LSE Chairman Chris Gibson-Smith: Occupy target should be politicians and not brokers, Oh the hypocrisy

October 30th, 2011 § 0

Chris Gibson Smith
LSE Chairman Chris Gibson Smith knew the score going in:
this statement on opportunities dates from 2009

The London Stock Exchange does not appreciate being targeted by the Occupy Movement. To deflect attention, the brokers are blaming the politicians for enacting the policies for which they lobbied. LSE Chairman Dr Chris Gibson-Smith speaks out:

“There are unintended consequences of free markets,” he added. “It’s not capitalism that has been the problem, but irresponsible governments and politicians who have allowed the financial system to explode by permitting the build-up of ludicrous amounts of debt and leverage.

“No one ever said that free markets could or would be self-regulating. That’s where people over the past few decades have got it wrong, and many are still in denial – look at Alan Greenspan, [the former chairman of the Federal Reserve], who is still defending free markets.”

Gibson-Smith is quite right of course but it would have been nice of him to speak up earlier. The cynicism and hypocrisy of our ruling class rivals that of Louis XVI’s court.

La Sylphide, Vienna Staastoper 2011: Manuel Legris and Irina Tsymbal

October 26th, 2011 § 3

La Sylphide is one of the easiest ballets to perform and one of the most difficult ballets to get perfect. The dangers of La Sylphide are multiple:

  • the Scottish setting can seem very campy
  • adequate stagecraft to preserve a sense of wonder
  • the music can come across as thin and grating
  • sufficiently large, gifted and beautiful corps-de-ballet
  • the male audience can fail to fall in love with La Sylphide
  • the women in the public fail to identify with Effie
  • the women in the public can wonder what Effie sees in James

Manuel Legris has gotten it all right with Wiener Staatsoper ballet.

Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
All photos courtesy & © Max Moser

The decors are very sober, even a little bit drab. You feel inside a Scottish manor somewhere in the Highlands. Yet all the space of the huge Vienna State Opera stage is all there for the variations. In the second act the woods were tremendous and airy.

The small touches of stagecraft were a delight. Sylphides flying across the stage at 15 metres above the stage, Sylphides perched in the branches of the trees, La Sylphide disappearing vertically up the chimney or disappearing instantly into the floor.

The Staatsoper orchestra was in fine form, particularly in the overture which was sufficiently lyrical and touching that one wishes a recording. Through the rest of the ballet the performance was usually very good but the limits of the score were sometimes felt and the music hinted of military marching band. Still I’m far from sure one can do better without reorchestration.

Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide
Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide

Manuel Legris has continued to work wonders with the splendid corps-de-ballet that his predessor Harangoza so paintakingly built. There are no less than 23 additional sylphides on stage in the second act. The whole corps-de-ballet looked great. There are small moments of synchronicity to perfect, but it is the premiere after all. There are few over-rehearsed ballet companies left in the world and Vienna Staatsopera ballet is not one of them.

Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide

Irina Tsymbal is a perfect Sylphide. Her pallid complexion and somewhat tragic demeanor finds its natural home. Tsymbal can portray imperious roles as well. She is a very versatile ballerina. But La Sylphide is the most natural fit of all for her.

After the performance, Manuel Legris elevated Irina Tsymbal to First Soloist. It is good to see Legris keep an open mind about dancers. Initially, he planned to release Tsymbal before his first season as what he saw in rehearsal hadn’t impressed him. Fortunately a good fairy told him that Tsymbal’s talents flame on stage and not at the bar. If Legris can remain open to talent like this, he has a long and bright career as a director ahead of him.

Effie is a more difficult role. Danced with sufficient flair, James enchantment with La Sylphide would make no sense. Nina Polakova is almost as lyric a ballerina as Irina Tsymbal, with less of Tysmbal’s undercurrents of dangerous passion. As Effie she very deliberately curbs her charms to become a real girl, in love with her man but more cheerful than deep, trusting than passionate.

Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide
Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide

As James, Roman Lazik is in his element. James is the ordinary guy caught in a remote fantasy. Lazik plays James as a good old boy more than a dreamer. Still, in the second act, he struggles as one feels the the emotion is not in his bones. While Lazik is a very handsome man and a very correct classical dancer and an attentive partner, he lacks a certain passion.

With a truly charismatic and masculine dancer in the role of James – Sergei Filin from the Bolshoi comes to mind – the men identify strongly with James and the women understand and feel both for Effie and La Sylphide. Lazik didn’t fail to move us, but didn’t move us as much as I’d like. This single weakness explains to me why the audience reception was enthusiastic and not ecstastic. I hope we will see Vladimir Shishov in the role of James.

Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge
Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge

We did see some great performances in secondary roles: Andrei Kaydonovsky was truly wicked as Madge. The pantomine was writ large but he pushed through it with sufficient abandon that we believed in her evil. His movement remained strong but feminine.

Kamil Pavelka was a resolute and sufficiently antagonistic Gurn. One felt his contempt for his friend who was half heartedly stealing the woman he loved. Pavelka is the kind of dancer who is perfect in the secondary role, although I’m not sure how well he’d carry a prince.

The Scottish kilt complemented Mihail Sosnovichi’s shape and gave him more traditional proportions, which along with a good leap and his usual energy helped both Sosnovichi and his partner Maria Alati to an invigorating pas de deux as the young newlyweds.

Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova

The solo Sylphides – Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Alena Klochova, Andrea Némethová – were very good but perhaps a little bit too heroic. Super Sylphides, I would call them. But why must Sylphides always be frail.

Manuel Legris brought in excellent pedagogues: himself and Elisabeth Platel. Gradually he is pulling Vienna up to the level of Opéra de Paris. The danger is too much success and perhaps Paris will be calling him back too soon for Vienna’s good.

On the whole La Sylphide earns a 9 out of 10. If I hadn’t seen Sergei Filin dance James, perhaps I’d give La Sylphide 2011 at Vienna Staatsoper a perfect 10.


Special thanks to Max Moser for his ever excellent dance and theater photos. You can book Max’s services at PhotobyMM.com. His full gallery of La Sylphide.

Jochen Ulrich’s Michelangelo: a masterwork of music and creation

October 23rd, 2011 § 0

Jochen Ulrich Michelangelo cast Linz
Jochen Ulrich Michelangelo ensemble cast in Landestheater Linz

The stage juts out into the audience, as the curtains open we see a tableau vivant of a sculpting studio in motion. The orchestra fills the deep back of the theatre. It’s almost like Shakespeare’s in the round Globe. This is the first of several successful staging decisions of the evening. With the orchestra pit closed and the orchestra at the back of the hall, LandesTheatre Linz becomes a magnificent concert hall.

Once again Jochen Ulrich has led a new ballet with the music. Here he chose Arvo Pärt’s Collage” über Bach”, “Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten” and “Spiegel in Spiegel” and finally Pärt’s “Lamentate for Piano and Orchestra”. From Britten we have the Requiem. Despite the two nominally very different composers, sonically the evening holds together perfectly. It a complete and powerful ballet score.

Fortunately, both subject and dance are up to the music this time round. In Michelangelo, across the centuries Ulrich has found une âme soeur. Like Michelangelo, Ulrich has lived an often lonely and tempestuous life of creation. Ulrich does not sculpt with stone but with live bodies.

Michelangelo’s problems are Ulrich’s very own. The personal relationship to his subject stirs Ulrich’s deepest powers.

Jochen Ulrich's Michelangelo: a masterwork of music and creation Continues »

EFSF Euro Bailout Fund yet another banker scam: Robert Sulik the sold reasonable voice

October 13th, 2011 § 0

Regarding the Euro bailout funds, Slovakia should be proud to be the country to cry out the Emperor has no clothes. Europe’s banks cannot be allowed to fail is an axiom of which I’m getting very tired. We had it last year with “too big to fail”.

Why should banks operate on other rules than small businesses? If at Foliovision, I invest our time and money badly no one is coming to rescue us. Despite our real contribution to the Slovak economy as a genuine exporter, we live by market rules.

Banks apparently live by different rules. When they crank risk up and make bad investments, the politicians in their pockets ride to the rescue with packages which can make up to 10% of GDP. The money the politicians are giving away to the banks are the taxes small successful companies like us pay.

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The whole scheme resembles a casino operating on the following principle: the players who win are allowed to take away their winnings. Well and good. But when they lose, they are allowed to run up an unlimited tab. When the tab has gone up too high and they can’t even pay for their meals and drinks, the tab is reset. The money they squirreled away at home when on a winning streak doesn’t get touched. They keep their houses.

Any idiot could win under such circumstances. Why are these derivatives traders are considered “masters of the universe”? There were other words for such parasites in past centuries. Let’s start with Highwaymen.

The EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) is an obligation which I do not want to take on for myself or for the next generations. It’s clear Greece is going belly up: they have not tightened their belts to the extent required for further support. Let Greece resolve its own issues. As a major tourist resort with a mild climate, Greeks are unlikely to starve or freeze to death.

On the other hand, a Greek default would cost Italian, French and German banks a lot of money. Good. Let them be more careful with their investments going forward.

Like Robert Sulik, I’m not anti-Euro.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If the euro only causes problems, why doesn’t Slovakia’s government just pull the country out of the euro zone?

