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Thursday, December 01, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 10

Ben and I got to rehearse today for the first time in weeks, and I hadn't opened the score since our last meeting. (I know, I know). I came away a tad discouraged.
One of the purposes of this blog is to work out for myself , in writing, what I hope to accomplish by studying Dichterliebe. I told Ben that we had been working long and well, except for this hiatus, but we had been doing parallel play.
Now, I said, we have to sit down over coffee, away from the piano and really decide how we are going to perform. In rehearsal the piano is loud and the choir room very live. I can't keep up vocally and there's a lot of banging going on. We have workshopped the music and the text. Both of know what is going on here. But now we have to bring it together. I said I have to match with what limited voice I have the tone you are using on the piano. (I'll say it again. For lieder you have to listen more than you have to sing) If our attacks are going to be forceful, or tentative, or shaded let's decide that so I can color the words to match what you are doing. We'll go over the words carefully, but yikes! that's difficult here. The songs are each quite short. What moods Schumann casts don't last very long and the shifts between the bitter, the elegiac and the emphatic are quick, sudden . Very little time to prepare. And just the physical action of throwing out the text correctly is a challenge.

Ein jungling liebt ein Maedchen

The tune here recalls an Ultrabrite toothpaste commercial from the 60s.
Or vice versa, of course.
You scamper along, telling of the maiden who marries the first guy to come along-the boy is upset but it still flows until a complete shift in the last lines

Und wenn sie just passieret
Dem bricht das Herz entzwei

(It's an old story
but remains new
And he to whom it happens
It breaks his heart in two)

and you finish off with this heavy, Beethoven-esque declaration on 'Herz entzwei'
changing key in two phrases. Just the technique needed to go from Schumann to , God!, Spontini! in two phrases is formidable.

All you can do is keep workin'!
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

EDWARD DOWNES: METROPOLITAN OPERA , 1927

Critic, teacher, broadcaster and mentor Edward Downes is speaking to me in his living room in 1995:


I suppose the earliest great memory I have of the Metropolitan New York was Rosa Ponselle singing in the 1927 revival of Norma. I was lucky in being able to attend the dress rehearsal. People who have her recordings know that Ponselle was a very great Norma, but that dress rehearsal, the first time anyone heard that splendid voice in Bellini's opera, was was unique. I knew I would not hear the like of it again, and I tried to attend every performance of Norma that season. I knew absolutely from the Casta diva, which she sang in F instead of G, that this was extraordinary singing.. At the end of the first part of Casta diva, in the descending chromatic scale coming down an octave and a half, every note was perfectly articulated and had a sense of flow of this gorgeous sounding voice. It was the kind of sound that just hits you in the midriff.

Rosa Ponselle remained a great favorite of mine, as did Feodor Chaliapin.
He was fabulous. In some cases he took great liberties with the score, but his interpretations were so powerful that this scarcely mattered. Like Ponselle, the sheer natural sound of Chaliapin's voice was very beautiful. I remember hearing him at the Met and thinking at the time, who else has such a beautiful voice?
There was a good deal of ranting and raving in Boris Godunov. But when he sang for beauty of tone he had it, not only in the middle range where it was beautifully controlled, but even in the high pianissimi which are not easy for a bass. With all the emphasis I can summon I can say that Chaliapin's was among the most beautiful voices I ever heard live. I heard him in two roles. Boris and Massenet's Don Quichotte. This last was written for Chaliapin and characterized by critic Lawrence Gilman as " piece of junk" and I'm quoting him charitably. But Chaliapin had you in tears at Quichotte's death. He was also an extraordinary make up artist, extending not only to his character of the spindly, aged Quixote, but to the skinny old horse, Rosinate. I remember my father telling me about Chaliapin as Rossini's Don Basilio in Barber of Seville, blowing his nose through his fingers and mopping his face with a filthy old handkerchief which trailed out of his costume. Chaliapin on stage tried to do things to deliberately grab the audience, and he succeeded!

EDWARD DOWNES: Wm. Schumann, Hindemith, Hanson

Edward Downes reviewing Boston Symphony concerts in The Boston Evening Transcript

WILLIAM SCHUMAN
November 18, 1939

Frigidly, politely and firmly, a Boston Symphony audience revolted yesterday afternoon at the begining of the regular Friday matinee symphony concert. All through the opening number, "An American Overture" by 29 year old William Schumann, there had been dubious shaking of heads. But when Dr. Koussevitsky finished his exhilarating performance of the overture on a particularly strong discord, a shudder of disapproval ran through the hall, and the applause that followed was so weak that it constituted a negative demonstration. One felt that only impeccable manners and a certain instinctive restraint stood in the way of more positive expressions of annoyances.

HINDEMITH
February 24, 1940

The Hindemith of 'Mathis der Maler' is not the musical enfant terrible of yore. He has sowed his artistic wild oats in an earlier period of near atonalism and sensational radicalism. What remained was a quickened sense of harmonic values, and an intensely emotional basis for this music. Or so it seemed yesterday, for Mathis is of exalted feeling both in contemplation and action. There is no question of the composer's ability to express clearly and forcefully whatever his mind and emotions prompt, and thus with this symphony one as the feeling of listening to a classic work.

HOWARD HANSON
March 22, 1940

Mr. Hanson's third symphony had been heard at these concerts earlier this season under the baton of the composer, with only moderate success. First and second hearings made the impression of a definite, derivative work, Sibelius being the most generous contributor...Dr. Koussevitsky has been more than generous in his support of this new American score. It has been given its chance. Is there any reason we should hear it again?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

EDWARD DOWNES: LOTTE LEHMANN IN RECITAL...DIE WALKURE...THE BIRTH OF OPERA

Edward wrote these pieces for The Boston Evening Transcript.

LOTTE LEHMANN IN RECITAL
October 30, 1939

It is only artists of the stature of Lehmann who are able to supply that something new we demand simply by giving a great performance of a simple composition. And she does it, not by making poor defenseless Schubert stand on his head, nor by doing something startling and sensational with Brahms. She does it by penetrating to the very core of the composer's thought. What stands reveled to us then is not a clever idea that Lehmann had, but Schubert or Brahms himself in all the freshness of primal inspiration.

___________________________________________________________________________

EDWARD DOWNES ON LOTTE LEHMANN AND RICHARD STRAUSS, speaking to CP in 1995:

The first thing that comes to mind about Lehmann is that she was the only singer I ever met who seemed to be exactly the same off stage as she was on stage. She always sounded spontaneous on stage, whether it was "Abseulicher!" or some casual remark or action, it always sounded totally echt...there...present...spontaneous. As if somehow it just happens that way at this moment. And that was very powerful. It was powerful enough so that it extended to her physical actions aside from singing. Particularly in Tannhauser, one quite short moment was the very end of Elisabeth's role, after 'allmeagtige jungfrau', when Wolfram comes on and says "May I escort you back to the castle" or whatever. She doesn't answer with words but is supposed to gesture that the place she is going is not "over there" but "up there". It's a somewhat pretentious stage direction. But there are only a few bars from that to her exit, and a relatively short distance backstage, where you saw her in profile, she made an exit in a diagonal, not singing, no gestures, just walking,
and it was one of the most vivid moments I remember in opera. This moment was always magical. You never know how much is an accumulation of what went on in
the opera before, and how much is the gift of the artist, but she always had that.

Very close to the end of her career, when I was briefly a music critic for the Boston Transcript, Lehmann came to Boston to give a recital. It must have been one of the morning musicales. I hadn't seen her in quite a long time. Sine it had been a morning concert, I did not need to rush to write my piece, and I knew her somewhat, not well, but I knew her well enough that I had been to her house for lunch. She was a warm and gracious woman. I decided to go and see her after the performance. I knew it was long enough that she would probably not remember me, but I had dined with her and her family a few times at the Salzburg Festival, and in New York I knew her well enough so that she asked me one time why I thought the Met didn't give her more performances. My only answer was that they have this idea that for Italian operas it should be Italian singers and so on. I didn't really know the answer. In any case I knew her well enough for her to have asked my opinion. But many years had gone by. Now in Boston after the recital she was sitting at a table chatting with people and shaking hands and autographing things and she saw me come in, and somehow I knew she recognized me, but as not sure from where. But she gestured and half got out of her seat and said to me "Sie hab nicht ewig lange gesehen!" which was very tactful and friendly, but it was even with the little social fib implied, still a spontaneous and honest reaction. I think she was characteristic of everything she died. Lehmann herself mentioned in a talk she gave that when speaking to Richard Strauss he complimented her and she replied, you are too kind, Aber Herr Meister, ich schwimme...meaning I'm 'swimming' or cheating in your music. Strauss according to her replied, Ja, aber sie schwimme so schoen! Apparently she knew him quite well--she was after all the first Composer in the revised Ariadne and the first Farberin in Die Frau ohne Schatten. She said to me, "I sang that opera quite a lot for ten years and I never figured out what as gong on!"

Richard struass was a very fine conductor. His third act of Tristan was the greatest I ever heard. heard him conduct it in Munich, in 1931. He conducted the first two acts well enough, but in the third act he took fire. You entered a different world with him. Quite extraordinary. Everything had an intensity that was tremendously focused, but it had a kind of feverish quality to it, which is part of the score. Tristan here is supposed to verge on madness, delirium, and it all combined of course with Strauss's style of conducting, which was very small. Small beats, small gestures. Very contained. It grabbed you by the throat. Strauss was a great conductor in everything. I remember being told that to hear his Cosi fan tutte in the Cuivillies Theatre was out of this world. Fidelio, French opera, Italian opera, Tristan. He was superlative in an astonishingly wide repertoire.

