Public Flogging, a Modest Proposal

Public Flogging, a Modest Proposal

By Ilana Mercer

In the title of his magisterial novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky paired “Crime and Punishment,” not crime and pardons, or crime and “Civics lessons,” amnesty and asylum. Punishment must closely follow a crime in order to be both effective as a deterrent, as well as to serve as a public declaration of values and norms.

In explaining Texas justice and its attendant values, stand-up satirist Ron White performed the public service no politician is prepared to perform. “In Texas, we have the death penalty and we use it. If you come to Texas and kill somebody, we will kill you back.”

So, where’s such clarity when you need it? Something has gotten into the country’s lymphatic system. The infection is becoming more apparent by the day, not least in the way matters of life-and-death are debated (or not). Continue reading

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Graffiti, Politti

Isle of the Dead, Arnold Boklin

Graffiti, Politti

Royal Opera, Simon Boccanegra, opera in a prologue and three acts, 15thNovember 2018, directed by Elijah Moshinsky, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave revised by Arrigo Boito, orchestra conducted by Henrik Nánási, reviewed by Leslie Jones

The plot of Simon Boccanegra is complex and convoluted, even by the standards of Grand Opera. Contemporary critic Filippo Filippi complained that librettist Francesco Maria Piave only added to Garcia Gutiérrez’ play, upon which it is based, “a fantastic tissue of loves, abductions, betrayals, ready poisons and threatening axes”. Filippi’s final, damning verdict was that “There is no rhyme or reason nor any apparent justification of the strange comings and goings of the characters” (‘A Vital Legacy’, Alexandra Wilson, Official Programme).To complicate matters further, some of the characters, such as Jacopo Fiesco aka Andrea Grimaldi, have assumed identities.

Yet certain key themes or salient elements can be identified, the libretto’s “incomprehensibility” notwithstanding. As historian Christopher Wintle reminds us, in 1838 Verdi lost his daughter Virginia and two years later his wife Margherita (‘Padre, Madre, Figlia’, Official Programme). Wintle contends that Verdi subsequently sought out subjects that allowed him work through these losses, witness the ‘recognition’ scene in which Boccanegra and his daughter are re-united. Continue reading

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Acts of Mutilation

Facial Masks for Mutilated French Soldiers

Acts of Mutilation

ENO, War Requiem, music by Benjamin Britten, conducted by Martyn Brabbins, soloists soprano Emma Bell, baritone Roderick Williams, tenor David Butt Philip, text from the Missa pro Defunctis and the poems of Wilfred Owen, 16thNovember 2018, directed by Daniel Kramer, designs by Wolfgang Tillmans, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Is the War Requiem an oratorio or an opera? In an earlier, powerful performance of this work at the Albert Hall, on the 10th November 2013, conducted by Semyon Bychkov,   acting, costumes, sets etc, were dispensed with (see Quarterly Review, November 17th 2013). They would only have distracted the audience, which was allowed to concentrate on Britten’s music and Owen’s poetry, which speak for themselves.

But Daniel Kramer, the director of ENO’s new production of War Requiem, ignores the distinction between opera and oratorio. At the outset, we were presented with giant book covers onto which were projected pages from Ernst Friedrich’s pacifist tract Krieg dem Kriege (War Against War, 1924 and 1926), replete with disturbing pictures of mutilated soldiers etc. During the Dies Irae, likewise, when the soprano warns that “Nil inultum remanebit” (“Nothing will remain unavenged”), there were “relevant” references to “gender and genocide” in Srebrenica in 1992. Continue reading

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This Bank and Shoal of Time

This Bank and Shoal of Time

Macbeth, tragedy in five acts by William Shakespeare, RSC, Barbican Theatre, Saturday 10th November 2018, directed by Polly Findlay, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Time, as critic Michael Billington reminds us, is a recurrent theme in Macbeth. (The Guardian, 21st March 2018). Indeed, Shakespeare’s text is replete with references to its passage. In Polly Findlay’s production, accordingly, a digital clock counts down the little that remains of Macbeth’s life after Duncan’s murder. If “fate and metaphysical aid” will have him crowned, it will also have him killed. In the final scene, as Malcolm is hailed the new King of Scotland, the clock is re-set. Another cycle of tyranny commences.

In an earlier, notable production of Macbeth by Rupert Goold, premiered at Chichester in Summer 2007, with Patrick Stewart in the leading role, the three witches were assistants in a morgue. In this current production at the Barbican, they are no less sinister, as played by small children dressed in red, in a possible allusion to Don’t Look NowThe Shining and Schindler’s List. Continue reading

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Slate’s Slanders

Slate’s Slanders

By Ilana Mercer

When Slate Magazine went after President Trump’s former speech writer, Darren Beattie, it chose to libel this writer, as well.

That’s a bully’s calculus: if you can, why not ruin the reputation of another individual, just for good measure? Ruining reputations by labeling and libeling unpopular others is all in a day’s work for the bully, who has nothing in his authorial quiver but ad hominem attack.

The individual who penned an unsourced hit piece on this writer is Slate Magazine’s designated “chief news blogger.” A hit piece is “a published article or post aiming to sway public opinion by presenting false or biased information in a way that appears objective and truthful.” Continue reading

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The Disunited States

Statue of Robert E Lee, covered in a tarpaulin

The Disunited States

By Ilana Mercer

“We are one American nation. We must unite. We have to unify. We have to come together.” Every faction in our irreparably fractious and fragmented country calls for unity, following events that demonstrate just how disunited the United States of America is. They all do it.

