Monday, April 28, 2008

Things I've Learned

from reading about famous singers of the past (for a course I'm giving)

* Marian Anderson was the first black to sing at the Met--in 1955. The first black MAN to sing at the Met was Bobby McFarrin. (OK, Robert McFarren, father of Bobby.)

* Lawrence Tibbett was urged to change his name to Lorenzo Tibeto. (Because Italians were supposedly the best opera singers.) But Rosa Ponselle changed her name from Ponzelli because Ponzelli sounded like someone in vaudeville. Tibbett became an alcoholic in his later years; Peter Davis suggests it may have been from guilt from his accidentally stabbing a chorister in a performance he gave. The chorister died; a doctor said it was from a heart attack, not from the wound. Someone referred to Tibbett as "this splendid man." Good characterization. (I have since read a biography of Tibbett--more on this later.)

* Rosa sang "Pace pace" to Caruso, who then urged the Met to let her debut in Forza. She built a mansion outside Baltimore --called Villa Pace. At age 76, she entered a party singing...Pace, Pace...

* Peter Davis was a fine music critic.

* Singing one Norma, said a soprano, was worse than three Brunhildas.

* Rosa became depressed later in life, took an overdose of sleeping pills, spent four months in a mental institution. But she recovered and became active behind-the-stage in opera again.

* The DAR refused to let Marian Anderson sing in Constitution Hall in 1939 because she was black. But relented in 1943. (Rudolf Bing, allegedly biased against American singers, militated to have blacks like her sing at the Met.)

* Too bad Roland Hayes, a black tenor, never sang at the Met. We have no recordings of him, but he became wealthy singing in Europe, and when Melba heard him sing, he was so fine that she burst into tears.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Moron and Liar

I look at my listings on Google--and there's a post from GRIM saying that

1--I told people to buy houses in my column when
2--I quietly sold my own house.

He's a deliberate liar. And a moron.

I never urged people to buy houses. I quoted people--real-estate agents--who did that.
Second, I wrote about selling my house.

GRIM wrote that he learned that I had sold my house by going to the Hackensack courthouse.
Actually, there was a big story about my selling my house in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine. Read by millions of people.

I should have sued the bastard.

I'm going to find out his name and where he lives--and regularly post the fact that he's a liar and a moron.

Last Night

I told my financial class at County College of Morris that I was going to teach a course in the fall on Great Singers of the Past.

A pretty young woman said she'd take it. She likes older singers.

Like...Doris Day.

Doris Day!

I had to repeat the name, so make sure that I had heard right.

I said that DD had appeared in a movie called Love Me or Leave Me.

I didn't know she made movies, said the pretty young woman. (!)

I said it was a biography of Ruth Etting, who was a far better singer


But if you read the postings on YouTube about opera singers, the acrimony is amazing. The writers get so worked up about whether A sings better than B. What foul language! I'm going to save some of the shocking exchanges.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I'm Giving Up on Hillary

I now support Barack Obama for the Presidential nomination.

Hillary's mean, short-sighted attacks on Obama--he's not "tough" enough--will hurt his chances for election should he get the nomination.

Clearly, she cares more for getting the nomination than she does for ensuring that a Democrat gets elected President. She is mainly out for herself, social justice second--assuming that IS second.

One of my email addresses has long been:

It will soon be available to other people.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Attack on Michele Obama

Commenting on the post below, which I have received twice:

First of all, "media" is plural. "Where ARE the media?"

Second, why didn't the creepy bastard who sent out this disgusting message identify himself?

Third, the creepy bastard who sent out this message thinks YOU are a moron. That you are moronic enough to overlook such matters as

extricating ourselves from Iraq and not spending 100 years there--
rescinding tax breaks for the rich--to pay for the war
raising taxes to pay for the war & to fix our cities' infrastructure
appointing good people to the Supreme Court so as to preserve freedom of choice
supporting stem-cell research
preserving park land
fighting global warming
and so forth

The creepy bastard wants and expects you to vote against Obama because of some silly stuff his wife wrote years ago. And to ignore truly important issues.

