Saturday, April 21, 2012

Puccini Triumphs: Pacific Symphony's La Boheme in Concert

by Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Pacific Symphony’s masterful concert production of Giacomo Puccini’s great love story, “La Boheme,” is the very distillation of operatic chic. With Carl St. Clair conducting and A. Scott Parry directing, the Pacific Symphony orchestra’s vibrant, yet, velvet backdrop to the opera’s sexy lead singers produced a singular intimate sensation.

Frankly, it was a revelation to experience such an affecting “La Boheme” in a concert setting. Last night’s performance at the Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, ( next April 21 & 24 ) demonstrates Puccini was and remains a great artist of human emotions. His music – which he orchestrated, as well as composed – apparently doesn’t need elaborate sets and costumes when it has young beautiful actors with fine voices to carry the drama.

Hyung Yun as Marcello captivated with his abundant dramatic charm and exasperation at Georgia Jarman’s naughty Musetta. Denis Sedov’s imposing stature as Colline is endlessly graceful, while David Lomeli as Rodolfo and Maija Kovalevska and Mimi make real the unfortunate lovers. Jeremy Kelly’s Schaunard is the resourceful friend. Together they filled a stage devoid of elaborate sets and costumes with beautiful singing and effective acting. The audience's “bravos" and standing ovation were well-deserved. There was one voice heard to cheer…”Bravo Puccini.” Afterall, without him it would have been merely an empty stage. There are two more performances, April 21 and 24th. Preview talk by Alan Chapman, 7 p.m.

Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
April 21, 24 – 8 p.m.
For tickets call 714-755-5788
Or visit
Tickets $30 - $110

Angela Rocco DeCarlo
Entertainment/travel writer

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fall in Love with Puccini's Boys: La Boheme, in concert at R & H Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, CA

GIACOMO PUCCINI’S “LA BOHEME” staged in concert
APRIL 19, 21, 24, 8 P.M.

by Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece, “La Boheme”, will return to Orange County, CA, April 19, 21, 24, 8 p.m., at the R & H Segerstrom Concert Hall, the newest addition to complex formerly known as The Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, now The Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The opera will be staged in concert with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra onstage, Carl St. Clair conducting. The singers, four men and two women, will provide a unique presentation of this classic and timeless love story, which debuted in Turin, Italy, in 1896. It was presented by the late Opera Pacific in 2007 to critical acclaim. It is everyone’s favorite love story in opera – exuberant, yet tragic.

Puccini’s music evokes the emotions and intentions of the characters so perfectly, scenery is hardly needed. This is a thoroughly modern-feeling story - a timeless slice-of- life – verismo – story. It is the struggles of twenty-something boys and girls who are trying to do something creative with their lives, while living a raucous, poverty-prone existence. They may be poor but they live lavish emotional lives. The opera is based upon an autobiographical novel by Henry Murger recounting his youthful Parisian days with his friends on the Left Bank.

The cast of singers includes: David Lomeli, as Rodolfo; Hyung Yun as Marcello; Jeremy Kelly as Schaunard; Denis Sedov as Coline; Maija Kovalevsk as Mimi and Georgia Jarman as Musetta. The opera takes place on Christmas Eve and features the Southern California Children’s Chorus and Pacific Chorale.

For tickets and details:
Box Office – 714-755-5799
Tickets: $30-$110

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, entertainment/travel writer & former Opera Pacific docent

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Elegance by the Bay: Balboa Bay Club

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Thanksgiving conjures multitudes of memories and impressions in our minds of stupendous family meals. There is the enduring image of going to grandma’s house where she spent all day in the kitchen cooking up homemade ravioli and other special holiday dishes - a feast for her eager family.

While the adults snuggled around the dining room table, the kiddies caused a ruckus in the kitchen.

These days I’m no longer the young mother with small children, but the grandmother, who has never made homemade ravioli. The shame of it haunts me – but only for a little while.Times change. This year I engineered our Thanksgiving dinner, but did not cook it, as we dined in comfort and charm at the splendid Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, California. I’m sure my mother never enjoyed such luxury back in Chicago.

The BBC provided the ideal venue for an elegant family Thanksgiving dinner, serenely soothing with tinkling piano in the background, and I knew every song being played, including the lyrics. It wasn’t just recorded noise…it was authentic music. The four-course menu offered several choices ($75 adults; $37 children) – and all were declared “delicious.” Though I am the only person who actually ate turkey – the others opted for prime rib, sea bass, and, in the case of the youngest, peanut butter and jelly, even though it was not on the menu...

Every one of our family of nine enjoyed the beauty of the bayside scenery just beyond the wall of mullioned windows. The children liked watching the magnificent yachts gliding past or moored just beyond the glass. The BBC is perfect for watching the famous Newport Beach Christmas boat parade, Dec. 14-18.

This was the best Thanksgiving dinner in recent memory – great food, excellent service, all amid what is possibly the prettiest dining room on the water. It is not overdone, with gaudy appointments – it is a symphony in creamy tones with touches of terra cotta. Tables and comfortable rattan chairs are spaced at distances, which make for a secluded sense. For those who value a dining experience which leaves one happy and content, this is the place. There are many opportunities in the next month to savor the season’s festivities at the beautiful BBC.

Balboa Bay Club Holiday Events

Wed., Nov. 30th6- 7 p.m. Complimentary
HolidayResort Lighting Ceremony – cookies& hot beverages.
Featuring the 1st Marine Corps Band, Camp Pendleton
Please consider donating a new, unwrapped toy for the Toys forTots program.

Thurs. Dec. 1 –The Four Preps Holiday Concert
Grand Ballroom 6p.m.
Tickets $25 949-630-4120

Dec. 14-18 Christmas Boat Parade
Starting at 6:30p.m.

Dec. 1st-23rd Holiday Afternoon Tea
Two seatings – 2 p.m.& 4 p.m.
The Library
Traditional Tea $34
Governor’s Tea – w/champagne $39

Dec. 23rd The Night Before Christmas Eve
Featuring the All-American Boys Chorus
6 p.m. & 9p.m.
The Grand Ballroom
Please considerdonating a new, unwrapped toy for the Toys forTots program.
$68 adults; $34 children

And these special evenings -
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Dinners
New Year’s Eve Black Tie Gala
New Year’s Eve in Duke’s Place

Balboa Bay Club
1212 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
For details visit
Reservations - 949-630-4145

Angela Rocco DeCarlo copyright 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bowers Museum of Cultural Art

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Even a three-year old understands the concept of saving old things for the future.

Michelle Christine, my toddler granddaughter looked around our house one day at the children’s table and chairs and toys she knew had been her daddy’s.

“You saved this for me, “ she stated, not asked. She knew.

I pounced on her thought and told her there were people we didn’t even know who had saved things for us in big buildings called museums. Would she like to go see them? She said, yes, and so our museum adventures began ten years ago.

With my second granddaughter,Serritella Dainelle, I was late starting. She is six years old and last Sunday we went to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana, CA. The facility is having great success with its China exhibits - China’s Enduring Legacy - Warriors, Tombs and Temples; and Ancient Arts of China, but we were there to see the memorial to Christopher Columbus and the small gallery of oil paintings tucked upstairs in an out of the way location.

