Old folk at lunch

Friday, May 29, 2015



Csardasfuerstin



I am continuing my programme of catching up with the great works of Austro-Hungarian operetta. Last night I watched Kalman's Csardasfuerstin in a 1971 cinematic production directed by Miklos Szinetar and filmed on location at Budapest featuring Anna Moffo as the leading lady. The show first appeared in 1915 and appears to be set in the peaceful years just preceding that time.

Given the time in which it was set, I was a little surprised (but pleased) that so many of the ladies appeared in mini-skirts.  But in 1971 such skirts were in full fashion so it was the fashion of the day in which the show was performed that prevailed.

I enjoyed the performance and will watch it again, despite not being much impressed by the casting.  Rene Kollo is a most distinguished tenor but his appearance in his early 30s in the show (he is now 77) as leading man looked inappropriate to me.  He had at that age rather effeminate and sullen looks IMHO.  I am used to big operetta productions featuring manly-looking men such as Herman Prey, Eberhard Waechter and Rodney Gilfry.  So it was difficult to relate to his character.

And although the late American soprano Anna Moffo was impeccable as both an actress and a singer, she looked lamentably flat-chested. So seeing her as an object of infatuation was difficult -- for me, anyway.


Moffo

I was not expecting such shapely singers as Zabine Kapfinger and Ute Gfrerer, though.  I am for instance quite entranced by the very feminine Hamburg Sängerin Anja Katharina Wigger even though she is rather small in the bust, but she does have SOME bust.


Wigger

The character of Oberleutnant von Rohnsdorff was well played and I was surprised that the character was not much developed.  It could have been fun. His Roman style army helmet was impressive.  I initially thought it was just an operatic joke but it appears that the Austro-Hungarian army officers did indeed wear such helmets.  It certainly leaves the Prussian Pickelhaube for dead.



Something that pleased me was the attempt made to re-create the motor vehicles of 1915.  They looked quite grand though I doubt that they were precise replicas of any actual model from the past.

I was a bit puzzled by the title of the show.  I expected a mighty Csardas at some point in the show but it was not to be. It seems that "Csardas" is being used as a polite synonym for gypsy and that all showgirls are regarded as gypsies.  So the reference is to a gypsy singer who eventually  became a princesss.  Pretty obscure.

Kalman's music was of course good but no particular song stayed with me.  There was a LOT of singing and dancing, which probably accounts, in part, for the popularity of the work. It was particularly popular in the former Soviet Union, though that may have been because of the social class issue.

The plot is  on a familiar theme -- class distinctions.  Can a nobleman marry a showgirl?  It seems an insurmountable obstacle, particularly as the stepmother is most emphatic about its impossibility.  That role must have been well cast as I suspecfted from the outset that the stepmother was herself an ex-showgirl -- which is of course revealed at the end.  That revelation destroys the stepmother's objections so we end up with the two happy couples that we expect of operetta

The whole show is online here.  No subtitles.  You can see one of the motor vehicles at around the 54 minute mark



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Der Bettelstudent



I watched last night the 2013 offering from Moerbisch, "Das größte Operettenfestival der Welt am Neusiedler See im österreichischen Burgenland".  I see that Moerbisch have their own ballet company now, as well as their own choir and orchestra -- up with the NY Met. So they obviously deserve the fulsome description of them that I have just given.  It was a performance of the popular Bettelstudent by Carl Millöcker.  It was the first performance at Moerbisch with Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin.  She got that job as from 1. September 2012.  She was of course delighted to be so honoured. "Ich freue mich wahnsinnig", she said in her exuberant way when her appointment was announced.

I note that she is described as KS Dagmar Schellenberger. I do know what that stands for:  Kammersängerin -- chamber singer.  I even spelled it right first time.  She is now formally referred to as Frau KS Dagmar Schellenberger.  It is an honorific title given to very distinguished singers of operas or operetta but I am not sure by whom it was awarded.  Dagmar certainly deserves it at any event.  I know that the Austrian culture minister awards the title in Austria so maybe culture ministers in the various German states also award it.  With her many performances throughout the German lands, Schellenberger could have got the title from various sources.  She SHOULD have got it from her native Saxony but as the Bible tells us, "A prophet hath no honour in his own country" (John 4:44) -- so maybe it was left to Austria to do the honours.

The performance had a lot in common with Gilbert & Sullivan.  About the first third of it was quite madcap.  I could have done without the wigs and absurd gowns but that was of course part of the comic impression.  The plot was typical operetta nonsense, complete with with deceptions and misunderstandings.  There was even a purloined letter.  No valuable pocket watches this time though.  So the plot lived up to expectations -- with some good twists towards the end

And the expected romance was also there -- though only in the second half. And the resolution of all difficulties at the end was also the expected operetta ending, but with a twist.  Instead of the lovers getting married, they were already married by that time!

A good show.  I doubt that I will be watching it again, though.  Although it was all well done, there was nothing in particular to bring me back to it.  But you see most movies only once so that is not derogatory.  I also see that the operetta has been performed over 5,000 times since 1882 so maybe I am getting old and grouchy.



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A birthday dinner


Jenny has just turned 39 (joking) so I shouted a Chinese dinner for her at her local Chinese restaurant.  It is one of the few restaurants where she can get the gluten-free foods that she needs. I had some good roast duck there.

Two of her children now live overseas -- at opposite ends of the earth but which  are nonetheless very similar places. Both of them are now very well-suited where they are so that is not going to change any time soon.  So the dinner was a small one -- Jenny, Nanna, Joe and myself.  I am pleased that Joe has no intention of leaving Brisbane again, though job opportunities might just change that.  Suz is putting something on for Jenny this weekend.

I allowed Jenny to choose her own birthday present, as I usually do.  She got herself a very impressive-looking food processing machine.  I imagine I might get some of what it produces on my plate some time.

We returned to Jenny's place for coffee and cakes afterward and continued the discussions.  Joe and I left around 9pm so Joe could get back to work on his university projects.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A good duck


The duck is a very tasty bird but most restaurants that serve it make a hash of it.  I have long said that the Chinese are the only people who know how to cook duck but even most of those are not good at it.  They can usually do a reasonable Peking duck but that is all.

For a long time the best place I knew for good duck was the Canton restaurant in Cairns.  Sadly, however, they eventually changed hands so when I last went there they served something that was nothing like what it used to be.

For a while now I have  been dining occasionally at the New Sing Sing, a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant at Buranda, next to the P.A. hospital.  I mainly started dining there because you can park in the big car-park just over the road.  But I found that whatever I ordered there was good. So when Anne and I were there last night, I decided to try their BBQ roast duck.  And, at last, I got duck in its tasty perfection.  And not terribly dear, either.

So if there any other duck fanciers reading this, now you know where to go.  The sauce is served on the side so you can leave it and just eat duck.  I did.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Beware of Neil Fallon electrical



My split system air-conditioning unit had stopped working so I asked Brisbane's Neil Fallon electrical to look at it.  The firm does advertise that it does repairs.

They charged me $232 to diagnose and quote on the fault -- all for an hour's work.  Work at that rate did not interest me so I sent the guy away immediately and gave the job of replacing the unit to someone else.  I think they outsmarted themselves there.

UPDATE:  I note that Fallons did give me a quote for a new installation -- of over $2,000.  The firm I finally gave the job to -- Brisbane Air are doing it for $500 less than that.  And I know from past experience that their work is high quality.  Instructive.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Der Graf von Luxemburg



I first watched this Singspiel some months ago and thought so little of it that I wrote down no notes about it here.  As all opera people know, however, the first viewing of anything operatic is merely an introduction to it.  You have to watch it several times to  get the best out of it.  And this show is perhaps an extreme example of that.  I enjoyed it greatly when I watched it again recently. 

If people get the impression that I spend half my time watching operettas these days they are right -- I do spend 2 or 3 hours watching them every night.  My day would not be complete otherwise.  I read and write serious stuff during the day so watching operetta before bedtime  rounds out my day.

