15 February 2006, 16h33
One does not frequently come across a man whose
proudest boast is that he "is probably the closest thing on
earth to the castrati
of long ago." It was worth taking in Michael
Maniaci's performance at Toronto's Tafelmusik
for this reason alone.
Amidst the glut of performances inspired by
the 250th anniversary
of Mozart's birth, Tafelmusik's "Amadeo: Mozart in Italy"
stood out on a variety of grounds. The orchestra's signature is
its use of three hundred year-old period instruments, to produce
a sound true to that heard by Baroque
audiences (assuming that the march time has not had a greater impact
on individual antique instruments than the progress of technology
has had on classes of instruments). A pair of actors made uneven
attempts at humorous interludes, reading edited versions of letters
home from the teenaged Wolfgang and his father Leopold during their
tour of Italy. However, the most dramatic element was the use of
Maniaci's male soprano
My friends and I began the concert with the
perhaps inevitable sophomoric tittering over Maniaci's analysis
of his anatomy ("My vocal cords did not lengthen or thicken
as much as other males' can, but the muscles around my cords, as
well as the cords themselves, fully function") and his deflection
of questions about how an adult man retains a soprano voice ("the
only thing I have in common with a castrato is the sharing
of repertoire. There were no farming or cooking accidents in my
youth,"). His actual performance was extraordinary.
There was an undoubted novelty in hearing the
castrati passages performed by a man singing soprano, rather than
by a male countertenor
performing in falsetto
or by a woman singing soprano. However, the most striking part of
his performance was that his voice became purer and more powerful
the higher he rose in the register. His voice easily filled the
entire recital hall, and was awe-inspiring in its force.
For the 22-26 February Mozart
performances, pianist Robert
Levin will take Maniaci's place as Tafelmusik's soloist, and
between 23-26 March, Bruno
Weil will assume the usually empty conductor's platform. Despite
their reknown, they have a difficult act to follow.
and Diplomacy, Fire and the Sword
09 February 2006, 06h41
The proof of our democratic credentials is our
readiness to accept the will of the people, even when they make
choices that tempt us to fear that a majority means nothing more
than that all the dupes were on the same side. From this vantage,
the election of Hamas to outright control of the Palestinian
Authority's Legislative Council is as much a test for the West
as it is for the Middle East.
elections employ a system of multi-member constituencies, filled
by modified proportional representation, with mandatory gender provisions
on party lists, and reserved representation for the Christian minority.
It is fiendishly complex, and Hamas' ability to win 74 of the 132
legislative seats speaks to an astonishing, and entirely unexpected,
breadth of support amongst ordinary Palestinians.
Until the recent elections, the Palestinian
Authority was dominated by Fatah,
the party of late president Yasser Arafat and current president
Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah's long grip on power over embryonic Palestinian
institutions led to predictable results: corruption on an epic scale,
even as ordinary Palestinians subsist in grinding poverty. On 05
February, for example, Palestinian Attorney General Ahmed Al-Meghani
filed charges and warrants against 35 individuals associated with
the government for stealing literally billions of euros from public
In its fanatical zeal, Hamas is relatively free
of financial corruption, and it has long cultivated support amongst
the most dispossessed Palestinians by running a private welfare
In this context, the Palestinians' electoral
choice is, in my view, less an embrace of Hamas' violence, and more
a rejection of Fatah's corruption and failure to ameliorate basic
The crucial question facing Palestinians, Israelis,
and the rest of the world, is whether the democratic process can
now co-opt Hamas. Everyone with an interest in peace has an interest
in making it possible for Hamas to gain through diplomacy and politics,
just as we have an interest in making it inevitable that Hamas will
lose through violence.
For my part, in my professional role as CEO
of the Concordis Foundation, I will be assisting in a United
Nations conclave for new Middle East MPs, which will attempt to
augment their democratic insights and skills. Our hope is that MPs
will return to their parliaments willing and able to wield diplomacy
and dialogue, rather than fire and the sword.
We will deploy the meetings in Jordan during
March, under the aegis of the United
Nations University, and if security and technical facilities
allow, I will blog (if that is now a legitimate verb) daily from
Democracy is a creed for the brave, and it is
precisely when our faith in it is tested, that we have the greatest
responsibility to do everything we can to make it work.
Up for... Abject Hypocrisy?
07 February 2006, 14h41
Stephen Harper's abject and breathtaking hypocrisy
on his very first day as Prime Minister is simply too obvious, too
transcendent of parody, to merit any editorial comment from me.
Simply placing the facts on record suffices.
Harper viciously attacked Conservatives for
defecting to a Liberal government, and held such behaviour up to
Canadians as examples of the craven political opportunism he would
end as Prime Minister; on his first day as Prime Minister, he invited
a Liberal to defect to a Conservative government, mere hours after
Canadians in that MP's riding had chosen a Liberal representative.
Harper's hue and cry throughout his entire political
career has been the elimination of the democratic deficit, by electing
Senators and by ending the use of government contracts as tokens
of political patronage to reward Québec organisers; on his
first day as Prime Minister, he has rewarded his personal Québec
political organiser by appointing him to the Senate and giving him
charge of government contracting.
Canadians always feared Stephen Harper's "hidden
agenda". Little did we know that his agenda was to become that
which he himself judges to be most abhorrent.
What is still more interesting, however, is
the question of how members of the Conservative Party will react
to this squalid display by their leader.
While there were few Reform or Alliance policies
that I could abide, I always publicly and privately praised those
parties' genuine commitment to grassroots democracy. Their long
stay in opposition was, in part, a tribute to their refusal to trade
purpose for power.
The current Conservative Party may have adopted
the name of the party of Brian Mulroney, but its membership is largely
adherents to the party of Preston Manning. In their rush to become
electable, the new Conservatives averted their eyes from the fundamental
divides between the Reform and Progressive Conservative cultures:
western populism versus eastern élitism; conscience versus
With the election behind them, I look forward
to seeing the Conservatives finally address these issues, and decide
where the cultural and ethical loyalties of their leader lie.
Right-wing Canadians tore their movement asunder
in the late 1980s, engaged in an internecine war for more than half
a generation, made unpalatable choices to re-unify, compromised
their platform to pander for votes, and did it all for this.