High-flyer

 

Sir Edward John Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon (detail)

High-flyer

Solomon, an oratorio in three acts, music by George Frideric Handel, text anonymous, orchestra conducted by Christian Curnyn, a collaboration between The Royal Opera and Early Opera Company, Covent Garden 11th October 2018, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Actors should never appear with children or animals. They can upstage you. The countertenor seems to enjoy an analogous advantage over his fellow performers, especially when the singer in question is as technically gifted as Lawrence Zazzo, in the role of King Solomon. With his floral waist coat and his extrovert manner, his imperious demeanour and expressive hands, he commanded the stage like royalty and at times seemed to be enjoying a private joke – “Happy, happy Solomon”, indeed. His stand out performance drew several rounds of spontaneous applause. Soprano Sophie Bevan, who combined the roles of his wife and the first harlot, also excelled.

Commenting on Philip Glass’s minimalist opera Akhnaten (although Glass himself prefers the term “use of repetitive techniques”), John Richardson refers to its “…historical allusions, everything from the musical Baroque to modernism”. In the 1740’s, as enthusiasm for Italian opera abated, Handel “found himself turning more and more to English-language texts whilst also looking away from stage works towards the great oratorios of his later years” (Daniel Snowman, official programme). The oratorio is itself a form of minimalism. It derives its dynamism partly from repetition. Elaborate sets and costume changes etc are dispensed with.

Solomon was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1749. For this current performance, the stage was illuminated by a magnificent chandelier with mirrors arrayed in the background. One of the most striking aspects of Solomon is its celebration of what Marie Stopes euphemistically called married love, as in the Queen’s air, Act 1, scene 2,

Bless’d the day when first my eyes
Saw the wisest of the wise!
Bless’d the day when I was led
To ascend the nuptial bed!
But completely bless’d the day,
On my bosom as he lay,
When he called my charms divine,
Vowing to be only mine.

Another notable component is the evocation of the beauty of nature or pantheism, as in lines from the Act 2, scene 1, air,

When the sun o’er yonder hills,
Pours in tides the golden day,
Or, when quiv’ring o’er the rills,
In the west he dies away;

In Act 2, scene 2, after Solomon issues his famous judgment, a chorus of Israelites (or sycophants) proclaim,

From the east unto the west,
Who so wise as Solomon?

For Solomon, read King George II, who as Katharine Dell informs us in the official programme, Handel was eager to please.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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Dante’s Wake

Gustav Doré, Inferno

Dante’s Wake

Ian Thomson, Dante’s Divine Comedy; A Journey Without End, Head of Zeus, £18.99, 2018, reviewed by Stoddard Martin

Age after age has found Dante speaking to and for them. Ours may be another: we shall see. At present it is fashionable to confine socio-political opponents to a notional inferno– ‘Lock her up!’ etc. Public humour, if extant, tends towards the sarcastic and savage; torments and tortures are envisaged by our present-day Guelphs for Ghibellines and vice versa. The banking magnates of 13th century Florence have their loathed contemporary counterparts. Too many of us seem to be of ‘the worst’ who are ‘full of passionate intensity’*.

Ours is an age, in short, full of the incivility apparent in the first, most read, most translated and adapted part of The Divine Comedy. The follow-up question is this: do we have equivalent purgatorios and paradisos to move to? Do the ‘sunny uplands’ of Brexit resemble this? Does an America made ‘great again’? Where are the Virgils and Beatrices guiding our progress? Do we revere epic predecessors? Is there a sublime Ewig weibliche which may zieht uns hinan or at least beyond porny eros towards amor and finally caritas? Continue reading

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Indelible in the Hippocampus

Sigmund Freud

Indelible in the Hippocampus

By Ilana Mercer

One of many cringe-making moments in Christine Blasey Ford’s protracted complaint before the Senate Judiciary Committee—and the country—was an affectation-dripping reference to her hippocampus.

“Indelible in the hippocampus” was the memory of supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her, some 36 years back, asserted Ford in that scratchy, valley-girl voice of hers.

With that, the good “doctor” was making a false appeal to scientific authority. Ford had just planted a falsity in the nation’s collective consciousness. The accuser was demanding that the country believe her and her hippocampus. Continue reading

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Judge not, lest thou be judged

Brett Kavanaugh

Judge not, lest thou be judged

By Ilana Mercer

By the time this column goes to press, Christine Blah-Blah Ford will have appeared before the coven once considered the greatest deliberative body in the world: The United States Senate.

At the time of writing, however—on the eve of a hearing conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee to ascertain the veracity of Blasey Ford’s sexual assault claim against Judge Brett Kavanaugh—I hazard that voter distrust in the Republicans will prove justified.

True to type, Republicans will deliver a disaster to their supporters—to those banking on the confirmation of another conservative to the Supreme Court bench.

