Friday, July 13, 2012

Memories of Opera on the Radio pt. 3

Here's what I get for organizing boxes and boxes and wall fulls of broadcast opera on CD. It took several weeks and half a hernia but its done. Now I'm able to reacquaint myself with:

Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur MET April 19, 1969 Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Anselmo Colzani, Irene Dalis/Fausto Cleva

Tebaldi and Corelli: God and Goddess
Adriana! The opera all the critics love to hate. How many of them pay their way in? A great actress pines for the love of Franco Corelli-in tight pants, yet-sniffs poisoned flowers and dies. What's not to love? Audiences for his opera weren't worrying about the critics. They wanted to hear Tebaldi and Corelli. By 1969, at least in this performance, the great lady did complete turns around the circle of fifths to find her pitch-. But she delved into chest with abandon  and could still float a lovely tone -listen to the end of Act I-or the finale ("Ah del ciel") Corelli, exudes sex even in the radio. Macho, loud, stentorian, romantic in Act 1 with Adriana, supplicant in Act II, dashing and grief stricken throughout. Listen to the applause. Every time these two scratched the place erupted. That too, was opera. I was moved by a quote from soprano Loretta diFranco: "I remember doing Jouvenot in Adriana Lecouvreur, and the entrance of Tebaldi was incredible. You just stood in awe.That was great beauty."

This Adriana came to Boston the following week on tour. I was 12. It was the one evening I couldn't attend. Probably because my parents had a card game or the St. Vincent  de Paul Society and I couldn't get a ride into Boston. I missed Tebaldi and Corelli. All the more reason to enjoy this broadcast.

Lawrence Tibbett as Simon Boccanegra
Elisabeth Rethberg
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra  MET January 21, 1939 Lawrence Tibbett, Ezio Pinza, Giovanni Martinelli, Elisabth Rethberg, Leonard Warren/Ettore Panizza

Lawrence Tibbett put this dark, wonderful opera of the Genovese doge on the map. This is a well known performance, studded with names the likes of which don't exist today. Father Owen Lee, who is my guide in life, suggested that this may be the greatest Met broadcast ever. Lawrence Tibett's name is always mentioned with a sadness. His career was destroyed by alcohol but on this Saturday afternoon nearly seventy-five years ago he retained this large, warm beautiful baritone. Elisabeth Rethberg was in the twilight of her career but sunsets are usually very beautiful. Pinza and Martinelli. Legends  today. It was just a Saturday afternoon in New York. I m humbled listening to this-especially to  Leonard Warren as Paolo-already at 28 the next great voice in line to the great roles.

Giannini: The Taming of the Shrew. NEW YORK CITY OPERA April 13, 1958. Phyllis Curtin, Walter Cassel, John Alexander, Sonia Stolin/Peter Herman Adler.

The sound quality here makes me wonder if this was  a telecast. Peter Herman Adler was music director of the NBC Opera. I don't know. this was a New York City Opera production and a work and a cast like this make the best case for this company. An opera written by an American composer with a wonderful all-American cast. Phyllis Curtin, a gorgeous woman and exemplary musician. She probably makes music out of her grocery list. Walter Cassel is best known  today for another American opera-The Ballad of Baby Doe. A few blocks south he was also a Kurwenal, Scarpia, Telramund and Rigoletto. John Alexander sang everything and sang everything well. It's a further testament to the New York City Opera that his cast plays and sings so well as a unit. It's truly an ensemble company-delightful..exactly what this opera needs.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde   MET March 19, 1955 Astrid Varnay, Set Svanholm, Joseph Metternich, Blanche Thebom, Jerome Hines, James McCracken/Rudolf Kempe

Read Astrid Varnay's memoir 55 Years in Five Acts.By the time of this performance the lady was in her mid thirties and had been singing leading roles at the Met since her last minute debut as Sieglinde December 6, 1941 (imagine the reviews THAT morning after). Varnay was coming to the end of her first Met tenure. From her book we learn that Rudolf Bing didn't much like Wagner and didn't much like Varnay. Her huge, black marble voice-which could take on a whine or a twinge of bitterness-is in great form for this Isolde. She gets the rage of Act I down. The love is a stretch for her, but there's plenty of beautiful singing. Bing also complained of the difficulty of bringing great conductors to the Met. He got it right with Rudolf Kempe. Kempe gets the architecture right-but he remembers that Wagner himself never intended his singers to be dwarfed by the orchestra. The beginning of Act II  is a perfect blend of an ecstatic orchestra and an electrifying Isolde. Set Svanhom doesn't need to be second to Melchior or anybody else. His performance is a bit square-not a lot of passion or fire-but he paces the treacherous third act quite well-he begins the opera strongly ("Was ist's? Isolde!") and ends it in beauty. I'm delighted to have re -discovered this broadcast. All the more reason to clean your room once in a while. 

