Saturday, 5 October 2013


“No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.” - W. H. Auden

“Alcina” (HWV 34) is an opera seria by George Frideric Handel. Handel used the libretto of “L’ Isola di Alcina”, an opera that was set in 1728 in Rome by Riccardo Broschi, which he acquired the year after, during his travels in Italy. The plot was originally taken from – but partly altered for better conformity – Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso” (like those of the Handel operas “Orlando” and “Ariodante”), an epic poem set in the time of Charlemagne’s wars against Islam. The opera contains several musical sequences with opportunity for dance: these were composed for dancer Marie Sallé.

“Alcina” was composed for Handel’s first season at the Covent Garden Theatre, London. It premiered on April 16, 1735. Like the composer's other works in the opera seria genre, it fell into obscurity; after a revival in Brunswick in 1738 it was not performed again until a production in Leipzig in 1928.

Here it is in its entirety performed by the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, in 1999, conducted by Alan Hacker, with:
Catherine Nagletstad – Alcina
Alice Coote – Ruggiero
Helene Schneiderman – Bradamante
Catriona Smith – Morgana
Rolf Romei – Oronte
Michael Ebbecke – Melisso
Claudia Mahnke – Oberto
Heinz Gerger – Astolfo

Musically it is wonderful, but the unfortunate modern-day costumes and setting by stage directors Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito are really distracting and so out of keeping with the opera that they grate on me… Never mind, just listen to the music!

Friday, 4 October 2013


“Two old Bachelors were living in one house; One caught a Muffin, the other caught a Mouse.” - Edward Lear

With Halloween around the corner and apples associated with this holiday, here’s a recipe for apple muffins.

Apple Muffins

Ingredients - Muffins
2 and 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground mace
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 and 1/2 cups diced apples
2/3 cup brown sugar

Ingredients - Topping
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200˚C and spray a standard 12-piece muffin pan with cooking oil. You may use paper liners for the muffins if desired.
Peel and dice the apples and mix with the brown sugar. Microwave until just tender, not cooked. Cool.
In a large bowl mix the flour, baking powder, spices.
In a medium bowl, whisk egg, add white sugar, oil, vanilla and apples.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add egg-apple mixture, stirring gently until incorporated. Divide evenly among the 12 muffin pots.
In a bowl, mix the butter, nuts, sugar and flour until crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the muffins.
Bake at 200˚C until a toothpick inserted in the muffin centres comes out clean (abut (20-25 minutes).
Let cool in pan for five minutes and then remove muffins to wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme

Thursday, 3 October 2013


“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” - Immanuel Kant
World Animal Day was started in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. October 4 was chosen as World Animal Day as it is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Since then, World Animal Day has become a day for remembering and paying tribute to all animals and the people who love and respect them. It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, with no regard to nationality, religion, faith or political ideology.

There are many things that we can do on World Animal Day in order to show our support. A simple way of helping stray animals is to donate tins of cat and dog food to local shelters, which may also of course lead to adopting a stray pet. Schools can organise trips to shelters and farms. In the sympathetic workplace, why not try a “Bring Your Dog to Work Day”? You could organise an animal related quiz night to raise money for animal charities.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Victoria is a non-government, community based charity that works to prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection. RSPCA Victoria was established in Melbourne in 1871. Since this time, the RSPCA has become Australia’s leading animal welfare charity.
Across the state, the RSPCA’s community services include the work undertaken by the Inspectorate, Animal Shelters, Clinics and Education teams. The RSPCA operates ten animal welfare shelters in Victoria, providing refuge and care and where possible, offering more than 35,000 animals each year a second chance. RSPCA Inspectors work to protect animals from cruelty, investigates 14,337 estimated reports, prosecutes offenders and rescues animals from dangerous situations.
The RSPCA Education team contributes to prevention strategies by influencing over 12,000 young people about the value and importance of animals in our lives. The RSPCA works tirelessly to educate the community regarding animal welfare and to advocate for improved legislation. Legislative improvements to protect animals have been achieved at both state and federal levels, thanks to the continued lobbying of the RSPCA.
As a not-for-profit organisation, the RSPCA relies on community support to care for “all creatures great and small”. Only 3% of the RSPCA’s operating expenses are supported by a grant from the Victorian State Government, so it is truly an organisation funded by the generous Victorian community. You can donate to the RSPCA here.

