I Vespri Siciliani, painting by Domenico Morelli
Les Vêpres Siciliennes; Grand Opera in five acts, music composed by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Eugène Scribe & Charles Duveyrier, sung in French with English surtitles, directed by Stefan Herheim, conducted by Maurizio Benini, Royal Opera, 12th October 2017, reviewed by LESLIE JONES
Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Verdi’s first new commission for the Paris Opéra, was premiered on 13th June 1855. Given its French audience, it had a somewhat provocative theme, to wit, “Sicilian nationalist fervour in the face of French oppression” (Sarah Hibberd, ‘The Creation of Les Vêpres siciliennes’, official programme). Indeed, the French occupying forces in Sicily are depicted throughout as drunkards and libertines who treat the local women as the victor’s spoils. In this, the first revival of Stefan Herheim’s 2013 Royal Opera production, the French Governor Guy de Montfort (baritone Michael Volle) sets the tone by raping a Sicilian woman (on stage). In due course, she will give birth to his illegitimate son Henri (tenor Bryan Hymel) enabling Verdi to address the putative conflict between loyalty to father and loyalty to fatherland. Continue reading
Canadian Conflict, a War Game Perspective
Mark Wegierski considers Canadian Civil War, first published
40 years ago
Canadian ‘Civil War’: Separatism vs. Federalism in Modern Canada was a board wargame published in 1977 by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), then the premiere gaming company. On the game’s cover-sheet, it is called “A Political Simulation Game”, and it is said that “the time is: 15 November 1976.” This is a game with mostly political, rather than military conflict, played on an abstract map, where the four different factions struggle with each other. These are the Federalists (Red counters); the Provincial Moderates (Orange counters); the Provincial Autonomists (Green counters); and the Separatists (Blue counters). The color of the Provincial Moderate counters is not meant to suggest the Orange Order. There is a three-player variant for the game (called “The Quiet Revolution”, without the Separatist Player); but the game works best in the four-player version. It does not work as a two-player or solitaire game. Continue reading
Catalonia, on the Brink
Gerry Dorrian considers the roots of the current crisis
Political geography tends to fracture across historical fault lines. In 2015, the University of Oxford’s DNA map of Britain revealed the continuing existence of the millennium-old Landsker Line separating English and Welsh-speaking people in Pembrokeshire, as well as the sharp division between genetic groups in Devon and Cornwall running down the border between the two counties, again 1,000 years old.1
Writ large, the best-known example was the Iron Curtain, which sundered Germany roughly down the line dividing in medieval times western lands where peasants could own property (for a time) from lands where they could not,2 and continued down the Roman Empire’s easternmost stable border, inherited later by Charlemagne,3 which also divided the realms of Latin and Cyrillic text, and the division between western and Orthodox Christianity.4 From the late eighteenth century onwards, Yugoslavists envisaged their supranational Slavic state straddling this line:5 it didn’t end well. Continue reading
Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)
Epistle to the Romans, part 1
A new translation by Darrell Sutton of Paul’s timeless text
October 31, 1517 was a fateful day in early-modern German history. For it was on that date that Martin Luther (1483-1546) published his Ninety-five Theses on the Power of Indulgences. In honor of the 500th year anniversary of the German Protestant Reformation, and to mark subsequent transformational events that occurred at that time among Roman Catholics, a new translation of seminal chapters 1-5 in the Latin Vulgate text of Romans, is proffered to readers. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is a key component-text of western civilization: the bulk of eastern Europe was untouched by these reforms. Romans became the main theological treatise for Christians of the later Renaissance era and of the Post-Reformation period, the interpretation of which instigated divisions between leaders, brought about schisms in nation-states and ignited strife in families. Adherents of a form of Erasmian reform Catholicism shunned the more militant views espoused in the Counter-Reformation. They forged ahead in another direction: Chrysostom’s (AD349-407) homilies on the text of Romans were more agreeable to them than the construal of Augustine (AD354-430). The internecine debates over Romans’ subject matter paved the way for so much of the harm and the good that was done in the name of religion. Continue reading
St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling
ENDNOTES, 7th October 2017
Frank Bridge Cello Sonata etc. at the West Malling International Festival of Music, reviewed by STUART MILLSON
‘Music is always important but even more so in difficult times. It brings people together to share what is good and enduring and underscores what we value.’ So writes Alan Gibbins, Chairman of the International Festival of Music held in the Kent town of West Malling and now in its seventh year. An event that is very much at the heart of the community (with many educational and outreach events to its credit), the Festival attracts Britain’s brightest performers in a repertoire that embraces Bach, Kodaly, Reger, Nielsen and many English composers.
