Monday, February 26, 2007

Culture: Countdown to Tannhauser - The LA Times Review

I haven't seen it yet but the LA Opera opening night premier of Tannhauser took place this past Saturday and LA Times critic Mark Swed has his report. Excerpt:
In "Tannhauser," the second of his 10 mature operas and presented for the first time by Los Angeles Opera Saturday night, Wagner finds no sanction between love and lust. For sex, Tannhauser, a troubadour, sinks into the arms of the goddess of love, Venus, in her 24/7 orgy realm. For salvation, he returns to strait-laced society of the virginal Elizabeth and seeks the pope's forgiveness.
For its new production by Ian Judge, Los Angeles Opera - ever eager to seem an adjunct of Hollywood - advertises raunchiness, not redemption. Nudity is promised and delivered in quantity onto the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage.
After half an hour of silly sex, a lot of redemption is required. Amazingly, the makeshift production achieves it.

.... it is Schnitzer's Elizabeth who, by supplying the warmth and ardor missing from Venus, illuminates this production. Martin Gantner is an appealing Wolfram, the one knight who doesn't turn against Tannhäuser, and his song to the evening star, given a slow and stately tempo by Conlon, is moving. Rodrick Dixon makes Walther von der Vogelwiede the most fervent troubadour. Franz Josef Selig is a capably rigid Heinrich, Elizabeth's uncle.
"Tannhauser," which usually starts wonderfully and ends drearily, did just the opposite Saturday night. Forget the ads. Los Angeles Opera's "Tannhauser" redeems itself Wagner's way, not Hollywood's. Whether you consider that triumph or tragedy may depend upon which side of town you live.
So I guess Swed has given it a sort of a thumbs up?

My review will be up when I see the opera toward the end of its production run in a few weeks.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Movies: HB Buttercup is at it again!

They are at it again!

Customers who spend between $2000 - $10,000 can get their furniture for free if they can correctly pick the winners in the 7 categories.
1. Best Feature Film of the Year
2. Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
3. Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
4. Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
5. Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
6. Best Original Screenplay
7. Best Art Direction

As usual, I have seen very few of the films nominated!

But that doesn't stop me from guessing!

1. Picture - Babel
UPDATE: Departed wins it!
2. Actor - Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland
UPDATE: No surprise!
3. Supporting Actor - Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine
UPDATE: You heard it here and I was right. Murphy was considered a lock by many.
4. Actress - Helen Mirren - The Queen
UPDATE: As sure a lock as sure can be in these things.
5. Supporting Actress - Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls
UPDATE: She wins it!
6. Screenplay - Little Miss Sunshine
UPDATE: Got it!
7. Art direction - Dream Girls
UPDATE: Pan's Labyrinth.

Bonus pick:
Director - Martin Scorsese – The Departed (essentially a lifetime achievement award)
UPDATE: He wins it.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sports: 2007 NIT Bracketology

Thanks for making 2007 NIT Bracketology so much fun with all the interest and willingness to comment!

Check out the bracket at

How did I do? I got 26 of 32 correct. Thus, I missed on six picks.

I had Syracuse and Missouri State in the NCAA but they had their bubbles burst landing them in the NIT. I had Stanford and Arkansas in the NIT but they wound up in the NCAA. I had LSU, Akron, Missouri and Washington in the NIT but they missed the cut. Replacing the four I missed outright: Utah State, NC State, Fresno State, Hofstra.

Enjoy the NCAA and the NIT and hope to see you again in 2008 NIT Bracketology!

UPDATED as of March 10, 2007

UPDATE: Welcome Iowa Hawkeye fans! I just checked their RPI and it was 96 which puts them in a cluster of teams in that range vying for the last few spots in the NIT. Pros: finished 4th in Big Ten. Cons: weak SOS and poor performance in non-conference games.

UPDATE: Welcome University of Northern Iowa fans! It is NIT bubble time with UNI's 86 RPI. Pro: better RPI than say Iowa and beat Iowa. Cons: 3-7 in last 10 while Iowa was 6-4.

