Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Egyptian Embassy hosts 'Aida'

Rochelle Bard was "Aida" and Arnold Rawls was "Radames" in Washington Opera Society's concert opera at the Embassy of Egypt/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Lisa Chavez, "Amneris," and Jeremy Harr, "Ramphis" in Washington Opera Society's concert opera, Aida, at the Embassy of Egypt/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Rochelle Bard, "Aida," with Kevin Short, "Amonasro," in Washington Opera Society's concert opera at the Embassy of Egypt/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Aida chorus played a critical role in Washington Opera Society's magnificent concert opera at the Embassy of Egypt/Photo by Patricia Leslie
H.E. Yasser Reda, the ambassador from the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the United States, welcomed guests to Washington Opera Society's concert opera, Aida, at the Embassy of Egypt/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The buffet dinner provided by the Embassy of Egypt preceded Washington Opera Society's concert opera, Aida, at the Embassy /Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Embassy of Egypt  was the venue for dinner and Aida, sponsored by the Washington Opera Society/Photo by Patricia Leslie 

If there were a better setting in Washington for a presentation of the 150th anniversary of the commissioning of the opera Aida than the Embassy of Egypt, prithee, where would that be?  

Lucky opera lovers recently converged on the Embassy for the Washington Opera Society's Aida and a sumptuous Egyptian dinner provided by the embassy chef and staff before the really big show.

Giuseppi Verdi wrote Aida for the grand celebration of the opening of Khedivial Opera House in Cairo in 1869* and since its premiere, Aida has been sung thousands (millions?) of times around the world, including more than 1,000 times at New York’s Metropolitan Opera after its first performance there in 1886.  

On its website the Embassy says the venue and Egyptian dinner were gifts to the Embassy's "dear guests who came to enjoy the masterpiece of Italy’s great composer Giuseppe Verdi," and we, the guests, were indeed grateful to Ambassador H.E. Yasser Reda, his wife, Nahla Reda, the embassy staff, and the Egyptian government for a night to remember.

Rochelle BardArnold Rawls, Lisa Chavez, and Kevin Short, sang the title roles, all exceptionally talented in every way, but it was Mr. Rawls who, in the second act, practically stole the show, not only with his commanding voice, but his jacket of many colors and his antics to seize the moment(s).  

The other soloists, Jeremy Harr, Christian Simmons, Adia Evans-Ledon, and Michael Butler, were equally as impressive.

The 25-member chorus played a powerful role in brief interludes, never dominating the principals but adding welcome background and depth.
Julien Benichou conducted the orchestra of 29 musicians, and the Opera Society's artistic director, Scott Beard, served as humorous narrator, bedecked in different Egyptian clothing embellishments every time he came out to introduce the next act.

Next up on the Opera Society's calendar is the Society's Director's Garden Party on August 24 ("back by popular demand") followed by Verdi's II Trovatore  ("rarely done in Washington") on September 28 with dinner. (Venue:  tbd)

*Technical reasons, namely the Franco-Prussian War, blocked Aida's premiere at the Khedivial Opera House until 1871.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sierra Club hikes the Potomac

