Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To You and Yours

What with differing time zones its difficult to judge a time to post a New Year's greeting. Given that Sheila's in Australia, Bev's in India, Jack's in Beijing and Kev's in Vancouver - covers most time zones - I thought I better get it posted now. Being a tradionalist I want to toast you all in Robbie Burn's old New Year's Anthem.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old times since ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
And surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Robbie Burns - 1788

Perhaps for the first time I understood the words of the fourth verse - we are separated by broad seas from so many of our dear friends and family and we miss them all.

Along with a Scottish song I give all of you an old Irish wish that my mother always spoke on New Year's Eve:
My one true wish for you and yours
Is all you wish yourself.
Buon anno - Happy New Year's - Bonne année

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmasy Things - Angels and Shepherds

Angels in Morella Las Pastorelas - Cristina Garcia Rodero - 1987.

Even before I saw the caption on this postcard I was reminded of our first Christmas outside Canada. It was 1986 and Laurent had been posted to Mexico City that August. I headed down in mid-December for the holiday season. We have so many great memories of that Christmastide, though at the time the episodes with the turkey and the backfiring Roman candle didn't seem so funny. But more about them another time.

As with most countries Mexico had its Christmas traditions, many of them Spanish in origin but made richer by the Otomi and other native cultures. One particularly Mexican tradition is the Pastorelas or Shepherd's plays that were presented during Christmas. A transplant from Spain they tell the story of the Shepherds and their journey to Bethlehem. A journey made perilous by the Devil, who attempts to thwart them at every turn. Told in verse, song, dance and laced with jokes and slapstick routines it always ends with the defeat of old Satan and his bumbling cohorts (what a surprise) and the Shepherds and audience coming together to adore the Christ Child. In a few places it is completed by Las Posadas - a candle lit procession ending in food, drink, pinatas and often fireworks. It was a tradition we embraced wholeheartly in the time we were there.

30 dicembre - San Ruggero di Canne

Christmasy Things - Of Trees and Balls

I meant to post a picture of the tree earlier, but what with decapitating geese for dinner - don't ask! - and things it fell by the wayside. So here it is with all the various baubles, bangles and beads we've collected over the years. The pig and roast turkey from Munich, the two ceramic creations from Spoletto and this year's Silver Ball are all in place. I couldn't find the wood ornaments from Salzburg but probably wouldn't have had room for them anyway. We are either going to have to stop buying Christmas ornaments or get a bigger tree!
A right click on the tree will give you a close-up.

And before Dora, Cowbell, EG or one of the others - and you know who I mean - say anything rude: yes we got our Silver ball and yes I polished all 30 of our balls. Number 30 - and given the cost, the last - arrived and was hung - Sling you are going to get such a slap... Sage stop it - in place on Christmas Eve.

Sullied and Soiled - a beautiful tradition sullied and soiled. Or were they a vaudeville team back in the '30s?

30 dicembre - San Ruggero di Canne

Monday, December 29, 2008

Things to Come

I have mentioned before - though probably both you and I had forgotten - that we seem to book up musical events well in advance. At the moment I'm holding tickets for La Traviata a year from today - how is that for optimism?

But looking at the calender a few things are being red circled as events to look forward to in the next few months.

Antonio Pappano and a bunch of the kids (Anja Harteros, Sonia Ganassi, Rolando Villazón, René Pape and our own beloved orchestra and chorus of Santa Cecilia) are getting together at the Parco del Musica to put on a show: the Verdi Requiem. Yes Parsi I said Rolando Villazón and René Pape.

Yuri Temirkanov, Opera Chic's Uncle Solly, will be giving us Russian goodies - Prince Igor and the Pathétique with the Academia Santa Cecilia orchestra and chorus.

Once again out to the Parco where Martha Argerich will be tinkling the ivories in the Beethoven #1.

Riccardo Muti returns to the Teatro dell'Opera for Gluck's rarely heard Iphigénie en Aulide. Love me some Gluck, love me some Muti so that one's got a big red circle.

Not musical but definitely magical - I saw the Piccolo Teatro di Milano do their signature piece Arlecchino, servitore di due padroni) back in 1959 when they toured North America.

In those days Arlecchino was the great Marcello Moretti but since his death in 1961 the role has been played by Ferruccio Soleri. Now in his 70s he restages Giorgio Strahler's production and still performs the incredible "lazzi" devised for him 47 years ago. This may well be my last chance to see him in action so I'm heading up to Milano for a day or two.