The show was composed by Lehar in 1909 and was apparently set in his day.  The production I have is another cinematic version -- from 1972 -- with the late Erich Kunz as the big name -- he wielded a mean monocle!  He played Basil, the Polish Prince and delegate to the Austrian Reichsrat.  He of course does the part very convincingly, as indeed do all the singers.  The costumes were all well done -- with very big hats on the ladies at times and big and very luxurious-looking sable collars on the coats worn by the men.

Erich Kunz gets his girl

The leading soprano, the long-necked Lilian Sukis, of Lithuanian origins, is now an old lady in her mid-70s but had a  lily-like and languid attractiveness in this performance.  She was particularly associated with the Bavarian State Opera in her day.

The leading baritone was the late Eberhard Wächter, an Austrian  singer of some distinction in his day, though he was new to me. That he became Intendant of the Wiener Staatsoper is a considerable recognition of his artistry.  What amused me a little about him was his looks -- almost hypermasculine, with a big heavy head and a strong jaw.  It's a characteristic I have seen in other big male parts in operettas.  Having such characteristics is clearly an advantage in getting good parts in operetta.  I think of Rodney Gilfry in my copy of Die Lustige Witwe and Rainhard Fendrich in my copy of Im weissen Roessl as other examples of that. And they all get the girl!

Wächter with Sukis

Wächter sang and acted very well, at any event. I am sad that he is deceased. He was a magnificent presence. He was undoubtedly the star of the show. He was somewhat more expressive than his lady, in my opinion, though she had a powerful line in rapt gazes. The latter very romantic parts were especially well done.  They had convincing sincerity.  It was a love-at-first-sight story but since both members of the couple were good-looking, that has some plausibility.  His "come-to-me" look towards the end after his lady had unwittingly insulted him was quite brilliant.  It got him the girl too.

To me the best aria came from the "second string" story -- "Schauen Sie freundlichst mich an", where the artist and his nervous lover reassure one another.  They really made a very attractive couple.  It puzzles me why they  spoke per "Sie" (formal) rather than per "du" (informal), though. Something to do with tensions between them at that time, I guess.  On earlier occasions they do speak per "du"

The entire show is online here, but without subtitles.  Around the 7 minute mark you can see quite a bit of an attractive barmaid with a well-filled blouse whom I thought might have been mentioned in the credits -- but she was not.  A barmaid dancing with a prince is a very low-probability event -- but this is operetta.  I love it.

The painter's girlfriend (Helga Papouschek) also played well and looked good.  She has been described as a "vielseitige Schauspielerin und Sängerin".  I can see that.

I think I know why I was not enthusiastic about the show when I first saw it.  It opened with a prolonged hymn of praise for financial folly  -- which did not suit my careful Presbyterian soul at all at all.  To me it was idiocy. I have however become used to introductory scenes in operetta that are best fast-forwarded so I discounted that this time.

There are quite a lot of jokes in the show but you have to be attuned to them.  I found the dropped-glove episode hilarious in its corniness, for instance. And it was an amusing touch when the unflappable Graf who had unwittingly disrespected his donor on being introduced to him simply replied Sehr angenehm ("pleased to meet you") on being apprised of his mistake.

And, as seems common in operetta, alcohol is something of a star.  Mostly it was skolling Schnapps in this case but we did get around to the champagne eventually. And the birdbath cut-glass champagne glasses they used are just like the old-fashioned ones that I have.  I don't agree with the fashion for champagne flutes at all at all.  Very inelegant.

The plot is typical operetta absurdity, though notes accompanying  the DVD suggest that similar things did happen in real life  at the time.  And the ending was very much as one expects of operetta, with THREE happy couples getting married.  After having watched two operettas that violated that formula -- Paganini and Zarewitsch, it was a welcome return to form.  

In summary:  A great romance with a marvellously happy ending. I liked the way Wächter's lady mostly looked and sang over his shoulder after they had accepted one-another. She looked best in those later scenes in my undoubtedly wicked opinion. She looks better happy.

Seeing other people happy makes me happy -- unlike the Leftist Gore Vidal, who said: "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little".  What a mess of a man!  I am pleased to say that over the years I have been able to make small contributions to the happiness of others. Ecclesiastes 11:1 is my guide, though you may need your minister to explain it to you.

I will be watching the show again, and again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Der Zarewitsch


I have now watched Lehar's Zarewitsch a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is phenomenally romantic. It doesn't have any terribly memorable arias in it but they are good while they last. The show first appeared in 1927.

The version I have is another cinematic performance from 1973 directed by Rabenault; conductor Willy Mattes.

I was most impressed by the performance of Cretan soprano Teresa Stratas.  She really threw herself into the part and gave a mighty performance as a very emotional "Sonja". Maybe her Greek background helped with the emotionality.  She really makes the show in this production.


The lovers

I am not alone in my admiration for her talent.  She is an old lady now but she went on to a very distinguished operatic career,  becoming something of a fixture at the NY Met.

The show differs from most operettas in that everybody doesn't get married at the end of it but the sustained romanticism throughout the show rather compensates for that.  And there is a definite suggestion that the lovers have not seen the last of one-another.


The parting

All operettas seem to need a second story running alongside the main story and the story about Ivan and Mascha fulfils that role in this show.  And their story does provide some good light relief.  Casting a bass as Ivan was very effective.  From what I have seen, most women would forgive a bass a lot and Mascha does have a lot to forgive.  There was some clever casting of "Ivan" there. Harald Juhnke was primarily a comic actor rather than an operatic singer but the role was a comic one and he was excellent at it.

And casting Birke Bruck as Mascha was well done too.  She is/was undoubtedly a good-looking lady and her fury when she was envying the statue was wonderfully and hilariously done.

I was rather pleased with myself that I recognized the refuge of the lovers as being in Greece.  Now that I have read the notes that came with the DVD, I see that Greece was intended.

And a very Viennese touch was the extended celebration of champagne at one point.  There is a big celebration of champagne in Fledermaus too.

A premodern feature that I noted in Zigeunerbaron also was the attitude to the military.  The Zarewitsch rejoices when he is sent back to his regiment.  Only conservatives would understand that in this day and age. Our Prince Harry must be a conservative. He had very happy days in the army. As indeed did I. Army men do indeed generally like being in the army.  They like the army as much as they dislike the army top brass.  Such is the complex world we live in.

The intense romanticism of the show does help me to understand  why it has been performed and recorded so many, many times.  I do not consider myself at all romantic but I am an undoubted sentimentalist  -- and part of that is that the happiness of others makes me happy.  And operetta is full of happiness.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Der Zigeunerbaron



It's sad that the Austro-Hungarian empire died in 1918.  It lasted a thousand years, you know. It was known for most of its life as the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation (though, as some wit once remarked, it was neither holy nor Roman.  And most of it wasn't German either).  There is a lot of recollection of the Austro-Hungarian empire in operetta, however. Most operettas are set somewhere in it.

I have recently obtained the Stuttgart version of Strauss II's 1885  Zigeunerbaron (Gypsy Baron) operetta, set in Hungary.  And the Stuttgart version is lightyears better than Harald Serafin's 2011 Moerbisch version.  That 2011 production at Moerbisch was rather sad.  It was Serafin's last year as Intendant (artistic director) there.  So it was sad that he did not go out on a better note.  He did a lot for operetta generally and Moerbisch in particular during his long tenure there.  Purists did not like his rather cinematic productions but the huge floating stage (3500 sq. m.) and hi-tech facilities at Moerbisch made that possible -- and what he did with it certainly got the audiences in.

The Stuttgart version (I gave the Moerbisch version away) is quite an old production -- dating back to 1975 -- but has recently been put onto DVD.  And one can see why.  It is an excellent interpretation and was obviously long remembered as such.  So somebody has got out the old studio tapes and remastered it for DVD.  I am pleased they did.

This version is a cinematic one rather than a stage version so wide interpretive opportunities were available to the director.   The director was the Austrian Arthur Maria Rabenalt. The conductor was Kurt Eichhorn. Both men are now long deceased.

And Rabenalt was not slow to adapt the show.  Some things were  extended and others cut back.  I could have done without the long introduction.  And I do.  I use the little button on my DVD machine to skip that track.

