Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wicked slippery

I love this sign up in Massachusetts yesterday during the blizzard. I'm homesick!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Books Read in 2010

These are the books I read in 2010.
*= a book I especially enjoyed

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
*The Cello Suites by Eric Sibler

Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton
Sovereign by C.J. Ransom
A Private Family Matter by Victor Rivas Rivers

Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker

*Pops by Terry Teachout

Robert Mitchum by Lee Server
The Professional by Robert Porter
Breakable You by Brian Morton

Americans in Paris by Charles Glass
*Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Liar's Club by Mary Karr
Everything Flows by Vassily Grossman

Too Much Money by Dominic Dunne
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Then We Came to the End by Jonathan Ferris
Game Change
Last Words by George Carlin

The Politician by Andrew Young
*Short Cuts by Raymond Carver
The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir

How to Become Stupid by Martin Page
True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

The Straight Man by Richard Russo
Autobiography of an Execution by David Dow

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

The Weismans of Westport by Catherine Schine

*Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
Not My Boy-Rodney Peck
The Queen Mother by William Shawcross
Follies by Ted Chapin
Something is Out There by Richard Bausch

Blame by Michelle Hinever

Oprah by Kitty Kelly
*Hans von Bulow A Life and Times by Alan Walker

*After the Workshop by John McNally
Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin

*The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Tchaikovsky by Roland John Wiley

George, Wilhelm and Nicholas by Miranda Carter
One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

This Time Together by Carol Burnett
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

The Bridge (Obama) by David Remnick

One L by Scott Turow

*Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Palimpsest by Gore Vidal
*The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

*The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt
Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa
What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg
Finding Chandra

*Tinkers by Paul Harding
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens

*The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Troubles by J. G. Farrell
Free for All by Joseph Papp and Kenneth Turan
Why Mahler? by Norman Lebrecht

Alfano by Konrad Dryden
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe & stories by Carson McCullers

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
February House
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Wake Up Sir by Jonathan Ames
Eye of the Red Tsar

Edward Kennedy by Burton Hersch
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
*The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Queen's Fool by Phillipa Gregory
*The Gendarme by Marc Mustian
A Thorn in my Pocket by Eustacia Cutler

Fifth Avenue Famous by Sal Basile
Speak Low When You Speak of Love, the Correspondence of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya

White House Diary by Jimmy Carter
If I Stop Talking You'll Know I'm Dead by Jerry Weintraub

Mary Tudor
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Memoir by Patti Lupone
*The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
A Study in Scarlet by A.C. Doyle
The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Sign of Four by A.C. Doyle

*The Slap by Christos Tsioklas
The Deeds of My Father by Pope

*Nemesis by Phillip Roth
The Queen's Governess by Karen Harper

*Rogue Island by Bruce daSilva
An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula

Must you Go? by Antonia Fraser
Victoria's Daughters
Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto
Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

*Why Not Say What Happened? by Ivana Lowell
True and False, Common Sense and Heresy for the Actor by David Mamet

*Sunset Park by Paul Auster
*Diaghilev a Life by Serje Schiejn

Clara Bow by David Stenn
First Family John and Abigail Adams by Joseph Ellis

Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood
Louisa May Alcott, a Personal Biography by Susan Cheever
My Nine Lives by Leon Fleisher

The Mentor by Tom Grimes
The Stepdaughter by Caroline Blackwood
The Last of the Duchess by Caroline Blackwood

*So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
Extraordinary Rendition by Andrew Ervin
Trespass by Rose Tremain


Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Slap by Christos Tsioklas
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Nemesis by Philip Roth
Sunset Park by Paul Auster
Why Not Say What Happened by Ivana Lowell

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wicked Pissa! I miss the lingo!

I never realized how much I missed the lingo from my long ago Massachusetts youth than when I picked up the new novel' Rogue Island' by Bruce DeSilva. Here are the fire fighters at an arson based scorcher in Providence, Rhode Island:

"Y doan dey spray moah wahduh awn duh ruf?"
(Why don't they spray more water on the roof?)

"Dey orda". (They ought to.)

"Ats wut I bin sayin'." (That's what I've been saying.)
"Shut up, daboatayuz". (Shut up, the both of you.)

"Jeet yet?" (Did you eat yet??)

"Gnaw". (No.)

"We kin take my cah tuh Caserduz if I kin fine my kahkis."
(We can take my car to Caserta's if I can find my car keys.)

"Wicked pissa!" (A good idea.)

p. 31 "Rogue Island" by Bruce DeSilva

And a wonderful reason to either stay home or go home, from the same novel:

"I grew up here. I know the cops and robbers, the barbers and the bartenders, the judges and the hit men, the whores and the priests. I know the state legislature and the Mafia inside out, and they're pretty much the same thing. When I write about a politic an buying votes or a cop on the pad, the jaded citizenry just chuckles and shrugs its shoulders. That used to bother me. It doesn't anymore. Rogue Island is a theme park for investigative reporters. It never closes, and I can ride the roller coaster free all day."

p. 211 "Rogue Island" by Bruce DeSilva

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Leonard Bernstein and Marilyn Horne: Carmen

One of our wonderful, tatty second hand bookshops in the neighborhood yielded a $2 copy of 'The Carmen chronicle' by Harvey E. Philips. The book was published nearly forty years ago (!) and the chronicle is a play by play of rehearsals for a new staging of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera in 1973. The production was to have been by Goran Gentele, the newly named General Manager of the Met, but he and two of his daughters were killed in a car wreck in the summer of 73. Carmen and the Met had to go on without him., Bodo Igez staged the show. Cast and conductor didn't change (except for Teresa Stratas, who withdrew as Micaela and was replaced by Adriana Maliponte): James McCracken, Tom Krause and the sensational Marilyn Horne as Carmen. Leonard Bernstein conducted. The production was recorded by DGG and became a huge seller (for an opera). Critics loved or hated it. The production was a sellout at the Met and the recoding flew, really flew off the shelves. That was in the days they had record stores. Look it up if you're under twenty.

The Bernstein-Horne Met Carmen recording became favorite guilty pleasure of critics and nudniks. It was too slow. too ponderous. too German. Horne was tough. Great voice yes, but no charm. Well, I'm hear to tell you: I've been listening again after thirty years and I love this recording. It's all drama and color and flair and character. Horne's Carmen is an animal: adorable and tough. McCracken's voice is an acquired taste I acquired years ago. He's a huge, strong man reduced to mush by Carmen and hates himself forever. And any recording that has Donald Gramm, the wonderful artist as Zuniga in luxury casting is okay with me. Bernstein's tempi may be slow(er) but he makes you, compels you, to hear every note of the music, and there's no separation between 'pure' music and the drama. The entr'actes, where some separation is expected, glower with meaning. The spoken dialogue is rather arch and can be off putting (skip it if you must) The singing -and it really is SINGING with all the drama is not. I'm not throwing away my Beecham or Reiner or any other Carmens, but I'm so glad to have this one again. It's like walking into the arms of a beloved friend after many years.

