Monthly Archives: September 2003

Trixie Belden Is Back!

God bless Random House. In an act of remarkable corporate wisdom — nay, genius! — they are reissuing the Trixie Belden mysteries in glorious plastic hardback. At only $6.99 a pop. (Paperbacks aren’t $6.99 anymore!) With the original illustrations from the 1950’s, and beautiful brand new covers which perfectly evoke the period while nodding to romance pulps and magazine illustrations of the day.

(With people who don’t look 2D! But Trixie is strawberry blonde to redhaired, not mostly blonde with a couple pink reflections from her sweater! Honey’s the blonde…sigh. And where’re Trixie’s freckles? Oh, well, minor complaints…easy to fix on later covers, right?)

For those of you who never met Trixie and the rest of the BWG, she was a tomboy with freckles, brains and spunk who led her friends into mystery, intrigue and danger…and generally not by doing stupid stuff or twisting her ankle. Oh, no, she was a leader with initiative. The boys didn’t boss around the girls, Trixie’s boyfriend Jim liked her being a strong female character, and the characterizations and storylines were generally more realistic and complex than those in Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.

The Trixie Belden Homepage is probably the oldest and most extensive page; it also includes a fair amount of fanfic. The Trixie Belden Library has lots of photos of the authors and old editions, as well as some nice themes and downloadables. Labyrinth has fanfic about Trixie and her friends as adults. From there you should be able to get to most of the online Trixie Belden world.

I’m only sad I didn’t realize sooner that this world was coming into being. I guessed I’ve missed Trixie more than I thought. (And they issued five more books back in the eighties? With Jody Lee covers? And I missed ‘em? Sigh.)

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Great New Books

This week has been rather interesting for me, as I found out that _three_ books I’ve been awaiting for a long time have just come out! And there’s another on the way later this month.

1. Sunshine by Robin McKinley. She’s been on my must-read list for many years now. Anything she deigns to write, I will read and buy — that’s all I need to know, and she’s never made me regret that resolution yet. Her brand new book is not one of her typical fantasies (and it’s not rated G or even PG, just to warn you), but rather takes place in an alternate modern or near-future Earth which is populated by all manner of magic and monsters. Our protagonist bakes Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head for a living, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to have a run-in with vampires. C’mon. Just one bite. You’ll like it….

2. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, another buy-on-sight writer for me. It’s a sequel to The Curse of Chalion, Bujold’s alternate Spain fantasy, but stands alone if you haven’t read Chalion. (Why haven’t you?) I’d say this is a hard PG-13, maybe a little more. Once again, Bujold asks what doing God’s will and being a saint really means, in a context which won’t scare off sf/f fans. The answers she gives are once again the hard truth of the matter.

3. Goddess of the Ice Realms by David Drake. Drake didn’t used to be a must-read for me, as he was a bit too depressing. Now he’s just satisfying dark and gritty and militarily realistic, which I can take. This book is the latest volume of the wonderfully pulpy fantasy series which started with Lord of the Isles, but this is as good a starting point as any. If you like good old world-saving, monster-killing, evil mage-destroying, weird place-wandering fantasy, you’ll love this.

The book that’s coming out later this month is also by him: The Far Side of the Stars, the latest installment of the Leary and Mundy Royal Cinnabar (spaceship) Navy adventures. Daniel Leary is a heroic, womanizing tactical genius with starships. Adele Mundy is a quiet, deadly shot who’s a genius with information retrieval (legal or no). And there is absolutely nothing between them. Uh huh. You just ask them. ‘Cause Daniel would never ever be interested in a permanent relationship, especially with a woman who’s not a bubblehead. Yup, Adele’s just his bestest buddy and he doesn’t think of her that way at all. (Not that I have anything against friendship, you understand. But this is pretty clearly pre-romance. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you’ll enjoy this plenty.) You can read/download the first volume for free from Baen; both the 1st and 2nd books will be on the CD that Baen’s binding into The Far Side of the Stars. They know books are crack; that’s why they give ‘em out for free.

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Inklings vs. Crowley: Heaven’s War

Oh, c’mon, this isn’t exactly Yamato vs. Enterprise here. Tolkien coulda taken ‘im with both hands behind his back. And he’s the nice one.

I remember hearing vaguely about this before, but now Amy Welborn’s linked to it and everybody knows. Basically, there’s this graphic novel called Heaven’s War coming out in November (just in time for C.S. Lewis’ deathday and the Dr. Who anniversary!) in which three of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, to be precise) try to stop Alistair Crowley from butting into the wars between two groups of angels (whom I’m guessing would be St. Michael the Snake Stomper and Co. vs. the usual gang from Hell — and again, it’s fairly obvious who’s going to win….). So either this is going to be cool, it’s going to suck, or it’s going to be like your average Charles Williams supernatural adventure and do both. The whole sacred geometry thing is just the kind of weird stuff Williams would’ve liked, of course.

Imaginedat.net‘s reviewer says he read this puppy a long time back and liked it.

