Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ribbentrop And Hitler

A rare color photograph of Joachim von Ribbentrop and Adolf Hitler. Otto Dietrich is visible in the background.

The photograph was almost certainly taken at Rastenburg Station. The occasion: Ribbentrop and Hitler awaiting the arrival of a foreign dignitary, or so I would presume.

From the visages, I would date the photograph from 1943.

By 1944, Ribbentrop was largely out of favor with Hitler, and seldom participated in such gatherings. In fact, in the final weeks of the Reich, Hitler refused to meet with his Foreign Minister, even turning Ribbentrop away on the Fuehrer’s birthday.


“Ribbentrop bought his name, married his money, and swindled his way into office.”—Joseph Goebbels, writing in his diary


Ribbentrop was not an intelligent man. Indeed, he was widely viewed, within Germany as well as outside Germany, as conspicuously stupid.

When he served as Ambassador to Britain from 1936 to 1938, his personal communiqués from London to Berlin were riddled with elementary spelling and grammatical errors.

At first, his staff cleaned up the errors. After a period, the Foreign Office instructed London embassy personnel to cease making corrections in Ribbentrop’s communiqués. The Foreign Office wanted Hitler to see what a fool he had selected for the important London post—and wanted to prevent Ribbentrop from being appointed Foreign Minister, an appointment the Ministry feared.

Ribbentrop, who made a complete hash of his work in London, nonetheless was named Foreign Minister upon his return to Berlin.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sort Of Lame

Well . . .

“42nd Street” at Bloomington Civic Theatre was sort of lame.

But, then, the show itself is sort of lame.

We enjoyed the tap dancing (and there was lots of tap dancing). And we enjoyed an evening out.

And I never want to see “42nd Street” again.


My parents saw the 1980 Broadway production of “42nd Street”—five years into the run. The performance, they recall, was gruesome—rote, mechanical, geared toward the Japanese tourist trade. My parents were barely able to sit through the thing.

That’s about how we all felt on Saturday night.


We hope we are not in for similar pleasures next week. From Wednesday through Sunday, we shall attend eight plays, one musical and one opera at The Shaw Festival. If the performances and productions are not good, it will be a long five days.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

“On The Avenue I’m Taking You To . . .”

We have tickets for tonight’s performance of the musical, “42nd Street”, at Bloomington Civic Theatre.

Local reviewers praised everything about the show . . . except the book and the “acting”.

Criticizing the book of “42nd Street” is perfectly fine insofar as it goes—the book is totally cornball (yet probably intentionally so)—but the licenser of the show requires the book to be performed “as is”, and reviewers surely know this. Bloomington Civic Theatre was not free to alter the book of “42nd Street” to suit its pleasure.

Consequently, I find it odd that the local reviewers seized upon the book of an over-familiar musical, already performed countless times in the Twin Cities, and identified it as a major impediment to the show—and offered such wisdom as if they were dispensing fresh and penetrating assessments.

The staging of the musical numbers and the singing and dancing of the large cast were widely praised—but the reviewers criticized the “acting”, contending that it was not as fine as the singing and dancing and, further, bordered on the “amateur”.

I have a major news bulletin for the reviewers: Bloomington Civic Theatre’s productions ARE amateur productions. Cast members are not paid, and members of the stage crew are not paid. The only persons who are paid are the director, the choreographer, the designers, and the musicians in the pit. Everyone else associated with the show is an unpaid volunteer, working for pleasure and pure love of theater.

And I have an additional news announcement: no one goes to “42nd Street” in order to experience an illuminating reading of the text.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

“A Giant Open-Air Museum”

Tonight I have been rereading the series of brilliant research reports issued in 1997 and 1998 by Byron Wien and the recently-deceased and greatly-missed Barton Biggs.

The series of reports, written for Morgan Stanley clients, addressed Europe’s structural and demographic problems—secular problems that, according to the two great analysts, were destined to create a full-fledged “European Debt Crisis” no later than 2010.

Rarely has a series of research reports been so prescient.

Wien and Biggs, in the late 1990s, described Europe as already having become “A Giant Open-Air Museum”, a description that became one of the most famous catchphrases of the 1990s. Europe had already become irrelevant, argued Wien and Biggs. Nothing worthwhile was being produced there—and everyone worldwide realized this except the Europeans themselves. No longer fighting for relevancy on the world stage, Europe in the late 1990s nonetheless still tried to observe the fiction that it remained a First-World economy—but Wien and Biggs would have none of that, peeling away such nonsense with productivity and output figures aplenty.

According to Wien and Biggs, declining productivity, declining competitiveness and declining investment, coupled with weak European leadership too short-sighted to see the volcano on which it sat, would result in a prolonged series of collapses of debt-impinged European institutions. The collapses would begin with European banks (all but a handful of which today are technically insolvent) and play out over the following fifteen years, spreading first to governments in the Southern European Zone, claiming next the socialist societies of a Scandinavia no longer able to sustain lavish and foolish welfare programs, and ending in Central Europe (“The Last Man Standing”), which would either get its affairs in order in a last-gasp effort or go the way of its European counterparts.