And then perhaps not all that musical but definitely nostalgical - Marianne Faithful in Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins. Apparently she's been doing this cantata in a few places in the past few years with great success. Marianne Faithful? Who would have thought?

Well we have a Zeffirelli Pagliacci (without Cavalliera Rusticana - budget cuts?)with Myrto Paptanasiu, Fabio Armiliato and Juan Pons. Yes Parsi I said Mytro and yes Shelia I said Fabio, though I have a feeling we may end up seeing the second cast on our subscription. May have to see this one twice.

The end of the month brings a return trip to Salzburg for the Whitsun Festival - again Muti and this time with an even rarer opera seria: Demofoonte by Jommelli. Plus some really great concerts including Marco Beasley and Accordione. And of course Salzburg itself - a city I never get tired off.

Another trip up to Milano this time for two 20th century operas back to back at La Scala - that's if the unions are good and if the Scala booking system works. I can't exactly see the tourists flocking to the two works in question so tickets may be readily available. Pizzetti's Assassinio nella cattedrale is based on T. S. Elliot's verse play and stars Ferruccio Furlanetto, like Solari in his twilight years, as Thomas à Beckett. Then Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Robert Carsen's famous production from Aix-en-Provence starring David Daniels. Friend Parsi was transported by this production when he saw it in Athens this past summer. Daniels! Carsen! Britten! Big red circle on that one.

And at month's end we get the Verdi Requiem again but this time with Daniel Barenboim, Barbara Frittoli, Ganassi, Marcello Giordani and Pape with the forces of La Scala. And at that point we're just mid-way through the year.

More goodies to come include the Rossini Festival in Pesaro (with Juan Diego Florez), Laurent's favorite opera Pelléas et Mélisande and that Traviata I mentioned with Daniela Dessi and Armiliato - yes Shelia I said Daniela and Fabio! Plus anything else that, in an effort to bankrupt me, my dear Opera Chic - its her fault I'm going broke -springs on me that I decided I really must see.

What is it that Lady Bracknell says? A life crowded with incident.

29 dicembre - San Tommaso Becket

Lunedi Lunacy

They say a good thing is worth repeating and I find the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre a good thing - in small doses. So here's another familiar Christmas Carol given their distinctive treatment.

I am reminded of the words we sang at Acolyte Epiphany parties to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing:
Hark the herald angels sing
Beecham's pills are just the thing
Move ye gently, move ye mild
Two for an adult ten for a child
Regular administration
just the thing for constipation.
Hark the herald angels sing
Beecham's pills are just the thing.
Not to be confused with:
Hark the herald angels sing
Wallis Simpson pinched our King.
She's been married once before
Now she's knocking on Eddie's door.
God, such wit - well okay maybe half-wit!

29 dicembre - San Tomasso Becket

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmasy Things - Windows

Yes I'm still with the Christmas postings - there are, after all, 12 days of Christmas and I've got a few more things I'd like to share.

There was great rivalry between the two big department stores in Toronto when I was a child. Eaton's and Simpson's stood across from each other, Eaton's on the North East side of Queen and Yonge, Simpson's on the South East. My first credit card was from Simpson's (account number 8T362606 - now how come I can remember that but not the combination to the lock at work?)At no time of the year was that rivalry keener than Christmas.

Eaton's had the yearly Santa Claus Parade and Santa's radio broadcast on CFRB every night at six o'clock. So everyone knew that the real Santa was at Eaton's - my mother explained that the one at Simpson's was his cousin who was giving him a hand because there were so many children to see, you had to hand it to Isabella for quick thinking. I recall I always covered both stores just in case.

They both had their Toyland but for me Eaton's won on that one hands down. Oh yeah Simpson's had a talking Rudolph and a fish pond but Eaton's had Punkinhead the carrot topped bear and a miniature train ride through the North Pole. Fishing I wasn't big on but trains.. well where's the choice? And Punkinhead - I even had a Punkinhead stuffed bear. Wish I knew where that bear was today, they tell me it would be worth something - sic transit orso.

But where Simpson's always came out on top where their Christmas windows, particularly the one at the Queen-Yonge corner. They were wonders of mechanical whirligigs, flying creatures, hard-working elves and sparkling new fallen snow - so different from the gray slush we stood in with nose pressed against glass to see Santa's workshop or a Victorian Christmas in old Toronto. Eaton's were further up on Yonge St and just didn't seem to have the same magic. Maybe it was that extra trudge in the slush or just that first seen was first wonder.

