Politics & Policy

Singing along, &c.

Wasn’t Senator Craig one of the “Singing Senators,” the barbershop quartet (of sorts) from a decade or so ago? Ah, artists . . .

‐Of course, John Ashcroft was one of the Singing Senators, too.

‐Seriously now: President Bush touched one of the sorest nerves in all of America — certainly on the American left. He mentioned the atrocities that followed our country’s cutting off of the South Vietnamese government. Worse than that, he did so in the context of warning of more atrocities if we do the same to the Iraqis.

Predictably, the Left — in the form of columnists and others — howled and howled. And in that howling, I believe, was a good deal of guilt and resentment. Resentment because Bush had merely brought the subject up. And guilt because . . .

Who of them did not support the cutting off of the South?

Every American conservative has certain facts memorized, and this is one of them: When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, the headline in the New York Times — over a Sydney Schanberg article — was “Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life.”

Yeah.

American liberals — those who supported turning our backs — have never really faced up to what happened. A few have: Gene Genovese and other rarities. But precious few. Most people would prefer to let Vietnam sleep, or the Hollywood/Oliver Stone view to dominate. But President Bush awakened something very, very bad; he restarted a national psychodrama. And a lot of people aren’t very happy about it.

Good.

‐Was in West Palm Beach, Fla., earlier in the week — and North Palm Beach, and Palm Beach, and associated Beaches. Such a lovely part of the world — despite the cement. Anyway, happened to see the Palm Beach Post, and do you realize what a nightmare it is, ideologically? There is more diversity of thought in the English department of Brown University.

Two days ago, there were five columnists on the op-ed pages (a generous spread, in one sense): Paul Krugman, Thomas L. Friedman, Jim Hoagland, Clarence Page, and a local guy. The theme of virtually all of the columns was: Bush is a moron, Bush is a moron, Bush is a moron.

According to a friend down there, this is a typical day’s assortment, or non-assortment: despite the occasional appearance of George Will and another token or two. (I’m all for tokenism, when it comes to political commentary — and faculties.)

I’m not sure what self-respecting newspaper would offer the lineup I saw on Tuesday. It would be like putting up me and four of my National Review colleagues. Why would a population, reliant on a newspaper, put up with that?

I realized, a bit later, that I’d written about the Palm Beach Post before. They are home to Don Wright, one of the most vicious and toxic cartoonists in America. This is the fellow who drew Justice Thomas as a puppet on Justice Scalia’s hand. The bubble-lipped, grinning Thomas puppet said, “Oh, yeah! Say what?”

He is also the one who drew Attorney General Ashcroft driving a truck bomb into the Constitution.

The Palm Beach Post is like a perfect specimen of pre-Reagan leftism, preserved under glass. Again, I don’t see why the locals put up with it. But maybe, what with the Internet and all, we have transcended newspapers. I am a lifelong lover of newspapers: but I still say, I hope so.

‐By the way, I was just on the PBP website, and spotted a column called “Meet my hero Moe, Young Communist,” by George McEvoy. (Here.) Mr. McEvoy’s hero had been a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Toward the end of his column, he says, “. . . a federal official, not too long ago, remarked that the Lincoln Brigade volunteers had been ‘prematurely anti-fascist.’ When Moe Fishman died on Aug. 6 at the age of 92, he might still have been chuckling at that one.”

Uh-huh — and I am chuckling at George McEvoy, sort of. The assertion that the U.S. government, or anyone in it, ever referred to the Lincoln Brigade people as “premature anti-fascists” is one of the great lies of the American Left, and of the Communists in particular. It was demolished in an article by Klehr & Haynes published in a 2002 New Criterion: “The Myth of ‘Premature Anti-fascism’” (here).

And, more broadly, there was nothing heroic about the Lincoln Brigade Communists. But if all you know about the world comes from the Palm Beach Post . . .

‐A little fun with headlines? I saw this one the other day: “Dean Leaves Mexico Relatively Unscathed.” For some reason, I thought that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee had come back from our neighbor to the south, without injury. But the story was about a hurricane.

And my buddy Anthony Dick — formerly of NR, now whooping it up in California, I believe — pointed out another headline: “Kiss singer sidelined with heart ailment.” He at first thought of the former secretary of state. But on closer inspection . . .

‐In my Impromptus of Monday, I said I’d tell you a little about Salzburg, in the next Impromptus — and here we are. Would you like just a couple of notes from my two weeks there, working at the festival? I won’t keep you long (by my standards).

