This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on January 29, 2008.
The closest I came to being an opera fan was the 15 years I spent as a regular
viewer of As the World Turns, a so-called “soap opera.” The daily daytime dramas are
called soap operas, or “soaps” for short, because they are often sponsored by laundry
detergent or other household cleansers. The “opera” part comes from the interpersonal
storylines, romantic liaisons and breakups, clear cut villains, brave heroes and fair
New York’s Metropolitan Opera started broadcasting real operas in movie theaters
throughout the United States starting in their 2006/2007 season. I attended “I Puritani,”
one of the first productions, last January in Alhambra and was shocked to see the line to
enter the theater stretching around the block – at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Who were these people? It turns out they were just like me, curious to see an opera in a
movie theater, broadcast live from New York.
When my husband and I entered the theater, we heard the orchestra tuning, 3000 miles
away in the pit of the Met. We had to scramble to find a good seat because the opera
buffs had come early. After we got settled we watched the people in the audience at the
theater taking their seats on the screen. Listening to the tuning orchestra and watching
the audience members taking their seats made us feel as if we were at a live
performance. The conductor came out and the camera followed him to the pit where he
lifted his baton and the opera began.
The cameras moved around the stage and gave the theater audience a view of the
opera that those at the Met could not see. The subtitles provided the English translation
so I could follow the story, but opera dialogue moves very slowly because
everything is sung, so it forces the viewer to slow down. At first I was annoyed and
wanted the story to move faster because I am used to quickly changing scenes and
dialogue on TV and the movies. In opera, you have to stop, look and listen -- to the
singing, the scenery and the singers in their costumes. It takes a while to slow the pace,
but once you get there, it is relaxing.
At intermission the camera went backstage to the radio booth where Beverly Sills, a
former opera star, gave a backstage tour. Sills made opera accessible, like Leonard
Bernstein did for classical music. She was very funny when she described the “mad
scene” when the female lover thinks she has been deserted by the man she loves and
goes nuts. Sills recalled the mad scenes she played during her long career and gave
an inside-look-at-baseball for the movie theater audience.
Operas are long and they often have two intermissions. That is another part of
adjusting to opera that is worth the effort. There are few things we sit still for these days.
Staying put for the opera gives you a chance to be transported to another world where
emotions are strong and storylines are spare but the singing is glorious and at some
point you dissolve into it. But it takes time and patience.
Since my first experience, I have returned to the theater in Alhambra and am now
savoring my newly acquired taste in opera. We went to see “Hansel and Gretel” on New
Year’s Day. It was a very dark rendering of the Grimm fairy tale and the two singers,
Alice Coote and Christine Schafer, had me convinced they were two little kids. In this
opera there were much more elaborate costumes and sets, and the dream sequence
in the forest was magical.
Hansel and Gretel slept at the front of the stage while at least a dozen characters
walked in, with giant heads, like the bubble heads of sports figures. A table rolled in and
the characters brought in cakes, pastries and other confections – some were real and
some were props, as we found out during intermission from the Stage Manager when
we were taken back stage by Renee Fleming. The music played in the background and
we had a visual feast as the stage was transported into an elegant dining room.
Opera in movie theaters provides an opportunity for people who want to check out
opera to see and hear the best the art form has to offer. The Met is going to present its
high-definition simulcasts on 300 – 400 movie screens this season, a nearly three-fold
increase from last season. An art form that originated in 1597 has relevance today and
can be seen by anyone who buys a ticket. For more information go
to www.metropera.org/hdive or call 1-800-Met-Opera.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News, and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on October 8, 2018.
"That's not politically correct," a co-worker said snidely.
I first heard that term about twenty-five years ago in a staff meeting. The offender had said something about an ethnic group and the nasty food they ate.
When I first heard the words “politically correct,” I took it to mean that people watched what they said about other people in what we used to call “polite society.”
Along came Donald Trump, proudly proclaiming that he was not politically correct. He then unleashed a barrage of accusations against several groups of people, specifically Mexicans and Muslims. It was just the start of the vile things he says that we now have come to expect. His supporters cheer him on when he breaches the norms of decency that prohibit epithets and racial slurs. This behavior drags us down further every time. His idea of not being politically correct is breaking the bonds of common decency.
Being politically correct means you watch your mouth around other people. When you are in a group setting, you give some thought about what you say so as not to insult other people. You expect them to do the same. It’s called manners. It doesn’t mean you can’t state an opinion, or have a heated debate. It simply means that you must respect people who are different from you.
Donald Trump kicked off his campaign calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, and women names I refuse to reprint. He denigrated heroic Americans like John McCain and Khizr Khan’s son, Humayun Khan, who died defending our country. He said those things before he got elected and most Americans thought that people wouldn’t vote for him because he jeered at our deeply held American values under the guise of speaking some perverted kind of truth.
