Monday, August 31, 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!

Friday, August 7, 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.  We also see it in Die Herzogin von Chicago by Kalman. Dollarprinzessin was however 20 years earlier.

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 expressive 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 Dritte 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.  I have not figured out exactly why  but Jacoby has really remarkable blue eyes.  I do not discount stage makeup and I do see  her false eyelashes but that cannot be a major part of it.

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.

Sex roles and tradition

One should not look for serious themes in operetta but Leo Fall and his librettists 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.

Sunday, August 2, 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.

Saturday, August 1, 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.


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.