The mediaeval Pilsdon Barn, situated behind a traditionally Kentish rag stone wall in the grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey, is becoming a well-known venue for classical music. For their concert on the 30th September, Chamber Domaine (Thomas Kemp, violin; Adrian Bradbury, cello; Sophia Rahman, piano) presented a number of works from the year 1917. Beginning with Frank Bridge’s deeply-felt and autumnal Cello Sonata, the ensemble also performed the lyrical Piano Trio No. 2 by John Ireland, a short piano waltz by Stravinsky, and the Chaconne Op. 31 by Carl Nielsen. Continue reading
Aida, opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, directed by Phelim McDermott, ENO, 28th September 2017, in collaboration with the theatre company Improbable, reviewed by LESLIE JONES
Interviewed by the writer Adrian Mourby for the official programme, Phelim McDermott, director of this new production of Aida, acknowledged that the period setting therein is “a slight mash up. It’s not ancient and it’s not modern” (see ‘Mining of the Emotions’). And, he should have added, it’s confusing and it’s heteroclite. For we have soldiers in modern battle gear, brandishing automatic weapons; Radamès, decked out in a distinctly Ruritanian dress uniform, replete with gold braid; and (in Act 11, scene 2) modern, flag draped coffins containing the bodies of recently killed Egyptian soldiers, accompanied by framed photographs, evocative of burial scenes in modern day Israel. The costumes of the Egyptian priests brought to mind the head ware and the sombre suits of Ulster’s Orange Order. But we also have slave girls, and an alluring high priestess (Eleanor Dennis) dressed in what presumably is Ancient Egyptian attire. The costumes created for Aida, for the Women’s Chorus and for the pharaoh’s daughter Amneris (mezzo-soprano, Michelle De Young) were decidedly unflattering. Continue reading
English, Old and New
DARRELL SUTTON celebrates the scholarship of Medievalist, Fred C. Robinson (Sep 23, 1930-May 5, 2016), Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English at Yale
is that the English of old,
Yet spoken in modern times?
It is the language of times long ago,
prefacing Beowulf’s lines.
Those days are gone,
their times are past; but Chaucer’s Tales
yet sail the ages with its ship’s mast
In fact, the English we know and love
From Shakespeare to Slang:
Says, “Et Tu, Brute?” or “naw lil bro,’ you cain’t hang!”
Holding the Bible captive, and
Cradling European lore.
Our English tongues
are ever gluttonous: yes,
forever craving more.
Decades before, when times were dark;
Mitchell and Robinson then
hailed a new day. So
Old English textbooks got a new start,
And OE shan’t see shades of The Grave,
for English will never lay dead
in The Tomb of Beowulf.
Darrell Sutton is rector of the Tabernacle in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small village in the Great Plains. He also teaches Semitic languages and edits an academic bulletin entitled ‘The DS Commentary on Books’
Today on Radio 4…
Stuart Millson briefly forsakes the Third Programme and tunes in to a day of left-leaning bias on BBC Radio 4
Famous for programmes which have become “national treasures” such as The Archers, Desert Island Discs, Any Questions, Today and PM, BBC Radio 4 is conventionally seen as an influence for civilised, open debate, intellectual curiosity and the sort of listening which readers of broadsheet newspapers would regard as their cherished, familiar choice of network.
The BBC in general has long been criticised for left-leaning bias – by Tory backbenchers in rabble-rousing conference speeches and by media-bias vigilantes, who are often able to compare the number of broadcast hours given to (for example) “Remainers”, Labour spokespeople or the heads of “progressive” charities, as opposed to Vote Leave supporters, Christian fundamentalists or climate-change sceptics. However, despite the BBC’s duty to provide impartial political coverage, and Radio 4’s pride in its own editorial integrity, a day’s listening to the network – despite the quality of its programmes – shows how our national broadcaster now reflects the in-built cultural and political prejudices of its leading personnel; confirming, not necessarily a party-political bias, but a predisposition to a liberal-left view of the world which – in this age of resurgent “Corbynism” – could easily be taken for a broadcasters’ version of political activism. Continue reading
Sigmund & Amalie Freud
Wisdom, beyond Consolation
Freud: An Intellectual Biography, Joel Whitebook, Cambridge University Press, 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones
Professor Whitebook believes that Freud’s theories were profoundly shaped by certain emotional experiences, notably by his traumatic early years with his mother Amalie, then later by his insensate hero worship of Dr Wilhelm Fliess. Concerning the former, Amalie was evidently a depressive person lacking warmth. Contrary to the myth that she unreservedly worshipped her “golden Sigi”, her love was contingent on his success. She regularly retreated to the spa town of Roznau. According to the author, after the death of Sigmund’s younger brother Julius, she became “a dead mother”.[i] He attributes Freud’s recurrent mental difficulties to his anxiety and helplessness as an infant.
In 1886, Freud married Martha Bernays after a protracted engagement. In the following year, he met Wilhelm Fliess. The attempts by Freud’s epigones, including his daughter Anna, to suppress key aspects of this pivotal relationship, notably his infatuation for Fliess and his use of cocaine, persisted until 1986, when Jeffrey Masson edited the first complete and unexpurgated version of Freud’s letters to Fliess. Continue reading
Edmund Blair Leighton – God Speed
ENDNOTES, 21st September 2017
Edward Gardner conducts Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder for Chandos Records, reviewed by STUART MILLSON
Several works proclaim the creed of the late-romantic period – in particular its transition into the world of early modernism: Mahler’s ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ – and his ‘Resurrection’ symphony; Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1, ‘Gothic’; and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder – the latter appearing in a dazzling, deeply-felt new recording on the Chandos label, conducted in Bergen by Edward Gardner, and supported by soloists of the calibre of Stuart Skelton, tenor, and Sir Thomas Allen.
Berg, Schoenberg and Webern, the Second Viennese School, and those of their predecessors, Wagner and Mahler, are often viewed in terms of a musical progression or evolution: the mysterious, melancholic, descending phrase at the opening of the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde taking symphonic and operatic music beyond mere “storm and stress” to a darker, or to some, more brilliant horizon. In this supercharged musical closure to the late-romantic era, dissonance and chaos began to grind against established harmonies: the vast orchestral scores of the period breaking free from all hitherto normal frameworks. Like a painting exploding out of its own physical boundaries, the music of Schoenberg brought music into an entirely new dimension. Continue reading