Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nice Compliment

Mary Zimmerman, director, on Natalie Dessay, the opera singer:

"My bottom line about Natalie is she's either proof that God exists or compensation that he doesn't."


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Notes for a Talk about Luisa Tetrazinni

Some older singers were boring people and led boring lives—like Renata Tebaldi—but the Florentine Nightingale, Luisa Tetrazinni, certainly wasn’t.
When’s the last time you heard anyone called “dissolute”? in fact, unless you’re 18 years old or accompanied by a parent, you had better leave this classroom right now.
LT lwas childlike and ditzy. How did she spend her free time? Someone said she ate spaghetti, went to the movies, and played dominoes.
And she was so trusting! She liked a taxi-cab driver he had just met, and promptly made this fellow her business manager. As for her husbands, you wouldn’t believe the blackguards and lowlifes she married.
At 55 she married someone of 32—who spent a good deal of the remainder of his life suing her and trying to make off with her money.
While the marriage lasted, it wasn‘t happy. Her biographer Charles Neilson Gattey writes that her husband, Vernati, “being a prudish young man…could not cope with his wife’s strong sex drive.”

Talking of marriage, she claims that Caruso proposed to her—several times--despite her being short and grotesquely fat. And she herself proposed to John McCormack. His response: Luisa, on stage I can’t even embrace you because you’re so fat! (Not a gracious way to turn down a marriage proposal.)

In San Fran, they still talk about the free open air concert she gave in 1910—250,000 people are supposd to have heard her—without microphones.

You’ve heard of Lily Pons? What did Luisa think of her? Piccola, piccola voce—Small, small voice--

Luisa was a coloratura—sang with every ornament you can imagine—trills, roulades, scales—and with amazing accuracy—as a test she one sang 100 high Cs in succession, and the waveforms shown on a machine were identical.
A newspaper wrote: “Mme Tetrazinni can do anything with her voice except sing out of tune.”

She once told another opera singer, Frieda Hempel, that when she was young she sang contralto. Hempel scoffed. So Luisa let out some powerful, gorgeous contralto tones. Oh, Luisia, what a voice! Said Hempel. Is there anything you cannot do? Luisa looked down at herself and said, "Well, Friedalina, some peoples hava de figure, but I gotta the voice.”

Toscanini declined to have her sing at La Scala, saying she was pyrotechnical—years later he asked her to sing for him -- she said but I sing nothing but pyrotechnics!—but maybe someday--

She was incredibly popular in her day—
After singing caro nome in sf, a newspaperman wrote, “The orchestra men jumped up and cheered. Men stood on the seats of their chairs and threw their hats in the air—women tore flowers from their dresses and threw them on the stage.”
So she sang caro nome again!
Sometimes, after a performance, men with flaming torches would unhitch the horses of her carriage and pull it back to her hotel.

EM Forster wrote about her in his novel Where Angels Fear to Tread—he heard her sing in Lucia, and was enchanted -- when she became famous he thought of writing to her—but decided against it – he had written in his novel that despite her voice she was ugly and stout--

She loved pets—"I have plenty animal. I have 15 dogs, five cats, and two peacocks, and I had a tiger. I called him Poosy.” Poosy was in fact a young leopard.

She was a fun-loving generous person--and she had a lot of friends—especially Caruso and Adelina Patti--apart from Nellie Melba, who called her "that dwarf"—she once walked past Melba’s suite in the Savoy Hotel and heard her singing—so she asked the superintendent, “Have you many cats in your lovely hotel?”

In 1926, at a dinner party, Melba’s pianist inspected the menu and said, "On no account is Dame Nellie to see this. If she does, she will tear you to pieces.” On the menu it said peach melba 3 shillings, chicken tetrazinni 4 shillings.

OK, children leave the room.
Someone wrote about her: “She is extremely dissolute in her private life and much affected by flattery and champagne.”
Singing in South America, she was late for a performance—she had been in bed with her husband and forgot the time—she needed sex, an acquaintance said, the way other people need to smoke—apparently that was one way she warmed up before going on stage.

Her manager once said, “She says, Ah no singa tonight,’ and when I asked her why, she said, Ah wanta man!”
He wrote: “Sometimes by adding a bit of pecuniary reward to diplomatic persuasion the matter was concluded to everyone’s satisfaction.”