In our previous home in Ottawa that tradition had disappeared with the demise of downtown department stores and the advent of malls but fortunately in most big cities it still survives. I recall Marshall Fields windows when we lived in Chicago and Ogilivy's in Montreal when I lived there. Last year I got to London in time to see them at Fortnum and Mason and this year it was Galeria Kaufhof on the Marienplatz in Munich.

Click to play Holiday Windows Munich
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28 dicembre - Strage degli innocenti

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Budfordshire

Reesie restingReesie eating
Its been a year today but we still miss him.

27 dicembre - San Giovanni apostolo

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmasy Things - Sort Of .....

Here's a little antidote to the great slice of plum pudding with lashings of custard sauce and brandy I had at lunch yesterday. A touch of British humour from Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre.

26 dicembre - San Stefano

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmasy Things - Santa Baby

Another icon has left us.

Just hope they're ready up there for some one that sly, sultry and sexy.

26 dicembre - San Stefano

Natività del Signore - 2009

Buon Natale e auguri

Merry Christmas

Joyeux Noël

25 dicembre - Natale di Gesù

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmasy Things - Sharing III

So many wonderful things and stories are being posted in the days leading up to Christmas. I thought I'd just do a final little bit of sharing of things that have made me laugh or perhaps mist up or just smile with the joy of sharing with my wonderful blog buddies.

And I thought I'd also share the incredible frescoes that adorn the bedroom of the Cardinal in the Museo Romano at the Palazzo Altemps near Piazza Novona. We went in to see the Presepe of the King of Naples and stayed to view some of the most fascinating Greek and Roman sculptures in the setting of a Renaissance palace.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth ...
  • Michelle over at Bleeding Coffee has posted one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes panels: Christmas Eve. Bill Waterston always seemed to able to capture the honesty of childhood - warts and all. But in this one there are not warts, only love and tenderness. Thanks Michelle.
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elizabeth.
  • One of the great things about blogging, and there are many, is that you find out all sorts of things about people you love. My darling Dora tells us all about a Christmas party where the celebration reached a new high.
And they came with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe laying in a manager.
  • Every day since the first of December my friend Larry has been opening an new door of Rome on his Internet Advent Calender. Its been an incredible series of photo giving a peek into the history of the city. If you haven't been opening them every day from my sidebar might I suggest going over to Amoroma and opening a few doors.
... and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
  • Jeff has been posting a different sort of Advent Calender. First he revealed some of Santa's dirty little secrets and now he's leading us up to Christmas with music and dance. Again there are too many good things so just go over to World o'Jeff and click around.
The Madonna and Child
  • And though its not a blog entry I came across a book review for The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford in the Toronto Star. Writer Hans Werner has had adverse comments from a few "devote" Christians for his slightly irreverent remarks but I enjoyed it. And looking around I realize how Dickensian many of our traditions are.

Buone Feste a tutti!
24 dicembre - San Giacobbe

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmasy Things - Carols III

The three Christmases we spent in Warsaw were amongst the happiest of many happy Christmases. I had grown up in a Polish neighbourhood and many of the traditions, foods and music were familiar from childhood. As a child and teenager I would go next door to join the Michaelski family, my darling Teresa, her brother Eddie and Pan Stan and Pani Mary, for some of their celebrations. Mary always made, to my Anglo sensibilities, the most exotic and wonderful dishes using spices unknown in our household. I don't recall us ever having carp - the main stay of a a Polish Wigilia or Christmas Eve meal and I must say for that I'm thankful.

Here are three of the glorious carols I heard in those days and again during our stay in Poland. And if you're at our place over Christmas you'll hear them along with all the other music that has become our tradition at Christmas.

Wśród Nocnej Ciszy - In the Stillness of the Night
This is, traditionally, the first Carol sung on Christmas Eve.

Gdy Się Chrystus Rodzi - When Christ the Lord is Born
This carol is always sung at Midnight Mass.

Bóg się rodzi - God is born
And this is my favorite of all the Polish Carols.

Its a tongue twister and I never go it right but as long as it was said sincerly the traditional greeting was warmly received.

Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!

23 dicembre - San Giovanni da Kety

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmasy Things - Carols II

In 1872 Christina Rossetti wrote a Christmas poem that remained unpublished until 1904, ten years after her death. The five stanzas were set to music in 1906 by Gustav Holst and it remained the most popular setting though in a recent poll Harold Darke's 1911 version has been voted the best Christmas carol by some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts. I can see that from a choirs point of view but, in my opinion, for congregational singing the Holst is the finer version.

