Sunday, September 30, 2012

Niagara Falls

Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side.

While visiting Niagara-On-The-Lake, we spent one morning at Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls is magnificent. We were in awe.

We remained on the Canadian side—we did not want to go through the hassle of crossing the border—and we simply walked around the park and stared at the transcendent beauty on display.

The views were breathtaking—although the views are supposed to be even better from the American side.

The Festival Theatre

The Festival Theatre at The Shaw Festival, the only modern and purpose-built theater in use at the festival.

The Festival Theatre accommodates 856 patrons and serves as venue for the festival’s offerings expected to be most appealing at the box office.

It was at the Festival Theatre that we saw “Present Laughter”, “Ragtime” and “His Girl Friday”.

By American standards, the Festival Theatre is not large. It is slightly smaller than the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, the best-scaled and most successful modern theater built for the presentation of legitimate plays I have ever visited.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Shaw Festival—Fourth Day

Our fourth day at The Shaw Festival featured a matinee performance of this year’s musical.

Each season, The Shaw Festival mounts one musical production. In 2009, Joshua and I had attended a performance of that year’s musical, “Sunday In The Park With George”. A year ago, the festival had presented “My Fair Lady”. A couple of days ago, the festival announced that the 2013 musical production will be “The Light In The Piazza”.

This year, “Ragtime” was the musical.

None of us had seen “Ragtime” before.

Last season, Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul had presented a lavish production of “Ragtime”—it had been the most expensive production in the history of the company—and we had contemplated attending one of the Saint Paul performances. Local reviews for the Saint Paul “Ragtime” had been encouraging.

We nonetheless decided to skip the production. For some reason, “Ragtime” has never appealed to us—and we did not bother to head over to Saint Paul.

We never considered skipping The Shaw Festival production of “Ragtime”. The reason we had decided to attend The Shaw Festival in the first place was in order to see all ten main-stage productions.

Based upon one exposure to the show in Niagara-On-The-Lake, my belief is that “Ragtime” is neither a distinguished nor a particularly effective musical.

Stephen Flaherty’s score was professional. It was not original or imaginative. It was not the work of a composer with a distinctive voice. The music was impersonal and featureless; it might have been written by committee—or by machine.

Lynn Ahrens’s lyrics were professional only insofar as she had been paid for her work. Had I been a producer of the show, I would have called in another lyricist—or else called off the project. I cannot recall the last time I heard such an unbroken, mindless string of clichés. Nonetheless, I should state for the record that one of our chief pleasures in sitting through the show was listening to the inanity of Ahrens’s words—and giggling.

Of Terrence McNally’s book, of which there was very little (“Ragtime” is mostly sung-through), I have nothing to say—except that it would not surprise me if Ahrens had written the book, with McNally merely lending his name to the project in order that a “bankable” author be connected to the show.

My mind wandered throughout the duration of the afternoon. I spent as much time reading the program booklet as paying attention to whatever was happening onstage. The production came in under three hours, yet it seemed like a four-and-a-half hour presentation.

All through the first act, we constantly exchanged glances with each other, which signified that not one of us was enjoying the show.

At intermission, we talked about leaving. We remained for the second half only because we assumed things were likely to improve (they did not).

It is possible that the production was at fault, and that the material might have been revealed in a better light in a better production. However, my instinct tells me that the problem was not the production but the material itself, a mixture of the second- and third-and fourth-rate. I doubt the show will ever become a mainstay of the musical stage.

Despite unprecedented marketing, the original 1998 Broadway production of “Ragtime” ran only for two years, and lost all of its backing money. A 2009 Broadway revival ran only for two months, and—again—lost all of its backing money. New York audiences twice gave “Ragtime” the cold shoulder—and I believe they were right to do so. “Ragtime” is an empty musical.

At dinner that evening, we talked among ourselves about “Ragtime”, attempting to diagnose the fundamental flaws in what we had just seen and heard.

My father said that “Ragtime” was a pageant, and not a genuine theatrical work. He likened “Ragtime” to an opera of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: more series of pageant-like tableaux than true drama. Rimsky-Korsakov operas, of course, are enthralling—but only because of the enthralling music. The pageant that was “Ragtime”, unlike Rimsky-Korsakov pageants, lacked enthralling music. As a consequence, “Ragtime”, like any pageant, was a chore to endure.

My mother said that Doctorow was the problem. The creators, she believed, had remained too faithful to Doctorow when they should have thrown the novel out the window and recreated the essence of the novel from scratch. She invoked Stravinsky’s maxim that artists must “eliminate, eliminate, eliminate”. The writers of “Ragtime”, my mother noted, had been too timid to trim—or remove completely—plot elements of the novel. The result: the creators had produced a well-meaning but by-the-book stage representation of a novel that had been little more than artificial conceit to begin with.

My brother said, simply, that “Ragtime” was “too Canadian”. His wry assessment, in minimal words, summed up the musical in terms everyone could instantly understand: no wit, no color, no depth, no personality—but buckets of blandness.

We all laughed at what my brother had to say—and Josh said he could not improve on my brother’s analysis: “Definitely, definitely: too Canadian. I have to go with that, too.”

Myself, I believe, in the case of musicals, that it always boils down to the score—and the score of “Ragtime” is simply not good enough to keep the musical before the public.

The Shaw Festival production had been directed by Jackie Maxwell, Artistic Director of The Shaw Festival. Maxwell’s efforts were not incompetent, but I thought she had directed “Ragtime” not as musical but as history play. Everything was a little too serious, a little too earnest, a little too preachy. That Maxwell had a supremely uneven cast did not help matters. Only one character registered: Coalhouse Walker.

At the performance we attended, the audience gave “Ragtime” a prolonged standing ovation.


Our fourth-day evening performance was John Guare’s “His Girl Friday”, adapted from the 1928 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play, “The Front Page”, and the Hecht-MacArthur-Charles Lederer screenplay for the 1940 Howard Hawks film, “His Girl Friday”.

Guare’s was not a successful adaptation of the material.

The setting had been moved forward from the bustling, carefree 1920s to August 31, 1939, the day before Germany invaded Poland. The convicted killer became an anti-Nazi crusader who had struck down a pro-Nazi policeman. Most characters in the play were assigned anti-German political speeches, speeches in which they were required to warn each other—and the audience—that Hitler was a dangerous man, threatening to dominate the entire European continent.

