In Which Lanzini Earns his Spurs, Tristan Sees the Light and its Top ‘alf Only

Post 27

Oh what a night! Late September back in ’63…

Sorry wrong record but what a night! We rocked, we rolled we twisted we shouted.

 

On what was no doubt Don’s first ever Friday night football match, the Olympic Stadium provided a dramatic setting to entertain our much-loved neighbours from up the road in N17. It’s always an event when Spurs are in town but this year the tension, the expectation and above all the apprehension was palpable. They arrived Cock-a hoop. Awesome is an over-used and oft inappropriate word but nine wins on the bounce indeed inspires awe. Don was afraid, very afraid. The pain of seeing Tottenham “coming for Chelsea” at our place would have been too much to bear.

But some optimism was justified. This time last year, their circumstances were similar (ours weren’t) and we’d stopped them in their tracks. Moreover, our form had improved recently, no goals but a solid defence. The return of Reid into a back three brings dependability and positional awareness that inspires confidence. One may say Adrian has also contributed but his jury is still hovering near the door.

Three clean sheets in the previous four games is excellent. Yes two nil-nils but sometimes Nil-Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, as they say around Everton. Our back three had Lukaku in their pocket so why not the far inferior Harry Kane? The phrase knocking around after the Everton game was that we “out Everton’d” them; meaning pre-Koeman Everton with the high pressing, hunting in packs and the style that has become a watchword of this season, personified by Spurs though ironically Everton have since been slightly more refined.

EvertonStroke

Against Stoke we were expressive but couldn’t finish off the chances we created.

So Spurs was maybe not the foregone conclusion it initially appeared…though probably would be.

But first a philosophical question: why does Don dislike Spurs with such vigour? He is envious of Chelsea so at least there’s some logic to that hatred and Arsenal do not raise the hackles with any real spirit. Brother Don (he of the dodgy Incest Post 7 ) supports them, could that be it? Not really. He only started supporting them 40 years ago to pinch that nerve. And it’s not as if they’ve had any real success to cause upset.

No, I think the issue runs deeper, in something neither Spurs or anyone can help. There was a Dr Who episode from 2006 in which miners have developed technology to dig very deep beneath the earth. Much deeper than any respecter of nature and unknown forces, should go. It’s the Wahn taking hold. Eventually, they discover why they should not have been drilling, for it is Beelzebub, the Devil himself that resides there; he has been disturbed and is not best pleased. Well that of course is fiction but sorry to report folks but I have it on pretty reliable authority that in actual fact the Devil resides deep beneath White Hart Lane and nothing good will come of the deep piling currently underway. Not Spurs’ fault; just the way it is and no team of the Devil will curry favour with Don.

the-devil

(sorry to rip whoever has copyright of this. I’m guessing BBC)

Don sincerely tries to warn his several Spursey friends (especially the three with whom he shared delightful pre-match Riojas at Enrique Tomas) but they won’t listen.

To the game! One may report that Don was really up for the fight but with 30 seconds gone he remembers looking at the clock, willing it to be over and we’d take the nil-nil.

But we swiftly grew into something resembling ok. Letting them have the ball in non-dangerous areas and closing down vociferously when needed. Noble of course had read the Julian Dicks pre-match relaxation routine and nearly permanently crippled Dyer. Mark, we all hark back to 1992 but this is 2017 and we’d quite like to keep 11 players on the field. Little Don remarked early on that their defenders were playing very high up, especially Walker and we could easily expose that with the right ball. Both Ayew and Calleri had chances to slot people in but didn’t quite have the guile but Noble and then Ayew did manage it, both times for Lanzini. We were not only holding them quite comfortably at the back (the Adrian flick over the bar aside), we showed signs of hurting them. The atmosphere began to cackle.

A word about Calleri. Its been hard to fathom why he is consistently preferred to Fletcher but no-one can argue with the shift he put in, as he did against Everton and Sunderland.  He single-handedly more than occupied Alderweireld and Vertonghen allowing opportunities for Ayew and especially Lanzini. It’s a shame we won’t keep him (which is probably correct to allow room for Fletcher and Martinez to bloom) but he will have learned a lot from his time with us and there’s a decent player somewhere in there. Somewhere.

