Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Lord of the Rings Chrome Theme

Theme No.2. After the Doctor Who theme I decided to create one a bit more relaxing for the eyes. Behold, green:
Please enlarge the picture and see how the theme toolbar joins with the tab background, forming one whole :-) It was made for 1280x1024 resolution.

Download from Mediafire (nearly 2MB)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Doctor Who Chrome Theme with David Tennant

I'm not only an opera buff, I also enjoy sci-fi and fantasy. I've been trying to find a Doctor Who Chrome theme, but couldn't find any that would suit me, so I decided to create my own. Feel free to try it an let me know what you think - it's my debut in the field of theme-making :-)

The Doctor Who Google Chrome theme features the time vortex from the RTD era, the Tardis in space and a picture of David Tennant as the Doctor in the suit from the 2007 Christmas special. The white text of the inactive tabs was illegible over the Tardis glow (which would be annoying if you use a lot of tabs), so I used the same picture without the Tardis for the inactive tabs. Inactive Chrome window fades the Tardis in space into yellow-ish. It was made in the Chrome Theme Creator online.

Thanks to SevenJetC for support, advice and pictures.

Once you've downloaded it, simply drag and drop it in a new Chrome tab. You'll be asked if you want to install it - click "yes". Enjoy!

Download (from Mediafire) 855 kB

Friday, 6 May 2011

Our Dear Minister of Culture

If you google "kultura v čr",
this picture comes on the first page...
We have a very special Minister of Culture. A dentist by education, a president of an ice hockey club and a hotel manager by profession, Jiří Besser is known for being a fan of the hard rock group Kabát ("Coat") and a determination to liquidate the State Opera. While I respect different people's tastes and something probably should be done about the State Opera (like, give it more money), the longer he's been the Minister of Culture, the more I'm convinced that he shouldn't be.

I have that weird opinion that ministers, especially some, should fight for their portfolios. The Minister of Environment should try to protect the environment, the Minister of Education should aspire for our children to be as educated as possible, the Minister of Culture to protect the culture of the country, and so on and so forth. Apparently, not so with our government. Let me not write about the ex-minister of environment who had said that he would "breathe for Czech industry" (he resigned in 12/2010 after a corruption scandal at his ministry, too big even for Czech conditions). Let me not write about the salaries - or rather handouts - that Czech scientists and research workers get, either. That hopefully cannot get any worse. Let me write about culture.

...and this one on the fifth.
Jiří Bělohlávek conducting a concert at the Prague Spring.
foto: Jiří Bělohlávek © Pražské jaro – Zdeněk Chrapek
According to ČT24, at the conference Creativity and Innovation in Cities and Regions of the Czech Republic, our beloved Minister of Culture uttered the following: "We must realize that cultural output not only enriches the spirit, but also brings economic effects." He added that it was necessary to change the perspective that if something in culture is popular and financially successful, it becomes suspicious. Of course, Kabát made it to the Eurovision contest with the song Little Lady, and their live DVD Hellishly Big Concert sold 50,000 copies. Soloists from the State Opera, can you claim that?

It is a very dangerous attitude indeed. Let Mr.Besser dream about a Czech version of U2 (which, by his own words, brings a lot of capital to the British Ministry of Culture - which cannot be denied, of course), but he must realize that what rings a bell in a foreign mind is Dvořák, Janáček or Bělohlávek. We often criticize [some] Czech orchestras for their quality, but it is a bleak reality that musicians must often play in two or more orchestras to make a living. In these circumstances, the situation of Czech musical scene is nothing short of a miracle! The Czech Republic gives 0,5% of state budget to culture, which is, according to this very, very interesting website, one of the lowest in Europe.

Jiří Besser, M.D.
Of course, investment in culture doesn't return so apparently. Possibly a famed opera house brings more tourists. Possibly if citizens live up to their cultural standards, they are happier and more productive. But most importantly, an air of quality culture has a positive effect on the entire society. When people regularly encounter posters inviting them to the opera, maybe they will eventually go. Art is not escapism in catchy tunes and loud beats from everyday reality, as I suspect most of pop music is, but it brings a value and beauty to our lives. Are they useless for the economy? Not even that! Capitalism is built on Western moral values. The very values that were destroyed in Easter Europe by socialism and the lack of which is I believe now causing e.g. the levels of corruption being so high precisely in these countries.If art enriches our lives, it enriches our society - and what is a minister good for if he doesn't care about the future of his country?

We are not rich enough not to invest in art and culture.

