The DART mission

Two years ago I published a detailed blog post: Will an asteroid hit Earth? In that post I discussed the scenario that an asteroid had been discovered on a collision course with Earth and what could be done to avoid such a possibly catastrophic collision. One option is to send a spacecraft to the asteroid and let it crash with it. The impact should change the course of the asteroid, so it would no longer hit Earth.. The DART mission will test the feasibility of this “kinetic impactor” technique. DART will be launched on 24 November, so it is time for an update.

The acronym DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Target for DART is the minor asteroid Didymos, discovered in 1996. It has a diameter of 780 meter and orbits the sun in 2.11 year. In 2003 it was discovered that Didymos has a small moon with a diameter of 160 meter. This moon has been named Dimorphos , it orbits Didymos in about 12 hour at a distance of 1.2 km. DART will crash into this moon at a speed of 6.6 km/s. and change its orbit slightly. In the infographic this change is hugely exaggerated. It is estimated that the crash will change the speed of Dimorphos only about 0,4 mm/s and its orbital period about 10 minutes

Originally DART was part of the much more ambitious AIDA mission. The crash will take place at about 11 million km from Earth. How to observe the effects of the crash? The solution was to launch another spacecraft earlier than DART, which would reach Didymus and go into orbit around the asteroid. This AIM spacecraft , to be developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), would observe the crash and send data back to Earth. It would even deploy a small lander, MASCOT2 to study the properties of Dimorphos.

But in December 2016, AIM was cancelled by ESA, after Germany withdrew the 60 million Euro funding for the project. I commented in the above mentioned blog:

As an European I feel rather ashamed that Europe has acted this way.

NASA decided to continue with DART., which will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A fascinating feature from the Falcon 9 is that part of it (the first stage) will return to Earth, land vertically (!) and can be used again for other missions. It will land on a so-called drone ship, an unmanned platform in the ocean. There are three of these drone ships active at the moment, all with poetic names. The Falcon 9 will land on “Of Course I Still Love You” Here is the ship.

And here is a video of the take off and landing. You must see it to believe it ;-).

DART will arrive at the asteroid end of September 2022. The spacecraft will use autonomous navigation to point itself to the moon. It has a camera on board, the DRACO that takes high-resolution photos. On-board software will analyse these photos, be able to distinguish between Dimorphos and Didymos and point Dart to Dimorphos.

About 10 days before reaching its destination, DART will deploy a tiny spacecraft, a so-called CubeSat . This LICIACube has been developed by ASI, the Italian Space Agency and will take pictures of the crash. So at least images of the collision will be sent to Earth.

Here is a short YouTube video of the DART mission. I will point out a few details.

  • 0:07 The nose cone of the Falcon 9 opens to deploy DART
  • 0:15 the solar arrays are unrolled, a new technique. Each one is 8,5 m ;long
  • 0:22 The lens cover of DRACO opens
  • 0:26 Didymos in the center, Dimorphos to the right
  • 0:32 The orbits of Earth and Didymos. They comes close, but are still 11 million km away from each other when DART crashes.
  • 0:37 The Xenon thruster will steer the spacecraft
  • 0:41 The LICIACube is deployed
  • 0:54 DRACO will find the target
  • 0:58 Found the target
  • 1:02 On collision course
  • 1:04 The end of DART

My next update about DART will probably be in October next year.

Our new penthouse

In October 2005 Aric and I moved from Goodyear Court 7 in USJ to Perdana View in Damansara Perdana. We love the location and are happy with our condo, although it is a bit on the small side. The top floor of Perdana View has 2-storey penthouses and years ago we had a look at one of them. It didn’t appeal to us, just 2 units on top of each other.

End of August Aric accidentally noticed that a penthouse in our condo was for sale , which was considerably larger than the other ones. We contacted the agent, and had a look on1 September. I fell in love with the condo at first sight and convinced Aric that we should try to buy it. Here is a photo of Perdana View.

And here is an enlarged detail. At the right side I have marked in red the contours of our present condo. In the center the contours of the penthouse. also in red.

In this floor plan you can see how big the penthouse is (in red) compared with the other seven penthouses (in green)

On 3 September we paid a deposit for the penthouse, I could not buy it in my own name, but I could finance it. Here I am handing over the deposit cheque to the agent. In the background the present owner is watching.

Buying a property in Malaysia is a bit complicated, both the buyer and the vendor are represented by lawyers. Here Aric is signing the Sales & Purchase Agreement (SPA) at our lawyer’s office. That was on 22 September.

On 3 November our lawyer told us that all formalities were complete, so we could finalise the payment. On 5 November I went to the bank to write a cheque. There they told me that I could not directly transfer the money to the lawyer of the vendor, because I would not become the owner of the property! They said that they would call me the following week. I didn’t sleep well that weekend! On Monday they called me and told me that the solution was to first transfer the money to Aric’s account. He could then write the cheque to the lawyer. And that’s what we did. A huge relief. Here we are in our car just before handing over the cheque to our lawyer.

That evening we celebrated already a bit. Aric holding the SPA in his hand. Now we just had to wait for the keys.

Officially after payment you must receive the keys within five working days. And that’s what happened. This afternoon we got a call from our lawyer that we could collect the keys. No formalities. we didn’t even leave our car, a secretary handed over the keys and some documents.

We drove home and of course we immediately went to what was now OUR penthouse. I will show many pictures to give an impression. One of the attractions of this penthouse is that it has a roof garden.

We bought a few items from the owner, for example the dining table and chairs.

On the ground floor there is one big room which will become Aric’s room.

The owner presented us with a wine chiller! . The kitchen has everything we need, microwave, induction stove, fridge.

There is a spacious outdoor kitchen with a washing machine and dryer.

There is even a maid’s room. We will probably use it as a store room. And of course there is a toilet.

Strairs lead to the upper floor, which has a second living room and three rooms . One of them will become the guest room, with its own bathroom.

The upstairs living room.

The master bedroom, with a separate wardrobe and a state of the art bathroom

This will become my room. Enough space for my books. I bought the desk from the former owner.

The view from our penthouse. The bungalows are part of the Orang Asli village.

We went back later to see how the rooms looked with the lights on

It is now just after midnight here. I wanted to publish this blog before I go to sleep.

Topo Maps and Taiping

I love topographic maps. For my hiking trips I have bought a few from JUPEM, ,the Malaysian Survey Department. These are modern topo maps, scale 1:50000. Here is an example, a small part of sheet 126, the Hulu Langat Map, printed in 1994. I have marked some of my hikes in red and a few waterfalls in blue.

Probably JUPEM will have an archive of old topo maps, but there is nothing online. Actually I was unable to find any Malaysian site with historic map material.

Surprisingly the National Archive of Singapore has quite a lot of historic map material about the F.M.S and Malaya. I was very excited when I found a detailed map of Taiping, printed in 1928. It consists of four sheets, with Taiping in the center.

The scale of these maps is 4 Chains to an Inch. I had to Google to find the meaning of this colonial expression! A chain is a measuring device for surveying, with a length of 22 yards = 22 x 3 = 66 foot = 66 x 12 = 792 inches. Therefore 4 chains equals 4 x 792 = 3168 inches and the scale of the map in modern notation is 1:3168.

To create the map of Taiping town, I had to “glue’ the four map corners digitally together. Here is the result, not 100% accurate, but acceptable. I have used parts of this map in an earlier blog Meeting of Old-Timers . .

Recently a waterfall friend told me that he had found topo maps of Malaya in the National Library of Australia! A total of 379 maps, printed in the 1940s. Below I show two map details, the actual survey data go back to 1913. Notice the scale, one inch to a mile, 1:63360 in modern notation, 20 times the scale of the Taiping town map. The second detail explains why these maps are in the Australian National Library. Australian soldiers were fighting in Malaya against the Japanese and later against the communists during the Emergency.