Rossini: Semiramide OPERA CO. OF BOSTON February 7, 1965 Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Joseph Rouleau, Andre Montal/Richard Bonynge.

I had heard about this performance from folks who were there nearly fifty years ago. Marilyn Horne as the Assiriyan general Arsace was eight months pregnant, thank you very much. She made her entrance aboard a ship that came down the aisle of the Donelly Theater on Mass. Ave and Huntington Ave-the theater is long gone. I doubt Semiramide was known by many in 1965. Dame Joan had been singing it since 1962 and would bring it to Chicago,  London, Australia-everywhere but New York! Boston got her in this long, magnificent tragic opera by Rossini. Not only was Semiramide known in 1965, but the type of dramatic florid singing would have been new to many. Of all of the off air and studio recordings of Sutherland and Horne in this music  it is this performance in my hometown, in a decrepit theater near Symphony Hall that out sings all the others. Both are in their magnificent primes-pregnant or not. Both blend perfectly in the two great extended duets. The music holds no terrors for wither of them-and my they do toss off the notes. The men fare less well. Rouleau has a marvelous bass voice but the fiorature, heavily cut-is beyond him. On my CD there are chunks of the opera missing-it was either severely cut-likely-or parts are simply missing on the original tape. Whatever. Find this for the two ladies, or the one lady and the pregnant general.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Swear Thou the Jury.....

I've just finished four days of jury duty.                                                              
I didn't get a case and a lot of us were dismissed early.
I did have time to keep a little diary:

July 9::
A favorite colleague says that I rant. Can you imagine?
I do not rant.
OK, today is day 1 jury duty.
The few 19 to 22 demographics in the jury pool arrived for orientation either in
teeny teeny shorts with va-j-j- shots or those baggy pants with the low underwear.
Two young worthies with NO underwear were the talk of the room.
Hairy butt cracks don't go with coffee and filling out forms at 7:50 a.m.
in the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio. The jury monitor was maternal but firm.
Mother than once she was heard to say, "Honey..."
Stay tuned.
Jurors four, five, six and seven
July 10::
Jury or not, can I be your daddy?
Jury day 2.                                                                         
I'm trying to be very adult and doctoral.
Carrying books: Dickens-Bleak House, a great new book on the shroud of Turin, and Andy Cohen's memoirs.I'm reading Andy behind the shroud so people don't think I'm weird.
In the acknowledgements he thanks his editors for allowing him to use the word "boner". Boner? Boner?
I wandered all over the Franklin County courthouse asking people what the hell is a boner? Then
I realized. He means bo-nah (who the hell says boneR. Jeez) Thank God the judge didn't know what the f was a boner OR a boh-nah so I didn't have to be embarrassed.
No case yet. No bo-nah either.

At this clip 3:00 you find there's more than one way to work a jury

July 11::
Jury day 3
Linda drove me in this morning.
In the middle of 71 she glances over and says:
"You didn't SHAVE!"
You look like an old man with ALZHEIMER'S!
You men think you look cool with that stubble but at your age!"

They work hard to make us comfortable and they succeed.
Free coffee, tea, meth crystals, whatever.
Four flat screen TVs in the 'quiet room' with titles and no sound.
You have your choice of 1) Jerry Springer ("I slept with my grandmother's sister and I'm only eleven!")
2)Rachael Ray (be still my heart) 3) Maury Povich's paternity tests ("My BROTHER is my baby daddy!")
and 4) cartoons. Daytime TV is why people go postal.
Very nice people use their cell phones in the corridor outside the quiet room and my,. they are loud.
I and 70 other people now know more about a man's wife's hemorrhoids .
No case yet. Can there be more drama?

