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From Playboy to Priest: Franz Liszt

From Playboy to Priest: Franz Liszt


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

Screaming Fainting. Fighting over a pair of handkerchiefs and gloves. A dystopian scene out of Black Friday? No, just a day in the life of Franz Liszt. His female fans grabbed fallen strands of his hair, articles of his clothing, and broken piano strings. One lady snatched an old cigar stump thrown away by the pianist and encased it in diamonds, proudly wearing it as a necklace, despite its malodorous scent. Doctors classified these fervent outbursts as Lisztomania . Some physicians warned that it was contagious.

One Munich newspaper announced in 1843, “Liszt fever: a contagion that breaks out in every city the pianist visits, and which neither age nor wisdom can protect against.”

Married aristocrats- including Countess Marie D’Agoult and Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein-left their husbands to live with Liszt. Madame D’Agoult had three children by the pianist, including Cosima Liszt. Unfortunately, Princess Carolyne did not have the same luck. Her powerful husband used his influence with the Pope to deny her request for an annulment and, subsequently, dashed her hopes to wed the dynamic pianist.

Liszt was so devastated that he became an Abbé, a secular priest, and turned to composing church music. Later, when his married daughter Cosima left her husband for Richard Wagner, a sober Liszt lectured her publicly (although he privately confessed to a friend that his ecclesiastical position, not his true feelings, required him to do so).

Inwardly, he must have understood the overwhelming power of Wagner.

Similarly, listening to Lizt’s music, one can understand the rapture of his fans.

Here is Liebestraum:

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Cultural Events LA: Thanksgiving Weekend

Forget Black Friday!  Thanksgiving Weekend is the perfect time to do some Cultural Shopping!

This week’s Cultural Cocktail includes a Dash of Caravaggio, a splash of Golden Renaissance and several ounces of Beethoven drama! Pumpkin Martini Optional.

Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance: Painting and Illumination 1300-1350 Nov 13, 2012- Feb 10, 2013

Getty Center. 1200 Getty Center Drive. LA, CA. 90049. (310) 440-7300

Thanksgiving weekend hours: The Getty Closed Thursday but open Friday- Sunday

Image Left: “The Virgin Mary with Saints Thomas Aquinas and Paul” (detail), about 1330, Bernardo Daddi; Tempera and gold leaf on panel; The J. Paul Getty Museum.


A Late Quartet
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Mark Ivanir, and Imogen Poots Directed by Yaron Zilberman For trailer, tickets & showtimes, enter your Zip Code on the top left hand corner of this site:







Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy
November 11, 2012–February 10, 2013

LACMA. 5905 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90036 323 857-6000

LACMA closed Wed and Thurs this week, but open Fri-Sunday

Image Left: Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604-1605, The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Trust.


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Cultural Cocktail Hour wishes you a Spook-tacular Halloween!

Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” embodies the Halloween spirit:

“The Moon was a Ghostly Galleon,

Tossed Upon Cloudy Seas”

Photography© 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

To read the full thrilling poem, preferably in a dark room with candlelight, please visit:

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Cultural Cocktail Hour: Halloween in LA

CCH has two recommendations to celebrate this Halloween with an artistic twist!

LA Philharmonic presents the Cat and Canary: a night of organ and film

Oct 31. 8pm 

For tickets, visit


LACMA MUSE presents its Annual Costume Ball

Oct 31 8pm 

Preview LACMA’s exhibit on Stanley Kubrick. Performers include: Daedelus, Archimedes, and Astra Dance Company

Prizes will be awarded for Best Stanley Kubrick Character, Best Masquerade Attire, and Best Halloween Costume..

For information on tickets, see

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Autumn Gold

Photography© 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

“There is a harmony in autumn,

And a luster in its sky-” Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Rare Van Gogh Self Portrait coming to Pasadena this December

“I wish they would only take me as I am”- Vincent Van Gogh

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

A rare self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, on loan from the National Gallery of Artwill grace the Norton Simon on December 7.

Van Gogh created this intense portrait during a creative and prolific period of self-confinement at the mental asylum Saint-Paul-de-Mausole at Saint-Rémy.He painted the introspective self portrait only one year before his tragic and mysterious death*.

Although Van Gogh painted thirty six self-portraits during his lifetime, the one to be seen at the Norton Simon is unique: only three self-portraits depict him as an artist, holding his palette and brush.

