A Day at the Opera
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a Post WWll household that appreciated great music, great art and great literature. Our bookshelves were stocked with Hemingway, Mailer, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash, Fitzgerald, Thorne Smith, as well as Dickens, Mark Twain and the best the literary world had to offer. The 78 rpm records were of Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and most of the swing bands and jazzmen pre Monk,Dizzy, Parker et al. There was also a sizeable collection of classical music on RCA Victor Red Label albums and others. I was about six when I first heard Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad in Tristan and Isolde and I’ve been hooked on Opera (all of it, Wagner, Italian, French, Russian, etc.etc.) ever since. This year, the Metropolitan Opera Company is retiring it’s Otto Shenk production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the close of the current season. The Met has been producing it since 1986. I taped the 1991 PBS broadcasts and still have the tapes somewhere (I think). I’ve been listening to the Met broadcast season all year as I have been doing (when I can) since 1967. I also just sent my local NPR station a generous pledge to keep its programming coming. Saturday’s broadcast was Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods), depicting the death of the gods and the destruction of Valhalla. It’s been almost twenty years since I have seen those tapes and yet I vividly remember how brilliant the entire production was, from the multi-million dollar set to the fabulous pyrotechnics and great costumes. This production had three outstanding talents, Katarina Dalayman as Brunhilde, Christian Franz as Siegfried and James Tomlinson as theMalevolent Hagen. Close to Melchior and Flagstad but not quite, however, if you’ve never head their recordings you have no standard to judge by. You can go on Youtube and type in their names and you’ll understand. There’s a plethora of selections for you to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the state of opera and indeed, all the performing arts including my first love, theater, throughout the nation is not healthy. Recently, the Orlando Opera announced that it might close if it can’t raise the $500,000.00 necessary to keep operating. It’s easy to blame the economy but that’s not the problem. For at least the last forty years neither our schools nor we as parents have raised our children with any appreciation of the fine arts and our unique cultural heritage. It is American society’s total disinterest in these disciplines that are the main contributors to the problem.
Even back in the Wild West of the 1800’s every established town had an opera house. When great stars like Nellie Melba and Caruso toured here they went all over the country, as well as the theatrical show that played there with Maurice Barrymore and Edwin Booth and other great actors of the day. During the depression the country had no shortage of cultural exposure. Some of the greatest creativity in opera and theater came from the Depression era.
Movies made celebrities of singers like Lily Pons, Grace Moore, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Alan Jones, Deanna Durbin and others whose careers were in either opera or operetta. The Great American Songbook was largely written during that period of time with composers and lyricists such as Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and many others. Broadway theaters were swamped with hits by those same songwriters plus playwrights like Kaufman and Hart, Anderson, Sherwood, Odets, and Ben Hecht. Melchior and Flagstad were at their peaks The nation listened to Walter Damrosch on the radio for his weekly broadcasts. The arts actually flourished during the Depression which economically was worse than anything we’re experiencing now.
In the 40’s the movies made stars of Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Jose’ Iturbi and later on Ezio Pinza and Mario Lanza, as well as classically trained dancers like Cyd Charisse. Iturbi was a popular figure in the forties who could play Chopin elegantly and then delve into Boogie-Woogie a la Meade Lux Lewis or Pinetop Smith.
As teenagers, even though we grew up in the 50’s we still sat in amazement as Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in his series of Young Peoples’ Concerts. Of course, growing up in the fifties was also a period of conformity, so we didn’t want to appear to be different and suppressed our tastes in front of our parents and contemporaries. Many plays, such as Tea and Sympathy dealt with that very subject. That conformity, alas, helped do us and our parent’s generation in. Our parents (Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation, which I thoroughly dispute) allowed this deterioration. Just look back to the Hollywood Blacklist, McCarthyism and other anti-communist initiatives (i.e. Other, Non-conformist, Pinko, Different, Weird, Queer) such as the discrediting of Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson and Charlie Chaplin and how the (feh) Greatest Generation reacted. They eventually elected Ronald Reagan to the Presidency. To me, George McGovern is not the poster boy for that generation-Ronald Reagan is, and we are all the more diminished for it. And my generation didn’t help.
We need to change things. Our children and grandchildren are missing out on beautiful things that would enrich their lives. It’s up to us. We need to take over city, county, state and school board elected positions and put the arts back into our lives, despite this economy. Actually, the Arts have a positive economic impact on the community. Future columns will deal with how we can do it.
Florida Legislative Update
The Florida House suspended debate on HB 7149 at 1:00 PM and went on to discuss new initiatives on off-shore drilling within three miles of the Florida coast. Friday evening we were advised that the House will suspend actions this session on the bill. At this time it is not known whether the Senate will continue further action on SB 956, statements in a letter sent out late Friday afternoon to Unitarian Church leaders it appears unlikely that it will come to a vote this year. Here’s a copy of the letter:
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 2009 21:56:01 -0400
To: IWI<firstname.lastname@example.org>; WII<email@example.com>; WIII<firstname.lastname@example.org>; WIIII<email@example.com>; CFW<firstname.lastname@example.org>; Sheri McCandless<email@example.com>; Meredith Garmon<firstname.lastname@example.org>; Terry Lanning<email@example.com>; Gerald & Janet Goen<firstname.lastname@example.org>; Bob Keim<email@example.com>; Bud Murphy<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Bad Elections bill dead
Hasner says elections bill dead
House Majority Leader Adam Hasner says his chamber will not revive the debate over a highly contentious, last-minute elections bill. (background here and her
“From everything I understand, the Senate bill is stuck in committee,” the Delray Beach Republican said. “It’s still possible but they intend to have the same stripped down version that is noncontroversial.”
Hasner said the controversy had nothing to do with the decision to kill the proposal. Rather, he said, time ran out.
“Hindsight being 20/20, I wish we would have had more time to have a very strong debate on that bill throughout the process because I think there were some much needed election reforms in the original bill. … Cracking down on groups like ACORN is something that I think is critical in terms of cleaning up our elections system”
Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, said he would take a “fresh look” at the proposal over the weekend. But he acknowledged the long odds at salvaging something before time runs out. “Unfortunately,” he said, “we’re just not there yet. If it doesn’t work out, then we’ll have to wait until next year.”
What this means is that we still have to inundate these people and the governor with calls, letters and faxes ad nauseum until it is a completely dead issue.
This is a new format I’m going to try out and see how it works. It will hopefully post to my blog, producerworld, which you can find on WordPress, and it will be submitted to Huffington as well, covering, as you can see, many more subjects than merely politics. In the future there will be columns on everything, including sports, and you can bet that my take on it all will have a political undercurrent running through it.
I also welcome your feedback both positive and negative, and if you want to post remarks there’s plenty of space here.
*The words Hojotoho are what Brunhilda and her sisters sing during the classic Ride of the Walkuries This is probably the most recognized musical passage in all of Grand Opera, due to the many parodies in TV commercials, Elmer Fudd’s “Kill the Wabbit” aria and Robert Duvall’s Napalm in the Morning speech from Apocalypse Now.