Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Monday, April 10, 2006
In Condi Reggia

Time-out on our usual ban on The New York Times. We learn from its music critic Anthony Tommasini -- actually, that's news in itself; but specifically: we learned yesterday from NYT music critic Anthony Tommasini that Condi Rice plays in a chamber music group, and that she has some decided tastes in opera:
Ms. Rice, who lives a short walk from the Kennedy Center, said she was looking forward to attending the Washington National Opera's new production of Wagner's "Rheingold" when she returned from an overseas trip.
And why not, considering the valuable pointers one can pick up in that opera about pawning goddesses, shafting giants, and wresting potentially world-dominating power away from malevolent gnomes (watch out, Ahmadinejad -- isn't your name Farsi for "Alberich"?)
In February she took in the Kirov's production of Puccini's "Turandot," when the company visited the capital. She spoke of how impressed she had been by the innovative staging. By the music, too.

"That's about the only Puccini opera I can take," she said. A couple of us, led by this Puccini lover, stuck up for him. But Ms. Rice is not alone in her opinion.

I take it this means Condi is not excited by the more conventional Puccini heroines -- Mimi, Butterfly, even Liu, the secondary heroine of TURANDOT -- those self-destructive, suicidal, all-for-love chicks so admired by opera queens. Oh of course I love Liu; everybody loves Liu. But I'll bet kick-ass ladies are more Condi's type. She should find Tosca at least tolerable.
Her favorite opera is Mussorgsky's epic "Khovanshchina," not surprising, given her expertise in Russian culture, language and history. It may have special resonance today: it tells of bloody factional strife at the time of the ascension of Peter the Great, made worse by the intransigence of the Old Believers, a fundamentalist Orthodox group opposed to reform.
Which demonstrates again why Tommasini had better stick to reviewing "strapping" tenors, and how the NYT misunderstands the world.

First, the Old Believers were not "fundamentalists" (and neither is Osama bin Laden), because "fundamentalism" was and is a movement within American Protestantism in the early 20th century. Oh, I know as well as you do how valuable the term is a signifier for the sum of "religious" and "bad," but that's a tendentious and misleading usage, perfectly suited for the New York Times.

Second, KHOVANSHCHINA dramatically ends with a band of street-thugs, called the Streltsy, being pardoned by that lovely progressive Czar Peter, while the Old Believers, whose idea of what do when things get rough is to sing a hymn, get burned to death in their church. Sort of an ideal NYT regime.

Nessun dorma, nessun dorma.
E tu, o Segretaria di Stato,
Nella tua fredda stanza,
Guardi le stelle....