A Crush on Lady Antonia Fraser

I had a crush on Lady Antonia Fraser when I was twelve years old. (Who was YOUR crush at that age?) A friend recently likened Lady Antonia, now pushing 80, to Becky Sharp. Back in 1969 I didn't know from Becky and wasn't very sharp myself. But there she was, the blond, sexy, titled author of 'Mary, Queen of Scots' and made that doomed lady a major bestseller for the first time since 1587! We come to find out that Lady Antonia-daughter of an Earl, thankyouvery much, whose mother was Queen Victoria's biographer, was married to a member of parliament and had six kids! She did the Dick Cavett-David frost route of 'chat' shows stateside and a fair amount of magazine spreads. She was hi-glam. I wrote her a fan letter. I did that too much. She wrote me back, very sweet, from a tony London address. If you grew up on Route 2A then Campden Hill Square sounded pretty posh.

Many books later, from murder mysteries to nuns to royal biographies to Marie Antoinette sold to Sofia Coppola for the movies (Kirsten Dunst, yet) Lady Antonia has written a memoir of her marriage to the late Harold Pinter. It was for Pinter, playwright, master of pause and all around theater genius that Lady Antonia left MP husband and Campden Hill Square...briefly enough in the case of the latter. She lived with Pinter for over thirty years and they were married for 28, up until his death two years ago. 'Must You Go' is a poignant love story. It seems the path TO the relationship was complicated, but the marriage itself sounds blissful. Pinter liked the kids. Antonia supported his work and remained his biggest fan. Was he hers? It would appear so. Lady Antonia writes about love without whining. There are journeys throughout Europe and the States, the decline of elderly parents, and the world descending into Thacherism. I know very little about Harold Pinter save for a performance of 'Betrayal' on Broadway and an obsession with Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman. But I mourned his loss through his wife's lovely book. The changing scenery, from Scotland to Venice helped. So did Lady A's witty prose and elegant, clipped observations. The first Mrs. Pinter, actress Vivien Merchant, is given her due for acting talent, with plenty lefty unsaid. The kids are messy teenagers when that's appropriate. Lady A is fond of Pinter's only child, Daniel. She chats up Jackie O and parties and once rented her London home to the young Caroline Kennedy (I'm Caroline's age. If she's no longer young, what does that make me?) Bomb scares, actual explosions and lousy reviews from the Times of two continents are mentioned and dispatched. Get on with it. Get on with this book, Must You Go? There's more than one way to have a successful marriage, and Lady A shares hers beautifully.

Friday, November 12, 2010


For me, the ultimate feel good TV: Masterpiece Theater's CRANFORD returned this week to PBS for an encore. What's the attraction many of us have to English country village life in the Victorian era? Me, I'm re- reading 'Nicholas Nickelby' in time for Christmas. It used to be that all the old MGM Dickens based movies aired around Christmas, even though few of them except the obvious had anything to with Christmas. And neither Dickens's nor Elizabeth Gaskell, author of the Cranford novels depict phony jollity of unrealistic dippy lives. But there's also a gentleness in the story telling, as if its understood we are all to be forgiven for our foibles by book's or TV program's end. Mistakes are made, tragedies occur but the sense that people are for one another the best they can (some better than others) is always front and center.

Case in point. Here's one of the lovliest scenes: In Cranford, Miss Matty, a beloved lady in the village, loses all her money when her bank fails. The other ladies, at times finicky, petulant, silly, wise and strong get together and decide, no nonsense now, to establish a fund for Miss Matty. She must never know of this so she "is not compromised in any way." All happily agree to give what they can. And for many it can't be much at all, but no one refuses (joyful givers all). One of the older ladies runs after Miss Matty's young protege to tearfully apologize that her own contribution must be so little "but I haven't more than one hundred pounds to live on". She would be mortified if her small contribution was seen to indicate a lack of regard for Miss Matty. Like I said, lovely. Beautful TV and beautiflly acted. CRANFORD. Go find the DVD in the library. Both volumes. Elzianeth Gaskell's novles from the 1860s are a joy to read, as well. Cuddle up.

The Slap

It's still too early to assemble a "Best of" for 2010. You never know what there is to read, see and hear over the next six weeks. I suspect however, that no book I read in 2010 will impress me more than THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas

A three year old boy is slapped by an adult male-not his father, not a relative-during a backyard barbecue in suburban Melbourne. Hugo, the little boy is clearly a terror. He's been given few boundaries and neither parent rushes to intervene when he begins to swing a baseball bad around in a bid for attention, coming within inches of creaming anyone in his path. So he is slapped and stopped. And then begins the consternation.

Sides have to be chosen. Fractured marriages are examined, healed and perhaps fractured again. Teen age angst is seen to be dangerous and pervasive. Older generations of the Greek-Australian community profiled in this novel are seen as both concerned and intolerant. Hugo's parents need to live in rage to make sense their crumbling lives. Dad is underachieving, angry, and alcoholic. Mom hasn't a clue. Both contribute to the sense of entitlement wrecking kids today. Trust me, back in the day if I or any of my little friends misbehaved more than one adult neighbor would be there to wack us into line. Nobody said a word abut it. It was a way of looking out for one another's children. And Hugo is by no means beaten or abused. He is slapped, once. And he stops with the baseball bat.

Hector, at whose home the slap is delivered by his cousin, Harry, is a successful businessman married to a ravishing veterinarian-and they too live a life pasted together. In the novel's second sentence Hector rolls over in bed and emits "a victorious fart" thus alerting the reader to pages of raw language. Bodily functions, sex, sexuality, drug use, you name it, the authors views and depictions are unsparing. This book is not for the squeamish. But as you blow through you are never (or I wasn't) temped to yell TMI! (too much information!) It's a "can't put it down" book and I was very sorry to see it end. Many novels lose the thread and limp toward the finish. My God, not here. Young Richie has an encounter with Hector a few pages before the end that is moving and gripping and never descends to vulgarity or falsehood. In fact, there's not a false note anywhere in this book. You may dislike these people and you may be repelled by lifestyles and conversations (a dose of racism) but unless you are locked away in a convent this book will ring true. In Ohio, in Boston, in Australia and on top of Mt Everest.

Don't miss The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A new favorite quote

SB is a talented young radio journalist who is coming back to Columbus. Here's a quote from his FB page. I wish I had thoughts this up, but SB has quite the way with words:

"I witness things and then ramble into a microphone about them. That's right, physics majors. Who's stupid now?"

Beautiful. I relate on so many levels...

