Tuesday, December 18, 2007


If I were thirty years younger and a lot richer I'd go down to OU and get a degree in Music Therapy and start working with kids who could use music to re direct their brains toward seech, inclusion and acitvity. I may yet do it.
Oliver Sacks's new book 'Musicophilia' is fascinating and it led me to 'Music and he Mind' by Anthony Storr (Ballantine paperback c. 1992.) Storr was a British scientist who died a few years ago. He makes a deatiled study of Schopenhauer, Nietzche, Wagner, Haydn and Stravinsky in disucssing how the creative mind works and how music changes the psyche. Over and over he makes the point of music being the strongest of all the arts, since it proposes neither argument, nor takes nor evokes a position or opinion. Music can be the most accesbile of all the arts.

He quotes Zuckerlandl's Sound and Symbol:

Words divide, tones unite.
The unity of existence that words constantly breaks up
dividing thing from thing, subject from object is
constantly restored in the tone. Music prevents
the wrold from being entirely transformed into language
from becoming nothing but object, and prevents man
from becoming nothing but subject.

Storr's discussion of Freud, who wanted us all reduced to infant like perfection and absence of traume is enlightening and explains Freud's aversion to music. I've noticed this in several Freudians I knew years ago. Music was a distraction, keeping us from the nirvana of mother's breast! God!

I'll leave it there. This is not exactly stairmaster reading.
I fell off twice, destroying the house. But fascinating this book certailny is



Every year at this time I'm asked about my favorite recording of Handel's Messiah and evey year I change my mind and every year I realize that my tastes don't mature, they seem to get quirkier. Of course, I can't have one favorite. I know every word and every note and so do you. These days I'm trying to listen to one Beethoven string quartet every morning, because I don't know the quartets or much chamber music at all, but as I continue to read and be fascinated by studies of music and the brain, I realize that these works define "making order out of chaos." But Messiah, comforting in its familiarty, I finds always has something new to offer. It might be helpful that no authentic final version exists. Handel used cut and paste, transpositions and added and delted arias to accomodate different singers appearing in his works. A generation later, Mozart reorchestrated the work to a German text. A century after that, Eugeen Goosens expanded the orchestration and put in instruments Handel never heard of. Messiah became a delightful noisy circus, pehpas befitting what we know of Handel's florid personality.

That said.

I'm commenting on a few sets by conductor

CHRISOTPHER HOGWOOD-- I threw this across the room when I first heard the LPS in college. Google around and you'll find this to be the first choice for a lot of people. Boy sopranos, countertenors, vibratoless strings, vibratoless sopranos! A bunch of reedy, anemic nincompoops. That's what I thought then. Now I think its beautful. You get to hear every word and every note and the fusion of the two, even in-especally in- the fast passages. Emma Kirkby's white tone sounded like a whistle to me, but now I appreciate the fine musicianship.
This would never be my only recording of Messiah.
I lack taste. But I'm older now, so the point of its music making is a comfort!

COLIN DAVIS #1 (I haven't heard his new version) This is about 35 yrs old, and was one of the first to really examine playing Messiah with smaller forces, but there is some vibrato, and there's nice warmth to the strings. Heather Harper, Alexander Young
and John Shirley-Quirk are first class soloists, and nicely balanced (see Bonynge below). This was the recording of choicee for a long time unitl displaced by the Hogwood, and the "rivalry" between the two of them helped start the HIP or Historically Informed Performance (Oy) Wars of the early 1970s. If you can find this, get it.

THOMAS BEECHAM. Ah, Sir Thomas Beecham! Musiccologists on five continents shudder in horror. Bbut this, like porn or pizza, is the quintessential Guilty Pleasure. Saxophones, harps, ballsy operatic soloists,m stately speeds, it is exactly how Messaih would NEVER be peformed like this today. It's a big marching band circus and it is wonderful. Great fun. And the soloists, led by Jon Vickers thank you very much, are not to be sneezed at. The drama of Vickers'"Comfort Ye My People" is unequaled. Go buy this, brown paper bag and all.

RICHARD BONYNGE. A party favorite Lets begin with the comedy of it. He uses a French Candaian mezzo soloist who is the most bizarre singer on record. She sings with "hot potato mouth" so there's no diction, and by Jesus doesn't she manage to go out of tune not phrase by phrase but on the same note at the same time! I thought that was physically impossible. But nope, this lady takes the prize. Her performance makes this a party disc. That's a shame because I listen to it all the itme and love it. It's over ornamented, yes-and the unfortunate Vienese tenor sings Com-FART ye my people, but the choral work is snappy. EXCEPT for this absurd retard in the middle of the Hallelujah Chorus. I like Tom Krause very much. His "The people that walked in darkness" is dramatic and moving.
And listen, admit it, who wouldn't want to hear Dame Joan Sutherland toss off Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion. When she sings "Shout! O daughter of Jersualem" well yes by Christ! Bonynge keeps a bracing momentum making you want to replay this recording. But the mezzo had to be sleeping with SOMEBODY!

Monday, November 26, 2007


Do me a favor and think about what you want from a classical music radio station?
If you are someone who does not use radio at all, or for whom the idea of an all classical station is new, tell me what you think you would need-what would make you want to tune it. Should we limit the format? No long Teutonic symphonies, or opera or music wirtten after 1960 during business hours, would that help? Or hurt?
Do you want background music? Do you want to be provoked, entertained, all three or just be left alone?
There are so many schools of thought out there. I began with the model that public broadcasting serves the underserved by presenting what is not commercially viable. But at 50, I fear I'm the last of that generation. Today, if it isn't comercially viable-if it can't bring in donors (thus serving the wealthy) or keep a maximum number of listeners happy-it doesn't play. I'm one of those people who got turned on during the 60s by the Met opera boradcasts. Are you? What would make you tune in? Some news and public affairs? Some specials? Or all music, and if all music what do you think would play best and what would you want feaured. Bottom line, how do I get you to listen?

No wrong answers of course. It's subjective. But tell me what you think.



Media critic Howard Kurtz's new book, Reality Show is entertaining, a bit gossipy
(Katie Couric's dog poops on the floor) and enlightening. It seems that our high profile news anchors, Katie , Brian and Charlie face the same challenges as many of us who live work and function on far less an exalted plane. They answer to younger people paid far less than they are (can't relate to that!) whose first mantra is to save money and cut corners. One way to do that is to increase revenue with cutesy newscasts. The Couric team tried that and failed--BIG. They're back now with a classier product. Newshounds like Williams seem to fight constant battles as to what is news. I thought Brian-and I'm a Brian fan-was paid all this money because he's supposed to know. Kurtz seems t0 give the overall nod to Charlie Gibson at ABC, and is fair to Couric. It's a good book.

All of us here fight to say what is music. And what do people want to hear? I don't presume to know m0re than anyone but one of the reasons my colleagues and I are here is because WE are supposed to know that. The new "no harpsichord-major keys-few vocals" rule is coming in. Sure we all want more listeners and we all want a wide variety but I just wish the focus wasn't so much on money and capturing people and more on "what is something fantastic we can offer to the public today?" A joyful job is getting harder to do.
And I wonder if Brian Williams deals with people who solicit his opinion , then ingnores it and does what they like...in secret!

