When the Fun Stops, Stop

Eva-Maria Westbroek as Liza, photo by Catherine Ashmore

When the Fun Stops, Stop

The Queen of Spades, opera in three acts, music by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, libretto by Modest and Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, after Pushkin’s novella Pikovaya Dama, conducted by Antonio Pappano, directed by Stefan Herheim, Royal Opera, Sunday 13th January 2019, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

The Queen of Spades pays homage to Mozart, who as dramaturge Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach reminds us, was Tchaikovsky’s favourite composer (“Yearning Hearts in a Bird Cage”, Official Programme). There are several direct quotations from Mozart’s oeuvre in the opera. Moreover, Tchaikovsky once confided to his patroness Madame von Meck that “…as a child of my century, inwardly confused and morally frail, I am drawn to him [Mozart] for his healthy lust for life and on account of the purity of a nature that is not poisoned by brooding: he comforts and calms me”.

As for brooding, there is more than enough in Modest and Pyotr Il’yich’s libretto, notably from Gherman, played by tenor Alexandrs Antonenko, who tells us that “…all around is happiness, But not in my stricken heart”. But also from Liza, who is no less “…weary and worn out with suffering!” Like Tchaikovsky, Liza was evidently not cut out for marriage. Indeed, both characters are arguably projections of the composer himself. For according to Freud, compulsive gambling is a form of self-punishment, a “repetition of the compulsion to masturbate” (Sigmund Freud, “Dostoyevsky and Parricide“, 1928).

From the outset, there are pointed references to the composer’s homosexuality and to his alleged suicide, which is re-enacted on the stage. Director Stefan Herheim’s production, first seen at Dutch National Opera in 2016 and receiving here its UK premier, “places Tchaikovsky himself at the heart of the action, imagining the opera into life as his story…” (Royal Opera, performance notes). But there’s the rub. Vladimir Stoyanov doubles up as Tchaikovsky and Prince Yeletsky, a somewhat thankless task. In the case of the former role, this consists of tiresome air conducting, sometimes with a quill, and of taking down musical notation, ad nauseam. Herheim’s production, we are told, “asks searching questions about the nature of creativity” (Royal Opera, performance notes).

To avoid confusion, when Stoyanov is Tchaikovsky, he wears a nineteenth century suit but when he is Yeletsky, he is bewigged and dressed in the costume of the last years of the reign of Catherine II. To be fair to the Bulgarian baritone, his rendition of Yeletsky’s beautiful and noble aria, “Ja vas lyublyu”, Act II, scene i, in which he is tormented by the remoteness and sadness of Liza, received warm applause. Anna Goryachova as Paulina also gave a standout performance, notably of the song “I too once lived in happy Arcady…” etc. And she can dance. Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, as Liza, is a technically gifted and powerful singer but at times she lacked light and shade.

The Queen of Spades is beautifully orchestrated and replete with moving arias and grand choruses. Maestro Pappano clearly loves this score and he elicited a spirited performance from the orchestra. As a visual spectacle, this production is arresting, with brilliant sets and dazzling costumes (including fancy dress). And there are other crowd-pleasing elements, including a masked ball and a scene in a gambling house plus some energetic ensemble work, as in Act I, scene i, set in the Summer-Garden at St Petersburg, with nannies, nursery-maids and governesses and, again, in the subsequent Chorus of Promenaders. But there remains one major problem, the director’s insensate insertion of the character of Tchaikovsky into the heart of the drama. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Vladimir Stoyanov as Tchaikovsky, photo by Catherine Ashmore

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy

Captured French soldiers from Dien Bien Phu, escorted by Vietnamese troops, walk to a prisoner-of-war camp

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy

Max Hastings, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975, William Collins, London, 2018,  xix-xxx + pp. 1-652, Illustrations, Maps, Glossary, Bibliography and Index, ISBN 978-0-00-813298-9, reviewed by Frank Ellis

This thirty-year story of slaughter and misery begins with the French attempt to reimpose colonial rule after World War II. To this end, the French devoted much blood and treasure, theirs to begin with, and then American, losing some 93,000 soldiers. French resources would have been much better spent on rebuilding France, above all psychologically, after the war, rather than aspiring to play the role of some great imperial power, and trying to atone for the collapse of 1940. A point not picked up by Hastings is that the reasserted French claim to its colonies was a flagrant violation of the Atlantic Charter (1941) which guaranteed nations the right to choose their own government. Why should the Vietnamese, liberated from Japanese occupation, have to submit to the re-imposition of French colonial rule?