A mildly amusing aspect of the production is that the ladies in the opera, who are old ladies now (Ellen Shade is my age!), can be seen in the freshness of their youth.  Janet Perry (playing Arsena) looks quite pretty in fact.  But I actually liked the looks of Ellen Shade best.  Her face had character; and she had a stonger voice too.  And she was very convincing in her role as Saffi.  Both ladies are famous American sopranos who have been everywhere and sung everything.


Ellen Shade

But the casting triumph of the show was undoubtedly making Ivan Rebroff the villainous pig-farmer.  He was a  a comic triumph.  I suspect that he is just naturally a funny man.  His red-faced rage at the rejection of his daughter has to be seen to be believed.  What an actor!  And he figures well in the later part of the show in connection with the war. The pig-farmer role is a big one in any production but he makes it huge. He even manages to be funny as a Hungarian Hussar.

Never have I seen such magnificent shakos as we see in the recruitment scene! The shako is little used as military headgear these days but some French troops still wear it.  Example below:



I imagine that Leftists would be horrified by the militarism and patriotism of the latter part of the show but it all ends up as a marvellous romance so pity them!

The music is by Strauss II so is marvellous.  The best track is undoubtedly the justly famous "Als flotter Geist" ("As a lively  spirit"). As is often the case in translation from German, there is no one good translation of "flotter", but we do what we can.  So I give the whole libretto of that part in German below, followed by a non-literal translation into English as re-worked by Ann Ronell. She produces something singable very well. And it does broadly reflect the original -- though the chorus is totally unrelated to the German chorus.

A few small updates:  I have rather immersed myself in the show in recent days.  I have seen it many times courtesy of my trusty DVD player.  So I have found myself occasionally saying to myself "Ist nicht schwer" rather a lot.  That's the only part of the chorus to Als flotter Geist that I remember so far.

I am impressed that an industrial city like Stuttgart has such a lot of facilities for opera.  But it is towards the South of the German lands so I suspect that helps.  The South is the origin of most German music.  Though Brahms was a Hamburger! (I crack that joke over and over.  Most people get it pretty quickly).

I was impressed by the performance of Graf Homonay. His lines are often real tongue-twisters -- really rapid-fire.  I couldn't say them to save myself.  So I eventually looked up who was playing him.  It was Wolfgang Brendel -- who is of course a very prominent baritone.  He deserves his fame.

Something I found curious about Ellen Shade (Saffi) was that her features were rather immobile -- a great contrast with the very mobile Dagmar Schellenberger.  But Shade had a particular role that suited her.  Her role was as someone sincere and intense rather than as someone clever and volatile -- and her rather still face did give a good impression of intensity.  She was well cast. I enjoyed watching her.

BARINKAY.
I.

Als flotter Geist, doch früh verwaist,
Hab' ich die halbe Welt durchreist,
Factotum war ich erst, und wie!
Bei einer grande ménagerie!
Vom Wallfisch bis zum Goldfasan
Ist mir das Thierreich unterthan:
Es schmeichelt mir die Klapperschlange,
Das Nashorn streichelt mir die Wange,
Der Löwe kriecht vor mir im Sand,[4]
Der Tiger frißt mir aus der Hand,
»Per Du« bin ich mit der Hyäne,
Dem Krokodil reiß' ich die Zähne,
Der Elefant mengt in der Schüssel
Mir den Salat mit seinem Rüssel –

Ja, das Alles auf Ehr,
Das kann ich und noch mehr,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer – ist's nicht schwer!
CHOR.
Ja, das Alles auf Ehr',
Das kann er und noch mehr,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer!
BARINKAY.
II.

Mit Raritäten reist' ich dann
Als Akrobat und Wundermann,
Bis ich zuletzt Gehilfe gar
Bei einem Hexenmeister war!
In meinem schwarzen Zauberkreis
Citir' ich Geister dutzendweis'
Bin passionirter Feuerfresser,
Und zur Verdauung schluck' ich Messer, –
Ich balancir' wie Japanesen,
Changire – noch nicht dagewesen!
In Kartenkünsten bin ich groß,
Im Volteschlagen grandios!
Ich bin ein Zaub'rer von Bedeutung
Und Die Aermel aufschürzend.

Alles ohne Vorbereitung!
Ja, Changeur und Jongleur,
Prestidigitateur,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer – ist's nicht schwer!
CHOR.
Ja, Changeur und Jongleur,
Prestidigitateur,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer – ist's nicht schwer!

..................

My history has made me train wild animals but I'm more famed
Because I've really trained myself to be as spry as any elf
The circus life taught me a lot, now the circus is finished but I'm not
For I'm not afraid to potter round the dark
I'll breakfast on tomorrow's question mark
Adventure is in my blood why any lion could smell it well
But I always hold the whip and I'll never let it slip
Whatever comes I'll take the good and send the rest to hell

Roaming free as the breeze
What's to stop me and why?
I can live as I please
Open road, open sky

My lion taming acting was enough to create quite a buzz
From Timbuctu to Samarkand I wowed them in the hinterland
I was king of the king of the beasts on the stage
Why the public wouldn't let me out of my cage
They loved it when the lions licked my paws
And I got the lion's share of their applause
I follow with the bold and the brave when the bold are gone
Whatever I wish I'll be when the wish appeals to me
For there's a thing worth more than gold
My creed! I must go!

There is a full version of the show online here:



A lot of boring buildup so start from about the 12 minute mark.  No subtitles in the online version



Friday, May 8, 2015

A whole kilo!


With help from Joe, I started a weight-loss diet last July.  I went on a diet of Joe's devising.  He has weight issues himself so is knowledgeable about such things.  The diet worked.  I lost ten kilos up to December.  But then, with the help of Christmas, I plateaued.  I couldn't stick with the system rigorously enough to lose any more weight.

So lately I have been experimenting with a system that takes into account how things work for me personally.  I have always been a TWO meals a day person.  I normally don't need lunch.  Anne tells me that her son Warren is the same.  Just breakfast and dinner are enough.

The big danger, however, are snacks, particularly late-night snacks.  And I have long been a big drinker of softdrink.  Joe is addicted to flavoured milk and I am addicted to softdrink.  So our vices are similar.  So what I have been doing is cutting back on the snacks and the drinks.  And by cutting out nearly all of that I am making progress.  Last week I lost half a kilo --  and my scales tell me this morning that I have lost a WHOLE kilo this week.  That is the most I have ever lost in one week so I feel I should celebrate -- maybe a caramel malted milk!  (Just kidding).

I was in fact so surprised at what my electronic scales said this morning that I had to get out my little torch and shine it on the readout to make sure I was not misreading it!  No wonder my strides have been tending to fall off in the last few days!

So I have two good meals a day, which I enjoy, and I can still lose weight!  It's very simple and could make me rather envied by some, I imagine.  But it would be unlikely to suit many other people  -- maybe Joe. He has been trying something similar.  And one of my meals this week was a Mosburger with chips and peach tea!  Very yummy.  Japanese know how to make hamburgers  -- and much else besides. Mosburgers have umami.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A good party


Suz and Russ put on a party today at their place to mark her birthday.  It was a lunchtime do.  Russ got good results from his big BBQ machine as usual. I mainlined on the sausages.  Suz had made a chocolate birthday cake that was gluten free, to suit her mother.  And it LOOKED gluten-free -- flat.  It was however very yummy so if it had been called simply a chocolate slice, it would have been an unqualified success.

Via Jenny, I gave Suz a bottle of Tanqueray as a present.  Like me, she can't cop cheap gin any more now that she has got used to the good stuff. I was already a serious gin drinker when she was a kid so I wonder if that had any influence on her. Joe mentioned to me recently that when he first smelled gin, it reminded him of me. Having a gin-soaked father was probably not the best -- but no harm seems to have come of it.  Since Suz and I had a heap of fun together when she was a kid maybe the smell of gin has good associations for her too.

Both of my step-daughters have grown up to be competent and well balanced women but I attribute that entirely to their genetics.  My only contribution was to ensure that we had lots of laughs together during their childhood.




With both Paul and Von overseas and Timmy recovering from eye surgery, numbers were down but it was a pleasant occasion nonetheless.  The kids were as usual great entertainment, with Dusty doing his usual perpetual motion demonstration and Sahara  all glammed up and enjoying it.  She was undoubtedly the best looking person there.  She played an impromptu ball game with Joe and me in which I on all occasions missed catching the ball.  Joe was pretty good at catching it though.

