Everything I put up on Wikipedia gets wiped so I am putting it all up here in my own way -- mostly stuff that Wikipedia does not have in English. Mainly information about operetta but some other topics as well

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The pirates of Penzance" as satire

And some surprising political implications

I first saw "Pirates" when I took my (then) teenage son to see a well-reviewed production of it here in Brisbane.  I am not at all a Gilbert & Sullivan devotee -- the profundity of Bach is my musical home -- but I know the G&S works as classics of entertainment. So I felt that I should help along my son's musical education.

Anyway, you see far more of any Singspiel on DVD than you do in a theatre audience so I recently acquired a DVD of "Pirates". And, watching it, I did see that it had elements of satire. "Pirates" is not of course satire an sich.  It is simply the madcap humour of W.S. Gilbert ably abetted by the great musical abilities of Arthur Sullivan. I see it as a forerunner of other madcap British comedies such as those of  Mr. Bean,  the Goons and the Pythons.

What differentiates comedy and satire is of course that satire is humour targeted at someone as a form of criticism.  It is deliberately didactic.  But straight comedy can teach lessons too, if only in an incidental way.  And I see some of that in "Pirates".  Perhaps a surprising one that I see is in the song of the "modern major general", now a widely treasured bit of fun.  What Gilbert was doing in that song was referring to something that no Leftist would believe: That  British military officers  were and are often quite scholarly in various ways.  That's not at all universal but not infrequent either.  Even an RSM will often be a man of unexpected depths.  The Sergeant Major of my old army unit  was/is in fact a fan of Bach and Palestrina (nothing to do with Palestine).   And the only Wing Commander (airforce) I know is a voracious reader with a wide knowledge of history.

Captain Cook, the 18th century British discoverer of much in the Pacific is a very good example of a scholarly military man.  His discovery of the cure for scurvy alone ranks him as a distinguished scientist and his practice of quarantine was exemplary for the times.

But a much less well known but quite commendable 18th century military man with scientific interests was Watkin Tench,  an officer in His Majesty's Marine Forces.  He was posted to the new British colony in Australia in its very earliest days, then a hardship posting.  You could lose your life just getting there and back.  So he was no elite soldier and was actually from a rather humble background.  His interest was meteorology and he brought with him the latest Fahrenheit thermometer. He kept a meteorological diary that included  observations from his thermometer taken four times daily in a sheltered spot -- exemplary practice even today.

And his record of the Sydney summer of 1790 is particularly interesting.  It was very hot.  There were even bats and birds falling out of the trees from the heat.  And his thermometer readings tell us exactly how hot.  So we have both readings from a scientific instrument and behavioural observations that validate the readings:  Very hard to question.  And the solidity of his data is very useful in exposing the liars of Australia's current Bureau of Meteorology.  They have got the virus of Warmism in their heads and are always claiming that Australia in whole or in part is currently experiencing a "hottest" year.  And they exploit the fact that Sydney does occasionally have some very hot summers.  But Tench's data show that such summers go back a long way in Sydney  and hence cannot be attrributed to nonsense about the current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The only additions to atmospheric CO2 from the Australia of Tench's days would have been the product of breathing by various living creatures.  There was not even any reticulated electricity anywhere in Australia or anywhere else at that time.

So in the famous song of the modern Major General, Gilbert was simply doing an amusing exaggeration of a real phenomenon, a military man with scientific interests, probably one better known to the British public when Gilbert wrote around 100 years ago.

I actually find prophetic Gilbert's treatment of the police ("When the foeman bares his steel").  The police have always been greatly  respected in Britain -- though that must have eroded in the last two decades -- but Gilbert defies that.  He makes fun of the police and portrays them as cowards.  As a portrayal of modern British police forces that would not be too far astray.  Did Gilbert have some experience of police to lead him to the derogatory view he took of them? I suspect it. In Strange Justice and Political Correctness Watch you will certainly find a wealth of instances of reprehensible behavior by the British police of today.

And the other police song ("A Policeman's Lot Is not a Happy One") is also very modern, expressing sympathy for offenders and a reluctance to arrest them.  Gilbert is actually a rather good prophet.