Needless to say animals affect our lives in all sorts of ways, both directly and indirectly. In our increasingly urbanised societies, most people’s experience of animal interactions come from owning a pet. Research dating from the 1980s suggested that pet ownership could have positive benefits on human health. Benefits ranged from higher survival rates from heart attacks; a significantly lower use of general practitioner services; a reduced risk of asthma and allergic rhinitis in children exposed to pet allergens during the first year of life; a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease; and better physical and psychological wellbeing in community dwelling older people.
While people do not own pets specifically to enhance their health, they value the relationship and the contribution their pet makes to their quality of life. Over 90% of pet owners regard their pet as a valued family member. The death of a pet may cause great distress to owners, especially when the pet has associations with a deceased spouse or former lifestyle.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


“We cannot pass our guardian angel’s bounds, resigned or sullen, he will hear our sighs.” - Saint Augustine

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Ferdinand Foch
, soldier (1851);
Mohandas Karamchanal Gandhi
, statesman (1869);
Cordell Hull
, UN founder (1871);
Wallace Stevens
, writer (1879);
William A. Abbott
(of Costello fame), actor (1895);
Groucho Marx
, comedian (1895?);
Grahame Green
, writer (1904);
Robert Runcie
, Archbishop of Canterbury (1921);
Yuri N. Glazkov
, cosmonaut (1939);
Don McLean
, musician (1945);
, musician/actor (1951).

The sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa, is the birthday plant for this day.  It is named after Castanum in Thessaly, Greece, where it still grows in abundance.  Roasted chestnuts sold by street pedlars was a common sight in older times in England and many continental countries.  The chestnut seller is still to be encountered in Mediterranean countries in autumn.  The sweet chestnut signifies chastity and the triumph of virtue over temptations of the flesh.  In the language of flowers the chestnut symbolises justice and speaks the sentiment “render me justice”.  Astrologically, the chestnut is under Jupiter’s rule.

In 1672, Pope Clement X instituted the Guardian Saints’ Feast Day as an opportunity for people to give thanks to the guardian angel that protected them throughout their lives. Perhaps there is no other aspect of Catholic piety as comforting to parents as the belief that an angel protects their little ones from dangers real and imagined. Yet the doctrine of the Catholic Church maintains that guardian angels are not only for children. Their role is to represent individuals before God, to watch over them always, to aid their prayer and to present their souls to God at death.

The concept of an angel assigned to guide and nurture each human being is a development of Catholic doctrine and piety based on Scripture but not directly drawn from it. Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:10 best support the belief: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Devotion to the angels began to develop with the birth of the monastic tradition. St. Benedict (Feast Day, July 11) gave it impetus and Bernard of Clairvaux (Feast Day, August 20), the great 12th-century reformer, was such an eloquent spokesman for the guardian angels that angelic devotion assumed its current form in his day.

The Catholic Church views devotion to the angels as an expression of faith in God’s enduring love and providential care extended to each person, day in and day out, until life’s end.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


“I’ve got two places I like to be. Portugal is one.” - Cliff Richard

Magpie Tales has given us a Mark Haley photograph to inspire us and stimulate some writing for all those who take part in her challenge. Here is my offering, based on a detail of the image.


Some day I’ll summon enough courage to flee.
Flee from your grey skies, grey days, grey people,
Hard, heartless land.
To Lisbon where sun shines in sky azure like satin,
Where flowers garland ancient walls,
To Portugal.

People still sing the fado
Dance in the streets,
In Portugal...
Guitars ring out, caressing nights of velvet
In Coimbra, Lisbon and Portó.
There’s love still to be found
In honey-coloured skin
And sparkling raven hair,
“Ay! Mi Amor!”
In Portugal!

Festering wound, my heart, in exile will not heal
Unless I feel Spring coming -
For Spring still comes
To Portugal!

Ah! But to roam the streets of Lisbon,
To drink red-wine sun,
To breathe sea-flower air,
To love warm-honey skin,
In Portugal...

Monday, 30 September 2013


“And that’s the wonderful thing about family travel: It provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind.” - Dave Barry

At the weekend, we watched the Dean Murphy 2009 Australian film Charlie & Boots starring Paul Hogan, Shane Jacobson, Morgan Griffin and Val Lehman. This was a slow-paced, wry comedy that depended very much on the two male leads Hogan and Jacobson who carried the movie in what is essentially another road movie with a “healing-of-a-father-son-relationship” theme.

