An evening of painting and wine

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We thought it might be a blast to have an evening of wine, painting and general merriment at home, and so invited a group of friends over.

It was fun. Everyone searched online for inspiration of what to paint, settled down with some wine and got to it. The paintings even looked good, mostly. Hehe. After, I whipped up some mee siam goreng and curry chicken for dinner, and we lounged around the table for a few more hours.

La Clemenza di Tito

After reading the news that the San Diego Opera was shuttering down after 49 years, I couldn’t help but marvel at the Chicago Lyric Opera’s fiscal prudence in filling its productions with current and past Ryan Opera Center members. Ok, so they haven’t bust their budget hiring all the international opera stars.

Yet, it’s undeniable the thrills that true operatic stars bring to the stage. Whenever Joyce Didonato as Sesto or Matthew Polenzani as Tito opened their mouth, the atmosphere in the hushed opera house was electric. Glorious!

Great way to finish up Chicago’s season. And I’m excited that I’ll get the chance to hear Didonato again in just over a month, this time in NYC (barring flight cancellations).

Jonas Kaufmann and Renee Fleming Concert at the Lyric

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Photo credits: Todd Rosenberg

What a stupendous evening it was at the Lyric’s annual Subscriber Appreciation Concert (nevermind that I didn’t actually sign up for a subscription this season; I did attend 5/7 operas though!). It’s always a treat to hear Renee Fleming perform, but it’s an even bigger treat when she brings in one of her colleagues to share the stage. In prior years, we had the luxury of hearing Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Susan Graham; this year, it was the magnificent Jonas Kaufmann.

Although the two have only performed together only twice before (Otello in 2001 at the Lyric, and Rosenkavalier in 2009 at Baden-Baden), you wouldn’t know it to see it. They had such incredible chemistry on stage, easily bringing to life the characters of the different operatic pieces they were singing. A playful nuzzle here, and short waltz there… we lapped it all up.

If Renee Fleming is the queen of sad songs, Jonas Kaufmann is the king of the tormented. I’m so happy that I got to hear him sing live the “Pourquoi me reveiller” from Werther, the performance that I missed in NYC as a result of my cancelled flight due to fog. His is a dark, vermouth-like voice that effortlessly soars into the upper reaches of the balcony, even when he sings pianissimo. Nobody does anguish quite like him.

My favorite piece of the evening was the St. Sulpice scene from Massenet’s Manon, where Fleming’s Manon successfully re-seduced Kaufmann’s heartbroken Des Grieux from taking his holy orders. For whole minutes, the concert hall fell away and we were transported into the living, breathing world of the passionate ex-lovers as she sought a reunion. It was also the most consummate acting I’ve seen Renee Fleming do, especially when comparing against her recent outing as Rusalka at the Met; her solo piece of Manon’s “Adieu, notre petite table” was also heart-rending.

Butchery class

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Last Thursday, we popped over to Butcher and the Burger, a tiny burger joint in Lincoln Square for a hog butchery demonstration.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we had a fun evening. The dozen or so of us crowded around the gleaming metal table in the basement, and sipped at our BYOB wines and beer while we watched owner Al expertly dissect a half hog weighing maybe 70 pounds.

Wielding a small but incredibly sharp knife, Al efficiently sliced through the thick cuts of sirloin, ham, ribs etc. I even got to try my hand at sawing through a slab of chops. Hehe.

Afterwards, we trooped upstairs where the cooks whipped us heaping plates of fresh burgers and fries. Mm.

A Burgundian Blind Tasting

A recent Friday evening, my coworker David invited us and a bunch of other folks over to his place for a feast of Chinese delicacies his mother-in-law whipped up, to go along with the 4 bottles of Burgundy and 1 bottle of California Pinot Noir that we tasted blind. It was fun – as we snacked on the piping hot Shanghai dumplings brimming with soupy goodness, we sipped and swirled our glasses and tried our best to fit the wines to the tasting notes David set in front of us. The winners – ultimately Y&A and I – got to bring home a bag of frozen soup dumplings each. :D

Here are the wines and the notes that David found off the web (those in quotation marks are not my own):

1993 Grivot vosne romanee
“At first it smells a bit like wet socks, but once that blows off some bitter cherries, green tea and vegetables comes to the front. In the mouth there’s lots of acid, but also hints of sweetness and fruit.
Supple, ripe and generous with its plum and currant flavors, hinting at coffee and spice on a velvety texture. Has impressive length and well-integrated tannins.”
This was the first wine we tasted, and it was relatively easy to identify as the oldest wine because of its brown hue – very little vibrant red tones left. There was quite a bit of sediment too. Gorgeous wine though – I did pick up the coffee and green tea notes. It lasted in my glass for about 15 or so minutes and noticeably flattened out after.

1996 Perdrix – Nuits St Georges Aux Perdrix 1er Cru
“Dense, dark fruits with some oak. Maybe a touch on the modern side as this is rather polished with the oak quite noticeable. It becomes a little more integrated in the glass. Some light earthy, meaty and smoky notes. Masculine wine.
Firm structure, delicately annunciated. Deep red color, plenty of berry, jam and even a bit of tobacco at the end. Fruity, rich, gave up the goods easily”
This was the last bottle in our tasting lineup, and the one wine that I couldn’t quite place. For its age, it was still pretty red, albeit a darker, more solid red.

1998 Mysterious Cali reserve Pinot
“Displaying the most saturated ruby color, the 1998 Pinot Noir Reserve spent 14 months in new French oak, and tips the scales at 14.2% alcohol. It offers excellent plum and cherry scents along with smoky, spicy oak. Medium to full bodied, moderately tannic, pure, and nicely textured.”
This was later revealed as the Artesa Pinot from Carneros, and one of the wines I’d guessed wrongly. Gah. It was interesting though – when I first tasted it (and made my guess), it tasted hot, spicy with strong notes of tannins and tobacco. But at the end of the tasting, before the results were revealed, I went back to this bottle and oh my, it was like a completely different wine! It had become so pliant and fruity, and reminded me of those carnival cotton candy. Should have changed my mind right then about it being a Cali pinot. Heh.

