Cher Public

Wahn for a day

Die Meistersinger is a bold stroke of programming, in a not particularly exciting way. Attrition is practically guaranteed, the title role is endless and unglamorous, and then there is the matter of its noteworthy fandom. San Francisco Opera largely justified its inclusion in its 2015-16 season–the work’s first appearance at the War Morial in nearly fifteen years.  

As recently noted in these pages, SFO has had quite a run of big name cancellations this season. They’ve also had some terrific luck with replacements. James Rutherford, in for Greer Grimsley (who was meant to be debuting as Sachs, but was sidelined by health concerns) was another good save, if not as purely serendipitous as Brian Mulligan in Sweeney Todd. One of course asked around when Rutherford was announced, and word on the street, which is to say the internet, was that he had recently turned in a respectable but not particularly memorable performance as Orest with the Boston Symphony. YouTube suggested a bit of the Bayreuth Bark.

By these standards, Rutherford was a happy surprise. The voice is in fact warm and mellow, solidly produced– and his interpretation is far from generic. Youth, though, is a mixed blessing, and there is something perhaps under-ripe, about Rutherford’s vocal profile that robs of much sense the embittered outburst that follows Eva’s friend-zoning in Act II and drains some of the authority from the “Wahn” monologue. The same robustness made it harder to dismiss as the crabbing of an old man when the song contest ended and the opera turned out to be, as it does every time I’m afraid, about the purity of the motherland. The same chill set in as one feels watching the film of Cabaret when a handsome youth begins to sing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”

Rutherford’s colleagues were a roundly capable lot. Perhaps Alek Shrader can do no wrong where I’m concerned but I was in any case charmed by his David, boyish in tone but for the most part easily heard. Smart stage direction made use of his nimble comic presence. Rachel Willis-Sorenson possesses an instrument very much in the mold of Renee Fleming, in the best way. Admittedly there is also a hint of Fleming’s dramatic blankness onstage, but her phrasing is lively and delicate. I would be thrilled to hear her turn her healthy tone to less aggressively dull characters than the Bechdel-Test-busting Eva Pogner.

Ain Anger, as Pops Pogner, winner of the Joan Crawford Prize for Parenting, poured into the hall a noble sound, craggy enough to make with the gravitas but firm and even. Martin Gantner sang Beckmesser with just enough of the character singer’s bite and nasality, but with legato, which made the role less of a chore. The production supported the musical decision to make him ridiculous instead of truly loathsome.

Brandon Jovanovich somehow keeps singing big roles fearlessly with no apparent toll on his rugged, attractive tenor. In the third act, before Sachs’ whole “don’t you hate it when people aren’t German?” routine, Jovanovich created the production’s most stirring moment, stepping to the center of the stage, looking like a prince and delivering a Prize Song of such gentle radiance as to make time stand still–no mean feat after five hours of music.

Conductor Mark Elder led the SFO orchestra in an ever buoyant reading of Wagner’s score. Occasionally he drowned his singers out, as is all but inevitable in Wagner, but overall it was an account of the music designed to enrich rather than just to accompany.

David McVicar’s production is a handsome, thoughtful, essentially traditional one (but for an updating from A Really Long Time Ago to A Long Time Ago). In his program note, McVicar gamely admits that one of the challenges of the piece is that Act Three is best measured in geological terms. Indeed, McVicar mobs the stage for St. John’s Day, which succeeds in creating actual festivity instead of something that looks like a precursor to pony rides, as operatic bacchanalia too frequently do. Vicki Mortimer’s use of a florid gothic arch to frame the opera’s various settings succeeds partly on the strength of Paule Constable’s bold but lyrical lighting, which finds a mood for each.

  • Krunoslav

    “the title role”

    Kto eto takoj, Grigorij??????

    (The title is plural.)

  • oscar

    Nice review, Greg. I was at the opening night performance and I agree that the singing was on a very high level. However, the conducting, at least on opening night was very sluggish. The overture and first act seemed interminable, even more so than usual.

    Another standout in a smaller role was Sasha Cooke, the Magdalena: a big warm rich sound and stage presence for days.

    • Greg.Freed

      And yet I feel certain you knew who I meant, umnica Krumnica

    • Greg.Freed

      Ach, that was intended for Krunoslav.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Glad you liked Rutherford. I really liked him when I heard him do a bit of Sachs, but it was at a London Wagner Society event, so a small room, a piano and a very sympathetic audience.

    I’ve had the pleasure of singing under Sir Mark Elder myself, he was pretty awesome.

  • I heard Rutherford’s Orest with the Boston Symphony on a broadcast. I liked the basic tone which I found attractive and suitably to German bass-baritone rep. But then again, for me it’s always difficult to judge a singer based on the role of Orest, which mostly sits in the middle and doesn’t offer any opportunity to shine.

    I’ve never understood why that role gets cast with famous singers. Dramatically, the role is very important and the scene itself features wonderful music and its tender quality is a welcome respite. But Elektra sings the more interesting music in the scene.

    • armerjacquino

      Never underestimate the attraction of a light workload. A male lead with an important scene, which also happens to take up ten minutes of a ninety minute evening, would be very welcome after a long punishing run of Wotans or Sachses.

      • Good point, AJ. Though I still don’t understand why opera companies spend big bucks on A-list singers for that role.

        • Krunoslav

          In truth, an impressive list:

          5 Elektra: Orest [Bailey, Norman]
          7 Elektra: Orest [Cassel, Walter]
          14 Elektra: Orest [Dooley, William]
          6 Elektra: Orest [Estes, Simon]
          2 Elektra: Orest [Hale, Robert]
          4 Elektra: Orest [Held, Alan]
          2 Elektra: Orest [Hotter, Hans]
          8 Elektra: Orest [McIntyre, Donald]
          4 Elektra: Orest [Meredith, Morley]
          6 Elektra: Orest [Nikitin, Evgeny]
          3 Elektra: Orest [Pape, René]
          4 Elektra: Orest [Pederson, Monte]
          8 Elektra: Orest [Rootering, Jan-Hendrik]
          3 Elektra: Orest [Schöffler, Paul]
          14 Elektra: Orest [Schorr, Friedrich]
          5 Elektra: Orest [Stewart, Thomas]
          3 Elektra: Orest [Uhde, Hermann]
          3 Elektra: Orest [Weikl, Bernd]

  • grimoaldo

    ” the opera turned out to be, as it does every time I’m afraid, about the purity of the motherland. The same chill set in as one feels watching the film of Cabaret when a handsome youth begins to sing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”……. I would be thrilled to hear (Rachel Willis-Sorenson) turn her healthy tone to less aggressively dull characters than the Bechdel-Test-busting Eva Pogner… Pops Pogner, winner of the Joan Crawford Prize for Parenting…Act Three is best measured in geological terms”


  • Batty Masetto

    It always saddens me to see smart, sensitive people like Greg implicitly buy into what Daniel Barenboim has called the “half-baked dogma” of identifying Wagner with his most infamous fan.

    Item: Verdi was happy to be identified with a key piece of propaganda for Italian nationalism, he was touted by Mussolini’s fascists as loudly as Wagner by the Nazis, and his blackface Aida and Otello raise painful questions of racism. Yet I have never seen anybody tax him with, say, the appalling atrocities of either Italo-Abyssinian War.

    I’m not suggesting that the Wagner case is exactly the same. No dispute that Wagner was a stinker of a human being and a miserable anti-Semite. And I agree it’s inevitable that we’ll view any historical figure through the lens of what has happened since their time. I only wish people were better able to view Meistersinger through the lens of its own era as well, just as we’re able to do with Aida or Otello – or The Merchant of Venice, for that matter.

    By the time he wrote Meistersinger, Wagner – the liberal revolutionary, friend of Bakunin and political exile of 1848 – had become disenchanted with any politics, as is also powerfully implicit in the last words of the opera:

    Even if the Holy Roman Empire
    Dissolves in mist,
    We will still have
    Holy German art.

    As everybody in his audience would have known, the Holy Roman Empire had indeed dissolved in mist, extinguishing whatever feeble glimmer of German cohesion it still represented, only about 60 years before the opera’s premiere. And now Prussia was scarily on the rise, a very different entity from the loose-knit Holy Roman confederation, and Wagner himself was by no means alone in his deep mistrust of it (though being Wagner, of course he had no qualms about taking whatever opportunistic advantage he could of the situation).

    So that was part of the contemporary scene, as familiar to a German audience as the Holocaust is to us today.

    If we look farther back, to its historical setting, the work is steeped in indirect allusions to the tensions of the Reformation. Many in the audience would have been aware that Sachs was an early supporter of Luther – the chorus in the meadow greets Sachs with his own famous poem about the dawn of the Reformation – and also that Nuremberg suffered considerably from its official adherence to Protestantism and later from the Thirty Years’ War (also religiously instigated, of course).

    Even more than the Napoleonic Wars, the Reformation tore Germany apart, not just through religious sectarian wars but by opening a door for uprisings of the oppressed peasantry. The terrible suffering did not spare art and artists on either side. The most horrifying art-related anecdote I know from Sachs’ era is about the wood sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider, whose figures are especially notable for their exquisite elongated hands. When Riemenschneider’s party was defeated in the Peasants’ War, the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg ordered both his hands broken. He was never able to carve again.

    So the work’s political ambience is not of triumphalism, but of despair at the national scale. The only refuge that remains is one’s own community: thus Sachs’ profound and moving love for his city, which in his day maintained a tenuous hold on independence as a free municipality subject only to the Emperor himself. The impending chaos is shut out for a moment, and instead we get a charming glimpse of a prosperous town on two idyllic summer days amid a turbulent time.

    And Sachs’ final words are not about wiping out every other culture by conquest. They’re a warning that bad days are ahead, and a reminder about taking comfort in cultural achievement when the political landscape seems bleak and even antagonistic to art itself.

    There won’t be agreement on this, any more than there will be agreement on whether The Death of Klinghoffer is anti-Semitic. But I do wish people were able to view Meistersinger as more than just a Nazi primer.

    • lorenzo.venezia

      Thank you, Batty, for saying it far more eloquently and kindlier than I could have. I don’t understand how people can “appreciate” or endure something as loathsome as they glibly read this opera to be, impervious to the fact that it isn’t (except in their heads). I would only suggest that, in your last sentence, it would be more consistent, clear and correct to have said “but I do wish people were able to view Meistersinger as something other than a Nazi primer,” because in reality it isn’t, and the phrase “as more than” implies that it is that as well as something else.

      • Batty Masetto

        Lorenzo, I don’t think it’s possible at this point in history to divorce the opera entirely from its aftereffects, however unintended they may be. The last scene is said to have been the inspiration for Hitler’s Nuremberg Rallies. His vigorous promotion of Nuremberg as “quintessentially German” (because of its history and its beautifully preserved medieval fabric), not to mention the enthusiastic support of a large segment of the population for his policies, ultimately led to an awful human cost and complete devastation when the Allies chose to bombard the city to the ground as a central symbol of Nazi power. I doubt that any German, not to speak of Jewish people whose families suffered, can think of Nuremberg without some very complicated feelings indeed.