This version by Gloucester Cathedral Choir and congregation is particularly lovely.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

22 dicembre - San Demetrio

Lunedi Lunacy

I'm pretty sure everyone has seen this one except me, but I'm going to share anyway.

'nough said!

22 dicembre - San Demetrio

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmasy Things - Betty Jean's Cactus

With the passing of the year things have changed - as they do - and this Christmas will be different from last year in so many ways. First we're another year older, then we're in a different apartment in a different part of the city. For the first time in over 18 years we don't have a puppy or two running around getting underfoot as the tree gets trimmed. Bundnie always loved the little felt mice that went on the tree and one year actually managed to get a hold of one and hide it. Reese was always a little afraid of the tree - he could never figure out how the hell it got there and why it was sparkling.

And this year one dear friend will be missing from Christmas celebrations. Last year we spent Christmas with our friends Betty Jean, Stephen and their off-spring Sarah and Brian. We had started off as colleagues in Warsaw but, to our good fortune, became friends. Though the reason for their stay in Rome was not the happiest it proved a happy time in many ways. We shared a lot over the past 18 months: food, drink, conversation, warm companionship and laughter - particularly laughter.

I have made passing reference to both BJ and Stephen but never went into details as I felt it was not my story to tell. Stephen was under going treatment here in a three year battle against cancer with the incredibly strong support of BJ, if ever there was a team it was them. They returned to Canada in October and the night before they left I spoke with Stephen on the phone. He was tired but he wasn't giving up - that unique recognizable laugh of his still came, though perhaps not as easily as in the past. Stephen passed away on November 11th with BJ, as always, by his side.
Many of the plants on my balcony came from BJ when she was closing up house the first year we were here. And she gave me this Christmas cactus just after we arrived. I've never had much success with Christmas cactus and last year was no different. It sent out a few weak little buds but nothing bloomed. Then suddenly this year ten or twelve buds appeared in early November and by the end of the month it began to blossom.
In a somewhat silly, sentimental way I guess I'm associating those blooms with the good times we shared: the food, the drink, the conversation, the warm companionship and the laughter - particularly the laughter. This Christmas will be difficult one for BJ, Sarah and Brian and I wish there was some way we could make it easier. The only thing I can offer is that we are holding them in our hearts and as we gather for Christmas we will remember them in our toasts and graces. And when I look at our Christmas cactus I think of them and Stephen with the joy of friendship shared and laughter - particularly the laughter.

21 dicembre - San Pietro Canisio

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmasy Things - Munich Kristkindlmarkt II

St Nick with a switch St. Nicholas waits to greet the girls and boys - notice the switch in his hand just in case he runs into anyone who's been naughty.

Despite the cold and the rain we did manage to get to several of the Christmas markets other than the best known in the Marienplatz. Sunday morning we strolled over to the Residenzpalast and dropped into a charming market in one of the courtyards of the Palace.

The gentleman at the door set the tone for a market that was very oriented towards children. The gentleman taking the video obviously thinks he's D. W. Griffith and forgets that movies have sound now!

And here are a few random pictures from the Residenz Market and the Medieval-Celtic Market.

The ResidenzmarktA giant TeddyThe painted facades in the courtyard give the Residenzmarkt a slightly theatrical flair.

Baskets, more basketsChocolaty fruitA few useless scarvesDecorative baskets, fresh fruit dipped in chocolate (the fact that its fruit negates the calories, right?)and some rather unusual flower scarves - there seems to be a stall for everything. I'm not so sure how warm those scarves are.

Entrance to the MittelaltermarktA juggler and his horn
Under the commanding eye of Maxmillan I the Mittelaltermarkt at Wittelsbacher Platz is a fair replica of a Medieval market - without the mud, straw and horse dung but there are jugglers.
A few things for the ladiesBooted and well-heeledEverything that the well-heeled medievalist would need.

Fresh bread done the old way Roast piggy on a spit
Sadly this little piggy went to market and ended up between slices of that baker's bread. Apparently the Bavarian version of pulled pork is quite tasty.

20 dicembre - San Domenico di Silos

Friday, December 19, 2008

Esultate? - Yes and No!

Otello - Cassio and the chorus get drunk in Act 1.

