Sunday, September 27, 2009

Early Romanticism

For the last couple of weeks, Joshua and I have been listening to three discs of music featuring two seminal 19th-Century stage works, both noted exemplars of Early Romanticism: Gioacchino Rossini’s 1813 opera seria, “Tancredi”; and Adolphe Adam’s 1841 ballet, “Giselle”.

We selected the discs for a very specific reason: we shall attend performances of both works in coming weeks.

“Tancredi” and “Giselle” have much in common: both works instantly created a vogue for similar works in the same genre, a vogue that was to last for years; both works made their respective composers’ names known throughout Europe and North America; both works were associated with (and, in the case of “Giselle”, specifically created for) legendary performing artists of the era; both works were created in great haste; and both works contain reams and reams of formulaic writing amid much that is noble.

We shall keep these discs in our player until Thursday, on which day the discs shall be retired. My middle brother will arrive in Boston next weekend for a visit, and we cannot subject him to “Tancredi” and “Giselle”, neither of which he would enjoy.


In late October, Opera Boston will present “Tancredi”. Josh and I plan to attend one of the performances.

We attended a performance by Opera Boston last season—a frighteningly awful “Der Freischutz” that sent us packing after Act II—and we swore that we would never return to another Opera Boston presentation.

However, the best intentions sometimes go awry, and we intend to give Opera Boston another try.

The lure is “Tancredi”, not often staged.

I have never attended a performance of “Tancredi”. I doubt another opportunity shall arise anytime soon, so I plan not to miss the Boston presentation.

“Tancredi” is the Rossini work that sent Stendhal into raptures. There is a unity—a purity and concentration—in the score lacking in Rossini’s many opera seria that were to follow. It is a unique and beautiful gem, rediscovered and newly admired in the late 20th Century after more than a century of neglect.

We have been listening to the Naxos recording of “Tancredi”. The recording’s Tancredi is Ewa Podles, who is scheduled to sing the role in Boston.

The Naxos “Tancredi” is the only Tancredi recording I own. The Sony recording under Ralf Weikert (with Marilyn Horne as Tancredi) is unknown to me, as is the RCA recording under Roberto Abbado (with Vesselina Kasarova as Tancredi). I plan to pick up the latter one day, as I admire Kasarova immensely.

The Naxos recording is acceptable, but it is far from perfect.

The conductor, Alberto Zedda, offers an academic reading of the score, without much fire, without much plasticity of tempo, without much rhythmic flexibility, without much specificity of emotion, and without much orchestral color. Zedda sets the tempo for each number, at which point he tends to become unyielding (as well as literal to an annoying degree). Zedda’s rigid approach does not allow the drama to develop.

Zedda does not do much with Rossini’s imaginative orchestral writing, either. Rossini’s mastery of the orchestra in “Tancredi” is uniformly acknowledged, even by German scholars. Rossini’s orchestra in Zedda’s hands, however, is gray and monotonous. The brilliance of the writing does not register.

The orchestra on the recording is Collegium Instrumentale Brugense. Collegium Instrumentale Brugense is NOT a period-instrument ensemble, a point that needs to be emphasized, since countless commentators have described the orchestra on this recording as a period-instrument ensemble. It most assuredly is not. Collegium Instrumentale Brugense is a chamber orchestra using modern instruments, which is readily apparent to anyone with ears from the very first bar of the overture.

Capella Brugensis serves as the chorus for the recording.

Both orchestra and chorus are tidy but unremarkable. The forces, while capable, are colorless and bland.

Sumi Jo offers a cleanly-sung Amenaide. I have never found Jo to be a particularly interesting singer, and she does little more than sing the notes of Amenaide. A more expressive and deeply musical singer might have done more with the role, I believe. Jo’s singing, professional to a fault, is more than a little generic.

Stanford Olsen, Pietro Spagnoli, Anna Maria De Micco and Lucretia Lendi complete the cast.

The success of the recording is due to Podles, who offers an extraordinary account of the title role. Gifted with a contralto voice of unmatched richness and flexibility, Podles knows how to hold the listener spellbound, whether in recitative, cantabile, declamation, coloratura—or ensemble, which she most assuredly dominates (and not in a bad sense). This is grand singing by any standard.

