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Vancouver Opera’s Don Giovanni brings out the Italian in everybody

Just call me Todderico Wongiovanni.   I felt very Italian attending the Vancouver Opera’s Don Giovanni opera on March 1st.  Mozart is always very accessible, and I have always remembered the Commendatore Scene from both the play and movie Amadeus.  “Don Giovanni” – the ghost of the commendatore sings… in baritone.

This story is based on the womanizing character of Don Juan/Don Giovanni, performed on different nights by Daniel Okulitch and Brett Polegato.  On Opening night Okulitch was a perfect rake, playing women against each other, lying with deceit, and masterminding his selfish games for his own purpose.

The other principal roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, as well as the Commendatore (Donna Anna’s father) are also all played by double performers.  On opening night Erin Wall and Krisztina Szabo were brilliant in their seductions and seductee roles.

The highlight of this opera is the set design with multiple projections that easily and quickly tranform a castle ballroom into an outside street scene and back again.  The creative figures of statues and use of angles give an imaginative depth of field.

Inventive was also the use of a walkway surrounding the orchestra pit, that allowed the performers to come closer to the audience and give more room for staging.  It really felt more intimate with the four lead singers standing so close to the audience and singing, However, the orchestra seemed more muffled, and less brilliant in sound quality.

For the last decade, we have expected and received nothing less than perfection from Vancouver Opera.  This production is the first exception. The singers and orchestra were grand, of course, but the staging left a lot to be desired.  Having the stage extend out into the audience and around the orchestra pit created the difficulty of having the singers have to project even farther over the pit and stage. This created some balance problems where the singers were hard to hear, and the orchestra sounded small and muted. The Opera has been experimenting recently with “audience engagement.” They have brought in performers before the shows to mingle with the audience, and have a photographer at the entrance for guests to create a souvenir of the evening, and for the Opera to use in future promotions and on social media. Look at us, were having a great night out!

The images were spectacular, but could also be distracting. A night out at the opera is always an evening to be celebrated.  The roles were well cast, and the story, while long, did not drag. VO is to becongratulated for the exceptional quality of the shows, and their attempts to stay modern and relevant in the 21st century.  I truly appreciate the way they are reaching out to new audiences and taking chances on commissions and unusual programming.

 

What happens when Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebrates St. Patrick’s Day?

What Happens when you celebrate the Pioneer cultures and history of BC all together in one night?

What Happens when you celebrate Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner on St. Patrick’s Day Weekend with First Nations’ iconic poet Pauline Johnson?

March 16th, Sunday
5pm doors open
6pm event starts
Floata Restaurant
450 Keefer St.
Vancouver Chinatown (free parking)
Adults $65
students $55
children $35
Reserved Tables of 10 $650 – includes bottle of wine at your table!
For 2014, the date was moved to March 16th, and we are going to also celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and First Nations culture and history, in this Year of Reconciliation in the City of Vancouver.
Did you know that the first Premier of BC, was born in Ireland?  John Foster McCreight was born in Caledon, County Tyrone.  Caledon also means “from Scotland”.
The most iconic First Nations poet of Canadian history has to be Pauline Johnson, (also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake. She was a late 19th Century Canadian writer and performer that traveled across Canada.
We will continue to celebrate the fusion of the Scottish Robbie Burns Day and Chinese New Year cultures and traditions, to recognize the fist non-native cultural pioneers of this province.  The Scots came from the Far East, across the Atlantic, as the first White explorers, such as Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser.  And the Chinese traveled from the Far West across the Pacific, first as Buddhist Monks, identifying a land to the East of China as “Fusang”.
Every year we celebrate with a mix of culinary cuisine featuring deep-fried haggis wonton and haggis dim sum, as well as traditional haggis served with Chinese vegetarian lettuce wrap.

Our music and poetry features both traditional, contemporary and fusion.  This year we feature:

  • Victoria Poet Laureate Janet Marie Roger, who is also of Mohawk ancestry – just like Pauline Johnson, and will perform her own spoken word poetry as well as work by Pauline Johnson. 

  • Chinese-Canadian author Janie Chang will bring us a special story.  Her new novel Three Souls is #2 on the Asian-American best sellers list in the USA, right behind Amy Tan.

  • Celtic storyteller Mary Gavan will regale us with amazing stories of Celtic songs and Robert Burns.

  • Silk Road Music Ensemble, led by Qiu Xia He and Andre Thibault will bring their mix of the traditional Chinese, Celtic and world music.  They were featured in the 2004 tv performance special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy”

  • Amy Stephen, celtic accordionist with Mad Pudding and Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra, will also bring her magic fingers and songs.

