Thursday, November 30, 2006

This Just In

By Steve

Wife Sues Frist For "Wasted Time" Damages After He Pulls Out of POTUS Race
Says “dumb book” only written to “get his name out there”

NASHVILLE, TN -- Karyn McLaughlin Frist, wife of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), announced today that she is has filed a lawsuit against her husband for pressuring her to write a book in preparation for his assumed run for the presidency, only to see him drop out of the race nearly two years before election day.

(Left) Senator Bill Frist, unable to hide his concern after learning of his wife's "wasted time" lawsuit.

Her announcement came just hours after Frist announced he would not be seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

"Everyone knows why I wrote that dumb book," said McLaughlin, who authored and has recently been doing press tours for "Love You, Daddy Boy": Daughters Honor the Fathers They Love." I only wrote it because Bill wanted to get his Frist name out there in plenty of time for Iowa and New Hampshire and all that primary B.S. So like a good little wife I did what he wanted - I wasted a lot of time on things like research and ghostwriters - and then he pulls he pulls this crap on me. Well, I'm not going to let him get away with it. I may not be a big-shot politician or famous heart surgeon like he is, but my time is worth something, too."

Senator Frist refused to comment on his wife’s lawsuit, referring all questions to his office manager, who was on vacation until after the first of the year.

The amount of damages being sought by McLaughlin on the basis of her wasted time has not been made public. But indications are that it may become a class-action suit, with other literary wives such as Elizabeth (Mrs. John) Edwards, another recent first-time author, becoming involved should their political husbands also fail to pursue their well-known presidential ambitions.

“It’s really uncharted territory,” said D.C. lawyer and literary agent Benjamin “Briefcase” Torte, who has collaborated on several hastily-written candidate “books” over the years. “Given that large corporations have been leveraging their brand names for years, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to see in happening with political families as well. But if she’s claiming breach of promise, this kind of suit could have far-reaching implications. It could cause young people thinking about entering the political field to include agreements about situations like this in their prenups.”

"I understand how people may think this looks ridiculous, going to court and all," said McLaughlin at a hastily arranged press conference. "But if it gets me out of having to spend a full hour with Larry King, that in itself will be worth it."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Recent Thought About Church Music

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

While my voice teacher was between students and visited friends, the student who precedes me (who is 21 or more years older than I am) and I discussed the trends in church music, and she grew concerned after the new music leader in her church is pushing the pop. She thought it was the denomination, but as I learned in a visit to a church to the south of my home in the Midlands of South Carolina, that is not the problem.

"It's not the (major denominations) behind the push towards pop-rock music. Rather, it is the influence of younger music leaders, their attachment to pop-rock music, and the payoffs of the major church music publishers, especially since most of the major (to Protestant) publishers are secular giants (Britain's EMI Group plc, Germany's Bertelsmann AG -- whose music publishing arm is slated to be sold to France's Vivendi, and Warner Music Group, led by Edgar Bronfman, Jr, the heirs to the family which ran Seagram's liquor). For Catholics, the major offenders are GIA Publications (Chicago) and Oregon Catholic Press. In most cases, however, it is the idea of younger music leaders who have never heard Bach, Handel, or Haydn, pushing their congregations into dumbing down the music.

Today's church music leaders who are in favour of the pop-rock are well-supported with the powerful marketing forces of EMI, Bertelsmann, WMG, GIA, or OCP, which are well financed, and with the more Protestant-based publishers, the huge marketing machine of the three which are supported by cash and support to encourage playing their songs, since church will have to pay the publishers to play their songs, and add their influence everywhere.

EMI, the largest publisher, pushes church leaders to play the latest Chris Tomlin rock piece, which is backed by their huge departments, including sales of Tomlin's latest album at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Sears Holding (Sears Gold and Kmart), Best Buy, Sam Goody, and also the same of downloads of Mr. Tomlin's music at sites endorsed by EMI. The major pop-rock supporters release "Worship Together" albums and magazines to tell church leaders how to play the latest rock song via chords (no sheet music) and give no respect to those by the sheet singers.

The leaders then push for choirs to sing karaoke to modern rock soundtracks.

On the night as I walked back from our Precept study, I watched as kids practiced their Christmas musical. It was downright disgusting and my teacher would have blown the whistle for poor vocal quality on the students. The voices were amplified and they used karaoke accompaniment.