Guare’s changes were bizarre. He had managed to meld—badly—a failsafe comedy with large chunks of the insufferable and hopelessly-out-of-date Lillian Hellman wartime melodrama, “Watch On The Rhine”.

What was the point of such a ridiculous exercise?

The production worked better than, by rights, it should have—assuming that one was able to filter out the elementary-school political speeches and wait for the comedy to resume.

If the evening was redeemable, it was because of the presence of Nicole Underhay in the role of Hildy.

Underhay had been sensational earlier in the week in Shaw’s “The Millionairess”—and she was almost as fine as Hildy, a reporter asked by her conniving boss (and former husband) to cover one last story, an execution, before retiring from journalism and marrying a wealthy stuffed-shirt.

Underhay was the best thing on stage all night. She gave a star’s performance.

I wonder whether we might have been able to endure the play without Underhay’s presence.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Golden Gophers

The University Of Minnesota football team is off to a 4-0 start, not expected by many.

Tomorrow is a big game for the Golden Gophers—they open their Big Ten schedule against Iowa.

In each of the last two years, Minnesota has stunned a heavily-favored Iowa team. Those games, however, were played in Minneapolis. Tomorrow’s game will be played in Iowa City, where Minnesota has not won since 1999.

We shall have to watch.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Court House Theatre

The Court House Theatre, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

One of four theaters now in use by The Shaw Festival, The Court House Theatre was the original Shaw Festival venue. The Court House Theatre seats 327 persons.

It was in The Court House Theatre that we saw “The Millionairess” on the evening of Thursday, September 6.

We spent the entire day of Friday, September 7, in The Court House Theatre, seeing, in turn, “Trouble In Tahiti”, “A Man And Some Women” and “Hedda Gabler”.

To us, it appeared that The Court House Theatre had been assigned the productions expected to fare least well at the box office—and, indeed, we saw the smallest crowds of The Shaw Festival at The Court House Theatre.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Shaw Festival—Third Day

Our third day in Niagara-On-The-Lake was our busiest day:  an opera performance at 11:30 a.m. (Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble In Tahiti”); a matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. (Githa Sowerby’s “A Man And Some Women”); and an evening performance at 8:00 p.m. (Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler”).

It was on this day, talking to a few people associated with The Shaw Festival, that we learned some intriguing facts about the operation of the enterprise, most remarkable of which was that the plays that fare most poorly at the Shaw Festival box office are the plays of . . . George Bernard Shaw.

A festival founded solely in order to present the plays of Shaw, and Shaw alone, but whose repertory and remit have been much-expanded over the last fifty years, now finds itself in the ironic position of seeing its namesake serve as the least-popular playwright on the annual schedule year after year.

We also learned that many persons associated with The Shaw Festival look askance at the dumbing-down of Canada’s other summer theater festival, The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which this season offered such incomparable treasures as a production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and a Homer Simpson version of “Macbeth”.  The more I hear about the deterioration of The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the less inclined I am ever to want to visit that festival.

Everywhere, we heard nothing but good things about Jackie Maxwell, Artistic Director of The Shaw Festival.  She is said to be a tireless exhumer of long-forgotten works—witness this season’s “French Without Tears” and “A Man And Some Women”—as well as a superb administrator and excellent manager of talent.

Later this week, Irishman Joe Dowling, Artistic Director of The Guthrie Theater, will celebrate his 64th birthday.  Surely The Guthrie is in the midst of succession planning—and I hope that Maxwell, born in Northern Ireland but long a resident of Canada, is high on the list of persons deemed potential replacements for Dowling.

If Maxwell’s name is not on the Guthrie’s list, it should be.

If I were on the Guthrie board, I would interview Maxwell tomorrow.


Sowerby’s is a name unknown to all but the most assiduous playgoer.

Sowerby had one modest success during her lifetime—“Rutherford And Son”, her first play, which premiered in London in 1912—and otherwise enjoyed no commercial or critical success.

“Rutherford And Son” is the only Sowerby play that has ever been published.  It first appeared in print in 1912, and remained in print for many years (copies of the 1912 edition may be obtained via the worldwide web).  “Rutherford And Son” appeared in print anew in a 1991 anthology.  According to the program booklet of The Shaw Festival, “Rutherford And Son” is Sowerby’s finest drama.

It is believed that Sowerby wrote seven plays, but that number may be inaccurate:  Sowerby burned her personal papers shortly before her death, and it has become next to impossible to reconstruct her life and work.

Sowerby was forgotten decades before her passing—there was not a single obituary in London’s many newspapers when Sowerby died in 1970 at the age of 93—and a modest attempt to resurrect her work in recent years has enjoyed limited success.

The Shaw Festival has been at the forefront of the Sowerby revival.  Sowerby’s “Rutherford And Son” received a Shaw Festival production in 2004, with Sowerby’s “The Stepmother” revived four years later.  Now, after another four-year interval, “A Man And Some Women” has received its first North American staging.

“A Man And Some Women” premiered in Manchester in 1914, but the onset of war prevented a planned London production.  The play was not to be performed again until the 1990s, when it received two separate productions by British repertory companies in Bristol and London.

I found “A Man And Some Women” to be exceedingly influenced by the plays of Ibsen, hardly a surprise, since the works of Ibsen were at the zenith of their London popularity and influence in the years immediately preceding World War I.

Like characters in Ibsen plays, characters in “A Man And Some Women” live stifled lives, imprisoned by the conventions of social propriety.  Complicated family histories are revealed, bit-by-bit, during exceedingly-intricate plotting, another Ibsen trait.  As in Ibsen, onstage smoldering goes on for hours until a series of powerful conflicts erupts.  At the conclusion of the eruptions, a signal event occurs that shifts the ground on which the characters stand—in Ibsen, Nora walks out of her marriage, Hedda kills herself, and child Hedvig ends her own life when she discovers that she has lost her father’s love—and the play ends.

I found “A Man And Some Women” to be a very unsatisfying play.  The play was unoriginal and unimaginative, a formulaic family drama filled with bitterness, resentment and regret.  The humanity of Ibsen and Chekhov was not present.

The play was slow-moving, the dialogue was dull if not tedious, and the Ibsen-like eruptions occurred at the end of Act I, leaving Act II to serve as nothing more than a prolonged—and not very fulfilling—resolution of the outbursts of Act I.

