I’ve always said “Ruddigore” was Gilbert and Sullivan’s best. This performance proves it.

I remember when I first read the libretto to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore.  I was familiar with the “Big 3″ Savoy operas–Pinafore, Pirates and The Mikado, but Ruddigore was the first of the others that caught my attention–probably because of the name and the fact it had ghosts in it. But as I read it, I was absolutely blown away by how good it was.  This is hilarious, I thought. Why isn’t it as famous as the others?

I’ve always loved Ruddigore the most of all the operas from that point on. The picture-gallery coming to life and Sir Roderick’s chilling song, the gorgeous madrigal at the end of Act I, the “Matter trio”, the brilliant plot resolution which is so, so much cleverer than those in Mikado or Iolanthe.

But while I loved Ruddigore, I never saw or heard a production that quite matched how it looked and sounded in my head. There are lots of good ones, to be sure, but never one that lived up to what I always wanted the show to be.

Until now.

To be precise, this performance by the Stanford Savoyards still isn’t exactly the Ruddigore of my dreams. It’s somehow better. These people are amazing.

Where to begin? The lady who plays Mad Margaret is incredible–she truly seems mad; without straying too far to the point where she becomes just pathetic. She somehow captures both the humor and the pathos of the role and balances them perfectly. Despard is absolutely splendid as a manipulative, but not wholly un-feeling bad Baronet. Richard Dauntless is excited and energetic without being over-the-top.  The fellow who portrays Robin does a great job as the meek-but-moral farmer, who is, I think, the greatest of all Gilbert’s heroes. Sir Roderick is properly confident and threatening as the leader of the ghosts, and in his second scene, seems extremely fond of his old love, Dame Hannah, who is also terrific.

They are all perfect; exactly as I pictured the characters in my mind.

And then you’ve got Rose Maybud. She is better than I imagined. The actress transforms Gilbert’s two-dimensional caricature into a still very funny, but also very human and sympathetic woman.  I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to so completely alter the character while still remaining completely faithful to the script, but somehow she did it.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the music.  That’s because I’m not musically savvy enough to really talk about it, but I know what I like, and I love the way they handle the score here.

There are so, so many moments I could point to as examples of why this is a triumph of theatrical magic 125 years in the making.  Watching the whole thing is really the only way to grasp it, but if I had to pick one scene, it would probably be in the Act 1 finale, at about the 1:21:10 mark, when Robin is trying to hand Rose the veil that she dropped at the revelation Robin is the bad Baronet of Ruddigore, and she refuses it.

It’s a funny set-up–the woman who defines her whole life by a book of etiquette is breaking up with the man who has just been revealed to be rightful legal holder of the accursed title of that requires him to commit a crime a day–except on bank holidays.  It’s absurd and ridiculous and funny.  But you know what else? There’s some real sadness in that scene–I automatically feel sorry for Rose and Robin, even though it’s all silly, and I know it’s all going to end happily anyway.

Sentiment and silliness. Horror and humor. Love and legalese. All these elements are mixed perfectly by the performers, into a unique blend.

That, my friends, is what the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are all about.

 

In Defense of Tony Dungy

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy started a firestorm this week by saying:

“I wouldn’t have taken [first openly gay player Michael Sam]… Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”

The press and blog reaction to this was largely negative. But, as someone who really wanted his favorite team to draft Sam, I am going to defend Dungy.

Look at his record. In 13 years of head coaching, Dungy’s teams only missed the playoffs twice, and he made the post-season the last nine years of his career.  His teams were very successful.  And when you’re coaching a successful team, you want to be careful not to upset the balance of the team.  I can understand why Dungy would instinctively not want to take an attention-grabbing seventh rounder; the media attention Sam would attract could mess up a team.  It’s not Sam’s fault, it’s the press’s fault; but all the same it’s the sort of thing a conservative (in the football, not political sense) coach like Dungy would avoid.

I wasn’t surprised that good teams like New England, Denver, Green Bay and so on passed on Sam–when you’re coaching a good team, the last thing you want is distractions.

But for lousy teams like Buffalo, it’s very different.  In the first place, they should be willing to take more gambles to find hidden talent. (I’m convinced that Sam fell a couple rounds because of the “distraction” thing.) In the second place, while it will be a distraction, the press attention will be mainly positive. And at this point, teams like them could use anything positive; even if it’s not related to on field stuff.  Wouldn’t it be nice to read “they may stink at football, but at least they’re progressive and forward-thinking” stories?

Back to Dungy: he didn’t coach lousy teams much.  He was a very good coach, so when he went to lousy teams, he quickly got them into shape.  So of course he wouldn’t draft Michael Sam–his teams were the kind that couldn’t afford to do that.

“That’s not fair to Sam!” you cry. I agree.  It’s too bad that Sam was probably going to be passed over by the good teams for that kind of reason.  But then, the draft itself isn’t fair; it’s deliberately designed to give the worst teams better players, in the interest of “parity”. Sam will get a chance to prove himself; and maybe in a few years Dungy will say “I wouldn’t have drafted him, but I sure would trade for him now!”

 

Mysterious Man’s Most Popular Post Ever.

Ok, readers, pop quiz! Quick, guess what my most viewed post ever is!

Made your guess?

Ok, it’s this one. And it’s not even close. It’s by about 1200 views, actually.

Forget the politics and history; I should blog more about vehicle wheels, I guess. Who knew it was such a popular topic?

Categories: Humor

Stupid protagonists and obvious plot twists

I don’t know about you, but I find stupid protagonists in stories to be annoying.  And there’s nothing more irritating than seeing an obvious plot twist coming down the pike, and having the hero not realize it. This happens in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and I find it to be a real mood-killer.

