The Tales of Hoffmann – San Francisco Opera – Jacques Offenbach – from “Barcarolle” to “Can Can”

The Summer Opera season has just started in  SF Opera.   Tonight we watched The Tales of Hoffmann.  The music, the singing, the costume, the set, were all beautiful.  This is the trailer from SF Opera.

The Tales of Hoffmann Trailer from San Francisco Opera

Jacques Offenbach, the Composer

Les contes d’Hoffmann (in English: The Tales of Hoffmann) is an opera by Jacques Offenbach. It was first performed in Paris, at the Opéra-Comique, on February 10, 1881.

The libretto was written by Jules Barbier, based on three short stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann. E.T.A. Hoffmann himself is a character in the opera just as he often is in his stories. The stories upon which the opera is based are Der Sandmann,Rath Krespel, and Das verlorene Spiegelbild.

The opera contains a prologue, three acts and an epilogue. Offenbach did not live to see his opera performed, since he died on October 5, 1880, just over four months before its premiere. Before his death, Offenbach had completed the piano score and orchestrated the prologue and the first act. Since he did not entirely finish the writing, many different versions of this opera emerged, some bearing little resemblance to the original work. The version performed at the opera’s premiere was that by Ernest Guiraud, who completed Offenbach’s scoring and wrote the recitatives.

 Barcarolle —  the most famous aria

The most famous aria from the opera is the “Barcarolle” (Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour), which is performed in Act 2. Curiously, the aria was not written by Offenbach with Les Contes d’Hoffmann in mind. He wrote it as a ghost-song in the opera Les fées du Rhin (which premiered in Vienna on February 8, 1864 as Die Rheinnixen). Offenbach died with Les contes d’Hoffmann unfinished.

Ernest Guiraud completed the scoring and wrote the recitatives for the premiere. He also incorporated this excerpt from one of Offenbach’s earlier, long-forgotten operas into the new opera.

The Barcarolle has been incorporated into many movies including Life Is Beautiful and Titanic.

The most famous aria Barcarolle  ….sound familiar?   Yes, we all played it when we were children!  It is beautiful and has different ways of presentation.   I found this one played with mandolins, guitar, double bass and piano.  Enjoy!

Barcarolle, J.Offenbach, ATTIKA “Musica Poetica” official version

 “Barcarolle” was originally composed for soprano.  Let us hear these beautiful voices:

Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca sing “Barcarolle”

Finally, please don’t forget, that Offenbach has another very popular piece widely used in movies all over the world: Can Can.  This video uses the images from the artist Toulouse-Lautrec  who is famous for his Moulin Rouge paintings.  Enjoy!

French CanCan – Jacques Offenbach (Orphée aux Enfers)

I would like to end this post with a very interesting quote from Thomas May who wrote in the program book for SF Opera.  He said that Hoffman has become Offenbach’s signature work but it has actually made a big shift of his style from light-hearted comedy. He quoted David Littlejohn’s comments: “as if the world’s most popular comedian had a try at playing Hamlet just before he died, and pulled it off successfully.”

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 words – “Who is coming for dinner tonight?” and “Who is cooking for dinner tonight?”


Photo Credit Courtesy of Michelle Weber

In response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 words, this is a story about a man and a woman.  The title of the story is:

“Who is coming for dinner tonight?” and

“Who is cooking for dinner tonight?”

Liz and Ed met at the Best Culinary Academy.  Before Liz enrolled in the Academy, she was an A+ high school senior.  Instead of going into a regular college like the University of California system, she wanted to be a chef.  She has been a big fan of the Food Network, and never missed an Iron Chef show.  Her favorite Chef is Bobby Flay.

“Wow, if I become a chef and work in Bobby Flay’s kitchen,….not only will I be able to learn more from this celebrity chef, I may one day become….”  , Liz thought.

Ed, on the other hand,  received a degree in culinary arts and was a member of the fifth graduating class of the French Culinary Institute.  Bobby was on the first graduating class.   Ed  and Bobby were alums but they did not know each other.  Ed later became a stock broker while Bobby went back to the kitchen after having been tired of the stockbroker work.  Three years later, Ed did the same thing as Bobby.  He was tired to be a stockbroker and thought he would be a better chef than a stockbroker.  By that time, Bobby had already become famous and was an iron chef on the Food Network show.  Ed was not as fortunate.  He went on and became a teacher at the California Culinary Academy.  Here, he met Liz.

Love at first sight?  Not at all.  Ed did not like women who aspired to become a chef.   He told himself:  “Never marry a woman chef.  She cannot even cook for her husband.  And I am not going to cook for my wife!”   Well, see what happened.