The Act II resolution was, I believe, implicit at the conclusion of Act I—and might as well have been eliminated.  The result:  either “A Man And Some Women” was a one-act play needlessly expanded, or a two-act play poorly-constructed, with the ending in the wrong place.

Most of the characters in “A Man And Some Women” were profoundly unpleasant.  Even the characters that were supposed to gain a measure of the audience’s sympathy were, in my view, completely unappealing.  I suspect Sowerby must have disliked human beings, and lived an unhappy life.

The production was uneven.  A few of the cast members were quite good, and a few of the cast members were quite weak.  It became impossible to enjoy the play because the level of accomplishment of the actors onstage varied so greatly—a disparity that inhibited one’s immersion in the proceedings as well as forward-movement of the play itself.

I doubt that “A Man And Some Women” will receive a meaningful number of additional productions.  The play is an historic curiosity, not an important work of art.  There was little evidence that it was the work of a talented or important playwright.


Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” was the only outright masterpiece on the Shaw Festival menu this year.  All other offerings—even Shaw’s “Misalliance”, an excellent play in its own right—were more than one notch below “Hedda Gabler”, one of the greatest of all 19th-Century dramas.

The Shaw production of “Hedda Gabler” was excellent in all respects—but it was not moving.  A great production of “Hedda Gabler” will leave the viewer shaken; an excellent production will leave the viewer merely full of admiration and respect.  (A bad production of “Hedda Gabler” will leave the viewer laughing.)

The Shaw “Hedda Gabler” was unmoving because the production focused on the heroine’s malicious and destructive qualities, with the heroine’s idealism sharply de-emphasized.  The play certainly worked as pure drama (despite an occasional touch of melodrama), but it became difficult to view the characters as tragic—and sympathetic—figures in a multi-layered tragedy.

Conflict was everywhere—and the characters at all times seemed to thrive on it a little too much.

Conflict will certainly hold an audience’s interest, but conflict is not what “Hedda Gabler” is all about.  The complexities of the play, and the complexities of the characters, did not fully register because of the out-and-out zest with which the cast members leaped into the play’s built-in conflicts.  My mother referred to the production as “two-and-a-half hours of hair-pulling”—and my mother was not far wrong.

The Shaw Festival had used a new English-language adaptation by British stage director Richard Eyre.  The adaptation, on a single hearing, struck me as undistinguished, and very much of its time.

It was a not-quite-great and not-quite-memorable production of “Hedda Gabler” that we experienced.

We left the theater unshaken.


The plays of Ibsen are not often staged today in North America.

The Shaw Festival’s “Hedda Gabler” was the first Ibsen staging I had seen in quite some time.  In fact, the Shaw “Hedda Gabler” was the first Ibsen production Joshua and I have attended together (as Josh was quick to point out)—which signifies that Josh and I have not seen an Ibsen staging in the last six years and seven months.

By and large, The Guthrie Theater has ignored Ibsen in recent years, as have other repertory theater companies in the Twin Cities.

I cannot understand why Ibsen is ignored.  In my view, Ibsen is a mainstay of the world stage.  His mature works should be performed constantly.

Josh and I may not have to wait another six years and seven months before we again catch an Ibsen play.

Josh and I may attend a yet-to-open Broadway production of Ibsen’s “An Enemy Of The People” next month while we are in New York.  On paper, the cast is unimpressive—but “An Enemy Of The People” is about the only thing on Broadway Josh and I will be able to sit through.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Very, Very Colorful

Minnesota Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Nabucco”, a co-production with Washington Opera and The Opera Company Of Philadelphia, will open tonight.

We shall not be at tonight’s performance. We shall be at tonight’s Minnesota/Syracuse game.

We shall catch “Nabucco” at Thursday night’s performance.

Insiders talk with great excitement about the local “Nabucco”. As a result, my interest is growing—probably a good thing, as I have never been an admirer of “Nabucco”.

The “Nabucco” physical production is supposed to be very, very colorful.

The Shaw Festival—Opera Interlude

On our third day in Niagara-On-The-Lake, we caught a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s one-act chamber opera, “Trouble In Tahiti”.

Each year, The Shaw Festival offers a short theater piece as a “lunchtime” presentation. The Bernstein chamber opera was this year’s lunchtime presentation. “Trouble In Tahiti” was the first opera presented in the history of The Shaw Festival.

The staging and music presentation of “Trouble In Tahiti” were more musical comedy than opera.

The Shaw Festival had dispensed with Bernstein’s orchestra—even the publisher-sanctioned reduced orchestration was not in use—and instead had utilized an onstage four-man jazz combo for orchestral support. This, alone, rendered the musical presentation of the score nonsense.

The two singers portraying the only characters in the opera had music-theater voices, not opera voices—and such is perfectly acceptable if not ideal.

However, the composer’s three-voice Greek chorus had been expanded into nine singers and dancers—a Broadway chorus in all but name—and this expanded ensemble virtually took over the stage, turning every number into a song-and-dance routine.

The elimination of the orchestra and the use of a Broadway chorus amounted to a rewriting of the show—and not to the show’s benefit.

There is not much to “Trouble In Tahiti” to begin with—but what little appeal the work possesses is its portrayal of isolation and loneliness on the part of the young married couple unsuited as lifetime mates. If the young couple’s travails become lost amid a sequence of pizzazz- and charm-free Broadway routines, the essence of the opera disappears. What remains is a jumbled sequence of unimaginative excerpts from an old television variety show.

And that is precisely what The Shaw Festival presentation of “Trouble In Tahiti” resembled: an old-fashioned—and unwatchable—television variety show.

If the work itself were any good, we might have been able to summon a modicum of outrage over the mistreatment of Bernstein’s score. However, “Trouble In Tahiti” is so fundamentally weak that we endured the presentation with indifference—while marveling over the fact that The Shaw Festival had proven itself able to peddle such a gruesome show at $40.00 per seat.

The score of “Trouble In Tahiti” is not good, even by Bernstein standards. The melodic material is feeble, and Bernstein showed himself unable to fashion the material into anything approaching genuine operatic development. Written in the composer’s thirty-third year, the score is that of a talented college sophomore with much yet to learn.

“Trouble In Tahiti” lives on, to the extent it lives on at all, in stagings by music conservatories. It is an ideal student vehicle, what with its minimal stage requirements, unchallenging diatonic score and vocal parts demanding no virtuosity.