Many times I thought his terrible rhetoric would disqualify him; it wasn’t like the Republicans didn’t have some other viable candidates running. Trump picked them off one by one, with insults and accusations. That is why millions of Americans were depressed on election night. A man who had just been elected to the highest office in the land had no respect for millions of Americans, for the environment, disabled people, science, and basic American values. It broke my heart when he called the White House a “dump.”
Donald Trump has brought out the worst in us and has managed to further polarize our country by pitting people against one another and dividing families, including my own. Social media has thrown gas on this blazing fire. Words we Americans would never say to a person’s face, we will post on social media.
His rhetoric is rapidly dissolving the glue that holds our civil society together. It’s easy to follow his lead, to blame the politically correct crowd, to want to see them fail. But if good manners fail, and we believe insults and slanderous words are permissible, the future of the county is in doubt. Donald Trump started this awful trend and he will not be the one to stop it.
With every vicious tweet from the president, we sink a little lower. Many have said that Donald Trump is a symptom of the deterioration of our public discourse. Gossiping and
name-calling will never go away. They are part of human nature. But they need to go back where they belong, behind closed doors where, at some point, somebody says, “That’s mean. Stop it.”
Mr. President: That’s mean. Stop it.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on March 31, 2007.
After six weeks of trouble with our computers, my husband and I have decided to quit our jobs, sell the house and all our belongings and move to a deserted island in the South Pacific, where we will live on coconuts and fish and never see or touch another piece of technology.
It’s not so much trying to use new technology, although the image of a child being able to use a computer, much to the amazement of her grizzled old grandma, is a pretty well entrenched stereotype. The problem is tech support – AKA customer service.
Customer service died shortly before the advent of our age of technology. I believe that the people who work for companies that sell products that “support” our computers, aren’t even aware of the concept of customer service.
I paid about $50 for a CD that I can install on my computer to protect it from spyware. As the technology gets more sophisticated, so do the crooks, trouble-makers and people who buy information about us in order to sell us stuff, thus requiring us to constantly buy ‘upgrades.” There was no phone number for tech support on the package of my spyware protector.
The only link to the people who created and sold the product was a web site and we all know what happens on a web site. You get shuttled to the FAQ section where you are required to sift through hundreds of irrelevant questions, many of which are written so you can’t understand enough to even know if that is your question.
The reason why people like me get frustrated with computer technology is because we grew up in a world where people who sold things to us were available to answer questions, explain the features, and provide customer service.
That is why we get frustrated when we install software and it doesn’t go right. We call tech support, if we can find the number, and then we get a recorded message that directs us to a menu of selections that almost never match our question. It used to be, if you got desperate, you could hit zero and talk to a live human, but that is getting rare. These days, after you follow the menu to a dead end, the computerized voice says, “goodbye.”
I believe that those of us who are considered “old” and not able to comprehend technology, have been given a bad rap. Apparently, we have the outdated notion that a person who sells us a product will provide a minimum of direction in its use.
When we can’t get our basic problems resolved, which are usually quite simple to fix, we get frustrated and give up. Then we get called “old” and it makes us defensive. This could be solved with tech support that answered promptly, was free of charge (at least for 30 days), and was manned by a human being.
If we brought back customer service, this problem could be solved, but I doubt that will happen. Customer service went the way of men’s hats, ladies stockings, and tire swings. Customer service died when the magic words: “please” and “thank you” went out of style. It died when people stopped dressing for church and adolescent girls began to dress like prostitutes, and boys wore baggy pants that dropped below their butts.
Technology has widened the generation gap, and it is as sharply focused as the snap shot taken on a cell phone. People are getting caught at inopportune moments, further eroding any sense of dignity and privacy. Reality TV shows specialize in showing people at their worst, or most vulnerable, apparently for viewers enjoyment.
Most of us old fogies will soldier on, figure out the computers, and keep up with generations X, Y, and Z. My dad got his first computer at age seventy and figured it out, but he did pay the neighbor kid to help him. In his lifetime, he drove a Model T to high school and ended up, sixty years later, with a Lincoln Town Car. I can recall test patterns (for the X, Y and Z’ers that means no programs were on) on TV. The first calculators cost $100 and did only basic math. The first computers used punch cards and filled a room.
Customer service is yet another memory that will fade over time. When I call 4-1-1, the robotic voice, usually female, is pleasant and polite. Future generations won’t know any better and will think the computer-generated voice really cares. Then customer service will make a comeback, just like the good old days.
Kathleen Vallee Stein