“Five things you didn’t know about me”

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been offline a long time – probably the longest period ever since I started this site. I’ve been enjoying forgetting about the blog for a while, spending a lot of time with my parents and friends, and dealing with the practical issues involved in preparing for my move in 10 days (yikes) to China. So I was late to notice that China Law Blog has tagged me to reveal five things about myself that you don’t know. (Go to CLB to see more about this tagging process, and how he himself got tagged.)

Well, let me see what I can come up with. And allow me to be brief, as I’m still on vacation and vowed not to spend a lot of time on the site until I settle down in Beijing.

1. I was trained to be an opera singer. It was simply a matter of fact when I was a teenager that this would be my destiny, and I began training with a coach from the Metropolitan Opera when I was 15. I was a full bass, and my favorite role to sing was Sarastro in The Magic Flute. (So what happened? All I’ll say is that life plays tricks, and things often don’t work out the way we’d planned.)

2. My favorite hobby after classical music is cooking. I like cooking the complicated stuff that takes many hours to prepare, like paella or osso bucco or coq au vin. I baked two pies for my family’s holiday dinner (one pecan, one apple). I use no prepared foods or artificial ingredients, and I take my cooking seriously. It’s also therapy – nothing makes me feel more “harmonious” than preparing the perfect meal.

3. Although I listen mainly to the heavy-duty classical stuff like Wagner and Mahler and Bach, in 1999 I fell in love with the music of Abba – yes, the bubble-gummy, feather-light background music you’d take to listen to at the beach. Only it’s not bubble gum, it’s seriously great stuff once you get into it .(And I know I’m taking a big risk in admitting this. All fashionable pop afficionados know nothing is more uncool than Abba, but that means there are a lot of very uncool people in this world, considering Abba has sold more albums than any other group in history.) My favorite two songs: The Winner Takes it All and One of Us. But whichever I’m listening to is my favorite. And yes, again, I know how uncool it is to love Abba! Why else wold I keep it such a closely guarded secret?

4. I had two brushes with the super-famous in my life. For my graduate thesis, I interviewed Leonard Bernstein, whom I met for dinner at his Greenwich, Connecticut home in 1984. I still look back on that dinner as one of the most thrilling experiences in my life; to actually sit at the same table with Bernstein and talk about classical music and literature for hours, and then have him play his newly recorded Tristan und Isolde… The second experience was years earlier, when I saw an actor in a Broadway matinee whose performance I loved so much I went backstage and met with him and the show’s leading lady. The three of us then went walking through Central Park and spent two wonderful hours together talking about life and its myriad oddities. The actress was Marian Seldes, and the actor was at the time all but unknown, a charming and brilliant fellow named Anthony Hopkins. God, I loved living in New York City.

5. I lost more than $120,000 in the dot-com’s bursting bubble and its aftershocks. It seemed so real and such a sure thing at the time. I took a few thousand dollars in 1996 and turned it into what was, for me, a small fortune, and saw it vanish in just a few months. I learned a painful lesson and am now a cautious investor.

So whom should I tag? So many to choose from… Okay, here goes:

Lao Lu

88s

Jeremiah

PiPi

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 30 Comments

Wait, you were going to be an opera singer?! You mean we could have had the next Boris Christoff on our hands, but instead you gave it up for PR?

Well, at least that explains your adoration of Wagner. (But Puccini is still better! ;-) )

December 29, 2006 @ 9:12 am | Comment

Sorry, I almost forgot to wish you a belated Merry Christmas! Oh, and a happy New Year too, of course.

Cheers, Richard.

December 29, 2006 @ 9:14 am | Comment

But Richard…what about “Fernando?!

December 29, 2006 @ 9:20 am | Comment

Thanks Nausicaa, Happy Holidays to you as well, and it’s great to see you back. Now, about Puccini… Puccini and Wagner are night and day. Puccini is sweet lyricism, and is all about voice. I love Puccini. Wagner, on the other hand, is symphonic, harmonic and instrumental, with voices being one of the instruments. Both forms are valid. But Wagner’s is the deeper, more complex and ingenious art. Period.

Lisa, you have a point – I always skip that song on Abba Gold.

December 29, 2006 @ 9:30 am | Comment

I love “Fernando”! It has one of the all-time great choruses.