Read the five page preview at the artist’s webpage and decide for yourself whether it’s worth $12.95.

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“Elemental, querido Watson.”

I thought I was joking about seeing another ep in Spanish. But this Friday, we got “The Man with the Twisted Lip” in Spanish, too. This time the English track was turned up to the same volume as the Spanish one, however. Oh, joy.

I just wish I’d gotten up a few minutes earlier, so I could’ve taped it all instead of just two acts. Well, my sloth was its own punishment.

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“Claro, Lestrade.”

Some of you may be aware that I am slightly crazed in my dedication to the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. I can therefore tell you that in its American premiere on Fox, an entire scene and a bit of the one before aired with no sound. (And there were other sound problems during other airings.) During its first syndicated run, one episode was run with the descriptions for the blind audible to all, and indeed overrunning the primary audio channel. But today…today was a red-letter day in the history of SH22 sound transmission. Because today the “DiC Kids Network” (unfortunate initials, what?) broadcast in Spanish.

Well, mostly. You could still hear English way back on one of the stereo channels (which made it even funnier) and the closed captions were still in English (with the usual CC spelling and word errors). Unfortunately, although the opening credits had the theme song in Spanish (“Sherlock Holmes en el Siglo Veintidos estaaaaa”), the voice acting credits were still the usual ones, so I don’t know who to praise there. But it was a great thing, and I not only taped it; I intend to turn it into an MP3 for my perpetual listening pleasure. I will almost certainly transfer the whole alternate version of “A Case of Identity” to DIVX as well, and include it as an “extra” on my personal DIVX CDs.

The remarkable thing was how well-cast the Spanish version was. Dubbing is highly controversial in the anime community. The translations are often dubious and the acting skills on English dubs vary wildly. Usually, there’s at least one person whose voice is just wrong. Of course, this can also be true of the writing and acting in the original. (I have to admit I’m still not overly fond of DiC’s original Watson voice, though the actor was good and grew on me.) But this production in Spanish was definitely an argument in favor of dubs.

I can say confidently that I liked all these voice actors. This Holmes had a deeper voice than Jason Stanford-Grey, interestingly, making him sound more like a standard “hero”. (But since Stanford-Grey is one of my all-time favorite Holmes actors, his portrayal wins out in my mind.) The Watson did also, which was nice, but it was the calm warmth and intelligence in his voice which made him wholly convincing — and instantly one of my all-time favorite Watsons! The Greyson was unexceptionable (I’ll say more after a rewatch). But the Lestrade. (Pronounced in the Spanish version to rhyme with “trade” not “God” as in the English one — which will tell you which movies each crew watched when young.) Oh, yes, it was obvious the voice actress was having just as much fun with her part as Akiko Morison did, while definitely performing it her own way. Also, all the Puerto Rican accents (“yo” pronounced as “jo”, which makes Lestrade a “Jardie”) really added something! Alas, their Deidre and Wiggins didn’t appear in this ep, and thus can’t be judged.

There’s a lot to be said about the translation. As far as I could follow it while getting ready for work, it seemed to be a very skillful one. Some of the jokes in English were lost, of course. When Holmes in the original deduced things about Lestrade’s new partner from the sound of his boots on the stair and Lestrade told Holmes he didn’t miss a step, the Spanish version merely had the good inspector tell Holmes he didn’t make mistakes. But the colloquial Spanish of the translation had its own nifty bits, as did the Spanish acting. In the original, Constable Abner Angel has a bit where he ingenuously offers up info and then hesitates about it. Cute, but not funny. In the Spanish version, when the actor rattles off the info at transwarp speed, then hesitates, it’s hilarious. (To me, anyway.) I also picked up a few new words, like “pareja” for “partner”. But mostly I was just language geeking. I like “Typical rookie stunt!” fine, but it was really neat to hear “Clasico novato!” instead.

All in all, it’s clear that I have been remiss about searching the Net for info about “Sherlock Holmes en el Siglo XXII”. I’ve now done so, but found nothing but TV listings. I guess it must not be available in Spanish on DVD or video. I’d love to see the pilot ep performed by different actors, and find out whether certain phrases have more resonance in Spanish or less. I should probably also go looking for the Quebecois dub, if there is one; I remember now that Cybersix was dubbed superbly into French. (Or so people who spoke French said….)

So…let’s not tell DiC they made a mistake. Maybe we’ll get the Spanish dubtrack tomorrow, too!

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Cabell Complains of a Lack of Technology Filk

Ballad of Plagiary
by James Branch Cabell, from The Certain Hour

“Freres et matres, vous qui cultivez”
— Paul Verville.

Hey, my masters, lords and brothers, ye that till the fields of rhyme,
Are ye deaf ye will not hearken to the clamor of your time?

Still ye blot and change and polish — vary, heighten and transpose –
Old sonorous metres marching grandly to their tranquil close.

Ye have toiled and ye have fretted; ye attain perfected speech:
Ye have nothing new to utter and but platitudes to preach.

