SOME MEMOIRS -- by John Ray
Some occasional personal notes from a quiet life...

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Old folk at lunch

As Oscar Wilde may have said: "Life is too important to be taken seriously". But the Hagakure had the idea too: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly"


29 December, 2015

An early New Year's eve

Anne will be away bushwalking on New Year's eve so we brought our celebration forward to today.

Anne brought along some fresh Sydney rock oysters as she usually does for special dinners. They are small but very tasty.

We had our favourite main course: Lots of lamb cutlets with plenty of salt and fried onions -- plus salad and bread.  I guess it seems humble but it suits us. 

It may surprise some but lamb is a rather dear meat in Australia these days.  Not many families can have it routinely.  There is a lot of demand for the bodies of our dear little woolly creatures from overseas, which jacks up the price.

Von and Simon live in NZ sheep country and they in fact produce lambs with some regularity.  So they can always have all the lamb they want as long as they can explain to little Hannah where all the dear little lambs have gone.  Not easy!

Simon told me where NZ sheepmeat mostly goes but all that I can remember is that mutton mostly goes to India.  What the main markets for hogget and lamb are I forget -- but I think the Middle East is big somewhere there. 

We had a bottle of St. Henri shiraz with it.  St. Henri used to be regarded as the second best wine from Penfolds after Grange. That may not still be so.  It is a fairly expensive drop but nowhere near as dear as Grange. It used to be a lighter wine than Grange and it still is but it is much closer to Grange these days.  Anyway, it went down well

We finished off with some Christmas pudding and cream.

Then we took a trip to the Mozarthaus in Salzburg to take in an excellent performance of one of the world's most famous comic operas, Così fan tutte.  We went there via my big screen and a two-DVD set I have recently acquired.  You see more on DVD than you would by going there physically anyway. 

As anybody who knows the show will tell you, it was was 200 minutes of silliness,  but amusing silliness.  It was the 2013 performance that I have.  I did not know any of the singers but it was a good production all round:  Minimal sets but lots of wonderful Mozart music.

BTW:  People who know no Italian sometimes pronounce the name of the show as if it were "Cosy fan tutte".  It is not.  The squiggle on top of the i tells you that the final syllable is accented.  It is an "ee" sound. Italian almost always stresses the penultimate syllable but, like all natural languages, it has some irregularities.


Von found the useful chart below about where our lambs go.  The big consumer is Europe, followed by Japan. Makes sense.  There's lots of well-off people there.  Australia and New Zealand may sell into different markets, however.

25 December, 2015

A good Christmas

On Xmas eve Jenny put on a sausage sizzle for 6 of us: Herself & Nanna, Joe and Kate and Anne and myself.  The sausages were allegedly by Heston Blumenthal but the degree of his involvement must be speculative.  They were good anyway.  Sausages are one of my favorite foods.  And we had a good Pavlova for dessert.

So Kate had a real family occasion for Xmas even though she was away from her own family.  There were 3 generations present, including a 91 year old grandma. 

Jenny had presents under her tree for us all and Anne brought along some presents too. I just handed out cheques of a sufficient amount to buy something pretty good.  They seemed well received.  Nanna said she is going to spend her cheque on a "nice" new watch.

Joe got a game called "5 second rule" which we all later played. To progress in the game you have to answer simple questions very rapidly.  My brain has slowed down in my old age so I was hopeless at it.  Kate was the youngest present and she won it.

And on Xmas day Joe drove us out to Suzy & Russell's place -- our frequent venue for family occasions.  We had cheeses for morning tea including one that was vegetarian -- made from tofu or some such!  I didn't try it. Lunch was mainly the product of a big and nicely cooked ham, with accompaniments, of course.  There was no food-freakery about our Xmas fare.  It  was totally "incorrect" according to a lot of modern notions but we all just bogged in to it all.  Timmy had brought along some creations based on Tim Tams that seemed likely to cause instant diabetes!

I talked mainly to Jenny, Ken and our Squadron Leader.  He really is a Squadron Leader -- back in Brisbane for the holidays.  Not being an airforce type, I always have to ask him if he is a Squadron Leader or a Wing Commander but he informed me that Wing Commander is way too high up for him.  He doesn't fly aircraft but he does supervise them.  We had a big debate at one stage over whether fantasy fiction is good fiction.  Ken and I thought not and Kate weighed in with a defence of Harry Potter.

We talked a fair bit about global warming at one stage, which we all find hilarious.  Kate was not aware of the facts about it so Joe, Ken and I explained it all to her.  As a psychology graduate, she is familiar with the concept of statistical significance so was surprised to hear that the differences between average global temperatures for recent years have not been statistically significant. 

In that case, a scientist should report that global temperatures have been flat for nearly 20 years -- with no warming whatsoever.  As Kate said in proper philosophy of science terms, the null hypothesis should have been accepted. The media however always report the tiny differences -- usually in one hundredths of one degree -- as showing that the recent year has been the "warmest".  Sadly, most people believe it.  Tiny random fluctuations are held to prove something.

I actually spent most of Xmas eve writing a small essay about global warming and I made some other points to Kate that are the same as the last two paragraphs of that essay.

So it was a day of interesting and fun discussions.

For the kids there was a water balloon fight in which some of the adults joined too.  That was obviously the biggest fun of the day. There were three littlies present: Dusty, Sahara and Ava-Marie.  Little Ava-Marie has turned out to be a very pretty little girl.

We arrived at about 10 o'clock and left at about 3 o'clock. As soon as I got home I had a big nap.

At around 7pm Anne arrived at my place after being at her son's place for most of the day.  We watched the Queen's Xmas message and then had our usual Christmas night supper: ham sandwiches.  I always buy the ham for our Christmas lunch so get to take a few  offcuts with me when I leave to go home. So it makes very nice ham sandwiches later on

I liked the Queen's Christmas message.  I was please that she quoted chap. 1 of the Gospel of John, a most interesting chapter that I have studied at great length.  I can even recite some of it in the original Greek!  The gnostic elements in it make it interesting.

I am rather pleased to see that the Queen, who is Head of the Church of England, is actually a Christian.  As she said in her 2014 message: "For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life."


And Anne and I carried on our gastronomic adventures into Boxing day.  For breakfast Anne made us some chipolata sausages and beans with fried onions and and a fried egg.  Plus toast off course.  It is undoubtedly humble food but I enjoyed it.  It is food of my own ethnicity and I am happy about that.

And that night was a Saturday night, which is my sandwich night.  I don't like going out on Saturday night among all the drunks so I eat at home and use the time to indulge myself with another of my likes: Sandwiches. 

And the bread you use for sandwiches does matter.  For some reason unknown to me the far-and-away best white bread in Brisbane comes from Chinese bakers. So I went to the brilliant Chinese bakery at  the Woolloongabba Fiveways and got a loaf of it for my sandwich night.

We still had some ham off the bone left over from Christmas so we had ham sandwiches without any pickles or anything else on them.  And that was great.

The Chinese also make brilliant meat pies, rather surprisingly, so when I was there I saw some of them winking crustily at me in the display cabinet so had to buy one of them too.  Anne and I had half of it each.

9 December, 2015

A welcome visit

I was pleased today to receive a visit from Martin C**, a relative on my mother's side. As far as I can figure he is my second cousin. And he looked in good form. He is a good-looking blue-eyed and good humoured man in the prime of his life. He even has hair. I have some but he has more.

I got my brother to come along as he is the one who is up with our family genealogy. Martin has done heaps in that direction so I needed help with that.

I was amused to find that Martin is like most of my relatives -- very conservative, I am not going to dob him in but what once was said of Syngman Rhee (who was he?) is roughly true of Martin: "He is so far Right that he is almost out of sight". My brother and my son are similar so Martin was in congenial company. It's a pity he does not live in Brisbane normally. He would be a fun guest on many occasions. I would like to hear him talk to some Leftists. They wouldn't believe their ears.

He lives in the far North, where I come from. And views such as his or mine are perfectly mainstream there. I suspect that my surviving sister, Mrs. Smith (Yes.  That really is her name),  might think that way too. I know she loathes Arabs. She lived in Saudi for a couple of years,  while her husband was working there,  so experienced first-hand the disgusting way Arabs treat women.

Martin very kindly brought with him a selection of the photographic treasures he has discovered. Below is one of old Paulina, when she was working as a maid in England. She was my great-grandmother on my mother's side.

Another very rare picture below -- of old Joe, Paulina's husband. We have quite a few pictures of him but this is unique. It shows him as a boy with HIS father.

Note the sharp shoes on the father. And note his confident stance. A man of fashion? My father was "a bit of a lair" in his youth

7 December, 2015


I like hummus so when I was in Woolworths recently I asked an employee where where I could find some.  She promptly directed me  to the appropriate place on the shelves.  And I found there a number of offerings. And the one I bought was excellent.

But, being an old guy, I could not help reflecting on how differently my enquiry might have been received one or two decades ago.  I would have got: "Hummus?  What's that? We don't stock it".

How times have changed -- for the better.

I look forward to hearing of Von's experience with hummus.  Do they have it in the shaky isles?

2 December, 2015

Le nozze di Figaro

I have just finished watching on DVD a 2006 French performance, sung in the original Italian with English subtitles, of "The Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart.  It is one of the most famous operas of all time so I am perfectly sure that I can say nothing original about it -- except perhaps to say that I still prefer Viennese operetta. Operetta is shorter and wittier.  But Mozart's wonderful music makes up for everything, of course.  The overture is one of my favourite pieces. 

So what I want to do now is just to leave a few notes here for my own future reference about the cast of the performance I saw. I might at first note something amusing, however.  Apparently there was an IKEA in the 18th century!  The opening scene is of Figaro putting bits of a disassembled bed together!  In the original libretto he is just measuring up the room at that point so the producers of this show obviously had a little joke.

Pietro Spagnoli as the Count was very Italian, rather like a Mafia Don, so definitely well-cast.  Luca Pisaroni as Figaro is actually Venezuelan-born but probably from Italian parents.  He grew up in Italy, anyway. He gave a very strong performance.

Well-known German soprano Annette Dasch was strikingly pretty as the Countess.  She is quite tall too, taller than everyone else in the cast aside from Figaro -- and she seems about the same height as him.  And we see at one point that she is wearing FLAT shoes!

Her looks rather show up the gaunt-looking Welsh soprano Rosemary Joshua as Susanna, though Susanna was very well played.  Joshua is very experienced in that role. Maybe Joshua was on a very severe diet at the time. I gather she was born in 1970 or thereabouts so should not have been noticeably aged in 2006.

I disliked Austrian mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager as Cherubino. She is probably a fine woman but I thought she was very unconvincing in the role.  But I detest trouser roles anyway.  The part was originally written for a male so why not stick with that?  I appear to be quite out of tune with the times in that matter, though.  There is actually a currently fashionable feminist claim that men can play women's roles and women can play men's roles and it makes no difference.  As far as I can see, the difference is in fact highly visible.  It is just not good casting.

Looking into the ethnicity of opera singers is a little hobby of mine.  I like to guess what they are on first encountering a singer, even though I mostly get it wrong.  So Sophie Pondjiclis as Marcellina quite puzzled me. At times she looked very Italian but at others did not.  So I looked her up.  She is Greek.  So that rather solved it.  Greeks can be as explosive as Italians but don't do it as often.  That is as I have seen it, anyway.

Some of the info above was a little hard to get. Most of the singers are not well-known.  I very often in such searches find that I can get the info I want from sites in German only.  There is just nothing in English.

When looking up Pondjiclis there was nothing useful in English so I got the info off a non-English site.  I assumed that I was reading German but when I looked closely I saw it was in French, a language I have never studied. The foreigners begin at Calais, you know, to bowdlerize an old expression. 

But, if I know roughly what the text is about, I find I can follow most European languages.  I remember reading a scientific paper in  Romanian once!  With only two major exceptions, European languages are all related, so the Latin, Italian and German I have studied open up other European languages fairly easily.

There are online quite a lot of excerpts from this performance, particularly of the arias sung  by Annette Dasch.  Below are two. Both have English subtitles.  The first is "Dove sono i bei momenti":

And we also have "Che soave zeffiretto"

1 December, 2015

A small health crisis

I don't make a habit of recording my fortunately rare ailments but being an old guy, I am inclined to mention the badder ones. I got a severe attack of diverticulitis on Saturday morning (Nov. 28).  I was pretty sure what it was as I was found to have diverticuli many years ago and have had the very occasional attack since.  In the past I have always "cured" them by simple steps such as going on a liquid diet for a day or two.

This attack was a very painful one, however, and was, as such, pretty disabling.  So I thought it could be something more serious than inflamed diverticuli.  I therefore took myself off to my usual private hospital and had a CAT scan, as one does.

The service at the hospital was first class as usual.  I saw a very good duty doctor and was in the scanner not much longer than 30 minutes after I had walked in the door.  Try to get that promptness of treatment from a public hospital!  It cost me a net $160 to walk in the door but after that my health insurance covered everything.

The scan confirmed diverticulitis so I was given a couple of intravenous infusions of antibiotics and sent on my way with a scrip for Augmentin, the current drug of choice for diverticulitis. The Dr wanted to admit me but I have had enough of hospitals, even the ones that are first class.  But the infusions I got did seem to reduce the problem to a degree so I felt my choice was reasonable anyhow.

When I took the Augmentin tablet that night, however, it gave me terrible nausea, a known side-effect.  I was chucking for about 6 hours.  So the cure was marginally worse than the disease.  So on Sunday and Monday I took nothing at all, in my usual way.  I am no pill-popper. At age 72 I take nothing routinely, which is apparently rather rare

But the problem was still grumbling away to some extent first thing this morning so I went and saw my GP at mid-morning. He agreed that Augmentin can be a problem.  He said he can't take it either, as it gives him diarrhoea.  It's a clever drug but not right for everyone.  So the Flagyl and Keflex I got from my GP have had some use now with good results already appearing.  I should be right pretty soon.

Anne was very helpful while I was really ill, doing what she could for me.  I am still keeping to fairly mushy food at the moment so I got her to feed me some scrambled eggs for my tea tonight.  She makes excellent scrambled eggs so they went down very well.

8 November,2015

An army reunion

Two of my fondest memories are of my teens when I was a "Bible bashing bastard" (to use Gough Whitlam's description of his mortal enemy, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen) and my early 20s when I was a member of Her Majesty's Australian armed forces.  Fundamentalist Protestantism requires a bit of discipline and the army does too and, as a result, both generate cameraderie, which is a good feeling.

My army career was in no way glorious, though not inglorious either. Though I am inclined to believe that at one stage I may have been the most inefficient Sergeant in the Australian Army.  Unless he is being kind, our USM at the time, Rod Hardaker, will probably concur with that.

My unit was 21 Psych, a CMF unit. CMF was the name for Army Reserve at the time -- part-time soldiers, though I in fact went on full-time duties a few times and ended up getting my discharge from a regular unit.

Being a professional corps, the psychology corps was a little different from other army units -- as was remembered several times at the reunion of our Brisbane tentacle of it last night.  It was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the unit -- held at the well-known Kedron/Wavell rissole, which is in fact located at Chermside.  The consensus last night seemed to be that we were smarter than the rest of the Army.  That was probably true, as we were nearly all university people.

The difference that has always amused me is that I found kindred spirits for my love of early classical music in the unit. Both the USM and the OC were like-minded.  So that may have earned my bumbling ways more tolerance that would  otherwise have been the case. I can't imagine another army unit being commanded by people of such arcane tastes, though one of the university regiments might be a possibility.

I was pleased to see that Colonel George Kearney was both present and looking robust -- a man of both academic and military distinction. He must be getting on  now.  But he still managed a stentorian voice for his talk to us all.  And he still has hair!

His vintage showed in his choice of dress, however.  Dress was specified as casual and his dress was indeed a form of casual:  Reefer jacket with grey trousers. I have in fact worn that myself at times in the past but I think its fashionability dates to the '60s or thereabouts. Just as old ladies often wear the hairstyles of their youth, old guys tend to wear the fashions of their youth. The young folk of today must at times be nonplussed by the number of decrepit-looking old guys getting around in shorts much shorter than is now normal.  But we wore such shorts way back when so we still do

It was also interesting to see how the majority present interpreted casual.  There was great consensus that it meant dark trousers and an open-necked checked shirt.  I wore that too.  I "fitted in" for once!

There were actually other similarities among those present: Most were healthy-looking tallish old folks, mostly in their 60s, I would guess, but there was of course a considerable age range. A sadness was that most of us had thickened at the waist but mostly not by a lot.  Both Rod Hardaker and I were, however, among the less virtuous in that regard.

I was remembered during the night mostly for an accident.  During drill for recruit training, I managed to stab myself in the hand with a bayonet.  I think that made the day for most of those present at the time.  I still have the scar. A scar of honour?  Maybe.

I think there were about 60 people present at the gathering so I was a bit disappointed that many of the people from my time were not there.  I was however pleased and interested to greet those I did recognize.  The time that wounds all heels had changed most of us so greatly, however, that we mostly didn't recognize one-another at first.

I am afraid that my native jocularity burst its banks at one stage when I was talking to Peter Muir.  By way of announcing that Peter and I had been at camp together at one stage, I announced to those present that Peter and I had slept together!  In case that produced confusion, I followed that up with a comment that "But those army beds were very uncomfortable".  All present would have recognized a reference to the foldable canvas stretchers that we slept in at camp. I think there were about 8 men per tent in them.

Most of the evening was just spent chatting and catching up but we did have some short talks after a couple of hours -- mostly  reminiscences.

I am rather peeved that John Howard civilianized the assessment and selection of army  recruits  on the grounds that civilians could do the work more cheaply. If you are evaluating someone's suitability for the army, who better than other army men?  I am told however that the civilians who got the job were in fact largely former army psychologists.  The remaining psychologists in the Army have been absorbed into the Directorate of Health.

6 November,2015

Guy Fawkes, a dinner and a 4-year-old

Yesterday was Guy Fawkes day: "cracker night".  But we are not allowed to own or use fireworks these days in most of Australia.  You now have to go to New Zealand to honour that historic and fun tradition.  We are now "safe" from ourselves.  Good that the Kiwis allow people to take their own risks.  And I see that Von has introduced Hannah to her heritage in that regard.

But all was not lost. The evening was still a good one for me. I shouted Jill and Lewis a pre-Christmas dinner at the "Sunny Doll", my favorite Japanese restaurant.

Anne and Jill have a lot in common.  They both do a lot of travelling and both read a lot of books.  So they chatted around 2 hours away without scratching the surface.  They are both very chatty ladies but they listen too, which is not true of all chatty ladies.  Lewis and I were left to chat to one-another for a fair bit of the time but Lewis always has plenty to say so that worked too. We had plenty of laughs anyway.

Lewis is a good example of how much we owe the Ashkenazim.  He was a pharmacist for most of his life so is pretty cluey. But he has had rather a lot of bad luck. Despite having lowish blood pressure he had a rather bad stroke shortly after his retirement.  But he fought back against it and has recovered very well.  He can drive again etc.

And he immediately took an interest in the subject of stroke.  He involved himself with other stroke patients and helped them with rehabilitation.  And he became such an authority on stroke, that, at age 82, he gets called on to give medical students a talk on the subject.  And, among the many other things he does, he also became a "visitor" at the "Wesley", a private hospital that we all go to for medical services in our old age.  So he goes around the wards just offering a friendly word and a friendly ear to people laid up in their hospital beds.  He could just stay at home and watch TV but he has got that restless Ashkenazi energy and likes to be active.  So he is well-known and appreciated at the Wesley. 

But the Wesley is very popular and has only 500 beds (public hospitals often have over 1,000) so there are occasions when they are "on bypass" -- i.e. they tell the ambulance service that they are full and cannot take in new patients.  And that happened recently when Lewis had a bad turn and the ambulance was called.  After they had put Lewis in the ambulance and asked him where he wanted to go, he said the Wesley, of course.  But the ambulance did not move off.  He asked them what was the problem.  They told him the Wesley was on bypass. He said to them:  "Tell them who you have get on board".  They did and the Wesley immediately  accepted him

He told me that story last night and I pointed out to him that what happened was a good example of what one of my favorite Bible texts says.  In Ecclesiastes 11:1 we read: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days" (ESV).  In other words, do good without thought of reward and a reward WILL come.  He earned and got the special treatment he received.

I ordered for all of us at the restaurant, as I know the offerings well.  We had a dish of tempura vegetables to start and I ordered Chicken Teriyaki Don for Jill and Lewis.  I had my current favourite, which is Omurice with pork --  and I ordered a Pork Belly bento for Anne.  It is quite a big bento there so everyone was impressed by it, including Anne, as I knew she would be.

Chicken Teriyaki Don

And now for the 4-year-old.  After the dinner Anne told me a little story about one of her sons when he was 4.  I have always found age 4 to be the most gorgeous age for a bright child.  They do and say such funny things.  I adored Timmy and Joe at that age.  So Anne's boy at age 4 had figured out the clock to some extent.  And he noticed that he usually got his lunch at around 12 noon.  So promptly at noon he would sit himself down at the kitchen table waiting for his lunch and would yell if he didn't get it.  Anne was of course not always ready to give him his lunch at exactly that time but her son's actions certainly hurried her up.

4 November,2015

The cup

Once again I watched the Melbourne cup along with most of my fellow Australians. And it was exciting as ever, with a huge change in ranking at the last minute.  And it was a 100 to 1  outsider that came forward at the last moment to win.  Big Orange led for most of the way and would have looked a cert for anyone unfamiliar with cup runs.  It fell right back at the end, however.  And the winner, Prince of Penzance, was a New Zealand horse ridden by a female jockey, the first female jockey to win a Melbourne cup. 

New Zealand horses often do well but this horse was originally bought for only $50,000 so is still a huge surprise. The owners were six mates. Describing themselves as “small fry owners", the men decided to pool their cash and buy a nag they hoped might win at a country meeting. They probably backed their own horse at 100 to 1 so will be rich men now.

I drew the favorite in a sweep but none of the three I drew got anywhere.  But Tom Waterhouse also got it wrong so I am in good company.

The ever immaculate Tom with wife Hoda, a lady of Iranian origins

And a home-made dress won the Fashions on the Field competition

28-year-old Emily Hunter wore an outfit run up by her mother.  She is now in line for some very rich prizes, worth around $100,000 all up.

I can't myself see what was good about the winning outfit but what I know about fashion would fit on the back of a small postage stamp.  I do note however that the winning outfits over the years have tended to be fairly conservative

28 October, 2015

Olives from Spain and tomatoes from Italy:  Why?

Various people exhort us to read the label on the bottles and cans that we buy.  Greenies want us to be sure that the contents have not hurt any whales, food-freaks want us to be sure that no salt has ever come near it and patriots want us to avoid buying anything imported.

And I DO read labels, but for a quite different reason from the three above.  I like the information they contain about economics.  They don't actually mention economics but they still tell us various things about economies.

The labels that particularly interest me are on the El-cheapo cans  on the bottom shelves of supermarkets -- usually bearing some sort of "House" brand. And what they tell us about the world is quite amazing.  They tell us that CHINA FEEDS THE WORLD.  Not only do they make almost all of our electrical gadgets these days but they also feed us all to a significant extent.  "Product of China" is what you nearly always read in the small print on those "Home brand" bottles and cans.  Chinese groceries now populate the world.

