All posts by valdeswrites

I write poems and essays. My commentaries about music, theater, the visual arts have been heard on the radio. I've been a piano teacher. After many years as an arts journalist, I find deep pleasure as a writing coach. I coach at the Alder St. Studio here in Philadelphia, and at the Muse House in Chestnut Hill. I also work with writers online. I've lived in many beautiful cities and traveled to many parts of the world thanks to my coverage of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Philadelphia is my adopted home. I've two poetry books in progress. Stay tuned.

Mankell: Whose Troubles Comforted Us

At 67, this isn’t fair. No more Mankell. No more Wallender. And yes, I know the Swedish writer retired his  chief detective inspector with the final book in the series, The Troubled Man, the one I read first, the one that started me on the spare and splendid series. Those of us who loved the moody character always hoped he would return, we couldn’t get enough of Kurt Wallender. We binged on Kenneth Branagh’s “Wallender,” then preferred the Swedish version: Krister Henricksson who to my inner ear and eye best caught the ever-searching, love clumsy policeman. Continue reading Mankell: Whose Troubles Comforted Us

New Violetta Wears the Pants in Philly “Traviata”

Violetta & Alfredo: Traviata
Oropresa & Shrader


La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi

Philadelphia Opera at the Academy of Music, Oct. 2-11; Free HD broadcast on the Mall, Oct. 16, Independence Historic National Park

Lisette Oropesa’s first time out as Violetta Valery was triumphal Friday night. To show her glee in a role that clearly suits her, after “Sempre Libera”’s fireworks, the soprano flung the contents of her champagne glass across the boards. And why not? Oropesa has it all. Vocal range and beauty,  nuance and technique. She’s the slimmest singing actress to play the tubercular “fallen woman” (i.e. sex worker) on this stage in awhile: eliminating one of the challenges that suspend operatic belief.

Alek Shraker,  as Alfredo, is also new to the role and this company. The tenor has a slight cover to the voice; opening night, Shraker’s presence was more subtle than heroic but his singing acting developed ardor and projection as the drama  progressed. A powerful match for this Violetta is Stephen Powell’s Germont. Always harder to sing slow sustained lines, traviata-015which Powell well achieved in “Di Provenza”; even finer his impassioned duets  with the woman whose love he has come to defeat. On her own, Violetta’s  lyric whispers, so perfectly tuned, created a marvelous stillness in the house, before igniting second-act applause.

Pitch: there’s a concept we don’t always find ideal opening night:  much as we crave it. Pitch and timbre. What joy to listen to Oropesa through the evening; not only secure of pitch but how beautifully she matched the woodwinds, flutes in particular, how easy it was to admire again Verdi’s knitting of vocal and instrumental lines. How easeful, too, Corrado Rovaris’ shaping of ensembles: onstage and in the pit. Continue reading New Violetta Wears the Pants in Philly “Traviata”

Ellen Voigt: Warren Wilson’s Founder Wins Genius Award

Every residency, Ellen is with us, listening, suggesting, advising and making sure things go well. Without Ellen, and her Southern inflected encouragements, advisements, cautions, Warren Wilson’s program wouldn’t exist. So many of us, thousands! are hugely appreciative of Ellen Voigt’s pedagogy —and Ellen’s poetry. We are thrilled to salute her on this much -deserved award.

For those who do not know that Ellen is also a musician, a pianist, I mention this here. Music before meaning, Richard Hugo tells us . Music in the words and meaning, Ellen Voigt tells us  in her essays like The Flexible Lyric, and poems. Kyrie.

It has been such a privilege to spend five residencies and four semesters at Warren Wilson in the program she created. Those of us who have had  the pleasure of having  Ellen attend their progress and participate in their graduation readings will understand my feelings.

Interview with the heroine I’ve yet to meet: Lucia Perillo


Every story has a backstory. This interview, the only one I can ever recall that took place entirely by email and over more months that I care to relate, would never have happened without the intervention of Marianne Boruch, another poet role model for the ages. Boruch, my first semester mentor at Warren Wilson, provided the introduction, via email for me with Perillo, who said something to the effect of “why?”  Perillo had been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths,  and perhaps had done too many interviews. However, after a few emails back and forth, she agreed to be interviewed  by email if the questions were sent ahead. She was marvelously prompt in her responses. She answered every question save perhaps three. Alas, our editor had a backlog of other work to accomplish and there were many postponements to the publication of this interview. It seems only fitting that I am only now getting around to posting this interview on my own website. But for anyone who didn’t see it,  Perillo is not a poet to be missed.

Novelistic Intelligence aka the Telling Detail

If you want to know what novelistic intelligence is you might compare a page or two of Hilary Mantel’s work with worthy historical fiction by Peter Ackyrod or Susan Sontag. They are intelligent but they are not novelistically intelligent. –Andrea Barrett, “Dust,” the Paris Review, 209, Summer, 2014

Why “one perfectly chosen detail works better than an army of dutifully transcribed facts.”  Advice we cannot hear too often as we struggle to write the compelling story, the portrait, the poem.