______________________________________________________________________________

OPERA
February 3, 1940

Opera was founded on a mistake. A group of Florentine noblemen and dilettantes got together to revive the classical Greek tragedy. They were extremely proud of their success of their revival, but what they actually had done was to invent the modern opera. The first prophesies of the death of opera followed quickly after its birth, when composers began to use rousing tunes for their own sake. The reason: rousing tunes had never been used by Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides! And thereafter regularly, every time of opera superseded each other, with the Baroque, the Rococo, the Classical, the romantic, the realistic, the impressionistic opera, every time there was a change, somebody wrote that opera died.

DIE WALKURE
April 1, 1940

Our mind still ringing with the magic of Wagner's "Magic Fire Music", and our heart full of thanksgiving to Erich Leinsdorf for having given us an integral and uncut Walkure, we were progressing slowly towards an exit of the Boston Opera House last Saturday afternoon when a loud and obviously bored voice exclaimed behind us to her matinee companion: "Did you EVER hear such a long opera in your LIFE? Really, you know I don't mind so much at night, but in the afternoon it all seems to take so much TIME!" Which of course IS pretty dreadful, ISN'T it? Unfortunately, Die Walkure just is long, and even if we were to slash it as mercilessly as does the Paris Opera, the good lady would still have to miss her tea.

__________________

NOTE FROM CP:

Edward is being mean spirited here, nothing like himself in person, but this sells newspapers.

The Walkure performance that seemed so long was broadcast. I have it on CD.
It is thrilling. I'm no Wagnerian but I wouldn't miss a note.
The cast on that April afternoon in Boston:

Brunnhilde Marjorie Lawrence
Sieglinde Lotte Lehmann
Siegmund Lauritz Melchior
Wotan Julius Huehn
Hunding Emmanuel List
Fricka Kerstin Thorborg

Erich Leinsdorf conducts

Friday, November 25, 2005

EDWARD DOWNES: Flagstad and Nelson Eddy

Edward gave me several large scrapbooks of articles he wrote for The Boston Evening Transcript from 1937-1941. Edward left the paper in 41 to join the war effort at what later became the CIA! But here are two of his pieces, and part of another of the conversations I had with him in 1995. Edward died at ninety on Christmas Day, 2001.


KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD AS ISOLDE
Boston Evening Transcript
April 2, 1940

If rumor is true and the performance of "Tristan und Isolde" which the Metropolitan Opera Company gave last night in the Boston Opera House is the last one in which Bostonians will have the privilege of seeing and hearing Kirsten Flagstad's impersonation of the Irish princess, it will have been a worthy performance to remember her by and one which will go down in the musical annals as a historical event. It was the greatest impersonation of Isolde we have seen Flagstad give, and the miraculous thing about it was the way in which her conception of the part has increased in depth and subtlety.

Two years ago, Flagstad's Isolde, thought the finest then to be seen on the operatic stage, was still lacking in the passionate bitterness, the vitiating irony and sovereign contempt which are part of isolates emotions in the first act. At that time Flagstad still appeared too fundamentally sweet and amiable a character ever to be able to master and express the wild storms of destructive rage or the intense inward suffering which Wagner makes his heroine hide behind a mask of icy scorn.

One thing,however, has always remained true of Flagstad: her art continued to grow. You see her do the same role two years in succession invariably has meant being witness to a fascinating development,end of dramatic instinct and musical intuition. And today she has accomplished what to many spectator's seemed impossible a few years ago. As always, since she has been at the Metropolitan, Flagstad has been the greatest Wagnerian soprano to be heard since the World War, but now her acting, too, equals the greatest acting of Isolde that has been seen there in the same period.


NELSON EDDY
Boston Evening Transcript
April 3, 1940


Nelson Eddy, famous all American baritone of the stage, screen and ether waves, gave a recital last night in Symphony Hall which began with Albert Hay Lamotte's setting of Shelley's "Ode to a Skylark", and ended with "The Lord's Prayer" set to music by the same intrepid composer. The program informed us "Of all vocal compositions, Maltese setting of The Lord's Prayer is requested most often, a significant indication of the reverence of a people who know how to turn to God." This last confused us considerably. Does it mean he real way to turn to God is to write a fan letter to Nelson Eddy asking him to sing "The Lord's Prayer"? Or does it mean that the number of requests Mr. Eddy receives for this kind of vocal composition is a kind of barometer of the devoutness of the American public?


ON CRITICISM
talking to CP i New York, October, 1995

I can remember only one or two occasions when father
(New York Times critic Olin Downes)helped. One was the very first criticism I wrote for a newspaper. This was a song recital, a debut recital, imagine sending a kid to review a debut! It was for the New York Post. I came on as (Samuel) Chotzinoff's assistant. No critic went to the office at the Post.. You went home and late a at night a messenger came over to pick up your copy. I cam home and my father must have asked me what it was I had to write about. And he made this suggestion: If you can find something which is of legitimate interest about the songs, which throws some light, or gives some detail which is relevant, use it to add to whatever your personal opinion is...

I read my father's stuff regularly, and I remember my mother pointing out to me that one of the important things in a news story, in a reporting sense, is to get the facts straight: What, when, why, where and how?!

My first review turned out well, and the young man who gave the recital wrote a letter to the Post. I remember the boss reading this letter and saying, "Friend of yours?" which would have been bad but I was able to convince him I didn't know the man from Adam.

Writing criticism was comfortable but I wouldn't say I felt any great sense of mission. In Boston I reviewed Johanna Gadski, appearing on a vaudeville bill. I had heard her as Isolde, and she had to pay her bills. To appear at kit's orphan on a vaudeville bill, I wrote a review of this for myself...I remember writing about the ignorant audience that was giggling when they should have been listening respectfully-I was twelve at this time!-but poor Gadski looked like a caricature of a diva out of the New Yorker. She could still sing, she sang Brahms Wiegenlied and
Brunnhilde's Battle Cry, but naturally the audience at Keith's thought it was a joke. I remember my indignation was aroused that she was reduced to this."

NOTES FROM CP

KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD went home to Nazi occupied Norway in 1941. At the end of the war, her husband was arrested for collaborating with the Quisling government. He died in prison awaiting trial in 1946. Flagstad lived under house arrest until 1947 when she was allowed to resume her career in Europe and America. Her appearances in the US were often picketed, she was reviled in the papers as a Nazi and did not return to the Metropolitan until 1950. Flagstad was never formally charged of any crimes and nothing was ever proved against her. She died, in Norway, in 1962.

NELSON EDDY (1900-1967) Popular American baritone, known for his films with JEanette MacDonald. Edwat is being rather patronizing here. Eddy had a significant operatic and concert career. He sang the Ameircan premiere of Berg's Wozzeck with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1935. Oter opera roles included Germont, Rigoletto and Amonasro, and his recital programs always included Schubert and Brahms. He died onstage during a recital in 1967.

JOANNA GADSKI (1972-1932) Distinguished soprano, often partnered Caruso in Aida. A huge voice with a large repertoire. Her recordings are well worth seeking out. Her career was daamaged when German opera was banned World War I. She made tours singing in English until 1930. Died in a car crash, 1932.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

EDWARD DOWNES: THE RING CYCLE IN 1925

These are excerpts from my notes taken during extensive conversations with broadcaster/teacher/critic Edward Downes (1911-2001) at his New York apartment in 1995. Edward was the son of New York Times critic Olin Downes and was himself a celebrated critic for The Boston Evening Transcript. From 1956-1999 Edward served as host of (Texaco) Opera Quiz over the Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network. He was a faculty member at Queens College and The Juilliard School. These are verbatim transcripts, little editing attempted unless you see (CP: )

Edward Downes talking to me in 1995:

I heard my first Ring cycle at the Metropolitan in 1925. The Brunnhilde was the Swedish soprano Nanny Larsen-Todsen. She had a wobble in her voice which bothered a lot of people more than it bothered me. I thought she was a great singer, marvelous in the Ring and as Isolde. She had a lot of dramatic power, and I suspect she represented the end of the Wagner tradition which had been insisted upon by cosine Wagner. There were the big gestures, which often looked foolish. Larsen-Todsen was very effective in Goetterdaemmerung at the end of the prologue where they ring out the high Cs and Siegfried goes off. There's a certain point where Siegfried plays his horn and the orchestra comes in with a great sweep of violins. At this point, Larsen-Todsen gave the impression, from way in the back of the Metropolitan, that she had just caught sight of Siegfried. She made a large gesture just as the curtain came down, but the thought behind it, the impulse, was very moving.

In Siegfried, at Brunnhilde's awakening, Larsen-Todsen was likewise wonderful. The stage directions are just awful. She greets the light. She greets the sun. But Larsen-Todsen managed to do it just right. Big gestures complete concepts with a lot of feeling behind them. It was very powerful. Larsen-Todsen understood Wagner's text on a very subtle level and this came across in the slight colorations and little bits of rubato. Her voice was wobbly but very dramatic and it had something even Flagstad lacked. While Flagstad had the most gorgeous voice in these roles, she tended to sound a bit matronly. Larsen-Todsen had a strong visceral quality in her voice, similar to Lotte Lehmann. She was not the actress Lehmann was, but she was close.

There were no great tenors for Wagner before Lauritz Melchior arrived in '26. In fact, they were all horrible. There was one tenor willing to attempt Tristan in the 1920. His name was Kurt Taucher. He had been quite famous in Vienna, but by the time I heard him he made an awful sound!

_____________________________________

NOTES from CP:

Nanny Larsen-Todsen (1884-1982)
Swedish soprano
debut in 1906 as Agathe in Der Fresichutz
Three seasons in new York: 1925-1928

Kurt Taucher, 109 performances in New York between 1922 and 1927

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962) Norwegian dramatic soprano. Her career and box office success rescued the Metropolitan Opera during the depression. She was unknown here and her debut in 1935 was broadcast. During the first intermission, radio commentator Geraldine Farrar, herself a great singer, threw her script away and told the public: "You have just heard the most exciting thing than can happen in any theater. The birth of a new star."
For power and beauty of voice, Flagstad is to this day hard to beat.

Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) Danish heldentenor. Unmatched in all of the Wagner operas. There has been no one approaching him since he retired form opera in 1950. He worked another ten years in Films and in Vegas! Often partnered Flagstad-reportedly they disliked each other. If you have never heard his many recordings and broadcasts, then you have never really heard Wagner!


P.S. Edward lived in the Dakota, the grand building at 72nd Street and Central Park West, notorious for the filming of Rosemary's Baby and the murder of John Lennon in 1980. Edward had lived in the building since he was ten and died there at ninety in 2001. Yoko lived just below him. Leonard Bernstein's apartment had a three storey living room. Lauren Bacall, Al Pacino, and Gilda Radner were among Edward's neighbors.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

WINIFRED WAGNER, A reminiscence

Edward Downes was a teacher and critic and the long time host of "Opera Quiz" on the (then) Texaco Metropolitan Opera Radio Network. I have the honor of considering him a mentor. He died in 2002 at 89. In the mid 1990s he dictated about thirty hours of memoirs to me in his apartment in the Dakota in New York, just upstairs from Yoko Ono. I went back through some of my notes recently while reading the new book, "Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Center of Hitler's Bayreuth" by Brigitte Haman. Bayreuth is a town in Central Germany where Richard Wagner established a theatre to perform his works in 1876. The Bayreuth Festival remains today the world's most prestigious, some would say the world's most notorious. Winifred Williams was a British born orphan of 18 when she married Siegfried Wagner, who was over thirty years her senior, in 1915. Siegfried, the only son of Richard Wagner, died in 1930. Four children were born of this marriage. Friedelind escaped to New York during World War II and made anti Nazi propaganda broadcasts. Wieland became one of the most renowned stage directors of the 20th century. Wolfgang, now 87, runs the festival to this day.

Winfred Wagner's devotion to Hitler and the Third Reich is unquestioned, least of all by herself. Here are some of Edward's reminiscences of Bayreuth, and the Wagner family. Edward's father was Olin Downes, critic of the New York Times.

We are in Edward's living room in 1995. He is speaking of 1930:

I got to Bayreuth in 1930. It wasn't difficult to smuggle myself in, because there was a time when all the orchestral players streamed in, but one day I made the mistake of asking where Frau Winifred Wagner was. Then it was clear I did not know her by sight. I was quickly booted out. I found Frau Wagner drinking coffee in the Bayreuth restaurant. This was the year Siegfried died, leaving her a widow with four children. She was English and had been orphaned, and was raised in Germany by acquaintances of her family. She became thoroughly German. She was very gracious to me. My father had given me a letter of introduction to her. She wrote on a slip of paper, "Admit to any rehearsal." I still have the slip. (CP: And he did. He showed it to me. Creepy)

After the war she was in disgrace. She took the whole Nazi era in her stride. I got a message the first year I went back, around 1958, that Frau Wagner knew I was in Bayreuth and would like to see me. Friedelind's book was out (note: Friedelind Wagner, youngest child of Winifred and Siegfried had written "Heritage of Fire" detailing her mother's close ties to the Nazis) And I thought, Oh, Christ, what do I do now? I had never seen Winifred since that day in 1930. And now thirty years later here she was. I sent back the answer, that it was very nice of Frau Wagner, and we only met once thirty years ago, and she couldn't possibly remember me. Back came a message. Oh, no, she remembers you very well and she knows just who you are, and she would like to see you, so I went to Friedelind and said What do I do now?

Friedelind, cool as a cucumber said, Mama receives on performance days. I'll take you over tomorrow.

Frau Wagner came to the door and she and Friedelind kissed and cooed. Then she turned to me: "What do you think of our Wieland's productions? I think he does it just to be different, don't you?"

I tried to be as neutral as possible but I thought his productions were just marvelous..

Frau Wagner was very chirp and urbane and seemed at peace with her life. In a long TV documentary made shortly before her death (1980) she said, "Yes, I was Hitler's friend, certainly. We were very fond of one another. If he came knocking at the door today I would get up to greet him as an old friend." She made these absolutely flat statements that Hitler never knew anything at all about the horrors that went on. And I sat there thinking, does she think I'm really stupid or is she pretending an ignorance she can't have? She seemed a very bright woman. She was playing a role right up to the hilt. I never heard her apologize or repudiate Hitler in any way, and this went on until her death in 1980."

---

The book is Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Center of Hitlerism Bayreuth by
Brigitte Hamann. It's a devatstating cultural history.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF (INCARCERATED) BABES

Ohio Arts Alive is a one hour arts/news/magazine program I produce, showcasing a wide spectrum of arts programs throughout the state. Of special interest are those people and programs who work with grievously underserved communities. Last year we did a program from the Lebanon Correctional Facility near Cincinnati, of a men's choir -UMOJA- and its remarkable conductor, Dr. Catherine Roma. Now, we look at kids.

The Madison Correctional Facility is about 40 minutes west of Columbus in London, Ohio. Inmates are young men aged 14-21, all of whom have been convicted of crimes as adults and serving adult sentences. At 21 these guys will be shipped off to adult prisons. My colleagues and I will be going out there next week to sit in on a creative dramatics and bull session. Again, these are-to me, anyway-kids. And the authorities made it very clear: the crimes range from possession to murder.
Yeah, they look like choirboys, but these are (or were) some scary people.
Our auspices for this visit is ArtSafe Ohio, an organization dedicated to bringing educational opportunities to the incarcerated, and to young school children who have next to nothing.

Preparing for next week, I have learned:

85 % of these kids in prison come from broken homes
at least 75% were themsevles abused, from rape to other forms of physical abuse. Neglect and parental indifference means getting off lightly.

The guys at Madison have published a book called Inside Looking Out: It's a collection of writing and art work done by these guys, some of whom will never get out of prison.

Here are a few samples:

In this cell, I always think about my future and my past.
For in this cell, you just don't know how long you can last. (Antwan)


It's crazy here, but you have to do the time.
Do not let the time do you.
I have never been to a youth center or juvenile jail.
It was my first time committing a felony crime.
Now, I am in the pen for something I could have avoided.

This place is hell. You sit and stare out the windows all night
and you are never happy. You think about all the fun you had.
You will be be mad because the holidays come and you cannot spend that day with your family. If you have the chance to change your ways, do it, because jail is no place
to be, and that's "the real" (Vernon)


Now I have to go back to my soul being my best friend.
My soul and I must remain in hell-this 6' by 9' prison cell.
Thoughts of the past constantly run through my mind.
I only hear the devil's voice telling me to die in sin.
Instead of God's telling me to live again. (Steve)



But I can tell you this...the next time your Grandma or Mom kisses you and leaves lipstick on your cheek, don't wipe it off. You might regret it in years to come. (Marcus)

_______________________

Inside Looking Out is available from ArtSafe: Arts for a Child's Safe America Foundation, 614-237-9077. See www.artsafe.org

Friday, November 04, 2005

COMPOSER'S CHILDREN

I've been working on some notes and a pre concert talk for Stravinsky's
Symphony in C. The composer writes that this was written in the early 1930s, during a terrible period of his life. His wife Catherine had been hospitalized for many years with tuberculosis. She died, as did their daughter, of the same illness.
It got me to thinking about the children (and spouses) of famous composers. There don't seem to be a lot of happy families in the history of western music. Is every unhappy family really unhappy in its own way? Verdi, Puccini, Mahler and Richard Strauss were artists and businessmen, and these roles overlapped. Why no large families? Would Verdi have written Aida if he had been raising a houseful of kids?

Here's a list I've made in my head. No reference material used, so bear with me:

Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750

Two wives. Twenty children. Yikes! Those were cold and long nights in Leipzig. Several of Bach's sons followed him in music: Johann Christian, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Phillip Emmanuel. His daughter Anna Magdalena was immortalized by a book of keyboard exercises dedicated to her.

George Friedrich Handel 1685-1759

Never married, no children. Died old and rich.

Franz Joseph Haydn 1732-1809.

Long and unhappy marriage. No children.

W.A. Mozart 1756-1791

Of the six children born to Mozart and his wife, Constanze Weber, between 1784 and 1791 only one, Franz Xaver, born shortly before his father's death, outlived the composer.

Beethoven 1770-1827

Never married. Several miserable love affairs. No children.

Gioacchino Rossini 1792-1868

Two marriages, the first to contralto Isabella Colbran (divorced) then to his long time mistress, Olympe Pellesier. No children.

Franz Schubert 1797-1828

Never married, no children.

Robert Schumann 1810-1856

Six children born to Clara Wieck Schumann. By all accounts this was a boisterous and happy family until Robert went mad, probably from tertiary syphilis. After several attempts at drowning himself, he was institutionalized, and starved himself to death.

Johannes Brahms 1833-1897

Never married, no children

Richard Wagner 1813-1883

Two marriages, the first to Minna Planner. Began a liaison with Cosima von Bulow, the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Wagner's protege, conductor Hans von Bulow. Three children were born to Wagner and Cosima while she was still married to von Bulow. Cosima and Wagner did eventually marry. The dynastic miseries of the Wagner family are well documented, and on going.

Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901

Two children born from his marriage to Margherita Barezzi. Mother and babies all died duirng a typhus epidemic 1839-1841. By 1842 Verdi was livving with the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. She had several children by previous lovers, all of whom were raised in orphanages from birth. No children with Verdi. The two did not marry until 1859 and remianed together until Strepponi's death nearly forty years later.

