Weekly Photo Challenge: Pure — My Notebook

This post is in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Pure The SFMOMA has just reopened after three years of renovation. As a member of SFMOMA for many years, I am very excited of its new look and expansion. Due to work, I was only able to visit the museum twice on Thursday nights. Both visits were […]

via Weekly Photo Challenge: Pure — My Notebook

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.”

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…

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

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I mentioned several times on my blogs about Asian Art Museum (AAM) in San Francisco.  I have been a Chartered member for many years, but due to workload, I did not visit the AAM as often as I like to.  The current Terracotta Warriors Exhibition has started in February but I did not have the chance to visit till today.  As I had visited Xian some years ago, and seen the life-size Warriors, I thought it was no big deal to see them again at AAM.  I was wrong.  Although I did see a big group of Warriors in Xian, we were not allowed to go near to them.  We could only see them from a higher level and take pictures from there.  I still remember seeing some pictures of President Clinton and his family being allowed to go down to take photos with the Warriors.  I admired him for that opportunity which I would never have!

Yet today, we all had the chance to take our own pictures with the Warriors which were  just a foot away.  I did not choose to do so, but I took a bunch of pictures of the Warriors.  The museum allows visitors to take pictures as long as there is no flash.  The result is so good that I cannot help posting them immediately tonight.  I would say that the curator did a fantastic job in the lighting arrangement.  I am posting them on a slide-show and a gallery.  Please see for yourself.  The iPhone pictures are not bad even in a dark environment.  I think the effect is better if you see them via the gallery.  Please click on any photo below, and the gallery will open up.  Then you can see them in full size.  If you want to download them to your computer to see them, please go ahead and do so.  The effect to see them in full screen on your computer is the best.

I also met my friend Margaret who is a docent at AAM.  I think she is one of the finest docents at AAM.  I have learned a lot from her in Asian Art as well as her travel experience.  Her guided tour was excellent.  The only problem was the big crowd. I chose the wrong day (it is Mother’s Day).  I think I would take some of my colleagues during the weekdays.  Some of them did not have the chance to see the Warriors in Xian.

Although I  intend to write something about the Terracotta Warriors and the other objects excavated from the tomb, I won’t have time tonight.  Here’s the information on the Asian Art Museum website:

About the Exhibition

“The First Emperor, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BCE) conquered much in this life, but his driving purpose was even greater: He sought to conquer death. In order to achieve immortality, he built himself a tomb—a vast underground city guarded by a life-size terracotta army including warriors, infantrymen, horses, chariots and all their attendant armor and weaponry.

First unearthed in 1974, the underground burial complex of the First Emperor is a revelation for the ages, an astonishing discovery on par with Egypt’s mummies and elaborate tombs. Contemporary observers continue to be enthralled by his legacy, and it is through this ongoing interest that the First Emperor did indeed achieve immortality. This exhibition includes ten figures—a representative sample of the actual army, which is estimated to include more than 7,000 life-sized figures and over 10,000 weapons.”

I hope this post will stimulate the interests of some of you to visit the Exhibition before it ends on May 27, 2013.

The Yellow River Civilization and the Yellow River Piano Concerto

This is a follow-up post on my last one in relation to the Yellow River Mother Sculpture in Lanzhou, as some of my readers are interested in knowing more about the significance of Yellow River in the Chinese history.
I found the following information quite helpful in understanding the Yellow River Civilization:

The Yellow River Civilization


“From the earliest times in the history of humankind, water, in the form of lakes, seas, and especially rivers, has played an essential role in the development of civilization. This is a truth universal to cultures throughout the world. And the great amount of archeological information available about ancient Chinese civilization tells us that their ways of life were greatly influenced by the Yellow and Yangtze River civilizations. The Yellow River, in particular, was essential to the development of Chinese civilization.

In Chinese history, and in the history of human civilization, the Yellow River is not simply a set of characters on a page and the name of a river. In fact, it stands for a kind of culture and civilization. Undoubtedly, the Yellow River civilization has played a very great role in the development of civilization across the globe.

