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Los Angeles CA, Jewelry, Fashion

A Day at the Los Angeles Opera with Carmen

My first memories of opera, take me back to grammar school.  My mother had briefly trained to be an opera singer before abandoning it in pursuit of becoming a doctor. Of the two, she found medicine to be the lesser difficult discipline even though she was one of only three women in her USC medical school class. Whenever she picked me up from school I was greeted with Die Zauberflüte or another one of her favorites blasting out of her car, announcing her arrival in the carpool lane.  Despite enjoying opera, I'd actually never been to see one before.  Truth be told I think I was a little intimidated. Going to the opera was for aficionados, people who knew every aria and composer by heart.  Nevertheless, I was excited when my mom asked me to join her to see Carmen at the LA Opera.

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Carmen_-_illustration_by_Luc_for_Journal_Amusant_1875.jpg

On the left, the original Carmen, Célestine Galli-Marié in Carmen, by Henri Lucien Doucet (1884), musée de Marseille.

Above illustration of Carmen by Luc for Journal Amusant 1875, a french satirical weekly magazine.

 

Before every performance, the conductor, James Conlon, gives an hour long introduction. He is also the music director and has quite an impressive career, conducting at La Scala in Milan and over 270 times at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in addition to serving as the director of the Paris National Opera.  He's a great speaker, very informative and I appreciated the backstory of Carmen that he gave while dropping little fun facts and juicy tidbits about its inception. The orchestra is below the stage so you can't see the musicians during the performance but you can see Conlon with his hair whipping back and forth as he waves his baton energetically.  Mozart in the Jungle was in the back of my mind as I watched him conduct.

Ana Maria Martinez  as Carmen. Photo by Ken Howard / LA Opera

Ana Maria Martinez as Carmen. Photo by Ken Howard / LA Opera

I had always thought of Carmen as a Spanish opera. I was partially right, it takes place in Spain, but is sung in French (Bizet was French). Since I speak French, it was fun trying to decipher some of the arias as they were sung and not solely relying on the subtitle teleprompter that hangs above the stage. It was adapted from the novella by Prosper Mérimée, that came out in 1845.  Georges Bizet adapted the story of Carmen into his opera and died three months after it debuted in march of 1875,  at the age of only 36! Similar to Mozart who died at 35. It's remarkable to think what both of them could have achieved if they had only lived longer.

In the 19th century, Spain seemed like an exotic and distant backdrop for the story of a Roma femme fatale whose magnetic charisma and sultriness captivated every man she encountered. Carmen is on her work break from the local factory when she meets Don José, a naive soldier who is the only man in the square oblivious to her charms. She is intrigued by this challenge and sets her sights on acquiring his affections. After a factory dispute ensues, Don José is ordered to question and imprison her but she escapes with his help, he is then put in jail and reconnects with her upon his release. After a scuffle with his commanding officer, Don José is forced to desert the military and his mother and her wishes for him to marry the girl next door. He joins Carmen's gang of smugglers but becomes jealous that meanwhile Carmen's feelings have shifted to a well known matador named Escamillo. Incensed, Don José kills Carmen in a fit of rage outside the arena.

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With all this melodrama, I was surprised to learn that Carmen is considered Opéra Comique. Essentially that means to separate musical numbers with dialogue. Carmen is a feminist prototype, she is unapologetically in control of her own destiny. She is completely transparent about her motives both to do what she wants and to love freely. "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" She does what she wants when she wants, sometimes rather capriciously. The opera's depiction of lawlessness, immorality, and the murder of the main character made for a bold subject matter both at the time of its writing and even today. Carmen has become one of the most popular operas thanks in part to its many well known arias such as Habanera and Toreador.

Flamenco in Carmen. Photo by Ken Howard / LA Opera

Flamenco in Carmen. Photo by Ken Howard / LA Opera

Not only are there wonderful singers in Carmen,  there are also talented flamenco dancers. They give a physical expression to Bizet's dialogue and assist in the telling of Carmen's story. They are led by Spanish choreographer Nuria Castejón,  a dancer with the Ballet Nacional de España and choreographer for Pénelope Cruz in Pedro Almadovor's Volver.  Their costumes are magical as they stomp, heels clicking with fringe flying. The toreador's costumes were also fantastic with satisfying detail all the way down to the pink socks!

