Saturday 11 January 2014


“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt
'Iphigénie en Aulide' (Iphigeneia in Aulis) is an opera in three acts by Christoph Willibald Gluck, the first work he wrote for the Paris stage. The libretto was written by Leblanc du Roullet and was based on Jean Racine’s tragedy “Iphigénie”. It was premiered on 19 April 1774 by the Paris Opéra in the second Salle du Palais-Royal.
Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (2 July 1714 – 15 November 1787) was an opera composer of the early classical period. After many years at the Habsburg court at Vienna, Gluck brought about the practical reform of opera dramaturgical practices that many intellectuals had been campaigning for over the years. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, among them ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ and ‘Alceste’, he broke the stranglehold that Metastasian opera seria had enjoyed for much of the century.
The strong influence of French opera in these works encouraged Gluck to move to Paris, which he did in November 1773. Fusing the traditions of Italian opera and the French national genre into a new synthesis, Gluck wrote eight operas for the Parisian stages. One of the last of these, ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’, was a great success and is generally acknowledged to be his finest work. Though he was extremely popular and widely credited with bringing about a revolution in French opera, Gluck’s mastery of the Parisian operatic scene was never absolute, and after the poor reception of his ‘Echo et Narcisse’ he left Paris in disgust and returned to Vienna to live out the remainder of his life.
“ ‘Iphigénie en Aulide’ did not prove popular at first, although its overture was applauded generously from the start. [After the premiere] it was billed on 22, 24 and 29 April only to have its first run interrupted by the 1 May to 15 June 1774 closing of the theatre on account of the illness and death of Louis XV ...The opera was not returned to the stage until 10 January 1775, but it was revived annually in 1776-1780, 1782-1793, 1796-1824. It was mounted in Paris more than 400 times in this interval of 50 years.” It eventually turned out to be Gluck’s most frequently performed opera in Paris.
For the 1775 revival, Gluck revised Iphigénie en Aulide ... introducing the goddess Diana (soprano) at the end of the opera as a dea ex machina, and altering and expanding the divertissements. So, broadly speaking, there are two versions of the opera; but the differences are by no means so great or important as those between “Orfeo ed Euridice” and “Orphée et Euridice” or between the Italian and the French “Alceste”.
The plot has as follows: Calchas, the great seer, prophesies that King Agamemnon must sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia, in order to guarantee fair winds for the king’s fleet en route to Troy –- a demand that comes from the goddess Diana herself. Throughout the opera, Agamemnon struggles with the terrible choice between sparing his daughter's life and ensuring his subjects’ welfare.
Agamemnon summons his daughter to Aulis, the port where the Greek navy is gathering, ostensibly for her to marry Achilles, the great warrior hero. Then, reconsidering his decision to sacrifice her, the king tries to prevent her arriving with the fabricated explanation that Achilles has been unfaithful. Iphigenia, however, has already reached the Greek camp accompanied by her mother Clytaemnestra. The two women are dismayed and angered by Achilles’ apparent inconstancy, but he eventually enters declaring his enduring love for the girl, and the first act ends with a tender scene of reconciliation.
The wedding ceremony is due to be celebrated and festivities take place with dances and choruses. When the couple are about to proceed to the temple, however, Arcas, the captain of Agamemnon’s guards, reveals that the king is awaiting his daughter before the altar in order to kill her. Achilles and Clytaemnestra rush to save the girl from being sacrificed. Agamemnon finally seems to give up his plan to kill her.
The third act opens with a chorus of Greeks: They object to the king’s decision in case they are never allowed to reach Troy, and demand the ceremony be celebrated. At this point, Iphigenia resigns herself to her fate, and offers her own life for the sake of her people, while Clytaemnestra entreats the vengeance of Jupiter upon the ruthless Greeks. As the sacrifice is going to be held, however, Achilles bursts in with his warriors and the opera concludes with Gluck’s most significant revision of the original myth: Calchas’ voice rises over the general turmoil and announces that Diana has changed her mind about the sacrifice and consents to the marriage. In the second 1775 version Diana appears personally to consecrate both the wedding and Agamemnon’s voyage.
Here is the complete opera with De Nederlandse Opera (September 2011) with Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble – Directed Marc Minkowski and staging by Pierre Audi. Iphigénie: Véronique Gens; Diane: Salomé Haller; Agamemnon: Nicolas Testé; Clytemnestre: Anne Sofie von Otter; Achille: Frédéric Antoun.