The Food Network has a new show named “You think you can cook?”.   Although Ed is already a culinary teacher, he did not have experience working in a kitchen on television.  He went to consult with his boss Ron, a senior executive of the Academy.  Ron said, ” Get a good sous-chef to help you.”  Ed did have a sous-chef, but he had to take care of  family business, and did not have time to participate in the TV show”.  After much consideration Ed approached Liz who was one of her best students.

“Are you interested in assisting me in the next cooking show?  It’s Bobby Flay’s show, and we will be able to meet with him.”

“What?  Bobby Flay?  Of course.  I would love to be your show-partner”.

So Ed and Liz worked together and experimented with a number of recipes with different ingredients.  The day of the show came.  They went to the studio.  Here they met Bobby Flay.  Nobody knew that this was a special show.  Bobby Flay was  on a secret mission: to challenge the contestants in different kinds of cooking – BBQ’s, Pies, Pizza, desserts and more.  Ed and Liz and other contestants thought that they were going to the studio to shoot their profile for the show.  What they did not know was that Bobby dropped by for a surprise visit and challenged them to an unexpected “cook-off”.

In the episode where Ed and Liz were the contestants, Bobby dropped by Ed’s house without announcement.  He asked Ed and Liz to prepare a dinner with a special ingredient:  mango!  Ed remembered one of Bobby’s popular recipes

“Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango Cilantro Salsa”.

“Hey, Liz.  I have an idea.  Since we live in San Francisco, let us design a recipe that reflects the diversity of the population here.

The special ingredient “mango” is now a starring of a new recipe:  it is called “eat mango like a lady or gentleman”, and “fried rice with chicken and mango”  which has an Asian flavor but a Western approach.  How did these two special dishes fare?  Well, Bobby liked them.  Ed and Liz won!  Since then, they made lots of shows together.

Coming soon!

 “Who is coming for dinner tonight?” and a companion show ” Who is cooking tonight?”

What happened then?  Ed and Liz fell in love.   They then got married and were happily ever after.  What is their favorite dish that they eat at home? ” Fried Rice with Mango and Chicken”.  This is not bad, ladies and gentlemen!  Try a bite.  Yum, Yum!  But then who is cooking at home?  Who knows, and who cares?

If you are interested in Ed and Liz’s favorite dish, here’s the recipe : Fried Rice with Mango and Chicken

By the way, their newest show has become the most popular one on Food Network.  Check it out: “Ladies and Gentlemen: Do you know how to eat mango like a lady or a gentleman?”

~ The End~


The names of the fictional characters in this story are all fictions, with no true information or references to any persons.


The Chefs picture:  Photo credit courtesy of Michelle Weber

Source of information about Bobby Flay’s background and shows:

The fictional food show’s title “you think you can cook” is inspired by Rachael Ray’s show “so  you think you can cook”.

The fictional “secret mission” of Bobby Flay’s show is inspired by his show “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”


The story, the fictional titles of the TV food shows “Who is coming for dinner tonight” and “Who is cooking tonight”, and “Ladies and Gentlemen: do you know how to eat mango like a lady or a gentleman?”, the  photos of the two dishes and recipes, “Fried rice with chicken and mango” and ‘ladies and gentlemen…” are properties of the author of this story~©DenRecipe

Girl with a Pearl Earring – Last week in de Young Museum, San Francisco

 We finally got to see this famous painting at de Young Museum today.  I have delayed this visit due to many reasons:  too busy at work and at home; had a vacation in april; waiting for our cousins to come so that we can all go together…

Like the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at Asian Art Museum, which will end tomorrow, May 27, this exhibition is ending this week next Sunday, June 2.  I told myself:  I cannot miss these two exhibitions.  I need to give some priorities to satisfy my interests in art.   Also,  the SFMOMA will  be closed for two years after June 2.  I can’t afford NOT to see this Girl with a Pearl Earring.  Since this is the closing week, there were many visitors.  The line to buy tickets was very long.  As a member, I already reserved the tickets, but still had to wait in a shorter line.


This is from the museum website  “The exhibition features 35 paintings representing the range of subject matter and technique characteristic of 17th-century painting in the Dutch Republic. Among the works traveling to the United States is the Mauritshius’ celebrated masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer and the enchanting The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius. The painting Vase of Flowers by the gifted Rachel Ruysch, one of the few female painters of the Dutch Golden Age, is being restored especially for the American tour.”

