Moor is Less

Gregory Kunde as Otello and Ermonela Jaho as Desdemona, photo by Catherine Ashmore

 Moor is Less

Otello, dramma lirico in four acts, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Arrigo Boito, revival of the 2017 production directed by Keith Warner, Royal Opera House, Monday 9 December 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In ‘Making Shakespeare Sing’, American composer Matthew Aucoin considers the ‘fraught alchemy’ whereby a play is turned into an opera. Some elements, as he observes, “will shrink or evaporate, others are magnified to unrecognisable dimensions”. For Aucoin, Verdi’s Otello is that “exceedingly rare breed…a masterpiece based on a masterpiece”.

When we consider Otello in conjunction with its source, “…what is gained and what is lost” becomes apparent .” (New York Review of Books, Dec 19, 2019, vol. LXVI, number 20). Although Verdi’s librettist Arrigo Boito generally kept to Shakespeare’s plot, the opera only commences when Otello arrives in Cyprus, after a storm. Act 1 of Shakespeare’s play is elided and significant contextual material concerning Venetian mores is thereby lost.

For as Felicity Rosslyn observes, “Iago’s success with Otello is startling” (‘The handkerchief!…the handkerchief’, Official Programme). Why is Otello (played by indefatigable American tenor Gregory Kunde) so readily persuaded that Desdemona (diva assoluta, Ermonela Jaho) is unfaithful, when everyone else realises that she is not? But remember that Otello, a noble Moor in the service of the Venetian state, is an outsider, struggling to comprehend an alien culture. And that Iago has convinced him that “In Venice they do let heaven see the prank they dare not show their husbands…” The omission of Shakespeare’s first act also deprives us of additional insights into what motivates Iago, notably psycho-sexual factors. He contends that “’…twixt my sheets he [Othello] has done my office”.

Director Keith Warner cleverly deploys a toy vessel to depict the struggle of Otello’s ship to make port. Iago, performed by Carlos Álvarez, who has stage presence in abundance, dons a mask at pivotal moments – a telling device for someone who systematically feigns friendship and honesty and who deems morality and religion a sham. Boris Kudlička’s pared down sets were effective and Kaspar Glarner’s costumes resplendent. Children, dressed in white, serenade Desdemona, ditto Desdemona herself in the heart rending death scene.

In a review of La Traviata, in January 2019, we commented on Ermonela Jaho’s performance as Violetta Valery, thus, “A svelte and striking figure, Ms Jaho has a commanding stage presence and looks perfect in the part”. Evidently nothing changes.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of Quarterly Review

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Silence is Golden

Leo Dixon as Tadzio, photo by Catherine Ashmore

Silence is Golden

Death in Venice, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Death in Venice; opera in two acts (17 scenes), music by Benjamin Britten, libretto by Myfanwy Piper after the novella by Thomas Mann, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and Royal Opera Chorus conducted by Richard Farnes, new production directed by David McVicar, Royal Opera House, 21st November 2019

On a visit to Venice in 1905, during an outbreak of cholera, Thomas Mann reportedly had a disturbing “… encounter with unimaginable beauty…”, in the form of a handsome boy (PopMatters, Chadwick Jenkins). As for Benjamin Britten’s “passionate attachments to adolescents…”, commentators disagree whether the composer molested any of the “thin-as-a-board juveniles” that according to W H Auden, Britten favoured (Philip Hensher, The Guardian, 7 February 2013). Paul Kildea, author of Benjamin Britten: A Life (2013) thinks he did not but in Benjamin Britten (2013), Igor Toronyi-Lalic claims that he did.

In ‘The Libretto’, Myfanwy Piper explains how Britten solved the problem of depicting Tadzio and his family in the opera, given that in Thomas Mann’s novella, Aschenbach never speaks to them. Indeed, as Claire Seymour observes, “…there is almost no dialogue in Mann’s novella…” (‘The Unspeakable Beauty’, Official Programme). Britten, according to Piper, made the aforementioned characters dancers, as “…only dancers can express the trivialities and pleasures of human behaviour without speech”. In Death in Venice (1971), Luchino Visconti dealt with this conundrum differently. There are long passages in this film without dialogue but the director considered “…the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No 5 as the narrator…” Continue reading

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Make English Great Again

Donald Trump Jr. & Kimberly Guilfoyle

Make English Great Again

Ilana Mercer holds the line

Beefcake Donald Trump Jr. and bimbo Kimberly Guilfoyle were on stage at UCLA to promote the president’s son’s “book,” when they were jeered by dissident Deplorables for shutting down the Question-and-Answer segment. “Book” here is in quotations to denote “so-called,” because the staple, ghost-written, political pablum, penned by ambitious political flotsam, relates to literacy as H. L. Mencken relates to conformity—i.e. not at all.

