Sunday, September 30, 2012

    -------------------------From Timeline of Kings & Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr --------------------------
    1387  Hungary and Croatia: Dowager Queen Elizabeth is strangled in front of her daughter, Queen Mary, by her husband, Sigismund on the anniversary of the murder of Charles III of Naples.   
    Makes one wonder if strangling someone was the customary way of commemorating Charles' murder every year. 
    1392  France: Charles VI becomes insane.  In one incident, he killed six knights.  He believed he was made of glass and would break if moved.  He roamed the corridors of his palaces howling like a wolf. 
    1410  Sicily: King Martin dies of a combination of chronic indigestion and a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
    This little survey about drinking has been making the rounds, so I thought I'd give it a try.  I picked it up from Erik Rubright's blog, Gambrinous With Griffonage:
    Are you a cheap date?  I guess so.  I like a glass of dry white wine with dinner every night, either at home or in a restaurant.  On occasion, depending on what the main course is, I'll substitute half a big bottle of Ommegang Brewery beer, either the Hennepin pale ale that's infused during brewing with a bouquet of spices and herbs,  the dark Abby Ale that is very robust, or the Rare Vos amber ale.  All are brewed with a second fermentation in the bottle exactly like champagne and are superb beers.
    What is your favorite drink? (you can have different ones for different occasions)  Above and beyond anything else, Champagne!  Very shortly after I met Fritz we discovered that we both love the stuff.  The favored champagne in this house is Great Western brut (the driest of the champagnes, crisp and very refreshing)  This is a genuine Methode Champegnoise champagne, not the carbonized white wine cheap type.  Great Western is a New York State champagne from the Finger Lakes region with excellent grapes and growing conditions.  The great thing about it is that it costs $7.98 a bottle so one can indulge.
    Worst experience?  A little difficult to talk about and to remember but, growing up with an alcoholic mother whose condition steadily worsened until her premature death.   My pleas for there to be some kind of help for her were always turned away; my father, her mother and sister steadfastly refused any treatment because if she were to go into detox followed by the other phases of treatment and then AA meetings, "everybody will know."  Of course, everybody knew anyway because hiding a serious alcohol addiction is virtually impossible, but it was thought preferable to have family life essentially destroyed, to live in communal misery, to watch her age to the appearance of someone twice as old, and to have her die young than to do something.  It is for this reason that I drink little or no hard liquor, ever, and don't drink wine in any great quantity.
    Beer Goggles?  I was unfamiliar with this phrase until this survey, but since I don't frequent bars and don't drink much, I'm not in the position to be self-deluded about other people's appearance that way.  I will readily admit that some people I've had to deal with looked much better on first introduction than they turned out to be eventually.
    What's the funniest thing you've ever done while drinking?  I was once painting a water color rendering of a stage set I was designing with a small bowl of water to wash my brush and a small glass of wine to my right.  As I "knew" where the bowl was, I didn't look but just dipped the brush to my right where the bowl should have been.   As you can probably guess, when I took a quick break and went to pick up the glass, the wine had "magically" turned a vibrant blue (I was painting a sky at the time). 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

-----------------------From Timeline of Kings; Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr ----------------------- 

1271 Rome: The three year deadlock in the election of a new pope is broken when the inhabitants of Viterbo remove the  
roof of the building in which the cardinals are assembled and lock them in with only bread and water; after just three days, they elect Cardinal Visconti as Pope Gregory X. 

1274 Navarre: Henry the Fat dies, reportedly suffocated by the weight of his own fat, and his only son and heir dies in a fall from a battlement. His daughter Johanna becomes Queen at age 3. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

“I appreciate the fact that she is on the ground, safe.  I don’t think she knows just how worried some of us were. When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly. I don’t understand why the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous.” ~Willard M. Romney, candidate for President of the United States and to be a frequent flier on Air Force One.

OK, Mitt, let's see what would happen.   If you COULD crank open that window next to you in First Class everything in the plane that wasn't bolted down, including babies, would be sucked out of your window as you enjoyed the breeze.  Everyone would be scrambling for the oxygen masks to save their lives as the pilots put the plane into a terrifying power dive to get down to where there's natural oxygen.

