How Traviata lost her way

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ViolettaValery @Traviata January 14th, 2017
Torment or delight? I don't have much longer. Alfredo offers nerdy domesticity but isn't pleasure the best medicine? Sempre Libera! PS His dad hates me. #SadLife. #SeattleOpera

Violette w Alfredo.jpg

Forever free? Violetta, the doomed courtesan in the title role of La Traviata, thinks that might be preferable, She resists the challenge presented by the nerdy Alfredo, who offers the torment and delight ("croce e delizia") of true love. In the end, she opts for both: domesticity first, until that's undermined by Alfredo's stern father, Germont, then death. All this drama in what is, alas, a humorless, "streamlined" production that distills a classic three-act opera into 100 uninterrupted minutes of CliffsNotes mush.

Aidan Lang, in his third season now at the helm of Seattle Opera, inherited both the ship and its destination from his long-serving predecessor, Speight Jenkins, but that doesn't mean he can't tinker around the edges. Traviata, the biggest chestnut in a stable of war horses, was already on the schedule, but Lang chose the production, by the German director, Peter Konwitschny, who envisioned a one-act, modern-dress, pared-down version of Verdi's beloved masterpiece. No elaborate scenery or lavish costumes, just a chair and a pile of books. If Violetta (cough-cough, she's got TB) reminds you of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, you're right. Does Alfredo look nerdy, like the guy who used to ask "Can you hear me now?" Yup.

The character whose actions drive the story off the cliff is Germont, Alfredo's stern father. He claims that his son's affair with a courtesan will ruin his daughter's chances of marriage. What a cruel, manipulative, nasty dude. (The daughter appears onstage; she's pre-pubescent.) By the time Germont figures out he's wrong about Violetta, it's too late to make amends. Some give Germont credit for a change of heart, but I've always seen him as the opera's true villain.

Germont's dickishness needs more time, more context. Pulling aside curtains onstage to reveal "inner thoughts" becomes a tedious affectation the third and fourth time. There's lovely music and fine singing at McCaw; Traviata (and Verdi) deserve a staging that's less artificial. We may not need pomp, but we do need (or at least crave) spectacle.

Like condensed milk, this is Traviata reduced to its essentials, but the flavor and the nutrition is in the full-fat version. You really can't tweet opera.

Footnotes & grace notes:

  • Weston Hurt, who sang Germont in the opening night production, had the same role seven years ago, in what was then called the Silver cast.
  • Angel Blue, the "alternate" Violetta, sang the heartbreaking "Summertime" in Seattle Opera's production of Porgy & Bess in 2011.
  • There's a blog called Croce e Delizia; it's about baking cookies.
Seattle Opera presents La Traviata, through Jan. 28 at McCaw Hall. Tickets online, $66 to $230. Photo © of Corinne Winters by Philip Newton for Seattle Opera.

Charlie's is dunzo. #sorrynotsorry

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Nachos at Charlies.JPGCharlie's (217 Broadway E.) finally reopened after a change of ownership (taken over by the folks who run The Lodge in Pioneer Square and some remodeling. Some, not too much. They added a second bar, they removed a couple of interior signs; fewer TV screens but bigger ones. Much, much cleaner. The relaunch coincided with the Capitol Hill Art Walk, but the new, spruced-up Charlie's isn't going to compete with trendy hipster bars like Melusine (1060 E. Union) or studious ethnic spots like Chavez (1734 12th Ave.). It was more like the Comet (922 E. Pike) or Lost Lake (1505 10th Ave.). Hangover remedies included a $7 Mary and a $14 pitcher of Mimosas, along with a $10 Monte Cristo dusted with powdered sugar, sure to find an audience on Broadway.

At any rate, the day they re-opened in December 2015 they skipped breakfast and started serving at 3 PM. By 7:30 they were out of chicken wings. Seriously. There was also no more guacamole for the nachos. "Smothered in cheese," it said on the menu, but "dusted" would be more like it. Same for the black olives and tomatoes, barely enough to count. I grant you, it's been many, many years since I last ate here, but it will be many, more before I return. Sorry, Charlie.

With the ending of our one-year lease, we were faced with a difficult decision. Charlie's holds a special place in our hearts. However, due to economic factors of the restaurant industry, as of Tuesday January 10th, 2017 we will be closed. Being a part of the Capitol Hill community has been an honor, and we will miss the community deeply.
But the fact is, noble sentiments aside, Charlie is broke. The parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court last year listing ten businesses it operated including Charlie's. Capitol Hill Blog says the filing listed total liabilities of more than $5.7 million. Included in that was a nearly $2 million disputed claim from the IRS, more than $860,000 in a disputed claim from Homeland Security/ICE Investigations, and $750,000 owed to the state. The parent company, owned by (husband and wife) Shawn Roten and Elizabeth Stewart. continues to run seven restaurants under The Lodge Sports Grille brand.

Uncle Howard for President

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Schultz March 2012-001.JPGWe are about to inaugurate a simpleton, which is dangerous not because he's a simpleton but because his enablers are far from simpletons. They are scheming hyenas, honey badgers, and jackals. Trump himself is an oblivious child of privilege, as clueless as W, of whom it was said he woke up on third base and thought he'd hit a triple. Trump got his hand caught in the pussy jar, but by then it was the least of his sins.

Our new smoocher-in-chief is similarly cruel and heartless by nature, like a feudal prince (but without Machiavelli's insights). No one has ever said no to him, so he pulls the legs off insects with impunity. Kindness and moderation are signs of weakness. But again, the fault isn't with Trump but with his nebula of sycophants. This miasma of parasites will be harder to eliminate.

But (cue wringing hands) who will come to save us? Not the valiant Hillary, that's for sure. Mortally wounded by the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune. Who then? Elizabeth Warren? Bernie? Cory Booker? Michelle? Meryl? (Nice job of goading him, by the way.)

I have a better idea. Someone who's never held public office, so there's no public record. But it's someone who has built an extremely successful worldwide business in just a few decades. A business that has its admirers as well as its detractors, a business that has become the symbol of America, a business whose tentacles have reached into almost every community. A business that continues to overstep the bounds of what we think is appropriate for a chain of coffee shops. A chief executive who speaks his mind (in complete sentences, even), yet seems to change his mind every couple of months. A man who has nonetheless almost single-handedly changed the American landscape.

So it's time for me to swallow my disgust at his slander that "no one knew" Italians drank coffee before he saw it for himself; the company founders talked of little else in the years before they hired him and finally took him to Italy to show him what they meant. Let us forgive him his unforgivable error in buying, then selling the Sonics, treating a civic treasure like a personal toy and kicking it to the curb when it became tarnished. Instead, let us give him credit for the mantra: "We are not in the coffee business serving people; we are in the people business serving coffee."

We could do worse as a country. In fact, we're about to learn how much worse.

UPDATE, Jan 10th: Seattle Times reports that Schultz would have been nominated as Secretary of Labor, had Hillary won.

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