Thursday, March 30, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, is generally considered a testiment to freedom. It tells the story of Leonore, a woman who disguises herself as a prison guard named "Fidelio" in order to rescue her husband from death in a political prison.

Beethoven struggled with this opera, including writing four different overtures to it before settling into a final version. It's a challenging opera, but seldom fails to stir. And since Leonore successfully frees her husband, it stands as an opera rareity: a drama with a happy ending!

In this clip, the great Christa Ludwig sings of the need to always retain hope - although she is close to despair, thoughts of her husband Florestan keep her going. Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? ... Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern ["Scum! Where are you going? ... Come, hope, let the last star"]).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Ted Kennedy

Honor Guard Accidentally Drops Ted Kennedy’s Casket in Chappaquiddick Water

(BOSTON, MA – August 30) What started out as a solemn day turned tragic Saturday when the honor guard escorting Senator Edward M. Kennedy to his final resting place took a wrong turn and accidentally dropped the Senator’s casket off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island.

The incident occurred as the hearse was transporting Kennedy to Logan Airport in Boston for the flight to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. While en route, the hearse’s driver inexplicably took a wrong turn and detoured some 100 miles, including a ferryboat ride, before winding up on the bridge, which spans the island's Poucha Pond.

At that point, the back door of the hearse suddenly and without warning flew open, allowing the casket to fall out, skidding off the side of the bridge before flipping over and landing upside down in the water, where it remained visible for only a moment before tipping downward and sinking slowly to the bottom. Several members of the honor guard repeatedly dove into the water in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to free Kennedy’s trapped body from its watery grave.

Undertaker Richard Bruce, who supervised the arrangements for the late Senator’s funeral, remained cautiously optimistic. “Of course, this is a most unfortunate situation, most unfortunate” Bruce said. “We can only hope that the Senator’s mortal remains were able to find the air pocket that the Poseidon 3000 [casket] creates as a result of its patented hermetically sealed lid. It is, naturally, our finest model, and we are confident that its lacquered walnut and polished bronze exterior should be able to keep the water out of the plush velvet interior for several hours. Fortunately, we understand that the suit in which [Kennedy] was buried was made of wash-and-wear material.”

Sheriff Arch Brahmin, reporting from the scene of the accident, said a team of trained divers was preparing a search-and-rescue mission. He acknowledged, however, that the task would be made more difficult by the fact that the honor guard apparently waited sixteen hours before reporting the accident, passing several homes and a fire station without stopping to phone authorities and advise them of what had happened.

“It’s frustrating, sure, but you can’t prepare for everything,” Brahmin said. “After all, how many times does something like this happen?”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Where have all the real men gone?

In one of Ah-nold's more lucid moments as governor of California, he disparagingly referred to his political opponents as "girly-men." I thought of this when reading Jay Nordlinger's hilarious excerpt from Toby Young's scathing attack on the girlification of men.  ere's the excerpt:

I went to a wedding recently at which the groom was an ex-public schoolboy in his twenties. No more prime specimen of girlie manhood are you likely to see. . . . He’d probably spent more getting his hair done than the bride had spent on her dress. It was stomach-churning.

Yet the effect of this wet noodle on the assembled women was electrifying. As he got up on stage and started telling his bride how much he loved her, bursting into tears within 30 seconds, they literally began to drool. For them, this Barbie Man was the new masculine ideal. And let me tell you, his bride was an absolute knockout. In the good old days, men would have conquered continents for less. Yet here she was, giving herself to a man she probably could have beaten in a fight.

As Judie said when I read this to her, "I'd hate to think this is the future of manhood. Makes you want to watch a truck commercial or something."

Beyond the entertainment factor from Young's sabre-wielding, there lies a more serious point: why? The answer, according to Young, is yet another disturbing product of the sexual revolution.  It's not just the "relentless feminist critique of masculinity that has been blaring out of our schools and universities since the 1960s."  That's a big part of it, but there's another, sobering element, that has taken its toll on traditional masculinity: that "women’s sexual liberation that has frightened the horses, not the endless theorizing that’s accompanied it. Men simply can’t deal with women expressing sexual desire — it reduces them to timid little mice."

Yes, the scourging of society as a result of the lovable 60s continues: it's the gift that keeps us giving, giving, giving - until all of our humanity has gone.

Originally published September 30, 2010

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters had some serious star power. The late Peters, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut at the age of 20, was vivacious, cute, perky - and enormously talented. Merrill could do it all, from high opera to "Autumn Leaves" with Victor Borge, to singing the national anthem for his beloved New York Yankees. Together, they made for a dynamic duo both on- and off-stage (they were briefly married in the early 50s), and were fixtures on popular television, appearing often with stars such as Sullivan and Carson. Ah, those were the days.