And your rhymes are all of loving, as within the old days when
Love was lord of the ascendant in the horoscopes of men.

Still ye make of love the utmost end and scope of all your art;
And, more blind than he you write of, note not what a modest part

Loving now may claim in living, when we have scant time to spare,
Who are plundering the sea-depths, taking tribute of the air, —

Whilst the sun makes pictures for us; since to-day, for good or ill,
Earth and sky and sea are harnessed, and the lightnings work our will.

Hey, my masters, all these love-songs by dust-hidden mouths were sung
That ye mimic and re-echo with an artful-artless tongue, —

Sung by poets close to nature, free to touch her garments’ hem
Whom to-day ye know not truly; for ye only copy them.

Them ye copy — copy always, with your backs turned to the sun,
Caring not what man is doing, noting that which man has done.

We are talking over telephones, as Shakespeare could not talk;
We are riding out in motor-cars where Homer had to walk;

And pictures Dante labored on of mediaeval Hell
The nearest cinematograph paints quicker, and as well.

But ye copy, copy always; — and ye marvel when ye find
This new beauty, that new meaning, — while a model stands behind,

Waiting, young and fair as ever, till some singer turn and trace
Something of the deathless wonder of life lived in any place.

Hey, my masters, turn from piddling to the turmoil and the strife!
Cease from sonneting, my brothers; let us fashion songs from life.

Thus I wrote ere Percie passed me. . . . Then did I epitomize
All life’s beauty in one poem, and make haste to eulogize
Quite the fairest thing life boasts of, for I wrote of Percie’s eyes.

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Cabell Does Kipling!

James Branch Cabell is probably one of the more cynical authors ever to spring from American soil, and as a woman I find that “all women are one woman” thing realllllly annoying. (Just as annoying as “all men are like that”, actually.) But he was also funny and smart, and did write some really good stuff. (And he’s one of the great fantasy writers, too.) Here’s a piece I found today, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. He has quite a few works available online, so check ‘em out.

Ballad of the Double-Soul


by James Branch Cabell, from The Certain Hour

“Les Dieux, qui trop aiment ses faceties cruelles”
— Paul Verville.

In the beginning the Gods made man,
and fashioned the sky and the sea,
And the earth’s fair face for man’s dwelling-place,
and this was the Gods’ decree:–

“Lo, We have given to man five wits:
he discerneth folly and sin;
He is swift to deride all the world outside,
and blind to the world within:

“So that man may make sport and amuse Us,
in battling for phrases or pelf,
Now that each may know what forebodeth woe
to his neighbor, and not to himself.”

Yet some have the Gods forgotten,
–or is it that subtler mirth
The Gods extort of a certain sort
of folk that cumber the earth?

For this is the song of the double-soul,
distortedly two in one,–
Of the wearied eyes that still behold
the fruit ere the seed be sown,
And derive affright for the nearing night
from the light of the noontide sun.

For one that with hope in the morning
set forth, and knew never a fear,
They have linked with another whom omens bother;
and he whispers in one’s ear.

And one is fain to be climbing
where only angels have trod,
But is fettered and tied to another’s side
who fears that it might look odd.

And one would worship a woman
whom all perfections dower,
But the other smiles at transparent wiles;
and he quotes from Schopenhauer.

Thus two by two we wrangle
and blunder about the earth,
And that body we share we may not spare;
but the Gods have need of mirth.

So this is the song of the double-soul,
distortedly two in one.–
Of the wearied eyes that still behold
the fruit ere the seed be sown,
And derive affright for the nearing night
from the light of the noontide sun.


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Did You Really Want to Go There?

Liberals are chortling about this satirical sf piece by Charles Hoffacker about the Anglican schism. Um…gee, guys…you do realize that no conservative would ever compare a gay person to an animal. It took friendly fire to introduce this little rhetorical flourish. Sheesh. With friends like these….

Beyond that, there’s a substantial misunderstanding of the scriptural issues involved. Dogs are loved in our culture because they no longer operate solely under the fallen laws of the fallen animal kingdom, but rather have allowed their own desires to be ruled by human law (which is also fallen, but is still a step up). They have become something different, something new, something more like what they were in Eden before the Fall. Something which speaks of Creation, which fell with humans, being redeemed and repaired by humans — because and somewhat as we are redeemed and repaired by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So…basically this article’s rhetoric is really advocating that all gays abandon having sex with other gay people, deal with their attraction to those of the same sex like any other temptation, and take up their calling to a life of patient chastity. So they should go join Courage and tell ‘em Mr. Hoffacker sent ‘em.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

The moral of the story is…quoting the Bible in any argument opens up ye bigge canne of wormes. Don’t open it unless you really like a big helping of wormy goodness.

