Who Sings It Best?

Recently I discovered a YouTube channel Baroque and Beyond, created by someone who in the ABOUT section writes: My channel mostly focuses on Baroque operatic music. You may know by now that I am very interested in Baroque Operas, so I immediately subscribed to this channel. It is a real treasure trove.

One playlist of the channel, containing more than 60 videos, is named Who sings it best? Each video has several recordings of the same aria, sung by different singers. Of course “best” must not be taken seriously, they all are professionals, but it is interesting to compare them, and each music lover will have her/his own preference.

Here are a few of the singers. Top row, from left tp right Max Emanuel Cenčić, Sara Mingardo, Jakub Józef Orliński, and Sonia Prina. Bottom row, from left to right Marijana Mijanovic, Philippe Jaroussky, Nathalie Stutzmann and Franco Fagioli.

What they have in common is that their vocal range is basically the same! The men are countertenors, the women contraltos. Wikipedia gives for both an identical vocal range, two octaves, here marked in green. on a keyboard, the key with a dot is the central C-key.

In Baroque operas, the leading male roles were almost never sung by a tenor or a bass, but generally by a castrato or a contralto in a “trouser role“. As there are no castrati anymore, countertenors have taken their place. That is why in many of the Who Sings It Best videos you can listen to a mixture of countertenors and contraltos.

Here is an example, Who sings Vivaldi’s “Vedrò con mio diletto” best?, sung by two countertenors, two contraltos and one mezzo-soprano. In the opera .Il Giustino (1724) the emperor Anastasius sings this aria as a love song for his wife Ariadne. Wouldn’t you expect a tenor to play this role?

In Handel’s opera Rodelinda (1725) the role of king Bertarido was originally sung by an alto castrato. His famous aria “Dove sei, amato bene” is a love song for his wife Rodelinda. In Who sings Händel’s “Dove sei, amato bene” best? it is sung by five countertenors. If you like contrasts, listen also to this recording by mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. Not my favourite 😉

Here is an aria from another Handel opera, Oreste (1734). The opera is a so-called “pasticcio” in which Handel assembled arias from his earlier operas into a new one. In this case the story of Orestes and his sister Iphigeneia. In 1734 Orestes was sung by a famous castrato. In Who sings Händel’s “Agitato da fiere tempeste” best? , the aria is sung by three countertenors and two contraltos, from left to right Orlinski, Mingardo, Stutzmann, Jaroussky and Fagioli.

Finally here is an aria sung by another king in Vivaldi’s opera Farnace (1727) , Farnace, King of Pontus, has been defeated by the Romans and commands his wife to kill their son, so he will not fall in the hands of the victors. No love song, but a tragic aria, originally sung by a contralto en travesti. Here are the lyrics of the aria, in an English translation.

Cold in every vein
I feel the blood flow
The shadow of the lifeless son
I am filled with terror

And for my greater pain
I see I was cruel
To an innocent soul
At the heart of my heart

In Who sings Vivaldi’s “Gelido in ogni vena” best? this beautiful aria is performed by two countertenors, a contralto, a mezzo-sorano, a soprano and even a tenor!. Compare which recording you prefer.

Actually the best recording (in my opinion) is not in this list. Listen to Countertenor Christopher Lowrey. Absolutely breathtaking, it gives me goosebumps.

I will end this blog with a few Who Sings It Best videos that don’t fit in the countertenor/contralto category.. For a variety of reasons.

In Who sings Porpora’s “Torbido intorno al core” best? Two countertenors and a contralto sing an aria from Porpora’s opera Meride e Selinunte (1727) , But here they sing an aria of Ericlea, a female!. In those days the modern concept of gender identity probably was not yet developed ;-). Porpora was famous in his days,, see my blog Countertenors and Castrati, for more info about him..

Then there is Who sings Vivaldi’s “Armatae face et anguibus” best?, The aria is from Vivaldi’s oratorio Juditah Triumphans (1717), performed in this video by sopranos and mezzos, but in the libretto the aria is sung by Vagaus, a eunuch! He sings this furious aria when he discovers that Juditha has murdered his master Holoferenes in his sleep. The Who Sings it Best videos are actually audios. Watch here the fury of Cecilia Bartoli in a real video.