If I were dressing Carmen, I would pair my Hazel tassel earrings in Onyx and this embroidered tulle dress by Needle and Thread

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Taking a bow at the end of Carmen

Taking a bow at the end of Carmen

Such a revered opera calls for an impressive setting and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center does not disappoint. It's hard to believe that once upon a time, this center did not exist. In fact, it's only 53 years old. Dorothy, the wife of the former LA Times publisher Norman Chandler, spearheaded the fundraising efforts to get the center made. At the time, the Philharmonic was sharing a performance space with a local church since the early 20's, and Dorothy Buffum Chandler thought that Los Angeles deserved something a little more dignified in stature. The center was built by Seattle transplant architect Welton Becket and Associates, responsible for iconic Angeleno buildings such as the Capitol Building, the Beverly Hilton (the home of the Golden Globes), Pan Pacific Auditorium, Cinerama dome and LAX Theme building to name a few. Built from 1964-1967, becoming at the time the nation's second biggest music center after Lincoln Center in New York.

Photos from Top to Bottom, Dorothy Chandler at the opening in 1964.  Zubin Mehta, left, Dorothy Buffum Chandler and architect Welton Becket. Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall with lattice windows. One of many chandeliers in the grand staircase.

Gustavo Dudamel isn't the only young music director that the Los Angeles Philharmonic has had. Bombay, India born Zubin Mehta, was only 28 when he became the music director at the time of the opening! He was known as Zubie Baby and the Swinging Symphonist. The ushers were dressed in raspberry and orange red Nehru collared jackets in tribute to his heritage.

Architectural drawing of the orchestra foyer by Welton Becket and Associates. The foyer today.

The philharmonic played at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion until 2003 when it moved down the street to Disney Hall. The building while not overly impressive from the outside is quite grand on the inside. It houses large lattice like windows and countless chandeliers from the sixties.  Upstairs where the talk is given prior to the opera, there is a bar with a large Frank Stella painting and an adjoining nook with Chinese wood screens that make you want to curl up with a whisky cocktail and a cozy conversation. It's like entering a time warp but in the very best way. All the decor appears to be original, from the pea green carpet and dark paneled walls to the ornate chandeliers. This is an impressive feat in a city like Los Angeles that loves to tear down or remodel anything that is remotely past its prime.

Frank Stella Irregular Polygons, 1966. Champs baby! One must have champers at the Opera. Pictured in front of one of many gold mosaic tiled columns. Gilded swallows swoop around the mezzanine bar, Chinoiserie in the mezzanine.

You can see Carmen this Saturday, September 23rd as it's simulcast live in Santa Monica (for more SM info click here) and Exposition Park. Admission is free, doors open at 5 pm and show starts at 7 with a running time of 3 hours 25 minutes with 2 intermissions. Bring your chairs and blankets and picnic under the stars. Los Angeles magazine is even hosting a Wine Terrace on the pier. Sadly, no alcohol is permitted at Exposition Park. For more info on Exposition Park, click here.

Opera under the stars in Santa Monica . Photo by Craig T. Matthew

Opera under the stars in Santa Monica. Photo by Craig T. Matthew

Art, Los Angeles CA, Travel

14th Factory Tour: 10 reasons you need to go now!

I had seen a lot of images of 14th Factory popping up on my Instagram feed when it opened in Spring. For one reason or another, I wasn't able to make it until earlier this month. Since it was late in its run, I wondered if it would be worth it or if it was another Museum of Ice Cream type of expensive selfie photo op. I decided to go and I'm so glad I did. It's closing at the end of July, so make your way there as soon as you can!

The outside of the factory is painted black with giant Chinese characters and black and white flags hanging outside the entrance, imparting the foreboding feel of a pirate ship. (I have a 5 year old son, so we see Pirates everywhere these days) I love that it's in Lincoln Heights, a peaceful, industrial neighborhood I often drive through on my way home. Once inside, there are 14 rooms showcasing mainly Simon Birch's work, the British born, Hong Kong based artist who is the founder/creator of the 14th factory. I spent my Junior year abroad in Hong Kong, and haven't been back since so was excited to see this little bit of Hong Kong brought to LA.