People tend to sneer at such goods but for the many who prefer to keep their money for beer and cigarettes, China is a godsend.

So how come?  Doesn't China have its work cut out feeding its own 1.3 billion people?  It's those clever Chinese farmers.  They can make crops spring lushly out of even unpromising ground.  Let me give an historical example of that:

Two of my great grandfathers were in on the Palmer River goldrush.  The 19th century was a century of goldrushes as new lands were opened up -- and one of the goldfields was on the Palmer river in far-North Queensland, Australia.  And much gold was dug there by people from all over the world.  And Chinese miners were there too.

Some of the Chinese, however, realized that they could win more gold by using their farming skills.  The miners had to eat and bringing in food from South was very expensive.  So the Chinese market gardeners got more  gold from selling their produce than they ever would have got by mining.

BUT:  The soils on Cape York Peninsula (where the Palmer lies) are notoriously poor and shallow.  So what to do about that?  Easy: The Chinese gardeners went all around collecting people's shit -- the traditional fertilizer of China, India and lot of other places. Shit-collecting is real shit-work but it is amazing what people will do for gold. And shit is great fertilizer so the Chinese market gardens flourished.  You can still see patches of lushness where the Chinese gardens were as you travel through the area to this day.

So the Chinese are great farmers and much of China is fertile so they coax amazing amounts of food crops out of their farms. China is about the same size as CONUS, Australia and Canada (around 3 million square miles in all 4 cases) so they do actually have a lot to work with -- enough to feed their own 1.3 billion people plus feeding lots of us.

And you can learn all that by reading labels!

But sometimes you can get a surprise.  You pick up a cheap can and expect to see "China" somewhere on the label but in fact see the name of some European country.  Why would Europeans want to send their stuff half way around the world to Australia?  Easy: Because of the EU common agriculture policy, which is mostly aimed at propping up French peasant farmers but which affects the whole of the EU.

Europe's problem is one that makes Greenies say "nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah" when you tell them about it.  Now that fracking has put panic about oil running out to rest, the Greenies these days are constantly prophesying that we will run out of food (Global warming, you know).  European agricultural administrators must wish there was some truth in that because their problem is the opposite: Europe produces TOO MUCH food -- more food than they can sell.  They pay their farmers big  subsidies to produce all the excess food and then pay Australians and others to eat it. Insane of course but that's politics.  You wouldn't want to contend with angry French farmers either.

So when I recently picked up from my local supermarket a very cheap bottle of Manzanilla olives from Spain and some very cheap canned tomatoes from Italy it was because the EU was selling the stuff off at a fraction of its cost just to get rid of it.  In the old days they used to donate it all to Russia (They did!) but Russia feeds itself pretty well now that they have got rid of Communism

Still, I suppose it is good that the Chinese have some competition.  Pity the European taxpayer, though.  Interesting things, those labels, aren't they?

Incidentally, olive trees grow so well in Australia that in South Australia they are regarded as weeds!


I am pleased to report that I have at least some readers who know stuff.  One reader has asked how I square surplus olives with reports that this year's olive crop is way down due to unfavorable weather

In a way, the question answers itself.  The big jar of olives that I recently bought is NOT the product of this year's crop.  It has been known since ancient times how to store olives and I am sure that the EU people of today are really good at it. And in the way of these things, the EU bods would not sell off their stuff straight away.  They would wait until all hopes of a normal sale were gone.  So goodness knows when my olives came off the tree.  They taste great anyway

Another thing that I believe to be true but have not researched is that olives grown for oil and olives grown for human consumption are different.  So a shortage of oil olives may not tell us much about the supply of eating olives. 

For what it's worth, I NEVER these days buy ANY European olive oils -- not even the big green tins of "Olio Sasso.  Diretta importata dall Italia" that I remember from my childhood.  Italian and Spanish olive oil distributors have really blotted their copybooks with contaminant and substitution scandals so I now buy  Australian olive oil exclusively.  Australian olive oil is a Southern European product made with Northern European ethics. So there are pyramids of Spanish and Italian olive oil in my local supermarket but I bypass them all.

26 October, 2015

Long time no see

Up until yesterday, I had not seen Sandra since she was 4.  She is now 35 and we met at my place for afternoon tea yesterday.  Both her parents were once good friends of mine but over the years I had lost touch with them, much to my regret.  And both died around 15 years ago.  So it was a pleasant surprise when Sandra found me on Facebook and got in touch.

There were a lot of family disruptions during her childhood so she did have a difficult childhood that has left its mark.  She now however seems to have got over most of that.  Her parents had tended not to talk much about their past, which was once very common, so I was able to tell her a lot about her parents that she did not know and was very pleased to hear. She was particularly pleased to hear my fond recollections of Alec, her father.

I think I was able to be helpful and supportive to Sandra in various ways so I expect to be hearing from her again.  Her  father and I saw eye to eye on most things so I should be able to express thoughts and viewpoints similar to what her father would have wished to say to her were he still alive.

25 October, 2015

A boy turns 4

4 is a wonderful age for a bright child.  They can observe, reason and talk -- and they do.  But given their still limited range of experience, the conclusions they come to can be hilarious.  They get things wrong but you can see their reasoning.  A quarter of a century ago, both Timmy and Joe were great examples of that and I remember that time with great fondness.

But a new generation has now arisen and the latest to turn 4 is Dusty.  Suz and Russ put on his birthday party on Saturday.  It was a lunch and whenever I have been invited to a lunch in the past, it has been my practice to skip breakfast -- so that I would have the capacity to try a few things on offer at the lunch.

That tends to make me seem more gluttonous than I am, however, so this time Anne and I decided that we would have a light breakfast beforehand.  And we decided to have jam sandwiches.  So I had some of that wonderful Chinese bread I get locally and at around 9am I put various jams on the dining table.  I also put the big Vegemite jar on the table.  And that was too much.  Vegemite goes wonderfully well with well-buttered fresh bread so the jam was ignored.  I had two slices of bread with Vege on them only. Plenty of butter and plenty of Vege on fresh bread is one of life's great pleasures IMHO.  Anne just had honey on her bread as she usually does.

There's a story in that.  Anne is very cautious about what she eats so when I bought Leatherwood honey she assured me that she didn't like it.  I just raised an eyebrow at that.  It steadily went down however so under pressure she completely revised her opinion.  I now have Yellow Box honey and that is going down steadily too.

Americans will never understand Vegemite, our iconic Australian sandwich spread, but the Brits do.  Their Marmite is quite similar.  And then there is Kiwi Marmite ....

So back to Dusty.  He was already showing signs of his new age of responsibility.  Up until now on any family occasion Dusty has given an exhibition of perpetual motion -- running everywhere.  But on Sunday he actually walked quite a lot!  Growing up is an amazing thing.

Dusty was however consistent in that he again got a lot of his birthday cake smeared across his face.  He is an enthusiastic eater.  I can't imagine where he got that from.

Russ fired up his big BBQ as usual and cooked some excellent sausages, among other things.  Being something of a sausage freak, I had three!

I talked a bit to Ken, fresh back from visiting Paul in Edinburgh. As was to be expected, Ken gave a view of the situation in Edinburgh that differed considerably from what Paul reports in his emails.  Those two disagree about almost everything. My relationship with my son is a great contrast.  We mostly see eye to eye but where we don't the view of the other is respected.  We laugh a lot. And Joe is no pushover.  He's got a lot of quiet confidence. 

And it's the same with Paul and me.  I have his complete respect and I have always supported him and helped him in any way I can.  Paul is not normally antagonistic, though he is very exuberant and assertive.  He is a lot of fun and we miss his lively presence now he is away.

Opening the presents was a lot of fun.   In the usual modern way, Dusty got heaps of them.  And he gave good cuddles of thanks to his donors.  Some sort of water-bomb gadget seemed to be the biggest hit.  Via Jenny, I gave him a track set for his toy cars. Joe gave him a plastic gun.  All little boys like guns and Dusty's parents allow such things.

Everybody was pleased to see Joe, as they usually are, and I saw him get big cuddles from both his mother and his sister.  He brought Kate along and I think she is now getting used to the family and all our little idiosyncrasies.  She spent a lot of time speaking to Anne, who no doubt had wisdom to offer.

21 October, 2015

The saga of the chair -- plus Zar und Zimmermann

One would think that getting hold of a comfortable office chair would be a simple matter, but it can in fact be a problem. I sit in front of my computer for around 12 hours a day so I am rather aware of the chairs I sit in whilst doing so.

Many years ago at the Rocklea markets I bought a quite simple office chair that had apparently been sold off by some government department.  And we know that governments always buy the best. It is only the mug taxpayer who is paying.

And this chair was very good.  It was upholstered in a fetching shade of maroon and was generally referred to as "the red chair".  And I sat in that chair with the greatest of ease for around 20 years.  It did however over the years become rather grotty so when something in the steel chassis snapped and gave the chair a lean, I decided that it was time to bid the red chair goodbye.  I put it out the front and it disappeared.

That was a great mistake.  I have never since found a chair as good as the red chair.  To replace it I first went to Lifeline to inspect their offering of chairs and found one that seemed good -- costing me about $25.  But it just was not comfortable enough so I looked around suppliers of new office chairs and found that sums of around $1,000 were being asked for a lot of them.  No way!

So I eventually ended up at Officeworks.  You would think that they would have a good range of office chairs on sale and they do -- mostly for around $200 -- made in China.  So I bought one -- a "Bathurst" chair.  And it was really good, just what I wanted. But after about 9 months something came adrift inside it and it developed a distinct lean.  So I took it back.  Officeworks is one of Mr Goyder's tentacles and he seems to have drilled it into all 200,000 of his employees that they must be cheerful, pleasant and helpful at all times.  And they are.  So I had no difficulty at swapping the degraded chair for another one.  But I was not of course going to risk a second Bathurst chair.  So I chose a slightly more up-market one and paid the difference.

But within a year, its casters seized up. They ceased to cast, if that is what casters do.  So instead of the chair rolling it could only be dragged.  That did considerable damage to my polished board floor, which later cost me quite a bit to fix, so I took that chair back too -- and chose yet another one.

And the third chair wasn't bad -- though not as good as the Bathurst chair -- but it too failed eventually.  After 11 months it started refusing to stay up.  I would be sitting in front of my computer typing away and suddenly finding that I was sinking down floorwards whilst doing so.  I could only take so much of that so went back to Officeworks with that chair too.  It was quite a heavy thing so Joe came with me and carried it.  I suspect that he did more than carry the chair for me.  Being tall, taciturn and well-built with short hair, he might have been mistaken for my bodyguard or some such.  He wouldn't have looked like someone you would want to argue with!

Anyway, I was treated with good cheer and came away with another chair of the same model as the one that had sunk.  One can only hope that I won't be  back there again next October.

It was of course a "some assembly required" product but I am getting good at that by now so it only took an hour to put it together.  Anne happened to be present so was fascinated to see me doing something with my hands for once. She is a nurse by trade so even adopted a nurse-like role -- things like handing me my Allen-key when I dropped it.

So wish me luck with my new chair.  I suspect I will need it.  Its casters run very well so I am pleased about that.

Also yesterday I got in the mail a DVD of Zar und Zimmermann -- a German comic opera written about 150 years ago. It took me a long time to decide to buy it but I thought it might be worth a go. It is Austro/Hungarian operetta from either side of the year 1900 that I like and this was composed well before that period in Germany. But I seem by now to have acquired all of the few available DVDs of Austro/Hungarian operetta so I thought I might branch out a bit. Zar und Zimmermann (The Tsar and the carpenter) is after all an acclaimed and popular comic opera that is still performed in Germany.

Alas, however, the humour was very low level -- clown humour just about.  It had none of the quick wit and sophistication of Austro/Hungarian operetta.  I just got bored with it and turned it off 1.5 hours into the 2.5 hour show.  Maybe I will try to watch it again some time.  Could the final hour redeem it?  Who knows?

UPDATE:  I have now watched the final hour of the show and have ended up more favourably disposed towards it.  I even got a laugh out of the scene where the mistaken emperor Peter meets his girlfriend in his new role.  The show as a whole was just fun with nothing horrible happening -- which I liked.  I tried to re-watch the mentally ill "Carmen" recently but couldn't do it. It was just too silly.  I gave that DVD to Anne.  She likes conventional opera.

I was most taken with the scenes of Dutch shipbuilding, set in 1698.  It was great to see the old hand-tools in use -- adzes, augers, two-handed planes and crosscut saws. I may be one of the few left who have had some contact with all that.  I have seen a man use an adze and I have myself used a wood auger.  It is downstairs in my garage as I write this.

And seeing the crosscut saw was very nostalgic.  I remember my father setting and sharpening his big blue-steel crosscut saws.  He used them to cut down big forest trees in the era before chainsaws.  Yes: There was such a time.

And the very first Ray in my Australian family was a sawyer -- A central trade in building the old wooden ships. How do you get evenly straight planks without a circular saw?  The old sawyers did it.  The original Joseph Henry Ray came out from England to Australia as a convict chained up in the hold of a sailing ship -- an East Indiaman.  So I almost could see my great-great grandfather at work in this show.

An excerpt:

YouTube sometimes does strange things when clips are called from it. You get the wrong clip altogether sometimes. If the above clip is irrelevant, the link to the intended clip is here:

There were actually some distinguished people in the show.  The girlfriend was sung quite charmingly by the Slovakian Lucia Popp, whom the Austrian cultural authorities recognized as a Kammersängerin.

And the conductor was the distinguished Australian Charles Mackerras. There seemed to be rather a lot of Mackerrases around in Australian public life at one time.

The show was supposedly set in "Saardam", now "Zaandam". The production was from the Hamburgische Staatsoper, 1969.

29 September, 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:

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

28 September, 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.

20 September, 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.

17 September, 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

15 September, 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.

13 September, 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" -- apparently at age 98!


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

10 September, 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!

6 September, 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!

5 September, 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.

2 September, 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!

30 August, 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.

27 August, 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!

6 August, 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.  The whole show seems to be online here.

1 August, 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.

29 July, 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.

25 July, 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

24 July, 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 on 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


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.

21 July, 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.

19 July, 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".

18 July, 2015


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.

16 July, 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.

13 July, 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

12 July, 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 sung by Renate Holm is below.

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.

There are many versions of it online -- e.g. and . Search YouTube with "Ich bin der Prodekan" and you will find them (Prodekan = pro-deacon, a title mostly used in the Balkans)

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.

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.


The words of "Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol"

 Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol
In the Tyrol, when you give roses
Weiss man was das bedeuten soll:
everyone knows what it means:
Man schenkt die Rose nicht allein,
it’s not just the rose you’re giving,
Man gibt sich selber auch mit drein!
you give yourself with it!
Darf ich es wirklich so verstehen,
Can I take it to mean the same here?
Kann ich auf dieses Zeichen gehen,
Can I act on this sign?
Dann machst du wahrhaft selig mich,
It would make me blissfully happy
Schenkst mit der Rose du auch dich!
if, with a rose, you gave your own self.
Amsel und Star zieh’n jedes Jahr
Each year the blackbird and the starling
Nach ihrer Heimat wieder,
return to their home again,
Singen die alten Lieder.
they sing the old songs.
Hält mich das Glück hier jetzt zurück?
Am I kept here by happiness?
Wag’ es zu hoffen kaum,
I hardly dare to hope
Denn in mir klingts wie ein Traum:
as a dream chimes within me:
Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol…
In the Tyrol, when you give roses…

10 July, 2015

Zirkusprinzessin (Circus Princess)

Hallstein with "Mr. X" (Rudolf Schock)

The initial encounter. Rudolf Schock is a lucky man

The casting

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. Her other hats were good too. Congratulations to the costume department, I guess.  

Something I have not seen elsewhere is any comment on her speaking voice. It was marvellously feminine:  Breathy, low-pitched.  I'm out of words after that. I actually think she was at a peak of feminine beauty in this show, not at all like the gross Kardashians (and their emulators) of the current era.  The Kardashians actually seem FAT to me.  There!  Can I utter any greater scorn than that?  So it is a wonderful thing that this show from 1969 has been preserved.

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".

Some scenes

The show

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.  Kalman does seem to put bits of Magyar (his native language) into his shows for no obvious reason.  Maybe the fact that NOBODY outside the Hungarian lands is remotely interested in Magyar bothered him.   His intervention did no good, however.

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 Durchlaucht was translated.  It was at times translated as "Your Serene Highness", which is indeed its expanded meaning, but Durchlaucht 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 Durchlaucht.  

A complication is that the same person can be addressed both as Durchlaucht 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 Durchlaucht 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.


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.


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.


For Hallstein admirers: Below is a clip from a B&W show that is no longer available in full anywhere.  It features a young Hallstein.  You don't need to understand the words to understand what is going on but in case:  The repeated adjuration translates as: "Come with me into a private booth".  As various people have commented:  "The lucky devil even ends up getting a kiss from Hallstein"

She does female fluttering extremely well

7 July, 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. 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.

29 June, 2015

Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss is a long way from being Johann Strauss and I would not normally pay a cent for anything by him -- but Der Rosenkavalier is often described as a comic opera. So I thought that maybe Richard Strauss had his moments. He didn't. It was the DVD set from the 2004 Salzburg festival that I bought and I am mightily glad that I did not pay much for it. There was not a single laugh in it that I could see -- and not a single memorable aria.

I realize however that I am coming from a particular place. I like Austro/Hungarian operetta from either side of the dawning of the 20th century, and although Richard Strauss is of roughly that period, he is not of that ilk. He belongs within the tradition of 19th century grand opera. He is a "romantic" in the sense that Wagner and Verdi were romantics. He has a few good moments but that is the best I can say of him.

Der Rosenkavalier was full of meandering "philosophical" reflections that could have been completely excised for the benefit of the story -- and the first half of the show was a sustained display of disgusting behaviour.

Hitler liked the works of Richard Strauss and I think I can see why. "Baron Ox" would have been a sympathetic figure to Nazis. He is of course the very anathema to me.

The only thing that distinguishes the show from a 19th century grand opera is that it had a happy ending. We must be thankful for small mercies I guess. It was first performed in 1911 when operetta was in full popularity so the happy ending may have been a concession to the times.

Hmmmm.... On reflection, I guess that what I am supposed to find funny was the pomposity of the baron and his various downfalls. But I found his egotism and bad attitude to women all too real. I guess I should watch it again but just watching it once was trial enough for me. I just don't find arrogance and a bad attitude to women funny.

27 June, 2015

Some foolish late-night reflections

(Pace Robert Frost ("Reflection on The Road Not Taken")

In 1968 I contemplated becoming a German -- a Prussian even. The great marker of the Prussian is precise punctuality. And I have that. Joe does too so we often have some very precise arrangements between us which we both appreciate. And Joe has a very military (and hence Prussian) attitude to food (refueling) too, which I also had at his age. And I would certainly have been happy to wear a Pickelhaube, long gone though that now is. And I am in fact a former army man anyway. Prussians are particularly known as soldiers -- not that I was a good one.

And Germany's rich cultural life would have suited me down to the ground.

In 1968 I had just completed an honours degree which included German II and in that year we did get some of our lectures in German -- about such world significant figures as Brockes (forgive the sarcasm) so my German was a lot better at that stage than it is now -- over 40 years later. And I did take out in Sydney at that stage a German lady of elevated station back in German society.

So I thought of becoming a German and moving into a good position with her in German society. But being rather lazy, it seemed like too much trouble and Sydney women presented many interesting possibilities too. I even took for a short while an interest in a very shapely lady called Diane Rosenbloom -- with limited success. It occurred to me only afterwards that Rosenbloom is an irrefragably Ashkenazi name so, not being Jewish, my chances with her had been minimal anyway. She was a nice lady so I imagine that she entered shortly thereafter into a community-sanctioned marriage.

But what if I had realized then that I could possibly meet Ingeborg Hallstein in Germany? Would I have decided differently? I might have. I have just finished watching for the umpteenth time a 1971 recording of the wonderful Strauss II operetta Wiener Blut -- featuring as Graefin the beautiful coloratura soprano Ingeborg Hallstein, whom I see as the ultimate lady. I was 25 in 1968 and she would have been 32. That sort of age gap has never been a problem for me so what if I had gone to Germany and encountered her long, beautiful and wise face before me there?

I think I might have had a a chance with her. I have always said that I get on with only about 1% of the world's women but that is one heck of a lot of ladies. And the 1% ALWAYS includes classical music lovers -- which is my great delight too. And that 1% is also pretty coterminous with the top 1% in IQ.

And most high IQ ladies are not at all comfortable with men who are dumber than them. They have to be very good-natured to put up with it at all. Though some wise ones do. So being in the top stratum myself, the very best women are accessible to me

So I have no doubt that Hallstein chose in her life men as musical as she is. But although I am no good even as a bathroom singer, I would still, I think, have had a chance with her. IQ plus my devotion to classsical music might have won the day. A smart lady who sees my mocking blue eyes upon her knows immediately what company she has and regards it as at least interesting

And I did anyway many years later meet a Brisbane person who was also an ultimate lady. I had just married at the time but I knew an ultimate lady when I met one so a change of loyalties was rapidly accomplished. Definitely Wiener Blut!

26 June, 2015

The Holy apostle Paul

Anne, the lady in my life is, like me, an ex-Christian and our Christian past is still influential with us both. She doesn't like the apostle Paul's view of the place of women, however -- as in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 11, for instance. Being a born tease, however, I enjoy pointing out that according to the Bible, women should be submissive to their men. Anne is no feminist but she is a pretty independent lady so she doesn't like Paul at all and why is he in in the Bible anyhow?

I replied that if God inspired the Bible writings, surely he could also make sure that the right documents were included in it. On hearing that she burst into peals of laughter. I am not totally sure why but I think she saw the logic in it and realized that you could not arbitrarily exclude Paul from being a divine messenger.

So how do I think the books of the Bible were chosen? I do actually lean to an explanation that would fit in with God's guidance. The history of the matter is that there was a considerable debate in the early days about which books were new revelation -- and various collections were made which embodied particular people's view of what was divine. But after a while a consensus did emerge. And it was an inclusive consensus: Enough books were included to keep most people happy.

So was God behind that consensus? Since I am an atheist I think not but a Christian could reasonably think so. What I think happened is that those books which made most sense and sounded good at the time gradually, amid debate, came to be generally accepted as holy.

With his background in Greek learning, Paul was quite a good theologian, he wrote very energetically, wrote very extensively and he explicitly claimed divine guidance -- so it would appear that the whole available corpus of his writing was included.

And in the nature of these things, a tradition developed which saw that early consensus as authoritative.

19 June, 2015

Wiener Blut -- a splendid farce

And a celebration of a great city

To Americans, a wiener is either a sausage or a private part of similar shape.  But in German neither Hamburgers nor Wieners are food items.  Both refer to the inhabitants of famous cities.  So Wiener Blut means "Vienna blood".  But what exactly that is we shall see.

