Feature: ONLINE VIRTUAL OPERA TOUR No. 45 at Home Computer Screens

Butterfly in Japanese and English, Baroque Opera, Aida in Siberia, and Food to Match

By: Feb. 13, 2021
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Feature: ONLINE VIRTUAL OPERA TOUR No. 45 at Home Computer Screens Although the main group of tour members for this week is meeting for dinner at the Aloha Cafe in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo, John from Phoenix and I are at the Magic Opera Flying Carpet to introduce his cat Kylie-da-Kitty to Manon-la-Chat. Manon thinks it will be nice to have a friend along on the tour, but when they meet Kylie is not friendly. She is a gorgeous long haired tortoise shell and she thinks little of Manon's short orange fur. They growl and we separate them so we can go to dinner in peace.

Founded in 1996, Aloha is a Little Tokyo Japanese bistro with a Hawaiian touch. Their sashimi platters are attractive and delicious, but they also serve Hawaiian fare. Loco moco, their house-made burger, can be found under two eggs, caramelized onions, rice, and a healthy topping of gravy which makes this dish quite decadent.

In April, 2019, Pacific Opera Project performed Puccini's Madama Butterfly in Japanese and English at the Aratani Theatre, part of the Japanese-American Cultural Center of Los Angeles's "Little Tokyo." This show is a co-production between Houston's Opera in the Heights and Pacific Opera Project.

Thoughts on Madama Butterfly in Japanese and English: So, what if a brash American naval officer and a young Japanese girl meets and falls in love? How would they communicate? Certainly not in Italian! In POP's most ambitious production to date, Artistic Director Josh Shaw's long-time dream of a bilingual Madama Butterfly comes to life at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo. With a new libretto by Josh Shaw and Eiki Isomura, sponsored in part by an Innovations Grant from Opera America, all Japanese roles are sung in Japanese and all American roles are sung in English. In this co-production, many Japanese-American ladies in the chorus are wearing their own festive kimonos, exquisite garments most opera companies would find it difficult to afford. Titles are in English.


After the show we go to the Izakaya, or snack bar, Honda-Ya, a true Little Tokyo staple. Inside a shopping center near Alameda, the Honda-ya is open after the theater Thursdays through Saturdays. It offers drinks with beef or pork on skewers and smoky sticks of chicken. Having had a fine day in town, we return to the Magic Opera Flying Carpet for a much needed night's sleep.

While we sleep, the Magic Opera Flying Carpet whisks us to Northern California and we land outside of San Jose. In the morning, I awake to cat growls. Kylie has found a sunny window spot and Manon insists she should have asked permission before usurping it. John takes Kylie, who is probably conceited enough to be called Musetta, outside for a tiring walk while the rest of us eat breakfast.

Some of the tour members are taking a ride on the Roaring Camp steam engine driven train leaving from nearby Felton this morning. Roaring Camp Railroad engines date from 1890 and pull some of the oldest and most authentically preserved narrow-gauge passenger trains in the United States. In the 1880s, narrow-gauge steam locomotives were used to haul giant redwood logs out of the mountains. These trains travel over trestles, through towering redwood groves and up a winding narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain as conductors narrate local history.

After the train trip, our bus picks us tour members at the Carpet and at the train station for the ride to San Jose and dinner at the Smoking Pig. This restaurant specializes in slow smoked barbecued beef brisket, ribs, chicken, pulled pork, Louisiana hots, homemade sauces, and desserts prepared in traditional Southern style. Everything is made by hand in the Pig's kitchen using the finest ingredients. Chefs use real cream, real butter and they cook everything in the restaurant or out back in the barbecue pit using recipes from family and friends with no shortcuts.

San Jose Opera now offers its popular performance of Three Decembers starring Susan Graham, Maya Kherani, and Efrain Solis cost $25 for patrons who can afford it and $15 for those who can't. Performances are available for at least 30 days. Jake Heggie wrote the chamber opera, Three Decembers to a libretto Gene Scheer based on the late Terrence McNally's unpublished play Some Christmas Letters. Although it was created as a vehicle for Frederica von Stade, Graham makes the role of the famous actress and mother her own. https://www.operasj.org

After the opera, we bus back to the Magic Opera Flying Carpet for Tiramisu, with hot chocolate or mulled wine. Our vehicle stays in its parking spot because our next stop, San Francisco, is just a few miles north.