The maps are very detailed with an extensive legend.

Here is the same part of the Ulu Langat map as above. If you enlarge the two maps and compare them carefully, you will see that the two waterfalls in Sg Ampang are indicated in the 1940 map (and a few more, smaller ones). To be honest, I doubt if those numerous small tributaries in the old map have been really surveyed.

It is a real treasure trove of information. But mow back to Taiping! Here are the two maps, containing Taiping, images 94 and 96 in the NLA collection.

Again Taiping is on the side of the map, so I had to “glue” the two maps together. Here is the result. Notice how Taiping is bordered on the West side by dredging locations, North Taiping dredging, Asam Kunbang dredging and South Taiping dredging

Here is a detail with the Port Weld Railway. Two stations between Port Weld and Taiping: Matang Road Halt and Simpang Halt. Port Weld had a Police station (PS), a Post & Telegraph Office (PTO) , a Customs station (CS) and a Forest checking station (FCS) . Teluk Kertang is where Isabella Bird landed in 1879. It still had a Customs station and a Forest checking station.

And here is a detail with the winding road up Maxwell Hill, ending at the Cottage. A few of the bungalows are marked, the Nest and the Box. Birch hill, Caulfield’s hill and Gunung Hijau are marked. There is a Post & Telegraph office at the 6th mile. And, a surprise for me, a hill near the Lake Gardens (lower left corner of the map) is called Speedy’s hill. For comparison I have also taken a GE screenshot of the same region.

The NLA topo map collection has often several editions of a specific map. The Taiping map is available in a 2nd edition, printed in September 1943 and a third edition, printed in May 1945. I noticed only one interesting difference, the access road to the Taiping Aerodrome. See the two screenshots. The third edition has a note : With additions and corrections from intelligence operations .In that period Malaya was still occupied by the Japanese!

Here is a Google Earth screenshot of the same region. To make comparison easier I have marked the old access road in red. I have also indicated Aulong, a New Village, built during the Emergency. Notice the many lakes in the upper left, remains of past dredging activity.

When you find other interesting features in these maps, you are welcome to write a comment.

La Clemenza di Tito

In my blog post Rinaldo I wrote in the final paragraph: “Actually I am not a real opera fan. Many of the famous operas (by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini etc) do not appeal to me. But I love Baroque operas (and of course Mozart),”

In 2018 I wrote a blog post about Mozart’s first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, composed in 1767 when he was 11 year old. In this post I will write about his last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, composed a few months before his death in December 1791.

Probably most of you will have seen the movie Amadeus (1984), one of the greatest films of all time. The movie was not meant to be historically correct and obviously is not. A fascinating, accurate description of Mozart’s last year can be found in this report: Mozart’s final year and death – 1791. Worthwhile to read it.

The Clemency of (Roman emperor) Titus was a popular topic for operas in the 18th century, after Metastasio wrote the libretto in 1734. Here is a list with more than forty (!) composers who used the libretto for their version of La Clemenza di Tito. I found two recordings on YouTube , one by Antonio Caldera (1734) and one by Christoph Willibald Gluck {1752).

In 1790 the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II died. He plays an important and often hilarious role in the movie Amadeus and I can not resist the temptation to show here a scene from the movie.(click on the image).

Joseph’s younger brother Leopold II succeeded him as Roman Holy Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia, and Archduke of Austria. The coronation as King of Bohemia took place on 6 September in Prague and Mozart was commissioned to write an opera for the occasion, based on Metastasio’s libretto.

Mozart accepted the commission although he was very busy with Die Zauberflöte and the Requiem and managed to write the opera in about two weeks time . Metastasio’s libretto was modified by court poet Mazzolà and condensed into two acts. The première was not a success and for a long time this traditional opera seria was considered a kind of failure, compared with Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte. It is only during the last thirty years that a re-assessment has taken place. Here is a very informative article: La Clemenza  di Tito: Mozart’s Operatic Failure?

After this introduction, i will write separate paragraphs about the historical background of the opera, its structure and some of the modern performances.

Historical background

In 69 CE Roman emperor Nero died. A chaotic succession struggle followed with four emperors in that year, Galba (killed), Otho (suicide), Vitellius (killed) and finally Vespasianus. When Vespasianus died in 79, his son Titus (39-81) became Roman emperor.

He had been married twice. and was in a controversial relationship with Berenice, a Jewish princess, when he became emperor. He was a fair, benevolent ruler. During his short reign he became popular for his generosity after the eruption of the Vesuvius and a big fire in Rome. He also completed the Colosseum. His reign was short, after only two years he died of a fever.

Structure of the opera

The opera is only vaguely related to Roman history. It is set in 79 CE, just after the eruption of Vesuvius. There are six roles.

  1. Titus, Roman emperor: tenor
  2. Vitellia, daughter of the deposed emperor Vitellius :soprano
  3. Sextus , a young man, friend of Tito and deeply in love with Vitellia : castrato
  4. Servilia, the sister of Sextus : soprano
  5. Annius, close friend of Sextus and in love with Servilia: soprano (en travesti)
  6. Publius , the commander of the Pretorian guard : bass

The opera consists of two acts. Mazzolà’s libretto can be found here (Italian and English). Here is a synopsis.

Act 1

Vitellia is furious that Titus is planning to marry Berenice, urges Sextus to kill Titus, but takes this back when Annius tells that Titus will send Berenice home. Sextus and Annius meet Titus who tells them that he will take Servilia as his bride. Vitellia is furious again and persuades Sextus, who this time leaves to kill (his friend!)Titus. Servilia tells Titus that she loves Annius and Titus then decides to take Vitellia instead as his bride. When Vitellia hears this, she is upset, but it is too late, Rome is burning already and according to Sextus, Titus has perished.

Act 2

Annius tells Sextus that Titus is still alive. Sextus is relieved, confesses that he has betrayed Titus and wants to leave the country. Annius convinces him to stay and hope for leniency from Titus. Vitellia urges him to flee, but Sextus tells her that he will never betray her. Then Publius arrests Sextus, he has mistakenly wounded Lentulus, who was dressed as emperor , but has survived the attack. The Senate will judge him. Titus can not believe that Sextus is guilty. But Sextus has confessed and the Senate has condemned him. Titus hesitates to sign the verdict and wants to see Sextus first. Sextus, to protect Vitellia, doesn’t explain his action. Titus signs, then tears the judgment. Annius and Servilia plead with Vitellia to ask Titus for clemency..Vitellia decides to confess. Before Titus can pardon Sextus, Vitellia tells Titus that she was the main conspirator. Titus is shocked, but then decides to pardon everybody.

It is quite interesting to compare this synopsis with the original one by Metastasio. .There the first act ends with Publius telling Vitellia that she will become the new empress. It is only in Act 2 that the fire and uproar occur with Sextus confessing that he is responsible. This act is full of drama. Here is one example: Sextus is wearing a blood-stained cloak with a red ribbon, so other conspirators can recognise each other. After Annius tells him that Titus is alive, he convinces Sextus to visit the emperor and ask for leniency. They exchange their cloaks. When later Annius meets Titus, the red ribbon is seen and Annius is arrested, only to be released after Publius tells that Lentulus has identified Sextus as the attacker.. The act ends with Sextus being led away and Vitellia worried that her guilt will be revealed soon.

In my opinion the Metastasio “story” is more interesting than the Mazzolà one. But musically Mazzola did a good job, Mozart praised him that the libretto had been “reworked into a true opera” The Metastasio libretto is a series of recitatives and arias, Mazzolà adds trio’s ,duets and even a sextet at the end of the opera, where all six singers take part.