I talked mainly to Joe -- about dieting.  Joe has to diet to keep his weight under control and I am overweight too.  We both need to cut back our calories and have to find ways of doing that which we can live with.  In the past, when people have told me that they have lost weight, I always used to reply:  "Don't worry.  You'll find it again".  And that is still largely true.  So the challenge is to find a set of practices that one can live with permanently.  I lost over 10 kilos on a diet of Joe's devising but I couldn't keep it up and am now working on a system that suits me. I'm not there yet but I still have some ideas.

Joe has also backslid quite a lot over the last year.  He has now got a noticeable mid-section. He recently bought some new shorts because his old shorts were not a very good fit any more. I have done that at times too.  He knows how to beat it however so will trim back in due course.

I was amused when he confessed that he has gone back to drinking flavoured milk.  Flavoured milk is his addiction.  I think my addiction is sausages and meat pies. I suggested that dieting while he is studying is probably not a good idea and that the three month's break at the end of the academic year might be the best time to shed the weight.

Anne talked mainly to Jenny and Nanna.

Joe gave Nanna some big hugs to express his appreciation of her.  He is still close to his Nanna and appreciates -- as we all do -- how lucky we are to have her still with us at age 90.  Nanna spent a lot of time looking after Joe when he was growing up.  When he was born, he very soon became the man in her life.  Children can be a great delight and Joe was an intelligent and placid child  -- a great combination.  So Joe had a very cared-for childhood, with two parents and a grandmother all trying to do their best for him at all times.  Many children are not so lucky. His sisters are about ten years older than he is so they minded him to an extent too.  Sisters can be quite nice to little brothers.



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jesus Christ Superstar



I saw a live performance of A.L. Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" in Sydney back in the '70s.  Many church people were critical of it at the time but I thought then, as I still do, that any promulgation of the Gospel message was valuable.  It is a great message of hope and kindness. I no longer share the hope but perhaps some of the kindness has stuck.

So when I recently saw in Target a DVD of the show for $5, I thought it a good purchase.  It is the Universal Pictures movie version from the year 2000.

And I can see nothing wrong with the story in the show either theologically or exegetically.  There are even correct quotations from the scriptures at crucial points.  The main emphasis of the show is on the passion, the times immediately leading up to his execution.  And the mental agonies that he is portrayed as undergoing at that time are perfectly scriptural, though much enlarged on.  Read Matthew chapter 26 if you doubt it. My old Bible opened at that spot very easily when I went to check it.

So I think Webber has done the world a service in introducing the Gospel story to a "rock" audience.  He must have reached many that the churches did not.

The casting: Political correctness was already alive and well in the year 2000 so the cast included a lot of blacks.  Maybe there were a lot of Ethiopians in the Jerusalem of Jesus' time that we have not heard about.  There are certainly a lot there now.

But the times seem to get ever more sensitive so I imagine that if the movie were a current release it might get some flack over its casting of a black as Caiaphas. According to the Gospel accounts, Caiaphas was the major antagonist of Jesus. He was the villain of the piece, in short.

And the casting of Jesus was unrealistic too.  He was cast as a tall, well-built man with flowing and curly red hair.  In life he would have been a short, stocky man with black hair, dark eyes and swarthy skin, as most Middle-Easterners are to this day.  But the casting was pretty close to traditional depictions of Jesus.  It was rather odd that he was the only one wearing a nightgown, though.

I must confess that I found the casting of a light-skinned "black" woman (Renee Castle) as Mary Magdalene rather jarring.  I can take only so much anachronism.  And her rendition of "I don't know how to love him" amazed me by its poverty. She had a very weak and girlish voice.  I would have liked to hear that aria from a soaring operatic mezzo. Helen Reddy did it pretty well, though.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Some thoughts on Moerbisch 2011


I watched another lavish production from the vast floating stage at Moerbisch last night.  It was the Zigeunerbaron by Strauss 2.  They have done it several times but this was the 2011 production with Harald Serafin as Intendant. As usual he took a part himself and performed it very well.  He is a brilliant character actor -- though there is a sense in which he always plays himself.

But I cannot imagine what he was thinking when he did the casting this time. Why was the old witch portrayed by an overweight young woman in a grey wig?  Why was the allegedly attractive Saffi played by another rather overweight young woman?  Why was Barikay portrayed as a hippy type? The role is for a wanderer but hippies are quite often sessile and plenty of wanderers are not hippies.  There is no reason why the part could not have been filled by a generally attractive young man.  I am afraid the casting rather ruined the show for me.  The visual side has to be good in operetta and it was not on this occasion.

2012 was the last for Serafin at Moerbish before he handed over to Dagmar Schellenberger so maybe he was using the 2011 production as something of a last hurrah and to prove he can be politically correct about fat. Casting his son in a good role in the production also has the air of a last hurrah.  He cast himself and his son in the 2012 production (of Fledermaus) too.

In my view the best performance was by Serafin himself.  He was as usual fun to watch.

But it was a lively and amusing show overall with good music and the usual improbabilities of operetta.  The famous Flotter Geist song was of course the musical highlight of the show.  Ist nicht schwer!

A short video of the recruiting scene:





Sunday, April 12, 2015

A welcome home for Paul


Paul is back from Scotland for a week or thereabouts so I put on a Bollywood dinner for the family last night so that they all had  the chance of a chat with him about his latest doings.  Lots of  people were interstate or overseas so it was a small gathering of 8 adults and two littlies, Sahara and Dusty. Joe got back from Canberra a day early so he could take part.

We all had a good time.  Timmy actually went out and got some more champagne.  The food was good as usual, with much garlic and cheese Naan consumed in addition to the main courses. I had Balti lamb as I often do.  Joe had his regular chicken dish.

The people who had the best time of all were Sahara and Dusty, who were both vocal and running around like mad things for a lot of the time.  I said to Suz that her children were entertaining us all and she replied that they would probably sleep well that night.

The only other people in the restaurant were an Indian family.  The lady of the family watched us a bit so when Sahara came and gave me a cuddle that was closely observed.  With her blonde plaits, fair skin and mostly-pink attire Sahara looked very pretty and the Indian lady gave a big smile as she watched Sahara cuddling up.  Nordic looks  are undoubtedly the world beauty standard -- for all that it is politically incorrect to say so. Even a lot of Japanese ladies blond their hair.

A game that the kids invented was to crawl UNDER the long table and get from one end to the other between people's legs.  We all assisted the merriment by moving our legs about to obstruct them. So there was always a cry of triumph whenever they got to the other end.

Ken and I talked a bit about voting systems.  Ken had the idea that you should have to BUY a licence to vote -- so that only people who are really interested in the issues would vote.  I think most of the world already does something not too different.  In most countries people not interested just stay away from the voting booths on polling day.

When Paul arrived, he spent the first 10 minutes in the room interacting with the kids before he sat down.  Like me, he is very child-oriented.  Russell was very jolly, as he usually is and Ken as usual talked mostly to Anne.  They have similar entertainment interests.  Maureen could not come due to illness.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Die lustige Witwe


I suppose I am a bit foolish to bother about these things but I have myself done a fair bit of translation from German so I am inclined to make a few comments about the translation of Die lustige Witwe.  The usual translation is "The merry widow" and I suppose that is close enough but "gay" or "pleasure-seeking" would approximate it too.  "Lustig" is not "lusty", however.  It is about having a good or entertaining time.

I was delighted recently to receive a DVD of the operetta by Lehar of that name which featured Dagmar Schellenberger as the leading lady.  After her performance as Mariza at Moerbisch I expected some brilliant singing and acting and I was not disappointed.

The performance was from Zuerich in der Schweiz, in the Zurich opera house  -- and that made clear to me how Moerbisch spoils us.  The high tech facilities at Moerbisch enable lots of very sharp and very close close-ups -- rather like in a Hollywood musical.  So facial expressions can be seen in great detail.  The technicians at Zurich were no slouch but broadcasting from an ordinary opera house did limit them, with the lighting apparently being the main culprit.