For audiences, however, “Trouble In Tahiti” does not provide much satisfaction, musical or theatrical. Outside conservatory walls, “Trouble In Tahiti” has—quite rightly—been largely ignored. A major conductor has never touched the opera; a major stage director has never gone anywhere near the piece.

Even the composer was unable to do anything with “Trouble In Tahiti” in the studio recording he made in the 1970s. In Bernstein’s own hands, the score resolutely fails to come to life; it is limp, dishrag music.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Shaw Festival—Second Day

On our second day in Niagara-On-The-Lake, we attended a matinee performance of Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” and an evening performance of George Bernard Shaw’s “The Millionairess”.

Although the playwrights were separated by two generations, the plays themselves were written almost contemporaneously.

“Present Laughter” was completed in 1939 (owing to war, its first production had to wait until 1942); “The Millionairess” was both completed and unveiled in 1936.

“Present Laughter” has always been one of Coward’s most popular plays; “The Millionairess” has always puzzled critics and audiences, and been among the least-produced of Shaw’s major works.


One may endure “Present Laughter” even in a bad performance because so many of the lines are witty (all of the characters speak as if they were Coward himself).

The Shaw Festival production was not bad, but it was in no way distinguished.

What was good about the production was the stage design—all productions of “Present Laughter” seem to revel in glorious Art Deco settings and costumes—and much of the character acting.

About half of the character acting was exceptionally fine; about half was not good at all. The half not good overplayed far beyond the bounds of acceptable exaggeration or underplayed to the point of disappearance. The general rule of thumb onstage: the more mature the actor, the better the playing.

At the center of the performance was a void. The actor playing the central role—that of a matinee idol—was not up to the role’s demands. He should never have been cast in such an important role.

In January 2010, Joshua and I had attended the recent Broadway production of “Present Laughter”. That production had starred Victor Garber. Garber, too, had been unsatisfactory—as well as twenty years too old for the part—but Garber had been a full-fledged success compared to the actor we saw stumble through the same part in Niagara-On-The-Lake.

The entire performance, every member of the audience must have wondered why all the subsidiary characters onstage were so fascinated by, and allowed their lives to revolve around, the central character. The actor at the center of the play was more vacuum cleaner salesman than matinee idol over whose every utterance a dozen persons were supposed to drool.

In the late 1970s, my parents saw a production of “Present Laughter” starring Peter O’Toole. My parents recall O’Toole as having been incandescent in a near-perfect staging of the play. They recall that production with great fondness after the passage of more than thirty years—and they insist that O’Toole was an unequivocally-great stage actor. (At the time, O’Toole was playing “Present Laughter” in repertory with “Uncle Vanya”, which my parents also saw and greatly admired.)


The Shaw Festival’s “The Millionairess” was my first encounter with the play.

“The Millionairess” provided us with what may have been our best experience at The Shaw Festival. We loved every minute of the play. We were riveted by the proceedings for all four acts.

Like most Shaw plays, there is no plot to “The Millionairess”. The play, in essence, is an extended discussion of capitalism, in one sitting.

At its center is the absurdly-named Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga, “the richest woman in England”. The play begins in the solicitor’s office of the heroine, where the heroine is amending her last will and testament prior to her planned suicide, a suicide designed to cause her as little discomfort as possible—but as much distress as possible to the persons in her life.

During the course of the play, the irresponsible and irrepressible—and irresistible—heroine engages in nonstop maddening behavior.  She does everything from treating her husband and workers with utmost contempt to kicking a friend down a flight of stairs for making a remark critical of the heroine’s late father (the friend must spend the rest of the play on crutches).

Numerous challenges are thrown at the heroine, and she surmounts them all with ease—and with great flair. Perhaps most amusing is the heroine’s purchase of two failing businesses, a maneuver forced upon her in an effort to teach her some humility. In both cases, she begins making improvements to the businesses within thirty seconds of walking through the entryways—and, to the dismay of everyone, turns both enterprises into thriving commercial successes virtually overnight.

I have no idea what thesis Shaw intended when he sat down to write “The Millionairess”—Shaw had zero sophistication when it came to political or economic matters—but he clearly fell in love with his heroine, and in the process created his single greatest female role. Any message in the play gets lost as the audience breathlessly follows the adventures of the heroine as she proceeds from triumph to triumph, always turning dross into gold.

The actress portraying Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga was magnificent. Viewers in the theater were unable to take their eyes from her for the duration of the performance. She was magnetic while engaged in the most atrocious misdeeds, captivating while plotting the most brutal of business stratagems—no matter how many persons she had to step over.

The actress’s name was Nicole Underhay.

Underhay gave a genuine star performance. She was so superb, everyone else onstage had to raise the level of his or her performance in order to match Underhay—and did so. Underhay played off and played against the other cast members beautifully. None of the actors failed to register—including the cipher of an actor who had starred that very same afternoon in “Present Laughter”.

The designers had assisted Underhay in her compelling sweep through the role of the heroine. Each of the four acts had been designed in a single striking color scheme—red, blue, green, gold—with Underhay dressed in a sensational creation in a vivid shade of the prevailing color for each act. In that sense, Underhay was presented, jewel-like, in the manner of the glass of absinthe situated at the center of Edgar Degas’s masterpiece, “The Absinthe Drinker”.

I applaud The Shaw Festival production of “The Millionairess” as a genuine and rare achievement. There is, fundamentally, not much of a play at the center of “The Millionairess”—and, in my judgment, 99 of 100 productions surely would descend into camp. Yet The Shaw Festival gave the play a sparkling—yet straight—presentation.

To present “The Millionairess” in 2012 as a serious play—and to present it SUCCESSFULLY as a serious play (and not as some sort of ridiculous joke)—is a major accomplishment.

Opening-night reviews for this production of “The Millionairess” were mixed. I suspect the production must have improved considerably during the course of the run.

Had conditions allowed, we would have attended The Shaw Festival production of “The Millionairess” a second time. I never again expect to see as fine a production of the play.

If the production were to transfer to The Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis-Saint Paul audiences would go wild.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Art Deco In Edina

There are numerous Art Deco buildings in Edina that, miraculously, have survived the passing decades.

Edina Cinema, in downtown Edina, is one such old Art Deco structure. Beautifully-maintained, Edina Cinema now thrives as an art-house cinema with four screens.