The issue is further detailed in an article from seven years ago, "The Triumph of the Praise Songs," written by college professor Michael Hamilton.

But in all of the research, it is clear that the push for more "contemporary" rock songs in church is not by a denomination; rather, it is the worship leaders, who have been influenced by the rock songs from attending conferences provided by the major record labels, behind the betrayal of the hymnal, the oratorio, and aria. One year, my voice teacher (not my present voice teacher) and I were awaiting the start of a lesson (it was at an Episcopal church's choir room, as she was a member of the church), and one of the rock artists was practicing the "modern worship" tunes for a future service for teens.

The kids are influenced by the modern work; in churches, modern rock services outdraw organs, two to one. I ask if the MTV generation, fresh off winning an election with MTV influence (through The Daily Show and the Colbert Report), also is winning the worship music war with MTV-style pop/rock in churches, pushed by the major publishers because the more they play the pop-rock songs, the better it puts the bottom line of the publishers, especially the bottom line of the companies which produce such publications.

Leadership trained by MTV has created the vacuum which is hurting those in church who wish to sing the majestic works of the great composers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The War on the "Investor Class"

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

In the runup to the election, I wrote Charleston radio talk show host Charlie Thompson an interesting perspective, and what I believe is the next big battle in the New Left Congress -- The War on the Investor Class.

From a standpoint of time, today's stock market is like the Biblical parable of talents. Help support good companies, and you will see your money grow. Lazy people with money will not work or see that talent grow.

On the Web site OPENSECRETS.ORG, I found a report on investments, and my belief is when liberals talk about "two Americas" (as John Edwards says) orbring up their "class warfare" redistribution tactics, their fight isn'tabout Upper vs Middle vs Lower Class, but instead Investor Class vs the Non-Investors.

One example of a tax the New Left wants to impose is to tax capital gains not as a lower rate (15% -- Bush wants it even lower!) but instead tax them as income, which in their dream world, is 40%. (There are plans established by liberals to raise the income tax rate to 40% for certain people.) Liberals imposed a "sunset" on Bush tax cuts so that the Bush Tax Cuts will be killed immediately so their tax hikes will go back into power.

The Left hates investors because investors would rather put a dollar after leisure (golf, theatre, opera, the SC Philharmonic, hockey games -- yes, AA-level hockey is very popular in South Carolina, with two current ECHL teams (the Charleston team draws 10,000 for the Interstate 26 War between teams in Charleston (Washington affiliate) and Columbia (Toronto affiliate)game) and a third (Conway) starting in 2007-08, and the works; the Wild's AA affiliate is in Beaumont, TX.) into the market instead of putting the same dollar into Powerball. The state LOOTtery collects over one billion dollars a year in revenue -- if it was a publicly traded company, it would make more in revenue than all but the state's top five publicly traded companies, two of which (SON and SCG) I hold shares. Liberals believe money in their pocket is better than money in my pocket. A look at the report on Congressional investors will show where conservatives are more likely to go into the market than liberals based on the top fifty companies (and ties).

The report on Congressional Investors (Firm - Total Investors - Dems - Reps)

