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Thursday, August 04, 2022

In Search of Salvation

MATTERS OF RELIGIOUS FAITH inform the two one-act operas comprising “Double Bill” at the Glimmerglass Festival, productions that show how effectively a small cast, a versatile set, and a virtuoso orchestra can convey the emotionally fraught content of these pieces.

Michael Mayes and Jacquelyn Matava
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
“Taking up Serpents” is rooted in a rural charismatic church in Alabama, from which 25-year-old Kayla (Mary-Hollis Hundley) has fled. She's now working at a Save Mart drug store, where she gets the news that her preacher father has been bitten by a snake, perhaps fatally. This is her chance to say goodbye.

The relationship was too complicated for an easy farewell, as we learn in flashback scenes where the younger Kayla (a very effective Carly R. Carillo in a non-singing role) learns, from her father's aggressive efforts to impart fearlessness, to be anything but. As Daddy, Michael Mayes is appropriately flamboyant, sporting a big voice and shaking with frightening ecstasy in his shiny suit as he exhorts his congregants.

Although his wife, Nelda (Jacquelyn Matava) has learned to submit to his bullying, Kayla has rebelled. But her rebellion is emotionally incomplete, as the flashbacks reveal. This is where the tools of opera are most effective. Jerre Dye’s libretto is drawn from his own experience growing up amongst rural holy rollers, and offers a clear-eyed view of the consequences of that kind of cultish inculcation, where love becomes a bargaining unit.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Rossini Afloat

THE IDEA OF A JUKEBOX OPERA using Rossini’s music is a terrific one – so good, in fact, that the world-premiere production of Tenor Overboard at the Glimmerglass Festival left me wishing for more. I don’t think the piece went at all far enough in exploring the possibilities, yet it’s a good-enough production that it may seem sufficient to many.

Fran Daniel Laucerica as Dante, Jasmine
Habersham as Mimi, Reilly Nelson
as Gianna and Armando Contreras
as Luca. Photo: Karli Cadel/
The Glimmerglass Festival
The conceit is to get a handful of quarrelsome characters aboard a steamship bound for Italy, so that they may sort their differences in this classically confined space. Thus daughters Gianna (Reilly Nelson) and Mimi (Jasmine Habersham) are fleeing their overbearing father, Petronio (Stefano de Peppo) and end up winning places in a vocal quartet suddenly (and way too conveniently) shy a pair of members.

We began with a rousing version of the overture from La scala di seta, proving again that music director Joseph Colaneri and the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra are potent forces, sending a rich, focused sound into the acoustically benevolent Alice Busch Opera Theater – and an especially great treat after last season’s lawn performances with piped-in music.

As an opera recital, Tenor Overboard succeeds brilliantly. Giving singers with excellent voices a best-of menu of Rossini arias and ensemble pieces all but guarantees a lovely experience. But there were two shows going on here, each in a different language. The plot, such as it was, was performed in English; the musical portions switched to Italian. Thus, as we learn of Petronio’s frustration with his independence-seeking daughters, he sings an aria (“Il lamento di Petronio”) drawn from the Thieving Magpie’s “M’affretto di mandarvi i contrassegni,” but re-lyricked for the occasion.

Friday, July 22, 2022

An Experiment With Policeman Hogan

Guest Blogger Dept.: Stephen Leacock insists that he’s been overlooked. No longer shall I allow this indignity to continue, so here’s one of his Literary Lapses, drawn from his first collection of essays. It also ties in with one of my most-consulted blog pieces, wherein I described my brush with noted graphologist Carlos Pedregal.


MR. SCALPER SITS WRITING in the reporters’ room of The Daily Eclipse. The paper has gone to press and he is alone; a wayward talented gentleman, this Mr. Scalper, and employed by The Eclipse as a delineator of character from handwriting. Any subscriber who forwards a specimen of his handwriting is treated to a prompt analysis of his character from Mr. Scalper’s facile pen. The literary genius has a little pile of correspondence beside him, and is engaged in the practice of his art. 

Outside the night is dark and rainy. The clock on the City Hall marks the hour of two. In front of the newspaper office Policeman Hogan walks drearily up and down his beat. The damp misery of Hogan is intense. A belated gentleman in clerical attire, returning home from a bed of sickness, gives him a side-look of timid pity and shivers past. Hogan follows the retreating figure with his eye; then draws forth a notebook and sits down on the steps of The Eclipse building to write in the light of the gas lamp. Gentlemen of nocturnal habits have often wondered what it is that Policeman Hogan and his brethren write in their little books. Here are the words that are fashioned by the big fist of the policeman:

“Two o’clock. All is well. There is a light in Mr. Scalper’s room above. The night is very wet and I am unhappy and cannot sleep—my fourth night of insomnia. Suspicious-looking individual just passed. Alas, how melancholy is my life! Will the dawn never break! Oh, moist, moist stone.”

Friday, July 15, 2022

Summer Sides

From the Food Vault: It’s outdoor dining weather, and Metroland magazine used to devote an annual issue to the topic, wheedling ad dollars from businesses with any possible association to that topic. Here’s my contribution to a 2000 issue.