Wien and Biggs noted that, even in the 1990s, Europe was “just getting by” because of tourism from North America and Asia. “If tourism from North America and Asia were to end tomorrow, Europe would implode the following day” was one of the more interesting assessments from the Morgan Stanley analysts.

Without a massive, continuous inflow of foreign funds from tourism, Europe would near-instantly regress to a pre-industrial state similar to Africa—which was precisely why Europe’s status as “A Giant Open-Air Museum” had become not only its defining characteristic by the late 1990s but also its best hope for long-term survival.

Such, at least, was the belief in 1997 and 1998.

Greece, alas, has become proof that “A Giant Open-Air Museum” strategy is not a formula for lasting success.

Third Minnesota Regiment, Nashville, 1862

21 May 1861: Minneapolis

21 May 1861: Members of a newly-formed Minnesota regiment, about to head East to join the Union Army in the American Civil War, pose in downtown Minneapolis.

The photograph was taken within yards of what today is Orchestra Hall.

Immediately prior to the Civil War, Minnesota had received a massive wave of immigration from Scandinavia and Germany. The wave of immigration halted as soon as war erupted, but resumed immediately after the war’s resolution.

Brand-new Minnesota citizens were called upon to fight in the war, and did so without reluctance or complaint—even though many if not most Minnesota soldiers had yet to learn to speak English.

It was in the years immediately preceding the Civil War that my mother’s ancestors had emigrated from Norway to Minnesota, settling near Minneapolis.

In the very same period, my father’s ancestors had emigrated from The Netherlands to Iowa, settling near the town of Pella, which retains its Dutch influence to this day.

At least two of my mother’s ancestors fought—and died—in the Civil War.

At least two of my father’s ancestors fought—and died—in the Civil War.

All gave their lives for a new country they had barely settled into.

It is believed that none of my ancestors that fought in the war knew English before joining the Union Army. All surviving letters home, quite naturally, were written in Norwegian and Dutch, respectively.

The states of Minnesota and Iowa led the nation in the percentages of their respective populations that fought in the war.

Iowa, admitted into the Union in 1846, had 675,000 residents as war began. Over 75,000 joined the Union Army, more than ten per cent of the state’s population.

Most Iowa soldiers were assigned to the Western campaign. The casualty rate for Iowa soldiers was 17 per cent. The largest number died at Vicksburg, the second largest at Andersonville.

At the onset of war, Minnesota, admitted into the Union in 1858, had a population of 150,000, less than one-quarter the population of Iowa. (Today Minnesota has almost twice as many residents as Iowa.) Minnesota contributed 22,000 fighting men to the Union Army, more than twenty per cent of the state’s population.

About half of the Minnesota regiments were sent to the Eastern battlefields and about half were sent to Kentucky and Tennessee to serve as an occupying force. The latter fact contributed to Minnesota’s relatively-low casualty rate of 11 per cent, significantly lower than Iowa’s casualty rate.

Minnesota’s largest casualties occurred at Gettysburg. The First Minnesota Regiment lost 82 per cent of its personnel at Gettysburg on a single day, accounting for more than ten per cent of the State’s total wartime casualties within the span of a few hours.

For me, one statistic about Minnesotans in the war stands out above all others: of the 2400 Minnesotans killed in the war, only four had been born in Minnesota. The rest were immigrants.

The last surviving Civil War veteran, nationwide, was a Minnesotan. He died, age 109, in Duluth in 1956, having joined the Union Army at age 14 and having served the duration of the conflict.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Verdi Year

I am not partial to Verdi, whose music seldom rises to the second rate—yet it looks like we have a Verdi year ahead of us, what with five Verdi operas on our schedule.

First up is “Nabucco” at Minnesota Opera in September.

Next up is “Simon Boccanegra” at Lyric Opera Of Chicago in November.

The third Verdi opera of the season will be “Falstaff” at University Of Minnesota Opera Theatre, also in November.

Penultimate Verdi will be “Il Trovatore” at Minnesota Concert Opera in January.

Last will be “Rigoletto” at Lyric Opera Of Chicago in March.

I am trying to get Joshua to listen to some recordings of Verdi operas.

He is resisting. He likes Verdi even less than I.

For someone living in Minnesota, the opportunity to hear five Verdi operas in a single season without traveling any significant distance is rare. We must take advantage, however unenthusiastic we may be.

William Steinberg, Arthur Fiedler And . . . Someone

26 September 1969: William Steinberg and Arthur Fiedler after Steinberg’s first concert as Music Director of the Boston Symphony.

Between the two elderly men is an exceedingly grotesque Joan Kennedy, who one month earlier had suffered a miscarriage and who two months earlier had seen her husband’s presidential aspirations end at Chappaquiddick.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man?

Robert Spano, current conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, modeling an ensemble—and shoes—picked from the remainder bin at K Mart.

There are many, many reasons why Spano’s career has not worked out—although his Telarc recording of Berlioz’s Requiem is one of the greatest party records ever made, with more laughs-per-minute than any episode of “Frasier”.

