Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Der Opernball by Heuberger


Perfect Viennese froth and bubble!  A perfect farce!  Nothing serious from beginning to end. Full of laughs.  A most enjoyable show.  It sometimes takes a bit to get "into" an operetta but this was all in the open from beginning to end. It is one of those operettas that one can watch time and time again without it palling. It was, of course, all about flirtation and deception, as a farce usually is. 

The DVD I have records a "Made for TV" show of 1970 from Munich.  Libretto by Victor Leon and Heinrich von Waldberg; Directed by Willy Mattes; Music by Richard Heuberger, an Austrian.  The show was an instant hit at its first performance in 1898, getting rapturous applause.  And I fully understand why.

Movie versions of books and plays often stray a fair bit from the original and this one did too.  There is also a 1964 B&W version of the show featuring Ingeborg Hallstein and Peter Alexander which is  now known only from a clip from the famous Chambre séparée scene, and it too seems to have strayed off in yet a different direction.  But both meanders were successful and amusing so that is what matters.

Incidentally, I read that Heuberger spent a long time thinking about his composition of the Chambre Séparée scene but then sat down and wrote the entire duet in one afternoon. 

The cast

I was pleased to see two familiar faces in the show:  Harald Serafin and Tatjana Iwanow.  I would not have recognized Serafin though. I had known him only in his incarnation as Intendant at Moerbisch -- mostly when he was in his '70s.  But in this show he was around 35.  Quite a shock to see how much difference age can make. I actually think he was more amusing in his '70s  -- though he was very good in this show. I was also interested to see that he was quite tall compared to the other actors in the show.

Ancestrally, he is half North German and half Italian so it was a bit amusing to see him cast as an Englishman in this show.

I first saw Tatjana Iwanow in Dollarprinzessin, recorded in 1971.  In both shows she played most convincingly a very cynical and scheming older woman.  She could bark orders well too, as when she shouted Setzen! at the maid "Hortense".  She played such an evil role that one could miss that she was actually quite good-looking however:  A fine figure of a woman with brilliant blue eyes.

The maid was played by Christiane Schröder.  A Berliner with grey eyes and fair skin, she looked rather English to me. She was rather short and also slightly built -- "only a slip of a girl", as the Irish say.  When Serafin grabbed her to dance with her at one stage, he looked like a monster beside her.  She was thrown around rather like a rag doll on a couple of occasions, actually.  

Schröder had a sad life.  She was born in 1942, had considerable success in the theatre and in films but became depressed and at age 38 jumped off the Golden Gate bridge to her death. She was a dear little thing with real talent as a singer so I am sad that life turned out so badly and ended so soon for her. She did at one  stage marry so one hopes that gave her some of life's rewards for a time.

I am putting up below a picture of her with "Henri", her Naval cadet boyfriend, played by Uwe Friedrichsen, a Saxon, who is now in his 80s and well known as a character actor on German TV.  Something he did well was (blue) eyes opened very wide in a portrayal of surprise on various occasions.  All the color pictures of him online are in elderly roles so this is the first pic put online of him as a young man.  Google has picked it up  but there are so many pix of Friedrichsen online that you have to be an experienced or very patient Googler to find it

His part was originally written as a trouser role so I am profoundly glad that the producers of this show did not feel obliged to follow that obsolete fashion.  I hate that custom.

And I must mention the two ladies who were testing out their husbands.  Hélène Mané as "Angele" and Maria Tiboldi as "Marguerite" were both very pretty ladies who also sang well, the brown-eyed Hélène Mané with the big smile particularly.  She was elsewhere known for singing in Bach cantatas. I thought she looked either Italian or Southern French so I was not surprised to read the following puff about her: 

"Hélène Mané comes from a French-Italian family of singers, her coloratura is known in all continents and she has guest-appeared in operas from Leningrad to Lisbon. Her repertoire is mostly Italian."  

She seemed a nice lady anyway. At least one publicist saw her as the leading attraction in this show so the puff was perhaps not out of bounds.  She certainly got some good arias to sing and sang them well.

The Hungarian Maria Tiboldi was 31 at the time of the show but looked very young -- thanks, no doubt, to some combination of good skin and stage makeup.  She had a very pleasant rather low-pitched speaking voice.  A soprano with a low-pitched speaking voice seems rather mad but it is not uncommon in my experience.

The three women of the show, Tiboldi, Mané and Schröder

And I enjoyed the expressions of the Chambre séparée waiter.  Very droll and world-weary beneath the formality. He actually had a good racket going.  And it was one of the good laughs when Friedrichsen claimed to be aflame with passion for "Hortense".  The waiter was nearby at that point and, in an entirely understandable way, he rolled his eyes on hearing that! He was also amusing earlier on in that scene when "Hortense" urged Geduld (patience ) on her admirer.

And I did enjoy Heinz Erhardt as "Caesare-Aristide", the scandal-sheet proprietor  It was a comic role and he played it very well. The episode where his escort ordered a huge and expensive dinner  at his expense was utterly corny but so well-done as to be amusing anyhow. I still laugh when I think of it.  No wonder Erhardt was a noted comic.  And his wild dancing was a caricature of dancing. A great laugh.  He was trying to impress the low-class "Feodora" with his youthfulness.

He is just one of those naturally funny men like John Cleese or Barry Humphries.  He comes across as absurd from the outset.  He was a marvellous asset to the show. Some of the jokes involving him are in that rare category of jokes that you laugh at every time even if you have heard them many times before.

But I was surprised at the scene where "Hortense" was talking with her friend, the chambermaid at the "Ritz".  The chambermaid was clearly half Negro. That really stood out beside the very fair Berliner. Was political correctness already around in 1970?  Perhaps. Viennese operettas are usually as all-white as Russian ballet.  On second thoughts, it can't have been political correctness -- as the black lady was cast in a lowly servant role. So it was actually that naughty "stereotyping"!

