music

101 in 1001 #7: Go to New York to see an opera at the Met!

I have wanted to see an opera at New York's Metropolitan Opera pretty much since I got into opera (my freshman year of college), and Michael and I finally made it happen for our birthdays a couple of weeks ago! 

I hadn't seen Michael since shortly before I moved, at, of course, an opera...he's my go-to classical music/opera friend, and I had missed him (and the opera world!) terribly since heading west. We planned the trip way back in October when we found out the Met was staging Wagner's "Parsifal." Wagner is Michael's favorite composer, and I've rapidly been seduced by his lush orchestration and larger-than-life operas. "Parsifal," a 6-hour telling of a Holy Grail legend sung in German, is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I couldn't have been more excited to go balls-to-the-wall on my first Met experience. 

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A rookie mistake on our parts: after staying up way too late on Friday drinking champagne and eating doner kebab post-"Hamilton," we were moving a bit slow on Saturday morning. Add to that a snafu with the subway ("you have to go downtown to get uptown today!") and you have the two of us arriving with only twenty minutes to curtain and no breakfast in us. YIKES. 

Nothing could dull my joy at finally being at Lincoln Center, however - especially with bright sunshine and beautiful views! (Please also note that I am incredibly on-trend and wore a jumpsuit to the Met - dressing for a daytime opera is no mean feat!)

Of course, a selfie with the famed Met chandeliers was necessary. 

The moment that the chandeliers in the theater rose as the overture began was, to me, the perfect culmination of months (years) of looking forward to this experience. The atmosphere at the Met is one of indescribable luxury and opulence - velvet walls, the sparkling crystal, the gilded boxes. I could not wipe the grin off my face!

As for "Parsifal:" the production we saw was DARK. The sparse staging, elaborate background projections, and monochromatic color scheme kept my focus on the stunning vocals and orchestra (we were incredibly lucky to be the first audience to see Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct after his appointment to serve as the Met's music director next year!). Seeing famed bass (and Michael fave) René Pape sing Gurnemanz was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and demon-woman Kundry and Parsifal were also masterfully sung. 

The second act took place on a stage flooded with "blood" as Parsifal wrestles with temptation surrounded by a horde of demonic women, splashing eerily through the river and thoroughly saturating themselves in the process. It is DARK, and evocative, and incredibly riveting. The entire production held me spellbound, but the second act seemed to fly by just because I was so gripped by the visual spectacle coalescing with the opera itself. 

After all that blood, the second intermission called for a little bubbly...

As the opera ended, leaving me thoroughly euphoric, we exited the theater to see a picture-perfect snowfall framed by the Met's dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows. I just about up and died - this was the first snowfall I had seen all year, and it just seemed too fairy-tale serendipitous to be real, on top of the whole day of dreams coming true. 

Naturally, we importuned a fellow opera-goer to snap a photo for us, and I think it speaks for itself - it's kind of hard to miss the utter delight in my squinted-up-with-laughter eyes. 

Thoroughly ravenous, we hopped across the street to Epicerie Boulud, where we killed time with a bottle of champagne before getting seats at the Bar Boulud "family table." An utter delight of a meal followed: chatting en Francais with the couple on one side of us, discussing opera with the couple on the other side and their grandkids, and exchanging information for this summer's San Francisco Ring Cycle, which they are also attending! Not to mention Michael enjoying "the best duck a l'orange he's ever had" while I died over the perfect orecchiette. 

After dinner (and another bottle of wine, oops) we had the bright and brilliant idea to enjoy the snow and walk from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side through Central Park for a post-dinner cocktail at Bemelman's Bar (thanks for the tip, Shannon!). Only issue? Yours truly, who is already known for her grace and poise, was wearing heels - three-inch suede stilettos with no platform, to be specific. Needless to say, we had an adventure slipping and sliding and taking our sweet time on the walk. By the time we reached Bemelman's, we were soaked through and I couldn't stop laughing at how utterly ridiculous the situation was. Those (brand-new) shoes? Pretty much ruined, and they dyed my feet a shocking shade of hot pink in the bargain...it may not have been "Parsifal" blood, but it looked ridiculous for the next four days before I finally got the stains out with nail polish remover. SO WORTH IT, THOUGH. 

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At Bemelman's, we enjoyed a little live jazz before heading downtown to catch one of my faves, the Gerald Clayton Quintet, at the Jazz Standard! Once they wound down, we traded champagne cocktails for tequila at a little cocktail bar around the corner, and headed home, still in the snow, around 2am. All in all, an absolutely ridiculous, amazing, fairy-tale first Met experience...thinking it may need to be an annual thing going forward! 

See more 101 in 1001 here...and for more opera love, check back in June as we attend my first Ring Cycle with the San Francisco Opera!! 

SFO-NYC, BRB

it’s 4:45am and I’m standing in the longest security line known to SFO-kind en route to New York City for a long weekend! 