My father, a brilliant man who always moves straight to the essence of a matter, says that Spano lacks the one quality without which a conductor simply cannot move either musicians or audiences:

“He lacks the nobility factor.”


Northrop Auditorium in October 1929, during its final stages of construction.

Northrop opened later that year.

Northrop was home of the Minneapolis Symphony/Minnesota Orchestra until 1974.

Northrop was also the venue for the Metropolitan Opera’s annual visits to Minneapolis, visits that began in 1945 and ended in 1986.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Eiji Oue

Eiji Oue, Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1995-2002.

Oue’s tenure in Minneapolis cannot be accounted a raging success. Attendance declined significantly during the seven seasons Oue spent in the Twin Cities, and ensemble standards deteriorated. Since his departure, Oue has not been invited back to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra as a guest.

In my view, the orchestra, as a courtesy, should invite Oue back for one week each year, a courtesy that—as a general rule—should be extended to former Music Directors of all orchestras.

I was never a fan of Oue, but I would much rather see him on the Minnesota Orchestra podium than the dog-eared roster of guest conductors the orchestra has been presenting in recent seasons.

Oue’s career is now centered in Europe.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The First Post-Musical Musical?

On Friday evening, we went to Saint Paul to attend a performance of the Kander and Ebb musical, “Chicago”, at the Ordway Center.

It was a night out for my parents, for my middle brother, and for Joshua and me, our first—and only—such night out of the summer.

The production of “Chicago” at the Ordway was the current National Touring Company production based upon the 1996 Broadway revival, still running in New York after sixteen years.

Until Friday evening, my brother and Josh and I had never seen a presentation of “Chicago”. In fact, we had never seen even the movie version of the musical.

My parents had seen “Chicago” on a single previous occasion. In 1979, they had seen the original London production, a production in no way connected with or based upon the 1975 Broadway original.

I do not understand how the 1996 Broadway revival of “Chicago” continues to find a New York audience. The production is bare-boned, with minimal stage design, and the material, albeit fully professional, is decidedly second-rate.

The “Chicago” song numbers are good insofar as Broadway songs go—but they are nothing more than typical Broadway songs, and not quite of the first rank. It would be inaccurate, I submit, to call the “Chicago” songs a score—to do so would elevate the songs to a status they do not deserve.

Richard Rodgers composed Broadway scores, but only one post-Rodgers figure has been a composer of scores, that figure being Stephen Sondheim. All other post-Rodgers figures have been mere songwriters, a very different thing from genuine composers—and Kander and Ebb are and were nothing more than songwriters.

The “Chicago” staging is pure celebration of show biz, lacking any frame of reference beyond the strict confines of song-and-dance routines. Indeed, there is a certain purity in the ruthlessness with which the current staging refuses to expand its scope beyond the narrow, closed-circuit world of show-business proceedings.

In that sense, “Chicago” may be the first post-musical musical.

And, as such, the show is decadent, and deformed, and dead . . . just like the art form itself.

I can understand why “Chicago” was only a modest success in its first run.

What I cannot understand is why “Chicago” has proven to be such a lasting commercial success on its remounting.

Elisabeth Rethberg And Richard Tauber Checking Out A Banquet Table

Miss Rethberg made her professional debut in Dresden in 1915 in “The Gypsy Baron”. Her tenor that night was Richard Tauber.

This photograph probably dates from the middle 1930s and was surely taken in Vienna, Salzburg or London—and nowhere else, given the artists’ respective schedules.

Tauber wore a monocle in order to conceal the fact that his right eye was deformed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thursday, August 09, 2012

18 November 1972: Josef Krips, Frank Martin And Paul Badura-Skoda In Paris

Both Krips and Martin were to die in 1974.

Badura-Skoda, whom I have met and whom I have heard play, lives on.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Josef Krips’s Farewell To Buffalo

The farewell letter presented by Josef Krips to musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1963.

Krips left Buffalo that year to take the music directorship in San Francisco.

Krips was vastly under-appreciated outside Central Europe. He was especially underrated in Britain, France, Italy and the U.S., where reluctance to grant Krips his due bordered on criminal neglect.

John Culshaw took several unnecessary swipes at Krips in Culshaw’s memoir recounting Culshaw’s career as a recording executive at Decca. Culshaw’s swipes were ungenerous and unkind, and betrayed Culshaw’s fundamental pettiness.

If my French were better, I would attempt to plow through Georges Athanasiades’s massive biography of Krips. Krips had an interesting life, and the Athanasiades tome is supposed to be exhaustive—as well as stupendous.

I almost bought a copy of the Athanasiades at the book kiosk in the lobby of Palais Garnier in 2003 or 2004, but my brother talked me out of making the purchase (the book is huge and unwieldy, and was hardly cheap even back in 2003 or 2004, when it remained in print; today copies of the out-of-print book are monstrously expensive).

Monday, August 06, 2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Portland Place

The famous 1906 photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn.

Bode On Rembrandt

Rembrandt painted 700 pictures. Of these, 3,000 are still in existence.

Wilhelm Von Bode