But Kurtz's book is a good read. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


TANEYEV: String Quartets 1 and 3;
Carpe Diem Quartet
Charles Wetherbee, violin
Robert Firdman, violin
Korine Fujiwara, viola
Wedny Morton, cello

NAXOS 8.570437


Carpe Diem is a string quartet based in Columbus, Ohio, on its way to an international presence via a new recording deal with Klaus Heyman's Classical music cash cow, Naxos recordings.
Plans call for a cycle of the complete String Quartets by Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev (1856-1915) of which volume one, including the quartets number 1 in b flat minor and number 3 in d, has just been released.

Is it bad luck to be born a good composer among giants? For years even Haydn was dwarfed by Mozart and Beethoven, though Haydn was older, lived longer, wrote more and perfected the musical form Taneyev wrote in so ingratiatingly one hundred years later. Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky were the giants of Taneyev's Russia, with Rimsky-Korsakov's gift for pedagogy and orchestration nipping at everyone heels, and the young Stravinsky ready to cause riots with his pre World War I ballets. In fact, Tchaikovsky taught Taneyev, and the teacher mentor relationship switched in later years as Tchaikovsky began to depend upon the younger man's counsel and advice. In his lifetime Taneyev, well connected to the Russian nobility, had official posts in the government and -like Borodin the chemist-pursued music as an avocation.
He left several volumes of songs, six numbered string quartets plus three 0thers and parts of a seventh, two symphonies, numerous keyboard works and a massive opera The Orestia, the latter admired by Rimsky-Korsakov and Stanislavski and very successful in its day.
His support of the 1905 revolution cost Taneyev his place in the Moscow conservatory and even his connections and positions didn't keep him safe from retribution. He did manage to live under the radar, and was known as a complete gentleman with a gentle and aristocratic bearing. He died at fifty -nine in 1915.

Carpe Diem's new recording project is a blessing for anyone looking to explore under served repertoire. The performances are first rate and the recorded sound a fat, rich delight. The inner voices are scrupulously balanced, thank goodness- since Taneyev weaves a tight web of musical textures. There is not one voice more important that the others. This total synthesis of musical lines leaves room plenty of melodic developments, with the almost oriental
(Mozart called 'Turkish!') themes of seconds and pungent, non text book harmonies giving the music excitement and forward motion. Carpe Diem obviously plays together a lot, listens to one another intently and the experience of playing together and working together closely as first class musicians is evident throughout. There's no ego in this playing, but exquisite music making. Smooth when Taneyev requires, and more punchy and dramatic, as befits the heir to Tchaikovsky. For an heir Taneyev was, a gifted composer, in no way a routinier, who seized the day just as this fine new quartet is doing one hundred years later.

Christopher Purdy

Thursday, November 01, 2007


My cousin Deb Martin Plugh has gone to work on the Purdy family genealogy and in just a short
time I've learned a lot, seen some photos that I never knew existed, heard of some PEOPLE
I never knew existed, shed some tears and had some laughs.

I have already posted the letters my father wrote home to his mother
during WWII. Scroll on down. They're here.
Here's one more letter, also to Grandmother Purdy.
It's on USO stationary, dated August 21, 1942
I've typed it exactly as it appears in the original.

Dear Mrs. Purdy:

This is just a few lines to let you know that I am a very good friend
of your son, Curtis.
I knew him only about three weeks, but during that time we
became very close and dear to each other.
But a week ago they separated us for good.
I am just about certain and I was just going to let you
know that he is okay, and in the 7th Army Division in Camp Polk.
I was just wanting to make sure that you would not worry about him
as he is a real good and honest man.
I say, this knowing that inside of me, there is an empty feeling
for I don't ever expect to meet a buddy like him again.
And feeling this way I wanted to let you know that I feel sorry for you
and my mother, to, for she has three of us boys in the service and I know her heart is very heavy for we had been with her all of our life.

So maybe you can understand why I write this letter to you, for it is to ease the minds of the
ones who are most dear to us. Bill has told me a lot about you, and I feel
as if you are my own mother. So please take this letter as if it was
from your own boy. I may never be able to meet you. But you most know that
somewhere there are lots of boys who are thinking of their homes and folks.
And Bill and I, I called him Bill, when we told each other about our homes
and what we did in civilian life, and we were just about the same in our ways
of what we like to do and we had the same reasons to and the funny fact of it
is that we lived across the country from each other.
My home is in the state of Washington so you
can see that we were strangers from far away.
And if this war is over in the near future, I will be coming
up there with Bill and visit with you for a while for I would surely
love to and the world famous New York.

So please don't worry to much about Bill cause I know he is
being watched over by someone great and mighty, our Lord.

So write if you wish to.

Pvt. H.C. Whiting
Corps of Military Police
Ft. Benning, Georgia

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Many of you have e mailed after reading these letters, scroll on down, and I thank you for your interest. I don't have any more letters but I do have a few comments, especially as I'm watching Ken Burns's The War and learning my history

Bill was an army medic and called 'Doc' by his buddies

He was at the Battle of the Bulge which I'm learning was the bloodiest confrontation of the war, with 19,000 allies killed over six weeks, Dec. 1944-Jan. 1945.

There was a three hour truce on Christmas Day.
Bill was part of a squad that spent that time taking bodies out of the field. Many were frozen solid. He said later that a lot of the German soldiers were children, 12, 13 years old, crying
for their mothers.

By early 1945 Bill was in an army hospital in Luxemourg with a head injury.
He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. I have these medals.
I'm going to type in the ccommendations later.
He had steel plates pounded into his head.
When I knew him he was prone to outbursts and some violence.
My Irish grandfather-his father in law-would say,
"Ah, the poor fella. He has a plate in his head. He's not right."

He died in 1981.

My mother told me years go that when FDR died she and her girlfriends left work and went to church! Most people in Boston did that.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I would have chosen a catchier name, but the Columbus Symphony
has been kind enough to ask me to prepare podcasts for their website.
Previews of coming programs with commentary-hopefully pithy and informative-and musical examples. Find them at www.columbussymphony.org
This website can be hard to use. Persevere!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


It's been a lousy summer for opera singers! Beverly Sills's death in July was a shock. Worse still was the suicide of American tenor Jerry Hadley. He had it all. A wonderful voice, a smart, well trained handsome man who still had lots to offer. His death sucked.

Pavarotti had been ill with cancer for over a year. His death wasn't a surprise and the last years of his career, hampered by his weight, bad knees and failing strength weren't happy. But the legacy! That voice, the Italian sunshine on a rainy day, the wonderful -almost arrogant ease of the high register, the colors he kept in his voice all around the range, the technique that allowed him to sing so well for so long, with no breaks in the voice. Behind the weight problems and the women and the inability to read music, here was a great voice superbly trained. (Sorry, but nobody applauds an atist because he can read music) But there was more. We remember Sills thirty yeas after her last performances and we'll remember Luciano again, because they connected. They reached out. They had something-I don't know exactly what-that drew audiences to them. Certainly vocal prowess was a lot of it but there was something else. Luciano was a big sweet teddy bear who fought with his weight, yes, but like Eleanor Steber in an earlier generation he so loved to sing that you loved it too.