Operetta normally has a clear leading lady and leading man but that was not at all clear in this case.  I guess that Serafin was  the leading man but who was the leading lady?  I would have to nominate "Hortense", even though she is clearly from the "second string" story.  For comparison: In Graefin Mariza at Moerbisch, I thought that Marco Kathol was the outstanding male figure too, despite being second string.

The action

Both Mané ("Angele") and Christiane Schröder ("Hortense") sang the Chambre séparée song very well but the singer who sang it best on this occasion was, in my view, Schröder, playing the little maid "Hortense".  She put out a few coloratura  trills at times throughout the show, so was no mean singer. 

Having said that the show was a classical farce, I don't think I really need to say any more about the plot. It was to a considerable extent a re-run of the plot in Fledermaus,  albeit with two deceived men instead of one. 

There were lots of funny bits but one that stays with me is  when the journalist asks the Englishman's wife what he had to give her to get a kiss.  She replies:  "chloroform".  What a put-down! Chloroform is a surgical anaesthetic.

As is common in operetta, there are fleeting jokes, jokes that fly by you in a couple of seconds which you may or may not "get".  One such was when "Georges" the journalist gets his invitation.  The other two men make fools of themselves when they get their invitations but "Georges" does not.  On hearing that his letter is from the Ritz, he immediately SNIFFS it.  And on detecting perfume rightly assumes that he will be busy later that day.  He has obviously had assignations with ladies at the Ritz before.  The maid reads him well, however.

Another fleeting event was when the maid introduces the low-class "Feodora".  I can't really isolate how she does it -- curtseying with upturned eyes and a smile maybe -- but she does display amused contempt for Feodora.  A Parisian maid may not be high up but is still a respectable somebody -- certainly above the hoi polloi in social status.

Another fast-moving joke lasting only a few seconds was towards the end of the show when the plebeian "Feodora" was suggested by the clueless "Caesare-Aristide" as the new chambermaid, that was generally accepted but Serafin quickly slipped her some "silence-money", which she promptly and wisely tucked into her bra.

Another thing that you had to be attentive to get was when the naval cadet was kissing the hand of the English lady.  His inamorata, "Hortense", gives him in passing a quick thump  on the shoulder while he was doing that, producing an "ouch" from him.  The lady thought it was a comment on her so he  had to improvise quickly to get out of the situation. He didn't actually say "ouch", however.  That was as the subtitles rendered it.  He said something like "auer", which is very much like what some English-speakers would say

I was also amused when the cadet did not stay restrained for long when he got his lady into the Chambre separee.  After drinking some champagne with her, he demanded that she get it all off -- domino, dress and all.  Navy directness, I guess.

A small bonus in the show which I enjoyed was in the first dancing scene.  It included a tall thin male dancer with a big conk in black garb and a top hat who reminded me powerfully of John Cleese doing "silly walks".  Not sure it was intentional but it was amusing. He actually did well to leap about so much.  At one stage he took his hat off and we could see a bald spot in his hair.  So he was no spring chicken. 

I was surprised that the "Englishman" (Serafin) was portrayed as making a social class mistake.  Social class is pretty influential in Germany but to this day it is even more so in England.  An  educated Englishman would NEVER make a class mistake as gross as that portrayed.  Heuberger must not have known the English well. There were actually several points in the show where the English were mocked. Serafin's mistake was inviting the loud and brassy "sister" of a Paris cafe proprietor (undoubtedly a rather "available" lady) to a formal middle-class dinner.  It at least reduced the tension that she arrived late.

Her gaffes were epic:  Mistaking In flagrante as a place in Italy and not at all knowing what a Tintoretto was.  But she was indulged.  

Like most Australians, I have no time for social class myself but it is a central concept in sociology, which I taught for a number of years.  I even have a published  academic journal article on the subject. See also here. So maybe I know something about it anyway.

And another social class oddity was that "Hortense" had a rather familiar relationship with the family who employed her.  I suppose that master/servant relationships do differ and this one was simply towards one end of the spectrum. The maid had an out-of-class role in Fledermaus too, particularly in the recent Moerbisch version. 

And when the servant "borrowed" from her mistress a garment to wear to the ball, that was, of course, another re-run of Fledermaus.

And the show ends up in classical operetta style with lots of laughs.  The scene of three men marching up together to confront  a line of three ladies was a great comic invention. But all three couples were happily reunited. After all the dramas, they end up flying into one-another's arms:  How it should be but not always so in real life.

I should mention that the show was presented as a Rahmenerzaehlung -- a story within a story.  The "outer" and quite minor story was of Tolouse Lautrec telling what happened at the Parisian opera ball to his nice-looking young red-headed model. It was quite a nice little story but quite tangential to the whole.  I suppose it was a way of getting a narrator on stage.  Narrators are not common in shows these days but they have their uses.

The bit I liked about that story was when the model imagined the fallout from the ball. She saw the galumphing Caesare-Aristide as triumphant because of the lies that "Feodora" told about his performance in the Chambre Séparée. Crazy!

The model

Four good scenes, Serafin discovering the Parisian ladies in the first one.  Some good shots of Iwanowa in the second one. And the Chambre séparée song in the final one.  The lady in sky-blue is the maid "Hortense"

Putting up film clips one after another does seem to get YouTube muddled rather often but let me try it. I try below to put up the 1964 clip of the  Chambre séparée scene -- with Peter Alexander and the ultra-feminine Ingeborg Hallstein.  I like the voices better there. If it doesn't come up, it is here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/OYP4jTTa5tM

Note the tiny gesture she uses to tell her escort to blow out the candles. Hallstein is good at tiny but expressive gestures.  She really is the ultimate female.