I hope this kid publishes!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John Lennon

It's been widely discussed that John Lennon would have turned 70 on October 10. Soon we'll be remembering the 30th anniversary of his death. I lived in New York back in 1980 (thirty years ago! MY God!)He was killed late at night. But it was all over the early morning news radio. No internet, no facebook, no cyber stuff then. You had to listen to the radio or watch TV. That morning I set off from E. 78 St. where I was living and took my usual walk to work in the Fisk building at 57th St and 8th Avenue. Believe me, it was easier to walk than to take a convoluted subway route(s) at the height of rush hour. And walking is how you really got to see New York. Especially late at night or early in the morning. I walked across the park at 79th St. and came out at Central Park West to head South. And there as the Dakota at CPW and 72nd St. And there was a huge crowd, standing west as far as you could see...spreading south to Columbus cirlce. It was 7 a.m. and there was not a sound. The crowd stood in silence. People were blocks away form the scene but it was one huge group in silence. Some were crying and some held candles and some had pictures held up but here was not a sound. In the middle of New York City at 7 a.m. on a work day. I had been in new york when Presidents and Popes died, but I never saw a crowd like that, before or since. I stood there too. I don't know for how long.

Dame Joan Sutherland

I've shared some thoughts and some memories about the great soprano Joan Sutherland who died yesterday at the age of 83. Check out the classical music blog

She was incredible. The greatest voice and the greatest talent I was privileged to encounter. And I had quite a view of her when I was thirteen. on the classical music blog.

What I told a friend

A friend of mine has shared a crisis in confidence while beginning a new career. There are plenty of low self esteem issues,which I think can be a little self indulgent when one gets into one's fifties. So I said, look: when you are feeling low think of Maria Callas, who demanded a separate Rolls Royce just for the luggage! Keep that picture in your mind. Just for the luggage! For the bags! and trot on....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Uncle Jack

John J. Duddy, my mother's brother.
July 23, 1923-August 16, 2010
retired firefighter, Arlington MA

I'm not able to attend Uncle Jack's funeral. I saw him twice over the summer. I'm so grateful for a bonus visit I had with him in his home (Grammie and Grampie's house!) a week before he died. A few weeks earlier we had looked through all the family scrapbooks. He had complete recall...who-what-where etc. going back eighty years. He was proud to have been a long time member of the Arlington MA fire department. He had two families and was loved and honored by both. At 87 and in failing health, I can't say his death was unexpected, but it was a shock nonetheless. I had hoped to bring my daughter back to see him in the fall. He told me he would sit and go through the family scrapbooks with her, and I waned badly to take a picture of them together. Not to be.

Here are two Uncle Jack stories, one funny and one sad but beautiful.
The funny one he used to tell on himself.
We had a distant cousin named Julia. She was of my grandparents' (his parents) generation. I remember her as a large, hearty lady with a brogue. She died, and of course it was necessary to go to her wake. Uncle Jack and Grandpa set out but made a few stops along the way. They arrived at the funeral home feeling no pain, tried to gather themselves and went in to pay respects. They looked down on Julia in her casket and thought: "Oh, that cancer is terrible-poor lady. She looks awful." They spent the evening visiting the family, lurching a bit and paid one last visit to the bier ("she looks terrible") and only later were told that that the deceased was a smallish ninety year old MAN they didn't know ("but the family was very nice") and poor Julia was laid out, looking hearty, in another funeral home. True story.

Sad: I understand it was Uncle Jack who found my mother in the basement. He called the Lexington fire department. One of the firemen came to her funeral. I had gone to high school with this guy--didn't know him well. He took me aside and told me "I knew your Uncle was a fire fighter. He wouldn't let us touch your mother. She was in her nightgown and until he covered her he wouldn't let us near her. He was a brother then, not a fireman. We were four big guys with axes and he was a man in his sixties just out of heart surgery and we were all afraid of him!"

Mother used to boss him (all of us) around but in the end it was he who was most protective of her. Sad. Beautiful, though. I loved him before that and I loved him more ever since.

I had three great visits with him this summer and I'm grateful for that. The last time I saw him he was in good form. We were so lucky to have had him as long as we did.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Remembering Mother R

Virgina Hastings died unexpectedly on August 1st at the age of 76. The obituary notice gives the facts and runs a lovely picture, and space is provided for tributes. There will be a lot of tributes. I suspect that the first few will be short. It will be hard, even for the people closest to her to absorb this shock and to find the necessary words. I've moved my thoughts to this blog so as not to hog other's space. The obituary lists her survivors, three adult children, sons and daughters in law, a sister, her sister's family. Just the facts. Its left to others to fill it all in.

I was enough of a jerk in my teens to have little use for my own parents. It was serendipitous that I met Lisa and her mother in 1973 when my jerk-ness was it its height. To meet them is to be immediately assimilated into the extended family structure which has only grown and endured over thirty- five years (is it possible?) They don't ask. They grab you and you hang on for the ride. And what a great journey! Virgina's homes were modest-all of ours were in that pre- McMansion nonsense era- and Virginia's home, whether above a nursing home, or next door to one or later in a a terrific cottage by a lake-her homes were magnets. This woman had the gift of drawing young people to her and offering instant acceptance. Don't confuse acceptance with license or even approval. You had to earn your place at the table-or on the floor next to the stereo speakers-with a degree of class and dignity. You could curse-she did-you could drink-she did-you could fight and scream she did-but the one word I will always associate with Virgina is DIGNITY. She had a complete sense of who she was and what was expected of others. There was a line you didn't cross. But if you stayed on the right side of the line, you got years of unconditional love, of acceptance, of-yes-craziness and disorder, but you never but never forgot to treat yourself and more importantly-to treat others as best you could. That's what Virgina did. I learned that from her. Other people matter. A lot.

Now, about this Mother R nickname. Virgina assigned this name to herself. I use it. I suspect few others do, so I claim ownership, my own bond with her. It is how she signed every Christmas card and every baby gift. As a parent myself now, all those years later I do know enough to be grateful to any sane adult who reaches out and shows an interest. But I'm in my fifties now. Back in those jerk days I threw my relationship with Mother R and her family into my parents face. And they were hurt. R stood for 'Mrs Robinson '. That's how my own Mother referred to her at first. It wasn't meant kindly, not yet. My father didn't care. Lisa was and is a dish and knew how to wrap him around-well lets just say that Bill as an easy conquest. Mary was something else. She was threatened , and it took a few years for a deep appreciation to grow, that she knew I had a safe place and that Virginia-Mother R-was at its center (I never used the term 'Mother' about another woman in my own Mother's presence. I had that much sense at least and I suspect Virgina would have read me the riot act had I done so) Mary's innate and very deep goodness and generosity kicked in after a few years. Bill just made gaga eyes at Lisa and that was fine. So you see, Mother R was the catalyst who brought out goodness in everyone-even if it was hard to dig out at first of seventeen year old jerks back in 1973. My contact with her dwindled and dwindled as the years went by, I married, had a child, moved away, moved on. Well, you can move on all you like but just like that line not to be crossed you only got to move but so far. Thank God.

