Old folk at lunch

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


An escape and an anniversary

On Monday, Nanna had a bad turn.  So Jenny rushed her to the QE2 hospital.  You don't take risks with the health of a lady in her '90s.  By Monday evening she was fine however so came home. So Joe arranged a small celebratory dinner -- celebrating her escape from hospital.  We went to a nearby Thai restaurant. I shouted.

Nanna was in fact quite perky at the dinner -- which we were all glad to see. I had some excellent roast duck and Joe had a chicken dish.  The duck was described on the menu as deboned so when I saw that I said, "Well. There won't be much duck left!"  But I was wrong.  It was a reasonable sized meal. I took along a bottle of Barossa Pearl to aid the deliberations, which was, as usual, well-received

Then on Tuesday it was 10 years since Anne and I met.  So we had an anniversary dinner. We dined at home at my place.  I opened a bottle of 2008 Grange to enliven us and found some very nice lamb cutlets for the main course.  Anne fried them up for us and they were very tender and full of flavour.  Anne brought along oysters and prawns for starters and I got some Persian fetta to add to the salad.  And Anne brought along two mini-Tortes for dessert.  So the food was as good as can be.  And I fired up the candelabrum so we had a genuine candle-lit dinner!

I told Joe about the dinner in advance and said that I could probably spare him and Kate half a glass of Grange each.  But he didn't like Grange when he first tried it about 5 years ago so he declined.   I wonder what Kate thought about that.  Not getting a taste for Grange is probably wise, though. The 2008 vintage was a great drop IMHO.  I chambered it for about 3 days so it was very clear, with no sediment until the very bottom.

I did make a couple of drunken attempts at singing "Some enchanted evening".  It's the only song I can sing! Anne gave the opening toast for the dinner, wishing us another good ten years.  I drank to that.

There was an amusing sequel next morning.  There were a couple of cooked cutlets left over so I said for Anne to take them home with her for her lunch.  She said, "Won't you eat them?" with proper ladylike reluctance.  I replied, "I certainly will".  She replied "Then I'll take them!"  Concern for my waistline trumped everything else!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mr. Steak


For evening meals, I have been going a bit lately to a cafe called "Mr. Steak" -- located  opposite the PA hospital.  For a while I went there for breakfast too.  His big breakfast really deserved the name.  It did however have a discernible effect on my waistline so I no longer do that.

Anyway, Mr. Steak himself is, rather surprisingly, a very jolly Chinese man.  Yet he has no Chinese food on his menu.  It is all traditional Australian food.  But he sure knows how to cook it. He advertises himself as a former chef at a 5-star hotel so he has something to live up to. But he does.

His steakburgers are the best I have had.  The fat and gristle that one normally encounters in a steakburger are a bit of a bugbear to me but I don't get that to any extent from Mr. Steak.  He advertises that he uses quality steak and it seems he does.  It is minute steak he puts on his burgers -- cooked medium to medium rare.

And his pork sausages taste unusually good too.  He must use a secret sauce with lots of "umami" in it, I think.  And a lot of his customers are Chinese, even though he does not serve Chinese food!  There must be a lesson there somewhere.

I took Joe and Kate there a week ago for a very congenial dinner and they were favourably impressed with the food too.  The setting is humble but it is the food that counts.  And although I eat a lot of ethnic food, I still like my ethnic Australian food.

I even think his coffee is pretty good, though I am no coffee connoisseur.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Australia's national cheese


Nobody that I know seems to have realized it but Australia has a national cheese.  We all know and love our national toast and sandwich spread -- Vegemite -- but we are, if anything, even more focused on one type of cheese.

The French would of course think of us as insane and the Brits too might be a bit scornful -- except for the fact that they too have a well-acknowledged national cheese of their own: Cheddar.

But our national cheese is far more pervasive than Cheddar. When I go into the dairy aisle of my local Woolworths supermarket there are yards of shelf space devoted to it, with other types of cheese almost totally absent.  On the very top shelf there are very small quantities of a few "foreign" cheeses: Jarlsberg, Romano, Havarti, Mascarpone etc.

So what is this remarkable cheese?  It is -- most unimaginatively -- called "Tasty". And it certainly is tasty.  Various dairies make it under their own brand but it is always identified as "Tasty".  And I for one cannot tell the product of one dairy from another.  It really is the same cheese that they are all making.  You can get it in various sized packs and you can even get it grated but Tasty it is.

When I first started work as a NSW public servant in central Sydney in 1968, I worked in a building that had a cafeteria in the basement.  We all went there to order our sandwiches, pies, Chester cakes et.

I was saddened when I visited Chester in England in 1977 and asked for a Chester cake.  I was told: "No.  We only do those on Wednesday".  They did them every day in Sydney.

Chester cakes

And if you ordered any type of a cheese sandwich from the basement cafeteria, the sandwich lady would say: "Mild or Tasty"? and point to the two trays of sliced cheese in front of her.  Even at that stage, I was surprised at the limited offering but it now seems to have become even more extreme.  Packs of "Mild" have to be searched for.  Sometimes there is only one there.

The only other offering from more than one dairy that you see is  "Colby".  That is a smoother and milder product than Tasty. After many years of eating Tasty, I am now a Colby man.  You also see "Coon" cheese but it tastes the same as a "Tasty" to me.  Perhaps I should do a blind tasting sometime.

There was at one stage a claim that "Coon" was a naughty word -- politically incorrect.  But it seems to have survived that onslaught.

And then there is the sliced cheese section.  Again Tasty dominates but a surprising thing is that the "Home Brand" stuff is unlike any of the block cheese.  It is a very mild, Cheddar-type cheese.  So if you like Cheddar cheese you have to buy it pre-sliced!






Thursday, August 6, 2015

Die Dollarprinzessin


The scene above is of Alice dictating typing to Freddy

The story

The show is about America imagined from Austria of the late Belle Époque era.  First performed in 1907. My version is a cinematic performance from 1971 with Kurt Graunke and his merry band. Critics tend to pan these "made for TV" performances but beggars can't be choosers.  They are the only way of accessing some operettas these days.

It's an amusing fantasy of an American billionaire who entertains himself by employing impoverished European aristocrats as servants.

He also has a good looking daughter ("Alice", played by Gabriele Jacoby) with rather feminist views.  So can a handsome European man (Gerhart Lippert as "Freddy") subdue her independence and get her to pursue and marry him?  Of course.  This is operetta!

Her initial role was as a cynical woman who thought that money alone mattered and that women should rule the roost.  Her attitudes were in fact much like what I hear about JAPs (Jewish American Princesses).  The JAPs are basically a sad lot as the actually available Irvings and Sheldons can rarely satisfy them.  Alice, however, has a weak spot for good looks and falls in love with "Freddy" (Gerhart Lippert) a handsome man who is also a strong character.  

So she ends up vowing subservience!  She gives her life to him!  ("Ich geb' mein Leben dir allein")! Then she joins him in singing that in their togetherness, each Haelt alles Glueck der Welt ("holds all the happiness of the world"!).  And when she discovers that he is rich after all, she says "Ich liebe dich trotzdem" ("I love you anyway").

Fabulously romantic but feminists would be ill about it!

And the rich paterfamilias is also won over by "Olga", a shapely European circus lady who pretends to be an aristocrat. And in the end all the parties are happy with their loved partners!

There is even a third theme (with "Daisy") where another challenged couple end up married too.  A true Viennese operetta!  THREE happy couples!

The Dollarprinzessin title comes from Freddy's big aria in the middle of the show -- where he refuses to marry Alice as  merely a business transaction.  In true operetta style he loves her and both of them know it but difficulties have to be overcome! He accuses the various young women from rich families who are present at the engagement ball as being  "dollar princesses" who are basically spoilt, think money can buy everything and have poor taste:  A superb way of getting a confident lady really interested in him. It works!

But it is also of course a typical European view of America -- as tasteless money-worshippers.  That view survives to this day.

The cast

Imposing German singer Tatjana Iwanow was very convincing as the seductive Olga.  She was a fine figure of a woman and good looking generally.  She looked in the prime of life but sadly, died only 9 years later of cancer at the age of 54. In life she married 3 times so her looks were obviously appreciated outside the show.  Her father was a Russian Czarist army officer, hence the Russian name.

"Olga" in the centre;  "Miss Mibbs" to the left

The Austrian Gabriele Jacoby as Alice was also a fine figure of a woman  -- a clever lady with both a beautiful face and good "architecture", as they say in operetta.

