20 September 1967

RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 is launched Clydebank, Scotland.

The following day, Wednesday, September 20, 1967, a ship that would play a very important part in the life of the Port of New York, Cunard’s QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 was launched at Clydebank, Scotland. She has since visited the port more times than probably any other ocean liner.

The Port of New York was not the scene for the historical maritime event of this day. It took place over 3000 miles away at Clydebank, Scotland in the shipyard of John Brown & Company Limited. An ocean liner that was destined to play a major role in the life of the Port of New York was under construction there. On September 20, 1967 Her Majesty The Queen named the new Cunard liner that was being built in the same place as many Cunard liners of the past. On the same stocks were constructed QUEEN ELIZABETH, QUEEN MARY, AQUITANIA, and LUSITANIA. This newest Cunarder, yard No.736, known up to now as “Q4” was scheduled to be launched on this day.

19 September 1997

The Guelb El-Kebir massacre in Algeria kills 53 people.

The Guelb El-Kebir massacre took place in the village of Guelb el-Kebir, near Beni Slimane, in the Algerian province of Medea, on 19 September 1997. 53 people were killed by attackers that were not immediately identified, though the attack was similar to others carried out by Islamic groups opposed to the Algerian government.

An armed group killed 53 civilians early today and then mutilated and burned their bodies in the continuing wave of violence in Algeria, a newspaper reported.

The raid came after Algerian security forces killed 19 armed Islamic militants during raids on Friday and Saturday, witnesses and independent newspapers said today.

The latest killings of civilians took place in Beni-Slimane, about 40 miles south of Algiers, the daily newspaper Le Soir d’Algerie said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but similar killings have been committed by Islamic militants who are seeking to overthrow the military-backed Government.

On Saturday night, Government security forces killed three Islamic militants in Bab el Oued, an Algiers neighborhood. Three other militants were killed on Friday in a Mosque in the eastern suburbs of Algiers, two independent newspapers, L’Authentique and El Khabar, reported today.

The newspapers also reported that 13 Islamic activists were killed and several of their bunkers destroyed by Government forces on Friday and Saturday in Tizi Ouzou and Zbarbar regions, 60 miles south of Algiers.

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The Government has failed to suppress the militants, who began their insurgency in 1992 after the Algerian Army canceled legislative elections that fundamentalist parties were poised to win.

18 September 1809

The Royal Opera House in London opens.

John Rich opened the first Covent Garden on 7 December 1732 with The Way of the World. Handel was the first renowned composer associated with this theatre, with performances of Atlanta, Alcina and Berenice. The theatre burned down on the night of 19 September 1808. The second Covent Garden opened its doors a year later, almost to the day. On 18 September 1809, with a double bill: Shakespeare’s Macbeth and a musical divertissement, The Quaker. Weber was asked to write an opera for this second theatre. This was Oberon, which premiered in April 1826, conducted by the composer himself. The following year, Beethoven’s Fidelio was staged.
In London in the first part of the 19th century, the Italian opera house was the King’s, later called His Majesty’s Theatre. The first English performances of Rossini were presented there, as well as works by Bellini and Donizetti and Verdi’s Nabucco, Ernani and l Lombardi. Around 1840, His Majesty’s company was under the musical direction of Michael Costa; Grisi, Persiani, Mario, Tamburini and Lablache were part of it. Its director, Benjamin Lumley, quarrelled with Costa and the singers about the repertoire, then hired new singers, which led to the departure of all those great artists, who set up a rival company.

As Covent Garden was also standing empty, composer Giuseppe Persani did everything he could to turn Covent Garden into the Royal Italian Opera, and it opened on 6 April 1847 with Rossini’s Semiramis. Between 1847 and 1856, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Maria di Rohan, La Juive and Benvenuto Cellini, to mention only a few, were staged with artists whose names have become legend, like Grisi, Viardot, Bosio, Alboni, Cruvelli, Mario, Ronconi, Tamberlik, Tarnburini and Graziani.

This second Covent Garden burned down in 1856. The third, and current, Covent Garden opened on 15 May 1858 with a performance of Meyerbeer’s Huguenots. A side note: only the first three acts were presented that evening! As Act III was not yet finished at midnight, the theatre manager got up on stage and announced: “It is already the Sabbath.” And so the last act was omitted.
From 1858 to 1939, aside from the period during World War I when the theatre was requisitioned, operas were presented every year, from April through July, at Covent Garden, the Royal Italian Theatre. Until the arrival of Sir August Harris, who led the theatre from 1888 to 1896, all operas were given in Italian. It was not until 1892 that the word “Italian” was stricken from its name. Then the works of Wagner and the French repertory went back to their original language. Sir Thomas Beecham, the conductor in 1910, introduced the operas of Richard Strauss to Coven Garden.
In 1920 and from 1924 to 1931, Covent Garden’s conductor was Bruno Walter; Beecham came back from 1932 to 1939. Between the two world wars, the Italian repertory was conducted by Vincenzo Bellezza, Tullio Serafin, Gino Marinuzzi and Vittorio Gur. During World War II, no operas were presented, and the theatre was transformed into a “Dance Palace”. Covent Garden reopened in 1946 and became the home of a permanent opera company, the Royal Opera, and that of Sadler’s Wells Ballet, the Royal Ballet.

After WWII, the Royal Opera welcomed a succession of great conductors: Karl Rankl 1946-1951, Rafael Kubelik 1955-1958, Georg Solti 1961-1971 and, since 1971, Colin Davis. Many guest conductors like John Pritchard, Otto Klemperer, Joseph Krips, etc., and more recently Claudio Abbado, Carlos Kleiber, etc., contributed to building Covent Garden’s prestige. Rankl, assisted by Sir David Webster, literally built the Covent Garden opera company from 1945 to 1970. Kleiber and Kempe put their faith in English artists and helped and encouraged them to perform abroad. Kubelik continued along the same lines and expanded the repertoire. Giulini and Klemperer did Covent Garden a great favour by conducting Don Carlos, La Traviata, Falstaff, The Barber of Seville, Fidelio, The Magic Flute and Lohengrin.