Gustav Mahler 1860-1911

Married Alma Schindler in 1900. Two daughters, Anna (1902-1907) and Maria Anna, who died in 1988.

Giacomo Puccini 1858-1924

Unhappy marriage with Elvira Casazza, who left her husband when she became pregnant with Puccini's only child, Tonio.


Richard Strauss 1865-1949

Long and stormy marriage to Pauline de Ahna. She was a general's daughter who swore all her long life that she had married beneath herself, and that her husband should write commercial music, like Gilbert and Sullivan. Strauss reportedly adored her. One son.

Igor Stravinsky 1882-1971

Four children from his first marriage, to Catherine. All but Milenka lived long lives. Took up with painter Vera Soudeikeine while Catherine was hospitalized, married her after Catherine's death. A long and devoted marriage. Stravinsky seemed an absent minded father. Late in his life one of his granddaughters bore a child out of wedlock, which, according to biographer Lillian Libman, the composer "could not understand"

_________

Well, I can't imagine a slew of Father's Day cards for any of these guys. Only Bach and Schumann seemed to have had a happy family life.
You can hear this in a lot of Schumann's music, especially the lieder and the piano works he wrote for Clara. We don't seem to have any drunks or wife beaters in the bunch, and public health being what it wasn't years ago, one can hardly hold a touch of syphilis now and then against them.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 9

Two days ago Ben and I were supposed to perform at First Church. We postponed several weeks ago, but in fact a few people did show up. I'm sorry they were inconvenienced, but hey, at least people are interested. Which may or may not be a good thing. We did another rehearsal yesterday.
It's becoming physically easier for me, less of a workout. I'm more pumped when finished than exhausted. What to my ears sounds too light, too bright and over focused still doesn't carry all that well against the piano in a rehearsal hall. In the sanctuary, we'll see (hear).

Like all important works of art, Dichterliebe continues to feed anyone who really wants to dig into it and discover what's there. You can't be bored, and you are never, but never, finished. Just when I think I've caught the right tone of irony, or joy, or anger, the mood in the piano contradicts what I have going on.
The irony of a lot of major keys and bright colors, and of mood changes, the protagonist happy and bitter (not defeated, bitter) in the same verse, maybe with ten or eleven notes of separation, is overwhelming. I wonder if Schumann or any of our composers expected their work to provoke so much study years after their deaths. Mozart wrote often on spec, and once a work was performed he was onto the next one, for money. Did he think people would be writing books about the Jupiter Symphony in 2005? They are. Did Bach, who had to produce a slew of music for each Sunday of the liturgical year, think his cantatas would be sung in churches and concert halls and recording studios two hundred and fifty years after his death? I wonder if Mozart or Bach would have cared. Bach was a salaried employee for many years. Mozart wanted to be, and never in his best years could attracting enough patronage.

Sometimes the larger orchestral works and the big operas overwhelm a listener in their complexity, and in their size. With lieder, its two people, voice and piano. So there should be more transparency; easier for the listener to really hear what is going on. You'd think, wouldn't you? Forget it. A one page Wolf song is as confounding as all of the Goldberg variations. I love what Janet Baker says: The preparation is the best part. Sometimes the audience gets in the way! (Not really)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 8, the good news is...

The good news is we are not canceling, which might not be good news to the many.
We are postponing. What might be mediocre and a bit of a stunt could be serious music making and fun if we do it after the holidays. Not that Ben, bless him, has any problems. But me, at 200 plus pounds and nearing a certain age, well...
(Bob Gartside who I love dearly just e mailed me " You're still young!") I have the German and the intent but not yet the stamina and materials to do this justice. So we practice and work and we wait. You know, the gift of a piece like this is that every time you finish a one or two page song, and turn the page, it's like receiving a present! The next page is always something that looks small, but is large and miraculous. All that emotion and beauty in a few notes and a few German words. It's very humbling. And I suspect neither Ben nor myself want to interrupt a rehearsal process that is affording us both, he at the key board, me not at the keyboard, a lot of growth.

So we wait!
Diary continues, though.

I just wish the wretched thing were in Italian. If I were living in Milan 100
years ago it would be easy to study L'amore di poeta!

MARILYN HORNE AT OBERLIN


Marilyn Horne gave a master class at Oberlin College on Oct 16, packing the large college chapel to the walls. Five students were selected to perform. Their ages ranged from 19 to 24. All were very talented, and all sounded dramatically better after Miss Horne was through with them.

To a young woman singing the Habanera from Carmen:

Ok, I can't see you breathe. Show me how you breathe. I'll say it again, I'm
all about support. Look, Carmen knows she functions as the entertainment for the girls in the factory and the fellas out in the square. So it's important that she establish a sense of fun with this piece, but also menace. Now, don't be too pretty here. And use your arms and hands! How old are you? Twenty-one? Sweetheart, it's fun to work on this but don't go near Carmen until you're twenty nine or thirty.
Carmen has to do so many things in character, the shouting, the dancing, things that are easy to lose control of, a young voice can be hurt. I know many ladies, fine singers, sopranos and mezzos who came to grief in Carmen. Now about that fun thing. Do you know Regina Resnik? She was a fantastic Carmen. She'd come out tossing an orange and catching it with one hand, very blase. In the old days it was the hands on hips and the rose in the teeth. We can't do that anymore. Now forward, honey. Put the sound higher, between the eyes. Don't growl. Sing those low notes with lots of support. Prends garde a toi! Be careful she says! That's a great line, you really need to balance the fun with a sense of menace.

To a young man singing Questo amor from Edgar-Puccini

I notice you are not observing the markings in the score. Now with Puccini you can be sure the markings are his. With Mozart, Schubert, even my Rossini, not so sure...I want you to take the 'ah' vowel high...place it up!
No, you are singing with your chin. Stop using your chin! Now, when you drop your jaw like that, so low you are throwing the sound to the back of your throat. Keep doing that and you will be in serious trouble in a few years. Do not throw your voice back. You are trying to manufacture a bigger and darker sound because you are young. Don't do it. Sing this with your voice. Okay, truthfully this piece requires more sound than you can summon at your age....I keep telling you to place the sound higher, but you don't believe me do you?? Look, just try it, just get it out of your throat.

To a young woman singing Come scoglio-Cosi fan Tutte-Mozart

You have a very beautiful voice. Wonderful. What is your comfortable top note? Can you sing an E flat? You can sing an F? Honey, then this is not for you. This is a dramatic soprano aria. It is not what I would have chosen for you now.
Good for you for wanting to work on it, but you need to sing lighter stuff, like Blondchen and Susanna very well first. This piece is a killer..You're a talented girl and I want you to do well.

Miss Horne and the audience seemed most taken with the final singer, a tall young baritone who sang Ah per semper! from Bellini's I Puritani. The sound was huge, too loud, unfocused and out of tune. But it was a wonderful sound even so! When she was finished this boy sounded like Titta Ruffo. She continued her mantras with this kid: "Support! Keep the sound out of the back of the throat! Focus!" He began to try her suggestions and suddenly all his pitch problems vanished. Horne would turn to the audience whenever a student did really well and say, "Am I right?"

"You don['t like the way I'm having you sound, do you?"
"Uh, no. It sounds very nasal to me."

"Good!" That's fine! Don't worry about it. It's a better sound out here, warmer, focused, large and honey, in tune!"

It was a great afternoon with a lady who, in the few bits she sang herself, showed she still got it. She was exacting, professional and warm to all.
I took some OSU students with me. On the drive home I played them some of her CDs. They had loved the classes but were too young to have
heard the lady herself. It was a WOW! for them.

Friday, October 14, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 7 -LOTTE LEHMANN


OK, so I've spent the whole week keeping my throat open. Damned near gagged with a bulldozer, but finally I know how to squeeze out more sound from the abdominal muscles and use compressed air-the power-through the cords. I'm not saying the sound is pretty, or particularly expressive, or even nice, but there is a sound just past this side of a steam whistle.

Today I got some minute word by word coaching on the German. I'm the macro type myself, but this type of work is crucial, and to me was invaluable. One needs to breathe whether it makes sense musically, and usually-that will be where it makes sense in the words, an afterthought, a qualifying sentence, etc.

Yesterday I was asked to substitute teach a class on Dichterliebe for undergrads.
It's a song lit. class, taught by a first class teacher and artist. He took the day off to sing Yom Kippur services. I told these young people, if you are going to sing this music, then aside from technique and language you must have courage. Don't be afraid to be overtly emotional in your approach. Move your bodies, move your faces, be aware that your eyes are also important points of contact for the audience
(And don't ignore American song; nothing like singing in your own language).
The reason the song business is dying is that you have nice people getting up and singing in German. They don't speak German. Their audience doesn't speak German. But here we are doing two hours of German. So you obviously have to integrate yourselves into the language so completely that you could tell the story blind folded (or gagged!) That's what you are up there for. To tell a story. If it's about love, well what do you know about love? About loss? , pain, unrequited love (the worst) Song literature is chocked full of this.

I knew they would not know Lott Lehman and they didn't. I showed a DVD of one of her master classes. I said, This old lady was the greatest exponent of German song. She had an imperfect technique, and by the time she came to the States her voice was past its best. How did she manage to pack concert halls here for years? Because she believed every word she sang. She gave something of herself to every two minute song. She was unafraid. So must you be.

Monday, October 10, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 6

OPEN YOUR THROAT!
I had a voice teacher say this to me last week. I've been hearing that a lot lately.
I heard it as well in college over twenty five years ago. I even heard Maria Callas say it to a terrified young soprano in her Juilliard master classes thirty years ago. For the record, it was the only time I heard Callas be anything besides kind and supportive.

