclusion of the opera, as he scampers off on his hobby horse toy, is heartbreaking; as is his frightened acting as he hides under his mother’s bed during her illicit sexual encounter with the Drum Major.

David Roberston led a balanced performance from the pit; keeping his orchestral forces in check at all the right times, but eliciting hair raising effects of volume and intensity when absolutely appropriate.  The always fine apprentice-artist chorus added amply to the evening, most especially as the ghost-faced townsfolk who seem to live in a deranged world of ongoing oppression.

* Note:  Wozzeck is a depressing story.  The title character is routinely taken advantage of by virtually everyone he encounters.  He sells his body for medical experiments, performed by the Doctor, to put food on the table for his wife and child; he is subordinated by his superior command by having to provide menial personal services, only to be derided and made fun of by both over delicate personal matters.  He is drawn to murder his own wife,  and experiences a total mental collapse which precipitates his own death.  Even the towns-children make fun of his young son over the death of his parents…an act which leads us to believe the mental torment will continue even after the stage drama has effectively ended.  We do not leave the theater affection-fulfilled, or singing any happy tune.  Instead we are left with macabre musical waltzes dancing in our head, and pondering man’s (in)humanity toward man.  I, for one, believe that Wozzeck is mentally ill, or somewhat developmentally challenged; but not so much so that he cannot function in the real world.  My guess is that we have all known someone like this in our lives…and if we have taken advantage of them, or made fun of them in any way, we should take a moment and ask for forgiveness.  As a person who has come from a family where mental illness was not diagnosed and treated properly, or early enough–resulting in tragedy after tragedy; I am keenly aware that this opera is perhaps more singularly focused, and not the wider proletariat-plight-driven tale that so many assume it is.