On Sunday evening, we took my mother to see a French film, “The Well-Digger’s Daughter”, at Edina Cinema.

We are not regular filmgoers. However, on the rare occasion that we do go to the movies, it invariably is on a Sunday afternoon or a Sunday evening.

It is possible we will take my mother to see another French film next Sunday evening, “Little White Lies”.

My mother has a particular interest in French cinema—even though French cinema of today is neither vibrant nor important. My mother’s interest in French cinema goes back to her college days, when French cinema was indeed both vital and influential.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Minnesota 28, Western Michigan 23

On Saturday, all the men in my family went to the University Of Minnesota football game.

It was a morning game—there was an 11:00 a.m. start—so we had to get things under way early.

By 8:30 a.m., we had assembled, completed breakfast at Perkins (which, for reasons unknown, has become our Saturday-morning breakfast destination on Saturdays on which we have something scheduled), and were on our way to the stadium.

Saturday was the only football game of the season for my nephew—one game is enough for him—and we left the game shortly after conclusion of the halftime show. It is unreasonable to expect a six-year-old boy to be able to make it through an entire college game. The pre-game festivities, the first half, and the halftime show were more than enough to satisfy his interest. In fact, it is the marching band, with its changing formations, that most intrigues him.

I have no idea how many Golden Gophers games we will attend this season. We shall probably make week-by-week decisions as the season progresses. We have not yet decided whether we intend to catch next Saturday’s contest, a night game with a 7:00 p.m. kickoff.

Minnesota is off to a 3-0 start this season, but no one truly knows what that signifies. Until Minnesota plays a high-quality opponent, no one can judge whether the football program is genuinely beginning to recover from its recent woes.

My mother had a late lunch waiting for us when we returned home: shrimp-salad sandwiches on croissants accompanied by a cold garden/pasta salad.

Everyone stayed at my parents’ house for the remainder of the day and played with the kids.

My nephew is now in first grade, and attends school all day (last school year, his kindergarten was only two-and-a-half hours each morning). By all indications, he seems to enjoy school. My niece looks forward to my nephew’s return home each afternoon, but she is not having problems adjusting to her brother’s daylong absence. Kids are flexible.

My mother made a special dinner for Saturday night: pork roast in pastry. She made two kinds: one stuffed with onions and leeks, and another stuffed with apricots and plums.

She served the pork-in-pastry with escalloped potatoes cooked with cheeses and onions, butternut squash, baby Brussels sprouts, white corn, red cabbage baked with cream and butter, and a tart-yet-sweet apple-cranberry-cherry-raspberry-celery-nut salad.

For dessert, we had a maple cake.

No one starved.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Conductor Edo de Waart.

The photograph reveals a thousand things about the man, things about which he would not even be aware.

First Concert Of The Season

On Friday evening, Joshua and I went to Saint Paul to hear the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in concert. Edo de Waart was conductor; Christian Zacharias was guest soloist.

My parents joined us for the concert.

My parents are dedicated patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra, yet they seldom attend Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts. In fact, my parents attend SPCO concerts only when Josh and I invite them to come with us—and they accept perhaps only half of our invitations.

Surveys suggest that the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra have distinct patronships, with little overlap between the two organizations’ subscribers or regular concertgoers. I find this situation remarkable, as one would think that both orchestras would draw from the very same body of music-lovers. I cannot provide a satisfactory explanation to account for the fact that the two orchestras have separate and discrete audiences.

It was the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 that attracted us to the concert hall on Friday evening. An epic work bursting with drama and grandeur, the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 is the most profound and most affecting (and most thrilling) of all concertante works for piano and orchestra.

Going in, we knew the performance would be problematic. A chamber orchestra simply cannot do justice to a work written for—and demanding—the resources of a full symphony orchestra. The Vienna Philharmonic uses 83 players when performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2; in Saint Paul, only 35 were onstage.

By definition, the performance was small-scale. Overwhelming beauty of sound was nowise present. The great climaxes of the first two movements did not tell. The audience was offered an undernourished and underpowered account of the score. There were many lovely moments, all in the third and fourth movements, but the performance did not arise to a satisfying and fulfilling account of the work.

Zacharias is a fine pianist, but he is not a great one. Since every note produced by the piano could be heard clearly, we were able to note pianistic detail generally lost in a full-orchestra performance of the work. We heard nothing memorable or remarkable from Zacharias, nothing that made us sit up and take notice of a unique personality and unique keyboard artist.

We did, however, hear lots of slipped notes. The Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 operates at the very outer limits of Zacharias’s technique. It is probably a mistake for Zacharias to perform this work in major venues.

Zacharias had limited color at his disposal in his presentation of the great work, far too limited to bring the concerto off. If an artist is unable or unwilling to explore the sonorities of the piano in this greatest of all concertos for the instrument, the work should remain unperformed. Zacharias was mechanical in his sound production when he needed to produce a deep, penetrating, glamorous sound from his instrument.

I do not think there is a pianist alive today that can do justice to the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. Maurizio Pollini is chilly in the work, Krystian Zimerman too odd, the current generation of Russian pianists too unversed in Classicism to give satisfactory accounts of the work. Theoretically, one would think that Stephen Kovacevich, a magnificent Brahms pianist, would own this concerto—but the Second has always eluded him (although he is stunning in the First). I wonder whether I will ever hear a satisfactory live account of the work.

Friday evening was the fourth time in the past two years we have heard Zacharias—and we have had our fill of him for now. In November 2010, we heard Zacharias as conductor and soloist with the Boston Symphony (Mozart and Haydn). In December 2011, we heard Zacharias as conductor and soloist with the SPCO in two separate programs (Beethoven and Frank Martin; Haydn, Weber and Stravinsky). At present, we need to give Zacharias a rest. He is, for us, over-exposed.

The first half of the concert was devoted to music of Richard Strauss.

Performed first was Strauss’s Serenade In E-Flat, a nine-minute, one-movement, sonata-form work for thirteen wind instruments written shortly after the composer’s seventeenth birthday. A distillation of Mozart and Mendelssohn, the Serenade received the finest performance of the evening.