In the second half we went up a gear and it surprised Tottenham, who looked increasingly ruffled, even before the goal. I thought Slaven’s tactics were spot on. We have four players; Byram, Creswell, Noble and Kouyate who are all decent but very capable of ill-discipline and getting wrong side. But they all stuck to the task manfully and both this and the back three formation allowed centre backs to attack the ball quite high up knowing someone had their back should it not work out. It invariably worked out. The rest of the ream replicated this attitude.

The passage of play just before the goal was an example. Ayew, without much hope of getting the ball put Vertonghen (was it?) under pressure into making a poor clearance. We collected possession and the rest is history. Don has seen precious few goals from his seat in the East Lower and no others (even Payet v Boro) resulted in him dancing in the aisle.  It was a wonderful moment as his Cha-Cha-Cha is indeed a sight to behold. And what can we say about Lanzini? The cliche is that was everywhere. Except he wasn’t; he focused on doing what he does best in positions where it could hurt them and often that was drifting into the space Walker had just vacated. He has emerged admirably from beneath the rock that was last season’s supporting role to being the main attraction. He deserves the plaudits and he will win goal of the season.

Considering what was at stake for them, the Hammers coped with the Spuds quite comfortably because we were simply pretty good. The fact is that our defence and midfield (even without Don’s favourite Obiang), is capable of competing with top 6 sides. It is up front that we are woefully short and surely that will be addressed in a few weeks. (Deja vu).

At the final whistle the place was rocking and it was a night no West Ham fan will forget. Maybe this spectacular stadium that contrives to be a monstrosity of a football ground, can feel like home. What choice do we have?

Suddenly albeit temporarily we are ninth. Top half eh? That takes me back but its the least we are entitled to expect. Tomorrow Don is going to see one of his favourite films, Brassed Off at the Albert Hall complimented live by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. What an absolute bloody treat. Should my Dear Reader have the impeccable taste to have seen the film, he/she will recall the quote from the lovely, nay gorgeous, Tara Fitzgerald, in recalling pubescent playground experimentation. “Top ‘alf Only!” Listen up Daves and think on…Top ‘alf Only!

gallery-1476463454-brassed-off-2.jpg

(apologies to whoever has copyright – don’t worry, only Don’s Mum reads this.)

Last week Don went to a Wagner Society lecture on Tristan and Isolde given by wonderful Anthony Negus and the equally wonderful Carmen Jakobi. Both of Longborough Festival Opera and its production of Tristan and Isolde next month, to be conducted by Anthony and directed by Carmen. Don can’t wait. An amazing opera and starring Lee Bisset who first came to Don’s attention as Sieglinde way back here and its fair to say she stormed that Ring Cycle in Nottingham.

In stark contrast to the forgettable pre-Meistersinger study day (which was just a run through of the synopsis – no questions allowed), this focused on a particular episode (Act ll/3 &4) and was wonderfully interactive. Two pre-prepped members of the audience read through the scene trying to make sense of quite mystical and tricky concepts and saying what it meant to them. It is the dialogue between Tristan and Isolde after the signal torch has been switched off and seemingly unfathomable dialogue concerning Day and Night. It all sets up the famous Love Duet in scene 5. Carmen explained that this is how she starts rehearsals with the cast and how important it is for the singers to understand the meaning of not only what they are singing but also what others on stage are singing.  But what depth of understanding is necessary? The torch is the signal to Tristan that it is safe to come to Isolde. Not when it is on but when it is extinguished. This is fitting because it is the illuminated Day that keeps the lovers apart while the secret unlit Night allows them to play out their time together without real world responsibilities.

What was of interest to Don was that it became apparent that the singers were not expected to have any understanding of Schopenhauer. Fair enough, at face value, it would surely be preposterous to suggest one needed a philosophy grounding to sing an operatic role. And yet Wagner’s head was so full of Schopenhauer when writing Tristan that it guided his thinking and one can see it in almost every line, particularly the considered scene.  It begs the question of whether detailed knowledge of the author’s thoughts can improve performance. To momentarily switch operas, what are the credentials for singing the Wahn Monologue in Die Meistersinger? Simply learn the lines, belt it out and head for the pub? Don is not musical and so ill-equipped to know but it is weird (at least to Don) to think that a singer can give a stellar performance without really understanding what Wagner was getting at with all the Day/Night material.

