Thursday, June 30, 2011

Get to know Thomas Schippers

If you wait a bit in viewing the above clip you'll see a blurry image of Thomas Schippers (1930-1977) conducting Cherubini's Medea at La Scala, Milan. Maria Callas had returned to Milan to claim her greatest role, and the thirty-one year old Schippers, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was there to join her.

Thomas Schippers is forgotten today. Shame on all of us. His conducting career began in 1950. He conducted Gian Carlo Menotti's operas, The Medium and The Telephone on Broadway. Schippers led the world premiere of the most performed opera of all, Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors on NBC television in 1951. That was the first year he was eligible to vote or drink legally. His debut at the Metropolitan Opera came in 1955. Soon he became a great favorite of impresario Rudolf Bing and of the public. Recordings followed-mostly of opera. Schippers was a founding father (or grandson) of the Spoleto Festival. He conducted the premiers of Samuel Barbers two operas, Vanessa and Antony and Cleopatra -the latter for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. The highest profile gig in music for years to come.

Schippers had it all. He was an astonishing musician who more than passed muster with Callas, with Zino Francescatti, Gyorgy Czifra, Dimitri Mitropolous, Leontyne Price-some of the greatest names in music of the time. He was devastatingly handsome. It as rumored that Rudolf Bing-not known to be so inclined- was besotted with him. He was a member of the Barber-Menotti (who were so inclined)
for years.

And then there was Eileen Farrell. The great American soprano took the maestro under her wing and more than once he got a talking to. After a recording session where the young conductor had roundly alienated the orchestra, Farrell took him aside and said, "You are loaded with talent. There's no need for you to be such an asshole!" Schippers took the hint and peace was restored.*

Even in the performing arts, being gay was dicey in the 50s and 60s and being openly gay was impossible. Schippers married the young heiress Nonie Phipps in 1965. They seemed to live happily until her death from cancer in 1974. By that time the couple was living in Cincinnati, where Thomas Schippers was the Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony. I image they loved him in Cincinnati. Looks, charm, charisma and musicianship were his-important to the community in that order. He commuted to the Met and to gigs worldwide. His last performance at the Metropolitan was conducting the belated debut of Beverly Sills, in Rossini's The Siege of Corinth.
He and Sills had re introduced this work to La Scala in 1969 and went on to collaborate on a wonderful recording of Lucia di Lammermoor.

Thomas Schippers died in New York in 1977. Cancer took him as it had taken his wife three years earlier. He left a legacy of opera recordings, lots of them-and a few syphonic discs. He died before video concerts and operas were the norm.
He deserves to be remembered better. If you are an opera lover, seek out his recording s of La forza del desitno, La boheme, Carmen, The Siege of Corinth, Lucia, und so weiter. If you're not an opera lover, get over yourself and listen anyway.

*Later on, a tongue tied Farrell, exhausted from a long rehearsal, looked down and cried "Oh! I see its Pippers in the shit again!"

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kevin Spacey and a Few of his Friends

I've always loved people who can do impersonations. Kevin Spacey is a favorite actor of mine. What I didn't know was that he's an impersonator par excellence. Unbelievable. I just worry that most audiences today won't know Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Carson, Katharine Hepburn and Marlon Brando. They're all hear in this one balding fella-have a laugh, marvel and enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Read This Book: 'Galore'

Galore is a new novel by Canadian writer Michael Crummey. If you've ever wanted to own a home on the ocean, to sail in a big yacht, pick ripe peaches off a tree in the back yard by the pool and eat catered lobster extravaganzas every night, this is not the book for you.

If you want to learn about people and a rough and not altogether vanished way of life by the sea, grab this book . I've seldom encountered a writer so gifted at defining place. Not only do his characters feel like relatives-whether you like 'em or not-the locale is a close cousin.

Crummey's novel is set in Newfoundland over a 100 year period, from the early 19th century to World War I. I think. He dates himself with the WWI references but how far he goes back is a bit vague. No matter. The opening premise ha a man being cutout of the belly of a whale. He's alive. The whale no longer is. 'Judah' is albino like, reeks of fish and never speaks. He lives to be a very old man, marries, has a son and is most content in isolation. Over the next century or so we encounter generations of feuding families, horny priests, Calvinist minsters, and deprecate fishermen. Judah brings with him mountains of fish and economic prosperity. It doesn't last.

