Thursday, August 30, 2007

OMG Opening Night....

It's the day after the opening night of "Madama Butterfly" and I'm theoretically resting up between days (the next performance is tomorrow). Instead, I …

Okay, now it's the day after the last performance. You can see that I didn't actually rest up. When no blog appears for a while, it's because the day ran out of hours before I could get to the computer.

It will take some time for the dust to settle on this Butterfly but it must first be said that it was an unprecedented success. The cast outdid themselves, the orchestra more than made it through, and many people did heroic things ... for instance, chorus master Dominic supplying birdsong at the last minute, Meilan Henderson rushing to the rescue with a skirt for the leading lady, and so on. There was bitterness and laughter. And there was a sense that the Bangkok Opera, which has been through a lot of horror lately, from anonymous chain letters to bizarre censorship scandals through my illness and so on ... has in fact crossed a new threshold. The presence of the Minister of Science on the opening night and the Minister of Tourism and Sport on the closing night was quite exciting.

I think that Israel Lozano, our great new Spanish tenor discovery is already breaking Thai hearts. This is such a great cast that I already signed them for La Boheme next year. Only I don't have a date yet ...

Oh, so many stories. Take the wardrobe department. Colin Morris's trousers ... Henry Akina's shorts .... Nancy Yuen's skirt ... come to think of it, are all the stories about people's nether garments? Interesting.

Right now, I'm too tired to say much more. It's been exhilarating ... and indeed exasperating. In the end, pretty much everyone came through ... whew!

Video will be up soon!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Butterflies in my Stomach

I haven't blogged for a week and the reason is really quite simple: I have to conduct from 10 am to 9 pm, and after that I have to little things like chase funding, lay out program books, and such like. So, there's no time left. Not even enough time to dream, which means I can't tell you about those.

Now, I do have a spiffy new baton, brought to me by the intrepid Dominic Sargent. And I'm feeling very inspired this week. I get a lot of posts on my Facebook wall ... "How is Butterfly going? I haven't heard anything...." The answer is, this is the first production I've done in a long time that doesn't feel, artistically, like a nightmare. I'm working with a dream cast. There is an amazing atmosphere of family. Everyone's easy to work with and when the usual disasters strike, there aren't any wild tantrums (at least not so far). And the orchestra, after all the hideous politics of Bangkok's music scene, is a miracle — these are young people who are eager to learn and who are so intensely musical that they have no trouble charging through Puccini's constantly shifting rubato.

Now, the performance is in 3 days, so we will simply have to see.....

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hand of Glory

In Tarot, the "Death" card also means "Rebirth." In Thai popular belief, dreaming of the dead brings wealth and fortune.

So, as I prepared for the first orchestral rehearsal of "Madame Butterfly" I wondered what the Fates were telling me. You see, I couldn't find my baton. ANYWHERE. And my driver suddenly revealed to me that it has not been seen since The Rape of Lucretia.

Now, this is a magic baton. It was given to me by one of my very very best friends, Deborah Geithner, in 1977. She bought it in New York and my career in opera began with it when I conducted the Bangkok Opera Society (now subsumed into the BMS) in a performance of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Legendary, because the Diva, known to some of the kids in the cast by the unkind (but accurate) sobriquet of La Pachyderma, had a hissy and stalked off the stage 15 minutes before the premiere, and because I was punched out by someone's driver because Thai elements had been infused into the story (it was staged in a Thai village). The driver was unhappy with the cultural pollution. Alas, I had nothing to do with it. It was the director, Jane Kenney, who had decided on this clever notion, and her interpretation has colored the way I do opera even now, thirty years later.

Since then, I've never used any other baton even though part of it seems to have been chewed off by rats.

I kept this thing during my years of being completely burned out in music, hidden in a drawer or whatever. It miraculously resurfaced when I started doing music again. This chewed up thing has been featured, for instance, in the Mercedes Benz exhibit of "ten most precious things" ...

And then, if it is true that it disappeared right after Lucretia, it could be a sign. Rather like in Cavafy's poem "The God Abandons Antony" ... which I won't quote to you in Greek because I'm not sure how the font is going to translate cross-platform....