Other details

At the risk of exposing myself as a naif in these matters, I was rather surprised at the continual rain of confetti (if that is what it was) at the Paris opera ball. In the days of my youth, I went to quite a few balls at Brisbane's much acclaimed but now lost "Cloudland" ballroom but I never encountered anything like that. It has been said that a significant fraction of Brisbane's population was conceived in the "Cloudland" carpark so there is no doubt that it was a good ballroom. I just have memories of some lovely ladies at that time. The only one whose name I can remember is Zita Trevethan

It would be rather silly of me to try to explain all the jokes and allusions in the show -- so I won't try  -- but but perhaps I should explain what the "three sacred things" were that Paris and Vienna were said to have.  Paris had Napoleon Bonaparte, the Red Mill (Moulin Rouge) cabaret and the opera ball.  Vienna had Sissi, the Prater and their Opernball.  "Sissi" was the late, admired, and still commemorated Empress Elizabeth of Austria. There is to this day a museum devoted to her in Vienna.  And the Prater is a large public park which includes the oldest amusement park in the world -- plus many other attractions.

And what was the bergère that Serafin was asked to inspect? A bergère is basically a big comfortable French armchair with an upholstered back and armrests.  In this case, however, it would have been a fancy and upholstered chair for two. You see one in the clip with Hallstein above

I thought I might also say a word on what a "Domino" is when it comes to ladies' clothing. They are basically a 19th century phenomenon.  They were all-covering garments often worn to masked balls and the like. They are a way of hiding in plain sight, so were well adapted to the story in this show.  As you can see from the picture of "Hortense" below, they had hoods and big sleeve and usually had fancy trims. They are usually in mostly dark colors so in this show the pinkness stood in for fancy trims and helped them to be easily identified by the adventure-seeking males.  The inside of the hoods, however, was black.

And the journalist's half-remembered dream from the future was a bit of a challenge.  Who were "Birdstein" and "Caravan", for instance"?  Fairly easy: "Bernstein" and "Karajan".  But the others were harder.  "Nelly" was presumably Grace Kelly and "Pallas" was "Maria Callas", but that is as far as I can confidently go.  Was one of the others Jacqueline du Pré?  Maybe. I have her wonderful recording of the Elgar cello concerto.

The massive hair arrangements that the ladies wore had a certain attractiveness.  Like the holy apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11), I like a lot of hair on the head of a lady.  But they were rather obviously wigs on this occasion so I could have done without that.  The wigs really sprouted when they went to the ball. Only "Hortense" seemed to be showing her own hair throughout.


One word that was wisely left untranslated in the generally excellent subtitles was "Kobold".  "The fairies" or "gremlins" would work as translations  in some contexts but basically it is a German myth that has no exact translation.  Kobolds were mischievous spirits with no clear equivalent in the English-speaking world.

An odd thing about German was that the pink dominoes were variously described as "nelke" or "rosa".  Both are names of flowers in German.  There is no dedicated word for "pink" in German as there is in English.  I gather that "rosa" is the most common translation of "pink" but roses come in a many colors -- as any Texan will tell you.

I wonder a little why Chambre Séparée is used in the show when perfectly good German alternatives would seem to be available -- Privatzimmer, Privatkammer and even Privatgemach.  I guess that use of French is seen as more sophisticated.  There is an impression of the French to that effect in the English-speaking world too. If sexual promiscuity equates to sophistication, I guess the impression is an accurate one. An amusing thing is that the expression as a whole is German rather than French.  The French say "cabinet particulier".  Boringly "private room" in English, of course. 

As Obama might say, let me make that perfectly clear:  Although it uses French words, Chambre Séparée is actually a German expression. 

And a VERY small point that pleased me:  I noticed that in the Ueberall song "Angele" referred to Naples as "Neapel". Most likely that is normal German practice but it is quite sophisticated. In Tuscan Italian the city is Napoli.  But  "Neapel" is how Neapolitanians refer to their city.  And what a marvellous example of continuity that is. When the Greeks founded the city around 2,800 years ago they called it "Neapolis" -- meaning "New city". And "Neapel" is very close to that ancient Greek name: Marvellous.  Memory preserved over an amazing stretch of time.

Seeing it is such a big feature of the show, I thought I might give below one version of the words of the Im Chambre Séparée song, followed by my translation of it into English.  

Geh'n wir in's chambre séparée 
Let's go into the private room
Ach, zu dem süssen tete a tete, 
Oh! for the sweet head to head
dort beim Champagner und beim Souper 
There with champagne and supper
man alles sich leichter gesteht!
One more easily confesses everything

Ach, kommen Sie, mein Herr,
O come my sir
Dass ich gestehe, 
 That I may confess,
was längst für Sie ich schon empfinde.
What I have long felt for you
So kommen Sie zu Tête à tête
So come to the head to head
Dass ich gestehe; ja, gestehe,
That I may confess, yes confess
Was längst; ja, längst
What for a long time, yes a long time
Für sie ich, ja, empfinde.
What I have felt for you

Geh'n wir in's chambre séparée 
Let's go into the private room
Ach, zu dem süssen tete a tete, 
Oh! for the sweet head to head
dort beim Champagner und beim Souper 
There with champagne and supper
man alles sich leichter gesteht!
One more easily confesses everything

Monday, September 28, 2015

Another expedition to Japan (not really)

It had long been arranged that Katie's father would be coming up to Brisbane from Canberra at about this time of the year.  And he did.  As a proper father he wanted to be sure that his gorgeous daughter was in safe hands.  