You can't sing with your mouth closed. It is possible to open up wide and have the back of your throat sealed up tight. That's what I've been doing. Thus the sound is breathy, unsupported and has no vibrato. It might be pitched speaking but singing it ain't. And I'll say it again...Dichterliebe is-nearly literally-a ball buster.
The physical mechanisms have to be in first class shape to get through this. So today, after a weekend of practicing the "beginning of the yawn" without gagging, I went to rehearsal with Ben and opened my throat, and for about five minutes the sound was big, rich, focused and terrific. After five minutes it was breathy, constricted, tight and horrible. But hell, I got those five minutes I never had before. The great tenor Mario del Monaco used to shove a spoon down his pupil's throats getting to the 'gola aperto'. Gives whole new meaning to "Gag me with a spoon".

Many artists consider 'Ich grolle nicht' to be the emotional heart of the cycle

I won't complain
Even if my heart is breaking
Love lost forever, I won't complain

Even though you gleam with the glory of diamonds
(Wie du auch strahlst in Diamantenspracht, say THAT three times fast!)
No gleam falls into the night of your heart.

I can't sing this. I know the notes, the words and the mood with it's too low, it's too high, it's a killer and I'm all over the place. It is song 7, with 9 to go.
I can't really sing song 6 either, ain't that a kick? The exhortation of the Rhine, "with its great Cathedral of the holy city of Cologne' so far requires more support and gut strength than I can muster without passing gas. But I'm working on it. The singing, I mean.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 5

Well, here's another problem.
How to sing the entire cycle straight through without losing your voice?
I'm croaking a bit anyway, but hell, at least most of the time there's some tone there, some spin and some warmth. I said to Ben today, Let's do the whole thing start to finish, no stopping. We stopped a few times, pushing and shoving our ways through the sea wall of this thick and shifting tonality. I remember when we first discussed doing this, I thought I knew enough about German, so I could learn to do this well. I'm a pretty good musician. I've been listening to Dichterliebe since I was fifteen. How hard could this be?

After one hour of rehearsal I'm done. I need a week in intensive care. Just the
concentration required, the ability to listen and to express what's going on between the bars is an enormous challenge. Noody should throw away their Fritz Wuderlich albums, but this is a wonderful mental and spiritual excerise and I'm gratedul for the opportunity.

So -
Never mind there are two pieces back to back I can't sing because they are too bleeding low. And forget that there's a top G in the first line of the first song that doesn't exist for me. And Ben, bless his heart, says, "Now, on this page where its triple forte and high, just open up." I opened up and my bowels fell on the floor. Why torment an audience, not to mention Schumann? Didn't he have enough trouble beinb crazy?

But I'll tell you, every time I turn the page and see the next song I 'm glad to be working on this.

As my buddy Paul Cote used to say, "Who needs to be over the rainbow when you've been under the ferris wheel?" (Don't ask.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 4 AND 2 PRESENTS

Alexander Kipnis
Bill Scharf, one of the great people of life, has sent me a recording of Dichterliebe with the Russian bass Alexander Kipnis. He's accompanied by Wolfgang
Rose, in this broadcast from 1943.

Kipnis was a huge name in music, and lived from 1891-1978. He was the father of Igor Kipnis.




Kipnis has been on my radar without my being deeply familiar with his work.
Where have I been??!
What a magnificent, imposing, rolling, black bass voice this is!
His operatic performances must have been towering.
At first hearing his voice completely overwhelmed me, the sheer sound, the size of the voice. It was like hearing those recordings of the young Callas for the first time, or like watching a wreck. You are fascinated. Can't turn your eyes (ears) away. But for all his huge voice and his fat, juicy sound, Kipnis aims his voice right at the words, dead on , dead center. No slipping and sliding. You don't get seasick from listening to Kipnis, and he nails your ears-and ass!-to the wall. He really enjoys a lot of the words: liebe (love) heilige Strome (holy river) brust/Himmelslust (breast/heaven's joy). He can be huge and menacing in Ich grolle nicht

I won't complain
und wenn das Herz auch bricht even if the heart breaks
ewig verlornes lieb love lost forever

And sad and natural in

Und wussten's die Blume die kleiner And if the little flowers knew
wie tief verwundet mein Herz How deeply wounded is my heart
sie wurden mit mir weinen They would weep with me
zu heilen meinen Schmerz To heal my sorrow

And in the second song he takes a tiny pause

Und wenn mdu mich lieb hast,-- kindchen And if you love me--child
that perfectly sets up the final line and offers room for
strong contrast to song 3: where the great cathedral of Cologne is reflected in the waves of the Rhine. And that's just songs 2 and 3, boys and girls!
It's the tiny pauses that make art, and only a real artist can pull them off.
For the rest of us, they're just, well, pauses.
_____________________________________

I got a lovely present from a radio listener I don't know...I've been sent a recording of Bellini's opera I CAPULETTI E I MONTECCHI-The Capulets and the Montagues-a performance given in Boston on June 7, 1975. I was in the chorus. Beverly Sills was Giulietta. The late Tatiana Troyanos sang Romeo. She was a highly strung wreck all through rehearsal. Sills was cool and kept saying "Jesus Tatiana! You're the best in the business! Calm down!"
The first two performances were threatened when everyone got sick...Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence and half the chorus. (Most of us were just hung over, in the chorus I mean) By the third night all was well. It's a wonderful souvenir, and very moving for me to hear it again, thirty years later.

I love the finale. Capellio, the father of Giulietta comes upon R & J's bodies and cries out Killed! They are killed! Who has killed them?
And the chorus cries out: Da voi, spietato! Killed by YOU, wretched man!
Jesus, what would Freud or Anne Landers have made of this? Ain't opera grand!?!

Friday, September 23, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 3


Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966) Wunderlich , yes he was
Another rehearsal today. I didn't have any voice. Nope. Nothing. Nada.
Still, Ben and I worked together well.
What continues to strike me is that all of the great composers of the lied do all the work for you. If you can really bear down on the German and draw out the colors of the language, you have it made. If you make affect with your face, or hands or body then you are clowning, not performing and certainly not performing Dichterliebe.


DON'T "PERFORM." LEARN THE WORDS AND NOTES AND SING! PERIOD!        


Today we began with song 9:

Das ist ein Floten und Geigen
Tromptern schmettern darein

The flutes and the fiddles
and the trumpets blare

Schmettern darien...they blare or scream or crow away...






Crisp and enthusiastic pronunciation of the German does so much of the work for you.
This is no time to be precious or cute.
I picture myself as a bug infested lumberjack lost in the Maine woods during black fly season...looking for "Her",and finding "She" is always just out of reach and probably a figment of my imagination due to an over abundance of bug spray (which is powerless against black flies, trust me)
I tried to read a very learned treatise on key relationships over the weekend. I got a headache and watched a Peter Sellers movie instead. The author had one stupid remark ...only tenors should sing this, since re arranging the key structure dilutes the piece. "It is surprising that any artist should wish to perform something outside their vocal range." Tell that to Lotte Lehmann or Fischer-Dieskau or Herman Prey or Fritz Wunderlich, Batman. You want to hear Dichterliebe as a peasant who feels the earth and loves unconditionally and poops in the woods? Go for Lehmann!

Nobody can read these poems or listen to this music and do the tight butt cheek hand clasp stance at the piano, with the cool gaze at the audience. This stuff is earthy, sexual and beautiful. And maybe beyond me at this time of life!

P.S. Added in 2012: I tried to fit in a Lehmann performance on 'Das ist ein floeten' here-didn't work out. Fritz Wunderlich didn't live to grow old, alas-but the freshness, beauty and youth of his singing strike me as perfect for Dichterliebe

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 2

Robert Schumann
This is the continuing saga of my preparation for a performance of Dichterliebe (Schumann) on November 1. My friend Ben Wiant is the pianist.

Second rehearsal with Ben today. I learned a great deal in that hour.
Now I know why singers are always told never to learn music from a recording.
I've been listening to Dichterliebe for twenty years, but never thought of singing it myself; I'm not a singer. I'm a good musician who loves music and singing but you either got the chops or you ain't...But ego, age and friendship win out, and I am enjoying this collaboration with Ben. But listening to cds, who notices the little notes and the subtle colors that make this music? Read the score!

Performing Dichterliebe  is all about listening to one another. Ben asked me to sing with more vibrato. Who wants to hear a fat and fifty choirboy? Well, that's one of the several technical problems around to handle. Marrying the German diction to real understanding is another. For example

Die Rose, die Lilie
die Taube , die Sonne
die lieb ich einst alle in Liebeswonne**
Ich lieb' sie nicht mehr, ich liebe alleine
die Kleine, die Feine, die Reine die Eine....




The rose, the lily
the dove, the sun
I loved them all with the wonder of love
I love them no more
I love alone
the little one, the fine, the pure, the only one

**Has a more intense meaning than 'wonder of love'..more like the miracle or even the blessing of love, and it suggests eroticism.


How to put this across? The entire song is on one page. There's an old tradition of singing it schnell, in one breath. It can be done if you don't mind passing out and leaving your audience as bewildered as before. Filling out each word with the voice it deserves, even if they are 16th notes, is a great challenge. Interpretation often has to do with unnecessary externals. It is really internal, and quite a personal process. I need to believe in the one I love above all, be she small, and fine, and pure (at my age?) and the only one. Nice Irish boy from Boston that I am, I feel like running to confession! And this is only one (eine!) of the sixteen songs. Just wait til the end, when the poet calls for a large coffin, large enough to be borne by giants who are stronger than the statue of St. Christopher in the Cathedral at Cologne, and in that coffin he buries his love. It's gonna take some sales job, never mind memorizing the German words

Und holt mir auch zwolf Riesen
Die muessen noch staerker sein
Als wie der starke Christoph
Im Dom zu Coeln am Rhein.