        That’s part of the reception history of the work as well. I just wish it hadn’t come to dominate the narrative as it often has.

        • I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say that the darkness of some of Wagners work isn’t something that can or should be ignored because he was well aware of it. I actually have learned to appreciate his work more once I accepted that there would be a dark, uncomfortable undertone to most of his masterpieces. Die Meistersinger is one of those works — I’m always uncomfortable by the community treatment of Beckmesser. Even if he is a pain in the ass the dogpiling makes me very uncomfortable. But without that edge Meistersinger would be a five hour unfunny comedy about a singing contest. The nasty edge the work acquires is what makes it IMO an interesting piece.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          I would never quibble with one as erudite and measured as yourself but I would say that while Wagner is in the hell of his creation, and Hitler in his, and the rest of the Nazis in theirs, a great work of art is neither the cause nor the basis of either, transcends them all, and deserves to be valued and appreciated for what it is for us, in itself, and not for what it may have been for somebody else. It’s not an argument I often care to make, but I shudder at where the condemnation of a work of art for what others misconstrue or make of it leads. Is that not why Plato censored art in his Republic (and makes his Republic a place I would not care to live)? Just saying… ;-)

          • Lorenzo I’d argue that Wagner would be very offended if people took his works to be “just a great piece of art.” He very much wanted to make statements about the direction he felt music and particularly German music should go. He didn’t just consider himself a composer, but a philosopher and librettist and revolutionary. His use Nordic myths and Germanic texts were all a part of his vision of German art, culture and music. That this vision called for the elimination of Jewish and Italian influences is a statement of fact.

            Anyway my point is Meistersinger is a more interesting work (IMO) if you accept the dark and xenophobic elements in the work. The music itself is one thing but the emphasis on preserving German art and culture (with all the philosophical elements that today would be considered disturbing) is what makes Meistersinger transcend a rather thin plot and a certain shallowness in character development of Eva and Walther.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Ivy, the thing is, it’s easy now, in hindsight, so to speak, to view the concept of nation and nationalism through 20th c. glasses; whereas these concepts meant something different in the 19th c. Not to go all Marxist on you, but in the 19c the concept of nation was progressive vis-a-vis the feudal principalities (just as later the concept became reactionary and anti-progressive when it became nothing more than a premise for wars of colonial expansion). So we have to be careful with words/concepts that have changed/evolved in almost two centuries. I certainly agree that Wagner had grandiose (and self-aggrandizing) fantasies, but like many great artists (list too long to get into) he was a monster but his personality stands separate from his art although that is a difficult distinction to maintain, and rather than try, many many people simply dismiss the art as the work of an monster and therefore monstrous. But they are wrong. The Ring is like the Taj Mahal or San Marco or the pyramids, unique, almost incomprehensibly complex, rich, intellectually astonishing and beautiful. That is entirely independent of what Wagner was (or thought) as a man. If the love of Nazis for Die Meistersinger makes it a richer work for you, that’s great; I am only arguing that what the Nazis made of it, and what Wagner may have intended it to mean, are independent of the beauty and genius of the work itself, which will continue resonating for all time in new ears with new and different conceptions of what it “is” or what it “means.” If we can’t separate the work of art from the artist’s intent, or from what other people have made of it, we deny ourselves the richness and pleasure and profundity of much great art. “Merchant of Venice” anyone? :-)

            • Cicciabella

              lorenzo.venezia, you get a gold star for this mini-essay. If you ever publish a longer exposition on the subject, please post a link.

            • Well again, I don’t think any piece of art (or literature) should be studied in a vacuum, as solely a piece of art. For instance, if a high school class were to read The Crucible, don’t you think it would be irresponsible for the teacher not to give a background on the context in which The Crucible was written (1950’s McCarthyism)?

              Die Meistersinger was an immediate hit when it was released. During WAGNER’S time, issues of German culture and music were big issues of the day. Die Meistersinger’s depiction of a German artistic community was popular in 1871 and it’s popular today. I don’t think anyone can fail to be stirred by the exuberant finale which does make you want to stand up and cheer.

              But great works of art usually have a dark undertone, an ambiguity, and I’m just arguing that it’s a bit naive to shut out the darker elements in Meistersinger’s story. Forget the Nazis, forget even Wagner’s own extreme views about proper influences in Germanic art. The treatment of Beckmesser by this otherwise loving community is problematic — does he deserve to be beaten up and roundly condemned simply because he’s annoying? The relationship between Sachs and Eva is heartwarming on the surface but if you think about it more an old man is arranging this young woman’s love life and he himself has a crush on her.

              Maybe we just see the work differently. I see some dark undertones to the work and I think those elements make it a richer work.

            • armerjacquino

              Lorenzo- I was with you right until the end. Your mention of historical context is vital, and in that light MERCHANT is a staggeringly progressive work. To give a speech about common humanity to a Jewish character, and for him to seek the death of a Christian but escape with his life, would have been truly shocking and controversial at the time (compare the horrible caricature in THE JEW OF MALTA, for example). To modern eyes and ears the insults thrown at Shylock (never by Bassanio or Portia, by the way) are unacceptable and his forced conversion troubling, of course, but to use it as an easy example of the personal failings of a great writer is to ignore the feat of empathy by which WS puts Shylock’s point of view. And in the last analysis, he’s punished for his lack of mercy- Portia makes that very clear, and gives him a public chance to show mercy- not for his race or religion.

              TAMING OF THE SHREW, on the other hand…

            • Porgy Amor

              I never thought Beckmesser was specifically targeted in the Act Two riot because people found him annoying. He gets the worst of it from David because David sees another man appearing to woo Lena, and then it escalates, and people are going at it with each other. But I never thought it was “Nuremburg versus Beckmesser.” It isn’t that well reasoned.

              As much as the Herheim production of Salzburg could stand some refining (and probably will continue to get it, as it makes its way to the Met), I love that one for its focus on the mysteries of art’s creation, the intersection of the dream inspiration, work and craftsmanship, and the improvisational qualities of the moment. And I love the McVicar that Greg reviewed (I’ve seen the Glyndebourne video) for its compassion toward the characters…even Beckmesser. “Then take poetry to your hand. Through it, many have found what was lost.” When Sachs sings that line in the McVicar, we’re always conscious of the covered painting in the background between Sachs and Walther, and we have seen in the staging of the prelude that it’s of the late Mrs. Sachs. What was lost, indeed.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Ivy, I agree there are undertones and overtones and I’m not arguing against that. My argument is against people who see crypto-Nazism in Die Meistersinger. As for the context argument, The Crucible used historical events to comment on current events rather than confront them head on, as in writing a play directly about McCarthy and HUAC. The Salem trials were a metaphor for the Senate McCarthy hearings. I recently attended a discussion with Stacy Schiff whose new book is an analysis of the Salem trials. She is a historian who directed her attention to the historical reality of the Salem trials, the people involved, and the sequence and meaning of the events. The Crucible (as she pointed out) does not do that. It shapes historical events to reflect and comment on current events. When it came out everyone knew that, they knew more about the McCarthy hearings than they knew about the Salem trials, and as a result of that the play resonated with them. Today the play would not resonate the same unless one knows about the Senate McCarthy hearings. I would never argue against context because it helps understand the overtones and undertones and resonances of a work of art. My argument is exclusively against reading intent or meaning into a work of art as a consequence of subsequent historical events. Res ipsa loquitur. The brilliance of the Boulez-Chereau Ring wasn’t that it presented a critique of capitalism, but that it took a work of art that had become conventionally seen one way and forced us to look at it another way. That is also what’s so wonderful about Katarina Wagner’s Meistersinger, which, like it or not, blew off a lot of the dust and gave us a fresh view. That is also why those of us who appreciate the Regie productions of opera appreciate them. They blow off the dust, let us look anew at things we have taken for granted, or, to use your terminology, see them in a different context. Also (I just came back from a long walk upon which I was thinking about this shit) isn’t it interesting that no one ever criticizes Verdi for being a nationalist, and yet Wagner’s “nationalism” is roundly condemned. And the reason is that Verdi was Italian and Wagner was German, although both went fascist and shipped Jews off to be exterminated, but Wagner was, you know, a crypto-Nazi…

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Armer, I agree with you entirely on Merchant of Venice (and The Jew of Malta which panders to the lowest common denominator). My point about the Merchant of Venice is that the same people who protested Death of Klinghoffer loathe the Merchant of Venice because of the way they read the words in it. It’s not the play. It’s them. And that is my argument about Wagner vis-a-vis the Nazis.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Cicciabella, thank you, but I don’t as a rule write about these things, although I think about them and talk about them to whoever is willing to listen. The most frustrating part of the Castorf “Ring” this summer was my inability to discuss it in flagrante delicto, and yet I was not tempted to write about it, possibly because it would have meant writing a book about things I am unqualified to write about. (But it was absolutely worth the time and effort to get there :-)

            • lorenzo, I think if Wagner attracted a lot of uh, attention from Nazis and is criticized but Verdi’s strain of Italian nationalism doesn’t seem as loathsome today it’s because Wagner in his lifetime actively invited and courted controversy. Verdi was a nationalist but he didn’t write works like “Judaism in Music” (not just once, but twice and the second time under his own name). For better or worse Wagner was a provocateur who reveled in controversy. He viewed himself, as I said, not just as a composer but as a poet/philosopher/writer of the highest order and as carrying the torchlight for German music and art and direction he thought it should go.

              As I said, I think in 2015 Wagner himself would be offended if we didn’t analyze and reanalyze his works for their deeper, subliminal meanings and didn’t have arguments about their content. He wanted to be this controversial, revolutionary figure in both German culture and music, and for better or worse, he got his wish.

            • armerjacquino

              Lorenzo: understood and agreed, and apologies for misreading.

              As far as Verdi is concerned, the kind of nationalism inherent in saying ‘my people are oppressed and don’t have a homeland’ is surely a little different from ‘remember when we owned everything, it was great!’