I've thought of the music I heard in Mother R's house-mostly Wagner and Verdi and ALWAYS LOUD and I think of the Red Sox game on with the sound turned off while Isolde is dying or the Valkyries are crying or Sigmund and Sieglinde are sighing. I will never think of the Sox or Wagner ever again without thinking of her. What a gift!

I 'm feeling a bit presumptuous writing these lines. I was not her child. She had three children and the were the stars. The rest of us were satellites,-and I was one of many-but we were warmed by the same sun. The lessons were love and dignity and school remains in session. Finally, Mother R's example leads me to reach out to my own parents, to acknowledge them with love and thanks many years after their deaths. It's the best tribute I can pay to put photos of all three of them on this post. {That's Mother R with the glasses.} Mary and Bill will be among the many greeting Mother R in eternal happy hour!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Too many? Is such a thing possible?

I hope I remember this summer in part as the summer I discovered Carson McCullers. The best place to read is on the elliptical at the gym. I'll bet you thought I was going to say some place else but I'm trying to have taste in my dotage. Occasionally I get backed up (!) with books. McCullers's "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" beckoned to me from the library shelf last weak. The gym can be noisy but this prose blocks out all extraneous noise. The book was written when McCullers was 23-she was dead at 50. It's about loneliness and so far, about hope. It's beautiful, rich language. The one image I hope I will never forget is of the young girl walking all through the neighborhood looking for a house with a radio, so she can sit outside and listen to music through the open windows. Then she goes home and in her head works and works to put together a Beethoven symphony in her mind. She knows its wonderful. She doesn't know music and she doesn't know Beethoven but she knows wonderful when she hears it.

Today's mail brought the galleys of Norman Lebrecht's new book "Why Mahler? How One Man and His Symphonies Changed the World". CHANGED THE WORLD? Good on Norman for making that argument. I'm a Lebrecht fan, through his other books and his blog, called 'Slipped Disc' This is Mahler's 150th birthday year. I'm trying to listen to a symphony a day. In eight days I've managed the first four-five and a half more to go. Then the song cycles. I do this dutifully, and remember to love or at least admire them along the way. I feel a tad guilty in not writing about Mahler on our classical music blog ( The book is staring up at me indignantly from the floor-the cds are spilling all over my desk. And me? I'm writing about Terence McNally and "Master Class" and listening to' Evita'. God. I thought I was getting better!

More Mahler later. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What a colleague said

A colleague who has moved on left me this note:
You were a terrifying, wonderful, hilaroius and fantastic surprise to this job"

That's very sweet. I don't know aobut theothers, but 'terrifying'?
Nonxense. i'm a damned pussy-cat.....

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

How I Got My Doctorate...again

By popular request, here's a post from a few years ago I had deleted. It's graduation time and several friends will be walking. I ran or rather, was shoved. This was originally up for several months and there were some snippy comments. Now, I'm old and fat and snip away. You should know that this post was restored to me by the President of the Faculty Senate!

Happy Graduation to All! Read on:

OKAY so there i was minding my own business spreading joy and happiness and sunshine everywhere as is my wont and I take my little form and Mary signs it and i waltz up to the graduate school and the scary lady says (growling) Who's Mary! and i say huffy as you please she's chair of the graduate program in theater thank you very much and if you came in late the scary lady in the graduate school keeps a tape measure in her desk and no man likes no woman with a tape measure i guess i should make that clear to this crowd but trust me but she uses the thing to i swear to god measure margins on the page because the need to by five point 444444 inches and that does not mean five point 4444444 inches and dear jesus children are starving and they pay people for this but okay who am i to argue anyway pop goes the scary lady's computer and the scary lady says say to me Mary is M faculty and i say good for her she's very smart what is M faculty and the scary lady says she can't advise doctoral students unless your Graduate Study Chair (cue curtsy to the face) signs this form so I say you mean dr. roses no she's away all year you'll have to find dr. billy well who the hell is HE, jeez, so cheerfully i keep walkin' to weigel hall and go to the grad study office which is bolted CLOSED TODAY so i say to nobody in particular oh no you don't Batman so off i go down to the office and i ask another lady not so scary who is dr. billy and where can i leave him a message and this dame says he's in there and points to dr. ottokar freon's office and this guy in a yellow sweater who is not dr. freon-who is looking daggers at me the whole time-and i say to the guy in the yellow sweater are you dr. billy i'm told you need to sign this and he has rather the Attitude but to be fair there i am in saggy jeans interrupting a meeting-daughters of bilitis no doubt not to be confused with the chansons de bilitis you see i told you i earned this doctorate-but damned if i was going to schlep around one more freakin' signature when OFFICE CLOSED on the taxpayer's nickel thank you very much and dr. billy says What Am I Signing and i tell him The DMA Candidacy Oral Exam Form (note caps) no its not what you think just sign the effing thing (daggers! daggers! if looks could kill do these people think i don't know Strauss's ELEKTRA?--und sie ich mit ihren blicke Totenkoennte!) but finally he does sign it but he's not-at-all happy this guy tra-la so i waltz back out chafing now and having to scratch my butt in the outer office because its warm out and then i go to the scheduling office to confirm my date and time and oh no that's no good any more it has to be later in the day even though Drs. Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum aren't free then if you came in late i should explain that Drs. Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum are my advisers who are about to advise me to take a long walk off a short pier meanwhile dr. billy is not happy and i can feel daggers in my back from sixteen yards away and i've never even ragged on this guy on the air and i get fan mail from thailand thank you again very much so i go back to my office where it is moving day into new offices gone is the computer not to mention my birgit nilsson of blessed memory live cds but i manage to e mail these people who may not even know who the eff is birgit nilsson and there's a reply from this dr. i think it was Fee maybe Fo oh no it was dr. billy! who says -cue irritating nasal voice-the Time On The Form Must Exactly Match The Time Of The Meeting (note caps)and i reply no kidding don't get your undies in a knot batman i scratched it out and changed it and went back to the scary lady in the grad school now knows who mary was and is and mary has more brains in her little finger and doesn't have to measure nothing then i hear another faculty person has to show up for this weenie roast which is now 4.30 feb 7 and i say i don't mind buying pizza for Fee, Fo or Fum but Fi or was it Fee can shift for hisself and if i were you id head to the nearest loony bin and then they say you have to have a faculty member from outside your area involved and they send me to this bulky mezzo soprano type from ecology or rectal science or something who Did. Not. Get. Me. At. All and used worlds like colloquialism and i told her i used words bigger than that at 4 o clock mass in boston in 1969 and then the time was changed to 8 am and there was no pizza and nobody brought donuts cheap cheap cheap but i was fantastic and nobody knew what the eff i was talkin about and thats how you get a doctorate love to all

Monday, May 31, 2010

MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes

I just missed being drafted for the Vietnam war. I grew up in Lexington, MA and the irony of weekly and vivid anti Vietnam protests on the Lexington Battle Green is an active memory. Remember, this was 10 miles away from Harvard (a world away for me, alas) and what to this day is known as "The People's Republic of Cambridge". Gerald Ford had backs turned to him when he came to Lexington for the bicentennial of the American Revolution's Battle of Lexington: April 19, 1975. I was there. I remember.