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear an invisible procession going by with exquisite music, voices, don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now, work gone wrong, your plans all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.

A sign that a thirty-year era of my existence has now drawn to a close. A sign (a la tarot) that something has died, and something must be reborn.

I went to the rehearsal, which I've been very stressed about. First, the orchestra leader I had in mind, who has just arrived in Thailand and has a very good resume, was suddenly forbidden by his boss from working on this show; so a mad scramble for another leader ensued, with a very good one being located in Taiwan, only, internet problems plagued communications (there's a typhoon raging there) and another great prospect, from Singapore, turned out to be definitely busy. My No. 2 violinist (I had not thought about making him leader because he has to miss three of the rehearsals) was put in first place and guess what? He was brilliant! Not only as a soloist, but as a very responsive leader.

Indeed, the orchestra surprised me and this was by far the best "first rehearsal" I've ever had. This was a mostly very young group and they picked up all the insane rubato of the Italian style really quickly. Yeah I waved my hands about wildly, having no baton. Someone in the orchestra said maybe I'll end up back in the hospital if I wave wildly enough. But we have a plan. The piccolo player, Mr. Marut, is going to perform CPR on stage while standby cameras whir into action, and the dramatic maestro rescue is going to be on CNN in that boring period around 3 am when nothing actually happens in the world.

So I come back from this rehearsal and I think, yes, truly, indeed, it's a new era in my existence. Then there's a note from Trisdee which says, "Your baton is on my desk." He is in Holland, so I haven't really been in his room.

I looked. It's not there. Trisdee is rarely wrong about these things, so perhaps it did in fact vanish by supernatural means, and perhaps, then, it actually is a sign.

But from whom?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Getting Off the Pot

So, there is a lot of death in my dreams, but oddly enough it's never the people one expects, and never my own. For instance, two days ago, I dreamed that the grandmother of a brilliant young string player in our orchestra (who shall remain anonymous, as I don't want to upset this person) was dead, and the entire dream was spent helping this musician cope with the grief.

This has been a long weekend here in Thailand. It's the Queen's birthday. Everyone is out of town, but for me it's been a weekend of unmitigated work, and not really the kind of work that I enjoy as it is mostly things like moving bits of type around in a photoshop document or writing stern emails berating my staff. I was so bummed out by the world in general that I decided to sign up for Second Life. There, I spent several hours adjusting my avatar into the perfect me: long, blue hair, very slender, attractive clothes, etc; then I went to the local opera house, where nothing of interest was playing. I also flew around.

When I landed, however, I was still the same person. I have not gone back to Second Life since, even though there's a huge article in Time magazine about how it's taking over the world.

Then I dreamed about the infamous Bob Halliday, who appears as a character in this book I'm writing now. In the book, he is one of the Five Rishis, who guard all knowledge. If you knew Bob, you would realize that this is a very accurate description. Anyway, in my dream, I am wandering around through this huge emporium of unwritten novels, unfinished works of art, and so on, which is a cluttered and inexhaustible treasury. I come across two unwritten books by Frank Kermode, called "The Sexuality of Greece" and "The Sexuality of Rome". The names of the books gradually appear on the spines as I bend down to examine them. As I move away, I suddenly trip and break a huge blue glazed pottery vessel. I wonder if I will ever put it back together again, as I awaken.

Now, although Frank Kermode did teach at Cambridge during my time there, he never taught me, nor does he have anything to do with sexual history books; Shakespeare's imagery is more his cup of tea. (I'm thinking it's a dream-pun and it's the word "commode" that it ACTUALLY refers to.) I break a pot, you see. Is the dream telling me simply to shit or get off the pot?

Had a deep and terrifying conversation with some members of the Bangkok Opera's inner circle tonight, sitting in the bar of the Polo Club (of which, appropriately enough, I am not a member) and wearing sandals (there is a sign forbidding sandals at the entrance.)