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Armer-- oh dear. how to parse this one… First, Italian nationalism: the only time the peninsula was ever “united” (prior to the risorgimento) was under Imperial Rome. Between the partition of the empire and the risorgimento the peninsula (which I am obviously avoiding calling “Italy” because no such thing existed) was a bunch of city states with extensive land holdings (i.e. other “cities”) with various “languages” of regionally bastardized Latin who couldn’t understand each other, and of course the Papal states, and conflicting imperial claims of other European monarchs (e.g. Bourbon Naples and Sicily), etc. So it’s a terrible oversimplification to characterize the “motto” of the risorgimento as “my people are oppressed and don’t have a homeland” when there was no people per se, only a bunch of perpetually warring mini-states with regional identities whose people often hated each other. The risorgimento was an attempt to forge a nation that never existed and was resisted by most of the components until they lost militarily (as in e.g. The Leopard). The risorgimento was historically necessary because the other european powers were ahead of the game in forging nation-states that were more than glorified cities. It was part of the historically “progressive” formation of nation states that superseded feudal disarray when the economic/agrarian basis of feudalism collapsed under the weight of the industrial revolution. (pace Marx & Engels). The German states, which for hundreds of years had elected a collective ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor, were not much better off; the mid-19th c. revolutions in which Wagner participated were attempts to replace the dysfunctional feudal obligation-based polities with more modern states. So it is also inaccurate to characterize German nationalism as “remember when we owned everything, it was great.” They never did because there was no “they” any more than there was in Italy. I think it would be more accurate to say that, as in Italy, it became both economically and politically essential to forge a unified “German” state that could operate on the world stage among other more politically advanced nations driven by industrial development and colonial expansion. The biggest result of 19c nationalism was bigger wars, the consolidation of larger states, and imperialism. That is all it was ever about, whether in Britain or France or Italy or Germany. I think you are reading the origins through the lens of outcomes. All nationalism was “good” up to a point in overcoming outdated social and economic relations, and “bad” as soon as consolidated industrial states possessed larger armies and industrial war machines. Sorry for going on and on.

            • armerjacquino

              lorenzo: you shame me. My degree was in Italian and my specialisation was 19th century. Again my apologies, this time for oversimplifying in the name of aphorism.

              It’s still different though ;-)

            • grimoaldo

              Trying to reply to lorenzo on nationalism, it is a long thread, I am not sure where it will come out --
              “The biggest result of 19c nationalism was bigger wars, the consolidation of larger states, and imperialism. That is all it was ever about, whether in Britain or France or Italy or Germany. ”

              The difference between Italy and the others you list was that in Italy prior to unification large parts of what was perceived as Italian territory was occupied by what were perceived as foreign occupying powers (Austrian Hapsburg possessions in northern Italy including Milan and Venice, for instance).

            • lorenzo.venezia

              yes, Grim. that’s what I meant by “and conflicting imperial claims of other European monarchs (e.g. Bourbon Naples and Sicily), etc” although I admit my syntax is so tortured that I could hardly expect anyone to understand anything :-)

            • lorenzo.venezia

              @armer-- living there for a long time gives one a very vivid and concrete grasp of the contentious history of the peninsula ;-)

            • lorenzo.venezia

              @armer-- an old friend in Venezia assures me that there never was (which we know) and never would have been a unified Italian language were it not for television post-WWII. As it is, people from X still roll their eyes when talking to people from Y over their version of the language… Television helped spread the homogenized language based on the Tuscan dialect.

            • armerjacquino

              Well of COURSE a Venetian would say that…

            • redbear

              There was an old BBC series shown on PBS, “The Story of English.” I remember regional speakers had (very necessary) subtitles at the bottom of the screen when they spoke.

            • redbear

              “Then Truman dropped two Atom Bombs on Japan, which had already lost the war.” Cher Mme Claggert, my father and two of my three uncles were in the U. S. Marines waiting on Pacific islands for the invasion of Japan which was weeks away in August 1945. My other uncle was with Patton at Normandy and they all came home alive. It was expected that the fighting in Japan would cost another million killed or wounded. When Japan’s emperor recorded the surrender announcement, the civilian government put him in a secret place because, when broadcast, they expected a coup d’etat by the military to continue the war. I assume none of your family was involved in this war but, in any case, “it is ALL DOCUMENTED.”

          • grimoaldo

            The character eventually known as Beckmesser was called Veit Hanslich in the first draft of the libretto, which Wagner read aloud to an invited audience which included the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick, who understood it as a (further) attack on him by Wagner, about whose music he had had some less than complimentary things to say. Hanslick stormed out of the room in anger.
            In his scurrilous pamphlet “Das Judenthum in der Musik”, Wagner had attacked Hanslick as “of gracefully concealed Jewish origin” and as a review of Meistersinger from the NYT in 1993 says
            “Beckmesser’s failings are precisely those Wagner ascribed to the Jews in his notorious essay on Jews in music: Beckmesser has no melody or art of his own but preys on others (even stealing Walther’s song); he speaks of loopholes, and he acts with legalistic ruthlessness. “In song,” Wagner wrote, “the peculiarity of the Jewish nature attains for us its climax of distastefulness.” Beckmesser’s two major songs have awkward rhythms, unbalanced phrasing and a whining melisma that listeners of the time recognized as satires of Jewish melodies. His music jerks according to Wagner’s idea of Jewish speech: a “creaking, squeaking, buzzing snuffle.” In Walther’s first song, Mr. Millington points out, one verse alludes to a Grimm fairy tale, “The Jew in the Thorn,” while clearly referring to Beckmesser.

            These allusions make it impossible to treat Hans Sachs’s final proclamation of the glories of “holy German art” as an innocent resolution of the opera’s conflicts. Sachs’s warning that “evil tricks threaten us” and his call to “honor your German masters” are a bit frightening; they were meant to be. After all, the distortions of Beckmesser’s musical style have consequences; his song is the main cause of the riot in Act II. Wagner believed that art not only reflected society but also shaped it, which is why he was so worried about the supposed Jewish corruption of German art.”

            I am not anti-Wagner in general, you will find few who love the Ring (for instance) more than I, but I cannot take Meistersinger, I sat through it once, once was enough, sorry, I know it is sort of hurtful when others criticise works you love, I feel that about snide comments about Trovatore, for instance, but I find Meistersinger loathsome as a drama and I don’t even like the music very much.Rather boring, really.

            • Batty Masetto

              Grimmy, I know we’ll never agree on anti-Semitism in Wagner’s works. When one is determined to see these things, one will see them. You can come up with a whole battalion of scholars who will find all kinds of evidence for your viewpoint in any of Wagner’s operas. But it’s not the only way to see the thing, and it’s limiting, as you yourself say, because it prevents seeing so much else.

            • quoth the maven

              Hold it, Batty. Just because it’s “not the only way of seeing these things” (by which, I assume you mean “Meistersinger is more than an anti-Semitic screed”--a point I would think most of us would agree upon) doesn’t mean these things aren’t there. Personally, I feel that people who pretend that Wagner’s operas aren’t rife with anti-Semitism are either delusional, or just sick and tired of Jews kvetching about Wagner.

            • Batty Masetto

              Sorry, quoth, I’m not buying. Possibly some day somebody will unearth a letter where Wagner says “I really wanted Beckmesser to put the screws to those horrible Jews,” and then I’ll say the anti-Semitism is intrinsic. Until then, no.

              It’s just as easy to argue that there were certain things that Wagner despised in people, and especially in artists. He ascribed those traits to Jews and he ascribed them to Beckmesser. Doesn’t mean Beckmesser is a Jew. Strychnine is bitter, and so is coffee. Doesn’t mean coffee is strychnine.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              dear quoth, then there are us Jews who kvetch about other people reading anti-semitism everywhere in Wagner ;-) although I would never deny it’s presence, I think it’s reductionist and unfair to the artwork as an independent entity to facilely (adv. of facile?) find there the things we know about the author. Yes, Wagner was an anti-semite. Yes Wagner was an egotistical monster. Etc. However, Yes, e.g. Meistersinger (or Siegfried or or or) are sublime works of art which transcend what we “know” about the man who created them. How can we love Lennie knowing what he did to Mitropoplous (a tiny example); be we listen to his Mahler and we do, we do…

            • grimoaldo

              I’m a proud Episcopalian! Doesn’t stop me kvetching about anti-Semitism, not in Wagner generally, but in Meistersinger and Parsifal specifically ( but I am not going into the latter one again).

            • A lot of Beckmessers music sounds like a parody of cantorial traditions, and certainly not something Wagner normally wrote for his characters.

            • Batty Masetto

              Ivy, Daniel Barenboim doesn’t quite see it that way:

              Whoever wants to see a repulsive attack on Jews in Wagner’s operas can of course do so. But is it really justified? Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger, for example, who might be suspected of being a Jewish parody, was a state scribe in the year 1500, a position that was unavailable to Jews. As far as I am concerned, if Beckmesser’s awkward melodies resemble synagogue chant, then this is a parody of Jewish song and not a racist attack. One can of course also raise the question of taste in this matter.*

              Note the “if” (= not proven). I think it would also be fairly easy to find resemblances between Beckmesser’s song and instances of really tasteless fioriture in Italian opera.

              In any case Wagner never wrote any other music that was intentionally supposed to be really bad (other than Siegfried trying to play the reed pipe). So it’s inevitable that Beckmesser’s song would be unique.

              * Source (behind a paywall, I think :( ):

            • Lohenfal

              Grim, I remember your opinion of Meistersinger from a year or two ago and am not going to refute it. Everything you say about its doubtful aspects is true. Even a Wagnerian like me has to admit that.

              On the point of Hanslick’s reaction to the reading of the libretto in Vienna: The name Hanslich appears not in the first draft of the libretto, but rather in the two prose sketches which Wagner wrote in 1861. He sent one of these to his publisher Schott. It’s not certain whether or not he used that name or any name in the Vienna reading of the libretto a year later, according to Newman’s biography. It’s probable that the Hanslich joke had already been circulating, and that the critic Hanslick had heard about it before coming to the reading. It isn’t likely that Wagner, tactless as he frequently was, would have used that name, knowing of Hanslick’s presence in the room. I think that Wagner had at least that much sense. In any case, the critic could have easily guessed the identity of the Merker, or whatever he was called during that reading.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              I wasn’t going to comment on this thread because it’s full of the usual cliches. But here goes (and yes, Gualtier, it is ALL DOCUMENTED).

              >>no one ever criticizes Verdi for being a nationalist, and yet Wagner’s “nationalism” is roundly condemned. And the reason is that Verdi was Italian and Wagner was German, although both went fascist and shipped Jews off to be exterminated, but Wagner was, you know, a crypto-Nazi…<<

              What kind of reductive nonsense is this? Verdi hoped for Italian unity but lived to see that it wasn't achieved in his lifetime. There are those who think it has never been achieved. There is NO writing by Verdi in any letter, nor any statement nor were there statements by people he associated with that ITALIANS were a superior "race", that all non-Italian art was worthless, and that Jews and people of color were a curse and should be destroyed (just read Cosima's million word diary around the time "The Master" was writing that preposterous farrago, Parsifal to see how he thought people of color should be dealt with).

              Cosima records a “capital” joke of Richard’s, “All the Jews should be burned….”. God help anyone who is not white and doesn’t join an all-male society that believes the myth called Christianity, “a human being who is born black, urged upwards to the heights becomes white, and at the same time a different creature”. (these edifying quotes and more of the same can be found in Cosima Wagner’s Diaries, February 9, 1882 and December 18, 1881)

              Verdi did not condemn other living composers because they were… other living composers. He didn't condemn Meyerbeer at all and imitated him at times because that was a popular style and he was a commercial composer. (Wagner imitated him too but attacked him because he was JEWISH.)

