Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Academy of Natural Sciences

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As a recent transplant to Philadelphia, I have been trying to get out and see what my new home has to offer. I have passed dozens of cute shops and pop-up markets, visited the famed Italian Market and posh Rittenhouse Square, and will have much to write about in the coming weeks.

My lovely friends Iris and Jess visited me this weekend for our first, of many, Philadelphia Beautiful Ladies Weekends. We cooked and feasted, walked around the city, peered in shops, gorged on the famous local cheese steaks and visited the Art Museum Area.

I am an ardent fan of New York’s Museum of Natural History and was overjoyed to see Philadelphia’s counterpart to the museum in The Academy of Natural Sciences on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. My friend Jess and I visited the museum this Sunday and really enjoyed what they had to offer.

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The Academy of Natural Sciences has a more condensed collection than the Natural History Museum and focuses mainly on the history and anatomy of animals, where the vast expanses of the New York museum include many cultural representations and archeological finds.

The Academy has a lovely collection of taxidermy specimen, many of which I have not seen at the Natural History Museum. The buffalo set up is beautiful, with a backdrop of billowy clouds and rolling yellow-green hills. A family of buffalo, young and old, find themselves grazing in the open fields where patches of tall dry grass are mingled with the green undergrowth.

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I have always been incredibly fond of the diorama set-ups for animal specimen shared by both the Natural History Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences. The miniature worlds allow visitors to experience the lives that these animals live; showing us environments that many of us will never have the opportunity to view first hand.

I particularly enjoyed the Academy’s setups because of the decentralization of the figures in the dioramas: just as in paintings, a centralized figure in a rectangle is typical and frequently iconic and powerful, however, moving the figure off the central axis allows for more movement and interaction between space and figure, creating narrative.

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I was pleasantly surprised at the care, and frequently the complexity that was evident in the compositions of the different dioramas. Animal specimen were posed with family members and framed by trees and botanicals, frequently arching their backs to strike and once in a while interacting with the setups to the left and right: a lonely penguin watches a ship disappearing in the distance and a giant Moose stands guard over a group of deer a moment before they are attacked by a hungry cat!

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I was at the Natural History Museum in New York, with my friend Tamar, only a week before this excursion and, to my sheer disappointment, found that I missed the annual butterfly exhibit. Since last November, I have been attempting to plan a trip to the Natural History Museum, hoping to see the butterflies and have a giant moth land on my head. Finally, as a non-resident of New York, I found the opportunity to visit the Museum again, yet I came two weeks too late.

I may have missed the butterfly season in New York, however I made it back just in time for it in Philadelphia. At last, my silly wish came true. Jess and I paraded around a room full of tropical foliage and plates of peeled bananas; pairs of wings found themselves hanging demurely off the feeding plates and hiding behind palm leaves. We met a lot of lovely butterflies and incredibly chubby moths, yet none of them seemed interested in landing on my head to provide the perfect facebook photo.

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We watched several new butterflies come out of their chrysalis in the hatching chamber which was incredibly fun to watch and saw the keeper release them into the main butterfly chamber. Some did not want to leave, one landed on my dress! Success! We spent a half an hour or so walking around and meeting all of the specimen, and the majority of the time, my new friend spent sitting on my hip.

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The Academy of Natural Sciences is a lovely museum: I am glad to have had the opportunity to explore it, and am sure I will be back frequently.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bel Cantanti's Production of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette

As promised, I return to you with another, more intimate production of Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod.

The Metropolitan Opera puts on a resplendent production, but its richest advantage is simultaneously its greatest shortcoming. I constantly find myself in awe of the huge, luscious sets and productions, often staged with live animals and upwards of a hundred singers and dancers parading in lavish, gilded costumes, but for me, opera's greatest draw is the drama and passion, the gut-wrenching sorrow and inspiring poetry that is almost exclusively dedicated to solo arias and duets.

After an infancy of front row privileges, I find myself constantly disappointed either by Mimi's insignificant death in La Bohème, or a seemingly passionless, albeit floating, embrace of Roméo and his love on their wedding night at the Met. These memorable, intimate scenes, which I am accustomed to experiencing almost first hand, lose the bulk of their charm and power when transplanted to the center of a gilded soccer field.

With these thoughts in mind, I return to Romeo et Juliette, as performed by the singers of my mother's budding opera company, Bel Cantanti Opera. It is a well-known story, and as I did not trouble myself to explain it in my last post on the production, I will follow my own example, and presume you need no lesson in classic literature.

Bel Cantanti's was a noteworthy production; with a cast of about 12 chorus singers, the ensemble put up a valiant front and sang the opening piece with force and diction, equaling a cast of double its numbers. Chun-Ting Chao made a youthful and charming Juliette, graceful in her movements and singing the role beautifully. Sitting in the third row, I was granted a full range of expression and movement, which is completely indiscernible from the family balcony of the Met, which finds itself a good tenth of a mile off stage. Juliette performed her arias with a spree and showed great chemistry with Eric Gramatges, as her Roméo, who took the lead with an immeasurably admirable performance.