December 29, 2006 @ 9:41 am | Comment

Wagner, on the other hand, is symphonic, harmonic and instrumental, with voices being one of the instruments. Both forms are valid. But Wagner’s is the deeper, more complex and ingenious art. Period.

I agree entirely. And it is an art I love best when it is safely out of my hearing range.

(Just kidding. Please don’t ban me.)

December 29, 2006 @ 9:48 am | Comment

Oh, I see, Lisa – sorry, it is not my favorite. Soooo sentimental, and such an odd topic ofr a pop song!

Nausicaa, it was Mark Twain who famously said, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” (He was, in truth, an avid Wagnerian.) One day, maybe at our next big TPD dinner, I’ll offer a crash course in how to appreciate Wagner. I promise, once you “get it,” once you crack through that barrier of seemingly endless, heavy-handed noise, I promise you, paradise is only a few short steps away.

December 29, 2006 @ 10:02 am | Comment

That Abba thing is a joke, right? Right?

December 29, 2006 @ 10:26 am | Comment

Ha! I look forward to my conversion then, perhaps some time during the summer. :-)

December 29, 2006 @ 10:27 am | Comment

CLB, the whole point of this exercise is to uncover those peculiar little things you don’t generally advertise about yourself. I don’t usually tell people I like Abba because I know it might invite ridcule, disgust and aversion. I know exactly how uncool Abba is. I also know that, like Wagner, once you get into it, it’s very hard to escape the siren’s song. And on a technical level, their mixes and harmonies are magnificent, and Agnetha’s voice may well be the most beautiful in the history of pop.

December 29, 2006 @ 10:34 am | Comment

Rock On, I love Abba too. Even A* Teens. I confess to liking Alizee as well.

Back in the day Mozart was considered lowbrow peasant music too so one day our pop favorites will enter the pantheon of the classics. I also admit to liking the more minor italian composers like Sances and Pergolisi – yea they’re all frilly and overwrought but isn’t that what life is about?
-Frank

December 29, 2006 @ 11:44 am | Comment

As I recall from some sort of VH1 special (yeah, I know, I’m pathetic) ABBA got a lot of their melodies from Northern European folk songs. There is surprising depth to their shallowness.

Thank you, Richard and happy new year. The answers to your question are up on my site.

Cheers.

December 29, 2006 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

I confess to liking Alizee as well.

Finally! And I thought I was the only one. “Lolita” crawled into my brain and died after I’d heard it on some Eurotrash music channel.

I can one up you though, and Richard as well. I like (…wait for it…) Britney Spears. The pre-FedEx and pre-coochshots Britney of course, but still. *hangs head in shame*

December 29, 2006 @ 2:41 pm | Comment

AIYEEEEE!!!!!

No. I can’t accept Britney. Just…can’t…

right now I am loading “NIXON IN CHINA” into my iTunes. If you haven’t heard it, you must.

December 29, 2006 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

I know, I know…I make no excuses for my execrable taste. But Britney and Alizee can be fun to listen to in clubs, harmless ear fluff and all that.

Sooo, Nixon in China…a “must-hear” in a fecking- brilliant-my-ears-are-in-heaven kind of way, or in a this-kitsch-is-so-bad-it’s-good kinda way?

December 29, 2006 @ 3:14 pm | Comment

I LOVE Nixon in China. Even more than I love “Fernando.”

No, really. I saw it when they first staged it in LA for the LA Festival. I was absolutely blown away. It was really a revelation to me of what live performance can be and how absolutely no other art form can live up to the best of live performance for its emotional impact. I think the opera is very smart, beautiful and insightful (I mean, as a Chinese history geek, I just loved it). It was also incredibly well-performed. The recorded version that’s out there is pretty good but has its rough spots and I don’t think is as good as it was by the time they got to LA. But still, well-worth hearing. Apparently they just staged it in London a year or so ago and it’s supposed to be amazing. No recording out there that I know of.

December 29, 2006 @ 3:25 pm | Comment

Cooking eh, Opera singer eh, Wagner eh. Not bad at all. ABBA well OK I like Michael Learns to Rock, John Denver and Barry Manillow and least but no last Kenny Rogers, so almost consider as bad. It will get really realy bad if you like the Osmond Brothers hahaha no offence meant for Osmonds fans out there.

