Reflections on Opera

Roman theatrical masks

Reflections on Opera

What Opera Means: Categories and Case-Studies, Christopher Wintle, edited by Kate Hopkins, Boydell & Brewer, 2018, 288 pp, pb., £15.99, reviewed by STODDARD MARTIN

Books on opera abound. Books on Wagner, alone, are said to be as numerous as those on Napoleon, perhaps more so. Those on Mozart rank not far behind. Verdi joined Wagner in celebration of a bicentenary in 2013, and a plethora of publications to mark that occasion included the piquant Verdi and/or Wagner by Peter Conrad, reviewed on these pages. Both figures stride like colossi through Christopher Wintle’s What Opera Means, a collection of reviews, programme essays and lectures from his distinguished career as commentator on the genre, notably at The TLS, where for a period in the early 1980s this writer was his predecessor.

Recurrent appearance of the 2013 bi-centenarians in Wintle’s book reflects their ubiquity on the boards over subsequent decades. At Covent Garden, several cycles of The Ring of the Nibelungen have been mounted, as well as a ‘festival’ to stage all of Verdi. Wintle came to write programme notes in this epoch, and the programme note – a genre of its own – is key to his style: descriptive, informative, learned. Critic gives way to guide for most of his book, conducting audiences towards a work rather than rating or slating its execution. The approach is charming, veering toward the judgemental rarely, such as when flagging admonitions about Wagner made de rigueur after World War II by the likes of Auden and Adorno. Wintle’s accommodative tone shifts in an extended last section formed of critical pieces. Several reveal a caustic awareness of the contemporary problem of ‘dogmatic’ directors or, to a lesser degree, recent composers.

For a house such as the Royal Opera, programme notes are neither as superficial as in Los Angeles nor as academic as at Bayreuth. (I mean both of these adjectives in their positive sense, denoting attentions to surface or to depth characteristic of these respective venues.) Writing for the ROH, Wintle eschews neither and generally attempts to achieve something like a golden mean. He gives histories of conception, execution and reception alongside analyses of textual structure and musical forms. We plumb the minds of composers and the psychology of their works but never venture far from the requirements of taste in a time and place, costs of production, capacity of singers and audiences and/or practical demands for revision or more extensive reformulation – Tannhäuser at Paris, Don Carlo in Italy, the Boito-revised Simon Boccanegra etc.

Opera is theatre and theatre a collective enterprise, given to constant updating. The occasional origins of Wintle’s pieces convey a lively sense of this. Where they go beyond the twinned icons of the latter half of the 19th century, they illuminate mainly moderns – Strauss and Britten prominently, but also en passant Brecht & Weill as well as less household names such as Goehr, Adès, Benjamin, Birtwhistle and Weir. Those interested in earlier epochs must satisfy themselves with small turns devoted to Handel, Rameau and Mozart. There is no Gluck, though he is referred to, likewise none of the Italian precursors to whom Verdi owed so much– Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Pre-Wagnerian Germans – Weber, Spohr, Marschner – are also no-shows.

This is not criticism, except perhaps of the book’s title, which may evoke expectations of a more comprehensive view. Apart from those noted, the post Verdi/Wagner era is represented by equally small sections devoted to Massenet, Debussy, Messiaen, Janàček and Stravinsky. No other Russians or Czechs feature, let alone figures further flung. Among those near to Wintle’s great pair, Berlioz might have made an entry; and Puccini seems a lamentable absence – no modern Italians. But let’s not cavil. Wintle’s book is what his career has enabled him to focus on, and its focus has a geniality un-compromised by an overt show of genius, making it a comfortable companion. You can pick it up and read a chapter at leisure or pursue the path set out at a deliberative jog.