But I lacked the maturity or the smarts to really understand what was happening in Vietnam back in the early 1970s. Being young doesn't always equate with being stupid or being self absorbed but it did with me. I didn't have the fire of the anti-war protesters tho they were seething all around me. About Vietnam I was largely ignorant. I suspect I didn't care.

I do now, after reading MATTERHORN a novel by Karl Marlantes, just published. Just published? Therein lies a tale. Matterhorn was long in the writing and even longer-nearly thirty years it seems inn finding a publisher. Marlantes was in fact a grunt in Vietnam-as this book reads nothing could have been invented. You are there. When the soldiers are "in the shit" so are you the reader. You wait for the catharsis. You wait for the, well, orgasm and it ain't there. There's very little redemptive about this novel except the devotion the men have for one and other, buried beneath the jokes and the insults and the violence but it is there. One soldier is eaten by a tiger, another had his legs blown off-they find his boots with his feet still in side. The brass wants quotas met and seem WAAAAY removed from the suffering of the soldiers on the line. Had this book been published in 1972 the war would have ended then and there. An enraged public, seeing it on the TV news every night would have found this novel even more powerful and immediate. I did. I hope you will too.

This is not an easy read. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment, you'll revel in the skill of the writer and if you are of a certain age you'll be angry and heartsick all over again. Don't miss Matterhorn. I thank my colleague Kassie Rose, WOSUs book critic, for the heads up.

Remembering Nicholas Nickleby

Recently one of our cable TV late shows featured the 1947 film version of Nicholas Nickleby, directed by Calvacanti ( what's the story THERE?). The film went on past my bedtime but I was able to enjoy the first hour before my eyes began to droop. It's on my list at our local library.

The Dickens novel is a great favorite of mine. It got me through a difficult period of my life over twenty years ago. My mother had just died unexpectedly and I found myself orphaned and un-morred at 29! I was also realizing that booze was taking over my life and that I would have to stop. I did. Stop. I got a lot of laughter and a lot of joy out of the Dickens novel. Around this time Broadway was abuzz from the Royal Shakespeare Company's 8 hour version of Nicholas Nickleby, and the $100 seat prize was a scandal (quaint today). I saw the TV version of this outing and loved it. But the Calvacanti version, billed as "the first talking film of Dickens's novel"-had the wonderfully stone faced-British actors and the over the top Vincent Crummles (Mr and Mrs) and the poor all seeing Smike.

About Smike. He was played by the British actor Aubrey Woods, then 20 years old. About ten years ago, after a Met Opera Quiz appearance where I was no doubt pompously talking about Jean de Rezske, I got a letter forwarded to me by the Met from Aubrey Woods-the British actor who was a fan of the Met broadcasts as heard on the BBC. We had a short and pithy correspondence and at one point he sent me the pages of the guest book he kept in his home: Larry Olivier, Dorothy Tutin, Ralph Richardson, Margot Fonteyn and Princess Margaret are among those who came to stay and left greetings. These letters and pages from Mr Woods were my closest brush with the famous. Perhaps infamous after English country weekends, if one believe the old novels and faux-old Mahsterpeice Theatre programs. Never mind. Mr Woods was gracious and kind and seeing his younger self in a classic film version of a beloved book, both funny and sad and above all entertaining, was a treat. Thank you, Aubrey Woods. I'm off to re- read Nicholas Nickleby.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


If there were ever a Bravo TV show called Classical Music CD Hoarders I could easily be the star, only because lately I can't see my phone of the filthy, sticky, coffee ringed desktop for the piles of CD awaiting...what? This must be ADD-a compulsion to listen to all of these, and to keep adding to the pile through trips to a down the hall immense CD library. OK, its part of my job to be "up" on this stuff. It's actually part of my job to blog CD reviews as well, as to at least pretend to know what I'm talking about. In the past few days I've done some rather eclectic listening. It's true, I've had to multi -task, but here's a sample of today's listening:

Handel: FARAMONDO, an opera from 1738 that went unperformed for 260 years. Now its coming to Ohio state, with performances later this month. I'm putting it on the air May 15 and have been asked to do pre- curtain talks for it the OSU production, which will be the American staged premiere. I know Handel and I know some Handel operas, but only today I've made some headway to the first Act of Faramondo. Its a plot to defeat Jerry Springer, as is most baroque opera-with gorgeous music. Thank God-I guess-there's only one recording, and that only one year old-of music by Handel!-so I don't feel compelled to wade through comparisons.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony 4, Philadelphia Orchestra, cond. Riccardo Muti. I suggest you not read heavy-in all senses- biographies of Tchaikovsky on the StairMaster. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I have a Doctorate in Music and I'm supposed to be right at home with pages and pages (and pages) of musical analysis of ALL of this composer's music. (I skip over those pages, nearly all of them to get to the juicy personal bits, which are actually very depressing, all the while StairMaster-ing away) But the author went on so enthusiastically about the 4th symphony--I'm only up to 1877-that I wanted to hear it again. I'm glad I did.

Joseph Schwantner: AFTERTONES OF INFINITY JS is coming in to do some interviews. He's in town for the local premiere of his new work, Chasing the Light. I like what I've seen of him on youtube, and he sounds like a nice guy over the phone. No recording yet of Chasing the Light, so I went through what we have. Lots of flute. Not very good for me or my nerves, but Aftertone of Infinity makes we want to know more about Schwantner and his music.

Tchaikovsky: LITURGY OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM seem above, with the reference to the StairMaster.

Wagner: DIE MEISTERSINGER. God forgive me, I just don't get it. I really try. I listened to Act I because I'm airing the whole opera-over TWO Saturdays, and its being performed in Cincinnati this summer. I'll be going. Why not? It's so seldom given and I need to get with the Wagner message (I love Lohengrin, Parsifal and Tannhauser)

BENITA VALENTE, soprano, Schubert, Handel, Obradors, Brahms, Wolf. Gorgeous. Wonderful. Perfect. Beautiful. Thank God.


Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tsar's Bride...I want to get into some Russian opera. Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans, too.

Brahms: Piano concerto 1--CSO performances next week, the last of the season. I'm doing the talks. Gotta bone up. I'm listening to Peter Serkin, who is playing it here.

