Ana Maria Martinez Soars in HGO's Madame Butterfly

Categories: Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane
Ana Maria Martinez in HGO's Madame Butterfly

The set-up:
The girl in the chrysanthemum kimono never stays too far away too long.

Depicted through Puccini's most rhapsodic melodies that use a subtle pentatonic framework for its swirling overlay of Japanesque atmosphere, Madame Butterfly, a universally beloved opera, is continually on the annual top-ten list of most performed operas.

Written after Tosca, this beautiful and disturbing work (1907, then revised four more times until its present form) Madame Butterfly never fails to wring the audience's appropriate sympathetic response. It's bold and modern in theme, lush in score, and fairly wrenching in emotion.

Houston Grand Opera's production is blessed by Ana Maria Martinez in the title role, who conveys a feisty stubbornness in Cio-Cio-San, as well as bringing her patented shimmering sound, and by tenor Alexey Dolgov, as bounder Pinkerton. His bright tenor trumpets through Puccini's hothouse music. His music is so triumphant and Italianate, you'd think he was some sort of hero. Puccini never clues you in on his wickedness. Pinkerton fools us like he fools Butterfly. Puccini fools everyone.

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New Logo, New Charity, the Face of Fashion Houston Is Changing

Categories: Fashion

Photo by Fashion Houston via Instagram
Fashion Houston rolled out a redesigned logo and a new charity this week. Newly minted partner Vivian Wise hinted at the addition of a charitable component late last year, and this what we now know...

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Trey Egan Channels Emotion and Frustration in His "Signal Chamber" Exhibit

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo by Trey Egan
Worlds Apart; Days Turn Into Night
Action painter Trey Egan channels personal emotion and the pain of creative or financial frustrations, amplified by super loud electronic music, to produce multi-layered oil paintings of non-objective physicality in his "Signal Chamber" exhibit at McMurtrey Gallery.

Egan has an uncanny ability to portray depth, with his layering process of earlier stages of flatter, natural tones, followed by later stages of spot-putted saturated colors. He is fascinated by the mechanics of music production, likening his work to the stacking of similar elements to achieve a more powerful outcome. There is a busy-ness to his works, a continuity of his pre-2011 crowds of people, but he has since realized that the subject matter is less important than the energy and controlled chaos of thoughtfully placed shapes and color.

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Zombies Are Popular; Is the Genre Peaking?

Categories: Pop Culture

Photo by Gianluca Ramalho Misiti
I've often written about my decades-long love affair with zombie films and how the usually hyper-violent subgenre of horror movies has in recent years been experiencing a puzzling (to me) acceptance by a much larger and more mainstream audience than ever before.

Hardcore horror fans tend to be very protective of the types of movies they enjoy, and very passionate about them. Attend a horror convention or a late-night showing of any scary movie with a cult following, and that becomes obvious. Like any type of horror movies, zombie films have changed an awful lot over the years, and while it's not for me to decide if those changes are "good" or not, I have noticed a few trends that I personally find odd, and one that disturbs me.

The mainstream acceptance and integration of all things zombie is weird enough. Anyone checking out any retail website that sells cutesy fandom items will stumble across plush zombie dolls and other cute toy versions of a creature that, in most incarnations, is still a flesh-eating reanimated corpse. That's kind of weird, but also cool, and is definitely evidence that the zombieverse has shambled into a much broader section of pop culture than ever. I still remember the days of trying to explain why I liked "those movies" to people who couldn't understand the appeal, even to other horror fans who just didn't get the whole zombie thing. That's definitely changed, it's rare that I encounter someone with that reaction now.

When other movie monsters have become really popular, the material they're in and the fans they have tend to broaden in ways that aren't always cool, if a person is happy with their status as a monster. Vampires are a perfect example. While they were once spooky, blood-drinking, undead creatures that were usually played for scares, we now have lame lovelorn creeps that sparkle and fall in love with teenage girls, or they're presented as some sort of bisexual superheroes that would be more at home in a Gothic club or a romance novel. Lame.

Zombies aren't immune from such treatment either. So zombie movies with a romantic angle have appeared, such as Warm Bodies and the semi-romantic comedy DeadHeads. I guess I can't criticize people for coming up with new angles for this type of film. Creativity is a good thing, but the idea of romantic zombies just kind of leaves me cold. I hope that they don't eventually get the Twilight treatment and become accepted as brooding, sparkling sex objects. I asked my friend Thea Munster (professional last name she adopted), the Founding Director of the Toronto Zombie Walk, the first and among the largest zombie fan gatherings in the world, her thoughts on this:

"The appropriation of zombies from horror culture into the mainstream has somewhat decentralized the power of the zombie as a monster. Originally zombies were outsiders terrorizing the status quo, but they were also a very powerful political tool, as a zombie's strength lies in numbers and a relentless, unstoppable refusal to back down and to see a goal through. One zombie is easy to outrun or kill, but a horde is unstoppable, it will overwhelm in numbers. For those of us who grew up punk rock or in an alternative culture, the zombie represents the ability to have a voice against the wrongs of society. One person cannot change a civilization, but a unified group can make an impact."

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Elton John's Music Paired With the Alberta Ballet = Love Lies Bleeding

Categories: Ballet

Photo by Charles Hope
A mashup of ballet and pop music
Pair the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin with ballet and what do you have?

Believe it or not a show that has traveled to considerable acclaim from its home in Canada. As part of the Houston Ballet's The Cullen Series, Love Lies Bleeding is headed for the Wortham Theater.