For thousands of years, the river has been known as the mother river of the Chinese nation, both in the writings of the poets and scribes, and in the hearts of the Chinese people. Almost all the Chinese see themselves as the children of Yellow River. It is said that Egypt is the gift vouchsafed by the Nile. If there were no Nile, then it is hard to see how there could be an Egyptian civilization. The Yellow River has the same relationship with China. If China had no Yellow River, the Chinese wouldn’t have a place to focus their spiritual energies on.

Yellow River drainage basin is the birthplace of Chinese nation and meanwhile it is the cradle of Chinese civilization. In this vast cradle, Yellow River civilization, which is the principal part of the whole Chinese civilization and plays a crucial role in the history of civilization development, grew with vitality. It had stood the test of almost all kinds of upheavals and difficulties, and finally created the continuous Chinese civilization.”

I would like to end this post by introducing to my readers the Yellow River Piano Concert. Here’s a video I found on you-tube showing the performance of the world-famous Yellow River Piano Concerto. It is arranged by a collaboration between musicians including Yin Chengzong and Chu Wanghua, and based on the Yellow River Cantata by composer Xian XinghaiWikipedia

Yellow River Piano Concerto, first movement, performed by Lang Lang.

1. Song of the Yellow River Boatmen
2. Ode to the Yellow River


The Yellow River Mother Sculpture in Lanzhou, China, and Picasso’s Mother and Child Painting in the Art Institute of Chicago

Next week, I should be making a business trip to Chicago.  I thought that I can visit one of my favorite museums,  the Art Institute of Chicago again.  Unfortunately, due to some urgent business at work, I cancelled my trip.  The Art Institute of Chicago has many of my favorite art works, including:

Gustave CaillebotteParis Street; Rainy Day,1876-1877

Georges-Pierre SeuratSunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884–1886

Pablo PicassoThe Old Guitarist, 1903

Today, I would like to refer to another painting which is very interesting to me.  It is Picasso’s Mother and Child.



Pablo Picasso
Spanish, worked in France, 1881–1973

Mother and Child, 1921

The Art Institute of Chicago

Here’s an interesting analysis of this painting by Mike Freeman’s Analysis of Picasso’s Mother and Child Painting

“Upon investigating the unusual life of Pablo Picasso in an attempt to familiarize myself with his painting titled Mother and Child (1921), I feel that this painting represents the false depiction of a happy family despite true distant feelings. A paragraph I read during some research suggested that one of Picasso’s Mother and Child paintings had undergone x-ray analysis. Apparently, a shadow of Picasso’s arm can be seen in the painting, hence the reason the child is reaching upwards into the air. Originally, Picasso had painted himself into the painting to depict a perfect family life, however upon ever mounting arguments held between himself and his wife Olga, the presumed mother in the painting, Picasso chose to remove himself completely from the artwork. This theory, if true, and based on a seemingly credible source, supports my theory about Picasso’s separation from not only his wife, but his own son. Throughout the biographies I encountered about Pablo, accounts of his life share the same idea that Picasso was extremely secluded from his children, most talked about in particular his son Paulo, who is believed to be the child in the painting. Paulo was born shortly before this painting was created. Removing himself from the painting, symbolizes Picasso’s desire to remove himself from his current life situation, showing his displeasure for his wife and son. Despite his true feelings towards his family, he still paints a typical “happy family” portrait. The only difference with the final product was the exclusion of himself. Often, it is suggested that Picasso, like most artists, paint not only on what they observe, but also their deepest desires and inner feelings. This painting, at first glance from the untrained eye of an average museum traveler, depicts a seemingly love filled, nurturing portrait of a mother and her son, seemingly part of a happy family. Little do those people know the awful, heart wrenching truth laced deep within the paint that was expertly splashed in malice and sorrow to create a masterpiece.”

I am not surprised at this analysis.  After all Picasso had had so many women in his life.  He removed himself from the painting.  What does it symbolize?