Organization is key in a gallimaufry of this kind, and both author and editor have managed to slot what might seem random into a simulacrum of order. Each provides a preface; Wintle adds an introduction. The first sets out the book’s pattern, the second defines its operative word. Thence proceed sections entitled Sources, Genre, Style, Revision, Beginning & End, Invention, Psychology and Performance. Each category is loose enough to accommodate a number of chapters, around five per section except for that extended last one. Juxtapositions are rarely strained; at best, chapters counterpoint one other or constitute variations on given theme. The book need not have been shaped in this way – a chronological approach based on period of subject or time of writing might have worked too, and Wintle reverts to the former for his concluding potpourri. But the choice facilitates the author’s chief innovation: adding introductory glosses to each inclusion which, being ex post facto to its original writing, indicate its significance to the subject overall.

Quite a bit of allusion to Aristotelean, Freudian and other compositional theory is involved here, as in a never-before-published piece on ‘repression’ in Rigoletto, deriving from a talk to the British Psychoanalytical Society and citing the late Jungian writer on opera, Robert Donington. More typically, as said, Wintle wears his scholarship informally enough that one feels enlightened rather than weighed down. The same goes for the gentle touch by which he sprinkles his texts with terminology – cavatina, concertato, cabaletta, strettascena and the like, so essential when dissecting the conventions and later anti-conventions of Verdi. Snatches of scores are used rarely but with brilliance, such as in a piece on the finale of Götterdämmerung where Wintle shows how contrasting musical figures associated with Wotan and with Siegfried are harmonised by Brünnhilde as she incites the pyre of the latter to ignite the haven of the former. Tempi, key change and orchestral colouration here may suggest meanings embedded deep in the music which more strictly literary admirers from Baudelaire to this writer have been inclined to miss as they swirl down into what Thomas Mann once described as ‘our earliest picture dreamings’.

The mythic, legendary and religious undercurrents of what is arguably the greatest art-form mankind has as yet produced are not neglected by Wintle, but he writes for the age he lives in and fails to afflate with what a present-day reader might regard as the pretension of great-grandfather’s generation. His pieces characteristically tend to a positive final flourish – one does not read a programme to be put off by what the curtain is about to rise on – but what precedes is usually as more memorable to it as Don Giovanni’s descent into Hell is to the wittering of those who survive. Opera involves conventions even when they are being flouted. So does writing about it.

Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet

Critic and publisher Stoddard Martin’s first book was Wagner to The Waste Land, Macmillan, 1982. He has written extensively on this and related subjects in the intervening years

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Trashing Populism

Yascha Mounk

Trashing Populism

by Ilana Mercer

To say that academic elites don’t like ordinary folks is to state the obvious.

To them, Lanford, Illinois—the fictional, archetypal, working-class town, made famous by Roseanne and Dan Conner—is not to be listened to, but tamed.

A well-functioning democracy depends on it.

Taming Fishtown—Charles Murray’s version of Landford—is the thread that seems to run through  a new book, “The People vs. Democracy,” by one Yascha Mounk.

You guessed it. Mr. Mounk is not an American from the prairies; he’s a German academic, ensconced at Harvard, and sitting in judgment on American and European populism.

If only he were capable of advancing a decent argument.

“The number of countries that can plausibly be described as democracies is shrinking,” laments Mounk (“Populism and the Elites,” The Economist, March 17, 2018):

“Strongmen are in power in several countries that once looked as if they were democratizing … The United States—the engine room of democratization for most of the post-war period—has a president who taunted his opponent with chants of ‘lock her up’ and refused to say if he would accept the result of the election if it went against him.”

Elites ensconced in the academy are likely selected into these mummified institutions for a certain kind of ignorance about political theory or philosophy.

Plainly put, a chant, “lock her up,” is speech, nothing more. This Trump-rally chant might be impolite and impolitic, but on the facts, it’s not evidence of a “strongman.”

Notice how, deconstructed, nearly every utterance emitted by the technocratic and academic elites turns out to be empty assertion?

Even the subtitle of the book under discussion is sloppy political theory: “Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It” implies that democracy is the be-all and end-all of liberty. Quite the opposite.

America’s Constitution-makers did everything in their power (except, sadly, heed the Anti-Federalists) to thwart a dispensation wherein everything is up for grabs by government, in the name of the people.