This man's stupidity is a many faceted, ever expanding and evolving source of constant delight, one that explores new topics and depths of ignorance on a daily, continuing basis.

The news this morning reported that Romney is 10 points behind Obama in Ohio and 9 points behind in Florida -- both are states without which Romney cannot win.  Apparently, people are  catching on more and more about Romney and his pro-megabucks, anti-everybody else policies.  We begin the debates next week, an activity at which Obama has always been better than the gaffe-prone Romney although I don't expect to see Romney offering to bet the president $10,000 about something! 


I'm enjoying my physical therapy.  The therapist is introducing me to exercises that target back muscles around the spine that, when strengthened, will help take the strain off hard-pressed discs.  Some are fun, others are going to require a bit of time for me to master as they require the isolation of muscle groups from each other, some (lower abdomen and buttocks) tightened while others remaining at rest.  This is difficult for me as my approach to any exertion has always been to tighten everything and lift/pull/push, whatever.  I obviously need to develop some new reflexes.  However I suspect I'll get a much tighter lower abdomen and butt out of this, and that can never be bad!

Monday, September 24, 2012

-------------------From Timeline of Kings; Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr -----------------------

1135  England: Henry I dies from food poisoning after famously eating "a surfeit of lampreys."
          Hungary: King Bela I dies when his throne's canopy collapses on top of him.
1141  Hungary and Croatia: King Bela II dies of over-indulgence in alcohol.
1188  Leon-Castile-Galicia: Alfonso IX is nicknamed "the Slobberer" for his habit of foaming at the mouth when angry.


The US has 3900% more solar radiation than Germany and yet Germany produces 6000% more solar energy than the US and we subsidize the gas, oil and coal companies. Brilliant!!!
From the Facebook page: I love it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President 

On our travels, Fritz and I have discovered that Europe is full of solar and, especially, wind power -- way ahead of the US in that regard.


A couple of months ago I began to get severe shooting pains down the back of my left leg from just below the buttock to the back of my knee.   I know enough about my body and have read enough to realize that the sciatic nerve was acting up, and that the probable cause was a damaged or deteriorating disc in my spine.  Conventional over-the-counter pain killers didn't touch the pain.  I discovered that if I bent slightly forward and dipped my left hip I could decrease the pain for a while but it remained a problem.

As I was in a very busy time of preparation for an opera production in Boston that I was designing and building, I had no time for the gym for a couple of days and the pain down the left leg cut back noticeably.  I decided that one of the machines at the gym must have been the trigger if not the cause of the problem.  I guessed it was one of my favorites, the torso machine where the upper body remains in a fixed position and the lower body, with various amounts of weight applied as resistance, swivel around and back with the lower spine being the pivot.  Without that motion for a couple of days I had fewer attacks.  I then called my doctor who met with me and sent me right into x-ray.

The x-ray showed that I had succumbed to the family disease (on my mother's side), arthritis in the spine with attendant disc deterioration.  To get the full picture he sent me for an MRI which showed four discs deteriorated, three with moderate narrowing of the channel through which the nerves pass, and one disc with severe narrowing and some herniation, which I assume is the disc that's pinching my sciatic nerve.  I met with my doctor again and he laid out the options.  I told him that if the medical treatment option involved being on pain killers for the rest of my life I wasn't interested; he agreed it was the least desirable choice.  We both felt that surgery -- which admittedly has advanced radically from the old, dreaded spinal surgery -- was something we should hold for last in case all other treatments fail.

Today I had a first meeting with the chosen option, Physical Therapy.  There's a small but good PT practice here in Raymond.  In our first meeting I was examined for posture,  taught a new way of picking up objects from the ground/floor, given a set of exercises, and told which machines at my gym I should avoid completely and how to use more effectively those that won't damage my spine.  This last was extremely important to me as I don't want to risk falling out of shape.