  • Kwantlen First Nations artist Brandon Gabriel, also brings his Chinese and Scottish ancestry into his contemporary artistic life.  He will read a poem from his great great grandfather, one of the first First Nations poets.

  • Co-hosts are Chirish sibilings of Chinese and Irish ancestry, broadcaster Margaret Gallagher and actor Patrick Gallagher.

  • Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pipes & Drums will bring their unique fusion and musical surprises!

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy Chinese Lunar New Year – Year of the Horse

Chine brush stroke picture of Horse, painted by my father – photo Todd Wong

I am descended from horses. My mother’s maiden name is Mar. My maternal grandfather was Sunny Mar, who paid the Chinese Head Tax, prior to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma_%28surname%29

en.wikipedia.org

Ma (simplified Chinese: 马; traditional Chinese: 馬; pinyin: Mǎ) is one of the mosSee more
Here is a bronze replica of the famous “Horse Galloping on Flying Swallow” – that I brought back from my 1993 trip to China. http://arts.cultural-china.com/en/30Arts385.html

This is one of my favorite pieces of art.  I first saw it in 1976 on a poster in my High School English 11 teacher’s classroom.  When I found bronze replicas at the Shaanxi Province Museum in Xi’an, China – I had to bring one home.

“Among China’s various craft masterpieces, Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow 马踏飞燕 is unique with its splendid designs and is a classical work of Chinese ancient aesthetics.

“Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow was unearthed in 1969 in the Leitai Tomb of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) in Wuwei County, Gansu Province. The bronze statue is a famous representative sculpture of the Han Dynasty. Wuwei County leapt to fame with the discovery of this national treasure.”

 

 

 

The Robbie Burns Poetry Marathon Reading at SFU Downtown

Here is Alma Lee, founder of the Vancouver International Writers Festival at the 2013 Burns Poetry Marathon Reading – photo Todd Wong

Happy Robbie Burns Day Eve… Join me tomorrow for the Burns Poetry Marathon Reading… 11am at the Burns Statue in Stanley Park with bagpiper Thomas Budd

Then at 12pm at SFU Downtown – where we will Rap the Address to the Haggis!

You can register to read a Burns Poem and join the fun:

http://www.scottish.sfu.ca/sfus_robert_burns_marathon

We did the inaugural Burns Marathon reading two years ago in 2012 – Here is my blog story http://www.gunghaggis.com/2012/01/26/marathon-poetry-reading-of-robbie-burns-poetry-sfu-harbour-centre/

Here is Leith Davies, director of the Centre for Scottish Studies SFU, Teresa King (descendant of Robert Burns), and me!

Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner postponed to March 16th

ANNOUNCEMENT – Dinner Post-poned to March 16th
Floata Restaurant, #400 – 180 Keefer St.
details to be confirmed.

Sorry to inconvenience everybody – but logistics and health have forced this difficult decision.

It is St. Patrick’s Day Weekend – so we will be inclusive of Irish, Chinese, Scottish and First Nations cultures for a reinvigorated Gung Haggis Fat Choy that will celebrate our province’s pioneer history and the cultural fusion of today’s diversity.

I will follow up with our guests – and we will have something special for your patronage and support.

– Tickets available online at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/gung-haggis-fat-choy-2014-tickets-9215956173

Cheers, Todd

Here is a picture of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team on St. Patrick’s Day 2013 – for the Celtic Fest St. Patrick’s Day parade.

2014 dinner menu for Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner

Every year we switch up some of the dishes for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner 

We pay attention to what we ate last year, what fits with the performance themes.  January 31, will welcome the Year of the Horse – and NO – we will not have horse meat.  But Horses will fit into the literary theme…  How about some Beef?

Half the dishes are vegetarian including: turnip cake appetizer, vegetarian hot and sour soup, lettuce wrap, buddha’s feast + efu long life noodles.  Meat dishes will be fish, chicken and a beef dish, + traditional haggis.  Our specialty appetizer items are deep-fried haggis & shrimp won ton, and haggis & pork su-mei dumplings… but we are considering bringing back spring rolls in place of the bbq pork.

This is the appetizer platter: Spicy jellyfish (center), , Lo-Bak-Goh turnip cake (front), BBQ pork (right) and haggis & pork shu-mei dumplings (left).  Delicious!  My great-grandmother always used to make the turnip cakes for me – to this day, they are one of my favorite dim sum dishes!

Our famous Haggis & shrimp Wonton dumplings! Utterly tasty…. It is one of our mentor Jim Wong-Chu’s favorite items on the menu that he looks forward to tasting each year.  Last year, we had accordionist Lewis Kane, fresh from Scotland attend out taste-test dinner. We asked Lewis to try one… to see if a real Scottish person would eat it.  And… he LIKED it…. he said it was real good… and that they should do this in Scotland!  HA!  Score one for Canada!