When Luisa’s manager’s wife sued her for adultery, the wife’s lawyer “produced evidence of suggestive behavior in the hotel rooms of half Europe and in the secluded villas of rome. A whole bizarre world flashed past in the depositions of secretaries porters, gardeners and cooks…”

The NY impresario Sol Hurok described her “as a charming little woman with a weakness for romantic attachments with men much younger than herself on whom she squandered her money.” He could scarcely keep up with her rapid changes of heart. “A frantic call from Detroit or some other city would warn me that there was going to be serious trouble over the pianist unless I came at once. By the time I arrived, the trouble was no longer the pianist but the cellist.”

In her old age still sang well. After one concert, a friend said, Madame, that was wonderful. It was not wonderful, she said, crossing herself. It was miracle.

She was reduced to singing in a large Boston movie house, among variety acts including acrobats. So fat by then, she couldn’t walk on stage gracefully, so she sat on a small platform while the curtains parted. In New York she sang at the Paramount 4 times a day in vaudeville.

In her old age, she said something memorable, I am old, I am fat, but I will always be …la Tetrazinni!

In the 1932 film, One Night of Love, there’s an old fat opera singer, and you can guess who that’s based on.

She had a fancy mausoleum for her built in Milan. But it fell into disrepair after she died and it was torn down, and her body buried elsewhere.

Her biographer wrote that "it is sad that T’s remains should be treated in this way…fortunately there is a far more lasting memorial to her in the recordings of her voice—a voice not to be mistaken for any other, that sang straight from the heart to the hearts of her listeners.”


Monday, February 23, 2009

Notes on a Talk On Beniamino Gigli

Gigli had a specially beautiful tenor voice, but not much in the way of brains or character.

Nigel Douglas, a singer-critic, said: “It is the archetypal glorious Italian sound; there is a sweetness to it, a glowing, soft-grained caressing quality which quite simply seduces the ear, and which never hardens or coarsens when the voice comes under dramatic pressure…. There is a liquid quality which I always think of as the essence of Gigli’s singing.”

Like most tenors he was short and plump—-and embarrassed about it. Puccini turned him down for the tenor’s role in the premiere of La Rondine, because he was unhandsome, and critics sometimes roasted him—-“a well-fed Andrea Chenier,” one called him. But there’s no denying that sweet beguiling voice.

As fine a singer as he was, one critic said he “lacked the essential fire and passion of the great Italian tenors”—-think about that when you listen to Alessandro Bonci, another great tenor.
Another critic wrote that in Tosca, Gigli had a way of making his listeners "all too conscious he was Mr Gigli, the celebrated Italian tenor and not Mario Cavaradossi."
Another referred to his “sobbing tricks.” Still another said that “at the end of his long and wonderful career he was capable of introducing a spontaneous gush of vulgarity into any otherwise flawless piece of vocalization.”

He wrote a book—-or at least his name is on it (The Memoirs of…). But it is a smooth job from beginning to end, and obviously was ghost-written—-Gigli spoke poor English.
The beginning is nice: “I was born with a voice and very little else: no money, no influence, no other talents. Had it not been for the peculiar formation of my vocal cords, I should probably at this moment be planing tables or sewing trousers, or mending shoes as my father did, in the little town of Recanati, where I was born on March 20th, 1890. But God gave me a voice, and that changed everything. I was good at singing, and nothing else.”

He was no paragon of righteousness.
Every day for 2 years Signorra Boccuci gave him singing lessons—-free-—and then he signed up with another teacher, agreeing to PAY that teacher. The former unpaid teacher sued--the judge ordered Gigli to pay her a large sum of money. But Gigli notes that she didn’t press for payment—-“she only wanted to make a gesture, and I heard no more of the matter.”
Typically an opera house had a rule against encores but Gigli always arrogantly broke it (even at the Met) with the same weak excuse-—“it seemed the only way of calming down the audience.”