Sulik: I don’t see the euro as the problem. It’s a good project. Everyone involved can benefit from it — but only if they stick to the ground rules. And that’s exactly what we’re demanding.

But the existence Euro should not be an excuse to take taxpayers’ money and hand it off to fat cat bankers who pad their salaries and bonuses and expenses at will.

All the treaties signed up to date do not allow this kind of financial shenanigans and I see no reason to cave in now. Back to Sulik:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Which ground rules should we be following?

Sulik: We have to observe three points: First, we have to strictly adhere to the existing rules, such as not being liable for others’ debts, just as it’s spelled out in Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty. Second, we have to let Greece go bankrupt and have the banks involved in the debt-restructuring. The creditors will have to relinquish 50 to perhaps 70 percent of their claims. So far, the agreements on that have been a joke. Third, we have to be adamant about cost-cutting and manage budgets in a responsible way.

If the banks go down, people will lose their savings is another sword held over European voters necks. Nonsense. Nearly all countries have depositer insurance. If a bank cracks, the depositors will get their money. Shareholders and management may not. Next time, perhaps they will be more careful.

We live in a climate of fiscal restraint in Slovakia. It seems to be working as we are a growth economy. Time for other Europeans to catch up with Slovakia and China.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, banks could run into significant problems should they be forced to write down billions in sovereign bond holdings.

Sulik: So what? They took on too much risk. That one might go broke as a consequence of bad decisions is just part of the market economy. Of course, states have to protect the savings of their populations. But that’s much cheaper than bailing banks out. And that, in turn, is much cheaper than bailing entire states out.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does one of your reasons for not wanting to help Greece have to do with the fact that Slovakia itself is one of the poorest countries in the EU?

Sulik: A few years back, we survived an economic crisis. With great effort and tough reforms, we put it behind us. Today, Slovakia has the lowest average salaries in the euro zone. How am I supposed to explain to people that they are going to have to pay a higher value-added tax (VAT) so that Greeks can get pensions three times as high as the ones in Slovakia?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What can the Greeks learn from the reforms carried out in Slovakia?

Sulik: They have to make cuts in the state apparatus. The Slovaks could also give them a few good ideas about the tax system. We have a flat tax when it comes to income taxes. Our tax system is simple and clear.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: One last time: Do you honestly believe the euro has any future at all?

Sulik: I believe the euro has a future. But only if the rules are followed.

Yesterday I was speaking with a highly placed Greek political figure. I commiserated with him about the conditions of the loans: selling off most of the national assets to the banks and international financiers. He laughed charmingly and looked me in the eyes.

“Why should we be worried? What has been privatized can be renationalised after a change of government. What belongs to the Greeks remains with the Greeks. We will never be made slaves in our own land.”

At last the cynical bankers have met a match in cynical Greeks. One must not only beware of Greeks bearing gifts. One must be careful of Greeks accepting gifts.

It’s very sad to watch humanity tumble down the path to revolution and ruin and war again. The right to skim the cream from the economy with little or no contribution to the collective well being did not work out very well for the Ancien Regime in France in 1789. Men, women and children were pulled from their houses and beheaded to put an end to misuse of privilege.

When the world banking system is destroyed, the ill gotten gains and privileges of our current generation of politicians and bankers will avail their children very little. We are heading to a global reset. Hopefully, a minimum fo blood will be spilt. But if we are not careful, the inequal redistribution of wealth will lead to an endless world war.

How foolish the greedy can be.

Bratislava Castle in the Fog, the Night before the Euro Fell

October 11th, 2011 § 0

Bratislava Castle in Fog
Bratislava Castle in Fog

Little did I know just 18 hours later, the Euro was to fall under its watchful walls. Despite, Bratislava’s castle’s air of history, the castle was in ruins for over a hundred years in Pressburg before the Slovaks rebuilt it in Bratislava.

I’m still astonished that Radicova foolishly linked her government AGAIN (this is about time number five) to a vote in Parliament. While she has been a very good prime minister, this death wish in the form of votes of confidence is an absurd game of Russian roulette.

Well now we’ll have an election. Hopefully the bailout package will still not pass. This EU becomes troublesome: a plaything of the international banks, like Congress in the United States. The majority of the European population is against these unlimited bailouts.

Slovak beer

October 8th, 2011 § 0

After a long evening of work, Peter, Miska and I decided to take a drink in the rock bar next door. This is what we found.

slovak beer
slovak beer

Slovak beer Continues »

Other Skies

October 7th, 2011 § 0

Wandering in Bratislava a few moments this afternoon, this umbrella and her hair caught my eye.

other skies
other skies

Did the end of summer have to come so sudden and so soon?

The American Indians measured years in summers. An infinite wisdom.