In my well-spent youth in Sydney in the '70s I went to a lot of plays.  Sydney had a variety of them on at any one time and I took advantage of that -- seeing perhaps one play a week.  They weren't all good -- I walked out of a few -- but I enjoyed most of them, as did the ladies I took along.  Ladies LOVE going to plays. And there were among the plays I saw quite a few farces, including plays by that master of farce, Feydeau. And Wiener Blut is an excellent farce, worthy of Feydeau.  The show was written in 1899 and set in 1814.

Also in the early 70s, a lot of cinematic versions of operetta were made for German TV.  And the best of those are  now being released on DVD -- perhaps something to do with copyright. And a lot of the DVDs I have acquired are from that source.  An amusing consequence of that is that I see from time to time the same singers in different shows.  For me the '70s German operetta scene is still live. 

So the version of Wiener Blut that I have -- a 1971 production conducted by Kurt Graunke and directed by Hermann Lanske -- actually had three singers in it whose work I knew.  One of the reasons I bought that DVD was that it had the Austrian soprano Dagmar Koller in it, who is a genuinely lovely lady.  She is of my vintage but still survives. 

The point of it all

So let's look at the theme song which tells us what Das Wiener Blut is about.  The song itself defines such Blut as "Voller Kraft, Voller Glut! ... Was die Stadt Schönes hat, In dir ruht! Wiener Blut, Heisse Flut. (Roughly: "unique, full of fire, full of power, hot and flowing").  The idea is that the great city is embodied in its people. It basically means "high-spirited" -- bright and lively -- perhaps "gay" in the old meaning of that term -- and infidelity is accepted as part of that. If a man is not smitten by every beautiful woman he meets, he lacks Wiener Blut.  But operetta always has happy endings so in this case the Graf ends up falling in love with his wife! (As well he might!)

A wonderful farce. I am laughing as I write this.  But he only falls in love with his wife because his wife suddenly falls in love with him.  She had herself been before her marriage a gay and lively  Wiener ("Ich war ein echte Wiener Blut") and had thought that her husband lacked Wiener Blut -- until she saw and heard of his infidelities.  That convinced her that in Vienna he had become a real man by Vienna standards ("Aus dem soliden und strengen Mann wurde der flotteste Don Juan!  ... Sie wurden Mann von Welt").  So, as the wife, Ingeborg Hallstein was given a sophisticate's role.  And she conveys it with complete conviction and elegance.  It makes some sense that she wanted her man to be one who was desirable to other women.  See below:

So was there more than that with Wiener Blut?  Was it just a similar culture that Hallstein's character wanted?  Partly so, I think.  But Wien was at the time a great imperial city and civilizational centre so there was also there a longing for the high and sophisticated culture that existed in Wien.   At one stage Wien was undoubtedly the greatest city in the world since Constantinople/Byzantium.  To be and feel part of that was a great privilege.  And we see from the scenes of the ordinary people of the city at Hietzing that a love of their city included all orders of Viennese society.  They compared Wien to Heaven!

But other people esteem their city highly too.  We even have a rather good song of praise for Galveston!  And who can forget Elvis's "happy home" in Memphis, Tennessee?  London is a bit disappointing though. Such an amazing city seems to have produced only the Cockney song, "Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner ..".  But nothing can compare with the frequent and brilliant songs of praise for Wien that occur throughout operetta.  And Wiener Blut is undoubtedly the leading example of that.

The casting

I did not think that Rene Kollo was well cast in Csardas Fuerstin  -- though he is undoubtedly a good and powerful singer -- but he suited his fickle part in Wiener Blut very well. As the Casanova he did not do any stern parts but when he was rumbled with his Geliebte in her floral and very modern underwear he managed to say "Ich auch" in a somewhat stern manner. And his surprised expressions when he encountered his seamstress Geliebte standing in for a Princess of Poland in the grand dance were spot on. The more I have listened to him, the more I appreciate his powerful and faultless tenor voice. And his diction is good too.  Regardless of the language of the song, operatic singing is often hard to follow, but Kollo's German is very clear.

But the real surprise for me  was German soprano Ingeborg Hallstein, of whom it has been said:  "Ingeborg Hallstein burst onto the scene in 1959 with an uncommonly sweet voice and beautiful face and figure, which immediately moved her front and center in German musical life."

There is a lot of her work available on CD -- for good reason -- but almost nothing on DVD.  But what a lady! An elegantly beautiful woman.  She conveyed eloquently the air of sophistication that her role as Graefin called for.  She really has the sort of face that would launch a thousand ships -- a face of both character and beauty. And she has the long neck that one normally finds only in beautiful Northern European women.  Virginia Woolf was another example. So Hallstein was a most convincing Graefin!

But is her beauty in part a function of stage makeup?  I don't discount that. On the few occasions that I have appeared on TV, I have been amazed about how the makeup artists were able to banish my facial spots.  But we do  get a lot of closeups in this show that clearly show Hallstein's stage makeup.  And it clearly just emphasizes already beautiful features.  

There is one thing that I am not sure that I should mention. Hallstein has some sort of mole on her lower face.  So why did not the makeup artists blot that out?   There was apparently in times past such a thing as a "beauty spot" and that idea still lives to some extent.  Don't ask me for the logic of it (if any) but some sort of facial blemish on a beautiful lady was held to be an enhancement rather than a blemish.  So Hallstein has it all.

KS Hallstein is a remarkable singer too.  She is known for her range and she does show a bit of it on a couple of occasions in this show.  It is not a big voice but it is probably just right for the ultimate lady that she is. Needless to say, she has long been recognized as Kammersängerin (KS).

If you want to really hear what she can do as a high coloratura soprano there is a 1965 B&W film clip here

where she sings the haunting nightingale song by Franz Grothe from the 1941 German film "Die Schwedische Nachtigall".  Hallstein has been described as having crystal bells in her throat and that clip will tell you why.  (Lyrics for the nightingale song here).  In a sound-only file here you also hear her in high coloratura mode -- singing the wonderful An der schoenen blauen Donau, Austria's unofficial national anthem.  

The Donau (Danube) is shown in appropriate blue in the map below -- though I gather that it is rarely blue these days, a fate of many big rivers in the modern world:


Hallstein was said in the 60s and 70s to be "die weltweit beste Königin der Nacht" (the world's best "Queen of the Night") and I can believe it. She is still alive and active on judging panels in her late 70s.  

Note: There is also a "Spanish" nightingale operetta, "Die Spanische Nachtigall" by Leo Fall. And also a Nachtigall song in Zeller's Vogelhaendler. You have to keep your nightingales straight.

And Hallstein's facial expressions and body language were brilliant too. She is a superb actress as well as a remarkable singer.  It seems to come naturally.  It probably does. She is as good as any Hollywood actress at living her part and better than most of them at subtlety of expression.  

An example of that which I really enjoyed was her very small but rightly contemptuous gesture of dismissal -- mainly just a tiny and momentary inclination of her head combined with a small "Oh!" -- when she first saw one of her rivals, little Helga. Her vocalization there was not even an Ach!.  She knew that she was miles ahead of that "rival".  And the scene where she asks the clumsy Prince to take her to Hietzing was brilliantly done.  I laugh every time I think of it.  It was almost an enchiridion of feminine wiles there.  She knew her power and even found it amusing.

And her expressions as she spoke with her flirtatious husband were also well done. She showed subtly that she did not believe a word of his attempted deceptions but was amused by them instead -- indulgent and quietly confident expressions.  She was aware of her high standing in Wiener society so was not easily abashed.  She has irrefragable dignity.

I have seen and heard other versions of the Wiener Blut song but I think Hallstein here is better than them all (see the clip above).  What a stunning woman!  The other women in the show are girls compared to her.  That clip may in fact get my vote for the most beautiful scene in operetta.  There are other strong candidates  -- such as Die ganze welt is Himmelblau with A.K. Wigger at Moerbisch in 2008 or Martina Serafin's in Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum in the Moerbisch performance of Vogelhaendler but  the emotion is so intense in the above scene that it certainly gets to me.

Not that I would say a critical word about the other two ladies in the show. Dagmar Koller once again came across as a lovely and lovable lady. Let me say that again: Despite what could have been a bitchy role, Dagmar Koller once again came across as a lovely and lovable lady.  She is a honey.  I suspect she would not accept casting any other way.  

And little Helga Papouschek as the servant's girlfriend was well cast. She has a certain prettiness but is no beauty -- a point made in the show when the two beautiful ladies (the Graefin and "Cagliari") agreed that they  could forgive the Graf that one.  She was in their view no threat to them. Wiener Blut!  

She has been described elsewhere as a "vielseitige Schauspielerin und Sängerin" (a many-sided actress and singer) and I can see that. She has a squeaky little voice but she gets her notes well enough.  She portrayed various moods very  well and looked right for her part.  She certainly showed various sides in this show.  And her role as a seamstress in a Polish hat standing in for a princess of Poland in the grand dance was one of the good jokes of the show.  And her  comment earlier on in the show that the overweight Polish princess might have been overdoing the cakes was as irreverent as it was apposite.

And we must not for a moment forget the character actors. Benno Kusche did his part as the confused Prince superbly well and Ferry Gruber as Josef the servant was very convincing.  He was very clever in fact.  He was as good a character actor as you could get and he certainly got the laughs, probably about half of them in fact.  There was brilliant acting throughout the show.

The costumes

A small note about riding habits:  I was much impressed with the riding habit worn by "Lisa" in Das Land des Laechelns but the outfit worn by Hallstein in this show was pretty good too.  I think that up until now I had only seen Englishwomen in riding gear.  Austrians do it infinitely better.  There is a low rez clip below that gives you an idea of Hallstein's outfit -- and also follows her into her visit to her old home at Döbling.  The beginning of the clip shows her actually riding a horse so the outfit was apparently practical.  She looks good most of the time but in her riding habit and riding hat she was really something  -- both while riding and after riding. 

Part of the attractiveness of the riding scene was the beautiful grounds through which she trots her horse. I gather that that scene was recorded in the grounds of the Palais Strattmann in Vienna.

I think the point of such an elaborate habit is that you could get off a horse and immediately be dressed for the best society.  I note that the lovely Dagmar Koller was also presented in a flowing riding habit in the vignettes of her pre-marital times in Csardasfuerstin

The golden garment with lots of ermine trim on the hood and sleeves that Hallstein wore to Hietzing also impressed me.  Not everyone could have worn such a garment effectively but on Hallstein it created a great image of privilege and luxury.  It complemented and framed her beauty.  A face framed in ermine certainly has a good start.  Dagmar Koller also wore a similar rather gorgeous flowing garment at Hietzing.

Some of the scenes at Hietzing below

The garments both ladies wore were dominos, all-covering garments often worn to masked balls and the like. They are a way of hiding in plain sight and both ladies in this story were indeed trying to hide at Hietzing. There are some modern ladies' garments called that but they are totally out of touch with the late-19th-century original, with its hoods, big sleeves, fancy trims and the like.  Below is a picture of a lady wearing a pink domino at a performance of Heuberger's Opernball

And Hallstein looked so happy in that scene.  Good to see.  I suspect that she is basically a happy lady who suppressed her good humour only slightly in the scenes where she is dealing with the attempted deceptions of the Graf.

Perhaps the elaborate Fächer (hand-held fan) much used by Hallstein in the show deserves a mention.  It is very feathery and is obviously meant to be part of a lady's ensemble rather than merely utilitarian.  She certainly uses it expressively.


Interesting that Hallstein wore small stars in her hair for much of the time.  In operetta it is very common for the ladies to wear laurel wreaths  -- but not in this show:  Diamond stars as a hair adornment were invented by the rather tragic Empress Elizabeth of Austria around about 1860 so seeing them in this  show (set in 1814) is a bit anachronistic but certainly glamorous.  They do convey elegance.  Anne tells me that you can still buy in Vienna hair stars such as Hallstein wore.  So perhaps that is the practical reason why they were used.

It was Anne who told me about hair stars. I know nothing about the mysteries of ladies' hair, other than having a general view that more is better.  I have even bullied Anne into wearing her hair long, even though she is a lady of advanced years. I have of course scriptural support for my view of the matter (1 Corinthians 11:15) but even in the human race's oldest literary work, "The epic of Gilgamesh", we find a view that long hair is proper for women.

And I still have not figured out how Schellenberger in the one year (2004) had both very short hair (in Graefin Maritza) and very long and gorgeous hair (in Lustige Witwe).  Lustige Witwe  could have come first, of course, but as a "Daily Mail" reader I am aware that there are such things as hair extensions -- but I have no idea how that works at all.  But when Gilfry was fiddling with Schellenberger's hair in the Lippen  Schweigen scene I was mentally warning him to be careful of those extensions.  Fortunately, he was.

A few other details

Some of the jokes come very quickly and you have to be alert to get them.  One such was when Hallstein was offered a jumping jack but she declined to buy, saying as the seller walked away:  Ich hab' schon eine (I have already got one) -- meaning probably her husband. Another joke was the stern and prowling geheime Staatspolizist (secret policeman) at Hietzing in his brown hat. (OK.  He was just a Geheime Polizist.  We know who in history the Geheime Staatspolizei were, don't we?)

I was amused when the sausage king described Hallstein as "a dazzling piece of construction" and her rival as an "architectural masterpiece".  We see architectural allusions to the looks of a lady in other operettas too, notably Kalman's Graefin Maritza and Lehar's Die lustige Witwe.

And I also wonder a little what the sausage king's sausages were like.  As a sausage devotee I entirely agree with the prominence they were given in the show.  My devotion to sausages could make me a good German.  A good sausage is a work of art!

When the Graf is trying to seduce the wily seamstress with invocations of Stoss an (drink up), he orders Wiener Wein to help the proceedings.  I wonder what the wine was?  The most popular Austrian wine these days seems to be Grüner Veltliner, which is a rather undistinguished wine IMHO -- reminiscent of an Australian Hunter Valley  Semillion. Maybe he had in mind Gemischter Satz, which would have been around in the early 19th century.  

Gemischter Satz is in fact grown and produced in Vienna itself. So it really is a Wiener Wein. Vienna actually has its own vineyards on the outskirts of the city. Austria as a whole is a significant wine-producing region.  It exports to Germany. I noticed at the big party in Hietzing that everyone seemed to be drinking wine, not beer.  Not a North/South difference this time, I think.  Maybe just a Wiener difference?  

We saw a North/South difference when the (presumably) Northern Prince told the (Southern) sausage king to speak German, remarking that the sausage king's German sounded like Tibetan.  In good Southern style, the sausage king was not at all abashed and just carried on. There was rather a lot of commentary about Wiener speech being "different" and I gather that there are still such differences.

I am no authority on anything German and I know only the basics about North/South differences but I noted that the sausage king pronounced junge Leute as junge Leiter and there is no doubt that could cause amazement or amusement.

Another detail of the show that interested me was the novels the Graefin took out of her bookcase.  Because I had never heard of him I looked up Christoph Martin Wieland.  He was apparently a rather light novelist, best known for translating Shakespeare into German.

Realism and operetta have a limited relationship -- though I don't like deliberate anachronism.  So I cannot be censorious about a very curious thing about the streets of Vienna that we see in this  show: The streets were sparkling clean.  But the streets of of a great city in the 19th century would have been much used by horses and various horse-drawn conveyances.  And what does that produce?  Huge amounts of horse-manure and horse-pee in the streets.  The real-life streets of Vienna at that time would have stunk to high heaven and soiled anybody who walked them. Sorry for that totally inappropriate burst of realism.

The wrap-up

As endings go, this has to be the supreme operetta -- with FOUR happy couples at the end of it: All waltzing and singing Das Wiener Blut of course. Superb, superb! (As the  French Vicomte said in  Lustige Witwe when he heard that the widow was worth 500 million francs). Even the sausage king finds his match. 

It's hard to believe that the show was initially a flop.  Bizet died thinking "Carmen" was a failure too. The first producer of Wiener Blut was bankrupted by its failure and shot himself!  A terrible contrast between reality and fantasy. 

And the praise of Vienna as being unique and happy is of course common in operetta. One thinks of the joy in the two second-string stars of Zirkusprinzessin when they discover in cold St. Petersburg that they are both from warm Wien.  And the Princess in Vogelhaendler at her first appearance in that play is also proud to proclaim that she is a gay Wiener.  But a heterosexual one, of course.

And, as usual in operetta, the waltz (Der Walzer in German) is both much practiced and warmly praised.  And something I noticed at the end of one of the waltzes was that the ladies did a low curtsey to their men at the end of the dance.  I am aware that there can still at formal balls be a certain amount of bowing and curtseying at the beginning of a dance but I had not seen it as the conclusion of a dance.  Is that still widely practiced?  I have no idea.  But someone should bring it back routinely.  It would make the feminists burst into flames!

Some reflections

And an inevitable reflection that Wiener Blut inspires is how we mere mortals live up to the splendid life in Wien that it portrays.  I am sure I score a zero on glamour but, although I am no Wiener, the fact that I have been married four times to four fine women must testify to some sort of "Blut"!

But have I had in my life an ultimate lady such as Hallstein?  A lady who is beautiful, smart, confident, socially acclaimed, very musical and kind?  And have I walked through a crowded room with the lady to see her greeted with pleasure by many? (As Hallstein did with Kollo in the grand ball)?  I have done that. And I treasure the experience.  She may even read this.  Unlike Hallstein, she does not have crystal bells in her throat but I think we can both overlook that.  A real lady is a great pleasure to us mere men.

And what is the role of culture in male/female relationships?  With the lady I mentioned above  it was  very important.  She once said to me:  "I could forgive you anything because of the way you feel about music".  But there is more to it than that.  

The lady in my life these days is in fact a good soprano but that is rather incidental -- though we do sing some of the great old Protestant hymns together at times!  What she and I have in common is small-town Protestant Queensland culture.  We come from very similar environments. When I speak broad Australian she understands. We sound right to one-another.  It really pleases me to use traditional Australian expressions.

The great aria

Here it is in full:

Das Wiener Blut! 

Wiener Blut!
Wiener Blut! 
Eig'ner Saft 
Voller Kraft, 
Voller Glut! 

Du erhebst, 
Du belebst 
Unsern Mut! 

Wiener Blut! 
Wiener Blut! 
Was die Stadt 
Schönes hat, 
In dir ruht! 

Wiener Blut, 
Heisse Flut 
Gilt das Wort: 
Wiener Blut! 

I know the literal meaning of all the words but it would be maddening to try to translate it adequately so I am not going to try.  Someone bolder than I am has however subtitled it in an old performance by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

Rather sad that the undoubtedly distinguished Schwarzkopf grew to be roughly twice as wide as Hallstein.

Libretti are online here and here but performances of course differ so neither  corresponds exactly to the DVD performance
Perhaps I should in closing pay tribute the librettists, Victor Léon and Leo Stein. The fun was entirely their work.  A later libretto for which Léon and Stein were responsible was that of Lehár's highly successful "The Merry Widow". Strauss was in his last days when this show was created and, although he approved of the project, he did not specifically compose any music for it, although many of his earlier compositions were incorporated, as we can hear. He was mostly content to delegate the musical arrangements to Adolf Müller. You have to get your Adolfs right!  -- JR

17 June, 2015

Das Land des Laechelns ("The land of smiles")

This blog was not at all designed to attract a large audience. It was designed primarily as a backup to my appalling memory of events in my own life and secondarily as something that a few people who know me well might like to read. As a distant third it could function as something that people with similar interests to mine might come to via the inestimable services of Google.

But I imagine its already small audience may have shrunk this year. "It's all full of bloody German these days", I can imagine people saying. And German does come across as a rather intimidating language, I think. But for better or worse German is the language of classical music so a love of the music does tend to lead to texts in German. I do try to translate most of it but that would be too big a job with libretti etc.

Anyway, I had a rather eventful day yesterday by my humble standards. At lunchtime I drove to Tingalpa in my 1963 Humber Super Snipe to see Anne and her friend Lola. An outing in the Humber always gives me some sense of an occasion and it gives that to others too. I get the sort of praise for driving it that owners of those combustible supercars can only aspire too, I imagine. Given the heat that their mighty engines produce, I suppose it is no wonder that supercars regularly burst into flames and end up as charred wrecks. The Humber is a powerful car but nowhere near that powerful, thankfully.

I don't drive the Humber much these days so it was around a month since I had started it up. The battery was by then pretty flat, but, with good Humber engineering, the motor did start anyway. I drove it yesterday both because I might have risked some sort of corrosion had I left it longer and also because Lola is British (in an East African kind of way) and I knew she would be pleased to see such a splendid old British car. Britain still produces a lot of cars but they almost all bear names such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan these days. Though Jaguar has made a comeback under Indian ownership.

So when I got back home from Tingalpa I wrote up a small but predictably eccentric memoir of the occasion and then proceeded to compile my blogs for the day -- which I managed despite a more limited timeframe than usual. I even managed to write a few derisive comments about Global Warming and the Leftist "New Matilda". Writing takes time so my memoir had to be the only extended thing I wrote yesterday.

But the climax of the day lay ahead at that point. I received during the day a DVD of a "new" (to me) operetta: Lehar's Das Land des Laechelns. So late in the evening I sat down to watch it.

I have the 2001 Moerbisch performance of the show. Das Land des Laechelns means "The land of smiles" -- i.e. China. I was very curious to see how a Viennese composer and his librettists would write about China! My skepticism that Austrians could write reasonably about China in 1923 was actually rather unfair. Chinoiserie had been very popular even in the late Belle epoque (before WWI) so China was hardly a mystery by then. And interest in the Far East generally had been greatly aroused in 1905 when Japan's admiral Togo sank most of the Russian navy!

The opening scenes of operetta are often pretty forgettable and I tend to skip them on re-watching a show but the opening brackets of this show were all devoted to showing the supreme grace and elegance of the great city so were very pleasing to watch.

The story

The show was basically in two parts: First in Vienna then in China. The first part was where most of the jokes were -- though the eunuch scene in the second half of the play had some very good lighter moments too.

The story is that a Viennese lady and a Chinese prince fall in love in Vienna and both then go to China -- with unhappy results.

The idea that a smallish East Asian man might fancy a big blue eyed blonde from Northern Europe was very plausible. For better or worse, the Nordic ideal of beauty is the default ideal worldwide. Something like 95% of the world's blonde ladies were not born that way. Even in Japan, ladies blond their hair.

Blue eyes are also much admired but, unlike hair, eyes are not so changeable. I checked my blue-eyed privilege and married four blue eyed ladies -- so I have a blue-eyed son. And his blue-eyed GF augurs well for the next generation. Leftists these days often tell us to "check your privilege" but I don't think they would approve of my version of that. Their version is just Marxist claptrap anyway.

In part 1 of the Singspiel we first heard the famous "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("You are my heart's delight"). It is a great and famous aria and was originally written by Lehar for Richard Tauber so it seemed a bit strange to hear it sung by an Asian tenor. Sangho Choi gave an impassioned performance, however, so did it justice. Tauber sings it here (In English!). I am inclined to think that the Korean (Sangho Choi as the Chinese Prince) sang it better, actually. The audience at Moerbisch certainly applauded it heartily.

And the second half of the show was surprisingly dark and tragic for an operetta. The lady goes to China but can't fit in there so has to make her escape. Her lover reverts to Chinese form and she ends up tragically by declaring to him: "Ich hasse dich" ("I hate you").