Friday 10 January 2014


“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” - Charles M. Schulz
Now that the holidays are over and we have had the rather rich fare of the Christmas and New Year festivities, we should be easing into a healthier diet. This chocolate cake recipe has reduced fat content and is a healthier, but tasty, option than the fully-fledged, butter-rich version.
Ingredients – Cake
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup fruit purée fat replacement (see below)
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 and 3/4 cups sugar
Ingredients – Fruit purée fat replacement
Purée 2/3 cup pitted prunes (or equal amounts of prunes and dried apples) and 1/3 cup water in a blender or processor until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice and lecithin granules (available in health food stores) and blend again.
The dark colour and strong flavour of this fat replacement make it best suited to chocolate-based or heavily spiced baked goods. To replace 1/2 cup butter, use 1/3 cup prune purée (makes 1 cup purée).
Ingredients – Glaze
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, or almonds
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons low-fat milk
Prepare fruit purée fat replacement.
To make cake: Preheat oven to 165°C. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.
Place eggs and egg whites in a large mixing bowl and set bowl in a pan of hot water; stir occasionally to warm eggs.
Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Whisk buttermilk, fruit purée, oil, coffee granules and vanilla in another medium bowl. Set aside.
Remove bowl of eggs from water. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually add sugar. Increase mixer speed to high and continue beating until mixture is thick and pale, about 5 minutes.
Alternately fold the reserved dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture into egg mixture with a rubber spatula, making 3 additions of dry ingredients and 2 additions of buttermilk mixture. Scrape the batter into prepared pan.
Bake until top springs back when touched lightly and cake shrinks away slightly from sides of pan, 50 to 60 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and invert cake onto rack. Cool completely.
To make glaze and finish cake:
Spread nuts in a shallow pan and bake in a 325°F oven until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool.
Combine chocolate and milk in a small heavy saucepan; heat over low heat, stirring, until glaze is smooth, and coat cake.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 9 January 2014


“I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.” - Elvis Presley

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Lowell Mason
, hymn composer (1792);
William Wilkie Collins
, writer (1824);
Frank Doubleday
, publisher (1862);
John Curtin
, Australian Prime Minister (1885);
Jaromir Weinberger
, composer (1896);
Dennis (Yates) Wheatley
, novelist (1897);
Ron Moody
(Ronald Moodnick), actor (1928);
Elvis (Aaron) Presley
, singer (1935);
Shirley Bassey
, singer (1937);
Little Anthony
, singer (1940);
Stephen Hawking
, physicist (1942);
Yvette Mimieux
, actress (1942);
David Bowie
(David Robert Jones), singer/actor (1947).

Laburnum, Laburnum anagyroides, is the birthday flower for this day.  It symbolises pensive beauty and in the language of flowers it carries the message: “Forsaken”.  All parts of the plant are poisonous.

Plough Monday was celebrated in Northern and Eastern England as the first day after the holidays when ploughing and other farm labours could begin.
            Plough Monday, next after the Twelfth Day is past.
            Bids out with the plough: the worst husband is last.

A “Fool Plough” procession was often carried out on this day when young farm labourers called Plough Jags, Plough Boys or Stots, as they were called, paraded through the streets. Sword dances were common, often culminating in a mock execution of a “victim”, who was invariably revived afterwards.  Such traditions can be linked to ancient fertility rituals to ensure good crops.  In particular, the ancient Greek Eleusinian mysteries in honour of Demeter, involved the ritual “sacrifice” of a youth to assure the success of that year’s crops.

On this day in 1896, Paul Verlaine, the French poet died. He took 20 years to sell 500 copies of his Poèmes Saturnias. He briefly taught in a school in Bournemouth in England, but returned to France where he drank heavily and died in poverty.

Also died on this day in 1198, Celestine III (Hyacinth Bobo), Pope of Rome died while in 1713, Arcangelo Corelli, the Italian violinist and composer expired. Another Italian, Galileo Galilei died on this day in 1642. He was a mathematician and astronomer, whose observations led him to accept the Copernican heliocentric solar system, invoking the wrath of the inquisition.

Tuesday 7 January 2014


 “Love in its essence is spiritual fire.” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Poetry Jam this week has chosen the theme of “Fire” to stimulate our creative writing endeavours: “However you want to write it, let the emotion and memories of fire flood over you and write how you feel when the word ‘Fire’ is spoken out loud.”
Here is my offering:

The Burning
The fire burnt my house
The smoke stifled my breath;
The flames licked my memories,
The tablet wiped clean.
Wind-carried sparks surround me
Igniting my flammable mementos.
The embers glow, the hot ash flies
My place of refuge, now a hell.
All’s lost up in smoke,
My eyes are blinded by my fears,
My tears making of the flames
A watery incineration.
The earth is roasted dry,
Even the air is fire-red.
My house no more a haven
My home no more.
My pockets empty,
All that I have the clothes I wear.
My mind is desiccated
All dreams have sublimated.
The fire burns, the flames destroy:
All my possessions charred and gone;
The fire cauterising wounds
It, itself, has opened.
The fire robbed me of my home,
The smoke asphyxiated me.
My souvenirs are smoke
All of my pages, ash now.
And yet you live, I still have you by my side,
The things lost, no more important than fallen leaves.
Stand by my side, hold my hand, and hope,
For the fire in our hearts, can make of this barren, deathly place
A paradise, again.