1. General Electric - 103 - 37 - 66
2. Pfizer - 80 - 32 - 47
3. Cisco Systems - 75 - 30 - 45
4. Microsoft Corp - 73 - 24 - 49
5. Intel - 67 - 26 - 41
6. Exxon Mobil* - 64 - 18 - 46
7. Johnson & Johnson - 54 - 22 - 32
8. Home Depot - 53 - 21 - 32
8. Procter & Gamble - 53 - 21 - 32
10. JPMorgan Chase - 50 - 17 - 33
11. IBM - 49 - 17 - 32
12. Citigroup - 46 - 15 - 31
13. Wal-Mart - 43 - 12 - 31
14. Verizon - 42 - 10 - 32
14. Coca-Cola Company* - 42 - 11 - 31
16. AT&T Inc (1) - 41 - 12 - 29
16. Merck - 41 - 14 - 27
18. Amgen Inc - 40 - 10 - 30
19. PepsiCo - 39 - 14 - 25
20. Hewlett-Packard - 38 - 15 - 23
20. Dell - 38 - 14 - 24
22. Time Warner - 37 - 17 - 20
23. Lucent Technologies (2) - 34 - 12 - 22
24. Chevron - 32 - 10 - 22
24. Walt Disney Co - 32 - 11 - 21
26. Wells Fargo - 31 - 12 - 19
26. Nokia* - 31 - 13 - 18
26. Medtronic - 31 - 10 - 21
26. Motorola - 31 - 9 - 22
26. Comcast - 31 - 10 - 21
26. British Petroleum - 31 - 8 - 23
26. Bristol-Myers Squibb - 31 - 11 - 20
33. Wachovia** - 30 - 9 - 21
34. Texas Instruments - 27 - 14 - 13
34. American International Group - 27 - 12 - 15
36. Fannie Mae - 26 - 9 - 17
36. Oracle - 26 - 8 - 18
38. Altria Group (3) - 25 - 5 - 20
39. American Express - 24 - 6 - 18
39. EMC - 24 - 9 - 15
41. Bank of America - 23 - 7 - 16
41. Washington Mutual - 23 - 11 - 12
43. Vodafone (4) - 22 - 12 - 10
43. Sun Microsystems - 22 - 12 - 10
43. Tyco International - 22 - 6 - 15 - 1 Independent
43. ConocoPhillips - 22 - 7 - 15
47. Berkshire Hathaway - 21 - 7 - 14
47. Ford Motor Co - 21 - 7 - 14
47. Walgreens - 21 - 11 - 10
47. MedCo Health Solutions - 21 - 10 - 11

* Bobby holds shares in these companies.

** Bobby has his brokerage account in Wachovia Securities. Bobby also has an IRA with Sharebuilder, a joint venture of various financial firms, and in some firms has a DRIP account, administered by the Bank of New York, Citigroup, or Computershare.

(1) The former SBC Communications. Includes investments in the former American Telephone & Telegraph, which was purchased by SBC. SBC changed its name to AT&T after the takeover.

(2) To be acquired by France's Alcatel.

(3) The former Philip Morris. MO is also a minority interest holder in South African Breweries (Miller beer) and Kraft Foods.

(4) Vodafone is the world's largest wireless telephone company, based in the United Kingdom. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon andVodafone, and is their only way to penetrate the US market.

This report should show where the Right puts their money where their mouth is - in the investment bank, and to prove they are the Party of the Investor Class.

I noticed how the Democrats are huge into Vodafone, the big European phonegiant. Why aren't we seeing many liberals investing into American phonegiants? I also saw how the Left dislikes (gasp!) investment brokerages.

One attack on the investor class I am hearing from the liberals: They are planning to remove tax breaks currently in place to encourage drilling in the United States, as part of an attempt to force us to buy our oil from their cronies in Venezuela (Hugo Chávez) or in Iran.

The Investor Class was built by changes which created discount brokerages, the Dividend Reinvestment Programs (DRIP), the influence of CNN's Moneyline (from 1980-2001, CNN's financial news show) and CNBC (including "MadMoney," the show designed for the 18-34 crowd), and the Bull Market. The Left's attack on the Investor Class is a want to return to the era where government money was better than the free market, and that's why they do not want Social Security invested in the market, when clearly the market has created a Bull Run that has given us President Bush, an investor himself.

This Just In

By Steve

“Palance Virus” Seen as Possible Biological Weapons Breakthrough

ATLANTA, GA – Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control are attempting to isolate the virus that recently claimed the life of veteran film tough guy Jack Palance, who passed away earlier this month at age 87. Unnamed sources confirm that the effort has been initiated by the CIA for possible use in a secret biomedical weapons program.

(Left) Movie tough guy Jack Palance: Is it possible he's even tougher in death than he was in life?

“Anything that could bring Palance down has got to be one nasty bug,” said the source. “I mean this guy defined craggy. Not only did he play probably the meanest sonofabitch in movie history, he was also out there doing one-arm pushups at the Oscars on national TV in his 70s. He was like a like a walking piece of beef jerky.”

If the so-called “Palance Virus” can be isolated, military analysts are speculating about its possible use in combat situations.

“This is no little scratchy throat, low-grade fever, stuffy head, 24-hour infection,” said retired General Remington S. Gatling, former director of the Army’s secret Biological Weapons Division. “We’re talking weapons-grade. It has to be.”