And also get twelve giants
They must be stronger than
The powerful Christopher
In the cathedral at Cologne.

Who needs reality TV? Stay tuned.

MOZART

MOZART: THE MYTHS AND AN APPRECIATION

Mozart turns 250 in 2006. This is a leap on next year's festivities:


"He roused my admiration when I was young, he caused me to despair
when I reached maturity; he is now the comfort of my old age."--Rossini

If you were lucky enough to have wonderful music education in the public schools, and this goes back forty years, then you might remember the portraits of composers that lined the music room walls. There was Beethoven in all his furrowed brow splendor. Mahler looked like he had a headache. Verdi scowled out at us as if about to count the box office take for "Rigoletto" or "Aida". Bach looked plump and prosperous. He had twenty kids. You'd think he'd look exhausted. Mozart was candy box pretty. He was in full white wigged regalia, with a pouty smile on his rouged lips, dressed in a fancy waistcoat with a medal or two pinned to his chest. Here's how he was described by his contemporary, Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who worked with Mozart in the first performances of "The Marriage of Figaro"

"He was a remarkable small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of hair, of which he as rather vain. Though born of beautiful parents, Mozart himself possessed beauty only as a child; in his later years he retained nothing of his early looks but the pleasing expression. His eyes, which were rather large and prominent, had more of a languid than a brilliant or animated character. His head was too large or his body. His nose, which had been handsome, became so prominent a feature in the last years of his life, from the emaciation of his countenance, that a scribbler in the Morgenblatt of Vienna honored him with h epithet "enormous nosed."

You don't need to be pretty to be brilliant, and apparently Mozart was small-even by standards of the era-pock marked, and large nosed. He was also "vain about his hands and wrists as he was playing one of his own keyboard works." His self esteem was high. Mozart spoke reverently of Bach and Gluck, and with real love for Haydn, but Salieri and Piccini he dismissed. "Piccini's choruses are too weak and thin, and his music is monotonous" and complaining in 1781 that "the emperor cares for no one but Salieri."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived for thirty six years minus a few weeks. That wasn't bad for the life expectancy of the time. He was well regarded as a composer but not always singled out. His music was played but often the backing for performances came out of his own meager pockets. The nobility patronized him in all senses of the word. It could be that in the age of Voltaire it was thought prudent to keep such a gifted man at arm's length. Here's how Virgil Thomson interpreted Mozart's life, writing in 1940

"Mozart was not embittered by illness or adversity, he was tempered by them.
Furthermore, he was acquainted with French libertarian ideas, having been fully exposed to these in Paris, where he spent his twenty third year. But he was never at any time a revolter. He was an absorber and a builder. He never tried to throw out the window his Catholic faith or his allegiance to the emperor, in spite of much unpleasantness form church and state. He merely added them to his belief in human rights, and his practice of Masonic fellowship he had learned in Paris and Vienna."

Mozart was indeed buried in a common grave, and so was everyone else outside the nobility. He adored women, flirtation, and sex. Bodily functions held for him no mystery or disgust. His marriage to Constanze Weber was rocky due to poverty rather than incompatibility. Constanze had been bred for a career on the stage. She must have been an extraordinary singer. Ask any soprano who has sung the 'Et incarnatus EST' form the Mass in C, music written for Constanze. Even flinty Leopold Mozart begrudgingly admired Constantine performance, but had no further use for his daughter in law or her family. Wolfgang was twenty six hen he finally married Constanze, after an affair with each of her older sisters, both of whom left him to marry elsewhere. If the formidable Frau Weber allowed her daughters to be passed around by Mozart, and presumably Constanze had decent prospects, it only be because Mamma believed Mozart had potential as a top wage earner. She was to be disappointed. Mozart lived at the mercy of wealthy patrons who often refused to pay. "Eine kleine Nachtmusik", that most famous example of background music, was intended as just that, music to eat dinner by. Copyright laws to protect the rights of composers did not exist, so that anyone could perform "Don Giovanni
and keep the gate. It was not that Mozart was a poor businessman, but that the business of music to protect the rights of the working class did not exist, either.

"The sonatas of Mozart are unique; they are too easy for children
and too difficult for artists"--Arthur Schnabel

Musicians have studied the notes on Mozart's pages for two centuries, but interpretation can always be argued. Must we know or care what the notes mean? Or, in the case of Mozart's perfection, the perfect symmetry of his work, does this music truly play itself? Mozart's music gives ample pleasure as pure music. Just listen to the "Concerto for Flute and Harp" written for a former girlfriend in Paris, or any of the piano concerti Mozart wrote for himself to play at concerts he had to pay for. The geometry, the sense and order , of Mozart's music is irresistible. We are always drawn to the finish, while savoring the journey, the harmonic twists, and the melodic deliciousness.

The great and harrowing figure in Mozart's life was not a wife or a child-he fathered six, only two of whom survived infancy-but his father, the forbidding Leopold Mozart. He's often presented as the villain in his son's life. Maynard Solomon discusses Mozart as the eternal child, and quotes Leopold writing to his twenty two year old son

"Those happy moments are gone, when as a child and boy, you never went to bed
without standing on a chair and singing g to me...and ended by kissing me again and again on the tip of my nose and telling me that when I grow old you would put me in a glass case and protect me from every breath of air, so that you might always have you with me and honor me."

Leopold was the stage father from hell. The stories of the five year old child being dragged all over Europe in the most primitive traveling conditions, roaming form one court to the next, of being put on show to play and improvise for a bored, wealthy audience are well substantiated. Leopold's goal , an audience with the Empress Maria Theresa, was hardly celebratory. The Empress, herself the mother of sixteen, was kind to the child, but no court appointment for father or son was forthcoming. The empress later remarked that the Mozart family resembled "trained dogs."

Leopold continued, dragging his family over poor roads and terrible weather, stopping at vermin infested taverns with terrible food or no food at all. As late as 1778, mother and son were on the road. Both parents were alarmed by Wolfgang's attachment to the Weber family, and in turn each of their three daughters. Frau Mozart and her son went to try their luck in Paris, and there suddenly Frau Mozart died. When the terrible news reached Leopold back in Salzburg, he had no pity for his devastated son

"You had your engagements. You were away all day, and as she didn't make a fuss, you treated her condition lightly. All this time her illness became more serious, in fact mortal, and only then was a doctor called, by which time it was too late."
(August 3, 1778)

Nonetheless, Mozart always addressed his father as 'mon tres chere pere', and dutifully reported every triumph and every setback. Leopold balked completely at his son's marriage, but instead of recriminations there were three months of icy silence. The breach later healed after a fashion, but Leopold remained in Salzburg while Mozart and Constanze settled in Vienna.
Leopold died in 1787.


"Oui, by the love of my skin
I shit on your nose
So it runs down your chin"

Mozart to his cousin, Maria Thekla Mozart ("Basle")

Of all he correspondence Mozart left us, none are more notorious than the Basle letters. "Basle" (female cousin) was the nickname given to Maria Thekla Mozart (1758-1841) the daughter of Leopold's brother Franz Aloys. Wolfgang wrote this in her autograph book

If you love that which I love
You will have to love yourself.
Your very affectionate cousin
Wolfgang Amade Mozart

But soon her was writing her

"Now I must close, because I am not dressed yet, and we'll be eating soon
so that afterwards we can go and shit again, as it so happens..."

"But now I have the honor to query how you are and whether you are weary?
Whether your bowels are solid or thin?
Whether you have scabs on your skin?
Whether you know and think of me?
Whether perhaps you are angry at me?
Whether you'd like to hang yourself from a tree?
Fool that I'll always be,
Whether you'll want to make peace in your heart,
Or by my honor I'll crack a big fart!

(February 28, 1778)

Peter Schaffer embraced Mozart's penchant for scatalogical language in his 1981 play, "Amadeus". In pitting the sublime but poor Mozart against the sophisticated Salieri, he gave the latter some important lines

SALIERI (Addressing a crucifix): From now on we are enemies, You and I.
Because You chose for Your instrument
a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy
and gave me only the ability to recognize
the incarnation.
Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind.
I will block you. I swear it.

But why does Mozart still move us? How could this "smutty, infantile boy" write such sublime music? Music went form his pen to the page without a thought. There are six hundred and twenty six Mozart works catalogued, the first written when the composer was five years old, to the "Requiem" left incomplete at his death thirty years later. Mozart's music has eternal freshness. It all sounds as if it were written yesterday. Over and over, we hear something wonderful, as if for the first time. No one did delight, or simple sadness better. Listen to the Countess's aria, 'Dove sono' from 'The Marriage of Figaro'. It's in C Major, the simplest of keys. The vocal range is less than an octave. A child could sing this.
The music is so simple, so linear, and so expressive that the sadness of this lovely character is evident to those who understand not one word of Italian. Mozart wrote music of the greatest clarity. He understood that two hundred years after his death, even without powdered wigs and ruffled shirts, that people and emotions weren't going to change. There';s great comfort in the continuity he provides us. Mozart's musical geometry is exquisite. There's never too much or too little. The harmonic spicing can be delightful, and ultimately right. That's the secret of Mozart: he always sounds, RIGHT.

"Whether the angels only play Bach praising God, I am not quite sure.
But when they are en famille, the play Mozart."
---Karl Barth

Friday, September 16, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 1

Ben Wiant, my friend and Dichterliebe daddy

My friend Ben and I have decided to collaborate on a performance of Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe (Poet's Love) for this November 1, a noon concert series at a downtown church. This is a cycle of 16 lieder (art songs) for voice and piano, in German, with poetry by Heinrich Heine. The entire set was composed in 1841 when Schumann, syphilis eating away at his brain, had a feverish year writing some of the most exquisite lieder in memory. The songs do not tell one complete story, but allude to nature, love, loss and are heavy with irony.