She also had striking blue eyes and an expressive way of using them. Sopranos vary a lot in the way they use their eyes for expresive purposes and they use their eyes in quite different ways too.  Jacoby is the champion of the sideways glance, which she used to good humorous effect.  Other singers must use that glance too but I can't recall noticing it.  The star who uses her eyes most expressively would have to be Ingeborg Hallstein, followed closely by Dagmar Schellenberger.  And I would put Jacoby third after them. She is definitely worth watching!
  
An unusual feature of her looks is that she has a pronounced "strong" chin, one that would normally be seen on a man only.  Women tend to have receding chins, which is why men with receding chins are often seen as "weak".  

The mediating factor leading to a strong chin is almost certainly a high testosterone level in utero and that should continue at least in part into later life.  And one thing we know is that testosterone gives women a strong sex drive, often strong enough to survive the "change of life".  A big proportion of women lose their sex drive entirely after menopause, being barely able to remember "what that was all about".  Not so women with good testosterone levels.  So I will speculate, with no hopes of ever finding out, that Jacoby was pretty good in bed, as well as all her other admirable attributes.  She apparently didn't marry until she was 44, which could mean many things.

She was born in 1944 so was 27 at the time of the show so youthful looks helped too. She is the daughter of Third Reich superstar Marika Rökk, a Hungarian.  Her father was a prominent  director of stage and film for many years and was a Nazi party member in that era.  So she is not Jewish, even though "Jacoby" is sometimes a Jewish surname.  See her below with her billionaire "father" (Horst Niendorf) and then at her initial meeting with "Freddy". Finally as she is today, still a fine-looking woman.




Miss Mibbs was well and amusingly played by Kaete Jaenicke and Dora the Saloon proprietress played by Ingrid van Bergen was quite a character, singing in a very Marlene Dietrich sort of way. Her rather extreme makeup as she prepared her cabaret  amused me.  She would have been 40 at the time of the show. A youthful picture of her below.


And may I mention that the Austrian view of blue eyes as treu is honored.  Freddy, Alice and Olga all have pretty blue eyes.

Other details

The singing in the show was cabaret style rather than operatic. That was pleasant and amusing enough but I did rather miss the excitement of real operatic singing.  There are some wonderful operatic arias in other operettas -- Wiener Blut, Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum etc.

And the show does to an extent reflect the time in which it was recorded rather than the time in which it was composed. At the end, for instance, "Freddy" gets his lady to go upstairs with him by just a wink.  I remember something of that myself in the party days of the '60s and '70s.

There are frequent references in the show to "Gotha" so I thought it might be worthwhile to mention that the reference is to "The Almanach de Gotha", a directory of Europe's royalty and higher nobility, from a German perspective. It gave  genealogical, biographical and titulary details of Europe's highest level of aristocracy.

A speculation:  Why is the billionaire's surname given as "Couder"?  Names in operetta are often allusory. Many of the names in Lustige Witwe refer to Montenegrin dignitaries, for instance, thus identifying "Pontevedrin" as Montenegro. "Couder" is mainly a French name but not a particularly distinguished one. It is also a rather rude piece of modern English slang. "Kauder" in German means to talk gibberish but it is hard to see a connection with that.  

At the risk of being too clever altogether, I have another idea.  The Dutch cheese known as "Gouda" is pronounced by the Dutch very similarly to the way "Couder" is pronounced in the show.  And a big boss is often referred to in American slang as "The big cheese". Did Leo Fall or one of his librettists know some Dutch?  I suspect so.

One should not look for serious themes in operetta but Leo Fall  clearly had one in mind in creating this show.  He pushes it in both the "Alice" and "Daisy" story.  And I think he is right! What he implies is that female assertiveness is inimical to love.  The ladies of course get their way in the end but they have to be nice about it!  

Feminists would hate it but this is in fact a celebration of traditional sex roles.  Accepting such differences and working within them is needed for good male/female relationships.  It's only modern madness that would claim otherwise.  Most  women HATE to have a man they can push around. They want a man with a mind of his own. "Daisy" says that explicitly and I have certainly seen it  in life. And equality is a snark.

Some good excerpts here.  The whole show seems to be online here.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

A celebration of birthdays



July is birthday month in the family so we had lots of joint celebrations of that.  A final celebration was tonight, with a particular focus on celebrating Nanna's 91st.  She is in remarkable health for her age and to the rest of us seems just the same as she has always been.  But birthdays in the 90s become increasingly rare so each must be celebrated with particular appreciation.

At Nanna's request we went to a nearby Chinese restaurant that she likes.  We had 9 adults and two kiddies at a spacious round table and a great variety of excellent food arrived on it. Because he was away for four years it is always appreciated when Joe can join us at dinners and this time he brought his fair lady along.  She is VERY fair, with brilliant blue eyes but unpredictable hair colour.  And my brother and his wife came along this time too. There are lots of July birthdays among his nearest and dearest -- including his daughter -- so celebrating July birthdays seemed apt to him.

Suz, Russell and the kids were good to see there too. A family occasion would not be the same without kids, IMHO. And two lots of the relevant kids live far away these days -- at opposite ends of the earth, in fact.  Paul, Von and respective families were of course remembered, with particular interest in Paul being a new Basil Fawlty -- but a competent one.  Jenny updated us all with how Paul and Co. were going.  She Skypes a lot with her distant  children.

I brought along both a bottle of Seaview champagne and a bottle of Barossa Pearl so that helped the deliberations a bit.  Despite being vastly unprestigious, Barossa Pearl always goes down well.  I am glad its makers have revived it.

At one stage I was urging Joe to try it -- which he did -- when his mother told him to watch his drinking while he was driving. Joe was unimpressed with that advice and I remarked to him that he had just seen the difference between mothers and fathers before him:  With his father urging him to drink up and his mother telling him not to! Other than that, I can't for the life of me remember what we all talked about.  Just family things, I guess.

Jenny assisted me with the ordering and stood guard while I was paying the bill.  She knows the restaurant well --  as it is "gluten-free" -- and I am a bit vague and deaf in my old age, so assistance with daily tasks is always helpful.

After the dinner we adjourned to Jenny's place for tea, coffee and a Shingle Inn cake.  The only discussion I can remember from then is one about croup.  Joe didn't know what croup was but he has a cough at the moment so I assured him that he had croup.  The mothers present politely refrained from disagreeing.

Somebody asked me how my birthday went but, in my usual form, I could not remember straight off.  As he has done before, however, Joe assured everyone that I had got a card. I am not sure if everyone realized he was talking about a new card he had installed in my computer.  It enables me to run my computer off a modern TV.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Fledermaus at Moerbisch



I obtained the DVD of the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Fledermaus some time back and, though it was generally very good, there were a few things I didn't like about it so I wanted to see the Moerbisch version, which, as it happens, was Harald Serafin's last production (in 2012), before handing over to Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin.

The casting

And I did like the Moerbisch version better. The role of "Adele" is a very important one in the show, arguably as important as "Rosalinde", so I was disappointed that the Covent Garden director cast a rather chunky-looking lady in the "Adele" role. She was just not a plausible romantic figure.  

Serafin put Austrian soprano Daniela Fally into the role and I thought she was marvellous in every way in it. She is slim, not really a great beauty, but she is certainly a great singer and actress.  When she opens her mouth wide and belts out those big soprano notes, it's Zauberfluss -- as Goethe might have said (Faust). She's a lovely lady, however you look at it.

And I am not alone in that opinion. Others have gushed over her in that role too.  I am rather lost for words after the encyclopedic praise heaped on her by others so I will just repeat one comment I particularly agreed with:  "Daniela Fally’s Adele is so charming and so brilliant that the leads seem forgettable by comparison".

And at the risk of being banal, it seems to me fitting that the home of operetta -- Austria -- should produce a brilliant operetta interpreter.  She is brilliantly expressive in an operetta role but would that be too much in other settings? Possibly

Harald Serafin seems to have put her in the role before anyone else of note so he really started the ball rolling there. The encomia I have mentioned were all later than 2012.

Fally in full voice, the "Prince" on the left and Daniel Serafin (the bat) on the right

Fally as Bardot?

Harald Serafin also put his son Daniel into a major role in the show -- as "The Bat".  But Daniel looked good and performed well so that was fine.  As a big, well-built man, I thought he fitted the dominant part of "The bat" particularly well. I like manly men in operetta. He will have done well for his career by his performance there.