Podles possessed an innate understanding of Rossini style by the time she made this recording (the discs were recorded in France in 1994). I have no idea how and when she acquired her mastery of Rossini, but Podles can sing Rossini at least as well as any active singer.

Josh and I have heard Podles sing Rossini. In 2006, we attended a Minnesota Opera presentation of Rossini’s “La Donna Del Lago” in a production mounted especially for Podles. She was undeniably imposing that day—and the only pleasure to be had from that particular Minnesota Opera presentation, which otherwise was a trial to endure.

The Naxos recording uses Rossini’s original “Tancredi” ending, a so-called “happy” ending in which Tancredi survives at the opera’s close.

Opera Boston will use Rossini’s second “Tancredi” ending, an alternate ending in which Tancredi dies before the opera’s conclusion.

Marilyn Horne always preferred the so-called “tragic” ending whenever she sang “Tancredi”, and I believe that all major U.S. stagings of the opera—Houston in 1977, San Francisco in 1979, Chicago in 1989—have used the alternate ending. Boston will continue that tradition.

Opera Boston’s production of “Tancredi” will be set in 1930’s Spain.

Resetting operas to Civil War Spain has become a cliché over the last twenty years, but Opera Boston’s upcoming “Tancredi” cannot possibly be worse than the company’s “Der Freischutz” from last October. The company’s ruination of “Freischutz” may have been the single worst opera performance I have ever attended.

If next month’s “Tancredi” is equally frightful, Josh and I plan to burn down the Boston Opera House as a gesture of good will toward the citizens of the city.


Two weekends from now, Josh and I will attend a performance of “Giselle”, presented by Boston Ballet. The production, by Maina Gielgud, is supposed to be very fine.

My parents will be in town that weekend, visiting us over Columbus Day Weekend, and Josh and I will take them to one of the “Giselle” performances.

My parents—especially my mother—like to attend ballet performances. Since Minneapolis is not home to a major dance troupe, the visit to Boston will give my parents an opportunity to see some high-quality ballet.

One year ago, when my parents visited us for a weekend, we took them to a Boston Ballet performance of Prokofiev’s “Cinderella”. My parents enjoyed that performance very much—and so did Josh and I—and we hope to strike pay dirt a second time.

All four of us most recently attended a performance of “Giselle” in March 2008, when The State Ballet Of Georgia (Tbilisi) offered “Giselle” in Minneapolis as part of its lengthy 2008 U.S. tour. Even though the title role in Minneapolis had been portrayed by Nina Ananiashvili, perhaps the most celebrated Giselle of the day, that production had been uninspiring, even wan. It became lost in the vast spaces of Northrop Auditorium. That canned music was used during the performance did not help matters.

Boston Ballet’s “Giselle” will utilize a full orchestra. As the company’s “Giselle” is one of its most acclaimed full-length productions, and as it will be presented in an appropriate performing space, we are looking forward to seeing “Giselle” again.

The recording of “Giselle” Josh and I brought with us to Boston is the single-disc version of the ballet score recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra for Sony.

Recorded in 1986 (but not issued until 1990), this particular recording of “Giselle” purports to represent the “complete” version of the score used by American Ballet Theatre in its then-current production of the ballet (a Baryshnikov-supervised production that was retired some years ago).

If the recording’s claim about “completeness” is correct, Adam’s complete score was obviously not in use by American Ballet Theatre during the 1980’s. This is so because the disc contains fewer than 80 minutes of music.

Obviously the corrupt interpolations of music by Minkus, Pugni and Drigo have been omitted from the disc, and that is all to the good. However, additions by Burgmuller ARE included, as ABT has always used the corrupt interpolations by Burgmuller.

Shorn of all but the Burgmuller interpolations, Adam’s complete score nonetheless requires more than 77 minutes to perform, and this is so even if all repeats are omitted. Consequently, I believe that this disc’s claim to “completeness” may be specious.