Joe however decided not to be present.  That was more reasonable than it seems.  The family knew him well from his time in Canberra.  And there was at that time a gap in his studies and assignments that he wanted to use to visit his friend in Sydney.  Joe values his friends greatly and I entirely approve.  His Sydney friend is the ONLY good friend he has made since his schooldays, so is very important.  And Joe spends quite a bit on airline fares to see his Sydney friend.

But that did leave a bit of a gap here in Brisbane.  So I stepped into the breach and shouted Katie's family a Japanese dinner at my favourite Japanese restaurant here in Buranda.  

Katie's father is a landscaper and when we had a bit of a chat, I heard that retaining walls are one of the things that he does.  I have very strong views on retaining walls.  Is that a surprise?   Most people know that I have strong views on politics so how does it fit that I also have strong views on retaining walls?  Maybe it just means that I have strong views!  I suspect it does.

Anyhow we totally agreed that boulders are the only retaining walls worth having in the long run!  LOL.  But I have been involved with the building game for many years so I think I have picked up a bit about it here and there.

Most of us had the Teriyaki Chicken Don but Katie's mother had the Japanese curry -- which was a good choice. It must come as a surprise to most but the Japanese do brilliant curry!

We retired to my place for tea and coffee afterwards with both Anne and Jenny doing the honours for that.  With two sociable ladies present, the occasion had to be a success!  We had the drinks on my front verandah, which is a place always enjoyed.  The Mulberry tree in front of us was in full leaf, as was the Asparagus vine, so that was a nice environment, but the real boon was a possum or two in the tree in front of us.  Close-up wildlife!  

We discussed the antics of the local bush turkeys a bit.  They are very bold here now that they are protected.  I often see one or two of them strolling down my street.  I always think they would make a nice roast but my father ate them in the good old days and he said that they were pretty tough to eat.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Anne has a challenging weekend

Anne likes as much variety in her dinners as possible.  She is however also suspicious of "new" foods.  A challenging combination!  I have however bullied her into trying various "new" foods -- usually "ethnic" ones -- from time to time and 9 times out of 10 she ends up liking it, even asks for it again!

So on Friday night I took her to "Delights of Paradise", an upmarket Indian restaurant here at Woolloongabba.  And we just had Chaat (snacks).  We had Dahi Puri, Sev Puri, Aloo Tikki Chaat and Samoosas like you have never seen them before.

Dahi Puri

Aloo Tikki Chaat

Poor Anne really struggled but she did end up eating most of it and is ready for another trip -- but not too soon.  I thought it was all wonderful.

Then on Monday morning I made her breakfast "soup", but not like any soup you have had before.  It's something I remembered from my distant youth.  It's what working-class Italians in the North start their day with.  You heat up some milk, break eggs into it (I used only the yolks), add coffee and sugar.  You then serve it up and break bread into it.  It's pretty good stuff.  So Anne had to cope with that "new" thing as well.  But as it was basically just milky coffee it was much more familiar to her and she was quite pleased at having something "different".

A lot of fun

UPDATE: Next Friday night I asked her did she want to have Chaat again and got a firm "No". She did however want to try the main meals there so we did that. She ordered a fish curry and greatly enjoyed it. BUT: It gave her food poisoning. Nothing serious, just Scombroid food poisoning, which can be countered by antihistamines. So she suddenly had the symptoms of a heavy cold for a couple of hours. That place is bad to her.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Giuditta (Judith)

I hesitated for some time before buying the recording  of Giuditta.  With music by Lehar and a performance from Moerbisch (2003) how could I go wrong?  I just did not like the synopsis.  The ending was undoubtedly romantic but it was not happy!  That is usually not allowed in operetta!  No wonder Harald Serafin (for once) did not cast himself in any of the parts.

I cannot for the life of me see why the librettists did not change the ending to a happy one.  It would have been very easy to do.  If I were Intendant, I would.  As it is, the ending was more like grand opera than operetta.   But a lot of people like that, I suppose. I am not the first to note the similarity with "Carmen".  It was Lehar's last work, appearing in 1934.

It was however rather redeemed for me by having Montazeri as the tenor.  And it was amusing to see little Julia Bauer in a "second banana" role again.  She did well.

"Giuditta" was played by Natalia Ushakova, a good-looking green-eyed Russian soprano born in Uzbekistan in 1979.  She debuted in opera in 1999 and has had a rather meteoric career since. She is now an Austrian citizen.  She would have been 24 in this show.  You can hear the power of her voice best here, in a clip from "Tosca".  And here you can hear her giving an impeccable rendition of Puccini's wonderful O mio babbino caro.

Ushakova in a studio shot.  With good looks and a great voice how could she go wrong?

But "Giuditta" was just too neurotic a lady for me, something that Ushakova played extremely well. "Giuditta" had no resilience at all.  But that was part of the role.  She was supposedly of Spanish and North African ancestry: A Mediterranean person.

And the gap between the people of North-Western Europe and the Mediterraneans is well-known-- emotional Southerners and cool Northerners. And both groups are aware of it.  Italians tend to regard Germans as very alarming people, for instance.

I am of the Northwestern Volk.  And it is an easily definable Volk.  It is simply people who speak Germanic languages and trace their ultimate ancestry to the shores of the Baltic --  the Germanic people -- whether Germans, English, Scandinavians or the German lands more broadly defined (Swiss, Flanders etc).  We are all pretty similar in our restrained emotionality.

But in the South emotions run riot.  And Giuditta was certainly a case of that.  Women routinely choose military men as partners because they are real men.  But they all "wait" for their men while their men are on deployment. Giuditta had no conception of that.