Galore is about the ebb and low (pardon the pun) of life. The language can be a little rich, a la Dickens or Trollope but in no way do any of the characters or situations become caricature. This is a long, slow, read. There's much to savor. I suspect its the type of book you want to read once a year, and repays the effort in different and wonderful ways, each time. The salt will sting your eyes, the stench might invade you but the land and the sea will captivate. Buy this book.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Very Worst Met Broadcasts

There are two Saturday afternoon broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera that live on in infamy forty plus years after the facts.

One is the February 1, 1969 performance of Lucia di Lammermoor with Anna Moffo. There was always a lot of hype around Moffo. She as good copy: gorgeous, nice voice, good actress, and a self described jock from Pennsylvania. She went on with no voice and her career never recovered

The second is the January 29, 1966 performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni . I'm listening to it now. The great Cesare Siepi repeats the role he owned. Gorgeous. Geraint Evans is a gruff Leporello, more dangerous than funny. The trouble begins with soprano Teresa Stich Randall as Donna Anna. This lady had a very distinguished career. On this blustery Saturday afternoon the tone is white and pinched and grating. The beloved Jan Peerce is an impeccable artist but he sounds his age-62- as Don Octavio. The tone has gone from dry to brittle.

And then there's Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the Elvira. She sang this broadcast and left the Met for good the next day. Her voice simply doesn't respond. The timbre is there, and she is warmly applauded, but every note costs her. There is no 'flow' to the tone. She went on for several more years, so if this was just a bad day who can say? But I often find that these gleefully received-by some-disasters have many a fine point as well. Moffo had the stylish Nicolai Gedda and Renato Bruson in his Met debut. Don Giovanni had Siepi, and well, Mozart!

In Southie, Bulger Was Legend

James J. ("Whitey") Bulger was arrested earlier this week, along with his girlfriend, both on the lam for r16 years. They were picked up in Santa Monica CA. Whitey was a crime lord. He was a sadistic, murderous psychopath who pumped drugs and mayhem in to South Boston.

South Boston? I remember the anti busing riots erupting there back in 1974. It was my first day of college and the papers were filled with images of black children being stoned and threatened. The whole city was mortified and embarrassed nationally. I've never been to South Boston myself. It's only tow or three subway stops from downtown. But in my day you didn't go there without a reason. It was okay if your grandmother or your uncle lived there, but if you didn't know your way around, you were marked as an outsider and that was no good. For years there was a ferocious pride in the neighborhood as street after street succumbed to Whitey's drugs and violence.

That Whitey's brother Billy is the former President of the Massachusetts Senate, from whence he became Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts is less of an outrage than it is a comedy. Boston was like that in my day. We loved irony and giving the finger to ...well, just about anybody. "Vote early and often". Today people are outraged but mine is the last generation to find it unsurprising and funny.

I imagine its different now. Whole sections have been gentrified (groan). Who can afford to live thee? What were leaky triple deckers are now chic and expensive. If the long time residents get a piece of the do-re-mi, then good. Southie is always depicted in the movies as a violent "I didn't see nothing" culture. I wouldn't know, but I guess it sells movies. Hopefully with the Bulger case nearing resolution the community will have some peace. I don't know about the families of his many victims though, God bless them.

Rita Hunter- Melbourn 1989.~ Great sense of humor.

Rita Hunter (1933-2001). She was a big lady with a large, gorgeous voice, one of my favorites. I came across this on Youtube. If you want to read a hoot of a memoir look for Rita's "Wait til the Sun Shines, Nellie'. For all her humor and fun, don't forget this was a fine musician and a great artist in Mozart, Wagner and Verdi. She was Reginald Goodall's Brunhilde in London and repeated the role in new york. I wish she'd done more in the States. Her size worked against her I fear-this was thirty-five years ago. Still, I love this voice and get a kick out of this clip. Enjoy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Earl Wild's 'Walk on the Wild Side'

American pianist Earl Wild (1915-2010) lived here in Columbus for several years while teaching at The Ohio State University. Columbus the city and a number of people here come off very well in Earl Wild's new memoir A Walk on the Wild Side. Several well placed members of the local arts community do not! No offense, but I suspect Earl Wild counted his OSU tenure as the least of his accomplishments.

Wild was a member of the WOSU family in the mid 19990s. He was host of a series I produced, Earl Wild's Grande Piano. He introduced great pianists going back eighty years. He included himself, but not much.

Earl spent the brief time I knew him taking about and threatening all with his impending autobiography. It had been in preparation for many years. Now, over a year after Earl Wild's death at 95, the book has arrived.

Wild Side? You don't know the half of it. Earl knew EVERYONE . From Rachmaninoff to Rubinstein, from Stokowski to Sid Caesar. Earl was Toscanini's pianist pianist at NBC and was active in the late days of radio through the early days of television. The first televised piano recital-ever-was given by Earl Wild in the late 1930s!