Today,” claims our author, “the popular will is increasingly coming into conflict with individual rights.” To this end, “liberal elites are willing to exclude the people from important decisions, most notably about immigration in the case of the European Union.”

He has excluded Americans from the immigration, decision-making equation. But they, too, have been eliminated from decision-making on these matters. Perhaps the anti-populism tinkerer, for Mounk is no thinker, views the levels of “exclusion” in the US, on this front, as acceptable.

Perhaps he thinks that the flow of up to two million into the US every year—changing it by the day—is done with the right degree of democratic inclusion. (How about a federal referendum on immigration, to test that?)

The popular will is fine—provided it restores the obligations of government to its constituents, not to the world, protects nation-state sovereignty, respects the founding people of Europe and the West; and defends their traditions, safety and identity. For example, by eliminating the weaponization of political concepts against The People. In the context of immigration, constructs that have been weaponized are multiculturalism and diversity.

If anything, populist leaders who want to denuclearize constructs which have been weaponized by the state are authentic leaders. The opposing elites are the interlopers.

Your common, garden-variety academic is selected and elevated in academia precisely because of a pre-existing condition: a globalist, deracinated disposition.

For that matter, humanity does not have a right to immigrate en masse to the United States or to Europe. There is no natural right to venture wherever, whenever—unless, perhaps, migrants can be confined to homesteading frontier territory.

Regrettably, the developed world is running out of frontier territory to homestead.  Besides, the only potential immigrants who still have that frontier spirit are South-African farmers. But American and European elites are uninterested in refugees who are ACTUALLY and actively being killed-off.

That would be too much like preserving “white privilege,” which is certainly not what Mounk’s about. He moans, instead, about dangerous populists, and how they’re “willing to dispense with constitutional niceties in the name of ‘the people.’”

Which “constitutional niceties” have populists dispensed with? Repealing, statutory, man-made law the Left, invariably, depicts as fascism, when in fact repealing positive law is often liberating; strengthening the natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Politics,” our author continues, “is defined by a growing battle between illiberal democracy, or democracy without rights, on the one hand, and undemocratic liberalism, or rights without democracy, on the other”.

It’s hard to know what to make of such bafflegab, only that the author’s political theory has been through the progressive smelter. Democracy unfettered—social democracy, Third Wayism—adopted by all “free” nations, the US as well, in antithetical to the liberty envisioned by the American Founding Fathers.

Why so? Because in this fetid democracy, every aspect of individual life is up for government control. The very idea that a few hundred clowns in two chambers could represent hundreds of millions of individuals is quintessentially illiberal. And impossible.

The kind of “undemocratic liberalism” the author sneers at is likely the classical liberalism of the 19thcentury, where the claims the mass of humanity could levy against individuals in a particular territory were severely curtailed, if not non-existent.

Finally, what would an academic be without a brand of demeaning, economic reductionism? The lumpenproletariat are economically distressed. That’s Yascha Mounk’s final diagnosis. That’s why populism is surging.

Tossed in their direction, Chinese-made trinkets will do wonders to improve the mood of this seething, racist, mass of Deplorables. Then Mounk and his friends can move in to make the right decisions for us.

Harvard’s Chosen’s One chalks populism up to “the laws of globalization.” Deal with it or die.

Or, as advocated by Kevin D. Williamson, a Never Trumper, formerly of National Review:

“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets … The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.” (“The Father-Führer,” March 28, 2016.)

You see, working-class “losers” are being labelled illiberal fascists for—wait for it!—wanting a local economy around which to center flesh-and-blood communities.

A real Heil-Hitler moment!

This populism-detesting academic Yascha Mounk is a theoretical utilitarian and bad one at that. He refuses to “grapple with the nuances” of the issues that make for misery or mirth among ordinary men and women. Instead, he grumbles that his gang of “technocratic elites” needs to moderate its ambitions, given that they’re not working with much (dumb Deplorables).

