Opera is about voices, not bodies. It is an art of long-distance perceptions: only a small portion of the audience is close to the stage, and TV or film distorts the medium entirely. Yet some opera house directors and managers (who cannot tell a good voice from a mediocre one) focus instead on an easier criterion—namely, who looks fat onstage and who looks thin.
The Met soprano Ruth Ann Swenson recently complained that she is underemployed because she is not “skinny enough” for Met general director Peter Gelb, who in his previous job as head of Sony Classical was guilty of promoting the ghastly, shrieking British “crossover” singer Charlotte Church. In 2003, the American soprano Deborah Voigt was fired from a London production of Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos because she could not fit into a skimpy costume.
I confess that I don’t usually read the editorials in the New York Times. They tend to be full of high-minded imprecations to observe liberal principles. They seldom contain anything new or interesting. Sunday’s editorial, “The Road Home,” was different. It was, depending on your view, either more admirable or more appalling than what the Times and other critics of the Iraq war usually say.
The buzz is growing about Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to woo center-left and socialist politicians. Yesterday, in the New York Times, James Kanter noted Sarkozy’s endorsement of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a socialist elder statesman, to head the International Monetary Fund:
President Nicolas Sarkozy has formally endorsed putting a prominent member of the Socialist Party opposition, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in charge of the International Monetary Fund, in yet another sign that traditional French politics is being turned on its head.
It is seen as another potential blow for the French Socialist Party, which has already had other leading figures from its ranks cherry-picked by Mr. Sarkozy to help run his new, reformist administration. Among other things, it would possibly remove Mr. Strauss-Khan [sic], a strong centrist candidate, from the running for a party leadership position.
Why do some Muslim doctors want to kill?
The arrest of eight Muslims in Great Britain, most of them physicians or in allied medical fields, raises the obvious question of what led men and women in the healing profession to seek to maim and kill innocent civilians by the dozens if not the hundreds. Why did these men and women pack nails together with explosives in a lethal cocktail and seek to ignite them in crowded places? We may never get the full story from those now in custody; one of them has burns over 90 percent of his body from the gasoline he was pouring on the Jeep Cherokee he was trying to detonate in the Glasgow airport.
On last Friday’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN’s John Vause highlighted one more danger of boarding an international flight in the United States: many pilots don’t know enough English to communicate with control towers. This April, for instance, an Air China flight headed to Kennedy Airport repeatedly failed to understand air traffic control commands both in the air and on the ground. “Nobody seems to speak English here today,” a frustrated controller finally said before Flight 981 stopped on the tarmac.
Air China, of course, declared it was the tower’s fault. “He didn’t use the standard RKO language,” explained Xu Xiukai, an English instructor for the airline. “That’s why the pilot didn’t catch the actual meaning.” (Xu apparently garbled his words during the CNN interview—he probably meant ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization.) Even if Air China is correct in this regard, pilots should know enough English, the language of air traffic communications around the world, to understand overworked controllers.
The problem is not limited to Chinese fliers, of course. Miscommunication occurs with pilots of virtually all nationalities. Yet China’s situation is especially acute. Chinese airlines have approximately 8,600 pilots flying international routes. Only 651 of them have passed the ICAO oral English exam.
It will be next March before all pilots on international routes must pass the ICAO’s test before being allowed to fly. Until then, my advice is to take ground transportation.