I have been organising my maid to cook osso Buco uisng the Coq Du vin recipe and it actually come out quite good. What do you think? or we are in the wrong forum? LOL

December 29, 2006 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

last but not least, I must edit more

December 29, 2006 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

Britney?!?!?! Must be a generational thing. I spent the 1976 Christmas break twirling around my bedroom to the tune of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, absolutely their best song ever, way better than some ditty about illegal immigrants. : )

December 29, 2006 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Richard, As I’m sure you know, Wagner ruins voices. I suppose there’s something romantic in that…

December 29, 2006 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

ABBA is like masturbation…everyone loves it, but no one admits it….

Seriously, I love Abba too. Once you get around the pop aspect, they have fantastic voices, and the harmonies they create are numbingly complex. Also, compared with so many great musicians today, the Abba stuff is like Rodgers and Hart — totally singable and completely enjoyable. And you can’t say much more about music than that…

Interesting post, Richard. Too bad I’ll never get a chance to taste your cooking.

Michael

December 29, 2006 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

I love Nixon in China – I think it’s the best minimalist opera ever written.

Boo, yes, Wagner can ruin a voice if it’s not sung correctly – Verdi and Puccini can, too. Wagner is notoriously difficult to sing and only a small handful of singers is capable of doing it right (especially for the male roles; Wagner sopranos are abundant, but Wagner tenors and baritones are always scarce – Wagner was truly a sadist with his male vocal lines).

Jeremiah, I never knew that Abba was inspired by European folk songs. I’d like to learn more about that…

December 29, 2006 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

Michael, thanks for standing up for my much maligned and misunderstood pop favorite! Everyone’s a closet Abba fan – there’s a good reason why they are more popular now, a quarter of a century after their break-up, than ever before. Their music is addictive and once you fall in love with it, it’s for life.

About cooking… I never cooked in Taiwan. My “kitchen” there has no oven, just two small electric burners. Stir fry is great, but without a real kitchen with at least four burners and a roasting oven I’m handicapped. You can’t bake a pie or roast a chicken with an electric burner.

December 29, 2006 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

Boo, yes, Wagner can ruin a voice if it’s not sung correctly – Verdi and Puccini can, too.

And so can Mozart. Queen of the Night, anyone?

Thanks for the glowing rec, OtherLisa! Will definitely check it out.

December 29, 2006 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

Nausicaa, absolutely tue about Queen of the Night, a role most sopranos refuse to sing (which is smart). However, most of Mozart’s vocal music is relatively easy to sing (though not to interpret) because he was a kind composer – he considered the vocal range of his singers and his arias tend to be brief and humane, while Verdi and Wagner and Puccini seemed absolutely determined to brutalize the vocal chords of their singers.

December 29, 2006 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

Well, I remember seeing Pl├ícido Domingo in the role of Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera in 2003, and I remember thinking it’s OK if he destroys his voice now, he’s old.

And I’m so glad you “came out” over ABBA. I listen to ABBA too. I seriously recommend an Australian movie called “The Adventures Of Priscilla – Queen Of The Desert” for any ABBA fan.

December 30, 2006 @ 12:46 am | Comment

I still laugh out loud thinking about scenes from Priscilla….

Actually, Parsifal is by far the easiest Wagner tenor role to sing. Domingo chose that, along with Siegmund in Valkyrie, to sing on-stage. He has recorded Tristan, the most agonizing to sing, but he could never do it live on-stage. That and Siegfried are true killers, and most singers who attempt them lose their voices permanently after a couple of years. Domingo also sang Walther in Meistersinger, another relatively easy role. I would add, his Parsifal is the most gorgeous I ever heard.

December 30, 2006 @ 1:02 am | Comment

Glad you like NIXON IN CHINA, Richard – though I think in this case Adams isn’t much of a minimalist. One of the things that I love so much about NIXON is that it has melodies – songs you can actually sing…and very lush orchestration.

December 30, 2006 @ 1:26 am | Comment

Yes, it has gorgeous melodies – Adams’ vocal line is magnificent. The orchestration is deifinitely minimalist, but more melodic and lyrical than most Phillip Glass.

December 30, 2006 @ 2:06 am | Comment

Richard, thanks for the honour of tagging me and your request has been taken care of over at my site.

December 31, 2006 @ 8:47 am | Comment

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