Last year we had Winter Melon soup… would be a staple if winter melons grew in Scotland.  Sublime in flavour, delicately balanced with mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots and lots of other good things. But… for 2014, we will return to a traditional Hot & Sour Soup – because the word “Sour” is very similarly spelled to the word “soul” – and good soul food always feels filling… and we are featuring author Janie Chang, whose new book is titled “Three Souls” – so we will have a Hot and Sour Soul Soup.  Nice alliteration, eh?

Here is the best way to eat haggis…  take a spoonful of haggis and add it to the Chinese vegetarian lettuce wrap.  Very tasty – just like a hamburger without the bun.  Remember to put lots of Chinese Hoi-sin bbq sauce inside.

Last year we had Steamed salmon – flavoured with hot oil and ginger, and topped with chives and cilantro.  This was one of the original dishes that I had personally prepared at the original Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner backin 1998.  So mouth-watering good… it melts in your mouth.

Buddhist’s feast is a traditional New Year’s dish, with lots of vegetables and bamboo shoots and mushrooms and Chinese funghi.  We figured if we are making Chinese people eat haggis, the Scottish people can eat Chinese funghi.  Afterall… it is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.

This is traditional crispy skin chicken, served with shrimp chips.  They are always very tasty – and not greasy like American style deep-fried chicken from KFC and elsewhere.

Mogolian Beef – tasty sauce over slabs of beef.  The mongols had an empire that covered all of Asia and extended into Eastern Europe.  They were fierce warriors because of their horsemanship skills.  See… I told you I would work in the Year of the Horse theme somewhere…

E-fu noodles… these are lovely textured egg-based noodles, and also traditional at Chinese banquets.  Not the regular chow mein noodles many people associate with Chinese take-out.  This is one of my favorite dishes, and the long noodles symbolize good wishes for long life.

And then there is dessert…. need we say more than two words?  Mango pudding.

But please note – menu is subject to change… as availability and freshness is important to us.

The dinner event WAS originally set for Sunday January 26th – but NOW POSTPONED to Sunday March 16th, 2014

– Tickets available online at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/gung-haggis-fat-choy-2014-tickets-9215956173

2014 GUNG HAGGIS FAT CHOY DINNER – TICKETS NOW ON SALE

17th Annual GUNG HAGGIS FAT CHOY
Robbie Burns Chinese New Year
– Celebrating Year of the Horse & featuring poetry of Robert Burns and Pauline Johnson

Sunday January 26th, 2014 – postponed
to Sunday March 16th 2014
5:00 pm Reception
6:00 pm Dinner Start

Floata Restuarant – #400 – 180 Keefer St.
Vancouver Chinatown (Free Parking)
$65 per Seat
$55 for Students with ID
$35 for Children 13 and under
$650 for table of 10 includes complimentary wine for your table

Chinese Banquet dinner featuring our haggis won-ton specialty

– Lots of poetry, music, food and fun
– Special theme of Chinese and Scottish Ghost stories
– Featuring: Silk Road Music Ensemble, Gung Haggis Pipe Band, Storyteller Mary Gavan, author Janie Chang and more special guests, raffle prizes and silent auction


Please note:
– Ticket Sales End March 15th
– No “Walk up – day of sales”

Winter Solstice

– photo Caroline Ng

Black Bear Rebels performed at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens for the 20th Anniversary of the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival.  I have always loved the Winter Solstice Festival, and have visited the sites at Roundhouse Community Centre, Granville Island and Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens and Park.  In 2008, I met creator of the festival, Naomi Singer, at the BC Community Achievement Awards, and we vowed that we would find ways to support and participate in each other’s events.

– photo Caroline Ng

Our 2013 line up consisted of Allan McMordie (small bagpipes), Mike Gigliotti (guitar), Russ Ericson (guitar), Todd Wong (accordion), Mary Gavan (story teller).

Mary is also going to be a featured performer at the 2014 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner on January 26th.  I have known her for many years, since when she first invited me to come tell stories and play accordion at events for the Vancouver Storytelling Society.

