Thursday, April 30, 2015

Our Pope and His Big Mouth

This is totally hilarious.  It was produced by a bunch of evangelical Lutherans who probably think that all Catholics are going to hell but it's still really funny - the bad thing is how true it is!  I like Pope Francis but he does need to watch his mouth!

POTUS Candidates Reveal Two Catholic Churches

POTUS Candidates Reveal Two Catholic Churches

We Are All to Blame for the Marriage Meltdown

We Are All to Blame for the Marriage Meltdown

The Solti Ring: Das Rheingold

I'm slowly working my way through the legendary studio recording of The Ring of the Nibelung recorded in Vienna between 1958 and 1964 with Sir Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.

After listening to Das Rheingold,  I think that the reputation of this recording is well deserved.  This was an ambitious feat of audio engineering when it was done in the mid twentieth century.  At the time it was released there was no complete version of the entire Ring cycle readily available to the record buying public.  The recording took advantage of advances in stereo and recording technology and the long-playing album or "LP."

The producers wished to have the total experience of Wagner's music dramas captured on disc.  Using the idea of the "theater of the mind" the recording features sound effects like thunder, sword clashes, hammers striking anvils and the like, to convey to the listener what is going on in the story.

Known for his aggressive conducting and vibrant tempos, Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) was one of the great Wagner conductors of all time.   The producers also went to great lengths to bring in the best singing talent available.  

Gustav Neidlinger (1910-1991)

The first opera of the cycle, Das Rheingold, was recorded between September 24th and October 8, 1958.  It starred George London as Wotan,  Eberhard Wachter as Donner, Waldemar Kmentt as Froh, Set Svanholm as Loge, Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich, Paul Kuen as Mime, Walter Kreppal as Fasolt, Kurt Bohme as Fafner, Kirsten Flagstad as Fricka, Claire Watson as Freia, Jean Madeira as Erda, Oda Balsborg as Woglinde, Hetty Plumacher as Wellgunde and Ira Malanuik as Flosshilde.

A youthful Kirsten Flagstad as Brunhilde

Gustav Neidlinger's (1910-1991) performance as Alberich in this recording is considered by some to be one of the best Alberich's of all time.  This recording also features one of the final performances of the legendary Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962).  Flagstad was considered by many to be the greatest dramatic soprano of all time.  Writing in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Desmond Shawe-Taylor said, "No one within living memory surpassed her in sheer beauty and consistency of line and tone."  Her performances at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1930s caused a sensation.  While performing at the Met Flagstad did the whole prima donna thing and had an explosive feud with her co-star, tenor Lauritz Melchoir.  A Norwegian, Flagstad was heavily criticized for her decision to leave the United States and return to be with her husband in Nazi occupied Norway.  Flagstad suffered from a poor public opinion of her for many years during and after the war.   The aging Flagstad was recruited to sing the part of Fricka in the Decca studio recording, and, true to form, her pitch perfect voice resounds in this recording.

Flagstad about the time of the Solti studio recording.

I like my Wagner to be played loud and fast like the heavy metal version of classical music and Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic deliver.  The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music says this:  "The immediacy and pacing are thrilling, while the sound-effects of the final scenes, including Donner's hammer blow and the rainbow bridge, have never been matched since.  Solti gives a magnificent reading of the score, crisp, dramatic and direct.  Vocally, the set is held together by the unforgettable singing of Neidlinger as Alberich.  He vocalizes with wonderful precision and makes the character of the dwarf develop from the comic creature of the opening scene to the demented monster of the last.  Flagstad learned the part of Fricka especially for this recording, and her performance makes one regret that she never took the role on the stage.  George London is sometimes a little rough, but this is a dramatic portrayal of the young Wotan.  Svanholm could be more characterful as Loge, but again it is a relief to hear the part really sung.  An outstanding achievement.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Otello (Metropolitan Opera 1995)

1995 Production of the Metropolitan Opera Conducted By James Levine.  Starring Pacido Domingo, as Otello, Renee Fleming as Desdemona, and James Morris as Iago.

Next to Wagner, Verdi is acknowledged as the greatest operatic composer of the 19th century.  This 1995 production from the Met is almost perfect.  It's well sung, well acted and the music is well played.  James Levine proves himself, once again, to be one of the greatest conductors of all time.

