Mercoledi Musicale

Cannabis sativa via Wellcome ImagesTo celebrate (?) the first day of legal pot in Canada I thought I’d delve into the world where “reefer madness” is traditionally thought to run rampant – no I don’t mean Ontario politics – I’m talking about the world of jazz and blues.  And the first thing I came across was this little number from Murder at the Vanities a 1934 musical set backstage at Earl Carroll’s Vanities, a revue know for featuring the most “lightly clad” showgirls on Broadway.  The movie was released just before the Hays Office began ridged enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code and the passing of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act.  In a production number typical of Carroll’s shows Gertrude Michael tells us all about what Marahuana does for her.

Kitty Carlisle, who also appeared in the film, maintained that at time she had no idea what marijuana was. She thought it was a Mexican musical instrument.

Such is not the case with the next artist – Janis definitely knew what she was talking about in this early recording. What an incredible blues singer she was!

And that just two examples from a vast catalogue of numbers that sing the “praises” of Cannabaceae cannais sativa!

On this day in 1662: Charles II of England sells Dunkirk to France for 40,000 pounds.

Over the Stream

I had originally meant this little snippet from the Bolshoi Ballet’s 2004 restoration of The Bright Stream as a Lunedi Lunacy but began reading about the genesis of the original production and found that behind the inspired lunacy of this pas de deux lay a disturbing and tragic history.

The Bolshoi Ballet poster for the 2003 revival of The Bright Stream used a photo from 1936 of Asaf and Sulamith Messerer in the original Bolshoi production. The brother and sister were members of a dynastic dance family that included the great Maya Plisetskaya.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s ballet The Bright Stream (Светлый ручей – also translated as The Limpid Stream) premiered in Leningrad in 1935.  He had previously composed two full-length ballets, The Golden Age (1930) and The Bolt (1931),  and both had met with hostile reactions from audiences and the authorities.   Unlike the previous two this new work became a popular favourite and played to full houses both in Leningrad and when it was transferred to Moscow early in February 1936.

The witty libretto by playwright/theatre director Adrian Piotrovsky and choreographer Fedor Lopukhov involved a ballet troupe sent to a collective farm and a cheating husband in need of a lesson.  The plot featured romantic flirtations and theatrical situations that allowed Lopukhov, then director of the Kirov Ballet, to choreograph classical variations, vaudeville dances, a virtuoso comic pas de deux with a male dancer dressed as a sylph and perhaps the first example of a dog riding a bicycle in Russian ballet.  And it ended with the simple but committed workers of the collective farm showing the dancers from the city the virtues of collectivism.  What more could Stalin and his coterie wish for in a proper Soviet ballet?

Here is that gloriously funny and virtuosic pas de deux newly choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2003 to Shostakovitch’s incredible score.  It features Ruslan Skvortsov as the Classical Dancer and Alexey Loparevich as the old dacha owner.

When the work transferred to Moscow Lopukhov realized that the authorities would not find the cross-dressing funny and the scene was deleted.  However that became the least of the three creators’ problems.  Shostakovitch had already come under fire for his Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District earlier that year in a scathing attack in Pravda said to have been written by Stalin himself.  Within days of its Moscow premiere this new piece was roundly denounced in Pravada as music that “jangles and expresses nothing”.  Piotrovsky and Lopukhov’s libretto was attacked as an insult to Soviet farm workers and the choreographer was accused of turning honest Soviet farmers into  “sugary paysans from off a pre-revolutionary chocolate box”.

The three men had committed the ultimate sin of creating something that was considered “coarse naturalism and aesthetic formalism”.  The ballet was immediately withdrawn and did not appear again for more than half a century. Shostakovitch’s commissions disappeared and his 4th Symphony denied its intended premiere that December.  He was never to composed another ballet.  Lopukov was stripped of his position as director of the Kirov and only saved from the gulags or execution by the fact that his ballerina sister Lydia was married to the much admired British economist John Maynard Keynes. For the rest of his professional life he was relegated to minor positions in the Soviet dance scene – seen now as a major loss to the dance world.  Piotrovsky was not so fortunate.  He had previously been accused of “formalism” in his position as a theatre manager and artistic director of a film studio and here was one more charge against him of “un-Soviet” thinking.  Within a year  he disappeared into the Gulags, a victim of the Great Purge, and it is assumed he was executed there.