Charlie (Hogan) is heartbroken after the sudden death of his wife and is taken by his estranged son Boots (Jacobson), on a road trip up to far North Queensland. They hope to realise their dream of going fishing at the northernmost tip of the country in Cape York. They drive from Warrnambool in Victoria, into New South Wales and up through Queensland visiting many famous and not-so-famous locations. The movie has a relaxed pace, depending for its forward motion on the relentless drive of the 3,500 or so km. The two stars have amusing conversations interact with the locals and pick up a young, perky hitchhiker (Griffin) who wants to be a C&W singer in Tamworth.

Shane Jacobson known for his role as toilet cleaner Kenny, another Aussie comedy of the same name, works well with Hogan. There are some mildly amusing moments, but no laugh-out material. Some serious or sentimental family issues are dealt with superficially as the father-son relationship is repaired. The whole film is a little travelogue, a little comic sketch type material, a little sight gag, a little bit of a homespun homily.

All things considered, this is a pleasant and largely enjoyable film exploring male bonding, with both funny and touching aspects. Australians who have taken a multiple-day road-trip will easily relate to the movie. It is quite a picturesque tourist guide of rural Australia, with travellers encountering the Grampians, Tamworth, Forbes, Tenterfield and the Great Barrier Reef. The cinematography by Roger Lawson does justice to these locations in an understated way. Dale Cornelius’ musical score adds another pleasant dimension to the film.

“Charlie & Boots” may not Oscar material or art film, it may riddled with endless clichés and old jokes, but it is pleasant and will make you smile.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” - Francis of Assisi

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (29 September 1571? – 18 July 1610?), a revolutionary and unconventional naturalist painter, was born in Caravaggio near Milan, the son of a mason. He showed his talent early and at the age of sixteen, after a brief apprenticeship in Milan, he was studying with d’Arpino in Rome.

During the period 1592-98 Caravaggio’s work was precise in contour, brightly coloured, highly modeled and sculptured in form, like the Mannerists, but with an added social and moral consciousness. By 1600 when he had completed his first public commission the St. Matthew paintings for the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, he had established himself as an opponent of both classicism and intellectual Mannerism.

Caravaggio chose his models from the common people and set them in ordinary surroundings, yet managed to lose neither poetry nor deep spiritual feeling. This use of members of the lower classes (including prostitutes) as models to paint saints got him into trouble more than once with the church. His use of chiaroscuro - the contrast of light and dark to create atmosphere, drama, and emotion - was revolutionary. His light is unreal, comes from outside the painting, and creates deep relief and dark shadow.

Caravaggio’s paintings are as exciting in their effect upon the senses as on the intellect. Strangely enough though, his art was not popular with ordinary people who saw in it a lack of reverence. It was highly appreciated by artists of his time and has become recognised through the centuries for its profoundly religious nature as well as for the new techniques that had changed the art of painting.

Though Caravaggio received many commissions for religious paintings during his short life, he led a wild and bohemian existence. In 1606, after killing a man in a fight, he fled to Naples. Unfortunately, he was soon in trouble again, and so was forced to flee to Malta where, finally, after a series of precipitous adventures, died of malaria at the age of thirty-six. His influence, which was first seen in early seventeenth-century Italian art, eventually spread to France, England, Spain and the Netherlands.

The painting above is Caravaggio “Salome with the head of John the Baptist”, painted in 1610 the last year of the artist’s life, and it presently exhibited in the National Gallery, London. It is a characteristic work, showing Caravaggio’s mastery of chiaroscuro and exquisite characterisation of this scene from the Bible. The faces tell the whole story, with Salome’s wistful look of repugnance perhaps highlighting her role as a victim of palace intrigues and the awakening of some form of repentance.

The painting was discovered in a private collection in 1959. The early Caravaggio biographer Giovanni Bellori, writing in 1672, mentions a “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” sent by the artist to the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta in the hope of regaining favour after having been expelled from the Order in 1608. It seems likely, however, that Bellori was referring to a different painting of the same subject. The handling and the raking light link this painting to works done in Naples during the artist’s brief stay in the city during 1606–1607, an impression confirmed by the resemblance between Salome and the “Virgin in the Madonna of the Rosary”, and between the executioner holding the head of the Baptist and one of the two torturers in “Christ at the Column and The Flagellation of Christ”.