To question the two adversaries, the psychology professor versus the Supreme Court nominee, the Republicans chose an unknown, unremarkable quantity—a Phoenix-based prosecutor named Rachel Mitchell. Mitchell heads the Special Victims Division of Maricopa County, which consists of “sex-crimes and family-violence bureaus.” Continue reading

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Presenting Powell and Pressburger

Still from Peeping Tom

Presenting Powell and Pressburger

 by Stuart Millson

During the 1940s and ‘50s, cinema in this country was revolutionised by the work of two film-makers, the Kent-born Michael Powell, and his friend and colleague, the Hungarian-born émigré and veteran of continental and German cinema, Emeric Pressburger. It might seem, at first sight, as if these two cultural forces were contradictory, but in some of their finest films – A Canterbury Tale, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death – the English vision of Michael Powell was intensified, and made more mysterious, more atmospheric, by Pressburger’s heritage as an “outsider”. It was said that Pressburger never lost his sense of middle-Europe – and even his retirement home in the Suffolk countryside, Shoemaker’s Cottage, was compared to a fairy tale dwelling from a Brothers Grimm story. Yet, just like the Czech writer Karel Capek, he saw the heart of England. Michael Powell’s cinematography lifted the films which they made together to the level of art, but it was Emeric’s screenplays and stories, with their riddles and unexpected twists and outcomes, which gave each production its stamp of uniqueness. Continue reading

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On the Road

Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton, in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

On the Road                                                                           

by Bill Hartley

Last Saturday, a friend and I went to the Pop Up theatre at the Leeds Playhouse to see a revival of Jim Cartwright’s play Road, which originally appeared in 1986. We sat down amidst a largely middle class audience: the working classes evidently have better things to do on a Saturday night in Leeds than to see themselves depicted on stage. For about two hours, we were treated to an unceasing festival of misery as the able and energetic cast went through a series of vignettes depicting despairing, hopeless, pathetic people, too drunk to even have sex.

We should have read the reviews first. Use of phrases such as ‘a simmering undercurrent of rage’ is a giveaway. More of the same followed: this ‘searing play’ about the misery inflicted by the brutal Thatcher regime is as ‘relevant in today’s austerity Britain as it was thirty years ago’. My friend and I, who were both around at the time that Cartwright’s play was first aired, shared a sense of bewilderment and a stiff gin during the interval. Neither of us remembered things the way that Cartwright did. Continue reading

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U.S. Business Itching to Import Cheap Labor

Ilana Mercer

U.S. Business Itching to Import Cheap Labor

By Ilana Mercer

Adroitly, President Trump has optimized outcomes for the American Worker. His is a labor market like no other.

Long overdue in the U.S., a labor market should be one in which firms compete for workers, rather than workers competing for jobs.

“For the first time since data began to be collected in 2000, there are more job openings than there are unemployed workers.” By the Economist’s telling (July 12th, 2018), “Fully 5.8 million more Americans are in work than in December of 2015.”

Best of all, workers are happier than they’ve been for a long time. Continue reading

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The English Civil War, part 2

Oliver Cromwell, by Robert Walker

The English Civil War, part 2

By Mark Wegierski

All the aforementioned religious, dynastic, political, social, economic and ethnic tensions flared into armed conflict in the English Civil War. The term “English” is, however, misleading: although the primary focus of operations was England proper (as well as Wales and Cornwall), Scotland was also critical and Cromwell, of course, extended fighting to Ireland in the aftermath of the Civil War itself. The personalities of the two main protagonists were very different. Charles I was “a mild and placid King”, genuinely concerned about the shedding of brotherly blood, with a somewhat quixotic aspect, and a strong streak of pessimism. (Even in his time, the Stuarts were often considered an ill-starred or unlucky dynasty.) This made him a poor politician and military leader. He went to his execution believing that the revulsion it would cause would result in the almost-instantaneous restoration of the monarchy in the person of his son, Charles II. Cromwell, by contrast, was generally able to see to the essence of the matter, utterly convinced of his rightness, never wavering and ruthless in political struggle. He understood the need for a well-drilled, professional force to win the war, and formed the New Model Army as his personal instrument. The heroic but impetuous Cavaliers were no match for its iron drill and discipline. There has been some debate about the character of the New Model Army: were they really “true believers”, fanatically-enthused Puritans, or rather well-drilled and disciplined professional mercenaries, assured of more regular pay than any other force in the war? Continue reading

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Bob Woodward’s Yellow Journalism

Still from Citizen Kane

Bob Woodward’s Yellow Journalism 

By Ilana Mercer

It takes no time at all. You listen to Bob Woodward’s halting speech. You read his lumpen prose, and you get right away what undergirds his Trump-phobic tome, Fear: Trump in the White House.

Naively, the president expected to fulfill his revolutionary campaign promises to the American voters, an assumption that threw Woodward and the D.C. elites for a loop.

If past is prologue, voters don’t—and should not—get their way. After all, the views of Trump voters on American power are polar opposites from those held by the permanent state.

What does “Boobus Americanus” know? Nothing! Continue reading

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Apartheid, in Perspective, 2

Dr Hendrik Verwoerd

Apartheid, in Perspective, 2

By Ilana Mercer

Monomaniacal Westerners—they have one thing on their minds: it begins with an “R”—have come to think and speak of apartheid as a theory of white supremacy.

It was not.

The policy of “separate development,” as it was admittedly euphemized, was not a theory of racial supremacy, but a strategy for survival.

But first: to understand the fundamental way in which the Afrikaner and American creeds differed early on we must first examine the former’s ideas of what constitutes a nation and a state, respectively.

America, a rib from the British Adam, was built on liberal individualism; but Afrikaner culture was first and foremost grounded in the survival of the Volk. Continue reading

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