Calls for unity come loudest from the party of submissives — the GOP. The domineering party is less guilt-ridden about this elusive thing called “unity.”

Democrats just blame Republicans for its absence in our polity and throughout our increasingly uncivil society.

These days, appeals to unity are made by opportunistic politicians, who drape themselves in the noble toga of patriotism on tragic occasions. The latest in many was the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre of Oct. 27.

In the name of honesty—and comity—let us quit the unity charade. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, November 2018

Chateau Wood, Ypres, 1917

ENDNOTES, November 2018

In this edition: In Remembrance, from the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Percy Sherwood’s Double Concerto from EM Records, Orchestral Works, by Ruth Gipps.

A century ago this month, The Great War– the “war to end wars”, shuddered to a close. From the Western Front to Gallipoli, from the deserts of Arabia to the sea-lanes of the Atlantic and the North Sea, British and Empire servicemen fought for a land “fit for heroes”. Yet their dreams and youth were lost in the mud of Flanders fields and are only remembered today by the poppy, the words of the war poets and the music of England’s composers.

In a salute to these events, SOMM Records has issued a stirring compilation of choral music, performed by the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea – with the veterans of the Chelsea Pensioners’ Choir reinforcing performances of the much-loved Jerusalem by Parry, I Vow to Thee My Country (the famous hymn based upon a section of Holst’s Jupiter, from The Planets), and a lesser-known item – O Valiant Hearts, by one Charles Harris (1865-1936), a Worcestershire vicar and neighbour of Sir Edward Elgar. Much smaller-scale than his great choral-orchestral war-work, The Spirit of England, another Elgar elegy also makes an appearance, a setting of Cardinal Newman’s, They are at rest

“… We may not stir the heav’n of their repose
By rude invoking voice, or prayer addrest
In waywardness to those
Who in the mountain grots of Eden lie,
And hear the fourfold river as it murmurs by.”

Continue reading

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Escape to the Country

Darlington Cattle Market

Escape to the Country

by Bill Hartley

There is elation in the town of Darlington because the local cattle market may be moving. Darlington might be best known as an old railway town but its roots lie in agriculture, serving both County Durham and North Yorkshire. The cattle market has been there for 140 years, longer than the houses which now neighbour the site. Admittedly on market days it is a smelly and noisy place, difficult for lorry drivers to get into from the narrow streets nearby and there may be a good argument for getting it out to a more accessible location. Everyone in officialdom, from the town’s MP to the local council, seems to think so and media reports reflect this, with, it would seem, no dissenting voices.

That said, a link to the agricultural life which surrounds the town will be lost. Interestingly, no-one seems to have considered the economic impact. For example, farmers may have other business to conduct in the town and spouses can travel with them in order to shop. Arguably the council should have considered this since Darlington is a town which has recently lost its Marks & Spencer and the House of Fraser store is under threat. In terms of retailing, the only visible growth is the number of coffee shops. Continue reading

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Calvinism for Agnostics

Westminster Cathedral

Calvinism for Agnostics

Messa da Requiem, music by Giuseppe Verdi, concert performance, Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conductor Antonio Pappano, words from the Missa pro Defunctis, Royal Opera, 23rd October 2018

Verdi Requiem, Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Monteverdi Choir, conductor John Eliot Gardiner, Westminster Cathedral, 18th September 2018

Reviewed by Leslie Jones

According to Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, in his dotage, fell snivelling at the foot of the cross. The same could hardly be said of Verdi, who never went to church once during his adult life. His Requiem, as Marin Alsop has observed, “…is a mass written by an agnostic”

The prospect of death, for an unbeliever, may be more terrifying than for a devout Christian, hell fire notwithstanding. In “A Powerful Expression of Life”, David Cairns calls Verdi’s Requiem “…the passionate protest of a man who rebels against the outrage that is death” (Official Programme, Westminster Cathedral). The final words of the Libera Me, sung by the soprano, are “Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death, on that dreadful day”. The soprano “is left stripped of any armour that religion might provide…there is no salvation at all but only eternal silence” (Peter Gutsman, Classical Notes, 2009). The last bars, appropriately, are marked morendo or dying away. Continue reading

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The Euro FifthColumn

Carleton Martello Tower

The Euro Fifth Column

By Stuart Millson

With five months to go before our country disengages from the EU, a millionaire-funded, pro-Brussels movement is obstructing the democratic Brexit process.

With the ratification of the EU Withdrawal Act by Parliament earlier this year, Britain is now on course to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019 – a sea-change in modern political history brought about by the 17.4 million-strong Leave vote at the June 2016 referendum. And yet, despite Parliament originally devolving the decision on EU membership to the electorate, the Brexit process appears – to most everyday observers – a tedious stalemate: an endless to-and-fro exchange between the elected British Government, and the unelected leaders of the European Union on matters such as customs arrangements and the future of the Irish “soft” border; persistent calls from the defeated Remain side for a second referendum (variously) on the final Brexit deal or a complete re-run of June 2016; and the sympathetic parading on TV of the extraordinarily well-funded leaders of the anti-Brexit side.

Their Euro-banners flying at street demonstrations, and their spokespeople crowding the airwaves with the mantra that the people “didn’t know what they were voting for” or that post-Brexit Britain is heading for economic oblivion, the Remainers have emerged as a dedicated political “fifth-column” standing for the interests of the European superstate. And yet this group, despite its puffed-up prominence across the TV and social media, constitutes but a tiny minority of opinion: their many thousands of marchers a mere drop in the ocean when matched against the 17.4 million Britons who backed Brexit. Continue reading

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