jephte.jpegUCSC’s notoriously ambitious Concert Choir—under the direction of Nathaniel Berman—works its way gracefully through some outstanding Baroque oratorios, works from the A-list of the 17th century—Scarlatti, Carissimi, Schütz and Charpentier—on Friday December 4th, 7:30pm at the Music Center Recital Hall.

A feast for the senses, the perfect opening act for all the holiday festivities to come.

hamlet2.jpgAt the urging of my friend, veteran theater-goer Bruce Bratton, I reserved a ticket to a recent HD simulcast of the National Theater production of Hamlet. The one with Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet.

I had seen the production exactly one month ago, live, in London. (See my review in an earlier post.)
It was interesting to compare the two experiences. And so here’s a taste.

Cutting to the chase, I hugely enjoyed both experiences (although nothing can capture the excitement of the first time). And yet they played out differently in some important ways.

As if they’d read my thoughts, some supporting characters—notably Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonius—were clearer, more nuanced in the performance that was filmed ten days after the performance I saw in London.

Or was it the camera?  More…

soqpinot.jpgThe winemakers of Soquel Vineyards joined some choice company when the 2015 Sunset International Wine Competition awards came out in the current (November) issue of Sunset Magazine.

From a field of 3000 entries, Soquel Vineyards joined a handful of New World Pinot Noirs to capture the Gold Medal award. Specifically, the wine is Soquel Vineyards 2013 Partners’ Reserve Library Selection Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains) I tasted this memorable wine early last summer at the winery. Remarkable, elegant, and loaded with terroir.

Sunset notes: “Opening freshly and elegantly with a hint of sage, this Pinot has well-ripened raspberry and cherry fruit on the midpalate and closes with sweet oak.”

The holidays beckon. $40.

bath_w000.jpgA recent two-week trip to England rewarded me with fine weather —in the 70s practically every day, with one day of drizzle—great countryside walking, and the denouement, a chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, live, at the Barbican.

My companion and I started off with five day in the captivating Georgian city of Bath, whose stately pale golden limestone buildings are set into graceful and incredibly green hills. A true feast for California eyes. So much green! We stayed at the wonderful Three Abbey Green B&B, located around the corner from the old Roman baths, and replete with amenities such as custom-cooked English breakfasts, comfortable beds, tons of towels and hot water. Many old myths about travel in Britain were quickly put to rest.

We had tons of hot water for showers—here in Bath, as well as at our flat in London. Another surprise: More…

cakes.jpgThe British fondness for sweets is alive and well, as we quickly discovered. Tea time is not simply something tourists want to experience—it is the national pastime, at all times of day!  Here is a lovely sampling of tea and cakes we enjoyed overlooking the Avon on the Pulteney Bridge. Note the brilliant sunlight: it was a day that had me combing the town for sunscreen.

Our day trip to Avebury stones—the highlight of our wanderings through prehistoric southwest Britain—took us to several enchanting villages, notably the impressively preserved Lacock, loaded with half-timbered 15th century structures and thick roofs of authentic thatch (see image below). Lacock was lovely, and some on our tour enjoyed recognizing the village from many (many) BBC history dramas, including “Wolf Hall” and a few Harry Potter films as well.

The magnificent site of Avebury, with its huge rings of hundred-ton standing stones dwarfed thatch1.jpgStonehenge as far as I was concerned. Poor Stonehenge had the uphill battle of trying to contend with our ubiquitous onslaught of Stonehenge imagery—we’ve all grown up seeing that heroic stone circle reproduced on tote bags, tea towels, T-shirts, and toys. The surprisingly small circle of real life stones didn’t have much of a change to impress. But Avebury did!

veggiescircus.jpgBut it wasn’t all cakes in Bath, a sophisticated spa town with a University, upscale boutiques, and a history of partying since the 18th century heyday of Beau Nash.

On the upper edge of the old city is one of many architectural beauties, a circular park ringed by cobblestoned streets and three elegant wedges of five-story Georgian rowhouses. It’s called the Circus. And at one corner is the town’s excellent little bistro, Circus, whose menu is long on local, seasonal, and organically-sourced dishes. We enjoyed salmon, potted local grouse, outstanding salads with tender greens and organic hazelnuts, and opulent plates of freshly-harvested vegetables.

Frpub.jpgom surprisingly delicious pub food to even more surprisingly great weather, London delivered many close encounters with artistic masterpieces, memorable music, lavishly green parks, and way too many packs of tourists, all taking selfies and shopping like it was 1989.

Pub food was skillful, both rustic and yet more loaded with freshness and flavor than I’d recalled from a visit to London 5 years ago. Sweet shops, cake emporia, and sanctuaries of tea all offered expanded savory menus along with incredibly beautiful — and very sweet — pastries.

Fortnum & Mason, however old school and giggle-making, continues to make the world safe for exquisitely tasteful sweets, such as the almost Baroque pastry cream and fruit creation below.

marshmallows1.jpgOpulence in Sugar!  Fornum & Mason’s own housemade marshmallows!

In pastel Queen Mum colors and flavors.

more reflections on England, to be continued….

hamlet-anastasia-hille-large.jpgDirector Lyndsey Turner had her hands full with the historic production of Hamlet that closes next week. Building a production around a high-wattage celebrity must bring a unique set of challenges.

Here she was with the reigning theater superstar Benedict Cumberbatch, whose personal arsenal of dramatic weaponry stresses physical and vocal dazzle. Pitted against the young Prince of Denmark was gifted Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, a veteran of stage, screen and TV who brings both emotional thunder and intelligence to his role as Claudius, the new King.

The play clearly pits the young prince against his murderous uncle—the dynamic chosen by director Turner. Yet the hefty cast of supporting players—the strong-headed and duplicitous mother Gertrude, the naive maid Ophelia, More…

photo-copy.JPGWhat a pleasure to re-discover a favorite pinot noir. I’ve never found anything from Muns Vineyard less than interesting, and in the case of the 2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Pinot Noir, both interesting and accessible.

Balanced tannins and nuanced fruit, an optimum 14.1% alcohol, and lots of unfolding flavor notes ranging from earth and sassafras to spice and plums. I managed to save a few bottles, and now wish I had a boatload of this wonderful example of SC Mtn. terroir.

Thanks to Ed Muns and Tony Craig! (You can find this wine at the Muns Vineyard website.)