Performed next was Strauss’s Metamorphosen For 23 Solo Strings, completed in the composer’s 81st year. A lament for the destruction of Munich as well as the German civilization that had formed the basis of the composer’s artistry and art, the elegiac and somber Metamorphosen was begun in 1943 and completed on April 12, 1945, twenty-five days before Germany’s final surrender—and the date, coincidentally, of Franklin Roosevelt’s death. Contrary to common belief, Metamorphosen was not written after the conclusion of the war, nor was it written specifically to commemorate the destroyed opera house of Munich.

The Saint Paul performance of Metamorphosen was faceless and impersonal, not deeply-felt and moving. The playing was clean, but there was nothing behind the notes. It was an earnest, trudging performance—and an earnest, trudging performance of the half-hour Metamorphosen will always seem to go on forever, which is precisely what happened in Saint Paul on Friday evening. I hold de Waart responsible for the performance’s lack of concentration, absence of shape, and want of expression and commitment.

I have never been an admirer of de Waart. De Waart was Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1986 until 1995, and it cannot be claimed that de Waart’s years in Minneapolis constituted some sort of glorious period for the Minnesota Orchestra. Musicians, administrators, critics, concertgoers: all were happy to see de Waart leave town.

I recall de Waart’s Minnesota Orchestra performances as, fundamentally, dour and unimaginative.

My father’s analysis of de Waart’s tenure in Minnesota: “De Waart simply had no depth—and it became more and more obvious with each passing year.”

My mother’s characterization of the de Waart years: “I don’t think de Waart enjoyed making music. I never once heard the orchestra play for him with the slightest joy.”

In my parents’ dining room, in the final year of de Waart’s Minnesota Orchestra tenure, I recall hearing a noted professor remark, over dinner, “Hearing him for nine years, I can say: he’s totally washed up now as a musician.”

The professor was corrected by a noted conductor sitting across the table. “No. He was washed up before he arrived here.”

De Waart’s career has been on a steep downward slide since his Minnesota Orchestra directorship ended seventeen years ago. De Waart has been reduced to working with orchestras in Sydney, Hong Kong, Milwaukee and Antwerp. It has been years and years since de Waart has been invited to conduct the very finest ensembles in the United States and Europe on a regular basis.

De Waart’s career has had an odd arc. His career—and fame—peaked in the late 1970s, when de Waart was in his late thirties. It was widely believed at the time that de Waart would develop into a major talent. De Waart enjoyed major management, a major recording contract (Philips), major engagements and major fees.

De Waart was one of eight conductors profiled in Philip Hart’s “Conductors: A New Generation”, published in 1979. In his book, Hart attempted to identify the eight most important conductors for the next thirty years—and Hart’s guesses, by and large, were not too far off the mark (Hart could not have been expected in 1979 to foresee the rise and emergence, respectively, of Riccardo Chailly, Ivan Fischer and Simon Rattle). De Waart, of the conductors selected by Hart, is the figure whose career least turned out to warrant Hart’s spotlight.

Within a few years of the publication of the Hart book, it was all over for de Waart. The important engagements had ended—de Waart had proven himself not up to the task—and de Waart lost his management, his recording contract, and his high fees.

De Waart found his name stricken from the “A” list of conductors, and has had to endure a steady downward career regression ever since. Among conductors, de Waart may have suffered the most unusual—and most disappointing—career of recent decades.

Unaccountably, the SPCO has engaged de Waart to conduct six weeks of SPCO concerts this season—and, of greater regret, de Waart has been assigned prime repertory.

I believe this is a mistake. De Waart is not a box-office draw in the Twin Cities. There is no area of the repertory in which de Waart excels. De Waart performances, under the best of circumstances, cannot be described as anything more than competent. The SPCO slots given to de Waart should have been granted to young up-and-coming conductors from Germany and Austria.

Of more critical importance, the SPCO needs to address its Music Director issue.

The SPCO currently operates without a Music Director. Its most recent Music Director, Andreas Delfs, failed to work out—but the orchestra should not have used that failure as an excuse to eliminate the post of Music Director. The playing of the SPCO is now alarmingly impersonal and uninteresting. The musicians are in serious need of a jolt of inspiration—and, if that jolt does not come without significant delay, the SPCO will soon devolve into the Midwest equivalent of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: an ensemble not worth hearing.

The SPCO needs to select and engage a Music Director as soon as possible.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The West End 1936

Kay Hammond and Roland Culver in the 1936 West End production of Terence Rattigan’s “French Without Tears”.

Hammond and Culver are largely forgotten today, but three other actors appearing in the original production of “French Without Tears” went on to long and distinguished careers in theater and film: Rex Harrison, Trevor Howard and Jessica Tandy.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Shaw Festival—First Day

Joshua and I had been to The Shaw Festival once before.

Three years ago, when Josh and I had been living in Boston, we traveled to Niagara-On-The-Lake for a long Labor Day Weekend. During that short visit, we caught five Shaw Festival productions. Josh and I had not been particularly impressed with what we saw at The Shaw Festival in 2009.

Last week was the first visit by my parents and my middle brother to Niagara-On-The-Lake.

My parents had always promised themselves that they would attend one of the Canadian summer theater festivals in a year in which all the plays in repertory appealed to them. 2012 was the first such year in which all ten productions of one of the festivals happened to be of interest to my parents—and my parents kept their promise to themselves and took advantage of the situation (and encouraged my brother and Josh and me to join them).

The Shaw Festival, effectively, was this year’s summer vacation for all of us. The vacation was short—we arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, and we departed the following Monday morning—but it served its purpose: getting us away for a few days.

My parents enjoyed themselves immensely. A daily matinee and a daily evening performance, interrupted by a leisurely dinner, were perfect for them. It was both a carefree yet stimulating vacation, precisely the kind of vacation my parents most enjoy.

While we were in Niagara-On-The-Lake, we spent one morning visiting Niagara Falls and another morning exploring Fort George. Otherwise, we spent our mornings ambling about the town, peeking into shops and art galleries and such.

We had a luxurious breakfast at our hotel every morning, a light luncheon every midday, and an excellent dinner every night. Niagara-On-The-Lake bills itself as Canada’s finest dining destination. Whether or not such claim has merit, we had no complaints about our meals, all of which met the highest standard.


On the day of our arrival, we had only one performance scheduled: an evening presentation of Terence Rattigan’s “French Without Tears”.

“French Without Tears” is NEVER performed in North America—this year’s Shaw Festival production is the first major staging of “French Without Tears” in North America since the play’s brief and unsuccessful Broadway debut production in 1937.