Los Angeles was not the first city envisioned to be the home of 14th factory. 5 other cities were previously in the works, the most recent, New York City, but with all other cities, the project was about to open to the public and they either lost their funding, permitting etc, so this installation has been years in the making and very much a labor of love. Supposedly two of the pieces in the factory were sold to LACMA, so it seems that there really was a happy ending after all.

The site selected for 14th factory LA is huge; 3 acres in total in a former warehouse, making it the largest experiential art project in LA. When I visited, they were in the process of filming a documentary for the BBC, and hoping to have the next site take place in London. This whole project is like a rotating mini museum that is entirely funded by ticket sales and donations. There is no guided tour as you walk through the space, and because of its size it can be a little confusing and overwhelming at times. Birch's intention was that it be an informal space for viewing art in a casual setting rather than the conventional museum going experience. He often gives talks on site and has other collaborative, interactive events with artists on the weekends.

What was the most famous room in the factory (that is until the crown room selfie fiasco) is a replica of the room from the last scene in Stanley Kubrick's 2001. The light up floor emanates a lot of heat, each group of 4 or so has 2 minute to walk through, without shoes on and experience it. It's gimmicky for sure but still pretty cool to experience.

The Barmecide Feast by Simon Birch and KplusK associates

Garlands  by Simon Birch, Lily Kwong and KplusK associates.

Garlands by Simon Birch, Lily Kwong and KplusK associates.

Next up is an interior courtyard, filled with grass. They had just replaced it the evening before. Even though the ceiling is perforated, with the extreme heat of LA summers, the grass just couldn't survive very long. There were a few swings scattered throughout but we were told not to step on the grass because it had just been put down. With nobody on the grass it seemed like a haunted idyllic playground.

In the Garlands hall there are 10 photographs by Li Wei with various people suspended in mid air. They were shot with the subjects on cranes and in some you can see the expression of the crowd as they look at the people flying in front of them.

Upclose of The Crusher by Simon Birch, 300 wood and steel painted pitchforks suspended from the ceiling. Acrylic paintings by Dominique Fung, The Inhabitants. Closeups of vegetables in various stages of decay.

One way we've found to keep our son actively engaged while looking at artwork is to give him a camera to record his own view of the art. It's fascinating to see the angles and compositions he comes up with. We also discuss what's going on in the piece, be it the subject matter, technique employed, setting or materials involved.

Closeup of the audience watching of  The Inevitable  By Eric Hu and Simon Birch.

Closeup of the audience watching of The Inevitable By Eric Hu and Simon Birch.

The video of a vintage Ferrari speeding and crashing, flipping over and over until it's destroyed feels hypnotic and voyeuristic, it's hard to look away from. I'm not personally a big car fan, but I can imagine that this video is upsetting for any car aficionado. My son was incredulous that anyone would willing destroy a car. (Again 5 year old here) Various pieces of the car wreckage are displayed on a long table in the adjoining room like archaeological finds.

Hypercaine by Simon Birch, Gloria Yu, Gabriel Chan, and Jacob Blitzer.

Sometimes you experience an emotional reaction just from simply looking at a piece of art, and with others the story behind it makes it much more impactful.  At first glance, this room had simplistic crowns made out of various stones and metal juxtaposed with more intricate Alexander Mc Queen like head pieces and some metal fragments. When chatting with the security guard, he explained that various pieces throughout the exhibit detailed the emotional journey that Birch embarked up on after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Some pieces represent the chaos and turmoil of receiving such a grim prognosis. Others are more hopeful. The metal fragments and some of the metal cages were made from Birch's actual brain scans. This is also the room where a girl attempting to take a selfie recently fell backwards, knocking several of the pedestals down in a domino effect and causing $200,000 worth of damage. Its great when people can get right up close to enjoy and experience the artwork but it's a shame when people are careless and inconsiderate. Just because it's not a conventional museum viewing experience doesn't mean that the artwork shouldn't be treated with the same respect.