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Anime That’s Good in Both Senses

I’ve been watching anime this afternoon. The Rurouni Kenshin movie, in fact (which for marketing reasons is called Samurai X: The Movie here in the US). If you’ve never caught Rurouni Kenshin on Cartoon Network, you might want to check it out. It’s set in 1879, twelve years after the Meiji Restoration, in which the power of the shogunate was thrown down and the emperor made a constitutional ruler. But the present government is far from perfect, some people resent the European customs and technology being brought in while others use them for their own gain, and rebels and the dispossessed are everywhere.

Kenshin Himura, the main character, was once the most skilled swordsman among the Meiji rebels and employed as their assassin. (A true historical fact.) But when they won, he didn’t take up the high position he’d earned. He disappeared into the life of an anonymous wanderer, repenting the killing he’d done, vowing never to take a life again, and carrying a sword with a reversed blade lest he break his vow. At the beginning of the TV show and manga, he ends up settling at one of the first kendo schools, where Kaori and her pupils only use wooden swords and also swear not to kill. There are a host of interesting characters: Kaori, running her dojo and half in love with Kenshin; Yahiko, the stubborn orphan boy who’s her best student (and Kenshin’s); Sannosuke, the martial artist from a much less aristocratic background than Kenshin, Kaori, or Yahiko; and Hajime Saito, also a historical character, who was a Shinsengumi guard for the Shogunate and now is the best policeman in Tokyo for the Meiji government. (His slogan, also historical, is “Aku Soku Zan” — Kill Evil Immediately. There is a certain winning simplicity to it, no?)

I think Rurouni Kenshin would have been popular at any time. It’s a good show. But I suspect the reason it got so popular so fast, even while it was only available in fansubs, is that it is set in a complicated time and gives the characters complicated problems, but espouses a morality as simple as a sword’s edge. Kenshin does everything he can to fight evil, but he stays within the law and he will not kill. There is also a great deal of exploration of where patriotism and idealism becomes terrorism, and where you have to cut your losses for the sake of the common good. The Rurouni Kenshin movie includes some very good examples of that. One character talks about his father’s illness, but is willing to forget about it for the sake of what he’s doing. But another character asks him, “If we cannot take care of our families, what are our qualifications for caring for a country or the world?”

That said, for its “important episodes” the TV show also espouses the same slower-than-molasses story style as Dragonball Z, in which a single swordfight may last for four or five episodes worth of slo-mo, thoughts by the participants, commentary by the spectators, speculation on what will happen next, and gradual increases in damage, philosophical battle patter, desperate determination, and moral authority.

I’ve also been thinking about .hack//SIGN. (I’ve mentioned this before, too.) The more that I watch it, the more I think the popularity of the show rests on its sensitive but clear-eyed portrayal of gamers and the gaming community. Not since Otaku no Video have I seen such a fan-oriented production. But Otaku no Video is also savagely self-critical. .hack//SIGN just uses realistically flawed characters, and uses more of the time-honored Japanese technique of saying little and assuming you can see all the implications. It’s flattering, in a way. Usually, we Western viewers are watching anime shows in contemporary settings from the outside, as foreigners. Suddenly we are on the inside as long as we are gamers. (Of course, if you’ve played MMORPGs (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games), or the various .hack videogames, you are even more an insider and know even more secrets and implications. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.)

The show also plays a bit with the classic gamer contention that, darn it, we know more than people give us credit for. This is “let geeks figure out what’s going on and help their fellow gamers” instead of “give geeks guns and power” (Undocumented Features or The Hunt for Red October) or “geeks can fix any situation with duct tape and a Swiss army knife” (McGyver), but it’s essentially the same fantasy, or empowerment scenario. Since we geeks don’t get very flattering portrayal in most media sources, we are suckers for shows that let smart people kick butt.

Of course, it’s not a show for gamers without a little meditation on the nature of reality in games versus the “real world”. :) But I suspect the real attraction of the character interaction is the complicated nature of socializing online. How much can you say to people whom you don’t know in real life? How can you give them advice without pushing into their personal lives farther than they want you to go? Which in-game actions are beyond the pale, and which should you just chalk up to “playing the game”? Millions of people do these things every day, and yet most of the media totally ignores it. Only through fanfiction, and a very few professional works such as this which are written by and directed toward fans, can people see their own lives reflected in story.

(Insert “mainstream literature is out of touch with most people’s lives” rant here.)

But just as with Rurouni Kenshin, .hack//SIGN espouses a fairly simple morality of looking out for people, caring for the common good, and celebrating life. I don’t think such simple things are celebrated enough in modern culture. When they are, especially in a subtle but built-in worldview of the characters, I think their power often increases a show’s popularity. It made Due South a hit. (And then brought it down again, as the show lost touch with its own values.) It probably also makes the cast and crew more enthusiastic about performing, because they can put their hearts into something that deserves it. Values do matter, and a good show is often good both in its workmanship and its message.

(Sorry if you’re getting bored with all the anime talk here. But just think how this blog is sparing my friends from getting lectured!)

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Terri Schiavo’s Fate in the Balance

Terri Schiavo is scheduled to begin starving and thirsting to death on October 15. Less than a month to live.