Performances

When the commission for La Clemenza was given to Mozart, it was stipulated that the opera should contain roles for two famous Italian singers in those days, a prima donna soprano and a castrato. It resulted in Vitellia and Sextus. In the original libretto also Annius was sung by a castrato. The stage may have looked like this:

Nowadays we don’t have castrati anymore (see my blog Countertenors and Castrati) ,the roles of both young men are usually sung by (mezzo)sopranos.

I have found a number of recordings on YouTube and selected a few for this blog, The earliest one is the film version (1980) of a performance by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1969), when La Clemenza di Tito was still virtually unknown. The video quality is not perfect, but acceptable.. The mise-en scene is traditional, classical surroundings, although the costumes are more 18th century than Roman. In the picture Servilia is telling Tito that she is in love with Annius. Publius watches. When you click on the picture, you can listen to the YouTube. When you are not familiar with this opera, it is a good introduction, because the video has English subtitles.

In Harnoncourt’s version (2003) the setting is a nondescript apartment building (car park?) and the costumes are modern. I am not a fan of this kind of approach. In the screenshot Sextus meets Titus and Publius after he has been arrested. Maybe useful to mention that Titus is standing at the right. Click on the picture for the opera.

Here is the version of Colin Davis in 2011. The screenshot shows the quintet at the end of Act 1. Rome is burning, Sextus is almost confessing that he killed Titus, Vitellia stops him. Servilia, Publius and Annius watch, shocked by the disaster. Subtitles in French.

And yes, the screenshot below is also from La Clemenza di Tito! The 2017 version by Sellars, where Tito has been mortally wounded and talks with Sextus on his deathbed. When I first watched the video, I was stunned and considered writing a blog “The rape of an opera ” Click on the picture, watch the opera and probably/hopefully you will be stunned as well..

Sellars tweaks the story beyond recognition, from the start until the end. During the ouverture, before the opera even starts, Titus picks Sextus from the crowd and “couples” him to Vitellia. But Sextus is a close friend of Tito and deeply in love with Vitellia., his emotional struggle between his love for Titis and for Vitellia is an essential part of the opera.

Sellars introduces at 56:47 an intermezzo in act 1 where Sextus is being prepared to become a suicide bomber. A terrorist instead of a traitor! The music played is not from the opera, but from Adagio and fugue in C minor, K. 546 ! Sellars does this 5 more times, at 22:07 , 38:03, 1:20:18 , 1:47:27 (parts from the Mass in C minor, K. 427) and at 2:38:12 after the opera has ended (Maurerische Trauermusik K. 477)

Here is a screenshot of the quintet at the end of act 1. Rome is burning the singers lament and Sextus almost confesses. In front of them lies Titus, mortally wounded by Sextus.

One last screenshot of the sextet at the end of Act 2. Titus has forgiven everybody and takes his last breath, singing in full force : Cut short, eternal gods, cut short my days on that day when the good of Rome ceases to be my care. To be honest, I found it a bit hilarious.

It can not be denied that the Sellars version is visually and musically spectacular. But personally I still think that it is unacceptable what he has been doing.

Let me finish this blog with some remarks about the roles of Sextus and Annius, originally sung by castrati. In modern recordings they are usually sung by (mezzo)sopranos. It means that the two love couples are sung by four female voices. In my opinion Sextus and Annius should be sung by countertenors or sopranistas. I know of only one YouTube recording where Sextus is sung by a countertenor, a 2021 (!) performance in Bergen. Sextus sings here the aria Parto, ma tu ben mio (I go, but, my dearest,..), probably the most famous aria from the opera.

The aria is so famous that it has often been recorded separately. I will give a few examples. Here is a recording from the Sellars version. The aria is accompanied by a basset clarinet and Sellars had the brilliant idea to make it a duet on stage between Sextus and the clarinet player. Click on the screenshot for the video. Fascinating. Sung by Marianne Crebassa, dressed as a man, but still very obviously a lady.

Here is the same aria sung by Kangmin Justin Kim , a young South Korean countertenor.

And here is a recording of the aria sung by Bruno de Sá, a male soprano/countertenor.

As last one here is Cecilia Bartoli. No attempt to cross-dress 😉 I am a fan of her.

For many years La Clemenza di Tito has been a favourite Mozart opera of mine. For this blog I have been listening numerous times to the various recordings. Never boring, it is still a favourite.

Longji

We visited Guilin in March 2019 and in my blog post about the trip I wrote that it was a first impression with only a few pictures of each day. “Planning to write three reports, but that will take time.“. And indeed it took time, more than two years.

But at last here is a report about one of the highlights of those holidays, the famous Terraced Rice Fields of Longji. They are located about 80 km north of Guilin and consist of three separate regions. We decided to visit the Jinkeng Terraced Fields which “enjoys the largest amount of Rice Terraces in Longji” . In this rather inaccurate diagram it is the rightmost region.

In Jinkeng Aric had booked the Panorama House Hotel, high up in the hills. It could only be reached on foot, so we left our main luggage in our Guilin hotel, and took only small backpacks.

We used public transport to travel from Guilin to Geping, where the ticketing office for Longji is located. After buying an entry ticket the bus brought us to the cable car station in Jinkeng.

There we rented a small van to the Tiantou Village, where the trail to the hotel started. But first we had lunch in the hotel/restaurant hat belonged to the van driver 😉

While he was preparing our lunch, we waited in the restaurant. It was off-season, will be more crowded during peak-season. It was cold, look how the school boys have their private heating.

The lunch was ok, a bit porky. After the lunch the driver/cook and I warmed ourselves a bit.

Near the village there is one of the famous viewpoints of Jinkeng. There was one other guest in the hotel, who knew the way, so we followed him..

It was only about 500 meter to the viewpoint, where a large viewing gallery had been built. The views were fabulous. It is called the Large-scale Thousand-Layers Terraces (千层天梯) .IN the Google Map at the end of this blog it is viewpoint no 2.

Here are a few more pictures.

After taking many more pictures, we walked back to the village and started our walk to our hotel. Here is a picture looking back to the village.

From far away we could see our hotel already. The weather was nice, the path well maintained, it took us about one hour.

When you enlarge the picture, you may be able to see the cable car, far away.

Not far from our hotel we passed another viewpoint , visible in the right picture. It is called West Hill Music (西山韶乐) (Viewpoint no 1 in the Google map)

A short final climb took us to the hotel and its rustic reception, where we checked in for our two night stay.

Here is the view from our balcony. Worth the climb 😉 .

Quite cold. Good that there was some home-brewed liquor in the restaurant to keep me warm.

I think we were the only guests in the hotel. Here we are waiting for our dinner.

We needed warm clothes. For dinner we had pork rice in bamboo, stuffed tofu and veggie. The cuisine is very local.

Next morning, view from our balcony. Very scenic with the clouds, although it did not bode well for the weather that day.

Later it cleared up a bit.

Our plan for the day was to walk to Viewpoint No 3 near the cable car station. Easy walking, a clear trail.

It started to drizzle, good that we had taken our umbrellas. Aric is in two of these pictures, I am in the third one. An advantage of traveling off-season is that we did not meet a single soul on the trail.

Halfway during our 2 hour hike.

Approaching Viewpoint No 3: Golden Buddha Peak (金佛顶)

You can reach this viewpoint by cable car

There are many viewing platforms.

View of Golden Buddha Peak (金佛顶)

Because of the easy access, there were quite a few visitors here. Pity that it rained.

We took the cable car down.

Beautiful views from our cabin, during the descent.

The cable car is mainly used by day-trippers from Guilin or Yangshuo. But to fully appreciate the beauty of Longji, it is better to stay a couple of days..

There were some simple eateries near the cable car station, where we had a basic lunch. We could add the condiments ourselves, not a bad idea 😉

We took again a van to the TIantou village, and from there we walked up to our hotel for the second time.

Boring? Not at all. Not sure if the farmers had started the irrigation or that it was just because of the rain, but many of the rice terraces were now covered with a layer of water. The water reflected the sky. Breathtakingly beautiful. Almost impossible to select pictures, because they are all so impressive.