Oh, the Physical Therapist was very impressed with my legs, the muscularity and strength of them.  I told her that I thought of them as soccer legs and that they'd given my father the false hope that I'd be the big football hero in high school and college he had been.  He wanted a jock but got a son involved with the performing arts.  I know I disappointed him in that regard, but when he saw how my career was going he became very proud of that and very supportive.  And that was nice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

-------------------From Timeline of Kings; Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr -----------------------
1014  In the battle of Kleidion, Byzantine Emperor Basil II "the Bulgar-slayer" defeats the Bulgarian army and massacres 15,000 prisoners.  All Bulgarian survivors are blinded, apart from one in every hundred to lead the others home.  Bulgarian Tsar Samuel collapses and dies of a heart attack at the sight of his blinded soldiers.

1040  King Duncan I is killed in battle by his cousin and rival, Macbeth, who succeeds him as king.
1057  King Macbeth is killed in battle against Malcolm III.
And there you have the genesis of Shakespeare's plot
Since midsummer, I worked on The Diva Monologs, an evening of three one-act monodramas, each featuring one soprano in its only singing role, that was presented this past weekend by Intermezzo, the New England Chamber Opera for which I design.  Working through the material, I suggested this running order:
1) At the Statue of Venus by Jake Heggie, libretto by Terrence McNally, that was premiered in 2005. It's a lovely 22 minute work in which a young woman waits for a blind date at a statue in a museum, agonizing about the wardrobe she's chosen, reacting to various men who enter the gallery and might be her date, finally remembering the great love of her father, then deciding to leave but finally managing to stick it out.  The opera ends as a male voice calls her name from from offstage and she turns to greet him.  
 I worked with two directors on this program.  One, a fine artist with whom I had worked before, was responsible for this opera.  The big challenge was the design of the statue.  We were offered one that was life sized but completely lacking in any poetry or mystique.  I sketched one, working from ideas in a Rodin sculpture, that the director liked a great deal.  It was produced by laminating slabs of 2" thick styrofoam insulation board with water-based contact cement into a block, which I then carved with a variety of saws, wood rasps and sand paper.  My idea was for a Venus springing up out of the water from which she was born, her head thrown back and concealed by her arms.

I painted her with a bronze colored semigloss latex paint and then sprayed metallic gold paint from a distance so that the mist of gold would settle gently into the wet latex to provide a warm highlight on the dark mass.

A seventeen foot long strip of red material, the plinth for the statue and a simple wooden bench completed the set, allowing the pure, clear voiced soprano Kristin Watson to dominate the stage as she should, yet always in relation to the enigmatic Goddess of Love.

 After as quick a scene change as we could manage, we performed Hugo Weisgall's The Stronger, premiered in 1952, adapted by Richard Henry Hart from the play of the same name by Swedish playwright August Strindberg.  Two women meet by chance in a chic New York restaurant on Christmas Eve.  They have had a difficult history in the past and the main character, Estelle (soprano Janna Baty, left) suffers a slow but relentless meltdown during the half hour course of the action.  Insecure in her marriage and suspicious that Lisa (actress Louise Hamill, right) has had an affair with her husband.  The silent Lisa's reactions are presented only in physical attitude and facial expressions and serve as a passive aggressive goad to drive Estelle into greater frenzy.

At last, the slightly drunk Estelle declares herself to be the stronger woman and wishes Lisa a condescending "Merry Christmas" as she sweeps out the door.  Janna Batty is a visceral performer with a large, exciting dramatic soprano and a fine theatrical intelligence.  Kirsten Cairns directed The Stronger and the final opera with attention to detail and great character work with her performers.

The first two operas were defined in sharp, clean lines and strong colors, predominantly black, white and red.  After the intermission, Miss Havisham's Wedding Night by Dominick Argento, premiered 1979, closed the evening in a dark, dry-rotted and decaying setting out of Dickens' novel, Great Expectations.  The 35 minute work featured a tremendous performance by soprano Barbara Kilduff who had starred a year and a half ago in the opera for which Fritz and I wrote the libretto.  The role is filled with hairpin turns in emotions as Miss H slips into and out of what we call sanity in an attempt to come to grips with being jilted at the altar many years previously.  Barbara negotiated these transitions, and the intricate vocal line, with a pure voice and total involvement.