I had actually seen most of the other paintings before but my primary interest today is to discuss the “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.  There are so many written reviews on this painting since the release of the Movie in 2003.  I still remember after the movie was released, I went to NYC for a short trip and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has most of Vermeer’s paintings.  In one of the galleries where Vermeer’s paintings were housed, a big group of Japanese tourists took turns to take picture with a very small Vermeer’s painting.

According to a  New York Time post,  “The No. 1 question from visitors to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, according to Emilie Gordenker, is “Where is ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’?” “…this beloved Vermeer painting, the Dutch Mona Lisa, as it has been called, doesn’t reside at the national Rijksmuseum at all but some 30 miles down the road in the lesser-known Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, in The Hague.”  Although this “Dutch Mona Lisa” painting has been very popular for several paintings, it has rose to fame of a “superstar status” after the movie was released.

The novel and the movie are definitely sensational.  What is really behind this beautiful painting?  Who is this young lady?  There is no answer so far.  There is very limited information about Vermeer, and even less about the models.

According to the Guardian, “Exactly why the painting is the source of such fascination is difficult to explain, since very little is known about the painter and even less about his subject. Experts say the mystery is part of its allure. “Sometimes the questions are more intriguing because they can’t be answered,” Melissa Buron, assistant curator of the exhibition at the de Young museum told The Wall Street Journal. “Who was she? What was she thinking? What was her relationship with Vermeer? The mystery is part of its popularity.”

Let us leave the mystery behind for a while, and see if there are pieces of more interesting information about the painting itself.  I found this website very helpful.  I selected a few topics of my interest here.  The following are all extracted from:

Man in a Turban
Jan van Eyck
25,5 x 19 cm
National Gallery, London

The Turkish Turban in European painting:

“The appearance of the young girl’s turban within the context of Vermeer’s seemingly quintessential Dutch oeuvre should not come as a complete surprise. Other objects of “Turkish” origin may be associated with the painter. Some of the carpets which appear as table coverings in his interiors (contemporary painters rarely represented these precious imports lying on the ground) are of Turkish origin. They must have been appreciated for their evocative floral motifs and the large mass of warm red color which enlivened the otherwise geometrical and cold interiors.

However, we must not believe that anything called “Turkish” in contemporary accounts really came from that country. The term was loosely used to describe exotic imported objects which were much in vogue. In the inventory (29 February, 1676) taken shortly after the artist’s death we find listed among other things: “a Turkish mantle of the aforesaid Sr. Vermeer,” “a pair of Turkish trousers” and “a black Turkish mantle” all in the “great hallway” of his house. Some scholars have suggested that the two tronies in “Turkish dress” found in the kitchen could possibly have been by Vermeer’s hand.”

Who posed for the painting?

“A careful consideration of the Girl with Pearl Earring gives rise to the question of how far the painting is to be taken as a portrait. P. T. A. Swillens, who compiled the first exhaustive study of the artist’s life and work in 1950, believed that one of the most important characteristics of a 17th-century portrait was its likeness and although we can no longer judge of this anymore, the face would not be called a beauty in an aesthetic sense. Swillens writes that Vermeer made no attempt to idealize her.

Contemporary scholars are not in agreement on the subject. According to Arthur Wheelock the painting is an “idealized study” which reveals Vermeer’s “classical tendencies.”

Not a single sitter in Vermeer’s extant paintings has ever been identified, including the young girl in the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Many critics believe that she may have been Vermeer’s first daughter, Maria who would have been about 12 or 13 years old in 1665-1667, the dating scholars have assigned to the painting. However, this painting was certainly not a portrait in the 17th-century sense of the term, but rather a tronie. In any case, she resembles the model in Vermeer’s Art of Painting(see above).”

Inspired by an Italian painting?

Beatrice Cenci
attributed to Guido Reni
64,5 x 49 cm
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Roma

“Nonetheless, Vermeer scholars have proposed a wide variety of Dutch and foreign models including, traditionally, theBeatrice Cenci by the Italian painter Guido Reni.* While such a connection may appear far fetched, Vermeer certainly knew the Beatrice Cenci story which had captured Europe’s collective imagination. He could have easily seen one of the many copies of Reni’s original or engravings which circulated throughout Europe.

Beatrice, the daughter of the rich and powerful Francesco Cenci, suffered from her father’s mistreatment. Violent and dissolute, he imprisoned Beatrice and her stepmother in the Castle of Petrella Salto, near Rieti. With the blessing of her stepmother and two brothers, all of whom shared her exasperation at his continued abuse, Beatrice murdered her father in 1598. She was apprehended and, after a trial that riveted the attention of the citizens of Rome, condemned to death at the order of Pope Clement VIII, who may have been motivated by the hope of confiscating the assets of the family. In the presence of an enormous crowd, Beatrice was decapitated in the Ponte Sant’Angelo in September of 1599, instantly becoming a symbol of innocence oppressed.