Yeeker, yikers! Dinosaurs in Great Falls National Park? Well, doesn't it look like one? Emerging from the tree on the left with its mouth ajar and tongue extended?  Ready to eat your lunch! Actually it's the shadow of the tree seen below on a trail yesterday/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This is the real "dinosaur" whose branches are shadowed in the first picture above, scenery from yesterday's walk in the park at Great Falls/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A-hiking we will go, a-hiking we will go!  Hi, ho, the derry-o, a hiking we did go with the Sierra Club yesterday at Great Falls National Park/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Attention, Dog: Where is your common courtesy? One-lane or single-file is necessary at this stretch in Great Falls National Park where dogs must give way to oncoming traffic, too/Photo by Patricia Leslie
These roots along a trail at Great Falls National Park are worse than the ones you see growing on human heads, and these cause stumbles. Look like petrified snakes to me. That's the Potomac River out there/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Now this is what I call natural support, found at Great Falls National Park/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Sierra Club hike leader John McShane got pricked by this varmint pretending to be a plant at Great Falls National Park.  "Yowee," he kind of screeched when he touched it. (Why did he touch it? To show us not to touch it?) The name of the plant was something like, Grizzly Needles. Speaking of ground (and tree) nuisances, abundant poison ivy and other invasive species of plants were in full "bloom," perhaps brought over from our friends across the Atlantic. Thanks, friends from across the Atlantic! Please take these back home.  Mr. McShane said they cost parks big bucks/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Stendahl's The Red and The Black which was published almost 200 years ago (1830) may be the reasons these trees are named "Red Oak" on the left, and "Black Oak" on the right, Mr. McShane said, identified by their different barks which are quite similar but after a brief study, even a novice like me could see differences. I hope Great Falls National Park is going to host a big bicentennial birthday bash for The Red and the Black which, after all, stand not too far from the intersection we passed that in 1814 James and Dolley Madison crossed when they fled the British advancing on Washington. The Madisons took the high road, and the British (they likely brought over some of those nasty invasive plants), the low road/Photo by Patricia Leslie
These rocks in Great Falls National Park are, no doubt, covered by water from time to time, but yesterday, they were covered by hundreds of human feet, clobbered by the rocks/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I guess the man is too old to know how to read. The sign says "Danger Boat launching, swimming, WADING, and alcoholic beverages PROHIBITED Treacherous waterfall downstream."  Several people have died at the park, misled by the calm surface which hides "alligators" underneath to carry visitors away/Photo by Patricia Leslie
We did have lots of fun, we did have lots of fun, hi-ho, the derry-o, we did have lots of fun at Great Falls National Park.  Thanks, John and Larry!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Beautiful scenery from an overlook at Great Falls National Park. Absent (glory be!): boaters, kayakers, canoers, and swimmers/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Another view from the overlook which looks towards the District of Columbia/Photo by Patricia Leslie

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood, perfect for kicking off Memorial Day weekend with a leisurely four-mile Sierra Club hike (which actually turned out to be 3.5 miles or 3.7 miles, depending upon whose web counter was doing the talking or rather, the measuring).

A group of 21 mostly strangers met Saturday at the crowded Great Falls National Park  to relish the sights and sounds of the falls and the trail, and be out in the woods.  Nature, you know, and the glory of all its benefits, recounted by hike leader John McShane reading from the writings of the Club's founder, John Muir. 

(At the rear of the pack, Larry Broadwell was "the sweeper," to keep us "in line." Both leaders, outstanding in their roles. Applause.)

It was that kind of a beautiful day. Everybody, out and about, including members of Rolling Thunder at the park.

The hike was described in the posting as "easy to moderate" but when you're talking and admiring the scenery, my, how time does fly. 

No snakes! But a (likely) volunteer was spotted, picking up small bits of litter along the trail.

We were lucky that Mr. McShane knew so much about trees, snakes, leaves, and roots!  Not only did we get a walk, but we got welcome lessons in nature. 

It was a crowded park, yes, but maybe, it's always like that.

It took me at least 20 minutes (someone else said, 35) to wait in the car to make it through the gate (cost is $15/carload unless you have a senior pass).  When the hike ended two hours later and I exited the park, I counted 108 drivers waiting to get through the gate. (Two-lane road; no room for expansion.  Save the trees!)  

Sierra Club hikes are highly recommended.  You don't have to be a Sierra Club member to participate ($2/person is requested to hike but is not mandatory, and no one takes a listing of who pays and who doesn't).

But, if you are interested in joining, it's only $15 for new members to join the Sierra Club's Great Falls Group which you may do here and go here for a list of upcoming area outings which vary in length and degree of difficulty.

Benefits, galore!

Join us for morning hike along the Potomac River including stops at the spectacular overlooks and a discussion of some of the common trees in the area. DISTANCE--approximately 4 miles; PACE--easy to moderate; SURFACE--mostly flat, natural trails. Some sections of the trail are very muddy so wear sturdy boots. We will meet In the open area directly below the visitors center at 9:45AM to sign waiver. We will leave at 10AM sharp and return at 12 Noon. Facilities: there are restrooms in the visitor's center.Parking: there is plenty of parking at the visitors center. Fee: $15/car park entrance fee (unless someone in the car has a National Parks Pass). SCPRO appreciates a donation of $2 per person to support our many volunteer-led activities and leader training. You will be able join the hike even if youre unable to donate. You can become a Sierra Club member by clicking join on the Virginia Sierra Club website: Level: Moderate
Cost: There is a $15/car park entrance fee (unless someone in the car has a National Parks Pass). SCPRO appreciates a donation of $2 per person to support our many volunteer-led activities and leader training. You will be able join the hike even if youre unable to donate. You can become a Sierra Club member by clicking join on the Virginia Sierra Club website:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Fabulous 'Fame' rocks the house of Gala

Paula Calvo (center)is Carmen in Gala Theatre's Fame the Musical/Photo by Stan Weinstein

This Fame is The Musical based on the 1980 film which unfolds the story of select high schoolers chosen to attend THE arts school in New York which teaches ballet and acting and music.
Gala Hispanic Theatre, they shook the building.

