The Metropolitan Opera 2017 Audition

Yesterday, Sheila and I had the privilege of attending the Metropolitan Opera Audition that featured 9 very talented young opera singers on the fringes of stardom.   Each of the 9 finalists performed 2 arias with the accompanying Met orchestra and an enraptured packed house.

Held annually, the Audition is a MUST SEE for anyone who loves opera and for those with an open mind and heart who wish to see and hear some extraordinary artists.

This year was special, since it marks the 10th Anniversary of the 2007 Audition that was “aired” by the Met Opera in 2009.  I remember seeing this compelling documentary at one of the Met HD live performances and have been hooked ever since.

As the judges tallied up their votes, 3 of the contestants from that historical 2007 Audition sang arias, including Michael Fabiano who is currently performing in La Traviata.

I have been thinking about “Art” quite a bit after learning that funding for the National Endowment of the Arts (“NEA”) will be cut to zero in the new Budget.   Frankly, $148 million to the NEA is not much, considering that a single new F-35 jet costs more than twice as much.

I will be very much saddened if funding for the NEA is cut, but I also understand the argument that the NEA has outlived its usefulness if its primary role was to “bring culture to rural areas” in the United States.  If our laws or institutions are clearly outdated, replace them with something that makes sense rather than graft on a series of well-meaning programs that do not truly fulfill the intent of the writers of the Law.

Personally, I would prefer that we build theaters for ballet, music and the performing arts at High Schools rather than invest in football stadiums and new sports facilities, but I seem to be in a minority.

After watching Cosimo de’ Medici single-handedly risk his family’s fortune and reputation to engage a bankrupt architect (Brunelleschi) to complete the Dome on the Duomo and commission Donatello’s risque David, it is gratifying to see the creation of transforming Art that defied popular constraints.

If left to their own devices, the “elected” government of Florence would be fighting wars with neighboring Lucca rather than build the foundations of the Renaissance culture.  Thank God for people with the vision of Cosimo de’ Medici.  The same might be said of Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles.

While I treasure the grandeur of the Opera and classical music, I am not sure that a credible majority in this country share my opinion.

In a recent New York Times article that focused on the demise of intellectuals, Norman Podhoretz summarizes the bleak cultural landscape quite nicely, “All Americans really care about is sports,” he said. “They pretend to care about other things, but what they care about is sports.”

Therefore, as we move into an era of “popular” culture, I remain hopeful that true visionaries like Cosimo de’ Medici will emerge to create a cultural and artistic landscape worth celebrating.  My granddaughter and future generations certainly hope so!

Antifragile: Disorder Enables Growth

Some years ago (2008/09) as the financial markets were coming unglued, I happened to see an interview with Nassim Taleb, a former options trader who predicted the unravelling of the world’s financial system with his “Black Swan” theory. In fact, there is a lovely Bloomberg interview with Mr. Taleb who clearly stakes out his views in 2009 which takes to task Geithner, Obama and others on how to fix the financial system.

Personally, I found Nassim Taleb to be a bit “heavy” and not the glib “suit” that typically “drops wisdom” on listeners of CNBC and Bloomberg.    Nevertheless, the “black swan theory” stuck firmly in my brain as I realized that seemingly random and apparently inconsequential events could easily break most predictive models.

Encouraged by someone I respect, I started reading Antifragile:  Things that Gain from Disorder, which Mr. Taleb first published in 2012.  Found below is a somewhat superficial video overview of a book which articulates a way forward to analyze the frailty, robustness or antifragility of “almost everything about our world.”

I have only gotten through the prologue and am totally hooked. I can’t wait to delve into the 7 books, although Mr. Taleb suggests that “the enlightened reader” may wish to skip book 5. Let’s face it, who can argue with someone whose first ethical rule is: “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.”

I doubt that this book will resonate with the many frauds holding public office and the self-assured bureaucrats at the Fed and the European Community, but it is compulsive reading for anyone wishing to see the world without the need for rose-colored glasses. This book calls into question many of the myths which currently dominate business, science, ethics, decision making, learning, regulation and political systems. What a breath of fresh air. It is rare to see such uncompromising intellectual honesty.

Wouldn’t you like a simplistic yet compelling model to look at most everything around you to determine if it is fragile, robust or antifragile? I do, because then you have a framework of dealing objectively with your environment and patiently allow disorder to work its wonder.

Simply brilliant Mr. Taleb.

Garrison Keillor: End of an Era

People my age tend to become boringly opinionated.  Sadly, I became boringly opinionated at a much earlier age, but far less so than the nut cases now running for President.  I am anticipating a hilarious and entertaining summer and early fall as these two unscrupulous clowns vie for the Presidency. You can’t make this up.

One person of character who is not likely to be watching this slug-fest unfold is Garrison Keillor who called an end to his remarkable story-telling last week in Los Angeles. Garrison didn’t appeal to everyone, but his wry sense of humor and empathy for the common Midwestern man/woman makes him a giant humanist in a country which seems to be careening out of control. I will certainly miss Mr. Keillor entertain us with his nostalgic tales of the people and creatures that inhabit the Lake Wobegon community.

I have written several times about Garrison Keillor and do encourage you to watch Robert Altman’s tribute to Garrison in the appropriately named film “A Prairie Dog’s Companion.” Some may find it painfully hokey, but I still revel in its earthy humor.

Found below is a recent video clip from CBS which frames Garrison’s life as he disappears into the sunset: Good Lord! Another writer?