July 12::
Be still my heart
Jury day 4                                                                                                                 
Half of the jury pool was sent home yesterday.
Not me!
This morning's movie is The Proposal . Yesterday's was Avatar.
Nothing above PG it seems. 
Waiting for a case, probably today ("The judges don't like to start trials on a Friday":-I'll bet.)

Ten years ago I was an alternate on a murder case. A Grandma named Mrs. Slaughter
-I shit you not- was accused of having her brother strangle another grandma and then drown her in her own bathtub.Compelling evidence again Grandma S., who as I recall had Closer to Jesus hair and was Maybellined to the gills.
The smarty M.I.T. grad on the jury wouldn't convict.
I couldn't find a pic of Josephine
Hung jury after two weeks,  and Grammie S was free to go
home and cuddle her grandchildren.
And so it goes!
No Rachael Ray on the TV  ten years ago.
No movies, either.

LATER, July 4

Had enough?
Apparently the state of Ohio has.
No case and all dismissed at 1 PM.
Thank you and goodbye jurors and goodbye Rachael Ray.
See you in my dreams.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A note about Evelyn Lear

Evelyn Lear. Who needs Liz Taylor?
The soprano Evelyn Lear died last week at the age of 86. She was always a very beautiful woman and I suspect she was on her last day. Being a Liz Taylor lookalike paid off for Evelyn Lear. More on that later.

Martina Arroyo, great artist that she is used to say, "I've never been the queen's delight." Meaning she lacked the vociferous and generally enthusiastic following of other sopranos of her time. Evelyn Lear might have said the same thing. Lear's repertoire was light on the Italian blood and guts, at least in New York: No Tosca at the Met, no Butterfly, no Desdemona-operas she sang to acclaim elsewhere. Instead we got the wonderful American opera Mourning Becomes Electra by Marvin David Levy, in a production by Michael Cacoyannis, conducted by Zubin Mehta. Would I had seen it! Lear's success in this role, and as Berg's Lulu and Marie in Wozzeck led to a snippy remark from Rudolf Bing: "You can't get a Callas for contemporary opera. you're lucky if you can get a Lear."

Lotta people were lucky Sir Rudolf. Lear helped put the two Alban Berg operas on the map in the States.It was after Bing left the Met that Evelyn Lear began singing Octavian, Countess Almaviva, Donna Elvira, Alice Ford and her exquisite, world class Marschallin. (Elisabeth Rethberg called this definitive') Here was a beautiful woman singing in an opera about a beautiful woman. She had a long and happy marriage to baritone Thomas Stewart, who was the go to guy for Wotan, Sachs, and Amfortas und so weiter. During a radio interview years ago they talked with some hilarity about their anxiety provoking years trying to "make it" in Germany. Nothing shy about these two people. They were meant to sing, and sing they did.

Thomas Stewart narrated Schonberg's Gurrelieder with the Cincinnati Symphony some years ago. He had retired from singing-and he seemed a bit frail. I remember seeing Evelyn Lear in the audience, on the edge of her seat, watching with concern and love as her husband stole the show.

Lear was a fantastic musician. Follow her performances with a score and see how scrupulous she was. There was no excess, no ranting. The tone was spinning, warm and lovely, be it Berlioz, Mozart, Verdi or Ginastera. And listen, being gorgeous didn't hurt. Evelyn Lear was signing Elvira in London hen a savvy producer spotted her, just as Elizabeth Taylor's 'Cleoparta' was hitting the screens. Long story short, Evelyn Lear played Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare shortly thereafter, . She was gorgeous and so was Liz, but Evelyn could sing!

A few years ago I was dramaturg to a production of  Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock. I wanted to find out all I could about Blitzstein's work, and his 1955 musical Ruben Ruben kept coming up. Further research told me that Evelyn Lear was featured in this show that didn't survive a Boston tryout. I wrote a note to the lady c/o the Washington Opera asking if she would share some memories of working with Blitzstein.

A few days later the phone rings at 8  AM. "Mr. Purdy, this is Evelyn Lear". Took the trouble to call me, and gave me a fantastic conversation about Marc Blitzstein ("he loved to play canasta and I was one of a few in the cast who could play"), about music and theater, about opera and she spent a lot of time asking about me. "You call me anytime, if there's anything I can do for you." This to a total stranger. I'll never forget the class of this lady-that her singing was superb was almost a bonus. And superb it was.