OUTDOOR DINING AT MY HOUSE invariably revolves around the grill, but we don't limit our party meals to the traditional menus of chicken and ribs, burgers and dogs. Sometimes the sides can steal the show.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Good side dishes require preparation. Anyone can slop mayo onto a mound of macaroni and call it salad, but why not enjoy a dish that lights up the palate? Here's the first tip: Make your own mayonnaise. There's no comparison between homemade and store-bought.

At heart, it's an oil and water emulsion, the water derived from an egg yolk, and lemon juice or vinegar. The egg yolk is also the emulsifier, binding the oil and water. And what your mayonnaise will include, unlike commercial types, is good olive oil (or, at the least, canola oil – try to stick with a monounsaturated oil, which is better for your health).

Food processor mayo is a dream to make. You drop in ingredients, whirr, and it's done. I get my eggs from a private source, and don't worry about salmonella; if you're concerned, do the first part of this over a stove to get the yolk mixture to a salmonella-killing 160 degrees for one minute.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Why Your Food Ate That Stuff

From the Very Soil Dept.: This is a companion piece to my review of What Your Food Ate, the incredibly compelling new book by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, a piece you can read here. Then come back to this interview for more insight into their thoughts and processes.


What Your Food Ate, the new book by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, is so self-explanatory that there’s not much left to say to them, aside from “You must have put a hell of a lot of work into this” and “Do you think it’ll help?” But I caught up with the busy authors, who are married, by phone at their Seattle-area home, and spent a pleasant half-hour in conversation.

David Montgomery and Anne Biklé
“It’s an inspirational and depressing book,” I suggested, noting that I had reviewed their earlier books, The Hidden Half of Nature and Growing a Revolution, I was somewhat prepared for the journey from deep inside the soil to deep inside your body, following the path of vital micronutrients. But this is a carefully reasoned study, supported by source material that spills from the back of the back over to the book’s website.

“We read a ton of stuff, literally,” says David. “There are about a thousand articles that were source material. And for the final version of the book, we decided to put that material online. There was a lot of homework that went into this. I think you can understand why. In contrast to the other two books you mentioned, we believed that this book really had to be underpinned with documentation of how we arrived at these ideas and how arrived at what we're saying. Because the ideas and the information in this book isn’t going to be flattering to everybody.” Could he be referring to the big chemical fertilizer companies. David laughs. “I’m not sure they’re gonna love this book.”

Friday, July 01, 2022

The Pit of Deliciousness

From the Food Vault Dept.: Things have been getting a little too healthy around here, so here’s a review I wrote in 2013 about a barbecue joint in nearby Cohoes. I revisited the place a few times – it really was the best in the area – but I’m saddened that it closed earlier this year.


TRANSPLANTED TEXAN DAVID FRAZIER has seen a considerable amount of change where barbecue is concerned. He moved to the Capital Region in 1992, when grilled meat was incorrectly termed barbecue.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I last wrote about him in 1995, when he had a joint on Colvin Ave. and was trying to bring true religion to the area masses. “Good barbecue is more than just a well-wrought recipe,” I wrote back then. “It’s a sociological phenomenon.” The challenge has eased considerably since then as a succession of eateries have fired up the smokers and offered varying shades of barbecue, and Frazier particularly welcomed the arrival of Dinosaur BBQ in Troy two years ago.

“Business has gone way up since they opened,” he says, noting also that he was helped by his move three years ago from downtown Cohoes to a larger, easy-to-find building just off 787.

Frazier grew up in Texas and thus was nicknamed “Tex,” and got a masters in marketing from University of Texas. But barbecue was a way of life down there that he wasn’t prepared to leave behind.

Friday, June 24, 2022

What’s Eating You Is What You’re Eating

WHAT YOUR FOOD ATE is the startlingly portentous title of a new study by the married team of David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, a book that takes a remarkably thorough look at how and why humans interact with food and how that food interacts with other substances. Folk wisdom declares that the dirt you inadvertently consume serves to keep you healthier; this book reveals that there’s more truth in that than you might suspect.

Except that you don’t have to eat dirt to get those benefits – you just have to eat minimally processed food that has been allowed to grow in a healthy, natural environment. Trouble is, that food is becoming ever more difficult to find.

Montgomery, who is a professor of Geomorphology, and Biklé, a biologist, have covered these topics in their previous books, The Hidden Half of Nature, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, and Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back To Life, each of which has been reviewed on this site. But their new book not only weaves together a more complete overview of those topics, it also provides sound scientific study to support their conclusions, enough, I hope, to persuade those who might still be skeptical about the conclusions found herein.

The conclusions are simple. And profound. Our bodies have an innate nutritional wisdom. We figured out, through the trial-and-error that informs evolution, what kind of diet is needed to maintain health and fight disease. We began farming and penning animals ten thousand years ago and our bodies adapted to the dietary changes. Now, in this most modern of modern ages, we’re more likely to suffer from micronutrient malnutrition and resultant disease.