Predictably, Guilfoyle opted out of the conversational give-and-take demanded by her man’s hecklers, and went straight for the groin: “I bet you engage in online dating, because you’re impressing no one here to get a date in person.” Why “predictably”? Well, a supple mind may not be one of Guilfoyle’s assets.

Kimberley’s cerebral alacrity was seldom showcased when seated in Fox News’ legs chair. During one of her last televised appearances on “The Five,” a Fox News daytime show, Guilfoyle protested that, “the U.S. has already reduced its [toxic] ‘admissions’ enough.” Herewith, Guilfoyle, verbatim, in her own words: “So, we can keep doing what we’re doing. We can keep reducing our admissions. …” To Make English Great Again, you reduce emissions, not “admissions.” Continue reading

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Yes, Intelligence Matters

Yes, Intelligence Matters

by Frank Ellis

Robert Hutchinson, German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War: Flawed Assumptions and Faulty Analysis, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence Kansas, 2019, notes, bibliography, index, pp. vii-x + pp.1-247, ISBN 978-0-7006-2757-8

According to Hutchinson, ‘the most significant fatal flaw in the German intelligence services’ reporting during the war was a protracted inability to see the world as it actually was’.[1] This is an enduring philosophical problem in its own right but in practical assessment terms one that was hardly confined to the German intelligence services. Consider the following examples. Between 1918 and May 1940 the Germans pioneered a technological and doctrinal revolution in military affairs. The British and French failure to grasp what the German had achieved  – there was no shortage of evidence – constituted a monumental intelligence failure and pointed to the fact that the British and French Armies were institutionally mismanaged and unprepared for modern war. Anglo-French diplomacy was almost as bad, caught out by the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939. In May 1940, Anglo-French forces were taken by surprise when the Germans sent massed armoured formations through the Ardennes (and did it again in 1944). The French compounded this intelligence failure by refusing to take seriously air reconnaissance reports showing that the Germans were massing in the south (on the Maas). Obsessed by the north, and that this had to be the German Schwerpunkt, French commanders ignored reports to the contrary because they did not fit in with their preconceptions about how the Germans would deploy their forces.

In the Far East, the British  showed themselves to be just as wilfully indifferent to possibilities other than those they envisaged by taking no account of the possibility that the Japanese would use the route that they did to attack Singapore. The Abwehr enjoyed considerable success with the so-called Englandspiel in which British agents were captured and executed in the German-occupied Netherlands. The disaster of Operation Market-Garden, the Allied airborne landings in September 1944, underscores, once again, the danger of senior officers and politicians ignoring evidence. When the intelligence officer at British 1 Airborne Corps, Major Brian Urquhart, informed his superiors that air reconnaissance flights had identified German armoured formations in the area of Arnhem – not what General Browning 1 Airborne Corps commander wanted to hear – he was sent on medical leave. And what of the total surprise achieved by the Japanese carrier-based strike force at Pearl Harbour? Continue reading

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Multiculturalism gives Whites the Elbow

William Blake, The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea

Multiculturalism gives Whites the Elbow

by Ilana Mercer

America is “a society that is and always has been multiethnic and polyglot,” burbled David Frum, in a 2016 exposition. It’s a refrain repeated by centrists like David French, by lefties and by faux rightists. Such dissembling about America having always been multicultural is no more than post hoc justification for turning the country into a veritable Tower of Babel.

Early America’s colonies were founded by Englishmen in periwigs, speaking different English dialects. They were joined by Irish, Scottish, French, Dutch, German and Swedish Christians, who quickly adopted English as lingua franca. Not even the woke Wikipedia denies that “Nearly all colonies and, later, states in the United States, were settled by migration from” one colony to another, with “foreign immigration” generally playing “a minor role after the first initial settlements.” In other words, population growth was organic, a result of the settlers themselves multiplying and being fruitful, not of a flood of immigrants.

This so-called “multiethnic” dispensation saw early Americans publicly debate and come to a broad agreement on some highly complex, abstract matters of political philosophy, an impossibility today. The colonial community had to be tight to arrive at the Articles of Confederation, followed by the Constitution. Continue reading

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Silver Scream

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life, Old Age, credit Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute

Silver Scream

Bill Hartley, on the retirement-community racket

On a busy urban road near where I live stand a pair of heavy duty iron gates set into a high brick wall. This defensive perimeter has the feel of an institution but closer inspection reveals it is a gated, retirement complex. People who acquire an apartment in such places (never a mere flat) are buying not just a home but a lifestyle. They are heavily advertised and clearly this is a buoyant market. Although this type of development isn’t specifically sheltered accommodation for the infirm or vulnerable, once it has you in its clutches it might as well be since it operates on the assumption that by 55 (often the lower limit for getting in) your outlook changes, though as one inmate sorry resident points out in a promotional video, ‘you can come and go as you want’. However nicely put, there is an overarching sense of decline and inevitable dependency.