Bel Cantanti's production features many incredibly talented and professional singers, some of whom are completely new to me, and others who have graced Bel Cantanti stages for seasons past. Great performances were put in by Kwang Kyu Lee as Frere Laurent and Abigail Fischer as the quirky and boyish Stephano.

The sets exhibit great taste and visual economy, avoiding the continual pitfall of unnecessary frill and pomp that many small stages succumb to, which only distract the eye from the singers and their magnificent costumes. Each piece of furniture and backdrop was chosen and created with specific meaning and kept in tune with the date. Juliette's bed, hand built with a sheer canopy and a charming lace bedspread, caught my particular attention.

The greatest moment of this opera, like many others, is the extended death scene of its two principal characters, which occupies the entirety of the last act. Watching this production, I found myself channeling the polar experience of the Metropolitan, where all I wished for was a pair of binoculars or to be watching it on a high definition television screen, yes, pathetic. Although I can never truly find myself pitying the foolish star-crossed lovers, the last act of Roméo and Juliette, I believe to be immeasurably breathtaking; the story aside, I find myself transported into an unutterable state of despair for an incredible twenty minutes.

Seeing the characters framed perfectly by the solemn marble tomb, writhing in each other's arms, uttering their final farewells, I found myself imagining Titian's paintings of Psyche, lighting a candle to find Cupid in her bed or Apollo supporting his love Hyacinth, whom he has just stricken down. The scene is simply and beautifully staged, and the handsome singing and chemistry between Eric Gramatges and Chun-Ting Chao found me transplanted into some of the greatest tragic love stories of our time.

Watching Juliette stab herself and perform her aria sprawled on her back reminded me of some long forgotten episode of American Idol where the singers were forced to prove their talent by signing while lying on the ground. Perhaps, it does ring true, as the greatest singers have to perform while dying or making love, while others need voice-overs to get through their mediocre dance numbers.

If you find yourself in the greater Washington DC area this coming weekend, I urge you to grant yourself the privilege of seeing these talented performers in their final debut of the 2010-2011 season, and allow them to show, first hand, how to die for love.

Tickets and information can be found on their website at: www.BelCantanti.com

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Over the past two months, I have been vigorously scanning sidewalks for loose change, saving with abandon and campaigning on IndieGoGo to raise money for my first semester of Graduate School at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

I have received incredible support from family, friends, colleagues and relative strangers over the past few months and I wanted to express how truly thankful I am for all of the advice and donations. I am incredibly grateful to all of the sponsors on my IndieGoGo campaign, as well as those who have helped me gather and submit my application, wrote heartwarming references and aided me in the financial aid process as well as the friends who have helped me in my move to a new city.

I have been blessed with kind and thoughtful friends, and have been frequently surprised with generous notes and offers of support, and would like to take the time to share with you all of the people that have selflessly helped me get to where I am.

Friends, Supporters, Donors and Sponsors of my fundraising campaign, I have no words to express to you how thankful I am for all of your help. We are, all of us, in a tough economic situation, and to be able to consider someone else when you have to look out for your own needs is incredible beyond measure.

To the kind teachers and mentors who have helped me become who I am today, I have found no gift worthy of repaying you for your work. To Nancy and Patrick, I am incredibly grateful for your thoughtful recommendations, and to Nancy especially for all of your advice through the years that I have known you. Thank you Robert, for helping me with my application process, dealing with my naivete and reading through my confused scribbling.

Last, but never least, I thank all of my friends who helped me drag boxes upon boxes of art books, exotic plants, and their fragile, yet incredibly heavy, glass enclosures down what seemed like hundreds of stairs in the scorching heat of an oddly timed late May heat-wave. I would never have been able to do it on my own, which should really teach me not to collect so many random pieces of relative garbage, but I have never been able to help myself. So, thank you! Thank you for dragging and pulling, dealing with me and the three legged chinchilla I carried around in a cardboard box, listening to me yell at UHaul as our truck broke down and attempting to make me feel better when all you wanted to do was slap me and tell me to get myself together. Thank you!

At the end of every journey, you are confronted with the loss of people you have considered indispensable, who may not have grouped you in the same category, but with every new beginning, you keep with you those that have truly been there the entire time. I am incredibly thankful to go off on my new journey knowing that to my heart are bound true friends who will be with me no matter where I turn.

"It feels as though I had a string tied here under my left rib where my heart is, tightly knotted to you in a similar fashion. And when you go to Ireland, with all that distance between us, I am afraid that this cord will be snapped, and I shall bleed inwardly." - Charlotte Brontë

Let us never go to Ireland?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Please Help Me go to Graduate School in Philadelphia!!!