I greatly dislike trouser roles and the lady chosen to play the prince at Covent garden earned the full measure of my dislike in that regard.  She was even a BALD woman (Yuk, yuk!).  At Moerbisch, however, Harald Serafin cast Ukrainian mezzo Zoryana Kushpler in the role and I didn't mind her at all.  Like a lot of people from the Slavic lands she has the rather broad face that is a legacy of the Mongol occupation so -- combined with a very severe hairstyle -- looked somewhat masculine. And, despite repeatedly declaring everything langweilig (boring) at the beginning of the show she in fact sang along and showed emotional involvement throughout most of the show.  She showed notable rapture over the czardas.  And she dominated the Duzen scene. She did well.  

The czardas scene:  The version by Kiri te Kanawa in the Covent Garden version of the show has been acclaimed as the definitive version of a czardas so how did the version in this show stack up?  How well did Viennese soprano Alexandra Reinprecht do by comparison?  I am inclined to agree that Kiri was slightly better but Reinprecht was still very good and moved around more while singing -- which added expression. Since the Csardas was originally a dance, Kiri's very static performance was quite old-fashioned

In my eccentric way, I also liked an Austrian soprano singing of her love for her Hungarian homeland.  Austria is a lot closer to Hungary (right next door) than New Zealand, where Kiri hails from.  And the association of Austria with Hungary is of course historic. 

Alexandra Reinprecht would have been in her mid-30s in 2012 (as with many sopranos, her actual DoB seems to be a State Secret) and I liked her womanly appearance in the role better than I liked the looks of Kiri te Kanawa.  For this show Serafin seems to have "borrowed" Reinprecht from the Wiener Staatsoper, where she had already played the role of Rosalinde -- so she had to be very good.

I am critical of a few things Harald Serafin did over the years  as Intendant at Moerbisch but I have no criticism of him as an actor and singer.  It is always a pleasure to see him appear in a show.  And at age 80 on this occasion he still had it all.  He adds an air of jollity and good humour to everything he does.  He of course gets to choose the role that suits him but he has great talent for what he does.  I noticed that he managed to sit and dance with Daniela Fally quite a lot.  A privilege of also being Intendant!

Harald Serafin with Fally and "Ida" in the jail scene

Young Serafin also spent a lot of time with "Ida" during the show.

I did not like "Alfred", the music teacher, much.  He sang well but he looked like a Mafioso to me.  He was in fact an Australian  -- Angus Wood.  So maybe that shows how much I know! Why he was wearing such vast boots is a question.  "Ugg boots" were an Australian invention so maybe that was it.  An amusing Austrian impression of Australia!

As the butt of most of the jokes, Herbert Lippert, as "Eisenstein" undoubtedly acted and sang well.  He acted very amusingly as the fake lawyer.  Reinprecht acted well in that bracket too.  She showed there how expressive she can be.

There were quite a lot of grisettes (can-can type dancers) in the show so there were a lot of lovely legs on display. As I am something of a leg-man, I liked that. My last (and I mean last) wife was 5'11" tall and a lady that tall has to have a lot of leg. She had lots else as well, of course.  In pre-emptive reply to the usual feminist challenge, I think I had pretty good legs myself in my day.  They were my only good bit!

At first, I thought that the duzen scene led by young Serafin was an interpolation.  Young people in the German lands do normally these days address one-another "per du" (informally) so it was perfectly contemporary to have Daniel Serafin encouraging that usage, but I could not imagine Strauss and his librettists even thinking of such a scene in 1874.  Millocker used such speech for comic effect in Bettelstudent (1882) but this show was praising it.  It seems however that I was wrong about it being an interpolation.  The Covent Garden version had the same scene -- totally unsubtitled!  That was a coward's way out of an admittedly difficult translation task.  More attempt to praise informality could surely have been attempted. As it was, that scene would have been pretty obscure to the English listeners.

Anyway, ending that scene with the Strauss "Donner und Blitz" polka certainly woke everybody up.  And the constant Strauss waltzes throughout the show were wonderful, of course.

Humour in the show

The whole show was of course a very good farce, but, aside from that, the funny bits were mostly in the second half of the show, particularly in the localizations. Stage shows are very often localized for the particular audience so the localizations this time were different from the Covent Garden offering.  The Covent Garden show even included a performance by "Sharl" Aznavour for some inscrutable reason.  Even Aznavour himself looked a bit embarrassed to be there on that occasion. 

The opening scene with the drunken prison guard was particularly rich with humorous localizations this time. It was one big comedy scene, in fact. There was mention of Lucas Auer, an Austrian racing driver, and of David Alaba, an Austrian-born black footballer.  

And the Finanzministerin (Maria Fekter) was mocked for using an English expression in her speech -- the word "shortly".  That usage became quite famous and even gets a mention in German Wikipedia.  It related to an EU financial crisis:  

Im Rahmen einer EU-Krisensitzung zur Schuldenkrise am 13. Juli 2011 meinte Fekter: „Die Zeit, die wir uns gegeben haben, ist shortly. Und auf Ihre Frage, was das heißt, sage ich Ihnen: shortly, without von delay“. Im Dezember 2011 wurde „shortly, without von delay“ zu Österreichs „Spruch des Jahres 2011“ gewählt". ("In December 2011 "shortly, without von delay" was chosen as Austria's Saying of the Year").  

That saying was actually repeated in the operetta. It seems to have been very funny to Austrians. With their own massive cultural and historical inheritance I suppose that any any deference to another culture seems absurd.

There were actually a lot of references to Austrian current affairs in the drunken scene and only a minority of them got a laugh from the audience.  I actually found some of them funnier than the audience did.  There were mocking references to "transparency", which Obama critics could relate to, and the tendency of witnesses at official enquiries to have very bad memories was familiar. That was in fact heavily satirized by the drunken jailer.  There were also critical references to political party funding so once again one has to say: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

Another entertainment in the show was various mentions of Moebisch in the script. The Moerbisch mosquitoes were yet again complained of and pity was shown for Moerbisch singers.  There was even a silly rhyme of Moerbisch with "Dervish"

The drunker jailer also contributed to the self-referencing.  When "Alfred" sang an invitation for him to sing, he replied: "No.  I have a speaking role"

The scene of the two impostors pretending to speak French was not as well done this time.  The Covent Garden version was hilarious but this time the scene mainly seemed tedious to me.

Wrap-up

In comparing the Covent Garden and Moerbisch performances there was no contest. Both were brilliant entertainments for their respective audiences. Both the London producers and Harald Serafin had the whole world to draw on for the casting.  The difference is that Serafin knew well the rich cultural scene of his own German lands.  And he drew on that.  And in so doing he made NO mistakes. He avoided a grotesque bald woman as the Prince and he picked a brilliant young singer/actor as "Adele".  His long experience delivered the goods. 

I have given away my DVD of the Covent Garden show.  That bald woman really revolted me: She was repellent throughout -- whereas Serafin's "Prince" was actually quite warm for most of the show. The Covent Garden "Prince" was the worst bit of casting I have seen.  A great pity in an otherwise entertaining production. Even in the trouser role of Handel's Giulio Cesare, as presented in 2006 at Glyndebourne, the woman at least had hair!

Because I was comparing the Moerbisch show with the Covent Garden show rather a lot, I have focused on the casting at Moerbisch above but my general comments about the operetta from last March still stand as a response to this operetta in general.

The ending was rather jolly but for once did not feature reunited lovers.  The erring husband was however provisionally forgiven by his wife so that served as a happy ending.

I take an interest in who  gets the most applause when the actors parade at the end of a show and Harald Serafin got the big applause this time. He would by now be a beloved figure to regulars at Moerbisch so that was perfectly appropriate. For him to be still performing well at age 80 was a wonder.  A lifetime in operetta no doubt helped.

And Daniela Fally got a lot of applause too, second to Serafin --  richly deserved.  I am still smiling as I bring some of her scenes to mind. That was a good line when she claimed to have a "margarine", instead of a "migraine".  And her performance of her big aria "Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie" ("The Laughing Song") was triumphant, with a very satisfactory high note at the end.