Here they are singing "Dite alla giovine... Morrò!" from Verdi's La traviata. It's wonderful to see the delight the two of them have sharing the music and sharing each other.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Timberwolves, journalism, and the end of democracy as we know it

This may be a bit convoluted, and I’ll ask you to hang in there with me on this, but I think that when I was watching the Minnesota Timberwolves game for a few minutes the other night, I noticed why democracy may be in great peril in this country.

As I clicked through channels I discovered the rebuilt Woofies enjoying their opening night festivities. The announcers (Tom Hanneman and Jim Petersen, but I don’t want to name any names) were ebullient and optimistic. At one point Hanneman even lauded the large and enthusiastic first game crowd, even as the camera shot showed two somewhat lethargic middle-aged guys surrounded by six empty seats. Whatever.

The announcer’s enthusiasm quickly started to grate on me, though, when a fairly nondescript layup by one of the new, nameless, faceless Wolves was hailed as a good reason why his contract had been extended by management just a few days earlier.

Then it hit me again, like I should have forgotten this for a second. These are not game announcers or sports journalists. They are paid PR hacks employed by the Wolves to put across their product (and hopefully fill a few more seats for the next game). The idea that you are going to get honest analysis went out the window a long time ago, and I think that window may now be shut forever.

And that’s what’s scary, because I don’t think any of us have the long-term will, energy or mental perseverance to keep making that distinction in today’s media. Is it possible that everything we are hearing is spin meant to sell products. I mean everything. That there really is NO honest, objective, journalism left, anywhere? (Help, I’m feeling pessimistic.) Forget sports, who really cares about where that mess is going, but what about in politics, and in civic debate, and in the things that really matter? (I almost added in religious life, but that’s a scary topic for another day).

So, my point, my question really, if you’d like to chime in, is are we getting the real scoop anywhere about anything? If we aren’t, if we’ve lost the objective power of a free, unbiased media, we’re in big trouble. I mean, big trouble. The whole thing about Jefferson and the newspapers, right?

What do you think?

(On a lighter note, before this new depressing thought gets too much attention, my announcer friends did add a smile before I found my remote. Mr. Petersen, who I believe graduated from some of our finest local schools, talked about one player suffering through, and I am sure I heard this, “a menagerie of injuries.” What exactly would that be, I wondered? My colleague Mr. H, the wunderkind with the steel-trap mind - whatever that means said, “well, maybe he had a charley horse. Followed by a calf pull.” Pretty bad, if it wasn’t so funny.

So I got to thinking, what other “animal” injuries do people have? Anybody have any ideas?)

Thanks for listening.

Originally published November 6, 2007

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Opera Wednesday

This week we take a look at Gaetano Donizetti's masterpiece Lucrezia Borgia, based on the play by Victor Hugo.

The real-life Lucrezia Borgia has not been served well by history, and Donizetti's opera plays into many of the myths about the real Lucrezia. However, this is Opera Wednesday, not History Wednesday, and so we'll go with the Lucrezia-poisoner version.

And what a version. This clip from the stunning finale features the great La Stupenda Joan Sutherland as Lucrezia, and Alfredo Kraus as her son, Gennaro. Now, if you like your opera full of mistaken identity and accidental death, then I guarantee you'll love this. If, on the other hand, you prefer hard-boiled realism - well, why are you in the opera house in the first place? Just sit back and enjoy two great singers in this 1980 performance from Covent Garden in London. Richard Bonynge, Sutherland's husband, is the conductor.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Throwback Thursday: What is it with the pope, anyhow?

We warned people about the current Pope years ago. As the Catholic Church continues to splinter, let's look back at Mitchell's article from September, 2015.

The Pope is in town, in case you haven't heard. Not in Dallas, where I am, but out father East.  There will be a fair amount of fuss being made, much of it over how Good Pope Francis is ushering in the new progressive nirvana, and probably even more about how the evil conservative Catholics, not to mention the evil Republicans, are busy slamming him.

Of course, that's the typical MSM slant.  It is true that many Republicans disagree with the Pope on matters environmental and economic, and it's also true that a lot of conservative - more likely traditionalist - Catholics have been having kittens over his papacy.  If you're a regular reader, you know I haven't been too happy about this papacy either, having gone so far as to suggest that if I were considering converting today (instead of twenty years ago when I did convert) I probably wouldn't do it because I would be looking at a Church that might have truth on its side, but didn't appear to stand for anything.