You are not likely to find Columbus’ bust as it is secreted deep in a courtyard near the entrance, but set back so it is not in plain sight. It is worth seeing. Serritella brought a long-stemmed rose from our garden to place on the monument. We’ve been talking about the great age of exploration and how important Columbus was in turning terra incognita into the world we now know. She was interested to see a likeness of the man she’d been learning about. Though it is generally agreed by scholars that no known portrait of Columbus shows the man as he appeared in life.

After we had paid homage to our cultural cousin we headed for the little picture gallery I remembered from past visits. In particular I wanted to see the oranges again…a vibrant painting of parchment-wrapped fruit that is as beautiful as anything I’ve seen in European galleries. As we slowly made our way around the small gallery, Serritella was entranced by the room’s ceiling of painted decorations. Then she seemed to study the paintings and asked: ‘Why are there trees in all the paintings?” I was rather astounded she had realized, without knowing the name, that she was viewing examples of California plein air paintings. This school of artists captured the natural beauty of old California with its canyons, streams and towering trees.

Painting outdoors became more likely once paint tubes were invented in 1841. Artists were able to abandon mixing their own pigments and carrying them in pig bladders or glass vials. Paints could now be produced in bulk and sold in tin tubes with a cap. The cap could be screwed back on and the paints preserved for future use, providing flexibility and efficiency to painting outdoors. The manufactured paints had a balanced consistency that the artist could thin with oil, turpentine, or other mediums. Paint in tubes also changed the way some artists approached painting. The artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir –“Without tubes of paint, there would have been no Impressionism." For the Impressionists, tubed paints offered an easily accessible variety of colors for their plein air palettes, motivating them to make spontaneous color choices. With greater quantities of preserved paint, they were able to apply paint more thickly.

Serritella and I talked about the scenes of trees, rivers and mountains which the California plein air artists had painted. She reminded me of having seen “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” with her mother and brother at the Huntington Museum and Library, Pasadena, CA. The galleries in which those paintings reside are mostly portraiture, so she obviously was comparing the differences between those pictures and the outdoor scenes at the Bowers. Not a bad introduction to the world of art for a very little girl.

Westrolled around the Bowers for a while after leaving the paintings looking at the artifacts displayed in the large galleries. As we were leaving Serritella asked if she could paint outside when we got back home. And that’s what she did.

Upon arriving back at our home she gathered up her water color paints, brushes,smock and set up her work on the little picnic table outside under the trellis facing the garden and pool. She worked with deep concentration for some time, creating pictures of the pool, another of the flower beds and others of the scene before her. Meanwhile, her brother, Sam, who had gone to a hockey game, not the museum with us, worked on his own picture of the yard. He chose to do a draftsman-like rendering of the pool, complete with brick coping in great detail. Their individual work indicated again, every artist has his or her unique vision and each is to be nurtured and treasured. We plan to return to the Bowers again and again for longer visits as the children gain in age.

Bowers Museum of Cultural Art
2002 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706

Days & Hours – Tues. – Sunday
10a.m. to 4 p.m.
General Admission
Adults $12, reduced rates of $9 for younger visitors.
Free Sundays –first Sunday of every month, Target Free Day

Special ticketed exhibits, such as the Chinese exhibits, require additional fees.

Credit: Angela Rocco DeCarlo, is a veteran journalist.She covers culture, travel and lifestyle.

Monday, September 19, 2011

“Blithe Spirit” by Noel Coward at Costa Mesa Playhouse

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo,copyright, 2011

“Blithe Spirit,” the 1941 Noel Coward comedy, playing at the intimate Costa Mesa Playhouse until September 25, allows theater-goers the opportunity to enjoy good talent, brilliant dialog, all amid some zany antics designed to conjure back to life the dear departed. The three-hour production is directed by David Anthony Blair.

Coward’s play opened in 1941 London during the worst of the German bombings – The Blitz - of Britain during World War II. So it might be easy to see how a creative exercise onstage, of retrieving loved ones from the grave, would resonate at that time in history. However, the play has enjoyed long life, with many revivals, during the past 70 years. It’s most recent incarnation on Broadway was in 2009 with Angela Lansbury in the key role of Madame Arcati, the eccentric medium, who accidentally conjures a dead wife, much to the chagrin of the current, alive wife.

The Costa Mesa specter hits the right notes of comedy and British sophistication without creeping anyone to pieces. The seven-member cast of this well-staged production is fortunate to be well-clothed and placed onto a nicely designed set, as they handle the required British accents with success. Author Coward took the title from the Percy Bysshe Shelly poem, “To A Skylark” – “Hail to thee blithe spirit, bird thou never wert….” Coward’s London office was destroyed in the wartime bombing and it is said he went away and wrote the play during a week in the countryside. “Blithe Spirit” ran for nearly 2,000 performances in London and more than 500, later in 1941, on Broadway. It’s still around because it is beautifully written and works. Actors have sparkling speeches, situations are amusing and the people never lose their cool – even when highly exasperated. What a treat to never have to hear dialog that resorts to vulgarity and code curse words. It is worth the ticket if only to hear humans speak so eloquently in every situation.

English socialites Ruth and Charles Condomine, well-played by Jennifer Pearce and Paul Griffiths respectively, host a dinner party and séance featuring a well-known local eccentric, medium Madame Arcati, played with a light zany touch, by Judy Jones. Charles plans to use the evening to research psychics for his next novel. Friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, played by suitably scientific Dan Henry and charmingly giddy Norma Jean, respectively, round out the guest list. The doctor is a skeptic and his wife is willing to believe whatever may turn up once Arcati goes into her trance. The maid, Edith, played by Danielle Macinnis, is too-noisy a presence in early scenes. Though necessary later on.

Of course, the evening goes bump in the night and Arcati accidently conjures Charles’ dead first wife, Elvira, strongly played by Emily Price, to plague the proceedings. Her initial appearance is appropriately ghostly, until she settles in to demonstrate she just showed up to finish aggravating her husband, a job apparently left undone in life.

It is a marvelous tribute to art in the abstract that individuals such as these fine Costa Mesa actors work so hard to provide an evening’s entertainment for a group of strangers. The audience was suitably appreciative for the laughs and opportunity to contemplate what it would be like to have departed loved ones return. But most of all for an evening of sophisticated intelligent entertainment, without a hint of current TV sitcom mentality, marked by the lowest common denominator – usually inane “sex up your nose” nonsense. If only contemporary writers might grab a dictionary or thesaurus and write dialog that sings, instead of slangs, but there was only one Noel Coward. His works is still worth experiencing.

Costa Mesa Playhouse has an excellent website with prompt ticketing applications. Future productions include "Earthlings Beware!"; "Nunsense"; "The Crucible"; "Hedwig & the Angry Inch". Ticket prices are modest, discounts for students and seniors. Learn more at

Costa Mesa Playhouse
661 Hamilton St.
Costa Mesa, CA92627

Angela Rocco DeCarlo copyright, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Balboa Bay Club Concerts

Nothing says summer like an outdoor concert. There are plenty of these around OC in public parks and other such venues. Unfortunately, sometimes these involve parking hassles to distant grassy areas – if there is room – with long walks back to the performing areas.

If you are one who desires a little bit more upscale ambience, here’s the spot for you. I recently enjoyed an evening at the posh Balboa Bay Club and am anxious to return for more relaxation along side the fabulous marina.