There are some extensive excerpts of the show online here.  Rather low resolution, unfortunately.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Yuja Wang





I have listened to a lot of piano over the years but Yuja Wang is the best pianist I have ever heard. Beijing has been kind to us.  An interview of sorts with her here

Friday, July 24, 2015

Some reflections about education



I guess lots of people have heard old fogies like me complaining  that education "ain't what it used to be". And of course it is not.  The world of today is different from the past and education must reflect that to some extent.  

A century ago, a "Greekless" person was regarded as not fully educated, for instance.  Even if you were not fluent in ancient Greek, you were expected to know the more famous quotations and be able to at least figure out the bits that you did not know.  These days a knowledge of html is much more important and helpful.  It certainly makes blogging easier.

But good stuff has undoubtedly been lost in today's schools and replaced with blah. Important areas of cultural awareness have been supplanted by lessons about fluid sexual identities and the importance of saving the planet! Not to mention the evils of patriarchy and lies about Hitler being a conservative.

And it takes us old guys to be aware of that.  If you have never been exposed to something you cannot know what you have missed. And to have missed exposure to our great cultural heritage is a great loss indeed.  There is, of course, culture of all sorts. But what I am talking about is areas of enjoyment that have stood the test of time.  And poetry, literature and music are such areas. 

Contrary to what Leftists seem to believe, the world did not begin yesterday.  It's possible that half of all the great minds that have ever existed are alive today -- but what about the other half?  And the traditional role of education was to tell us about that other half

And it is particularly in the area of culture that the other half is important.  Scientists, engineers and philosophers of the past have now mostly been completely superseded.  Isaac Newton, for instance, was brilliant in his day but physics has long gone beyond him in its understanding of the universe.  But cultural contributions are really never superseded.  Monteverdi might have written the Vespro della Beata Vergine 400 years ago but  it is still performed and enjoyed to this day.  And, for religious music, no-one has surpassed J.S. Bach, who lived from 1685 to 1750.

And its the same in poetry.  Poets like Coleridge and Tennyson just simply cannot be replaced.  They are sui generis and give particular pleasures that no-one else does.  There are other good poets but to miss out of Tennyson and Coleridge is to miss out on much of the pleasure that poetry can bring.  Tennyson died in 1892. Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in 1834.  And if you like poetry but know nothing of either of those dead white men, you have simply missed out on a great experience.

So I am glad that I went to school when the importance of the culture of the past was still recognized.  In the '50s I went to a totally undistinguished Australian country school but came away from it not only with some knowledge of mathematics, chemistry  and physics but also a knowledge of the great poets, a basic grasp of Latin and Italian -- and a good introduction to the language and literature of Germany.  At age 15 I was even learning to recite and sing Schubert Lieder  in the original German.  And I knew English language poems by Tennyson and others by heart.  And it was also courtesy of my school that, at age 13 or thereabouts, I first heard Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

But most of that will be Greek to young readers today.  They have no idea of how much enjoyment and satisfaction has been hidden from them.

So how come I learnt all that highbrow stuff in a country school half a world away from where it originated?  It was basically because Britain's very prestigious "public" (meaning private!) schools taught that sort of thing.  And because of the acknowledged excellence of such schools, they became a model that everyone wanted to emulate.  I was, in short, taught a curriculum not too different from what I would have got at Eton.

But nowadays everything from the past is wrong in our Left-dominated educational system so Eton traditions are the last thing that a "modern" educator would respect.

And yet the past can be so helpful.  Readers of novels, for instance, always have the problem that you usually have to read a fair bit of a novel before you know whether it is any good.  Without guidance of some sort you cannot know in advance whether a novel is worth reading and you can waste a lot of time on something that in the end gives you nothing.

But classic novels are classics because lots of people have found them good over a long period of time and recommended them to others.  They are the sort of book of which people have long said:  "You MUST read ...".   So knowing which are the classic novels can greatly upgrade the pleasure you get out of reading.

For instance, I greatly enjoyed reading many years ago what some say is only the second novel ever written in English --  "Joseph Andrews" by Fielding. Can anybody who has read that book forget "Madam Slipslop"?  I cannot.  Sometimes a classic novel has great insights but it is always entertaining. And fortunately, you can get a reading list of great novels and enjoy them.

It's not so simple with poetry.  The great pleasure of poetry is not to read it just once but to KNOW it.  And that means to know at least some of it by heart. If you do, you will often recite it, either out loud or just in your head.  And you will enjoy doing that.  But there's the difficulty:  The older you get the harder it is to memorize things.  Anything that needs memorizing basically has to be done when you are young -- preferably at school.  So if you were never taught any of the great classic poems at school, the pleasure of poetry has basically been ripped away from you.  Sorry.  But that's it.  If you want to try yourself out, here is a famous but short poem by Tennyson. It's a lament over the death of his homosexual lover.  The Left seem to think they have invented homosexuality recently.  They have not.

Break, Break, Break

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
         The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
         That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
         That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
         To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
         And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
         At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
         Will never come back to me.

It's a wonderful and heartfelt poem by a master of the English language.  I learnt it at school.

And then there is music.  Fortunately, the simpler music from the past has been  much revived by the folk music movement -- so remains accessible regardless of your education. It was the folkies who introduced to "Cutty Wren", written over 200 years ago. If you know that song can you ever forget "John the red nose"?  I cannot.

But some of the slightly more complex songs from the past should also be enjoyable to many.  I think particularly of madrigals. They were once taught as part of a good education. In some private schools they still are.  Take Monteverdi's Chiome d' Oro ("Tresses of gold").  It's a love song to a lady with blonde hair! A not unfamiliar idea, though probably politically incorrect these days.  The many ladies who blond their hair these days would sympathize.  A good performance here. It's wonderful.  Monteverdi wrote it around 400 years ago.  Words translated from the Italian  here.

And that brings me to another important cultural element:  languages.  If you learn (say) German at school you will almost certainly never get to the point of being able to have a reasonable conversation in it.  That is not the point.  It is much more likely that you WILL get to the point where you  can make  some fist of reading texts in that language.  And that IS useful.

Translating plain text into English from another language is difficult enough but translating a work of art into English is just about impossible.  The translation will never be as gracious as the original. That came home forcefully to me when I was reading the translation of Chiome d' Oro.  Italian was one of the languages I studied in my schooldays and the translation of Chiome d' Oro is nowhere as magical as the original Italian.  Every Italian would agree with me on that!  You just miss so much if your cultural awareness is limited to English.

All that came back to me recently when Anne asked me "Who is this Goethe fella?".  Johann  Wolfgang von Goethe is of course Germany's most famous and beloved poet.  And seeing that he wrote in the land of music, it is no surprise that his poems have been set to music -- by Hugo Wolf, Franz Schubert and others.  Some of Schubert's most famous Lieder are to texts written by Goethe. So I was able to introduce Anne to Goethe via the Schubert Lieder.

So, for the benefit of anybody reading this who might have an interest in classical music let me link to just two of the songs I found. Let me revisit some things that it has been my great good fortune to enjoy for nearly 60 years.

There is for instance here a good rendition of Gretchen am Spinnrade set by Schubert.  It is a love song.  It is from the legend of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the Devil.  Faust wanted Gretchen so the Devil made her fall frantically and hopelessly  in love with him.  The song tells of her feelings.  A translation from the German:

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.
Where I do not have him,
That is the grave,
The whole world
Is bitter to me.

My poor head
Is crazy to me,
My poor mind
Is torn apart.

For him only, I look
Out the window
Only for him do I go
Out of the house.

His tall walk,
His noble figure,
His mouth's smile,
His eyes' power,

And his mouth's
Magic flow,
His handclasp,
and ah! his kiss!

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.

My bosom urges itself
toward him.
Ah, might I grasp
And hold him!

And kiss him,
As I would wish,
At his kisses
I should die!

And if the song is good, just the music Schubert wrote for it is great too.  There is an incredibly sensitive performance of it for solo piano by a Chinese lady -- Yuja Wang -- here.  What a treasure it is that the East Asians seem to like our classical music even more than we do! If, as seems likely, the Leftists achieve the destruction of our civilization, China will preserve our great cultural treasures.  

And, getting back to Goethe, there is Erlkoenig set by Schubert -- one of the most famous of the Schubert Lieder. A version sung by the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (a famous German baritone) is here -- with English subtitles.  The story is of an ill child who is having hallucinations while his father is riding frantically to get the child home.  It is very dramatic.