Now, it's very easy to find political commentary picking a bone with the Pope.  For instance, George Will had this to say:

Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak — if his policy prescriptions were not as implausible as his social diagnoses are shrill.

Meanwhile, at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last asks if we should see the Pope as "Menace or Farce" (h/t Fr. Z)

For instance, the Holy Father seems to have a habit of appearing to endorse all sorts of left-wing political causes. There was the time he posed with environmental activists holding an anti-fracking T-shirt. And the time he posed for pictures holding a crucifix made from a hammer and a sickle. And the time he held up a poster calling for the British to hand the Falkland Islands back to Argentina. In each instance, the official Vatican response has been to suggest that Francis didn’t mean to endorse anything because he’ll pretty much smile and pick up anything you hand him, like some sort of consecrated Ron Burgundy.

Now, it is true that there's a ideological dimension to this; there's no question that the Pope is interjecting himself into a political discussion, not merely pointing out the existence of a problem, but offering explicitly political solutions, rather than charging the various legislatures with finding a solution.

There is, however, a spiritual aspect to this as well, and one can make a compelling case that in this religious, as opposed to political, dimension, the Pope continues to fall short.  The website The Federalist had a very good piece on this Monday, with Joy Pullmann writing, among other things, this:

I’m not sure who Pope Francis’s religious advisors are, but it seems they’ve forgotten the Gospel isn’t directly aimed at helping the poor or averting supposed environmental disasters. The Gospel is centrally about saving our eternal souls, about addressing spiritual—not material—poverty. Yes, the material world is broken because of sin, and it will be restored after the Last Day, but that’s an effect, and not the focus of scripture. What’s primary is our souls, not our pocketbooks.

She goes on to write:

In the course of loving our neighbors, as the Bible commands, of course we should seek to meet their physical needs, both through and beyond seeking to meet their spiritual needs. Acknowledging the truth that the world will always contain hungry people is not an excuse for not feeding the people in your life whom you have a duty to feed.

Maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. But the human condition of sin has ensured that everyone cannot be rich, healthy, and a lover of God. It’s sad, but true. We will never achieve utopia in this world. That’s kind of the central story arc of the Bible: How humans screwed themselves and the whole world up, and how Jesus has and will ultimately put things to right. Getting all the way to a perfect eternity, however, requires first an apocalypse.

So maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. That’s partly a joke and partly serious, because every time I see another Planned Parenthood butchering video I am ready for Jesus to take me and my kiddos right up to Paradise and end this sick, mad world. But at the very least, Francis could do a better job communicating what my Catholic friends keep insisting to me he really does mean.

I get weary reading all this; it grieves me to see the Church that means so much to me disintegrating like this.  I'll say it again: Pope Francis could not be doing a better job driving the Church apart if he'd been sent by the Soviet Union (or Satan, take your pick) to ruin everything accomplished by the last two popes.  And I get just as weary being reminded by henny-penny hand-wringers that you're not allowed to criticize the Pope.  As a matter of fact, that really ticks me off.

Look; one should always be careful talking about the Pope.  The papacy is a divinely-ordained institution, and that's all there is to it.  Not only do I accept that, I wholeheartedly embraced it at the time of my conversion.  I believe it today.  But it also has to be said that the College of Cardinals don't always choose the right man for the office; anyone who thinks that the Holy Spirit divinely chooses the pope not only denies the existence of man's free will, he overlooks such occupants of Peter's Chair as the Borgia Popes.  In other words, one must respect the office, but there is no reason not to look at the specific occupant with a cocked eye.

Let's take this a step further, though.  Not only the papacy, but the basic clerical structure of the Church - bishops, priests and deacons - exists in the Bible.  What goes for the pope goes for them as well; respect the office, if not the occupant.

However, when it gets to the Curia, the governing organization of the Church - well, that's a man-made institution.  No only is there nothing divine about it, even the popes themselves have had to keep a very close eye on it from time to time for their own benefit, not to mention well-being.  The Curia, and the upcoming Synod of Bishops, is fair game as far as I'm concerned - again, as long as you remain somewhat respectful in your words.  Just as I get turned off by old ladies taking me to task for criticizing the pope, I also get torqued by people who behave like rabid Pavlovian dogs whenever Francis' name is mentioned.