When I think about this case, there are times I wish I lived in a television universe. The whole thing sounds so obviously wrong that you can almost hear the voiceover: “If you have a problem…if noone else can help…maybe you can hire…the A-Team.” The theme song would ring out, Mr. T would be snuck onto a plane, a plan would come together, and pretty soon Terri would be getting therapy while all the corrupt folks involved went to eat prison food.

But it’s not a fictional universe. Terri’s supporters still have hope and a few things to try, but nothing that will wrap up in an hour. Even if she wins, she will always suffer from serious brain damage. But she will be able to keep smiling, keep saying a few words. If she is freed from her husband’s power, she can be taken out to see the sky — the sky she’s been prevented from seeing for all these years. She can live and love and laugh, as is the right of every human being.

This is a horror show, my friends. For we will all be helpless at some point in our lives: sick in a hospital, old in a nursing home. We have all been children helpless in the power of adults, and yet that has not saved children from abortion. Will we say that it is all right to murder Terri, and thus to murder us someday, should someone see fit? If people can find the empathy to see that Terri’s fight is a fight for us all, we may yet save her. If she loses, we all lose.

Write a letter. Send an email. Visit terrisfight.org. If you live in Florida, consider going to demonstrate. And pray. Pray early and often.

(October the 15th is the day Terri is supposed to die. But it is also the feastday of St. Teresa of Avila. The first of October is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. Can we believe that these two great saints and Doctors of the Church are not praying for their namesake? If we join our prayers to theirs, might God not grant us a miracle? In the words of St. Teresa, “Hope, o my soul, hope”!)

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Hemispheric Opera Premiere — Part 3

Or, “She finally gets around to the actual review.” *embarrassed look* Sorry I’m so longwinded. I should mention here that the opera was part of the Festival of the New in Cincinnati. Also, Googling has revealed to me that Les Arts Florissants did perform this work while on tour from 1996 on, but apparently they did it with cuts. So I guess this was the premiere of the full opera. I will also say that, while I like opera and early music, I’m not particularly knowledgeable about either of them. So don’t expect a lot of technical talk or comparisons to other performances.

However, the full opera was being performed by dint of doubling up on parts. For example, the same lady played three minor nymph parts (Oenone, Arethusa and Daphne). Since said nymphs only had a few lines each, this was no big deal. Having the other female singer sing both Eurydice and Persephone was a bit more difficult! However, the singers used slightly different handheld masks (which they only put up to their faces before and after scenes, and kept well away from their faces while singing) to indicate what role they were in. This worked well for me and was visually interesting, especially since the singers didn’t wear costumes.

I was expecting a lot of recitative. I like that fine, but it’s a bit dry when you don’t know the language. Luckily, French baroque opera didn’t seem to believe in recitative. It did believe in “basso continuo”, about which I have read a great deal and of which I’ve heard a good bit, but I didn’t really understand it until now. You know, it’s really just a sophisticated form of the bass “drone” that people like to set up when someone’s singing certain kinds of folk ballads. The major difference is that it’s instrumental rather than vocal, and that the improv’d accompaniment is done according to certain harmonic rules of Charpentier’s day (whereas we do it according to the preferences of ours!). It gives me a lovely relaxed feeling, sorta like slipping into a nice warm early music bath. (Dangerous if you’re at all sleepy. So if anyone saw me yawn, it wasn’t because I was bored!)

The one major and obvious problem with doing a baroque opera in a church sanctuary is that there was absolutely no way they could have included dancing. (Unless they did a galliard up and down the central aisle….) ;) Since the opera begins with the nymphs encouraging Eurydice and Orpheus’ friends to dance for the bride and groom (or rather, to “rend the air” with songs and “mark the grass” by dancing it down), and this is followed by a couple instrumentals obviously meant for dancing, I really felt this absence. Since the dancing was obviously meant to warm up the audience, this had a bad effect dramatically. (Well, a neutral effect, actually. But having things neutral at the very beginning equals bad.)

Anyway, Eurydice shows up and is obviously a rabid anti-dancer, as she pleads for people to stop stomping the flowers and start picking them so she can give Orpheus a crown of flowers when he arrives. (Of roses and white jasmine.) Just as with the nymph’s songs, we go through a few choruses and reprises here. And here is one major thing I learned from seeing a baroque opera performed: all those choruses and reprises do not have to be boring. There is no law that says composers always have to repeat the same lyrics to the same music, or the same music in the same way, or that the singers have to sing it in a boring way. Charpentier plays with his choruses and reprises, and the singers and musicians seemed to be enjoying it.

Eurydice gets bitten by a snake, which again would have been more effective with more room. Charpentier just lets her go “Oh!” and leaves it go at that, which works well. Here’s the good bit: one of her nymph friends, not realizing what had happened, gives Eurydice a moral speech about how our pleasures are always mixed with pain, and that even when playing with flowers you’re bound to prick yourself! Man, that was irony!