Here is the creepy bastard's message:

Where is the media?????????

Subject: Thesis - Michele Obama aka Michelle LaVaughn Robinson

In her senior thesis at Princeton, Michele Obama, the wife of Barack Obama stated that America was a nation founded on “crime and hatred”. Moreover, she stated that whites in America were “ineradicably racist”. The 1985 thesis, titled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" was written under her maiden name, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson.

Etc. ad nauseam.
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Get the MapQuest Toolbar, Maps, Traffic, Directions & More!

Friday, April 11, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Overrated. The resolution was nonsensical. But the acting and photography were first-rate.

Monday, April 07, 2008

San Francisco Earthquake story

Met opera singers were there--

Caruso was terrified--he thought Vesuvius was erupting--

Emma Eames remained calm--as always. (When she performed in Aida once, a critic--annoyed by her sang froid--wrote that there was skating on the Nile last night.

Pol Plancon, great French bass, was scared out of his wits.

Met singers had left their building, went to sleep by the side of a road, with blankets, near North Beach.

Pol Plancon was awakened by a friendly cow nudging him.

His immortal words were: "Emma, quelle est cette horrible bete?"


Sunday, April 06, 2008


Saw La Boheme at a movie theater--it was a pleasure not to have to drive to NYC and park--but the two ladies next to me talked during the opera, and the fellow behind me kept kicking my seat--

As for the opera itself, Angela Gheoghiu was especially wonderful--

But why do we need long intermissions? So patrons have time to buy popcorn and soda?


Films: Atonement was moving but far-fetched.

De-Lovely, although my friends liked it, was a sour film--Kevin Kline wasn't charming, as he had to be, and he didn't sing well. Most of the musical numbers were disappointing.


How characterize singer' voices? Robeson, velvety; Crooks, silvery; Caruso, trumpet-like; Rethberg, pure, silken; McCormack, spun silver; Bjoerling, silver and gold.

Friday, April 04, 2008

On watching a film about a supposedly exceptional elephant

Some things are true;
Other things ain't.

Pigs don't have wings
& elephants can't paint.


One of the very best lines of musical criticism is something that Ernest Newman said about Nellie Melba: Her voice was uninteresting perfect and perfectly uninteresting.
That line, and that particular criticism, is totally overlooked in the delightful biography of the Australian super-soprano written by Joseph Wechsberg, Red Plush and Black Velvet (1961). Actually, it’s not so much a formal biography as a New Yorker profile, which may explain its charm.
An even more surprising omission is any mention of Beverly Nichols’s novel, Evensong, about a singer, Melba, who foolishly refuses to retire even when her voice has deserted her—and the subsequent motion picture that featured the incomparable Conchita Supervia as the Melba character’s rival. (Nichols had been Melba’s secretary.)
In fact, the book bends over backwards to say nice things about Melba—how generous she was, for example—when almost everyone else had nasty things to say about her. (John McCormack was about to take a bow with her in Covent Garden when Melba pushed him aside, saying that she took bows alone. Melba also allegedly deliberately hindered the careers of rivals, such as Farrar, Kurz, and Eames.)
Some interesting things from the book:
“Prima donnas had very bad habits in those days.” After singing the role of Desdemona, Melba—when the audience called for an encore—would have the stagehands wheel out a piano, and (still wearing the nightgown Desdemona was strangled in) play “Home, Sweet Home,” accompanying herself.
Famous singers tended to have rivals. Catalani had Pasta; Pasta had Grisi; Grisi had Tietjens, who had Sontag, who had Malibran, who abdicated to Jenny Lind, who preceded Patti, followed by Melba—who had Tetrazinni, Eames, and others. Eames had Garden, who had Farrar. More recently, Galli-Curci had Toti dal Monte, Jeritza had Lotte Lehman, and Callas had Tebaldi.
Talk about rude! At a concert in Paris, Melba said in a loud voice, “What a dreadful concert this would have been if I hadn’t come!” Commented Mary Garden, “I love Melba’s rudeness. It amuses me.”
She never lost her Australian accent. So, should she be allowed to sing in Lakme, in French? Said the composer, Delibes, “Qu’elle chante Lakme en francais, en italien, en allemand, en anglais, ou en chinois, cela m’est egal, mais qu‘elle la chante.” (Gounod, Puccini, Massenet, Verdi, and other composers were also admirers.)
She was no great actress. To express mild emotion, someone said, she would raise one arm; to express extreme passion, two arms.
Caruso once recorded the coat aria from Boheme, for a bass, but had the master record destroyed, saying “I don’t want to spoil the bass business.” He allegedly sang the bass role on stage once when the bass lost his voice; Caruso told him, “Stand still and move your lips.”
She was friends with Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde—and when Wilde was down and out in Paris and approached her on the street for a handout, she gave him whatever money she had with her.
Lillian Nordica’s husband died while attempting to cross the Channel in a balloon. She herself once said that the Boston Symphony played “like the Kalamazoo band.”
Asked by a singer for advice about singing in Australia, Melba said, “Just sing ‘em muck.” Maybe that explains Newman’s comment.
“Dumb applause”: clapping silently, for the benefit of onlookers. Something prima donnas allegedly did when other prima donnas sang.
Peach melba has endured but not Poires Mary Garden and Coupe Emma Calve.
Caruso had a sense of humor. In one Boheme, when the dying Mimi staggers onstage and Rodolfo’s friends move a bed over toward her, under the bed appeared a chamberpot—placed there by Caruso. The audience at Covent Garden gasped.
Melba was extremely well compensated. She made even more than Caruso. That helps explain why yesterday’s favorite singers are still impressive: Even back then, anyone with a fine voice was sure to be discovered.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Operatic Anecdote