Either ABT used a much-trimmed score of “Giselle” while Baryshnikov was in charge of the company or Sony was not being forthcoming in its claim that the Tilson Thomas disc represented a “complete” version of the “Giselle” score.

Myself, I am indifferent to such matters. Seventy-seven minutes of “Giselle” is more than enough for me. I cannot imagine buying a two-disc version of “Giselle” in order to hear every last note. All of the ballet’s principal numbers are represented on the Sony disc, and this surely is enough for most listeners.

Adam’s score is effective to the extent it is well-constructed and well-orchestrated, but “Giselle” is not a masterpiece of stage music that rewards repeated stand-alone listening. Adam has a couple of feeble tunes he works to death; other than those faded tunes, the score is lackluster and not-at-all inspired. “Giselle” is the most insipid of all the “great” ballet scores.

The performance on the Sony disc sounds precisely like the quick run-through that it was.

The disc remains in print (at budget price), probably because dance students buy it in some quantity.

I have no idea how the Tilson Thomas recording compares to either of the Bonynge recordings of the score . . .or the Fistoulari . . .or the Karajan . . .or the Mogrelia . . .or any of the many others.

I hope never to find out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And We Get Stiffed Yet Again By The Boston Symphony . . .

After buying tickets to hear Daniele Gatti conduct the Boston Symphony in music of Brahms (Symphony No. 3), Hindemith (Concert Music For Strings And Brass) and Richard Strauss (“Der Rosencavalier” Waltz Sequence) next month at Symphony Hall, Joshua and I noticed tonight that the Boston Symphony website now lists a different program and a different conductor for that weekend’s concerts.

Daniele Gatti has morphed into Vasily Petrenko, and Brahms, Hindemith and R. Strauss have morphed into Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.

There is no explanation—or even mention—of the changes of program and conductor on the concert calendar of the Boston Symphony's website.

What was there one week is gone the next, like a conjuring trick.

Perhaps the Boston Symphony believes that its patrons will not even notice such changes?

Josh and I searched online for some kind of announcement, alerting the public to the change of conductor and the change of program. Our search came up empty.

Finally, in exasperation, we plowed through the Boston Symphony’s press releases.

Inserted into a very lengthy, multi-page press release dated August 31, and placed at the very end of an endless paragraph containing 272 words, were three sentences:

Young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko will lead the BSO in a program featuring works by Russian composers Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, October 8-10. BSO assistant conductor Julian Kuerti will conduct the program on October 13. This program conducted by Mr. Petrenko and Mr. Kuerti will replace the program that was originally scheduled to be conducted by Daniele Gatti.

I cannot believe that this has happened yet again—and I cannot believe that the orchestra did not make some reasonable effort to inform its patrons of these significant changes. There’s a big difference between Gatti and Petrenko, and there’s a big difference between a Central European program and a Russian program. They are not interchangeable.

The Boston Symphony has become a bush-league organization, and is in desperate need of new management.

Of course, I had to call my parents and give them the bad news. One of the reasons my parents had planned a trip to Boston over Columbus Day Weekend was to hear Gatti in the Brahms-Hindemith-R. Strauss program.

Airfares have already been purchased. Concert tickets, theater tickets, ballet tickets have already been purchased. Plans have already been made.

“Not again? I can’t believe it!” were my father’s words into the telephone. “The orchestra might just as well announce appearances by Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer. That wouldn’t be any more fictitious than what the orchestra already announces.”

When top-line conductors walk away from Boston Symphony engagements over and over and over, that signifies that something is seriously wrong with the organization.

It also signifies—among other things—that top-line conductors have no respect for the orchestra, no respect for the organization, and no respect for the management.

And neither do I.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bach, Falla, Respighi And French Masters

Since we returned to Boston, Joshua and I have been listening to four discs of music, music we found to be exceptionally fitting for late summer/early autumn listening.

Bach Motets, performed by The Stockholm Bach Choir and Concentus Musicus Wien under Nikolas Harnoncourt, on the Teldec label

“French Clarinet Art”, performed by Paul Meyer and Eric Le Sage, on the Denon label

Falla’s “La Vida Breve”, performed by The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and Schola Cantorum De Caracas under Eduardo Mata, on the Dorian label

Respighi’s “Ancient Airs And Dances”, performed by Philharmonia Hungarica under Antal Dorati, on the Mercury Living Presence label

The Bach disc promised profound music, providing us with substance (and sustenance), while the other discs offered colorful—even light—repertory, repertory offering significant pleasures of another sort.