Tannhauser  by Simon Birch

Tannhauser by Simon Birch

One of my strongest memories living in Hong Kong was how crowded it was, with people and buildings.  It made New York City look like a suburb. I was there in 1997 so I can only imagine what its like now, with the rapid pace of development. Hong Kong has so many of these drab high rise buildings shooting everywhere out of the ground up to the sky everywhere as far as the eye could see.  Tannhauser gives the experience of riding upwards in a glass elevator outside these buildings as it goes from the ground floor up. Dizzying and electrifying, I really enjoyed it and you can see from the face of my son above, he did too!

Clear Air Turbulence by Simon Birch

The last piece of the show is Clear Air Turbulence, which is comprised of salvaged airplane tails submerged in a steel frame pool.  The shadows reflecting in the still water create a peaceful calm while the eeriness of the subject matter makes it slightly unsettling. The airplane tails seem like a scene of a giant plane crash. With the deck chairs circling one end its like pulling up a chair to a car crash. Voyeurism on steroids.

14th Factory closes July 30 with special events until then. A panel on the Art Experience and the age of Social Media is this Saturday, July 22 and Simon Birch will be tattooing various limited edition designs all day Saturday as well.

Tickets are $18 online, $22 at the door with residents of Lincoln Heights entering for free with valid license.

440 North Ave. 19
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Art, Los Angeles CA, Travel, Fashion

Desert X: 6 must sees in Palm Springs

I love Palm Springs. I love that it's far enough from LA that it seems like a getaway while being close enough that you could go for a day if you wanted. I love the dry heat, the mountain views and the hot air blowing through the palm trees at night. I love the desert landscape, the modern architecture with its relaxed California lifestyle. Palm Springs enjoys a history of being both a past favorite for Hollywood's glamorous like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope back in the late 1930's yet is still relevant today.

I gave up on going to Coachella years ago, love the music but didn't love the crowds, dust and traffic. Now that I'm a parent, kid friendly adult activities are what I'm all about. When Desert X popped up on my radar, it seemed like the perfect combination of all things I enjoy most: art, nature, discovery and travel. I was not disappointed. I loved it and hope it becomes a yearly recurrence!

Jeffrey Gibson - Alive! Location: Palm Springs Art Museum

Desert X is a two month long, interactive outdoor art installation located throughout the Coachella Valley. Its like a modern day treasure hunt! Not only did it expose me to some new artist's work that I wasn't previously familiar with but it introduced me to some parts of the Coachella Valley I didn't know very well either. When I come to Palm Springs, I usually rent a house or stay in a hotel and spend the entire time poolside with drink in hand. Desert X encouraged me to venture out and explore Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and other cities that I had been so close to all these years but had never seen. Desert X is also free to the public, so there is no barrier to entry. It was great seeing entire families out with their kids enjoying and interacting with the art.

First stop on Desert X, checking in at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs. Grab a program guide here and get on your way! There were 16 installations in all, both from local and internationally acclaimed artists. Ideally we would have been able to see them all but we had our son with us, and only 24 hours to do it in, so realistically we knew we had to be strategic before burning out. We started with the Jeffrey Gibson wind turbine at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Any visitor to Palm Springs is familiar with the famous drive in surrounded by all the wind turbines. A ready made object, the turbine is covered with the words: I AM ALIVE! YOU ARE ALIVE! THEY ARE ALIVE! WE ARE LIVING! It also has opalescent paint that shimmers in the sun and looks quite pretty with the palm tree background.

Doug Aitken - Mirage        Location: 1111 West Racquet Club Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262

Zara bomber, Goyard St Louis purse

If you've seen an image of Desert X, it was most likely Doug Aitken's Mirage. It is the longest running of all the installations and the most permanent structure. It is a completely mirrored house, both interior and exterior.  You simultaneously see your reflection along with the surrounding mountains sky and desert landscape. It's pretty incredible. As you walk through the maze like interior you see yourself and the other visitors and surrounding landscape from all angles, which is both an exhilarating and disorienting experience. The home is a suburban ranch style without any doors or windows, providing a seamless transition between interior and exterior. I went when it first opened at opens at 3 pm and there was a line snaking through the door. Because it reflects the surrounding landscape, its appearance changes depending on what time of day it is. I would love to go back at night and see it in the dark with all the lights twinkling on the valley below. While the rest of Desert X closes April 30, Mirage will remain open until October 31, 2017 so go!!!!!