The conversation touched on an important subject: Is there life after opera? I'm going to go to sleep tonight meditating on this question, and when the answer comes, it may be a second life after all ... or even a third.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dancing Class at Father Joe's

I just wanted to share these images. By the way, you remember the $9.50 someone was trying to charge for an old Somtow letter on ebay? I checked today. No one bid on it. I am safe from world fame, after all.

Dancing Class at Father Joe's

Posted Yesterday

This is a very touching clip. I was at a dancing lesson in Father Joe's home which houses many street kids. A lot of the kids in this video have HIV and even full blown AIDS. And yet their dancing is full of incredible joy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I spent the evening at Father Joe's today and I met a whole lot of kids who have AIDS, and it sure put all my own problems in perspective.

There were these two boys who were 12 and 14 years old. I saw stacks of their paintings. These paintings are full of this incredible sense of joy. The colors are vibrant, the compositions imaginative, and they're full of images of happy people. So, Fr. Joe tells me these kids won't last more than another year or so. They LOOK like they're about 8 years old. Fr. Joe tells me their meds stunt their growth; they get frozen at a certain physical age. They look like angels.

Of course my first impulse is, "What do these kids need, how can we get them the things they want," and Fr. Joe says to me, "No. We have plenty of donations. Everyone gives us money. I'd rather you just came here and sat with the kids sometimes, watch TV with them, even take a nap here. They really need to have men around." (There's an abundance of house mothers, house aunts, etc.)

You see those sunflowers? That is a stunning painting. It has a sense of ecstasy. The flowers are alive, they're practically swaying. The kid is going to die and there is absolutely NOTHING I can do about it. Am I upset? You tell me.

I will go over there again soon and "take a nap." After all, you all know I am having trouble sleeping.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Awakening • The Womb of the Collective Unconscious

A dream of power just before waking: I'm conducting the Eroica Symphony. Oddly enough, though, the music is different. It ends in a bizarre rush of triplets, different from the actual ending.

Apart from writing a few trilogies and operas and conducting and designing the poster etc etc. I recently found the time to read the final Harry Potter book. It's pretty good, especially if you can sort of ignore J.K.'s various stylistic insensitivities. Indeed, the whole series, despite all the poopoos from literary detractors, works very well on its own terms. Whether it's a children's literary masterpiece or not, I don't know. Most such masterpieces -- the Alice books, Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Pullman, et al, are not this badly written. But a case could made that, for instance, "The Wizard of Oz" is. There is absolutely no denying the fact that the series has presented The Primal Myth of Western Civilization (the orphan who must learn who he really is, the ancient sage who guides and must die (yet continues to guide from beyond the grave), the unassailable fortress of darkness, the weapons that only the hero can wield, etc etc) in one incredibly accessible package. And I think that it works precisely because J.K. didn't reach for her Joseph Campbell or her Jung, but actually extracted the entire tale, whole and still bleeding, from the great womb of the collective unconscious. And that is a talent that many more "literate" writers ought to envy, because in a very real sense that is what it's actually all about.

Sometimes, though, I wish I hadn't read as many fantasy novels, anthropology books, and analyses of mythoses. Then the books wouldn't be so damned predictable. For all its hyped up hush-hush revelations, I have to confess that the last book didn't have a single surprise in it for me. But you know, I didn't mind that. We don't watch "Star Wars" to be amazed that Leia is Luke's sister -- we ought to already know that from our Wagner. We know that Dumbledore will die and yet still be around -- we've all seen "Star Wars." We enjoy these works in the same way that we enjoy a celebration of the mass: it's a re-creation of a ritual that goes all the way back to the time we lived in caves.

Despite the books' raw power, though, there's a part of me that says that execution still counts. Rowling's prose contains too many howlers for me to revisit it too often. I read the Alice books every year; how often will I read this bloated heptalogy? Still, I will hang on to my set. My children's children, and all that. If nothing else, it's evidence of an un-ignorable cultural phenomenon of the early 21st century. (I also have a complete set of Series I Garbage Pail Kids.) Pity I was too stupid to buy a first printing of No. 1.