This painting was painted in 1921, in his Neo-Classicism period (1920-30). It shows heavily built sculpture-like women. The famous one in this period is at MOMA: “Three Women at the Spring” 1921.

To understand Picasso’s style in this period, I found this excerpt very helpful as it talks about the “the three women at the spring”:


“Curator, Kirk Varnedoe: When you look at Picasso’s Three Women at the Spring this represents the embodiment of what one calls the return to order—the idea that after World War I, French society wanted to reestablish its roots with the grand tradition and a kind of solid, reassuring, sculptural vision of the human figure rooted in classicism. It was an art of reassurance, of rebounding after the experimentation of the teens. And yet when you look at this picture, it’s not really a conservative picture—the tubular nature of the arms, the large abstract rhythms of the figures are very much a legacy of his more radical work.

Remember again that this is painted exactly in the same summer that he paints The Three Musicians. Unlike Matisse, Picasso is happy working in two extremes virtually simultaneously, painting a picture of strong Cubist abstraction on the one hand,and seemingly full-bodied sculptural realism on the other.”

I saw this painting for the first time in the Art Institute of Chicago around 2003. I was impressed by the different styles of Picasso at the same period of time.  Few Years later, I took a trip to the Silk Road in China with family and friends.  At the end of the trip, we went to Lanzhou and visited the Bund of the Yellow River to see this beautiful sculpture named the Yellow River Mother. This is the picture from a tourist website:




“This sculpture is the best of its kind in China. The whole sculpture contains that of a mother and a baby. The mother with long hair, slim figure, lying on the undulated water looks happy and kind. On her breast she holds a small kid who bears naive smile. The sculpture connotes that the Yellow River has nourished generations of Chinese.”

The Mother symbolizes the Yellow River which is the cradle of the Chinese civilization. What is special about this Mother sculpture are her facial features.  Does she look like most Chinese Han people?  No, because the people in Lanzhou are the Hui minorities who have some western facial features . Let us find out where is Lanzhou and what is its significance in formulating the cultures of this part of the world.


“Lanzhou is the capital city of Gansu Province in northwest China. The Yellow River runs through the city, ensuring rich crops of many juicy and fragrant fruits. The city is the transportation and telecommunication center of the region. Covering an area of 1631.6 square kilometers (629.96 square miles), Lanzhou used to be a key point on the ancient Silk Road. Today, It is a hub of the Silk Road Tourism Ring,”

Here’s another informative article describing the people of Lanzhou, their religion, traditions and customs::


“Lanzhou has certainly changed since the first foreign visitors started coming here 100 years ago. But the city retains its distinct character due to its location along a narrow valley astride the Yellow River, and the visible Muslim culture. The river is never far away, and the hills to the north and south offer spectacular views from hilltop tea gardens. Looking down on the city you’ll be sure to spot some mosques. The Hui Muslim population is small but very visible. There are qīngzhēn (清真) restaurants on every street (not all noodles, by the way), and if you are nearby a mosque at prayer time, you’ll hear the call to prayer.”

We now know that the sculpture reflects the Hui minority ethnic group. When I saw this Yellow River Mother sculpture, I immediately thought about the Picasso’s painting of Mother and Child.  Do you think there are some similarities between the two?  As artists’ inspire each other, it is possible that the sculptor who made this sculpture 65 years later may have been inspired by Picasso. The sculpture is the work of a famous female Gansu sculptor He E.  Actually He and Picasso have very different styles.  It just fascinated me when I saw the big Mother sculpture in Lanzhou because it was speaking to me.  It spoke of the love of the mother for the child. I hope you do feel the same way.

Which one do you like more?  I like the Yellow River Mother more because of her smile and its beautiful face.  In Picasso’s painting, the mother seems to have some hidden sorrow on her facial expression and not as beautiful.  Indeed none of the women drawn by Picasso is like a regular beauty. Both pieces do have a similar theme:  the love of the mother for her child.

What do you think? I’d love to her from you!