If one reads through scenes 3 and 4 without any broader background, one will get the gist that Day is bad and Night is good. One doesn’t need to understand Schopenhauer to see that the night is for illicit lovers and that the day is real, it carries responsibilities such as being loyal to King Mark, whereas at night one can escape into a dream and live out alternative realities. That much is clear and pretty obvious.

But take the line; “The spiteful day, filled with envy, could part us with its deceptions, but no longer mislead us with its lies!” It’s as though the Day is a character and has force and compulsion in its own right. That surely is Schopenhauerian Wille. Does not knowing that detract from performance? Probably not.

A little naive pondering doesn’t hurt every now and then,

Remember Daves, top ‘arf only!.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which Kasper and Slaven play Fast and Loose with the Plot

Post 24

I have to report that Don and Kasper Holten have lately been moving in opposite directions. Kasper is the respected and departing Director of Opera at Covent Garden. Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg is his swansong and his work done, he has left for his native Copenhagen. Don is a know-nothing gobby bloke from Muswell Hill, recently travelled with Mrs Don from Copenhagen to London after a very pleasant few days sightseeing. Two cities, two journeys, one mind. And its Kasper’s. Nevertheless, no point being gobby if one isn’t opinionated and so Don gives his personal insight into the latest controversies down Covent Garden.

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Don likes Slaven Bilic. Who wouldn’t? In much the way that one likes or is at least in awe of the cool guy at the bar with the earing, guitar and no beer belly. Oh how we wish these were the only credentials required to manage in the Premier League. Alas not. The plot has gone a little wobbly lately in the Olympic Park. Don considers why, what is to be done and how much of David Sullivan’s money can we waste in doing so.

Kasper

Firstly, Die Meistersinger. Don’s ardent fan will recall Don’s introduction to it some months back [here]and in a subsequent post, his take on the controversies; particularly the nationalism and potential or otherwise, anti-Semitism [here].

It is by any standard, a magnificent opera and stupendous piece of art. Some get carried away. Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist, considered it the greatest creation of art in all humanity. That’s quite a statement but in any event, its pretty good; probably Don’s favourite. At least this week.

Don has had two opportunities to consider the Holten production; the final rehearsal and then a proper performance this week. Indeed in a bizarre few minutes, Don booked tickets for Sunderland away (accompanied by Little Don), set off for the opera house and learned of the terrible events on Westminster Bridge. Let me add my words of comfort to the bereaved and grateful thanks for the heroics amidst this monumental act of nihilistic barbarism on the part of (as background begins to emerge),  a pathetic little man. Hannah Arendt wrote that the best rebuttal of totalitarian acts was active engagement in society by ordinary people. Later that night, on the packed streets of Covent Garden, it felt a little like that. Londoners were not cowering, they were re-claiming the streets of their city, Don’s city.

The benign gloss on Die Meistersinger is that it is primarily a music drama about Art, specifically music; yes Art in German society but also the role of Art in society generally. After that it is about German nationalism. The less charitable, place it the other way around. One can make a good case for both. The enduring fascination with Wagner is one doesn’t have a nice night out, enjoy the music and move on to dinner; Wagner compels one to think deeply about what one has seen.

What we saw was DM in a modern setting. This immediately presents challenges which Holten of course intended. In Don’s humble opinion, DM works best set well before the 20th century. Its nationalism can then be (easier) set in context and Sachs’ final speech (easier) dealt with. The modern setting places a national socialist burden upon the end of the opera that is difficult to shift. The question is, does it deserve to be shifted? Of course Wagner cannot be blamed for the Nazi co-option of the opera, beyond all other art, just as Haydn cannot be blamed for the subsequent adoption of his music as the German national anthem, which also had gruesome overtones during the Nazi era. Whereas that music has been rightly redeemed, people remain uncomfortable with Wagner.