San Francisco Opera offers free opera streams every weekend in February. SFO streams Mozart's Così fan tutte on February 13-14. Free opera streams are viewable on demand with registration at sfopera.com, beginning at 10 am Pacific Time on the first streaming date through 11:59 pm the following day. Current San Francisco Opera subscribers and donors of $75 or more retain access to opera titles after their window of public access. For more information, visit sfopera.com. Visit sfopera.com/streaming to register.

Tour members eat a continental breakfast of cheese Danish and lattes before our bus takes them to San Francisco for a free day of sightseeing and leisure. The group reassembles for a pre opera dinner at Sotto Mare where the metal bowl of cioppino always contains enough for two. Its steaming tomato broth is full of Dungeness crab parts, mussels, and calamari. Served with a loaf of crusty bread, our group consumes it socially distanced within the narrow, tiled dining room that's been serving this classic for decades.

In Jose Maria Condemi's 2013 staging of Mozart's Così fan tutte, Marco Vinco portrays Don Alfonso, Francesco Demuro is Ferrando and Philippe Sly is Guglielmo. Ellie Dehn portrays Fiordiligi, Dorabella is Christel Lötzsch, and Susannah Biller is Despina. Music director Nicola Luisotti conducts. Subtitles are available in English. https://sfopera.com/opera-is-on/streaming/

For a nightcap, we bus to Grubstake for bowls of Caldo Verde. This restorative Portuguese elixir is full of potatoes, kale, and zippy linguica sausage. The restaurant's setting in a converted cable car is inviting, too. When we arrive back at the Magic Opera Flying Carpet, we see the cats have made up and are both asleep. We prepare for the transatlantic flight and join the kitties in the land of dreams. We awake to the icy-pink reflections of sunrise over the alps.

The earliest archaeological finds in the Dijon area of France date to the Neolithic period. Called Divio, the French town became a Roman settlement. The province was home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the early 11th until the late 15th centuries. Many townhouses in the city's central district date from the 18th century and earlier. Dijon's terracotta roofs have green, yellow, and black tiles arranged in geometric patterns. The city's famous Dijon mustard originated in 1856, when Chef Jean Naigeon substituted the acidic juice of unripe grapes for vinegar in the traditional mustard recipe.

One of the most fêted dishes of the area is Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy beef). To make this dish, the meat is stewed in local Burgundy wine. Besides beef and herbs such as garlic, thyme and bay leaf, the stew often contains bacon, mushrooms, potatoes, pearl onions, and carrots. Peacock stewed in Chambertin wine is also a specialty in Dijon but Online Virtual Opera Tour members opt for the beef dish from one of Dijon's most decorated chefs.

l'Opéra de Dijon presents Luigi Rossi's first opera Il palazzo incantato (The Enchanted Palace) which marks the last surge of Roman opera. For Argentine conductor Leonardo García Alarcón who rediscovered the opera in the Vatican Library after it had been neglected for 380 years, Il palazzo incantato represents a missing link in the history of opera.

Recorded in December 2020, the online stream of Il palazzo incantato is a new production from Dijon Opera. It is sung in Italian, but subtitles are available in English and French. Fabrice Murgia directs the action and Leonardo García Alarcón, who discovered this melodic treasure, conducts the Capella Mediteranea.


Since Il palazzo incantato finishes rather late, we drink mulled wine on the bus enroute to the Magic Opera Flying Carpet. We fly to Vienna in the morning and the tour members have the day to shop and eat in its various markets.

Dinner is Wiener schnitzel made from veal with bell pepper salad and beer, wine, of coffee.

The Vienna State Opera presents Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Phillippe Jordan leads Philippe Sly, Federica Lombardi, Andre Schuen, Louise Alder and Virginie Verrez in Jean Pierre Ponnelle's production of Mozart' opera.


After mocha-flavored coffee and slices of decadent seven layer chocolate cake with cream on top, tour members board the bus for the Magic Opera Flying Carpet and a good night's rest as we fly the calm and dream-cloud-filled skies for Hamburg and the rivers that lead to the German seacoast. We land just north of the city as the sun rises over the potted flowers that embellish this city's balconies..

Hamburg's Maritime Circle Line operates the aquatic version of a "hop-on, hop-off" sightseeing bus. A ticket entitles the rider to a day of travel between seven museums and other tourist locations around the harbor. There are also numerous restaurants in the area that serve local food, such as the traditional sailor's dish, labskaus. Made from corned beef, mashed potatoes, and onions, chefs often present labskaus with pickled beets, gherkins, herring, and/or a fried egg. Tourists encounter variations of this North German meal in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom where it's called scouse.

