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Belated Musings On Stuff I Did At The Weekend

December 16, 2009

brace.jpegIn the spirit of catching up and filling in...

1. A Chanticleer Christmas at The Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland: Very happy to say that my doubts about the acoustic of the new Oakland Cathedral (which I touched upon briefly last Sunday in my latest column for The New York Times) were put to rest by the primo a cappella ensemble's Christmas concert. Gospel music might not work well in the cavernous space -- heavy bass and drums swallow everything else up. But the lines and lyrics in Chanticleer's Friday night program were warm and clear. The group's program was oddly downbeat compared to previous years. There were very few energetic numbers. Even the ensemble's statutory, crowd-pleasing final medley of spirituals didn't reach the usual heights of flamboyance. With an emphasis on more sedate repertoire such as Franz Biebl's famous "Ave Maria" and feathery carols like Elizabeth Poston's gorgeous "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree", the mood was largely dignified. The music was as lovely as ever, but I kind of missed the zanier side of Chanticleer at Christmas this year.

2. Mark Morris' The Hard Nut at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley: I am embarrassed to say that until this weekend, I had never made it to Berkeley to see this Bay Area yuletide staple. Glad I finally did. Morris goes all-out on kitsch, with red-eyed rats marauding around the stage and more drag queens than you could fill a Christmas stocking with. The opening "cocktail party" sequence got on my nerves a bit -- too much miming and flailing of limbs and running around the stage. But when the cast actually started dancing, my heart warmed to the production. I love Morris' sense of humor and sexual egalitarian approach to costuming and dance steps -- men should wear tutus and dance en pointe more often. But in general, the pleasure of The Hard Nut lies with its spectacular design and sense of fun than it does with the choreography, which doesn't feature much in the way of innovation.

3. The Bracebridge Dinner at The Awahnee Lodge, Yosemite: This 84-year-old tradition continues to almost sell-out the story book Awahnee Lodge in the heart of the Yosemite Valley. This amazes me as you could fly an entire family of four to Europe and back for the cost of a Bracebridge package for two people. The Valley is beautiful at this time of year, with deep snow and blue skies. The Bracebridge soiree, considered to be one of the country's foremost holiday pageant experiences, is a wonderful, albeit cheesy experience. There's as much theatricality in the serving of the yummy six course meal (which featured baron of beef, crab, and rabbit) as there is in the performance itself, what with an army of waiters streaming out of the kitchen in perfect red coattails to deliver steaming platters with gliding elegance. The whole event runs four hours, giving guests a refreshingly languorous amount of time to digest and chat between courses. The play features around 40 people dressed in well-crafted and colorful Renaissance garb acting out a yarn from Washington Irving's Sketchbook entitled "A Christmas at Bracebridge Hall". It swings between bad doggerel and great a cappella carol singing. It's all quite entertaining in an old-fashioned sort of a way. A highlight is the Squire of Bracebridge's fool, who plays a mean tuba while shunting audience members off their chairs. He makes his way across the room by hopping from one guest's chair to another -- all the while playing his tuba. If I had a lot of money to burn, I would enjoy coming back again for this convivial event.

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