2003 Heresztyn – Morey St-Denis Les Millandes 1er Cru
“This is wonderfully elegant with less earth nuances and more emphasis on fine and small red berry and cassis aromas but the precision and elegance the flavors displayed from cask are no longer present and instead, the flavors are now borderline heavy and while complex and sappy.”
Easily the favorite of the evening. My note: OMG SO SOFT! It was delicious; we returned to our glass again and again for tiny sips.

2006 Rene Leclerc – Gevrey-Chambertin Champeaux 1er Cru
“Light cherry note. After a few hours in the decanter, it really put on weight. The expressive nose shows high-toned red fruits, cotton candy, earth and a bit of orange peel. On the palate, this has fantastic acidity and the sweet red fruit is really showing well. Smooth and velvety with delicate tannins.”
My first initial reaction upon sniffing the glass was “orange peel”! Whereupon I searched the tasting notes to see if any of the noted wines had this characteristic. Badabing!

Rusalka at the Lyric

M and I scored awesome seats for the Lyric’s performance of Rusalka this past Tuesday – front center seats on the main orchestra level for 50% off. :) All the better to see the singers up close, in particular the gamekeeper, whom M has been casually seeing for the past month.

It was a long performance – almost 4 hours. But the set was visually stunning, especially the kitchen and ballroom scenes in Act 2. The singers were really good as well, with Ana Maria Martinez (who also sang Song to the Moon perched rather uncomfortably in a tree… David McVicar, the director, explained in an interview that many directors did that, since the water nymphs, according to myth, had legs and liked to climb trees… ok…), Brandon Jovanovich and Eric Owens leading the solid cast. Jill Grove looked like she was having a blast with the sinister and cackly Jezibaba.

Chicago Tribune’s review here.

Trapeze and other circus fun

Last Friday, TSNY Chicago invited us frequent flyers to the rig for an evening of fun. “Student Appreciation Night”, they called it. It was awesome. We were broken up into small groups of 3-4, and over 2 hours, rotated around the different circus-y apparatus to play on.

I squeezed in 3 turns on the flying trapeze, continuing to work on my full twisting straight jump. Happy to report that I’m making some solid progress – I’m keeping my legs tight together in the turns! Haha.

Had fun on the trampoline, did some acro yoga, and played on the static trapeze and lyra. But my favorite station of the evening was the tightwire. For the last half hour of the evening, we could play at whatever station we wanted, and I spent it all with T. on the tightwire. Everyone else was hanging out on the flying trapeze or the trampoline, so I got in plenty of practice time. Ahhh. It’s been too long, but I’ve missed it so! Personally, tightwire is so much easier than the slackline. I still can’t stand from a sitting position on the slackline, but it’s relatively easy on the tightwire.

Afterwards, most of us trooped down the street to Steve’s favorite bar for more fun and laughter, this time over food and drinks.

Landscape Photography in Flat Light

It was disappointing and frustrating to say the least – that I took the effort to go out to capture the sunset, and the light was crappy. Just the day before, Friday, the sunset – or at least the view I saw from my office – was beautiful. Clear orange skies that slowly faded into a deep indigo blue. Why is it that the weather gets crappy every weekend that I’m free to take pictures? Seriously.

Anyway, I tried to make the most of it. The black and white photo looks marginally more interesting than its original color form. That’s the nature of the beast I guess.

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Stranded in Chicago

I was supposed to be in New York this weekend, watching the opera Werther, and meeting my niece for the first time. Instead, thanks to heavy fog in New York, my flight, and all other flights headed out to NYC Friday evening, was cancelled. And incredibly, there wasn’t a single seat available in any airlines for Saturday morning. Nada.

Super bummed, but oh well. Assuming Jonas Kaufman doesn’t catch a cold, I will get the chance to hear him sing live in Chicago in a few weeks, and the niece will still be waiting when we head over again to visit in May. At least it’s just a weekend trip to NYC, and not a real vacation, like say, Belize, where our dive boat would have to cast off without us. That would really, really, really stink.

At least Jeff got out before the weather closed in.

Made the most of freed-up time at any rate. A coworker found herself suddenly free on Friday evening too, so we spontaneously decided to go out for dinner together. It was fun, getting to know her, since otherwise we haven’t interacted much at all despite sitting across from the other.

On Saturday, I slept in and lounged about in bed the whole day, reading, before donning on the layers and trudging to the lakefront to try to take some sunset shots. Alas, it was too cloudy, so the light was too flat. I waited in the cold though, stomping my feet to keep them from getting numb, until the sun officially set.

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Afterwards, grabbed dinner in the suburbs with a bunch of friends. Some climbing tomorrow before I pick up Jeff from the airport. Hopefully no more flight dramas!

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Trapeze!

After a five week hiatus due to the Wine and Food of Spain class, I returned to the flying trapeze.

Oof. Too long a break plus a small class (just the five of us vs. a full class of ten) meant really, really sore hands. I actually got my first trapeze rip ever! Which is incredible, given how often my friends seem to rip their hands open. I’m a huge wimp though – it stings so bad!!!

That said, I had fun swinging. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to sign up for this next session of workshops or take a break, so I didn’t try working on the full twisting straight jump which I have sadly yet to catch. Instead, I had fun practicing the other tricks in my arsenal: split, straight jump, planche, layout and uprise.

I know I’ll be properly sore tomorrow! :)