Anyway the Giuditta lady just seemed nutty to me.  Compare that with my favourite operetta  -- Wiener Blut -- where Hallstein is as cool as a cucumber throughout.  A great difference but still lots of laughs.  There weren't many in Giuditta

I use the German word Volk because it is right for what I mean.  English has no equivalent word.  It is NOT "Right wing".  The old Communist East Germany put VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb) on all its products.  "Right-wing" Communists?

The clip below is of Ushakova singing her Giuditta theme song (Meine Lippen, sie kuessen so heiss).  Rather low rez, I am afraid

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Joe gets a job

Joe has been taken on as a software developer with a computer firm  that is named after a spider.  Expect his own site to be renamed  as "arachnid software".

It is quite a coup for him considering that he started studying IT little more than a year ago.  He has definitely found his niche.  As it was for me, programming is just easy for him.  I shook his hand to congratulate him when he gave me the news:  Very demonstrative by traditional Anglo-Saxon standards! Joe did see that as a rite of passage (to be anthropological about it)

He wants to finish his Uni courses this year so is happy the job is only part-time at the moment.  He expects that his role will expand in time, however.

I took Joe, Kate and Kristian to our favourite Japanese restaurant to celebrate.  I took a bottle of Barossa Pearl to help but nobody drank much.  Joe and I are natural jokers so we don't need alcohol to become cheerful.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Vera Lynn

I quote:

"Dame Vera Lynn, DBE (born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917) is an English singer and actress whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during World War II. During the war she toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. She was called "The Forces' Sweetheart"; the songs most associated with her are "We'll Meet Again" and "The White Cliffs of Dover". She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the United States and recording such hits as "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" and "My Son, My Son". In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to make it to No. 1 on the British album chart, at the age of 92. She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She is still held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century"

All of that means nothing unless you enjoy her singing.  And I do.  With her emotional voice who would not? Her most famous  song is "We'll Meet Again" but also try "When I Grow too Old to Dream".

She even sings a German song effectively here: "Lili Marlene".  It's the voice that does it.  It transforms a German prostitute into a romantic wonder.  It's a great song so it is a wonder that an English singer does what is probably the best version of it. Marlene Dietrich also has claims, of course.

Perhaps most amazing of all, we have here her singing wonderfully that great British patriotic song "Land of hope and glory"


She looks so wonderfully English -- which she was and what she  stood for -- much of which now seems to be lost.

Friday, September 11, 2015

IQ, Sex roles and tradition: A reflection

Having a high IQ has all sorts of advantages.  It has been known since the '20s that high IQ people do better in education, tend to earn more, live longer and have better health.  They even have more stable marriages.  So what's not to like about that?

Only one thing but it is a biggie.  It greatly constrains communication with run-of-the-mill folk.  High IQ really puts you into a different world of thinking.  I can be using language which is natural to me and find that I am making the person I am talking to slack-jawed.  They just cannot follow what I am saying.

I am of course aware of that and do my best to tame my vocabulary on everyday occasions but it is more than a matter of vocabulary.  It is how you look at things and what you think about.  I have on various occasions tried to listen in on conversations between shop-assistants and the like -- and the conversation just seems to me to be too trivial to be worth saying. I just could not do it.  Their mental horizons seem tiny to me.

And where that is a particular bugbear is in male/female relationships.  If I see a nice-looking lady who is (say) a checkout chick, I would often be inclined to get to know her.  But I know it is hopeless.  I just cannot do conversation at that level. I would just have to mention some general term in what I say to have the lady freeze.  She too knows that she and I come from different mental worlds. In her vocabulary, I would be a "toff" or the like.

So finding girlfriends has always been difficult for me.  Most women that I meet just seem to be too dumb.  Joe had that problem for a while too.  The only women smart enough for him were Asian. But he has now given the Asian ladies up in favour of a nice-looking blue-eyed woman he met at university.

So one has to sift through huge numbers of women to find a compatible one.  But that has its rewards.  High IQ people tend to be healthier, taller and better-looking.  So finding a high IQ lady is finding a treasure indeed.  And the feeling tends to be mutual.  Highly intelligent women HATE men being duller than them so are greatly relieved to meet someone who is at least their equal intellectually. Even a woop like me gets a welcome. When two highly intelligent people meet, it is arriving at the "haven under the hill".

Just a little bit of culture that would once been recognized immediately but is no more: Tennyson's great lament over the death of his homosexual lover includes the line:

"And the stately ships go on / To their haven under the hill"

Google will get you there but you first have to know what to Google. And it is the poem as a whole that delivers the effect. I am a great devotee of the culture of the German lands but English culture offers enormous resources too -- but only if your education has made that available to you, which modern education does not.  I am a dinosaur -- but a very happy one.  I have that  which was lost

What?!  You didn't realize that I was also quoting when I said, "that which was lost"?  It's in Luke 19:10.

But, sadly, even shared IQ is not always enough.  All the normal rules of male/female relationships still apply.  And there is an operetta that depicts those well.

One should not normally look for serious themes in operetta but Leo Fall and his librettists clearly had one in mind in creating Die Dollarprinzessin.  He pushes it in both the "Alice" and "Daisy" stories of the show.  Part of 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!

But more generally, Die Dollarprinzessin is in fact a celebration of traditional sex roles.  Accepting such differences and working within them is needed for good male/female relationships.  Most  women HATE to have a man they can push around, for instance. They want a man with a mind of his own. "Daisy" in the show says that explicitly.  So men have to be men and women have to be women.  If you don't like that, your relationships will suffer.