It was a delightful listening program.


Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s recording of Bach’s Motets, BWV 225-230, was considered to be ne plus ultra in Bach performance in 1979, the year this recording was first issued. The recording was originally published on the old Telefunken label, reissued later on the Teldec label, and more recently remastered and re-released on the Elektra label. The recording is currently out of print, but it is reasonable to expect that it will be issued at some point on the Warner label.

It is believed that Bach’s Motets were composed, upon commission, for funeral services of noted Leipzigers.

The six Motets were never intended to be performed as a unified set. Today’s fairly common practice of performing the Motets in a group is a legacy of the recording medium. The advent of the 60-minute LP allowed all six motets to be accommodated on a single disc, and the Motets have been recorded and performed as a set with some frequency ever since.

The authorship of BWV 230 is a matter of dispute. Some scholars believe that BWV 230 was written, not by Bach, but by another composer familiar with Bach’s style. BWV 230, nevertheless, is generally performed (and recorded) along with the other five Motets.

The Motets contain some of Bach’s most glorious music. They are among Bach’s very finest works. Many lovers of Bach consider the Motets to be Bach’s choral masterpieces.

The Motets are notoriously difficult to perform. The contrapuntal writing is very dense and very complex, and most choruses cannot do the works justice. As a general rule, only the very finest professional choirs can realize the counterpoint effectively while maintaining balance, purity of intonation and purity of tone.

The Harnoncourt recording is cherished primarily because of the singing of the Stockholm Bach Choir, whose work is stupendous on this recording. The singing preempts anything on disc that came before—and much that came after. The Choir offers a textbook example of exemplary Bach choral performance.

Harnoncourt did not prepare the chorus for this recording, and that probably was a good thing—the choral work has a freedom and an expression and a beauty otherwise unknown in Harnoncourt’s work.

Some wags have insisted that this recording is magnificent, not because of Harnoncourt, but in spite of Harnoncourt. They very well may be right. Harnoncourt, in a half-century of toil in the recording studio, never produced anything finer than this disc.

Josh and I have spent more time listening to the Bach disc than to the other three discs combined.


“French Clarinet Art” was issued in 1993. The disc remains in print—and widely available—sixteen years later, a remarkable state of affairs in light of the collapse of the recording industry.

The disc’s widespread availability is made more remarkable still because the original label, Denon, went out of business several years ago. Whatever successor organization now controls the old Denon catalog keeps this disc in print for some reason—and this is one of relatively few original Denon recordings that remain available on the original Denon label (and not outsourced to some budget label such as Brilliant Classics).

That this disc, issued by a now-defunct company, has remained in continuous print for such an extended period of time is testament, I suspect, to the number of copies sold worldwide to clarinet players year after year. I can think of no other reason why this particular Denon recording remains in the active catalog while countless other distinguished Denon releases languish in obscurity, available from no sources other than second-hand markets.

The disc is not bad. Paul Meyer is a fine player, and a favorite of clarinetists throughout Europe, North America and Asia.

The repertory is about what one might expect: clarinet works by Saint-Saens, Chausson, Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc and Honegger.

The Saint-Saens Clarinet Sonata in E-Flat, Opus 167, is not out of place among its 20th-Century counterparts on the disc because it was one of the composer’s very last works, completed in 1921, the year of the composer’s death (at age 86).

The Saint-Saens Sonata is a major work, a masterpiece of the woodwind literature. In four movements, the Sonata is an extraordinary melding of form and content, free of a single superfluous gesture. I have no doubt that the aging composer was inspired by the model of late Brahms, specifically Brahms’s Opus 120, Number 1.

I recognize the work’s undeniable craftsmanship and brilliance—but I dislike the piece intensely.