Once identified, the virus will be subjected to rigorous testing to determine its viability as a biological weapons agent. General Gatling described the process the virus would likely undergo. “First, benchmark standards will be created, by which the relative strength of the virus can be measured. Our scientists will then construct computer models based on DNA samples of certain well-known individuals and, by introducing the virus, simulate the effect it would have on these individuals, telling us about its potency as a biological weapon."

Referring to a copy of an intricate, brightly-colored PowerPoint bar chart, Gatling elaborated. “For example, at the lowest end of the scale we have C-list comedian Andy Dick. This would be the absolute minimum strength required for the virus to be effective – at this level you might as well be talking about the common cold.” Moving further up the scale, Gatling noted that the standards become more demanding. “Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's aging but still pretty buff. Then there's legendary fitness guru Jack LaLanne - you could simulate the effect of it being introduced into one of his juice drink concoctions. If he went down, that would be a good sign. Right after him, Art Linkletter, who first appeared on television three years before it was invented. Some suggested Tony Bennett would be a great test case, but others recommended former President Gerald Ford. They'll probably run it through all those models and sit back and see what happens. You’d need a pretty damn potent bug to bring down any one of them.”

The top of the scale represented the Army’s biggest obstacle, Gatling conceded. “Without a doubt, our biggest challenge is Keith Richards.” The famed Rolling Stone rocker “has probably pumped more chemicals into his body than any human can imagine, to no discernible effect. We’re not sure, but it’s possible he may have built up immunity to any conceivable biological attack. If the Palance Virus could bring him down, we'd know we really had something.

Meanwhile, funeral services are pending for Palance awaiting complete confirmation of his death.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

If He Said It

By Mitchell

So Fox has pulled the plug on the O.J. interview. But thanks to the miracles of modern technology, let's find out what O.J. was really up to...

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Why Bush Should Resign

By Mitchell

Bet that headline got your attention, right? (Either that, or the shock of me posting twice in two weeks.) Of course it’s an attention-grabber as well as being something utterly unlikely to happen, but as an academic exercise it provides a little fun. And while I’m deliberately being provocative, I want to make some serious points as well.

First of all, in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I've never considered myself a Bush supporter. I didn't vote for him in 2000 (don't worry, I didn't vote for Gore either), and only voted for him in 2004 with reservations. And I do consider myself a former Republican, as well as a former politico. I’m one of those conservatives who feels deserted by the Republicans over the last few years, and I’ve also come to see the folly of depending on politics to answer life’s burning questions (at least politics unsupported by faith). But having said that…

Throughout the Bush administration, but most especially in the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, we have seen the party hierarchy acting as an adjunct of the administration itself. When the RNC campaigned in behalf of Miers (or, more precisely, Bush’s nomination of Miers) it was saying, in effect, that what was good for Bush was good for the party. Not just good, but essential. Taken in conjunction with the typical party line – Republican policies are better for the country than those of the Democrats – one can assume the logical continuation of this thought, which is that Bush’s agenda is good for the country.

Looking at Bush not only as president but as leader of his party it is (to me) an inescapable fact that he is no longer capable of providing leadership on the issues most important to the party’s national agenda. In state after state we saw many incumbents losing because of their relationship to Bush, i.e. being in the same party with him. Not withstanding the loss of the abortion law in South Dakota and the ESCR amendment in Missouri , many of the referenda up for votes last night – same-sex marriage in several states, the MCRI in Michigan , the popular vote on the death penalty in Wisconsin – provide confirmation of Republican core issues. Issues that many Republican candidates failed to connect with, at least until it was too late.

This is not to mention the several cases where the national party organization viciously opposed conservative Republicans involved in primary contests with liberal Republican incumbents (Rhode Island this year, Pennsylvania two years ago). Nor can we neglect the abuse that conservative Republicans have taken from the party organization when they opposed Bush’s policies – on immigration, for example. (Rumors swirled last night and this morning that he would try to work out a deal with House Democrats for a more liberal policy on immigration.)

One wonders where the party goes from here. Are Bush’s policies still the gold standard for the Republicans, or is it every man for himself? If Bush can no longer function as leader of the Republican party, the party that is now committed to providing the loyal opposition, what happens to the Republican agenda?