GLOSSARY:  In good academic style, I am going to add a very small glossary to the above post.  A glossary is an explanation of unusual words and terms.  I use the word "woop" above.  "Woop" is one of those wonderful words from Australian slang that are powerfully meaningful but cannot be completely translated into formal English. At its most basic, "woop" means "poorly dressed person" but it is also redolent of country people dressing in the fashions of yesteryear in a failed attempt to be modern.  A woop is a figure of fun for his unsophisticated and inappropriate dress.  That's the best I can do to explain it.  I have been a woop for most of my life.  Even my mother accused me of being a woop!  And I don't care! But woops just don't notice anyway!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fathers' day

I had an unusual Fathers' day.  Joe actually remembered! And he marked the occasion by getting a haircut and dressing up!  Dressing up by Brisbane standards anyway.  He wore long pants, a striped business shirt and a tie!  The footwear needed work, however.  It was actually all in aid of a job interview he was having the next day but putting it on a day early helped familiarize him with it, which was wise.

The haircut was a bit severe so I told Joe he looked like a coconut -- which is what people used to tell me when I got a haircut.  That was in the '70s when men tended to wear their hair long.  I did too but once a year I would go to the barber and ask for "short back & sides", once the standard man's haircut.  From what I gather, "short back & sides" is back in fashion these days, though the short sides extend further up than they used to.

He was wearing a plain blue tie so I donated him one of my striped ties, in the theory that it would make him look as if he belonged somewhere.

We had a good dinner, however. Joe, Anne, Kate and myself were joined by two of Joe's mates, Kristian and Eugene.  We went to "Mr Steak", which we always enjoy.  Joe and I once again had steakburgers.  Everybody else had proper steak dinners, however. "Mr Steak"'s dinners definitely satisfy.

Joe eats like a soldier: rapidly.  I do too but Joe always beats me.  Kate seems to wish he would slow down.  I have been told that by female persons too.  But I explained to Kate that it's genetic so he can't help it. I am not sure she was convinced. Anyway it was a very congenial dinner.

Von tells me that she cooked for the day! She made a Lasagne that went down well. Von's cookery has a bad reputation, which is why Simon normally cooks.  Von had better not get too good or she might have to do it more often!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Die Herzogin von Chicago by Kalman

The American "Mary Lloyd" above, heiress to a Chicago sausage fortune

This 1928 operetta is ostensibly about America but is really all about the feelings of Imre Kalman. Kalman was a Hungarian Jew who wrote a string of very popular operettas in the '20s and '30s. His music was so popular that Hitler even offered to make him an honorary Aryan. Kalman declined and wisely left Germany, ending up in the scorned America. And this operetta embodies Kalman's reflections and feelings about America and Europe. And it is a very European perspective. 

The DVD I have is of a 2005 performance from the Volksoper in Vienna, sung in German. I see that the show had an extended run there so was obviously highly regarded by Viennese audiences


To this day Europeans tend to regard Americans as uncultured people who care only about money. That is of course a great overgeneralization and oversimplification. In most countries the average people are uncultured from an elite perspective but that takes no account of the diversity in the country concerned. Even if only 1% of America's 300 million population are cultured by some arbitrary standard, that means there are 3 million of those splendidly cultured beings in America. And 3 million is a pretty fair potential audience for a show.

At the risk of drifting away from Kalman, I should perhaps mention smart fraction theory here. Originally proposed by the pseudonymous "La Griffe du Lion", smart fraction theory holds that the achievements of any given nation, society or culture are determined not by how smart the population as a whole is but rather by how smart the top people in the society are. I agree with the Bitter Clinger that Griffe's numbers are implausible (they were only meant as an exploration) but the general idea seems sound and has had some empirical support. So evaluations of a society based on what is normal or average can underestimate the potential and productivity in any field of that society.

The prime example in support of the theory is of course high-achieving Israel, which has an average IQ but a clear smart fraction in the Ashkenazim, but the same is also probably true for the USA -- which for various reasons has long drawn the smartest people of other societies to it -- including Kalman and about 5 million other Ashkenazi Jews. And America's scientific and artistic productivity is indeed great. The whole world sings American popular songs, for instance. And American performers spread their wings worldwide. Despite Europe's own great productivity in the arts, American sopranos, tenors and baritones still show up rather a lot on European stages. The leading lady in this show is in fact Canadian, if that counts. 

I doubt that I really need to give examples but the 1975 Stuttgart performance of Zigeuner Baron that I have has TWO attractive young American sopranos as leading ladies  -- with the powerful voice of Ellen Shade and the  small but sweet voice of  Janet Perry. And the Zuerich Oper 2004 version of Lustige Witwe features the big Californian Rodney Gilfry as the hilariously tormented Graf.

And even American composers are making a mark. The only interesting composer in the second half of the 20th century, in my view, is Philip Glass, an American Jew.

But Kalman can be forgiven his jaundiced feelings. Russia was by far the biggest loser from WWI but Austria was badly hit too, losing something like 90% of its territory. And Kalman is clearly a heartfelt European who misses terribly the brilliant cultural, intellectual and musical life of the great city that was prewar Vienna. Via his main character, he even hopes plaintively at a couple of points in the show that it will one day return. So Europe in the '20s is in alarming disarray and America seems crass. 

Does Kalman have any consolation? He does. His gypsies. Kalman has what could almost be called a manic and delusory fascination with gypsies. His operetta Graefin Mariza can be seen as one long hymn to them. So in "Chicago Princess" they are also portrayed as a great consolation. They were all that Kalman could hang on to. Lehar debunked that, though.

But the music was brilliant, very lively and varied. It probably tells you all you need to know about '20s popular music. It was in fact written in the late '20s and was a deliberate attempt by a brilliant composer to capture what was characteristic of the music of that period.