Rattigan’s first critical and commercial success, “French Without Tears” made Rattigan’s name in London when it debuted in the West End in 1936. (It also made the young Rex Harrison a star.) The production gained superlative reviews from London critics and enjoyed a long and profitable run. Its success was due to the fact that it was precisely the type of comedy designed to appeal to a middle-class British audience of the 1930s, an audience that wanted to see itself portrayed as fashionable and chic. The play, packed with pretensions of sophistication and wit, presents the story of Englishmen experiencing life on the continent, a theme that was a staple of the British stage from the mid-19th Century through the mid-20th Century.

The plot is simple. A group of young Englishmen move to the French countryside in order to learn the French language under the guidance of a kind but peculiar older gentleman. Their foreign adventure is interrupted with the appearance of a striking young English woman. Each of the young men finds the new visitor captivating. A series of innocent entanglements results, causing much confusion, and things are not sorted out until the end of the play.

I did not find “French Without Tears” to be amusing—or even worthy of revival. In fact, I thought it was a very, very bad play, poorly plotted, ineptly written, full of holes and characterized by endless longueurs.

The production, too, was poor. In fact, it was the poorest of the productions we experienced at The Shaw Festival.

The actors portraying the young men were insufficiently differentiated and had trouble portraying middle-class characters with conviction and ease. The actress playing the seductress was even worse at capturing the correct social milieu—she seemed to have wandered in from a particularly unpleasant episode of “East Enders”—and was completely upstaged by an actress appearing in a “Plain Jane” role, who quickly gained the audience’s sympathy. The miscasting seriously unbalanced the play, if not rendered it nonsense; “French Without Tears” cannot cohere if social caste is not meticulously observed in a production.

Aside from the mature actor portraying the older gentleman (who was superb, and walked away with the show), the production was totally misplayed and misdirected. It was impossible not to notice that audience laughter was forced as well as mistimed; the audience, clearly, had come to enjoy a comedy, and attempted to convince itself that it was having a good time by awkwardly inserting laughter where none had been earned.

Unaccountably, the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal gave The Shaw Festival production of “French Without Tears” a rave review, even suggesting that the production be imported directly to Broadway as soon as The Shaw Festival concluded its season.

If transported to New York, this particular production of “French Without Tears” would be laughed off the Broadway stage. It would be sure to close on opening night—assuming it would even be able to make it through previews, most unlikely in my estimation.

I have concluded that The Wall Street Journal drama critic is totally unreliable. He seems to like—and reward—everything, including the most bone-weary piffle. I admire his ability to enjoy anything and everything, but I am not confident that such a characteristic serves a drama critic—or his audience—well.

Three years ago, my middle brother and Josh and I suffered through a startlingly-awful Boston production of the musical, “Kiss Me, Kate”—and our attendance had been based solely upon the same critic’s recommendation. That afternoon was one of the most gruesome afternoons of our lives.

“French Without Tears” at The Shaw was a total waste of our time. I cannot understand why any critic would praise either play or production.

Happily, nothing we were to see the following four days was anywhere near so bad.

Friday, September 14, 2012

July 1944: Saint Malo, France

July 1944: Two nuns and a French family examine the ruins of the bombed Church Of Saint Malo.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


It is a mistake for a taciturn, serious-minded woman to marry a jovial man, but not for a serious-minded man to marry a lighthearted woman.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

August 1944: Saint-Lô, France

Two French boys watch from a hilltop as Allied vehicles pass through the city of Saint-Lô, almost completely destroyed during the battle for Normandy.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Today's Matinee At 2:00

George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Tonight At 8:00

William Inge's "Come Back, Little Sheba".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Today's Matinee At 2:00

The Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens-Terrence McNally musical, "Ragtime".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Tonight At 8:00

John Guare's "His Girl Friday", adapted from the play, "The Front Page", and the movie, "His Girl Friday".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Friday, September 07, 2012

This Morning's Opera At 11:30

Leonard Bernstein's one-act chamber opera, "Trouble In Tahiti".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Today's Matinee At 2:00

Githa Sowerby's "A Man And Some Women".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Tonight At 8:00

Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Today's Matinee At 2:00

Noel Coward's "Present Laughter".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Tonight At 8:00

George Bernard Shaw's "The Millionairess".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Tonight At 8:00

Terence Rattigan's "French Without Tears".

Photograph courtesy of The Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A Case Of Dumb Kids And Dumb Parents

Question: Are your kids back in school?

Answer: Yes, thank God. These vacations are too long. They [the kids] don't know what to do with themselves and there is an end to what we [the parents] can do with them. We certainly love being together, but it's good for them to have a little more structure in their lives in school.

Conductor Edo de Waart, former Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra and current “Artistic Partner” of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, in a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune


De Waart has two children in elementary school in Middleton, Wisconsin, where de Waart and his wife maintain their permanent residence.

De Waart is 71 years old. From outward appearances, he is not in the best of health. At his age, de Waart should be preparing for the role of great-grandfather, a role that—in normal circumstances—he would encounter and be expected to embody within the next few years. Instead, he now finds himself in the role of a man who, ideally, should be three or four decades younger than himself.

To bypass the question of the sheer foolishness of a man in his sixties fathering children, one may note that, in the de Waart household, both children and parents clearly suffer from stark imagination deficits. For normal children, there simply are not enough hours in the day for them to do everything they want to do. For normal parents, there simply are not enough hours in the day for them to do everything they want to do with their kids.

In fact, the “not enough hours in the day” regret is one of the eternal verities, a lifetime principle that holds true for productive and well-adjusted humans of all ages. If that principle is not at work in the de Waart household, where both children and parents strain to come up with something to do to occupy time, something is amiss—and unhappiness and dissatisfaction lie ahead.

And if parents cannot provide “structure” for their children, surely no one else can.

I smell trouble, current and future, in Middleton.

Monday, September 03, 2012

“Relatives Are The Worst Friends, Said The Fox As The Dogs Took After Him”

Danish SS personnel on the Eastern Front in 1942


The other day we visited a large lunatic asylum near Munich and attended a lecture on racial science. It was fantastic to watch the mob of human wrecks they’d gathered there. I just wonder why they keep them alive.

Afterwards we visited the famous concentration camp, Dachau, and saw it from one end to the other. It was a great experience. You all know what one hears in Denmark about concentration camps. Like the rest, it’s lies from end to end. You can’t imagine how amazing the order and cleanliness are around here and what incredible work is being performed.