If we equate the president in his role as party leader with that of national leader, and if we conclude that Bush can no longer credibly lead the party (remember, this is only an academic discussion – a man with nothing to lose may yet surprise us in his final two years), it then follows that Bush can no longer adequately function as president. He cannot manage his party’s agenda, whether through Congress or to the American people, and if that’s a significant part of his role as president then he is failing the test.

Logically then, he should resign.

There are a number of reasons why this won’t happen. We’re not a parliamentary government after all, where the leaders are periodically subject to votes of no confidence. (You have to wonder how many presidents we would have gone through in the last fifteen years or so if that option had been available). Furthermore, on a more purely practical political level, if Bush resigns we get Cheney. In addressing Bush’s shortcomings, would we really be any better off? Cheney is at least as closely identified with the Iraq fiasco as is Bush; to the extent that Iraq cripples the administration, Cheney is at best a push. And while Cheney may well lean more to the right on other issues than Bush, it’s doubtful that he’d have the popular support to get a more conservative agenda through. Besides, he’s not a candidate for president in 2008; allowing him to run as an incumbent through resignation (as Clinton should have done with Gore during Bill’s impeachment) isn’t a factor.

So what then? Bush and Cheney ran as a team; do they step down as one? Leaving the president pro-tempore as the new chief executive? And who is it, anyway? What’s that? Ted Stevens? Uh, never mind. Don’t even suggest the next in line, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. And as a reasonable Democratic friend mentioned to me, there’s no telling what kind of havoc this kind of turmoil would wreak on the economy.

Given the circumstances, this is a scenario that just ain’t gonna happen, except in political potboilers. And yet, my suggestion is only slightly on the facetious side. The president has been a disaster – his foreign policy, while well-intentioned, has lacked vision and failed to correctly anticipate what would come next. One can hardly doubt that Bush recognizes the importance of the war on terror – he knows this perhaps as well as anyone and certainly better than most in the Democratic party. But he no longer has the credibility to carry this fight to our enemies. Domestically, Bush has betrayed the fundamental principles of the conservative, i.e. Reagan, revolution. Certainly in this he has had company, for much of the Republican Congressional leadership has joined him in jumping over the edge. But were they simply playing follow the leader? Was the makeup of Republican leadership inevitable given the disposition of the man at the top of the ticket?

The bottom line is this: the president should either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Bush has demonstrated that he cannot lead, and as president he certainly should not follow the lead of the Democrats. That leaves only one option.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

What the Left Means in "New Directions"

By Bobby

Liberals are losing the momentum despite their "new directions" strategy. With the big conservative momentum and slingshot, is this slingshot of the Saddam conviction, good economic numbers, and huge push enough to put us over the top and keep Dennis Hastert & Company in control of the tax policies, and us in control of the judiciary?

Think of the Left's "New Direction" which will kill investors and the market:

  • New Direction: More judges who will overthrow the US Constitution and replace it with unratified treaties from the United Nations and adopt European law to overturn our Constitution.
  • New Direction: Same-sex "marriage" legalised.
  • New Direction: Secular humanism as the Official State Religion. There will be some alternative religions allowed, but anything based on Christianity will be banned.
  • New Direction: Banning of conservative talk radio from airwaves by speech codes. ("Fairness Doctrine") The codes would also ban religious speech on airwaves.
  • New Direction: Homosexual Special Protections to protect child molesters, banning of laws to protect children.
  • New Direction: Higher taxes and the elimination of the Investor Class by punishing investors with higher taxes, including the elimination of the Extended Term Capital Gains Tax Rate.
  • New Direction: Books revised to promote a Communist angle.
  • New Direction: Congress is meaningless because of the judicial activists in court who will write our laws.
  • New Direction: Terrorists to win control of Iraq, and Iran takes over.
  • New Direction: We lose all wars and we retreat everywhere. Military will be weakened to a "peace" making Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.
  • New Direction: Taiwan to be pigeonholed.
  • New Direction: Ban on research, except for those which will kill people. The research ban will include elimination of tax breaks for major firms to perform huge research on new sources of energy, oil, and a way to turn ANWR into a "monument" so that terrorists and dictators will control oil fields, and we can't be reliant on our own energy.
  • New Direction: The opportunity of new inventions will be gone thanks to liberals' attack on the American Corporation.
  • New Direction: Foreign takeovers in business, research, and our laws.