So the ending is low-key by operetta standards. The lady and her Viennese admirer are happily reunited and escape back to their beloved Wien but the Chinese players are left desolate. Not good. Had it been grand opera, everyone would have died, so we have to be thankful for small mercies, I suppose.

It's interesting how times have changed. Wien was once THE city and China was a backwater. These days it is just about opposite to that.


I was MOST impressed by the magnificent riding habit "Lisa" (Ingrid Habermann) wore for her entry to the show. I have not seen anything before remotely as good. It must be Austrian elegance.

And the military hats on the men in the early scenes initially rather confounded me. They were such an unostentatious type of shako that I thought at first that they were French pillbox caps. But in fact we see below the unfortunate Archduke Ferdinand in a similar shako. The costume department did their homework.

Speaking of hats, was this the first time Serafin trotted out absurd green plumes on his hat? He did it in Weissen Roessl too. A good comic touch.

Towards the end of the first part, I loved the old car that took "Lisa" away. A bit like a very well-appointed A-model Ford.

The cast

And we got in part 1 a good introduction to Ingrid Habermann as the lady the Chinese Prince fancied -- a regal and classically good looking Vienna lady with blue eyes and a great mop of blonde hair. I would have fancied her too. I did, after all, once marry a lady with a great mop of blonde hair. Habermann was presented as the aspirational Austrian lady, even wearing a substantial tiara at one stage -- showing her as a princess of Viennese society.

The contrast in appearance between Habermann and her Chinese admirer was of course deliberate.

Habermann is actually Austrian -- from Linz -- so the part would have been very congenial and easy for her. She really is an aspirational Austrian lady. Even the blonde hair may well have been real. The age of most operatic ladies seems to be a State Secret so I was not able to ascertain her DoB but I suspect that she was in her 30s for this show. She was a touch "broad in the beam" for youth, if I may add a nautical simile to the architectural similes that one sometimes finds in operatta.

Austria is in fact rather Southerly in Europe but the Nordics from both the North and South coasts of the Baltic have been marauding South for well over 2,000 years so seem to have left rather a lot of their genetics in Austria. So much so that we hear that Die ganze Welt ist himmelblau there. There are some brilliant blue eyes in Austria to this day. Austria looks like a rather nice bit of territory so maybe a lot of Nordics never went home from there.

But the show was a magnificent part for Habermann and she went from strength to strength thereafter. Moerbisch has been a place of takeoff for many singers and I am hoping that will work for Cornelia Zink (seen in Bettelstudent) as well.

Intendant Harald Serafin gave most of the jokes in the show to himself. He is very good at comic parts so that was fair enough. He always took a part in Moerbisch performances as well as directing them.

He got his post at Moerbisch because he was already a great actor and singer and I have always liked him in his various roles. Even in 2011 when he rather lost the plot at Moerbisch he did his own part very well.

Apparently I was not the only one who thought he lost the plot in 2011. The year after 2011 his audience at Moerbisch declined -- resulting in him being retired against his wishes. So Schellenberger got his job. And she did it well, with audiences numbers recovering in 2013 (with Bettelstudent).

After watching the show again, I still laughed at all the jokes again. Serafin delivers them expertly. His dry comment on a Chinese "dirndl" was exquisite, as was his non-recognition of Confucius.

But Serafin does his tragic scene well too. His tragic final call to his departing daughter not to forget Vienna is very significant. As I have argued previously, Vienna at that time was what New Yorkers think NYC is -- the center of the civilized world. And she later did admit with passion how much she missed Wien. Only in her hometown could she be "free". New Yorkers would understand.

Speaking of jokes, another was when "Gustl" (Gustav) in the second half excused himself from being a fickle Viennese by saying that he was from "Burgenland", I thought that was quite good. The audience did too. That got a laugh, though not a big one. Burgenland is of course where Moerbish is located. But Mitani's reply was good too: "Isn't that the same?" Moerbisch and Vienna are only about 60 kilometers apart, from memory. Most of the shows from Moerbisch do incorporate some reference to it -- most often in a complaint about the mosquitoes there.

And I must pay some tribute to Yuko Mitani, the Japanese soprano playing the Prince's sister. Having a Japanese playing a Chinese was no problem, of course. They all look the same, you know. Jokes aside, however, by her manner she could have been a Viennese lady. I guess it shows how much of Western culture Japan has absorbed. She was certainly as expressive as one could wish, quite un-Japanese, it seems to me. The show was part-sponsored by NHK in Tokyo so perhaps it all fits somehow. Most of Mitani's singing history has been in the German lands.

A final point of amusement: There were no actual Chinese in the show. The Chinese parts were mainly played by Japanese plus one Korean (Sangho Choi). Serafin would have got into trouble if he done that in politically correct America. And even I am a bit stunned to find that Sangho Choi is an acclaimed interpreter of German Lieder. What is the world coming to? Sangho Choi deserves his success, however.

The show is also reviewed here, with a more comprehensive account of the plot.

16 June, 2015

A lunch with Yersinia pestis

Anne shouted me a lunch today of some very good North African tagine. The lunch was so I could meet an old friend of hers. And I mean old. Lola is 90 but still has all her marbles.

I started out the meeting with a conversational gambit you won't find in any etiquette book. I guess it's my pesky sense of humour again but I started by offering some comments about Yersinia pestis. But both Anne and Lola are intelligent persons so that was treated as interesting.

I pointed out that we are all survivors of people who did NOT die during the Black Death, even though the epidemic took off about a third of the inhabitants of England. So if there were a new such epidemic, the chances of survival for most of us would probably be quite good even without antibiotics. And Yersinia pestis hasn't gone away. There were some cases of it in Madagascar recently, of all places.

I then went on to say that it was probably the people in poorest health that died in the 1300s anyway. I supported that by an anecdote from my childhood. We oldies tend to talk a lot about our childhoods.

The story is that TB was making something of a nuisance of itself in the Australia of the 1950s so the government decided to immunize all schoolkids against it with the remarkable BCG vaccine, a French product. But to avoid waste they did not vaccinate everybody.

They first did a Mantoux skin test on all us kids to see if we were already immune to TB. And all but one of the kids in my class returned a positive response. We had already had TB without knowing it and were hence immune and in no need of any vaccine. For us well-fed and healthy kids in the benign tropics, TB was experienced just as a mild bout of 'flu and we had fully recovered from it. So even nasty infections and viruses can be batted away if you are in generally good health.

The conversation strayed into other channels after that, with Rhodesia getting a mention. Lola is of British East African origin and, at university, I once headed an "Australia/Rhodesia society", which was a very successful bait to the campus Left.

But Anne's food was good. To complement the tagine, Anne had bought a big loaf of unsliced bread from her local Chinese bakery -- and that baker sure knows how to bake good bread. So with plenty of butter out of Anne's antique butter dish, I enjoyed it muchly.

Anne wanted to offer us some wine with our lunch but neither Lola nor I drink during the day so Anne stayed "dry" too, not entirely to her satisfaction. I did entertain Lola with stories about Anne's dedication to "Barossa Pearl", a dedication which I share, not being a wine snob. So we finished with a nice cup of tea -- "Bushells", the tea of flavour -- and an Anzac biscuit.

On rare occasions when I enter snooty coffee joints and ask for tea they complacently ask me which tea I want -- English Breakfast, Earl Gray etc. I always reply: "Bushells", the tea of flavour". They look at me as if I am mad. Australia's most popular tea is terminally uncool to them. I enjoy that reaction. I am a born tease, particularly of pomposity.

UPDATE: In case anybody is interested, a new drug to treat plague has just been approved in the USA. Excerpt below:

13 June, 2015

Did Bach set Psalm 23?

As I have mentioned previously, the most popular setting of Psalm 23 is Crimond, from Jessie Seymour Irvine, but many composers have set it. So did the greatest religious composer of all time also set it?

He did but not in the way often asserted. His aria "Sheep may safely graze" is often said to be his version of Psalm 23 but its wording has next to nothing in common with the psalm. See the words below:

Schafe koennen sicher weiden,
Sheep can safely graze
Wo ein guter Hirte wacht.
where a good shepherd watches over them.
Wo Regenten wohl regieren,
Where rulers are ruling well,
Kann man Ruh und Friede spueren
we may feel peace and rest
Und was Laender gluecklich macht.
and what makes countries happy.

The aria is sublime music but it in fact is part of a whole cantata devoted to currying favour with his aristocratic patron, Duke Christian. It is not religious at all. The aria is from Cantata 208: Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd ("Hunting is the only thing that satisfies me").

Bach left few tempi notations in his MSS but most conductors do it as an adagio, though largo would also defensible and some conductors have adopted that. I am with the majority there. It is so beautiful it makes me cry:

The cantata (no. 112) that does contain a setting of the psalm is "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt" -- to a German text by Wolfgang Meuslin. It's on YouTube e.g. below:

The words:

1. Coro
Corno I/II, Oboe d'amore I/II, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt,
Hält mich in seiner Hute,
Darin mir gar nichts mangeln wird
Irgend an einem Gute,
Er weidet mich ohn Unterlass,
Darauf wächst das wohlschmeckend Gras
Seines heilsamen Wortes.

2. Aria A
Oboe d'amore solo, Continuo

Zum reinen Wasser er mich weist,
Das mich erquicken tue.
Das ist sein fronheiliger Geist,
Der macht mich wohlgemute.
Er führet mich auf rechter Straß
Seiner Geboten ohn Ablass
Von wegen seines Namens willen.

3. Recitativo B
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Und ob ich wandelt im finstern Tal,
Fürcht ich kein Ungelücke
In Verfolgung, Leiden, Trübsal
Und dieser Welte Tücke,
Denn du bist bei mir stetiglich,
Dein Stab und Stecken trösten mich,
Auf dein Wort ich mich lasse.

4. Aria (Duetto) S T
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo

Du bereitest für mir einen Tisch
Vor mein' Feinden allenthalben,
Machst mein Herze unverzagt und frisch,
Mein Haupt tust du mir salben
Mit deinem Geist, der Freuden Öl,
Und schenkest voll ein meiner Seel
Deiner geistlichen Freuden.

5. Coro
Corno I/II, Oboe d'amore I e Violino I col Soprano, Oboe d'amore II e Violino II coll' Alto, Viola col Tenore, Continuo

Gutes und die Barmherzigkeit
Folgen mir nach im Leben,
Und ich werd bleiben allezeit
Im Haus des Herren eben,
Auf Erd in christlicher Gemein
Und nach dem Tod da werd ich sein
Bei Christo meinem Herren.

8 June, 2015

Why I like Austro/Hungarian operetta

Austro/Hungarian operetta is light-hearted opera written around a hundred years ago principally for the entertainment of the inhabitants of Wien (Vienna) which was at that time the capital of an ancient and major European state, the Austro/Hungarian empire.

Before the 19th century, opera was fairly cheerful. And among his 22 operas, Mozart in particular wrote a lot of Opera buffa, comic opera. Comic or not, just the brilliant overtures of some of Mozart's operas reduce me to tears of joy. There is something unearthly in Mozart, for those who can hear it. But even Handel operas had a lot of joy in them. At the finale of Giulio Cesare, for instance, we find in the finale everybody lined up and singing lustily a triumphant song.

But in the more famous 19th century, French and Italian opera became much more morbid. They are romantic but everybody seems to die at the end of them. In "Carmen", for instance, Carmen gets stabbed to death by her jealous lover and in "Aida" the lovers end up immured. So I enjoy the wonderful arias from 19th century French and Italian opera but I have never been inclined to watch much of the operas concerned: Too bleak for me. So for a long time, my liking for opera stopped at Mozart.

I have long been familiar with the more famous arias from operetta but grand opera had long put me off wanting to watch anything even vaguely recent. About 6 months ago, however, I somehow got motivated to have a look at the more famous operettas, starting, of course, with Im weissen Roessl, "The white horse inn" -- in the Moerbisch performance. I was immediately enraptured: good music, great jokes, attractive singers, joyous dancing, total romance and a gloriously happy ending. What more could one ask? Realistic it was not but great fun it was. I must have watched the show somewhere between 30 and 50 times by now but I still laugh at the jokes every time. They are that good.

And subsequently, of course I have watched many more Austro/Hungarian operettas, by Lehar, Strauss II, Kalman and others. They are frivolous escapism but after reading and writing serious stuff about politics all day, I watch them at night and that balances out my day.

Operettas and indeed most operas are romantic -- even though the outcome differs. I am inclined to think that the most romantic of all is Zarewitsch by Lehar. And in true operetta style, advancing the romance by getting the heir to the throne of all the Russias drunk on champagne is a definite classic. Vienna was never a place for teetotalling. There must have been trainloads of champagne going from the vineyards of France to Vienna.

Anne, the lady in my life, has always been a singer -- both as a soprano soloist and as a chorister. She even used to sing on street corners with the Salvation Army -- back when they still did that -- something that greatly enhances my respect for her. I remember those meetings. The participants showed true obedience to their Lord (Matthew 28: 19,20). So after many years of singing, both on stage and off, Anne knows opera well.

She seems to have a particular liking for Wagner, which is fairly common among opera buffs. She has certainly put in the hours watching it. The thought of sitting and watching a Wagner opera for hours on end seems to me unutterably boring however. But De gustibus non disputandum est, of course.

So recently I was discussing Wagner with Anne and I said to her that his stuff was too heavy for me. "I prefer Viennese frivolity", I said. Anne replied: "You can have it". But she knows the main arias from operetta quite well so she was speaking from knowledge. And we still like a lot of the same classical music so my devotion to operetta is forgiven.

Although it is easy to enjoy, I would like to make the case that it is actually very sophisticated entertainment. For a start, the artistic requirements of both grand opera and operetta are quite high. The vocal feats required of the singers are maximal in both genres and good acting is, if anything, even more important in operetta. Putting a joke across requires some very good timing and expression. And it is broadly the same singers who sing in both.

Secondly, Austro/Hungarian operetta was written for people who had it all. They lived at the heart of an enormously rich civilization. Vienna before WWI was not only a great and rich imperial capital with many nations under its rule but it was also at the cutting edge culturally and intellectually.

It was, for instance, the time and place of the immensely influential Sigmund Freud, by far the leading psychologist of the time. He was a great observer and I quote him occasionally still. And the immense distinction of Vienna in analytical philosophy cannot be gainsaid -- Schlick, Wittgenstein etc. And in economics the luminaries of the prewar Austrian school (Carl Menger; Eugen Böhm Ritter von Bawerk etc.) are honoured to this day -- though not among Leftists. Vienna had a very good claim at that time to be the intellectual capital of the world.

And, musically, it started out on top -- with the enormous heritage of the great Austrian composers -- Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert etc -- so any new compositions had a lot to live up to. And the wonder is that some composers stood out even in that environment -- with Strauss II being merely the best known of many. And there were vast numbers of innovative Viennese artists too, led by Klimt in particular

So the Viennese had it all. And what you want when you have it all is entertainment. And to be entertaining to such an indulged and sophisticated audience you had to be pretty good. So I see the lightness and frivolity of operetta not as trivial but as a major cultural achievement.

BTW: I ate last night at a new Indian restaurant in Woolloongabba, the "Delights of paradise". And the food rather amazingly lived up to that ambitious name. But it was SLOW in arriving so I ended up watching a goodly portion of a Bollywood movie while I waited. And it struck me that Hindu movies have a lot in common with operetta. Both have a LOT of singing and dancing, principally, though the Indians have yet to discover the joy of the waltz.

As far as I can tell, waltzing seems to have a rather staid reputation in the Anglosphere but it is not at all staid in Austro/Hungarian operetta. The joyous climax to a waltz can be where the lady throws her arms out wide while the man spins her around with his hands on her waist only. That is very exciting. Feminists would hate it. So I hope that Indians will discover the waltz some day. I gather that Indian movies are very romantic so let me close with a famous line from Im weissen Roessl: "Ein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein" (A song of love has to be a waltz).

Feminists would hate the scene above but I'm betting that the lady concerned was pleased to be there.

30 May, 2025

Eine Nacht in Venedig

I have now watched another Strauss II operetta -- Eine Nacht in Venedig (A night in Venice). The piece premiered in 1883. It is said to be one of Strauss's three most recognisable stage works alongside Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron so I have now watched all three. The setting is in the eighteenth-century. The performance I watched was a 1973 one directed by Václav Kaslík. It was a cinematic version using resources from Munich.

I read: "Late in 1881 Strauss began discussing a new operetta with F. Zell (pen name of Kamillo Walzel, 1829-1899) and Richard Genée (1823-1895). Walzel created the dialogue and Genée the song texts. Eine Nacht in Venedig received its première at the new Friedrich-Wilhelmstädtisches Theater in Berlin on October 3, 1883".

The story

The show is undoubtedly a classic farce -- worthy of Feydeau. It was particularly good in the second half, with a kaleidoscope of improbable and amusing happenings.

It's basically about infidelity, with the men being lecherous but the ladies triumphing in the end. Infidelity has of course long been a theme in opera and operetta. There is a lot of potential for laughs in it. And this show is certainly light-hearted, making full use of absurdity for comic effect. A good scene was when the fat old ladies accosted the duke in his bath.

The music is good, the singing is good, the acting is good and the ladies are good-looking but I didn't really like the plot. It involved constant lying to women, which I abhor. Women hate being lied to and I just don't do it. Women will put up with a lot as long as they trust the man concerned. And I have probably got away with more by being honest than I would have done by lying. I could give examples but that might be too much information.

And I don't claim any great virtue by being honest. It is just how I am made. By lying you are admitting that someone else's value system is superior to your own. And I don't do that. My Presbyterian upbringing probably contributes a little too. I remember being given a good grounding in the Ten Commandments at Sunday school during my childhood: "Thou shalt not bear false witness ..." etc.

The casting

I didn't much like Anton de Ridder as the Duke. He didn't look manly enough for that role in my view. Though that is arguable, of course. And his song Treu sein, das liegt mir nicht ("Being faithful does not suit me) did not endear him to me. I was rather reconciled to him when I found that he did not get the girl, however. He was a good singer, anyway.

The actors did a generally good job of acting Italian. I could at one point have sworn that "Caramello" was Neapolitan. He even sang German with an Italian accent at times. But the singer concerned is "Jon Piso", who was born in 1926 in Brasov, Romania. Both Romanians and Italians are descended from the Romans of old so they could have a lot in common. Piso was a powerful tenor, anyway, with his gondolier aria (Komm in die Gondel, mein Liebchen) being notable. There was a lot of good Strauss music in the show but that was probably the highlight.

One of the opening scenes -- of "Pappacoda", the macaroni cook, singing "Makkaroni, Makkaroni di Napoli!"

Pappacoda negotiating with Ciboletta

Italian gestures are a language of their own and after seeing "Pappacoda" (the macaroni cook) in action, I thought: "That guy has GOT to be Italian". And it seems he is, sort of. The singer was Cesare Curzi who was born on 14 October 1926 in San Francisco, California, of an Italian father who was also an operatic singer. His father must have been a good role-model across the board.

Erich Kunz does his elderly role well, as usual, and the ladies filled their push-up bras well. Push-up bras in the 18th century? It's an anachronism but a forgiveable one. Julia Migenes as "Ciboletta" was particularly admirable in that department. And Sylvia Geszty played the "Annina" role well. "Ciboletta", incidentally, is the Italian name for chives (Schnittlauch in German).

Annina the fisher girl (Sylvia Geszty)

Other details

I didn't much like the occasional photographic tricks using distorted images the first time around but I saw the point of them as representing dreams the second time around.

The "Pellegrina, rondinella" episode requires a bit of background. It is an early 19th century sentimental Italian poem meaning "Pilgrim swallow". It is said to be the most famous ballad of Italian Romanticism. Strauss set it in his own way for the show but there are other settings. The idea of the poem seems to be that the swallow is free to fly off after his mate but the speaker of the poem cannot. The words are here if that summary is inadequate, which it may be. The point of Annina singing it seems to be that she is describing him as a migrating swallow -- i.e. unable to stick with one woman.

Why paper aeroplanes (if that is what they are) are aimed at "Caramello" by "Annina" during the episode I have not yet figured out. There seems to be nothing online to enlighten me. For this show I seem to be "It".

Why the Duke sings "ninana ninana" repetitiously in order to seduce his ladies is also obscure. It means nothing in German but my Dizionaria tascabile di Mondadori does however offer some enlightenment. It is apparently an Italian word for "lullaby"!

The Duke, trying it on with "Annina"

Trudeliese Schmidt (Barbara).

A slight oddity is that the music is thoroughly Viennese. I guess Strauss could write no other. But the setting is after all in Italy and Italy has rich musical traditions so it seems a slight pity that some actual Italian or at least Italianate music was not included at some points. But it is still a bit odd to hear very Italian-looking people speaking German. They even give a cheer as Hoch at one point. I guess Forza was a bit much to expect.

The reason an Austrian operetta was set in Italy would seem to be a perception that morality is looser in Italy than it is in Austria. I think that is only partly true. Italy just has different implicit rules, I think. For instance, a man may have a mistress but he is still expected to be a good family man at the same time -- being congenial to the relatives, providing for his wife, caring for his children etc.

Even Italy's great Fascist beast, Benito Mussolini, who definitely did have a mistress (they were executed together), would spend the night in a vigil beside the bed of his children if they were seriously ill: "Just like any Italian man", as Signora Mussolini said later. I have always liked Italians. I grew up in a place (Innisfail) where there were a lot of them. So perhaps I understand them too.

But there was a lot happening in the operetta and most of the participants ended up getting what they wanted so the expected ending -- with two happy couples set for matrimony -- was provided.

There are many versions of the show available online through Youtube, including a couple of versions from Moerbisch

29 May, 2025


Last night I watched Kalman's Csardasfuerstin in a 1971 cinematic production directed by Miklos Szinetar and filmed on location at Budapest featuring Anna Moffo as the leading lady. The show first appeared in 1915 and appears to be set in the peaceful years just preceding that time.

The story

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

The ending has to be one of the best in operetta: Lots of belly-laughs and great happiness all round. The three old admirers bouncing along in a first-class railway carriage was a great scene.

A very small point: Kalman in this show has his leading lady singing passionately about her mountain home -- which also happens in Benatzky's Im Weissen Roessl: Surprising to me but perhaps not to others. I actually grew up with mountains looming over me (Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker, since you ask) but I appear to be deficient in my adoration of mountains. I rather liked the Gordonvale pyramid, though.

The cast

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

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


Moffo on tour

I was not expecting such shapely singers as Zabine Kapfinger (Moerbisch 2008) and Ute Gfrerer (e.g. Zuerich, 2004), though. I am for instance quite entranced by the very feminine Hamburg soprano Anja Katharina Wigger (e.g. at Moerbisch 2008) even though she is rather small in the bust, but she does have SOME bust.


And the 1973 cinematic version of "Eine Nacht in Venedig" with Václav Kaslík as Intendant managed to find three ladies who filled push-up bras very well. Operetta does need good visuals in my opinion.

There is no doubt that Moffo performed brilliantly. She matched her facial expressions and body language to the situation very well throughout. I think her American background was very enabling when she expressed cynicism. As a non-American, I may perhaps be in a position to note that American women are exceptionally cynical. They are of course cynical for good reason. American men lie so often to them.

