Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Last week the Boston Symphony began a three day run of performances of "The Damnation of Faust," a big vocal/choral piece by Hector Berlioz after the play by Goethe. Of making Fausts in music there once seemed to be no end--Gounod, Berlioz, Schumann, Liszt and Boito (among others) wrote major works based on the gigantic, two part play in the 19th century. Wagner dreamed of writing one but eventually just put out an overture.

There were many fewer Fausts in the 20th century as belief in god and adherence to organized religion began to fade (Stravinsky appropriated some of the Faust story for his opera "The Rake's Progress" and Busoni wrote a big bear of an opera called "Doktor Faust"). There probably are people (perhaps from those churches in the mid-west where they equate Harry Potter with devil worship) who believe in making pacts with a devil in a red suit, but modern composers aren't among them.

I was in the audience last Thursday night for what turned out to be a very exciting performance. The chorus under John Oliver was stupendous--simply unbelievable in their magnificently solid, beautiful tone. The orchestra played with enormous virtuosity even with conductor James Levine taking extremely fast tempos--rare for a man usually criticized for being too slow. The solo singers were excellent with one exception, the stand-out being the great veteran baritone Jose van Dam, now 67, his voice still rock solid and very suave. Mephistopheles is a famous role for him, and during the intermission two guys I know said that he could seduce them into Hell any time he liked.

Tenor Paul Groves sailed through Berlioz’s high–lying tenor music easily with sweet tone. Mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef was effective but not on the level of the other soloists. Her choice of gown was bizarre to say the least—pea soup-colored chiffon with a kind of breast plate in lime green sequins strapped around the waist and over her shoulders around her neck like a halter top. Besides being intensely unattractive in itself, the gown didn’t begin to suggest the kind of character she was portraying in the story.

One of my favorite breakfasts: fill a small bowl with the desired amount of plain, non-fat yogurt. Sprinkle sugar to taste--I use far less than the over-sweetened commercial yogurts. Add a splash of pure almond extract--more or less according to your love for almond flavor. Mix together and enjoy.

Middlebury College in Vermont has banned the use of Wikipedia as a research tool by its students. I completely support this move. From the time I first became aware of it, Wikipedia has scared the hell out of me. The fact that members of the public--armed, perhaps, only with opinions--can go onto Wikipedia and rewrite someone else's article, which may itself be full of errors, means that the research pool is beginning to fill up with unsubstantiated gossip or worse. Since the newspapers, most magazines and many of the major publishing houses have laid off their fact-checking staffs, I worry that a lot of totally undocumented information is going to be accepted as fact and get published, leading to an ever-expanding landscape of misinformation.

Another Vermont story--the legislature has begun the process of adding same-sex marriage to the state's existing civil unions.

My day ended with drinks and dinner with fellow gay blogger Atari at the cosy Dogwood Cafe in Jamaica Plain by Forest Hills Station. You know you're having a really good time with a friend when you sit down at the bar together at 6:30 and in virtually no time at all it's 10:15 and you still don't really want to leave.

Bravo Middlebury! last week a friend who teaches in Paris told me with appropriate horror that he had a PhD candidate who used Wikipedia as documentation in a doctoral dissertation.

Wikipedia can be useful to suggest paths of investigation, but every step and detail must be documented from varifiable sources.

Your more general concern about the tendency to be very cavalier about sources and documentation is totally justified. Of course, our current US administration sets the model for the increasing disregard for emperical evidence. But the problem can't be confined just to the republicans. I resigned from a leadership position in Democrats Abroad because the higher leadership encouraged distribution of smear information from a totally unsubstantiated blog.
Wikipedia -- ugh! I got a paper recently with ONLY citations from Wikipedia. At least they have Puccini's dates right....

A friend of mine attended the Damnation de Faust and had rather contrary reactions: orchestra too loud, Groves's French vile, van Dam's low register shot. Maybe he was sitting ina different part of the hall?

plain yogurt with almond extract = never even thought of that before! thanks!!!
I'll have to try that breakfast treat, sounds good and healthy :)

Have a Happy Valentines Day Will!!
Happy Valentine's Day
Yay for Middlebury! My students consider Wikipedia THE source to go to for everything, and even some of my (younger) classmates in the graduate classes that I'm taking rely on it.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and Fritz!h
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