Of course we took pictures with ourselves in it 😉 Here we are. We have done it!

We had dinner again in our hotel, and breakfast the next morning. They had done their best to prepare local food, it was quite eatable, we had chicken including the head !

Before we left , we enjoyed one last view from our balcony. Isn’t it breathtaking?

A few more pictures of the hotel before we started hiking down.. It must have been a major job to build it so high in the hills without access roads.

We had decided to walk back to the cable car station via a different route, passing small villages. The people here belong to a minority group, the Red Yao. Many ladies still wear the traditional dress.

Approaching Dazhai village.

At a souvenir shop in the village we bought some cushion covers.

From the parking near the cable car station, we took the bus back to Guilin. The map of Jinkeng was not very useful, I marked a few locations on Google Earth to give an impression of the region.

When you zoom in on Google Earth, you can see the intricate pattern of the terraces. This screenshot shows clearly the unique location of the Panaorama Hotel.

The Gang of Four

Probably everybody knows about the Gang of Four who became (in)famous during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. There are more Gang of Four’s in the world, Wikipedia has a list of them. There are political groups, industrial ones, there is even a rock band with that name.

There is also a Gang of Four in Malaysia 😉 ! Here they are. From left to right: Khong Tuck Koon, Jan Stuivenberg (me), Stephen Boey and George Tan.

When I settled down in Malaysia around the turn of the century, I got interested in waterfalls. That’s how I came into contact with Khong, who had created a waterfall website. Stephen was a friend of him and George his brother-in-law. Soon we became friends, as we shared many interests, waterfalls, birds, and not in the last place food. As we were all retired. we had time to make trips together. Often daytrips, where we first visited a waterfall or watched birds, always ending with a nice lunch.

In August 2005 Khong suggested a longer trip to Southern Thailand and it was during this trip that the name Gang of Four was coined for our fellowship. The picture above is from this trip. .A travelogue and many pictures can be found in this report: South Thailand. We visited a number of nature parks.

Of course we enjoyed the Thai food, we visited waterfalls and George kept track of our expenses meticulously 😉

In those days, my camera was not good enough to take suitable bird pictures, so mostly I took food pictures. Here is an example of a birding trip to the Selangor Coast, a few weeks after our Thailand trip. In between breakfast and lunch there was bird watching, Khong and Stephen being the real birders, George and I the “accidental” birders, as we jokingly called ourselves.

In those days there was a social media site, called Multiply, where you could publish pictures and share them with family and friends.. I had my own account, and we decided to create a shared account “gangoffour” for our trips. Multiply was quite popular, but not profitable enough and after a couple of years they announced that the service. would be discontinued. I managed to download the content of all albums and wrote a script for my own Multiply website .Here is the first Gang of Four album: Trip up North, (13-16)-7-2006 We stayed two nights in Kulim and visited several birding locations in the region. One evening we went owling in Air Hitam Dalam with Dr Neoh and his wife. We also visited the canopy walkway at Sg Sedim and met more Penang birders at Ulu Paip. On our way back we visited Chan Ah Lak in Taiping. More details in the album.

A few weeks later we made a daytrip to Lagong. Joined this time by Gilbert and Yoke Sim, two birder friends. I had just bought a new camera, a Canon Powershot S3 with 12x zoom and image stabilising. Finally I could take bird pictures myself 😉

Our next adventure was a 3D2N trip to Taiping and the Cameron Highlands in August 2006. When I searched in my collection of photo albums for a report about this trip, I discovered that I had never written one, although I had taken almost 200 photos! Of course memories had become a bit vague but with the help of the other GoF members I managed to write a rather belated report: Taiping & CH, August 2006. The album contains 60 photos of birds, flowers, food etc. Our friend Henry Hor joined us on this trip. As I was the photographer, I am not in many photos myself. Here are a few.

With my new compact camera I managed to take this picture of a Black-crowned Night-heron. I was so happy with it that I published it on my Birding in Malaysia website, one of the few bird photos I contributed 😉 .

Sometimes the Gang of Four invited guests for a trip. It also happened that not all four of us were free, like on this day trip to Sekinchan, 22-1- 2007. Khong could not join, but as our “sifu” he provided us with a map of suitable birding locations. A few of the photos were taken by Stephen who also wrote some of the captions.

Several times the Gang of Four attended the Raptor Watch in Tanjung Tuan. Here is a report Raptor Watch 2007, This time we went with Gilbert and Yoke Sim, not sure if George was present. We hardly saw any raptors this time.

In May 2007 we went to Merapoh, where we stayed two nights in the Sg Relau visitor center. I didn’t take many pictures during this trip and forgot details. We were hoping to see the Pitta, but I don’t remember if we did. We had to prepare our own breakfast and lunch, for dinner we probably went to Gua Musang. But I still remember the pictures of two monitor lizards I took. Making love, I thought, until my friends explained that they were actually fighting for supremacy 😉 . .

In September we made a 3D2N trip to Langkawi. We were joined by Gilbert and Yoke Sim and this time also by Aric. We took a flight to Langkawi and rented a car there. Aric and I visited mainly waterfalls while the others went birding. Of course we enjoyed the food and the fellowship. Here is a report Langkawi (11-13)-9-2007.

Two more day trips in 2007. On 25 October we went to the coast, Jeram and Kuala Selangor. George did not join this time. .

On 7 November we went to Fraser’s Hill. this time without Khong. The smelly rubbish dump is a favourite location for bird watching! But even with my 12x zoom, taking bird pictures is not that easy.

Much easier to take pictures of flowers 😉 .

It was an active year for the Gang of Four with six events . Collecting data for this compilation, I noticed that Gilbert and Yoke Sim often joined, and that sometimes only three gang members were present. Stephen was always there, because he had a Pajero with enough space for even six pax!

The first trip in 2008 was to Taman Negara., 3D2N, and this time only Stephen and I represented the GoF . Richard, a hiking friend joined us. The trip is included here , because Stephen contributed quite a few photos to the report Taman Negara (7-9)-4-08. We did the canopy walk, visited a waterfall and had a very pleasant time. Here a few pictures, many more in the album.

A few weeks later a daytrip to Merlimau. I managed to take a few bird pictures.

In May we made an interesting trip to the Cameron Highlands via a new, still partly unfinished road. A detailed report here: New Road to the Cameron Highlands. George did not join, but Gilbert, Yoke Sim and Aric did. The new road was easily passable, and a nice adventure. We stayed overnight in Brinchang, had a traditional steamboat dinner and visited the Mossy Forest the next day before driving back home.

In August a daytrip to Sg Buloh with the complete Gang of Four. It was my lucky day, I took these pictures.

One month later an excursion to the Chiling waterfall, with Stephen, Khong and Robert, a Kiara friend. Stephen and Khong went birding while Robert and I explored the waterfall. Lunch in the WK restaurant in Batang Kali

On 23 November 2008 the Gang of Four attended the wedding of George’s daughter. It was a festive event, where we met many friends. Have a look at the album . Here is the Gang of Four in festive attire.

A few days later we made a trip to Kedah, staying overnight in Kuala Gula. Without George , but with Gilbert and Yoke Sim and this time our friend Zen joined us. I don’t remember if we did any birding, we had a rather dismal lunch in Tanjung Tualang, stayed in a kind of Airbnb and visited the Hua Seng Keng Temple, located in the middle of nowhere near Kuala Gula. Quite interesting, especially the depiction of the Underworld. I got sick on the way back home.

January 2009 we made another trip to Taiping, 3D2N. When I looked for a report, I discovered that I had never written one, same as in 2006. So I wrote a belated report, using a selction of the pictures, without much text, because I forgot details. We visited the Tanjung Tualang tin dredge, Papan, the SBS Buddhist Sanctuary, the Wild Boar temple in Kamunting., the Lake gardens and probably we did some birding. Here is the report, Taiping, January 2009.