Michael and I haven’t gotten together since my move, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t missed my opera-and-orchestra buddy (and, of course, the operas and orchestras themselves!). We both have February birthdays and we both get Presidents‘ Day off, and have both been wanting to get to the Met...his second time, my first. When we found out René Pape was performing in Wagner’s “Parsifal” this weekend, we were in faster than you can yell “NERRRRRRDS!”

 

In addition to THE MET OMG, we’re going all out and seeing “Hamilton” for good measure...because of course I can’t go too long without a little A.Ham in my life. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to lots of champagne, plenty of museums, catching up over good dinners, some shopping...and hopefully a liiiiittle sleep on this flight! 

 

Catch you all on the flip side... 

On sonnets and song lyrics.

...I fell into a swampy, never-ending black hole of my own Twitter history last night and stayed up far too late reading it back over (which I am now paying for with this morning's dry, itchy eyes and headache). This jumped out at me and I couldn't not share it - just a little prettiness for your Thursday morning. 

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Not In A Silver Casket Cool With Pearls

Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
"Look what I have!—And these are all for you." 

- Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Also, I listened to the entirety of Fleetwood Mac's live concert album "The Dance" while getting ready and driving to work this morning. This was a revisit to an album I've grown up with - some of my most vivid, visceral childhood memories are of watching that concert VHS with my dad, jamming to the cd on the way to Toys'R'Us, or marveling at the brassy, percussive marching band at the end.

(Aside: the band at the concert is the USC marching band - and, looking back, they were a huge driver of the reason I actually let my mom badger me into joining marching band in high school. Gotta love the delicious irony of ending up in the Band of the Fighting Irish, loathing the USC band as hard as I possibly can...but still, secretly, loving their two songs on "The Dance.")

Anyway, I was listening to "You Make Loving Fun," and this line jumped out at me...

"I never did believe in miracles
But I've a feeling it's time to try"

So here's to trying to believe in miracles, and to how utterly gorgeous language can be - from sonnets to song lyrics. Happy Thursday, campers! 

Gettin' jazzy with it!

Proof, friends, that I truly won the parental lottery: It's early September, and I have decided I want to go to the Monterey Jazz Festival, in a BIG way. My Aaron Burr-crush Leslie Odom Jr. is headlining the Saturday main stage, and I am a jazz fiend. Sadly, Roommate David, who loves jazz more than anyone I know, is on call that weekend and can't go. So I text my parents, expecting them to laugh...and instead: 

Before I knew it, we had called each other half a dozen times, and my parents had not only booked flights but also bought us tickets...all before my lunch break. And that, friends, is how I found myself in mid-September driving us down to oh-so-charming Monterey, for a weekend of some of the best jazz performance I've ever experienced!

Held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the Jazz Fest is anything but bougie - and that just adds to the experience. Locals mingle with tourists and weekend warriors as snatches of music drift through the air - a high school jazz band in one building, an open-air soul-funk group in an amphitheater, snippets of the greats coming from the history presentations. I was in heaven. 

We made our way over to the Yamaha tent and had a blast discussing instruments...they even let me demo a flute, the first time I've touched one since senior year of college! For those concerned, I definitely still know all the Notre Dame fight songs...#nerd.

Parched after my masterful performance (HA!), we hit up one of the beer gardens, where I started with a Brother Thelonius. 100% of the sales from this jazz-themed beer went straight to supporting jazz education in California - the entire festival benefits several different jazz organizations and has provided major funding since its inception 61 years ago!

We spent the day bouncing around from building to building, seeing as many different artists as possible. Highlights: the California High School All-Star Jazz Band, Monsieur Periné's Latin/Afro/Caribbean/French melange of magic, Bruno Mars-esque Con Brio and their high-energy dance party in the amphitheater, and The Suffers, full of soul and so charismatic.

We took a quick dinner break and headed to the pier for fantastic seafood at the Old Fisherman's Grotto - being seated right by the windows and watching the sea lions frolic in the bay was a beautiful, amusing setting for a meal!

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As soon as we had finished with our dinners, it was immediately back to the mainstage for the evening's highlights - the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra teaming up with the Gerald Clayton Trio to premiere the festival's annual commissioned work. This year's piece was a nine-part "jazz symphony," if you will, following the trajectory of America over the last year or so. It was all-encompassing - atonal and grating alternating with incredibly lush and harmonious, overlaid with the spoken word and resolving in an absolute maelstrom of sound. I about died and went to heaven, and loved it all the more for sitting next to my father while a father-son duo made magic onstage.

And of course, the main event (for us, anyway) - Leslie Odom Jr, who made my month when he opened his set with a stripped-down, jazzed-up version of his iconic "Wait For It" from "Hamilton." From there on out, we enjoyed a rollercoaster through the best of jazz and classic Broadway - selections from "Rent," "Spring Awakening," and "Hamilton" interspersed flawlessly with original, pared-down jazz pieces that showcased his small ensemble to perfection. He even cracked jokes and riffed on his recent Nationwide Insurance commercial - the man is, in my opinion, a flawless human being and I can't wait to see him AGAIN in a few weeks at my beloved Orchestra Hall over Thanksgiving!