              Verdi NEVER attacked Jews, either the Jews of the present or those of the past or Judaism in the abstract. As an atheist, he rejected Catholic teaching, ALL Catholic teaching including that "Jews killed Christ".

              Emanuele Muzio, Verdi's closest musical associate, who worked with him his entire life, and who Verdi trusted totally, was Jewish. Verdi had no Fascist leanings at all. He believed in a representative Republic as the best form of government and even served as a Senator for a short time.

              And what does this person mean that Italians "turned over Jews". Mussolini's government and Italian officials, in general, went to great lengths to avoid doing that. Italy is second to Norway in the fewest Jews turned over to the Nazis; despite violent Gestapo pressure, Italians of all kinds and backgrounds including lower echelon clergy hid Jews.

              Mussolini had persecuted no Jews simply because they were Jewish, there were no pogroms. Some of the people arrested and tortured by his minions were Jewish, but they were detained because they were violently anti-Fascist.

              Gualtier Malde, could he read, would read that Mussolini tried to shield Jews from the Gestapo and failed. However before the pact with Hitler Jewish composers, practical musicians, and intellectuals were unharmed and given commissions. In fact, the Jewish Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was selected to compose incidental music for a vast Fascist spectacle around the play Savonarola by Rino Alessi in 1935 and congratulated heartily by the Duce himself, as well as very well paid. In later years, he voiced his surprise at the turn to racial repression on the part of the regime, the more so because his champions all along had been the anti-Fascist and, in Italian conservative circles, detested Alfredo Casella and even worse, Arturo Toscanini.

              When the Gestapo did force the arrests of Jews, Gualtier could read the great Primo Levi for how the Italian Fascists treated those arrested with him (with abundant kindness and efforts to get them released) and the way the Germans treated him and the Italians arrested with him (all died, including Primo who was loaded onto a truck with other corpses. It was intercepted by Americans who luckily had a doctor in the company who insisted on checking to see that everyone was dead before the bodies were burned. He found Primo, the only one barely breathing, and saved him).

              The equivalency between Germans in this regard and Italians is preposterous and utterly uninformed. In Fascist screeds, there is anti-Semitic rhetoric. It was not acted upon by Italians. The great composer Dallapiccola, much commissioned by the Fascist music ministry, was married all along to an openly Jewish woman. Not only was he feted, she was in no danger, although he was a known anti-Fascist. The day he saw a German unit is the day he went into hiding to shield his wife.

              After some time in a slum in Florence where most people in the slum were questioned by the Gestapo about those who had recently moved in, whether anyone was hiding, if there were any Jews around, and EVERYONE asked, "what's a Jew?" Dallapiccola went to a remote farm and hid with his wife in a small house. The great composer/conductor Igor Markevitch, then a student, bicycled out every day when he could with news and supplies for the Dallapiccolas. Although he passed Fascist policemen going back and forth, he was never stopped never questioned and never followed.

              The person who wrote the above might read Hans Werner Henze's Bohemian Fifths to see just what Aryan Germans went through if ANYTHING they did or wore seemed out of the ordinary, or a stranger was seen coming through the small town or on a road nearby.

              Verdi was NOT a nice person as Muzio's letters make abundantly clear. But Verdi was not a bigot, either as a pose or in reality. The Mussolini period lasted much longer than the Reich, and it was only later in its history that terrible decisions were made. These were not unanimously supported even by Fascists.

              Verdi isn't attacked for his "politics" because there is no reason to attack him for them and any equivalency between him and Wagner's appalling rhetoric and evident beliefs is grotesquely false. As bad as Mussolini became (and he was no saint to start with) he was no Hitler, and he did not have similar ambitions, aside from attempting to build a small empire. This was a grave mistake and he paid for it.

              As horrific as Wagner's writings are, there is absolutely no reason to think that he would have been a Nazi, or given his personality and behavior toward his one patron, Ludwig ll, there is no reason to think they would have put up with him.

              Proto-Nazis were drawn to Bayreuth by Cosima's vicious anti-Semitism, after Wagner's death. She raised money on Bayreuth's hatred of Jews (Wagner was in the grave by then).

              But according to Heinrich Porges' eyewitness account of the preparation of the first Ring Cycle, at Wagner's request, Porges, a Jew, recounts the contributions of other Jews all hired by Wagner who treated them kindly and with great respect. (The Nazis banned the book). Of course, Wagner hired the Jew, Hermann Levi to conduct the first Parsifal, "Christian" grotesquerie with a disgraceful text.

              No one in the 19th century could have imagined the Nazis. John Simon, the critic, one of the few who deserved the name, said, "the most original achievement in the 20th century was the Nazi mechanization of slaughter." Simon's point is that much is made of originality in the arts, but no artwork matches that.

              About Italian dialects and TV. That is news to me. My grandfather and grandmother and their families learned to speak standard Italian in Fascist controlled schools. It was one of Mussolini's demands. He wanted to force a sense of nationhood by lessening the power of the innumerable local dialects and their variants to be heard throughout the country. However, while there was a leap in literacy as a result, dialects still reigned in my childhood and they were often impenetrable to those who spoke a different dialect as well as to those who had studied Italian. However, if need be, by the 50's most Italians could actually speak Italian accurately if not always elegantly.

              There is a lot to be said about the Allies' evil in WWll, no one mentioned it. Should we blame Edward Elgar or John Philip Sousa?

              It was the first time where a massive war was waged on civilians. There was the despicable bombing of Dresden, of no military value and without air defences, where children and the elderly were seen running through the streets on fire and 100,000 people incinerated is considered a conservative estimate. There was the carpet bombing of Berlin, killing many Jews in hiding; 4000 were killed for certain, their names are known, a larger number may simply have burned to death and many mid-level bureaucrats covertly working against the Nazi regime.

              Gualtier might try reading Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945 by Marie Vassiltchikov. 43,000 people died in the "Blitz", 1 MILLION civilians died in Berlin air raids. Besides ordinary German citizens, there were at least 3000-5000 French prisoners of war, forced to do hard labour in Berlin.

              The bombing of Dresden was initiated by Churchill who was so shocked by the result it was the only bombing raid where the commander received no decoration after the war. USA and Russian bombing contributed especially in Berlin and other German cities.

              Then Truman dropped two Atom Bombs on Japan, which had already lost the war.

              So where is Wagner in all this? Do you people think Hitler and Eichmann NEEDED Meistersinger of all things to give them the idea, show them the way and MOTIVATE THEM?

            • grimoaldo

              “As horrific as Wagner’s writings are, there is absolutely no reason to think that he would have been a Nazi”

              That is certainly very true, nothing I have written here has been intended to imply that Wagner was a Nazi. When he had political beliefs that he acted upon he was an anarchist, the exact opposite of fascism, in that anarchism believes in the destruction of authority and fascism worships authority.
              But Wagner could not very well continue to preach that kings, palaces, court houses, police headquarters, etc., should all annihilated once he had an actual King pouring the entire contents of the state’s coffers into his lap, so he changed the text at the end of the Ring, which in the original is a perfect anarchists’ sermon, and retreated into a sort of otherworldly Buddhist flavoured mysticism.
              Virulent antisemitism in itself is not enough to make someone a Nazi,unfortunately as you say, the Christian church has a horrific history in that regard.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Carissima Signora Claggart, since I wrote many of the things that mightily offended you, I must clarify the intent behind certain of my arguments and mea culpa my own ignorance. My arguments were primarily directed against the notion that the “nationalism” certain contributors here see in Die Meistersinger as toxic crypto-Nazi propaganda is the result of looking through the wrong end of the telescope, interpreting a work of art through the lens of later historical events and seeing something there that isn’t, or isn’t what it “seems”. It was never my intent to deny Wagner’s anti-semitism which is a matter of public record. I raised the issue of Verdi’s vs. Wagner’s nationalism only in the context of a discussion of nationalism per se; how the rise of modern nation states was progressive in its origins and later turned into its opposite (in *all* cases), as seen in WW2. Not among the knowledgeable or high-minded, such as yourself, but in the general mind, the thread of German nationalism from 1848 through the Weimar Republic is seen as part of the development of National Socialism, whereas the nationalism of, *for example* Italy, is seen as progressive unification and “nation building.” My point was that historically speaking pre-Reich German nationalism was as “progressive” and “democratic” as any other nationalism, until it wasn’t. As for the issue of Italian fascist anti-semitism, you argue from the specific, I argued, glibly, from the abstract and only to make a point. My subjectivity, my arguing from emotion led to grotesque oversimplification. Yes, I am Jewish. Yes, I have read and adore Primo Levi. For years I walked past the monument to the deported Jews in Venice’s Campo di Ghetto Nuovo on a daily basis, and wandered repeatedly through both the ancient and modern Jewish cemeteries on Lido. The “modern” one is particularly instructive in realizing just how large the pre-WW2 Jewish population of tiny Venice was, which, today, or at least pre-Chabad, was down to triple-digits. That clouded my objectivity and yes, I failed to distinguish between the actions and policies of the Italian fascists vs. the Nazi invaders, which is a mistake. However it takes two to tango. As for the role of TV in the spread of the modern Italian language, that was largely the tongue-in-cheek argument of an Italian friend who says it to make people laugh and nonetheless believes it. For a time I taught English to Italian businessmen (and women) in the Veneto, many of whom came from other regions for work, and who all uniformly complained that they often could not understand each other, a fact we all laughed about. None of them found the argument that TV helped spread the common tongue more than schools did entirely preposterous. Unfortunately my tone in mentioning this was lost in the uninflected mode of internet text. mea culpa.

    • Rosemont

      Thank you, Batty. This is so informative and well put. (Why don’t R. Strauss, Bruckner, and even LVB get the “Nazi primer” treatment?)

      • SF Guy

        R. Strauss has gotten a free pass from many, but not from Ken Russell:

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Lorenzo, I understand your point of view and it is politically astute. Any attempt (including one by a dithering old lady like me) to write about complex historical waves is difficult and I am sure you have been more read than I.

        Your attempt to write about the rise of nationalism out of a more feudal conception of the world, the move toward centralized government away from the clashes and competitions of principalities with their separate laws, and sometimes, dialects that essentially amounted to alternative languages, the way what seemed a natural progression — nations united by history, language, laws and culture — turned into various kinds of totalitarianism as powerful groups saw ways to profit from this movement and achieve exclusive power by poses and propaganda that disguised ruthless ambition, war mongering for profit, colonization for profit and influence (with a view to more profit) and so on is highly intelligent.

        However, although I am sure I am as guilty as anyone (though of a kinder and sweeter temperament than anyone) the temptation to fall into insupportable generalizations is great, and it’s easy. None of us is writing a book after much thought, organized research and the checking of experts, after all.