In December that year we made a trip to Parit Jawa. Again without George, but with Gilbert and Yoke Sim. I had just bought a new camera, a Nikon D5000. Here is the album: Parit Jawa (2-3)-12-2009. Some of the bird photos taken during the trip, , S= Stephen, K=Khong, J=Jan.

The yearly number of GoF trips was getting less. On 14 March 2010 we made a short trip to Genting. You may wonder what Khong, Stephen and Gilbert are looking at in this photo.

I don’t remember if we have seen birds during this trip. I took only pictures of a crowd of beetles. The main reason to go to Genting was probably that there was a buffet promotion 😉

In that year we went to Taiping with Kiara friends: Mostly Makan, August 2010 , and we were invited for the wedding of Zen’s daughter, Zen’s wedding party 23-10-2010 , but those were not really GoF activities.

In December 2011 we had a “real” GoF trip, again to Taiping. Khong did not join. There is no album about this 2D1N trip, I don’t remember where we stayed overnight and where we had our food.

But we went birding. although I forgot the location

The last “official” GoF trip took place in May 2012. Again I discovered that I had never written a report about this trip. But I was able to reconstruct more or less what we did, using my pictures and also emails we exchanged after the trip. Here is the report: Taiping, May 2012. It was a 3D2N trip to Taiping, we stayed one night in the Beringin bungalow on Maxwell Hill.

Of course we met each other after this, but no more trips, as far as I remember. You will have noticed that after our maiden trip Gilbert and Yoke Sim were often taking part, making it more a Gang of Six. They were real birders, compared to the accidental birders George and me. The four real birders may have made more birding trips after 2012.

Around 2018, 6(!) years later, we decided that it would be nice to have lunch meetings every now and then. Khong, always the organiser, created a WhatsApp chat group GoF Classic, with the original Gang of Four as members. As one of our mottos was : Value For Money (VFM), the venues for our meetings were restaurants with attractive promotions.

Our first GoF-VFM lunch meeting was 16 November 2018 in the Skaters Cafe in the Royale Chulan hotel in Damansara. Notice how Stephen looks like a patriarch.

It was nice to meet and talk, so a few weeks later we had a second meeting, this time in the OUG Jade restaurant.

Our next meeting was in my condo in Damansara Perdana. I had promised my friends a lunch with traditional Dutch Pancakes.

In October 2019 we had a buffet lunch in the Kampung Kitchen, a restaurant in the Ibis Hotel, near KLCC.

And that was our latest meeting until now, a couple of months later Malaysia went into lockdown because of Covid-19.

Hopefully we can continue this tradition soon.

EMCO!

In May 2020 I published a blog post Lockdown!, about our experiences during the first Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia. More than one year has passed since then. THe MCO was extended several times, then replaced by the CMCO (Conditional) and later by the RMCO (Recovery), Confusing? There is also an FMCO (Full) and an EMCO (Enhanced). For a detailed review of all the MCO variations, with timetable, see the Wikipedia article Malaysian movement control order.

In the beginning of the pandemic there were hardly any cases in Malaysia, but from October 2020 onwards the situation deteriorated. We are now in the 5th “wave”.

During the Recovery MCO, starting in May 2020, international borders remained closed, but interstate travel was allowed. We visited the Cameron Highlands in July 2020, and Taiping twice, in August and October. When the situation worsened, we could not travel interstate anymore, but inter-district travel (within a state) was still allowed. I visited the Batang Kali waterfall in March 2021 and the Rawang Bypass in the first week of May, a few days before even inter-district travel was no longer allowed. We could still walk, but only in our own neighbourhood. I was very fortunate because from my doorstep i could explore the many trails in Bukit Lanjan. In May and June I walked with friends a few times a week, here is one of those hikes, A Backyard Hike.

Then, on 1 July, the backdoor government announced an EMCO from 3 to 16 July in the Klang Valley (most of Selangor and parts of Kuala Lumpur). .Enhanced or Extreme? Physical outdoor exercise, considered by experts to be safe and healthy, was banned. Everybody had to stay at home, only one person in a household could go out for essential shopping (food, pharmacy).

During those two weeks we have been staying at home almost permanently, blogging, listening to music, playing games. We decided to spend more time to prepare food ourselves and only occasionally order delivery food. Every day we took a picture of our dinner. The original plan was that Aric and I would share the cooking duties, but it turned out that he did most of the cooking, often very creatively. Here is a report.

2 July

On our last day of freedom, I hiked with friends to a viewpoint at Bukit Lanjan. We had a beer and enjoyed the nice weather.

3 July

Durian season was starting, we bought online a few containers of Red Prawn and Musang King. Expensive but delicious. We still had Tau Fu Fa in the fridge and for dinner I prepared Spaghetti Carbonara with salad and a glass of wine.

5 & 6 July

The next two days Aric was the cook, the first day Chinese food, the second day Western style.

Tom Yam Stir-fried Chicken with Veggies (Broccoli, Eggplant, Shiitake)

BBQ Cuttlefish with mashed potatoes and veggies.

Shopping

To get some physical exercise, I decided to go shopping on foot, not to the nearby Jaya grocer but to the TESCO, a roundtrip of about 4 km ;-). I did the same during the first lockdown, carrying a shopping bag to show the police that I was not hiking, haha. The TESCO car park was almost empty, the shops closed. Parts of TESCO also blocked, only a few customers. Eerie.

7 & 8 July

Two more dinners prepared by Aric. One Chinese and one Western cuisine.

Red Snapper with fermented bean paste & Chinese cabbage with fried dried Shrimp and Cuttlefish.

Baked Salmon with Lemon Sauce, Cheese-baked potato and salad.

8 July

Dutch food for a change. Pancakes. Two versions, an apple pancake and a spekpannekoek with bacon, traditionally served with syrup. A glass of beer was a good accompaniment.

9 & 10 July

Although dine-in was not allowed, many restaurants still prepared take-away food. We ordered a meal from our favourite restaurant: fried rice, sotong, tofu soup and veggies. The following day I decorated a frozen pizza from the Jaya grocer with extra mushrooms and cheese.

11 July

Aric’s birthday. Of course no visitors, but he was spoiled with three birthday cakes!

We had a traditional steamboat dinner, ordered online. It included the cooking pot, the soup and a variety of ingredients.

Vaccination

I got my 2nd Covid-19 dose (AstraZeneca) on 12 July at the PWTC in Kuala Lumpur. That is a different state (Federal Territory), but for vaccination you could cross the state border without a permit. No police check on our way. The organisation was very professional, separate stations for dose 1 and dose 2. No queue at all for dose 2, I was in and out in 35 minutes and that included the compulsory 15 minute wait after being injected.(right picture)

12 & 13 July

The steamboat dinner was so copious that we could not finish everything, there was enough for another meal. The next day Aric prepared Tom Yam chicken with green veggies

14 & 15 July

My turn, two Dutch meals. Pancakes again, but now prepared by me, the dough a bit thinner. I managed to turn the pancakes in the traditional way, by lifting he frying pan upward, so the pancake will turn over in the air. The next day I prepared Hutspot, a traditional winter stew in the Netherlands. Very simple recipe, carrots, onions and potatoes. Could not find the smoked sausage, but the sliced pork (from a can) was a good alternative. The pickled onions and gherkins are essential 😉

16 & 17 July

The last EMCO day, Aric surpassed himself with a fabulous meal of Giant Prawns in a Creamy Tom Yam sauce. The next day we ordered food, a Poké Bowl (Fish Bowl), healthy food, getting more and more popular in the Klang Valley.