And Moffo's singing was impeccable, of course -- a strong and faultless voice. And she was a lively dancer too.

But Dagmar Koller was the outstanding dancer. She did some very good high kicks in Wiener Blut but in the climax of this show she was everywhere, everyway and singing as well. She was however led by "Boni" (Sandor Nemeth) who could almost be described as a dancing machine -- hugely energetic, flexible, creative and lots of other adjectives. But she matched him. Very impressive.

Dagmar Koller as the second-string lady portrayed a good-looking and nice-natured lady very well. The scene where she immediately says Aber ja ("Of course") to a very rushed marriage proposal is amusing.

I do think that in operetta looks are more important than in grand opera and the more minor characters were in this case very well cast. The Prince (Karl Schönböck) looked very princely and was given very wise lines -- always agreeing with his wife, sort of.

And Miska the servant (Zoltán Latinovits) was a triumph. He got a lot of the laughs. His inability to reply with anything but "Jawohl Durchlaucht" ("Very well highness") was a classic. I liked his heel-clicking too.

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

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

Other details

Kalman's music was of course good but no particular song stayed with me. The story was about a cabaret singer so the cabaret singing in the show was appropriate but I was glad there was some operatic singing too. With great singers such as Moffo and Rene Kollo on stage that had to be. There was a LOT of singing and dancing, which probably accounts, in part, for the popularity of the work. It was particularly popular in the former Soviet Union, though that may have been because of the social class issue.

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

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

"Jawohl" is an emphatic form of agreement in German. You hear it a lot in operetta. My long-ago High School German teacher (who was actually a Ukrainian) told me that the term had fallen out of favour in the military but I don't know if that still prevails. "Durchlaucht" is a princely title of a slightly lower rank than "Hoheit" (Highness). It had become rather common among the Austro/Hungarian nobility at the beginning of the 20th century

The more I watch Austro/Hungarian operetta, the more I feel that it sounds so much better in German. German sounds a more serious language or something. I even think and mutter to myself in German (probably not very good German) for a while after I have been watching it.

The original German is sometimes much more amusing than the subtitles. It is very succinct when the Prince refers to his marriage as "bekamm ich ihr". It's a somewhat disillusioned expression that could perfectly well be expressed as "I got her" but it was translated rather supinely in the subtitles as "I married her". It DID sound better in German.

There is a libretto here, with the usual caveat that performances differ.

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

28 May, 2025

Der Bettelstudent

I recently watched the 2013 offering from Moerbisch, "Das größte Operettenfestival der Welt am Neusiedler See im österreichischen Burgenland" set in in Poland of 1704, as the show itself tells us. It was written in 1882. I noted that Moerbisch have their own ballet company, as well as their own choir and orchestra -- up with the NY Met. So they obviously deserve the fulsome description of them that I have just given.

It was a performance of the popular Bettelstudent by Carl Millöcker. It was the first performance at Moerbisch with Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin. She got that job as from 1. September 2012. She was of course delighted to be so honoured. "Ich freue mich wahnsinnig" ("I am insanely delighted"), she said in her exuberant way when her appointment was announced. She looked very tense in interviews leading up to the performance though. She shouldn't have worried. She did well.

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

The show

The performance had a lot in common with Gilbert & Sullivan. About the first third of it was quite madcap. I could have done without the big wigs and absurd gowns on the women but that was of course part of the comic setting. I note that Harald Serafin also put women into wide gowns and absurd wigs on occasions so Schellenberger was within Moerbisch custom in what she did. I thought that it made the women look like beetles but the audience seemed to like it so I concede defeat on that point.

The gowns

The plot was typical operetta nonsense, complete with with deceptions and misunderstandings. There was even TWO purloined letters. No valuable pocket watches this time though. So the plot lived up to expectations -- with some good twists towards the end

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

A good show. I see that it has been performed over 5,000 times since 1882.

The singers

I was particularly impressed by the very confident singing of Austrian soprano Cornelia Zink (as Laura) but with her elaborate costume and clownish makeup it was hard to see much of the woman behind the voice. From the closeups of her face that we got, however, one could see that her facial expressions were very fitting. I would have liked her to have got the sort of closeups that Schellenberger got at Moerbisch in 2004. Even in the grotesque deshabille scene one did not get much of an impression of her. So I am putting up a better picture of her below. As I expected, she looks good.

She is a doll! Though she should pay more attention to her roots.

And the lady in the second string story did well too. Daniela Kalin (Bronislava) does not appear to be well-known but somehow transcended her garb and came over as a very attractive lady. We saw quite a lot of her in the deshasbille scene so that would have helped. She reminded me of A.K. Wigger, which is high praise from me. I predict she will go far. Schellenberger obviously knows talent when she sees it (or hears it).

A very romantic show in the end and great fun for that. I was sad that there was no big applause for anyone in particular at the end of the show. I thought Zink deserved more. The Saxon Oberst (Milko Milev) deserved more too. His was an unsympathetic part but he played it very well.

Zink in full voice

With her fake Prince

Some general reflections

After my first watching of the show, for subsequent viewings I did my usual trick of skipping the first few tracks and that got me straight into the interesting bit, which I really enjoyed.

It's not always true but operetta performances often start with boring bits, partly for scene-setting purposes, I guess. The scene of men dressed up as ducks and dogs that introduced the 2004 Moerbisch performance of Graefin Maritza was particularly absurd. I don't know what Harald Serafin had in mind when he put that on but I very nearly stopped watching the show at that point. Maybe I missed a brilliant allegory but there was just no point to it that I could see.

A small absurd touch that I did enjoy in Bettelstudent, I missed the first time around: The fake Prince arrives in a sedan chair to the sound of a steam train! I really like the Moerbisch steam train (Heck! I like ALL steam trains!) so even that allusion to it was pleasing. Congratulations to whoever thought of that absurd idea.

A small thought. The villains in Bettelstudent were Saxons. As Schellenberger is a Saxon, I thought she might have changed that, but perhaps that would have been complicated. And why did they all have red hair? A mark of villainy?

The Saxon soldiery with their "Oberst"

It was interesting that even in 1882 Millöcker was using speech "per du" for comic effect. The whole custom seems needlessly complicated from an Anglo point of view. I presume Millöcker wrote that segment. It could have been a later interpolation, of course.

There was an odd bracket towards the end of the show commenting on the financial crisis among the European banks in 2008+ but one rather wonders why. The only message seemed to be that the little guy gets shafted. That is true but why did it need to be included in this show? If it was meant to be humorous it missed its mark with the audience -- judged by applause.

A very small point that I should probably NOT mention is that the bishop in the wedding procession is emphatically portrayed as shaky -- as having Parkinson's disease, one imagines. As politically incorrect as I am, I can see the funny side of that but many would not. Though respect for the clergy is very low in Western Europe generally these days so maybe the clergy could not complain. They have brought disrespect down on their own heads with various scandals.

Some personal reflections

I imagine that the market scene where the noble Polish ladies were too poor to order any food but potatoes was supposed to be funny but I found it a little disturbing. In my early life I had very little money but I always managed it so that I could eat well. In my late teens, for instance, I used on most evenings to walk into Tharenou Bros. Greek cafe in Roma St. (Brisbane) and order a meal of rump steak with salad for my Abendessen. And, as a creature of habit, I enjoyed it every time. I can even remember with satisfaction the buttered white bread I got with that dinner. So to be unable to do anything like that seems very sad to me.

And the fact that the fake Prince went through 10,000 Thalers in a few days quite failed to impress me. It was undoubtedly meant to be comic -- or even worthy of sympathy -- but it quite offended against my careful Presbyterian soul.

Just a very quick note in that connection: Via Spain, the Imperial Thaler was the ancestor of the American dollar. How so? The German pronunciation of "Thaler" is almost identical to the American pronunciation of "dollar"

And I guess that this is rather mad but I actually concurred with the claim by the fake Prince that Polish women are the most beautiful women of all. Eastern European women generally seem to have swept the field in getting rich husbands in Britain in recent years and the various women of Polish origin that I met in my younger days all rather bowled me over by their looks. I am pleased to say that I even had one for a girlfriend for a time in those far-off days.

Back in the '90s I saw a bit of a Polish friend named Janusz. He had at the time only recently arrived in Australia. He brought his wife with him but he was quietly disappointed with Australian women. He said that in the streets of Poland a woman would often walk by who was so good looking that you had to stop and stare. He had not had that experience in Australia. The cool Polish climate is probably a lot more kind to skin than our sunny subtropical glare so that may be part of it. But, aside from that, various Polish ladies I met did also seem to be most satisfactorily statuesque.

27 May, 2025

A birthday dinner

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

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

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

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

23 May, 2015

A good duck

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

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

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

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

21 May, 2015

Beware of Neil Fallon electrical

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

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

15 May, 2015

Der Graf von Luxemburg

This Singspiel was composed by Lehar in 1909 and was apparently set in his day. The production I have is another cinematic version -- from 1972 -- with the late Erich Kunz as the big name -- he wielded a mean monocle. There are many versions of the show on YouTube.

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

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

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

The story

The story is about a profligate aristocrat (played by the Austrian baritone Eberhard Wächter) and the strange marriage arrangements he enters into to restore his finances.

And there is also of course a second string story -- about an impoverished painter and his marriage-seeking girlfriend

The painter's girlfriend, little Helga Papouschek, played well and scrubbed up well. She has been described as a "vielseitige Schauspielerin und Sängerin". I can see that. She portrayed a number of moods convincingly.

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

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

Early in the show (around the 7 minute mark online) you can see quite a bit of an attractive barmaid with a well-filled blouse whom I thought might have been mentioned in the credits -- but she was not. A barmaid dancing with a prince is a very low-probability event -- but this is operetta. I love it.

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

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

In summary: A great romance with a marvellously happy ending. I liked the way the baritone's lady mostly looked and sang over his shoulder after they had accepted one-another. She looked best in those later scenes in my undoubtedly wicked opinion. She looks better happy. They certainly made a most convincing couple. I would be moderately surprised if he did not get into her pants after hours.

Some good excerpts here with some great acting by Lilian Sukis:

The cast

Erich Kunz played Basil, the Polish Prince and delegate to the Austrian Reichsrat. He of course does the part very convincingly, as indeed do all the singers. The costumes were all well done -- with very big hats on the ladies at times and big and very luxurious-looking sable collars on the coats worn by the men.

Erich Kunz gets his girl

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

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

So this was a show with a beautiful woman in the lead and a very handsome man! Definitely easy on the eye. That is a big plus in operetta, IMHO.

Wächter with Sukis

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

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


I did not relate terribly well to the second string story about an impoverished painter, probably because extreme poverty is alien to me. In my youth I had very little money but I was always able to manage it so that I ate well. I well remember when my weekly income (in the very early '60s) was £2/7/6. You have to be old to understand what that means.

But, thanks to my Italian-Australian friend, Dino Tenni, I had at that time Northern Italian peasant "soup" (sweet milky coffee with bread and an egg or two broken into it) for breakfast every day (and you wonder why I still have warm feelings about Italians?) and lots of "punkin" (pumpkin) with the evening meal. The English feed pumpkin to their animals but it is a popular vegetable in Australia. Anne still feeds it to me.

13 May, 2015

Der Zarewitsch

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

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

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

The lovers

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

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

The parting

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't have the libretto for the show but somewhere early in it, the leading lady is looking for a man she can give her life to! I love it! The wrecks of humanity that are feminists would hate it but it does seem to be part of life. Romance does exist, rare though it may be. And in operetta we enter that wonderful world.

9 May, 2015

Der Zigeunerbaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen Shade

But the casting triumph of the show was undoubtedly making Ivan Rebroff the villainous pig-farmer. He was a a comic triumph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

There are many versions of the show online

8 May, 2015

A whole kilo!

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

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

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

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

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

26 April, 2015

A good party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne talked mainly to Jenny and Nanna.

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

April 21, 2015

Jesus Christ Superstar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 20, 2015

Some thoughts on Moerbisch 2011

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from the recruiting scene, with the stirring Werberlied (recruiting song):

Most of the show is online here

12 April, 2015

A welcome home for Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April, 2015

Die lustige Witwe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ute Gfrerer

Schellenberger with the ambassador

Schellenberger with her "difficult" man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The words of all the songs in the show are here -- in German AND English

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

8 April, 2015

Kalman's Graefin Mariza at Moerbisch in 2004

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

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

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

Lots of good excerpts below;

But if you want English subtitles you will have to buy the DVD. The words are of course in German, but the music is international.

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

The story

The story is that an Austro-Hungarian lady (Mariza) is plagued by so many suitors that she retreats to her estate in Hungary on the pretence that she is going to get married there.  She has however an elderly suitor who follows her to her estate.  Her estate manager (Herr Toerek) is in fact an impoverished aristocrat and she (of course!) falls in love with him.  But then there is a big misunderstanding that has to be resolved.

The second-string story involves involves a rich Yugoslav estate owner, Baron Zsupan, and the sister of "Herr Toerek".  She wants him but he initially thinks he wants Mariza.  When he finally realizes that he really wants the sister he has the devil of a job getting her back.

The cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

The songs

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

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

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

The male lead in the show has some good arias, with "Komm Zigan" being particularly dramatic, but none of them stuck with me the way the Varazdin song did.

Go to the 48 minute mark on the video for the Varazdin song.

The inhabitants of the fine city of Varazdin in Northern Croatia are probably not too keen on the song as it portrays Varasdin as home to 18,000 pigs -- when Varazdin has much grander real claims than that.

Other details

It took me a long time to figure out what the luminous blue ball was all about but I think I finally get it.  It represents the moon. The gypsy woman "Manja" prophesied that in one lunar cycle  Mariza would find love.  And when they do acknowledge their love they hand the ball back to Manja. The lunar month is over.  And at that point Serafin reappears to mark the end of the month.

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

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

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

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

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

Translation issues

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

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

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

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

And there is in the subtitles what I regard as a major mistranslation. Verwalter is translated as "bailiff", which mostly means an official of a law court these days.  The German literally means someone who exercises power on behalf of someone else so a simple "manager" would have been better.

So I hope that my various comments here about things in the show will help to a small degree to make up for any lack of German in those who view it.

Mariza falls for her "Verwalter" (Estate manager)

Harald Serafin, Schellenberger and the purloined letter

Schellenberger in her milkmaid Tracht

On to the politically incorrect bit!

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

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

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

6 April, 2015

A quiet Easter

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

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

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

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

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

31 March, 2015

Two clumsy people dining together

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

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

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

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

28 March, 2015

Christian identification with Israel

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

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

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

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

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

27 March, 2015

Emerich (Imre) Kalman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can view the marvellous Varasdin song ("Komm mit nach Varasdin") below:

The words of the song are here

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


I am a great fan of Schellenberger. I have even put up a fan site for her. She is a fabulous and expressive woman as well as a great Saxon soprano. And in operetta it helps if the ladies are good-looking. And Schellenberger is. We actually see more of her in Die lustige Witwe but IMHO she looks best when she wears Tracht -- towards the end of this show. The big skirts of country Austria do seem to be flattering generally.

25 March, 2015


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

Hermann Prey and Kiri te Kanawa pictured in the finale

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

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

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

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

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

Mein Herr Marquis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The performance as a whole was a distinguished one indeed. Getting Kiri te Kanawa as leading lady was a coup and she was at her very good best. She both sang and acted admirably. Though in the acclaimed czardas scene it seemed a bit strange to me to have a half-Maori lady proclaiming her passionate love of her Hungarian homeland!

Kiri singing Klange der Heimat

I guess my interest in ethnic matters betrayed me there. And Hermann Prey as the husband was in his element. His expression when his wife was expounding his sins in Act 3 was very well and amusingly done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 March, 2015

Was Paganini a psychopath?

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

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

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

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

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

21 March, 2016

Zigeunerliebe and GWF Hegel

I guess it shows what a hopeless academic I am that I could write the heading above. Only an academic would compare a Viennese operetta with a nigh-unintelligible Leftist philosopher. I guess they both spoke German. There's that to it.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there seems to have been some fascination with Gypsies as living "free" lives. You see it in Carmen, in Zigeunerliebe and Il Trovatore, for instance. Lehar's Zigeunerliebe has a somewhat minor place in operatic history but I was watching a 1973 cinematic version of it last night so it is in front of my mind at the moment.

Both Carmen and Zigeunerliebe feature a fascination with gypsy life. And the portrayal is fairly similar in both cases. The major difference is that the ending is tragic in the opera (Carmen) and happy in the operetta (Zigeunerliebe). But that's basically the difference between the two art-forms. In some operettas there are THREE happy couples at the end (e.g. Der Graf von Luxemburg and Im weissen Roessl) so Zigeunerliebe is actually rather morose in having only one. The scheming old father was apparently seen as not deserving of marital bliss.

Both Carmen and Zigeunerliebe are quite moral tales. They say that a desire for freedom can be strong but freedom is in the end illusory -- or at least has a lot of downside.

Which brings me to GWF Hegel -- who thought the same. Hegel was of course the philosophical inspiration of both Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler but still seems popular among the small number of Leftists who are capable of thinking at any depth. And you DO need to be a deep thinker to follow Hegel. His writings are a real struggle to follow. I gather that he gave satisfying lectures, however, and after people were inspired by his lectures, they made the effort of following his writings -- and so generally broadcast his name and fame. I have a more extended comment on his writings here.

But the problem Hegel and the opera characters were addressing is a real one. We all like to be free from restrictions but a moment's thought will tell us that rights connote duties. For example, my right not to be assaulted is everybody elses's duty not to assault me. Similarly, the opportunity Gypsies have to move around a lot makes it difficult for them to earn a living. They have to resort to some rather unpleasant work, such as begging and stealing.

Hegel, however carries that insight to an extreme degree. He basically said all freedom is an illusion. Being a philosopher, however, he did not actually deny freedom. He redefined it -- saying that the only freedom was freedom to march in lockstep with everyone else. His idea of freedom was the freedom of the ant. His model of an ideal human society was an anthill.

Fortunately, the English have always valued their individual liberties so Hegel's ideas were not widely accepted in England and its derivative societies. And both in England and elsewhere the 19th century also produced some good defences of individual liberties -- both in the persons of various economists (culminating in the thinking of Boehm-Bawerk) and in the very lucid philosophical writings of J.S. Mill. Sadly, Mill did not practice what he preached. His votes in the House of Commons were thoroughly socialist. Rather amazingly, he was a crypto-Hegelian. His On Liberty seems to have been just an intellectual exercise for him.

Fortunately the classical liberal ideas of Mill and others developed in the 20th century to thinking now known as libertarianism -- thinking which sets out in detail how a very much larger scope for liberty than we currently have can be achieved. And insofar as libertarian ideas have been applied (for instance in the policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) the results have been very benign -- a stark contrast with the ideas of GWF Hegel.

So there is an answer to the opera characters and others who idolize the Gypsies: Freedom can never be absolute but we can go much further towards it than we so far have done.

So Lehar's Zigeuner Liebe was rather insightfully didactic. The glorification of gypsies was rather common in Austro/Hungarian operetta so Lehar used his great talents in an attempt to right the balance. In this show he first set out the attractions of the gypsy life, as conventionally conceived, and then showed its downside. And there was lots of good singing to make the lesson enjoyable

Didactic art can be very good (e.g. Dickens) but that tends to get subordinated to the message. And in this show there were very few jokes and no characters that one could identify with. Janet Perry is/was a very nice looking lady and a good singer but I certainly could not see much engaging about the thoroughly scatty woman she portrayed.

And I must comment on "Ilona". She was convincingly portrayed by Colette Lorand and she fitted exactly what my father would have called "An old bomb". I am not sure how widely that bit of Australian slang is understood but -- approximately -- it means an older lady who thinks she is still as attractive as she was in her youth and is rather arrogant and egotistical as a result: An unpleasant but realistic character. I quite loathed her. But in a characteristic Australian way I loathe pretention and egotism generally. It's "bunging on an act" and it's not "fair dinkum". I could translate those expressions but I think I already have.

So it was good a show but not one to return to very often.

March 20, 2015

A problem vocabulary -- and a partial solution

Many stages in my life have added to my vocabulary. I was born into an Australian working class home so I speak the vivid Australian slanguage with joy -- but I don't usually write it.

And I am basically a literary type so I know the difference between a dactylic and an anapaestic rhythm. And neither "eleemosynary" nor "emoluments" are mystery words to me

And I have studied 3 languages so have many words from them in my brain. For instance, I can use Volk and Reich with accuracy and sometimes use words of Latin origin in their Latin meaning. And a lot of people don't like the ungracious English name "Eggplant" for a rather desirable fruit so call it by the French name instead: "Aubergine". But I don't like much about the French but do rather like Italians. The vastly "incorrect" Silvio Berlusconi is something of a hero of mine. So I call the vegetable "Melanzane", which is both the Italian word and a version of its botanical name (Solanum melongena).

My odd food words mostly oppress Anne, the lady in my life. But she has got used to them and even makes her own Liptauer these days -- and has even tried to make cevapi. But she and I share similar geographical and social origins so I can talk to her in broad Australian -- which is pleasing to us both. When I call someone a "galah" or a "drongo" she knows what I mean.

And my early very intensive studies of the Bible have left me with an extensive knowledge and appreciation of the wonderful words and phrases of the King James Bible, plus a knowledge of theology and textual criticism. So I know what Masoretic and paraclete means.

And at university I did some studies in linguistics and came out of that with an appreciation of both Old English and Middle English. So I occasionally use constructions from those sources. One of my favourite proverbs in fact uses Middle English: "If ifs and ans were pots and pans, there'd be no room for tinkers" ("an" means "if" in Middle English). And I am prone to reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English.

And my doctorate in the social sciences has left me with a useful statistics vocabulary -- so I am inclined to talk about "orthogonal" factors and "leptokurtic" curves, for instance.

So with that wonderful treasure of words available to me, I am inclined to use it, where appropriate. The big problem with that, however, is that if I used my vocabulary as I am inclined to do, I would render a lot of what I write barely intelligible a lot of the time. Most people have backgrounds quite different from mine.

So what I have long done is to write something out fairly spontaneously and then go back through it replacing the uncommon words with simple words of mainly Anglo-Saxon origin. And I am pleased to say that such simplification often clarifies my thought and rarely obscures it.

But I am getting old and no longer have the time and energy I once did so lately I have tended on some occasions to let my original words stand rather than revise them. And that will probably get gradually worse as time goes by.

So this is just an apology if what I write is not immediately clear. I am however consoled by the thought that everybody has Wikipedia and various online dictionaries at their fingertips these days so can clarify any obscure words with considerable celerity (Latin: "celer" = "quick").

Just for fun, here are a few odd words I have been using lately -- either in writing or in speech: narthex, vietato, endorheic, spinto, exegesis, rhotic.

17 March 2015

Fads -- and Im Weissen Roessl

I get fads and it's genetic.  I know it's genetic because my father had it and Joe has it too.  Joe gets a fad for a new  computer game.  He plays it and plays it time and time again for days and weeks. Then he loses interest in it and goes on to some other game.  

My father used to get fads about people.  He would get to know someone new and would initially speak highly of them.  Then after a few weeks he would go off them  -- mainly because they did not work as hard as he did.  But NOBODY worked as hard as he did.  Hard physical work was his religion. He was a timber-feller (lumberjack) by trade and you needed to be capable of relentless physical work there.