So the brilliant expressions that Schellenberger is known for were at their clearest only when she was under bright light.  Lighting varies in opera houses so clarity was on other occasions reduced.  There was not the constant clarity to be found at Moerbisch. What was particularly missing was Schellenberger's eyes.  She has the most expressive eyes and one could not always see them at critical junctures.  We saw enough of her, however, to marvel yet again at how well her face mirrored what was going on.  She has the most amazing range of expressions -- and all used appropriately to the story.  I liked it when she answered her difficult man with just one glance of her eyes.

And it's not only facial expressions. Her gestures and body language are eloquent too. Her body language when she was urging the dummer Reitersmann to claim her was a legend-quality example of non-verbally saying "take me".

And the very different role did call forth from Schellenberger a new lot of expressions.  This time she brilliantly conveyed disgust, pique and coquettishness -- among much else.  Her singing was as good as ever but the role did not really stretch her -- though she did belt out a few high notes for fun on occasions.

But it was a fun operetta and I will be watching it repeatedly.  It gains with each successive viewing of course.  The local patrons at the Teatro alla scala in Milano know that.  They normally know well the opera put on there but keep going along to absorb more of it.

I initially thought that Schellenberger looked younger than she was at Moerbisch but, on checking, I found that both performances were in 2004!  It shows how much difference hair, makeup and clothes can make.  And her role was quite different too.  At Moerbisch she was the haughty lady who fell in love against her better judgement whereas at Zurich she was the pretty and clever little lady who was determined to get her man.  And, this being operetta, she did, of course.  The man didn't have a hope.  Whether she IS the ultimate female or not, she certainly plays one with great conviction.

The Swiss were a bit more daring in the costume department too.  Both Schellenberger and Ute Gfrerer showed noticeable cleavage,  particularly so in the case of Gfrerer. Gfrerer was the second  lead, playing Valencienne, the attractive young singer married to a rich older man.

Gfrerer seems to be a rather jolly lady in general but her part in this show was almost wholly serious.  She was even asked, rather absurdly for her, to be Eine anstaendige Frau (a respectable wife). I was inclined to think that her notable bosom was what got her the part and that may have been so.  It did suit the role.  But she is also much acclaimed as a singer and actress. There is a bio of her here.

Her natural talent for gaiety did however surface in the dancing.  She was in any dancing going, whether the part really called for it or  not. She even led the cabaret dancers towards the end of the show. With big smiles and shrieks, her happiness throughout the dancing was a joy to watch.  She even got herself tipped upside down in that last segment! She is a naturally happy lady, I think.  And being born both beautiful and talented why should she not be happy?

Ute Gfrerer


Schellenberger with the ambassador


Schellenberger with her "difficult" man

In fact Zurich got top talent all round.  Even the conductor has a distinguished record. He was Franz Welser-Moest and when I saw him I thought he was rather young as conductors go -- but I was mistaken.  He was in fact 44 at the time.  A lot of German men are ageless for a long time and he is obviously one of those. Something to do with the climate, maybe.  I was at a conference at Oxford once when I saw a New York lady mistake a good-looking German man as being about 30.  He was closer to 50.

The music was of course good so it seems a pity that none of the arias seem to be much used outside the context of the operetta itself.  Some of the tunes might even reasonably be described as catchy. Vilja gets a very occasional airing as a concert piece by itself but even on YouTube most of the  renditions are extracted from stage performances of the operetta.

The inescapable Andre Rieu has of course grabbed it for his shows and in fact done rather well with it.  He has up a very sweet rendition by a slightly built black South African soprano named Kimmy Skota.  She does not of course have a fraction of Schellenberger's facial expressions but the singing is as good as any.  I find it hard to evaluate Schellenberger's performance of the aria as just singing.  I can't isolate the singing from the brilliant way she plays the part as a whole.

I was amused that "men" are described in one of the later scenes as quoting Heinrich Heine (a German romantic poet) to win women.  I like some of Heine but have never recited Heine to a woman I was interested in  -- but I did once quote Goethe to a very fine woman with good effect.  I am out of contact with her now, to my regret,  but I imagine she still remembers that too:   "Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser ...". I have had some lovely ladies in my life and I fear that I did not treat them all as well as they deserved.

The stars of the show were undoubtedly the two ladies above but Njegus the majordomo was a great comic touch too. And Rudolf Hartmann made a great comic figure out of Baron Zeta.

And I must of course say something about the big and mellifluous American baritone, Rodney Gilfry, who has learnt enough Hoch Deutsch to play Graf Danilo well. His rugged good looks do make him credible in the part as much admired by women but he is quite powerless against the the German ultra feminine Schellenberger.  Schellenberger has been described as "Prussian energy plus feminine charm" --  and there is a lot to that. A real-life man could not withstand her for 5 minutes.

A small point:  My old ears are not so good these days but, as I hear it, Schellenberger does reply to her lover on some occasions with the Slavic "da" rather than the German "ja".  That would be in keeping but I do wonder if my ears deceive me.

And the two little voiceless sobs she does in the humming song are immensely evocative, though I do think they are a bit of a trademark for her.  She is one clever lady.

A small language note:  The honorific Russian form of address "Gospodin"/"Gospodina" is used on occasions in the show -- presumably to identify the mythical country in which the show is set as Slavic (clearly modelled on Montenegro).  It means "Your honour" or "Gracious lady" or something along those lines.  It is perhaps a bit less empty than the German expression "Gnaedige Frau" (which is also used).

Speaking of expressions, it is mildly interesting that women in German lands rarely refer to their husband as a husband.  They refer to him as "mein Mann" (my man).  There is a German word for husband (Ehemann) but it seems to be little used. And Frau (woman) is also used to mean "wife".

Another language note:  As the anstaendige Frau is a recurrent theme, I thought I should elaborate a little on the meaning of anstaendig.  It is reasonably translated as "respectable" but it is also often translated as "decent".  It is a claim about her good character as well as a claim about her good reputation. On one occasion she describes herself in French as a femme d' honneur and I think that best captures what is intended for the part.  It means a "woman of honor".  Interesting that the old Latin word honor is still used in both English and French with the same, original meaning. I am mildly regretful that the Old English word mensk has been completely supplanted by it.

I was a bit peeved that the French used in the show was subtitled but not translated. I haven't spent one minute studying French.  But, fortunately, my general knowledge of European languages enabled me to get most of it.

Finally, is there a political message in the operetta?  Patriotism is rather clearly held up to ridicule in it but is Lehar ridiculing Austro/Hungarian patriotism, the patriotism of small countries or ridiculing patriotism generally?  I will have to read further on that, I think. He was not himself Jewish but his wife was and he associated a lot with Jews so that may have made him skeptical of the patriotic sentiments of the time.  On the other hand he spent a lot of his early life in the armed forces, which usually encourages patriotism.  On balance, I am inclined to suspect that he saw Austro/Hungarian patriotism as excessive. His near contemporary in England, W.S. Gilbert (in the Gilbert &  Sullivan light operas) was certainly no respecter of the establishment.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A few more notes on Graefin Mariza



I am at the moment "nuts" about the 2004 performance at Moerbisch of Kalman's Graefin Mariza.  I have already written a bit about it but I think I should add a few things that might, via the magic of Google, be helpful to people looking for more information about it.  There is very little available in English about it online so far.

I think I have watched the show every night since I got the DVD some weeks ago.  It is to me great entertainment and also a perfect work of art. I even still laugh at jokes that I have heard around 30 times already!  The combination of Kalman's music and the no-expenses-spared staging at Moerbisch is hard to beat.  I love the Moerbisch steam train.

And, in the usual way for operettas, the show is exceedingly romantic.  Love is its theme.  So why the Devil do I enjoy it?  I see myself as one of the world's least romantic persons.  But as the ancient Greeks used to say, "It's a wise man who knows himself" and the fact that I have been married four times may be some evidence of that.  And I still think that I married four very fine ladies.

Moerbisch is such a prestigious venue in the world of operetta that the organizers must have had just about untrammeled choice among all the many singers of the German lands. Germans did terrible things to themselves (and others) in two world wars but artistic talent still abounds there.  So the directors at Moerbisch could demand performers who were both brilliant singers and great actors -- and pretty good dancers too.  And in 2004 they got all that.