End of EMCO

The EMCO was announced from 3 to 16 July, what would happen next? Looking at the daily number of new Covid-19 cases, I expected that it would be extended. On 3 July it was 6658 and on 16 July it had increased to 12541. But the government decided otherwise. EMCO was not extended, probably because it had no effect on the virus, only damaged the economy more.

So we went back to another MCO, actually not that much different. A few more shops could reopen (Aric’s laundry shop for example), two people from a household could go shopping instead of only one. Still no inter-district travel.

But for me a very important difference: Hiking around your house was allowed again. I waited a few days , because this government has a reputation of flip-flopping.

19 July

What a pleasure it was to hike again. For the time being I will hike on my own, keeping a safe distance to everybody. It is clear that they virus is endemic now, everybody can be a carrier, I am fully vaccinated now, but even that gives no 100% protection.

I had made myself a thermos with coffee and enjoyed my cuppa at the Hard Rock. I had to use the timer of my phone, that’s why I look so serious 😉

Two weeks of extreme lockdown. Of course we did more than eat, eat, eat. I listened to a lot of music, click on the image to listen to my favourite composer.

I re-discovered the films of Buster Keaton Here is his hilarious movie Our Hospitality (1923). Click on the image to watch the movie.

And I spent much time at my laptop. Here is a blog I published about the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme and his painting the Naked Truth (1896). Click on the image to read why I wrote a blog about the painting.

I did a lot of gaming too, for my mental health. Here are two of my favourite games, Hay Day and Homescapes.

The Covid-19 situation in Malaysia is still getting worse every day.

The Naked Truth

Last week one of my friends forwarded me an “old poem” about the Lie and the Truth, taking a bath together. The Lie runs away with the clothes of the Truth, leaving her naked. The poem was supposed to be written by Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1896. A quick Google search showed that Gérôme was actually a French painter who had, in 1896, created a painting Truth coming from the well armed with her whip to chastise mankind. But he didn’t write the poem, as I replied to my friend. Here are the WhatsApp messages.

I decided to write a blog about the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, the Naked Truth and the Well.

Gérôme lived from 1824 until 1904. In 1840, 16 year old, he moved to Paris where he got his training in what often is called Academic Art, because it was taught in the art academies of Europe, especially the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 1846 he painted The Cockfight which won him a prize and launched his career.

He became one of the most officially honored and financially successful French artists of the second half of the 19th century. Subjects from Roman and Greek antiquity, but also from the Middle-East where he traveled extensively. His paintings are pleasing to the eye, no wonder that they were sold easily. As a result they can be found all over the world, often in private collections. Here are a few of his paintings to give an impression.

Even today you can buy copies of his paintings, here is a website that has copies of 234 (!) Gérôme paintings for sale. Click on the screenshot to view the website. Interested in your own copy of Truth coming from the Well? You can order it in 14 different formats, from 18″ x 24″ ($259) to 80″ x 104″ ($898) , frame not included.

At the end of his life he became a very vocal opponent of the upcoming impressionist school of painting. Interest in the “sterile”, “academic” style of painting faded but came back in the second half of the 20th century. The Gare d’Orsay museum in Paris is dedicated to 19th century art and one of my favourites. In 2010 the museum organised a retrospective exhibition The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme which I would have liked to see.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the story about Truth and Lie taking a bath is fake, a fabrication. But why is Truth coming out of her well? Gerome created several paintings about it. In two of the paintings she is also holding a mirror.

In Roman mythology Veritas (Truth) was a goddess, the daughter of Saturn. From the Wikipedia article Veritas : “The elusive goddess is said to have hidden in the bottom of a holy well” and “She is depicted both as a virgin dressed in white and as the “naked truth” (nuda veritas) holding a hand mirror

The expression :naked truth” can be found in Ode 1.24 by Horatius, the famous Roman poet (65-8 BC). According to the Greek philosopher Demokritos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), knowledge of truth is difficult, since perception through our senses is subjective. In reality we know nothing, for truth is in the depths. No mention of a (holy) well. I have not been able to find any depiction of Veritas in Roman/Greek antiquity on the Internet.

Fortunately I found this webpage: Painting Truth: When did she emerge from a well? The page is part of a fascinating website , created and maintained by Howard Oakley, a developer of Mac software with a huge interest in paintings. The page is so well written and complete, that I will only summarize the content here.

At the end of the 19th century “Truth climbing from a Well” suddenly became a popular subject for painting. It has been suggested that this was related to the infamous Dreyfus affair, where the army officer Dreyfus was falsely accused (and convicted) of treason. But Oakley shows that the interest started earlier already. In fact , he found that the earliest painting with Truth and a Well dates back to the 16th century, about the same period that the expression “the naked truth” got used in the way we still do nowadays. Here is that painting, An Allegory of Truth and Time, by Carracci (1560-1609).

Oakley has written many more pages about Gérôme : Too real: the narrative paintings of Jean-Léon Gérôme .All of them are worth reading, as are the numerous pages about other art topics.

To summarise this post, Truth and the abyss where she resides had a philosophical background, and nothing to do with a (holy) well, from where she emerges. I have found nothing about a naked truth in antiquity except the reference by Horatius. It is only in Western art that the topic appears in the 16th century, culminating at the end of the 19th century. There is sometimes a mirror, but never a bathing encounter with Falsehood stealing her clothes 😉

When you Google for truth, lie, bath, you get quite a few hits. Often it is a 19th century legend, or a Roman fable. Sometimes Truth and Lie are twin brothers, swimming a river.

Rinaldo

Late in 1710 Georg Friedrich Händel arrived in London. A few months later, on 24 February 1711, his opera Rinaldo had its premiere, one day before his 26th birthday. It was a great success, he decided to stay in England, dropped the umlaut in his name and became a naturalised Englishman in 1727,

Here are two portraits of Handel, left circa 1710, right around 1726

I got interested in Handel’s operas, when I was writing a blog about the only opera written by Domenico Scarlatti in 1703, An opera and some history. The history part is about Roman emperor Nero and his mistress Poppaea. History was a popular subject for operas in those days and a few years later Handel wrote his first major opera Agrippina (Nero’s mother). Premiere was in December 1709 in Venice, it was very successful and established the international reputation of 24 year old Handel. Many YouTube recordings exist, here is my favourite (click on the image to watch the recording).

Rinaldo also has a historical background, the First Crusade (1096-1099) The objective of this religious war was the recovery of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. In 1591 the Italian poet Torquato Tasso wrote an epic and romantic poem Gerusalemme liberata about the liberation of Jerusalem. It is epic, containing 1917 stanzas of 8 lines each. And also romantic, the historical background is mixed with several love stories.

The story of Rinaldo and Armida is the most famous one. Rinaldo is a handsome brave crusader knight and Armida a powerful witch, trying to destroy the Christian army. When she meets a sleeping Rinaldo and wants to kill him, she falls in love with the young man and absconds him to her magical island. Rinaldo becomes her willing prisoner and falls in love with her as well. The army sends two friends, Carlo and Ubaldo, to remind him of his duty. Finally they convince Rinaldo to abandon Armida and come back to the war.

Not surprisingly it became a favourite subject for artists. The left painting shows Armida, dagger in her hand, falling in love. The middle one shows a lovesick Rinaldo with Armida on her island and in the right painting the two soldiers have convinced Rinaldo to come back, the boat is waiting already..

If you think that this introduction will make the opera (written in Italian) easier to understand, you are wrong. The story is tweaked completely. Yes, Goffredo is the leader of the Christian army and Rinaldo is the heroic warrior. But the opera gives Goffredo a daughter, Almirena, who will become Rinaldo’s bride after the war is won. And the witch Armida is the queen of Damascus in a love relationship with Argante, the king of Jerusalem. Here is a synopsis of the opera , taken from the very informative website opera-arias.com.