PS: I fear it's lobbyists at work here, too :-(

Friday, 22 April 2011

Prague State Opera: Nobody Knows Anything

Apparently, not even the Minister of Culture.

As this is a topic important for foreign visitors to Prague and has already driven attention abroad, I decided to try and summarize the issue.

New German Theatre
To understand the problem, we must take a look at the history of opera in Prague. There are two companies with three houses. The Estates Theatre was founded in 1783 mainly for German drama and Italian opera. During the National Revival Czech patriots naturally wanted a Czech language theatre, and after two provisional buildings, the National Theatre was opened in 1881. Shortly afterwards, in 1888, the future State Opera was founded as the New German Theatre.

Therefore, all the way until the end of World War II, the roles of the respective theatres were clear. During socialism, both houses had one management, and operas in the National Theatre were sung in Czech. The real challenge came after the Velvet Revolution, when the State Opera became an independent subject.

It was supposed to be a showcase of opera, an opera house of European standards. There were some bold projects in the 1990's - many new productions, modern operas, famous guests. Unfortunately, opera is expensive and good opera double so. In the early 2000's the ministry decided to appoint a director who would make more necessary compromises.

It is not true that there's nothing good at the SOP
(Death in Venice, 2009; foto Michal Krumphanzl, ČTK)
It is questionable whether separation of the house from the National Theatre was a good move, as some titles are shown in both of them, there is no coordination, only proclaimed beneficial competition. However, a lack of both funding and vision led to a situation when the quality of performances varies greatly, productions are decades old and neglected and, worst of all, the reputation of a once famous house has suffered greatly.

Minister's Plan
The ability of the Ministry of Culture to communicate with public reaches negative readings. Dr. Besser is the second least popular minister, and that is saying a lot for a minister of culture in a cabinet tormented with corruption scandals and unpopular reforms. His latest initiative is the plan to merge the companies of the State Opera and the National Theatre. However, you'd be mistaken if you thought that such a big step was fully announced, together with all pros and cons, leaving space for a thorough and reasonable discussion.

If only these light bulbs represented
the minister's good ideas...
In December 2010 the director of the SOP Oliver Dohnányi resigned, saying he wouldn't "assist the liquidation" of the opera, and was replaced by Radim Dolanský. A month later the artistic director of the National Theatre opera Jiří Heřman announced his stepping down, suggesting "the expected merge of the opera of the National Theatre and the State Opera Prague". Opera-loving public was in a flutter, agitated speculations were everywhere. Shortly after that a study was released without much explanation, so everybody assumed it was an official statement of the Ministry. It gave the impression of 'behind-the-desk' research and came to the conclusion that the ensembles should be merged and all opera should be performed at the SOP house, after a reconstruction of the building. The only exception is Mozart, which should stay at the Estates Theatre, leaving the National Theatre without opera at all (with the exception of special occasions, such as Smetana's Libuše on the Czech Independence Day). The discussions were furious.

In March, when it became clear that the ensembles (orchestras, choruses, ballets, soloists) would be merged, Dolanský opposed that. He was promptly replaced by the director of the National Theatre Ondřej Černý. There have been three versions of the 2011/12 season program, each suggesting a different date of beginning of the reconstruction, for which the opera house must be closed. The minister shoots from the hip, what seemed to be concrete plans has dissolved in vagueness, everybody is annoyed, ensemble of the State opera is protesting, musicians are worried for their jobs.

What now?
What FrufruJ Thinks
Many things reveal under-preparedness and imprudence on the part of the Ministry. While I've seen some atrocious performances at the SOP, it is clear that with only 0,6% GDP going to culture, the situation can hardly change. I wouldn't be a priori against a merge, if only it meant more cooperation, more coordination, better quality and if I were sure that it is well-thought-out. I've heard bad singers who either need long holidays and work on their technique, or shouldn't be singing at all. I've seen decades-old productions which have dissolved into bored concerts among dull sets. They're far from many, but in an opera house in a major European city, there shouldn't be any! If there isn't enough money, if the people come to the conclusion that giving more money to have two representative opera houses is not in their interest, a considerate merge (or partial merge, who says it's the only solution?) might be a good thing. Stress the word "considerate". The way how it is happening is unacceptable.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

"Gorby 80"

User maraeincognitum61 has uploaded the whole gala concert celebrating Mikhail Gorbachev's 80th birthday (with Russian translation) to YouTube. I'm also being told that it will be available on Medici TV; that would be in English. There was no operatic singing, as Dmitri Hvorostovsky only sang one song. No, not one of the beautiful Russian romances or old songs, but one by Igor Krutoy called Vecchie illusioni. It's quite nice, and no, it's not the one with the slightly erotic video-clip. Katherine Jenkins was worse than usual, no matter if you thought possible or not. The rest is pop, rock and talking.

