Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Opera Wednesday

I haven't been here for awhile, so I'm filling in for Drew this week with this clip from the bittersweet conclusion to Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. My two favorite Strauss operas are the dark sinister pieces - Salome and Elektra, and his Four Last Songs - but even in his lighter moments, such as the comedy Rosenkavalier, there's always something a little unsettling in the music, something that touches you in just that way. And music ought to be like that.

This vintage clip is from the 1960 movie, with Sena Jurinac, Anneliese Rothernberger, and the magnificent Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Herbert von Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic.

Monday, May 29, 2017

CrossFit Hero WOD's: tribute to the fallen heroes

While preparing for the week's CrossFit workout at the box (as they are called), we were informed of participation in Monday's special Memorial Day class that is designated as a "Hero" workout that honour those soldiers and public safety officers who died in the line of duty.  Their names pay homage to the bravest of the brave who have sacrificed their lives in battle.  Yet that intensity will make you think less of yourself and more of those whose names are attached to them.  While we shall not mention the workouts (that is not the reason for this post), what we shall do is remember these people who are memorialised by their names as workouts.
Murph.  Memorial Day is CrossFit's annual workout named for Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was part of SEAL Team 10 in Operation Red Wings in June 2005, an attack best known from the book and movie Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, the only member of the team that survived the attack on Team 10 by terrorists.

The Seven.  In Afghanistan, seven CIA officers killed in a December 2009 attack by a man who claimed to be an informant reporting on Al Qaeda.  When he said the magic words, we learned he was a homicide bomber, killing seven CIA officers and a Jordanian working with the seven CIA officials.

Luce.  Captain Ronald G. Luce of the U.S. Army, died during an August 2009 attack when an IED struck his vehicle in Afghanistan.

JT.  A well-seen photo of Petty Officer Jon Tomlinson, a Navy SEAL, who was one of 30 who died in 2011 after a rocket-propelled grenade struck a helicopter, features his dog by the side of his casket during the funeral.  But Tomlinson's nickname is immortalised shortly afterwards when CrossFit named a "Hero" workout in his memory.

We remember our heroes on Memorial Day.  CrossFit's names of Hero Workouts pay homage to those who have fallen for our freedom.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Musings in May

Poitical Panderings.  If it was not clear that Big Entertainment is aligned with the far left, Disney's repeated excuses in canning Tim Allen's Last Man Standing over his conservative character being the lead dog over liberals while protecting The View is a perfect example.  Most viewers do not remember ABC News developed The View in 1996 as a way to take advantage of the 1990's television realignment, and to this day, the show's strongest viewership is in Atlanta, Detroit, and Milwaukee, three markets that ABC took advantage of in that CBS's perennial winner The Price Is Right was not available in parts of those markets (and more) due to weak affiliates.  In a post-Citizens United era, the Left has decided all opposition speech must be shot down in any way, whether it is by court mandates or by control of the media.  Welcome to 1984, everyone.

The Crew Chief.  Fox News is on a decline since the scandals that took down its core: first Roger Ailes and later Bill Shine, then Bill O'Reilly.  Much of the attacks have come from leftist activists such as Mr. Brock, Mr. Soros, and other such leaders who have pushed their way through.  The ratings among the 25-54 crowd, including the Millennials that have tilted solid left from teachings, is proving that point now when a pair of sexual deviants are first (CNN) and second (MSNBC), while nuclear family men at Fox are now in trouble.  Does it say much about the entertainment mentality working to take down Fox?  Have the Murdoch Boys decided they want to remake the channel away from what made it an ace?  Note how many channels remade for management have become disasters. The list includes Spike (was associated with Tennessee), Freeform (was associated with Mr. Robertson), Esquire (was a techie channel), FXX (was a football channel), and others.

So many deaths of men that mattered.

Roger Ailes.  Roger Ailes, 77, whose work in redeeming Richard Nixon later gave way to helping conservative political causes, then pushing Rush Limbaugh to a 1990's late-night television gig before he started Fox News. The fact the Murdoch Boys want to demolish what Mr. Ailes built is sadly allowing us to see how intelligent Mr. Ailes was in the television medium. Despite the controversy over what he knew would work in a visual medium, if it was not for Mr. Ailes, an entire challenger to the one-sided media would never have happened. As the history books noted about the Clinton Administration, the media created "crises" to put their man in power, and Mr. Ailes challenged them.

Nicky Hayden.  Nicholas Patrick Hayden, 35, was the last American to win an international motorcycle racing championship (MotoGP in 2006). His Southeastern humility was shown and ability to win at the highest levels put him on a level of few others during the era where dirt-track sliding techniques mattered more than electronics (traction control included) that has given us the modern Spanish resurgence now that motorcycle road racing now airs exclusively in the United States on Al Jazeera (please see "A Kick in the Ball" from It's About TV! for an explanation). A pity that riding his bicycle during a training run that passed through the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli vicinity, and a motorist was not aware, led to his death.  Share the road, folks!