I first heard him in his breakout performance, Tonio in The Daughter of the Regiment. He was a big boy even then-this was 1972, but ran around like a kid. And those nine high Cs! Nailed, nailed and nailed. In Bellini's I Puritani with Joan Sutherland the two of them playing love struck teenagers weighed about 600 lbs between them and both had grandchildren and who cared? Vocal miracles the pair of them. Young singers today are short changed in language training in schools. No matter. Go to the library and listen to Luciano sing Italian. Its like living in Florence for a year.It was only after 2000 that he became a sad figure, limping on the stage, remaining seated during the most passionate scenes of Tosca. But he never lost that voice. Not to my ears. God bless him.

Monday, July 16, 2007


John Adams/Alice Goodman
Cincinnati Opera
July 14, 2007

The large audience in Cincinnati's Music Hall applauded loud and long at the final curtain of Nixon in China at the second of two performances given of this twenty year old opera.
Escorting a bus load of retired professionals, all of whom were better informed of the events leading up to Nixon's 1972 visit to Peking (I was a high school kid and had other things on my mind) this writer was cncerned that mid 1980s minimalism would be hard to take for people more used to La boheme or La traviata. It was a stupid and patronizing assumption. A bus ride pre show talk, my listeners fortified with chardonnay (Big Steve drove the bus and said later, "Jesus, I wold have liked to have seen the show after all the talk about it") was well received, and there was plenty of excited post performance de briefing on the ride home.

There was enormous buzz for this work in the weeks leading up to its world prmeire in Houston, in 1987. The first night audience applauded I believe more out of a sense of being "where it's happening" than fo affection for the work. In 1987, Sellars-Adams-Goodman
WERE "where it's happening" in American opera. Twenty years later it was time to cheer Adams's beautiful music and his witty and moving settings of Goodman's text.

The words seemed an engima to my friends on the bus. I said "That's why the oepra is worth doing and seeing more often." There were direct quotations from the events: Nixon deplanes in Peking and banters gently with Chou en Lai; Mao sings in riddles.
Pat Nixon's role is greatly drawn. This opera tells you more about her than we learned in her many years of public life. Madam Mao has a fiendish dramatic aria in the second act, and returns to seduce her husband in the third. The Nixons are seen as vulnerable and gentle, if shrewd; he a bit goofy, she weary and all knowing with enough fire to protest the action in
The Red Detachment of Women.

All of the performances were splendid. Robert Orth is an extrordinary singing actor with a dark, masculine voice and superb diction. He was totally at ease with his body and moved, sometimes balletically and sometimes clumsily as the situations warranted. Maureen O'Flynn was ravishing in the gentle lyricism of Pat Nixon's aria "This is prophetic!" Mark T. Panuccio will be an important heldentenor in ten years if all goes well. Maos' high and and loud tessitura-Tannhauser, anyone?- was no problem for him. He convincingly played an elderly and frail man without a trace of caricature. It was reproted that young Mr. Panusscio recently dropped over a 100 pounds through diet and excersize, and for this role needed to ear a fat suit!
Thomas Hammons from the orignal cast gave Henry Kssinger the perfect balance of humor and menace. Madame Mao's aria, "I am the wife of Mao Tse Tung!" is a built in show stopper, like "Sempre Libera" or the Queen of the Night. Goergia Jarman certainly stopped the show!

All of the principals excelled in the intropsective third act, the most moving part of the score. Mao and his wife fox trot, and the Nixons do a slow dance. The curtain belongs to Chou-en-lai, sung by baritone Chen-Ye Yuan. What a beautiful voice!

The physical production stumbled only in the use of telelvison sets showing footage of the actual events. They were meaningless to anyone not sitting in the first three rows of Music Hall
(I moved around) Flickers of light distracted the eye from the singing actors. Next time build sets. Speical praise to Henri Vezani's chorus, to the energetic and sexy dancers, and to conductor Kristjan Jarvi and the superb Cincinnati Symphony. It's a daunting challenge to balance Adams's energetc music so that Goodman's text can be clearly heard. Sitting in the first row the ochestra was loud, loud,loud. I moved farther back and the balance was fine. The ensemble wanted little in clarity and precision.

The folks on the bus loved it. Music Hall's large auidence was a good mix of the young and not so young.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


It's hard to describe today, thirty years after her heyday, the intensity of Beverly Sills's fame. She was on every magazine cover: Time, Newsweek, you name it. She had her own TV talk show. She was on every TV variety show, from Carson-which she hosted more than once-to Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore. She cooked on TV shows, sang the blues with Ella Fitzgerald, tap danced with Joel Grey and talked about her two disabled chidren while touring chilren's hospital wards and working-a lot-for the March of Dimes. No opera singer had had such profile in this country since Caruso, and he died in 1921. Beverly Sills was marketed as the nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn who made good. But it as a long, hard road. Cirtics this week after her death are respectful but point out one truth: by the time the world knew her, she had been singing professionally for nearly thirty years and her voice was past its best. She didn't have the splendid range of vocal colors that Callas had; she lacked the huge voice and astonishing virtuosity that Suthelrand had but she had it all over those ladies in connecting with the audience. And let me tell you something. This tall, hippy forty plus lady was the most convincing Violetta in La traviata I ever saw. Nothing about her sugested illness or fragility but she made you believe, with her voice and with her body that she was a good time girl meaning to grasp one last romp before she died. As Massenet's Manon you believed she was a sexy fifteen year old girl from the French countryside who was probably caught in the haystacks with a stable boy once too often, who transforms herself into a glittering-and young, and slim, which by then Sills wasn't- courtesan. Everything she did on stage was completely believable. The voice at its best glittered like a shower of diamonds. Nobody sang higher or faster or more scrupulously. At the Boston Opera she would come in twenty minues before curtain, throw her coat at someone hanging around-often me-, say "Thanks, honey", hum a bit, climb into a costume and go out and give the most harrowing, beautifully sung performances of deep, magnificent, tragic operas. In the intermsions she'd send a kid out-sometimes me-to the local MacDonald's for a vanilla shake which she would joyfully toss down before going mad or being beheaded in Act 2. This was a pro.
She had a hard life withal, that a lot of people don't realize. I hope younger peple who didn't know her will check out youtube or go to the library for her recordings and DVDs. And learn to do what she did...give joy by singing with joy.

Friday, June 01, 2007


Curtis W. ("Bill") Purdy c. 1938

These are selections from letters written by my father while serving in the U.S. Army
during World War II.

Here's a quick bio:

Curtis W. Purdy ("Bill")
born February 4, 1919, Ithaca, NY

married Mary Duddy, April 16, 1955-Boston
one child, Christopher Curtis Purdy, born Boston December 2, 1956

Curtis died June 21, 1981 in Boston
Mary Duddy Purdy died April 10, 1986, Boston

Most of these letters were addressed to his mother, Florence L. (Curtis) Purdy
in Ithaca, NY.

Florence died in 1947.

Bill's father, Bert W. Purdy, died in 1953

Bill was the youngest child and had six sisters:

Elizabeth, Catherine, Ruth, Mary, Esther, Deborah


August 8, 1944

Dearest Mother:

Have arrived in England safely and full of good old fighting spirit.
Mom, please do not worry a bit about me. I am sure the Good Lord above
will be with me and that he'll bring the end of this war soon.