And finally Who sings Vivaldi’s “Cum dederit” best? Vivaldi composed Nisi Dominus between 1703 and 1739. Not an opera and Cum Dederit is not an aria. Sung in the video by four countertenors and two mezzo-sopranos. Surprisingly the best recording (again in my opinion) is left out! Watch here Andreas Scholl

CNY 2022

On 1 February the Chinese year of the Tiger started. As a preparation for a New Year, Chinese buy new clothes and have a haircut. We did the same, in the left picture I am standing in a shopping center next to my own zodiac sign.

A 29 January the management of our condo had organised a simple Lion Dance.at our swimming pool. Fun for the kids.

The traditional wish for CNY is Gong Xi Fa Cai (in Mandarin, “Congratulations and may you be prosperous”). Here is my CNY wish, from our new penthouse.

On CNY-eve, 31 January, we went back to Parit Baru, Aric’s hometown. That is a yearly tradition, but last year it was impossible because of the Covid 19 pandemic and travel was very limited. Click here for a report about CNY 2020. .

This year travel was allowed again and we were fully vaccinated, but it was still advised anyway to take a Covid antigen test. Already on our way, we heard that one of Aric’s brothers had tested positive, although vaccinated. So we decided also to take a test and started looking for a pharmacy. Many were closed, but we found one in Tanjung Karang. Aric bought two test kits and we took the test in our parked car. ;-). Fortunately we were both negative.

We arrived in Parit Baru in the afternoon.. Here is a Google Earh map of the village and its location in the most northern part of Selangor. . The Bernam River forms the boundary with Perak. Parit Baru is surrounded by fishing villages.

There was time to take some photos of the surroundings. Nothing spectacular, just quiet agricultural countryside.

Then it was time for the CNY-eve dinner, traditional steamboat. Three families live in the kampung house, so dinner was in several sessions.

.Here is the kampong house. It may be about 70 years old. The families run a successful hardware and timber store. It is basically a wooden house, only the front façade and a few other parts are in stone.

Posing in front of the house. Alone and with the children of one of Aric’s cousins. Notice how they hold puppies, the one held by the girl has just opened it eyes.

The three families have their own rooms, but share the common living room and the kitchen. Even after Aric’s parents passed away, a couple of years ago, the setup is still the same.

Although the families share the kitchen, they have their own sink, fridge, washing machine. It might be a unique construction. In this photo, Aric’s aunties to the left and Aei Ling, his sister to the right.

The house is surrounded by a big garden, with fruit trees and flower bushes.

It is a tradition that people give ang pow to relatives and friends. This time we also did it. I received myself several red envelopes with money inside 😉 The picture at the right shows that I am getting old. Sunglasses to protect my eyes and clip-on reading glasses.

In the afternoon we drove around a bit, to take pictures

Another steamboat dinner, this time with Ong (Aric’s brother in law) and nephews and nieces. Seafood can not be more fresh than here!

A curious visitor.

A few of my waterfall friends go back with CNY to their hometown Teluk Intan and several times we have used day three of the CNY to make a trip to a new/remote waterfall in the region. I decided not to join this year, feeling less confident in the jungle nowadays. Our last trip was in 2017 and not successful, here is the report : An unsuccessful waterfall trip so it was decided to give this Lata Jala another try. This time my gang reached the fall.

The first picture shows my “gang”, from left to right Siang Hui, Teoh, Nick and Joshua (a new member). Lata Jala,, in the middle, is an impressive unspoiled waterfall. The right picture shows an aerial photo of the fall, taken by Joshua’s drone.

Aric and I explore a bit more the countryside around Parit Baru. This is the Bernam river. Across the river is Perak.

Left a Taoist temple in Sg Lang, one of the Chinese fishing villages. Right a young mangrove seedling, trying to survive. Notice the numerous holes, made by tiny crabs

Back in Parit Baru, a few more family photos. A group of young ladies, Aei Ling with two cute young kids and Ong teaching his son how to ride a bike.

In the evening there was a party with yee sang and a lucky draw,

And of course there were lots of firework.

The next morning I went to the village with Ong for breakfast with Roti Tampal. I knew about Roti Telur but this was new for me. Egg on top, not inside

Before we left there was another praying session..