Sir Roger Moore.  Roger George Moore, 89, was a television and film star on both sides of the Atlantic (Maverick, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Ivanhoe, The Saint, and of course, from 1973 until 1985, the EON James Bond franchise).  After George Lazenby made a mistake (the Australian admits it) to not renewing his Bond gig after On Her Majesty's Secret Service (and letting Sean Connery return for one more film), Moore took the Bond character to a semi-comedic at times Bond for the 1970's into the 1980's.  The era of Bond in the 1970's was a different era than that of the original 1960's, and he has been regarded as one of the better Bonds of the five.

All three of those men will be missed.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Flashback Friday: A decade - more than just dates on the calendar

I've remarked before, perhaps even on this blog, that I frequently get ideas from unusual sources, and it's even better when, as is the case today, I get an idea that has virtually nothing to do with the source itself.

Over at Uniwatch ("The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics"), an interesting discussion broke out in the comments section as to how one defines a decade.  I know, doesn't seem to have anything to do with sports uniforms, right?  Long story short, the question arose as to whether the 1970 World Series falls within the '70s or the '60s.  Not as stupid a question as you might think; since there's no Year 0, most people know that the Ist Century ran from 1 to 100, and so on.  The 20th Century, therefore, began on January 1, 1901 and ended on December 31, 2000.  The question is, do decades operate the same as centuries?  Do the 1970s begin on January 1, 1971 or January 1, 1970?

From there, a commentator named Wiggle Man speculated that culturally, it is events rather than dates that determine a decade.  He suggested the following:

1930’s – Began with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 (“Black Thursday”)
1940’s – Began on December 7, 1941 (“A date which will live in infamy”)
1950’s – Began on January 20, 1953 (Eisenhower’s Inauguration)
1960’s – Began on November 22, 1963 (Kennedy’s assassination)
1970’s – Began on May 4, 1970 – (Kent State) (I would also accept June 17, 1972, Watergate break-in)
1980’s – Began on January 20, 1981 – Reagan’s Inauguration / Hostages released).

Other commentators had different ideas; one suggested that the '60s actually started with Kennedy's inauguration, rather than his death, and that Kent State (as well as Altamont) are more indicative of the '60s than the '70s.  Others chipped in that '90s actually began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the "aughts" (2000s) probably started on September 11, 2001.

I find this kind of discussion exceptionally interesting.  (It's also proof that you should have an eclectic reading list; you never know what you're going to run into.)  I've maintained over at the TV blog that the early years of the 1960s actually are more properly understood as a continuation of the 1950s, and that the last years of the '60s more properly line up with the 1970s - in fact, I'd contend that 1965 might be the prime example of what the '60s would have been like had they not dealt with the JFK assassination (at the beginning) and the Vietnam War (at the end).  Many, if not most, of the mores and visuals of the early '60s (not to mention television programming, which was the point of my musing in the first place) would have been perfectly acceptable in the late '50s, and the late '60s are almost indistinguishable from the first few years of the '70s.

The point is, I suppose, every decade has its own tenor, it's own "look."  I think Wiggle Man is correct in suggesting that decades, properly understood, represent events as much as they do actual dates.   We can quibble with the specific events that signal the end of one decade and the beginning of another, but I think the calendar is perhaps the least important part of the equation.  Anyone out there have other suggestions?

Originally published October 21, 2014

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters had some serious star power. 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 the conclusion of the aria "Dunque Io Son" from Act I of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia in a 1962 broadcast of NBC's Bell Telephone Hour - a wonderful program that brought the best in classical music to the television audience through first-rate productions. (Little-known fact: every episode of the Bell Telephone Hour, from 1959 to 1968, was taped in color - a very forward-thinking move.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flashback Friday: On the decline of orchestras (and classical music) today

I began taking voice lessons after being inspired by a few friends, and in February 2002 took my first official foray into vocal lessons. I never thought I would see the day that classical music became "the" music for me, yet for Serena LaRoche, Leah Hungerford, along with choral directors Jennifer Adam, Peppie Calvar, Susan Kelly, Keith Walker, Lillian Quackenbush, Alicia Walker, and numerous other choral singers (Rebecca Cunningham), soloists (Ashley Briggs, Sarah Rich, Jaeyoon Kim, Jacob Will, Kelsey Harrison), my musical attitude took a turn for the better, and as we learned three and a half years later, perfect for Our Word.

Having sung in four Summer Choruses, two one-offs at various churches, and a Governor's Carolighting in the hastily organised choir, the dearth of choral opportunities at home with pop drivel and karaoke replacing serious material and orchestras concerns me. While listening to a talk radio show, the hostess noted, "We need to pray for the survival of classical music not only because of its beauty, but also because it reminds us of the centuries when our society was so infused by the Christian gospel."

Patrick Kavanaugh in World magazine commented on such musical problems. While he noted it may be economic, market, the bullying of bad rock music in our culture, it was easily noticed that Biblical text and Christian theology dominates classical music, noting Brahms’ Requiem, Händel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Compare the difference between the Mass in C Major and that of a modern rock tune certain Life Enhancement Centres play in their buildings. Nolo contendere est. Keep in mind in our society today, humanism is the official state religion, and to advance the cause they have to prohibit classical works from performance in order to force us to carry humanism's dark agenda found through the modern pop tunes of society today.

