Feb 23

Wagner: Lohengrin, EuroArts,  Bayreuther Festspiele, dirigent Woldemar Nelsson, Peter Hofmann, Karan Armstrong  ?????

Issued in 2005 but actually performed in 1982, this opera follows traditional forms, with staging by Götz Friedrich. All in all, spendidly done. Hofmann is a better Lohengrin than Placido Domingo, in the other DVD copy of Lohengrin that I possess. It would be the choice of Lohengrin’s for the first time buyer of this opera. Some may question that this also was a bizaare plot, and that I unjustly attack early 19th century Italian opera. That is simply not the case, as German opera has a much different character than Italian, including the almost universal use of magic or the supernatural. This is true in Mozart’s, Beethoven’s, von Weber’s, Wagner’s, and even later Richard Strauss operas. Note that character development is quite full in the Wagner operas, compared to that of Donizetti, Bellini, or even the English light opera of Gilbert and Sullivan, where all you really learn about the person is that “He is an Englishman”. Whoopee. Lohengrin is not the greatest of the Wagner operas, but certainly shows a path to his later mature works, including Der Ring, Tristan und Isolde, and Parzifal.

 

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Feb 21

Donizetti: Linda di Chamounix, TDK, Opernhaus Zürich, Edita Guberova, directed by Adam Fischer

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This production was produced in a fairly classic style, starring the wonderful Hungarian soprano Guberova as the title character. This opera is typical in musical style to most the operas of Donizetti, the bel canto style providing a formidable challenge to Guberova, who performs flawlessly. The supporting musicians remained equally capable and accomplished in their talents and performance, all in all making a delightful performance. This opera will never probably achieve the “top 10” list, owing only to the fact that it is a fairly corny plot. Linda is being pursued by the Count, who shuns his advances because she is in love with Carlo, whom she discovers is actually the Viscount of Sirval. Carlo and Linda move to Paris to escape the Count, and to pursue each other, when Carlo learns that mother wants him to marry someone else. He turns away Linda, who then goes mad. They both return to Chamounix, and Linda finally returns to sanity when Carlo declares his love for her and acts her hand in marriage in spite of mommy. Wow. OK. Whatever. A good opera if you love bel canto and music of Donizetti, but definitely not as great as Lucia di Lammermoor, L’Elixir d’amore, or Anna Bolena.

 

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Feb 19

Der Ring des Niebelungen by Richard Wagner, Bayreuther Festspiele, Daniel Barenboim   ????

Watched the DVD version of this opera, or, rather, set of 4 operas. All in all, very well done, staged in a moderately minimalist style. Oddly, the staging manager really liked to see the singers chortling at full volume while clinging onto ladders at a very high altitude. At least half the scenes had the ladder motif. Other than that, the musicians were stellar. Really, how can you condemn a Wagnerian singer, who has to memorize 10 hours of singing, perform it in 4 consecutive days, without any audience forgiveness for even the slightest error. I don’t know how anybody can sing opera. Yet, it is done, and done quite well. Or, at least with the Ring series, it is done super-humanly well. For DVD recordings, I prefer the Met opera performance by Levine, though that is mostly for the fact that traditional staging was used. Even the Boulez recording, which is super-minimalist, is awesome as a soundtrack. Since it’s been a tradition to listen or watch the Ring each Christmas season, I’ll look forward to recommendations for next year.

 

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Feb 17

The Pandora Prescription, by James Sheridan  ??

The Pandora Prescription was written by a self-acclaimed US government contract pilot who flew secretive diplomatic missions between Miami and Havana, thus claiming inside knowledge in the underworld of international politics and espionage. The book is a fast-acting chase between a government agent working for the Department of Homeland Security, and Travis, who is attempting to locate and possess a so-called Apollo document. The book takes on the similitude of a Borne series movie, with near omniscient government agents solving in methodological brilliance achieving a fantasy status.

Sheridan attempts to weave within the action his own thoughts on the construct of internal and international politics from a US perspective. His thesis is that following WWII, German agents, who in actuality were planted Soviet double agents, took over and dominated the internal workings of the CIA, making it a partial puppet of Soviet interests. In partial defense of that, he argues how the Kennedy assassination was actually a Soviet action performed through the intermediacy of Cuban agents, willing to seek revenge for US desire to assassinate Castro.

The contents of the Apollo file were documents from a Bilderback conference detailing how the international pharmaceutical industry had actually wished to suppress data regarding Laetrile as the cure for cancer, since it was cheap, effective, and without side effects. Many pages are labored over the thesis that Laetrile is indeed a cure for cancer, the truth of which is suppressed in the interests of maintaining the cost-laden health care industry, which in turn supports the US economy. In the end, the truth ends up in the hands of Soviet agents, who would use it to blackmail US interests.