The Balboa Bay Club & Resort, at Newport Beach Harbor, provides the perfect constellation of beautiful setting, fine entertainment and tasty foods. The Club is located at 1221West Coast Highway, Newport Beach.; 949-646-5000.

The BBC is hosting three concerts this month that offer up summer fun at its finest.

“The Four Freshman - Live Concert“

Friday, August 12, 6:30 p.m.;

“Surfin’ Safari.- The UltimateTribute to the Beach Boys!”

Friday, August 19, 6:30 p.m;

“Mariachi Sol de Mexico”

Friday, August 26, 6:30 p.m

Tickets for these concerts are $25, each performance (non-refundable).

BBC’s Burger Bash BBQ will be available for purchase at the “Freshman…
and “Surfin’” concerts. See below for the menu and prices on foods.

“Mariachi…” concert will have available the BBC’s dinner buffet, $21.50 for adults; $15.50 for children.

BURGER BASH BBQ MENU – Aug. 12 & Aug. 19 concerts.

BBC POWER BURGER w/ fries $8.50*
TURKEY BURGER w/fries $8.50*
GRILLED CHICKEN w/fries $8.50*
SANDWICH w/fries $8.50*
BBC CHILI $3.00*
ICE CREAM $2.00*

For information on the concerts call 949-630-4120.

Reservations online:

Balbo Bay Club & Resort
1221 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, is a former Chicago journalist, who resides in Orange, CA.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Fifty years ago - July 15, 1961 - my Resurrection School fourth
grade students - not all 48 of the nine-year olds - attended my wedding to
Daniel DeCarlo, at St. Francis Church, Cicero, Il.

They proudly presented us with a beautiful rococo silver serving
tray which has been a treasured reminder of those wonderful students. It is
as pretty today as it was when new. They happily told me they each "chipped
in" 25 cents and one of the mothers - Mrs. Cotton, I believe - made the
purchase. Thanks again to all for a memorable gift which has been used for many
happy family events.

I turned to journalism when my sons, Mark, Michael and Danny,
were in elementary school. I didn't continue to teach long-term in elementary
school. Instead, I wrote for newspapers, magazines and businesses and taught
writing classes in colleges.

It is hoped my Resurrection School 1960-1961 students went on to
success and happiness in their me, they remain the darling
nine-year olds of my first fourth grade class.

Wherever they are I send my best wishes - God Bless.

Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

by Angela Rocco DeCarlo - copyright 2011

Friends from Chicago were visiting and we were giving them the Huntington Beach, CA tour... lunch at Duke's on the beach downtown while gawking at the wetsuited-surfer dudes, who to Midwesterners, are exotic indeed.

They can't quite believe that surfing can be, and is, for talented people, a profession.

Celebrating with old friends from back home is always special. That's the time when a plain red plastic cup won't do for your wine toast. It's fine for the beach, but otherwise something more refined is required.

As we checked out the various gift shops around the beach area we came upon one store which had a collection of hand painted wine glasses that offered a surprise. There are several brands that produce these custom items.

There amid the flip flop and ladies' shoe glass designs was a tulip wine glass featuring a fantasy Chicago Cubs marquee, city skyline and sailboats on Lake Michigan - all capturing the fun of a Chicago summer. Obviously, no one is going to memorialize a Chicago winter - that's for sure.

Travelers love to take home treats from vacation destinations to remind them of happy times. It isn't often one in on a California beach where the option to take home a memento of home is realized. A bit offbeat.

The hand painted glasses on display featured a wide array of designs, including a handful of cities other than Chicago, including Las Vegas and New York. The problem was there weren't two of Chicago and we both wanted to buy several for families members. Of course, courtesy demanded my friend get to take home the lone Chicago wine glass.

Our family of former Chicagoans,living in "exile" in Southern California, remain devoted Cubs fans. So when we spotted the Chicago wine glass we were delighted - it was fun and unique. I thought it was perfect for my three Cubs-loving sons who would get a kick out of the glasses. They are already in possession of Chicago shirts, blankets, hats, and other accouterments - a wine glass would make a good addition.

As I wanted additional Chicago glasses I did a little research on the brand. It seems the creative source behind the vast catalog of drinking implements is Lolita Healy. Her Designs by Lolita started out about ten years ago with martini glasses and expanded to the tulip wine glasses and then other household products. All have her distinctive stamp of eclectic fantasy. The wine glasses sell for under $25; they are not dishwasher safe.

If I were planning a party for next year with a guest list of 1200 or so I'd consider ordering our own special Chicago DeCarlo family design. Just a nice little fantasy...( Meanwhile, I'm hunting down more of the Chicago wine glasses. I need three to surprise my boys.

Angela Rocco DeCarlo
copyright, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Meeting George and Abe at the Nixon Library

by Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright, 2011

"I've got something special for you, " said President Abraham Lincoln to the young boy and girl.

With that he pulled from his trousers' pocket a handful of the shiniest of new US Lincoln copper pennies.

This Lincoln enactor, Bill Peck, was pitch perfect in appearance (with a real beard) and demeanor at the annual Presidents' Day free event at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA. He spoke gently to the children as he explained the 2009 "Rail Splitter" pennies* he presented to them were keepsakes. Sam, 7, and Seritella, 5, our grandchildren, were awestruck as they accepted the shiny pennies. I admit, I was, too. He suggested the children learn not only the Gettysburg address, but Lincoln's second inaugural address filled with hope and prayer. It was a small moment of pure theater just for two little kids - beautiful.

The Nixon Museum has been a favorite destination for us to take our four young grandchildren over the past ten years. They've scampered up and through the presidential helicopter, which is a part of the permanent collection of Nixon objects. The Apollo astronauts and their accouterments were an exciting up-close encounter when on special exhibit. Today, Sam and Serritella walked in the set-in-cement-bootprints of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the moon. The beautiful gardens and lawn enticed the children to games of tag. No "keep off the grass" signs here. This is a museum visitors can really enjoy in all aspects.

The children also were presented to President George Washington who graciously sat for photos with them. The Washington enactor, the Rev. Gary B. Beard**, appears throughout the US in his colonial uniform engaging with visitors to tell the story of early America using his vast array of authentic artifacts, including Bibles, cannonballs and antique currency. The patience and enthusiasm displayed is remarkable, providing a satisfying learning experience for children and adults.

President Thomas Jefferson, portrayed by Peter Small, held a copy of "his" Declaration of Independence as he circulated through the throngs of Nixon guests. It was fun to chat about our personal heroes Lewis and Clark and their great achievements in exploring the vast Louisiana Purchase territory, 1804-1806. Jefferson reminded us Lewis had been his personal secretary prior to appointing him captain of the expedition. He also made haste to laude their brave and resourceful guide Sacagawea. The brave young girl, who not only lead the explorers, also saved their precious journals from water destruction.

Later in the day the presidents would gather in the Nixon Library's White House East Room replica. The program would include a question and answer session allowing guests to learn more about these great US presidents.

The Museum hosts many free programs thorough the year to educate and entertain. There are free Sunday concerts, a fabulous miniature holiday train exhibit, displays of presidential gifts to the Nixon family received from heads of state and a fashion gallery featuring bridal gowns from the Nixon daughters.