The casting

The Prince is well cast in the person of the Iranian-Austrian tenor Mehrzad Montazeri. I watch and re-watch the show mainly to see him singing.  I usually like the leading ladies best in an operetta but Eberhard Waechter in my DVD of  Graf von Luxemburg is another instance where I liked the male lead best. And in the 2008 performance of Im Weissen Roessl at Moerbisch, my favourite actor is Klaus-Dieter Lerche, not for his singing but for his expert delivery of his hilarious part as Herr Gieseke.

Montazeri is a big well-built man with a big voice and a big presence. He looked and sounded like a prince. I like to see a manly man in the leading male role and Montazeri is a most manly man. The star of the show is presumably meant to be the "Duchess of Chicago" but, although Canadian mezzo Norine Burgess (what an Anglo name! She is definitely one of my Volk) was perfectly competent in that role, it was Montazeri who stood out and more or less stole the show. He seemed to have a natural good humour which showed -- particularly towards the end.

He also had an irrefragable dignity, which I liked.  And his part  as a conservative advocate of monarchy would be either a mystery or a folly to Americans but it went down well with me. I am a conservative monarchist happily living in a monarchy! God save the Queen! So I actually agreed with most of what the main character was preaching!   Did Kalman really have a soft spot for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy?  It seems so.

It was perhaps a bit mad to have an Iranian singing the great song about the wonders of Viennese music around the middle of the show but he did it so well that I cannot imagine it done better. I think he has just become my favourite operatic tenor -- with useless apologies to the late Josef Schmidt. Montazeri is these days an Austrian citizen and has lived in Austria for nearly 40 years so I think we can now gladly call him an Austrian.

His part in this show was certainly a great one for him. He was cast to portray a great range of feelings and did so convincingly.  It was a much more sympathetic part than his part as the lover of the half-mad Giuditta in the opera of that name.

Norine Burgess as "Mary" did not have a sympathetic part but she came across well in the canoe scene. She has been much praised for her role in this show and I can see why.  She is a a very expressive lady with a very mellow voice who  gets all her notes with great ease.  Most of us like to greet life with a smile and I assume that she does too.  But the part required her to express a whole gamut of negative emotions -- anger, scorn, horror, hauteur etc. -- and her face did that well. Her face when dancing with the King was quite amazingly expressive -- mostly of horror!   She is one talented actress as well as a superb singer.  

She also seemed to be rather tall, which generally goes down well.  Many fashion models are over 6' tall.  I would like to be able to document her height precisely.  Sadly, however, if the age of operetta ladies is usually a State Secret their height is even more so.  Nobody mentions it

And I very much liked the performance of Renée Schüttengruber as "Rosemarie", the betrothed princess. Let me say that again: "I very much liked the performance of Renée Schüttengruber as "Rosemarie", the betrothed princess". She looked good and acted with charm. Her voice seemed to me to have something Chinese about it but it would need wiser people than me to pinpoint anything there. I think it is a pity that she did not keep the same hairstyle throughout, though.  The 1920s water wave she started out with looked a lot better than her later frizz.  Nobody should do that to blonde hair.

And I did not initially recognize Sándor Németh as "Perolin", the follicularly deprived politician. I last saw him as the manic dancer in my 1970s performance of Csardasfuerstin. Time has marched on.  I am delighted to see him still going well. He did at one stage burst into a short bit of fancy footwork, to the surprise of his fellow politician. He still had the spirit.

The royal guardsmen were a bit sad. They had no skill at drill at all. They were very obviously actors pretending to be soldiers. Montazeri had a good military bearing, though -- as befits the Hussar's uniform he wore for most of the show.  If you want to see what good drill looks like watch China's recent parade in celebration of victory over Japan.  The marching starts around the 11 minute mark.  Truly formidable. No-one in his right mind would take on the PLA.

Perhaps I should mention here that the uniform Montazeri wore for most of the show was a Hussar's uniform.  You can tell that by the decorative horizontal bands across front of the coat. Hussars were a form of light cavalry invented in Hungary but which subsequently spread throughout most of Europe.  Young men of the European nobility were expected to enlist in the armed forces  (the men of our Royal family still do) and most of them went into the Hussars.

The story

The story is filled with depictions of American crassness and penurious Europeans who are prepared to sell their souls for American money. Rich American ladies refreshing the fortunes of impoverished British and European aristocrats were, of course, long a frequent phenomenon. Winston Churchill was the product of one such union.

So a blase American heiress decides she wants to "buy" herself a European Prince with all the trimmings so goes to the mythical and impoverished land of Sylvaria to do so. Judging by the Cyrillic letters on the local newspaper briefly displayed at one point (some sort of Gazeta), the setting was probably somewhere in what was for a time Yugoslavia.  But they also seemed to speak Hungarian -- so that is pretty confusing.  Hungarian does not use Cyrillic.

She finds that she is genuinely attracted to the handsome and principled Prince of the country but they have a culture clash. She is a product of the "Roaring 20's" jazz age who likes to dance the Charleston while he is a traditional and conservative European devoted to the waltz and all things European. The waltz ALWAYS gets good press in operettas. But 1920 to 1933 was the Prohibition era in the USA so the usual glorification of champagne and drinking generally was absent.

The show was in fact cast as a contest between the Charleston and the walz.  As we now know, the walz won hands down and the Charleston is no more.  I am no dancer but as far as I can see, America's big contribution to dance was Rock 'n Roll. But Kalman was not to know that.

And, in good operetta style, there was a misdirected letter that threw the lovers into temporary disarray. It was actually a telegram. Does anybody remember what they were? I sent a few in my day, with one I wrote in Italian being still remembered.