Unfortunately, Sheridan mixes truth and fiction, attempting multiple theses, including a) the renegade nature of US government, which is a government against the people, and especially true of the Homeland Security, b) the subterfuge of international politics, and “conspiracies/clandestine operatives” such as the Bilderback society and not mentioned Trilateral Commission and Club of Rome, and c) the vast health care conspiracy to suppress the cure for cancer and other ailments. Each of these theses has some truth to it. I simply could not speak with authority regarding either a) or b), but refer you to writings such as are produced by brother Dennis, who has much to say on this topic, which I hold to be mostly accurate and consistent with Sheridan’s thought. Like Sheridan, brother Dennis also has much to say regarding the health care industry, but remains less informed, considering that since there are conspiracies behind every tree and under every rock, it must also be true of health care. As a physician, I certainly have grave concerns about the health care industry, and believe that Pharmaceutical concerns heavily influence the data, and its interpretation. There is not a week that goes by where some drug rep is trying to buy me lunch and pawn some expensive, useless, and toxic drug off onto my prescription pattern. I just look at the demise of tamoxifen and rise of aromatase inhibitors, which are far more expensive with more side effects, but marginally, if at all better than tamoxifen, and certainly with virtually no difference in overall survival. Overall survival is a number, unlike disease free survival or time to progression, that cannot be manipulated. You can’t fudge on the death of a person by more than a day or two.

But what about Laetrile? Are we really hiding the cure for cancer? To even ask the question betrays a naiveté  about cancer. Everybody would love a cure for cancer. The book mentions a small province in Nepal where cancer is not reported. Either they have not the sophistication to identify cancer when it is present (quite probably true) or they die young (also quite true) and so don’t have the chance of getting the old-age disease. Why do people in Cuba and Mexico die of cancer, where they supposedly know the “truth”? Why have the Russians not opened up massive Laetrile clinics for their citizens, since they don’t have drug cartels, yet know the “truth”? I’ve had many patients go to Mexico for the cure, only to come back worse off than before. They should have laid on the beaches and drank their Tequila, rather than wasting their money on worthless cures. Why is Fidel dying of cancer? Odd thing, is it not? Is the drug cartel in Cuba restricting Laetrile from him? Are there cures for other diseases? If so, why haven’t they been discovered before the modern era? It seems like people live at most for 70-80 years, with higher rates found mostly in societies with improved public sanitation and a reasonably adequate diet. Alternative health care varies extremely, from chiropractic, naturopathic, Eastern mystical, Christian Science faith healing, and the list goes on. Having trained at the U. of Illinois, we are all too aware of the Krebiozin incident, proved to be worthless (sterile water with less than 1 part per billion of any active ingredient). Now, maybe Krebiozin was just another pharmaceutical cover-up, yet I don’t see Brazilians flocking to Krebiozin clinics, since this is where that supposed miracle drug came from. In actual fact, all cultures and societies and levels of sophistication have their quacks. We will someday look on what we do as barbaric, and my enthusiasm for what I have to offer my patients is less than ebullient. If one cannot cut it out, then the cancer will probably not be cured. Sheridan’s ignorance of the types and vagaries of cancer and his solution offer me nothing. This book had a “Bourne Identity” style excitement to its plot, some semblance of truth, but overall, a faulty thesis that distracts from enjoyment of the story.

 

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Feb 16

Into Thin Air

By Kenneth Feucht books No Comments »

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer  ????

Into Thin Air is the account by Jon Krakauer, a reporter working forOutside Magazine, chronicling a climb on Mt. Everest. Krakauer, who was originally slated to climb with a group called Mountain Madness, based in Seattle and directed with Scott Fischer, was then switched to a group called Adventure Consultants, based in New Zealand and directed by Rob Hall. This book is a blow by blow account of the approach, climb, and disaster that occurred on the summit day, leading to the deaths of Fischer, Hall, as well as four other people. While Fischer and Hall were quite accomplished climbers, and experienced with Everest, major decision errors, and arrogance, led to the catastrophes that occurred. Firstly, both groups took extreme pride in getting anybody with any experience at all up the mountain. Secondly, neither group followed their own rules. Neither would fix lines, expecting the other team, or, two other completely inept and inexperienced teams, to fix the ropes, and neither obeyed their own decision to turn back at a certain hour, if the summit wasn’t achieved. In addition, there were simply too many people on the mountain attempting the summit push at one time to allow for speed, efficiency, and safety. It was a perfect setup for disaster. Understandably, clients pay reasonably high fees to be personally escorted to the summit of Everest, but, when one needs to be carried and dragged to the summit, as happened with Doug Hansen and Sandy Pittman, it defies the honor of actually having climbed the mountain. One of the guides, Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian climber of unbelievable fitness, came under harsh scrutiny of Mr. Krakauer for reportedly abandoning several clients to look after his own personal safety, even though it was Boukreev’s personal valor that saved several clients, Pittman and Fox from otherwise sure death. Boukreev actually wrote a book The Climb to defend his own actions. Criticism of Krakauer’s writing, and failure to also look out for his fellow climbers by going ahead of the rest of the team. Part of this was understandable, as the rest of the team was not in good fitness and did not belong on the mountain, or should have turned back long ago. It has been argued the Krakauer’s slick jouralistic prose tended to minimalize his faults, and accentuate others, though I didn’t sense that this was domineering. Certainly, constructive criticism looks at the climbing errors, which occurred in virtually everybody on the mountain, rather than a single person. So you might ask, did they learn their lessons? I don’t think so. Get into the expedition groups’ websites (http://www.adventureconsultants.co.nz/AdventureInternational/ &http://www.mountainmadness.com/ ) and you will find that they are continuing this madness. You can even sign up for a several month ski-expedition to the South or North Pole! Not a good idea. Everest, and even smaller peaks, like Denali or even Rainier, should be limited to those who climb on a regular basis, and have a clue how to do advanced rescue and techniques of the mountain. A recent catastrophe on Rainier was exactly this sort of thing–poorly prepared clients who went through a short class on self arrest and knot tying being dragged up a capricious and unpredictable mountain.

 

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