Here is Mr. Kavanaugh's thought about the trouble with music today.

Originally published October 22, 2012

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Last month we took a look at Benjamin Britten's intense Peter Grimes. This week it's Britten's equally intense Billy Budd, based on the novella by Herman Melville with a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier. Like Grimes, there is a homosexual subtext to Billy Budd, but I don't think it's gratuitous; rather, it becomes an integral part of the plot.

Here we see a clip from the Metropolitan Opera in their 1997 production, featuring the great James Morris as John Claggart, Britten's personification of evil. This is Claggart's famous aria; interestingly, when I was talking with Mitchell about this, he mentioned that this aria was cut from NBC Opera's 1952 production. Why? Well, it's true that cuts had to be made in order to squeeze the opera into NBC's limited timespace (there were so many cuts, in fact, that NBC wound up calling it Scenes from Billy Budd), but the real reason was that NBC Opera mastermind Samuel Chotzinoff felt television could (and eventually would) streamline opera.

Claggart's aria, as is the case with many arias, was designed primarily to give us a glimpse into the character's thoughts and motivation. Chotzinoff reasoned that television, with its ability to offer close-ups and other special effects, would be able to convey emotions and thoughts more quickly and effetively - a kind of opera shorthand - rendering such long scenes unnecessary. I don't think he was right then (and neither did Britten; he was furious at the cuts NBC made, leading to a profound distrust of TV's ability to broadcast opera), and I don't think he's right now. This aria, which Chotzinoff thought unnecessary, has come to be seen as one of the opera's greatest moments. You be the judge.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Flashback Friday: Searching for justice

Ihave never stuck up for any criminal. I have merely asked for the orderly administration of an impartial justice...Due legal process is my own safeguard against being convicted unjustly. To my mind, that's government. That's law and order."

 — Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Opera Wednesday

This week we look at Verdi's massive opera Macbeth, originally written in 1847 and revised in 1865. Verdi was a master at Shakespearian adaptations (what a pity he was not able to pull together the King Lear he had so wanted to do), and with Macbeth he found a ghost story perfectly suited to opera.

In this performance from 1978, we hear the great Shirley Verrett as the murderous Lady Macbeth in the famous scene where she is unable to wash the blood from her hands, haunted by the memories of her past crime. Una macchia è qui tuttora! - "Yet Here's a Spot." The conductor is Claudio Abbado, recorded at the famed Teatro alla Scala .

Friday, May 5, 2017

Flashback Friday: War as a metaphor for war

This extraordinary photo, of gas-mask-wearing soccer players (likely soldiers playing the game during some training or down time) accompanies Brian Phillips' equally-extraordinary account of soccer during World War I, "Soccer in Oblivion,"  at Grantland. For me, World War I has always held more fascination than any war other than our own Revolution, because the cultural implications are so distinct.

While it's important to acknowledge, as Spengler does in this Asia Times piece, that World War I wasn't necessarily any more horrific than other wars of the past, at least in pro-rated manpower, it's also true that the Great War inflicted a kind of cynical somberness that the world likely will never recover from.  The thought of God looking down on His creation, all of it, doing its damnedest to tear itself apart, is a sad one, perhaps one of the saddest that a religious person can imagine.

The money quote from Phillips' story, which should tell us everything we want to know about the war, and about ourselves, then and now:

Never such innocence again. But we still make the same mistakes, because we still understand war through analogy and our analogies still fail. Now we see it as a video game, or we see it as a component of the NFL’s set of minor paraphernalia, jet flyovers part of the same combo pack that includes beer commercials and classic-rock riffs. We’re still trying to make the metaphor work, only now we’re doing it in reverse, endlessly describing games in terms of who conquered/eviscerated/bombed/slaughtered whom. It’s the same old trick, though. It’s a way to hide the horror under one layer of spectacle and another layer of moral virtue — a way to pretend that war is like a game, that there are rules, that there is safety. A way not to look into oblivion. We missed the cruel irony in all those soccer balls that show up in World War I photos. Nothing is a metaphor for war. War is a metaphor for nothing.

Make no mistake - war, no matter how horrible, is sometimes necessary.  That should happen sparingly, and without celebration, though.  As the soldier (attributed to Robert E. Lee, perhaps apocryphally) once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it.”

Originally published August 11, 2014

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Opera Wednesday

What's in a name? Let's find out.

Our first piece goes by the name "Moscow Nights." Singing is the great baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, performing at the last night of the BBC Proms from a few years ago. Not every classically trained singer can pull off singing popular songs (witness the Three Tenors singing "You'll Never Walk Alone," which I refuse to link to as a public service to all of you out there), but Hvorostovsky more than pulls it off, which is one reason why in his prime he was considered one of the most exciting singers in opera. (Catch him sometime in Evgeny Onegin if you get the chance.)

"Moscow Nights" is also known as "Midnight in Moscow," and it was under this name that Kenny Ball had this huge hit. No singing, and quite a different sound, but undeniably the same piece of music.

So which do you prefer? There is no right or wrong answer. The only answer is that good music is good no matter how you play it.
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