I think with justification. The representation of the intended new Germany as a romantic Nuremberg idyll, was bound up in wonderful essences of purity, heroism and modesty but also fear of the outsider and worse yet, the dispatch of the outsider. By outsider Wagner certainly meant free of French influence but also undoubtedly Jewish influence. Whilst he could not have anticipated the horror of future decades (and I do not believe he would have been a Nazi supporter), the lineage from Wagner’s 1860’s romantic and heroic ideals to the 1930’s is clear and when Hitler heard Wach Auf in 1932 (or thereabouts), one can understand he thought not (or not only) of Luther, Beethoven, Sachs or Wagner but of himself and of the dawning of National Socialism. Goebbels said as much.

One assumes Kasper intended to meet this challenge head on by setting it in modern times. Directors of opera tend to want to direct, especially in their parting shot.

So lets look at a couple of challenges this presented.

  1. Unlike the timeless mythical essence of most Wagner drama, DM is set in a real place, involves real people and so should at least to some extent ring true. That a father might give his daughter’s hand in marriage as a prize in a singing competition is barely creditable even in the 16th century. Passing it off in 21st century London/Nuremberg (I’m not sure which), unduly stretches the credibility threshold, which in turn undermines some of the serious themes of the piece, including the feminist one.
  2. Don considers the greatest aspects of the opera to be Sachs’ humility and his modest heroism in renunciation. He recognises he must supress his desire (if not his love) for Eva because he has lost her to the younger man; and rightly so. He understands and wonderfully conveys the concept of Wahn; how it is natural to the human condition but that maybe it can be harnessed as a force for good and order and not simply chaos. The pivotal and for Don, the most moving scene is in Act 3 where Eva pours out her heart to him and love for him but is still drawn away to the younger man. It is so Tristanesque, they say so! In short, Hans Sachs up until the final scene is a role model for all generations, certainly for Don. Wagner then does him no favours in whatever century, by the final racist monologue. The vigour of which is unnecessary in any context and I wish he had not done it. It confirms nationalism as the thrust of the piece however much we may want to laud the other aspects.

One has to admire how Holten tries to handle this second point. Eva is equally disgusted with all three; Walter for accepting the honour of the guilds, her father for the original misogynist concept and with Sachs for his unsavoury comments, that she strikes the feminist blow and storms off. The audience, certainly those hearing the monologue for the first time, is metaphorically right behind her. As the final moment in the opera, it is unforgettable, if nothing else. But it is problematic. She has hitherto not been disgusted with her father (albeit the misogyny was obvious from the outset) and she was previously upset when Walter was not accepted by the guilds. Fundamentally however it undermines Sachs and all the emotion, love and respect that has previously passed between him and Eva and between him and us. Kasper may say it was Wagner that lost Sachs that respect by adding the final passage. Hard to argue but we’ve invested a lot of emotion in the previous 4 1/2 hours only to be told in the last 30 seconds it counts for nought. If one undermines Sachs to this degree, I fear the whole piece becomes at best, messy and at worst, fatally flawed.

3. Did the change of setting obfuscate important themes?

a) The opening scene in Church was transplanted to a gentleman’s (men only) club choir rehearsal. The hymn (of course) was still about John the Baptist (so setting the redemption credentials crucial to any understanding of the opera), so I think that worked.

b) Act 2 was not the traditional street scene but was somehow still in (was it??) the gentleman’s club. Poor old Sachs was some sort of portable cobbler dragging his tools around and trying not to smudge his tux. Little wonder he was pissed off at the end of Act 3. I’m sorry  but this Act needs to be outside; the scent of the Elder tree, the Linden tree, the balcony scene, the alley, the houses. Most importantly, the outside space for the Midsummer Night mischievous spirits to take hold. Well it was kind of outside-ish; we had a lilac plant and if it wasn’t, the night watchman and half the town were trespassing but I must say, even after the second viewing, Act 2 left me confused.

c) a fight scene with no fighting? Well Beckmesser was the sole recipient of a beating (plot essential), there was some slow motion pandemonium and we did get some fornication thrown in, so one shouldn’t complain.

d) Act 3, scene 1 is not in Sachs’ house but rather at the back of the Festival auditorium. But sure enough, cobbler Sachs is there..with his tools. This bloke is the traveling cobbler par excellence. More St Christopher than St Crispen. It all seemed a bit darker than it should have been for the glorious full swathes of strings when Sachs’ Johannes Nacht gives way to Johannes Tag (and can Beckmesser “steal” a bit of paper left in a public auditorium?)  But generally Act 3 is such a musical wonder of the world, its hard to go far wrong.

