on 1 May 2015
"Cato, the Devil comes to us in many guises, not least as the viper of Karajanism! Who can withstand his fangs! Who can endure his poison! Woe betide anyone who braves such toxicity!"
Thus screeched Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice. The listener was Cato, his faithful, long-suffering manservant.
"Who can doubt this!" said the latter as he stifled a yawn.
"Yes indeed," the cleric hissed venomously, "Who can stomach his wallowing, Gothic, anti-Enlightenment anti-humanist, reactionary and maudlin treacle and his self-absorbed hymns to his former `Leader' who disappeared into the Bunker all those years ago! It's nothing more, my lad, than Dungeons and Dragons howled full blast in the Philharmonie or the Musikverein, over a drone of the snores of the Austro-German plutocrats who underwrite his precious Helden-Pomposity!"
"I could not have said it better myself!" Cato replied drolly. He gulped. "Now, what is Your Grace's pleasure?"
"Cato, consider the salutary fate of Norman Morrison who immolated himself outside Robert McNamara's office at the Pentagon in 1965. In doing so, he protested America's involvement in Vietnam. It was the act of a brave man. I intend to emulate his heroism. Dust off the SPECTRE time-machine and send me back to the Musikverein on New Year's Day 1987 where I will undertake a protest at the most vile Nuremberg Rally of them all! Yes, Karajan's All-Strauss Concert - a day of infamy in the history of the world!"
"Your Grace, is this wisdom? You know that the SPECTRE time-machine has been playing up! It's no more reliable than the Silver Hornet - your limo of choice! Just because I program it with a certain time and destination does not mean it'll deliver! Worse still, if I cannot get a fix on your position, it might be impossible to return you to the present! Moreover, this contraption works like its equivalent in the Terminator movies: you'll land on the other side with no clothes on!"
"Cato! Control your fears - nay, deal with them! Whatever comes my way, I shall be indefatigable! If I protest in the nude, so much the better! Now prepare the time-machine for my rendezvous with destiny!"
"Do you really want to run into Eliette von Karajan again?" Cato suggested impishly. He lowered his voice. "You know what did she to you last time!"
"The Devil take her and her progeny! Nevertheless, I will not allow your fears . . . and her bull-whips . . . to cloud my judgement! Again, prepare the time-machine! Do it! While I wait, I will immerse myself in Steffani's `Orlando Generoso'. If I have time, I'll pen an epistle to our local opera company manager and demand that he/she schedule it in an upcoming season. It's an almost-forgotten masterpiece!"
As he set about this task, Cato pondered the absurdity of the situation to himself. "The old man has finally gone bonkers! I don't know what he's going on about! This is arguably the most famous concert of all time. Indeed, it shades the concert that Furtwängler gave in February 1945 as the Red Army approached Berlin, or Karajan's Bruckner Eighth at Carnegie Hall in 1989. Here, the Vienna Philharmonic has never been more itself in its mastery of Strauss' waltz-rhythms as if its entire existence and every note it had ever played had been leading up to this signal event. Who can resist the immense joy of this event, as if transience and death are nullified in their entirety and our blazes of being resonate beyond mere time and space? Who is not something more than mere flesh and blood in that first minute or so of the Blue Danube? Is there anything more mystical than Sphärenklänge? Even Catwoman - otherwise known as Kathleen Battle - sheathes her claws for its duration; has Frühlingsstimmen ever been sung so effortlessly. What a talent! This particular Radetzky March deserves to be seen and heard but for the moment, the latter will do. For all his egotism and tyrannies, this is Karajan at his most lovable as the old man seeks lux eterna amidst so many glimmerings and decays."
One hour later, dressed in his episcopal finery and bedecked with a pectoral cross, Father Melchizedek strapped himself into the time-machine. After muttering a final prayer or two, he started fierily at his trusty man-servant.
"You have my every blessing, dear Cato! Now, SPECTRE expects every man and counter-tenor to do their duty! Send me on my way!"
With a bang, the cleric disappeared in a burst of smoke. The next few minutes - if minutes they be - were hazy. Father Melchizedek gradually regained his bearings. As Cato had predicted, he had parted company with his clothes. The air was drenched with steam. He was standing in some sort of industrial laundry whose machines were making a racket to high heaven. Nor was he alone. There was half a dozen men standing around, most of whom would have scared the Devil on a stormy night. They were drenched in sweat and stripped down to their underpants.
"Where am I!" the cleric wailed. "What is this godforsaken place!"
"We have a new belle of the ball!" one of them purred. "Welcome to Sing Sing's laundry department!"
"Hello Darlin!" another inmate hooted. "It's New Year's Eve 1987! Let's celebrate! Where shall we start!"