Friday, July 16, 2010

"Vivat Bacchus" from Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio"

On this day in 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglio debuted at the Burgtheater in Vienna; with a libretto by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner and adaptations by Gottlieb Stephanie, the work was commissioned by Emperor Joseph II - possibly to celebrate the recent elimination of the military threat once posed to Austria by the Ottoman Empire.

Mozart's Islamic-themed three-act singspiel has become the stuff of pop culture lore chiefly because an early biographer of his named Franz Xaver Niemetschek recorded that the Emperor was displeased with the work, claiming that it contained 'too many notes'. Much hilarity was made of this anecdote in Peter Shaffer's 1979 play - as well as in Miloš Forman's 1984 film Amadeus, which was based on it; as with much of that film, though, the story's accuracy is in doubt. Still, it gave Tom Hulce yet another opportunity to ham it up as the brat genius, even at the expense of philistinizing the Emperor, as played by Jeffrey Jones. Besides which, Mozart's apparent response - 'There are just as many notes as there should be' just isn't half as funny as Hulce's Python-esque 'Too many notes!' rant.

Here we see an aria from the opera, Vivat Bacchus, as performed by Kurt Rydl (as Osmin) and Heinz Zednik (as Pedrillo) at the Salzburg Festival in 1988. It's not the greatest quality video, but it's the only one I could find with subtitles, so it's the one I went with since, when it comes to opera, I need all the help I can get...
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"Synchronicity II" by The Police

Ever since The Police broke up in 1984 Stewart Copeland* hasn't exactly been sitting by the phone waiting for Sting to call; in addition to solo work (as both himself and Klark Kent), forming other groups like Animal Logic and Oysterhead, and playing sessions for such artists as Peter Gabriel, he's also composed for films, beginning with Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish in 1983.

To say the song Synchronicity II was a high point of The Police's 1983 album Synchronicity is like calling Mount Everest the high point of the Himalayan plateau; sure it's a high point, but it's sitting on some pretty tall shoulders as well. A paean to suburban angst brought on by the Industrial Revolution, the song's driving tone and dark lyrics contrast with the rest of the album, much of which is dreamy and ethereal.

The video for Synchronicity II was directed by the legendary pairing of Godley & Creme, whose garbage-strewn post-apocalyptic imagery both complements the darkness contained in the lyrics and pretty neatly sums up the kind of apathy that was then causing littered lots and weedy canal sides to flourish in the green and pleasant land called England.

* A founding member of the band, in addition to its drummer, who today turns 58.
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Pop History Moment: "The Catcher In The Rye" Was Published

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On this day in 1951 The Catcher in the Rye, written by J. D. Salinger, was published by Little, Brown and Company of New York; not only did the novel ensure its author an enduring fame, it's also paid for his even more famous seclusion, which deepened over the subsequent five decades*. Owing to the book's pseudo-controversial content, with each new banning it became increasingly popular, which is an all-too-common if delightful side-effect of censorship, and despite its brevity, it's a book best known for its superlatives: one of the most popular and one of the most banned, besides being one of the most referenced in all of 20th Century literature as well.

The novel's anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, is the sort of guy you might know - an judgemental jerk with an entitlement complex a mile wide, whose existence proves the maxim that only boring people are bored; it almost goes without saying that Holden Caulfield is bored a lot, and given his oft-noted disdain for phonies, Caulfield is also the biggest phony there is**. Plus, it's an eerily accurate portrait of the mind of a teenage boy; since I really don't like teenagers (and the boy versions of that ilk are by far the worst) the visceral reaction I had to the book could be based on that alone.

Subsequent generations of douchebags (most notably Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley, Jr.) have used the casual nihilism espoused by the book's lead character and narrator to justify their own bullshittery; the book's satiric edge has thus become somewhat blunted over the years by people like them having been so stupid as to take it and its message as some kind of manifesto in the first place. Yet even given the thoroughly loathsome character of Caulfield and the corrosive effect he seems to have on whackjobs I did enjoy the book, based almost solely on Salinger's refreshing honesty; unlike the reaction I had upon my first reading of Cervantes' Don Quixote, I never once threw The Catcher in the Rye against a wall while reading it, although I did roll my eyes so much those sitting next to me probably thought I was having a seizure!