I know the work well. I’ve played the piano part several times with clarinet students, I’ve studied the composition with a piano teacher of great skill, and I’ve been coached in the work by a notable musician—and nonetheless I detest the Saint-Saens Clarinet Sonata. I cannot explain why; my dislike of the piece is instinctive.

Aside from the Saint-Saens Sonata, the most important works on the disc are the Poulenc Sonata and Debussy’s Rhapsodie (shorn of its familiar orchestral support). The Chausson piece, an Andante Et Allegro, is a mere curiosity (and the only 19th-Century work on the disc). The Honegger composition, a Sonatine (for clarinet or cello), struck me as weak. A wan Debussy piece and three Milhaud works, mildly amusing but of no genuine consequence, rounded out the program.

Meyer is one of the world’s great clarinet virtuosos, and a native Frenchman to boot, but I thought his playing in these quintessential French works to be wanting in Gallic elegance and flair. He ripped through the Saint-Saens like a house afire, and he missed the wit, insouciance and deep melancholy of the Poulenc. His readings of the other works made no impression at all.

Oddly, I have always found Meyer to be more satisfying in Central European repertory than in music of his native land.


“La Vida Breve” receives very few performances.

The opera is too short to constitute a stand-alone work—its two acts take only 60 minutes to perform—and its plot is skeletal, allowing no time for development of character or situation. The opera is, in essence, a potted version of the ballet “Giselle”, transplanted to Granada.

The work’s brevity certainly contributes to the work’s neglect, as does the difficulty of settling upon a suitable companion work. Some persons insist that there is no ideal coupling for the work.

I disagree. Ravel’s “L’Heure Espagnole” or one of the Falla ballets would make ideal pairings for “La Vida Breve”—but those works seldom seem to acquire stage performances, either.

However, I think a stronger reason for the work’s failure to obtain a place in the repertory is that Falla was not a natural opera composer. Simply put, Falla was unable to define character through music, the sine qua non of a stage composer. His characters are given well-crafted, highly-polished music to sing, but the music is impersonal and the characters remain cardboard, lacking individuality, specificity and nuance.

“La Vida Breve” is a very early Falla work. Falla’s first large-scale composition, “La Vida Breve” was written in 1904 and 1905, before the composer had turned thirty. He was to develop significantly over the following ten years, and write much better and much more interesting music.

The most intriguing aspect of the opera is that Falla had already gained a mastery of the orchestra by the time he embarked upon “La Vida Breve”. The orchestra writing sparkles—and is much more interesting than the vocal writing.

The Eduardo Mata recording, made in Venezuela, is a fine one. The orchestra is capable, and Mata’s handling of the score is entitled to nothing but praise. “La Vida Breve” was one of Mata’s specialties. He conducted the piece, in concert form, all over the world.

The cast is the weak link in this recording. None of the singers makes much of an impression.

All but one member of the cast was totally unknown to me. The singer whose name was familiar, Marta Senn, was a minor artist, with a minor but honorable career. She sang in American houses for a few years in the 1980’s. Her Salud, the Giselle figure in the opera, did not come to life in the recording. Senn’s portrayal was not helped by the fact that her voice sounded weathered, lacking freshness and gleam. I suspect Senn may have been too old for the assignment at the time this recording was made.

This disc was recorded in 1993 and issued in 1994. The sound engineering is excellent. The sound has richness, clarity and definition. However, the volume needs to be boosted for the disc to acquire maximum presence, something I have often found to be necessary for other Dorian recordings, too.

The disc remains available through online merchants, but I believe the original Dorian issue is now technically out of print. The performance is now officially available, recently re-published, in a multi-disc compilation on the Brilliant Classics label.

I have heard three other recordings of “La Vida Breve”, none recently. My recollections are that the Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos and Garcia Navarro recordings offered more dramatic readings than the Mata, and offered superior vocalists—but were not necessarily superior overall to the Mata. My recollection is that the Jesus Lopez-Cobos recording, beautifully performed, resolutely failed to come to life.

Of the following, I am certain: all four “La Vida Breve” recordings were definitely worth hearing. All four recordings had much to recommend them. This is an opera that has been very lucky on disc.