Going to the lavatory will now feel like an empty, desolate experience without the next chapter of HP7 to look forward to. However, I've started a truly BRILLIANT children's book ... "The Neddiad", by Daniel Pinkwater. Now, THAT man is a genius. Every sentence is a little miracle.


And so, on to BUTTERFLY. The director, the very imaginative Henry Akina, has told me that he wants to tell this story from a Japanese viewpoint, using techniques of kabuki and such. This week we have been signing up ninjas.

No, they are not going to move silently through the audience assassinating my critics.

These are actually those people in black who are supposed to be "invisible" in kabuki and actually accomplish all the stage effects ... the moving of the screens, the magical opening of the fan, and so on.

Perhaps they can also move my baton while I stand there just thinking about the tempo.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dream Dialogues

A certain "Anonymous" (I think it's a woman, but remembering Robert Silverberg's gaffe with James Tiptree, I am not going to second guess) has been writing very interesting commentaries on my dreams. Indeed, I have decided to quote the entire note here, so that I can comment on her comments.

More dream readings by Anon :)

On the contrary, it is not the painting that represents your own soul and self, but the house. New houses often indicate that you are entering into a new phase or new area in your life. What state the house is in also represents what state your mind is in. is it empty? Is it full?

On the other hand, painting is, not surprisingly, an expression of your latent creative and artistic abilities. What room were you painting in the new house? Since the house is a representation of your own mind, different rooms can mean different things. In general, the attic represents your intellect; the basement represents the unconscious, etc.

A woman represents nurturance, passivity, caring nature, and love, while trees symbolize hope, growth, desires, strength and stability. Your new work is perhaps a marriage of these two aspects. My finger is pointing in the direction of Dan no Ura and Taira no Kiyomori's Widow, but I'm over-generalizing.

Now, about your acquaintance in black, it may pragmatically symbolize the concerns and feelings you have about her, but since she is tampering with your work, you are obviously receiving her influence in some way or other.

Paintbrushes also symbolize artistic talents. Your desire to throw away your current set of brushes may very well be a desire to throw away your old inhibitions and start anew.

Colours play a huge role in dreams. These are generalisations, because it doesn't take into account your own special association with the colors. Black symbolizes the unknown, unconscious, danger, mystery, darkness, death, mourning, hate or malice, but could imply hidden spirituality and divine qualities. Brown denotes worldliness, practicality, domestic and physical comfort, conservatism, and a materialistic character. The Yellowish-Green refers to your need for a more peaceful, relaxing environment, Zen.

I have been wondering who this correspondent can possibly be, but it's clearly someone who not only knows something about various schools of dream analysis, but also has some insight into my forthcoming work ... knowing, for instance, that the Nun of the Second Rank (Mrs. Kiyomori) is a crucial figure in my coming work....

So, I will have to tell her what room of the house it was. You go into the house ... it's a long house, like a tunnel almost, or a condo between other condos. The room the painting is in a sort of alcove and it's between the dining room and the front entrance of the house. The house is quite crammed with stuff. The dining room is separated from the alcove by a marble topped bar. There are also wide bands of hanging material separating the two rooms. There are also some lamps shaped like lava lamps, except with lampshades. Could all these things actually mean something?

You see, I remember the scene with quite starling clarity still, after several days. So, it is clearly telling me something very important.

I rather think the identity of the woman who interferes with my work is not that significant because it's just someone I have been dealing with in a business thing lately ... though she once felt, perhaps, that I was usurping her throne, years ago.

I'm always very thrilled when "Anonymous" analyses the dreams as it's oftem a lot different from how I imagine it should be....

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Carefree Days of Yore

This picture was taken at the Hard Rock Cafe in L.A., about eight years ago. It commemorates the day we got Gary Busey, Miko Hughes and Jeremy Lelliott to attach themselves to my film Little Savages. Porchlight Entertainment, who held the rights to my script at the time, threw the dinner. What a day of optimism this was! Aurora, the executive at Porchlight, had just greenlighted the film. I was finally going to direct something with an actual budget. We had a super cast lined up. My sneaky idea to cannibalize Roger Mende's derelict spaceship set, sitting in an old Sun Valley warehouse, was about to come to fruition.