And the pirate King's assertion that "compared with respectability, piracy is comparatively honest" is also refeshingly cynical.  Commenters on modern-day "crony capitalism" in America will nod approval. And the decision of the daughters to "talk about the weather" rather than pry is quintessentially British. And the homage to Queen Victoria was also an appropriate contemporary reference but greatly exaggerated, of course.  It too could be seen as mocking by a modern audience

And I must pay tribute to the performance (in the production I have) to the singing of Linda Ronstadt.  Better known as a popular singer she is also a superb soprano and greatly ornaments the role of the Major General's daughter Mabel.

Linda Ronstadt as Mabel. Amid the total craziness of a W.S. Gilbert libretto she produces superb music. I cannot speak highly enough of her performance

FOOTNOTE:  I use the German word Singspiel above because there is no equivalent in English.  It means a "sung play" and refers to any musical performance (from Mozart's Zauberfloete ("Magic Flute") to Benatzky's beloved Im Weissen Roessl ("White Horse Inn")) that includes both spoken and sung dialogue.  A Hollywood musical such as "Showboat" is also a Singspiel.  English has a horde of words borrowed from other languages so it seems regrettable that a useful word like Singspiel has not been borrowed too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


"Salzkammergut" has a rather harsh sound, does it not?  In the correct German pronunciation it sounds even harsher!

But I have recently been watching a DVD of "Im weissen Roessl" (in German with English subtitles), usually translated as "The  White Horse Inn".  It is set in the Salzkammergut and I think most people at the end of the performance would have developed a resolution that one day they too must see the Salzkammergut.

The literal meaning is "Salt office estate" -- a name that goes back to medieval times when salt was very valuable.  And the Salzkammergut included a salt mine.  There was even a fort built to protect the mine -- a fort called "Salt Fort", or, in German Salzburg.  That fort has given its name to the town near it, now better known as the birthplace of Mozart.

So the Salzkammergut was originally the area of Austria that came under the jurisdiction of the Salt Office, the Austrian  government department dealing with all matters salty.  It is not usually translated literally however.  It is usually rendered into English as "The Austrian Lake District" and it does have a great reputation for beauty.  The salt mine is only a small part of the story now.  It is now a tourist attraction.

A view of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut

The chorus from the theme song of "Im weissen Roessl":

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee,
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

And here is the whole Salzkammergut song:

1. Im Salzkammergut da kann man gut lustig sein
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein
Wenn die Musi spielt, holdrio.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
So wie nirgendwo, holdrio.

Es blüht der Holunder
Den ganzen Sommer mitunter,
Jedoch die Liebe,
Die blüht s' ganze Jahr.
Im Salzkammergut, da kammer gut lustig sein,
Ja, das war schon immer so, holdrio.

2. Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau (von Robert Stolz)
Die ganze Welt ist himmelblau
Wenn ich in deine Augen schau'
Und ich frag dabei: Bist auch du so treu
Wie das Blau, wie das Blau Deiner Augen

Ein Blick nur in dein Angesicht
Und ringsum blüht Vergissmeinnicht
Ja, die ganze Welt machst du süsse Frau
So blau, so blau, so blau

3. Es muss was Wunderbares sein
Es muss was wunderbares sein
von dir geliebt zu werden
denn meine Liebe, die ist Dein
so lang ich leb auf Erden

Ich kann nichts schöneres mir denken
als dir mein Herz zu schenken
wenn du mir Dein's dafür gibst
und mir sagst, dass auch Du mich liebst.

4. Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein (von Robert Stolz)
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein.
Wenn beim ersten du ich mich an dich schmieg,
braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik.

Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein,
der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein,
kann doch nur ein Walzer sein.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, ich bin dein,
kann doch nur ein Liebeswalzer sein.

5. Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
Im weissen Rössl am Wolfgangsee
da steht das Glück vor der Tür,
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen,
tritt ein und vergiss deine Sorgen!"

Und musst du dann einmal fort von hier,
und tut der Abschied dir weh;
denn dein Herz, das hast du verloren
im "Weissen Rössl" am See!

Just a sampling of the operetta below (not the version I have but well done).  Wait for the final chorale

And below is the ultra-feminine Anja Katharina Wigger and friend singing the "so blau" song.  If the dynamic linking does not work, go to the 36 minute mark on the video. There must be few operatic sopranos as good-looking as she is. There is some good video of her from the 46 minute mark too.