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We took it so, so easy on Sunday - a leisurely brunch at First Awakenings, an old sardine factory, then a slow, gorgeous drive up the coast and over the mountains back to Redwood City. We provisioned ourselves, Schweg-style, for the afternoon...

...and, as Dave was still on call, and as Dave is one of my parents' favorite people ever, we had a fantastic dinner al fresco at home. Dad's perfect filet mignon, twice-baked potatoes, crusty fresh-baked sourdough bread, and an Italian salad - plus, of course, plenty of champagne! 

I headed back to my parents' hotel with them and watched the Emmys before calling it a night. They flew home early Monday morning, and I immediately reset the Schwegfam countdown clock...exactly 30 days to our New York trip! 

In short - I fell madly in love with the Monterey Jazz Festival, and am beyond jazzed that my parents shared the experience with me. Already looking forward to a repeat trip next year!

101 in 1001 #5: See a Broadway show...on Broadway!

You guys, hi! I’m fresh off a very lengthy blog break (partly intentional, partly accidental) and a fantastic trip to New York City with my parents and brother to celebrate my dad’s birthday. We had an absolutely outstanding weekend – shopping, drinking, sightseeing, and dining to our hearts’ content – but the unequivocal highlight of the weekend, for me, was seeing my first (and second!) Broadway show and checking off my 101 in 1001 #5!

I’ve grown up absolutely obsessed with Broadway musicals. My first trip to a show, the touring production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond, took place at the tender age of six…and my family never looked back. As anyone who reads this space knows, we all fell HARD for “Hamilton,” my dad and I share an affinity for “Phantom” that goes back over a decade, and I’ve seen too many touring productions on stage to even count up at this point. As much as we all love musicals, though, I’d never actually seen a show on Broadway before. Needless to say, when my parents floated the idea of a trip for Dad’s birthday, including seeing shows, I was all over it.

One of my deepest recent Broadway obsessions is with “Dear Evan Hansen,” the darling of the 2017 Tonys which has been universally praised for its richly emotive performances and the gorgeous music, penned by Pasek and Paul of “La La Land” acclaim. Ben Platt, starring as the anxiety-crippled, socially awkward title character, is ending his run at the end of November, and I couldn’t not see his Best Actor Tony-winning performance – especially after my parents and sister Em had already seen it and unequivocally raved about it.

Despite the fact that the ticket cost me nearly a third of my monthly rent, Friday night saw me absolutely losing my mind in the third row of the mezzanine as this stunning show truly left me speechless.  I rendezvoused with my family during intermission (we weren’t all sitting together, thank GOD) and was near-incoherent in my awe. While Ben Platt’s performance is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the rest of the cast wowed in their own right, and the innovative staging and show design created a completely immersive experience.

I remembered with paralyzing detail how painful and awkward and stressful it was, at times, to be a teenager feeling like I didn’t totally fit in, to think in agonizing detail about how others perceived me and to worry incessantly about who I was. That teenage angst, coupled with the struggles of parents to understand their children and fulfill their own needs and desires, seemed to overwhelm everyone in the audience; the women sitting next to me had never heard the music and didn’t know the show’s premise, and collectively went through an entire packet of Kleenex in the first act alone.

After the show, we parked ourselves outside the stage door in hopes of seeing the cast up close and personal, but the closest we got was seeing Rachel Bay Jones (Tony Award winner for best featured actress!) drive by waving from her SUV after sneaking out the back door. I had a total fangirl moment, though, when we realized we could see into the reception room backstage, and watched Ben Platt greeting VIPs. To quote the musical, heavy-handedly, we were literally waving through a window...and it made my night!

While “Dear Evan Hansen” plumbed the deepest depths of my (admittedly soft-hearted, emotional, quick-to-cry) spirit, our Saturday night show, “A Bronx Tale,” left me grinning from ear to ear. We had originally purchased phenomenal seats to “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” but the show closed early in September after a fair amount of casting drama. We searched around for other options aimlessly as a few more shows we were interested in closed, and ultimately landed on “A Bronx Tale” as a nice change of pace from the wringer that is “Dear Evan Hansen.” Based on a true story, and the ensuing Robert De Niro movie, the show focuses on the early life of a young Italian boy growing up in – you guessed it – the Bronx, being pulled between the rival good-and-evil forces of his upright, moral father and a local mobster.

While the show won no Tonys and earned much less critical acclaim than my beloved “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” the music (by Alan Menken) and the dance-heavy, big bold cast created an enchanting experience for the largely Italian, New Yorker audience. I’ve had “One of the Great Ones,” a rollicking love song, stuck in my head since Saturday night- and let’s be real, if every show was an emotional rollercoaster, I’d never make it through an evening at the theater without crying my mascara clean off.

So incredibly thankful to my parents for letting us celebrate in the greatest city in the world with them, and for planning not one but TWO Broadway experiences for us! I’m so hooked on the theater world, and have a feeling there will be many more cross-country flights in my future…after all, “Frozen” and “Mean Girls” both open next spring, wheee!