A few days later, there was another celebration, in Puchong with Ong and his family, He is Hokkien and for the Hokkien community day 9 of the CNY is an important date. It is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the God of Heaven. Again there was yee sang.

And there were drinks too 😉 Ong and have a drink of the (in)famous Timah whisky and the younger generation shares a bottle of wine. Playing cards, singing karaoke, a very nice evening.

An offering table is prepared for the God of Heaven, and joss sticks are lit.

At midnight there is a lot of firework. Note how I am protecting my ears.

The ceremony ends with the burning of Joss papers.

The Gang of Four at Kampar

In a recent blog, The Gang of Four, I wrote about the fellowship of Khong, Stephen, George and me, and the many trips we made during the past 15 years. At the end of that blog I wrote that we had not organised any activity during the Covid-19 pandemic and that we were hoping to continue the tradition soon.

Although the pandemic is not over, the situation in Malaysia became better during the last months and in November we organised our first outing since 2019. We had planned to visit a colonial mansion in Rasa, but unfortunately it was closed..

However, we had a sumptuous lunch at the WK restaurant in Ulu Yam.

Our next outing was on 20 January and our destination was Kampar. A two hour drive from KL, so we left early . First we had breakfast in the huge Kampar Medan Selera. I had a very tasty Chee Cheong Fun, Hong Kong style.

After our breakfast we visited the Kinta Tin Mining Museum. I had visited the museum in 2018, see my album Versatile Perak, for my friends it was new. It is an attractive museum dedicated to open tin mining, using gravel pumps. Lots of old machinery, many dioramas.

Recently I had come in contact with Jacky Chew, the curator of the museum regarding some heritage issues. It was nice to meet him now in person. He is very knowledgeable about the history of tin mining.

Our next destination was the Battle of Kampar Heritage trail. The Battle of Kampar was a valiant attempt of the British Commonwealth forces to slow down the advance of the Japanese Imperial army in December 1941. Jacky Chew told us that the trail started next to a factory, north of Kampar old town. We found the factory and asked for further directions.

Mr Chee, the owner of the plant, pointed out where the trail started and also explained to us what they were doing in the factory. Basically it is a mineral processing industry. More info here. Very interesting and an unexpected bonus of our trip.

The trail starts next to the factory and was doable for us seniors ;-). Clearly signposted.

There is a memorial with info about the battle.

The wreaths in front of the memorial were put there a few weeks ago, at the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Kampar.

From the memorial a trail leads to a few remains of the battle field, a bunker, a trench and the location of the former command post.

Here is a view from the Green Ridge. Not easy to imagine that this was a battlefield where hundreds of soldiers died, eighty years ago.

We went back to the old town for our last destination. After the success of the mural art of Zacharevic in Penang, mural art has been mushrooming all over Malaysia. KL, Ipoh, Gopeng to name a few. And now Kampar as well. The works of art are concentrated in a small lorong (alley) between the two main roads of old town. The quality is not always very good, but at least it is colorful.

Here is a collection of pictures.

Kampar has also quite a lot of heritage architecture, but there was no time to explore as we were getting hungry. Our plan was to have lunch in Sungkai , at the Choy Kee restaurant, but we found it closed, maybe we were too late. So we continued to Slim River, the Fook Seng restaurant, a favourite of Stephen.

We had pork knuckle, herbal chicken, tofu and bean sprouts. With drinks and rice the bill was RM 102. Value for Money VMF), one of the tenets of the Gang of Four 😉

We are already looking forward to our next outing!

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.

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!

Melbourne 2015

In February 2015 Aric and I visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. We had a wonderful time, I took almost 800 pictures, but I never wrote a report about it. It is now six years later, details about our trip have become vague. Here is a belated blog about that visit.

They are living in a nice bungalow in the Dandenong hills, not far from Melbourne.

The first day we relaxed, did some shopping for the dinner. All of us love food and Roger is a good cook. He knows that we are addicted to oysters, look at his face as he is watching how Aric is enjoying one 😉 .

The next day we went to Melbourne, to the Prahran Market, a historical market, founded in the 1860s and relocated to its present location in 1881. Lots of fresh produce and also many cafes. Roger did some shopping for the dinner.

We had coffee with cake and later lunch with mussels.

Aric had discovered on the Internet a colorful beach “village”, Brighton Beach, and in the afternoon we visited it. A perfect location for photographers.