The Nixon Library and Museum is the perfect has not yet been overindulged to gigantic proportions which often happens to successful museums. It is intimate, charming and educational. Our grandchildren love it.

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
Admission: adults; $9.95; seniors $6.95;

*Four new Lincoln pennies were minted in 2009 in celebration
of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. Each of the four penny designs
depict different aspects of his life and career. Our pennies were the "Rail
Splitter" design.
** George Washington enactor, the Reverend Gary Beard,
visits schools and other venues.

copyright 2011 Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Trains and Treasures:Nixon Museum Yorba Linda, CA

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo,copyright, 2011

The Richard Nixon Library and Museum is an intimate facility highly suited to families and children, especially grandparents with young children. It does not overwhelm in size and so is an enticing destination at any time of the year.

Every Christmas season we take our grandchildren to enjoy the model train exhibits. Last year there were two rooms of spectacular model train layouts – a densely constructed Lego cityscape with many bridges, buildings and encampments. In the second room was the marvelously imagined tiered landscape with various-sized model trains choo-chooing across a fantasy America dotted with charming towns filled with miniature people.

This year’s visit found a smaller, though still interesting, Lego exhibit, which continues until January 28, 2011, with the second room devoted to “Treasures from the Vault:” A collection of valuable gifts given to the Nixon family, but owned by the U.S. government, by many foreign heads of state.

The Lego train exhibit is housed in the museum’s lobby all set about with various themed Christmas trees hugging the perimeter of the space. There’s the Presidents’ tree; the First Ladies’ tree; the Asian tree; the USA tree and others.

The Lego train curators created a little game with a series of items to be found. It made the viewing a fun challenge for children old enough to engage in a scavenger hunt. Finding the girl with the blue balloon proved impossible, but our gang of four, ranging in ages from 5 to 12, managed to locate some of the other game pieces, but not the curved staircase or the Christmas tree being decorated. Last year it was the tiny Superman that was highly sought after and finally located on the top of a building.

Favorites of the display included the large suspension bridge, the barrel tunnel and the colorful carnival scene alongside the little marina, complete with tiny sailboats. The Legos certainly struck a chord with our grandsons, Andrew, 10, and Sam, 7, who is now busy putting together a large Lego passenger airplane from his New Year’s Eve birthday.

The girls, Mish, 12, and Serritella, 5, toured the Legos and then visited the historic fashion gallery where the Nixon daughters’ bridal gowns are displayed together with First Lady Pat Nixon’s gowns. They moved on to the “Treasures of the Vault” (closed Jan. 30) and loved the gorgeous silk paneled screen with brilliant red background upon which white embroidered cranes cavorted. Junior fashionista, Mish, was impressed with the black crocodile Gucci ladies handbag, shown in a case with a companion handbag fashioned from authentic leopard fur – both exquisite.

Pope Paul VI’s gift to the Nixons of a 17th century painting of St. Peter’s Church, Rome, Italy – the largest Christian church in the world, is understated but spectacular. The beautiful forecourt and majestic elliptical piazza bounded by colonnades created in 1629-67 from Bernini’s designs, is seen without the surrounding buildings visible today. Many artists and architects put their brains and hands to the design, but it was Michelangelo, who in 1546 was made chief architect, who designed the great dome and finished part of it. Under the dome is the high altar which itself is above the tomb of St. Peter, the first pope.

My personal favorite was the dazzling gift of a Sultan in 1974 of emerald and diamond jewelry presented to Julie and Tricia Nixon. Nearby was the spectacular King Hussein gift of double strand pearl necklace. As it is the gift of a king it might be inferred the pearls are genuine, not cultured. In another display case was a splendid gold-encased 16th century Bible presented by Israel to President Nixon. All this beauty makes one wonder how the thank you notes could have adequately expressed appreciation for such riches. There are no details on what gifts were presented to the foreign leaders by the Nixons. One can only hope they were as tasteful and well-chosen as those displayed as gifts to the U.S.A. No VCRs back then.

The Nixon Library is part of the U.S.archives and museums which include eleven other presidential libraries. The wealth of historical documentation available at the Nixon is a resource for history buffs as well as students and scholars. The museum offers many programs to the community including free Sunday concerts. Also onsite is the actual Nixon house which is said to have been built by President Nixon’s father from a kit.The presidential limo and helicopter are also on display, as well as a giant version of the iconic photograph of President Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley. From this I learned the photo was not a “photoshopped” creation, as I had supposed, but an actual photo of a real encounter. And that’s what museums are for…letting our imaginations soar among the scenes of the past featuring real people in real situations…preserved here at the Nixon Museum.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA92886
Hours – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon – Sat.
11a.m. – 5 p.m. Sun.
Closed Christmas Day, Thanksgiving & New Year’s Day

Adults (over age 12) $9.95
Child (7-11) $3.75, under 6,child is free
Seniors – 62 + $6.95
Military w/ID $5.95
Student $6.9 05

Angela Rocco DeCarlo
Copyright, 2011

Friday, September 17, 2010

How Do You Spell Chicago– F-U-N !

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo copyright, 2010

The 1980 Chicago poster I’ve displayed in my home since relocating to Southern California in 1987, shows the city as a child’s crayon coloring exercise. Blue Lake Michigan and green parks are in the forefront while the rest of the US recedes to the Pacific. New York and the Atlantic are seen beyond Asia giving the artwork a vitality which amuses and refreshes, just as the real city does for visitors.

First-time guests are astounded by Chicago’s breath-taking lakefront, stretching for miles, awash in sailboats, marinas, pristine parks dotted with notable sculptures, fountains, all anchored by world-class museums set like glittering jewels into the vast parks. That’s the view from atop the Hancock Building…something not to be missed. It offers a superlative shoreline vista.

The sunlight bouncing off the lake, enhanced by the tens of acres of open spaces, gives the public buildings a fairytale feel, as though someone sketched them in watercolors. The openness of the lakefront owes a debt to Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. He designed among many projects, the lakefront parks, skyscrapers and the Chicago Columbian Exposition, 1893. Taking his cue from Baron Georges Haussmann, 19th century city planner of the old Roman city of Paris, which was entirely rebuilt to Haussmann’s designs, Burnham designed the city’s new look. Old Chicago was burned down in the Chicago fire, October, 1871. Burnham and the city’s leading citizens seized the opportunity to recast the city in more of a European style, yet, with strong American underpinnings. These were the people who were already collecting Renoirs, Monets and other masterpieces now found at the Art Institute. These vibrant successful Americans put their mark on the former swamp-city Chicawa.

We never tire of ‘going home” to drink in the energy of vibrant Chicago. In August we made our annual pilgrimage to take in a championship roller hockey tournament, see the museums and do lunch on the lakefront. We sampled a café in Millennium Park and delighted in being at the pinnacle of pleasure at the delightful Signature Room, on the 95th floor of the iconic Hancock Building, Michigan Avenue.

Of course, we paid our respects to the fabulous Impressionist painting collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve got the postcards of Renoir’s “Two Sisters – On theTerrace,” “The Rowers’ Lunch,” to prove it. In fact, my collection includes one of the miniature Thorne Rooms and the monumental Georges Seurat “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”- which I obtain over and over. I also raid the gift shop for children’s art books. Always treasures to be found there. The thrill of being in close proximity to great masterpieces right in one’s own hometown encourages the soul to relish creativity. Our friends took in the new modern wing of the museum…a bridge too far for bad knees.

