L’opera sans lorgnettes


Barbara Double is well-known to Pasadena bibliophiles as a long-time books — mysteries, especially — columnist in the Friends of the Public Library’s newsletter.

She’s also an operaphile, if that is a word, and graciously had us up to the Altadena Town & Country Club Sunday night for a Valentine’s concert of arias presented by young singers selected by the Pasadena Opera Guild, for 44 years dedicated to promoting the art by advancing the careers of up-and-coming singers.

“Today even the name Pasadena Opera Guild conjures up an image of an ermined dowager with a lognette,” writes Barbara. “To be fair, this may have been an accurate picture of the Guild in its early days. But today’s organization has evolved into much more than ladies of leisure who love opera. Ermine is rare: lorgnettes are rarer. Today, the organization gives meaningful financial support to the opera stars of tomorrow, and works creatively to build the opera audiences of the future. Many of its most enthusiastic members enjoy demanding and successful professional careers. Our president. Rozella Knox, is a practicing physician.”

Eight or ten times a year, the Opera for Kids van rolls into area schoolyards, and out come singers from the Orange County Opera Company, a fun experience I wrote about several years ago down at … Hamilton Elementary, I believe it was.

Sunday night the Guild’s artist consultant, the L.A. Opera’s Cathy Miller Popovic, right with mic in the photo above, accompanied on piano arias by the three young singers shown. Julie Anne Miller, the 6-1 mezzo soprano on the left, sang, beautifully, from “Figaro”; baritone Yohan Yi, being interviewed, is in his first year in the Domingo-Thornton Program at the L.A. Opera and says that in opera the rule is that the tenor always gets the girl; Alexandra Lucien — I’m spelling that phonetically and will fix later — gave a stunning rendition of Pat Nixon’s aria from “Nixon in China” by John Adams.

I love this opera stuff best in short bursts, just like this. Send me to “The Ring Cycle” and I get drowsy from the length and the foreign tongue (not that Alice Goodman’s “Nixon” libretto isn’t in English, but such is rare). Challenge me technologically and I might even put up some links to low-fi recordings I made from our table on my cell phone — my God, these singers can push the red line on my Voice Memo app.

This weekend at Pasadena Museum of California Art

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Among the three striking and fabulously dissimilar shows opening this weekend at the PMCA on Union between Oakland and Los Robles is a pen-and-ink filled room from the Los Angeles collective Sumi, in which many artists young and old get together to create black and white drawings. This China surfer is on the wall there now.

The big show is the Millard Sheets retrospective on his early years, perfectly timed, with the iconic California school artist and Pomona native back in the news now — and on our front pages — because of the Rose Parade mural we’re all trying to get back to Pasadena.

Then, in the back room, another great collective effort, The Ulysses Guide to the L.A. River, with fabulous paintings and prints and a recreation of the experience of the natural/unnatural resource as projections and eerie train sounds will make you feel as if you are down in the concrete riverbed with the graffiti, the mosquito fish and the egrets.

Big opening this Saturday night Saturday, February 13, 7- 9 p.m.
$5 admission
Free for PMCA embers
RSVP: 626-568-3665, ext. 14.

Otherwise PMCA is open Wed-Sun, noon to 5.

Spacing out for Kidspace


At the Kidspace benefit Saturday night in massive tents in the Parkway Grill parking lot, The Sky’s the Limit was the theme, and the costumes — most everyone in the crowd of many hundreds were good sports and wore them, many very complex — were themed Cosmic Attire.

That meant a lot of Mr. Spocks, Captain Kirks and, yes, “Star Wars” stormtroopers.

Our host Bob O’Rourke got a clean suit from JPL’s satellite rooms. Marketing guru Brad Ball wore his fancy baseball jacket from back when he oversaw the selling of, yikes, “Battleship Earth” for John Travolta and company. I strung around my neck the framed certificate our old family friend Eleanor Helin, the late JPL astronomer, gave me when she named a heavenly body “Larrywilson” as a very kind birthday present 11 years ago. Eleanor was the world’s leading discoverer of asteroids, and she could dub them as she saw fit. I keep watching the skies for my little rock …

Digging Downtown Oakland

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The Gourmet Gulch on Shattuck in Berkeley is both getting too crowded and spinning off restaurants like crazy to more affordable storefronts in Oakland.

I get up to the East Bay five or six weekends a year on business for the nonprofit I chair. The best restaurant in the world, so far as I’m concerned, is Camino on Grand, owned and run by Allison and Russ, two Chez Panisse graduates. Absinthe, duck cracklings, big local sardines and more duck with a Beaujolais at a business dinner Friday night — yikes. You won’t find better food, or food served more down home and easy, either: long communal tables made of huge planks of found redwood.

Saturday night after the five-hour board meeting it was more seriously downtown, the Broadway-based neighborhood for which Jerry Brown when he was mayor set a goal of 10,000 new residents. My dinner companion, artist Keith Wilson, related the story: “And how many of those units would be ‘affordable,’ Mr. Mayor?” “None! so far as I am concerned. I want people who can spend and make the place safe!” He got it. The streets were bright and amazing, fancy but welcoming joints on every corner, and the restaurants and clubs were more truly integrated — African Americans, whites, Asians and Latinos, with most tables actually not segregated in the least — than any I’ve ever seen in the world.

After dinner Saturday night at a cool spot I’ll remember the name of any minute owned by a Korean-American architect who showed us around — the sign at the door, “No hats,” was a leftover from the pimped-out days of the neighborhood — we went back to the Grand Lake neighborhood for prosecco and cannoli at a spot, pictures above and below, called Boot and Shoe Service, same signage, same moniker as the business it took over — why change the funky name? It’s also run by a graduate of the Chez Panisse pizza oven.

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Angeles Crest undermined

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Sometimes I think Caltrans and other government agencies get a little … trigger-happy about closing the Angeles Crest Highway into our mountains after the various disasters that plague the forest-area roads. Fire. Floods. Motorcycles down.

But Lori Paul of Altadena forwards this photo, courtesy of Mike McIntyre, the district ranger, shot during the last big storm less than two weeks ago.

The highway is clearly without support and dangerous.

So be careful up there. It’s just another reminder of how long-lasting will be the effects of the Station Fire.