Archive for February, 2009

Stimulate North Lamar!

So yesterday in the web 2.0 social media circles there was much derision over the City of Austin’s inclusion of a disc golf course in the stimulous package going through the political process up in Circle K Ranch, aka Washington D.C. The Statesman ran articles here and here and an editorial here all of which attracted some helpful and some not so useful comments, but such is the online world. Safe to say though that the Statesman was just reflecting the opinion of the Wall Street Journal who outed the story in the first place.

This morning, News 8 ran a piece by Reagan Hackleman, where city official John Hrncir said the disc golf course was “Very much taken out of context,” – in a very cover our ass – sort of way. The piece ended with Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez saying he wants to make sure the public is involved in choosing which projects get funding.

Well Mike, having biked from South Austin to Round Rock twice this week for work, I got to tell you if the city doesn’t have funds allocated to re-pave Gaudalupe from 38th St and then North Lamar from around the point where it merges with Gaudalupe to all the way up to just before 183, then you need to get that on the list quickly. It is one of the worst streches of road I’ve cycled on in many countries.

That stretch of the road, especially where it goes up and past, ironically, the Texas Dept. of Public Safety is just way too broken up to cycle on safely on anything except a mountain bike. There are also a number of covers missing from access holes. There is no bike lane up there, and no room for one, so the road surface on the edge of the road is really important for cyclists.

There are many cracks and holes that you have to swerve around, bump over, or try to jump. Of course, in peak commute time that increases the danger as that means the car drivers behind have to expect the sudden weave in and out around these obstacles. Leaving the road as it is won’t save money, New York, London and other big metropolitan cities discovered that, they don’t repair themselves, and just get worse as the cars, trucks and buses regularly hit the defects!

Of course, thats not really my idea of a stimulus item to get the economy going and create jobs, but hey-ho think of it as an earmark, some ones got to do it.

Not in jest

There’s not one wasted second in Rigoletto, and people do leave humming the tunes. The remaining three performances of this Austin Lyric Opera production will be on Februrary 4, 6, and 8. It’s not to be missed.

There are minor aspects that do not attain the general high standards of excellence of the rest, but this is a wonderful show. I could tell that there were many first-time opera-goers. I think that Rigoletto makes a good introduction, because the plot of the libretto takes some unexpected turns and the music is by turns rousing and lyrically beautiful. The costumes were rich, and I love the sets, lighting, and staging generally up until the last act. Others will disagree, but I didn’t think that laser flashes of lightning added a thing to the production, and those not familiar with the plot found some of that act a bit confusing. The play with rapiers was not witty. Perhaps an expert from the H-E-B checkout line should have been called in to give tips about wrestling odd-shaped contents into a sack.

The orchestra was at its very finest. The chorus continues to become better and better. Rigoletto is often sung by someone who’s really too old and occasionally by someone who’s a bit inexperienced; Todd Thomas was just right, and an excellent physical presence as well. Lyubov Petrova as Gilda held the house in dead silence when she sang Caro Nome and may have been the audience favorite. Her voice and that of Chad Shelton as the Duke of Mantua seemed for some reason not to be well matched. That says nothing about the quality of their singing, just that the duets and other ensemble pieces would somehow have been improved had either voice been partnered with another. Maddalena often walks away with her part, but that didn’t happen, perhaps because of the staging of the last act. Sparafucile the assassin (Peter Volpe) won the crowd. Occasionally, the sound was a bit muddy, but to me it sounded as if, although I haven’t seen any writing or commentary on this subject, it was being mixed and balanced artificially at times and that the results were not always an improvement over “unenhanced” music. Perhaps it was just the location of our seats, but I don’t think so.

Nearby parking was going at a flat rate of seven dollars. The City lots had in the past been free. Better lighting is needed at nearby pedestrian crosswalks or else APD should be on hand to direct traffic. An improved lighting design could keep people in the lobbies waiting for the hall to be opened from looking so unwell and the same might improve the safety of those challenging steep stairs with narrow treads.

This Rigoletto joins my other favorite productions: an ALO performance in the old Coliseum and a performance at the Paramount by a young touring company sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera that employed old-fashioned flat sets and starred Erie Mills before she was famous. Again, anyone who has the opportunity to attend one of these performances really should do so. Opera unites all the theatrical arts and this is a fine example.

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