Will the screed above benefit anyone?  Probably not. But I still think it concerns things that should be noted down.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A visit to the metropolitical cathedral church of St. John the Divine


Apologies for that pompous heading but I rather enjoy ecclesiastical language.  The church concerned is most often referred to by Brisbane people simply as "The cathedral".  There is of course also a Catholic cathedral in Brisbane city but St. John's is undoubtedly the most magnificent.

A pity the preaching there was not also magnificent but it is anything but.  The only themes that enthuse most Anglicans these days are homosexuality and global warming.  They are post-Christians. The 39 articles would be Greek to most of them.  It would be an amusing exercise to write a Church of England Bible.  There would not be much in it.  Virtually everything in the real Bible would be dismissed as silly stories.

Anyway, I went there for a concert. I go out to concerts rarely these days but a familiar band was in town: The Kammerphilharmonie Köln (Chamber Philharmonia Cologne).  They seem to pop up in Brisbane every year and I have enjoyed many of their concerts.  They are very good for putting on old favourites. And the great stone vault of St. John's gives brilliant sound.  They filled the church.

Parking in the city always bugs me so I went early so I could park in the church grounds:  A bit cheeky but I have always done that.  So I had to leave home at 7pm for an 8pm performance. And in order to facilitate a 7pm departure, I made the dinner!  It was very humble fare, however:  Ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches. Anne was with me and we met her sister June outside the cathedral.

We started off with a lively performance of the whole of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. How the leading violinist produced that endless cascade of short notes escapes me.  Practice makes perfect, I guess.  A  feature that I really liked was the inclusion of a double bass.  It gave an extra depth and body to the sound which violins alone could never deliver. The part would originally have been written for a Viola da Gamba, which is represented these days mostly by a cello.

Another work on the program was a Mozart divertimento in F major for strings.  I did not know it at all but it was good to hear. And we ended with Bach's suite no. 2 in B minor for flute and strings and basso continuo -- An old friend joyfully revisited.

We got an encore song, in the form of Ombra mai fu by Handel.  It was sung with great passion by a very large lady.  That always cracks me up as the song is in fact about a tree.  Words translated below:

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

A socially active week



I have recently had another birthday, taking me further into my eighth decade.  So various kind people have contributed to a celebration of that fact.  

On Wedneday Anne came over to my place bearing Sydney rock oysters and other good things and made me one of my favourite meals: Lamb cutlets with plenty of fried onions.  We watched operetta after dinner.

On Saturday, Suz hosted a small lunchtime celebration for family members only.  There are 3 of us with July birthdays so it was a joint celebration.  Nanna, Joe, Anne and Jenny were there, as was Suz and family. Suz fed us all some nice home-made pies. I gather that Suz cooks a lot from scratch and cooks fairly traditional meals.  I eat a lot of traditional Australian food these days too so the pies suited me.  And Suz gave us a Pavlova for dessert -- another great Australian favourite.  

The kids were amusing when eating their food. Dusty was a real boy and shoved in his food by hook or by crook and ended up with a fair bit of it on his face.  Sahara, by contrast, ate like a little lady and took twice as long as Dusty.  So Suz has got a very boyish boy and a very girly girl.  Excellent!

Then that night Anne rose to the occasion and cooked me some sausages and onions, another favourite of mine.  I enjoyed them as much as any meal -- and I have had some good meals.  Walking out into the kitchen to a smell of sausages and onions frying is living IMHO.  The food freaks would have a fit!

Today Jill cooked me a lunch of pasta with seafood as she usually does.  It was good, as ever.  Jill, Anne and Lewis were all in good voice so it was a very lively lunch.  We had rose wine to wash the food down, which was a bit of a blast from the past. 

I sang my favourite doxology as a form of "grace" to start the meal. That inspired enough memories in Jill for her to sing the "Sunday school is over" song.  We both have fond memories of our Protestant past.  The Protestants changed the world so we are pleased to "check our privilege" -- and enjoy it. Jill has in fact started going to church again.  She has found a Church of England congregation she likes.  Lewis of course accompanies her.  He doesn't go to shul any more but goes to church -- a man of exemplary patience.

Lewis was very vocal in the conservative political cause, as usual -- and we all agreed with him.  Lewis told us that he now has "My son the mister".  His son is a medico with all sorts of specializations and one of them bears the title "Mr".



Saturday, July 18, 2015

Simplicius




Composed, 1887.  Performed at Zurich Oper in 1999

I hesitated for some time before ordering this Singspiel.  I read the synopsis and was not impressed:  Too complicated and not set in an operetta-type setting.  But the music was by Strauss II so I ordered it.

And I disliked it from the beginning.  The surrealist staging was way outside my liking.  I guess some people find it amusing or interesting but I just found it tedious.  A NYC writer felt the same.  He wrote:

"David Pountney’s production is not attuned to the bulk of the work, which can hardly breathe under the weight of his heavy symbolism and the heavy, enormous sets"

I think Pountney is one of the many directors of stage performances these days who is trying to show how smart HE is rather than how good the work is.  Despicable and boring.  I paid to see the work of Strauss, not the work of Pountney. I will order nothing more if he is part of it

But I kept on watching, all the while keeping an eye on the track numbers.  I have often found that the initial tracks of an operetta DVD are very skippable so I was looking for a point in the show that seemed a good starting point for me.  And I did find one! Track 14, about half of the way through the show.  From that point on it became closer to a normal operetta, even having quite a few laughs.  And the customary two happy couples at the end, of course.  With a lot of cuts to the many slow-moving bits and a naturalistic setting, it could be quite a reasonable operetta.

And the plot was not really as complicated as it appeared to be.  The story is that a soldier killed his brother in a battle of the terrible "30 years" war that raged in Central and Western Europe during the 17th century.  He was so grief-stricken at what he had done that he put his eldest son into a monastery and retired with his little son into the forest to lead the life of a religious hermit.

But the little son eventually grew up and was taken back into society as an ingenue. Meanwhile it transpired that the father and son were of noble birth and were wanted for the purposes of marrying into another noble and rich family.  But nobody knew where the father was and nobody knew who the son was.  So a couple of other claimants emerged wanting to marry the rich bride.

They were discredited, however, and we eventually found out who the son was.  And that simplified everything so that, after a few complications, everybody got married to the spouse of their choice.  Quite a simple plot, basically, and quite in operetta style.

The involvement of Swedes in what was basically a German civil war may seem odd to some but is good history.  Der Schwed did indeed take part. Protestant King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden did  lead his troops South to help the German Protestants, having a considerable influence on the outcome. He could in fact be said to have saved Protestantism in Germany.

I watched the show three times but felt that there was nothing in it that would draw me back to it so I gave the DVD away:  No great arias, no great singing, not much in the way of jokes and repellent staging. It's just not jolly.  But Martina Jancova as Tilly is attractive and acted well, while Piotr Beczala is a classic love-stricken tenor. Some other operettas I have watched innumerable times.  When watching Wienerblut, for instance,  I start laughing long before the punchlines of the jokes arrive.

An excerpt from Simplicius  here -- with subtitles! Judge for yourself.  It's just bombast.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

A wonderful Austrian singing lady: Ute Gfrerer



Ute Gfrerer is one of my favorite operatic sopranos.  But despite having performed widely and often and for many years, there is no Wikipedia entry for her so I thought I might put a few notes together here that might fill a gap.  I should put this up on Wikipedia itself but anything I put up there gets deleted.  Wikipedia seems to be a subculture of its own with rules that I do not fit

Below is a picture of Gfrerer that shows something I particularly like --  her big smile.  

 

I have watched her in both the Zurich 2004 performance of Die Lustige Witwe and in the 1998 Moerbisch performance of Der Vogelhaendler -- very different roles but well sung and well acted in both cases.

She turned 50 this year, which means she was born in 1965.  See! I can do subtraction!  She was born in Carinthia in Austria, daughter of an innkeeper, with three sisters, all of whom sang.  She now lives in Boston.  She updates her Facebook page fairly often.  See here.  It's mostly in English

Her musical history is extensively covered here.  Let me reproduce a marvellous vignette from that:

"In fact, singing is so integral to the Austrian social fabric, that a performer in Austria might find their audience joining in on their performances. Gfrerer had one such transcendent experience while recording one of her live concert performances in Austria, where she sang a traditional folk song from her countryside. "When I got to the second verse, the audience began humming along with me," recalls Gfrerer, "Then in the last verse, they all started singing in 4-part harmony, and it was so beautiful. It could only happen in Austria!"