So here I am in Bangkok, eight years later, more famous than ever now because the world's culture mavens picked up on what we were doing with the opera company ... yet at the same time beset by more insane problems than I ever imagined possible.

I found this picture on one of the archival hard drives. I can never get this cast now, of course; the "little" savages have all become huge. But I remain hopeful of doing this film, maybe in Thailand as I could probably throw up an excellent spaceship set inside some warehouse for almost no money. Apart from a few flown in one-day jobs, it can all be cast here, too. Anyone reading this blog who wants to throw us the funding ...

Today I celebrate my official return to the science fiction fold. I've sold a 14,000 word novellete to Asimov's SF, the magazine that first "discovered" me in 1979. It's the first real science fiction piece I've done since about the mid 1990s, unless you count the Star Trek novel I did, which most Star Trek fans hated anyway (though a few managed to get the jokes.)

As I enter the third (and presumably last) Act of the screenplay of my existence, I see all the different threads miraculously drawing together. I'm hoping that the conclusion will be a "chase to the finish".

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Images within Images

Well, this has functioned as a dream diary from time to time, so here goes; the one I woke up to this morning seems to point a valuable life lesson and as such almost certainly came straight from the Collective Unconscious.

In this dream, I've moved into a new house, and there is an alcove in this house where I have decided to take up painting again, breaking out the paints and brushes I haven't touched for some time. There is a huge canvas I am working on. It's tall and rectangular and I can't exactly tell what the foreground is -- it's a woman I think, a portrait, but the woman is also, somehow, a tree -- but in the background, there are numeous paintings hanging, so the painting has paintings within it. I am painting in big, impressionist strokes. The colors are very bright.

Suddenly, a woman is beside me, working on another painting. It is a writer with whom I have collaborated in the past and who I am sort of estranged from, though lately there has been some conciliation. She too is painting. She is dressed in black and her movements seem to shadow my movements.

Suddenly, while my back is turned, she is painting on my painting. "You haven't framed the pictures inside the pictures properly!" she scolds me, and using an enormous brush paints huge black rectangles in, which completely dominate the painting. "No, no!" I protest. "I never use completely black paint. I always use a little bit of color." I squeeze brown from the tube, use a little blood-red mixed in, and I start to cover up the black. The picture hangs together more, the colors blend better. Then I use a small bottle of greenish yellow paint which has already begun to separate out from the emulsion and using a tiny brush whose hairs are practically rock hard, I dip it into the mix and add small strokes to the brown over black, animating the brown and bringing it to life.

"Clean your brushes!" my companion objects. "When you leave them uncleaned that long, they are useless." I agree with her. I say, "I might as well get a fresh new set."

Suddenly, I see that the right side of my painting contains an entire column of paintings within the painting that have been sketched only in charcoal outline, not colored in at all. This is brand new material to work on. I wonder if I should paint them only in monochrome, but I change my mind.

I wonder whether it would be good to cover the entire painting in a veil of white spray paint, adding a gauzy dreamlike texture to the entire painting.


This is a dream that reveals things about the future of my artistic career on numerous Jungian levels. The big tall rectangular painting is clearly my life. The shadowy, unidentifiable woman that is the subject of the painting is clearly the Anima which makes the painting a self-portrait. The fact that she is a tree (indeed the Tree of Life) is some kind of of qabbalistic allusion, I think; so I wouldn't be surprised if there were exactly twenty-two branches (and paintings hanging from them). The new paintings yet to be filled in on the right side are obviously future works of art. The woman working beside me is part Anima, part Shadow when she smears my work with black and also delineates the paintings individually with frames, cutting them off from blending with the entire work. The dream says no, everything you have created is part of the same big picture.

Covering up the black is in a way about internalizing (and absorbing) my inner darkness ... it is exactly like the dream I once had about the woman in red, the white piano, and the ape (I will talk about this dream some time).

I don't, by the way, paint much, although I have had one art show before....