And Dagmar Schellenberger as Mariza was the first among greats.  Her brilliant acting and rich soprano voice rather mesmerize me.  Her acting would be taken as over-acting at Hollywood but it was perfect for operetta, where realism is secondary to a great show.  I enjoy her amazingly expressive acting as much as her faultless  singing.  She must have the most expressive eyes I have ever seen. Her facial and bodily expressions are perfect for every moment of the story and convey almost as much as her singing.  She does hauteur, anger and ecstasy equally briliantly.

And I loved the comic performance by Marco Kathol as Baron Zsupan almost as much.  He is a very good tenor who, unusually, was also a ballet dancer for some years.  And his dancing background shows.  His moves are so fleet and flexible that they are a wonder to watch.  He must have been a pretty good ballet dancer too. He is a pleasure to watch.

And he is obviously still very strong and fit.  He picks up Schellenberger as easily as if she were one of the wispy little ladies of ballet. And Schellenberger looks to be a fine figure of a woman, almost a "big bizzem", as they say in Scotland.  When the character Penizek in the show checks out her "architecture" he had reason to be pleased with what he saw.  For most of the show she wears heavily "glammed up" clothes that rather disguise her body  but when she gets into her milkmaid Tracht towards the end of the show she looks very good indeed.

In another operetta, Die lustige Witwe, we find the meaning of "architecture" spelled out a little more -- as a good mezzanine and a good balcony. I think we get the drift.

All of the singers in the show performed their roles very well but it is Schellenberger and Kathol who cause me to watch it again and again.  After watching the show many times I  now laugh the minute I see Kathol roll onto the stage on his railway handcar.

The producers of the show never resolved the conflict between representing the period of the show as either the 1920s when it was written or the late 19th century in which it is set.  There were also a few references to modern times, but mainly for humorous effect.  I was rather pleased that a passing reference to the EU got a big laugh.  It is a bureaucratic monster that needs to be laughed at.

And if you do know a bit of history some strange things happen.  When Mariza asks Herr Toerek, "Haben Sie einen Frack"  he replies affirmatively.  But nobody in the show at any time wears a late 19th century Frack.  A late 19th century Frack was what was known in English as a frock coat, a long coat that belled out slightly  towards the bottom.  It was not cutaway. You occasionally see them on gamblers and the like in cowboy movies.  In Graefin Mariza formal dress is the more modern Frack of the 1920s, a tailcoat.  The producers of the show kept the original words but not the period dress.  The subtitle translators rendered Frack as "dress-shirt", which is simply wrong.  "Evening clothes" would have been better.

The best song of the show is undoubtedly the Varazdin song.  It is very catchy.  But until you try to sing it you don't realize that it is a tongue-twister too.  Kathol and Schellenberger to well to gallop energetically through it.  When I try to sing along I can't do it.  I always stumble over  Gulaschsaft (goulash juice).  The words are below:

Komm mit nach Varazdin! So lange noch die Rosen blüh'n,
Dort woll'n wir glücklich sein, wir beide ganz allein!
Du bist die schönste Fee, von Debrecen bis Plattensee,
Drum möcht mit dir ich hin nach Varazdin!
Denn meine Leidenschaft, brennt heisser noch als Gulaschsaft
Und in der Brust tanzt Herz mir Czardas her und hin!
Komm mit nach Varazdin, so lange noch die Rosen blüh'n,
Dort ist die ganze Welt noch rot, weiss, grün!

The "rot, weiss, grün" (red white and green) refers to the colours of the Hungarian flag.  The operetta is set in a grand Hungarian estate.

And I should say something about the Puszta.  It is mentioned  quite a lot both at the beginning and the end of the show.  In the subtitles, it is sometimes translated (as "prairie") and sometimes not.  As Wikipedia informatively says:  "The Hungarian puszta is an exclave of the Eurasian Steppe".  It is a large area mostly of grassland with rather infertile soils -- but the interesting part is the people who live there. Wikipedia doesn't tell you about that.  It's a hard life there and it breeds a tough people.  And it is the women of the Puszta who are idolized in Graefin Mariza.  They are seen as particularly lively and attractive  -- and, one suspects, rather easily seduced by rich Hungarian men.

Hungary generally is in fact greatly romanticized by Kalman.  And not only mainstream Hungarian society but also the Hungarian gypsies are extolled.  Gypsy music is in fact to a large degree the focus of the show.  But gypsy fortunetelling is treated with respect, as are gypsy dancers.  Why was Kalman so enthused by gypsies?  It's got to have something to do with the fact that Kalman was a Hungarian Jew (born Imre Koppstein).  Antisemitism was already rife in Vienna and elsewhere when Kalman was writing -- Nazism arose in fertile soil --  and it must have freaked him.  So was he trying to claim a new identity for himself?  Perhaps.

There is a lot to note about the language in the show.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on when the word Zigan was used.  When sung, it sounded like Sieger (victor) to me but I eventually figured out that it was just an abbreviation for Zigeuner (gypsy).

And a curiosity about the language was a roughly 50/50 split over where the emphasis should be placed on Mariza.  Is it MAHriza or MahRITza?  Schellenberger pronounces it the latter way but others do not. So either way is "correct".

There is quite a lot of wordplay in the show but you miss most of it unless you know some German. One thing that struck me as odd was when the majordomo opined that Bela Toerek was named "Bela" because he was good looking -- an allusion to the Italian "bella", meaning beautiful.  But Bela is a common Hungarian Christian name and Hungarian is unrelated to other European languages so how could he think that?  Apparently there is no agreed meaning for the name "Bela" so he was at liberty to make a romantic speculation about it.

And the split between Northern and Southern German pronuciation is referred to.  Northern Germans tend to look down on Southern Germans but Southerners don't give a damn about that.  And Fuerstin Cuddenstein, the rich aunt, is portrayed as speaking in a broad Southern way.  Like the Swiss, she says "Daitsch" instead of "Deutsch".  So she brings her German teacher, a former thespian, with her to "improve" her speech.

The translators do a manful job of turning German into English but the translations are quite "free" (non-literal).  I don't underestimate their difficulties, though.  German and English were the same language 1500 years ago but a lot has changed since then.  And the two languages do to an extent cut up reality in different ways these days.  I have made a few notes about that from my days translating the German of Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler into English.  A lot of what those two gentlemen said during their lives poses difficulties for the modern political Left so had not been available in translated form online.  So it was amusing for me to let the cat out of the bag.

So all that adds up to the fact that you get a lot more out of the show to the extent that you understand German.  Translations just cannot do the whole job of conveying the original intention of the text.  One instance of that occurs when the Graefin is declaring her intention to stay on her Gut (estate).  To deter any opposition to her decision,she adds, "sicher und sicher".  That is certainly very emphatic in German and Schellenberger's facial expression says more than words probably could anyway. But sicher literally means firm or secure so you cannot translate it well directly.  You have to use a circumlocution. And no circumlocution that I can think of is as emphatic.  So I hope that my various comments here about things in the show will help to a small degree to make up for any lack of German in those who view it.

On to the politically incorrect bit!

Anne watches a lot more ballet than I do and Russia is of course a ballet powerhouse. You only have to see magical performances such as that by Ekaterina Kondaurova as the Firebird at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersberg to know why.  And Anne remarked to me recently that she has never seen a black or Asian face in a ballet performance from Russia.  All the faces look like the faces we both grew up amongst.  You cannot usually tell one Northern European face from another just by looking at them.  A Russian could be an English person for all that looks give away.

And I notice the same in the performances I have seen from Moerbisch. I have not seen them all so maybe there has been some "diversity" there at times.  It's actually a bit of a shock to see someone who could be the person next door speaking very foreign-sounding German words.

But perhaps an old guy like me may be permitted to be pleased to be watching faces like those he grew up among.