ACT I

The Christian army, led by Goffredo, is besieging the city of Jerusalem. If the city is taken, then the Christian warrior Rinaldo will be free to marry Goffredo’s daughter Almirena.
In an audience with Goffredo, Argante, the king of Jerusalem, is granted a three-day halt to hostilities. The sorceress Armida, queen of Damascus, descends from the skies and tells her lover Argante that their only hope of victory is the destruction of Rinaldo.
As Rinaldo and Almirena express their love for each other, Armida snatches Almirena away. Goffredo and his brother Eustazio discover the distraught Rinaldo. Eustazio suggests seeking the help of a Christian sorcerer who lives in a cave at the foot of a mountain.

ACT II

Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo are wandering the seashore searching for the sorcerer when a spirit lures Rinaldo on board a ship by claiming to be sent by Almirena.
In a garden of Armida’s palace garden, Argante reveals his love for Almirena and offers to help her, but she repulses him.
When Rinaldo arrives, Armida’s initial triumph over him turns to love, but she is rejected. Armida transforms herself into the guise of Almirena, but Rinaldo again rejects her, fleeing when he discovers her trickery.
Armida again disguises herself as Almirena, but this time Argante enters and inadvertently reveals his feeIings for Almirena. Armida is outraged and swears revenge.

ACT III

Goffredo and Eustazio approach the mountain with Armida’s palace at its summit and the sorcerer’s cave at its foot. The sorcerer tells them that Almirena and Rinaldo are held by Armida, and the two warriors set off with two magic wands as protection.
Armida is about to stab Almirena, but Rinaldo rushes to protect her. Goffredo and Eustazio enter and with their wands transform the enchanted garden into a desert. Armida disappears. Argante attempts to rally his generals, and he and Armida are reconciled.
Battle commences, the Christians prevail and the two lovers are reunited. Argante and Armida are captured and, realizing the error of their ways, embrace the Christian faith.

You will agree that this “strange” plot has no resemblance to Tasso’s story of Rinaldo and Armida. Actually this plot was written by Aaron Hill, at that time the manager of the Queen’s Theatre in Hay Market, He was of the same age as Handel and wanted a “hit” for his theatre. Italian opera was becoming popular in London, famous Italian singers were available and his theatre could provide spectacular effects. Giacomo Rossi translated the libretto in Italian and Handel wrote the music. Rinaldo was the result. . All this within a couple of months (or even weeks, although that may be anecdotal) !

A copy of the original Rinaldo “booklet” still exists and is fascinating reading. It contains the text of the opera, both in Italian and in English and has a foreword written by Hill. Here is the foreword. Notice how Hill defends the changes in Tasso’s original story and argues that an opera should give equal pleasure to both senses.

Here is the cast of the first performance. The roles of Rinaldo , Eustazio were sung by castrati, while the part of Goffredo was sung by a female contralto (in travesty). All singers were Italian, the two castrati were so famous that they had nicknames, Niccolini and Valentini. The two sopranos were also prima donnas (and bitter rivals).

Name Role Voice Singer
Goffredo leader of the First Crusade contralto (en travesti) Francesca Vanini-Boschi
Rinaldo a nobleman of the House of Este alto castrato Nicolò Grimaldi (“Nicolini”)
Almirena daughter of Goffredo soprano Isabella Girardeau
Eustazio brother to Goffredo alto castrato Valentino Urbani (“Valentini”)
Argante Saracen king of Jerusalem bass Giuseppe Boschi
Armida Queen of Damascus, Argante’s mistress  soprano Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti
Mago a Christian magician alto castrato Giuseppe Cassani

It must have been a spectacular performance. The libretto contains very detailed stage instructions. Here are a few from ACT III, where Goffredo and Eustazio arrive at the cave of the Mago.

Notice in how much detail the stage is described. A mountain rising from the front of the stage to the utmost height of the most backward part of the stage. Rocks , caves and waterfalls. A castle on top,” guarded by a great number of spirits“. The audience must have been gasping in awe.

The Mago warns them that they can not attack the castle without his help, but still they try. And fail. Many soldiers are swallowed by the mountain, “with thunder, lightning and amazing noises“.

The Mago gives them magical wands and that helps. When they touch the gate of the castle, the whole mountain disappears and Goffredo and Eustazio find them selves clinging to a rock in the middle of a sea.

No wonder that the opera was a success. In the period until 1711-1717 it was performed 47 times, more than any other opera in the Queen’s theatre, Handel revised the opera in 1731, it was also performed abroad a few times but soon it went into oblivion. Only more than 200 year later, in 1954, there was a performance during a Handel festival in Germany. More about the performance history here.

On YouTube I have found only three complete video recordings of Rinaldo. Here is a short description of them.

The first one is a performance in Prague, directed by Václav Luks in 2009. Here is a screenshot , click on it to watch the opera. For me the least attractive of the three that I have seen. In the first place the cast. Of course there are no more castrati nowadays, but the parts of Rinaldo and Eustazio are sung here by mezzo-sopranos instead of by countertenors. Goffredo too is sung by a mezzo-soprano and not by a contralto. The mise-en-scène is very static, the singers face the audience almost permanently, only move a lot their hands and fingers. Here is a (rather negative) review. The YouTube has French subtitles, which makes it easier to follow the plot.

In 1985 Pier Luigi Pizzi directed the 1731 version of Rinaldo which became quite popular and was repeated several times. Here is a screenshot from the 2012 performance in Ravenna, click on the image to watch the opera. The role of Eustazio has been deleted, Goffredo is sung by a tenor and Rinaldo by a mezzo-soprano. The screenshot shows Goffredo, Almirena and Rinaldo. For reasons unclear to me, Almirena and Rinaldo are dressed almost identically. I found the mise-en-scene weird, the singers don’t walk around themselves but are moved by invisible helpers while seated on a horse, sitting in a boat or standing on a platform. No subtitles. Here is a critical review.

The first time I listened to Rinaldo, was on YouTube, an audio recording of a 2002 performance directed by René Jacobs. Very positive reviews. There is another audio recording , 1999, directed by Christopher Hogwood. Both still available as audio-CD.

I got interested how the opera was staged and found a video recording of a 2001 performance in Munich, by the Bayerische Staatsoper. It was on YouTube for some time, then it disappeared, probably because of copyright issues. Now it is back again, but for how long?

What an absurd, crazy mise-en-scène, was my first reaction. But I have changed my opinion, after reading the libretto and watching the other recordings. Yes, It is a parody of the original plot. But the plot deserves that. Example: in Act III, after the crusaders have won the battle of Jerusalem, Argante and Armida unexpectedly decide to become Christian. That Goffredo often changes his dress into a clerical robe fits into an implausible plot. There are many slapstick elements in this version, making Rinaldo a pleasure for the ears AND the eyes (as was Aaron Hill’s origina intention)

Here are screenshots from the three YouTube videos, click to watch. Subtitles in English,

Act I From left to right Rinaldo, Goffredo and Eustazio (all three countertenors) and Almirena as a cheerleader (!), encouraging Rinaldo to fight

Act II In her magic castle Armida tries to seduce Rinaldo. She tries twice to take the form of Almirena. The right wall, with a cardboard figure and a gap in the wall is used in a really brilliant way to confuse Rinaldo.

Act III The Christian magician (countertenor, cast as a voodoo priest) has given Goffredo and Eustazio magic wands to enter the enchanted castle.

In Act III the battle takes place between the two armies. In Hill’s stage directions there are soldiers and Handel wrote martial music to be played during the fighting. The solution found in this modern performance is inventive and ingenious, a real pleasure for the eyes.

Not surprisingly this performance received mixed reviews .. You either love or hate this “camp” version. It is clear that I love it 😉 .

Actually I am not a real opera fan. Many of the famous operas (by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini etc) do not appeal to me. But I love Baroque operas (and of course Mozart), Handel was a prolific composer, he wrote 42 operas, I have listened to only a few of them. So there still will be a lot of beautiful music to enjoy!