Here is the website for Secret Lantern Festival Society’s Winter Solstice Lantern Festival

http://www.secretlantern.org/events_sc.html

The Garden was surprisingly beautiful with the light cover of snow, that reflected the lights of all the lanterns – photo by Caroline Ng.
See more pictures by Caroline Ng and Todd Wong on my Flickr photo site:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/53803790@N00/sets/72157639750994305/

Summer Dreams Literary Festival. Awards for Ricepaper & Joy Kogawa. Todd Wong moderates panel on Hyphenated-Canadianism

Summer Dreams Literary Festival is happening today at Trout Lake

Last night we had a wonderful time at the Awards Gala where Joy Kogawa received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Ricepaper Magazine won the Magazine Award.  As president of Asian Canadian Writer’s Workshop, publisher of Ricepaper Magazine, I accepted in partnership with Anna Ling Kaye, current editor and past-president.  see here: Pandora’s Literary Awards

Today – the Festival happens at Trout Lake.  Joy Kogawa will be the featured reader at 12:30-1pm Check the schedule of events here: Festival Schedule

Come see me at 4:15 at the Community Stage on Hyphenated-Canadianism…. literature, poetry and identity… with Kevin Chong, Glenn Deer, Russell Wallace and Kyla Bourgh… and my accordion.

 

4:15 – 5:00 Panel Discussion Moderator: Todd Wong

 

    Panelists Kevin Chong, Russell Wallace, Kyla Bourgh and Glenn Deer.
Topic: Putting the Canadian into Ethnic-Hyphenated poetry andliterature. Scottish-French-First Nations-Chinese-English-Metis-African-Italian-German-Japanese-Irish-Canadian-South Asian.  Mainstream – isn’t that what Canada’s always been about?

Great time at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival – Gung Haggis team races for medals in E Championship,

Wonderful 3 days of Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival.

Saturday afternoon, we finished our last race, and we are still a happy bunch.  Of course, we recruited the “dragons” to join us for our team picture.

Friday: we take our 5 person parade dragon down for opening night

Saturday: host TSA Dragon Flyers from California, our Gung Haggis team welcomes rookie paddlers, returning paddlers and guest paddlers from Go Ju Go.

Sunday: we raced for a medal in E Championship, and witness steady improvement with our paddlers. Our guests TSA Dragon Flyers won Gold in Rec D Championship.

Lots of fun, new friends, old friends… simply wonderful.

We had a joint team dinner on Saturday night at Floata Restaurant in Vancouver Chinatown, where I had to simultaneously attend a banquet dinner for the Irish & Scottish Studies International Conference, organized by the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. The conference featured a Gung Haggis Fat Choy-styled dinner, so I invited dragon boaters to help carry our 5 person dragon to help lead the procession of the haggis. California paddlers were very keen to help out.  In this picture l-r is Anthony, Laura, Steven (from Gung Haggis), Billie and Jose.

Sunday Morning – welcome to the Church of Dragon Boating – as first we lifted veteran paddler Keng into the air, then now in this picture we lift Albert – who is 2 times as heavy as Keng.

Before our final race, our team relaxes by doing a group circle massage.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy team raced for a medal in Rec E Championship, but while we came 1st in lane one last year for the Rec D Consolations, alas, we came 8th in 2013. While Geoff George of TSA had steered for us in our 3 earlier races, the TSA team had to race 22 min later in the D Final, so our guest steersperson was my friend Suzi Cloutier from Portland’s Wasabi Team Huge.  Suzi paddled in the Women’s A Final to come in 2nd place, then stayed on the dock to await our team. She took control of our boat, and gave us lots of encouragement, while drummer Deborah Gee give us the calls for our starts and power series.  Assistant Coach Debbie Poon gave Deborah prompts, while we both yelled out along with Deborah to give her more support.

Here are the final results for all teams in the Rec E Championship race. It was good to race against our friends O2P, Metro Van 44 Cheeks, and the Eh Team.  Congratulations to the medal winning team and especially O2P – nice to see them beat us this year, after we bet them twice in race consolation finals last year in Vancouver and Steveston.

  • 8th– 2:33.510  – Gung Haggis Fat Choy
  • 7th – 2:30.610 – KDBC LIFT WHAT’S DRAGGIN
  • 6th – 2:30.040 – Metro Vancouver 44 Cheeks
  • 5th – 2:29.070 – Kwantlen Sea-Eagles
  • 4th – 2:25.170 – O2P
  • 3rd – 2:23.640 –Red Eyes Paddling Club
  • 2nd – 2:20.940 – The EH Team
  • 1st – 2:19.170 – Concord Pacific Team Too

After we did a quick team debrief, we watched TSA Dragon Flyers won Gold in Rec D with a time of  2:15.990.  They had a good start, and pulled out ahead after their transition to race pace, from their start.  It was fun to watch them come down the course, while boat 2 was very close, and other boats weren’t too far away.  TSA had a strong finish and kept a steady surge to the finish line.

Here is a nice picture of both Gung Haggis Fat Choy and TSA Flying Dragons posing together for a joint team picture. There was a good feeling of camaraderie and mutual support, as teams cheered for each other during races, and also joined together for a joint dinner on Saturday night.  Gotta admit this team looks pretty good with rows of blue and red, bookended by kilts!