The big job in this set was to build the tall clock, one of many clocks in the house that Miss Havisham had smashed or disabled in some way in order to stop time.  As the clock has to be damaged and attacked again during the action, it could not be a borrowed clock.  I had a lot of fun doing it, as well as making the unrealistically tall gauzy drape (out of cheese cloth, not the easiest material to sew on a machine) and to age everything on stage to a dusty, cobwebbed finish.

We had good, very appreciative audiences for the two performances. Reviewers from the Boston Phoenix and The Globe were present although their notices have not yet appeared.  This comment comes from the Boston Classical review on the web:

"The sets used for the performances were practical but effective (headless statue for Venus, cafe tables for The Stronger, old furniture and ready-made, smashed-looking grandfather clock for the Argento work). William Fregosi, the designer, used generous portions of red in the sets for the first two works. And the sepia tones in Miss Havisham encapsulated the character’s decaying world successfully.

Fregosi demonstrated that an opera company does not need a multi-million-dollar budget for sets in order to tell a compelling story."


With thanks to Tony Adams (Perge Modo blog) I discovered this unique drinking vessel.  It was found in an excavation at Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great.  It's so unashamedly, joyously obscene! 


Given the massive coverage of Mitt Romney's contemptuous dismissal of virtually half the American population, this graphic is offered without further comment:

Monday, September 10, 2012

-------------------From Timeline of Kings; Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr -----------------------

AD 928  Rome:  Pope John X is imprisoned and murdered by wealthy and powerful Roman matron Marozia and her husband Guy of Tuscany; Leo VI is elected pope, dies; Stephen becomes pope for seven months, dies.

Leon:  Ordoño the Wicked usurps Sancho the Fat's throne, supported by disaffected nobles.  Sancho the Fat regains his throne two years later. 



Here's a fresh new version I received of the classic internet scam:

   Received:  9/8/2012 7:09:50 AM
Your Email Address which was randomly picked through an electronic ballot system without the candidates applying has won 1,000,000.00 GBP in the 2012 Olympics Games Awards.

To claim your prize,send your:

Smith Fego
Telephone:  +447014246854
Opera addiction (Richard Wagner variety) gone wild: This is the Grotto of Venus in the
Linderhof Palace in southern Bavaria.  It was one of three grand residences built by King
Ludwig of Bavaria.  The grotto allowed Ludwig to fantasize that he was in the first
scene of Richard Wagner's Tannhauser; it takes place deep in the Venusberg mountain, 
where the goddess Venus took refuge when Christianity conquered Paganism in Europe.
Historians generally agree that Ludwig was a) mentally unbalanced and, b) desperately in 
love with the resolutely, almost manically heterosexual Wagner.  Ludwig was obsessed with
Germany's romantic past of knights and minnesanger (troubadours).  He saw in Wagner's operas the 
recreation of everything he held dear.

The second of Ludwig's fantasy residences was Neuschwannstein, the ultimate fairy tale castle and the inspiration for the castle in the original Disney Land.  Built atop an almost inaccessible crag in the Bavarian Alps and costing unprecedented amounts of money for a kingdom already chock-a-block with royal residences, Neuschwannstein allowed Ludwig to indulge his Wagner passion on 
several levels.  In a cave carved deep into the crag and flooded to become an underground lake, he could arrive in a swanboat on the shore like the knight in shining armor in Lohengrin. 

Up in his bedroom, he was surrounded by frescos illustrating Wagner's highly erotic take on the medieval story of Tristan and Isolde.
And lower in the multi-story castle, he could relive the world of medieval song contests in a replica of an early set for act 2 of Tannhauser whose hero, like Wagner and probably an avatar for Wagner, is torn apart by his internal struggle between the creation of pure art and obsession with sex.

Ludwig's obsession with Wagner (in which pure art and sex were inextricably entwined) eventually brought him down.  To the vast sums he spent on his fantasy castles were added the fortune he lavished on Wagner to support the composer's lavish life style and the construction of the Festival Theater Wagner designed for the little town of Bayreuth to be the perfect venue for his enormous Ring of the Niebelung.  Bavaria went broke from Ludwig's prodigal expenditures.