Monday 6 January 2014


“Crime butchers innocence to secure a throne, and innocence struggles with all its might against the attempts of crime.” - Maximilien Robespierre

We recently watched a good action thriller, which kept us amused on a rainy afternoon. It was Asger Leth’s 2012 “Man on a Ledge” starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris and Genesis Rodriguez. Although there are plot holes in the screenplay by Pablo F. Fenjves, and although the ending is predictable, the movie kept us engaged and there was enough humour interspersed with the action and tension to make it an interesting and enjoyable film.

In Sing Sing prison, Nick Cassidy (Worthington), an ex-cop now a con, is informed that his appeal is denied by the court. When his father dies, Nick receives authorisation to go to the funeral escorted by two policemen. However, he has a fight with his estranged brother Joey Cassidy (Bell) and Nick manages to escape in the scuffle. Nick takes on an assumed identity and becomes a guest on a 21st floor room of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. After leaving a suicide note protesting his innocence, he climbs onto the building ledge through the room window and threatens to jump off, attracting a crowd on the street below.

The negotiator Lydia Mercer (Banks) is assigned to convince the unknown jumper to give up his intention to commit suicide. Meanwhile Nick’s brother, Joey and his girlfriend Angela Maria ‘Angie’ Lopez (Rodriguez) break into David Englander’s (Harris) office building and the secure safe room to commit a heist. Nick claims innocence to Lydia and asks her to give him more time to prove that he is innocent of the crime he is accused. Lydia believes that Nick is honest and decides to investigate his claims. Meanwhile the special forces are called in to remove Nick off the ledge by force and several police officers become embroiled in what appears to be complicated story. Is Nick innocent or is he in cahoots with his crim brother? Is Nick’s partner cop, Mike (Anthony Mackie) a friend or a foe? Why did Nick choose the Roosevelt Hotel owned by Englander to stage his suicide? Does Nick intend to jump off the ledge at all?

The pace of the film is rapid and there are enough action scenes to keep friends of this genre very happy. There are some plot twists and the flash-backs and flash-forwards are done well, not at all confusingly. The characters and their parts in the plot are revealed as we the movie progresses, with plenty to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat as Nick dangles precariously on his ledge. This is definitely NOT a movie for acrophobics as there many dizzying views of the long way down from the ledge and Nick does slip a few times risking to fall off. The direction is good and the acting also very good.

It is a typical dick-flick, but with a lot of redeeming features. Many critics were rather caustic about this film, including Worthington’s lapse into an Australian accent (which we enjoyed!). The movie does not pretend to be something that it is not, and is thus good entertainment. This is something that the public recognised and the worldwide box-office revenue was a respectable $46 million. It kept us interested and amused and as the story unfolded we chuckled and gasped at the appropriate places.

Sunday 5 January 2014


“In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Raoul Dufy (1877 - 1953) was a French artist, who was born on June 3, 1877 in Le Havre, France and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, as well as with Othon Friesz and Lhuillier. Although inspired by Matisse and resembling him in his devotion to rhythmic line, pure color and decorative effects, Dufy was a painter of great independence and originality.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Fauves, the Cubists, and the Surrealists dominated the art of France. Throughout all of these developments, Dufy went on painting the most highly civilised subjects he could find, the elegant holiday places and events of the rich.

Dufy’s palette and his taste for beauty eventually led him to the world of fashion and fabric design. He formed a close relationship with the couturier Paul Poiret, for whose fashion house he designed a logo; he also designed silk fabrics. This association bought him financial security. He eventually became one of the most sought-after illustrators of his day and designed sets and costumes for the theatre as well as upholstery and wallpaper.

One of the largest paintings of modern times was the gigantic mural done by Raoul Dufy for the pavillion of electricity at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris. The finished work, depicting the history and importance of electricity to the 20th century, was 197 feet wide and 33 feet high. Dufy christened it “La Fée Électricité” (shown above).

After the Exposition closed, Dufy’s mural, too big for exhibition, was stored away from public view in 250 sections. Dufy worried about its neglect and sought some way to keep his gigantic work on view. The answer was provided by a Paris publisher, who proposed that Dufy reproduce the mural as a color lithograph. Dufy set to work in 1951 and shortly before his death in 1953 completed the most ambitious lithography project ever undertaken: Three feet high by twenty feet wide, done in twenty-two colours and printed in ten sheets.

He was devoted to America and the American scene, to which he paid two visits. The latter of these visits was in 1951, for medical treatment of his arthritis. Crippling as his ailment was, Dufy did not allow it to halt his work or to diminish his great joy in life. Treatment of his arthritis by injecting cortisone improved his condition so much that he was able to return to his farmhouse in Provence where he painted several hours a day. He died in 1953 at the age of seventy-five.