After seeing the paintings (“On The Terrace”is still on the back wall where it is not seen to advantage) we strolled a block north to the Park Grill, tucked under the lee of the stunning sculpture affectionately called “The Bean.” Sam, our waiter, secured a secluded alcove for our party of six old-time friends. It was relaxing and fun. The menu offers seafood, salads and pastas, as well as kobe burgers ($17),grilled turkey burgers ($14) and chicken wraps ($14.50). Opening with friedcalamari ($10.50) we tried salads and burgers – all declared delicious. For quality and ambience diners felt the experience was highly enjoyable.

The next day, my husband, Dan and I, selected the best lakefront restaurant for viewing the splendid scenes of Chicago– the Signature Room (as in John Hancock) on the 95th at the Hancock Building. Go in the daytime for spectacular lakefront vistas to four states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois. Looking like dollhouses in the distance one sees the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry and acres of gorgeous parks and marinas. Roof-top swimming pools down below on city buildings were curiously empty on that hot August day, as were the streets. Relatively little traffic was seen in what is the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile of North Michigan Avenue.

Looking like a child’s Lego playland was Navy Pier with its Ferris Wheel (George Washington Ferris’ invention was first seen at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition 1893) and other attractions, including Chicago River tour boats which go through the locks – sort of a mini-Panama Canal cruise. The locks and river reversal are a marvel of civil engineering. The reversal in 1900 enabled the city to send its sewage down to the Mississippi preserving the lake for drinking water. Construction of the Ship and Sanitary Canal was the largest earth-moving operation that had been undertaken in North America up to that time. It was also notable for training a generation of engineers, many of whom later worked on the Panama Canal (1904-1914). City and suburban residents get their water from the lake, and enjoy the best-tasting water of any metropolis.. The Signature Room’s special summer $15 buffet had packed the space, which gave it a big city vibe. Beautifully dressed families celebrating graduations kept company with office groups, shoppers, as well as cuddly duos. The room is elegant, yet, casual, with white tablecloths topped with white butcher paper. My lobster bisque ($7) was delicious. I was surprised by the oversized yummy Cobb lobster salad ($22). What thrilled most was the heart-stopping city panorama a foot away through plate glass windows: spectacular! After you enjoy the day sights, go back at night for dinner in this romantic setting.

To all this satin we added a touch of burlap by creating a cheering section for our Huntington Beach, CA, grandson, Andrew DeCarlo’s State Wars Roller Hockey Championship Tournament in suburban Darien, contiguous to our former home in Downers Grove. When Andrew learned where the games would be played…he said, “Oh, good, the family can come to see me.” And they did. From great-great aunt Gen DeCarlo DeMaio to Chicago Softball Hall of Famer great-uncle Peter Rocco and aunt Jen, to aunts, cousins and friends too numerous to imagine. It was great fun. Andrew, 10, of course, played on the California team (selected in try-outs). The well-organized and well-executed State Wars Roller Hockey Tournament, under Tim McManus’ management, paired teams from nearly 30 US states and Canadian provinces. It was declared “…best roller hockey tournament we’ve participated in…” by parents Michael and Lorena DeCarlo…sister Michelle loved collecting the state pins each player was given.

Andrew’s Div. 99 A CA team took the Gold Medal and Andrew played on the winning All-Star Team. My lifelong girlfriends fell in love with the little girl on Andrew’s CA team – Tanner Gates, San Diego, Ca. . Her long blond pigtails flew across the rink and even when three players tried to muscle her she fluffed them off. How wonderful girls today have these opportunities in sports. The entire tournament was exciting and greatly enjoyable. Chicago is a city of superlative action…I wouldn’t go so far as the new Mark DeCarlo book, “Fork On The Road: 400 Cities One Stomach,” which says…” if you are bored during the summer in Chicago, slap the loser in the mirror.” But he has a point. There’s an endless array of festivals, concerts, museum exhibitions all through the year…find your fun at and make your day.

Credit: Angela Rocco DeCarlo is a former Chicago journalist. Author Mark DeCarlo is her son. His new book, “A Fork On The Road: 400 Cities One Stomach” is available at bookstores and online and is based on his popular Travel Channel TV show “Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo,”
Copyright, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Las Brisas: Pacific Ocean Views and Rose Gardens

Warning: This is not an unbiased review. I love Las Brisas Restaurant for its incomparable location. The place is quaint, just comfortable enough to satisfy, with flashy rose gardens in seasonal bloom, but make no mistake, it is the ocean which holds pride of place. It sits on a promontory overlooking the sun-dappled Pacific Ocean, with curving Laguna Beach to the south replicating vistas of Italy’s Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, our families’ ancestral home.

For us former Chicagoans, the place, especially in January, represents a fantasy of beauty and breezes (hence the name – The Breezes) to which we’ve brought our most beloved family and friends. Our Chicago-born fathers, Mike DeCarlo and Pete Rocco, taking their first plane ride in their 80s, relished the experience of eating in sunshine on a winter day. My sister, Christine, and others have shared our delight in merely being in this sublimely spectacular spot. Native Californians cannot fathom the depth of pleasure experienced by we cold-clime folk, who find ourselves squinting into the winter sun as we munch delicious Las Brisas nachos on the terrace. We can almost feel we’re again visiting fabled Positano, Italy, seated on the terrace of the celebrated San Pietro Hotel. The scenery is that similarly spectacular. Any visitor will respond favorably to the sensual charm of the area.

We are not alone in our devotion to the Las Brisas experience. The Southern California landmark began in 1938 as the Victor Hugo Inn. It became Las Brisas in 1979, and has been a magnet for visitors from all over the world, not just Chicago. Having on-property valet parking is no small thing in a beach town with limited street parking.

Of course the food is lovely…the calamari is particularly delicate and flavorful with a soft garlic lemon butter sauce ($10.25) that is a fine introduction to whatever comes next. On one recent visit we had our favorites on the patio –fish and chips and cheesy nachos – yummy. The patio has its own menu, separate from the inside dining room. Last week the couple seated next to us on the patio were visiting from Naperville, Illinois, a town near our former Downers Grove hometown.Noticing my Cubs bag they struck up a conversation and we had the most pleasant time talking about our rotten-weather Chicago and how glorious is Las Brisas.

Reservations are taken but the promise of a window seat is withheld. Therefore to increase your chances of unobstructed ocean views try going on a Monday when there is more opportunity to snag a window table to catch sight of the pelicans fishing for their lunch or if one is lucky seeing dolphin play dates carousing in the distance. There is an outcrop of rocks off the gazebo viewing area which is home to marine birds and mammals – I think they may be seals.

The place offers Mexican Riviera seafood dishes, as well as beef and chicken entrees for breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch and cocktails. My lunch dish of four large sea scallops sautéed in spicy chardonnay with garlic butter sauce and wild mushrooms was marvelously fresh-tasting and flavorful ($17.50). I’ve enjoyed the Ensalada de Primavera –substituting romaine for the spring greens but keeping the caramelized walnuts, pear, cranberries, feta cheese with a citrus-ginger dressing. ($6.50). Never having acquired a taste for alcohol I cannot speak for the drinks but I did notice margarita cocktails were priced at $9.50.