UPDATE: Welcome University of Central Florida fans! Championship week will be exciting for the Knights as the #2 seed in the CUSA tournament. 3 wins and they get to the NCAA! A win over UTEP/Rice (Thursday), a win over Houston (Friday) and a competitive game with Memphis (Saturday) would mean they go 7-3 over their last 10 which might get them a look by the NIT. However, if more regular season mid-major champions fall, they will get those final spots in the NIT. Stay tuned. Alas, UCF lost to Rice on 3/8/07 which drops their RPI > 100 which pretty much ends their chances at the NIT.

UPDATE: Welcome Western Kentucky fans! Unfortunately, their early exit in the Sun Belt leaves them at a 97 RPI and poor SOS numbers which is probably not enough to garner an at-large NIT bid.

UPDATE: Enjoy the picks over at NITOLOGY 2007. The 1 through 4 and 7 through 8 lines are pretty much in agreement. It is those spots in the 5 and 6 lines where there are divergent views.

The NIT takes 32 teams after the NCAA picks 65.

Regular season champions who do not win their post-season tournaments and do not get an NCAA invitation get an automatic NIT bid. The rest of the field is filled out by the NIT selection committee taking the best of the rest.

NCAA bubble teams just barely in so could wind up out:
Missouri State
Old Dominion

NIT teams that could sneak into the NCAA:
1 seed: West Virginia, Florida State, Kansas State, Ark (playing Florida for SEC auto bid on Sunday)

Solid NIT teams:
2 seed: Clemson, Air Force, Bama, Georgia
3 seed: Miss St, Bradley, UMass, Mich
4 seed: Akron, Stanford, DePaul, Washington
5 seed: Drexel, App State, Ok State, Miss
6 seed: LSU, San Diego State, Providence, Mizzou/SOUTHLAND - Texas AMCC

Auto-bids from regular season champs not going to NCAA:
7 seed:
MID-EASTERN - Delaware State
SOUTHWESTERN- Miss Valley State

8 seed:
ATLANTIC SUN - East Tennessee State
OHIO VALLEY - Austin Peay
SUN BELT - South Alabama

Just out of NIT:
Northern Iowa
Santa Clara
wichita state

The following conferences are sending only their conference champions to the NCAA so if their regular season champ doesn't get into the NCAA, they get an automatic bid to the NIT.
AMERICA EAST - Vermont to NIT as Albany wins championship game on Sat
ATLANTIC SUN - East Tennessee State goes to the NIT after losing to Belmont who gets to go to the NCAA!
ATLANTIC 10 - Xavier an at large for the NCAA? They lose in semis; GW wins championship game on Sat
BIG SKY- Weber St. wins championship game on Wed
BIG SOUTH – Winthrop wins and are going to the NCAA!
BIG WEST - Long Beach State wins championship game on Sat
CONFERENCE USA – Memphis win championship Sat
IVY LEAGUE - UPenn - I forgot that the regular season winner goes to the NCAA as they have no conference tournament.
METRO ATLANTIC - Marist lost in semi-finals and goes to NIT; Niagara goes to NCAA
MID-AMERICAN - Toledo lost in semis and wind up in NIT; Miami (OH) to NCAA
MID-CONTINENT - Oral Roberts goes to the NCAA
MID-EASTERN - Delaware State goes to NIT; Florida A&M goes to NCAA
NORTHEAST - Central Conn wins championship game on Wed
OHIO VALLEY - Austin Peay lost in finals and goes to NIT and E. Kentucky goes to NCAA
PATRIOT - Holy Cross wins their championship game on Fri and go to NCAA!
SOUTHERN - Davidson wins championship
SOUTHLAND - Texas AMCC; championship game on Sun
SOUTHWESTERN- Miss Valley State to NIT; Jackson State to NCAA
SUN BELT - South Alabama lost in quarter-finals, goes to NIT; North Texas goes to NCAA
WEST COAST - Gonzaga goes to NCAA
WESTERN ATHLETIC – Nevada will get in as at-large even thought they lost in the semis; New Mexico State wins championship Sat


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sports: Bracket Buster Saturday - Big West Busted

This past Saturday was the annual bracket buster weekend where teams from the mid-major conferences square off against each other to raise their profiles for the NCAA tournament. The Big West went 3-5 this past Saturday. My Anteaters got beat up by USF.