People finally notice that Eurydice is feeling poorly and Eurydice sings a bit more. Again, it was very restrained. Orpheus arrives just in time for Eurydice to die in his arms. The poor lady playing her had no room to slump to the ground, and the back pews wouldn’t’ve been able to see her anyway, so she just kinda drooped and then put on her mask and walked away. The singer did a really good job, but I honestly think the first act needs to be performed in a lively way, dancers and all. It’s supposed to be evoking the living world at its height of color, beauty and enjoyment, at a wedding which is designed to produce new life. Since the next act heads straight for the land of the dead, more contrast would have been good. But all the singers did their best in a very constrained environment.

Orpheus is definitely the main character in this opera, and it’s a really good part for a countertenor. I liked this Orpheus very much. He was very good at conveying his character’s grief.

There’s a brief scene in which Orpheus thinks about killing himself to follow Eurydice, but Apollo tells him that shedding his blood will be like shedding Apollo’s own. (This opera goes with the theory that Orpheus was the son of Apollo and a Muse.) Apollo then tells him to try going to the underworld and pleading with Hades. Orpheus doubts this will work, but goes in lieu of anything better to do with his now-worthless life.

Act two started off with something really cool — a male singing group of misery composed of Tantalus, Sisyphus and Tityus! If this doesn’t cry out for an animated version, I don’t know what does. Anyway, the three hear Orpheus singing, and their torments cease for a moment as all Tartarus (including Sisyphus’ wheel, Tantalus’ fruit trees, and Tityus’ vultures) stops to listen to the magical music. (I do think Orpheus had some nerve singing that their torments were nothing to his….) The three guys plead with Orpheus to sing again, and he does, with the same results. Hades notices that everything is standing around and not working and comes to see what’s causing the disruption.

Hades is a good part, too. A bass part, of course! Charpentier or his librettist obviously had a good deal of affection for the guy, who is presented as a hardworking monarch who loves his wife dearly.

Orpheus explains that he hasn’t come for the glory of defeating Cerberus or to defy Hades, but only to get back Eurydice. Orpheus’ arguments that Eurydice was taken before her time are not particularly convincing (since he blames the Parcae, and the Parcae are the ones who determine your time!), and telling Hades he’ll eventually get Eurydice back anyway is not worthy of Perry Mason, either. But Orpheus finally manages to sway him by reminding Hades of his extreme love for Persephone, which Persephone reinforces by her own songs. Finally, Hades gives in — but he tells Persephone he didn’t do it for Orpheus’ singing, but for her eyes. Awwwwwww.

I should mention that, right in the middle of Orpheus telling about his grief for Eurydice, a loud ambulance drove right by the Cathedral. Luckily, this happened during a pause, so the musicians just kept right on playing until the ambulance had gone. It didn’t break the spell. In a weird way, it actually underlined what was going on in the opera, since he’d just been saying something about her being lost. The mythological figures we were watching were artificial, but the feelings they were talking about were real.

So Hades consented to have Eurydice freed, and warned Orpheus not to look back. (It suddenly occurred to me that there’s an analogy to not committing premarital sex here; if Orpheus really loves Eurydice, he has to resist doing what he wants to do until they reach their goal and it’s suddenly permitted.) Everyone in the underworld rejoices, and sings that for once, Heaven will be jealous of the joy in Hell. (For some reason, I found myself looking past the stage to the crucifix….) :)

So what about the next bit? It doesn’t exist. Either the opera is unfinished, or Charpentier really wanted to end on a high note. (Not the worst plan, especially if this was written to celebrate married love. It really does have that wedding feeling.)

So we too got to leave on a high note, after clapping a loooooong time for the singers. People didn’t actually do the standing ovation thing until the singers motioned toward the musicians, which was just. I have to say, the singers were good but the musicians were outstanding. I would say more about what they did, but I honestly don’t have the vocabulary. It was very interesting to hear a triple harp in a group instead of as a solo instrument, and I know I’ve never heard a lirone before. It must have been nice for them to get to play something that was “normal” for the time, but not done much in early music circles. I enjoyed the whole thing very much, and the short length and happy ending made the opera more accessible than other baroque operas I’ve heard. I will definitely be looking for more music by Charpentier.

I did have some serious questions about the translation of the libretto, though. If it says “Monarque”, shouldn’t you translate it as “Monarch”? Especially since ‘monarch’ was such a big part of the ideology of the French kings of the day? Hades is not the “Prince of Darkness”, either. His Hell is not the same as the Devil’s, thank kyew, nor is the Devil known for his strong love of family life. (Nitpicky, I know.)

(Here’s some info on the composer of Le Descente de Orphee aux Enfers, Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704). Boy, his parents really liked classical history…. Musings on Charpentier and the Guises has some great stuff, including this paper on changes in his treble clefs. This page is partly in French but includes Charpentier’s picture.

There’s a CD of Orphee by Les Arts Florissants as reviewed here. I haven’t heard it, either, but if it’s as good as what I heard Sunday, you’ll enjoy it.