Robert Schumann...looks as if my singing pissed him off.
Why am I doing this? Does the world need me to get up there and fall on my ass? (Maybe) Because Ben is a dear friend who after thirty years wanted to begin to play the piano again-and he asked me to join him in this adventure. Because we both love Schumann, the music and the poetry. I love it more when listening to Fritz Wunderlich and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in my underwear while scratching myself or eating another piece of cheesecake, but I digress...In short, this is like Mt. Everest, something I'd like to try once before I die.

I'm going to keep a diary of our rehearsals and preparation. Now, I first learned these pieces in college in the mid 1970s. I recently reconnected on line with a former mentor and music teacher who, when told of this project said, Oh God. Do you have to? Ben and I had our first rehearsal the other day. We are both using scores. I find that just spitting out the German words in time is a formidable challenge. Of course, they are just words and are incomprehensible to 90% of the audience and (mostly) to me at this point. I'm from Boston myself, not Dresden. And one must take the timbre of the German language, play with it (so to speak) and match it to Schumann's notes. This above all requires both singer and pianist to listen to each other. Never mind. For now, Ben pounded out notes and I croaked and yelled and gurgled along. We got through the whole thing once without stopping. Did we make music? Did we communicate the wonderful biting sense of the pieces? Is the pope Jewish?

Stay tuned. I'm renting a tux for November 1 and come hell or high water I'll get up there. Ben will shine and I'll smile along for the ride.

Meanwhile, this Dichterliebe Diary will update every few days.

Greetings to all

Christopher




Tuesday, September 13, 2005

2 REQUIEMS

Yesterday I attended a superb performance of Brahms's German Requiem at one of our large downtown churches. This has been the setting for 9/11 memorial concerts since the "Rolling Requiem" of 2002, when Mozart's Requiem was sung worldwide at 8.46 a.m. local time. Yesterday's concert was at 4, the tail end of a sultry day. I had hesitated at the thought of a church choir and pick up orchestra tackling a work I was used to hearing on recordings from Vienna, Prague or Boston. But this was snobbishness on my part. Two church choirs and a small orchestra performed splendidly. They sang in English, in a translation very close to the old and new testament texts. When I was younger, I remember thinking that Brahms didn't get it. I wanted thunder and lighting. I wanted the heavens to roll and open up. I wanted Verdi. Maybe Mahler. I didn't want the huge, comforting and enveloping sound that is Brahms. I'm glad I got older.

There are no Latin texts. Brahms chose biblical passages-auf Deutsche of course-that resonated most with him.

My mind has gone back to a recording of Mozart's Requiem that's over forty years old. We all remember where we were on 9/11/01. Some of us remember November 22, 1963. I was in second grade in Massachusetts, and I remember the day very well. Parents were waiting to take the kids home from school that afternoon. Unusual, since most of us walked to school (you could do that safely in 1963, even if you were six years old. We all did.) Now, I grew up on the periphery of Irish Boston, in the waning but glorious days of no show jobs and pictures of the Sacred Heart (bleeding) on bedroom walls. When I got home from school that Friday afternoon I remember my mother in front of the old black and white TV (nobody, but nobody, had color) with rabbit ear antennae aimed at the ceiling. Mother had her rosary beads going full blast and had a highball going, too: "Jesus! Mary! and Joseph!" The phone rang with aunts and uncles and sixth cousins from East Boston checking in. We only saw them at wakes, and well...Everything from "His poor mother and father!" to "Oh, my God, those kids!" to the most repeated phrase (I remember this clearly) "Look at Jackie, God love her. She didn't change her dress, poor soul".

In 1963, Marilyn was a dead actress, JFK loved only his wife, Chappaquiddick was real estate and the sight of John-John saluting sent all of my people to a bottle of Four Roses and the Sorrowful Mysteries. The Kennedys were royalty in Boston.

I went rummaging for the recording of Mozart's Requiem, as performed by the Boston Symphony and the Chorus Pro Musica with the Harvard-Radcliffe Choirs and the Seminarians of St. John's. I found it, on two battered and nearly uplayable LPS (I had to dig out my turntable, too.) This was recorded in Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral on January 19, 1964. The full requiem mass was celebrated by Cardinal Cushing, with Mozart's music performed in context. Erich Leinsdorf conducted.
The Kennedy family attended. This was televised, too, and you can bet we all went to 7 a.m. mass that morning to be home in time. The eyes at home that day were less on Jackie than on Mrs. Kennedy. Let's make this clear: Back then, "Mrs. Kennedy" meant the family matriarch ("Our President's Mother") as Dominic Dunne called her recently, "The queen of Irish society." Not the daughters in law (God!) and not even the former first lady, as proud as everyone was of her. A few years later, there was RFK's televised funeral. Mother and the girls got out the beads again and poured the drinks. "Would you believe they put a camera right on Mrs. Kennedy right during the mass? And she turned and She Gave Them Such a Look they took that camera right offa her."

Group mourning is comforting, and music is the quickest way to get to the souls and minds of people. My recording of the 1964 Boston based Kennedy memorial Mozart requiem is barely playable. Years ago I put it on tape, and now I can't find the tapes. I remember the performance was large, overwhelming, and slow and stately enough to drive Historically Informed Performance Practice Mavens to distraction. It fit the occasion. My community honored us this past weekend with a splendid performance of the German Requiem of Brahms. All volunteer with little rehearsal. The poignancy of this performance given on 9/11/05 as a fundraiser for hurricane Katrina victims was profound. We gave our money, admired the singing and playing of our neighbors and forty one years after the Mozart Requiem in Boston, we still had the music.

Friday, September 09, 2005

NEW ORLEANS: A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."--Jonathan Swift


Role models and mentors are a good thing.
For many years, my role model was described thusly by the Chicago Sun Times

"Ignatius J. Reilly, huge, fractious, obese, a latter-day Garganuta, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans lower depths, incredibly true to life dialogue, and the zaniest of series of high and low comic adventures"

After you've sent your check to Katrina Disaster relief, and after you've said a prayer for the thousands of people killed and displaced, and afer you've gone to a shelter to offer hugs, encouragement and maybe a stuffed animal for a child...Do yourself a favor and read "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole.
Tragically, Mr. Toole took his own life in 1969, aged thirty two, before this book was published. It was his mother who hounded publishers for years, finally getting an appointment with Walker Percy who presumably to get rid of her, agreed to read the manuscript. The rest is history. The book won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for literature. Ignatius Reilly is a corpulent, flatulent hero who disdains employment, responsibility and women. His one girlfriend, the feminist Myrna Minkhoff, is pursued and dismissed as a "minx." Mrs. Irene Reilly, Igantius's long suffering Mama, pays the bills, finds comfort in neighborly gossip and bars, and finds herself expected to fetch and carry for the imperious Ignatius. Our hapless hero suffers from poor internal plumbing-his "valve" is the bane of his life and I suspect of those around him- and like Wagner embarks only on "great work" to nobody's gain, not even his own. And yet, Ignatius, if not admirable, is lovable. Toole was a master at creating strong characters and understood that to keep the reader's attention characters must be supremely self confident and easy to admire...also to evoke gratitude that "it's only a novel"..So I find Ignatius!
Valve and all.

Enjoy this evocation of a New Orleans that no longer exists, if it ever did except in John Kennedy Toole's magnificent mind. Now go help the Katrina victims and have a fantastic read!

RICHARD MOHR

Richard Mohr was one of those people you knew even if you didn't know you knew him.
Walk over to your CD collection. Notice any complete opera recordings from RCA Red Seal? Do you have Il trovatore with Jussi Bjoerling and Zinka Milanov? Do you have Aida with Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers and Rita Gorr? What about the intimate Madama Butterfly with Anna Moffo and Cesare Valletti? Salome with Montserrat Caballe and Sherrill Milnes? If you have any RCA classical vocal recording made between 1950 and 1976 then you have the work of Richard Mohr.

Richard produced the recordings for RCA from the days of Toscanini and the NBC Symphony to the mid 1970s. He contracted the artists, wrote and changed (and changed) the rehearsal and recording schedules, supervised each take, and edited the final product. It was in his later years, as producer of the intermission features for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, that listeners regularly heard his name. He was a self effacing man but even so the chance to interview his beloved Zinka Milanov and her colleagues was too good to resist. It was Richard who told quiz panelists when to speak up and when to shut up (he had flash cards for that). It was Richard Mohr who sifted through the bags of quiz questions. It was Richard who would glare at us quiz panelists thirty seconds before air time and say, "pithy and to the point!" An yes, it was Richard who could tell whopping stories about his colleagues in music business from days gone by.

He had his favorites form the RCA days. Erich Leinsdorf was not one of them, but that conductor led some of Richard's best work: Madama Butterfly with Leontyne Price and Richard Tucker, The barber of Seville with Cesare Valletti, Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters, Tosca with Zinka Milanov, Jussi Bjoerling and Leonard warren, and an infamous Lohengrin, made in Boston's symphony Hall in the late 1960s. I say infamous because the cost overruns for this recording broke the bank. But I'm one of many who welcomed the CD release of this performance a few years back. Who wouldn't love the Boston Symphony playing Wagner in Symphony Hall, with the golden voiced Sandor Konya in his most famous role?

Richard worked on many of Toscanini's broadcasts and recordings from the acoustically challenged Studio 8-H in Rockefeller Center. When asked if Toscanini really was so ferocious he said, "Not at all. He was a pussycat." He remembered that Toscanini loved the gadgetry of recordings. He would insist on playback and cry "louder! louder!". But Maestro, said Richard. If we play it any louder we'll break the machinery. "Den-a BREAK da machinery!' roared the pussycat.