I think the English are grand-the children are adorable and so brave.
As you know, the regulations of the mail are very strict and therefore I can
only say that I am happy and well.
Please send me some cigars and candy.
My every prayer is of you and your kindness you have shown to me.
Your ever loving son, Billy


August 11, 1944

Dear Mom:

Here I am again. Have been seeing some more of beautiful England.
There are so many quaint settings that I could write a book about them.

I'm listening to a broadcast of the Hit Parade and it seems as though I am way back in the living room hearing it. Frank Sinatra just finished singing 'San Fernando Valley'
He's now singing 'I'll be seeing you'.
Yes, I will be seeing you so I don't want you to worry a bit about me.

Mom, in order to send me things you will have to take this letter to the postmaster.
I want you to send me some cigars, cigarettes, candy, soap and razor blades.
If you send money, send it in a mail order.

There are some boys from the States in England from home and I hope to see them in time.
I hope and pray that this letter finds you well and happy.
Please Mom, don't worry about me, I'm all right.
Must say good night and God bless you and say hello to everyone for me.
All my love


August 27, 1944

Dear Mom:

I'm in rather a depressed mood today, wondering a lot of things
I'm lonesome for you and (???) like to see the rest of the folks.

I haven't had but one letter from you, so please write all you can and even though
I won't be writing so much myself, don't worry about it. I'm OK.

Was in a quaint town last night--had a swell time seeing the people, houses and landscape.
Went in the Red Cross and bought some coffee and doughnuts. Not much like the ones back home.

I understand its warm back in the States, but I guess summer here is really gone. How's Dad
and all the kids? Do you see Dad at all?

Mom, I need a billfold and identification bracelet so see if you can can send them.
Good night, Mom


August 31, 1944

Somewhere in England

Dear Mom

I guess I'm just an unlucky guy-I haven't heard from anyone in ages.
I've written to you all, several times at that.

I suppose you've all seen the news in the papers.

I continue to see the beauties of England. I occasionally see a nearby village and have a few of the famous bitters.

Mom, how's everything with you? See, I think of you so often and hope and pray that you are all right. As for me, I'll keep smiling.

Here I sit trying to write. I'm such a poor correspond. But my heart is full of thoughts and love for you! Say hello to all. Please send me some cigars, candy and razor blades.
Love, Billy


September 4, 1944

Dear Mom:

I received your letter last night and I guess the boys thought I had lost my top, for it was the happiest day I've had since I've been here.

I'm so glad to know you are getting around so nicely.

Suppose you are getting the news of what's happening--it certainly looks good
I only hope I can meet some of my old buddies somewhere---Frink (?) came over with me but I haven't seen him since landing in England.

It's raining cats and dogs over here and reminds me of April back home.
Have you heard from Esther-I'm so anxious to hear from her.

Hope this letter finds you okay and happy.
Give my love to everyone and tell Dad to write.


October 9, 1944
Somewhere in France

Dear Mom

Its Sunday morning, a peaceful morning, one that has the---feeling of any normal one-behind this day tho, have been many hours of battling that has given me some exciting moments that I shall never forget.

Today I shall pray to God and thank him for the guidance he has given me. And I shall ask him for the courage and strength to go on forward to do my job well. I am grateful that I have been able to perform some worthy deeds-whatever the future holds for me, I hope that I can meet it like a man. This I will try to do for I know of the courageous boys who are with me and more than ever I am aware of my duty to them, which is to bring the wounded bodies back to our aid stations--then too, I have such people back home who are hoping and praying--I must not fail.

I wrote you a few days ago thanking you for the lovely Xmas present you sent me. Thanks a million again. I hope you got my present to you.

Mom, you must not worry about me, for I will be back home someday.
Please take good care of yourself.


Bill in uniform, 1942
NOTE: Bill received a severe head wound in battle at the end of 1944.
He spent the next several months in hospitals in England and Luxembourg.
He had steel plates in his head for the rest of his life.
He was eventually awarded both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

December 6, 1944


Dear Mom

Just wanted to let you know where I am. I am in Germany.
Mom, I can't tell you of the hectic time its been--words I'm sure could never tell the feeling that was in me--I was scared many times for it was my first real test of combat.

Mother I was sitting in a fox hole with a buddy when someone brought me your Christmas package. Needless to say it boosted my morale way up--there was peanuts, flashlight, candy, cigs, sewing kit and the bracelet-it was so sweet of you to send them and I love you so.

Mother, I'm with the grandest bunch of boys in the world. They are so brave and such great fighters, as the whole world will soon know.

You must not worry about me too much, for you know that I am here to help some of the
wounded men.

I'm not so sure of myself at times, but I've prayed so many times for the courage to do my job well. I pray that this war can end without much bloodshed.

Mother, I want to write on and on, but I must say good night for now.
You know my love for you is the strongest force I have.

I love you dearly.
Thank you again for the swell Christmas present.


January 29, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

Dear Mom-

Sorry not to have written sooner. I wrote Deb last week. I've been in the hospital for a while but expect to be back to my organization shortly.

Before I went to the hospital I had made a fifty dollar money order out to you, but I won't be able to send it until I get back to my organization and get it from the mail clerk. I won't be paid this month, however I have some money loaned out to the fellows which should make me a nice sum when I call it in. I want you to use the money for yourself and get Dad whatever he needs
Haven't saved much, but I did put aside a hundred dollars last month. Maybe someday I'll be able to use it. It seems funny to be talking in terms of money, when so many boys have given their lives over here--I don't think a million dollars could erase the terrible experiences
that I've lived through. I only hope I can forget them.

The news of the Russian offensive is a wonderful thing. I hope that by the time this letter has reached you the fighting will be over. I'm anxious to get back to my outfit. They're the best bunch of boys in the world. Hope this letter finds you well and happy.

All my love


March 6, 1945
Somewhere in England
4116 U.S. Army Hospital

Dear Mom--

Here I am back in England--seems like I'm a million miles from the war.
I'm in a general hospital and getting along fine.

The countryside and the villages look almost like home as I rode by them.
Quite the changed from the ruined homes, cities and countryside back in France.
I wake up in the morning and I hear a kind of chirp, couldn't believe it at first--all I ever heard back in France were shells waking me up in the morning.

You can write to me with the above address instead of to my outfit. Please write quickly as I'm anxious to hear from you. Haven't heard from you in ages.

I'm not in much of a mood to write so please contact Dad and tell him that I'm thinking of him and do the same to Deb and her family. That's all for now.

All my love


March 19, 1945
4116 U.S. Army Hospital

Dear Mother-

Time just seems to fly and still I'm in the process of getting well. I wish I knew when I'd be out of here and my next move--guess I'll just have to hang around to find out.

I'm feeling fine these days, although I'm a little upset about what happened to the boys in my old gang-they were grand to me-They always wanted the "Doc" to have the best of everything.
It sort of haunts me to know that they are out there fighting and I'm back here in this warm, safe place--funny world, isn't it?

I haven't heard from you so please write soon. Pass the word around so I'll hear from the others, I hope and pray that all is well back home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Please see this website.
I'll be adding new pieces each week.
Coming later today,a talk with
Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
and founder of the Rosenberg Fund for Children


Most recent: Norman Lebrecht

Later in April and May

Mike Farrell
Ruth Ann Swenson

So visit early and often!