For those seeking every opportunity for beautiful vistas it is worth mentioning a small park with gorgeous views reached off Pacific Coast Highway by turning right (if you are driving south) onto Crescent Bay St. Continue to the end of the cul-de-sac and park on the street. The little park provides wonderful views up and down the coastline. The town of Laguna Beach is filled with art galleries and other interesting shops. Begin and end at Las Brisas and you are sure to enjoy it all.

Las Brisas Restaurant
361 Cliff Drive
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
949-497-5434 – reservations online –

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Renoir Exhibit LACMA

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Pierre –Auguste Renoir Exhibit
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
February 14 – May 9,2010

Pierre – Auguste Renoir,(1841 – 1919) the French Impressionist painter known for his luminescent female nudes, was a towering figure in the art world along with other Impressionist greats such as Monet and Cezanne. This ticketed LACMA Renoir exhibit; February 14 – May 9, 2010 – illuminates Renoir’s later works as a postimpressionist whose influence on modern painters, such as Picasso, has received lesser discussion.

This exhibit, which opened this past fall at the Grand Palais, Paris, is the first to focus on the mature works of Renoir, in his last years. The exhibit moves on to the Philadelphia Museum of Art June 17. The show brings together about 80 of his paintings, drawings and sculptures from collections in Europe, the United States and Japan. In addition, works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisee, Aristide Maillol and Pierre Bonnard demonstrate Renoir’s often overlooked influence on their art. A startling echo can be seen in Picasso’s female figures after viewing Renoir’s nudes painted in his 20th century career.

Many years ago a friend and I took our seven young sons – ages 3 to 12 - to see a glorious Renoir exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. The huge canvases of beautiful early career nudes shown as though lighted from behind. On the way home in the proverbial stationwagon of that era I asked, of no one in particular, “Did you like the show?” “Yes,” came the immediate reply from the way way back. “We counted 47 nudes.”

Alas, this show would perhaps have disappointed. I counted less than fifteen nudes, which are different in their light reflective qualities from early works. Nonetheless, it is an exhibit for serious art students as well as casual observers. The curators of the exhibit wish to demonstrate how Renoir’s curiosity and determined art self-instruction influenced his late works.

According to the experts, in October, 1881, Renoir decided, after finishing his Luncheon of the Boating Party, one of the most famous and admired Impressionist paintings, to achieve his ambition to go to Italy. He planned to visit Venice, Rome, Florence and Naples to view the paintings of Raphael, Titian and other Renaissance masters. He did just that and was as awed as any ordinary tourist, except his titanic talent allowed him to utilize what he had absorbed in creating something different in his later paintings.

That something different did not always please his admirers. American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt is said to have written to a friend that Renoir was painting pictures of “enormously fat red women with very small heads.” Visitors today may see for themselves whether that critique holds true. The later nudes are characterized as “monumental” in describing the appearance of out-of-proportion lower limbs.

As Renoir aged he was ravaged by severe rheumatoid arthritis and moved to Cagnes, in the South of France, for the milder climate. Though unable to walk or even stand, with hands deformed by his disease, he nonetheless continued to explore his vision to create new perspectives of his art. He often used his three young sons and a nanny, Gabrielle, as his models. His later paintings includes the 1902 masterpiece, Reclining Nude ,which recalls Rubens and Raphael themes of idealized spring and fertility.

In 1913, Renoir is said to have stated he was about to reach the goal he’d set for himself with his trip to Italy 12 years before; “I’m starting to know how to paint.”

Perhaps this is the mark of genius when curiosity and ambition cannot be faded by age or infirmity. Renoir is said to have painted until his last days.

Not a bad life for an old man –using his talent to capture his vision of the naked model before him. Beauty such as he created does not age or wither…tastes may change and new perspectives open to works unappreciated previously. This exhibit encourages modern viewers to learn and enjoy the enduring creativity of a great painter.


Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90036
Tickets - $20; admission $12 –under 17 years free, seniors, $8
Free second Tuesday of each month;Target Free Holiday Mondays. After 5 p.m.
daily “pay what you wish” program.
Hours – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, noon-8 p.m.; Friday, noon-9 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays.

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Day at the Races

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA
By Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright, 2010

While it doesn’t look like a scene from an old Marx Brothers movie anymore, a day at the races is still a fun enterprise, whether you know the score or not. Recently a group of school chums from Chicago wanted to try their luck. We spent a pleasurable few hours in the grandstands trying to figure out betting techniques, while discussing long-ago prom dates. Some were more successful than others in both the racing results and prom picks. Nothing to be done about the long-past prom, but it may be worthwhile to attend the free classes offered at the track for some assistance.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California, is approximately 14 miles Northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and about an hour from Orange County (location of Disneyland) and is noted for its picturesque mountain view setting. The current racing schedule runs from Wednesdays through Sundays with varied times for the first race. It’s best to check the day you want to go for the starting times. The first race can be noon, 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.

Good to know: on Thursdays seniors are admitted for free and on Fridays everyone is admitted for free – general admission - with the added incentives of $1 hot dogs, beer, soda, popcorn and coffee. There is a fee for parking.

The Park is a beauty and there’s plenty to see and do besides the actual races. The free Seabiscuit Tram Tour, which I took some years ago, was fascinating. It starts early – 8:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. – but is worth the effort. Reservations are required: (626) 574-6677. Tram pick up is at Clocker’s Corner and takes visitors to the stable area, receiving barn and paddock gardens. There’s a look at what is said to be racehorse Seabiscuit’s original stall and barn, and some areas used during the filming of the movie, Seabiscuit. I found the look inside the jockey’s room and silks room
fascinating as “backstage” insights are always revealing. Locker rooms for any
sport are utilitarian places giving a view of the working world of the athletes, not always a glamorous place.

For those who want to have a leg up on how the race track betting operates there are some free classes. On the day I recently visited there was “Beginners’ Seminar” at noon. The class was a 45-minute presentation covering the basics of using the facilities of the park. The class took place at the East Paddock Gardens. Weather permitting the class takes place every race day at Santa Anita.

Jim Guinn’s “Simple Techniques” classes are held every Sunday in the Baldwin Terrace from11:30 a.m. until the feature race of the day. The program includes early speed, current form, Beyer speed pars & Beyer figures, late speed on the grass, and much more. Extensive materials and free track programs are provided.Sessions are free.

“Big ‘CapDay” is Saturday, March 6, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the race track. All fans, with paid admission, while supplies last, will receive a free 75th anniversary wall clock. There is a $500,000 guaranteed pick 4, which is billed as the payoff of a lifetime.

Santa Anita Park is a pretty place - good for reminiscing or dreaming of creating tomorrow's fortune...good luck.

Santa Anita Park
285 W. Huntington Drive
Arcadia, CA91007

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Last Supper"

by Angela Rocco DeCarlo
copyright 2009

I'm the baby.

So, of course, I never sat at the head of my parents' heavily carved walnut dining room table in our Chicago house.

Until now.

My husband Dan and I have returned with our three grown sons - Mark, Michael and Danny - to my family's house to have a last time together in the place that holds so many precious memories for us all.