Monday, April 6, 2015

A quiet Easter


In consideration of the fact that most restaurants would be closed over Easter, Anne came and cooked me dinner on both Friday and Saturday.  On Friday she cooked me a good non-meat dinner featuring Haloumi, mushrooms and fried eggs.  She has never been a Catholic but was for a long time married to one.  So she has got the habit of no meat on Friday.  And on Saturday we had sausages and salad.  That's pretty humble but I am something of a sausage freak so it suited us both.  And they were good sausages.

And on Sunday Anne put on one of her "3 sisters" lunches -- for her two sisters plus menfolk.  We had some excellent roast lamb.  Even the gravy was good.  I am a bit fussy about potatoes but Anne cut the potatoes up into small pieces and baked them. That went down well.

Someone at one stage mentioned saying Grace and Anne said I might.  I do occasionally do that when people of faith are present.  I usually say the famous Selkirk grace by Robert Burns.  This time, however,  I said I would do one better.  I said I would sing a Doxology as a Doxology is a song of thanks anyway.  So I did.  I sang the doxology "Praise God from whom all blessings flow ..."

It is very well-known so I got everybody onto their feet and we all sang it.  Presbyterians don't sing sitting down. And I think we all enjoyed singing it too.

Perhaps it made up a little for the fact  that Anne and I did not attend church this Easter



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Two clumsy people dining together



Recently, Joe and I unintentionally enacted  what could have been a comedy sketch called "Two clumsy people dining together".  We were at Nando's and had just received our order of chicken with side dishes of salad and rice.  None of those fattening chips for us!

Both Joe and I tend to have difficulty opening things, however, so when I opened the sachet of dressing for the salald, I managed to squirt half of it onto my shirt.  I was going to wash that shirt anyway!  Eventually, I got some of the dressing onto the salad and left it for Joe to take some salad for his plate.  He promptly knocked the salad bowl over and spilt the contents onto the table!  I picked up some of it and ate it anyway.

Fortunately the rice kept mostly to where it was intended to be but there was perhaps by the end of the dinner more of it on the table than would have been ideal.  Rice is like that in my experience

Given our shared clumsiness, Joe and I both ate the chicken with our hands. Using just knife and fork would probably have shot some of it across the room.  That does happen.  So we both ended up with very greasy hands by the end of the dinner.  As I always do, I had a hanky with me so wiped my hands on that.  Joe however just wiped his hands on his shorts -- in the best Australian male style.  He washes his shorts fairly often though.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Christian identification with Israel



I went to a hymn-singing service at Wynnum Presbyterian church today.  I am deeply moved by music and hymns are meant to be moving so I love to hear and sing the great old Protestant hymns.

A famous hymn that I enjoyed was "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah", sung to the marvellous "Cwm Rhondda" tune.  It's been sung on many great occasions in England. Here it is being sung on a very great British occasion indeed. The last verse of it is below.  At the link you can hear that verse sung by everybody who is anybody in Britain:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death and hell’s Destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

So the identification with the Children of Israel is deep into Christian culture.  God's gift of the land of Israel to the Jews is equated with salvation.  For Christians not to love Israel makes them very dubious Christians indeed

Secular people sometimes say that the Jews of today are totally different from the people who came up out of Egypt -- but to say that is to disbelieve all the promises that the Lord made to the Children of Israel.  Only pseudo-Christians or unbelievers could say that.  There are however a lot of pseuds around.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Emerich (Imre) Kalman


Who the Devil is Emerich Kalman? His name goes close to being totally forgotten these days but in the first half of the 20th century he was much acclaimed. His music was so popular that Hitler even offered to make him an honorary Aryan (Kalman was Jewish) -- an amazing distinction, whatever else it was. Kalman declined the offer and got out of Europe while the going was good.

But there is one place these days where he has not been forgotten: Moerbisch. Moerbisch is as near as you can get to being the world headquarters of operetta. Situated by a lake in Austria's beautiful Salzkammergut (Lake District), Moerbisch is to operetta as Bayreuth is to Wagner. Performances at Moerbisch are lavish. Huge sums are spent on them to make them as good a performance of the work concerned as you can possibly get.

And the audience at Moerbisch is amazing in its vastness. When the cameras cut to the audience you can see that their claim of huge audiences is fully believable. The audience goes on forever. It looks like half of Vienna is there. Does any other stage performance have an audience that big? I know of none. Perhaps in Russia.

The Moerbisch performances might almost be called "definitive" performances except for one thing: No two stage shows of any kind are ever the same (except perhaps for Shakespearean performances). The original script is taken as not much more than a set of suggestions in many cases. The producer on each occasion feels free to cut bits out and put new bits in. And for the light entertainment that is operetta that is particularly so.

That seems to me disrespectful of the talent that made the show notable in the first place but it can help by making a show more relevant to a particular time and place. And the great resources of all kinds now available in the early 21st century greatly expand what can be done -- things that would probably not be dreamed of by the original author -- but which do expand the watchability and impact of the show.

And having the great resources of Moerbisch applied to an operetta by Hungarian composer Kalman certainly produces very good musical theatre indeed. I have recently watch the 2004 Moerbisch performance of Kalman's Graefin Maritza and was quite gripped by it. The plot of the play is the sort of folly you expect from operetta -- with everybody living happily ever after by the end of the show -- but the acting and the singing were as good as can be.

And Kalman's music was both lively and inclusive of some very catchy songs. I am in fact rather amazed that the Varasdin song is not better known. It is very fun and catchy indeed. The inhabitants of the fine city of Varasdin in Northern Croatia are probably not too keen on the song as it portrays Varasdin as home to 18,000 pigs -- when Varasdin has much grander real claims than that.

Tenor Marko Kathol leads the Varasdin scene and I was much impressed by his talent. I have watched that scene over and over again. With Kalman's music and the spirited performances by both Kathol and the "Graefin" (Dagmar Schellenberger), it is so beautiful that it tends to make me weep at times (Even when sober!). I have looked Kathol up and it seems that others share my very favourable impression of his abilities. That he is a former ballet dancer certainly shows in the flexibility with which he moved at Moerbisch

Viennese operetta has a sort of frantic gaiety about it. It came into its own in the aftermath of the ghastly WWI and no city was more impacted by that war than Vienna. It lost something like 90% of the territory it once ruled. But, being the city of music, Vienna rose to the occasion and produced entertainment that both lightened the spirits and took people back to happier days. The operettas are most set in the prewar period. They have left a great musical treasure for us all.

You can view the whole Moerbisch performance of Graefin Maritza online here. But if you want English subtitles you will have to buy the DVD. The words are of course in German, but the music is international. Go to the 48 minute mark for the marvellous Varasdin song ("Komm mit nach Varasdin"). The words of the song are here

There is a nice picture below of the very expressive Dagmar Schellenberger in her role as the Graefin at Moerbisch in 2004. She is both a most accomplished soprano and a superb actress.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fledermaus


I am writing down these notes as an aide memoire to myself.  I have just watched (twice) the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Strauss's Die Fledermaus and want to note my impressions of it before I forget them. The time travel concerned was made possible by a DVD.


Hermann Prey and Kiri te Kanawa pictured in the finale

The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is everything you expect of an Opera House -- a large and ornate building  that gives the impression of a no-expenses-spared project.  I was pleased to see the the stage curtains featured prominently the Royal cipher (EIIR).

The opera itself was brilliant entertainment, with lots of laughs in it, particularly in Act 3.  It was almost as madcap as Gilbert & Sullivan (NOTHING can be as madcap as Trial by Jury).  It well deserves the innumerable performances that have been done of it.

Perhaps because of my interest in languages, the scene that amused me most was when the husband and the jailer were introduced as Frenchmen and they had to pretend to speak French to one-another even though they knew just about as much French as I do, which is very little. They managed a few common but totally unconnected French words and even threw in a bit of Italian.

I can get by in reading French to some extent because I have a general knowledge of European languages but I have never studied it.  I recently translated some Afrikaans, though.  So that may explain why I was so amused by the scene.  I couldn't watch it right through the second time around because it was so funny.  I am like that with Mr Bean too.  He is so unbearably funny that I have to switch off the recording half way through and watch the second half another day.  Do Leftists have a sense of humour that strong?  I can't imagine it.