For more on the upcoming exhibit, please see:


*A past Cultural Cocktail Hour article explored the mysterious circumstances surrounding Van Gogh’s death. A CBS News report discussed a ground-breaking biography by two Pulitzer-Prize winning writers who argued that Vincent Van Gogh may not have committed suicide, as has long been surmised.Instead, their evidence pointed to his being shot by wealthy, rowdy teenage boys. The teens had taken previous pleasure in bullying Van Gogh by pouring salt in his coffee, snakes in his paint can, and having their girlfriends torment him. The authors argued that although these teens shot Van Gogh, as he lay dying, he protected them from police, asking investigators not to accuse anyone of the crime. For the full report on Van Gogh’s death, please see:


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LA’s Top Picks


LA’s Top Cultural picks

A dash of Mozart and a literal blast from the past make the recipe for this week’s explosive

Cultural Cocktail


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

The scent-sational Don Giovanni at LA Opera

“I think I smell a woman,” Don Giovanni remarks in LA Opera’s hilarious interpretation of Mozart’s opera starring Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as the infamous ladies man. The clean lines and simplicity of Ferdinand Wogerbauer’s set allows Mozart’s music to reign supreme. A simple crescent moon adorns the curtain. A coincidence? Methinks not. The moon, or luna can be seen as a visual metaphor for lunacy, and women lose their minds for the dashing Don Juan. Finnish Soprano Soile Isokoski’s sensitive interpretation of the long suffering noble Elvira adds a layer of pathos that makes her the perfect foil to Don Giovanni’s light-hearted and mischievous servant Leoporello, played with effective and entertaining physical comedy by David Bizic.

Sun 9/30/12 2:00PM; Wed 10/3/12 7:30PM; Sat 10/6/12 7:30PM

Wed 10/10/12 7:30PM

Sun 10/14/12 2:00PM

Photo Left: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Don Giovanni, Courtesy of LA Opera

The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection

At the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Villa

September 12, 2012—January 7, 2013

The Getty Villa’s expansive exhibit on Pompeii includes a vast array of artists ranging from Salvador Dalí and Mark Rothko to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Marcel Duchamp. Perhaps the most intriguing portrait belongs to the one painted by Irish artist Alfred Elmore in 1878. His painting depicts two young ladies in thoughtful repose, with the faint trace of Vesuvius smoldering behind them. The meaning behind this beautiful painting is ambiguous. Are the ladies blissfully unaware of their impending doom? Or have they calmly resigned themselves to their fate, choosing to spend their last Earthly moments in a comforting embrace? See the painting for yourself to decide.

Left: Alfred Elmore. Pompeii, A.D. 79, 1878. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

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Photo: Sunset at LA Opera, Opening Night of Don Giovanni, Sept 22

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L.A. Opera’s “The Two Foscari”- A Must-See Production

           What Lies Beneath:

                         Probing the Shadows of Power in LA Opera’s I Due Foscari


              Leticia Marie Sanchez

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, rued Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Or, in the case of Giuseppe Verdi’s I Due Foscari, uneasy lies the head that wears the corno ducale, the gemmed, scarlet Doge-cap. This rarely produced opera about Venice’s fifteenth-century ruler, Doge Francesco Foscari (played eminently by Plácido Domingo), has not been seen in the United States in more than four decades. LA Opera’s interpretation of Verdi’s rare jewel is a Must-See production, due to not only the talent of its cast, but also to the cinematic, visually engaging direction by Thaddeus Strassberger and scenic designer Kevin Knight.

Even before the opera begins, a screen displays shifting, blue waves. The Republic of Venice was formally known as La Serenissima: the most serene. These waves, however, are anything but tranquil. No light reflects through the water on the La Opera screen, hinting at the dark, tumultuous mysteries that lie beneath. Black smoke juxtaposes with the haunting strains of the overture. The dramatic impact is enhanced by visually arresting calligraphy adorning the screen. The clever cinematic touch of calligraphy is suggestive of epic film, with its majestic introductions and entre-actes, like antique pages out of a history book. The hypnotic repetition of the words mistero and silenzo in antique calligraphy further intensifies the ominous mood.