That evening again an exquisite seafood dinner.

The next day we started a 5D4N trip to the region in Victoria north of Melbourne. We visited a goldmine in Bendigo, made a paddle steamer trip in Echuca, had lost of nice food and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. I wrote a separate blog about this trip, Victoria Trip 2015. Here is a sketch of our itinerary.

After we returned from this trip, we visited the RSL Club of Upwey-Belgrave. Roger is a member and regular visitor of this typical Australian phenomenon. Although the background is military, it now functions primarily as a pub.

The restaurant in the RSL was leased to a chef who prepared an exquisite dinner.

After the busy trip we relaxed the next day. They have a nice garden and Roger prepared the jacuzzi, where we spent a lazy afternoon. They have now become Australians and are clearly proud of it 😉

We had dinner at home. Host and hostess busy in the kitchen and decanting the wine.

We started with oysters

Main course were lamb cutlets. Because Roger knew that lamb was not Aric’s favourite, he prepared fish especially for him!

The next day we went on our own to Melbourne, using public transport. This is the iconic Victoria station (1888)

We started with coffee and cake at Brunetti’s a well-known patisserie in Melbourne. One of their specialities is the Baba Rum and of course Aric had to try it.

Yarn Bombing , also know as Graffiti Knitting, where trees and street objects are decorated with knitted or crocheted yarn, was quite popular in Melbourne during our visit. It gave the street a friendly atmosphere.

We had a look at two churches , the St. Michael’s Uniting Church (1866)

And St Paul’s Cathedral (1891)

This is the former State Theatre, built 1929 in Moorish Revival style.

We were actually looking for another kind of graffiti. Hosier Lane is a landmark of Melbourne, famous for its Street Art.

We kept taking pictures, here is a selection.

Of course not everything is high-quality.

When you are a tourist, you can use a romantic horse-drawn carriage to explore the town, or take a river cruise. We just walked, crossing the Yarra river to the Southbank.

Our destination was the Eureka Tower, a 300 m tall skyscraper, completed in 2006. It is a residential building, but the 88th floor, the Eureka Skydeck, can be visited.

The view of Melbourne and surroundings is of course outstanding.

A very special attraction is the Edge, a glass cube which can be moved 3 m outside the building. Visitors must cover their shoes with protective clothing, because the floor of the cube is also glass. It is opaque, but becomes transparent when the cube is outside, so you can look 300 meter down. Not for the faint-hearted! You can not take cameras inside but an official photo is taken.

With our ticket we were allowed to come back again later, to have a night view, so we had to spend some time 🙂

We walked to the Shrine of Remembrance, the war memorial of Melbourne. Very impressive, especially when you realise that Australia never had a war on its own territory, but, as part of the Commonwealth, has taken part in many wars all over the world.

A view of downtown Melbourne from the memorial. The Eureka tower at the left.

We decided to have dinner at the Pure South Dining restaurant and that turned out to be a good choice. In the menu you can see what we ordered.

After dinner we went up again to the Skydeck. We arrived just after sunset and stayed until it was really dark. We came back home late, after a nice full day.

The next day was already our last day. A relaxing day at home. Pat and Roger’s daughter Sarah came for a visit with her son Nathan, we had lunch together and enjoyed the jacuzzi. Roger showed Aric his new car and we had dinner.

In the evening we walked in the fields near their house. Nice flowers, lit by the setting sun. Peaceful evening

It was a wonderful holiday.

Victoria Trip 2015

During our visit to Pat and Roger in 2015 we went with them on a 5D4N trip in the state of Victoria. First Roger took us to the Organ Pipes National Park. The “organ pipes” are basalt columns, their origin is volcanic and they are 2.5-2.8 million year old.

After lunch in the small town of Woodend we continued to Bendigo where we stayed overnight. In the 1850s gold was found here and Bendigo became a boomtown, attracting gold-diggers from everywhere. There is a goldmine that can be visited and there are numerous imposing buildings in Victorian style. A very pleasant town. This is Pall Mall, the main street. Left the War Memorial, in the middle the former Post Office and to the right, behind the trees, the Shamrock Hotel.

Many buildings are in the (Victorian) Second Empire style. From left to right the former Post Office (1883-1887), the Town Hall (1878-1902) and the Law Courts (1892-1896). Impressive architecture.