As much as I dislike such events, I must say that I quite enjoyed some performers - the classical rock bands were good. On the other hand, I'm not really sure what a Spice Girl had to do at Gorby's birthday, or why the final song had to be so kitschy. ("He sacrificed so others could survive"? Really? You are aware that he's not Jesus, right?). I don't know, sure these events must be quite mixed bags, but could they be more of carefully mixed cocktails that mix flavours with a certain idea in mind, rather than packs of names without any connection?

Part one: Intro; 1:30 hosts Sharon Stone and Kevin Spacey enter; 4:50 Gorbachev speaks, Mikhail Gorbachev award "The Man Who Changed the World"; 8:45 profiles of Ted Turner, Steven Spielberg and Bono; 10:15 Ted Turner accepts the award; 12:30 The Scorpions.

Part two: Most of The Scorpions; 5:47 message from Sting; 6:40 the British ambassador to the Russian Federation Dame Anne Pringle; 8:40 Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Igor Krutoy.

Part three: Israeli president Shimon Peres; 2:40 profiles of Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google), Jürgen Habermas (sociologist and philosopher) and Evans Wadongo (Kenyan engineer); 3:55 Evans Wadongo accepts the award; 4:45 Katherine Jenkins; 8:15 Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks; 10:00 Andrey Makarevich and the Time Machine.

Part four: Rest of Makarevich; 3:15 Gorbachev sings a song for his wife; 5:25 Lara Fabian and Igor Krutoy; 10:00 Shirley Bassey; 13:35 Melanie C enters.

Part five: Melanie C sings; 3:05 Lech Walesa; 4:30 Milla Jovovich; 6:40 profiles of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web), Martin Cooper (inventor of the mobile telephone) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; 8:10 Mike Berners-Lee accepts the award in his brother's stead, message from Sir Timothy; 11:30 Choir of Michail Turetsky.

Part six: More of Choir of Michail Turetsky; 4:40 a message from Bill Clinton; 6:10 Bryan Ferry.

Part seven: Paul Anka; 7:40 a message from Bono; 8:25 end speech of the hosts; 9:50 EVERYBODY singing Paul Anka's and Andrey Makarevich's "Changing the World For Us All"; 13:24 "Happy Birthday to You"

Sunday, 27 February 2011

To Gorby With Love

Mikhail Gorbachev is celebrating his 80th birthday with style. As long as "style" means an opulent event hosted by Kevin Spacey and Sharon Stone, featuring a mixed bag of performers ranging from Paul Anka or Melanie C (from the Spice Girls) to Valery Gergiev, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Katherine Jenkins. Ouch, that hurt, writing those names in the same sentence. To be fair, it is a charity event in support of the Macmillan Cancer Support. On the other hand, it is a bit trying to see my favourite baritone, my favourite conductor and an excellent orchestra (London Symphony) share a podium with pop stars at what seems to be a snobbish event.

The names of political personas who have promised attendance won't surprise anybody with a little insight into international political scene: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently paid a visit to Moscow and gave a huge shout-out to the Russian industry. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, a country now closer to Russia diplomatically than Ukraine geographically. Sir John Major and Shimon Perez will be there, too. Bill Clinton and Dmitry Medvedev will only be shown on pre-recorded congratulatory messages.

A waspish article from The Telegraph is HERE.

Official website http://www.gorby80.com/

Friday, 28 January 2011

State Opera Prague to Be Merged with the National Theatre (?)

The incumbent Artistic Director of the National Theatre Opera, Jiří Heřman (by the way the director of the wonderful Miracles of Mary), is to be replaced by a congenial 30-year-old Slovene by the artistic name Rocc, an Artistic Director of the Janáček Opera Brno. On the occasion of a commentary on the move, Heřman explained that "[w]ith the Director of the National Theatre Ondřej Černý we agreed on termination of my activity in the context of the expected merge of the opera of the National Theatre and the State Opera Prague. I'm not convinced that the reorganization can be performed in such a short-time perspective without an influence on the artistic level." [source]

There had been speculations on what would happen with the State Opera, which is suffering from financial problems and, according to some, lower artistic level. These talks emerged with much greater intensity just before last Christmas, when Oliver Dohnányi, the General Director of the Prague State Opera House, resigned after a "friendly agreement" with the Minister of Culture, Jiří Besser, as we reported here

I'll keep you posted.