Here’s the truth about the nationalism against which the political and pedagogic elites rail:

“[It] has often been cast by the historically triumphant Left as fascistic. Yet historically, this Right rising has represented broad social strata: It has represented the bourgeoisie—middle-class, liberal and illiberal, standing for professional and commercial interests. It has stood for the working class, the landed aristocracy, the (Catholic) clergy, the military, labor unions, standing as one against the radical Communist or anarchist Left, which promised—and eventually delivered—bloody revolution that destroyed organic, if imperfect, institutions.” (“The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed,” p. 234)

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa” (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, FacebookGab & YouTube

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Wrestling with Demons

Wrestling with Demons

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; opera in four acts, music by Dmitry Shostakovich, libretto by Shostakovich and Alexander Preys after the novella by Nikolai Leskov, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, revival of the 2004 production directed by Richard Jones; Royal Opera, 12th April 2018, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

All is evidently not well at the Ismailovs’. “I’m so bored I could kill myself”, Katerina, played by Eva-Maria Westbroek, confides. Her life seems meaningless and she lives as a virtual prisoner cum drudge, with little intellectual or sexual stimulation. There are echoes here of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and also of the film The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Katerina’s lecherous and cynical father-in-law, the merchant Boris Ismailov (played with aplomb by John Tomlinson) is a larger than life character reminiscent of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. He pointedly reminds his daughter-in-law that after five years of marriage she is still not pregnant. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, as Melanie Marshall points out in “Quacks, hoots, growls and gasps…” (Official Programme) is famous for being childless. Both in Shakespeare’s play and in Shostakovich’s opera, the failure to re-produce arguably leads the heroine to focus on “empty goals – prestige, power, base sexual gratification”.

John Macfarlane’s memorable set in scene 1, split into two sections, accentuates the dreary, claustrophobic quality of the heroine’s domestic life with her husband Zinovy. On the one side, we have a fridge, a gas cooker, a TV and some drab furniture evocative of the 1950’s. On the other side is Zinovy Ismailov’s office. Subsequently, in scene 3, the office gives way to Katerina’s bedroom, where at night she is locked in by Boris but seduced in due course by Sergey, a worker hired by the Ismailovs.

Richard Jones’ production is a satire on consumerism. The stage curtain, accordingly, is decorated with images of abandoned fridges and other cast off items. As Katerina ruthlessly ascends the ladder of power and status, a bigger TV set and lavish wall coverings are installed in her living room. Prosaic white sheets, unkempt hair and nondescript clothing give way to purple bed linen, peroxide and power dressing.

“You certainly know how to prepare mushrooms”, Boris Ismailov informs his daughter-in-law. There are elements of farce and dark humour, even of pantomime, in Richard Jones’ production, as when Katerina laces the aforementioned mushrooms with rat poison. In scene 3, likewise, Sergey talks his way into Katerina’s boudoir on the pretext of borrowing a book. Again, in scene 4, Boris beats Sergey with a birch rod, and in scene 5, Sergey hides in a cupboard when Zinovy unexpectedly returns from attending to repairs at the mill. Katerina then throttles her husband with her lover’s belt and Zinovy finishes him off with an axe.

In Lady Macbeth, as a perceptive colleague informs me, Shostakovich quotes from other composers, notably Mahler, Mussorgsky and Richard Strauss. As elsewhere in his oeuvre, tender, lyrical moments of music are interspersed with powerful, bombastic passages. Maestro Pappano clearly revelled in this score and all of the leading parts were sung with authority. Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek has a suitably mournful voice and a big stage presence.

In a totalitarian order, it is inadvisable to consider issues of individual freedom and oppression (including female oppression) or to satirise society. Addressing the subject of love, too, can be readily condemned as bourgeois and decadent. Conforming to the party line, as István Szabó maintains in his magnificent film Mephisto, is the safest option. Shostakovich discovered all this to his personal cost. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was his last opera.

Eva-Maria Westbroek and Brandon Jovanovich

Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of QR

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ENDNOTES, April 2018

Birthplace of Bohuslav Martinu, Policka,

ENDNOTES, April 2018

In this edition: 20th-century choral music by Sir Arthur Bliss, Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinu; piano concertos by Grieg and Delius, reviewed by STUART MILLSON

Two superbly-produced CDs of choral music have recently appeared – one, a magnificent recording and performance of Sir Arthur Bliss’s The Beatitudes, a large-scale and much-overlooked piece, originally written for the 1962 consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral; the other, a more introspective selection of music for voices by the Swiss composer, Frank Martin, and the Czech, Bohuslav Martinu.