Greetings to all


Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Soprano Licia Albanese sang Mimi in Toscanini's 1946 broadcast of La boheme and was his Violetta in La traviata. Mme Albanese gave over 400 performances at the Metropolitan between 1940 and 1966, and gave at least as many performances world wide. She recorded
La Boheme in Rome with Beniamino Gigli in 1939, and fifty years later was Heidi Schiller
in the New York Philharmonic's presentation of Sondheim's Follies. We spoke about Toscanini, and much more from her home in New York on March 26, 2007. Mme Albanese is a feisty and fully alert-to say the least- 94 year old. Today, she teaches and supports young artists through the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation.
See also www.lapfny.org

NOTE: Pithy and clear she is but Mme Albanese is in her nineties and English is not her first langauge. This is a close but not perfect tracsription, with some omissions.
The entire audio interview will be posted at www.wosu.org/interveiws

CP: Welcome, Madame Albanese!

LA: Thank you

CP: When did you first meet Toscanini?

LA: I used to go to his concerts at NBC. I met him there. I went in the dressing room
to say hello to him. He was very happy to meet me. You know he never came to the Metropolitan because he had sometihng, I don't know. But I went to him and asked if I could go and see him. Then one day I was so surpised, Walter his son called and he said, Madame Alabanese my father wants to speak with you. You could imagine, I could faint! You can imagine! I said Maestro Toscanini to call me?! Certainly! With open arms!

CP: When you first met him you had already sung all over the world.
You had sung at Covnet Garden, Turandot
LA: Yes
CP: And you had recorded La boheme with Gigli
LA: Yes
CP: I think Toscanini heard you sining on the radio with the Met.
LA: You're right! You're right! he heard a Boheme...and then he chose me to do Boheme and then Traviata
CP: This was the 50th anniversay production of La boheme
LA: Yes
CPP: Jan Peerce was your tenor
LA: Yes...he was a very great companion and colleague , really kind. We sang a lot. And with Tucker. I thought Tucker's quality of voice was more beautiful than Peerce, but Peecre was fine, but the quality and beauty was Tucker for me. But with colleagues on stage, what we say
we move hands, we move the face, we move the eyes. Now you don't see on the stage anything, nothing.

CP: How did Toscanini compare with other conductors like Mitropoulos you sang with?
LA: Well, Mitropoulos was good. Listen, I sang a lot in Italy with Maestro Serafin.
I was very lucky to sing with the great condcutors. You remeber DeSabata, too.
I did Butterfly wih him. Very kind always. Never, never a condcutor was upset with anybody. Always with knindess. Even if young artist made a mistake, they always approached the artist withkindness

CP: Con amore...
LA: Si..Bravo! con amore!

CP: Ricordi piacere di Serafin, because people don't remember Serafin today
LA: Si, che peccato. He was great. He was all the time. He wanted young people to be known. He took us first to Rome, he took all the new singers to Rome with him.

CP: Did Toscanini have a temper?
LA: Let me think
CP: Because there are stories he would yell at the orchestra, and stamp his feet
LA: He would say IMBECILE! NBC! And I know you can do it he would say. I know you can do it. I have faith in you! But he had to have temper to have good things.
But he used to thank everybody at the end of the performance.
He was very kind. And he would thank us.
You know, Maestro Toscanini would come to the dressing rooms before we start to sing to wish good luck to us. I said, Maestro we should come to you, but he said no, no that's my duty to see all of my artists, that they are okay, and in good shape.
Just breathe before you come on stage. We Catholic would cross ourselves.
Then I would come running on stage like I still do!

CP: What did you think of Toscanini's tempi in Traviata and Boheme?
LA: Well, he told me, Licia this was when I knew the composer he wanted the sempre libera fast. It's nice! It's true! If you can do it, why you not do it?
(sings) Sempre libera follegiare...!
even the words they tell you have to do in a hurry.
My God, do you come to the Met to see the performances?
CP: Yes!
LA: What do you think?
CP: Sometimes a little boring
LA: Non c'e un cuore che parla....
CP: senza personalita!
LA: Si! senza passione
When I do the masterclasses now I say don't think! Make a mistake! Put your soul into the words. Don't do f-sharp, this...that. No! Don't think how high you go. Think on the words and then you can go in paradise...They tighten the throat. This is singing withToscanini and Serafin and all the great conductors. Even the conductor used to teach us vocally what to do.
Now they don't do anything. But the condcutors used to tell us to do more, to do more.
In Boheme with Toscanini, we had a Musetta, very good, nice voice , pretty girl but he would say "CER-ca CER-ca" and then one day after two or three days he said wha is this 'Cerca '(quacking) I want emotion. CER--ca!

CP: So emotion was very important to Toscanini?
LA: Very much. They teach emotion. Forget the notes. You make the voice more beautiful.
In masterclasses today I have to tell you, I make the most ugly voices beautiful voices with the words! With words you have beauty...You say CER-ca because she suffer too to see Mimi dying on the street

CP: Do you remeber a performance of yours that was your favorite?
LA: If was my favorite I would make it too long to sing it...All of it!
I sang in St. Louis too, Fedora...oh, listen I tell you. I did Fedora in St. Louis.
I have all the tapes, I'm telling you. I tell my son to put those tapes out. People can study

CP: You sang Adriana Lecouvreur
LA: I took over that from Tebaldi. Bing called me. And I was ready with everything.
I went to the Met. I dress up. They put pins in because Tebaldi was taller and I was a little short, but I made myself tall!

CP: I have your recording of the Adriana, and I have La rondine
LA: Si. With that beautiful , beautiful tenor. Who? Barioni. Beautiful.
And the scene we make together! Nodoby could tell me what to do on stage.
The tell me somebody else has to do. I said you don't know!
You don't do opera. Everyone comes in the opera to take over.
The people gets boring. You have to change.
I used to change every performance what I have to do.
Director now, and you can say this, they don't know the score. They don't know the books!
When the opera story written, that's why they make a mistake. They don't even know the score.

CP I know you didn't like Butterfly at the MeEt a few years ago
LA: Yes! Now I see the Met Madama Buterfly with puppets.
Can you believe that puppet when they put on the stage. ..
CP: Do you still go to the Metropolitan?
LA: No. No more. Non posso. Because one time I went and I booed.
I booed del Monaco. The son. He said well, I know you booed me. But I said Listen, but learn the opera! Like your father used to sing, he was so great. And he said Don't mention my father! I dont want to be known as son of my father!
But delMoncao how beautful he was on the stage. Every artist in my time has own costume.
Not the Metropolitan costumes. And the public was interested to come and say we want to see which costume you are going to put.....all the operas I sang, I change costumes...

CP: Did you have a favorite tenor? That's a bad question for a prima donna.
LA: To tell you the truth, no. They were all great!
First one was Gigli, in fact Gigli mention my name to Mr. Johnson. He was in search all the time young artists and Gigli mentioned my name. Licia is one of the great young sopranos to come to the Metropolitan.

CP: And he was right!
LA: Yes!
CP: The public alway knows
I thank you so much for your time
LA: Thank you very much. You are so kind. Big kiss! Ciao! ciao!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Father M. Owen Lee-how to describe him?
Professor of Classics at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.
Baseball enthusiast. Film buff. Author.
Teacher. Metropolitan Opera broadcast shining light for many years.
Don't miss his books.
With Father Lee's permission I'm posting his remarks made on October 15, 1996
at a testimonial dinner for Edward Downes held at the Metropolitan Opera House.