I assumed for a long time that everyone was like this.  But then it occurred to me that maybe some readers enjoy that.  There is a certain satisfaction, I guess, in seeing what is going to happen before the characters do.  You can feel like you are smarter than somebody else, even if they are only a fictional character.  (Having never experienced that first-hand, I wouldn’t know if it’s much fun.)

Personally, I like to be surprised by a story. Which do you prefer: the comfort and satisfaction of knowing what’s coming, or the fun of being surprised by plot twists?

 

The English Civil War and Religious Tolerance

I was wandering through the library the other day, and as inevitably happens when I do that, I wound up in the History section. I started looking at some books on the English Civil war.  I began by looking for a book on Oliver Cromwell, but ended reading some about his opponent, King Charles I.

I really know very little about the period, so almost all of it was new to me. (I didn’t check any of the books out, so I can’t remember who wrote them, sorry) What I gathered from my cursory reading was that the main causes of the war were (1) Parliament’s belief that King Charles had too much power and (2) religious differences between Parliament and the King. Parliament was Puritan–or at, least Cromwell was–and the King was Anglican, and seen as having ties to the Catholics, or ‘Popists’, as they were apparently called.

In one of the books, I came across the assertion that after King Charles was removed and Cromwell created the Commonwealth of England, it ushered in a new era of Religious Toleration.

Now, for all I know, this is true. But it sounded weird to me.  The Puritans were many things, but as far as I was aware, they weren’t really famous for being the most tolerant bunch.  Now, I can believe that Puritanism was tolerated more under Cromwell et al. than it was under King Charles, but was religion in general more free?  That I’m not so sure of.

Anyway, I’m about to embark on an internet odyssey to find out more about the English Civil War, because until this week most of my knowledge of the period came from Monty Python’s song about Oliver Cromwell. So stay tuned; I’ll probably be doing more posts about stuff I should have learned in school.

The Charisma Song

I know a guy who’s charismatic as can be:

Everyone he meets is sure that he’s all right.

The kind of guy that they all would like to be

Is exactly what he is–at least, upon first sight.

When he’s among conservatives,

He seems like a regular Reaganite.

But when among the liberals he lives

He looks for social revolutions to ignite.

 

CHORUS:

Oh, everybody loves a charismatic guy, you see;

He’s everything that you could want a chap to be!

His political skills are really quite sublime;

He fools all of the people all the time!

 

With the fellas, he’s a manly man’s man;

Drinkin’ beer and talkin’ sports and trucks to ride–

But when he’s with the ladies, oh, for sure he can

Get in touch with his female side.

When he’s discussed ‘twixt hims and hers–

Though on specifics they may disagree–

Everyone on both sides readily concurs:

“He’s just the kind of man for me!”

 

(CHORUS)

 

So, no one knows exactly what his deal is–

His convictions and beliefs are a bit unclear.

But still, there’s no denying his appeal is

So overwhelming he just has to be sincere!

I once spoke to him, hoping to convey

How nice to have these diff’rent personae.

And he replied “It’s just that I can never say

For sure which one of them is me!”

 

(CHORUS)

 

[NOTE: You may ask "is this about a particular person?" Answer: No. It's about a particular type of person.]

Happy 4th of July! Now let’s talk about the Supreme Court.

John Trumbull’s ‘Declaration of Independence.’ 1819

So, first of all, happy Independence day. My conservative friends may not believe me, but part of the reason I spend so much time criticizing politics in this country is because I think it really is a very great country. One of my favorite JFK quotes is “This is a great country, but I think it could be a greater country.”

[This is the same reason that when I write about football, I critique good teams--it's way more interesting than criticizing lousy ones.]

With that in mind, let’s talk about the Supreme Court.

First off, let me talk about Chief Justice Roberts.  I can’t figure him out.  Liberals I know say he is just a Conservative who rules however the Conservatives want something to go.  But that’s obviously not true; or else he would have struck down the Affordable Care Act. So he isn’t just some guy who rules based on the party line.  He has some kind of judicial philosophy–the question is, what is it?

Second item: the latest Supreme Court case in the news is the Hobby Lobby case, wherein Chief Justice Roberts ruled, along with the Majority, that employers don’t have to pay for insurance plans covering contraceptives.  I’ve heard a lot of criticism of this ruling, saying it is a disaster for women and a re-ignition of the “War on Women” from 2012.

My opinion? Yes, but it’s even worse than that.

The trouble is, when religion gets involved, things always get murky.  I don’t want to insult anybody’s beliefs, but the fact of the matter is that religion is based on faith, not legal precedent or factual evidence.  Which is fine, but it makes it tough to deal with in a legal case, because it is about unquantifiable, supernatural things.  As the greatest legal mind in the English-speaking world, the Lord Chancellor from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, said:

Ah! but, my good sir, you mustn’t tell us what she [Chorused nature] told you — it’s not evidence. Now an affidavit from a thunderstorm, or a few words on oath from a heavy shower, would meet with all the attention they deserve.

There are a lot of different religions. And all of them give different versions of what God is supposed to have said what to do or not do.

My question is: how far does this really go? What if I’m a business owner and my religion forbids all health insurance?  Can I not provide coverage?  For that matter, if I’m a business owner, and my religion forbids following government safety mandates, can I get out of that, too?

Obviously, this Court ruling doesn’t really mean that. But the question is, why doesn’t it mean that? Because that is the implied logical precedent, it seems to me.

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