A work meant to be light, entertaining, and uplifting had proved the downfall of its creators.

On this day in 1384: Jadwiga is crowned King of Poland, although she is a woman.


Department of “Who Knew?”

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 1.11.06 PMSo how many of my faithful readers (both of you) picked up an Indian cucumber this morning to scrub off that dead skin and give you that fresh, tingly all-over feeling? (Oh grow up, honestly both of you are so jejune!)

No it’s not the latest fad to go with your morning detoxing mango-kale-pineapple-cobnut-ginger-almond milk smoothie. Perhaps if you roll your mouse over this botanical print you’ll get a hint?

So who knew? I certainly didn’t! Did you?

Rollover image courtesy:

On this day in 1987: First public display of AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Mercoledi Musicale

The Passing of a Prima Donna

On more than one occasion I have written about the incredible evening of July 20 1974 when a full blown Mistral threatened to cancel a performance of Bellini’s Norma. Fortunately performers, musicians, technicians and audience decided to say “damn the torpedoes full speed ahead”. And magic was made.

In memory of the incredible Montserrat Caballé who gave me many nights of musical thrills but never one to compare with that night in Orange. I was truly blessed.


On this day in 1780: The Great Hurricane of 1780 kills 20,000–30,000 in the Caribbean.

For Little Folks

Given the service today it is hard to believe that the railway was a major deciding factor in territories joining the Confederation of Canada. But there was a time when railway travel to almost anywhere in the country was possible and the journey could be an enjoyable one. And one of the most enjoyable things was sitting in the dining car on the Canadian National Railway as you made your way from Montreal to Toronto, Sudbury to Port Arthur/Fort William or clear across the country. Menus were extensive, settings simple but elegant, service old-fashioned in the best sense of the word, and the food was good.

Colonial-car-stoveOn a recent visit to The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 there was a mock up of the Colonist Car that had been designed to take immigrants from the Immigration pier to their new homes across the country.   It was bare bones accommodation and there was no dining car or meal service but there was a stove at one end of the car (left) that allowed new arrivals to cook their own food – which, of course, they had to buy at stops along the way from enterprising newsboys.  And in many cases the staples they knew from home were nowhere to be found.

By 1949 train service had returned to a peace time schedule and regular cars ran as part of the boat-train service .  When my mother and I headed to Montreal  to board the HMS Ascania* there were standard sleeping cars and  a dining car.  One of the items on display at Pier 21 – just laying on a table for you to exam – was a menu specially designed for the small traveller.  Canadian National Railways had started the practice in 1946 with a menu telling the story of the people who make the trip possible: red cap, engineer, conductor, porter, steward, waiter et al.  Then the most expensive item on the menu was a set supper of soup, scrambled eggs on toast, sliced tomato, bread and butter with marmalade and cocoa for 50¢.

By 1948 an endearing little bear – perhaps a coincidence but the same year that Eaton’s introduced Punkinhead as their ursine mascot – made his appearance on the menu For Little Folks.


As always a left click will enlarge the photo and reveal the fun of travelling by train across the country.


Perhaps it should be noted that within two years the cost of that same prix-fixe for little folks had gone from .50$ to .85$.  An increase of almost 75% in two years – after a depression and a war it looks like times were starting to get better? Or just more expensive?

Menu-7aAnd the management of CNR does suggest that “exceptional efficiency on the part of Sleeping, Dining and Parlor (sic) Car employees will be gladly recognized if reported …”.

I don’t remember if we took advantage or the dining facilities. I’m sure given our morning arrival in Montreal we must have had breakfast.  I can’t imagine what on the menu would have appealed to a very upset two-and-a half year old who couldn’t figure out why his daddy wasn’t there.  If family lore is to be believed my poor mother was in for a very trying few months.

*I was surprised to see a model of the Ascania and a mock up of the type of cabin we would have had as part of the Immigration experience.

On this date in 1739: Stono Rebellion, the largest uprising in Britain’s mainland North American colonies prior to the American Revolution, erupts near Charleston, South Carolina.