This is from Father Lee:

Some of you here will know the sense of panic that takes over just before you go on the air with the Opera Quiz. After fourteen years of intermission appearances, I still ask myself, when that moment of silence descends on List Hall and we are poised to start, "Why am I doing this?"

Then I'd hear the voice long known to opera lovers across the length and breadth of the United States, Canada, and now Europe. Instantly recognizable. Part university dean, part kindly father. Wise as Sarastro though not so low in timbre. Warm as Hans Sachs but without the Weltschmerz. Sparkling as champagne in Fledermaus. No need to be unnerved. Edward Downes, the son of Olin Downes (who mastered the quiz when I first tuned in fifty five years ago) is seated professionally at a side table, with a stack of questions beside his microphone. The face that matches the familiar voice is positively beaming good will. He will see that everyone has a good time and no one comes to grief. And once you've answered the first question, the crisis is past.

I think I can say, without too much embarrassment, that I love this man. This wise and humble man who--one time when I was fogged in in Toronto and had sat up all night sleepless on a bus to get to New York and when, after two tough intermissions was on the brink of collapse--he took me up Broadway to his home in the Dakota, cooked me a meal, poured out the manzanilla (he likes Carmen), and started me on a stimulating exchange about our mutual enthusiasm, Wagner, and only then, when I was properly relaxed, sent me back to my hotel for a good night's sleep.

I want to tell you a story about the Dakota, where Mr. Downes lives at the very top, just above Yoko Ono, who can look from her window down on the strawberry fields she planted in memory of her husband, John Lennon, in Central Park.

When the Lennons wanted to move into the Dakota, the management told them that they first had to have a recommendation from someone already in residence. So the world famous Beatle phoned Mr. Downes and said, "We're musicians, too. Do you think you could recommend us?"

Mr. Downes explained, "Well, I'm not really acquainted with your work. But why don't you come over next Tuesday? We can meet, have tea, and perhaps then I can recommend you."

The Lennons said they would, and Mr. Downes promptly phoned his niece, of the newer generation, and said, "Dear, there are two young musicians coming to see me, and I'd feel much more comfortable with them if you were here and poured tea."

"Of course, Uncle Edward" came the reply. "Who are they?"
" I think he said his name was Lennon."

All the niece could say was, with some disappointment at her uncle's innocence, "Oh, Uncle Edward!"

The nicest thing about this story is that Mr. Downes told it about himself.

Thanks, Edward for teaching me to see deeply into operas I thought I knew. Thanks for your kindness, your wisdom, your wit, your encouragement, your professionalism, your love of music and of all good things. God bless you, and speed your new career on the broadcasts, for we sill have much to learn from you.

Fr. Owen Lee
October 15, 1996

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I was fortunate to do a series of interviews with Chicago based broadcasting legend Studs Terkel (b.1912) in November, 2005. He had just published a terrific book, And They All Sang, a collection of interviews with figures in music going back fifty years. Terkel's interests over a long career ranged from politics and civil rights to jazz and opera. The Chicago Historical Society maintains a web site, www.studsterkel.com

Here are some selections from our talks


CP: I wanted to ask you about someone I know only from recordings and the history books. Rosa Raisa

ST: Oh! How do you know Raisa! You're the first person your age to know Raisa!
She was fantastic! She sang with Caruso. She came out of Eastern Europe, Bialystok, a little town that was decimated by the Nazis. She studied mostly in Italy. She had a voice that was so rich. Her Norma was fantastic, I would say better than Callas. The one memory that sticks in the mind is that when Puccini, who wrote Tosca and Madame Butterfly, when he was writing Turandot, he had her mind. Puccini died before he finished Turandot. So here's the opening night, and Puccini had died, and the opera hadn't been finished. Toscanini's at the podium and Raisa is singing this role created for her, and as soon as they came to the part where Puccini died, Toscanini put the baton down and turned and faced the audience and said, "At this point the maestro died", and he walked out.
There was another singer named Edith Mason who was very funny, and she and Raisa both described singing with Caruso. Caruso was of generous heart and spirit. He's the one who created the phonograph. There would have been no Victrolas without him.
His records were bought by immigrants who had very little money. They paid two bucks just him sing, two bucks! That fifty bucks today. But they both said he was so nervous, and he's give them a little shot of whiskey, which they wouldn't take but he would.
He said, I'm nervous because the audience wants 108 percent and I can only give 100 percent.
But he would go up and just as you'd think he's finished, he could go no higher out would come two or three more notes. He indicated what the human being could do.

Caruso's recordings are ninety and 100 years old and are readily available.
Has anyone ever heard a bad one? He died at forty eight in 1921.
Rosa Raisa's (1893-1963) biography by Charles Mintzer was published in 2001.
Her recordings are not plentiful and its said give only a hint of the magnificence of her voice.


CP: What makes Chicago a great city?

I came here in 1920 as a little boy, an asthmatic little boy, 8 years old. And the minute I smelled those stockyards, I got over my asthma!
Chicago I found a very exciting place. Remember Carl Sandburg the great poet called it hog butcher of the world/center of wheat/son of railroads. That's all gone now. The stockyards have gone to the feed lots in New Mexico and Arizona. The railroads are gone. Nonetheless the skyscrapers by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright want to touch the heavens! Chicago is the city of horny handed people. Hands is an old fashioned word for working. And so they came from Eastern Europe. Chicago's Polish population is bigger than many cities, except for Warsaw. And they came from the Mediterranean, and from south of the Rio Grande, and now Asia, but Chicago' s hands mostly were builders, city workers. It had such quality. There are still the flat bungalows that somebody saved money for by working in the steel mills that are no longer here. What's happened to most cities has happened to Chicago too, losing so many landmarks. On an airplane now you fly over a city and you see golden arches and pizza places. You don't know what city you're in. Years ago I was traveling and I say to the switchboard operator in the motel, "Oh you gotta wake me up ans six o'clock in the morning, because I gotta be in Cleveland at nine. And she says to me, Sir, you ARE in Cleveland!" Chicago suffers from that but it still has that quality. Neighborhood is the key word. Chicago represents that. People came from the deep South. The sharecroppers used to hear that IC train...where's that goin'? It's goin' to Chicago!
There was a blues song, Jimmy Rushing who used to sing with Count Basie would sing: "Goin' to Chicago baby, sorry I can't take you" Well, even today the nature of the city, its impulse...still there!


In one of your books, you write "I knew I had the makings of a good spectator.
What do you mean by that?"

I never dreamed I'd do stuff like talking to you on the radio and stuff. My dream as a depression child was of a civil service job, 9 to 5. I went to law school in Chicago, and I was dreaming of Clarence Darrow, and I wake up to Anthony Scalia! So that was enough for me! I became a disc jockey. First I was a gangster in radio dramas, and soap operas....Chicago was home of soap operas more than new York and Hollywood. Now they all were the same. Woman in White was about a nurse. The Guiding Light was about a minister. Mid Stream was about a doctor. But all the same scripts. I was always the same guy. They wanted a gangster,and I had a gangster voice. There were always three gangsters. The bright one, the middle one, the dumb one. I was always the dumb one.