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Hemispheric Opera Premiere — Part Two

I mean to apologize for leaving you all stranded yesterday. I meant to get back and write the rest of the review earlier. Really. But it’s just as well, as my review of the pre-opera appetizer ended up rather longer than I expected. So this is part two of the review. Skip it if you’re not interested.

I haven’t mentioned the nicest thing, which is that we were given copies of all the lyrics and their translations. If you can’t have surtitles or subtitles, the next best thing is a script. I read ahead so as not to be too distracted during the live performance, but found myself using the script anyway. This did cause me a bit of a sore neck, though, as I kept ducking my head to catch glimpses of the script on my lap so as to follow along. The lady next to me did drop her script at one point, but fortunately nobody was singing at the time.

The first item on the program was a short piece called “Vanitas Vanitatum”, by one of Charpentier’s teachers, Jacomo Carissimi (1605-1674).
He was a priest who worked in Rome, and his music was so popular that the Pope forbade any of his manuscripts be removed. The first part of the piece is from Ecclesiastes — a list of all the things the writer did and found were done in vain. Each of the five singers took their turn singing a stanza; each stanza ended with the refrain, “Vanitas vanitatum, omnia, omnia vanitas!” which was then repeated by the chorus. The big verse was the one about getting male and female singers, of course, and the music went into all kinds of elaborations and repetitions and such.

Then things moved into a different musical sound in the second bit. There was a list (not from Ecclesiastes, I think) of all the worldly goodies that were no good, which alternated between zipping along
at high speed and dwelling on things slooooowly. This was very effective, but also very clearly fun for the singers. Some internal rhyming occurred. (“inanes labores, fugaces honores, mendaces favores” — nice!). which was some kind of Then there was an “ubi sunt” section which seemed to be a secular Latin
text. I liked this bit a lot, so I’m going to quote it all from the script they gave us. (I have to confess a sad, sad weakness for “where are they now?” as a poetic device. I really love “Ou sont les neiges d’antan?” But somebody’s using that blog title already….)

Ubi sunt praeclares reges
qui dederunt orbi leges,
ubi gentium ductores,
civitatum conditores?
Pulvis sunt et cineres.

Where are the noble kings that gave laws to the world?
Where the leaders of people, the founders of cities?
Dust they are and ashes.

Ubi septem sapientes,
et scientias adolentes,
ubi retores discordes,
ubi artifices experti?
Pulvis sunt et cineres.

Ubi fortes sunt gigantes,
tanto robore praestantes,
ubi invicti bellatores,
barbarorum domitores?
Pulvis sunt et cineres.

Ubi heroum inclita proles,
ubi vastae urbium moles,
ubi Athenae, ubi Carthago,
veterisque Thebae imago?
Solum nomen superset.

Ubi dictatorum gloriae,
ubi consolum victoriae,
ubi laureae triumphales,
ubi decus immortale
Romanorum honorium?
Solum nomen superset.

Heu, heu nos miseros.

The last bit was another rhyming Latin thing on how we are all leaves in the wind. It was also very nice. I think maybe this is when the speed up/slow down thing got used really heavily. (The leaves were blowing fast, then drifting, then blowing fast again.)

The piece in general was an interesting blend of depression and verve, sorta like The Anatomy of Melancholy as a song. But I find it hard to imagine that the composer ever spent much time being depressed. He was just enjoying himself too much for that. I would like to hear this piece again, and I think a lot of groups would enjoy doing it. (It didn’t seem too difficult in range, etc., but that may have been the skill of the singers and musicians, of course.)

Here’s a review of a Carissimi CD which includes a lot of good information. This recording seems to include a fuller version of what we heard (which was apparently just one part of a whole oratorio. What we heard was the section from “Dixi in corde meo” to “Omnia vanitas”. You can also hear this with other Roman pieces about vanitas on Tragicomedia’s album Vanitas Vanitatum, as reviewed here. I haven’t heard any of these recordings myself.

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Hemispheric Premiere of Three-Hundred-Year-Old Opera

Yes, friends, there are times when I wish I lived nearer New York or some major city. When I reflect that I’ve never seen the musical of The Scarlet Pimpernel be performed even though I loved it from the day the concept album was released, I feel a tad bit of cultural deprivation. When I read about folks’ trips to the Birthday Weekend for Sherlock Holmes fans and how they go to more plays in a few days’ span than I attend in a year, well, there’s a definite touch of envy. But then I reflect that if I lived there I wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment on my own, much less going out. I look around me at the wonderful events and artists we do have. And I realize there’s no way I’d’ve been able to afford or get into the event I attended yesterday if it had occurred in New York City instead of Covington, Kentucky’s beautiful Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

Yesterday, you see, was the first time in this hemisphere that Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphee aux Enfers has been staged, courtesy of the Catacoustic Consort. It was my first time to get to see any baroque opera, and I have to say that it was a revelation to me. As a work of music and theater, this opera clearly should not have been so neglected. The same can be said of Charpentier. (And the whole thing only cost me twenty bucks.)