We're in my former Rocco family home - an iconic bungalow, on Honorary Pete Rocco Dr., in a once solidly Italian neighborhood on the Far West Side of the city known as The Island - where we will have our “Last Supper.”

It is late October. The leaves outside are golden, the air chilly and my entire family has left sunny Southern California to fly thousands of miles to pay homage to the place and the people we love.

The building's sole final resident was my beloved late elder sister, Christine Frances Rocco, and we'd already been back for her funeral months before. This is another sentimental journey: to have one last meal at my mother's table before the house passes out of the family.

If we're fortunate to be born into families that lavish love on us, we treasure those who loved us so. In this house are many memories of family holiday and birthday celebrations. This is the place where I grew up, where my then-boyfriend Dan sat with me at this table as my family looked him over. Later on, his parents often joined us, as his family lived on the next block.

This neighborly arrangement made it possible for our young sons to have four grandparents - Peter and Della Rocco and Mary and Michael DeCarlo - sitting with them at that table on Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving along with uncles and aunts and cousins.

Since 1990, when my father passed on, my mother having gone before him in 1985, my sister updated the house while still keeping some of the family furnishings. Our boys loved visiting their beloved Aunt Cookie whenever we were in Chicago, often bringing friends along. It is a great gift to be able to go back home and find the love that was always there.

During our son Michael's senior year in optometric college, he lived in the bungalow with my father and sister. Before he moved in, my sister made my father promise he would not sit at the window each night waiting for Michael to come home. My father was known as a worrier, and not a quiet one, but a rather noisy dramatic one, given to fuming loudly while pacing wildly. However, he'd calm down somewhat in later years, and as a widowed man he astounded us all by learning how to cook and take care of the house as my sister continued to work. He loved to make Michael breakfast before he headed off to school. It was a very happy time for them all.

For all our children and grandchildren, it was a second home. With Auntie's passing, Danny was devastated, not only at the loss of her, but also the happy times to which he looked forward when he would visit Chicago with his family.

We all lull ourselves into thinking that things will stay the same forever. Our parents will always be there, and our siblings will, too. We can go visit them whenever we find the time. Then life takes over and we don't have as much time as we wish … and things change, whether we're prepared for it or not.

First times are often fun, and those wonderful firsts are legend in our lives. First love. First kiss. First date. Indelible memories we carry always.

But last times are rarely so easy, especially when we don't realize it's the last.

We kiss a sister good-bye at the airport, already planning her next visit to California. Only it never happens. I often worried about her falling down the basement steps. But never, not once, did it cross my mind that she might die. So that airport kiss was the last time we embraced.

I miss her daily and long for her return in that way people talk about after losing a loved one, especially suddenly. After a certain length of time, when we're trying to be brave and go on with life, we get annoyed, frustrated, thinking. “OK, this is long enough, I want you back right now,” I would dream of her and scold. “Where have you been? I've missed you so much.”

Of course, life is full of lasts.

Surely, there's a last time we bend over to pick up a child's toy. Or the last time we are needed to tie his shoe laces. The last time he willingly climbs on our lap to be rocked to sleep. Life is so busy, lasts often go by silently, lingering only as footnotes.

I suppose it was this sense of lost lasts that prompted the idea of making this pilgrimage back home.

Our three sons knew this house as well as their own growing up, for it contained people who adored them. But today, seated at my mother's splendid table, we are anything but festive. The house is going to be sold, the furnishings dispersed: it is the end.

So we're seated at the table, on the matching upholstered chairs, not knowing what to say or do. It's so odd. If we were Irish we might be telling funny stories, drinking and laughing. They seem to have that gift.

Alas, Italians are not inclined in that direction. We carry that ancient Mediterranean pagan gloom in our blood and people dying is not a time for revelry or funny stories. No matter how modern we might try to be, we can't quite pull it off. We're miserable.

Eldest son, Mark DeCarlo, is sitting with his arms tightly folded across his chest, his handsome face contorted in a heart-wrenching crunch. “All the people who sat here … all gone,” he laments with a croak.

Middle son Michael sits, teary-eyed but silent.

The baby of our family, Danny, and his wife, Laurie, have instinctively seated themselves and their two babies, Sam and Serritella, in my spot - the baby's place at the end of the table nearest the kitchen.

I feel out of place at the head of my mother's table. I look around at my grown sons and see the baby faces they once had as they sat eating my mother's homemade ravioli, a treat served only on special holidays. Now we're all California “no carbs” people and we do not eat ravioli at our holiday dinners. But at this Last Supper at our Chicago bungalow, we cheat and have take-out pasta. I hoped my mother doesn't know.

Silently, we're all wondering what it will be like to have no home in Chicago to return to. We'll go back to California and this house and all it contained and represented will stay in our hearts and memories. We have other family that will welcome us when we come back.

Suddenly, Mark says, “I'd like Nani's table if no one else wants it.”

What? Mark wants his grandparents' old furniture?

“I'd like their bedroom set, too, if no one wants that,” he adds.

And just like that, there's a future to plan. Perhaps we can keep alive our connection to our Chicago bungalow and beloved family in a tangible way.

When the dinner is over, we hurry outside to rake leaves with the kids. We make piles for them to jump into. We let leaves rain down upon them. Then, finally, we set off to drive them all to the airport. With tears, they take one last look back at their Chicago home.

Dan and I stay to deal with the house and the furnishing.

It's a hard thing. But we feel better knowing that Mark's request has changed things. He couldn't bear to part with this place, where his crib for overnights was cheek to jowl against Nani and Papa's rosewood double bed. And so, he decides to take some of it with him to California. He wants to continue to have family dinners around his grandparents' walnut dining table.

As I write this, the furniture is being refinished and the dining room chairs recovered. Curiously Mark selected a dark burgundy colored fabric. If I remember correctly, it is the color the chairs were when I was a child. He thinks he remembers the color. But he wasn't born yet.

When Mark places his grandparents' walnut dining set in his newly rehabbed house, it will be as it was when Peter Rocco and Della Serritella became husband and wife in 1926. Now the table will serve those of us here, those to come, and those in our hearts.

That walnut table was built to last, and I know it will. As family does.

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, a former Chicago journalist, resides in Orange, CA, with Dan; Mark lives in LA, Michael and Danny moved from Chicago after college to keep the family together. They are our heros for doing that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” at Movie Theaters

Via Metropolitan Opera ED Broadcast

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright, 2010

There is one more opportunity to experience the thrill of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of George Bizet’s incendiary entertainment, “Carmen,” in a repeat broadcast to movie houses around the world, Wednesday, February 3, 2010, 6:30 p.m. local time.

I saw the show in my neighborhood movie theater, Saturday, January 16, 2010, and would have sat through another performance immediately. This presentation is marvelously entertaining with behind-the-scenes interviews and other sidebars at the Metropolitan Opera house.

“Carmen,” is one of a handful (others are “Tosca,” “Butterfly,” and “Traviata”) of perfect operas for those who have not yet seen an opera, but think they should. It has everything: iconic characters, memorable music and explosive passions. No novice will be disappointed in this show.