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra...see above. REALLY bone up. Have one of the Karajan Berlin Phil recordings (How many did he do? Twelve? Thirteen?) This will be fun to talk up, playing up the Koussevitsky connection..
OH and today I ordered from AMAZON "Carmen" with Anna Moffo and Franco Corelli (I know, I know. Horrified fascination) "Fidelio" with Gwyneth Jones, James King and Karl Bohm -I wore out the LPS I had as a kid-and Joyce Di Donato's Salute to Isabella Colbran. And the new Orhpee et Euridice with Juan Diego Florez is already here...somewhere.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hans Fallada: Every Man Dies Alone

This remarkable, disturbing, upsetting book puts you right down in the middle of Nazi Germany and in an almost unforgiving way it keeps you there. Every word of that horrible time rings true in this novel, more than any documentary film or Hollywood treatment or grainy footage of marching soldiers and little men with big salutes ever could. I'll say little else except to recommend this book, and to offer an excerpt:

In the course of his morning walk, which lasted from ten to eleven, Dr. Reichardt would sing to himself. Generally he confined himself to humming softly, because a lot of the warders wouldn't allow it, and Quangel got used to listening to his humming. Whatever his poor opinion of music, he did notice its effect on him. Sometimes it made him feel strong and brave enough to endure any fate, and then Reichardt would say "Beethoven". Sometimes it made him feel bafflingly lighthearted and cheerful, which he had never been in his life, and then Reichardt would say, "Mozart", and Quangel would forget all about his worries. And sometimes the sounds emanating from the doctor were dark and heavy,and Quangel would feel a pain in the chest, and it would be as though he was a little boy again siting in church with his mother, with something grand, the whole of life ahead of him, and then Reichardt would say, "Johann Sebastian Bach."

--pp.426-427, Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Gift

A gift of getting older is the ability to finally forgive your parents, and hope that your children will finally forgive YOU!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On listening to Parsifal

We're coming up to Holy Week and I find myself non -church affiliated these days (is that even a term?) But as I age I am drawn more to the contemplative in music. The Donizetti-Bellini can still thrill but I'm more sustained now by Wagner and Bruckner (Monteverdi will always be a great love for his mixture of piety and eroticism) Years ago when living in New York I made it a habit to see Parsifal whenever it was being done at the Met. For me, unless Texaco was picking up the tab-which they did once, with brunch yet-that meant upstairs standing room. Two dollars back in the day. You could easlily touch the rotting gold leaf on the Met's ceiling. Friends and I used to walk in with sandwiches and beer. No bag checksor exams in those more relaxed days!

We needed the sustenance for Parsifal. Let's not kid ourtselves. It's nearly five hours. I never found Parsifal long in the way I still find Die Meistersinger or Siegfried. From those first muted chords in the darkness, I was always enthralled. Parsifal always began in total darkness, with the music rising up out of the pit and up, way up into the air, above the dirty ceiling and bottles of beer of those of us standing. Remember too, no titles in those days. I never knew this opera well enough to know what they were singing. German is not my language, except for the ocassional 'ach so!' and 'recht gut!' I looked up "Der reiner Thor (the innocent fool), and "Wein und Brot" was easy enoguh. But the music itself cast a spell. I know Tristan is Wagner at his most devastating, driving people nuts with its delayed and sometiems absent resoultions. Parsifal has always taken me to a deeper place, more of contementmet and a kind of cathartic sadness. I looked forward to Parsifal every year-I was drinking beer in those days so it may have helped, no more-and always left contented, feeling I've had an experience akin to worship in preparation for Easter. And mine was a pretty profane life back then.

My Parisfals were Jon Vickers and Timthy Jenkins (who alas died young) Placido Doming came a bit later. Vicker's cry of "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" still frightens me and I last heart in in 1984! My Guremanzes (?Gurnemanzen?) were Kurt Moll or James Morris...Simon Estes was Amfortas (how I wish I could have experienced Goerge London!) and Kundry was Tatiana Troyanos or Leonie Rysanek. Many of them are in heaven now, presumably, Morris and Domingo God love them soldier on. Levine condcuted. I remember his balance between music and emotion was perfect. He never wallowed and he never allowed the drama to sag or get lost. He knew we needed the hedonistic Act II and we got it. And the magnificent Met orchestra and chorus. For $2 in stnadin room and you didn't mind bringing your own beer.

I can't get to the Met anymore. Youtube, the web, and my own collections bring me Parsifal from 1936 in Buenos Aires, 1951 Bayreuth, the 50s and 60s, Vienna, Levine, Domingo, and my touchstone, the 1962 Bayreuth performance with Knappertsbusch conducting London, Thomas, Dalis and Hans Hotter. Hotter's may be the most beautiful voice I've heard on a man. Ah! It is good to get older!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Samuel Barber

This is Samuel Barber's 100th birthday. He died in 1981. His was a long career and his was the career of creativity in classical music in America. In American music. Meaning that, to me, while he embraced his predecessors, like Ravel and Satie, like Brahms and Stravinsky, he didn't need them. Barber brought a European sophistication to an American-democratic "get out there and do it because ain't nobody gonna do it for you" ethos. Virgil Thomson used the French models in music often to snobbish ends, to parse down his audiences. Barber, who at firs could be less listener friendly, did the opposite. He used dance, rhythm and texture to draw people in. Barbe's music lifts up. A good example of this is the warmth of his violin concerto. It does without a lot of slash and burn until the final movement, the "perpetual motion' composed to satisfy the commission-people wanted show off for show off sake and I don't think Barber knew how to do that.

The world knows Samuel Barber for his Adagio for Strings. It's said that Toscanini encouraged the young composer to orchestrate part of his String Quartet-hence the Adagio, which the Italian conductor pronounced 'semplice e bella" Simple and beautiful. Indeed. Barber worked well in several genres. I'm especially partial to his songs, and to his three short choral pieces 'Reincarnations' to poetry by James Stephens. I like his opera 'Vanessa' very much, and I really admire 'Antony and Cleopatra'. The failure of this work, written to open the Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, ruined Samuel Barber's life. He lived another fifteen years but his productivity fell off, and he grappled with alcoholism and depression. Still, the composer of the Adagio, of Hermit Songs, The Essays for Orchestra, a 1961 Piano Concerto written for John Browning and the opening Lincoln Center-the composer of the sublime Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and the very grand Antony and Cleopatra, this composer, Samuel Barber, deserves a statue. Better yet, more and more performances! Don't just sit there. Go to youtube and type in his name. Listen (watch) Enjoy.

Monday, March 08, 2010


I've had the pleasure over the past few weeks of actually sitting down and listening to the live broadcasts from the Met. There was a beautiful La Boheme on February 27, and then this past Saturday the Met's broadcast premiere of Verdi's Attila. Hard to believe a big Verdi opera has waited 150 years to be done by America's preeminent opera company. Attila is no stranger to New York: it was a staple at the New York City Opera with Samuel Ramey for many years from he early 1980s, and as Mr. Ramey approaches retirement age he took on the cameo role of Leone in the Met production, a nice "pass of the torch" gesture.

What a great opera! I hadn't heard Attila in a long time and I've missed something. There are starkly beautiful religious chants, big, wonderfully nasty cabalettas for the warrior Odabella, bel canto line and beauty for he baritone Ezio and some nice soprano-tenor duets. Foresto, the tenor is one of Verdi's few supporting tenor roles, but the Met did it justice by casting the wonderful Ramon Vargas.