Blue lights and orange lights and spot lights and flashers.
Singers and dancers and hip hop were smashers.

One of the great things about going to Gala is the happy crew which makes the audience happy, too (most of the time).

Another reason to go to Gala!

Oh, there's a story here, or several of them, as boy meets girl who meets boy who meets girl and back again, do si do, a top star who can't make the grade, and you know the drill. Still, it's not the story that draws the public It's Fame's music and dancing, and no one will be disappointed.

Voices soar with a large (22) crew who raise the roof. The girls seem to outshine the boys when it comes to vocals but with dancing, it's the guys who excel.

How about a split mid-air? Or a backward somersault? You hold your breath waiting for a mishap.  There are none. For this is act! Act! Act!  Dance!  Dance!  Dance!

Romainson Romain (center) is Tyler in Gala Theatre's Fame the Musical With him are, front, from left, Imanol Fuentes and Kramer Kwalick; back, Patrick Ward, and Bryan Ernesto Menjivar/Photo by Stan Weinstein

Romainson Romain is Tyler, one of the stars who can do anything dance-wise, with the exception of what brought him to the show.

The villain is the mean, uptight English teacher, Ms. Sherman, severely dressed in a monochromatic strait jacket-buttoned suit, splendidly carried out by Susan Oliveras who, with her hair pulled taut, was an instant dislike 

Based on the audience's response, Alana Thomas' gospel, Mabel's Prayer, was probably the favorite song of the night which came in the second act, a lot livelier half than the first part of the show.

Some of the best performers were never seen: the nine-member band with students, led by Walter "Bobby" McCoy, with Jake Null, Mila Weiss, Brad Clements, Doug Elliott, Jaime Ibacache, Cyndy Elliott, Kendall Haywood, Manny Archiniega, Melody Flores, and Andrew Velez.

The set by Clifton Chadwick is chiefly steel school lockers which move and transition to become ladders, accompanied by effective and varied lighting by Christopher Annas-Lee to create shadows and mood.

Stylish, contemporary costuming by Robert Croghan fits the time which is anything recent.

Confusion reigned supreme, however, with bilingual versions on the stage and dual screens hanging from the ceiling at angles stage left and right with languages mixed. For those who need translation from Espanol to English or vice-versa, eyes move back and forth to the subtitles while trying to adjust and understand the language you know and hear, both languages spoken and sung by actors in rapid fire succession, often by the same actor.  (How did they keep them straight? Translations were perfect.)

My seatmate almost gave me motion sickness, moving her head back and forth as she moved from stage to screen and back again, trying to read the language she knew, as if she were swimming laps.  

Since music is the universal language, who needs translation anyway?  

Applause to choreographer and director, Luis Salgado. the previous winner of Tony and Helen Hayes awards.

Other members of the cast are Carlos Salazar, Tanya De Leon, Rafael Beato, Paula Calvo, Amaya Perea, Juan Luis Espinal, Paloma de Vega, Jon Yepez, Teresa Quigley Danskey, Imanol Fuentes Garcia, and Brendon Schaefer.

In the Ensemble are Julia Klavans and Rodolfo Santamarina, dance captains; Kramer Kwalick, Bryan Ernesto Menjivar, Pranjaal Pizarro, Susan Ramirez, Megumi Shumoda, and Patrick Ward.

Other members of the creative team are Patrick Lord, projections; Jose Coca, Paso Nuevo instructor; Roc Lee, sound; Matt Carlin, properties; Brennan T. Jones, stage manager; Tony Koehler, production coordinator; Devin Mahoney, technical director; Valerie Cossu, associate director and choreographer; Heather Hogan, creative consultant; and Hugo Medrano, producer.

Book, music, and lyrics by David De Silva, Jose Fernandez (tribute is made in his memory), Steve Margoshes, and Jacques Lecy

What: Fame the Musical 

When: Now through June 9, 2019, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. 

Where: Gala Theatre, 3333 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010.

Tickets:  $65, general admission; $40 for seniors age 65 and over, military, students, and those age 30 and under; $30 for each ticket in group sales of 10 or more. Rush tickets are $40 for all shows, sold between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. for the nightly shows, and between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. for Sunday matinees. Go online and order at GALA Tickets or buy at the box office.

