Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Life Has Changed....

I used to read Wall St Journal, Barron's, Money, Fortune, read financial books...
Now they just accumulate.
I don't have to write 3 financial columns a week. So I don't have to keep up, I don't have to find story ideas.
I watch more movies. I read more interesting stuff (Elmer Rice's autobiography, Rudolf Bing's 5000 Nights at the Opera, Paul Johnson's Heroes).
My newest shtick is: great singers of the past. I've been teaching a course on the subject--even though I'm just a music lover. But that means I have to keep up--and keep ahead. Someone in my class was a professional musician, had played the bassoon with Voice of Firestone on the radio! So far, I haven't humiliated myself.
The students are older people. Some are desperate for attention, desperate to show how cultured they are.
"Have you ever heard of Rose Raisa?"
"You should be ashamed of yourself!"
From an old biddy.
Raisa mainly sang in Chicago, and has very few recordings available. Had never heard of her.
One woman, after I mentioned Alma Gluck, said that her daughter was the novelist Marcia Davenport.
I mentioned having read that the daughter once came upon her mother listening to herself on records when she was young--and weeping.
I also mentioned that I had once invited the daughter to write for my left-wing magazine, Fact--and she sent back a nasty note--about "grimaces facing left" or some other absurd statement.

But several people told me that they loved the course--loved hearing wonderful singers they had never heard before, like Richard Crooks. Made me happy.

Some generalizations:

Opera singers' careers should be divided in two. When they were young and when they were not-so-young.
They can also be divided into the nice and not so nice. Grace Moore was nice. Nellie Melba wasn't.
Good singers are born with pleasing voices. Why are their voices so pleasing? Dunno. Smooth, effortness. Silvery (lyric) or velvety (dramatic) or in between or both.
Types of voices aren't set in stone--or faches. Caruso could sing bass. Marian Anderson said she told everyone she was a contralto because contraltos were rare. (I've heard her sing Caro Nome from Rigoletto!)
Great singers have to do more than just hit the notes. Ernest Newman said of Nellie Melba that her voice was uninterestingly perfect and perfectly uninteresting,
There are, and have been, so many fine singers! At the library, I see discs recorded by singers I never heard of. And not infrequently I discover a new singer from the past. Today: Kathleen Ferrier. Sounds like Marian Anderson.
My favorite singers: Jussi Bjoerling and Elisabeth Rethberg. Along with Lawrence Tibbett and Lotte Schoene. And lots of others.
There are a great many A- singers, a great many A singers, and even some A+ singers.
Harold Schonberg's list of the 12 best (who sang at the Met for at least 9 years--up to 1983) is a fine list.
It's a shame that so many people are not enjoying the pleasure of listening to older singers like Richard Crooks and Paul Robeson. That's why I've begun teaching courses on older singers.

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