There is also a second string story where "Bondy", the servant of the "Duchess", runs off with "Rosemarie", the betrothed European princess. The story there is so corny that it could almost be mealie pap, if I am allowed to break into Afrikaans. The servant convinces the princess that he is in the movies and wants to cast her in one. She loves it, of course. Ladies rather like being noticed (even little girls look to see who is watching them) and being in a movie is being noticed writ large. 

But even when he confesses that he is actually a nobody, she forgives him and encourages him to continue the fantasy. That scene -- where she says "We are still here" -- really was charmingly done. I felt a bit teary about it.  And she then runs off with him with marriage in mind. All Hollywood would understand that (or at least idealize that), I think. So operetta's usual two happy endings are delivered.  

The production

The production was a very modern one, which I could have done without. The bald ladies with thin legs dancing to an aborted Beethoven theme were particularly revolting IMHO. But I think they were meant to be. And I thought the device of "Bondy" ("Mary's" servant)  running around always holding a large film canister was simply tedious.  

The whole pretend filming in the show was a bit tedious but it did at least serve as a narration.  Having a narrator in a show is uncommon these days but has plenty of precedent. And "Bondy" (Wolfgang Gratschmaier) put a lot of energy into the part, which kept it alive

And the scenes of the Prince dancing with the young sister of his betrothed were pretty weird. But this is operetta, of course. I guess I just didn't get the point.  My bad!  Is it in praise of kid sisters?  Beats me!

The subtitles were very badly done, sometimes in very rough English -- English words in German word-order, for instance -- and they flipped off the screen far too quickly. But they sufficed. Some things were not translated at all so I was glad I have some knowledge of German. 

There were bits of gibberish, some of which appeared to be Hungarian and some of which were a jumble of schoolboy French (including L'Etat C'est Moi!) and bits of English (e.g. "bungalow").  It must have been there for some reason but again that passed me by. I think the production was a bit on the "too clever" side in a number of ways.
The Symbolism

I am not sure who is behind the prolific symbolism in the show but I suspect that most of it came from the  Intendant at the Volksoper rather than from Kalman.  Some of it was clear and some Delphic.  That Bondy wanted a medal with a star on it rather than a cross was clear enough.  It was a reminder that this show was the work of a Jew.  The star was the star of David.

And the unopenable locket was clearly a reference to a marriage which would  NOT take place.  And when Bondy gets the locket, he also gets the girl, of course. But beyond that it gets hairy.

I THINK I can guess what the cartoon scene was all about. Dancing and learning new dances is a central issue in the story and there are online various "how to dance" lessons, some of which are in cartoon form. The producers of this show were apparently amused enough by them to bring them more to life.

And I thought I got the scene where a man comes on stage in blackface and then has the blacking cleaned off him. I saw that as predicting the increasing acceptance by the Prince of "n*gger" music but the post-show notes on the disk tell me that it was more than that.  It was apparently a sort of tribute to the popular Weimar-style jazz opera Jonny spielt auf by Krenek. That opera also dwelt on the collision of American and European cultures.  There was apparently a performance of Jonny spielt auf in the late 20s where a black saxophonist had his sax grabbed off him by a Nazi sympathizer who then proceeded to play it himself. So the episode in Die Herzogin von Chicago is an allusion to that.  Complicated!

Political incorrectness

And I must admit that I did have to laugh at the political "incorrectness" of the show. For a start, the appearance of "Mary" in the canoe scene wearing a big "Indian" head-dress would not at all pass muster in America these days.  It would be "cultural appropriation".  Though why that is bad escapes me.

And jazz was repeatedly described as "n*gger music" for instance. I can't entirely fault that. American hysteria about whites using that word does seem absurd to me. Why can blacks use it but not whites?  Anyway, the terms were used in this 2005 performance from Austria 

I think it was about 2005 that the High Court of Australia ruled that "n*gger" was not offensive in Australia -- so perhaps we have some unexpected convergence between Australia and Austria there. 

The post-show notes were however, a bit apologetic about using now-deplored words in the show.  They said that the operetta was a work of its time and they wanted to be historically correct about it.  They actually called their staging of the show "archaeological" -- because the work been so long forgotten. They saw themselves as reviving for German audiences a work that was banned in the '30s and had subsequently been lost from sight.  I am very glad that they did revive it.  It is basically just Viennese froth and bubble but light entertainment can be good for the soul too.

The finale

In the end attraction overcomes culture clash. The Prince grabs "Mary" and plants a big kiss on her. Very decisive!  And his big smile portrays a happy ending to the show most convincingly.  And a compromise about the dancing is found. Mary dances a waltz and the Prince does a Charleston, which he persuades himself is really a sort of Csardas! Done accelerando, I suppose that could be (at a stretch).

He does at one stage sing well for a Csardas himself.  A pity the costume department did not put the "Hungarian" ladies into the traditional red skirts -- but maybe it had something to do with the lighting.  The same ladies were very fair-skinned "Indians" later on!

A singing Prince! No wonder "Mary" liked him! Burgess must have liked that kiss too. Montazeri is definitely "tall, dark and handsome". With his brilliant big smile, he even looked good in a cowboy outfit. Did Canada get its mezzo back after that show? Perhaps not immediately. She has three kids at home and a figure like a tree so I imagine that she doesn't get a lot of action normally.  Though she does have a pretty face.  She has split from her singer husband so who knows?

More detail of the plot here. There is a video of the second half of the show here.  The guy in the dressing gown is "Bondy", though why he wears that I am not sure. The lady is in the bath by that stage and he does attend her there so maybe it is some sort of bathrobe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An escape and an anniversary

On Sunday, 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.  I see the 2008 Vintage of Grange was awarded 'perfect' 100 point ratings from two influential American wine reviewers, "Wine Spectator". and "Wine Advocate" -- and both Anne and I drew similar conclusions, oblivious of those judgments.

I also 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!