I received an e-mail from a friend suggesting that after talking about anticipating the Muti Otello last week I had been remiss in posting anything about it. What's your problem he asked - or words to that effect. Well as I've said in the past if I were a critic I'd be better off working for a weekly or a monthly. Sometimes I just can't meet deadlines. But here goes.

Last week I wrote
After its summer break-in at Salzburg how will this first collaboration between Muti and the Teatro turn out? Certainly with the change of venue things will be different - the Grosse Festspeilhaus is such a bloody barn that voices can get lost and details in productions swamped by the mere size of the stage and auditorium. Will the more traditional opera house be kinder to the voices? Will the producer have rethought some of his ideas after the unkind reviews? How will Muti handle a chorus and orchestra that are a few steps below the forces he commanded in Salzburg?
Let me answer the last question first. Otello is one of those operas that can be spoken of in terms of tenors or conductors. I have seen or heard Vickers' Otello, Domingo's Otello, Del Monaco's Otello and MacCracken's Otello. I've also seen or heard Von Karajan's, Solti's and Toscanni's Otello. And on one occassion saw a Vickers-Von Karajan Otello. Ever since it was announced last December there was no mistaking what sort of Otello we were going to get here in Roma. The posters announced it, the press talked about it and frankly when my friend Parsi asked me who was singing I couldn't remember but I knew who would be conducting. This was going to be Riccardo Muti's Otello.

And so it was. And it had all of his familiar trademarks - dramatic push and tension as well of moments of incredible translucent beauty. There was no stopping for applause - though several moments cried out for it - nothing was allowed to interfere with Verdi's music and Boito's libretto. And on two occasions noisy members of the audience were treated to that glare that makes musicians' mouths turn dry and brows break out in a cold sweat. The Teatro orchestra responded to what ever magic he holds over his orchestras - pax La Scala - and played to an exceptional level. There were some incredibly beautiful sounds coming out of the pit and the brass had a golden edge to it that was entirely new. Andrea Giorgi's chorus can always be counted on to do a fine job but in full-throated cry as the opera began gave me chills.

And the singers? I can only believe that the more intimate acoustic of the Teatro made a great deal of difference. Though perhaps not meeting the standards of the Golden Age - that's my golden age - they worked well within the framework of Muti's musical vision of Otello. At this stage of his career Aleksandrs Antonenko simply doesn't have all the voice or the experience that is needed for the part of Otello - these days who does? His Esultate! was slightly underpowered but unlike at Salzburg, if reports are to be believed, he did not run out of steam before Act 4. His is a Slavic voice with the tendency that voice type has to turn slightly steely under pressure and he lacks the stage charisma that a Vickers or Domingo brought to the part.

Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya (Desdemona) is one of those singers that divides opinion - I often wonder if the commenters have been to the same performance. Here she gave a lovely performance, again her's is a Slavic voice and finally lacks the creamy tones of a Tebaldi or Freni in the part. But it did give her Desdemona an edge: here was no Kewpie doll waiting to be murdered but a proud daughter of La Serinissima. The ultimate test of any Desdemona is the final scene and here the combination of Muti in the pit, Poplavskaya on stage and the staging itself - for the first time all evening possibly - came together to create moments of sadness, tension and heart-stopping drama. Barbara di Castri's Emilia came into its own at this point, lovingly attending to her mistress, her darker voice underscoring the drama. Huddled barefoot on the floor in front of a single candle Poplavskaya almost mummered the tale of poor mad Barabara in a chilling but beautiful half-voice. Her despairing cry after the departing Emilia was shattering and the Ave Maria sang in a half-whisper ending in a pianissimo Amen as she drifted into troubled sleep.

The most satisfying singing of the evening came from Giovanni Meoni's Iago. His was a subtle portrayal and he avoid that generalized Verdi baritone sound we get so often today. His Credo was strongly delivered and reeked of an almost Jesuitical cynicism. It was one of those moments that called out for applause but the Maestro was having none of that.

I find it difficult to say anything about Stephen Landgridge's production as a good deal of the action was not visible from our palco stage left. No doubt when we were able to see what was going on our friends at stage right had the same predicament. He had obviously not restaged with a traditional theatre in mind. George Souglides' dull unit set of metal walls and fracturing glass floors had been altered for width but not for depth and much of the upstage action was lost. Emma Ryott's costumes were fine in a generalized Renaissance style but with little variety in colour - Cyprus was a pretty dreary post if these designers are to be believed. As I mentioned Landgridge did stage the beginning of Act IV beautifully and the ending - Otello crawling towards the body of his dead wife, straining but failing to touch her before he dies, heightened the tragedy. Sadly, from what I could see, nothing in the rest of his direction was as dramatic.
Otello - The entrance of Lodovico, the Venetian envoy.