Placedo Domingo was 54 in 1995, but as far as I can tell, was still in perfect form.  Renee Fleming was approximately age 36, and it's noticeable that she's a little old to be playing a young girl in her late teens or early 20s.  Morris' Iago is sufficiently sinister without being over the top.  This was a traditional staging, which I like.  All in all, I thought that this production was almost perfect and we are lucky to have it captured on video.

Renee  Fleming as Desdemona  and Placido Domingo as  Otello

Renee Fleming

Placedo Domingo

James Morris

James Levine

A Model Papal Mass At St. Peters

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Russia Bans Modernist Production of Tannhauser

Venus & Tannhauser

The Russian Culture Minister has sacked a Siberian opera director for his "modernist" production of Wagner's opera Tannhauser.  Apparently, this guy rewrote Wagner and put Christ himself into the decadent Venusburg!  This guy should be arrested, not just for blasphemy against the Orthodox Church but for Crimes Against Humanity for this awful Euro-Trash staging of Wagner!  Full story from the New York Times.

Popular Evangelical Goes Mainline

Popular Evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans has left her fundamentalist roots for the Episcopal Church.  From Christianity Today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The State of the Church

Father Alan McDonald at Southern Orders comments on the state of the church.

Episcopal Seminary: Jesus Christ is a Transexual Icon | RedState

Episcopal Seminary: Jesus Christ is a Transexual Icon | RedState

Peter Singer: Hey, Obamacare Should Kill Disabled Infants

Peter Singer: Hey, Obamacare Should Kill Disabled Infants

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Divorce and Remarriage? I Have No Opinion

Divorce and Remarriage? I Have No Opinion

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Witch Hunt in Wisconsin?

Vox Cantoris: BREAKING: Pope visits prison, mercy abounds!

Vox Cantoris: BREAKING: Pope visits prison, mercy abounds!

Elder Of Ziyon - Israel News: Amnesty International votes against resolution condemning antisemitism

Elder Of Ziyon - Israel News: Amnesty International votes against resolution condemning antisemitism


This appeared in my parish bulletin for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 12, 2015):

I have a friend who is suffering greatly.  She is very spiritual about her suffering and seems to have found a truly Christian way to embrace it.  How can we best understand suffering?
                                                                                        A Sympathetic Christian

Dear Sympathetic,

Mother Teresa tells us this about suffering: Suffering will never be completely absent from our lives.  If we accept it with faith, we are given the opportunity to share the passion of Jesus and show him our love.  She tells this story: "One day I went to visit a lady who had terminal cancer.  Her pain was tremendous.  I told her, 'This is nothing but Jesus' kiss, a sign that you are so close to him on the cross that he can kiss you.' She joined her hands and said, 'Mother, ask Jesus not to stop kissing me.'"

The Book of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures gives us the classic approach to suffering.  Job was inflicted with great suffering.  He was able to find meaning in his suffering only when he stopped scolding God and complaining to God.  Job suddenly started to see the beauty and mystery of all the life that surrounded him.  He began to see that every part of God's creation was marvelous.  He found that knowing and accepting God was more important than finding the answers to why he suffered.  Job testified, "By his light I walked through darkness." (Job 29:3).

Jesus brought a new notion to suffering: for Jesus, suffering is redemptive.  When we suffer, we can link our experience with the Lord's.  Our sufferings then have a redeeming place in the salvation of the world.  They can bring a miraculous presence into the life of another.  In times of trial, Jesus is the companion and the guide who can lead us through.

                                                                                    Rev. William J. Parker, S.Ss.R.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Goodall Ring Cycle

I have to take Wagner in doses.  About six months ago, I got back into one of my Wagnerite moods and listened to The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie and Siegfried all in a row.  Tired of Wagner, I put off listening to The Twilight of the Gods.  It's taken me about six months to get back to it.

The Space Age staging of the English National Opera production

The Ring Cycle that I've been listening to was recorded at the English National Opera in the 1970s, with the orchestra conducted by Sir Reginald Goodall (1901 - 1990).  The really remarkable thing about this Ring Cycle is that it was sung in English from a translation by the music scholar Andrew Porter (1928 - 2015).

The Rhinegold: recorded at the London Coliseum March 19th, 25th, and 29th, 1975

Described at the time as a "space age" staging, the sets and costumes suggested a futuristic setting "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."  Critic Simon Thomas describes seeing this production of the Ring as an 18 year old at the London Coliseum:  "Of course, by today's standards, it was pretty straightforward, a bit updated but no clowns, Michelin men or camp cowboys in sight.  I was a little disappointed with some of the 'effects' the dragon was a bit lame, the Rhine was represented by coloured lights shining on the metallic strips of the set and the finale of 'Twilight of the Gods' saw Rita Hunter standing solidly out front with a film of a running white horse behind her.  Not quite what my imagination had conjured up."  The production starred Norman Bailey as Wotan, Rita Hunter as Brunhilde and Alberto Remedios as Siegfried.