Amazing.  Singing along is one thing but singing along in 4-part harmony is another. Austria is certainly a superpower where great music is concerned.

There is a very good 2012 interview with her here that contains a lot of personal reflections -- In German.

In her early years she was particularly interested in operetta but in more recent times she has had a particular devotion to the music of the prolific Kurt Weill.  She is regarded as a leading interpreter of it, in fact. 

She also shows her versatility here with a 2013 rendition of Piaf's famous song La Vie en Rose.  I think she outdoes Piaf but what would I know about French music?  Though others have also highly praised that rendition.  I liked the way the happy Austrian lady emerged from the soulful French singer as soon as the song was over.

Gfrerer seems to be a rather jolly lady in general, though her part in Lustige Witwe was almost wholly serious.  She was even asked, rather absurdly for her, to be Eine anstaendige Frau (a respectable wife). 

Her natural talent for gaiety did however surface in the dancing scenes of Lustige Witwe.  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? 

La vie en rose is a great love song.  Just for fun, I put up an English translation below:

With eyes which make mine lower,
A smile which is lost on his lips,
That's the unembellished portrait
Of the man to whom I belong.

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.

He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I know full well.

It's him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me "forever".

And as soon as I see him
So I feel in me
My heart which beats

May the nights on which we make love never end,
A great joy which takes its place
The trouble, the grief are removed
Content, content to die of it

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a very low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.

He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I recognise.

It's him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me forever.

And as soon as I see him
So do I feel in me
My heart which beats

So how does La Vie en Rose stack up as a love song against  Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum?  The words are very similar -- with one important exception: Piaf describes her love as deluded -- as seen through *rose* coloured glasses.  Whereas  the Austrian song is a very happy one: the singer describes her enraptured impressions of her man without reservation.  And the the music reflects that.  The French song has a great air of tragedy where the Austrian song has none of that.  Is love tragic to a French person and admirable to an Austrian?  That is the impression one gets.  And I am comparing two great singers of the songs concerned.  Martina Serafin's faultless voice and enraptured delivery of Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum in Vogelhaendler does every justice to that song. And she was singing it in her native German for a change, which would have helped at the margins 

And what does it tell us that the French song is infinitely better known than the Austrian one?  That tragedy is more interesting to most people?  I am inclined to think so.

And I suppose that it is rather churlish to mention that "tragic" love songs are a rather common phenomenon.  In popular culture "Both sides now"  by Joni Mitchell is a splendid example.  But in the classical music world the famous Goethe/Schubert song Gretchen am Spinnrade anticipated La vie en rose by a considerable time.

Operetta stars seem rather generally to keep pretty quiet about their personal lives but I see that Gfrerer had a daughter named Maxine in 2006.  She would have been 41 at the time.  A late run!  Pregnancies that late often indicate that the lady has had a lot of trouble finding a man who suits her.  She is such a happy lady that seems unlikely in her case.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Purple Penguin is online



Joe has put up a first draft of what will become his professional website as his IT skills and experience develop.  He has already learnt a huge amount in a relatively short period of time.  You can click on various things.  There is even a rudimentary game. But why he has chosen "Purple Penguin" as his online identity I have not asked.  It goes with his lively sense of humour, of course.  I think he should have called himself "The Phantom" -- but that would have caused copyright problems, of course.

There is a chain of frozen yoghurt shops called Purple Penguin but Joe is unlikely to be mistaken for yoghurt so that should not pose copyright problems.  There is however another IT firm called Purple Penguin so he might have to become the technicolour penguin eventually.

I also read that "A Nebraska school district has instructed its teachers to stop referring to students by “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls,” and use “gender inclusive” ones such as “purple penguins” instead."  Yuk!

Joe also has a ginger cat named "Mozart" but since Mozart is long dead, I foresee to copyright problems there

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Der Vogelhaendler



Der Vogelhaendler is a bucolic comedy, by Carl Zeller, set in the 18th century and first performed in 1891. I recently watched the 1998 Moerbisch performance it, set in Austria. 

There have been many versions of the show done over the years, many of which differ quite considerably from one another.  There is a 1960s recording of the full show online here which has a very pretty version of the Rosen in Tyrol aria at the 46 minute mark.  There is a short excerpt from the version of the show that I have here

Der Vogelhaendler means the bird dealer, though the show had very little to do with birds. But it did have a lot to do with the difference between Tyrol and Kaernten (Carinthia) -- and if you don't know about that, the show does explain, sort of.  A lot of the differences do not survive translation into English, however.  There is actually a fair bit of levity about Tyrolean dialect. Tyroleans are presented as very old-fashioned.

Ute Gfrerer

I was greatly looking forward to seeing this show as the multi-talented, blue-eyed Austrian soprano Ute Gfrerer was in it.  And she did not disappoint at all, at all.  It was a great role for her and she filled it brilliantly.  She was in particularly good voice.  Her voice had a bell-like quality in the early scenes that suggested technical help to me.  Though it may just have been reverb from the adjacent sets.

There was no doubt about the power of her voice, however.  When at the end of the show she sang in unison with the very capable tenor (Sebastian Reinthaller), it was her voice that dominated.  A singing lady I know tells me that sopranos generally do that but I am not so sure.  Some wonderful soprano voices can be quite small -- Hallstein, for instance. 

And she has a sort of inbuilt levity and that shows even in the most unpromising scenes. I do fault Harald Serafin for not giving us a bit more of Gfrerer's famous big and happy smile, though.  We got some of that at the beginning and a bit of it at the end but it was not enough. 

A picture from her home page

I actually liked Gfrerer even better here than I liked her in the 2004 version of Lustige Witwe at Zurich.  She had a much more varied role here and did all the parts well.  And am I allowed to mention that she was 6 years younger here than at Zurich?  Very wicked of me, I am sure.  She would have been 23 in 1998 so was at her peak in some ways for this show -- with youthful good looks.  But, as we see above, she is gorgeous to this day.  Am I being maudlin?  Probably.

Martina Serafin

An odd thing about this show is that Harald Serafin did not cast himself in any of the parts, a rare thing.  But he gave his daughter, the attractive Martina Serafin, a leading part, so that may have been why.  Maybe she said:  "It's me or you".

Interestingly, her father is never mentioned in any online biographies of her.  I was able to confirm the relationship only  by struggling through an Italian site.  My Italian is pretty shaky so I don't do that often.  But she seems to have developed a lot of affiliations with Italy and there was an interview where she attributed that to her father.  Even then she referred to him only as "a certain well-known conductor" rather than naming him. 

Slightly odd to refer to him as a conductor.  Maybe Italian has no word that precisely translates the German Intendant.  Apparently Harald is half Italian by birth -- which surprised me -- and Martina relates strongly to that part of her ancestry.  I came across her Facebook page at one point and it was in Italian.  I imagine the surname was originally "Serafino", which means "seraph" in Italian.  I think she could pass well as a Northern Italian or Roman lady.  I guess she does.

An interesting thing was that the Fuerstin, played by her, described her first meeting with her Fuerst by saying that he looked schoen to her.  German has no word for "handsome" so an attractive man is normally described as huebsch -- "pretty".  To describe him as schoen ("beautiful") is therefore a considerable compliment.

The famous aria from the show was of course "Roses in Tyrol" but I thought the aria sung by the princess (Serafin) in celebration of her husband ("Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum") was the standout aria. It makes me weep with its beauty. A version is  online here. It's undoubtedy one of the great love songs of all time.  In the song, the lady says she thought her husband looked beautiful when she first met him and also behaved beautifully on their wedding night.

The point of the song in the show is that she has just been informed of apparent infidelity by her husband.  She comments that it could not be so -- because she remembers him in their early life as being beautiful in both looks and behaviour.  And her faith is of course eventually justified.  Operetta has good endings.

