Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Memories of Opera on Radio pt. 5

This is a transistor radio. You might want to write this down. A radio like this was my gateway.

    Verdi: Luisa Miller with Adriana Maliponte, John Alexander, Cornell MacNeil, Bonaldo Giaotti, Paul Plishka, Mignon Dunn conducted by James Levine. Metropolitan Opera  December 11, 1971

Did you have a shitty childhood? Mine wasn't so great. Forty years after this broadcast of Luisa Miller I have learned compassion. I look back on those days now knowing that people really did do the best they could while fighting their own demons. So when I hear in my head my father's voice, saying "Where's Chris, Mary? I'm getting ready to take the dog out" I no longer shudder. This must have been a cold Saturday afternoon in Boston for Luisa Miller. I was trying to tape all the Met broadcasts in 1971. I had just turned fifteen and had a real to real tape recorder Luisa was one of my first tapes and in those days for me it meant putting a Ken-doll type mic up to the face of my transistor radio. Thus, when Adriana Maliponte says the lines, "Non temer, piu nobil spirto.." my father's call to the dog came through on tape loud and clear. It took me many years to listen to that part of the opera without mixed emotions

James Levine is much in the news these days, with his return to the Met after years of infirmity. This Luisa performance was early in his first run of Verdi. Levine had made his Met debut the previous summer. He was 29, and EVERYBODY noticed there was a new sheriff in town. Fausto Cleva's death left a need for a Verdiano conductor, and there was Jimmy. He is cheered to the walls in this broadcast-and forty plus years later I know he will be again.

John Alexander was a regular with Sarah Caldwell's Boston Opera. His was a case of good voice, outstanding musician. You can have a world busting career the other way around, but Alexander was nothing if not valued. Malipointe was a school boy crush of mine. A few years alter I saw her in La traviata. Bosomy and yummy in her Act I gown, she sang well, too,  as she does here. That memory is worth keeping, as is this performance.

   R. Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier Elisabeth Soderstrom, Delia Wallis, Erie Mills and Donald Gramm. Mario Bernardi conducts. Houston Grand Opera 1978

Erie Mills: A Star is (was) Born
My  living situation was dramatic when I had this broadcast on. I do remember it as a career boost for Erie Mills, replacing Barbara Hendricks. Erie got her star is born broadcast. I saw Soderstrom as the Marschallin yeas later and exquisite she was. She was nearing sixty and you would have jumped her bones from the fifth balcony. Donald Gramm was the papa eminence of the Boston opera, a source of impeccable musicianship, sanity and outrageousness. God rest his soul.

I don't know when the Houston Opera began broadcasting in syndication. I do know I was playing this broadcast on the radio, taped not live,  while living in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, so it must have been the summer of 1979. I graduated from B.U. in 1978 with a degree in music, little talent and no prospects. A summer work study job in' 78 turned into a full time gig. Where? Sargent College,  school training Physical therapists, OTs, Rehab Counselors-a serious  place doing serious work, except possibly in my office. I was in the support staff, presided over by a florid Irish-American lady and man did she and the associate dean like their gin and tonics at lunch-every day. The undergrad admissions counselor was running through a love life dry spell, punctuated with the occasional idiot. "Last night this guy walked me home and he started to take off his clothes at my door. in the street." The graduate admissions coordinator was an intense young woman I didn't like who didn't like me. She kept going on a rice diet, kept getting blocked up and kept being admitted to Mass General to be blown apart. You'd think she'd have learned (P.S. she was in no way heavy in the first place)

Sheridan St., Jamaica Plain, Ma. Chez George
Oh yeah, Jamaica Plain. I needed a place to live that summer and I had no money (B.U. salary was $120/wk, considered good in them days) A bulletin board produced George form Jamaica Plain. He had a large apartment in a run down manse in JP-the toilet flushed up, if at all. The glory days of this place were in the time of James Michael Curley. But I digress. The rent was $75/mo. It was a big place, formal dining room, big kitchen, sun deck, two bedrooms. For $75 a month what's the kick.

George was the kick. He has since died. I was amazed he lived as long as he did. Let me say I was very fond of him. George was one of the most intelligent people I ever met. He had a big heart and a dog named Teddy. He built and re build stereo equipment for a living. Today he's be repairing computers for $500 and hour. He could write, oh man,  he could write. The type who gets up from the typewriter (this was 1979) and mails the pages directly to the New Yorker where it was published immediately.

George was a gay man, sexually insatiable (he never bothered me and no we did not thank you very much.) He was an  alcoholic with no judgement. Many's the night when he would bring home trade and I'd stand top of the stairs and demand to see trade's ID. He wasn't bring home Harvard boys but they were usually over 18. (When he said 'trade' I thought he meant baseball cards.) He totalled two cars in the four months we were roommates, was arrested twice (and bailed out by a rich doctor from Lewis Wharf, don't ask..) and worried my mother when she dropped in one day and found the Gay Community News under Teddy's dishes in the kitchen.  Withal, I was crazy about George, even if in his drunken stupor every night he would crank up the Stones at 3 a,m. bringing on the cops. Lesson learned: Sleep in your clothes. George had no problem greeting the police bare ass, but I did have a sense of propriety. I was in no way scarred by any of this. It made me grow up fast, a good thing. George and I kept in touch. He died about 10 years ago, the booze and the plague finally getting him. Ashamedly, I'm surprised he lived so long.

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