It has been hypothesized that the great Italian painter Caravaggio was present at the decapitation and was inspired to paint his Judith Cutting off the Head ofHolofernes. The precise and realistic rendering of Caravaggio’s scene, anatomically and physiologically correct to the minutest details, presupposes the artist’s observation of a real decapitation.

The influential Vermeer writer Lawrence Gowing had proposed the influence of Jan Scorel’s female portraits. The Scorel and Reni influences have been largely set aside in favor of somewhat less exotic connections with the Dutch painter Michiel Sweerts.

* While the Beatrice Cenci is traditionally attributed to Reni, its poor quality in comparison to other works of the master has led many critics to reject it as an autograph work. Instead, it could be by a painter in the immediate circle of Reni, possibly Elisabetta Sirani, who is known for rendering the master’s models in abbreviated and reduced form.”

How big is this painting?

As this painting is so small, and there were too many visitors crowding round the painting, I only stayed in front of the painting for a while.  What did I see and what did I think about?  I think the lighting and shadows painted here have particularly highlighted the Girl’s eyes looking at the artist, and now at the viewers.  Her eyes and her lips which are sexually implied, are very different from other women’s look and behavior in Vermeer’s other paintings.

~Images  from Google~

The mystery will continue, and the painting “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” will continue to be a superstar.  Good luck to your guess and imagination!

 “Everything you can imagine is real.”
― Pablo Picasso

Happy Anniversary to my “Initiation” into the Blogging World – my 100th post on “My Notebook”, and my 259th post on my 6 Blogs

My Notebook

No Caption

Happy Anniversary!

Today, there are reasons to celebrate.  It is the first anniversary of my first blog which is

from “curiosita to…”

As I was new to blogging, I went around to experiment on different themes.  Writing is not really my best attribute, but I love to learn new things, and love challenges.  As traveling and arts are my cup of tea, I want to devote different blogs to a different theme.  So far, I have actually developed many blogs on different platforms.  WordPress is my regular platform.  To date, I have these 6 “active” blogs, while the others are either private or not searchable for either work or private purpose.  As I am a private person, but not totally conservative like many people, I do not use blogging to socialize or widen my social network.  I think I just like to express and share what I like, share my…

View original post 834 more words

China’s First Emperor’s Warriors are going home! Last week to visit them at Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Part IV – the Waterbirds

As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking a few of my colleagues at lunchtime to see the Terracotta Warriors as it is the last week of the exhibition at the Asian Art Museum.  After the visit today, one of them told me that her favorites are the waterbirds.  If you have read Part II or the second post about this exhibition, you may notice I also said that I found the waterbirds most interesting.  To satisfy my curiosity, I searched and looked around, and found some interesting remarks from scholars and curators.  The following information is extracted from the Asian Art Museum Docent Website


In 2001 a pit containing fifteen terracotta musicians and forty-six life-size bronze waterbirds was found about three kilometers northeast of the First Emperor’s tomb. The birds, which retain some of their original pinkish paint, were discovered on the banks of an artificial waterway. Some archaeologists believe the pit represents a royal park or sacred water garden. Water was the Qin dynasty‘s chosen symbol because it extinguishes fire, the element associated with the preceding Eastern Zhou dynasty (770–256 BCE).

I also searched for information at  iTunes U.  Press 5 and 6, and you will hear an audio recording about the waterbirds.

Scholars or curators are all amazed at these waterbirds,  not only of their life-size scale,  but also of the different charming poses.  None of them is identical.   Some have leisurely poses as if they are gliding gracefully on the pond,  while some are stretching their long neck looking for food.  There are 6 cranes flanked by 20 swans and 20 geese with 15 warriors surrounding them. 

Apart from the sacred water garden theory, there is another interpretation:  the whole set of waterbirds signifies heaven and earth, which is part of the design of the underground palace.  What is buried on the ground is not really underground,  but represents a replica of the celestial world.  What about the 15 warriors surrounding the birds?  Some scholars think that they may be musicians, and some think they are archers.   It looks like that the music theory does not quite hold because no musical instrument was found.   The archers’ theory is more receptive by many scholars, because bow and arrows were found nearby.  Also, in the ancient days, capturing  birds may represent the arrival of spring, which means the rejuvenation of life.

No matter which theory holds, I think these waterbirds have characters and are attractive to many viewers.  Do you want to see them again?  Only a few more days are left!