*A seclusion which hasn't exactly lessened since his January 2010 death either...
**Which may, in fact, have been Salinger's point - namely that we most hate people who embody those traits we dislike in ourselves - commonplace pop psychology today, but quite an Earth-shattering revelation for the Fifties.

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POPnews - July 16th

[Known as 'the gadget' the nuclear device detonated at the White Sands Proving Ground during the Trinity Test produced this fireball about 200 meters (600 ft) wide at the 0.016 second mark; for a sense of scale consider that the tiny black dots along the bottom of the photo are trees.]

1377 - England's 10 year-old King Richard II was crowned at Westminster Abbey, having succeeded his grandfather Edward III on June 22nd.

1769 - Father Junipero Serra founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first of 21 missions to be founded by the Spanish in Alta California; it would later evolve into the city of San Diego.

1782 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglio debuted at Vienna's Burgtheater.

- With the signing of the Residence Act, a site was established alongside the Potomac River which would later become the District of Columbia.

1880 - Emily Howard Stowe became Canada's second woman doctor - having already obtained a degree in New York State after being refused entrance at any Canadian university; Stowe's daughter, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, would become the first Canadian woman to earn her degree in Canada. The country's first woman doctor, Jennie Kidd Trout, was a friend and colleague of Dr. Stowe's, and with whom she endured the appalling behaviour of the all-male medical establishment.

1931 - Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie signed his country's first constitution, which provided for a bicameral legislature, as well as holding the governing nobility to democratic (as opposed to autocratic) standards.

1935 - The world's first parking meter - itself the invention of one Carl C. Magee - was installed in Oklahoma City.

1942 - During the Nazi Occupation of France the Vichy Government ordered French police to round up between 13,000 and 20,000 Jews, then imprisoned them in the Winter Velodrome as part of its Operation Spring Breeze, also known as Rafle du Vel'd'Hiv; following their transfers to Drancy, Compiègne, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande concentration camps, those seized were sent to Auschwitz, from whence very few returned.

1945 - The Atomic Age began when the United States successfully detonated a plutonium-based nuclear weapon near Alamogordo, New Mexico, as part of the Manhattan Project. Within weeks, this terror of the modern age would be unleashed upon Japan, first at Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki...

1948 - The city of Nazareth, hometown of Jesus, capitulated to Israeli troops led by Ben Dunkelman during Operation Dekel, after little more than token resistance, during 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

1951 - In order to preserve the monarchy in postwar Belgium, the unpopular Leopold III, King of the Belgians, (who had surrendered to the Nazis in 1940 rather than see his country bombed to shit) abdicated in favour of his son, who came to be known as Baudouin I.

1957 - US Marine Major John Glenn flew an F8U Crusader supersonic fighter jet from California's NAS Los Alamitos to Floyd Bennett Field in New York; in all the flight took 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8 seconds, and set a new transcontinental speed record.

1969 - Apollo 11 - the first manned space mission to land on the Moon - was launched from the Kennedy Space Center at Florida's Cape Canaveral with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Eugene 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr on board.

1979 - Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq following the resignation of General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

1994 - Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter; impacts would continue until July 22nd.

1999 - John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette were killed when the Piper Saratoga aircraft Kennedy was piloting crashed into the ocean near Martha's Vineyard.

2004 - Millennium Park, considered Chicago's first and most ambitious architectural project of the early 21st Century, was opened to the public by Mayor Richard M. Daley.

2005 - J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published; worldwide, the book sold in excess of a quarter million copies an hour in the first 24 hours after it was released.

2007 - An earthquake of magnitude 6.8 and with aftershocks of 6.6 occurred off the Niigata coast of Japan, killing 8 people with at least 800 injured and damaging a nuclear power plant.

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