CP: Did you get killed?
ST: Oh I always got killed! Well, sometimes you'd go to prison for life and that would be the end of it. I did another show called Mister First Nighter, out of the studios in the Wrigley building here in Chicago. The studio seats about 400 people, a live audience would watch us read scripts. Crazy! Then the told me, you gotta wear a tuxedo. I never owned tuxedo ! So I rented a tuxedo that night, very self conscious, and I walked down to the Wrigley building where I was going to play this gangster, and the guy hollers out, Mister First Nighter, Curtain Goin' Up! But he says you look just like a bookie goin to his sister's wedding! And I said that's exactly what I am, a bookie going to his sister's wedding! And I get killed before the first commercial.

CP: Did you always get killed before the first commercial?

ST: No. This happened a few times. Sometimes it was before the second commercial. I get killed or sent up for life. I made a living, sort of. And they guys in charge liked my style,a nd I became a disc jockey before that term was ever used.

MORE TO FOLLOW...see www.studsterkel.com

Thursday, February 15, 2007


The Metropolitan Opera presents an HD presentation of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin
on Saturday, February 24th at 1.30 p.m. Go to www.metopera.org and click on the
Met Goes to the Movies Icon to find the theater nearest you.

Here in Columbus, Ohio, its the Regal Square Cinemas at 1800 Georgesville Road.
Dimitri Hvortsovsky sings the title role, with Renee Fleming as Tatiana, Ramon Vargas as Lenski-a role I've always wanted to do-and Valery Gergiev conducts.
There's not a ticket to be had for any of the performances in New York.
You wanna see this? Hie thee to a cinema near you.

I'm looking forward to this above all other such presentations, and the two I've seen have been wonderful. Onegin is a great favorite of mine. As I type these lines, I'm listening to a performance given in Boston's Symphony Hall in October, 1976. My roommate and good buddy Rob and I attended this via rush seats. Seiji Ozawa conducted the Boston Symphony. Rob is a clarinetist and his teacher, longtime BSO favorite Pasqule Cardillo (RIP) told him that Onegin was "Terrific. Long but terrific." I'm sure I found it long thirty years ago. I'm sure I found it terrific. I had never heard it before that night. To hear the Boston Symphony in Tchaikovsky's music, or anyone else's come to that, was/is a privilege. And the cast! Two people I had heard of thank you very much: The great tenor Nicolai Gedda, one of the finest artists I have ever heard sang Lenski. Onegin was sung by Benjamin Luxon, who was a BSO favorite in the 70s and he was fine. Tatiana? For shielding the writer Solzhentisyn, one of the greatest Russian artists, Mstislav Rosptropovich was thrown out of the country, stripped of all his honors and relegated to 'non person' status. Solzhenitsyn was stripped of citizenship, harassed an exiled, Nobel Prize and all. This was big news in 1976, as was the intervention of Senator Kennedy on his behalf. It was rumored Rostropovich would conduct this Onegin performance in Boston. He didn't, but Tatiana was sung by the Russian diva Galina Vishnevskaya...Mrs. Rostropovich. She was tremendous. A very beautiful woman, then in her fifties, the greatest soprano in Russia, for whom Britten wrote his War Requiem, for whom Shostakovitch wrote several great orchestral song cycles, her career came to a full halt because thirty years ago there wasn't much room in the west for a fiftyish Russian soprano who sang Tosca and Madama Butterfly in Russian (our loss) and thirty years ago Russian opera in the vernacular was rare in this country. But not in Boston in October, 1976.
Thrilling too was the Tanglewood Festival chorus! What a night!
I remember Rob and I shared a 'high'. He might not remember, but I do.

The story is based on the poem by Alexandr Pushkin (1799-1837).
As Alistair Cooke once described him, Pushkin "is to Russian literature what all of Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Melville and Thoreau are to the English speaking world". Onegin is the bored nephew of a wealthy landowner, who, through his friend Lenski is introduced into the Larin family. Lenski is engaged to the older daughter, Olga
("I haven't seen you for an entire day!"). Tatiana, the younger daughter, falls hard and at once for the aloof Eugene Onegin. She writes him a letter, pours it all out and is rebuffed by him for her pains. "You may regard me as a brother, but you should never share your heart, and certainly not with me , a stranger."
He takes her young feelings and tramples on them. Later, at Olga's name day celebrations, Lenski and Onegin quarrel, and Lenski provokes a duel, in which he is killed-Gedda was incomparable in this scene. Years pass. At a ball in St. Petersburg Onegin is welcomed by his elderly cousin, Prince Gremin. When introduced to Gremin's wife, the much younger Princess Gremina, Onegin realizes that this is Tatiana, and now he falls for her. But she dismisses him.
"I am a married woman. When once it was possible for us, you gave me only coldness." And Onegin is sent away.

Boris Goldovsky once told a story of a production of Onegin he staged in Boston,
fifty or so years ago. (This opera has good luck in Boston and I had the good luck to hear it there) Imagine Boris, conductor, producer and radio raconteur with a thick Russian accent
that years of living in Brookline, Massachusetts didn't erase.

"In the lest seen (last scene) Feelis Koortin
(Phyllis Curtin) as Tatiana came onstage on the arm of her husband, Prince Gremin.
She carried a fen (fan) and vore peenk flowers in her het (hat).
Now. Every Russian schoolchild knows that Tatiana at the ball enters waring red flowers in her het (hat)
When Feelis vore a peenk, het there vuz a gesp (gasp).
Mother, in ze frunt row, was greatly shocked at this!"

The opera is filled with spectacular choral scenes and waltzes and polonaises that always bring gasps of recognition from the audience (Rob gasped thirty years ago. "But I've played this!")
Tatiana's Letter Scene, the dances of Acts II and III, Lenski's aria at the duel and the great final confrontation of Onegin and Tatiana make this, not a Verdi opera, which it could have been, but a Russian sensation.


Any library will have Pushkin's verse novel Eugene Onegin
Don't miss Galya-the memoirs of Galina Vishneskaya.
This is nothing like a diva memoir, but a harrowing book about trying to be an artist in
the Soviet Union.

check out www.arkivmusic.com

Eugene Belov, Galina Vishveskaya, Sergei Lemeshev
Bolshoi Theare/Boris Khaikin

Mirella Freni, Thomas Allen, Neil Shicoff
Staatskapelle Dresden/James Levine

Friday, January 12, 2007


Anyone interested in promoting the arts in this country should be sure to read Peter Sellars's key note address at the American Symphony Orchestra League Conference last June


Provocative to say the least.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Here in Columbus, OH:

Metropolitan Opera live in HD audio-visual
Saturday, January 13, 2006
1:30 p.m.
Georgesville Square Stadium 16
1800 Georgesville Sq.
Columbus OH


with Placido Domingo, Elizabeth Futral, Paul Groves, Suzanne Mentzer, Michelle DeYoung
condcuted by Tan Dun

Lots of people have been calling and e mailing since last Saturday's presentation of Bellini's
I Puritani. Now we share a brand new opera, in only its fifth perormance, Tan Dun's
The First Emperor. Born in China in 1957, Tan Dun is best known for his exhilirating score to the film hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tan Dun himself conducts all performances of The First Emperor, and the entire run was sold out inNew York even before the first night!