Respighi’s “Ancient Airs And Dances” have been lucky on disc, too, but no recording supersedes Antal Dorati’s classic recording with the Philharmonia Hungarica, made in Vienna in 1958.

The performances remain fresh as paint. No other recording of these works offers performances of equal vitality, charm, expression or commitment.

The sound is exceptional, a lasting testament to the work of the Mercury engineering team of the 1950’s.

I can fully understand why this disc is so popular, still available (and still selling) after the passing of more than half a century.

Josh loved “Ancient Airs And Dances”.

Josh had never heard these suites, adopted from Renaissance lute music, before we listened to the Dorati disc. Josh found the music to be entirely captivating.

We shall have to listen to more Respighi.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ludwig Von Mises On History

It is not the task of history to project the hatreds and disagreements of the present back into the past and to draw from battles fought long ago weapons for the disputes of one’s own time.


Neither as judges allotting praise and blame nor as avengers seeking out the guilty should we face the past. We seek truth, not guilt; we want to know how things came about to understand them, not to issue condemnations.


History should teach us to recognize causes and to understand driving forces; and when we understand everything, we will forgive everything.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wineries, Knick-Knacks, Tea Cozies And Cakes

Joshua and I were sort of disappointed in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and we were sort of disappointed in The Shaw Festival.

As a vacation destination, Niagara-On-The-Lake is probably an ideal spot for those who are interested in wineries.

We are not.

Niagara-On-The-Lake is also an ideal destination for those who are interested in a quaint assortment of little craft shops and tiny tea shops.

We are not.

“Wineries, knick-knacks, tea cozies and cakes”: that was Josh’s characterization of Niagara-On-The-Lake, and Josh was not far wrong in his assessment.

That left, for us, The Shaw Festival, and I am not confident that The Shaw Festival merits its high reputation.

Josh and I attended five Shaw Festival presentations, and the level of performance and production was pure regional theater, nothing more.

None of the plays we attended was particularly strong. Perhaps better material would have revealed The Shaw Festival in better light, but Josh and I saw nothing that made us want to return to The Shaw Festival anytime soon.

Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple” was the best of the plays we attended, and “The Devil’s Disciple” also received the finest production. Nonetheless, “The Devil’s Disciple” is not one of Shaw’s stronger plays. The play is tolerable, no more, and The Shaw Festival production was competent, no more.

Kanin’s “Born Yesterday” is a very old-fashioned play, written to formula, and probably requires a cast of stars to warrant revival. The Shaw Festival “Born Yesterday” cast was not a cast of stars. The production and performance were flat as a pancake.

I had forgotten how boring O’Neill’s “A Moon For The Misbegotten” can be in anything less than an exceptional production, but The Shaw Festival presentation proved a potent reminder.

The Sondheim musical, “Sunday In The Park With George”, received a low-budget production, and the performance was precisely at the level of a university theater department staging. In the hands of a good director and a good cast, I believe the first act of “Sunday” might be salvaged, but I doubt whether even Tyrone Guthrie or Giorgio Strehler could do anything with the musical’s gruesome if not frightening second act. The most enjoyable aspect of The Shaw Festival’s presentation of “Sunday” was its very lameness—the production had a rustic kind of charm.

The seldom-staged “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days” was a curiosity. Shaw’s final significant play, premiered less than three weeks before Britain embarked upon war with Germany in late summer 1939, “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days” is—literally—Shaw’s version of a Restoration comedy. The play addresses the court and courtiers—and hangers-on—of Charles II, installed upon the throne at the end of the Cromwell Protectorate, and involves a discussion of the nature of power and leadership. The play has a few splendid moments, moments in which the dialogue not only flows but positively sparkles. However, The Shaw Festival production did not reveal the work to be a strong one, let alone worthy of revival. I can understand why “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days” has never been able to secure a place in the repertory.

Apparently The Shaw Festival has been suffering from attendance problems. Ticket sales in 2009 have been thirteen per cent lower than 2008. 2008 sales were lower than 2007, and 2007 sales were lower than 2006. In fact, attendance has been falling at both Canadian theater festivals since the 2001 season, no doubt the result of a post-9/11 world.