Monday, November 6, 2006

This Just In

By Steve

Fortune Cookie Writer Fired, Claims Bias

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA -- Local resident Harold Ludman says he can’t understand why he was recently fired from his job writing fortunes for the homemade fortune cookies served at Leonard Wang’s Chow Palace.

“My fortunes speak to the human condition,” Jones said, holding a sheet of paper with his most recent saying, "When misery knocks at the door, you don’t ask if it’s made a reservation." I know it’s not cheery, but it’s real life. People need to face up to that once in awhile.”

Other fortunes which Jones said he was proud of included “If at first you don’t succeed, try again, but know that the possibility is great that you might fail again,” and “Every glorious sunset means you’re one day closer to the cold eternal darkness of the grave.”

Jones said he had always hoped to find a profitable use for his Master’s degree in the works of French existentialists such as Camus and Sarte, and considered writing fortune-cookie fortunes to be the ideal job.

Wang, however, begged to differ.

“People look for escapism when they crack open a fortune cookie,” he said. “They want to read things like, ‘You will meet a tall, dark stranger,’ not the depressing crap he was coming up with. I was afraid I was going to have to start offering Prozac instead of after-dinner mints.”

Ludman, who himself had recently undergone electro-convulsive therapy at nearby Pleasant Valley Mental Health Clinic and Sanitarium, was disappointed with Wang’s decision, but sought to put a positive spin on the dismissal. “I was thinking about getting out of the fortune-cookie business anyway,” he said. “To be honest, there isn’t a lot of growth potential in it. I didn’t want to be caught in the bathroom when the last lifeboat leaves the Titanic, if you know what I mean. Hell, I’m not sure I know what that means.”

As for his future plans, Ludman said, “I’ve already sent my resume to Hallmark. There’s always a market for a good greeting card.”

Friday, November 3, 2006

This Hoffmann a Tale Worth Telling

By Mitchell

Jacques Offenbach died before completing Les contes d’Hoffman (The Tales of Hoffman), which makes it something of a challenge, to say the least, in figuring out exactly how the opera should be done. As is usually the case when dealing with unfinished compositions, a raft of composers, producers, directors, and musicologists have since had a go at what they thought Offenbach would have wanted, and the results (in whatever version) have been good enough to earn Hoffman a much-loved place in the opera repertoire.

But the multiple versions (one critic called it a perpetual work-in-progress) also give producers and directors a great amount of leeway in deciding how they’re going to stage the work. And given the direction the Minnesota Opera has taken during its history, one had good reason to be apprehensive when approaching this year’s production. Ultimately, these apprehensions were mostly groundless in the season’s fourth performance of Hoffman Thursday night at the Ordway.

There was much to like about this Hoffman; the sets, for one thing. Having gotten used (resigned) to the MO’s minimalist staging of recent years, the comparatively lavish sets (which came from the Seattle Opera’s 2005 production) were a delightful surprise. The appearance of the Venetian canals at the start of Act Three produced an audible gasp in the audience, and there were other expressions of pleasure throughout the performance.

The singers were pretty good, too. Richard Troxell, in the title role of the drunken poet, displayed a certain degenerate charm that makes Hoffman an appealing anti-hero. Even though much of his misery is self-inflicted, you can’t help rooting for him even while you’re castigating his decisions. Troxell combined a pleasing vocal style with a physicality that made the role, well, sing. Since Hoffman is in virtually every scene (with the exception, oddly enough, of Act Two, which often is the most affecting) the role requires someone up to the task. Troxell fit the bill.

As Hoffman’s Muse, who masquerades as his friend Nicklausse throughout most of the opera, Adriana Zabala provides a most adequate sidekick. The Muse is a jealous lover who wants Hoffman for herself (the artist dedicated to his art), yet her desire to protect him from the situations into which he constantly gets himself seems born of a genuine concern and love at least as much as jealousy. Zabala’s Nicklausse displays a good-humored exasperation with Hoffman, but it is always discreet, never overbearing. She won the lion’s share of the applause at the curtain, for good reason.

Dean Peterson was poised to steal the whole thing in the showy role of the four villains – Lindorf, Dr. Miracle, Coppelius and Dapertutto – who torment Hoffman throughout the opera. These roles are generally played by the same bass in the same way that Hoffman’s loves are often played by the same soprano, but more on that later. With shaved head and dark glasses, Peterson evoked a sinister, Lex Luthor-like aura that was extremely effective. Why didn’t he get more applause at the end? I don’t know – perhaps, because of his costume changes, not everyone realized it was the same actor throughout?

