Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Food and Auditions

Winter brings just a few things I like, the most important of which is winter stews and long-cooking roasts.  I didn't enjoy slogging through the slush of melting snow to flip the car over to the other side of the street, but I rewarded myself with a trip to the grocery store to see what could be had for dinner, and was rewarded with a pair of nice lamb shanks.  A couple of handfuls of root vegetables (a big meaty parsnip, a turnip and a couple of potatoes), plus the mushrooms I have in the fridge and some of our "bone-bag" stock*, and there's dinner!  It won't take as long as it's taking to write this as it will to brown the shanks in our big cast-iron pot, add the stock and vegetables and throw it in the oven (400 deg. for 40 minutes or so, then drop it down to 250 for 2 - 3 hours more).  When Karen gets home, it's a one-pot dish that cost me 15 minutes for well-under $10, and earns me lots of smiles.

*I know, I've got to explain the "bone bag"!  We keep a great big ziplock gallon bag in the freezer with whatever bones (chicken, beef, lamb, WHATEVER) get left at the end of a meal.  Every 2 - 3 weeks, the cast iron pot gets filled with water and the bones, and slow cooks on the stove for at least 24 hours, preferably longer, at the lowest setting the burner can handle.  It can go into ice cube trays for smaller portions, and a few cubes in anything we're cooking makes a quick dinner into a small bit of heaven.

Since we're right in the middle of auditions for the summer program, our lives get hijacked over the weekends and we find ourselves eating out or eating late a lot.  Now I LOVE to eat out, but I get so much more therapeutic bang-for-the-buck by cooking for us at home.  And no 300-400% mark-up on the wine!

Speaking of restaurants, I just had a flashback of one of the best meals in recent memory, over the holidays at Blue Hill Restaurant in Greenwich Village.  "Farm to table" philosophy dominates, with fresh ingredients, simple but elegant preparations.  I should have written down the entire meal in a food-diary right then, like Karen and I did on our delayed honeymoon to Bavaria a few years ago, but since their menu changes often, you'll probably never see the same thing twice.  Don't miss a chance to check out this wonderful place....the decor is extremely understated (but elegant), and the service is friendly, unobtrusive and unpretentious.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Anna Bolena "wrap-up"

Just a few thoughts about dell'Arte Opera's just completed production of Anna Bolena, the idea of artistic 'post-partem' and what it feels like to be looking almost a full year in advance...

The challenge of presenting such a challenging work as AB ranks for me up there with things that look far more complicated on the page, like Ariadne auf Naxos or Little Women.  The difference here is that style is everything, and bel canto style just isn't really much a part of any standard curriculum, whether in schools or vocal studios or even coaching studios.  Most of the time, a singer brings us an aria and we just try and get them through that piece and the singer misses out on the basic stylistic elements that can apply across the board to other repertoire.  This week, getting back to a few private coaching sessions, it was refreshing (and hopefully useful) to find myself using the working style that helped the cast and covers through such a huge piece as AB without an aneurysm.  For a long time I've prided myself on correcting details as broader concepts, but it's just too easy to fall into the trap of fixing things fast and moving on.  It may push the singer out the door with those 3 minutes of aria sounding more accurate, but it doesn't make them a better artist. I have to congratulate each of the cast members of AB, because they went with the idea: each one of them not only sang their roles well, but also came out on the other side with stronger process, and much better knowledge of the style. 

We all suffer once in awhile from artistic 'post-partem.'  Sometimes, we miss the people, sometimes the characters, and sometimes just the whole intensity of a particular project.  This particular time, it's the principal cast that I miss, since watching each of them grow has been such a joy.  They all have other projects to move on to, as do I, but the process is the thing, and I'm as grateful to them for the journey as I secretly hope they are to me.

This particular time, however, there's not much time to be gloomy about the end of the production.  Auditions for our summer program start next weekend, and we're already getting our proverbial ducks in a row for the next winter production (Konigskinder).  Searching for the right venue, meeting with the director and prospective costume designer, seeking co-producers...  It's exciting to have a solid plan for dell'Arte for a year in advance, but also a little overwhelming.  I'm reminded again of my New Year's Resolution: Ask for and Accept Help!