For many years, Bliss’s music has suffered a degree of neglect – overshadowed by the brilliance of Britten and the grandeur and bitter-sweet romanticism of Walton. Yet in many of his works from the early-to-mid-20th-century, a surge of sometimes spiky, Stravinsky-like energy is to be found in abundance. A lively vocalise, suggesting spring vitality and fresh air, entitled Rout; the soaring, mercurial A Colour Symphony, and the later Metamorphic Variations, show Bliss to be a true voice of the 20th-century, and yet his choral-orchestral Beatitudes (originally billed for Coventry Cathedral) appear to have been displaced and marginalised by Britten’s War Requiem.

So it is gratifying that the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, have brought Bliss back from obscurity in a performance combining power, commitment, belief and – in its quieter, shadowy moments of reflection – a meditative sanctity. The opening section, played with enormous control by the BBC SO (a truly specialist body for 20th-century music) sets the scene for the piece’s overall spiritual uplift. There are fine sections for the principal flute, suggesting the composer’s other impressive choral-orchestral, Pastoral – Lie Strewn the White Flocks; and passages of monumental grandeur for full chorus and brass – with, alongside the expected conventional religious parts, Matthew and Isaiah, settings of Dylan Thomas’s And death shall have no dominion, and George Herbert’s “Rise Heart, thy Lord has risen…”

Yet in truth, The Beatitudes– for all of its quality and many visionary moments – does have some weak moments, an occasional lack of structural solidity and a tendency to be “out of focus”. It is not as taut as Britten’s War Requiem, and without the single, purposeful force which characterises that composer’s marshalling of brass in the sections reminiscent of Verdi’s Requiem. Nevertheless,the Bliss contribution to Coventry all those years ago is still worthy of our attention – especially in its fervent conclusion.

Also appearing on this expansive, highly-detailed recording, are the orchestral Introduction and Allegro, revised by the composer in 1937 – and with more admirably breath taking playing by the BBC’s flagship orchestra; and a 1969 three-verse setting of God Save the Queen– whose exciting, dotted prelude confirms Bliss, a Master of the Queen’s Musick, as a true exponent of ceremony and celebration.

On a smaller scale and composed in 1922, the Mass for two four-part choirs by Frank Martin, is given a truly impeccable interpretation (on the OUR label – a name connected to Naxos) by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble – the elite choral group of Denmark’s broadcasting service. The DR Vokal Ensemble performs under the direction of Marcus Creed, former Professor of Choral Conducting at the Hochschule for Music, Cologne and was recorded in the studios of Danish radio. The clarity of the singers is truly the hallmark of this production: their voices bringing a crystal clarity – bell-like and pingingly on the note – to Martin’s surprisingly classical, even English-sounding Mass. One is reminded in places of Vaughan Williams’s Mass. The opening Kyrie echoes all the true sacred feeling of this music of affirmation and is evocative of J.S. Bach, a composer who was for Martin a foundation stone in culture. Also inspired by Shakespeare, Martin evokes the elemental magic and mystery of The Tempest, and gives new life to the Songs of Ariel. Baritone Lauritz Jakob Thomsen takes us to that ‘Full Fathom Five’ – and a true air of the supernatural pervades the sequence of five songs.

The Danish vocalists also do full justice to the Four Songs of the Virgin Mary by Bohuslav Martinu, a composer who created a unique sound-world.