Solti’s tenure brought charm and excitement to the theatre, including in the repertoire Cosi Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Orfeo, La Forza del Destino and Eugene Onegin. Also noteworthy were the performance of Tosca with Callas, Cioni and Gobbi, sets by Zeffirelli, the creator of Gobbi’s Simon Boccanegra, the Norma with Sutherland, Pelléas et Mélisande by Boulez, etc. And we should not forget the performances of English operas like King Priam, Billy Budd, etc. In the Solti period, artistic policy made possible the development of a company whose signers today perform all over the world.

Since then, directors have been encouraging young talents. Colin Davis, who is especially fond of Mozart, Berlioz and Wagner, gave Les Troyens, La Clemenza di Tito, Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. He also completed the new Ring, produced by Götz Friedrich who became the principal producer of the Royal Opera. Claudio Abbado conducted Un Ballo in Maschera, staged by Otto Schenk with Ricciarelli, Domingo and Cappuccilli in the principal roles. Britten’s Death in Venice and Maxwell Davies’ Taverner were added to the repertoire, along with Faust, which hadn’t been performed at à Covent Garden since 1938, and it was reprised in 1974. In thirty years, The Royal Opera House has become one of the world’s greatest opera houses.

In 1987, Bernard Haitink replaced Colin Davis as musical director. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Royal Opera enhanced its reputation with an imaginative repertoire and award-winning new productions.

In 1997 the opera closed for two-and-a-half years for a major renovation but still presented seven new productions during that time. In 1999, the Royal Opera reopened, and in 2002 Antonio Pappano took the helm as musical director.

The Royal Opera continues to invite great artists like Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and many others. Each season, from September through July, some 150 performances of twenty-odd operas are presented; about half are new productions.

17 September 1787

The United States Constitution is signed in Philadelphia.

On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. Beginning on December 7, five states–Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut–ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July.

16 September 1975

Papua New Guinea gains independence from Australia.

AS THE SUN SET on the afternoon of 16 September 1975, the Australian flag came down for the last time from Hubert Murray Stadium, in Papua New Guinea’s capital of Port Moresby. Almost 70 years of Australian governance was coming to an end.

At 9.30am the next day, a different flag – black and red with a golden bird of paradise – rose on Independence Hill, near a newly formed Parliament House. PNG was no longer an Australian territory but an independent nation.

In contrast to other recently independent states such as Uganda and Kenya, the change of authority in PNG was marked not by bloodshed but by celebration. Sir John Guise, the first Governor-General of PNG, said at the flag lowering ceremony: “It is important the people of Papua New Guinea, and the rest of the world, realise the spirit in which we are lowering the flag of our colonisers. We are lowering the flag, not tearing it down.”

Australia shares a complex history with its closest neighbour. The Australian government first assumed responsibility for the southern half of modern-day PNG in 1906, when Prime Minister Edmund Barton agreed to take control of what was then a British colony.

Australia’s interest in the region lay primarily in the exclusion of other European powers. At the time, Germany occupied the northern half of PNG, so the southern half served as a buffer zone between the Australian mainland and German territory. During the First World War, Australian forces expelled the Germans, and ex-German New Guinea was also claimed as Australian territory.

When the Japanese invaded PNG in July 1942, Australian and Papua New Guinean soldiers banded together to halt the advance – first at Milne Bay and then along the Kokoda Track. The victories underscored the importance of these territories to Australia’s security.

By the 1970s, control of PNG was affording little strategic benefit to Australia and many Papua New Guineans yearned for independence. In 1972, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and PNG leader Michael Somare began working together toward decolonisation. Three years later it became a reality.

Trial separation
Although formally separated since, Australia and PNG have maintained a close relationship. “What seemed like a divorce in 1975 is a trial separation, in which the two governments can negotiate a new way of living next to each other,” says Donald Denoon, writer and former Professor of History at the University of Papua New Guinea.

With some of the worst health and education problems in the Asia-Pacific region, PNG continues to rely heavily on Australian aid; our government will next year provide $482.3 million in funding to promote development and help lift Papua New Guineans from poverty.

Some historians argue that many of the problems stem from a rushed independence – that PNG was not ready to govern itself. Donald disagrees: “Despite immense problems, Papua New Guinea was well governed for at least a decade after 1975. We cannot assume that longer Australian tutelage would have produced better [native] governance.”

Australia is set to provide continuing support, but the ultimate goal is to make PNG self-sustaining. “Papua New Guinea did become independent in 1975,” says Donald, “but I now see this as a phase in a much longer relationship, rather than the end of a turbulent story.”

15 September 1947

Typhoon Kathleen hit the Kanto Region in Japan killing 1,077.

On September 15, 1947, Typhoon Kathleen made landfall in the Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo. One-minute sustained winds at landfall were estimated at 120 km/h—just barely equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane. In Shizuoka Prefecture, south of Kanagawa, one-minute sustained winds exceeding 88 km/h tropical storm strength were reported. Having weakened by the time of landfall, wind damage was restricted to towns along the immediate coast.

More extensive, however, was the damage from precipitation-induced flooding from Typhoon Kathleen, which dropped between 300 and 800 mm of rain in the Tone River basin in just two days from September 13 to 15—yielding the highest flood discharge ever observed. North and east of Tokyo, several dikes were breached and embankments suffered failures, resulting in severe flooding along the Tone River, particularly in Kurihashi. More than 303,000 buildings were inundated, and 1,077 people were killed.