Quoting excerpts from earlier operettas in a new operetta seems to be rather commonly done.  Nobody seems bothered about plagiarism.   So when Prey burst into a good rendition of Flotter Geist (from Zigeuner Baron) during the party entertainment segment it was simply appreciated as a good performance.  I imagine he has sung the whole of that part on occasions.

Another amusing reference was in Act 3 when the drunken jail warder asked the conductor to play the music for a Radames aria from "Aida" so he could sing it.  He made a hash of it of course but the conductor was the omnipresent Placido Domingo, who has sung the part of Radames on many occasions, so we had the odd and amusing sight of the conductor singing along to help out a singer with a song.  Very creative!

And a  big surprise was the appearance in the party entertainment  segment of every woman's favourite soulful singer -- "Sharl" Aznavour -- playing, what else, Charles Aznavour. To get him along in a cameo role was undoubtedly a bit of a coup for the production.  You don't have to understand a word Aznavour sings to get the soulfulness.  He is a mobile evocation of tragedy. He is not my cup of tea at all but he is undoubtedly a supreme master of his genre.

And the dancing was surprisingly good too.  The dancing in operas and operettas can be pretty basic.  I have an example in mind -- from Britain -- but will not be so unkind as to record it.  So when the ballet company floated into the party entertainment scene it was a real pleasure

The chief male dancer impressed me.  It is of course routine for male dancers to lift the ballerina above their heads at some stage, though few have been as good at it as Nureyev.  He would lift the lady up with two hands and then hold her there briefy with one hand -- a great feat of strength.  And the dancer on this occasion was even better.  He exited holding the ballerina above his head -- with his grip on just one of her ankles. Just holding her there would be pretty good, let alone walking off with her like that.  Update:  On further viewing he seems to have a hand on his lady's bottom too.  But it is still quite a feat.

And where did the director get the "two old ladies" segment?  It seemed straight out of vaudeville.  Does vaudeville still exist somewhere in England?  Maybe in the clubs.  It was very amusing.

And I was rather pleased at how un-Islamic the show was.  It featured a huge amount of alcoholic imbibing and not a little of  amusing drunkenness.  Towards the end the whole proceedings were said to be a celebration of Champagne!  I think I too would blow myself up if I were a Muslim.  Though I was in fact teetotal until my late 20s.  I was very skinny in my youth and I used to wonder what I could eat or drink to put on a bit of weight.  In my late 20s I found the answer: beer!

Speaking of 21st century concerns, I was pleased at how good the ethnic stereotyping was in the casting. Ethnic stereotypes are absolutely verboten these days but they have been something of an interest of mine. I have even written academic articles on the subject (here and  here). So I was pleased to see that the Italian music master could not have been more Southern Italian in appearance and manners:  A Neapolitanian, I would have thought. But he was in fact Welsh-born Dennis O'Neill.  Maybe his dark eyes and heavy eyebrows helped. And I was initially a bit critical of "Dr Falke" looking so English -- but I note now that he is introduced as "from London" -- so the casting director and I obviously thought similarly.  And Hermann Prey looked as German as he is.

The performance as a whole was a distinguished one indeed.  Getting Kiri te Kanawa as leading lady was a coup and she was at her very good best.  She both sang and acted admirably.  Though  in the acclaimed czardas scene it seemed a bit  strange to me to have a half-Maori lady proclaiming her passionate love of her Hungarian homeland!  I guess my interest in ethnic matters betrayed me there. And Hermann Prey as the husband was in his element. His expression when his wife was expounding his sins in Act 3 was very well and amusingly done.

So what did I not like about the production?  I LOATHED the "trouser role", where the Prince was played by a bald-headed woman.  The role was originally written that way but I am obviously not alone in my response to it --  as quite a lot of productions have put a man into the role.  And couldn't they at least have put some hair on her?  A bald-headed woman is a tragedy. The lady sang well enough but looking at her was a pain.

I suppose the producer at Covent Garden was being true to the text in casting that role but I wish he had been true to the text throughout. He clearly couldn't decide whether to produce the show in German or English.  It was mostly in German but also substantially in English.  Because I have a degree of age-related hearing loss, I understood the German better -- because it had subtitles -- while  the English did not.  The English bits were mainly to get laughs  -- which succeeded -- but why not be done with it and produce the whole thing in English? Kiri te Kanawa is of course a native English speaker and I can't imagine that the other singers would have had any difficulty.

Many patrons of the arts are elderly and reduced hearing is a normal part of aging so all recordings of operas and operettas should be fully subtitled, just as all live performances should include supertext.

And whatever limitations the show had were all more than made up for by Strauss's wonderful music.  The profundity of J.S. Bach is my musical home but you would have to be a sad soul indeed not to hear the joy that is in the music of Johann Strauss II. Unlike some others I have seen recently, I will be viewing this show again.

Anybody interested can watch the whole thing online here -- with subtitles.

UPDATE from May, 2015:  I have just watched the show again and am even more grouchy about the trouser role this time.  I can see absolutely no artistic merit in having a bald woman in that role. Major performances of operetta usually have quite masculine-looking men in  important male roles.  I looked aside for most of the time when she was in focus.  Opera directors have substantial interpretive leeway so it seems a pity that this folly was continued.  Though maybe  he would have risked the wrath of feminists if he had changed it.

Why did Strauss specify a woman for that role?  There were frequent tensions between Austria and Russia around the turn of the century -- tensions that eventually gave us a world war.  So maybe casting a bald woman as a Russian prince was meant to be derisive, a derisive comment on Russians.  If so, it seems regrettable that a now obsolete political statement has been continued.

The ending was a trifle outside operetta conventions.  Normally at that point all the separated lovers get together and vow marriage.  But on this occasion the leading couple were already married.  Their marriage was however under tension as a result of the machinations of the bat so the ending consisted of the couple reaffirming their married bliss.  Only a touch outside convention!

Before I close off my comments here I am however going to mention something totally wicked -- something that will damn me to Hell for all time:  Sex appeal.  How dare anybody introduce a Hollywood term into a discussion within the world of Austro-Hungarian operetta?

But I am going to do it.  IMHO none of the ladies in this show had sex-appeal.  Kiri te Kanawa has a marvellous warm soprano voice, is a good actress and has pleasant looks -- but IMHO she has NO sex-appeal.  There! I have said it,  I have uttered a great blasphemy.

But I have something of a reputation for political incorrectness. I make something of a point of it, in fact.  So I am unabashed to call something as I see it.

But this was of course an English production of something from deep in old Austria-Hungary.  And when I think of Austrian or South German productions of THEIR operettas, I think of gorgeous ladies such as Zabine Kapfinger, Anja Katharina Wigger, Dagmar Schellenberger and Ute Gfrerer.  Wigger is basically just a slim blonde but, in her 2008 performance at Moerbisch, she just oozes sex-appeal. So I  can imagine a more appealing production of Strauss's wonderful creation.  Maybe I will find one online.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Was Paganini a psychopath?


Paganini was a brilliant violinist in the 19th century but what else do we know about him?

Franz Lehar wrote an operetta about him called, unsurprisingly, Paganini.  And the operetta seems to be pretty historically accurate as far as I can see.  Paganini is portrayed as a compulsive womanizer and gambler, which he was.  Even his gambling away his violin is historically accurate.  So the operetta would seem to be an insightful recreation of the man.

And, given my psychology background I can say with confidence that what Lehar portrays is a psychopath, and a pretty reprehensible one at that.  Psychopathy was one of my research interests during my academic career and I have had a couple of research articles on the subject published in the academic literature. See here and here.  I have also written about it more recently here

Psychopaths very often have a magnetic appeal to women -- mainly because the psychopath tells the woman whatever she wants to hear  -- whether it is true or not.  And Paganini's approach to women is also just that.  But psychopaths tend to become unglued when their lies become evident.  And Paganini did. And the way the Princess sticks to him despite great disappointments is also very typical.  Women are reluctant to abandon the wonderful illusion that the psychopath has created and think they can make it come true if they try hard enough. So if anyone would like to see how psychopaths do it, Lehar's operetta would be a good start.

In the circumstances the ending of the operetta has to be low key by operetta standards.  The parties simply go their different ways.  At least the death and damnation of an opera ending is not seen.