Finally, from Somm, comes a deeply-satisfying recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Jan Latham-Koenig of the Grieg and Delius piano concertos. Mark Bebbington is the soloist on the disc, a player who has distinguished himself in a wide variety of repertoire, including important and rare works by Vaughan Williams. From the famous opening timpani roll of this well-known work by Grieg, the performance unfolds with a gentleness which one might have associated with his pieces for solo piano – Mark Bebbington getting very close to the essence of the great Norwegian composer, finding every nuance and breath of spring in this life-affirming music. But even greater is the rendition of the 1907 Delius Piano Concerto. Delius was a great admirer of Grieg and of the landscape of Scandinavia – writing often of a heightened emotional state which he felt in the high hills of Norway.

All of Delius’s nature-worship emerges in this superb concerto, and for a composer usually associated with a meandering impressionism – even a formless but always lyrical excess – the work has a well-worked-out structure. In many ways, it continues where the Grieg ended, but there is somehow a deeper romanticism to this concerto: a sense of the work “dwelling” at high altitudes; with great views over many miles – at times, an intensity which few other romantic concertos of this kind can match. In excellent form on this fine Somm CD, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has all the softness of tone for which the ensemble (founded by Sir Thomas Beecham, and expert in the works of Delius) is renowned; and yet in the final movement – where the full passion of the piece is unleashed – the last minutes resemble a tide of immense weight breaking on rocks. With plenty of “air” around the music – helping to create a profound sonority – the cymbal clash just before the conclusion rings out majestically over an orchestra from which power and sinewy sound flow like a mountain torrent. Truly gorgeous orchestral playing from the RPO, captured in the perfect acoustic.

What a pity then that last month the Administrative Head of the RPO announced that he would like to abolish the term “classical music” – believing it to be an off-putting term to younger people, reflecting the dire mentality now prevalent in music and the arts that everything must be watered down for the dubious cause of so-called “outreach”. With jazz, “world music” and heavy metal, to name but a few, proudly proclaiming their musical creed, we need classical music to thrive as never before – in as uncompromising a way as possible. And this was the message which I delivered to readers of The Daily Telegraph in a letter published on the 23rd of March, entitled “Watery Music”.

Bliss, The Beatitudes, Chandos CHSA 5191.
Choral works by Martin and Martinu, OUR Recordings 6.220671
Grieg and Delius Piano Concertos, SOMMCD 269. (The CD also contains a recording of Grieg’s attempts at a Second Piano Concerto – a fascinating glimpse into a “lost” work.)

Stuart Millson is QR’s classical music editor

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Manipulator’s Dilemma

Manipulator’s Dilemma

by Thomas Meehan

There is much talk about influence in media. We are warned to be on our guard against hard to detect suggestions delivered from all sides, as in “fake news.” Fair enough, but what happens when a campaign of influence is on the verge of failure? What are the manipulators to do?

We are about to see, perhaps in a matter of hours, as President Trump appears to have swallowed the latest Syrian gas attack allegations. So, on the verge of Assad’s victory over his various foes, one set of influencers treat us to yet another dubious, unverifiable account of his use of chemical weapons. Subtlety is out the window. This will be the last chance for the influencers to call forth what they want. It seems that they want to keep the civil war going. Continue reading

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The Village Murderer

The Village Murderer

by Bill Hartley

There has been a great deal of coverage in the press of late about a decision by the Parole Board to grant early release to a notorious sex offender. The Board has the thankless task of trying to reduce the prison population, its current size caused in part by the last Labour government’s creation of the IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentence. Indeterminate sentences sound fine in theory and play well with the public but leave the Board with a considerable challenge when assessing risk. A court will of course have passed such a sentence because it saw the risk as considerable.

For many prisoners, the ante room to release from a long sentence is the Open Prison. Testing the prisoner in such conditions can provide the Parole Board with key information to assist the decision making process. However, by extending so much trust to prisoners, open prisons are prone to embarrassing incidents which can find their way into the newspapers. Bruised by political criticism prison managers have tightened the decision making process. Continue reading

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Falstaff, Staatsoper Berlin

Lucien Fugère, in Verdi’s Falstaff

Verdi’s Falstaff, Staatsoper Berlin, Wednesday 28th March 2018, director Mario Martone, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, reviewed by TONY COOPER

Verdi’s Falstaff mirrors the two buses scenario for me this year. Up until now I haven’t caught a production of this opera since Glyndebourne came to my home city of Norwich in 2009. However, I saw 2018 in by attending a production by Opera Vlaanderen in Antwerp, directed by Christoph Waltz and now this brand-new production in Berlin, directed with Italianate flair by the Napoli-born film director, Mario Martone, forming part of Daniel Barenboim’s Festtage, an Eastertide festival for Berliners and visitors alike.