This was the first time I had heard Ildar Abdrazakov, the young bass (33!) who sang the title tole. Like Ramey in his prime, who owned this opera for my generation, Mr. Abdrakazov has a large voice with plenty of beauty, a deep, pleasing presence that he never sacrificed to make dramatic points. He didn't have to. With Ricardo Muti conducting-in HIS Met debut!- the balance was perfect between Verdi's long melodic lines and the crash and dash moments that give the opera its forward momentum. What I loved was how Muti-and thus everyone-respected and loved this work, for all of its violence we heard two hours of great MUSIC,beautifully made.

I can't comment on the production because I heard it without seeing it. What I heard was an afternoon of superb music making, being re-introduced to an early Verdi opera, like encountering a past girlfriend from long ago and finding her aged but in every way alluring. Bravo.

The recording of this broadcast will make the rounds. Meanwhile, don't forget the first modern stereo recording of Attila, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Ruggero Raimondi, Sherrill Milnes, Carlo Bergonzi and Cristina Deutekom. Muti's recording has Samuel Ramey, Giorgio Zancanaro and Cheryl Studer from La Scala, and I believe there's a DVD with this cast, too. No excuses! Go find Attila!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In case you're wondering......

There seems to be some shmutz going on with this blog and all the nonsense spammy comments with no relevance to what I'm posting,etc. Just skip over 'em. Sorry.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I've just watched a film I liked very much, "Alexandra" filmed in Chechnya in 2006 by Director Alexander Sokurov. It's the story of an old woman who leaves her home in St. Petersburg and travels to Chechnya-at war with Russia, invaded by them-to visit her grandson who is part of the occupying Russian army. I didn't realize the searing political implications of this film until I watched the press conference with the director and leading actress after seeing the movie. "Alexandra" is much more controversial, indeed politically loaded than I even now realize-I'm just responding to the powerful imagery and the simplicity of the story.

The film stars Galina Vishnevskaya. She is the widow of the Russian cellist conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. For many yeas, Vishnevskaya ("Galina Pavlova") was the leading soprano of the Bolshoi Opera-the most famous of all Russian singers since the 1950s. I recall her concerts in Boston of all Russian music, with Rostropovich at the piano-shortly after the couple was expelled from Russia in the 1970s for sheltering Solzhenitsyn. Vishnevskaya was a tall, slim, stunning dark haired woman. People play at being a diva. She WAS. Not in "Alexandra". She's a frumpy, dowdy old lady, moving slowly and achingly through the desert heat-reprimanding her grandson for a dirty uniform but taking remaining unimpressed by the privations around her and the military hierarchy. At the press conference the director said, "I warned Galina Pavlova that the conditions of making this film in Chechnya, in the 120 degree heat would be terrible, and she told me that she had survived the blockade of Leningrad in the 1940s. She could survive this."

Alexandra is a film of understatement that finds beauty in a desolate physical setting. The heart of the film is when an old Chechnyan woman in the market place clucks over Alexandra's exhaustion, takes her home and makes her a cup of tea. Its that simple and that moving. I had heard about this move and I had seen stills of the imperious and stunning Vishnevskaya playing a lady her own age but from a very different walk of life. In the distance, one in a great while you hear a woman singing but it is indistinct-Vishnevskaya is not necessarily the leading character. There is on one leading character. You pay attention to the soldiers, the elderly, the kids, the desert, the tanks, the guns and futility and uselessness of it all. But when I think of Vishnevskaya as Tosca or Tatiana I will add the elderly Alexandra to my list of unforgettable portraits, and this one is without music.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Great Dawn Powell

I suspect most of us would never had heard of Dawn Powell without the efforts of her biographer, Tim Page, who not only wrote a scrupulous biography of this heretofore neglected writer, but also published her diaries and volumes of her letters. Dawn Powell was a small town girl from Ohio who made good in New York around World War I. She remained a devoted New Yorker for the rest of her life (1896-1965). Her sixteen novels divide evenly between those set in rural Ohio, and those set in Manhattan. The locations may vary, but Powell's biting wit, humor and unapologetic style remain in the forefront. I warn you, Dawn Powell's writing is addictive. Don't believe me?


If I have ugly babies I am going to kill them. Unless they happen to have a rich father. Then I might let them live a few years to see just what sort of numb skulls they develop into...Beauty is after all the only thing in the world that matters-not mental or spiritual beauty or any of that lying rot, but splendid physical beauty-healthy or unhealthy beauty so long as it is beauty.


Well now. That throws down the gauntlet, doesn't it? Here are some excerpts from her diary:

June 22, 1934

I am lost without a novel. Those plays confuse me with their hysterical bursts into my life. A novel is like a gland pill--it nips of the cream of my hysterics and gets them running on track in a book where they belong instead of rioting all over my person.

June 22, 1965

Most important thing for a novelist is curiosity and how curious that so many of them lack it. They seem self absorbed, family absorbed, success absorbed, but the new social climbing writer professes indifference to the people across the aisle, the noise from the next apartment, as if a gentleman does not concern himself with things not his business.


As for New York City, it's the only place where people with nothing behind them but their wits can be and do anything. A young man, particularly with a tuxedo and decent manners, can go anyplace, be welcomed in the ritziest circles and even fought over by debutantes. All he needs to do is act are too scarce for girls to care whether they were brought up anywhere. The chief difference between New York and everyplace else in the world is that you brag of your early struggles-how you worked on the section or delivered ice and your folks were mountain whites or blacks-and everybody brought up at Harvard or Vassar or in convents abroad is very envious and hates their folks for always coddling them....

From THE BRIDE'S HOUSE published 1929

Buggies and wagons lined the streets of the self satisfied little town, flew flags, bands played parading down the street, Civil war veterans marched and a group of youngsters bore a Loyal Temperance Legion banner and sang, "Saloons, saloons, saloons must go!" But on the contrary saloons had sprung up overnight to meet the country's annual thirst. A fragrant alcoholic haze hung over the town, and tented the entire fairgrounds. Streets were giddy with laughter and the shrill voices and megaphoned speeches of visiting politicians. There were clusters of starched white and flying ribbons here and there, groups of rosy farm girls giggling and ogling each passing man. By nighttime the groups, with good luck, would be scattered, each girl giggling with an awkward young man in some tree shaded buggy behind the fair grounds, hysterically sipping from a jug of corn whiskey and abandoning herself to private yearnings. The wretched little frame hotels, supported comfortably all year by a half a dozen traveling salesmen, now bulged with guests and window shades were drawn night and day, boasting of the iniquity of their bedrooms. Carnival gods rode over the city and sprinkled the orthodox with their confetti.