The monumental Shamrock Hotel began in 1856 but was several times rebuilt, until the final version in 1907.

Just a few more architecture pictures.

The Rosalind park was where the goldrush started in 1851. It has been a Government Camp before it became a park.

The Alexandra Fountain is located at the entrance of the park and was designed by William Vahland, the main architect of Bendigo in those days. A poppet head is a frame at the top of a mineshaft, supporting pulleys for the ropes used in hoisting . This poppet head comes from a different gold mine and is now a lookout.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is unusually large for a small town. Construction started in 1897, in Gothic Revival style, but was completed only in 1977.

We had dinner in the Wine Bank on View, a favourite of Roger. It is a wine bar and wine merchant.

They also serve delicious food.

Starters.

We moved inside for the main course.

The next morning Aric and I visited the Central Deborah gold mine, now no longer active and a major tourist attraction. We took the 85 metres: Underground Adventure excursion, very interesting. Overalls, boots, miner’s hat with lamp. A traditional miner’s lunch was served underground.

Various aspects of a miner’s life, changing room, showering, medical assistance.

Our guide explaining where we will go and the poppet head which will lower us down.

An ore deposit, where gold can be found.

Not easy to take pictures underground.

Lunch 85 meter underground.

Before we continued our trip, we visited the Chinese Joss House Temple (1871). During the gold rush many Chinese immigrants came to Victoria to work in the mines.

Our next destination was Echuca on the banks of the Murray river, where we stayed two nights. We had pizza for dinner.

The main attraction of Echuca are the paddleboats. Echuca was founded in 1850 and became fast a major inland port. Nowadays it is a major tourist attraction.

Paddleboats brought their cargo to the Echuca wharf where it was unloaded and transported by rail to Melbourne. The wharf is now Australian Heritage.

Of course we went for a trip, with the paddle steamer Pevensey. It was built in 1911, used to transport wool and still has its original steam engine.

Impressive machinery. Must be a tough job to be a stoker!

The interior of the Pevensey.

Two more paddle steamers. It was a very interesting excursion

In the afternoon we drove around Echuca and visited the Cape Horn Vineyard. The Echuca-Moama bridge dates from 1878, to reach the vineyard we had to cross the Stewart’s bridge (don’t worry, the new one is hidden behind the old wooden structure).

Roger is a wine connoisseur, I am just pretending 😉 .

Of course a day is not complete without drinks and food!

The next day we had a short stop at Kryabam , where we visited the former Town Hall (1895), now an art gallery. Just to prove that we are interested in more than food 😉 .

We continued to Rushworth, another goldrush town. Nice buildings , but not so spectacular as in Bendigo.

I had seen on the Internet that near Rushworth there was an old gold mine with a ghost town. I asked Roger if we could visit that place. He agreed but regretted it when it turned out that the access road was bad, causing some damage to his car. Fortunately Aric could repair it 😉 .

The Balaclava mine is an open-cast mine. The tunnels have been closed for safety reasons, so there is not much to explore.

The ghost town of Whroo is not much more than the cemetery. Hard to imagine that once the town had several churches , a school, a library and a few hotels.

We stayed overnight in a motel in Nagambie and had an al fresco dinner at the Nagambie lake.

A beautiful sunset!

The last day of our trip we visited Yea, another small town, with some interesting buildings. The Shire Hall is from 1877, the Grand Caledonian Hotel was built in 1901.

Yea was founded in 1855, because of the gold rush, but now it is primarily a farming and agriculture town.

The Yea Wetlands are worth a visit,

We had lunch in an heritage building, the E.S Purcell’s General Store (1877).

On our way back to Upwey, we had a stop at Yarra Glen for a drink in the Grand Hotel (1888).

It was a very rewarding trip. Amazing how much we could do in just a few days.

Martha Argerich

In 2013 I wrote a blog entitled I have fallen in love, with a lady, about Maria João Pires , a Portuguese pianist. Here is a blog about another pianist, Martha Argerich , seen by many as the greatest pianist of our time. Have I fallen in love with another lady? No, but I got intrigued by her, while I was working on my blog Toccatas. The last few weeks I have listened to numerous YouTube recordings of her concerts and also watched interviews and documentaries about her. In this blog I will concentrate on her musical achievements, but I will intersperse it with some information about her personal life. A very informative article about her was published in 2016 in the Washington Post. Another source of useful information is a blog, The Enigmatic & Extraordinary World of Martha Argerich.