The libretto by Arrigo Boito of this well-loved opera is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor as well as scenes from Henry IV (parts I & II). It was written when Verdi was approaching the ripe old age of 80. It was his second comedy and his third work based on a Shakespeare play, following Macbeth and Othello. Continue reading

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Stop the “Refugee Caravan” Invasion!

Still from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal

Stop the “Refugee Caravan” Invasion!

by Ilana Mercer

Planning for a show-down, a column of 1,500 Central Americans, largely from Honduras, has been beating a path to the Mexican-American border.

Some report that the column has been halted; others dispute that. Interviewed by Reuters in Mexico, a sojourning mother of seven—what are the chances none is an MS13 gangster?—signaled her intention to proceed to the US, if only to teach President Trump a lesson.

Yes, “Make America Great Again” to you, too, Colindres Ortega. Continue reading

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When Merit-Based Hiring is Deemed Racist

Professor Arthur R Jensen, LA Times

When Merit-Based Hiring is Deemed Racist 

by Ilana Mercer 

As individuals, we all want the best doctors treating us, the best pilots flying the airplanes we board, the best engineers designing the bridges we cross, the best scientists inventing and bringing to market the medicines and potions we ingest*.

 Yet the American Idiocracy is moving to equate merit-based institutions with institutionalized racism.

Tucker Carlson, likely the only merit-based hiree at Fox News, recently divulged that a member of the Trump administration was overheard (by a thought-police plant) expressing a preference for merit-based recruits for his department.

Egad, and what next!

Google, a tool of the Idiocracy, appears to have scrubbed its search of this latest episode in “The Closing of the American Mind.” However, it’s no secret that the education system already excludes the most naturally gifted, independent-minded individuals from fields in which they’d excel. 

In any event, when the best-person-for-the-job ethos gives way to racial and gender window-dressing and to the enforcement of politically pleasing perspectives, things start to fall apart. A spanking new bridge collapses, new trains on maiden trips derail, Navy ships keep colliding, police and FBI failure and bad faith become endemic, and the protocols put in place by a government “for the people” protect offending public servants who’ve acted against the people.

As in this writer’s birth place of South Africa, the U.S. government has a pyramid of hiring preferences. Guess which variables feature prominently in its considerations? Complexion or competency?

Consider the procurement pyramid that went into destroying the steady supply of coal to South-African electricity companies. Bound by Black Economic Empowerment policies, buyers buy spot coal, first from black women-owned suppliers, then from small black suppliers, next are large, black suppliers, and only after all these options have been exhausted—or darkness descends, whatever comes first—from “other” suppliers.

The result: an expensive and unreliable coal supply and rolling blackouts.

Everywhere, media are congenitally incurious and corrupt. They aren’t digging. But it’s likely that similar considerations will go a long way in explaining the collapse of a Florida university campus pedestrian bridge, under which people were pulverized.

So far, the attitude of those who’re doing this can be summed thus: Shit happens.

As for the public; it receives no follow-up and learns to demand none. Hence, “The Closing of the American Mind.”

But if American institutions continue to subordinate their raison d’être to politically dictated egalitarianism, reclaiming these institutions, private and public, from the deforming clutches of affirmative action will become impossible.

It might already be impossible.

For example: former FBI agent and patriot Philip Haney was dismissed by Barack Obama from the Department of Homeland Security and is nowhere to be found in the Trump Administration. This brilliant man’s goal was to do his job: stop Muslim terrorists in the US.

Alas, the intricate program and extensive network of contacts Haney developed were nixed, because political priorities had come to dominate the agency. As a result, innocents died.

Treason? I’d say so. So, where are the purges?