Student Matinees: May 23 and May 24 at 10:30 a.m. For more information, email

Duration: About 2.5 two hours with one intermission 

Refreshments:  Available and may be taken to seats.

Metro stations
: Columbia Heights or McPherson Square and take a bus from McPherson Square up 14th, or walk two miles and save money and expend calories! Lots of places to eat along the way.

Parking: Available on nearby streets or park in the Giant grocery store parking lot behind Gala for $4 validated ticket.

For more information: (202) 234-7174 and/or email


Saturday, May 18, 2019

'1968' ends Sunday at the National Portrait Gallery

Louis S. Glanzman (1922-2013), Robert F. Kennedy 1925-1968, Time cover, June 14, 1968. After winning California's Democratic primary on June 5, 1968, "Bobby" Kennedy was fatally shot in Los Angeles, two months after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis. (In this drawing, Kennedy's head pose resembles his brother John's pose, also painted after his assassination which used to hang in the entrance hallway at the White House. [See * below.] Aaron Shikler was the artist of the JFK portrait which was unveiled at the White House in 1971, the likeness directed by Jacqueline Kennedy. Is it still there?)

For a visual glimpse at what happened in 1968, the telling exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey provides a quick history lesson about a year no one wants to remember

It was a tumultuous, tragic time: Two national leaders were assassinated, the Vietnam war continued, violence and police beatings were the norm in Chicago which was the site of the Democratic National Convention where Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley boasted that no one was killed. Richard Nixon's lies persisted.

It was a year of national sadness, one I hope every high school student studies to learn what happened and may happen, a year which certainly ranks near the top of "worst years."

Many of the 30 works in the exhibition are political, sports, rock stars, and other celebrities whose portraits appeared on Time magazine covers which Time gave to the Portrait Gallery.

Also included is a video of Janis Joplin belting out a song before she died of a heroin overdose in 1970.

The exhibition is part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the National Portrait Gallery.
The 1968 Democratic presidential ticket of Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978) and Edmund Muskie (1914-1996) was overshadowed by 23,000 police troops who beat 3,000 protestors and onlookers under direction by  Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley (drawn in the background above, shouting orders) at the Democratic National Convention. This Time cover by Louis S. Glanzman (1922-2013) ran Sept. 6, 1968.
David Levine,(1926-2009), President Johnson as King Lear, Time, Jan. 5, 1968. President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was named Time's "Man of the Year" in 1964 and 1967, the latter year "because of his perceived failures," including the interminable Vietnam War, according to the wall label.  His approval rating sank to 38 percent from a high of 80 percent. Mr. Levine modeled Johnson after King Lear, both of whom had troubles with close "associates."
One of the most hated vice-presidents in memory, Spiro Agnew 1918-1996 by Louis S. Glanzman, 1922-2013, ran on the cover of Time Sept. 20, 1968, five years before Agnew resigned the vice presidency due to financial scandal. (John C. Calhoun was the only other vice president to quit.) Richard Nixon chose Agnew as a running mate partially to avoid being usurped as Nixon had been when he served as vice president under President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969). Nixon's and Agnew's mediocrity served as springboards to persistence intolerance. 
Ardent segregationist George C. Wallace 1919-1998 of Alabama was photographed by Jerome Liebling (1924-2011) in 1968 when Wallace launched the first of three campaigns for president. He won five states in the national race that year but did not do as well in 1972 and 1976.  In the 1972 race while campaigning at a shopping center in Laurel, Maryland on May 15, Wallace was shot and paralyzed.
Unidentified artist, no date, Jimi Hendrix, 1942-1970. After a successful run in Europe, when he returned to the U.S. in 1968, rock star Jimi Hendrix was named "Artist of the Year" by Rolling Stone and Billboard. Like Janis Joplin, he died of a drug overdose in 1970.
At the press briefing to open the exhibition, curator James Barber gave details of the gun screenprint by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) which ran on the cover of Time June 21, 1968. Above is a photo by Richard Darby (no known dates) of Helen Chavez, 1928-2016, Robert Kennedy, and Cesar Chavez, 1927-1993, from March 10, 1968 when Mr. Kennedy visited a rally in California to show support for Mr. Chavez, recently ending a 25-day fast.  He was the president of the United Farm Workers which sought better working conditions and wages/Photo by Patricia Leslie

What: One Year: 1968, An American Odyssey

When: Closing May 19, 2019. The National Portrait Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Where: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F streets, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20001

Admission: None

For more information: 202-633-8300 or visit the website.

Closest Metro station: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center

Inside the Christmas White House, 2012/Photo by Patricia Leslie