Someone should do a singable translation of it. Here are the words with my rough translation:

Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum,  
As the cherry tree was blossoming
Ging ich zum Walde wie im Traum;  
I walked to the woods as in a dream
An des Brunnens kuehlen Rand, 
At the cool edge of the fountain
Wo hell die weisse Birke stand.  
Where brightly the white beech stood
An dem blauen Himmelsbogen 
Under the blue bow of the sky
Ging der Mond, die Sterne zogen
The moon came out and the stars shone
Einen Reiter hoert' ich jagen
I heard a horseman hunting
Und mein Herz hub an zu schlagen
And my heart gave a leap
Denn er hielt sein Roesslein an
When he reined in his dear horse
Ach ja, er war ein schoener, ein schoener Mann!  
Oh yes.  He was a beautiful, beautiful man

Still verklang der Hochzeit Pracht  
The wedding bells no longer rang
Und von den Bergen stieg die Nacht
And night was climbing up the mountains
Bang trat ich ins Brautgemach
I anxiously entered the bridal chamber
Und leise, leise schlich er nach!
And softly, softly he followed me
Draussen fielen Bluetenflocken
Outside flower petals fell
Drin der Kranz von meinen Locken 
Inside the garland from my hair
Heimlich fluestend half der Freier  
Softly whispering my suitor helped me
Mir zu loesen Band und Schleier
To take off my ribbons and veil
Sah dabei mich zaertlich an
Looking at me so tenderly
Ach, er war doch ein schoener, schoener Mann!  
Oh! He certainly was a beautiful, beautiful man

I have heard a few different performances of the song but I think the version by Serafin on the DVD that I have is as good as or better than any.  But one would expect that of her distinguished ancestry.  In saying that, however, I have just done what she obviously wants nobody to do.  She wants to make her mark in her own right without being forever indulgently treated because she is Harald's daughter.  But she should not worry. She is a genuine great talent in her own right.

But what the little boy playing cupid in that scene was all about I have no real idea. I think he was blowing a bird-call whistle as a warning to be cautious but who knows?  Or was it just an reminder  that we were talking about love in that scene?  I confess defeat.

Humour in the show:

The big explicit comedy scene was the Zwei Professoren. And part of the comedy in that for me was that the "bought" professors were only too real.  The global warming hoax has bought so many of them to this day.  plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  In action below:


But I learnt a good jocular insult from the "professors":  "You'll never get brain damage; There's nothing to damage!" There were lots of good laughs throughout that segment -- the obnoxious and larcenous queer guy on roller-skates, for instance -- but the Zwei Professoren episode was full of laughs from beginning to end.  I even enjoyed how they walked off the scene, apparently full of themselves! A good visual joke. And I enjoyed how they did babble at times.  Having worked in a Sociology Department for many years, I recognized it! Much mumbo jumbo there!  

And even the high heels on Prof. Wuermchen were not entirely unfamiliar. And the actual heels were red!  An allusion? -- to Christian Louboutin, to Papal footwear?

"Prof. Wuermchen" means Prof. "Little Worm"; and Prof "Sueffle" means "Little Boozer".  As "Muckenstruntz & Bamschabl", The two actors performed together often as a comedy act  -- on Austrian TV of the late C20 and early C21. "The two Ronnies" would be the nearest English equivalent. But I suspect the Austrians were funnier.  Anyway, the music they marched on to -- and then off to -- was very jolly.  They must have been  an interpolation into Zeller's original script -- but a very successful one.

And in the early part of the scene there was a play on words using the French Appelation controlee and the German word Apfel. And that little joke worked perfectly well in English translation -- because our historic links with German are still there. We are the other half of the Deutsches Volk. So Apfel in German is "apple" in English. 1500 years of living apart have not changed some things very much. Sadly, however, the audience did not get it. Though, from what I heard, one lady did.  They did however get a simpler joke about Bordeaux.

Another joke in the show concerned Peter Rosenstingl.  He was a conservative Austrian politician of the late 20th century who went into a business deal with his brother that lost a lot of money and left him with big debts.  He was also found to have misused public money to prop up the enterprise. So he shot off to Brazil to get away from all that.  But they got him back and prosecuted him. So "Stanislaus" used him as a byword for big and tragic debts.

Another contemporary reference was to Antal Festetics, a genuinely distinguished Hungarian biologist and prominent Greenie in Austria at the time the show was performed.  He was used in the show to as an example of a man who knows all about the natural world.  Had the subtitlers been on the ball, they might have substituted "David Attenborough" for him.

Another jocular touch was the pigeon loft, with mechanical pigeons, set on top of the "small pavilion". Someone went to the trouble of smearing the roof of the pavilion with quite realistic-looking pigeon excreta!

And the funniest line in the show?  "Come here my little piggy bank", IMHO.  It occurs when "Baron Weps" woos his rich wife-to-be.

And operettas do often refer to one another for humorous efect.  The allusion to the "small pavilion" in  Lustige Witwe was the example of that on this occasion.  It was not part of the original libretto, of course. We also got a small bit of Celeste Aida at one stage. And Burgenland was of course referred to. Moerbisch is in Burgenland.  And both Moerbish and Harald Serafin were referred to in the dialogue as well -- probably to good comic effect among the regular patrons.

And the mosquitoes were there!  Every show that I have seen from Moerbisch seems to have some reference to the Moerbisch mosquitoes in it.  On this occasion the ladies early in the show were swatting themselves rather a lot, though not saying why.

Translation notes

I have compared my translation of the song with what appears in the subtitles and I think my translation is better. I think they got a few  things wrong.  I actually understand why they translated Freier as they did.  It means something quite different in Yiddish and they wanted to distance themselves from that.  And they translated denn quite foolishly. I actually made the same mistake myself, initially.

I am actually a bit amazed at the subtitles.  The translators don't seem to know either German or English well.  I have already mentioned what I see as deficits in their translations from German but their grasp of English idiom also seems defective.  In the early scene where the hunters are told to scram, they are told to "Make yourself sparse", which is absurd.  "Make yourself scarce" is of course the required idiom.

And describing the hunted pig as "stamped" was dumb.  "Branded" was the required translation. But I noted that, for the Fuerstin,  Durchlaucht was translated as "Milady", which was rather more appropriate than the "Serene Highness" used in Zirkusprinzessin

And I had to laugh when I noted that the subtitle translators did not know the difference between "discreet" and "discrete" -- an easy one for those of us who learnt their Fowler at an early age.

And the translators do their best to describe what Gfrerer is doing when she speaks to "Stanislaus" "per du".  He is a Graf and she is a humble postal employee so that was very cheeky.  And it confused him because it upset the status relationships that really existed between them.  She was refusing to place herself lower than him, which confused him about who she really was.  But there is no equivalent of that stuff in English (mercifully) so you have to be familiar with some  European language to know what that is all about.

Other details

Further on the casting:  I thought that the birdman (Sebastian Reinthaller) was not well cast:  He seemed too young and small for the part.  He was shorter than just about everyone else in the show. But he had a great voice and performed with great energy so did justice to it in the end. 

I liked his haircut but that means nothing.  I liked Adolf Hitler's haircut too.  In both cases it was "short back & sides" -- the haircut I had for most of my childhood and which was universal in British lands until the "Beatles" upset the applecart.  After a lifetime of hair negligence I have reverted to that haircut in my declining years.  I am of course lucky to have hair at all at my age.

And the big conk on "Stanislaus" (Marc Clear) was very noticeable. I hoped at first that it was just stage makeup but I now think it was how he was born.  If it is natural he has done well to make a stage career for himself. Maybe rhinoplasty...  He is certainly a good and powerful singer, though. His singing in the castle garden when he accosted "Christel" (Gfrerer) was very powerful, and, dare I say it? -- clear.  I note that he has appeared at Moerbish subsequently as well.

A small point:  I would like to have heard something from the Tyrolean zithers but they were rather drowned out.  Harald Serafin should have done what people usually do with harps and harpsichords: Position mikes within inches of the strings.

And I was a bit grumpy to have the grandfather in the Nachtigall song portrayed as decrepit at age 70. I am 71 and I assure everybody that I can still walk tall and straight -- when I try!

And I think I should by now mention the bicycle fad that has long prevailed at Moerbisch.  Because it is a very big stage, bicycles seem to be regarded as a good way to get around it, anachronistic or not.  I think they  have been in every Moerbisch performance that I have seen. "Christel" arrived on stage on a bike on this occasion. The fancy tricycle was another version of it.  One does see some rather odd conveyances at Moerbisch so I suppose the trike was another version of that.  The audience seemed to be amused by it.

I must admit that I am rather critical of Harald Serafin for the instructions he gave to the many "extras".  He clearly told them to be as still as the grave.  It would have been nicer if they had been allowed to smile.

But it was a very light-hearted show  -- which I quite appreciated after just having watched the very dramatic Zirkusprenzessin.  A certain irony there, however.  Carl Zeller (the composer) did not have a very happy life. 

And the ending -- with both the old and the young couples united in satisfaction and happiness, was classic operetta -- although achieved in a rather Deus ex machina way.