Martha Argerich will be 80 this year and is still going strong. Here she is playing at the Lausitz Festival in Germany, a few months ago. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic there is no audience, no applause, she is just alone in the huge hall. Kind of weird. Click on the caption to watch the recording.

The oldest recordings date back to 1957, when she won two prestigious awards within three weeks, the first prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition in Bolzano and the first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition. She was sixteen year old!

After this success, Deutsche Grammophon wanted to make a gramophone recording with her. Reluctantly she agreed. In 1962 she went to New York, hoping but failing to meet her idol Vladimir Horovitz.

She became depressed, thought about leaving music, got pregnant by a friend and went back to Europe where in 1964 her oldest daughter Lyda was born. It was pianist and pedagogue Stefan Askenase who convinced her to go back to music. In 1965 she won convincingly the first prize at the VII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

That was the real start of her international career. Here are two recordings from 1969. Ravel’s piano concerto in G, in Rome and Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, in Buenos Aires.

In the same year 1969 she married the Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit and in 1970 she had a second child with him, Annie. In 1972 they were interviewed by the Swiss RTS. A candid spontaneous happening, notice how she is almost continuously smoking, even while playing!

Their marriage didn’t last, they divorced in 1973, but remain close friends. And they give concerts together like here in 1975 in Genève where she plays Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.

The same year her third daughter Stéphanie was born from a relationship with pianist Stephen Kovacevitch. They still perform together, but from that period I could find only one recording, a piece for two pianos composed by Debussy.

In 1980 the X International Chopin Piano Competition was held in Warsaw with her is now a member of the jury (after winning the first prize herself in 1965). One of the contestants was Ivo Pogorelich. He was eliminated in the third round, Martha Argerich considered him a genius and was so upset that she resigned from the jury in protest. The left video is a documentary about this “scandal”.

A Japanese fan has created a website Martha Argerich Recordings . It is an amazing, huge collection and interesting to see who her favourite composers are, and if any popular piano concertos are missing from her repertoire. For example, here is a recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no 3, but the even more popular no 2 is missing. By the way, the no 3 concerto has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is clearly one of her favourites, she has played it more than fifty times. Here is a recording with Dutoit as conductor. Nice to see how he hugs her after the concert 🙂

She has played the first Beethoven Concertos, but never recorded no 4 and 5. Watch this amusing discussion between Pires and Argerich.

Here is a recording of Beethoven’s Piano concerto no 2. As an encore she plays Scarlatti’s sonata 141 (Toccata). Watch at 29:25 one of her trademarks: she sits down and immediately starts playing.

Only a few of the many Mozart concertos have been recorded by her . KV 466 is my favourite and if you want to know how my fascination with Maria João Pires started, have a look at this video: Maria Joao Pires expecting to play another concerto.

Chopin wrote two piano concertos, she has played both, the first one in E minor more often. Here are two recordings, with three decades in between them. Notice how she has become an “eminence grise”. In 2010 she was again a jury member of the XVI International Chopin Piano Competition. No scandal this time although many were unhappy that Daniil Trifonov only got a third prize.

The piano concerto no 3 of Prokofiev is another favourite of her, here is a recording from December 2020. Her first recording, according to the Japanese site, was in 1959, 60 years earlier. Because of the Covid pandemic there is no audience, the members of the orchestra are sitting far apart, the string section is wearing face masks. After the concert the orchestra applauds and Martha thanks the concertmaster with an elbow salute.

In 2012 Stephanie Argerich, Martha’s youngest daughter, created a fascinating movie about Martha Argerich and her relationship with her daughters. More than 1.5 hour, really worth watching.



In 2016 Martha Argerich went to New York, reluctantly, to receive a Kennedy Centre Honors award.

Her three daughters were also there. From left to right Anne Dutoit, Lyda Chen, Martha and Stephanie Argerich

And finally here are Maria João Peres and Martha Argerich together, playing the beginning of Grieg’s first Peer Gynt suite.

With all the respect I have for Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires is still my favourite 😉 .