And there were other good things, too – the dancing wine bottles of the prologue, the use of marionettes in Act Three to demonstrate Peterson’s Dapertutto as the puppet-master manipulating poor Hoffman, and the singers in many of the supporting roles, just to name a few. But of course, being the Minnesota Opera, there were going to be some things that didn’t work quite as well. And while they weren’t fatal to the production, they couldn’t be ignored either.

First of all, there’s the casting of Hoffman’s leading ladies. In his pre-concert talk, Artistic Director Dale Johnson noted that this production (unlike the MO’s previous production of Hoffman ten years ago) had opted not to follow the occasional practice of casting a single soprano in the roles of Hoffman’s three lost loves – Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta – as well as his current love, Stella. And I’m not sure this was the right decision. As Wikipedia notes, “[i]t is important that the four soprano roles be played by the same singer, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia, are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann's unreachable love.”

Johnson’s rationale for the casting was to emphasis the “distinct personalities” of each of the women. I suppose this could be a defensible decision, but it’s just as likely that the MO, continuing to pour money into needless commissions for unnecessary operas such as the upcoming Grapes of Wrath, probably couldn’t afford the big bucks needed to get a soprano who could handle such a wide-ranging role.

This isn’t necessarily a knock on the singers portraying the women in the current production. True, Alison Bates’ Giulietta was the weakest of the lot – her voice had difficulty projecting to the upper reaches of the Ordway, and her acting never seemed to really convey the courtesan’s personality – but then, Giulietta is the least fleshed-out of Hoffman’s loves in the first place, being almost entirely created after Offenbach’s death. And the MO’s abruptly brief version of the already-short Act Three didn’t give us much of a chance to get to know her anyway.

As for the others, Nili Riemer was exceedingly charming as Olympia, the robot with whom Hoffman falls in love in the first act, and Karin Wolverton affectingly winsome as the doomed Antonia, Hoffman’s second act love. We don’t get to see much of Lisa Butcher’s Stella, the current object of Hoffman’s affections, who appears only in the prologue and epilogue.

But let’s return for a moment to the question of one soprano playing all four roles, which has been done in the past to great effect, notably by Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills. Now, it’s true that this type of casting can result in the soprano role overshadowing that of Hoffman himself. I’m not sure if Offenbach himself intended for the casting to be thus, but in an opera that can struggle at times with narrative cohesion, having such a dominant presence can’t hurt.

Which leads me to my second misgiving about Hoffman, that sense of a certain something that was missing. And it is this: a sense of warmth, of pathos. The tale of Hoffman is, at heart, a bittersweet one. For all the uproarious comedy of Act One, for all of Hoffman’s drunken charm, there’s no denying that losing your three great loves in life – no matter how real or imaginary the love might have been – is a heck of a bad thing to have happen to you. And despite the Muse’s promise that Hoffman’s true fulfillment in life will come not from love but from art (and we all know how vital suffering is to the production of great art), the opera still seems to demand a certain level of melancholy. The prologue and epilogue bookend an epic type of story, a man’s journey through a life of love and loss. John Paul II often spoke of the “drama” of ordinary life, and Hoffman’s life provides that kind of drama in spades. Only it didn’t quite come through in this production.

Perhaps the editorial decisions made in assembling this version had something to do with it. Johnson explained that based on amount of material available, the opera could have run five hours; as it was, it ran three-and-a-quarter. And although Act Three has always been the most problematic, it still seemed to end rather suddenly, leaving Hoffman’s third lost love as little more than a footnote. (And a live one at that, unlike many of the versions that provide her with an accidental death.)

Maybe it had something to do with the broad farce of Act One, the absurdity of falling in love with a doll (unless you’re talking about Julie Newmar) obscuring the sense of loss which Hoffman nonetheless felt upon learning the truth. Act One’s comedy combined with Act Three’s brevity serve to isolate the tragedy of Act Two, the only one in which Hoffman’s loss has a truly emotional impact on the audience (which might be one reason why this act has frequently been staged as Act Three, with its dramatic musical climax providing the perfect lead to the epilogue.)

Or it could be the lack of a sense of time passing, of an older Hoffman looking back on a life lived long, if not always well, ala Cyrano.

