Eugene Onegin, Tango, And Japanese Fusion Jazz

I am fairly certain the only time any of these words has been together is in the title.

This weekend I had the chance to go to the opera with my flatmate, or rather, I dragged her to the opera because there were cheap tickets for limited visibility. The opera Eugene Onegin, by Pjotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, is a personal favourite of mine. Tchaikovsky appeals to me personally for his ability to take Russian folk melodies and tunes and give them an inspired touch, to make simple melodies from the Russian flatlands into music that astounds the listener in terms of harmonic complexity. From the very first bar of the overture of this opera, I am utterly attentive. Something about the overture’s melancholic feeling and the first aria’s constant arpeggios (I think that’s technically what they are) in the woodwinds gives it a very airy and flowing feel. Furthermore, listening to the subtleties of the harmonies and chord progressions during each bit of the opera is a thrilling experience, as, being a Romantic composer, Tchaikovsky took every opportunity to add complex harmonies for a much deeper structure of a tune.

The music aside, the set design of this particular opera was ingenious. Rather than the typical settings, inside provincial homes and ballrooms of said homes, the entire stage was covered by grass and trees. The centre of the grassy area rotated as well, adding an extra visual intrigue. When the serfs (who in this case were very skinny, well-dressed, and dandyish, not at all like real Russian serfs with beards to their nipples) in the first scene come singing “My legs are tired”, they were also spun round while feasting.

The story of the opera is taken in episodic bits from the eponymous poem by Aleksandr Pushkin, and Tchaikovsky only reluctantly condensed the poem by cutting about ninety per cent of it away to make a three-hour opera. Quick synopsis: In Act I, Tatiana et al. are very rich and well off but are bored, Lenskij gets creepy with Olga, and Onegin is a dick, Tatiana spends about five years writing a letter to Onegin; in Act II, Onegin is still a dick and he kills Lenskij in a duel after basically telling Tatiana he’s just out of her league; in Act III, Onegin is still a dick who only selfishly wants to amend his wrongs, and Tatiana tells him to GTFO after he comes to his senses (oh yeah right). I am sorry to admit that I admire greatly with Onegin and what he says throughout the opera.

I would also like to put in a plug from the base masculine side of me here, by saying that Olga and Tatiana in this rendition, played by Karolina Gumos and Nadja Mchantaf respectively, were freaking hot in addition to being very talented. It had to be said. I am but a man, and I notice these things and it adds to the experience.

Overall, a wonderful performance of the opera. As I could only see about 5% of stage right, it provided me with a wonderful chance to focus on the actual music, which is always much more impressive when heard in person and you don’t have to worry about waking up the neighbours. The opera house was also surprisingly casual, with many people wearing jeans and a button-up shirt, and nothing else. Berlin is an oddly informal city.
The night before the opera, I went to a second Milonga in Berlin (for those of you who don’t understand the term, please refer to my former article on Tango at your own risk). This Milonga occurs every Saturday night and I am not sure if I was underdressed, as the venue was very chic. It appeared to be a nice bar that during the week happens to host ballroom classes and during the weekend has social dances. The building was an old warehouse, so it seems, by Platz der Luftbrücke, and was very pleasant. There was a small duo and trio, a bandoneon, piano, and sometimes guitar, who played tango pieces very well. I myself have dreamed one day of owning a club that resembles those in old films, a swanky night club with live performances that are slightly on the ‘camp’ side, and with a large floor on which people do ballroom dances and don’t just hump each other in the dark. Though that is fun as well, and for that Berlin has techno.
The people attending this event were surprisingly social. I carry my notebook everywhere, in case I am struck by inspiration, and a few people came up asking why I had it. Each time, I assured them I wasn’t Stasi or something. People also began conversations for no apparent reason, about the music, or about a random question they had, just for the sake of talking. Which is odd for Germans, but was nice, as at the other Milonga I was de facto sequestered from everyone. They were also very young. There were people as old as ninety (or at least they looked like it) down to early twenties, and everyone was very, very good-looking.
After an hour of social anxiety and making very awkward eye contact with a woman who was near my age (!) because I don’t know how to respond to smiling faces when I don’t know the person, I asked her to dance and proceeded to spend the next three songs stepping all over her. Then I asked another, and simply moving on the floor brought back much of my technique and it went much more smoothly, though we were doing nothing difficult or showy.
I think it helped that everyone seemed to be three or four beers in by the time I got up the gumption to ask someone to dance.
And now for the Japanese Fusion Jazz. As I’m writing this, I discovered entirely by accident on YouTube a man named Minoru Muraoka, who plays a traditional Japanese flute, called the shakuhachi, commonly used by Fuke Zen Buddhist monks for meditation. While playing, they don woven basket hats, much like an earlier and much more spiritual BucketHead, in order to remove their ego as a function of playing and existing. This particular flautist (yes, that is the word) decided he should mix traditional Japanese music and instruments with jazz. The result is addictive, and reminds me very much of what Quentin Tarantino’s films soundtracks sound like, with those 1970’s era bandido-type songs that play as a bloody antihero rides into the sunset. This particular album, Bamboo, includes “House of the Rising Sun” played on koto, organ, shakuhachi, drums, etc.
YouTube only suggests such strange and wonderful things to me because, on the one hand, I am strange and wonderful, and because, on the other, my searches are very strange and sometimes end up being wonderful.
In conclusion, give Bamboo a try, and Onegin’s a dick.

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