I get fads about a lot of things -- particularly food. I will decide I like something and then consume it over and over again day after day and then I will lose interest in it.  But some food fads last a long time.  I had porridge for breakfast almost every day for the first 16 years of my life, for instance. I still like a good plate of porridge but rarely have it.  And in more recent times I have been having mainly bacon and eggs for breakfast for several years.  My present breakfast food fad is a BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich). But my food fads are mostly for things that many people like so they don't really stand out unless someone knows me well.

I also get fads about music and in recent days I have been rather obsessed with an operetta. For about the last 3 weeks I have watched it in whole or in part EVERY DAY. It is a very popular operetta, however, so again my preferences are not exactly strange.  

I have a DVD of the 2008 Moerbisch performance of Im weissen Roessl (The White Horse Inn).  You too can see it.  It is online here. My DVD has English subtitles but the online version is in German only.  

Moerbisch is a small lakeside town much visited as a summer holiday resort which has a huge auditorium for stage plays of various sorts.  The auditorium was packed for the performance I saw, as it usually is.  

For a start the 2008 Moerbisch performance was sponsored by ORF (Oesterreichischer Rundfunk; the Austrian State broadcaster) and they seem to have supported a resolution to make the show the definitive version of the operetta.  Money seems to have been no object.  They must have had a hundred "extras" among the performers and both the sets and the costumes were elaborate.  And they made a point of hiring singers who were also good actors and good looking.  The ladies were gorgeous and the character actors were brilliant in filling their parts.  

The many versions of the play over the years that have been performed do differ quite a bit, and this one also has its custom adaptations.  The play by now has been put on so often by so many that it has no "Masoretic" text.  The famous Robert Stolz "Goodbye" song, for instance (Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier) is only heard in English language versions of this show.  In German, it occurred originally in an operetta Die lustigen Weiber von Wien, which now seems to be known only in a movie version ("The Merry Wives of Vienna") but it was later interpolated into movie versions of this show too.

It is difficult to pin down the period in which the show is set.  Kaiser Franz Joseph appears in it and he died in 1916 so one imagines that it is set in the late 19th century.  But "Dr Siedler" at one point uses prominently a 1950s rangefinder camera -- and there are other minor anachronisms -- such as the strange vehicle at the beginning of the show, not to mention the sportscar driven by Sigismund der schoene.  And the national anthem was not anything that Franz Joseph would have known.  In his day the tune was the old Haydn tune later appropriated by Germany for the Deutschland Lied.  The play premiered in 1897 so I assume it was meant to be contemporary and the anachronisms are the work of opinionated later artistic directors.

The plot

The plot is so complex, with everything intertwined, that I doubt that I can say anything useful about it. There is the main theme of the head waiter mooning after his very attractive landlady and the second theme of the lawyer being completely smitten by the gorgeous daughter of the haughty Berlin businessman -- but late in the show a third couple pop up, when a poor professor and his shy daughter encounter another very confident Berliner.  The complexity makes for a lot of laughs and some good arias. And there are, of course, three happy couples at the end.

Somewhat to my surprise and satisfaction the Austrian monarchy is treated fairly sympathetically.  I had expected a modern producer to satirize it in some way. The Kaiser (played by Harald Serafin) is presented as very frail but he probably was at the time the play was written.  And he is portrayed as mentally sharp and kindly.  He is also portrayed as thanking people a lot, which is true to life for Royalty.  And he very clearly seen by his subjects not just as an old man but as a symbol of the country,  which again is right.  The only element of satire I saw was to portray him wearing a helmet with bright GREEN plumes, but he has done that before so it apparently amuses him.

The cast

Intendant Harald Serafin as usual gave himself a part -- as Kaiser -- and he always does his parts well.  I think he is a naturally jolly person and something of that always comes through.  His nearly falling down the ladder was a good humorous touch. And the consternation that produced in his "subjects" was also very convincingly done. I think he did particularly well in this show.  Though his best performance in my view was in Das Land des Laechelns, where he portrayed wonderfully well the sadness of a father sending off his beautiful daughter to a dubious fate.  He normally does not give himself anything very tragic to portray but he can certainly do it.

And I wonder who wrote the wise words that he put in the hotel register.  They really were wise words IMHO.

Both the leading ladies were very easy on the eye.  Whoever thought of pouring the busty Zabine Kapfinger into a dirndl to play the part of the Wirtin (landlady) certainly knew what would look good.  Harald Serafin could not quite keep his eyes off her cleavage when she was leaning over him. Nor could I, for that matter. 

Trying to fend off her unwelcome admirer

Zabine Kapfinger is actually a pop and folk singer in real life so her voice was a little thin at times but she is a brilliant actress.  The show was hi-tech so we saw lots of close-ups of her face at times -- and all her expressions were spot-on for the role.  She played perfectly someone unlike her real self, I gather.  But perhaps not so unlike.  Below is a picture of her in real life with a lucky man -- her husband.  Note those Austrian blue eyes -- celebrated at length in the operetta itself (in the song, Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau).

A small point about those blue eyes:  Blue eyes were at that time and place seen as a sign of  Treue -- Faithfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty.  You could rely on a person with blue eyes.  There is also a mention of blue eyes as loyal towards the end of Die Lustige Witwe by Lehar.  It has got me wondering if there is something in that. I can think of a reason why there could be something in it:  Blue eyes are cold-climate eyes and co-operation is probably more important to survival in such climates.  And trustworthiness is important to co-operation.

And the ultra-feminine Anja Katherina Wigger (pronounced Vigger) as Otti was rather mesmerizing in her looks and performance. I think a tall slim and attractive blonde who is also a good operatic soprano is something of a rarity.  Sopranos do tend to weight after a while.  And Wigger got her notes effortlessly.  So she is definitely one of my favourite operatic sopranos. Go to the 36 minute mark on the video and also the 46 minute mark to see her in action.  

I am actually rather soppy about Wigger.  I like the way she speaks as well as the way she sings. Her amused Ich eile ("I am hurrying") immediately before she encounters the  hilarious herd of cows sounds very expressive to me.  And her scream when she encounters the cows is as feminine as you can get.

And Sigismund der schoene, as the egotistical but aging playboy, was a manic touch.  And the poor Professor and his daughter in the luggage compartment was a good light-hearted touch of another sort: Self-confidence finally overcomes shyness.

But my favourite character in the operetta was Herr Giesecke.  He was the relentlessly negative curmudgeon who appeared throughout the show.  He had great laugh lines and Klaus-Dieter Lerche delivered them brilliantly.  I laughed at them every time even after I had heard them over and over again. There were jokes throughout the play but Herr Giesecke was basically one big joke.  All his appearances were funny.

The continuity people goofed with him, however.  In the course of  two days his moustache went from white to black and then back to white again!

The jokes

But a lot of what Herr Giesecke said was allusive.  You had to know what he was referring to in order to get the joke.  So I thought I might mention a few of those things from just one of his scenes.  The North/South rivalry in the German lands often seems to get some mention in operetta and here it was played out at length.  In Germany the stern "Prussians" (Northerners) look down on the more relaxed Southerners but the Southerners don't care one bit about that.  They know that they have the culture so the North is welcome to its soldiers.

So Herr Giesecke made a great point out of his view that he should have gone to Ahlbeck rather than the Salzkammergut (Austria's beautiful lake district).  Ahlbeck is an island just off Germany's Baltic coast and the Baltic is a pretty rough body of water.  It is grey and stormy a lot of the time.  The Baltic coast is reasonably passable in summer but nothing like the lush Salzkammergut.

And in denying that the Salzkammergut was better than North Germany he made some hilarious comparisons.  In saying how regions near Berlin where he lives were as good as areas in the Salzkammergut he said at one point: "What about Spandau?".  What about Spandau indeed!  Spandau is a suburb of Berlin and I am sure it is well kept but the only thing notable that I know about it is that a large prison was long located there (now torn down).  

And he also praises the Stoelpchensee as comparable to the Austrian lakes.  The Stoelpchensee is one of a string of small lakes connected by canals to the South of Berlin.  But they are often not much wider than the canals as far as I can see.  Again a foolish comparison.  And one of his best lines comes after he praises the Lueneburger Heide, a much loved heathland area of North Germany.  The Wirtin asks him:  Do they have mountains there?  He replies, "No; but if we did they would be higher"!  

That was quite a big and jolly scene but he crops up later in the play as well.  At the very end when all the couples are happily together he appears and says that in Berlin they would call that knutschen -- "smooching".

Other notes

Something the Ober (head waiter) said at one point  is also rather obscure.  He asks Herr Giesecke if he wants to dudeln.  Dudeln is the Viennese word for yodelling but in slang it means to have a few (alcoholic) drinks.

And in her yodelling song, the Wirtin (Kapfinger) mentions her beloved  Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Erzherzog Johann (Archduke John), who died in 1859.  In English we call the place "Styria"?  How ugly!  And how needless.  There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name.  If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark.

And all performances at Moerbisch seem to incorporate a complaint about the local mosquitoes. It is a bit of a game to watch for the mention of them to pop up.  There were two mentions of them on this occasion:  A penalty of the Moerbisch stage being located on the marshy shore of a lake, of course.  Pest control can obviously not quite cope.

I think I have finally got the chorus of the theme song into my head but how long the words will stay there is a question.  The words are:

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee, 
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür, 
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen, 
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

But I think I should just note something about the German nicknames in the play for those who know no German.  German constructs its affectionate nicknames in a way rather different from what we do.  With us a "Joe" or "Joseph" becomes "Joey".  But in Southern German it becomes "Seppl".  How come?   Southern German concentrates on the last part of the name so the "sep" at the end of Joseph or Josef has the diminutive "l" added to make "seppl".  And Josepha in the play becomes "Pepi" or "Peperl" and Leopold becomes "Poldi".

And North German does it another way again. So "Klara" becomes "Klaerchen".  The play includes both Northerners and Southerners so you see both approaches in it. 

Finally, perhaps I should apologize for adopting the English custom of referring to Im weissen Roessl  as an operetta.  The credits rightly describe it as a Singspiel, a play with singing.

UPDATE: I now realize why I have (temporarily) stopped watching Im weissen Roessl. It's because I now have got the whole thing into my head. I just have to think of a favourite scene and I can see it clearly in my mind's eye. I can even see the expression on Kapfinger's face when she say to "Leopold": Es lesen doch -- and later when she says Lesen es doch weiter. I now seem to have a DVD in my head. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I wonder. It'll probably fade away with time anyway.


The words and translation of "Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein"

 Was mein Herz zu sagen hat, What my heart has said,
Fühlst auch du, you feel too;
Was die Uhr geschlagen hat, what hour the clock has struck,
Weisst auch du. you know too.
Und hast du kein Ohr für mich, And if you will not listen to me,
Finde ich keine Ruh’, I shall find no peace,
Drum hör zu, drum hör zu. so listen, listen.
Sag’ ich es in Prosa dir, klingt es kühn. If I say it to you in prose, it sounds bold.
Das ist nicht das Rechte für mein Gefühl. That is not right for my feelings.
Aber, wenn die Geigen zärtlich für mich fleh’n But, if the violin sweetly pleads on my behalf,
Wirst du gleich mich versteh’n: you will understand me:
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein. full of floral scents and sunshine.
Wenn beim ersten du, ich mich an dich schmieg, The first time that you and I cuddle up,
Braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik. my heart will need sweet waltz music.
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein. sweetly intoxicating, like champagne.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, „Ich bin dein“, And the song which says, ‘I am yours’
Kann doch nur ein Wiener Walzer sein. can only be a Viennese waltz.
Wenn der Liebe Lust und Schmerz einen packt, When Love bundles pleasure and pain together into one,
Schlägt ein jedes Menschenherz seinen Takt! every human heart beats its own rhythm!
Jeder singt für sich partout Everyone everywhere sings their own song
Und auch der Text dazu heisst: and that’s what the old saying means:
„Chacun à son goût!“ ‘Each to their own!’
Einer gibt den grössten Reiz der Gavott’ One is most attracted by the gavotte;
Und der and’re seinerseits liebt mehr flott! another prefers, for his part, to love more quickly!
Und es wechseln Moll und Dur, And it switches minor and major keys;
Ja, c’est l’amour. Aber ich sage nur: yes, that is love. But I say only this:
Mein Liebeslied… My love song must be a waltz…

And I can't resist putting up here the words for the wonderful "Goodbye" song:

Und eines Tages mit Sang und Klang Da zog ein Fähnrich zur Garde Ein Fähnrich, jung und voll Leichtsinn und schlank Auf der Kappe die goldene Kokarde

Da stand die Mutter vor ihrem Sohn Hielt seine Hände umschlungen Schenkt ihm ein kleines Medaillon Und sie sagt zu ihrem Jungen:

Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiss mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu. Sei das Glück mit dir

Stehe gerade, kerzengerade Lache in den Sonnentag Was immer gescheh'n auch mag Hast du Sorgenminen, fort mit ihnen Ta-ta-ra-ta-ta Für Trübsal sind andere da

Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiß mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Sei das Glück mit dir Adieu, Adieu mein kleiner Offizier, Adieu

16 March 2015

Conservatives Are No More Biased About Science Than Liberals Are

The article below by psychological researchers Erik C. Nisbet and R. Kelly Garrett is a curious one. I have no great argument with either their conclusions or their methodology but it is a sad day when scientific claims are examined in this way. Disputes about scientific claims should be examined by presentations and discussions of the evidence only. The article below does not do that. It treats the facts as irrelevant. It claims that ideology dictates scientific conclusions, not the facts underlying the conclusions.

The sad thing is that they are obviously right in lots of cases, but it seems a great pity that they could not survey the evidence pro- and con- for the scientific conclusions that they study.

I like to think that I am persuaded solely by reason and the facts. I can well imagine that in saying that I provoke laughter. But I think I can substantiate it.

Christians sometimes say that I am their favorite atheist. And they have good grounds for that. I am basically a very religious person and was a very fundamentalist Christian in my teens. I am perfectly at home even with a demanding and puritanical religion. But I also have studied philosophy from an early age and I cannot fault Carnap's argument that all metaphysical statements are meaningless. So I have been an extreme atheist for the whole of my adult life. I don't even believe that the statement "God exists" is meaningful. Can you get more thoroughgoing atheism than that?

But due to my religious instincts and religious past, I still have warm feelings towards Christians and regularly defend them. So some people CAN come to conclusions about the world that are ideologically inconvenient -- VERY inconvenient in my case.

And the undoubted fact that Northeast Asians (in China, Japan, Korea) have markedly higher IQs than people of European origin might well be bothersome to a person of European origin like myself and I could be inclined to deny it -- as Leftists do. But I actually accept the reality with perfect equanimity. I publicize it in fact.

I suspect that many atheists find something or somebody in the world about them to worship. The way many obviously intelligent academics pore over the works of Karl Marx seems to me to be pretty religious. "What Marx was really saying" is a phrase that I have heard from them "ad nauseam". They treat Das Kapital in the same way that fundamentalist Christians treat the Bible. Their examination of it is very reminiscent of the theological disputes among Christians. It is certainly their holy book.

And I know why they do that. Marx was a great hater. He hated just about everyone -- even the working class from which he hoped so much. And Leftism is a religion of hate. Leftists hate the world about them. They hate "the system", in their words. That is why they yearn to "fundamentally transform" it, to use Obama's phrase. So haters like a great hater. Marx FEELS right to Leftists, even if no application of Marxism has worked even passably well.

So have I too found a new object of worship to replace my early Christianity? I don't think so. I am not only an extreme atheist, I am also a complete one. I don't believe in Karl Marx, Jesus Christ or global warming. And I also don't believe in the unhealthiness of salt, sugar and fat. How skeptical can you get? But I could be said to worship reason, I think.

Getting back to the article below: The authors reveal themselves to be very unscientific. Though maybe they had to be in order to get their stuff published. Take for instance this paragraph:

"We note in particular that our findings neither exempt nor validate the well-organized and heavily funded “climate denialist movement.” This movement engages in extensive public communication campaigns and lobbying efforts intended to misrepresent the science and scientific consensus about the issue"

Where is the evidence that climate skeptics are "well-organized and heavily funded"? They quote no evidence because there is none. The overwhelming majority of climate skeptics are just isolated individuals calling foul over what they see as bad science. And very few of us have received a cent in connection with our writings on climate. I have received nil and other skeptics I know say the same.

The statement is however a rather good example of psychological projection. Warmists receive vast financial support not only from government but even from energy companies such as Exxon. Leftists understand people so poorly that they judge other people by themselves. They HAVE to believe that we are like them.

Despite my criticism of the article below, I hope it is clear that I do agree with their fundamental premise that there is such a thing as "motivated social cognition". That people see what they want to see or expect to see is proverbial and has often been demonstrated in psychological experiments. Even the classical Asch conformity experiment is as good a demonstration of motivated social cognition as any.

And motivated social cognition provides an excellent explanation for the fact that there is a large degree of consensus among academics about the dangers of global warming. Solomon Asch would not be surprised by it. Let me elaborate:

At law, one routinely asks "Cui Bono" (who benefits?) in deciding guilt or innocence of some crime. It's often the decisive factor in arriving at a conviction. And looking at who benefits from a belief in dangerous global warming makes it crystal clear why academics support that belief. The global warming scare has produced a huge shower of research money to fall on climatologists and anyone else who can get into the act. All academics hunger for research grants and the global warming scare provides those lavishly. Say that your research supports global warming and you are in clover. If we go by the legal precedents, the consensus among academics is a consensus about the desirability of research grants more than anything else.

And the same thing goes for journalists and newspaper proprietors. Scares sell newspapers and global warming is a scare that can be milked in all sorts of ways. John Brignell has a long list of the ways.

So where is the impact of the article below likely to be? I am confident that it will have very little impact. It goes against the kneejerk way the Green/Left respond to skeptics. Rather than challenge the facts that skeptics put forward, the Green/Left simply resort to abuse. They say anything derogatory about skeptics that they can think of. They fallaciously think that abusing the arguer answers the argument.

And one of the commonest types of abuse that they resort to is to say that skeptics are psychologically defective in some way. One such way is that skeptics and conservatives generally are supposed to be especially closed-minded and ideologically biased. The article below sinks that accusation rather well. But the Green/Left cannot afford to lose an arrow out of their slender quiver of them so the study below will simply be ignored. Ignoring facts is a standard Leftist defence mechanism so will be trotted out on this occasion with the greatest of ease

I could say more but I have already said much so I will end with an anecdote. Sometimes in company when some adverse weather event is being discussed, I say: "It must be due to global warming". Every time I say that people laugh. Skepticism about global warming is very widespread. As far as I can see, it is only a few Leftist barrow-pushers who believe in it and I wonder how sincere their belief is.

I excerpt below just the "guts" of the article I have been discussing:

Testing our partisan brains

Our own study focused on the second explanation for ideological divides and tested whether conservative and liberal trust in science varies by topic.

Recruiting a diverse group of 1,500 adults from a national online panel of volunteers, participants were randomly assigned to read scientifically accurate statements about different science topics.

Some participants read about issues exhibiting a significant partisan divide, including climate change, evolution, nuclear power, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas, while others read about issues that tend to be viewed as ideologically neutral, namely geology and astronomy.

Nuclear power and fracking are often seen by liberals as threatening their environmental values. Evolution and climate change are more often contested by conservatives because they challenge the social and economic beliefs associated with their ideology.

We went into our experiment expecting that liberals and conservatives would experience negative emotional reactions when reading statements challenging their views, which would increase their skepticism to the claim.

We also anticipated that participants would be motivated to resist the science, experiencing feelings of threat and arguing against the presented information.

Each of these factors would lead individuals to feel more distrustful of the source of the unwelcome information, the scientific community.

Unsurprisingly, we found that conservatives who read statements about climate or evolution had a stronger negative emotional experience and reported greater motivated resistance to the information as compared to liberals who read the same statements and other conservatives who read statements about geology or astronomy.

This in turn lead these conservatives to report significantly lower trust in the scientific community as compared to liberals who read the same statement or conservatives who read statements about ideologically neutral science.

Significantly, we found a similar pattern amongst liberals who read statements about nuclear power or fracking. And like conservatives who read statements about climate change or evolution, they expressed significantly lower levels of trust in the scientific community as compared to liberals who read the ideologically-neutral statements.

Biased attitudes toward scientific information and trust in the scientific community were evident among liberals and conservatives alike, and these biases varied depending on the science topic being considered.

An additional distressing finding was that though liberals who read statements about climate change and evolution reported greater trust in science than conservatives who did the same, they also reported significantly less trust in the scientific community than liberals who read ideologically neutral statements about geology or astronomy.

This suggests that highly partisan, high profile science can result in an overall loss of public confidence in the scientific community, even amongst those likely to trust the evidence.

We wish to stress that demonstrating that both conservatives and liberals are prone to responding to ideologically unpalatable scientific information in a biased manner is not an excuse for either side to do so.

We note in particular that our findings neither exempt nor validate the well-organized and heavily funded “climate denialist movement.” This movement engages in extensive public communication campaigns and lobbying efforts intended to misrepresent the science and scientific consensus about the issue; it funds and targets political candidates; and it attempts to intimidate climate scientists.


14 March 2015

Those wicked male/female stereotypes

This is an anecdote of no real importance but stories tend to be more impressive than statistics so I thought I might share it.

I was in Target recently buying some inessentials and, when I went to pay, found myself in line behind a mother and her pretty little blondie daughter, aged about four. The girl was carrying a box of Star Wars Lego, which mildly surprised me. Star Wars is more a boy thing as far as I can see. So when she turned around and looked in my direction, I asked her, "Do you like Star Wars?". She smiled and said, "No. It's for my brother".

So my stereotyped view about the different things that boys and girls like was perfectly correct! As Gordon Allport said decades ago, stereotypes have "a kernel of truth". Feminists eat your heart out!

Lego is amazing stuff. Most families with children or grandchildren seem to have buckets of it. It must be a major boost to Denmark's terms of trade. I greatly liked my Meccano set (Erector set) when I was a kid but Lego is a lot easier to use.

A related story: I think most people would expect trains to be a boy thing but I happen to know two pretty little girls who are great enthusiasts for trains and train sets. They can "play trains" with one another for hours. So does the stereotype fall down there?

No. As one of their insightful mothers explained to me, it is all about "Thomas the Tank Engine". The Thomas stories humanize trains and give them very recognizable faces and emotional lives. So the girls concerned see and like that side of Thomas and tend to generalize that to all trains. The Rev. Awdry wrote well. His imagination became one of Britain's great cultural exports. Below is a picture of one of the little girls enjoying a real train -- while holding a toy train. That is pretty trainy!.

13 March 2015

A small grumble about exonyms (foreign place-names)

I have been grumbling about this for a while. Why do we misname foreign places? Why do we call Beograd Belgrade, Wien Vienna, Roma Rome and -- horror of horrors -- why do we call the historic Italian seaport of Livorno "Leghorn"? That one always gets me.