For Big West partisans, it was discouraging to see the top three teams (Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton and UCSB) go down to defeat.

The Big West tournament champion will get the NCAA bid. If the tournament champion is also the regular season champion then that will be it for this year in terms of post-season play. If the Big West tournament champion is not the regular season champion, then the tournament champion goes to the NCAA and the regular season champion gets an automatic bid to the NIT.

If the Big West had done better in the bracket buster, then one at-large bid might have been offered to the NIT but as it stands they flopped when they had the chance to show their stuff.

UPDATE: Here is Whelliston's recap of some of the interesting match-ups from the Bracket Buster weekend.

As for the Pac-10, the other conference I follow, I'd say four teams are virtual locks (UCLA, WSU, USC, Stanford) for the NCAA. If the season ended now, I'd say Oregon and Arizona are in but they have been struggling of late and could play themselves out of the tournament. Washington and California look NIT-bound.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Culture: Countdown to Tannhauser ... oh my!

I previously blogged about my plans to go to an annual opera event.

I went to the Los Angeles Opera web page and saw the following notation to the Tannhauser ad banner -- "Viewer Discretion advised: nudity, adult language, strong sexual content."

Oh, my!

Is the libretto R (X-rated?) -- gasp!???

Or is it this production's interpretation of the opera?!

Okay, opera fan readers, what's the scoop?

Enquiring minds want to know!

UPDATE: Decided to check out to see what DVDs of Tannhauser look like. The NY Metropolitan Opera has the top selling DVD. Excerpt:
Under the artistic leadership of conductor James Levine, the production team of director Otto Schenk and designer Günther Schneider-Siemssen has adhered strictly to the composer's wishes. These are not hard to fathom; they were clearly articulated in his lifetime and rigorously enforced at Bayreuth long after his death. But in the last half-century they have been frequently violated by his descendants and heirs, among others. The temptation to plumb these music dramas for symbols and allegories is almost irresistible. In this production, like the later Met edition of the Ring cycle, the artists sensibly allow each audience member to develop a personal interpretation without undue interference.
There is a DVD for a production filmed at Bayreuth. Excerpt:
The staging is classic Wolfgang Wagner with the round moving stage in Act I, the round Hall of Song in Act II (a particularly lovely setting, I felt), and in Act III's minimalist mound in the valley of the Wartburg. Costumes are suitably minimalist and in muted colors but with interesting detailing.
Here is the production by the National Theatre of Munich. Excerpt:
In Richard Wagner's obsessive drama, with its themes of sin and repentance, cultural inhibition and artistic spontaneity, sexual excess and lost innocence, symbols sprout as profusely as dandelions on summer lawns. A lot of the symbols were put there by the composer (who also wrote the libretto), but for this production director David Alden has decided to add many more--notably in the first scene: an orgy in the love nest of the goddess Venus. The sadomasochistic visuals, reminiscent of the feverish inventions of Hieronymus Bosch, may help to explain Tannhäuser's decision that he wants to go home. Like the scenery, the costumes are eclectic, ranging from modern, formal evening gowns to medieval suits of armor and even, in a few choice instances, nothing at all.
Hmmm, I suppose this LA premier production will follow the Munich approach?!

The LA Opera has posted a video of some of the rehearsals. They repeat the viewer discretion is advised. From the music I heard on the video and from what I read from this Wikipedia synopsis of the opera, it would appear that after the overture is the ballet/bacchanalian orgy scene at the Venusberg. It would also appear that some productions (including LA's) of this opera have opted to leave little to the imagination.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Politics: House Resolution 63 Passes 246-182

See the roll call on the vote.

The italic names appear to be the Democrats while the regular typeface are the Republicans.

17 Republicans crossed over to vote yes. 2 Democrats voted no. I wonder who are Marshall and Taylor? Definitely profiles in courage for those two!