Which brings us back to Maestro Muti - most of the drama for the evening was being generated in the pit and that may be the way he wanted it. And we knew from the beginning that this was going to be a Muti Otello.

Production photos for the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma by Falsini.

19 dicembre - San Dario di Nicea

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

Alter of teh MichaelkircheLate Sunday afternoon on our weekend in Munich we stopped in to see the Michaelskirche, the lofty but tasteful Bavarian baroque church currently undergoing exterior renovation sponsored, if the 20 metre sign on the facade is to be believed, by Apple Ipod. As we wandered around we saw an elderly lady - you know the sort she's in every church, red knit tam, gray hair, gray complexion and gray sweater plus in the chill a parka - handing out candles and a service leaflet. There was a choral Vespers for Advent sung by their adult choir beginning shortly. The candles were only 50 cents but she didn't have change for a 5 euro note and was most embarrassed and all a-titter when we said we didn't want change. We joined about 75 other people in the pews and waited quietly for the service to begin. Vespers has always been one of my favorite offices - and when its sung it is particularly beautiful.

The entrance hymn was sung antiphonally by choir and congregation as four small servers in purple cassocks and white surplices came through the congregation lighting our candles. We sat in the flickering light as the service followed a familiar pattern: the psalm of the day using old plainsong chant, the readings from the Old Testament and the New, a brief homily based on one of one of the readings, a Bach chorale, more congregational hymns and an organ postlude. Even though in German, it was familiar and for that brief 45 minutes I was reminded of candle lit Advent Evensong in our small Anglican parish when I was a child. We may not have had the grandeur, the statues (hey we were Anglican!), certain we lacked the magnificent choir and organ but we had a sense of community, warmth and harmony. As did our congregation in the Michaelskirkche on a cold, rainy afternoon on the 2nd Sunday in Advent in Munich.

I repeat what I said yesterday - there is nothing to compare with the sound of a German or English choir; and here to prove my point is the Thomanerchor of Leipzig singing an old German carol: Joseph Lieber, Joseph mein.

In this rather original video Vostorgina01 has combined this lovely carol from the Western rite with scenes of Russian Christmas celebrations.

17 dicembre - San Giovanni de Matha

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmasy Things - Carols

I was mentioning to a colleague the other day about our rather extensive collection of Christmas music. She said she had one or two CDs but she wasn't very religious. My reaction was: What's that got to do with it. Some of the most beautiful music has been written around Christmas. I don't believe you have to be religious, a believer or even a nominal Christian to find joy and at times comfort in the music of Christmas.

Much of the Christmas music that I treasure I was introduced to on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and two or three programmes in particular hosted by Bob Kerr, Clyde Gilmour and Jurgen Gothe. I swear that amongst the three of them they had every Christmas album ever issued in any country. Classical, popular, jazz, familiar, traditional and modern - it was all there. Sadly the CBC no longer features programmes of that type or people of that caliber.

One of the most beautiful of the modern carols is Elizabeth Poston's 1967 setting of an mystical poem by an unknown writer in 18th century New England.

I'm posting this for Lorraine, Julie, their family and Mr. Stewart; for Betty Jean, Sarah, Brian and our dear friend Stephen.

1. The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

2. His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

3. For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

4. I'm weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I don't believe there is a better version than this one by King's College, Cambridge and thanks to cantoridecani for posting it.

16 dicembre - Sant'Albina

Christmasy Things - Munich Kristkindlmarkt I

Our weekend in Munich confirmed in my mind, though Laurent said that he never had any doubt, that I am Anglo-Saxon through and through. Being surrounded by the familiar things of Christmas and yes that slightly damp cold that precedes a forecasted snow fall made me realized that as much as I love Italian Opera I don't want to live it 24 hours a day. My character is too Northern.

This would explain why I have always felt at ease in Germany - Berlin (both pre and post Wall) Leipzig, Dresden, Nuremburg, Koln and Munich - though I dare anyone to feel comfortable in Frankfurt. And that is a trifle odd given that in the early years of my life Germany was still the enemy and we all knew that they were a dour, heel-clicking, humourless people. But I recall on my first visit to Munich, back in the 1970s, having that stereotype smashed very quickly. I remember a hysterical afternoon at the nude beach on the ... anyway I digress, greatly! Let's just say that Germans know how to have fun and our weekend was proof.