        But then I saw above more irresponsibility by Batty Masetto. The attempt to link Verdi to Fascism is simply false; his or her generalizations are lies. I think one must, even with the endless charity, warmth, and kindness I am known for among the tiny number who know me, confront it.

        There simply IS NO connection between Verdi and Wagner politically. Verdi was NOT used by Fascists to promote their cause and Batty Masetto doesn’t support that assertion. That Italy is a country or a group of territories remarkable for art, visual, literary, musical is an assertion I have heard from educated and far from Fascist-minded Italians as recently as last month.

        However, the Fascist movement was notably unsympathetic to opera. Mussolini disliked opera and although he attended La Scala and the Rome Opera on Gala occasions he had his two obese sons sit in front of him. He would bow at the start of an evening, then sit on a large sofa, they would draw their chairs in front of him, and he would recline and sleep through the performance.

        However, he was a capable amateur violinist and while hardly a musical intellectual was strongly drawn to serious instrumental music, some of which he could play after a fashion (Haydn for example).

        Batty Masetto might try reading “Mussolini’s Intellectuals: Fascist Social and Political Thought” by A. James Gregor, if he or she reads Italian, “Mussolini (Storia)” by Denis Mack Smith, exceptionally well researched and DOCUMENTED, “Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under The Dictatorship 1915 To 1945” by R. J. B. Bosworth or since music and opera (not always music) is central here, “Music in Fascist Italy” by Harvey Sachs.

        Although some of his research has been superseded it’s a fluently written book from 1988 and he was able to talk to many famous Italian musicians, still alive then, who had been trained under the newly rigorous systems insisted on by the Fascist Ministry of Music and had also dealt with the way political connections or the lack of them helped or hurt attempts to make careers (Italy, always disorganized, was not run like Germany).

        The three composers who ran The Fascist musical ministry, which also created propaganda, went back to the Italian Rennaisence masters of polyphony and counterpoint as the FOUNDERS OF ALL SERIOUS MUSIC. These people had a strong objection to the notion of opera, which they thought was inevitably a betrayal of the immense learning and intellect of the great Italian composers whose influence was felt worldwide.

        Verdi and the verismo composers managed “popular” entertainment. But JS Bach, for example, would not have been possible without Palestrina, Frescobaldi or Monteverdi. His homages and that of his great senior, Heinrich Schuetz to Monteverdi (Schuetz studied with Monteverdi) and his use of Vivaldi were noted as was the Italian influenced work of the great French composer-theorist, Rameau, and importantly the work of Lully who was Italian.

        Rameau who used the virtuoso counterpoint of Frescobaldi in his enormously influential work (Berlioz was still using it centuries later) sought to create a more consistent, “French” version of these intellectual Italian forms.

        As great but to opera people unknown composer such as Ligeti studied the Rennaisence Italians for their counterpoint.

        The Fascist musical ministry went out of its way to commission and perform instrumental music by living composers, founding a remarkable school, of whom Dallapiccola was surely the greatest composer, but it consisted of many other very gifted and serious composers who DID NOT write operas (primarily).

        The rehabilitation of Verdi happened after the war and was led by British and American musicologists who actually studied his works, starting with the first, and endeavored to free the handful of really familiar operas of the extreme cuts and stupid distortions inflicted on them.

        Hitler, who liked Lehar and American jazz, and his propagandists used Wagner largely because of his prose writing and the epic manner of his compositions. They banned, forced out or killed composers most of them non-operatic with a different musical sensibility.

        The list includes Berg who was Catholic, Hindemith who was Aryan, the Jews, of course, including Schoenberg, Stravinsky, although he did some flirting with Nazis, and a younger school led by such as Karl Amadeus Hartmann who I doubt Batty has ever heard of. They also banned Bartok (who was welcome in Italy and had he kept his head down might have had a better time there than he died dying in abject poverty in America).

        That Mahler was a Jew was enough reason for the Nazis to ban him, but the harmonic implications of his later symphonies were repellant to them. crucial as they were to serious composers of the ’20s and ’30s.

        So Verdi was not canonized by The Fascists (although he had been by the Italian nationalists of the late 19th century) that is a lie. The black face argument is too stupid to address.

        But Lorenzo, my apologies if I seemed insolent and captious, old ladies must have their sleep and gin and I was without mine early this morning when demon death was sitting on the bed post and urging me to be offensive.

        • Batty Masetto

          Dear Mrs. JC -- I do wish you were as careful reading others as you expect them to be in reading you.

          My point was exactly the opposite of what you attribute to me. Nobody associates Verdi with the outrages of fascism precisely because there is no connection.

          My point was the same as you were making about Wagner (though he is undoubtedly a much more difficult customer altogether). Wagner did not create Nazism just as Verdi did not create Italian fascism.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Then, in the fury of age, I misread you, Batty, and I am very sorry. I don’t have an excuse, except that somehow Verdi as Fascist symbol and PC have been on my mind and I must have read you too quickly. I hope you forgive me. I have enjoyed reading other posts by you and thought your comments about Lulu especially thoughtful and alert.

            • Batty Masetto

              Thank you, Mrs. JC. No harm done, but I didn’t want to let the record stand the way it was.

        • Camille

          Shouldn’t be drinking from that Bombay bottle, dearie!!! Liver will rot out and ravens and buzzards will go pecking after the sorry mess!! “Die Krähe!”

          Do you happen to know at all Mascagni’s Nerone, which came out around 1935? It was his bid to ingratiate himself, from what I understand. The old ladies I spoke with, when visiting Mussolini’s Villa Torlonia, STILL had the highest praise for Benito and, so help me götter, for ABOVE ALL, his efficacy in getting the trains to run ON TIME! This was in 1987. Still Avanti popolo!!! I don’t know how many times, while my autobus was circling around Palazzo Venezia, did I imagine him on the balcony, shouting just that. There was some movie out about him, around five or six years back and now I cannot recall its title but it had to do with his first wife or the woman who financed him. It was brutal, I recall, and not much else.

          Lorenzino caro—-it has been my experience, in traversing about five miles of distance from Monteverde Vecchio to Rione Monti, of going from one dialetto (trasteverino, la lingua del celeberrimo Belli) to the dialetto of the rione, proprio al centro storico, so I hear you. My professor in language school admonished all of us stranieri/e “da non ascoltare quei mascalzoni dentro la strada!”, or something of that nature.

          When I visited Venezia I was so taken with and awestruck by the ghettos, that I took copious photographs of it all--I wonder where those landed, sigh? I will never forget Venezia — m’ha fatto tanto, tanto impressione--and so wish I could either die there or, perhaps more directly on the road to Hades, would be to die atop the mountain overlooking the sea where lies the teatro antico in Taormina, where one truly can begin believing in myths of Circe and serpenti, giganti ed Ulisse. Ciao lorenzino e tanti auguri ancora per il settantesimo!

          • lorenzo.venezia

            Ciao, Camille. I hear you about Taormina! My post-Bayreuth tour of Sicilia was truly a revelation. Sicilia is f**ing fantasyland, dazzling and amazing. We drove around the entire island from Catania to Siracusa to Noto -- Modica -- Ragusa to Agrigento, around to Monreale/Palermo to Cefalù to Taormina and back to Catania. Whew. A total mind-f**k. I fell in love. Also, if/when you return to Venezia I highly recommend visiting the Jewish cemeteries on Lido (the ancient is harder to get into, by appointment or rare “open” times, but the “modern” one is wide open and a true education). I spent a lot of time there for some research I was doing, and it was another revelation. FYI, although my Bayreuth experience this summer was a mixed bag, I must say Vogt was *super* and I’m hoping to go back in 2016 to hear his Parsifal (although I am committed to Paris-Angers — one of those “roots” things for my partner-- with a stop at the Iceland hot springs/Blue lagoon for his 50th; his choice). Your posts are always a pleasure and I look forward to more of the same this year and the next etc. :-)

            • Camille

              Beati Voi!! I would love to see that island adjacent to Siracusa, among many other things—and must just briefly pop in to tell you that, according to a friend of ours, those hot spring things in Iceland are just otherworldly and a really fantastic experience, so you are apparently in for a treat!

              Yes, when and if I ever return to La Serenissima I shall be dead on the tracks of one Comm. Guido Brunetti, with whom I have been having a one-way love affair for the last several years—that reminds me, didp you know Donna Leon, that great benefactress of the settecento? Ciao for now e tantissime belle cose!

            • lorenzo.venezia

              @camille: never had the pleasure of meeting signora Leon although we have friends in common. I knew a pair of Americani who annually spent three months in Venezia (one of them was Russell Oberlin the countertenor of 50s-60s; he was so thrilled I had seen his Britten’s Midsummer’s Night Dream at SHRINE (!!) back in the day when I was a mere child; the other was Sam his longtime partner). They were friends of Donna L. and according to them their apartment was the model for Brunetti’s (down to the 94 stairs — or whatever it was — up, etc.) and was apparent when you explored the space a little or had wine and cicchetti on the fourth floor terrazzo. They were certainly a delight (Sam now passed on to another dimension). And YES, I am a great hot spring/therme/terme afficionado and that is the sole purpose of our stopover in Iceland for the Blue Lagoon on our way to Parigi! I love the Deutsch therme best of all the Germans being so German in their approach and there is hardly a lovlier way to spend a day than at a good bad! and YES, Ortigia is the ONLY reason to go to Siracusa, a city that otherwise made me sad (and the only thing about Sicilia that made me sad). I wish I could send you my pix of Isola di Ortigia which has, among other things, the remains of the oldest Ionic temple in the entire universe. Utterly enchanting. And the food, overall, supremo! xoxo

            • manou

            • Krunoslav

              ” I wish I could send you my pix of Isola di Ortigia”


            • Camille

              O lorenzino bello! — perdona! I have been busy with Venerdì Nero and now I am shipwrecked in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a bunch of Porteguese mate lots!!!!


              Thank you for wising us up, very sad indeed) on the subject of Siracusa as I had held much the same impression that did Cocky K. about the city. Particularly interested in that most ancient of days Greek temple, now I recall that you mention it. In Sicily one gets to the gist of what all that Homerian epic seems to have been all about — that — and the marzipan! are what it is all about!! So happy for you that you had this great experience to celebrate your three score + 10 — a veritable just dessert.

              Mary Taylor Simeti is a wonderful writer on the subject of Sicily and if you or anyone else is interested in learning a little more I highly recommend her books, including one cook book, entitled simply enough, Sicilian Food and another called, I think, Bitter Almonds, about the exquisite sweets and delicacies derived therefrom, most probably an Arabic heritage, one of the many. As well, her book proper about the island On Persephone’s Island is kind of a classic now on the subject, and a wonderful guide to the realities of living there, as opposed to voyaging and vogueing around as turista, and tells it realistically as seen through the eyes of a strainera who married into that society.