None of those names are hard to say for anyone used to English phonetics only. And Nederland is easy to say too. But we insist on calling it Holland, or in our better moments "The Netherlands". At least the latter is an accurate translation, I guess. But to refer to the Nederlanders as "Dutch" is certainly "insensitive", to use the language of political correctness. The Dutch ("Deutsch") are in fact the Germans and there have been a few "issues" between the Germans and the Nederlanders -- a small famine here and there -- that sort of thing.

Some renaming I can understand. Muenchen contains a nasty German guttural so "Munich" is understandable. And mispronouncing Paris is sort of defensible too. The Parisians pronounce it as "Paree" but why should we take any notice of that? The fact that Paris is the most visited overseas city for the English doesn't count, of course. The English quite like their train rides between St. Pancras and the Gare du Nord but you mustn't take too much notice of those "Frogs" at the other end.

But the misnaming that has been bothering me lately is the renaming of Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Archduke Johann. Why do we have to call it "Styria"? How ugly! And how needless. There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name. If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark. Pronouncing it according to English rules won't get you the exact German pronunciation but it will be a lot better than "Styria". Yes. I know that the name "Styria" is somehow derived from the city of Steyr (famous for its assault rifles) but Steyr lies OUTSIDE Steiermark.

Of course the English are not alone in renaming foreign parts. Italians for instance refer to Paris as "Parigi". I have no idea why. An Italian can say "Paree" with perfect ease.

And we do make an effort with our own "difficult" place names. You don't pronounce the "c" in Tucson, for instance. And no Englishman pronounces "Worcester" as it is spelled. He will always say "Wooster" -- and "Gloster" for Gloucester. And Australian place names are at least as difficult as English ones -- mainly because many of them have Aboriginal origins. Woolloongabba, where I live, is not pronounced well South of the Queensland border, for instance. And you more or less have to live there to pronounce Mungindi correctly.

I could go on for many pages yet -- talking about Firenze, Modena, Sovietskaya Rossiya etc. -- but I guess we will just have to soldier on, pronouncing the place names of half the world incorrectly

11 March 2015

The hat boy

When Paul was a kid he was definitely into hats. He would even wear more than one hat at once on some occasions. I even noticed him asleep in bed once with two hats still on. Paul and I have had a bit of a laugh at that in recent times so it is amusing to both of us that Matthew is following in his father's footsteps. Paul has just sent me the picture below. Paul says it was spontaneous -- without any suggestion from him.

10 March 2015

A most incorrect opera

I guess I am old-fashioned. Since I am in my 8th decade of life, maybe I am entitled to be old-fashioned. But, then again, I was called old-fashioned even in my childhood.

Anyway, when it comes to stage performances (plays, operettas, opera) I like some attempt at authenticity to be made. Both the sets and the costumes should show some attempt to represent the time and place in which the play is set. Once upon a time, one could automatically expect that -- but no more. Minimalist sets and costumes -- and even anachronistic set and costumes -- seem to be "in".

I can abide minimalism. It cuts costs and opera is expensive to stage. But anachronism gets my goat. A recent performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, for instance, had revolvers and steamships in ancient Egypt! A malediction upon the producer! I imagine that anachronism is supposed to be clever or entertaining but to me it is just incompetent.

So I greatly appreciate the Metropolitan opera in New York. They must be the most lavishly funded opera house in the world. When the script requires dancing, they even have their own ballet company to do the honours. It makes for very high quality staging. And they do a lot of authentic staging. I don't go there but I buy their DVDs. Buying their stuff helps with their stratospheric costs, of course. And you see a lot more with a DVD than you would see as part of a live audience anyway.

So I was keen to see their production of a famous opera -- Verdi's "Aida". And I was not disappointed. The sets were magnificent and very evocative of ancient Egypt. And the costumes were elaborate. There was even a passable representation of the double crown of upper and lower Egypt on the Pharaoh in some scenes.

But I am glad I bought the DVD. If the performance is available now via YouTube, I predict that it will soon be taken down. Why? Because the performance took place in 1989 and it uses -- horror of horrors -- BLACKFACE. Both the alleged Ethiopian princess and her alleged Ethiopian father were clearly Caucasian beneath the blacking. The princess was in fact played by Aprile Millo, an American operatic soprano of Italian and Irish ancestry. I am putting up below an image of her as she appeared in the Met's "Aida". But it was an excellent performance all round with the famed Placido Domingo as Radames, the Egyptian hero.

And why shouldn't the Met use Millo in their opera? She is a regular there with a magnificent voice -- and a bit of blacking obviously seemed to them enough to give authenticity to the performance.

How odd it is that something that was normal and unquestioned just a quarter of a century ago is now routinely denounced. The world is in a fit of hysteria about proper use of language and how the world is represented in general. Will it ever end? I can't see it. My son is routinely a very polite man so he is unlikely to fall victim to the nonsense but I am glad that I was born into a saner era.

Some real Ethiopians below

9 March 2015


Why are there few conservative intellectuals? I guess George Will and the late Bill Buckley qualify but that's about it, as far as I can see. Thomas Sowell is a great treasure that we are lucky to still have with us (he is 84) but what he says flows directly from his academic background as a Chicago school economist.

And that brings me swiftly to my main point. Intellectuals are actually shallow thinkers. They are gifted amateurs who use popular knowledge -- or at least easily accessible knowledge -- to create new explanations of something or other. It is of course a talent to be able to do that but in the absence of specialized knowledge the conclusions reached are rarely profound or very innovative. And that is how Leftists think. They don't accept that they actually need to learn stuff. They think that they know it all already. They think the truth is obvious.

Conservatives, by contrast, are acutely aware of how complex and unpredictable the world is and so mostly confine their writing to matters where they have detailed knowledge. In my own case I often comment on economics -- but I am a former High School economics teacher. I sometimes comment on issues in psychology, but I have a doctorate in it.

I often talk about dubious research methods that I see in environmentalism and in the medical literature -- but I taught research methods and statistics for many years in a major Australian university and the thinking in both the medical and climatological literature violates some of the most basic principles about what research should be and do. And the statistics I see in climatology and in the medical literature are frankly ludicrous. Their errors could hardly be more basic -- ignoring statistical significance, assuming correlation is causation etc.

And I have in fact myself had papers published in the medical journals and I have also had research reports on environmentalism published in the academic journals. So I am NOT an intellectual. I have specialized knowledge in the areas that I write most about.

V.I. Lenin is quite a good example of an intellectual. He wrote at length about the issues of his day but without any evident benefit of detailed knowledge in any field. But he was bright. He even started out as something of a libertarian. He once wrote: “The bureaucracy is a parasite on the body of society, a parasite which ‘chokes’ all its vital pores…The state is a parasitic organism”. Lenin wrote that in August 1917, before he set up his own vastly bureaucratic state in Russia. He could see the problem but had no clue about how to solve it when he had the chance to do so.

How could he be so stupid? How could he do what he himself saw as a huge problem? Leftist stupidity is a special class of stupidity. The people concerned are mostly not stupid in general but they have a character defect (mostly arrogance) that makes them impatient with complexity and unwilling to study it. So in their policies they repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot; They fail to attain their objectives. The world IS complex so a simplistic approach to it CANNOT work.

At the time of the 1917 revolution, Russia was a rapidly modernizing country with railways snaking out across the land and a flourishing agricultural sector that made it a major wheat exporter. After the revolution agricultural production dropped by about one third and right through the Soviet era Russia never managed to feed itself. Europe's subsidized food surpluses were a Godsend to it. A lot of those food surpluses went East.

And Lenin really had no excuse for his stupidity. There were both writers and practical men in his era who DID understand how economies work and how to get the best out of them. Eugen Böhm, Ritter von Bawerk, was even a market-oriented economic theorist who was a practical man as well. He was the Austrian Minister of Finance in the late 19th century and also wrote a series of extensive critiques of Marxism. And the Austrian economy worked unusually well while he was in charge. But Böhm's ideas were non-obvious and even counter-intuitive from a layman's viewpoint and it was only a layman's viewpoint that Lenin had. How sad.

26 February, 2015

"The pirates of Penzance" as satire

And some surprising political implications

If the above title sounds very much like the title for a Ph.D. dissertation I suppose my academic background is to blame for that. Unlike a Ph.D. dissertation, however, all I want to set down here are a few comments.

I first saw "Pirates" when I took my (then) teenage son to see a well-reviewed production of it here in Brisbane. I am not at all a Gilbert & Sullivan devotee -- the profundity of Bach is my musical home -- but I know the G&S works as classics of entertainment. So I felt that I should help along my son's musical education. I remember another occasion in that connection. In his early teens I recommended Stravinsky to him but he said that he didn't like Stravinsky. I said to him: "Don't worry. You will". He came to me some years later and said: "John, you were right. I do like Stravinsky".

Anyway, you see far more of any Singspiel on DVD than you do in a theatre audience so I recently acquired a DVD of "Pirates". And, watching it, I did see that it had elements of satire. "Pirates" is not of course satire an sich. It is simply the madcap humour of W.S. Gilbert ably abetted by the great musical abilities of Arthur Sullivan. I see it as a forerunner of other madcap British comedies such as those of Mr. Bean, the Goons and the Pythons.

What differentiates comedy and satire is of course that satire is humour targeted at someone as a form of criticism. It is deliberately didactic. But straight comedy can teach lessons too, if only in an incidental way. And I see some of that in "Pirates". Perhaps a surprising one that I see is in the song of the "modern major general", now a widely treasured bit of fun. What Gilbert was doing in that song was referring to something that no Leftist would believe: That British military officers were and are often quite scholarly in various ways. That's not at all universal but not infrequent either. Even an RSM will often be a man of unexpected depths. The Sergeant Major of my old army unit was/is in fact a fan of Bach and Palestrina (nothing to do with Palestine). And the only Wing Commander (airforce) I know is a voracious reader with a wide knowledge of history.

Captain Cook, the 18th century British discoverer of much in the Pacific is a very good example of a scholarly military man. His discovery of the cure for scurvy alone ranks him as a distinguished scientist and his practice of quarantine was exemplary for the times.

But a much less well known but quite commendable 18th century military man with scientific interests was Watkin Tench, an officer in His Majesty's Marine Forces. He was posted to the new British colony in Australia in its very earliest days, then a hardship posting. You could lose your life just getting there and back. So he was no elite soldier and was actually from a rather humble background. His interest was meteorology and he brought with him the latest Fahrenheit thermometer. He kept a meteorological diary that included observations from his thermometer taken four times daily in a sheltered spot -- exemplary practice even today.

And his record of the Sydney summer of 1790 is particularly interesting. It was very hot. There were even bats and birds falling out of the trees from the heat. And his thermometer readings tell us exactly how hot. So we have both readings from a scientific instrument and behavioural observations that validate the readings: Very hard to question. And the solidity of his data is very useful in exposing the liars of Australia's current Bureau of Meteorology. They have got the virus of Warmism in their heads and are always claiming that Australia in whole or in part is currently experiencing a "hottest" year. And they exploit the fact that Sydney does occasionally have some very hot summers. But Tench's data show that such summers go back a long way in Sydney and hence cannot be attrributed to nonsense about the current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The only additions to atmospheric CO2 from the Australia of Tench's days would have been the product of breathing by various living creatures. There was not even any reticulated electricity anywhere in Australia or anywhere else at that time.

So in the famous song of the modern Major General, Gilbert was simply doing an amusing exaggeration of a real phenomenon, a military man with scientific interests, probably one better known to the British public when Gilbert wrote around 100 years ago.

I actually find prophetic Gilbert's treatment of the police ("When the foeman bares his steel"). The police have always been greatly respected in Britain -- though that must have eroded in the last two decades -- but Gilbert defies that. He makes fun of the police and portrays them as cowards. As a portrayal of modern British police forces that would not be too far astray. Did Gilbert have some experience of police to lead him to the derogatory view he took of them? I suspect it. In Strange Justice and Political Correctness Watch you will certainly find a wealth of instances of reprehensible behavior by the British police of today.

And the other police song ("A Policeman's Lot Is not a Happy One") is also very modern, expressing sympathy for offenders and a reluctance to arrest them. Gilbert is actually a rather good prophet. Warmists eat your heart out!

And the pirate King's assertion that "compared with respectability, piracy is comparatively honest" is also refeshingly cynical. Commenters on modern-day "crony capitalism" in America will nod approval. And the decision of the daughters to "talk about the weather" rather than pry is quintessentially British. And the homage to Queen Victoria was also an appropriate contemporary reference but greatly exaggerated, of course. It too could be seen as mocking by a modern audience

And I must pay tribute to the performance (in the production I have) to the singing of Linda Ronstadt. Better known as a popular singer she is also a superb soprano and greatly ornaments the role of the Major General's daughter Mabel.

Linda Ronstadt as Mabel

FOOTNOTE: I use the German word Singspiel above because there is no equivalent in English. It means a "sung play" and refers to any musical performance (from Mozart's Zauberfloete ("Magic Flute") to Benatzky's beloved Im Weissen Roessl ("White Horse Inn")) that includes both spoken and sung dialogue. A Hollywood musical such as "Showboat" is also a Singspiel. English has a horde of words borrowed from other languages so it seems regrettable that a useful word like Singspiel has not been borrowed too.

24 February, 2015


"Salzkammergut" has a rather harsh sound, does it not? In the correct German pronunciation it sounds even harsher!

But I have recently been watching a DVD of "Im weissen Roessl" (in German with English subtitles), usually translated as "The White Horse Inn". It is set in the Salzkammergut and I think most people at the end of the performance would have developed a resolution that one day they too must see the Salzkammergut.

The literal meaning is "Salt office estate" -- a name that goes back to medieval times when salt was very valuable. And the Salzkammergut included a salt mine. There was even a fort built to protect the mine -- a fort called "Salt Fort", or, in German Salzburg. That fort has given its name to the town near it, now better known as the birthplace of Mozart.

So the Salzkammergut was originally the area of Austria that came under the jurisdiction of the Salt Office, the Austrian government department dealing with all matters salty. It is not usually translated literally however. It is usually rendered into English as "The Austrian Lake District" and it does have a great reputation for beauty. The salt mine is only a small part of the story now. It is now a tourist attraction.

A view of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut

UPDATE: I am now trying to learn the chorus from the theme song of "Im weissen Roessl" but getting new rhymes into old heads is hard:

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee,
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

And here is the whole Salzkammergut song:

1. Im Salzkammergut da kann man gut lustig sein
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein
Wenn die Musi spielt, holdrio.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
So wie nirgendwo, holdrio.

Es blüht der Holunder
Den ganzen Sommer mitunter,
Jedoch die Liebe,
Die blüht s' ganze Jahr.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
Ja, das war schon immer so, holdrio.

2. Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau
Die ganze Welt ist himmelblau
Wenn ich in Deine Augen schau'
Und ich frag dabei: Bist auch Du so treu
Wie das Blau, wie das Blau Deiner Augen

Ein Blick nur in Dein Angesicht
Und ringsum blüht Vergissmeinnicht
Ja, die ganze Welt machst Du süsse Frau
So blau, so blau, so blau

3. Es muss was Wunderbares sein
Es muss was wunderbares sein
von Dir geliebt zu werden
denn meine Liebe, die ist Dein
so lang ich leb auf Erden

Ich kann nichts schöneres mir denken
als Dir mein Herz zu schenken
wenn Du mir Dein's dafür gibst
und mir sagst, dass auch Du mich liebst.

4. Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein.
Wenn beim ersten du ich mich an dich schmieg,
braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik.

Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein,
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein,
kann doch nur ein Liebeswalzer sein.

5. Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiss deine Sorgen!"

Und musst du dann einmal fort von hier,
und tut der Abschied dir weh;
denn dein Herz, das hast du verloren
im "Weissen Rössl" am See!

Just a sampling of the operetta below:

Not the version I have but well done. Wait for the final chorale

And below is the ultra-feminine Anja Katharina Wigger and friend singing the "so blau" song. If the dynamic linking does not work, go to the 36 minute mark on the video. There must be few operatic sopranos as good-looking as she is. There is some good video of her from the 46 minute mark too.

22 February, 2015

Jill's birthday

As we usually do, Anne and I recently took Jill to the Kafe Meze in celebration of her 39th birthday. I am not much of a gentleman but even I do not divulge the actual age of a lady.

As usual, I ordered a dinner of four small courses: Tarama, Haloumi, Keftedes and real Greek salad. Real Greek salad does not include lettuce. And it was good as usual. An amusing thing I noted was a warning that the Keftedes are not gluten free. Keftedes are supposed to be Greek meatballs but the ones at the Kafe Meze undoubtedly have a lot of bread in them. They are very tasty, though.

A topic of interest to us all was weight loss. As soon as I arrived, Lewis said to me "Your diet's not working". He was more correct than he knew. I have in fact lost 11 kilos since I started but my weight has plateaued for a long time at around 112 kilos (17 stone, 8 lb). As I am 5'10" that is not good. Hopefully, progress will resume however. I was 14 stone for many years. Lewis and Jill have both been dieting and Lewis in particular looked very slim. I think he has almost lost too much weight, in fact.

The proprietor of the restaurant is a real Greek. I have known a lot of Greeks over the years and, although it is "incorrect" to "stereotype" people these days, I think there are some characteristics which one often finds among Greeks. In particular, they only work if they have to. Getting money in some way other than working for it is their ideal.

And the proprietor of the Kafe Meze is pretty typical. He is a pleasant person and when the place is really busy he will get up and do cooking, waitering, cashiering and anything needed. But most of the time he sits around having coffee with his mates. In Greece, the "kaffenion' (coffee shop) fills the niche occupied by bars and pubs in the Anglo-Celtic world. Greek males sit around there having endless debates about politics while somebody else does the work.

And I suspect the proprietor is realistic about Greeks too: He seems to have no Greek staff. He always has at least some East Asians waitering. And the Chinese waitress who looked after our table was very Chinese too. As I think most Australians know, the best service you get in a restaurant is in a Chinese restaurant. As well as great cooks, Chinese are great waiters, providing very attentive service. So the Chinese waitress at the Kafe Meze whisked away any dishes we had finished with almost immediately -- just as she would have done in a Chinese restaurant!

So I think the Kafe Meze is a rare ideal: Greek food and Chinese service. Australia has done well to have those two ethnic groups well represented here.

16 February, 2015

The end of an era?

The era concerned is quite trivial in the great scheme of things but since I participated in it daily for a while, I thought I might note it

Woolworths and Coles have been having a price war on milk and bread but that seems to have ended. So for a while I had my breakfast with the help of a one litre carton of long-life milk which cost me only 95c per carton.

Now, however the 95c "own brand" milk no longer appears on the shelves at Woolworths. And, curiously, there is only one brand of real milk available -- Devondale at $1.39 per carton. All the other milk is high or low on something -- or with or without something. What Devondale did to earn exclusivity evokes suspicion -- sacrifice their firstborn or some such, I imagine.

There still is a cheap option, however. Devondale offer a 2 litre carton of real milk for $2. Joe and I have decided we will buy that one.

Below is the now lost 95c carton.

UPDATE: It's back! But for how long?

11 February, 2015

Mystery object

When I was browsing in our local Japanese shop today, I noticed in their stock something that I did not understand at all. It was a solid chromium steel bar, about a foot long and a quarter of an inch square. I asked the sales clerk what it was but all I could elicit was that it had something to do with calligraphy. So I bought it anyway. The brand name on the packet said BUNGU and that does have something to do with Japanese office supplies, I gather. All the other writing was in Japanese however so what the object is I still do not know. I am hoping that someone will tell me what the characters in the pic below say. The pic is of the packet that the bar came in.

Mystery solved. It is a Japanese calligraphy paperweight

5 February, 2015

Obsolete technology

Technology and I go back a long way. In my teens in the '50s I even had and used a wind-up gramophone. The spring had a habit of breaking, unfortunately. After that I rotated the records with my finger. It was my introduction to music of various sorts but the record I particularly remember was "Florrie Forde's Old Time Medley" -- songs from about a century ago. I inherited a store of old 78rpm records from my grandfather.

Florrie Forde was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1876. She sang there until she was noticed by an Englishman who took her back to England with him. In England she became a hit in the music halls and made over 700 recordings on Edison records and wax cylinders.

By some miracle there is a video of her online singing exactly the songs I remember: The Lassie from Lancashire; Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?; Down at the Old Bull and Bush etc. I think they would still have a broad appeal today. See here

But the technology I want to talk about at the moment is VHS video recordings. I used VCRs just about from the outset, starting with a very clever (too clever) Phillips system that kept breaking down. So I soon moved to VHS machines. They broke down eventually too so I must have owned about half a dozen of them over the years. I still have two.

And I have a large number of tapes for them -- most of which have something worth keeping on them. But I have about 6 tapes which would have been my "float", with nothing worth keeping on them. And since high definition TV came to Australia there is nothing now which I can use my old tapes for. Should I throw them out? I am fairly slow to throw things out so I have another idea.

There must be other people like me who have kept some tapes that they particularly liked. So, because I have two VCRs, I could copy other people's tapes onto my "float" tapes and thus get a use out of them. So if anybody reading this does have such tapes and would be willing to lend them to me I would be appreciative. I am particularly after history programs, opera and ballet.

My bedside audio-visual setup, with VCR mounted at eye-level on a rather swish shelf

Its not terribly obvious from the picture above but my sound system includes twin tapedecks for audio cassettes. How obsolete can you get?

1 February, 2015

Will magnetic media create a black hole in the history of late 20th century creativity?

Apologies for that portentous heading but it does express a fear I have. Let me explain. Magnetic media came into their own during the late 20th century. First there were open reel tape-recorders for sound; then there cassette tapes for sound; then there were floppy disks for computer software, including games; then there were VHS video recorders for a full audio-visual experience. But all those are now obsolete. They were an advance for their times but have now been superseded by DVDs etc.

None of that would be any great problem except for one thing: Magnetic media degrade over time. That was recently brought home to me when I got out one of my old VCRs and set it up to play some video tapes of two Mozart operas that had been recorded about a quarter of a century ago. They were a professional production so should have been of good quality. Unfortunately they were only good in parts, as the curate said. At their best they reproduced about as well as a DVD but in other parts there was a lot of flicker, "snow" etc. And it was not the player that was at fault. More recent recordings were fine.

Yet the performances were good ones that deserved to be preserved. And, probably because they were great works by a very famous composer, they ARE now available on DVD (See here and here). But what of less famous works by less famous composers and performers? They must be on the brink of being lost forever. I think that is a great pity. Hopefully, all of the best of late 20th century creativity will be transferred to optical format before it is too late but I am pessimistic about most of it.

Interestingly, not all old audio-visual technology is so fragile. Sound and vision recorded on movie film is pretty long lasting, as is music recorded on the old black vinyl LPs.

Hard disks are also of course magnetic media but disk failure is frequent enough for most people to keep backups of everything -- so data on them is less likely to be irretrievably lost. I back up my more recent files onto DVDs several times a year.

28 January, 2015

The armchair critic strikes again

The notes below may be of some interest to others but they are not intended to influence anyone. They are just a reminder to me of some things I have been thinking recently.

I have always had music beside my bed but I have recently added a DVD setup so I can watch videos of opera and ballet in bed. So I am not so much an armchair critic as a bedborne one!