We are Star Children

Twelve years ago I started an ambitious project, a series of webpages to explain that we can be considered to be Star Children, in the sense that all the atoms forming our body (with the exception of hydrogen), have been formed in the interior of stars.

The project was too ambitious, here is a screenshot of he small part I managed to complete. It is still available on my website. Click on the screenshot to have a look.

An adult human body (70 kg) contains roughly 7×1027 atoms. Written out a 7 with 27 zeros: 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That is a lot, actually much more than the estimated number of stars in the observable universe (1023-1024).

Most of those atoms are hydrogen atoms. The human body consists roughly of 60% water and each water molecule contains 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. Oxygen comes second and carbon third. Together with nitrogen these four elements form more than 99% of the human body. For the graphs I have used data from the Wikipedia article Composition of the Human Body. Most of the graphs you find on the Internet give mass percentages, in that case oxygen takes first place. I prefer a representation in atomic percentages.

In this graph some of the other elements are shown. About 25 elements are considered to be essential for human life, some in minuscule percentages. For example Cobalt (in vitamin B12) contributes only 3.0×10−7 %

How, where and when were all these elements formed? The scientific name for the formation of the various elements is called nucleosynthesis.

Let’s start with the beginning, the Big Bang.

About 13.77 billion year ago our Universe came into being. That is the present estimate, with an uncertainty of ± 40 million year. It was unbelievably dense and hot, a “soup” of quarks gluons and photons. Immediately it started expanding and cooling and after a few minutes protons and neutrons could form. Some of these protons and neutrons fused into alpha particles ( two protons and two neutrons) until after about 20 minutes the temperature was too low for fusion.

But still way too hot for (neutral) atoms to form, it was a plasma (protons, alpha particles and electrons). If an electron and a nucleus would combine, the photons would immediately break it up again. Only after ~380.000 year, when the temperature had dropped to ~ 3000 K, electrons could recombine with protons and alpha particles to form H and He atoms. Roughly about 92% hydrogen atoms and 8% helium atoms. (usually mass percentages are given, 25% He and 75% H).

From that time onwards the photons did not interact anymore with matter, the universe was still bathing in an orange glow (3000K) but as the universe kept expanding and cooling, this radiation went from visible light to infrared , microwave etc. It is what we now still detect as the cosmic background radiation at a temperature of 2.275 K. About 1 million year after the Big Bang, the universe was COMPLETELY DARK!

These cosmic Dark Ages lasted for many million years. But small fluctuations in matter density caused gravity to form concentrations of matter. Inside these matter concentrations the temperature was rising until a level (many millions of degrees) that fission became possible again. The first stars were born and there was again light in the universe. Later also galaxies developed and after about 1 billion years the universe was basically like it is now.

Here is an impression of the development of the universe.

We will now concentrate on the evolution of these stars. First a few general remarks. Basically everything that happens in the universe is the result of four fundamental forces.

  1. The strong nuclear force between nucleons, only active when the nucleons are very close together,”short-range”
  2. The electromagnetic force, ~100 times weaker, but “long range”, holds atoms together.
  3. The weak nuclear force, ~ 1 million times weaker, “short-range”, responsible for radioactivity.
  4. The gravitational force, extremely weak, ~1039 times weaker, “long-range”.

Back to the new-born star. All four forces are active here. The gravitational force tries to contract the star further. The strong force generates counter pressure, by fusing nucleons together, but those nucleons need to move fast (= high temperature) to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion. The weak nuclear force is needed to transform protons into neutrons. Here is how four protons can produce an alpha particle. Other options are also possible.

Our Sun was born 4.6 billion years ago as a relatively small star, a yellow dwarf. At the moment it is still “burning” hydrogen in its core and will continue to do that for another 5 billion years.

More massive stars will burn a lot faster to counteract gravity. The first stars may have had masses a few hundred times the solar mass, finishing the hydrogen it its core in only a few million years. What next? The core will contract and the temperature will increase. You might expect that fusion would start of two alpha particles into Beryllium (4 protons and 4 neutrons). But there is a problem, that Be isotope is not stable , it has a half live of only 8×10−17 s and decays back into two alpha particles. What will happen occasionally is that during its short lifetime, another alpha particle will collide and form Carbon (6p and 6 n). This is called the triple-alpha process and I will give more details in a separate appendix.

When this helium burning starts in the core, hydrogen burning will still continue in a shell around the core.

In the next phase, when the carbon core has been formed, carbon nuclei will fuse with alpha particles into Oxygen (8p and 8n) surrounded by a helium burning shell. And so on, Neon, Magnesium, Silicon etc. These fusion processes generate less energy than the hydrogen fusion and when iron is reached the fusion stops, fusion to heavier elements would cost energy! The star looks like an onion with its skins.

When there is no more energy to counteract gravity, the star will die in a spectacular fashion, releasing so much energy that for a short time it can be brighter than a whole galaxy. It is called a supernova. A large part of its mass will be ejected into the surrounding space and in the cataclysmic explosion many of the elements heaver than iron are formed. What remains of the star is a neutron star or a black hole.

Recently I have written a blog about the Witch’s Broom nebula, the remnants of a supernova explosion. More details in that blog. The most famous of these supernova remnants is the Crab Nebula. The supernova has been recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054. The center of the nebula contains a neutron star.

Here are a few more examples. They are all false-color images (see my Witch’s Broom blog). Here is a List of Supernova Remnants.

As a result of these supernova explosions the clouds of interstellar gas became more and more “polluted”, no longer consisting of only hydrogen and helium. . It is from these clouds that new stars are born. For example our Sun, 4.9 billion year ago. Still mostly hydrogen and helium but about 0.1 % of the other elements. The big gas planets are also mostly H and He, but the rocky inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) consist mainly of this 0,1 % other elements, as the hydrogen and helium have been “blown” away by the Sun.

Here is Earth, our Blue Marble, the iconic picture was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 in 1972. Basically all its atoms have been forged in the interior of stars.

And the same holds for all living creatures, including us. Life on Earth is carbon-based, and each carbon atom has been fused in the interior of a star through the triple-alpha process.

We are Star Children
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APPENDIX

The energy that is released when particles are fused is called the binding energy of that particle. For nuclear processes this energy is usually given in MeV (Million electronVolt). 1 MeV = 1.6×10-13 Joule. An alpha particle has a binding energy is 28.3 MeV. It is this (large) energy which generates pressure to counteract gravity in the interior of stars.

To fuse two alpha particles into beryllium is a different story. You have to add energy (it has a negative binding energy). Not much, 0.092 MeV, but as a result it is unstable, it will decay in two alpha particles. When the British astronomer Fred Hoyle in the 1950s studied the process how elements were formed in the interior of stars, he and others discovered this bottleneck.

During its short lifetime beryllium may fuse with another alpha particle into carbon and that will release energy, 7.367 MeV. The fiery furnace in the core of the star where fusion occurs would contribute another 0.3 MeV. Hoyle calculated that in most cases this “excited” carbon nucleus will decay into alpha particles instead of releasing the extra energy as gamma rays and settling down in its ground state. It could not explain the large amount of carbon found iin the universe.

UNLESS the carbon nucleus would have a so called resonance at an energy of ~7.7 MeV, Think about a soprano who can break a glass by letting it resonate with the frequency of her singing! But at that time no such resonance in the carbon nucleus was known.

Hoyle convinced his friend and colleague William Fowler, an experimental nuclear physicist, to search for such a resonance . And they found this excited level exactly at the energy predicted by Hoyle. This resonance level is now called the Hoyle state,

Was this a coincidence? Without this resonance level, carbon would not have been formed and carbon-based life would have been impossible.

Do we live in a Fine-tuned Universe ? Is the universe custom-made for “us” , the Anthropic Principle . Food for thought 😉