Hello friends, family and colleagues,

I was just accepted to the graduate program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts! I am incredibly excited and can't wait to go, unfortunately, it is an astonishing expense.

I am trying to raise money to relieve some of the costs not covered by scholarships. I know it is a tough time all around, and few of us can spare anything, but please consider sponsoring my project and helping me go to graduate school. In return, I give you my love and eternal gratitude as well as some awesome gifts and art!

You can click on the image above to see my page, or just click on this link: Daria's IndieGoGo Page

Thank you so much for your help and support and please forward this page to your friends!

All my love,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Growing up with Opera: Roméo et Juliette at the Metropolitan

We have all of us grown up in different lifestyles; some exalting in traveling countries far and wide following their parent's jobs, while at the same time never knowing a permanent home, others lounging on couches in basements and loitering in mall parking lots smoking and drinking slushies, the epitome of suburban life. Some of us grew up poor, others wealthy, but each of us have been molded by whatever it is we call home. Our understandings of ourselves, our passions and our purpose to the world are so often seeded in our upbringing, albeit we seldom see the connection until years or decades have passed.

I grew up in Minsk, Belarus, and by proxy the Belarusian Bolshoi Opera and Ballet House atop of Troitski Hill. As long as I can remember, my mom worked at the opera house, and as my memory serves me so did I. The walk to the theatre, I have memorized even though I have not seen it for over a decade. I remember the park and the river that leads your way there up the hill. I know the best areas to find mushrooms that have not yet sprung out of the ground, I remember the bushes that would yield the loveliest flowers for my childhood hands to pick, I remember statues of dancing maidens and holding my mother's hand on the walk to what always seemed like a somewhat imposing circular castle of grey.

Until school, most of my memories revolve around the theatre, the yard sandwiched between our apartment building and the Russian Embassy and the cottage in Polochanka where we spent all of our summers. In the theatre, I found myself trailing the big divas, attempting to emulate their cooing voices, daydreaming about their flowy, embroidered skirts. With certain conviction, I can say that for my entire life, my favorite aria has been "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen," sung by the Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute. To this day, I do not know a single word of German in the entire aria, but I have spent countless hours since the day I could walk well enough to trail the head soprano emulating the vocal display inherent to that song. You could not imagine my pride in thinking I could hit the notes as well as the Queen when I was finally old enough to be cast as one of the Peacocks in the show.

Thus I have spent my adolescence, employed as a bird or horse brusher (where I was sure I was being paid the same as my mother, even though I could only afford candy with my salary), and babysat by the rows of velvety cushions surrounding the stage during rehearsals. I am not a musician, but music has flowed through me my entire life: the staging, the colors, the rhythm and dramatic stories are in turn interwoven through my paintings and compositions.

Now, to the present.

I have spent the past six years of my early adult life in New York City, but it has only recently dawned on me to take advantage of the renowned opera programme at the Metropolitan Opera House. I have been so wrapped up in drawing and baking and my numerous hobbies and exploits, I have almost forgotten what has shaped the majority of my worldly opinions and love for history and culture.

Today, I find myself amending the years of neglect, and having perused the extensive season ahead of me, I plan to go to the opera at least once a month. I have been slowly hatching this plan for some time, I have encountered some setbacks and disappointments in being unable to find friends to go with me, but alas, I have found that to be unnecessary. I do not need companionship to be lost in a story of love, tragedy or betrayal, it is equally well savored tout seule.
This week, I attended Charles Goudon's Roméo et Juliette conducted by Placido Domingo. It is a well known story, so I will not lapse into a synopsis, but it was a charming and grand production. A huge screen of royal blue, boasting a gilded image of a monk at a writing desk styled as if pulled from an illuminated manuscript, acts as a veil for the prologue chorus and lifts to reveal a grand party at the Capulet's. The tilted stage with a rotating central axis holds an ensemble of at least 50 brilliantly clad chorus members and dancers acting the role of Capulet's family guests. Stage left and right are flanked with intricate architectural drawings of the home delicately finished in a wood grain, from whence the famed balcony will appear in a later scene. Finishing off the box, in the back is a huge ring, reminiscent of the frame of a watch or compass which will frame the varying sets as the scenes change. A huge chandelier representing the earth and orbits, historically timed with the earth at the centre of the orbiting planets, hangs down to finish the scene evoking a sense of historical philosophers and da'Vincian prototypes.

Starring as Romeo, Piotr Beczala put in a vocally beautiful performance. His voice was magnificent while mingling with Dwayne Croft, in the role of Capulet, James Morris, as Frere Laurent and Hei-Kyung Hong as Juliette. His last aria in act five left me sobbing to myself despite the lack of sympathy I felt for their foolish characters. Bravo!