I attended a ceremony at City Hall, where a friend of mine was being honored with an important, seldom-given award. City Hall is the Schloss Mirabell — Mirabell Castle — attached to the famous Mirabell Gardens (or should I say that the gardens are attached to it?). It was through these gardens that the Trapp children tripped, I believe, in that movie.

A man working at Mirabell explained to me that the building was fairly new: 1721. Why, that was just 35 years before Mozart — the local hero — was born! A big local beer, incidentally — Stiegl — was born in 1492. I wonder what else happened that year.

From his office window, the mayor has one of the best views in Salzburg, and one of the best views I’ve ever seen: He looks out over those gardens, and up to the Festung (Fortress), sitting on its hilly perch. His view is a perfect postcard.

But he explained to us, “You can see that I have my desk positioned so that my back is to the window. Otherwise I’d never get any work done.” (From what I hear about his politics, that may be for the better . . .)

At the ceremony, I met a man whose store was established in 1656 — exactly 100 years before Mozart (whose home is just a few steps away from the shop). Would you like to know what the shop’s original phone number was? 9. That’s right: one digit: 9. (The shop, incidentally, is R. F. Azwanger, where you can pick up booze and meats.)

One more note about the Schloss Mirabell: People get married there, as they do in other city halls. But there is a chapel, with an organ, and, when I was waiting around in a hallway, I heard Mendelssohn’s march pealing out. That is not something we have in our city-hall weddings, hmm?

‐In a September ’03 Impromptus, I wrote about George Sgalitzer, senior patron of the Salzburg Festival. He was born in Vienna, and taken to the first performance ever at the festival: on August 22, 1920. He was seven years old. He attended every season thereafter — except for the war years — and he was a thoroughly extraordinary man, as I detail in that article.

Dr. Sgalitzer passed on before ’07’s festival, and we had a memorial concert for him — a marvelous event, just what he would have appreciated. As I said that morning, I’m so glad I knew him — so glad I didn’t miss him. I knew him only in his last years; but he was fully himself, it seemed. I once did a public interview with him, before a Salzburg audience. What a rich, fascinating hour.

Anyway — one of those fellows you can never forget.

‐This year, we had five public interviews — with five stars of music: Valery Gergiev, the Russian conductor; Ferruccio Furlanetto, the Italian bass; Michael Schade, the German-Canadian tenor (what, you don’t know other German Canadians?); Diana Damrau, the German soprano; and Renée Fleming, another soprano, the pride of Rochester, N.Y. They were all fantastic, I must say — dream interviews. I could have talked to them for hours more. Each was sharp and insightful, and each was a performer — almost as much on our interview platform as onstage.

Drop you a quick tidbit about Ferruccio Furlanetto? I asked him what he listened to at home — you know, just sitting around the house. And he named only one singer: Paul Simon. He said (and I paraphrase), “It doesn’t have to do with technique, or quality of voice. It’s his heart. He sings from the heart — and that is the key to any singing: heart.”

Interesting, I thought — you too?

‐I did not do a public interview with Plácido Domingo, but I had an interesting conversation with him. Do you know that he plays the piano? I thanked him for bringing the operas of Albéniz to CD. Albéniz is mainly known for piano music, particularly the Iberia suite. I told Domingo I hadn’t known Albéniz had written any vocal music; Domingo said he hadn’t either.

He was never a good enough pianist to play Iberia, he said. (We’re talking about Domingo himself.) But he did play the Suite española — “Asturias” and all that.

How ’bout that?

‐Ah, a little politics. I’m so sorry. I was at a garden party. Was ushered to a table where a couple of friends of mine were sitting. Across from them was a man with a very bad look on his face. Didn’t seem too happy to meet me. All he knew about me, I gather, is that I was an American.

Anyway, I had eaten before this party, and did not want to eat anything more. (Well, maybe a sweet or two.) A server offered me a plate of gorgeous wrapped sausages, and I politely and regretfully declined. The man across from us snorted to his companion, “Probably wants barbecue.”

One of my friends was engaging me in conversation, so I was unable to rejoin. But what a very strange incident.

And the man continued rude — so puzzling.

Another party? This one was a luncheon. I was sitting next to an elderly lady of noble bearing, and, indeed, of noble pedigree — royal pedigree. Toward the end of our meal, she said to me, “What do you think of George Bush?”

Now, I almost never participate in such conversations — certainly not in Salzburg, and not in most other places, either. Not worth the trouble. Besides, I’m lucky enough to say what I have to say in my writing.

But this woman came from an Eastern European family, and I thought I could talk fairly openly. In fact, I waded right in: “I think he’s a great man.”

“Why?” she said.