Placido Domingo sings Emperor Qin, with a radiant new star, Elizabeth Futral as Princess Yueyang and the young American tenor Paul Groves as Gao Jianli. Fan Yue and Emi Wada make their Met debuts designing the sets and costumes for this production, and our stage directors are stars of thhe Chinese cinema: Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) and Wang Chaoge.

Mr. Domingo is no tranger to new works. One of his first successes in New York was in the title role of Ginastera's Don Rodrigo at the New York City Opera forty years ago. Domingo's artistic integrity and his continuing box office clout made him an easy choice for the title role of
The First Emperor, which he adds to his repertoire of over 150 operas. The Metropolitan Opera has presented many world premieres in its 123 year history: Puccini's
La fanciulla del West (1910) and Il trittico (1918), Deems Taylor's Peter Ibbetson (1931)
Samuel Barber's Vanessa (1958) and Antony and Cleopatra (1966) to
Philip Glass's The Voyage (1992) and John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles (1995).
New singers, conductors, directors and designers are awlays exciting but it is with new operas that this art form we all love so much continues to grow.

Check out www.metopera.org

Go to the Met web site for a fascinating blog, a diary kept during the rehearsal processs for
The First Emperor. Reviews came flowing in following the first night in Decmeber, and spicy they were. You can find them on line by searching The First Emperor along with the name of your favorite critic(!)

My favorites:

Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, London
Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Peter G. Davis, New York
Manuela Hoelterhoeff, Bloomberg News Service

Make up your own mind by joining us on January 13th for The Met Goes to the Movies and
Tan Dun's The First Emperor.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007


The Metropolitan Opera's controversial revival of Bellini's I PURITANI
will be shown in HD video/audio live from the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Locally, you can see the Met live at REGAL GEORGESVILLE SQUARE STADIUM,
1800 Georgesville Road, about 10 miles from OSU. The date is Saturday, January 6. Showtime is 1.30. I'll be there for some pre peforamnce commentary at 1.15. Come say hello.

You'll find ticket info and more informaiton about these presentations at www.metopera.org
And check this blog every week.

Reports that the December 30th presentation of Mozart's MAGIC FLUTE (abridged) in Julie Taymor's staging played to packed movie theatres throughout the US are encouraging.
I PURITANI, one of the finest of all Italian language operas, might be a tougher sell. Come anyway. Here's why. Nobody who loves fine singing should give up a chance to hear this work "live". Bellini's long, grateful melodic lines, dependent upon the art of legato, are used to convey despair, joy, anticipation, worry....they take us way up and way down emotionally and are skillfully enough written so that a strong technique with a good top and a flexible voice should do very well.

I PURITANI (The Puritans)
music by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
libretto by Carlo Pepoli
first performance 1835

The story? Fasten your seats belts. Anna Russell couldn't have made this up:

We are in Plymouth, England immediately following the execution of King Charles I in 1649.
Mind you, everyone is dressed as British nobility or Puritans (Puritani) and everyone is singing I h0pe gloriously, in Italian.

Elvira is at last given permission to marry her beloved Lord Arturo, even tho her family is allied with Oliver Cromwell (the Puritani) and Arturo's with the nobility (Cavalieri). The marriage feast is interrupted by a mysterious veiled woman. This lady is Queen Henrietta Maria, the widow of Charles I--Lord Arturo gallantly spirits the queen away, leaving Elvira to believe he has abandoned her. She then goes mad. Literally. Mad scenes are an important part of the literature of Italian opera between 1820-1850ish. The most famous of such scenes, where the heroine's mind wanders while her voice has phenomenal demands made upon it, is that of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), Donizetti's Anna Bolena (1831) and Rossini's Semiramide (1819) . Back to Puritani: Elvira recovers her reason, Arturo returns-in fact the sound of his voice snaps her back into reality. But sadly, Arturo is himself condemned to death for his successful rescue of the Queen. But this is opera! Ninety seconds before the final curtain word comes from London-they had fast horses in those days-that Arturo has been pardoned and he and Elvira, now recovered are free to marry. Tremendous finale roulades from Elvira, a few ecstatic notes above the staff from soprano and tenor and all ends well.

Mad scenes were a way with coping with female sexuality in the early Victorian era. Bellini's markings for a lot of his Puritani music 'con gran dolore' 'con tutta la forza d'emozione' 'giacoso vivamente'are deliberate. The point for heroine and hero is to display their longing for one another, in good times and bad-- in music. More precisely in song. Two hundred years ago you couldn't be seen wanting it or doing it but you could certainly sing about it. And in Puritani, the singing is often about nothing less than passion, misplaced, misdirected, or finally joyfully-reunited.

This Saturday you will see the sets and costumes designed for Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti back in 1976. (My recent interview with Dame Joan is on this blog.)
This writer, a mere lad in '76 saw three performance of the run from standing room. Pavarotti was phenomenal as Arturo. Wig, lifts in his boots and all, he sailed forth with a high D at the end of the opera that had 'em roaring in the aisles. He waddled around and Dame Joan patted his tummy at the curtain calls. Dame Joan? A miracle. The most magnificent singer I ever heard live. The voice was larger, higher, stronger, and the coloratura more astonishing than anyone else, before or since. Did they act? No. Did they look the parts? Sutherland was fifty and Pavarotti was-well, Pavarotti. Did you care? Give me a break. Was the singing miraculous and was Bellini well served? Yes. I later splurged on the most expensive ticket in the house...$25!
The Met had been sold out for weeks but the lady at the box offic etold me, "Here's a $25 ticket. One of our subscribers died."

We'll be hearing Anna Netrebko as Elvira, hailed a "the Audrey Hepburn of opera". She's gorgeous with a lovely voice. Opera-l and the rest of the web has been abuzz a la scandale over the illness of tenor Eric Cutler and his replacement, Gregory Kunde who is apparently finding Arturo tough going. Pavarotti for all his splendor told the New York Times thirty years ago that he was terrified of singing Arutro, going so far as to share "I have the dirarrhea". I would be remiss if I didn't mention fine opportunities for lusty macho singing from the character of Riccardo (Sir Richard) Elvira's jilted Puritan suitor, and that of Giorgio, Lord Walton her benevolent Uncle. They were Sherill Milnes and James Morris in my day. You kids have no idea...


Go whole hog. Sutherland and Pavarotti recorded this opera together..LONDON/DECCA

Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano gave thrilling performances of I Puritani together in
Mexico City and Chicago. Callas is a very different phenomenon than Sutherland. She lacks Dame Joan's absolute dazzle. But nobody interprets Bellin's markings better than Callas.
She owned the role and her perforamnces in the fifties made possible Dame Joan's in the sixties, seventies and yes, eighties. Di Stefano sings voce aperto, with an opern throated excitement
that had him voicless by age 40 (Callas died at 53). He was a joy to hear in his brief prime.
Their recording is over fifty years old, and heavily cut. Still-it's Callas for God's sake! And the great Tullio Serafin condcuts. On EMI.

Thee's a two disc cheapie on Opera d'Oro of Callas and Di Stefano together in Mexico City in 1952-sound quality is terrible as are the orchestra, chorus and supporting players.
But those two are in glorious voice.

If you like I PURITANI, by all means listen to La sonnambula, Il pirata and above all, NORMA!

Next Met HD is Tan Dun's new opera THE FIRST EMPEROR with
Placido Domingo, Janaury 13th.