Coming Soon

Apart from the waterbirds, I am actually very interested in studying the warriors.  None is identical.  Please stay tuned for the next few posts!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern (3) – Terracotta Warriors and Patterns – Exhibition at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (Part III)

This is my third post  in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge – Pattern.  This is also Part III of my post – the Terracotta Warriors.

If you have not seen my video, I highly recommend you to take a look.   I am re-posting the video here since many of you have missed it.

The patterns on these artifacts are very impressive. They demonstrate the advanced technology already used in China 2,700 years ago.  I found some interesting  information from the Asian Art Museum docent website and would like to share with you here. IMG_3406

“石甲 Suit of armor Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE) Limestone Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology Catalog #91 in China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy H. 77 cm (30 5/16 in), W. 50 cm (19 11/16 in) This suit of armor, one of probably thousands still being found, consists of more than six hundred stone pieces laced with copper wire. Stone armor was too heavy to wear into battle, and was made instead for burial. Combat armor was made of leather or metal. This limestone armor and the helmet are constructed from fragments found in 1998 and 1999, in a pit thought to be the armory and located not far from the First Emperor’s tomb mound. The pit is estimated to cover 13,000 square meters. Excavation is ongoing, with more than 130 stone armor suits discovered to date. Only one-eightieth of the pit has been excavated.

鳳鳥紋瓦當 Roof tile end with phoenix motif Warring States period (475–221 BCE) Low-fired ceramicIMG_3434 Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology Catalog #61 in China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy Diam. 15 cm (5 7/8 in) Many roof tiles that include a phoenix reflect religious beliefs. Qin people believed that their primary ancestor was the “heavenly bird,” a reference to the phoenix. The bird represents a deity, corresponding to yang energy and the cardinal direction of the South. Phoenix roof tiles probably emerged in the early Qin period. According to ancient documents, a duke who died in 621 BCE built a Phoenix Tower for his daughter, who played the flute there for decades in dedication to “heavenly birds.” In return, it is said that the phoenix accompanied her as she ascended to heaven.

卷渦雲紋瓦當IMG_3435Roof tile end with swirling clouds Warring States period (475–221 BCE) Low-fired ceramic Qin Shihuang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum Catalog #70 in China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy Diam. 15.3 cm (6 in), D. 2.4 cm (15/16 in)   IMG_3429

青銅鳳鳥紋扁盉 Ritual wine kettle with phoenix-shaped spout (he) Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BCE) bronze Excavated at

Bianj iazhuang in Longxian, Shaanxi, 1986 Longxian Museum, Shaanxi Catalog #7 in China’s Texacotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy H. 14 cm (5 1/2 in), W. 15 cm (5 7/8 in) Spouted kettles were used to serve drinks, mostly grain wine. A bird with a crest and hooked beak serves as the lid and also appears on the spout and each flat side. This sacred bird is referred to as the phoenix, and was regarded by Qin people as their primeval ancestor. Several kettles, including this one, were discovered in an old Qin capital near the northwestern border of Shaanxi.”

All the above description are quoted from the  the Asian Art Museum docent website.

Do you like the patterns on these artifacts?  I do.

Remember they were made 2,700 plus years ago!

China’s First Emperor’s Warriors are going home! Last two weeks to visit them at Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Part II

In my last post on the same subject, I did not include the artifacts being exhibited.  On this post, I have included some of the artifacts excavated from the tomb.  To make it more interesting for you, I have created a movie from the pictures of the Warriors and the artifacts.  The music I used is Birds Singing in Spring by the Shanghai Folk Orchestra.  Scroll down to see the birds among the artifacts!  I hope you will enjoy it.

Here’s a gallery of the artifacts only, since I have already posted the Warriors on my last post.

Reminder: If you click any picture, you will see the gallery open up with the photos in large size.

Of these artifacts, I found the four water-birds most interesting.  It is the first time I saw water-birds excavated from tombs.  The First Emperor wanted to keep these birds in a pond surrounding his underground palace.  This shows how he would enjoy life if he were alive!

Reminder: If you click any of these four pictures, you will see the gallery open up with the photos in large size.

I also like these two tiles which have very special patterns.  The tile on the left is a rectangular paving tile with a sun design framed by a S-shaped cloud.  The First Emperor might have imagined himself ascended to heaven by walking on symbolic floors like this everyday.

The paving tile on the right is a hollow brick fragment with a dragon design.  It is believed that the First Emperor ‘s palaces were meant to mirror the celestial realm.  Therefore the dragon and phoenix designs are often found in these paving tiles.

(References: from the labels of the artifacts in the exhibition.)

Reminder: If you click any of these two pictures, you will see the gallery open up with the photos in large size.