Whatever the reason, it was clear that something was lacking, somewhere. After sitting through a three-hour-plus drama, the listener’s pleasure should be combined with a sense of coming to the end of a long journey, a shared experience that leaves everyone emotionally drained. And despite the enthusiastic response of the audience as the final curtain fell, I didn’t sense that feeling in the applause which greeted the singers at the curtain call. It was appreciative, but not overwhelming.

Jacques Lacombe, making his Minnesota Opera debut in the pit, did a nice job with Offenbach’s beautiful melodies, although there were times when the orchestra threatened to overwhelm some of the singer’s quieter moments, as in the Barcarolle at the start of the third act. The Barcarolle should be noted as a singular disappointment; it’s probably the most famous piece of music from Hoffman, the one with which the public at large is most familiar. It features a duet between Giulietta and Nicklausse, cast against the backdrop of the gondoliers piloting their boats through the canals of Venice, with the chorus joining in. It was a beautiful scene as staged on Thursday, except you couldn’t really hear any of the singers. And while it should be added that it’s always difficult to tell whether this is the fault of the orchestra or the Ordway’s miserable acoustics (maybe we need to rethink our opposition to mics on the singers after all), it remains true that anyone attending Hoffman looking forward to the express purpose of reveling in the Barcarolle would have been let down. And the feature piece of any opera shouldn’t make you feel that way.

In the long run, while these shortcomings do qualify as more than just quibbles, they ultimately failed to overshadow a production that might have been better in parts but seldom failed to charm or excite. It was far from the worst the Minnesota Opera has to offer. And, given the MO’s track record over the last few years, that’s reason enough for at least two-and-a-half cheers.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Anyone for Tennyson?

By Judith

The title of this piece was the title of a show on PBS many years ago in which four actors would recite poetry. I can see you all jumping up and down now. However, if any of you remember being read to as a child, you might recall the excitement and thrill of the words on the page leaping out and nestling into your ears. The story was alive in a way that went beyond the imagination you use when you read silently.

At about the same time there was a radio show called "Reading Aloud." At a point in my life when nothing much else would pique my interest, listening to the books - entire books over the course of a few weeks - being read gave me something to look forward to. It brought a familiar comfort, like when my mother would read to my brother and me every night before we went to sleep. (Being naughty brought a punishment of no reading. Yikes!)

Poetry and prose were recited as a form of entertainment and communication back in the days before radio and television. It was not uncommon for children to memorize poems or Psalms and perform them for family gatherings. Books-on-tape aside, we've all but forgotten that our language was meant to be heard as well as seen. (Txt msg any 1?)

The trick, of course, is to say it in a way that is pleasing. That's why the program "Anyone for Tennyson?" was so good. People who made their livings interpreting writers' words out loud were the ones reciting the poetry. In Poems for Enjoyment, editor Elias Lieberman writes an introduction for each of the sections of poems he has selected. The section "The Music of Poetry: Rhythm" starts off like this: "Not all people recognize rhythm in poetry. Some are rhythm-deaf, just as other are tone-deaf. If you have ever heard a song rendered by a person who cannot carry a tune you have some idea of what any poem, no matter how good, must mean to one whose sense of rhythm is tragically paralyzed. Such persons should not attempt to read poetry aloud." (Somebody ought to tell that to Garrison Keilior.)

Two poems in this section of the book, "The Santa Fe Trail" by Vachel Lindsay and "The Conjurer" by Lew Sarett even have director's notes in the margins next to the stanzas, with comments like, "To be read or sung well-nigh in a whisper" or "To be chanted." Clearly, the poets expected their poems to be read out loud.

But today if you attend a poetry reading, you're just as likely to hear prose... broken up... in lines... that may look... like a poem. But isn't... Rhyming isn't an absolute necessity, but there is a musicality and rhythm about poetry that separates it from prose. (Although good prose can be poetic.)

My point, and I do have one, is that good poetry shouldn't be left languishing on a dusty library shelf. Wouldn't it be something if actors, or anyone with the talent for rhythm and expression, were to recite good poems in public. Wouldn't it be something to hear a Shakespeare or Browning sonnet or a lyric by Wordsworth, Tennyson, Frost or Poe come to life on the stage or the radio or the television. Wish I had that talent. I'd take it on tour.

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