By arming the Vietnamese in the belief that they would fight the Japanese, the British and Americans also helped to instil the idea of national independence and armed struggle to achieve it. It did not occur to them, however, that these weapons would be used to fight the French. Such unintended consequences were repeated in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The CIA ensured that a liberal supply of weapons, including highly effective anti-aircraft missiles, was delivered to the mujahedeen, with disastrous consequences after the Soviet withdrawal. One lesson here is that when the interests that brought the supplier and recipient of weapons together in a common cause start to diverge, you cannot recall the weapons. Today’s ally in a common cause is potentially tomorrow’s enemy. Continue reading

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Death by Illegal Alien

Geraldo Rivera

Death by Illegal Alien

Ilana Mercer opines

The topic: American lives snuffed out by illegal aliens. The forum: the ubiquitous Fox News, dual-perspective panel that never fails to dim debate.

Arguing in favor of letting potential killers come: Geraldo Rivera, a former daytime talk-show, bosom buddy of Sean Hannity, and a permanent fixture on Fox. The Rivera “argument”: that some criminal aliens kill is incidental and immaterial to their status as uninvited, unvetted interlopers.  

Here are some of the stories Geraldo dismisses as sensationalized:

The latest in a string of bereaved parents to appear on TV are the parents of young Pierce Corcoran, 22, killed by Franco Cambrany Francisco-Eduardo (44), recipient of the U.S. Professional Drunk-Driver Immigration Visa. And in 2012, a man named Ramon Hernandez took the tiniest of victims. Dimitri Smith, of blessed memory, was killed in-utero by this recipient of the same visa. The deceased preemie was shown on CNN, in 2012, being held for the last time by young mother Aileen Smith, before being laid to rest. Continue reading

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Cuneiform Inscriptions

Darius the Great

Cuneiform Inscriptions

Old Babylonian Texts in the Schoyen Collection: Part One: Selected Letters by A.R. George, Pp. 328: xiii, 192 (221 plates), CDL Press 2018, $99.95

Literary Notes by Darrell Sutton

Two hundred years ago expeditions were the primary pathway to recovering antiquities because the rudimentary phase of the science of excavation persisted until the latter part of the 19thcentury. Explorers, foreign-service workers and missionaries supplied museums, university scholars and independent epigraphists with the raw material objects (i.e. inscriptions, sculptures, pottery) that were crucial to their material researches. At various times, curators and other individuals made the items available for study. The public took interest. Antiquarian pursuits intensified. George F. Grotefend’s (1775-1853) efforts to resolve the mysteries of Old Persian paved the way for studious men soon after to comprehend Assyrian and Babylonian script.

Because of Grotefend, King Darius was able to speak to future generations about the greatness of his reign through The Kerman Inscription, a tetra-angular pyramid of dark stone that has three inscriptions – each one etched on a different side: one in Persian, one in Elamitic and another in Babylonian.

Contemporary cuneiformists also owe a great debt to Edward Hincks (1792-1866), William H.F. Talbot (1800-1877), Henry C. Rawlinson (1810-1895) and Jules Oppert (1825-1905) for their labors in the decipherment of the writings of Mesopotamia. They made impenetrable worlds accessible and understandable. Continue reading

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Progressive Crazies

Progressive Crazies

Muslim men murder two European women backpacking across a Morocco mountain range, and right away pundits holler, “ISIS, jihad, extremism, terrorism.”

Likewise misleading are the leads from the intelligence authorities, who seem to confirm that, but for “ISIS, jihad, extremism, terrorism” – it would be perfectly safe to adopt the improvident habit embraced by the deceased and many young ladies like them:

Wander happily all over the world in the belief that the world is their oyster.

To be sure, jihad was likely part of the predatory behavior involved in the decapitation of the two young Scandinavian lovelies, in Morocco.

But while potent, jihad – and the Brownie points accrued for offing infidels – is not the main incentive in operation here. Freud’s Pleasure Principle is – that atavistic, sexual pleasure derived by predatory males, when stalking and subduing a woman. You adopt the argument of feminism when you willfully ignore sex, gender and the man-woman disparities in crimes involving these young, attractive women. Continue reading

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No Shining Path

President Martin Vizcarra, con el primer Consejo de Ministros

No Shining Path

by Bill Hartley

In Peru, the latest accessory for a high profile police detainee is a bullet proof vest. A recent edition of El Comercio, the country’s main broadsheet newspaper, carried a front page photograph of David Cornejo Chinguel, mayor of Chiclayo, a city in the north of the country. Chinguel was flanked by two police officers, his vest bearing the word detenido. Predictably enough the mayor was being investigated for corruption which is endemic in this country among the political classes.

There is a bribery scandal brewing across the South American continent which has gone largely unreported in the British media. According to a recent Reuters report, the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht has struck a deal with Peruvian authorities to pay a multi-million dollar fine that will allow it to continue operating in the country in return for providing evidence on the officials it bribed. Odebrecht has been at the centre of Latin America’s largest graft scandal since admitting in a 2016 plea deal with US, Brazilian and Swiss authorities that it had bribed officials in a dozen countries, including $30 million distributed in Peru alone. Continue reading

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Interview with the Paleolibertarian

Artwork by Gerhard Richter

Interview with the Paleolibertarian

Big League Politics meets Ilana Mercer

BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: Being a preeminent paleolibertarian thinker today, how would you define paleolibertarianism and how does it differ from standard paleoconservatism?