              As well, lorenzo, the point you brought out somewhere above, I so kindly and gratefully thank you for having stated and so succinctly: “My argument is exclusively against reading intent or meaning into a work of art as a consequence of subsequent historical events. Res ipsa loquitur.” It is so hard and so important, critical, to always bear this in mind.

              Thank you for popping up, right in the middle of the Nuremberg Rallies here on parterre, to give us a mini-vacation on Persephone’s isle, and I am proud to be a fellow “Shriner” with you — we are a dying breed!!! xxxooo e buone cose sempre!!!

            • lorenzo.venezia

              @Camille: OMG that marzipan. and the cioccolata in modica. and the pesce spada. and, surprisingly, the pizza, and and and :-) One last remark about the off-topic Sicilia-- don’t get me wrong, Siracusa (by which people really mean Isola di Ortigia) is indispensable, although its overall state made this individual a little sad. As to your other comment: because of when I went to university I was critically trained at a time when and older school(s) of criticism were current. One of the great things about being older is the way what you know changes chemically, metamorphoses into an amalgamated and, dare I say, matured, form of understanding. I’m cool with it. And then there’s a certain amount of common sense which is startlingly lacking in mass culture and much of what passes for criticism these days. OK. Down from high horse. xoxo

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Adored Camille, Mascagni milked the Fascists for every penny he could get from them. He was utterly shameless and since Puccini had died in 1924, Mascagni used a still potent European reputation as both a composer and a conductor (he was much more respected in that capacity than people know. In fact surviving records show that he was very accomplished). No less than Mahler had adored Mascagni while hating Puccini. So they didn’t dare ignore Mascagni’s demands for money for the “great work” he would dedicate to Il Duce.

            Mascagni, as much a con as an artist, after he had manipulated those huge sums out of the government in exchange for almost nothing, ended with the disaster called Nerone in 1935 almost totally a recycling of a failure from 1907 that in parts didn’t even fit the libretto. It was a portrait of Il Duce that did not please Mussolini since it seemed to be a send up as performed by the great tenor, Aureliano Pertile.

            Tenor and composer found themselves in bad odor after that but not in prison or the grave, which would have happened elsewhere. The tenor went on though less prominently.The composer, 70, was able to wrangle occasional conducting jobs and ended up dying in destitution shortly after the war (kept alive in part by lunches sent him by his holiest fan, Pope Pius XII). His funeral was not attended by a single Italian in an official position.

            BTW the three heads of Fascist Music were Giuseppe Mulè who shared power with the virtuoso suck up Adriano Lualdi whose slavishly adulatory letters and telegrams to Mussolini are shocking to read, and another true believer, best known as a music critic, Alceo Toni, although he also composed. Giuseppe Mulè was actually a gifted composer, mostly of instrumental and symphonic music and very fond of Schoenberg, Berg and Stravinsky. He seems to have put Dallapiccola in touch with Berg (whose lubricious character shocked the Italian, it is said, but Dallapiccola became very close to Webern).

            Mussolini did not like the work of any of these then avant-garde composers except Stravinsky but did respect Dallapiccola. He did however constantly pester Respighi to visit. Respighi, who had a substantial international reputation and not only because of the “Roman Trilogy” but because of a substantial body of highly sophisticated symphonic music — his Metamophorseon, 12 variations on a Gregorian chant is a marvelous work, given its world premiere by the Boston Symphony, had no political interests whatever and finally bored Il Duce silly.

            • Camille

              Oh, those were the three composers then--I was wondering about that and figured on Malipoero in the bunch somewhere, but apparently not.

              Yes, thank you for refreshing my memory on that big turkey Nerone, the beautiful leather and embossed score I once owned and patiently combed through until one day I suddenly realised there was not that much worth my while and I sold the score to buy lunch in my starving studentessa daze. Forgot how much I got for it but I seem to recall at least two courses to the pranzo!!! Poor Mascagni—what a great, long fall from Cavalleria and Iris! A very curious opera, Guglielmo Ratcliff, and his opera Amica are in NYPAL and have occasiknally eyeballed them but did not know what to make of them. Amica has a French libretto (think it was first given in Monte Carlo) and was written for La Geraldina Farrar (Farrar farà!), and I narrowly missed seeing it in Rome in 2008, but arrived a little too late, sorry. I really should look into Parisina, Le Maschere I really don’t give a hoot about and that will bring us to a guilty favourite Isabeau, to which I bought the score and occasionally get out in secret and go over. It’s kinda awful and I kinda love it!!!

              I must go but hope you didn’t slave in the kitchen for your husband (oh, that’s right, he is deceased, sorry!) and are having a pleasant Venerdì Nero! I must get my boots on to get out in the trenches at Warner Center! Gangway, here I come!

              Salve, Beatissima Regina Claggart!

              The movie on Mussolini was Vincere, 2009, and yes, did tell the tale of his first wife and son, whom he treated abominably. Avanti popolo, indeed!!

        • lorenzo.venezia

          Dearest Mrs JC- The point of the best discussiond is to find the truths amid the different points of view, and in order to do that we must agree not only to disagree but to have the courage to put our points out there, to defend them, to yield where we are wrong, and to enjoy the process. I love it. I genuinely love your posts (and have for the ten years+ that I can remember), your erudition, the passion of your positions, and found it exhilarating to spar, to figure out how to make you understand what I meant and how to glean from your comments the correctives to my own subjectivity and mine to yours, etc. However, that being said, I think you misread Batty who seems to me the kind of thinker who couldn’t have meant what you thought he meant because on the basis of all of his posts that I have read here over the years, he’s not that kind of guy, and knows and thinks to much to think that anyway. So while I’m at it, thank you for all your contributions to my understanding of the fabric, historical and contemporary, of music in general and opera in particular, and even where we disagree, I respect your opinions because they are never glib or convenient. The contention puts us more in command of our thoughts and our understanding of the things we love and believe. Looking forward to much more in the coming year.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            You are very kind, Lorenzo and very interesting to read. As I said, I thought your points about the shift from Feudalism fascinating and well put. Thank you for your nice words and I apologized to Batty who I did skim.

          • Batty Masetto

            Well, kerflooey. Lorenzo, I tried replying here but it wound up at the end of the thread.

  • gironabalie

    There is about 45 minutes of music starting at the beginning of the third act (after the prelude) which is second or even third rate where Wagner slips into dross, and I have never seen a production which has been able to save the audience from these appalling longueurs.

    • marshiemarkII

      If by the first 45 minutes of Act III you mean to include the Wahn Wahn Uberall Wahn Monologue, I’d have to say that is an insane statement, some of the greatest music Wagner wrote!!!!, on a par with the greatest Wotan Monologues in the Ring, not to mention the profound meditation on human nature, with the unparalleled understanding only a genius like him could provide. That scene is followed by the co-composition of the song between Sachs and Walther, magnificent music from first to last note leading logically into the sublime Quintett. Wagner DID NOT write second rate music, ever, in any of the operas. If you think something is second rate, listen again! And the Third Act of Meistersinger is a miracle from glorious first to glorious last note!

      • PCally

        Agree to disagree MarshiemarkII. Wagner is my all time favorite composer and lesser wagner is still better than a lot of other composers best music. However while the glorious parts of Meistersinger rank up there with the finest music he ever wrote, I think act one drags out for far too long and could stand some revisions. Likewise I think Tannhauser is comparatively less interesting when compared to his other mature operas and I think the choral music is much more memorable than most of the music the soloists are given to sing. Composers aren’t super heros and I can’t think of anyone whose hasn’t written a flawed work, and that includes wagner.

        • Porgy Amor

          Hmm. I don’t disagree with your close, but Meistersinger is the last one I would nominate as lesser Wagner. Rather, like Verdi’s Falstaff, it gets deeper and richer the more time I spend with it.

          I remember something from a long time ago, when I first was listening to the Wagner operas. An older friend who was one of the most musically erudite people I knew, and knew the canonical Wagner operas forward and backward, told me he could go the rest of his life without hearing any of the others again, but he could never do without Meistersinger. I’m not there yet, but I know what he means now. It and Parsifal are the greatest of the great to me.

          • PCally

            Porgy, I don’t think Meistersinger is lesser Wagner, in fact I said that the best of it ranks as the finest music wagner ever wrote. I merely said that it has flaws, specifically that act one was too long. I think the work is a masterpiece and that acts two and (especially) three are simply astonishingly. But being a masterpiece doesn’t mean being perfect. I was just disputing the nation that wagner never wrote second rate music and that anyone who feels that way simply doesn’t know the music.

            I would probably put it behind Tristan,

            • PCally

              *Tristan, the ring, and parsifal in terms of wagner love, but it’s still one of my all time favorites.

      • quoth the maven

        I don’t think the Meister’s acolytes do him any favors by asserting that all of the music is equally sublime. In my own humble opinion, the long, noisy passage in Act II Tristan between Tristan’s entrance and “O sink hernieder” is just about empty and worthless a stretch of music as exists in the standard rep--redeemed, of course, by the Liebesnacht proper. But I can’t entirely agree with gironabalie about Act III, Scene 1 Meistersinger: for all of its length, I think it’s inspired stuff.

        • Krunoslav

          I fond of SIEGFRIED, but find the Erda/Wanderer scene to be lesser music, even when enacted by performers of immense skill ( Hanna Schwarz and Thomas Stewart, San Fran 1985, my first and probably best).

          Other than the Prelude, “Am stillen Herd” and-- if you have *really* good singers-- David and Kothner’s narrations, I find MEISTERSINGER Act One to be devoid of musical interest.

          And then there’s RIENZI, where one has Adriano’s aria, the “hero’s” Prayer and THAT’S ALL.

          • PCally

            Funny, I think the erda Wotan scene may be my favorite scene in the whole cycle, I just think it’s fascinating.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Absolutely, PCally. In fact, Act III of Siegfried is my favorite act in the Ring, from first note to last.

        • gironabalie

          quoth the maven,

          “In my own humble opinion, the long, noisy passage in Act II Tristan between Tristan’s entrance and “O sink hernieder” is just about empty and worthless a stretch of music as exists in the standard rep--redeemed, of course, by the Liebesnacht proper”

          Yes, I also feel that much of it is musically empty and a bit hammy but I think this stretch is redeemed earlier at Tristans’s words, “Das Licht! Das Licht! O dieses Licht, wie lang verlosch es Nicht!”

          • To paraphrase Peter Sellars, that passage before “O sink hernieder” shows that T & I are mature characters who have been around the block and have issues to work out. Musically, it may not be Wagner at his sublime but dramatically, it is important. Tristan enters and the two make passionate love (Isolde hitting her high Cs and all) and then they talk. And as they talk, they deal with their issues. They have a bit of back and forth. And then, with “O sink hernieder”, they get amorous again but this time, more slowly. And then of course, they’re interrupted. The arc of the scene makes perfect dramatic sense.

