May 2011

Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen

Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen, by Richard Wagner, performed by the Deutsche Oper Berlin ★★
Wagner wrote three early operas that are relatively unknown since they are rarely performed, including die Feen, das Liebesverbot, and Rienzi. They are operas that are not typical of  Wagner’s mature style but do show development toward the final Wagnerian style. Rienzi is the opera that launched Wagner’s career as a musician, and several of the pieces including the overture are still occasionally performed. There were no available movie versions of this opera until this performance came out, so I decided to buy it, especially with the reasonable reviews given to it by reviewers. This performance has its merit. The singers were faultless, acting and singing well. The recording was high quality, though there were often problems with the mixing of the sound of the singers and the orchestra, in that the orchestra tended to drown out the voices on stage.
My problem with this performance is the staging. I don’t object to modern versions of operas, so long as they don’t distract from the story and theme of the original opera. If the staging is such that it creates another theme or story than the original opera, or if it restricts itself to being solely a commentary on either the opera or the composer, then it should not be considered as a legitimate version of the opera. I recall the Peter Sellars versions of various operas that attempted contemporary contextualization of 18th and 19th-century operas, yet they were never sold as straight opera renditions. Creative license with modern European staging tends to destroy the composer’s intent, and this should be overtly stated. It would be like re-writing a Beethoven symphony for a Jazz band but calling it the original symphony. Liszt did not have the audacity to do that but was willing to call his transcriptions something else, and bizarre creative staging should be called something other than the original opera.
The staging used in this performance is indeed bizarre. The citizens of Rome come out masked at first, eventually removing their masks and donning suits that looked more like Soviet peasant outfits. Rienzi and his daughter appeared more like Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun than a noble Roman tribune. The themes of Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini prevailed, forcing the entire opera into an entirely other interpretation. Adriano, the traitor, is made into the hero, and Rienzi is reduced to totalitarian scum. The final scene, with Rienzi in Hitler’s bunker and Speer’s model of the new Berlin before him, was exceptionally distractive to the aria “Allmächtiger Gott…” and completely out of place. The videos of Rienzi as a totalitarian propagandist before microphones appeared on television were seriously distracting. Wagner’s character development in the opera was completely rewritten. The behind the scenes slaughter of the assassins at the end of act 1 altered the story of the opera. This is not the way Wagner intended the opera to be, and the staging was too divergent from the actual opera story to be legitimate. I’d rather just listen to a recording than watch what Stölzl has given us.
Whatever one may think of Wagner, I suggest that performances should leave Wagner alone. It is true that Wagner was a truly despicable egotistical, racist person, yet his composing is sublime. It is quite easy to see his anti-Jewish sentiments throughout his operas, which must be overlooked. Thankfully, many Jewish Wagner conductors and performers have been able to do that, producing some of the best performances of Wagner in existence (eg., James Levine’s Ring, Leonard Bernstein’s Tristan und Isolde). To be obsessed with mid-twentieth century totalitarianism when performing a Wagner opera deprives the opera of its legitimate interpretation and reduces the performance to just another case of Euro Trash.


Synology DS1511+ with 5 Western Digital 2 tbyte Black Caviar hard drives and DX510 Expansion module with 5 Western Digital 2 tbyte Black Caviar hard drives ★★★★★
This is my new system of memory. It came at the recommendation of Jason L. Not being a techno-guru, I had some concerns regarding configuration problems and setup, yet it worked immediately after assembling all the hard drives and putting the thing together. I made one small mistake in that I tried to make both the main unit and the expansion module into one volume, which simply won’t work. I have it running in RAID 5 configuration so that each module consists of 20 tbytes of memory, but I functionally am working with 14 tbyte (giving me a total of 28 tbyte), and if any single hard drive goes out, I can simply swap it out and have no data loss. Now, I need to cat5 wire our house, so that I might leave this system elsewhere in the house. Not that it matters, since the system has no fans, runs completely cool, and makes no noise.
I have all my movies, music, and photography stored on this system, with volume left over. My only frustration so far has nothing to do with Synology, but with Apple iTunes, which will not allow me to make the Synology as my main location for iTunes playing on a remote computer.