Therefore:  I have great concerns that Pope Francis is doing dramatic damage to the Church.  He disrespects those who have fought long and hard to defend tradition; his recent decision on annulments is nothing short of indefensible; his off-the-cuff statements are tiring at best and alarming at worst.  We like to talk about the "brand" today, and Francis has weakened the Catholic "brand" to an almost crippling degree.  Those who are the most impressed are those least likely to come back to the Church, or to defend the Church's traditional teachings.  Those most disregarded, most dismissed by him, are the ones who have fought the hardest and believe most fervently in Christ's teachings.  I don't know about you, but buddying up to your enemies and dissing your friends is not my idea of a successful business plan.

Francis' papacy has been a disaster, and if the upcoming Synod weakens the family further, as many expect it to, going back on two millennia of Church teaching (as well as Christ's words), then we see a real possibility of schism, and if that happens then we're really going to have some questions to ask.  All we know is that at the Last Judgment, we'll all be called to account for my actions.  I will not fare well when that happens, but at least I'd like to think I've tried to defend the Church, in my words if not always my actions.  However, the man who calls himself a "loyal son of the Chuirch" will have to do the same, and all in all I think I'd rather be in my shoes than his.

There's bound to be more to come on this, both from the Pope's trip and from me.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Drew here, pinch-hitting this week. It's been awhile, so I might as well do something easy, and what could be easier than going with one of the best? Here's the great Leontyne Price singing "Pace, pace, mio Dio" from Verdi's La Dorza del Destino on a 1967 broadcast of The Bell Telephone Hour. Donald Voorhees is the conductor.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Regietheater on the Silver Screen?

Controversy has erupted, as you might expect, over Disney's live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast (see this article for the reasoning why I use "retelling" and not remake) over a controversial scene involving a character that led one drive-thru theater in Alabama to refuse airing it out of respect to the theatergoers, many of whom were part of the 81% that voted a marriage definition that New Yorkers did not approve, and erased on their whim, creating an arrogance that reminded Americans of the House of Hanover that led to the Declaration of Independence.

But why the controversial erotic scene was the larger question.  We knew it was the Left's way of social engineering in the theater.  Just last week, Disney's ABC aired a television special that glorified the erotic liberty lobby and how they relied on their elites to overturn the laws of the nation, creating in effect a federal Reynolds case where only the large urban enclaves of the Left had a voice, erasing the rest of the nation from having a voice in the public debate over issues.  Three days after attending the Renée Fleming recital at the Peace Center, the GLOW Lyric Theatre in the very city performed on Valentine's Day, no less, a concert celebrating the victories of the perversion movement, titled by the codewords of the movement, that throws Christians to the Lions with their language (the title is propaganda that I shall not mention it by name).  Antonin Scalia noted that the signature of erotic liberty was determined by a few cities, a patrician group that was out of touch with the rest of the nation, especially with Protestants (let alone conservative evangelicals, which form majorities in many states) not represented by the judiciary that imposed its agenda on that group, "no social transformation without representation."  Only the voices of the elites mattered.

This goes to the real issue with the movie in question.  It was, as that St. Valentine's Day piece performed by the theater company also fits, a form of regietheater, the director's theater that has been responsible for the worst hacks of opera that we have long referenced.  We wrote "Saving Opera from Itself," about the issue from an opera reference, and cited Heather MacDonald's "The Abduction of Opera" in the article.  When reading the article in preparation for this commentary, I saw in both the lyric company and the movie examples of the idea of a "superior moral understanding" of the director.  But it also fits within the idea of art as shock value.

The defining characteristic of the sixties generation and its cultural progeny is solipsism. Convinced of their superior moral understanding, and commanding wealth never before available to average teenagers and young adults, the baby boomers decided that the world revolved around them. They forged an adolescent aesthetic—one that held that the wisdom of the past could not possibly live up to their own insights—and have never outgrown it. In an opera house, that outlook requires that works of the past be twisted to mirror our far more interesting selves back to ourselves. Michael Gielen, the most influential proponent of Regietheater and head of the Frankfurt Opera in the late seventies and eighties, declared that “what Handel wanted” in his operas was irrelevant; more important was “what interests us . . . what we want.”

It did not matter to them that the nation rejected their values.  Rather, they forced it with their elites, and now are celebrating such imposition of their degenerate standards by force-feeding down theatergoers, similar to what operagoers have been seeing with the regietheater movement. Regietheater as social change to force down the progressive values rejected by voters and moviegoers goes along with the attitudes of the entire movement.  In both the GLOW Lyric Company and the Beauty and the Beast situations, both qualify as regietheater with their intent to impose their values on an audience that rejects such.

Has regietheater created the worst movies and television shows of our times by forcing down every left-wing social agenda on us?  Is it time we defund government art, as it has proved itself to be at the root of regietheater, and the shock value?
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