I found myself somewhat disappointed in Hei-Kyung Hong's singing performance; she had a hard time sustaining her voice in the more challenging arias of her performance. One of these was in the first act at her birthday party, so that put a bit of a damper on her character for me. However, I must admit that I frequently find fault in a soprano's performance, so it is, more logically, a prepossession of my own that leads me to be disenchanted with the heroine. I am always drawn to the lower, velvety voices of Baritones, Tenors and Mezzo-Sopranos. Perhaps, I can find nothing to compare to my memories of the Queen of the Night.

All in all, it was an incredible performance and I am excited to see it on a more intimate setting when my mom's opera company, Belcantanti Opera, performs Roméo et Juliette this spring.

Ciao for now, more operas to come!

*Childhood photos are courtesy of my talented dad, Alexander Souvorov and the portrait of Piotr Beczala and Hei-Kyung Hong is by the Metropolitan.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A New Composition: The Tower of Babel

Throughout my life I have been drawn to painting and writing since my words seem to continually fail me. Of late, it seems that if I manage to stammer out a response, it is quite unintelligible to anyone who hears me.

Nonreligious as I am, through all of my miscommunications, I keep recalling a story I heard when I first came to this country, that of the building of the tower of Babel in the land of Shinar. "They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do" The people yearned to build a tower to reach the heavens, so they can always be united in knowledge and understanding. "God," learning of this plan said "let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city." (Genesis, The Bible).

The story has been coming to my mind recently as I have encountered people who seem to exceed at communication, and so frequently fail at action and others who stammer to be heard. The name of the tower and the city which held it, as it later came to be called, originated from the Hebrew word "babal" which means to jumble, confuse or confound. It hit a cord with me, this structure which seemed to be destined for incredible greatness, but failed at our inability to listen and hear each other. It seemed a great opportunity to explore a variety of gestures and figural compositions, as well as the necessity for a great depth of field and architectural elements which have been missing in much of my earlier work.

Since my last visit to the Getty Center in Los Angeles where I saw Printing in the Grand Manner: Charles Le Brun and Monumental Prints in the age of Louis XIV, I have been increasingly interested and influenced by Charles Le Brun, and somewhat more significantly by the exquisite black and white prints created from his works by his contemporaries and followers.

There is a really great sense of movement created by curving bridges and horses falling and thrashing through bodies of water. Although this piece is significantly more stagnant and disjointed due to the lack of correlation between the characters, I have spent a lot of time looking at Le Brun's compositions and hope to claim some influence therefrom.

There are a few adjustments I need to make with some of the character proportions and gestures, but I am happy with the overall composition and wanted to share!

Also, I have taken a much better shot of Happiness is Only Real When Shared:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Penguin Classics Cloth Bound Collection

I have been reminded of late that I have been sadly remiss in keeping up with my blog this past month. My sincere apologies to those who have noticed and have taken the time out to send me a message. I am gratified to know that I have at least a few devoted followers. Thank you guys!

I have found myself in a bit of a hibernation since the New Year. With the shortening of the days, I have had little opportunity to explore the city after work and many of my habitual crafty projects have been temporarily set aside while I completed my graduate school application. You will be glad to know that the application was mailed off last week, and I am ready to get back into my routine.

Throughout my somewhat drawn out dormancy, I have busied myself during the long, dark evenings by reading and re-reading some of my favorite classic novels. Revisiting Oddysseus's long trials and tribulations in Homer's Oddysey, reliving Heathcliff's monstrous passion and hatred for his life-long love Catherine in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and discovering the hardships a young woman can endure in her whole-hearted love for an absent, unloving husband in Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy have been the relish of many an evening hour.

I have been slowly working on building up my library, much to my own detriment as I will be lugging all of my volumes across state lines in a few short months. I have never been able to heed my own warnings about the breadth of my ever-increasing collection, and have of late, fallen for a brand new temptation. Up until a few months ago, my precious classic stories were found in tattered and creased Barnes and Noble's paperbacks and the few vintage volumes I have been able to find in the over-searched shelves of New York's antiquarian bookstores.

In 2008, Penguin Classics, an imprint of Penguin Books, started releasing incredibly beautiful cloth bound editions of some of my most precious novels. For a long time, these editions were only available in England but thanks to America's need for, well everything, the beautiful books have been appearing with increasing frequency of the past year. As it stands, 20 different books are available in the states of authors ranging from Dante and Shakespeare to Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.

The books are lovely compact size cloth-bound editions with bright and charming covers. Cover designs and intro page illustrations were created by Coralie Bickford Smith. Upon first encountering these charming volumes, I made a pact with myself to only read novels that are available in this edition until I have a copy of each one. Collecting these books have been among my main occupations these past few months and I am happy to share them with you.

Check back in with me in the coming weeks for updates on my paintings and other creations that I have failed to properly update with in the past month.