            • PCally

              It’s ridiculous I know but I simply think tristan is just a masterpiece from the first not the last. Like you said I think the entire love duet is necessary to get the complete dramatic arc.

            • Gualtier M

              I also find that passage necessary as to structure. (BTW: It was cut at the Met for a long time -- most of the Flagstad/Melchior performances cut it starting right in with the Liebesnacht).

              “Tristan und Isolde” is all about dichotomies. Wagner is equating “Day” with “Public Life/Duty” and “Night” with the “Inner Life/Eros”. Also “Night”=”Love”=”Death”. Those dualities are pitted against each other all night long. So basically if you are going to have a Liebesnacht you have to have the “Tag” section before it. Obviously from the level of musical inspiration, we can see where Wagner’s deepest sympathies laid. (You could also equate Tag=Minna Planer Wagner and Nacht=Mathilde Wesendonck!)

              I found in the Met revival under Barenboim that that passage suddenly came to life and was interesting. But I still waited for those gorgeous melodies in “O Sink Hernieder…” not to mention Brangaene’s watch.

            • PCally: In my experience, the more I get to know a Wagner score (especially post-Lohengrin), the more I like it. Passages I used to find tedious lose their tedium as I get to know them better.

              I can’t believe there was a time when I though Wotan’s monologue needed some major editing. Heck, I even once thought that the Siegfried Idyll needed shoring (was I ever that young?). Later, it was the third act of Tristan which I found endless (though I loved the beginning and end). But all those hesitations have fallen by the wayside the more I get to know each score.

              With that in mind, I tend to give Wagner the benefit of the doubt until I’ve really got to know a piece through and through. It doesn’t mean I no longer listen critically (for example, some of the music in the Gibichung scene of the first act of GD is four-square but I still like to listen to it). But, when I know them well, I tend to love his works from beginning to end. And yes, I feel as you do about Tristan.

            • Batty Masetto

              Such wise words, Kashie. I don’t want to say how many works I dismissed in younger years only to kick myself later for being so blind/deaf.

              I’ll confess my worst sin (well, in that line anyway): A very very early experience of Don Carlo with an idiotically preening Tucker and a wobbly Nell Rankin left me persuaded that it must be the dumbest opera ever written (!). And so (from bad to worse) I turned down a chance to hear it in Vienna with Corelli, Ludwig and Ghiaurov. I forget the soprano and baritone now but they were equally big-name.

              But it’s also true that if a bad performance can really sour a work, sometimes all it takes is the right one to reveal what’s really there. No doubt that Vienna performance would have spared me several years of Carlo-less benightedness.

            • Krunoslav

              “I turned down a chance to hear it in Vienna with Corelli, Ludwig and Ghiaurov. I”

              Batty, I fear that you are misremembering — or else that Ludwig pulled out when she heard you weren’t to be in the audience! Corelli’s only two Vienna Ebolis were Cossotto (1963) and Verrett (1970).

            • Batty Masetto

              Kruno, I had heard that Christa threw a tantrum and refused to go on once she learned I wasn’t in the house. But I didn’t want to brag. :)

  • David

    I have never seen it in the theatre and so do not presume to give an authoritative view, but I must admit so far ‘a five hour unfunny comedy about a singing contest’ pretty much sums up how I feel about Meistersinger. The fact that the biggest joke in the piece appears to be a man being beaten half to death by a mob -- ho ho -- doesn’t endear it to me. And I haven’t heard enough in the music to make we want to plough through my (perhaps mistaken) qualms about the story and characters

  • Satisfied

    Looking for some good regie productions to order for Christmas (recently released).


  • Batty Masetto

    I get the sympathy for Beckmesser – for one thing, he lives out one of our commonest nightmares. What opera lover hasn’t dreamed about suddenly having to go on and sing Norma or Tristan with no preparation?

    But it’s not as though his treatment is somehow unique. Casting out the pharmakos – the “scapegoat,” but also the “poisoner” – has been a feature of comedy since its beginnings in ancient Greece. Beckmesser falls within a direct line that reaches all the way back to Aristophanes’ Kleon the Paphlagonian (in the Knights) and also includes Shakespeare’s Malvolio (the “Ill-Wisher”).

    He’s also not nearly as morally repugnant as some other comic villains. Just to go with Beaumarchais-based operas for a minute, think of Bartolo trying to force himself in marriage on his own unwilling young ward. Or the Count – philandering hypocrite, wife-abuser and would-be legal rapist. Vain, stupid and a bad artist Beckmesser may be, but it pretty much stops there.

    The punishments he suffers are not a whole lot worse than we’ve seen our own Parterrians wish on inadequate performers any number of times. Only this time the pain isn’t just rhetorical. Yet his treatment isn’t the meanest in operatic comedy, either. Though he gets mugged, it’s by happenstance and mistake (and only one-on-one, until the situation gets out of hand and everybody starts fighting everybody). And though he gets roundly mocked, it’s because of his willingness to do something that any true artist would bridle at – presenting an ill-prepared performance of plagiarized work.

    Falstaff, on the other hand, is lured with deliberate malice into situations where others can inflict both fear and physical hurt, and not just once, but twice. Isn’t that nastier?

    • quoth the maven

      Falstaff is ultimately integrated into the group that has taught him his lesson, in an ensemble that emphasizes that folly is shared by all men. Beckmesser, is cast out from Nuremburg’s society, while the good burghers mock him, in way acknowledging any sense of shared humanity. He is truly “the other.” It’s a much, much nastier piece of business than Falstaff’s comeuppance.

      • quoth the maven

        um…in NO way acknowledging etc etc

  • Les Contes d’Hoffmann, in Marthaler’s Madrid production, came out quite recently, I think. Opéra Magazine said (my translations): “Filmed at the Teatro Real in Madrid in May 2014, this Tales of Hoffmann, in Christoph Marthaler’s production, are above all Gerard Mortier’s artistic last will and testament”. With Eric Cutler, Anne-Sophie von Otter, Ana Durlovski, Measha Brueggergosman and Altea Garrido under Sylvain Cambreling, on BelAir Classiques.

    • (That was in reply to Satisfied, and I apologise for the mistakes).

  • Satisfied

    Thank you! NPW! Will check it out.

  • EarlyRomantic

    From armerjacquino:
    As far as Verdi is concerned, the kind of nationalism inherent in saying ‘my people are oppressed and don’t have a homeland’ is surely a little different from ‘remember when we owned everything, it was great!’

    You mean like Great Britain’s?

    • armerjacquino

      Hey, can anyone give me a hand resetting this trap?

      • lorenzo.venezia

        armer, you’re on your own, baby ;-)

  • About that Joan Crawford award -- we’ll see who should get it after next summer’s Jenufa, hmmm?

  • Feldmarschallin

    Der amerikanische Heldentenor und Kammersänger Stephen Gould wird sich aus familiären Gründen und auf Anraten seines Arztes beruflich für mindestens zwei Monate zurück ziehen. „Ich hatte in letzten Jahren viele großartige Engagements. Hierfür möchte ich mich bei allen, die mich auf meinem sehr erfolgreichen Weg begleitet haben und bei meinem Publikum bedanken. Jedoch muss ich jetzt eine Auszeit nehmen, um mich wieder zu regenerieren“, begründet Stephen Gould seine Entscheidung.

    Schweren Herzens muss er zwei Projekte absagen: „Siegfried“ und „Götterdämmerung“ an der Wiener Staatsoper im Januar 2016 sowie die Neuproduktion von William Bolkons „McTeague“ am Landestheater Linz mit Premiere am 6. Februar 2016.

  • Batty Masetto

    Lorenzo, how kind of you to stand up for me. And I utterly share your fascination with Sicily. Some years ago I toured almost exactly the same itinerary, though going counterclockwise instead. Can’t wait to get back and explore more. Did you make it to Selinunte and Segesta?

    • Or to the shabby but comfortable opera house in Palermo?

      • lorenzo.venezia

        Missed it this time which is odd because the opera house is usually the first place I go but we hit a dead spot in the schedule. Next time. “Shabby but comfortable” is felicitous and describes much of Sicilia ;-)

        • Just for the record, at the Teatro Massimo I saw Maria Stuarda. Conductor: Fabrizio Maria Carminati. Production, sets, costumes and lighting: Denis Krief. Elisabetta: Kate Aldrich. Maria Stuarda : Dimitra Theodossiou. Anna Kennedy: Patrizia Gentile. Roberto di Leicester: Shalva Mukeria. Giorgio Talbot: Mirco Palazzi. Lord Guglielmo Cecil Silvio Zanon.

          • lorenzo.venezia

            I saw that production at La Fenice with Ganassi, Cedolins, Bros, and was entirely underwhelmed by the singing and the production. The only stand-out that night was that, on their way back from visiting Il Papa, Charles and Camilla came that night, totally diverting attention from the stage to the royal box. I didn not envy the singers that competition. I have to say that both of them had a lot more glamour than I would have imagined; and it was an odd choice of operas I think ;-) The streets around Fenice were filled with carabinieri. I stopped for a spritz at the bar a fianco di Fenice on my way in and asked the bartender why all the carabinieri, to which he replied, “il *piccolo* principe” with discernible disdain.

            • Is he that small?

            • lorenzo.venezia

              NPW-- in this case the “piccolo” wasn’t referring to his physical stature, but to his political stature ;-)

      • And that Roman Villa in the middle of the island with acres of mosaic floors…

        • lorenzo.venezia

          Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina

      • The Villa Igiea was a shabby but comfortable hotel too, only I imagine it’s been tarted up a great deal since I was there.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          NPW-- my hillside b&b in monreale with lovely gardens and pool 6 km from the hurlyburly and impossible traffic of Palermo was entirely enchanting.

    • lorenzo.venezia

      Batty, Segesta was on my original route but we modified it on the fly because we were very ready to get to Monreale (6 km above Palermo) where our b&b had gorgeous moutainside gardens and pool which I had to tear myself away from each day to visit the Duomo (square MILES of mosaici that are as good or better than San Marco or Ravenna). Our hosts were a divine older couple — shades of Fawlty Towers (many funny stories there!) but in a sweet/daffy way more than a mean/clueless sort of way, who couldn’t do enough for us and, when we left, invited us back so they could show us *their* Palermo because they said we were “simpatico” ;-) Everyone we met, everywhere we stayed, were SO sweet. But tough choices had to be made since we didn’t have a month to circumnavigate the island in our Fiat 500. Also, the Valle de Templi at Agrigento was an overwhelming dose of monumental Greek ruins — SUCH an eye opener!! that more Greek ruins, in the moment, seemed superfluous. I will catch both Segesta and Seliunte when I return because I also missed the terme at Sciacca et al but it was so bloody hot when we were there post-Bayreuth (only a madman goes to Sicilia in Agosto!)that the terme didn’t seem so inviting as much as I LOVE terme. I truly LOVED Modica (and not only for the chocolate) beyond expression — it is so surreal, so mountain-top Fellini-baroque, that it was hard to tear ourselves away. A tip for your next trip: Hotel Antica Stazione at Chiaramonte Gulfi about 40 minutes north of (the indispensable) Ragusa, in yet another of the stunning Sicilian microclimates, set in rolling hills among the fascinating ancient stone property walls and olive orchards, a very lovely and restful spot between the dazzlements of the baroque cities and Agrigento, Scala dei Turchi, etc. Sorry for rambling, but Sicilia mi piace moltissimo!!