6 didn't vote. I didn't recognize their names except for Hastert! Is that the former Speaker of the House Hastert? I wonder why he didn't vote? In my mind, it would not be a profile in courage to duck the vote. Now, if they are in the hospital or something then I could understand. Anyone knows the House rules? Do they have to be physically present to vote?


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sports: Almost time for March Madness!

My poor Anteaters. At best they will finish in conference 7-7. Alas, their final game in the Big West is against the top team Long Beach State.

In the Big West, the higher you finish in the regular season, the fewer games you need to play to win the post-season tournament. If the Eaters finish sixth, where they are now, they would have to win four games in the tournament to get to the NCAA tournament.

It is a pretty good year for the Big West. In the Mid-Major Top 25 (as of 2/12/07), Long Beach State is ranked 18 and Cal State Fullerton is rated 15. Usually, it has only been the top team in the Big West that might show up in the poll.

Meanwhile, in the Pac-10, it is probably going to come down to the final weekend to determine the regular season champion.

UCLA beats ASU tonight but it was a struggle. When I turned on the radio, they were down 10 in the middle of the 2nd half!

The Bruins are a gutty little team that is more than the sum of its parts. They have a number of deficiencies that could sink them in the NCAA tournament: they have trouble attacking zones, they miss a lot of free throws, they are vulnerable to athletic guard play that mixes in good three-point shooting (when the UCLA guards get too aggressive they get beat off the dribble and when they back off, three-point sharpshooters have caused trouble) and the Bruins front line just isn't big nor deep (Mbah a Moute, Aboya and Mata get the lion shares of the minutes and nobody is thinking any of these guys are going to go early to the NBA).

But the team plays pretty good defense and have just enough offense to eek out wins. They simply believe that they can win despite what everyone else says!


Friday, February 09, 2007

@ the movies: Amazing Grace

Am looking forward to seeing this film!


Monday, February 05, 2007

Culture: Coaching the Lord's Way

Congrats to the Colts, Coach Dungy, Peyton Manning and their whole team and organization.

But what is wonderful is that the two head coaches are such decent and honorable men.

To read about their Christian commitment check out this web page.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Money: Bulls on Wall Street say, "Go Bears!"

I clipped this item from Yahoo! Finance:
For subscribers of theories about the stock market, one of the more interesting ones is the Super Bowl stock indicator.

Albeit purely coincidental, it has accurately predicted a bull market 80% of the time, at least when a team from the NFC emerges victorious. If an AFC team wins, the theory is right about half the time, so that's a push. However, this year presents an interesting win-win situation for the bulls since the theory also cites a victory by an original, pre-1970 merger NFL team (i.e. the Colts) as bullish for stocks. Go Bears!
My forecast Colts 23 Bears 21, thus I'm taking the under as it is 48 and for the Bears to beat the point-spread which has the Colts favored by 7.

UPDATE: It is Indy 16 Bears 14 at the half. Who would have guessed there would be 5 fumbles, 1 interception, a muffed extra-point attempt and a missed field goal by Vinatieri and it is *only* the first half! Indy has 257 total yards compared to Chicago's 95. The Bears have to be happy to be down only two. The Colts will receive the kickoff in the 2nd half and if the Bears force them into a punt, you have to like the Bears chances to win this game. It would be ironic if in the end, the Colts win because of their defense? Looking forward to an interesting second half. I have a feeling this thing could come down to the final possession!

UPDATE: Congrats to the Colts, Coach Dungy, Peyton Manning and the whole team for their 29-17 victory over the Bears.

Some key stats and moments:

7 minutes 26 seconds - the length of the Colts opening drive in the second half. Even though it only yielded 3 points, it increased the Colt's confidence and probably began to gnaw at the Bear's confidence.

22-17, the score when Chicago still had a chance at the beginning of the 4th quarter. But the Colts read the Bears pass play perfectly and the INT yielded a TD making it 29-17 and thus essentially ending the Bears hopes.

430 versus 265 total yards - it was the Colt defense that was the story.

191 versus 111 rushing yards - it was the Colts running game that was the story.