The Hamburg Staatsopera presents Massenet's Manon. On her way to a convent, Manon meets a handsome stranger and decides to flee with him. Aspiring to a life of wealth and luxury a while later, she ends up throwing herself into the arms of a rich nobleman. Massenet's Manon is a hard character to love because she seems to prefer jewels to the man who loves her. As for the tour's Manon-la-Chat, her scratches and love bites test the affection of those who serve her. She will watch the performance from a light bridge.

German stage director David Bösch, known for productions which uncover the psychological depths of their characters, makes his Hamburg debut with Massenet's masterpiece. New star Elsa Dreisig sings the title role and Ioan Hotea sings Des Grieux. The performance was recorded in January 2021with the cast singing in French. Sebastien Rouland conducts. Subtitles are available in English. The stream is available until March 12, 2021. https://operavision.eu/en/ Click on op[eras and performances or. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFeeVfnecBU

We return to the harbor to enjoy it's lights and sample some of the beers available in Hamburg for a nightcap. Back at the Carpet, we ready ourselves for a night of sleep on the ground. We take off for Stockholm in the morning.

Once we are aloft, our crew serves a German "Frühstück" that includes sliced salami, currywust, leberwust, cheese, toast, fruit, soft boiled or fried eggs with bread, butter, jam, mustard, and honey.

For dinner, we have reserved places at Meatballs for the People.

Each Swedish restaurant has its own recipe for meatballs (köttbulla). With the meatballs, Meatballs for the People serves mashed potatoes, lingonberries, gravy and pickles. Each restaurant has its own recipe, with chefs working hard to create the most refined, traditional or inventive flavour-packed meatballs imaginable. Meatballs here are made of whatever's in season; veal, pork, beef, elk, deer, wild boar, and even bear.

At Stockholm's Swedish National Opera, we see Prima Donna, the first opera by Rufus Wainwright. According to the story of the new opera, an aging singer prepares for a return to the stage after interrupting her career because of a traumatic performance. Written as a tribute to Romantic opera, Prima Donna is the first venture into the genre by Rufus Wainwright, better known for his career in pop. His prima donna is a self-destructive diva, inspired by Maria Callas. Sung in French, the originally live performance is subtitled in English. Available until 05, 2021.


Returning to the Magic Opera Flying Carpet, we get ready for an excursion into Siberia and the far north. We suggest that humans and cats wear the warmest possible coats, boots, and gloves.

Krasnoyarsk, the third-largest city in Siberia, is located near the hydro-electric dam on the Yenisei River. It is an important junction of the Trans-Siberian Railway and one of Russia's largest producers of aluminum. Known for its nature landscapes, Krasnoyarsk is thought to be one of the most beautiful cities in Siberia. The Stolby Nature Sanctuary is located 10 km south of the city. Forests close to the city are mostly pine and birch; further afield, aspen becomes dominant. Unfortunately, Krasnoyarsk is remembered as one of the places to which political exiles were banished. In both summer and winter, Krasnoyarsk's climate is similar to that of Winnipeg, Canada.

Although it's often below freezing in Krasnoyarsk, much of the traditional food is eaten cold. Originally invented in the 19th century, vinegret is an extremely popular Russian salad usually consisting of boiled beets, potatoes, and carrots combined with diced pickles, sauerkraut, and onions. Vinegret is traditionally topped with a combination of oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and mustard. Customarily, the salad is served with Russian black bread, sausage and/or herring. Another Russian fish salad, Indigirka, consists of diced frozen fish, onions, oil, lemon wedges, salt, and pepper. Made from whitefish such as nelma or muksun, it is traditionally served in ice bowls. Modern variations include fish roe, fennel, and dressing.

Manon likes the cold fish, but I want a hot sausage and coffee. For a Siberian-style entrée, our chef cuts wild meat (venison, rabbit, and bear) into long thin slices, rubs them with salt, taiga herbs, spices including garlic, and smokes the slices on wooden bars placed next to hot coals. The chef later fries or stews the smoked meat with potatoes, and mushrooms. My stewed bear paw also came with lingonberries.

Verdi's Aida was recorded live in February, 2021 at the Krasnoyarsk State Opera in Russia. Singers include Svetlana Ratslaf-Levchuk, Daria Ryabinko, and Vladimir Komovich. The conductor is Anatoly Chepurnoy and the stage director is Andrejs Agars.


After Aida, we bus back to the Magic Opera Flying Carpet drinking hot cider and mulled wine. We take off for the 23 hour flight to Los Angeles as soon as we are all aboard. Both cats agree that Siberia is too wild for house cats.

Photo of Susan Graham in Three Decembers by David Allen.


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