Here's a few clips of our first day in Munich.

When we went into the Dom the children's choir was practicing for an Advent choral evening. Again the music reminded me that, at least where church music is concered, my taste runs to the English and German. There is no sound quite like an English or German choir backed by a proper pipe organ. The next clip is at the Kristkindlmarkt I enjoyed the most in Riderplatz. As well as everything you could want for your home nativity scene they had the best rotwurst and Christmas beer as well as a fire to warm up by on a drizzly cold day. And finally the mechanical Glokenspeil at the Marienplatz - Teutonic knights do battle and the happy Bavarians dance in victory afterwards - and they've been doing it for a century or two. Like I said they know how to have fun.

I really should get a video camera so I can do decent close ups etc. Santa Claus are you listening?

16 dicembre - Santa Albina

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

Until Jeff posted the clips from Dick Van Dyke last week I had forgotten how charming and funny that show could be. The team work was exceptional and the talent involved amongst the best of the day.

15 dicembre - Santa Maria Crocifissa Di Rosa

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmasy Things - Sharing

Munich Christmas Fair PosterOnce again many of my blog buddies are posting items special to the time of year - oh hell let's call it what it is: Christmas. Its not the Holiday Season, its not the Festive Season, its Christmas damn it! C*H*R*I*S*T*M*A*S!!!!! Okay sorry I promise not to rant but this bloody PC attitude to my religious (and secular) traditions is really starting to get to me. Anyway as I was saying quite a few friends are posting some great Christmas memories and items and I'd like to share them - plus it gives me an excuse to post some of my Munich Kristkindlmarkt photos.
Entrance to the Marienplatz Market
Unfortunately the rain made photo taking a bit difficult without magical settings and an expensive camera but the entrance to the fair in the Marienplatz at night was quite magical.

The Marienplatz tree
Though only one of the 16 or 17 Christmas Fairs throughout Munich, the one in Marienplatz is the most well known ... and photographed. We also managed to see the Airport Kristkindlmarkt, the charming childs market in the Residenz Palace, the Medieval Market in Wittelsbacher Platz and the wonderful Creche market in the Ridderplatz. We missed the Gay Christmas Market but that will have to wait until next year.

Market stall
You want decorations? They got decorations! Cookies? Yep! Candies? You betcha! 1/2 metre long hot dogs? You should ask! And while you're shopping have a hot spiced wine. Sorry guys but Walmart just ain't the same.
  • Some of you may have met Doris before - she would be EG's mother and to quote him, " Just remember though, Doris is only funny when she isn't happening to YOU!" One of my favorite Doris stories involves the Christmas tree, a gin bottle and some nails. But don't let me spoil it, just go over to EG and read all about Doris and Oh tannenbaum!
Lego Santa
And of course the many shops and department stores have their displays and windows. How about a lego Santa? Why not Neiman-Marcus is selling life-size lego statues as their His and Hers item this year.

Elves in the window
There may not be quite the same flair up North as we see in Italy but every so often a window would jump right out at you!

And there was the occasional display that suggested there might be, what could be thought of as, an Italianate influence.
  • And another Boston buddy RG has once again shared his story of the first Christmas he and his mom, Justine, were on their own. As I said to him: good stories are worth repeating, great stories are worth repeating again and again. Between EG and RG they've given us two great stories.

Cookie molds
One of the market stalls had every type of mold you'd want for stamping Springerle, those wonderful sugar dusted cookies sometimes scented with cardamon other times with anise.

Shockheaded Peter
They even had one for Struwwelpeter (Shockheaded Peter) - that slovenly anti-hero of German childrens' books. Laurent had never heard of him and the punishments meted out to misbehaving children. Good solid lessons to be learned by good boys and girls.

But most of the wood carvings were of a religious nature and meant for home creches.
  • Jeff has been posting a riot of Santas over at his world. There's a sackful of great videos, songs and proof that Santa's a Meany. ; There's so much I can't single out one so just go over to World o'Jeff start at the top and work your way down - sort of like Santa coming down the chimney.
Laurent and the polar bear
Laurent seems to have a thing for bears and 1/2 metre long rotwurstl!

13 dicembre - Santa Lucia da Siracusa