Not only did Earl know everybody, he had opinions about everybody and everything. He is not shy.

This is a 900 page book. It sorely needed editing, but you bet, this is Earl Wild's 'voice' as I knew him. Drag balls, night life, skewering enemies and praising friends-and rehabilitating artists like Arthur Fiedler, whose reputation never kept up with his fame. I do suspect publication was delayed until everyone was dead!

You'll never listen to Isaac Stern's recordings in the same way after reading this book, and you'll have new appreciation not only for Fielder but for Maria Callas and Lily Pons. Not to mention discovering Ruth Slenczynka, Ivan Davis, David Korevaar and the great Grygory Ginzburg.
Refreshingly, Earl describes his past vividly but he doesn't live there. Plenty of current pianists are discussed, admired and ...well, read the book . Remember that Earl Wild was active as a pianist at the highest level past his ninetieth birthday.

The book is long on minutia-though the Chapter Banging is for the Bedroom is a must for any serious music student. I know, I know. Read it anyway.

Earls talent seems to have come easily to him . One never gets the sense of struggle or torturous work during his quick ascent to fame. But work he did, and it was joyful work. Earl Wild stayed famous for eighty years for his musicianship. This artist fully exploited his great gifts, he had fun and he was fun. This book is a box of fudge for any music lover. Irresistible. At the last, A Walk on the Wild Side has me reaching for Earl's many recordings, and brings me back to music.

De Sabata's Tristan und Isolde

Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.
Gertrud Gorb-Prandl, soprano
Victor De Sabata, conductor
La Sacala, Milan, December 13, 1951

It's fun discovering buried treasure This treasure was hardly a secret but until recently was unknown to me. (I need to get out more.) A performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde from La Scala, Milan on December 13, 1951. Gerturd Grob-Prandl and Max Lorenz took the title roles. The conductor was Victor De Sabata(1892-1967). De Sabata had a substantial American career. He was music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1950 and 1951. He was a fiery, passionate maestro unafraid of bringing the highest emotion to his music making. He also knew when to hold back and let the composer's work take shape on its own. He was de facto music director of La Scala for many years-and followed Toscanini as the second non-German to conduct at Bayreuth (1936 and 1937). He remained active in Italy during World War II, this despite his being part Jewish!

I had been reading a few reviews of this 1951 performance of Tristan. De Sabata was a busy man in 1951. All agree the recorded sound quality is terrible (I've heard worse). All agree that its a hot blooded, deeply sensual performance of this most erotic of all operas. I had this on the office while multi-tasking (oy!) With some recordings you can do that. Not with this one. I held on to every note for dear life during Act II. Max Lorenz's heldentenor was not the steadiest. Gerturd Grob-Prandl reputedly had the loudest voice in the business. Juice she's got when she needs it, but she also has a lovely float for much of the liebesnacht.

But it's De Sabata's show. He's a tsunami of musical vigor and sexuality. The prelude alone will have you in tears of grief or ecstast. Yes the broadcast sound is bad and yes there are a lot of cuts, but get this. I'm sure that in Milan on December 13, 1951 there wasn't a dry seat in the house.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Renato Zanelli et Margaret Sheridan Otello Duo 1er acte

Margaret Sheridan (1889-1958) is one of my new favorites. SHE was a favorite of Toscanini's at La Scala. Born in Ireland, Sheridan's career was based in Italy. Apparently it didn't last long-she retired in 1930 after some sort of vocal crisis. In this scene from Otello, Sheridan combines the 'cut' necessary for Italian opera with vocal beauty. She's joined here by Chilean tenor Renato Zanelli, who died young. Another marvelous voice. Listen especially how both of them give primacy to the words! I got the CD version of this from, God bless 'em-the Columbus Public Library! Cow town my ass!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tennessee Ernie Ford and Odetta - What A Friend We Have

A great favorite of mine I wanted to share. One for the ages.


This is my "Bucket List" as of today.
What's yours?
Do share!
...and remember, its a 'bucket list'-even if unrealistic

Go to the Monastic Settlements at Mt. Athos
Run the Boston Marathon (HA!)
Publish a novel
Learn Russian
Jump out of an airplane, with a parachute!
See Wagner's Ring cycle--same week, same cycle
Visit Italy-for Verdi and Monteverdi-San Marco, Venice
Sponsor a foster child
Hear all the Bruckner Symphonies performed 'live'
Get back on the radio with the Met in some capacity
Develop a fund guaranteeing employment to young adults
Eat and not worry!