The Valkyrie: recorded at the London Coliseum December 18th, 20th, and 23, 1975

I'm really a novice when it comes to high brow music appreciation.  I know what I like and what sounds good and that's about the extent of my skills as a music critic.  One of the criticisms of this Ring Cycle was the leisurely tempo adopted by Sir Reginald Goodall.  Apparently, this is one of the slowest Ring Cycles ever recorded and is several hours longer than other recordings by great Wagnerian conductors like Furtwangler and Solti.  I can say that it sounds fine to me.  Maybe it doesn't blow the stereo speakers out with loudness, but Goodall can jam when he needs to.

Siegfried: recorded at the London Coliseum August 2nd, 8th, and 21st, 1973

I think that part of the reason for the slow tempo is that the opera is being sung in a translation and Goodall worked hard with many rehearsals to make it sound just right.  Andrew Porter's paraphrase of Wagner's German poetry is masterful.  (I call it a paraphrase rather than a translation based upon what Porter himself says about his work in the preface to the book version of his translation.)

Twilight of the Gods: Recorded at the London Coliseum August 6th, 13th, and 27th, 1977

It also raises the question whether Wagner in translation is really still Wagner.  Obviously, the music is Wagner's.  If you're German, like mine, is non-existent, it certainly makes it enjoyable to hear the story sung in a language you can understand. Every translation is an interpretation.  Some translations, like the King James Bible, may even be better literature than the original.  To the extent that any translated work of the literature is still the work of the original author, this is The Ring of the Nibelung.   To the extent that War and Peace in translation is still Tolstoy, Porter's Ring translation is still Wagner.

Rita Hunter, Sir Reginald Goodall, and Alberto Remedios

Sir Reggie, who is acknowledged by most critics as one of the greatest Wagner conductors of all time, was apparently quite an eccentric.  Considering the fact that Der Meister himself was one of the most eccentric characters of all time, being an eccentric is appropriate for a Wagnerian.

According to Wikipedia: Passionate about all things German, in the 1930s Goodall openly sympathized with the Nazi regime, which he perceived as a defender of Germanic cultural traditions.  Goodall also actively supported Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists, and he eventually joined the party just five days after Britain's declaration of war on Germany.  He maintained his outspoken pro-Nazi views during World War II, the uninhibited expression of which once led him to be briefly questioned by the police.  Goodall was known to refer to the Holocaust as a "BBC Jewish plot."

True Wagner Fans Never Get Enough!

A celebrated Wagnerian who was a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier.  I'm sure that somebody could write several shelves of books about the psychology of that!

Sir Reginald Goodall

Speaking of shelves of books, there are entire libraries dedicated to analyzing the meaning of Wagner's Ring Cycle.  Since this is my religion blog, I will concede that however much I love the work of Der Meister, the underlying philosophy behind it is probably pagan and anti-Christian.  As a 19th century Romantic, Wagner wanted to overturn the power of the Church and monarchies and advocated a secular humanism based upon art, music and literature.  The final destruction of the gods means that man is now free from the contraints of religion.  Man's spiritual longings will be fulfilled not by belief in the supernatural but with art, of which Wagner's "Musical Dramas" are the highest expression.  As I've said, Wagner was an eccentric of the highest order, and he certainly was not humble.

Der Meister: Richard Wagner

According to David P. Goldman in an article in First Things from December, 2010: "Das Rheingold premiered in Munich in 1869 under the patronage of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who worshiped Wagner.  The First Vatican Council was in session. A year later, Italy's unification destroyed the Vatican's territorial power, completing what Napoleon began: the dissolution of the old regime of Church and Empire.  Wagner's contemporaries could have no doubt as to the content of his allegory. . . . That the old regime of throne and altar had fallen, Wagner's generation could have had no doubt.  Wagner told them to celebrate rather than mourn its demise, for in the Twilight of the Gods their impulses would be freed from the fetters of the law."

The Goodall Ring Cycle is worth a listen.  The Bad Catholic gives it five out of five horned helmets.

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Are Catholics Just as Divided as Anglicans?

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