Even in my dotage I am still something of a sponge for knowledge so I tend to watch the credits that roll on my screen at the end of a performance.  And one thing that I noted was that  part of the costumes for this show were borrowed from the Austrian Federal Theatre.  I did not know there was such a body so I clearly still have a lot to learn. But I guess all those wigs etc had to come from somewhere.

And being undoubtedly what in Australian slang is called a "woop" (even my mother called me that!  "Poorly dressed person" would be one translation of it) I have no right to comment on costumes but I nonetheless did rather like the splendid court dress of "Baron Weps". And the huge skirts and big hair I could tolerate. But Schellenbeger took that to a new height in 2013 Bettelstudent and that did rather bug me.

My liking for Austro/Hungarian operetta is undoubtedly eccentric (even "egg-headed") for an Australian but it remains popular in the German lands -- as the big and packed audiences you see at Moerbisch demonstrate. When the cameras cut to the audience of this show, Anne commented, "Not an empty seat".  Though you have to wonder whether the Staatsoper being in recess in July/August has something to do with that. The Moerbisch season runs from early July to late August.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Zirkusprinzessin (Circus Princess)



Hallstein with "Mr. X" (Rudolf Schock)

The initial encounter. Rudolf Schock is a lucky man

I was particularly pleased to get a copy of this operetta, as the leading lady is none other than the elegantly beautiful Bavarian Kammersängerin, Ingeborg Hallstein -- an angel with an angel's voice.   Maybe I'm a bit maudlin but I think she is the most beautiful lady ever in opera/operetta. 

I thought in this show she looked younger than in Wiener Blut and I was right -- sort of.  Zirkusprinzessin was recorded in 1969 and Wiener Blut in 1971.  But those two years made a difference IMHO.  She conveyed much more of an image of sophistication in Wiener Blut.  But that was a more sophisticated role of course. It's not often that a lady says she likes to hear that her husband is attractive to other women. 

But her facial expressions in Zirkusprinzessin as she pinged off the repulsive "Prince Sergius" were solid gold.  It was wonderful to see her in action.  As the Prince said when she had finished her little speech:  "Das war deutlich" ("that was clear").

And I liked the dramatic faces of Hallstein when she was watching the final act of the show. I thought she looked most beautiful at that point -- though whether that says something sad about me, I don't know.

Amusing that she wore her hair in the same uplifted style in both shows, complete with stars in it.  But it meant that full attention was on her face -- and it is a face worth looking at.

And at the risk of sounding ridiculous, I greatly admired the hat she wore when she arrived in Vienna from Petersburg. It was very elegant and flattering IMHO.  Congratulations to the costume department, I guess.

Some scenes

I hope it is not churlish of me to mention it but the suspension of belief that one needs for operetta was rather stretched by the trapeze artist jumping from high up in the tent onto the back of  a horse. It was quite mad as far as I can see.  A man doing so would surely crunch his balls and break the back of the horse.  It did however make good drama.  

There were a few jokes in it but not many.  The second string story did good service there, though -- with the Pelikan scenes being quite hilarious at times.  But the Hungarian dialogue there stumped me. I can make some sort of a fist of understanding most European languages but Hungarian and Finnish are in a world of their own.

And I did learn something amusing from "Toni", the second string romantic.  He described the dancing ladies he admired as having "marzipan legs".  I would never have thought of that one.  Presumably he meant white.

I am not the first to note that Kalman stole the plot for Zirkusprinzessin  from Millocker's Bettelstudent of 40 years previously.  But operettas do a lot of borrowing from one another so that is not too remarkable.  

Getting married

The wedding ceremony

Translation issues

An amusing thing about the English subtitles:  Towards the end of the show, the German word Lust was translated as "lust" -- which sounded quite jarring in the circumstances.  The German word means "pleasure" or "enjoyment" or some such. The translator's lot is not a happy one (to misquote Gilbert & Sullivan) but that was a real boo-boo.  A common one, however.

I am also a bit critical of the way Durchlauch was translated.  It was at times translated as "Your Serene Highness", which is indeed its expanded meaning, but Durchlauch is an abbreviation of that, so a translation as simply "Highness" would have been more usual.  But German has two words for "Highness", Hoheit being the other, so it is another case where there is no perfect translation. Hoheit  is a more elevated rank than Durchlauch.  

A complication is that the same person can be addressed both as Durchlauch and Hoheit.  The original distinction seems to have faded and left Hoheit as simply a polite form of address to anyone of Graf status or above and Durchlauch as the common form of address for the same people.  Since the Russian aristocracy was allegedly involved, Gospodina might have been considered in this case

Mind you, referring to Hallstein as Serene Highness is not unreasonable.  She does indeed come across as serene -- completely delectable, in fact.

"Highness" is the English equivalent of Hoheit but usage of "Highness" is much more limited.  Only the Queen can bestow that appellation in England.

Overall

There were enough machinations for grand opera but everybody ended up alive and happy, of course, in proper operetta style.  Certainly a great romance.

And the sub-plot ended up well too, with the aid of some amazing co-incidence!  You do usually have two or more happy endings in an operetta and that was delivered.

It was a great show with lots happening and some implausible love at first sight.  But love at first sight is a staple of operetta, of course.  There was much drama and it did get me in. I was feeling a bit teary at the end.

Some details about Hallstein from Wikipedia:

Ingeborg Hallstein (born 23 May 1936 in Munich) is a German operatic coloratura soprano famed for the purity and range of her voice, which extended from the G-sharp below middle C to the B-flat more than three octaves above it.

For her great services, among other things to the young talents, the Bayerische Kammersängerin received the Federal Cross of Merit in 1979, that order's First Class in 1996, and the Bavarian Order of Merit in 1999.

Technical

The operettas I watch are mostly cinematic versions made for West German TV in the late '60s and mid '70s so I do tend to see the same actors and actresses over and over again.  So I knew well that Wirtin Schlumberger was played by someone I had seen elsewhere.  I could NOT bring it to mind where and when, however,  so I had to look up the filmography of "Jane Tilden", who played the part.  I saw her previously as Stasa Kokozow in Graf von Luxemburg

A small technical point.  I watched the show at first on a big modern flat-screen TV and it looked fine.  But then I re-watched it on my small, old-fashioned bedside monitor -- a 19" RGB CRT monitor.  And it looked much better on the RGB monitor.  Why?  Easy peasy.  My RGB monitor is a CRT relic of the '70s.  My RGB monitor was exactly the sort of monitor the show was recorded for in 1969.    

So:  Products of the past work best on the technology of the past:  Another reason for preserving the technology of the past.  And I do put my money where my mouth is.  I have quite a lot of Amiga 500 and Atari ST games gear salted away in various cupboards -- in the form of the old 3.5 inch disks.  

You can of course play all that stuff on emulators now but my son Joe is a games freak and he tells me that the emulators don't do all the old sounds well. Amiga sound was miles ahead of anything else at the time.  It still sounds good.   Joe has reminded me  that the rather good Amiga game "Loom" of the 1980s used excerpts from the "Swan Lake" ballet by Tchaikovsky in its theme music.  I always liked the sounds of "Loom" -- while the kids were playing it in my life of long ago.



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A dinner to welcome a new inhabitant


Joe's GF has just moved in to our place.  She came up from South with her mother and sister.  So I shouted us all a dinner at our favourite Japanese restaurant, starting about 6:30.  The ladies are staying at Jenny's for the few days they are here so Jenny came along too.

She found that the Wagyu steak was OK at not affecting her allergies.  The food was excellent as usual.  Joe had a milky drink as usual and Kate got Peach tea, which she would have enjoyed. She found that the Wagyu steak was OK at not affecting her allergies. The food was excellent as usual. Joe had a milky drink as usual and Kate got Peach tea, which she would have enjoyed. The Phantom drinks milk, of course, and Joe is something of a comic connoisseur but I doubt that the Phantom was a major influence in the matter

Kate's family did not get the chance to say a lot as Jenny and I were in good form.  Joe too had a bit to say. We didn't talk about anything memorable.  Just about things we have been doing.

I invited everyone back to our place for post-prandial cups of tea, which Jenny made in her usual helpful way.  Joe and I both bowed out at around 9pm to work on our computers.

The restaurant gives out neat little readable receipts so I thought it would be a good memoir to put up the one I got on this occasion.  You can read clearly what we had.