Pity Georges Bizet, composer of this blockbuster opera, fourth on the opera “hit parade” of the 20 most performed. He was hoping for success with the debut of “Carmen” at the Opera Comique, Paris, March 3, 1875, but audiences were flummoxed by the departure from the usual shows at that venue and completely rejected the opera. It closed soon after opening and sadly Bizet died, at age 37, shortly thereafter, never knowing he had created one of the most successful and enduring operas ever written.

Thanks to liberal use of Bizet’s fiery music in popular culture, even those who never sat in an opera house have a humming acquaintance with Bizet’s exuberant creations for “Carmen” – the "Habanera"; the "Toreador" aria; the "Sequidilla" and more. The librettists, Henri Meilac and Ludovic Halévy, based their work upon the 1845 Prosper Mérimée’s novella of the same name. Their tautly focused script allows even a newcomer to grasp the subtle points of the characters, social references and the logical action of the opera.

As is the fashion these days, the production tinkers with the opera’s time setting, “updating” the scenes from early 19th century to the early 20th century Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, the costume changes make little difference, as the main characters are gypsies and soldiers – their attire remains as expected.

The story takes place in the 2,000 year-old Roman city of Seville, Spain, focusing on the tensions of gypsy women workers in the government monopoly cigarette factory and the military men, presumably guarding the crown’s interests. The soldiers are depicted as uniformed vultures eyeing their prey –the sultry gypsies. The most beautiful of the women is Carmen - Carmenita, as she tells the men. Played by extraordinary mezzo soprano, Elina Garanca, Carmen is nearly masculine in her swagger of independence, yet certain of her dazzling feminine allure. She infuses the character with something more than mere sex. Garanca’s Carmen has gravitas in her insistence on living without restraints, no matter the consequences. Clearly, she is the “general” among the army men with only her beauty and promise of love as her authority.

The story is simple, – Carmen sets her sights and a flower on Corporal Don Jose, sung by tenor, Roberto Alagna, the only soldier who pays her no attention, preferring his finance, sweet Micaela, (Barbara Frittoli), who has delivered a message from Jose’s mother. Despite maternal concern, Jose’s fate is sealed. Too soon, love for Carmen destroys his career, his honor and more. Of course, elitist Lieutenant Zuniga, (Keith Miller) Jose’s commanding officer, thinks Carmen should be his; officers’ privilege. A ruckus among the cigarette women lands Carmen in trouble, but Jose, quickly under her spell, allows her to escape jail, with disastrous results for him.

The opera, sung in French with English supertitles, is in four acts, runs about three and one half hours, and has one intermission, As is traditional with French operas there is plenty of dance, including two pas a duex before the opening curtains, depicting the lovers’ happiness. That's a brilliant touch, as happiness is mostly absent within the story.

The action moves quickly from the opening scenes to a barroom gypsy dance and the electrifying entrance of matador Escamillo, the epitome of manly perfection. Played by Teddy Tadu Rhodes, a 6’5’ baritone, Spain's cultural star trails women into the tavern like so many kite tails. He, too, falls in love with Carmen and the rest of the story does not go well for poor soldier Don Jose.

We’ll leave the plot unrevealed for those who wish to experience it for themselves. However, it’s no surprise Jose ends up with Carmen and her outlaw friends as they plan smuggling operations in the mountains outside Seville. While it is never stated what the smuggled goods are, with the Spanish Crown’s tobacco monopoly, established in 1637, it’s not much of a mystery that cigarette workers are involved.

Roberto Alagna’s Jose is a marvelous match for Elina Garanca’s Carmen. While Carmen is overtly dynamic, Jose’s character only catches fire when ignited by Carmen’s passions. Supporting actors, smugglers Elizabeth Caballero, Sandra Piques Eddy, Earle Patriarco and Keith Jameson do not fade into stock figures, but are individuals with beautiful voices and particular personalities which add color and energy to the action. Conductor Yannick Nezef-Seguin moved the orchestra to match the passions seen on stage, in this enthralling production by Richard Eyre.

In the final act, the noisy crowds outside the bullring, relish seeing the country’s heroes, matadors, as they make their grand approach and entrance into the arena They are arrayed in the most colorful and beautiful costumes seen in the show. Their whip-thin bodies encased in sparkling satins, they command the cynosure their courage demands. It is a telling scene which speaks to the perennial human desire to create and adore superheros appropriate to the culture. Escamillo controls his image and accepts the worship. His character is a worthy consort to now-regal Carmen, which contrasts to poor Jose’s tragic loss of dignity and honor for the sake of lust.

The final scene, inside the bullring, was lost on the audience in my theater as the lighting was so dim it was impossible to discern details. This has been an on-going problem with the MetHD broadcasts - very dark stages with loss of visuals of supporting actors.

Bizet's "Carmen" is a timeless story of passion, a tale of a female Don Juan, told with gorgeous music and superlative talent. Anyone who attends the next Met broadcast will count themselves fortunate to have seen this production.


For information:

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright 2010.
Angela Rocco DeCarlo, is a veteran journalist, covering travel, culture and entertainment, originally in Chicago, currently based in Southern California. She served as an opera docent for nearly 20 years with the late Opera Pacific, Santa Ana, CA.

Monday, December 21, 2009

GLORY OF CHRISTMAS at Crystal Cathedral

By Angela Rocco DeCarlo

Visitors from around the world plan holiday travel with Orange County, Southern California in mind. While wonderful attractions, parades and merriment at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are major draws to the area, there is a large and loyal audience for the inspirational Broadway-quality production “Glory of Christmas,” at the Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, CA.

There is still time to enjoy “Glory,” as performances continue through January 3, 2010. Audiences return year after year, and this season, on the show's 29th anniversary, children are still mesmerized by the spectacle of Roman centurions on horseback, splendidly robed Wise Men on camels, and townspeople with their wealth of livestock. Mary rides on a little gray donkey to Bethlehem, with Joseph at her side, where a sympathetic innkeeper finds a place for them. The theme parks make merry, but it is the unique “Glory” nativity full-scale musical production which tells the story of Christmas.

It is a simple story. Yet, this well-produced little “opera,” with over 150 performers, and 350 volunteers working in various capacities, brings the nativity alive through dance, singing and recorded music by the London Symphony Orchestra, complimented by the Crystal Cathedral’s world-renowned pipe organ. There are six horses, three adult camels, one baby camel, goats, sheep, donkey and a miniature donkey. Many talented singers and dancers enliven the story in showcase musical scenes. After the performance ends the Wise Men and other cast members are available outside the auditorium to greet visitors or pose for photographs. This year, Miss California (Miss America) Kristy Cavinder, returns to the production for her seventh year, finally as prima ballerina. “I’ve been dreaming of this dancing role since I was five years old,” says Cavinder.

The show includes lovely ballet numbers, solo singing roles by children and adults, as well as choral music. Many familiar Christmas carols blend into the story seamlessly. There’s not an opera scene to compare to hearing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” as seven “real” angels soar through the air above the heads of believing children and adults. This is the entertainment that captures the true spirit of Christmas.


Crystal Cathedral
12141 Lewis St.
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Ticket information: 1-877-544-5679, 714-54-GLORY
Discount performances: $20; Dec.18, Jan. 2 & 3
Other performances $35 -$45. Seniors and children 12 &
younger receive a $2 discount, except on discount nights.
December 18th, 2009-January 3rd, 2010


Angela Rocco DeCarlo, copyright, 2009