Next up, Swiss artist, Claudia Comte's Curves and Zigzags, is the third in a series of black and white optical painting walls. The lines start out angular and morph into a curvilinear pattern reminiscent of a Bridget Riley painting. As a kid, I was always drawn to black and white op art, getting lost in deciphering where the graphic pattern changed and evolved into something else entirely. The Homme Adams park is the perfect location for this undulating wall. It houses trails that lead to a vista where you can look down on the sculpture. Desert X also coordinated a walk with the artist herself, on the morning I was there. Dries had fun running around it and looking at the giant ants that were on the ground.

Desert X is such a unique experience because it completely turns on its head the traditional notion of how one views art. It allows complete interaction between the viewer and the subject. I marveled at the lack of security, for the most part there were no guards securing the pieces with the exception of Mirage. The Richard Prince house was vandalized and subsequently closed which is a shame but I suspect that had more to do with the animosity towards his appropriation of other artists work for his own profit rather than general vandalism.  I was impressed that there was no graffiti or trash surrounding the works. I did notice the influx of bloggers that were posing with the wall, some even by putting their feet up on the walls they leaned back on it.  I wonder, why shouldn't the same rules of decorum apply to an outdoor work as would a piece of art hanging in a museum? Just because someone isn't standing there to tell you not to do it doesn't mean you should. It made me think, is this the new way we interact with art?  I do see the value in as many people interacting with art in their daily lives but fear people ruining art installations with their own curiosity and desire to touch.

Aerial photo of I am by David Blank.

Last up for day 1 was Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan's piece I am. Unlike the other daytime installations, it's only open at night Weds-Sat from 7-10 pm. We visited at closing time and it was a surreal experience. You drive down a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, turning into a dark field. You then wander down a longish path and see in the distance neon lights embedded in metal shapes cordoned off in a field. You have to sign a waiver to go in, since it is so dark you can hardly see anything except for the neon lights, adding to the element of anticipation and spookiness. The shapes spell out "I am" scattered throughout the desert floor spanning two American football fields.  Meandering through the cutouts in the dark night with only the glow of neon and the desert wind blowing was pretty incredible. It creates a spiritual experience that is truly unlike anything I've ever seen. 

Phillip K. Smith III - The Circle of Land and Sky

After a little time in the pool, we set off the next day for Phillip K Smith - The Circle of Land and Sky. Comprised of 300 polished stainless steel rods they are inserted into the sand at 10 degree angles in the shape of a circle. Reflecting the land and sky and the interplay of light and shadow, the resulting colors never look the same depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun. Like Mirage, it's fascinating to see the interaction of mirrored image with the Sonoran landscape. The reflectors bring the sky to the ground and the desert floor to the sky, creating a unique perspective.  The Los Angeles born artist began the installation with a 1/4 mile arc in Laguna Beach in this past November and then continued the theme for Desert X.

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Will Boone - Monument    Enter at your own risk!

Last stop before heading back to LA, was Will Boone - Monument. It was out in the middle of a field, again usually easy to spot the Desert X installations by a swarm of people milling around in the middle of nowhere. We parked and waited in a short line to go down the bunker where JFK was waiting for us. I was surprised at how many people I had overheard the day previously at the other Desert X sites and this one who didn't know who it was! What I liked about this work was that it was more of a private moment than the other pieces and that it was meant to be experienced alone. If you were the first one to arrive on site and it was closed, you texted or emailed for the pass code to the lock to the bunker, then swing open the hatch and down the stairs to a mini tunnel. JFK is a bronze statue painted in the style of a hobby kit. Hailing from Texas, Boone said he has always felt a connection to JFK being that was where he died. The bunker also touches upon the fear of nuclear attack and invasion of the other, something we as a society seem to be grappling with even in 2017.

