Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Were You There? November 22, 1963

For many people my age, the assassination of JFK is our first vivid memory. As happened on 9/11, the world stopped that Friday afternoon. I don't remember much about that weekend nor do I remember watching the funeral as it happened. I remember my father letting out a bellow as Oswald was killed on live TV.

Remember, if you are NOT of a certain age, that television was being used in politics for the first time. I mean in terms of 8 hr a day access five days a week. The 24/7 news cycle and relentless recycling of headlines was way in the future. In my day, headlines meant war, a moon walk, or assignations.

You don't have to like the Kennedys. Many people don't. Certainly those in my generation are rather ho-hum. But you gotta admit, no one had more style than Jackie and JFK. I DO remember my mother buying a pill-box hat. I remember being in the car with my parents and grandparents driving on the Cape and "just having "to go by Hyannisport. JFK was there that weekend. You were allowed to get very close, but no closer. The state police stood gaurd and diverted the long long line of traffic snaking in front of the "compound" You got close enough to see he lawn and the house...And keep moving.

I'm not going to post the horrible news films of that day. We've all seen them and will be seeing them again ad nauseam in the coming weeks.   My question to you is, Where were you when you heard the President had been shot? What do you remember?.

I was in second grade at Harrington School in Lexington, MA. We came out of school the usual time. I remember a lot more parents were picking kids up that day than ususal. One boy called to his mother, Ma! Is it true? I was with my buddy Peter. He was living with his grandmother across the street from us while his father was working in Washington. We both said, we'll call Peter's father in Washington and he'll tell us it isn't true.
Harrington School, Lexington MA, not as I remember it!

My mother was in front of the large black and white rabbit ear TV clutching her rosary beads, glass of scotch--Four Roses, the GOOD stuff- in the other hand yelling Jesus Mary and Joseph! I remember Mrs. Kennedy being helped off the plane at Andrew's Air force base, and getting into the back of the hearse. The door was locked and she had to tug a beat too long. More than that I don't remember from that day. I don't know what we did next. I expect we went to my grnandparentss house in Arlington. They came over from Ireland on the boat fifty years earlier. Their house and pictures of the sacred heart (bleeding, of course) the Pope and JFK side by side. My grandparents house was broken up and sold very recently. I wonder what happened to those pictures.

Please leave a note on this blog and let me know your recollections of November 22,  1963. Thanks. Begorrah.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Verdi Opera per Day: Otello

Arrigo Boito after Shakespeare  January 5, 1887  La Scala, Milan

Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi, Leonard Warren, Martha Lipton, Paul Franke, Luben Vichey, James McCracken (Roderigo) Fritz Steidry conducts  Metropolitan Opera broadcast  March 12, 1955

This gets harder. It wasn't too difficult to offer impressions of the early Verdi operas. I liked Aroldo and Alzira , didn't care much for Giovanna d'Arco. But when you get into Aida=Don Carlo it gets harder to know what to say. Otello is harder still. I love this opera. I'm thrilled by it. But I seldom listen to it. So real does the tragedy become for me that I can't bear knowing what's to come, even from act I. Still, what tenor has a greater entrance than Otello's 'Esultate!'.  What baritone has a more sinister monologue that Iago's Credo.

And what soprano has the exquisite Salce and Ave Maria for Desdemona.

I avoid listening to Otello partly for what I've already stated, and partly because I fear the miracle of it won't hit me. I listened again today. I got hit.

Look at the devices used to relive tension. The Fuoco di gioia! chorus in Act I. The magnificent offstage serenade of Desdemona in Act II. Then in Act III, after Desdemona is insulted by her husband ('vil cortigiana!) Iago seduces Cassio-I intend that word, seduce-first with bel canto:Vieni...l'aura e deserto...and then piu rapido.

The final act orchestration always sound spare. Not just eerie, but haunted. Otello's suicide till keeps wit hit a degree of dignity-he remains a heroic figure, an important person, even after falling prey to Iago and murdering his wife. Verdi forbids us to regard Otello as stupid. Which is easy to do!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

One Verdi Opera a Day: AIDA

 Aida  Antonio Ghislanzoni  Auguste Mariette, Bey  Cairo  1873

Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Carlo Bergonzi, Mario Sereni, Cesare Siepi. Georg Solti conducts. Metropolitan Opera broadcast, December 7, 1963

One British critic wrote, "Aida brings out the epicurean." Spare me. Here's a four act opera set in the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Dark body paint, walk-like-an-Egyptian,  all singing away in Italian. Are you dying
laughing? No one ever was. Aida has not one spare note of music.
Aida was my first. Do you remember yours. It wasn't the initial "sigh of the violins" that got me, but the low strings introducing the second theme in the prelude.

Aida introduced me to great voices and to drama. With no sense of the plot and no Italian , anyone can feel something else is about to happen. Something dangerous. There's a lot of  urgency of this music. Even at its most seductive and romantic, there is always the sense that something is about to happen

Verdi gives us splendor unparalleled in opera, and a sad, gorgeous death scene, all in the same score.

and there's no topping Verdi's triumphal scene. The composer doesn't give even try. Verdi gives us a finale of deep quiet and beauty:

I remember in particular  two productions of Aida. One in 1980. The Opera Company of Boston. Sarah Caldwell staged and conducted the work for Shirley Verrett. Verrett was going through her "I'm a soprano" phase, with hits and misses. Her Aida was a hit. At least as I heard it. She was regal, she was tragic and her
voice soared to touch heaven. James McCracken was Radames, a big burly man with a weird , opaque sounding voice. But power he had and beauty, too. Elizabeth Connell, Amneris and David Arnold, Amonasro. Ramfis was Ferruccio Furlanetto in his American debut. Sarah got lost in the prelude during the first performance. It was one of those start again moments only she was damned if she was going to start over. The assistant conductor was standing in front of me hissing "Jesus!" "shit!" and worse. Sarah was nonplussed.

Leontyne Price made her farewell to opera as Aida, a part she owned. It was January 5, 1985.McCracken was Radames. Some of us wanted to go back and see him but he told us, "Hell,  they'll barely let ME backstage." Miss Price's farewell was an electrical event. The lady had been dealing with a hoarse and froggy lower register for a few seasons. but on this night, all was well. Her voice was filled with splendor and light and passion and she was Leontyne Price and I was there, in standing room:

Aida, the opera of humanity. Viva Verdi!