The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Traffic jam at the top of the world

The Apollo Chorus performed Joby Talbot's Everest a few weeks ago, and to prepare for the opera I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. (The opera is based on the events described in that book.) I concluded that climbing Mt Everest is insane.

That didn't stop about 100 climbers from attempting to summit on May 23rd of this year, contributing to one of the deadliest days in the mountain's history:

[T]wo decades on, the Everest experience often seems to have devolved even further into a circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion. In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal; this year three Indian climbers returned home to celebratory crowds after they supposedly summited on May 26, only to be accused of fraud after other mountaineers claimed that they never made it past 23,500 feet.

And then there are the growing crowds. For this year's climbing season, Nepal handed out 381 permits to scale Everest, the most ever. The Chinese government distributed more than 100 permits for the northern side. According to the Himalayan Database, the number of people summiting Everest has just about doubled in the past decade. And in that time the mountain has become accessible even to relative novices, thanks to a proliferation of cut-rate agencies that require little proof of technical skill, experience, or physical fitness. “Some of these companies don't ask any questions,” says Rolfe Oostra, an Australian mountaineer and a founder of France-based 360 Expeditions, which sent four clients to the summit this year. “They are willing to take anybody on, and that compounds the problems for everyone.”

On May 22—the day before Grubhofer reached the top—a long line near the summit had already begun to form. One of those pinned in the throng was a Nepali climber named Nirmal Purja. That morning, Purja snapped a photo of the chaos. The picture showed a near unprecedented traffic jam on the popular southern side: a column of hundreds of climbers snaking along the knifelike summit ridge toward the Hillary Step, the last obstacle before the top, packed jacket-to-jacket as if they were queued up for a ski lift in Vail. The image rocketed around the world and, as the events on the mountain were still developing, raised an urgent question: What the hell is going on atop Mount Everest?

I still think these people are crazy. If I ever see Mt Everest, it will be from the pressurized cabin of a transport-class airplane. I'm fine with that.

I will, however, see the opera again when it comes to the Barbican on June 20th.

Good review from this weekend

Chicago Classical Review attended our performance of Everest and Aleko this weekend:

There are a myriad of reasons why an operatic adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air should not work. And yet it does. Composer [Joby] Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer have crafted a compelling 70-minute opera adapted form Krakauer’s nonfiction book about the disastrous 1996 Everest expedition in which eight people died.

Scheer wisely narrows the scope to three mountaineers, alternating their increasingly desperate situation on the South Summit with communications with their concerned loved ones and the base camp. The large vocal ensemble in back acts as a kind of Greek Chorus, questioning the men, offering philosophical observations, and commenting on the climbers’ actions, and the fates of the many who have died attempting to reach the summit.

The Apollo Chorus delivered all the power, mystery and atmosphere of Talbot’s choral passages, directed by Stephen Alltop.

The Stage & Cinema blog also gave us a nice review.

Not to mention, we really enjoyed the works. And the performance. Plus, Scheer and Talbot came to the cast party afterwards.

Catch-up weekend

The audience loved last night's performance of Everest and Aleko. Everest composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer attended, and I had the opportunity to meet them backstage at intermission. They both reported being overjoyed by our performance. Nice.

I discovered in researching this post that the BBC Symphony Orchestra will perform Everest at the Barbican on 20 June 2020. Hell yes, I'm going.

If you don't want to wait until June, you can hear us this afternoon at Harris Theater.

Welcome to the Fourth Quarter

October began today for some of the world, but here in Chicago the 29°C weather (at Midway and downtwon; it's 23°C at O'Hare) would be more appropriate for July. October should start tomorrow for us, according to forecasts.

This week has a lot going on: rehearsal yesterday for Apollo's support of Chicago Opera Theater in their upcoming performances of Everest and Aleko; rehearsal tonight for our collaboration Saturday with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony of Carmina Burana; and, right, a full-time job. (The Dallas Opera put their video of Everest's premiere on YouTube.) 

We also have a few things going on in the news, it seems:

I will now return to reverse-engineering a particularly maddening interface.

Lyric Opera musicians continue strike

Citing a $10m budget shortfall, Lyric Opera of Chicago has cut their orchestra's year by two weeks and cut six performances. In response, the Chicago Federation of Musicians has gone on strike, forcing the cancellation of La Boheme and possibly other productions:

The orchestra and management have stalled on contract negotiations, and according to bassoon player Lewis Kirk, musicians have been working without a contract since June.

Kirk said management had issued “severe demands.” He pointed to management’s proposal to eliminate five positions in the orchestra as a major point of contention. He said overall quality will be threatened.

[Anthony Freud, general director at the Lyric Opera of Chicago] maintained the proposed cuts come as a result of supply and demand. There were 61 performances during the 2017 to 2018 season.Freud said only 55 were scheduled for the 2018 to 2019 season to ensure the company could  sell enough tickets. According to Freud, fewer performances account for management’s plan to reduce annual working weeks for members of the orchestra from 24 to 22.

Said one of my friends who is familiar with the negotiations:

If Lyric faces financial challenges, it is not because of the Orchestra. Lyric grew its budget in recent years, from $60.4 million in 2012 to $84.5 million in 2017. But the Orchestra saw none of that $24 million increase. To the contrary, the Orchestra’s share of the budget has decreased steadily, from 14.6% in 2012 to 11.9% in 2017. If Lyric wants to make cuts, it is looking in a misguided place. Since 2011, orchestra members’ weekly salary has increased an average of less than 1% per year; adjusted for inflation, wages have actually decreased by 5.1% since 2011. The musicians’ last bargaining proposal to management proposed tying wage increases directly to the rate of inflation. They are not even trying to make up for lost ground. It is infuriating and heartbreaking.

I haven't seen La Boheme yet, and I may not this year. Heartbreaking indeed.

Chicago's first opera

On this day in 1850, Chicago had its first (sort-of) professional opera performance. It wasn't exactly up to the Lyric's standards:

In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind—“The Swedish Nightingale”—$1,000 a night to perform. Chicago’s first opera didn’t have Jenny Lind. But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice’s Theatre. The opera was Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Four singers are not enough for an opera. So the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs. A few of them had good voices, most of them didn’t. Rehearsals were—I think “confused” is a good word to describe them.

Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems. The audience kept applauding at the wrong time—whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, his friends in the audience would stand up and cheer. Meanwhile, one of the extras named J.H. McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out everybody else.

It helps to remember that 18 years after the city's founding, it more resembled a frontier town than the international metropolis it became in the 20th century. Still, it sounds like a fun show.

And then the theater burned down the next day...

More links

Too many interesting things to read today. I've got some time between work and Bel Canto to get through them:

I have not read Bel Canto, though I understand it's loosely based on an actual historical event. I also haven't ever heard anything from composer Jimmy López before, since it only permiered last month. Friends who work for the Lyric tell me it's pretty good. I'll find out in a few hours.