Danish SS Officer Per Sørensen, writing home to his parents from Munich in 1942


The Danish volunteers saw action primarily at the Eastern Front and therefore were in a good position to become acquainted with the kind of Nazi racial policies and brutal warfare that characterized the occupation regime in Central and Eastern Europe. The units containing the majority of Danes were mainly involved in frontline duty, and research suggests that they took part in the war of extermination on more or less the same level as most other Waffen SS frontline units.

Claus Bundgård Christensen, Niels Bo Poulsen and Peter Scharff Smith, in their seminal study of the Danish SS, issued in 1997 and essential reading to historians of the period

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A Nation Without Moral Fiber—Or “How To Occupy A Country Before Breakfast”

On April 9, 1940, at 5:00 a.m., the government of Germany informed the government of Denmark that Germany wished to occupy Denmark, and requested Denmark’s immediate submission.

A short while later, a single battalion of German troops landed by unarmored ship in Copenhagen harbor and occupied the city’s ancient (and totally useless) citadel—without firing a single shot.

The German soldiers informed the Danish soldiers on duty at the citadel that they were not free to leave—until later in the day.

German officials gave a live running commentary of the progress of the “battle”, such as it was, direct to Germany—by telephone, using standard Danish commercial telephone lines. The Germans placed their calls from a hotel directly across the street from the citadel. (The Danes, incredibly, had been too stupid to cut communications to Germany.)

At 7:20 a.m., the Danish government capitulated. The “war” was over. It was the briefest military campaign in recorded history.

At 1:00 p.m., General Kurt Himer, head of German operations in Denmark, received an audience with the Danish monarch, Christian X.

The Danish monarch had one—and only one—question on his mind: “Will I be able to keep my bodyguards?”

“Of course” was a startled General Himer’s reply.

The relieved monarch had nothing further to say—until the end of the pleasantries, when he confided in General Himer:

“General, may I, as an old soldier, tell you something? As soldier to soldier? You Germans have done the incredible! Again! One must admit that it is magnificent work!”

All present at the royal audience, dumbfounded at the Danish monarch’s words, and fearful that no one would believe what they had just witnessed, reported back to Germany—that very day, in writing—precisely what Christian X had uttered.

Christian X (“The Fighting Monarch”) was, of course, a frightful boob.

Never popular in the first thirty years of his reign, when he repeatedly—and disastrously—tried to inject himself into Danish politics, Christian X acquired an inexplicable degree of popularity during the German occupation. This was so even though he spent the final three years of the occupation in total seclusion, sequestered from his subjects because of ill health.

The many absurd stories about Christian X’s courageous and noble endeavors during World War II are all preposterous fictions.

Most ridiculous of all is the legend of Christian X wearing “The Yellow Star” in support of his nation’s Jewish citizens. In fact, Christian X never wore “The Yellow Star”—nor, for that matter, did Denmark’s Jewish citizens ever wear “The Yellow Star”. The story is pure myth.

When Germany seized absolute control of Denmark in August 1943, Germany finally issued an order calling for the roundup of Denmark’s Jewish citizens. Christian X, alone among European monarchs, did not protest the order—most likely because he was a notorious anti-Semite himself.

It is believed that the many apocryphal stories about the “noble” Christian X were fabricated from whole cloth while the war was still in progress—and were in response to numerous articles in American newspapers highly critical of Denmark’s ignoble and all-too-willing accommodation to the German occupation. Pro-Denmark stories were invented and planted in the American press in order to attempt to change American perceptions toward the Danes—and, from a pure public-relations standpoint, those stories were largely successful (although historians have always been harshly critical of Denmark’s unseemly readiness to accept foreign occupation without complaint and without resistance).

Denmark’s accommodation with Germany was, perhaps, the ugliest episode in Denmark’s ugly and highly militaristic history going back over a thousand years. Denmark’s shameful accommodation was just as ugly as—if not uglier than—the shameful accommodation of France.

Neither nation shall ever be able to live down its disgraceful behavior during the war.

It was only in 2003 that Denmark admitted, publicly and for the first time, that its cooperation with the Nazi regime had been “morally unjustifiable”.

Yet the innate trait of pettiness—if not vindictiveness—that runs through the Danish character showed itself as soon as the war ended.

The nation immediately arrested 40,000 citizens on suspicions of “collaboration”. (By comparison, Germany had arrested only 6,000 Danes during the entire five years and one month of occupation.)

Even though Denmark’s official policy throughout the war had been to encourage its citizens to collaborate, 13,500 of those charged with collaboration were convicted and punished. Most were sentenced to long prison terms.

Forty-six persons were executed—despite the fact that Denmark’s constitution forbade the death penalty.

The number of post-war executions for collaboration was three times higher than the number of Danes killed during the two-hour “war” that had occurred five years earlier.

Denmark had been placed on notice of the pending German invasion well in advance of April 9, 1940. The intelligence arm of Denmark’s army had provided the Danish government with the date of the attack as well as the German plans of advance. Denmark’s ambassador in Berlin had provided Copenhagen with the same information, as had the British government.

Nonetheless, the Danish government took no action. It did not even bother to inform the nation’s navy or police force what was expected to happen on April 9.

During the war, Denmark voluntarily created its own SS, complete with its own unique uniforms and insignia.

Denmark’s SS often paraded through the streets of downtown Copenhagen, with large, supportive crowds looking on.

Denmark also created regiments and brigades—including Panzer brigades and a special Freikorps Danmark—that served with the German Army on both the Eastern and Western Fronts.

Danes, understandably, are reluctant today to acknowledge such unpleasant if not painful facts about their nation’s history. For seventy years, Denmark has been mostly successful in sweeping such sordid goings-on under the rug. To this day, Denmark’s wartime shenanigans remain largely unexamined—by the Danes themselves as well as outsiders.

Yet more and more information about Denmark’s participation in the killing squads on The Eastern Front continues to emerge—while countless new photographs, documenting such participation, come to light year after year. The appearance of history tomes cannot be far behind. In fact, it is my understanding that Latvian historians are already hard at work on the subject.

The story of the tens of thousands of German civilians, mostly women and children, who died in post-war Danish internment camps—as the result of an official government policy of deliberate neglect—must be told at another time.