In 1961, during a performance of Turandot, Birgit Nilsson held the last note of an aria longer than Corelli did.
He was furious.
So, in the last act, when he was supposed to kiss her. he bit her on the neck.

The next day, Nilsson phoned general manager Rudolf Bing.

She said she could not sing again until she had been tested for rabies.

Real Names of Opera Singers

Nellie Melba was born
Helen Porter Mitchell
Named after Melbourne, Australia, near where she was born.

Elisabeth Rethberg
Elisabeth Seattler
No idea where the Rethberg came from.

Titta Ruffo
Ruffo Titta
It seems that his parents named him ”Ruffo” after the late family dog.

Lillian Nordica
Lillian Norton
An Italian maestro told her that an American name would hurt her career.

Lucrezia Bori
Lucrezia Borgia
For obvious reasons.

Rosa Ponselle
Rose Ponzelli
Her middle name: Melba.
Does Ponselle sound classier?

Lotte Schoene
Charlotte Bodenstein
It didn't help. She had to flee Nazi Germany.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime...

I went to grammar school and high school (in WNY, NJ) with J.

Today over lunch J told me that she would walk to and from school with Frances.
When J had detention, which was frequently, Frances would go to detention with her—so they could walk home together.

One day the monitors in detention noticed something strange. Too many students. They identified Frances as the guilty party.

Frances was sent to the principal’s office.

Her punishment, J reports, was…you guessed it. Three days’ detention.

An Epidemic of Rudeness

Someone again asked Chelsea Clinton about Monica Lewinsky.
How rude.
Her answer: It's none of your business.
A comment on a Website: Someone should ask her about that at every opportunity. (Anyone who asks a question like that actually deserves a slap in the face. But a put-down like "That's a rude thing to say" would do.)

Remember the woman who asked McCain, How do we beat the bitch? McCain's answer: Good question.

What's the opposite of a rude person? A decent person.

We decent people should immediately rebuke rude people whenever they behave rudely.

Maybe this epidemic of rudeness stems from people emulating journalists, who are accustomed to asking rude questions. Maybe another cause is the anonymity of many of the people who say rude things--as on anonymous Internet postings. Whatever the causes, it really is offensive and should stop.

On behalf of all the decent people in America, I would like to apologize to Chelsea.