Culture

The Corner

Taking a Stand

Soon in the mag, we’ll have a piece on Sweden and defense. This is a big issue now. Sweden is a Baltic state, in a sense: a Baltic Sea state. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has concentrated the mind of everyone in the region. Will Sweden join NATO? Will Finland? These are big questions these days.

Today, on the homepage, I have a “Stockholm Journal”: mainly breezy, but with some important subjects, including immigration and national identity.

At The New Criterion, I have a post about Dracula, a new opera by Victoria Borisova-Ollas. She is a Russian-Swedish composer. She has opera-ized the Bram Stoker classic. The new work is now playing at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm.

At the end of my post, I have a political note, in a way. Let me explain.

In American opera houses and concert halls — certainly in New York — labor unions are king. You can’t blow your nose without their say-so. I could recount any number of anecdotes, but I’ll give you one.

One day, James Levine, the conductor and pianist, was giving a master class. He was coaching a singer and her accompanist. He asked the accompanist to put the lid down — the piano’s lid. As the pianist went to do it, a stagehand rushed from the wings to do it for him, before he could.

The pianist was a little startled. Levine looked at him and said, by way of explanation, “Not union.” He drew out the words like “Not. Union.”

Okay, back to Stockholm. In Dracula, there were a couple of substitute singers, singing at the side of the stage. They were in street clothes, so to speak, and using music, placed on a music stand. The regularly scheduled cast members were acting, in full costume and so on. They were doing everything but singing, as they were indisposed, vocally.

The subs, as they came and went, toted the music stand. And I thought, “Back home, the unions would kill them for that.” Further thought: “And Sweden is supposed to be the socialist country!”

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