“I wear the mask of a Doge, but have the heart of a father,” sings Plácido Domingo, expertly portraying the inner turmoil and anguish of Francesco Foscari. The juxtaposition between public power and private vulnerability extends to the lyrical costumes designed by Mattie Ulrich. For instance, the Doge wears a rich red robe that exudes authority, yet also dons a white nightdress that illustrates his frailty as an aging grandfather.

Left: Plácido Domingo as Francesco Foscari, Photo by Robert Millard, LA Opera

The bright Venetian carnival scenes are like Roman bread and circuses, entertainment that distracts from the ominous political situation. Enchanted by the fire-thrower, the crowds are indifferent to the dark machinations of power that surround them.

Kevin Knight’s expressive set transports the audience to the macabre secret torture chambers in the Doge Palace.

Jacopo Foscari sings, as he hangs morbidly from a box: the literal caging of a virtuous soul. The purity of Italian tenor Francesco Meli’s tone resonates with the integrity of his character, the honorable son of a Doge pleading for justice.

Left: Francesco Meli as Jacopo Foscari, Photo by Robert Millard, LA Opera

Russian Soprano Marina Poplavskaya triumphantly interprets Jacopo Foscari’s wife Lucrezia Contarini, not only because of her moving duets with Domingo (where she more than vocally holds her own) but also due to her impressive acting chops. Polavskaya’s regal posture and bearing in the first act, lends itself to a significant character arc in the third act, in which she descends into a downward spiral of madness.

The stark rubble in the set of the third act calls to mind Rossellini’s Germania Anno Zero. The debris epitomizes the emotional wreckage at the heart of Verdi’s tragedy. Francesco Foscari was a man who lost everything that gave his life meaning: his son and his Dogeship. How the mighty have fallen. The personal inferno of losing a family member had particular meaning for Verdi who lost his wife and two children in a period of less than two years, becoming a grieving widow in his thirties.

Left: Marina Poplavskaya as Lucrezia Contarini,  Photo by Robert Millard, LA Opera

In the final act, Lucrezia emerges as a mourning widow, not in the expected black, but in a flowing white gown and unkempt hair, like a mad Ophelia, to commit, like Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, one final heinous act of drowning (you will have to watch the production to see who dies an aquatic death).

Amidst the dark rickety shadows of the Doge Palace, there was a moment when the strains of Verdi’s 19th century score of power, corruption, and violence evoked a musical moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather. This is surely not a coincidence. Nino Rota, the composer of the Godfather score had orchestrated Verdi’s work and was surely influenced by I Due Foscari, a creative work as timeless as a father’s love.

Angelenos, don’t miss this production before it heads to Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Valencia’ s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, and London’s Royal House Covent Garden. You don’t want to wait another forty years to see this gem.  As with the Endeavor shuttle, this momentous experience comes only once in a generation.

Remaining Performances of “The Two Foscari” at LA Opera:

Sunday September 23, 2012 02:00 PM
Saturday September 29, 2012 07:30 PM
Sunday October 07, 2012 02:00 PM
Tuesday October 09, 2012 07:30 PM

For more information, please visit:

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ARIA: Ignite: LA Opera’s Season Opening Gala

ARIA: Ignite: LA Opera’s Season Opening Gala

A Party So Hot…It Sizzled..

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

Photography and text © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

As Marilyn Monroe would say, Some Like it Hot.

ARIA’s Ignite Opening Gala was so hot that it sizzled. And I’m not just talking about the over 100 degree heat wave that just so happened to hit LA that night. Leave it to Plácido. When Maestro Domingo sings, the temperature rises. Literally.

The gala’s Hot Factor also came from the vibrant red decor and striking images of sizzling fire all around LA Opera. Even Jacques Lipchitz’s sculpture took on a sexy red-hot hue for the Ignite party. The fire motif proved a clever allusion to the carnivalesque fire thrower in the dramatic last act of Verdi’s “The Two Foscari, ” an opera received with rousing standing ovations earlier that evening.

The gala’s atmosphere evoked a Venetian carnival with bodice-clad fire throwers, jubilant band, and baristas whose whimsical pink tutus called to mind the hats of mischievous harlequins. Gala guests mingled not only with the opera’s talented crew and stars, including Mr. Domingo (the Doge of Venice himself!) but also with Aria Gala Chair Stana Katic, star of the show “Castle.” Even the dance floor emanated an artistic-red hue as guests danced the night away, leaving no doubt that ARIA’s Ignite Gala was the hottest ticket in town.

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