Paradoxically, the advertising often features hale and hearty couples, slim and trim, the sort you might see on television stopping at one of those leisure hotels or on a European river cruise. The reality, though, is somewhat different. Residents tend to be homely old ladies. Locational advantages are often talked up by the residents; nearby coffee shops or the proximity of a railway station. A bit like day release really. Continue reading

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Night Moves

Tuuli Takala as Queen of the Night, photo by Tristram Kenton

Night Moves

Die Zauberflöte, singspiel in two acts; music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Leo Hussain, 6th revival of director David McVicar’s 2003 production, revival director Bárbara Lluch, Royal Opera, 1st November 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Reinhold Hanisch recalls a conversation that he had with Hitler, on the bread line in Vienna. Citing Die Zauberflöte, Hanisch suggested that Mozart was a much greater composer than Wagner. Hitler flew into a rage. He considered Mozart’s work superficial and sentimental.

Imbued as it is with humanistic, nay Masonic, ideals of peace, progress, reason and love, Hitler evidently detested Die Zauberflöte. The character of the Queen of the Night, bent on murder and revenge, was more in line with his social-Darwinist thinking. Yet, paradoxically, there are anticipations of The Ring in Mozart’s late masterpiece. Its hero Tamino, who contends with a giant serpent, prefigures Siegfried. The Queen’s Three Ladies, brilliantly performed on this occasion by Kiandra Howarth, Hongni Wu and Nadine Weissmann, likewise, bring to mind the Rhine Maidens. And for Alberich, read Monostatos (Rodell Rosel, suitably sinister). Indicatively, a production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, at Strasbourg, is one of director David McVicar’s credits. Continue reading

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Learn before you Lead

Friedrich Hayek

Learn before you Lead

Ilana Mercer tutors young conservatives

To judge by their writing, the youngsters who’ve been given the run of the conservative op-ed pages, pixelated and printed, know little about how socialism differs from capitalism. To their credit, they’ve chosen a side—the right side—but are incapable of arguing the morality of capitalism and its efficacy, which stems from its morality. Their employers are failing to demand that their young, conservative charges methodically and creatively motivate for the right—and the Right—side.

Endeavoring to explain the oft-repeated banality that, “Colleges are turning young people [into] socialists,” one such prototypical writer says this in her dog’s breakfast of a column, for the Washington Examiner:

“Students are gullible and moldable because they have little conviction and no foundation. Too often, public universities teach students to accept basic, shallow ‘knowledge’ at face value. They are not trained to ask why this knowledge matters or how it influences the rest of their education or how it relates to higher principles.”

The writer at once, and incoherently, condemns “shallow knowledge” (whatever that is) yet laments that students are not taught to relate “shallow knowledge” to higher principles. What does this even mean? Such bafflegab is published absent the telltale signs of editorial oversight. Or, perhaps the editors of the Examiner and publications like it think that voicing an opinion is the same as advancing an argument. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, November 2019

St James the Great Church, East Malling, Kent

Endnotes, November 2019: in this edition, Mozart at a mediaeval church in Kent – and Six Flute Sonatas by Bach, on the OUR label, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Vaughan Williams once likened musical life to a great pyramid. At the apex are the renowned performers of world standing, but beneath them – like supporting blocks – are the thousands of fine amateurs, students and soon-to-be professionals who make music simply for the joy of it. This vast band of dedicated people can be found throughout the country: at churches, community halls and the concert-halls of provincial towns. Names like the Sevenoaks or Maidstone Symphony orchestras, Midlands Philharmonic, the old North-East London Polytechnic Chorus and a thousand other choirs or chorales come to mind.

Mid-Kent’s East Malling Singers have been established for over thirty years and have performed such ambitious repertoire as Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Passions, Britten’s Saint Nicolas, the Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, Brahms’s A German Requiem and Orff’s Carmina Burana. Continue reading

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Texas Sings the Blues

Downtown Dallas

Texas Sings the Blues 

Ilana Mercer does demography

Democrats, reports the Economist, “think they might win Texas in 2020.” Demographers, being mostly Democrats, credit Donald Trump. One of them, he’s from Rice University in Houston, claimed that Trump was the “worst thing that ever happened to Texas Republicans”:

“Mr. Trump has alienated many white Republican women in Texas, and has also pushed away Hispanics, who account for around 40 percent of the state’s population. … According to a recent poll by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune, more Texans say they would sooner vote for a candidate running against Mr. Trump than re-elect the president.”

But even those afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome are forced to concede that,

“Long after Mr. Trump leaves office, demographic change in Texas will continue to exert an influence on the fortunes of Republicans, as the Hispanic population grows, millennials vote in increasing numbers and people continue to move to Texas from other states, bringing their more liberal politics with them.”

Yes, the country as a whole is moving leftward. And it’s not Donald Trump—although a border wall and a moratorium on immigration would have helped mightily. As the Economist attests, “Americans are more in favor of ‘big-government’ policies today than at any point in the last 68 years.” The “public mood” in America is decidedly with statism and leftism. Continue reading

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