The Complete Liszt Piano Music

The Complete Liszt Piano Music, by Leslie Howard ★★★★★
This set consists of all the known piano music of Franz Liszt, including his solo works, transcriptions of other composers’ works, and orchestral pieces. In the section on rare works, even short 12 second snippets were included. The entire set consisted of 99 CDs, all but the last CD packed with music. The recordings themselves are very forward and realistic, sounding much like the piano is next to you in the room. Liszt has been known for the complexity of his compositions, thus limiting the number of performers willing to tackle his pieces. Yet, Howard does this with aplomb. Before hearing this set, I was familiar with the volume by George Bolet, and the short pieces by Earl Wild and Cziffra. These recordings place Leslie Howard with the best of all possible performers of Liszt. There is not a single piece in this set that lacks luster or has been performed better by somebody else. In the nearly 122 hours that it took to listen to this entire set, the only tedium was in listening to the rare snippets – perhaps Howard didn’t need to be so complete in his complete compendium! Liszt’s music lends itself to showmanship. Yet, Howard gives one more than showmanship, and his interpretations are neither extreme nor flamboyant, but very creative with a touch that draws out the soul of the composition. This is highly recommended by me as a “must-have” for classic music lovers.

Spring 2011 Bicycle Trips

28-29APRIL – Amtrak trip to Portland with Russ A.
05-10MAY – Trip to Lexington, KY, and rides with Peter T.
19-22MAY – Trip to Dayton, WA with Russ A. and Pete
The itch to ride continues, but the rains continue unabated. Our Spring started out with a delightful visit by Scott & Lee Pyles, who direct the mission and hospital that we visited in Cameroon.

My first adventure was with Russ. I needed to pick up some furniture at Lew’s house, so decided to take the Amtrak down to Portland, ride the Touring bikes from the Amtrak Station to Oregon City, rent a U-Haul there, pick up the furniture, and ride up the Clackamas the next day. We had a moderate amount of rain on the trip, but our equipment held up quite well.
Russ in front of the Hawthorne Bridge, Portland, Oregon
The next trip was to Lexington, KY. The first day was spent at the hospital, learning about how Peter put together a multispecialty clinic. The next day was a trip from Lexington to his farm in Stanford. Peter figured out a route that took Tate’s Creek road south, crossing the Kentucky River in a Ferry boat, then proceeding along multiple backroads until we reached his farm. Unfortunately, I had to keep my camera in a backpack that I wore on my back, making it difficult to easily take photos. The total ride was 83.7 km, took us 4:36.
Once we reached the farm, the camera came out. I did some mountain biking around the farm. After we returned to Lexington the next day, we did a 25 mile ride up to the Horse Farm north of Lexington.
Attention Walmart Shoppers – here comes Peter. This rig gets him just about everywhere!
The family plot on the farm – completely rebuilt by Peter.
Morning on the farm.
The day before returning home, Peter worked out a loop ride in Northern Kentucky, titled the Ridges of Grant County. That was 32.5 km, taking 1:30. That afternoon, we went canoeing on the Elkhorn River. I did not bring my camera on the canoe trip!
Peter on the ridge.
An old flour mill, still in operation, powered by a water mill
Back home, Russ and I got the itch to return to Dayton. Pete went with us (not Peter), and Howie acted as our SAG vehicle.
19MAY 116.6 km, 4:54, 4483 cal, loop taken from Dayton down to Walla Walla and back via middle and lower Waitsburg road.
20MAY 111.4 km, 5:00, 1078 m elevation gain, 4256 cal burned, riding northward to the Snake River.
21MAY 89.2 km, 4:07 718 m elevation gain, 3054 cal, going from Dayton to Starbuck, and then south. There was much steep climbing, but we had a horrid headwind which ultimately exhausted all of us and we aborted early.
Early green wheatfields, stretching beyond the horizon
Wheat fields as far as you could see

Digital Landscape Photography

Digital Landscape Photography, by John and Barbara Gerlach ★★★★★
This must be one of the best landscape photography books that I’ve read in a while. Written in a very non-sophisticated style, John and Barbara offer page after page of highly practical advice on how to obtain better landscape photos. John uses the Canon system and Barbara the Nikon system, together with giving a broad spectrum of tips for whichever system you use. Chapters range from discussions of camera systems, the best choice of lenses, and other equipment issues, to composing the photo, seeking optimal lighting, setting the proper exposure, obtaining the best sharpness in the photo, to post-processing issues like producing HDR and panorama shots. They are not shy to mention which special equipment they might use, most of which is inexpensive and readily available in the USA. To supplement their discussions, multiple examples of their photography are offered, demonstrating how their techniques successfully produce splendid landscape photos. This is a book that will be re-studied from time to time, and not set to collect dust in some obscure portion of my bookshelves.