But if Toscanini was a pussycat, Richard told me that Stokowski-old Stokie he called him-had "the best ears in the business". He also admired Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony of the late 1950s. Richard produced the wonderful original cast recording of Samuel Barber's Vanessa with Eleanor Steber-she was another favorite-Nicolai Gedda and Rosalind Elias. There was not one area of the classical music business, and it was both art and business, that Richard didn't know.

I met Richard Mohr after his RCA days, but I had worn out more than once copy of that Madama Butterfly with Moffo-and the Rigoletto with Leonard Warren, and Rise Stevens's Carmen. We met at an RCA "do" given to celebrate the Metropolitan Opera's centennial back in 1983. I attended as a lowly record salesman, working my way through grad school. Richard attended as the former boss of the other guests: Milanov, Merrill, Hines, Steber, Albanese and Munsel among them. He didn't ask my name. He just said, "You look like you're under 100 years old, why don't you come on my opera quiz?" I sail okay-what would you have said?-and a year later there I was. Alberta Masiello, assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, Father Owen Lee, writer and distinguished professor of classics, and Christopher Purdy who sells records in Rockefeller Center. I was embarrassed but Richard was a mensch.

I've thought of him a lot since his death a few years ago. You may never have met him-and boy, did you miss something, but listen to any great RCA recording, and think of Richard Mohr.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

MAGDA OLIVERO IN BOSTON

La Scala is reporting Mme. Olivero's death at the age of 105

UPDATE: Magda Olivero recently celebrated her 102nd birthday. (March 2012)

I wrote the rest of this in 2005:

This is a response to a recent Boston Herald column by Tom Keane, calling for a reap of Boston's once glorious theater district.

Dear Mr. Keane:

I read with pleasure your recent column in the Herald about Boston's Theater district. I was especially pleased with your mention of B.F. Keith's, the magnificent theater Sarah Caldwell renamed The Opera House in the late 1970s.

I was a college kid working for Sarah's Opera Co. of Boston in those days. Singing in the chorus, walking her ancient and arthritic dachshund, Cranberry (who refused to die), doing what needed to be done. The paychecks bounced their way down the Charles river. Never mind. Youth is great and I was in an ambiance I loved. My parents paid the bills. ("At least he's not on drugs")

The Keith sale was concluded on a Tuesday. Sarah waddled in with the mortgage. The problem was that Puccini's TOSCA, starring the divine Italian soprano Magda Olivero, was to open the following Friday. We were changing theaters four days before opening night. Actually, Sarah often changed tenors a day or two before, but switching theaters, re- hanging sets, re- seating the orchestra, finding light bulbs! was going to be a challenge. We spent three days in the dark and dirt with flashlights writing numbers on the seats with magic marker. I was sent out to Woolworth's on Washington Street to get more markers and was turned away. That was another bill Sarah, God bless her, hadn't paid.

The Keith had a bowling alley, a gym, a swimming pool and toilets that flushed! Most of the building had not been cleaned in the movie house Bruce Lee days. Your feet stuck to the floor backstage and you learned not to ask.

Then there was Magda Olivero. A great diva in the old tradition, beloved of composers and audiences throughout Europe, she arrived in Boston and went to work. Tosca is a glamorous young woman, the prima donna of Napoleon's Rome. Madam Olivero, seventy if she was a day, remained above the squalor around her. It was my job on opening night to escort her to the wings. We stood together, she solemnly crossing herself awaiting her entrance. Two rats ran over our feet. I shuddered, all 200 pounds of me.. She kissed me. "Is a-ok! Topolini! Jut-a like Milano!" Her cue came in the orchestra and she sang out from the wings, "Mario! Mario! Mario!". The music, the theater, the lights all chased the years away. She was greeted by a great roar of applause and cries of brava! as the audience caught sight of her.
Even the rats scurried off.

I was stained with magic marker ink, and developed a rash. Who cares? I've heard Tosca in some of the greatest theaters in the world. But that was a great night in Boston, and a great time.
I bless the Keith forever. Thank you for bringing it back.




(May 3, 2002)

OPERA IN COLUMBUS OHIO

The meanest Buckeye linebacker is no match for a prima donna. Columbus's Southern Theatre had a packed house  on a January night in 1914, waiting for diva Mary Garden, Debussy's first Melisande and the toast of Paris and Chicago, to appear in recital. But Mary was eight hours away, leaping at the chance to sing a favorite role, Massenet's "Jongleur de Notre Dame" in the Windy City. A wire was dispatched to the hapless crowd in the Southern. Mary was a no-show. The audience wasn't amused, nor was the Columbus Citizen: "Mary, Mary quite contrary/How does your garden grow?/An opera date/will surely bring/more kale in the spring, y'know." Just for good measure, Mary cancelled her make up date, scheduled for four days later, to sing Manon in Chicago.

If Columbus had no resident opera company until 1981, Central Ohioans traveled to hear the
Royal Hughes in 1926
Metropolitan Opera on tour in Cincinnati, braving a flood for an opening night "Faust" at the Music Hall in 1884. Special trains were run from Columbus, and the New York Times reported, "There were some strangers present, who came into the city early in the day on trains that ran through long stretches of water, and who heartily wished they had not ventured from home." Cleveland was a favorite Met tour stop, from "The Barber of Seville" in 1899 to "La traviata", with Granville born Barbara Daniels as Violetta, eighty- seven years later. Not that Columbus lacked for operatic glamour. Adelina Patti appeared at the Auditorium Theatre on Town and Front Streets in 1893, but not before receiving her $5,000 fee in gold coin. Our large German population demanded Wagner, inviting Angelo Neumann's touring company to present its potted Ring cycle in 1899. Memorial Hall opened on Broad Street in 1907 to make a home for touring orchestras and artists from Rachmaninoff to Jan Peerce.

Mary Garden (1874-1967) blew off Columbus
Mary Garden finally arrived, with the touring Chicago Opera to triumph in Alfano's "Resurrection" in 1928. She returned the following year for Thais and Fiora in Montemezzi's "The Love of Three Kings." Garden was not the only star to come through Columbus. Rosa Raisa, Puccini's first Turandot, appeared as Aida with Alexander Kipnis. Charles Hackett was a big name in radio. Maria Olczewska, Richard Strauss's favorite contralto in Vienna, sang Carmen in Columbus. The Columbus Auditorium later became a Lazarus annex. "If you want to stand on the very spot where Mary Garden thrilled 5,500 opera lovers in 1929, you can", writes Phil Sheridan in his 1978 Those Beautiful Downtown Theatres. "Climb either of the two short stairways to the range and refrigerator display, walk to the center, face east, and you're there."

Full scale opera productions came through Columbus between 1935 and 1950 via the touring San Carlo Opera. Organized by a Brooklyn born impresario called Fortune Gallo ('lucky rooster') the San Carlo's "Aida" could play on any stage, the public seldom bothered by the chorus of six and whatever elderly camel could be rented from the local zoo. Dorothy Kirsten, James Melton, Richard Tucker and contralto Coe Glade all played Columbus with the San Carlo, usually at the Hartman Theatre. Beverly Sills began her career at seventeen with the touring Charles Wagner Company, visiting Columbus in 1949 and 1950. Mees Hall hosed a 1954 tour of Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte" starring Phyllis Curtin. Miss Curtin, America's loveliest soprano, remembers Columbus fondly. "I felt myself really growing and changing as an artist during those performances at Mees Hall." Maria Callas sang one of the last concerts of her career in the Ohio Theatre in 1974, repairing to the Kon-Tiki for a late dinner. Broadcaster Mary Rousculp (Hoffman) had caught La Callas Port Columbus earlier that morning for a pithy, impromptu interview, one of the the diva's last.

The Ohio State university presented staged opera going back to the days of Royal Hughes ,whose
voice students included Ruby Elzy, the original Serena in "Porgy and Bess".  Irma Cooper, long a beloved local artist and teacher, sang a sinister Herodias in "Salome" at Mershon Auditorium, with Grace Bumbry in the title role. Evan Whallon's love for singers led to a series of operas with the Columbus Symphony, including "Die Fledermaus", "La boheme", and "Don Giovanni".  James King and Pablo Elvira co starred in Verdi's "Otello", and Christian Badea led one of the most complex of all opera scores, Richard Strauss's "Elektra" with Johanna Meier and Barbara Conrad.

Michael Harrison put Opera Columbus firmly on the cultural map, following a "Tosca" in 1981. The thrills were not all on stage. "Jack Hanna brought all sorts of animals for our Aida" remembers Harrison, today General Director of the Baltimore Opera. He brought two llamas into my office, and they relieved themselves in the elevator! That was the production where the tenor threatened to have me killed for firing him. The Columbus Police protected me admirably." Harrison points to the world premiere of Pasatieri's "The Three Sisters" with pride, and "I loved coming back to sing the Simpleton in "Boris Godunov" with the great Jerome Hines. That was a role to which everyone thought I was ideally suited!"

Irma M. Cooper
"Opera Columbus went under for four days in January, 1991, but Irma Cooper, Phil Jastram and Rocky Morris raised the money to keep it going," remembers former General Director John Gage, now with Dallas Opera. "Phil was not going to let it go under." Bill Russell brought bel canto elegance back to the Palace Theater with "Anna Bolena" and "Lucia di Lammermoor", along with another world premiere, Leslie Burrs's "Vanqui".

Today, Opera Columbus moves into a new era with performances at Ohio State's Mershon Auditorium. Opera IN Columbus is different than Opera/Columbus, but our hometown company continues to set a high standard.

see also www.operacolumbus.com prima donna. On a cold