ILANA MERCER: First, let’s define libertarianism. Libertarianism is concerned with the ethics of the use of force. Nothing more. This, and this alone, is the ambit of libertarian law. All libertarians must respect the non-aggression axiom. It means that libertarians don’t initiate aggression against non-aggressors, not even if it’s “for their own good,” as neoconservatives like to cast America’s recreational wars of choice. If someone claims to be a libertarianism and also supports the proxy bombing of Yemen, or supported the war in Iraq; he is not a libertarian, plain and simple.

As to paleolibertarianism, in particular, this is my take, so some will disagree. It’s how I’ve applied certain principles week-in, week-out, for almost two decades. In my definition, a paleolibertarian grasps that ordered liberty has a civilizational dimension, stripped of which the just-mentioned libertarian non-aggression principle, by which all decent people should live, won’t endure.

Ironically, paleoconservatives have no issue grasping the cultural and civilizational dimensions of ordered liberty—namely that the libertarian non-aggression principle is peculiar to the West and won’t survive once western civilization is no more. Which is why, for paleoconservatives, immigration restrictionism is a no-brainer. Continue reading

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Keeping up with the Kushners

Jared and Ivanka Kushner

Keeping up with the Kushners

 by Ilana Mercer 

In itself, criminal justice reform for non-violent offenders is not anathema to Trump’s libertarian supporters. For what it symbolizes in the broader political context, however, the passing of the First Step Act—as the criminal justice reform bill is called—is an abomination.

Good or bad, the First Step Act is Jared Kushner’s baby. And Kushner, Trump’s liberal son-in-law, should not be having legislative coups! Yes, Jared and Ivanka are on a tear. The midterm congressional elections of President Trump’s first-term have culminated in a legislative victory for an anemic man, who provides a perfect peg on which to hang the ambitions of the forceful first daughter.

In no time at all have Jared and Ivanka Trump moved to consolidate power. This, as intellects like Steven Bannon and Stephen Miller were either fired, or confined to the basement, so to speak. By January, 2017, the president’s former White House chief strategist had already “assembled a list of more than 200 executive orders to issue in the first 100 days. The very first EO, in his view, had to be a crackdown on immigration. After all, it was one of Trump’s core campaign promises.” So said Bannon to Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Today, Bannon is just a flinty glint in Ivanka’s eyes. Continue reading

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Their Best are Yet to Come

Their Best are Yet to Come

by Ilana Mercer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used to trace outbreaks to Patient Zero, the index case—the first patient to get, then transmit, a disease. But is this government agency doing due diligence in the cases of the polio-like paralysis infecting hundreds of America’s kids?

By the dictionary’s telling, epidemiology is “the branch of medicine that deals with the study of the causes, distribution, and control of disease in populations.” By WND’s telling, “the diagnosis of the first cases of AFM, acute flaccid myelitis, in 2014,” coincided with the dispersal of thousands of Central American children among U.S. school children. More conspicuous at that time “was an outbreak of a deadly respiratory illness” that put hundreds of America’s children in intensive care. “Both types of symptoms can probably be caused by enterovirus D68, which happens to be endemic in Central America,” opines Dr. Jane Orient.

Are the state’s epidemiologists—whose job it is to trace and terminate outbreaks of contagious diseases—following these connections? An outbreak necessitates the tracing of “Patient Zero,” the “single individual who bears the unknowing responsibility for having introduced the disease” to a certain population.

The same taxpayer-funded medical sleuths impressively tracked down the index case in the AIDS epidemic in North America. As documented in the late Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, he was Gaetan Dugas, a dashing, promiscuous, Canadian flight attendant, who had had approximately 1,000 sexual partners. Continue reading

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Oral History

School Children in the Woodland, by Carl Spitzweg

Oral History

Hansel and Gretel; märchenspiel (fairy tale) in three acts, music by Engelbert Humperdinck, libretto in German by Adelheid Wette, after the fairy tale Hänsel und Gretel by the Brothers Grimm, directed and designed by Antony McDonald, orchestra conducted by Sebastian Weigle, Royal Opera, Thursday 13th December 2018, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Hansel and Gretel was premiered at Weimar on 23rd December 1893, with Richard Strauss, no less, conducting. As Antony McDonald observes, it is ubiquitous in German opera houses at this time of the year (Opera interview, Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, Dec 9th 2018). McDonald’s new production is conceived as “an enchanting piece” for families, particularly for “first-time opera goers” (Official Programme). Several commentators think that it should therefore be sung in English.

This latest version of the fairy tale opera has its sinister side. The opening setting is ostensibly idyllic. We behold a mountain chalet with an oven and a chimney emitting smoke. It is supper time. Hansel and Gretel and their parents Gertrud and Peter are gathered round the kitchen table. The Little White House and the Little Red House at Birkenau, former farmhouses, came to mind. Continue reading

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