      • Batty Masetto

        Oh yes, Monreale is a total stunner. We got there while the cathedral was still closed for the noon break, and parked out front (can you tell how long ago this was yet?). And some guy with an official-looking cap and a money purse came along and wanted 500 lire or something for parking. I didn’t much care for the look of him so I said, OK but where are your ricevute? And he just repeated the demand. So it was some kind of off-the-books enterprise (of course).

        My partner was all for refusing but I figured, hey, it’s 25 cents or something and it might be just as well to pay the protection money, if that’s what it is. So we paid and went into the nearby caffè to wait until the church opened its doors. And this squat older guy in a double-breasted gray suit comes up to us and says, “have some cannoli on me.” We said how very nice of you, thanks but we just had lunch a little while ago. And he says a LOT more firmly, <b?"have some cannoli on me." So we ate our cannoli like good boys. (And they were very good.)

        I sometimes wonder if the Godfather may have been rewarding us for going along with the system.

        But I have to say that in spite of dire warnings from our friends in Rome and in spite of having a French-registered car that was very visibly laden with luggage and mementos and all kinds of stuff, we never had problems with crime of any sort the whole time.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          Catania and Siracusa had some dodgy aspects but otherwise we had fabulous experiences with i siciliani. They have also cleaned up their act a bit since the lire days ;-) it certainly won my heart.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Lorenzo, can I ask you to elaborate on why Siracusa made you sad? From what I’ve read I’ve long had it in mind to make a point of visiting it (should have done it when I was staying in Taormina 3 years ago, but didn’t fancy driving in Sicily at the time and public transport options looked painful). I thought it was meant to be an utterly beautiful baroque town, having been flattened by an earthquake and then all planned and built at once in the late C17th or something. Is the reality less idealistic? Certainly Catania was rather un-lovely aside from about 2 piazzas.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Cocky, the 18th c baroque hill towns that were rebuilt after the earthquake are notably Noto, Modica, and Ragusa, which are stunning and verge on the surreal in many aspects. As to Siracusa, I found it sad because it has clearly been so utterly mismanaged for centuries. The extraordinary Greek theater (which you can see) and the later Roman theater (which you can’t) are part of an archaeological park that is as astonishingly mismanaged as Fawlty Towers if Fawlty Towers had been a mafia operation. Almost bad enough to be funny. You can’t get in without a ticket which no one tells you until you’re at the gate and then you have to walk back half a km where the ticket kiosk is located way way at the back of a gazillion tacky-and-tackier souvenir stalls. When I complained vociferously to the ticket taker who had sent me back to the kiosk to buy the ticket he just laughed. On my way back to the gate I encountered several other visitors who had just been through the same routine so it happens a hundred times a day. The historic/artistic patrimony seemed unbelievably mismanaged, almost squandered. Agrigento (Valley of the Temples) was a close second, but at least in the last thirty years they have cleaned up their act (30 years ago homeless people and sheep wandered through the ruins at will and NO effort was made to protect the astonishing collection of Greek temples, which has now been rectified and good work has been done). But in Siracusa the toll of mafia mismanagement seemed most stark and, to me, sad. Ortigia, the centro, the original island city, was better but not much. I lived in Venice for years and am used to a certain amount of general shabbiness that comes with being very very old in the streets without UNESCO world heritage tourist-milking sites, but Siracusa, for me, lacked the magic and enchantment that the rest of sicily had in spades. These things are always subjective, of course; there were lovely streets and beaches, but the overall impact of Siracusa was dreary to these eyes. On the other hand, Modica, Ragusa, Monreale, Taormina, and others all made me want to return again and again, as soon as possible, at the drop of hat, whenever possible ;-)

            • manou

              The same ticket buying system operates in Persepolis, where they have erected huge signs saying “BUY YOUR TICKETS HERE FIRST”.

            • That’s a useful tip, Manou: I hope to be back there next spring.

            • manou

              Lucky you! We had a fabulous time there.

        • Camille

          Batty! Hot tip! NEVER refuse a cannoli from a friendly paisan, except if it be sister Connie Cannoli Godfather 3. Morte alla siciliana

          • lorenzo.venezia

            Camille: My son went to school with Connie Cannoli’s son and hung out at their house in Bel-Air (because it was infinitely more interesting than ours). He ate cannoli and lived to tell the tale!

            • Camille

              Caspita! Beato lui!!!!!!!! xxxxooooo

            • lorenzo.venezia

              she is one of the loveliest people imaginable (which is saying a lot for a “movie star”; in civilian life, most definitely a not-a-movie-star person). We spent one kid’s- birthday-party-afternoon talking about Maria Callas. I had been reading Ariana’s bio, and told her Ariana’s story about how after Callas’s triumphant Norma in Paris, when everyone was going insane, Maria was in her dressing room crying because *she* knew every mistake she had made. Connie Cannoli shook her head, smiled wistfully, and said “[Us] Catholic girls. It’s all about guilt.”

  • I’m sorry to say that the last time I was there was so long ago it was practically still smoking after Alexander’s departure. Yet my life is full of Iranians.

    • lorenzo.venezia

      NPW/Manou: Time Capsule: “One of the nicest things Richard Nixon ever did for Spiro [Agnew, his disgraced convicted crook former forced-to-resign VP], a friend explains, was dispatching him to the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire staged by the Shah in 1971. In tents pitched near the Persian ruins at Persepolis, Agnew became fast friends with international royalty.” A famous news tidbit at the time, Spiro and other guests ogling rhinos copulating. A rather vanilla recount of the notorious celebration can be found here:,500_year_celebration_of_the_Persian_Empire. The menu is particularly quaint :-)

      • manou

        Thanks so much for this, lorenzo -- we also went to Pasargadae (which is a bit of a disappointment). The tribunes built for the Shah’s little understated party are still extant -- a bit rusty and derelict now.

        NPW -- you will have a wonderful time there, even if you do have to climb 116 steps to get to the Persepolis site. And of course do not miss Isfahan.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          Manou -- as an American Jew I fear Persepolis et al are places I’ll have to enjoy through photographs ;-)

          • manou

            lorenzo -- I am Jewish* too (my grandparents came from Corfu and therefore spoke Venetian as well as several other useful languages -- in fact the people in the Venice ghetto looked very familiar to me when we visited there). My husband had an Israeli stamp in his passport and we had no trouble whatsoever.

            Su -- coraggio!

            *Or -- as Jonathan Miller says -- Jew-ish

            • Manou: I was wondering about that. Despite what some people think, Jews are welcome in Iran (for example, though alcohol is prohibited, Iranian Jews are allowed to make their own wine for religious ceremonies). However, I had heard about the Israeli stamp thing and wondered about it. I’m glad to know that your husband had no trouble entering the country despite the Israeli stamp on his passport.

              Perhaps that restriction only applies to Iranian citizens. (In my experience, the regime is much tougher on its own citizens than visitors, who generally given more leeway).

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Manou — That is great to hear! I was more worried about the Americano part than the Ebreo part actually ;-) My first time to Berlin I felt like the cowardly lion until I experienced and understood that fantastic metropolis! Similarly, also being gay, I won’t be gadding about St. Petersburg in the near future.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Manou, funny. Nobody except a few Venetians speak Venetian ;-) When I was teaching in Mogliano Veneto I had a student (a woman mid-thirties) from Sardegna who was transferred to the Veneto by Alcoa (they build Ferrari chassis [I honestly don’t know how to plural that!? chassae, chassi??] there) and she was neither understood by the locals, nor could she understand anything when the Venetians over spritzes forsook Italian for Venetian which is truly more than a dialect and something much more linguistically distinct. One Christmas a friend had a party and a group of Venetian women of a certain age, late, when everyone was well into their cups, broke into song, and sang the Venetian songs of their childhood. It was absolutely enchanting!

            • manou

              Well -- my Mother’s family could speak Corfiot, which is roughly the same as Venetian (Corfu belonged to Venice and after the British held it for a while it became part of the Ionian Islands -- there was I think some Italian occupation in Mussolini days). However, as I have said, they also spoke Italian but their pronunciation was very much Venetian -- and they were educated in French schools.

            • lorenzo.venezia

              Manou-- staggeringly polyglottal ;-) In Frankfurt last summer I had lunch with a flying buttress of the Ffurt Opera; her family was Italian and she was raised in Cairo and educated in France before marrying a German. Fascinating lady, we discussed Thielemann vs. K. Petrenkov and Egyptian porphyry over matjes herring on the terrace of the Ffurt country club ;-)

        • Of course, I won’t miss Isfahan -- one of the loveliest cities I’ve ever visited. I’ll be travelling with someone who’s never been to Iran.

          • Camille

            Make sure to visit les roses d’Ispahan!!!

            I have friends from that city who now have long dwelled in the trenches of Terrrrrangeles, and they are the sweetest and nicest people in the world. Incidentally, they happen to be Jewish, too.

      • Amazing that there’s not a single Persian dish on that menu. LOL

        • The caviar was local. And there might have been saffron in the Sauce nantua.

          • manou

            Pas beaucoup d’écrevisses en Iran.

      • Krunoslav

        “In tents pitched near the Persian ruins at Persepolis, Agnew became fast friends with international royalty.” A famous news tidbit at the time, Spiro and other guests ogling rhinos copulating.”

        Dear Mr. Alden, if you’re reading this thread: what more is needed for a production concept for SERSE? :)

        • I hear they’ve made great strides in rhino-training business. ;)

          • manou

            Certainly great strides in rhinoplasty -- very popular with Iranian beauties.

          • lorenzo.venezia

            I swear to Astarte that there was a little perturbation in the Force when the news leaked that Agnew was caught ogling copulating rhinos. It’s simply too good to make up! :-)

        • lorenzo.venezia

          Ha! The mind boggles!

        • davidzalden

          Dear Mr. Krunoslav,
          I applaud the concept and really nothing else is needed! Spiro Agnew is indeed a truly Handelian character and the castrato role of anti-hero will suit him brilliantly — I suggest we cast Christine Rice. I will look into when rhino mating season begins, as such an event can hardly be faked on stage — the Calixto B fans will demand to see the real thing.

          • Déjà vu.

          • Authenticity is key.

          • lorenzo.venezia

            Her serene imperial sublimity visits Parigi, o cara.

  • manou
  • manou

    Just checking I have got rid of the bold attack