I usually go to bed at a routine time even though I am not yet fully tired. That means I do have time to listen to music or watch things on video. I have drinkies until Tanqueray carries me off to the land of nod. Tanqueray was also the Queen Mother's favoured drop and she lived to be 101. So let the health freaks get their heads around that one!

Two DVDs I watched recently were Australian performances of Madama Buttlerfly by Puccini and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.

I did not like the Puccini at all. It was an extreme example of a "modern" staging -- set outdoors in some Sydney park. I loathe anachronistic settings. The sets and costumes are meant to help you get the story but guys in modern business suits walking around a Sydney park told me nothing. It might have helped if there were English subtitles but there were not. And Puccini's music is no good. With Handel and Mozart the music is engaging throughout but Puccini's music is mostly pedestrian. He does some great arias but they are rare. I am afraid that I am not big on 19th century opera at all. Opera/oratorio for me mostly stretches from Monteverdi to Mozart. But in the 20th century Philip Glass also does well at times.

Swan Lake was much better. It is amazing how well choreographers can convey a story without words. The sets were rather minimalist but fitted in well enough. And Tchaikovsky's music is of course always superb. Once again the men were mostly in modern suits rather than in the 19th century garb that Tchaikovsky would have envisioned but it was not too distracting in the circumstances.

When people comment on Swan Lake they mostly comment on the dancing, not the story. Yet the story is an engaging one. It is the old old story of a married man and the "other" woman. I rather related to that for reasons that are probably too indelicate to discuss. I have been cheerfully monogamous for most of my life but there were other episodes in times past. And I rather liked the "other" woman in the ballet. I would have had her.

But there was some fabulous dancing. I didn't realize the heights to which Australian dancers could rise. I found the asylum scene in Act 2 disturbing. Knowing of the real life abuses in psychiatric institutions it was a bit too real for me. And the exaggerated wimples on the nuns were both amusing and yet appropriate somehow. Kudos to the costume department.

The scene when the newly-wed wife catches her husband kissing the other woman amused me. In response to being caught the danseur does the strangest dance in order to get himself out of the situation. It reminded me of John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks. It rather cracked me up. I imagine it was supposed to portray his agony of soul or some such but I could not take it seriously at all.

But definitely a credit-worthy production overall.

26 January, 2015

Will feminism produce great works of art?

DVDs are a wonderful thing. I have a DVD recording a performance at the Mariinsky theater in St Petersburg of the great ballet "Firebird". The company is the Ballet Russes. I am far from a balletomane but the wonderful music of Igor Stravinsky gets me in every time. And the reconstructed choreography of Michel Fokine is of course excellent too. It is no wonder that Firebird has a prominent place in the classical ballet repertoire.

And I couldn't help noticing that the chief ballerina (The Firebird) got thrown around an awful lot by the chief male dancer. It was done with enormous athleticism and grace but there was no doubt who was the dominant character in the scenes concerned. And it struck me that feminists would almost certainly find that repugnant -- with words like "patriarchy" and "inequality" popping into their addled brains. Perhaps they think the ballerina should have thrown the larger male dancer about!

But Firebird is not alone in its representation of male/female roles. A traditional representation of such roles is virtually universal in opera and in classical ballet. So, having seen what artistic wonders traditional thinking can bring forth can we expect such art to emerge from feminist attitudes? Feminism has been around since the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and her girls over a century ago but I know of nothing notable that has emerged so far. The only possible candidate appears to be the disgusting Vagina Monologues and they seem to be notable only for their crudity.

So my proposed answer to the question in my heading is a blunt "No". Most prominent feminists are radicals and seem quite deranged most of the time. They seem to have no beauty in their souls. And they don't care about women anyway. They ignore the terrible plight of most women in Muslim lands and content themselves with nitpicking criticisms of everyday speech in their own country.

Fortunately most women are not feminists. They believe in things like equal pay for equal work but have little in common with the fountains of rage and hatred who are the radical feminists. So what I have written above is in no way critical of women generally. I have been married four times so I clearly think women are pretty good. And plenty of ladies find my views acceptable -- particularly ladies around my own age.

Some desultory notes on the Mariinsky performance of Firebird:

As I have previously mentioned elsewhere, in all stage shows I like authenticity in the staging. I can put up with modern minimalist staging but when directors of the performance try to be "creative" and invent very strange sets, costumes, backdrops etc. I dislike it greatly. So I was most pleased that this performance endeavoured to re-create the original Diaghilev staging.

And at risk of enormous political incorrectness, I might perhaps note that, this being Russia, all the performers were very white -- which did of course echo the original. There is a great push to get blacks into everything these days but to revise in some way an original great artistic creation is to me just stupid. The lily-whiteness of the skins was part of the artistic effect.

I am breathless with admiration for the dancing of (Firebird) Ekaterina Kondaurova. She is unbelievably light on her feet. She almost defies gravity.

Ballerinas tell me that the male dancers are no good to them. They are mostly homosexual. So ballet is to a significant extent a homosexual art. I have on various occasions been critical of homosexual assertiveness. So does that lessen my regard for ballet?

I regard it as irrelevant. I judge art by what I see and hear and have no animus at all towards individuals who have the homosexual disorder. I feel rather sorry for them in fact. My late sister was homosexual and there have almost always been homosexuals in my social circle. There were two homosexuals at a dinner I hosted recently and their presence was welcomed both by myself and everyone else there. I certainly would not say that "some of my best friends" are homosexuals but all those I know are perfectly pleasant people.

I was sad to hear of the premature death (from AIDS) of prominent homosexual Michael Cass, with whom I got on rather well. He taught at Uni NSW Sociology, where I also did. People who know Brisbane will not be surprised to hear that he was a former Nudgee boy.

25 January, 2015

Crepe Myrtles

I am a long way from being a nature-lover, most scenery bores me, I am not house-proud and I am no gardener. BUT: some things in the natural world do get through to me, and my Crepe Myrtles are one such.

Brisbane people love their tropical and sub-tropical flowering trees: Crepe Myrtles, Jacarandas and Poincianas -- plus some lesser species. They are everywhere in Brisbane. And from childhood on I have always liked Crepe Myrtles. So 12 years ago I had eight of them planted along almost the full length of my back fence -- some in the original crepe myrtle colour, which is lavender, and some in both white and in shocking pink.

They are now very tall trees and in full blossom at the moment. So I have in my back yard what amounts to an enormous floral bouquet -- a 17 meter (55 ft) wide display of massed blossom. It is quite spectacular and and immediately invites photography. But how do you photograph something 17 meters wide? And if you do manage it, is there any sense in squeezing such a display into a photo a few inches wide? I doubt that there is but I have made an attempt anyway. Below is a photo of just the central portion of the display, taken with a wide-angle lens.

24 January, 2015

A 70th

Anne is not embarrassed by her age so I guess I can mention that the dinner I shouted last night at the New Sing Sing Chinese restaurant in Buranda was a 70th birthday celebration for her.

She arrived in a black dress adorned by a big red stole and with her hair fresh from the hairdresser. She brought her sister Merle and Merle's husband Ralph with her. Both are in poor health so drive only locally. Sister June was also there despite an attack of shingles. All three of Anne's sons turned up with partners and Byron of course brought along his two delightful little sons. I like to see children at a family gathering.

I ordered Dim Sims all round to get us started and everyone chose for themselves thereafter. I also supplied 3 bottles of champagne for toasting purposes and they all eventually went down. Everyone seemed pleased with their dinner. I had BBQ pork with plum sauce and vegetables. Anne had some prawn dish. Her daughter in law Bonnie brought along a chocolate birthday cake to the restaurant which we enjoyed in the usual way.

I gave Anne her presents the night before and also made her -- at her request -- a Martini, which she liked. I don't like them at all but I can make them -- stirred, not shaken. One of the presents I gave her was a Japanese lady's insulated shopping bag. She immediately thought of good uses for it.

20 January, 2015

My past

It is surely supremely obvious that a memoirs blog should be concerned with memories. And I have been doing a bit of remembering recently.

Some of my memories are quite sad: Half of the persons I have known are dead. The death of the very vital Chris Tame, for instance, I find hard to cope with. And rather a lot of others.

But I have recently found that reaching back into my past can be very rewarding. I recently re-established contact with Jason M. -- from about 20 years ago in my past. And Jason is undoubtedly a gem of a man.

So I wonder a little about those I went to school with. I got on rather well with several of my fellow students at Cairns State High. I think I got on best with Peter Cook, Graeme Stevens and Geoffrey O'Callaghan. But how do you contact a Peter Cook via Google? The comedian of that name overwhelms you. More hope with Graeme (if that is the spelling. Graham?) and I know his family ran Lake Placid at the time.

And what about Loren Gane -- known by some as "Gane with the lame tame crane". He was a bit of an outsider but I got on well with him. He lived in Pruett (Prewett?) lane at the time. And last I heard he studied for a Th.L. at the St. Francis Anglican seminary at Milton and got into some trouble.

Even fellow students I did not gell with at the time would be interesting to contact --"Marble", for instance, (Keith Crosland).

Another old friend I would like to get in contact with is Michael Crowley of Tasmania, a fellow psychology student at Uni Syd in 1968. Michael is a very caring man but got into trouble over an affair with a lady aged just 15. A year later he would have been in the clear. So I hold nothing against him. He and I both had affairs with the redoubtable Mavis K. And he married an ex-girlfriend of mine, the delightful Elizabeth T.!

Maybe Google will get these comments to some useful place.

19 January, 2014

Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne

For those who are unaware of it, Glyndebourne is a prestigious opera house in the lush South of England.  It is prestigious not only for good performances but is also socially prestigious.  A visit to Glyndebourne is part of the London "season" -- or what is left of it.

As I normally live on the other side of the globe from it, I have myself been there only once -- accompanied by the beauteous Susan  B. and her rather overweight dog Sally. Not quite sure what we did with the dog during the performance.  Left it in the car I guess. England is not a hot place so that would have done no harm.  That was back in the '70s when hysteria about hot cars had not yet been invented.

If I were in England again, however, I would be very cautious about revisiting Glyndebourne.  I have been watching a set of DVDs of a 2005  performance of Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne and there is virtually nothing about the staging that I agree with.  The music was fine and the singers talented but the artistic director of the performance gave the impression of being under the spell of the deplorable modern urge to be "creative" about the staging.

And, sadly, his creativity was so impoverished that he mistook anachronism for originality.  He seemed to think that having airships and steamships in the background of an opera set in ancient Egypt was somehow clever -- not to mention the revolvers, rifles, sunglasses, cocktail dresses and pith helmets. Why is deliberate anachronism clever? I have no idea.   There was zero attempt to present the life and times of Caesar and Cleopatra authentically.

And particularly in Act 3 a lot of the arias were sung with the actors lying on the ground. How is that for moronic choreography? Most of the live audience would have been able to see nothing at such times.

Not for me I am afraid.  People go to a stage show to see the creativity of the author and that is what the artistic director should be trying to bring out -- not display some petty creativity of his own

I watched the very extensive "after-notes" on the DVD and they did feature wide-ranging comments by David McVicar, the distinguished Scottish artistic director.  And although I disagree with just about everything he did, I have to concede that he is a man of great sensitivity and sensibility, in a notably "camp" way.

He was obviously devoted to the work, which is admirable, but clearly saw his role as making Handel more "accessible" to modern audiences.  But he seems to have had a very dim view of his audience.  He seems to have seen them as simpletons who need to be talked down to, with schoolboy humour, if necessary.  At Glyndebourne??

He seems to have thought that largely Edwardian costumes, props etc. accomplished that.  And he had no idea of military deportment.  He had some soldiers moving at one stage as if they had pooed their pants! And what on earth was achieved by having pictures of WWI battleships, blimps and RMS "Titanic" in the background? Arty people just get too detached, sometimes, and McVicar being homosexual probably isolated him even more than usual.

How could he be so totally unaware of the great success the BBC has had with costume dramas?  Togas and Egyptian finery would have been both in keeping with the story and enjoyed by the audience. And there was no lack of precedent for that approach.  Aida is often done with an approach to Egyptian sets and costumes.  Most of the props and costumes needed were probably already in store at Glyndebourne.

And the voices were so unbalanced!  Maltman was the only decent male voice in the show.  The rest were females plus one counter-tenor.  Was that supposed to be politically correct, or something?  It was certainly tiring and ridiculous artistically.  I very much like soprano voices but you can have too much of a good thing.

And, sadly, that was an excellent chance to be original that was missed.  When Handel wrote the opera, castrati were all the rage so the songs of some male figures were given in a high key that only women and counter-tenors can now reach.  So Caesar was played by a woman in order to be faithful to the notes as written by Handel.  I deplore trouser roles generally but a female Caesar is frankly ridiculous.  Now that the fashion for castrati is long gone, it would surely have been desirable to drop all the male parts down an octave or two and have men in men's parts.

Can do better Glyndebourne.  Maybe they could re-run the opera (minus the anachronisms of course) with Caesar as a bass and the other males as baritones.  That alone would generate great excitement, I fancy

From the opening scene

I would be remiss if I did not record my appreciation of the performances by Christopher Maltman and Danielle de Niese in the opera.  Maltman is multi-talented.  He is a singer who is also an accomplished acrobat!  And he acts well too.  His representation of Achilla represents a military man well.  It takes a man to portray a man!  Shockingly "sexist" of me, I know.

And the unfailing energy of Australian singer Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra is also impressive. She had some long arias to sing but her rich soprano voice never faltered and her facial expressions mirrored every word she sang.  She was no Cleopatra in looks and her dancing was very basic but her singing was awesome. She is a mixed-race ("Burgher") Sri Lankan by ancestry but was born and bred in Australia.

I particularly enjoyed Cleopatra's triumphant aria towards the end of Act 3. It is probably not one of the "great" soprano arias but it is certainly one of the longest. And with Handel composing it is superb as well as long.  The immediate and huge applause that comes at the end of the aria is amply justified.

As I write this I am listening to the energetic and marvellous brass fanfare that introduces the end of the opera. Quite incredibly good. Handel never lets us down.

The whole opera is online here:

Or here:

A couple of good excerpts:


14 January, 2015

A visitor from China

The Sinophilic man has run out of teaching jobs in China at the moment so is back home in beautiful downtown Kirrawee (in Sydney). He has however enlivened his enforced soujourn away from his adopted land by making a trip up to Brisbane to visit friends and relatives.

We go back a long way so I shouted him both a lunch and a dinner -- at two Japanese eaterys. His Sinophilia is large and encompassing however so the Japanese theme was well received. They all look the same, you know. It also gave him a chance to try out his scraps of Japanese language on the serving staff, no doubt to their bemusement.

The first visit was yesterday (Tuesday) to the Mos burger outlet at Sunnybank. It's a Japanese fast food (but not very fast) joint which makes excellent hamburgers -- hamburgers unlike anything of Western origin. They really have umami.

Also present were the entrepreneurial man plus associated ladies. The Wagyu burgers were praised all-round. We had peach tea to wash it down which was also a surprise to my guests -- but again very well-received. A hamburger lunch CAN be greatly enjoyed. The conversation was mostly jocular but the decline of Roman civilization was also discussed -- Carthage, seafaring Germans and all

The entrepreneurial man is the one with the monkish pate

Then tonight I shouted a visit to the Sunny Doll, where I usually dine of an evening. Present on this occasion were the three men only -- women were not invited so secret men's business could be discussed. At the Mos burger place I had ordered for everyone but this time everyone ordered for themselves. I stuck to my usual order but the others had varieties of raw fish. The entrepreneurial man had at one time spent a year in Japan so actually managed to place his order in Japanese, rather to the amusement of the waitress.

The conversation was again mostly jocular but doubts about the historicity of Mohammed were raised.

After the dinner we repaired to my place for a blast from the past -- a bottle of Barossa Pearl, to the amusement of my guests. They drank it with no signs of pain, however

Entrees on the table. Pork Gyoza in my case and suspicious-looking fish elsewhere

I thought it would be amusing to post the docket I got at the end of the dinner.

It shows an embarrassingly cheap dinner but I am not easily embarrassed. In my long experience, the quality and price of restaurant dinners tend to be inversely correlated -- with the Sunny Doll being an extreme example of that.

Note from the docket what the Sinophilic man had as his main course: Flied Lice. Considering he was at a very capable Japanese restaurant, how Sinophilic can you get?

The last two entries were for tea. I seem to have got my peach tea (iced) for free

2 January, 2014

Crimond and curd

When I end up in hospital, I always go to the Wesley, Brisbane's most highly esteemed private hospital. My health insurance is generous. And the default dinner there is meat & 3 veg. I always look at it with amusement. It is as if my mother were still alive. Some people are lucky enough to have a mother still alive when they are in their 60s and even 70s. I am not one of those -- but my mother's cookery was traditional -- probably healthy but very boring. So I always try something different from that when I can. But for my first night in hospital, I eat it with good grace.

So I was pleased that something I acquired recently was a taste sensation: Passionfruit and mango curd. I thought I was really onto something out of the usual. But when I looked at the label, that thought was crushed. It was a supermarket's own brand. I had bought it from Woolworths so I should have known.

But the point is that house brands are usually of very popular lines. So LOTS of people must like and buy that curd. I may have made a discovery for me but it was evidently not much of a discovery in general. So it was brought home to me that even in food I have a lot to learn. I may know about kumara chips and doda burfees but something as simple and delicious as a fruit curd had eluded me.

And what has curd got to do with Crimond? Nothing. Both were simply things I was looking into at the same time.

The most esteemed Psalm would have to be Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd ...". It is a wonderful psalm that has been set to music many times. Bach even did a superb version. But it is not only the music but also the words that changes. Hebrew poetry does not come out as poetry when you translate it directly into English. So you have to rejig the words in some way to make the psalm singable in English.

I was not fully aware of that. I was aware that the version in the Anglican prayer book was different from the version in the King James Bible but assumed that everybody used the prayer book version. I could not have been more wrong. I keep both books on my table in front of me so I checked. The prayer book version is TOTALLY unsingable and the King James version is not much better.

So where do we get the version in our hymn books? We get it from Crimond. Crimond is a small town in Northern Scotland where the religion is pretty fundamentalist, meaning that they take the Bible, including the psalms, pretty seriously. I was once one of them so I like them for that. And they have their own Scottish psalter (book of psalms in singable form): The Scottish Psalter of 1650, to be precise. And the words of psalm 23 in that book were set to music by a young Scotswoman who lived in Crimond. It proved a very popular setting so the tune we all now sing is known as Crimond. Below are the words concerned:

The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.
He maketh me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
Even for His own Name's sake.

Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God's house forevermore
My dwelling place shall be.

I am still very responsive emotionally to the Protestant religion of my youth so it still gives me great joy to listen to that

1 January, 2014

New year's eve

When people asked me what I was going to be doing on New year's eve, they seemed to find my reply rather pitiable. I would say that Anne was going to come over and cook me a nice dinner. So I want to say why my new year's eve was a little better than you might think

Anne did come over and cook me some nice "Italian" meatballs with salad -- to which I added Beerenberg "Diane" sauce. Before that, however we had horse doovers of fruity cheese and Kenny's Kumara chips -- "diretta importata da" New Zealand. Von brought them over for me last time she was here and I kept them for a special occasion. They are potato crisps made from sweet potatoes and are much more flavorful than the standard crisps. They are very more-ish.

For much of the rest of the evening Anne and I listened to a medley of music -- some classical and some traditional. We particularly enjoyed "Westering home", a joyous Scottish song with strongly marked rhythms. We got out the lyrics and sang along. "Westering" is a Scottish word meaning "travelling Westward". Islay is of course roughly due West of Glasgow. They distil good Scotch there, including Laphroaig ($179.00 per bottle from my local discounter)

Drinking Laphroaig at Islay

And when midnight came I was listening to "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma variations. Most people probably find it rather boring but if you have any sensitivity to classical music, I think it will transfix you. It does me. There is a video here of a Greek orchestra playing Nimrod which shows a violinist who really "gets" it. Sometimes there is a rightness in Mediterranean emotionality

Mind you, the version of Nimrod that I was listening to was performed by the band of H.M. Royal Marines -- a most distinguished military corps (Mr Obama once pronounced "corps" as if it were spelled "corpse". What a clown! It is of course pronounced as "core") -- so had a touch of the triumphant as well as being elegiac. And given that Elgar was notable as a composer of triumphant music, I think that the performance I was listening to was at least odds on to be closest to Elgar's intentions.

It is a crescendo of sorts so starts very quietly but it was in full flight when midnight struck. So I felt that Nimrod was a very good way indeed of celebrating the advent of a new year. I was tempted to call it musical fireworks but, like most 20th century English classical music, it is wistful rather than assertive -- but emotionally powerful despite that.

For posts on this blog in 2014, see here

For posts on this blog in 2016, see here

Recent posts see Here


What would I like to be remembered about me long after I am dead and gone?

I would like it to be remembered that I too often experienced one of life's greatest pleasures: The first mouthful of cold beer on a warm day.

That pleasure will last as long as human beings are human beings, I believe

I am less certain about Bach. The last thing that people will remember about me long after I have gone will probably be: "He liked Bach". Will J.S. Bach continue to inspire people for a thousand years more? I think so. But beyond that I am not sure.


As Oscar Wilde might have said: Life is too important to be taken seriously

Brief bio

My full name is Dr. John Joseph RAY. I am a former university teacher aged 68 at the time of writing in late 2011. I was born of Australian pioneer stock in 1943 at Innisfail in the State of Queensland in Australia. After an early education at Innisfail State Rural School and Cairns State High School, I taught myself for matriculation. I took my B.A. in Psychology from the University of Queensland in Brisbane. I then moved to Sydney (in New South Wales, Australia) and took my M.A. in psychology from the University of Sydney in 1969 and my Ph.D. from the School of Behavioural Sciences at Macquarie University in 1974. I first tutored in psychology at Macquarie University and then taught sociology at the University of NSW. I am Australian born of working class origins and British ancestry. My doctorate is in psychology but I taught mainly sociology in my 14 years as a university teacher. In High Schools I taught economics. I have taught in both traditional and "progressive" (low discipline) High Schools.

Dramatis Personae

Jenny is the first wife of Ken and the third wife of John

Maureen is the second wife of Ken

Paul and the twins (Vonnie and Suzy) are the children of Jenny and Ken

Joe is the child of Jenny and John

Timmy and Davey are the children of Ken and Maureen

Paul is married to Susan

Matthew is the son of Paul and Susan

Twinny Suzy is married to Russell

Von is married to Simon

Tracy is Ken's sister

Tracy is married to Simon (another Simon)

Hannah is the daughter of Von and Simon

Sahara and Dusty are the children of Twinny Suzy and Russell

George came out on the boat to Australia with Ken

George has a son named Simon (The 3rd. Simon)

Jill and Lewis are old friends of John

Anne is the lady in John's life these days

Anne has sisters named Merle and June. Merle is married to Ralph

Anne's sons are Byron, Nigel and Warren

Byron has two sons named Koen and Ethan and a wife named Bonnie

My brother is Christopher (married to Kim) and my surviving sister is Roxanne (married to Stefan)

Quite simple really!


"Tongue Tied"
"Dissecting Leftism" (Backup here)
"Australian Politics"
"Education Watch International"
"Political Correctness Watch"
"Greenie Watch"
"Food & Health Skeptic"
"Immigration Watch International" blog.