But there was another danger.  Otto von Bismark had his eye on Bavaria to finish his assembly of all the independent German states into a unified German Reich.  Ludwig opposed having Bavaria absorbed into von Bismark's dream of a German nation that would occupy the center of Europe geographically and domnate the continent politically.  In defying von Bismark he wrote his own death sentence.  A panel of physicians declared Ludwig mentally unfit to rule although none of them had ever examined him.  He was deposed, and succeeded by his brother Otto who was genuinely insane and never ruled. 

Ludwig and his personal physician were found floating in an artificial ornamental lake at Castle Berg where he was in house arrest in June of 1886.  The entire affair is a mystery.  Ludwig didn't drown because the autopsy found no water in his lungs.  His doctor showed marks of being beaten and strangled.  But by whom?  Others declared they had seen the King shot but no bullets were found in his body.  He was given an huge funeral.  Bavaria became part of the German Reich. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012


For Dr. Michael (Urspo) Rockwell

-------------------From Timeline of Kings & Queens from Charlemagne to Elizabeth II by Gordon Kerr---------------------
AD 903  Rome: Leo V becomes pope for 30 days before being deposed and murdered by antipope Christopher.

AD 904  Rome: Antipope Christopher is ejected and strangled; Pope Sergius III becomes pope, beginning the 30-year era of the Pornocacy, a time of great excess and violence; he is the only pope to have ordered the murder of another pope, and the only pope to father an illegitimate son who also became pope.


Michael Rockwell of Spo Reflections, wished to know more about Boudicca, the Celtic Queen who proved to be significantly more than a speed bump in the Roman occupation and assimilation of Britain.  So here is a bit of her amazing story:

"She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: She wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her...…" -Roman historian Dio Cassius 

The Romans arrived in Britannia under Julius Caesar in 55BC but departed the next year.  The major invasion and settlement began in AD43 during the reign of Emperor Claudius.  Urban centers were established in Camulodunum (modern day Colchester), Londinium (London) and Virulamium (St. Albans).

In Colchester a massive temple to the deified Claudius was built on an enormous raised podium; it was then the largest Roman temple, and one of the largest buildings of any kind in the world (model based on archaeological evidence, above).

In AD60 Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe he ruled as an independent Roman ally near Colchester, died, leaving his lands jointly to his sons and Emperor Nero.  But a couple of hotshot young Roman commanders decided to seize all Iceni territory as a conquered Province.  Then they went a step (way) too far, flogging Prasutagus' widow Boudicca and raping her daughters.  BIG mistake.  Huge.

Boudicca gathered her people and other local tribes while Suetonius, the Roman Commander of Britannia was in Wales.  They burned Colchester, destroying the Temple of Claudius -- only the huge vaulted podium remained, now the foundation of Colchester's medieval castle.  Suetonius and his army raced back from Wales, realized that Boudicca was marching on Londinium and evacuated the city, which her army burned to the ground over a three day period.  Modern archaeologists easily recognize the thick ash layer filled with some coins and many pottery shards and some other artifacts that is the remains of Boudicca's destruction of the first London.

From London, she turned north and destroyed Virulamium.  Estimates of the number of Romans killed in Boudica's onslaught vary from a low of 20,000 to a high of 80,000.  By this time Suetonius had his troops organized and confronted Boudicca and her much larger force in the midlands, defeating them soundly.

What happened next is not clearly documented; Boudicca died, perhaps of disease contracted in her military camps, but more likely from taking poison to avoid falling into Roman hands and being paraded in chains behind Suetonius's chariot through the streets of Rome.  Although she was defeated by the Romans, Boudicca influenced Roman policy toward assimilating the Celts more completely into becoming contented and loyal Roman citizens as Britannia was rebuilt.

As the linguistic origins of Boudicca's name indicate that it meant victory or victorious (Bouda = victory in Celtic), interest in her was revived in the 19th century as a kind of precursor to Queen Victoria.  Poems were written, ships named, operas composed, and Prince Albert commissioned the great bronze statue of Boudicca and her daughters in her chariot that stands near the Houses of Parliament as a tribute to Victoria, his wife.

Boudicca, ironically classically Romanized in her magnificent memorial in London.  Her name here is in the spelling history books used to give.  The very observant and accurate Roman historian Tacitus spelled her name Boudicca, which spelling has been restored by recent historians.

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