Maria Jeritza, a gorgeous blonde soprano, was temperamental, the terror of tenors, and Gigli despised her. During the premiere of Fedora, she pushed him so hard he had to brace himself against a wing support; in the next performance, she wiggled so much that he staggered—and the audience laughed. Once, when his top hat fell to the floor, she kicked it across the stage.
In a later performance he -–perhaps accidentally--almost pushed Jeritza into the orchestra pit. She wound up with abrasions on both legs. Afterwards she said, pointing to him,
“He did it! He wanted to kill me! Murderer!”

She vowed never to sing with Gigli again. bBut 2 weeks later she was to sing with him in Tosca. They did sing together—but she was mad at his taking a curtain call. And when she herself finally did, she said, tearfully—a memorable line--"Gigli not nice to me!"
They never sang together again.

In 1932, during rhe Depression, the Met asked everyone to take a 10% salary cut--
Everyone agreed--except Gigli.
Some 32 artists signed a letter demanding his removal, including Serafin, Ponselle, de Luca, Pinza, Melchior, Bori, Rethberg. His conduct, he admits in his book, was “inexcusable… my critics were to some extent justified.” ut “I found it intolerable …that my contribution should be demanded as a right, decided for me in advance.”
Of course, when people say it’s not the money it’s the principle of the thing... it’s the money.

He gave concerts for charities, but had an ostentacious estate built in his home town—-on 7,000 acres--with 60 rooms, 23 bathrooms, a swimming pool, roman bath, aqueduct, a refrigerator in the kitchen that could hold enough food for 20 people for a year. His book contains photos, even one of his bedroom!

Gigli was very pro-Italy, even during WW2, and rebuked Toscanini for leaving Italy: “his political sympathies were alien to me, and I could never understand the way in which he allowed them to rule his life. To me Italy was Italy, no matter what the regime.”

Gigli was a compulsive name-dropper:
In his book there are repeated boastful mentions of meeting Mussolini, Goering, Hitler. Hitler, he notes, gave him an autographed photograph; again: “afterwards Hitler shook my hand and told me he liked Italian music very much.” Again: “Hitler came to my benefit concert…and afterward gave me a signed photograph of himself.” Again: In munich, in a performance of Aida, “Hitler applauded tirelessly.”

The book came out in 1957, as I recall.

After the war, threatening crowds besieged Gigli’s house in Rome and for months he didn’t dare leave it.

He had a wonderful voice but a limited intellect. He once said the US would have a civil war because of the powerful unions, which he said, were in the hands of Jews. Richard Crooks, another tenor at the Met, said Gigli should have learned to use his mouth only for singing. (Crooks was not only a thoroughly decent guy and a fine singer, but he was born in Trenton and grew up in NJ!)

Gigli had husbanded his voice, and sang well into his 60s.
“It was due to the care with which I always chose my repertory (for example, I invariably refused Otello) that I was able to single in public for 41 years.”

He gave a farewell tour in the US, he joked, so he could once again hear himself introduced as Mr. Giggly.

I sometimes feel that God tries to be fair. If He gives someone a wonderful singing voice, He also gives that person balancing handicaps. In the case of certain singers, like Jarmila Novotna, God clearly erred for He gave her beauty as well as a lovely voice and a winning personality. But in the case of Gigli, God may have erred on the side of giving him offsetting handicaps.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dexter, the Nice Serial Murderer

He’s a one-man lynch mob. He "takes the law into his own hands" when the law has clearly proved inadequate. Not only does he murder murderers; he frames the brutish ex-husband of his girlfriend by injecting him with heroin and leaving him, while unconscious, for the cops to find. He will happily murder any mass murderer, even his brother.
“I will be judge and I will be jury,” to quote Lewis Carroll.
Where will it end? Will he dispose of a rival in his office, or a cop for giving him a ticket? Am I in danger for writing this about him?
We sympathize with Dexter. When he loses his nerve and doesn’t murder a blind murderer, we root for him to get his nerve back. And I was, indeed, hoping that he would get his girlfriend’s obnoxious ex-husband out of the picture.
There have been predecessors. Hannibal the Cannibal, for instance—that somewhat admirable serial murderer who likes to eat his victims. And there was a Michael Douglas film where he headed a committee to wreak justice on malefactors who had gone free. (The message was that the committee didn’t work.)
I doubt that many viewers will be persuaded to “take the law into heir own hands” thanks to Dexter. Some kids do try to fly, emulating Superman, but hell, it’s clear that Dexter is sick.
What’s annoying is that the program claims that Dexter, like his brother the Ice Truck Killer, is instinctually prone to murder—and he needs an outlet. His decent, sympathetic cop-father even guides him into a career of killing killers. So he graduates from killing animals to killing people—bad people. What kind of person is born with a need to kill?
Not the kind, gentle, funny, warm fellow that Dexter tends to be when he’s not busy killing people.
The program is well done—clever writing, good acting (apart from a few cast members who chew the scenery). And some of its attraction is from the unusual horror – all that blood, all those dead bodies. (I turn away when Dexter plunges a knife into someone’s heart.)
I’m not arguing that Dexter should be censored. But I think that if impressionable young people watch the program, they should be urged to see “The Ox-Bow Incident”—a film against lynching.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Nonsensical plot--Gothic garbage--