Plusses;

  1. The orchestra and choir. Simply magnificent. If I’d had my hat on, Wach Auf would have blown it off. The horns from the upper amphitheatre resonated a little with the SS guards doing same from the Bayreuth balcony in the 1930’s but lets not dwell.
  2. Beckmesser. The role is such a comedy show stopper and Johannes Martin Kränzle  has it down to a tee.
  3. Pogner. Don is not over technical music wise (!) but even he could hear Stephen Milling has a proper voice. Look forward to more.
  4. Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s Eva. Really came into it in Act 3 when that scene with Sachs is the only game in town. She nailed it so that by the time of the five-way Dream Song baptism we are utterly wrecked. Moreover she has been nice enough to respond to some of Don’s tweets so what’s not to like?
  5. Bryn. A very acceptable if not astonishing Sachs but he’s been there, done it, got T-shirt etc etc  and hey, what does Don know?
  6. Kasper Holten. He’s pushed the boundaries, did something and of that I suspect Wagner would approve and so probably would Hannah Arendt.

Slaven

slaven-bilic-west-ham-bilic_3769664

(reproduced with kind permission of whoever this belongs to. Much appreciated)

We can’t keep dining out on last season and we can’t keep blaming the pitch, the new ground and Payet. It is also not acceptable to say how well we played for most of the Leicester game. We did; I accept that but its not acceptable. (If you want tautology, this is the place). In the Premier League if you have an off 10 minutes you are very lucky not to be punished. To be 2-0 down after 8 minutes is either pathetic or really unlucky. We seem to concede goals in short bursts on a regular basis; West Brom and Spurs away this season, Leicester (again) and Bournemouth at home last season spring immediately to mind and I’m sure there are a host of others if Don bothered to look.

We famously tracked a world beater of a striker for most of the summer; indeed several of them. We got none.

We obviously needed a right back (since Jenkinson got injured, in what seems years ago) and famously did no tracking at all. Ok Arbeloa (rests case).

We clearly are still in dire need of both after another fruitless transfer window. We still have none. We are scoring with reasonable regularity but concede alarmingly so; often exposed where a decent right back should be, which makes otherwise half decent central defenders look fools.

I like Byram but he’s definitely better going forward. Its obvious to all (including Slaven) that he’s not yet ready at this level (though I think he’ll get there). I completely dislike Antonio, Kouyate, Noble, Carroll or any other non-right back at right back. Again obvious.

Up front, aside from Carroll, have any strikers even scored this season? I don’t count Antonio as a striker. Whisper it at risk of general bombardment but I don’t rate him that much as footballer. Top marks for effort, is a tremendous athlete, has speed and strength in abundance and seems an absolute top bloke. But his first touch and decision making are not great. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating selling him but if he’s our first team striker, then lower mid-table is about as high as our aspirations go and if he’s England standard….He is a right winger or nothing in my view and he’s not the best out there.

The ground does us no favours but what can we do? Get on with it, that’s what. Never mind increasing capacity to 66,000, Don would focus on 50,000 fans that actually stay the 90 mins and have more than a passing interest in the final score, as opposed to giving little Johnny a fun day out. If you think that’s fun son, you’re a bit bloody odd. We may even generate a bit of atmosphere if fans were still there towards the end.

No-one needs Don to tell them we need a decent right back, a proper striker and an Obiang quality midfielder to play alongside or a little in advance of Pedro. I fear maybe a goalie as well but only if in Joe Hart class or we’re simply juggling around for the sake of it.

And the $64,000 question. Having hardly excelled in previous two windows (though the lovely Pedro was his first purchase??), will Slav be there to spend Dave’s money? The harsh view is, if he’s not done enough to warrant a contract extension, why are we messing about? We are not yet safe from relegation this season which means under Slav, we’re among the dreaded runners and riders for next. So lets do better. The benign view is, he wore an earing, plays the guitar and seems a top bloke…

Will be an interesting next few weeks and have it sorted by Sunderland away Slav, its a bloody long way for nothing.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In which Don just doesn’t think he understands

Post 8

So my whole life I supported this ok but fairly crappy team (note to self – mention brilliant quote about Spurs from In Bruges). Some good times, some amazing times but there were months, years, even decades in between.