What were once merit-based institutions are being hollowed-out like husks through preferential, non-merit-based hiring, quotas, set-asides, not to mention the policing of thought for political propriety.  

No longer beholden to the unifying, overarching value of merit, institutions, moreover, become riven by tribal feuds and factional loyalties—both in government and in business alike, where it is well-known that newly arrived “minorities” hire nepotistically.

Across the American workplace, the importance of “meritocratic criteria” such as test scores or “minimum credentials” has been downplayed, if not downright eliminated as “inherently biased against minorities.”

The U.S. government hasn’t had an entrance test since … 1982. It abandoned both the Federal Civil Service Entrance Examination and the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE) because blacks and Latinos were much less likely to pass either of them.

In academia, law schools have lowered the bar in admissions and on the bar exam. Universities run a “dual admissions system”—“one admissions pool for white applicants and another, far less competitive, pool for minorities.”

The institutionalized American “quota culture” has been imposed by administrative fiat, courtesy of the “The Power Elite”—that engorged “administrative state” under which Americans labor.

For the purposes of conferring affirmative action privileges, American civil servants have compiled over the decades an ever-growing list of protected groups, “as distinct from whites.”  

In addition to blacks, the list entails mainly minorities such as Hispanics—Chileans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Mexicans—Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Asian/Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians (and homosexuals).

If the kind of immigration policies instituted by the über-left American Idiocracy (it includes most Republicans) continue apace, the institutional tipping-point will be reached in no time.

The reason is the “immigration-with-preference paradox,” first noted by Frederick R. Lynch, author of “Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action” (1991).  

Once mass immigration became a bipartisan policy, millions of imported non-black minorities were—still are—given preference over native-born American citizens. No sooner do these minorities cross the border, legally or illegally, than they become eligible for affirmative-action privileges.

These preference policies govern both state- and big-business bureaucracies, which seem to have voluntarily (and energetically) embraced them, if only to subdue their white workforce.

It goes without saying that “those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa” did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs.”

There’s a world of difference between compelling minority recruitment to equal the proportion of minorities in the population and enforcing majority recruitment to equal the proportion of the majority in the population.

In South Africa, the majority is targeted for affirmative action: 75 percent of the population! In the U.S., it’s the minority.

South Africa underwent an almost overnight political transformation. One day a white, relatively well-educated minority dominated all institutions; the next, a skills-deficient black majority took over. Nevertheless, South Africa’s hollowed-out establishments are a harbinger of things to come in the U.S., where minorities will soon form a majority.

If American institutions have not yet collapsed entirely under the diversity doxology’s dead weight, it’s because the restructuring of society underway is slower.

Again, this will change once minorities in the US form a majority, as they soon will due to continued, unabated, mass immigration from the Third World.

*Editorial Note: or as Arthur R Jensen remarked concerning the failure of compensatory education, “In other fields, when bridges do not stand, when aircraft do not fly, when machines do not work, when treatments do not cure…one begins to question the basic assumptions, principles, theories and hypotheses that guide one’s efforts”, How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement? Jensen was also a perceptive critic of affirmative action.

All citations are from “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa,”by ilana mercer.

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed (June, 2016) & “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011). She’s on TwitterFacebook, Gab & YouTube.


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John Quincy Adams, Turning in his Grave

Ilana Mercer

John Quincy Adams, Turning in his Grave

By Ilana Mercer

“This is just a truly astonishing moment coming from the White House podium,” tweeted MSNBC‘s Kasie Hunt. Like the rest of the media pack-animals she hunts with, Ms. Hunt had been fuming over President Trump’s telephone call to Vladimir Putin, congratulating him on winning another term as president.

Reliably opposed to a truce were party heavies on both sides. Sen. John McCain joined the chorus: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” he intoned.

Another Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, told a reporter testily that he “wouldn’t have a conversation with a criminal. I think Putin’s a criminal. What he did in Iraq, what he did in Libya” … Wait a sec? Remind me; was it Putin or our guys who wrecked those countries? There are so many evil-doers on the world-stage, it’s hard for me to keep track. Continue reading

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