An article I read in The Globe And Mail noted that Americans typically constitute forty per cent of the audience for both Canadian festivals—and Americans have been staying away in droves in recent seasons. Earlier this year, to spark American tourism, the Canadian government gave $3,000,000 in stimulus funds to The Shakespeare Festival to advertise in American newspapers, and $2,000,000 in stimulus funds to The Shaw Festival to advertise in American newspapers. I have no idea whether this scheme has been successful.

That same Globe and Mail article stated that the majority of Americans that travel to Canada to attend one or both festivals are from the American Midwest, and not from the Northeast. I found this particular claim to be very surprising, given how close the Northeast is to Stratford and Niagara-On-The-Lake and given the Northeast’s population density. Without seeing subscriber lists, I find the assertion hard to accept. Over Labor Day Weekend, Josh and I did not encounter any persons from the Midwest.

We thought that Niagara-On-The-Lake might be crowded over Labor Day Weekend, but the town was not crowded in the least. It was very easy to get around, and nothing—cafes, restaurants, hotels—appeared to be overbooked.

We enjoyed our hotel. Since prices at hotels in Niagara-On-The-Lake were quite uniform, all within a very narrow range, we elected to stay at the best hotel in town (or at least what was reputed to be the best hotel in town). It was a fine hotel, excellently situated, with full amenities and distinguished service. We were very happy there for three days and three nights.

On Saturday morning, we visited Fort George. We explored the entire grounds and facilities, which are quite large, and we enjoyed the Canadian perspective on The War Of 1812.

On Monday, Josh and I visited Niagara Falls. The Falls are quite beautiful—and awesomely loud!

We also drove around Buffalo for a couple of hours on Monday, as we had time to kill before our return flight was due to depart.

I don’t think I would want to live in Buffalo.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Early tomorrow morning, Joshua and I will head to Niagara-On-The-Lake, where we will spend Labor Day Weekend.

The purpose of our visit is to attend performances at The Shaw Festival. Josh and I will attend five Shaw Festival performances over the weekend—which very well may turn out to be too many performances over such a short period of time—and do a little sightseeing in the area.

I have always wanted to attend The Shaw Festival, and I may never have a better opportunity than this coming weekend.

We will fly into Buffalo, rent a car, and drive across the border. We intend to visit Niagara Falls on this trip—which neither of us has ever seen—as well as visit historic Fort George in Niagara-On-The-Lake, which played an important role in The War Of 1812.

Otherwise, we will be occupying ourselves by attending theater performances on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening.

The program for this year’s Shaw Festival is not particularly appealing, at least on paper. The Festival’s focus this season is the presentation of all ten of Noel Coward’s one-act plays, which sounds frightfully boring to us. Consequently, we shall skip all of the Coward plays.

We will attend performances of two George Bernard Shaw plays: “The Devil’s Disciple”, Shaw’s first significant play (from 1897); and the seldom-performed “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days”, Shaw’s last significant play (from 1939).

We will also attend a performance of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon For The Misbegotten” and a performance of Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday”. This year’s Shaw Festival musical is Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday In The Park With George”, for which we also have tickets.

This is not a particularly stimulating program—in fact, it is not stimulating in the least—but at least it will give Josh and me something new and different to do over the long holiday weekend and it will get us out of Boston, where nothing whatsoever is going on this weekend. We’ve booked a nice hotel in downtown Niagara-On-The-Lake, and we plan to have a slow-paced, low-key weekend.

My parents have ordered brochures from The Shaw Festival and The Shakespeare Festival for years and years and years, and have talked endlessly about attending one or both of the Canadian theater festivals, yet they have never attended a single performance at Stratford or Niagara-On-The-Lake.

I suggested to my parents that they join Josh and me this weekend, but my parents said it was not manageable—there are no convenient flights between Minneapolis and Buffalo, and my parents did not want to kill a full day traveling each way—and my parents are sticking with their original Labor Day Weekend plans: spending the final weekend of summer up at the lake, with everyone else in the family present, and closing down the lake house for the year late Monday afternoon.

It’s not easy to tear my parents away from their grandchildren!