Desert X was such a memorable event, I really hope that it will become a recurring exhibition.  Even if most of the installations close today, Doug Aitken's Mirage is open until the end of October so you still have time to have some of the Desert X experience!

Travel, Los Angeles CA

how to do the poppy field superbloom with a 5 year old: Warning there may be whining!

I had heard about the super bloom of wildflowers in the California desert over the years but never thought much of it. Most likely because we have been experiencing a serious drought and for years there hasn't been much to see except brown, dry brush. This year though, we finally got some much needed rain, and lots of it (at least for us). Spring came early for Southern California, the wildflowers have been exploding all over the place. I see them allover on my hikes and daily errands in the car along the roadside.

I had heard reports from friends who had visited Anza Borrego and the Poppy Reserve that it was packed with people and traffic with long waits in the car. Neither are ideal if you are traveling with a 5 year old! I was looking for a little less of a commitment than A.B. or Death Valley since it was going to be just me and my son. My husband was off skiing for the day in Big Bear and I had a restless boy to entertain.  I decided to chance it and set off early in the am, by 8 after an initial travel delay. After a 70 mile drive, (5 fwy to the 14 fwy) we arrived a little past 10 am, and already the line of cars was snaking down and out of the Poppy reserve half a mile down. I would recommend setting out by 7 am for a 9 am arrival for less traffic and best light. I had heard that wildflower gazing was best accessed from the side of the road and not actually from the reserve itself. Because the reserve is protected land, visitors need to stick to trails and not wander off into the fields. I decided to pull over and bypass all the people crowding at the road side and wander through into the fields and low and behold Dries and I were alone with the poppies. It was magical, a perfect day with perfect weather. The sky was blue, there was a little crisp chill in the air with a slight breeze and the sun was shining bright. We took care where we walked and were careful not to trample or pick any flowers.

State flower of California: the  Poppy

State flower of California: the Poppy

Dries took this of me, not bad for a 5 year old!

Dries took this of me, not bad for a 5 year old!

Dries watches my husband Raf and I take a lot of pictures, either of jewelry or travel or daily life. We gave Dries one of our old cameras and he likes to practice along with us. This trip seemed like a great opportunity for a beginner photography lesson. We practiced composition, how to hold a camera and how to find your light source.  He was so proud and it helped him learned to look more critically at the scenery.   He took the picture of me above and the one below is his holding the flowers. Love the macro perspective with his little fingers!

Had to take a ring selfie! Shown L-R my  Sidewell  ring,  Diamond Bar  ring, and my  Diamond starburst  ring.

Had to take a ring selfie! Shown L-R my Sidewell ring, Diamond Bar ring, and my Diamond starburst ring.

We found a farmhouse and a ramshackle old trailer that made for some good exploring. For the video, scroll down to the end!

Dries was ready to get on the road at this point so we decided to head back to LA. As we walked back to our car, we saw even more cars had joined the line to get in the reserve and there was a line to head back to LA! I had noticed patches of yellow flowers on the way in so I wanted to make sure to check them out on the way back. I'm so glad I did, they were really stunning with views of the snow covered mountains in the distance.

Snow covered mountains in the distance. The colors of all the wildflowers are just incredible. All the photos published here are all #nofilter and not retouched!

Snow covered mountains in the distance. The colors of all the wildflowers are just incredible. All the photos published here are all #nofilter and not retouched!

Check out the video of our wildflower adventures!

Hope you go out and have your own adventure and of course, remember to treat the wildflowers with care and not leave any garbage. It is a tricky thing to experience being in nature without affecting it at all in any negative capacity. Car exhaust, touching or trampling plants, garbage and human negligence all take their toll on the landscape. Instead of only viewing nature through the lens of a screen it's crucial to go have the physical experience of sight, sound and smell. How else can we teach our kids to care about the environment if they never experience it firsthand? Being a native of California, I love that within one hour, you can be swimming at the beach, skiing in the mountains or walking in the desert. We truly are so lucky to have such a varied landscape. Go out and explore, I'd love to hear what you find!