From A TIME TO BE BORN, published 1942

This was a time when the artists,the intellectuals, sat in cafes and in country homes and accused each other over their brandies or their California vintages of traitorous tendencies. This was a time for them to band together in mutual antagonism, a time to bury the professional hatchet, if possible in each other, a time to stare at their flower arrangements, children bathing, and privately to weep, "What good is it? Who cares now?" The poet, disgusted with the flight of skylarks in perfect sonnet form, declaimed the power of song against brutality and raised hollow voice in feeble reproof. This was no time for beauty, for love, or private future; this was the time for ideals and quick profits on them before the world turned to reality and the drabber opportunities. What good for a new soprano to sing 'Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore?' What good for eager young students to make their bows? There was no future. Everyone waited, marked time, waited. For what? On Fifth Avenue and fifty-seventh hundreds waited for a man in a hotel window ledge to jump' hundreds waited with craning necks and thirsty faces as if this single person's final gesture would solve the riddle of the world. Civilization stood on a ledge, and in the tension of waiting it was a relief to have one little man jump.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

George Jellinek

George Jellinek was the kindest man I ever knew. I did not know him well, or for very long, but he was enormously generous in sharing his knowledge, not only of vocal music but of the humanities, of LIFE, and he always spoke to me as if I were his peer, and that I will never be. George died a few days ago at the age of 90. A friend pointed out to me in my sadness, "that was ninety years very well lived" and he's right. Very well lived in the sense of providing education and enjoyment to thousands from his wonderful radio series The Vocal Scene, originating at his home base, WQXR is New York, and achieving a long productive life in syndication. Today, George would be blogging and posting all over the web and boy would we be lucky.

I met George in the early 1980s. I was trying to figure out what to do after grad school at NYU. I lived in a dump, and had funky and delightful friends (many now gone and that's another reason for tears)and sold records (RECORDS not yet CDs) at Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue. I found myself a panelist on the august Texaco Opera Quiz-the story how THAT happened is told elsewhere on this blog. (Type Richard Mohr in the search engine)There I was with Edward Downes, Alberta Masiello, Father Owen Lee, the most articulate and intelligent of people, and with George Jellinek. I was a devotee of the vocal scene (YOU should have been) and had read his biography of Maria Callas, which apparently had not annoyed that lady. George was modest and kind. He never let me feel like I was a kid record salesman with no right to be there. Quite the contrary (and this was true of every person I ever encountered on the Met Quiz over twenty years). George didn't care I was wearing a borrowed suit and had to leave before the last act of "Eugene Onegin" to work the evening shift at B&N. He and his dear wife Hedy fed me occasionally and took me to concerts I never could have approached on my $200/week. Victoria de los Angeles at the Manhattan School of Music was unforgettable, as was her very warm embrace of George and Hedy after the performance and her smile at me, as if she knew I was lucky to be in their presence rather than hers...and I was.

George wrote two more books in his later years. "History Through the Opera Glass" is indispensable for those who love Don Carlo or Boris Godunov and what to know what REALLY happened. "My Road to Radio and The Vocal Scene: Memoirs of an Opera Commentator" takes him from refugee to radio star (he'd shake his head at that description). I recommend both warmly. Even better, listen to recordings of your favorite operas and your favorite singers, enjoy them, think of George and fall in love with the music all over again. That would be a lovely tribute to a lovely man.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nelson Eddy

To Whom It May Concern:

I have just had the pleasure of listening to an interview that Christopher Purdy did with Kaye Ballard ( I am co-authoring a biography of the late Nelson Eddy. Based on information Mr. Purdy imparted during the interview I would like to contact Mr. Purdy to ask some questions about about information he may have, or may have been told during other interviews about Mr. Eddy

Thank you.

Dear JH:

Thank you for your recent e mail concerning my 2007 interview with Kaye Ballard. I don't remember talking about Nelson Eddy with Ms. Ballard-perhaps we did, I haven't heard the interview in a while. I did enjoy Ms. Ballard enormously!

Concerning Nelson Eddy, here's a bit form my blog-a review of Mr. Eddy's concert in Boston's Symphony Hall in April of 1940. The writer is Edward Downes (1911-2001) who at the time was music critic of the Boston Evening Transcript. Edward was the son of NY Times chief critic Olin Downes (1886-1955). I got to know Edward through the Metropolitan Opera broadcast intermsisions when he was the host of the popular weekly 'Texaco Opera Quiz'. I was a panelist for a number of years. Edward, in fact was the subject of my DMA thesis here at Ohio State.

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 Shelly'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, Lamotte's 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 the 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 for this kind of vocal composition is a kind of barometer of the devoutness of the American public?

I'm afraid this review is not very flattering. A man who performed Wozzeck and sang in the movies proved his chops!

Good luck on your book, and thank you for contacting me.

Christopher Purdy

Dear Mr. Purdy:

Thank you for my inquiry. It is much appreciated.

Just to clarify--you didn't mention Nelson Eddy during your interview with Kaye Ballard. The item that caught my interest was when you made the comment that you "teach opera" and how unaware students are when you play "old stuff" for them. Based on that comment, I was hoping you might have conducted an interview with someone at some time when Nelson was discussed. Barring that, I wanted to ask your assessment of Nelson's voice and talent and possibly ask for your comment on how he, too has been relegated to obscurity.

While conducting research and interviews, I have had the good luck to be able to talk with Lillian Murphy and her husband Earl William Sauvain. I wonder if you have any comments or thoughts about either of these individuals or their talents.

Thank you for the link to your blog. I have read the review of Nelson's concert written by Edward Downes. Although you are correct it is "not very flattering", it seems Mr. Downes went to that concert for the sole purpose of finding something negative to write about. I find it humorous that the only thing he could find was information written in the program. His review never addressed the quality of the concert or Nelson's performance. It would appear he couldn't find anything negative to say about hem, so he simply didn't comment on them but chose to make nasty little innuendoes implying Nelson must have thought of himself as God. Mr. Downes was not being fair to anyone with this review-including his readers.


Dear JH

Edward Downes's papers are at Boston University. I went through them after his death. The only snarky mail I found from his days as a music critic concerned the Nelson Eddy review. There were a few notes, well preserved for sixty years, objecting to Edward's attitude toward a concert that was probably sold to the walls and well enjoyed. In person Edward was a bit of an aesthete with high standards. Still, his tone is surprising. Nelson Eddy, as you know better than me, had a very distinguished career in opera before he went to Hollywood. He studied with David Bispham, the first American born baritone to have an international carer in opera. Eddy not only did the bread and butter operas, but sang leads in the American premieres of Ariadne auf Naxos, Wozzeck, and Maria Egiziaca. This was no dilettante.

One more Edward Downes story. He lived most of his life in New York's Dakota apartments. Forty years ago he was on the board, and was asked to interview prospective new tenants, a couple who were musicians. They came for tea, barefooted and needing a bath. But he liked them and they were allowed to buy into the building. He liked John Lennon and Yoko Ono--this was in 1969, immediately post Beatles, and he had no clue who they were. He died at 90 in the apt. upstairs from Yoko Ono, who today owns most of the building. (To his credit, Edward always enjoyed telling this story on himself!)

You can't make this stuff up.