Thursday, December 23, 2010
In honour of the debut of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hänsel und Gretel - in Weimar on this day in 1893 - here is the opening of the 2008 production done by New York's Metropolitan Opera, starring Alice Coote as Hansel and Christine Schäfer as Gretel; unseen is Philip Langridge, who portrayed the Witch. The conductor is Vladimir Jurowski.
Long a Christmas-time favourite, Richard Ford initially gave the show this audaciously modern staging at the Welsh National Opera in 2007 - for which it won a Laurence Olivier Award; it was no less successful in its American run, being broadcast on both radio and television as well as captured on DVD. Ford's staging has proven popular enough that it has also been copied by many regional companies as well.
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[On this day in 1823, Clement C. Moore published A Visit from St. Nicholas in the Sentinel of Troy, New York; initially anonymous, it was finally attributed to him in 1844.]
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a minature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh'd when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
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[You could say that given it's appearance, perhaps the coelacanth can be forgiven for being so bashful that it had never been seen by human eyes until this day in 1938; then again, given the track record humans have with preserving animal species perhaps it was canniness rather than low self-esteem that kept it away. You could say that, but you'd be both wrong and guilty of anthropomorphism; try not getting all your information about nature from animated Disney movies in future. Actually, the coelacanth is a deep water fish - living as deep as 700 m (2300 ft) below sea level, but more usually found at depths of 90 to 200 m - which was the secret of its successful reclusion.]
679 CE - Dagobert II was murdered on a hunting trip, dying without a male heir, making him the last Merovingian to reign as king of Austrasia on his own - with the obvious exception of Charles Martel's dubious candidate Clotaire IV, obviously; after a power struggle involving Pippin II, Theuderic III was named to replace Dagobert II, becoming king of all the Frankish lands.
1230 - Richard the Lionhearted's erstwhile queen, Berengaria of Navarre, died at the abbey in L'Epau.
1493 - Georg Alt's German translation of Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle was published.
1783 - George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
1823 - The poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (AKA The Night Before Christmas) was first published in the Sentinel of Troy, New York.
1888 - Vincent van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear, took it to a brothel, and gave it to a prostitute named Rachel for safekeeping; in case you should find yourself strapped for a last-minute Christmas present, don't do this.
1893 - Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hänsel und Gretel was first performed.
1913 - The Federal Reserve Act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, creating the US Federal Reserve.
1916 - During World War I's Battle of Magdhaba Allied forces under Australia's Harry Chauvel decisively defeated forces of the Ottoman Empire in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, thereby securing the continued use of the Suez Canal for the British Empire.
1938 - Considered a living fossil, the coelacanth had been thought extinct since the end of the Cretaceous Period; that is, until one was caught by Hendrik Goosen, captain of the Nerine, at the mouth of the Chalumna River off the coast of East London, South Africa.
1947 - The transistor was first demonstrated at Bell Laboratories.
1948 - Seven Japanese convicted of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East - including Doihara Kenji, Hirota Koki, Itagaki Seishiro, Kimura Heitaro, Matsui Iwane, Muto Akira, and the country's notorious wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo - were executed at Tokyo's Sugamo Prison.
1958 - Tokyo Tower, the world's highest self-supporting iron tower, was dedicated.
1972 - The 16 survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued after 73 days, having survived many and sundry rigours in the wilderness not least of which was cannibalism - as chronicled in the 1993 film Alive: The Miracle of the Andes.
1973 - Irna Phillips - the innovator of the American soap opera and mentor to both Agnes Nixon and William J. Bell - died discreetly of undisclosed causes; in other words, in the least soap operatic manner possible.
1986 - Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, landed at Edwards Air Force Base, becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world.
1992 - The text of the Queen's Christmas Speech was leaked to the press early... This was a 'scandal' only because the papers called it one; I mean, I love Her Majesty with all my love, but I'll be the first to admit she essentially gives the same speech every year.
2004 - An 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean; despite being one of the strongest seismic events ever recorded it caused almost no damage and rattled fewer than 50 people, which small number constitutes the entire human population of the place.
2007 - There occurred a grand conjunction in which the solar system aligned with the galactic center.
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