“For many reasons, but mainly because he has confronted the central evil of our time — and he has done so despite an unwilling world.”

“What is the central evil of our time?”

“Well, to use a shorthand, what some people call ‘Islamofascism.’”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you could also call it Islamic extremism, or jihadism, or Islamic fundamentalism.”

“Bush himself is a fundamentalist.”

“Oh, really? He is a liberal democrat — he has stood for election several times, you know. What has he ever done that’s fundamentalist?”

Silence.

I ask again: “What’s fundamentalist about him?”

“The way he talks.”

“Well, I like the way he talks.”

And that was pretty much that . . .

Now, I could have essentially that same conversation with thousands of people sitting a half-mile from me right now. (I’m in New York City.) But it was nicer in a breathtaking setting above little Puch, outside of Salzburg.

‐Care for some music reviews, published in the New York Sun? Here are eleven of them, written from Salzburg:

Armida (the Haydn opera).

Eugene Onegin (the Tchaikovsky opera).

Plácido Domingo and Ana María Martínez singing zarzuelas.

Christine Schäfer, Andreas Scholl, et al. in an evening of Italian Baroque.

Elisabeth Leonskaya, Leonidas Kavakos, et al. in an evening of chamber music and piano music.

Der Freischütz (an opera by Weber — but rewritten in Salzburg).

The baritone Thomas Hampson in recital.

Benvenuto Cellini (the Berlioz opera).

The Camerata Salzburg, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, with Christine Schäfer, soprano.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons.

Zoltán Kocsis, conducting the Mozarteum Orchestra, and serving as piano soloist, too.

That enough? But speaking of politics, let me excerpt the last part of my review of Der Freischütz:

Salzburg’s production is in the care of Falk Richter, a director from Hamburg. When the curtain opens, we behold the chorus — the townspeople — as a bunch of fatsos, dressed in vulgar clothing: shorts, jerseys, and T-shirts. Many of them have cameras or binoculars around their necks. One of the fatties has a T-shirt with the American flag on it. Your modern European stage director is not known for subtlety.

Before long, all of these people sit down and simultaneously take out bags of greasy snacks, which they eat noisily. What was I saying about subtlety?

Naturally, the production is full of sexual moves, including some feigned ejaculation, which we all thought was cool in junior high school. But this isn’t junior high school: It is the Salzburg Festival.

In the course of the opera, Mr. Richter uses a lot of film, and some of this use is effective. And this must be said for him, too: He leaves Agathe’s arias — tender and heartfelt — alone. That is, he lets her sing them unmolested, without sabotage, which may get him kicked out of the Directors’ Guild.

At the end of Act II, we have some hot nude models, parading around in high heels. They kneel down to take communion, in a kind of black mass. And the characters now and then leave German for English, speaking words we don’t exactly expect in “Der Freischütz.” One of Samiel’s acolytes declares, “Money is everything.” [N.B.: Samiel is the devil figure in this story.] And John Relyea’s Kaspar speaks some of the pivotal words of the opera — Mr. Richter’s opera, that is:

“Destruction, death, corruption, rape, war, invasion, burnt children, low taxes, and religion — that is what we would kill for; that is what our hearts yearn for.”

Yes, low taxes, to go with burned children and religion. It crosses my mind that Mr. Relyea [a super-successful Canadian bass-baritone, with a big American career] should be ashamed to aid and abet this despicable show. John F. Kennedy (a low-tax man, incidentally) said, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.” Well, does an opera career ever ask too much?

This production is like a parody of the modern European director’s vision of “Der Freischütz,” and of the world. The Hermit is not a hermit, but a televangelist, disgusting in his silver and gold outfit, complete with large, gaudy diamond cross. The Hermit of the real “Freischütz” is a figure of relief and mercy; the Hermit of Mr. Richter’s “Freischütz” is a figure of obscenity and mockery.

In a final act of subversion, Mr. Richter has Samiel’s helpers take blood from sacramental chalices and daub four English words on the wall: “In God We Trust.” Subtle, subtle, subtle. The main character, Max, looks on these words with fear and wonder. Instead of being saved, he is cast into doubt.

Look, not every director or company wants to put on a Christian opera, and that is perfectly understandable. But if you feel that way — leave “Der Freischütz” alone. There are plenty of other operas to choose from. Why brutalize Weber?

One of the tragedies here is that Mr. Richter is evidently a talented and skillful man. He has simply been engulfed by the ideology and superstition of the culture around him. He and his colleagues love to cry against America and Judeo-Christian civilization, and they do so to much applause. One can only wish them luck under sharia.

Thanks for joining me this week, guys. See you later.

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