Created by the company's artistic director Jean Grand-Maître and performed by 36 dancers from the Albert Ballet, it features 14 classic songs in a story that traces a lot of things from John's own life: his rise to stardom and the good and bad things that followed in his life.

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5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Madame Butterfly, Artopia 2015 and More

Categories: Top 5

Photo by Lynn Lane
Ana Maria Martinez in Madame Butterfly
The original Madame Butterfly was a two-act disaster that premiered in 1904. Composer Giacomo Puccini hauled it back in and rewrote extensively in time for another try later that year, and in the two years that followed, after another few revisions, came up with the three-hanky classic that audiences have appreciated ever since and that Houston Grand Opera has lined up to be its next production this season. Our choice for Friday, the story begins with the marriage of Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly), a 15-year-old Japanese girl, to American Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. He sees the marriage as a temporary stop on his worldwide travels; she thinks it's permanent. He splits and while she waits for his return, she has their baby. Baritone Scott Hendricks plays Sharpless, the American consul who presides over Pinkerton's marriage and tries to make the officer take responsibility for his actions.

Texas native Hendricks, who made his Metropolitan Opera debut a year ago in the role, says: "Sharpless is the moral conscience of the piece. He feels for Butterfly and warns Pinkerton not to take this lightly." And it only gets worse for the consul. He has to tell Butterfly her husband is not coming back to her and that Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate, want to take Butterfly's child. "He's been put in an awful position by Pinkerton's actions and his selfishness," Hendricks says. So why do people continue to turn out to see this opera, the most tragic one Puccini ever did? The music, Hendricks says, as well as the fact that the story remains relevant, with resentments con-tinuing to this day over the actions of U.S. servicemen overseas (in 2012, two U.S. sailors were accused of raping a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa, he points out). Hendricks, who says, "It's nice not having to play a bad guy," sings a lot of Puccini and Verdi as well as new works. Houston favorite Ana Maria Martinez returns as Butterfly. Hendricks has a special reason to look forward to this HGO production. "My mom missed my Met debut, so she'll be coming from San Antonio to see this."

See Madame Butterfly at 7:30 p.m. January 23, 28, 31 and February 6; 2 p.m. January 25 and February 8. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713‑228-6737 or visit $15 to $354.

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Four Videos That Will Make You Feel Bad About Your Video Game Skills

Categories: Gaming

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time: The reason you see ocarinas at RenFests.
Few things in life are quite as satisfying as beating a video game. That rush of excitement is the reward for time spent, controllers broken and responsibilities neglected. It is a triumph, one to be savored for as long as it takes you to move on to the next game.

While that excitement might be enough for us run of the mill video game players, it's not enough for everyone. And so comes the world of speedrunning, where people seek to beat videogames as fast as possible. Most of us can beat Super Mario Bros. eventually, but only the best of the best of the best of us could beat it in less than 5 minutes.

Speedrunning has developed quite a following online, but even then watching someone smash through the beautiful mess of glitches that is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time for the 20th time is only so interesting.

Luckily, there are a few gamers out there who have taken on new, weirder video game challenges.

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MasterMinds 2014 Revisited: Chuy Benitez

Photo by Marco Torres
Panoramic photographer Chuy Benitez and urban artist Gonzo247 at Artopia 2014
It's been a very good year for photographer Chuy Benitez. He used part of his MasterMind Award cash prize to cover the cost of preparing and shipping photographs from his Cultura series to New York for the Bronx Documentary Center's "Miradas: Contemporary Mexican Photographers" exhibit. His work in that show, panoramic looks at life for Mexicans in the United States, earned him glowing reviews on The New York Times and The New Yorker Web sites.

"For the New York Times to see the documentary aspects of my work - because really, most people get stuck in the digital aspect, at the how I'm doing it rather than what I'm doing - to be recognized for that, that was a great moment," he says.

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10 Best Places to See a Movie in Houston That Aren't a Movie Theater

This past weekend I toddled the family off down to the local AMC multiplex to see Paddington (Side note: AMC Willowbrook has free soda refills now!). We're a big moviegoer family. My wife and I met at a movie theater and named our daughter for a friend we met at another. We love paying $50 to sit in a dark room eating popcorn and candy while having giant people tell us a story.

That said, there are a surprising number of ways that you can indulge a passion for going to the movie that doesn't actually involving, well, going to the movies. Here's how.

10. Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow
On occasion the Alamo Drafhouse chain brings the movies to you, which is nice because seriously why are they both out in the boonies? Using an inflatable screen they show films in Market Square and the parking lot of the Kirby Whole Foods. Mostly the movies are staples like The Princess Bride and Ghostbusters. They're also free, but you might want to invest in some collapsible chairs if you're going to attend.

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Reality Bites: Forensic Files

Photo courtesy of Forensic Files
"The truth is out there, most likely under a black light."
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

My first thought, when I sat down to take in the first episode of Forensic Files I've watched in -- well -- forever, was "This show is still on?" It seems like only yesterday I was mostly broke and watching FF in one of the first apartments I lived in here in Houston, during it's initial run on what we only now sarcastically refer to as the Learning Channel. It later spent the bulk of its life on Court TV/truTV, before it came to its current resting spot in syndication on HLN, formerly Headline News.

And I've since moved into a house, though I'm still mostly broke.

They're not producing new ones, a fact I only realized when I hit the Info button on my remote midway through. Still, that hasn't stopped me when writing this before, and I'll be damned if I'm enduring any of The Bachelor this season.

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