I suppose I should first mention the venue. Covington is of course right across the river from Cincinnati. It used to have a great deal more money passing through it from the Ohio River shipping trade. The Cathedral dates from back then. It seems to have a great deal of German influence, stonecarving and woodcarving; but then, Cincinnati and Covington used to be full of German immigrants. The result is a relatively small but tall Gothic church with the full complement of stained glass galore: clerestory, rose window, curvy bit of nave, etc. The interesting thing was that, besides the life of Jesus and a huge complement of saints, there were some amazingly didactic church history windows. There’s a huge one on “The Council of Ephesus”, surrounded by Marian theologian-saints, and a tiny one under the huge pipe organ dedicated to “Pius X Reforms Church Music”. There are stations of the cross in mosaic which, thanks to some trick of perspective and mosaic-color, look like windows onto Jerusalem when approached from the side. There was a huge plain wooden crucifix hanging to the rear of the central altar area, and a gorgeous triptych painting of a Mass and Melchizedek with Christ in the center panel in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. (There was also a huge font in the middle of the main aisle just when you entered the church, with one of those blessed-oil curio cabinets and the now-standard pond. I don’t think it’s all that dignified to see pennies at the bottom of said ponds, but what did they think people would do? Fountain equals pennies, folks.) In short, it was an amazing place, and the acoustics were wonderful. I would really like to hear Mass there.

I don’t think I’ve ever attended a secular concert in a Catholic church before, so I immediately faced a dilemma: genuflect or not? Nobody else was genuflecting and I didn’t see a tabernacle (it was over in that chapel, of course), so I decided on “not”. (I’m sure the good parishioners of St. Blog’s will correct me on this point if I was wrong.) The singers and music stands were set up on the dais in front of the central altar. The musicians’ chairs were on the floor at the foot of the dais. This meant that unfortunately I couldn’t see much of the musicians, as I was a little too far back and too far to the center to get a good angle on them. But I had interesting pewmates. The women next to me were talking about weddings (though I thought their suggestion that all children be banned from them a bit harsh!). The women behind me were a music student and her mother, who spoke only Spanish. The man in front of me was wearing his best ruffed black shirt, though I never got a chance to ask if he did Renaissance faires, SCA, or just liked the post-Medieval grace of retro clothing. It was a good-sized crowd (enough to fill one arm of the church). We waited, watching things get set up and waiting for the program to begin.

More here later. Gotta go.

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A Reeeeeally Good Day at the Paper

Photos of Miami Valley 9/11 observances.

Dr. David Applebaum’s Dayton ties. It would have been a death in the family, anyway, but this brings it closer.

Mikala Cartwright: one tough cookie. You go, girl.

“She’s got wheels,” said 7-year-old Deonte McIntyre. “She’s fast.”

DeMarcus Cunigan nodded: “And she’ll flatten you.”

“Everyone’s scared to face her �cause they know she’s gonna catch �em and hit �em,” Deonte added solemnly. “She’s not scared of nothin�. She can �bout do it all.”

You know that old adage � the one about “out of the mouths of babes….” The other night at the old practice field next to Louise Troy Elementary in West Dayton, Deonte and his buddies had sifted through all the other things that people could use to define Mikala Cartwright and settled on the truest description.

They never mentioned she was the only girl on the field. Nor did they bring up that she was deaf. Or that she was mute.

Armando’s is closing. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone. Hopefully, it’ll be back.

Sometimes you shouldn’t testify. And a jury should always be allowed to use its own knowledge.

�James (the father) testified that he remembered that Sunday very well because he (and Jerome Brown) watched football all day,� Burke said.

“As you may remember, and as the jury remembered, that was the Sunday after 9/11 (the terrorists attacks on the United States) and they canceled football that weekend. The jury didn�t believe that (alibi) story after he lied about the football game.�

Tragically, the best thing in the paper today was not available on the webpage. It was Ted Weatherup’s poem “Lindner at the Bank”. Okay, so it wasn’t the greatest parody ever of “Casey at the Bat”, but it voiced the fans’ feelings about this salt-sowing excuse for an owner, all right. An excerpt:

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Cincy nine that day,
The score stood ten games back with but few Redlegs left to play;
And then when Booney left the town and Sully did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the Reds fans at the game.

A struggling few got up to go, in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which “springs eternal in the human breast”.
They thought, If only Lindner would but stand up in the rank,
We’d put up even money now, with Lindner at the bank.

But trades proceeded quickly, as did also bargain sales
And the former were some lulus and the latter brought loud wails.
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sank,
For there seemed but little chance of Lindner going to the bank.

But fans kept up the sales, to the wonderment of all
And the wins began to come under Miley in the Fall
And when the dust had lifted and folks saw what had occurred,
There was “Could Be” safe at second and “Hope” a-huggin’ third…..

Finally, the replica Wright Flyer needs help. Ack! What a thing to happen — to be grounded by your ground truck being stolen! Here’s their site if you’d like to help.

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