A brother doesn't kill his brother, even tho he doesn't know he's his brother, because a voice from heaven says don't do it--

But later on the other brother DOES kill the first brother--

Still, the opera is full of gorgeous music--and it was fun to finally know what those famous arias were about--

And Dmitri Hvorosovsky was wonderful as the Count--

And Sondra Radvanovsky was outstanding as Leonora--a big fresh voice capable of lots of ornamentation--she stole the show!

(apart from her silly lying on the ground singing in Act I)

This was a new production and it was pretty good--simple but impressive sets--

(Rememer, in the old days. when opera singers changed their names to something simple? Now we have to deal with Hvorosovsky and Radvanovsky!)

Monday, February 16, 2009


It's my theory that Republicans are more immoral than Democrats. Republicans by and large side with the rich and powerful; Democrats sympathize with the down and out. That's because Republicans in general have little in the way of conscience.

Emails come to me from

I thought it was an objective source. Turns out to be disgusting Republican propaganda. Like Fox News. Unfair and unbalanced.

I have not figured out how to keep these unwanted emails from coming my way, alas.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


In the Hobbyists, a social group I belong to, there's a knowledgeable but arrogant guy--always trying to show how smart and learned he is--a real pill--

In a lecture I just gave about great opera singers of the past, he was continually trying to show off his own knowledge--"That's was from Faust"--"The year was 1903"--"Pinza seduced Rethberg"--

Then, as the class was over and he was leaving, he called over his shoulder, "You should find out about Stracciari!"

I guess he had planned to say that beforehand--I didn't know what to respond--although I've heard of Stracciari--

His message to the other people: I know more than he does.

If he does that to the next speaker, I'll reprimand him--

Annoyances 1

A high school friend-- not well educated -- sends me one of those "I treasure you and if you treasure me send this back" messages--I dutifully comply--then she sends me a note demanding to know why I cut off the bottom--I don't know what she means--I write back, my machine has been misbehaving--she responds, you're the operator behind the machine!!! Yes, three exclamation points-- what the hell is bothering her? i thought of writing a nasty comment back--but will just never write to her or respond to her messages again--

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things People Have Said During My Music Course (1)

He has a nice voice! (listening to Fritz Wunderlich)
Have you ever heard of Rosa Raisa?
You should ashamed of yourself.
Why didn't you play (a certain aria)? It's one of my favorites!
I once saw Lawrence Tibbett at the Met.

Neale Godfrey

She said that when she worked for David Rockefeller at Chase Bank

he told her

hearses don't have luggage racks.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Liar

The liar who claimed that I quietly sold my house while urging readers of my newspaper column to buy is named

James Bednar. He is responsible for something called the NJ Real Estate Report.

He lied in saying that I quietly sold my house. I wrote about it many times in my column--and Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine featured me in an article about people who sold their houses.

And I have NEVER urged people to buy houses.

Yet these lies constantly appear on Google.

Anyway, I should have sued James Bednar, the liar. But now I want everyone to know: James Bednar of the NJ Real Estate Report is an unmitigated liar.

Monday, February 02, 2009

I HATE AOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So AOL asks me to upgrade my email.

I comply.

Now I cannot send out group messages!

Also: unless I check a box to delete spam, exactly in the box, I am exposed to the spam.

I'm switching to Gmail.

Screw AOL !!!!!!!!