Chelsea could say the same but they can point to a clear obvious factor that changed their fortune. We can’t.

Lets imagine for one perverted moment that we go on to become a mega club. Envious people in five years time, will say its because we got the Olympic Stadium for next to nothing. But in the here and now we know the new stadium is not a meaningful factor in our transition from relegation form in the last half of last season to pushing for Champions League, this. We have transformed into a great team, a great squad, a settled and seemingly united board and out of nowhere, more fans than you can shake a stick at.

What has happened? How have we come good so quickly? Will it last or are we simply being teased? I don’t know but hazard some guesses.

First and obvious; the owners. Looking back, in these (and those) days of mega rich foreign owners, I was very pleased proper local people bought the club for what seemed the right reasons. Of course they saw the potential opportunity of the Olympic Stadium from the outset and whilst that was a fair bet it was also replete with risk and a potential black hole for their not inexhaustible fortunes.

I felt they dispensed with Zola too quickly and questioned their judgement with the appointment of Uncle Avram. But since the appointment of Sam they have not put a foot wrong (give or take the odd errant tweet). If Sullivan really was responsible for Sakho and one or two others, that is remarkable and @dg has via twitter engaged with fans in a brave move that has endeared him to many.

They have also had some luck. Top of the list is the appointment of the manager. Clearly not first choice, Bilic has been a perfect fit and in him we may well have struck gold. He is tactically aware and seems equally comfortable handling squad and media. Open and friendly it is also clear who is in charge. His knowledge and reputation secured Payet and Lanzini while other richer suitors missed their chance.

The announcement of the increased stadium  capacity to an amazing 60,000 is a testament to the hitherto untapped power of the club. We are going places and uncharacteristically, it is not via the relegation trap door.

A note of caution; we are West Ham and maintain a noble tradition of teasing defeat from the jaws of victory.  I don’t discount that this could be a life size version of 3-0 up against Wimbledon 1998. But for now, we are a happy ship and the outlook is clear, calm and sunny.

Looking forward to the Mark Noble testimonial tomorrow. Richly deserved and a full house means he can make a meaningful difference to his chosen charities. Will be so good to see some old favourites. Trevor, Billy, Paolo, Rio etc. Mrs Don will be making a rare and final appearance at The Boleyn. We have gone for Bobby Moore Lower to experience all parts of the ground in this final year. I don’t think I’ve “sat” there more that once or twice since the north bank. Then its on to three home games that will define our season. Can’t wait and more anticipation of that next week.

Regular viewers will know I am not over familiar with either Lohengrin or Tannhäuser. The David Alden 1995 Tannhäuser blue-ray was available at a pretty good price so I gave it a go. The reviews weren’t great, the general theme being that Rene Kollo’s voice had all but gone. I’m not so technically aware and hoped that wouldn’t detract too much. I had heard a little of Alden’s political edginess and was looking forward to that.

For a production over 20 years old, the opening scene certainly packs a punch and one can only imagine the impact on opening night. Tannhäuser is in Venusberg in an endless orgy but to prove one can have too much of a good thing, somehow yearns for simple rural bliss where the birds and bees are just birds and bees.  He pleads with Venus to let him escape and eventually she relents. Will life on the outside match up? Can Christianity cut the mustard now he’s dabbled with Pagan fun? That’s for Acts 2 and 3. For now, the erotically charged power of Waltraud Meier’s Venus was overwhelming; her singing powerful and evocative. Throw in the post apocalypse set, the Freudian imagery and the Pilgrim’s Chorus and one has an opening couple of scenes that must be up there with the best in all opera. Don recommends it to those new to Wagner and of a liberal disposition.

Finally to the Spurs quote from one of Don’s favourite films, In Bruges  (this is going to look a little silly if those swine go on to win the league. Come on Leicester!)

Ken: Yeah. And what’s the other place?

Ray: Purgatory.

Ken: Purgatory… what’s that?

Ray: Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.

coyi!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016