Mercoledi Musicale

Several people were a little puzzled by my title of today’s earlier post on the death of the incomparable Angela Lansbury. However in the eyes of any Broadway que aficionado it made sense. It’s a great song from Mame that expresses the love of her nephew Patrick for the person who brought him love and laughter.

The depression has hit and Mame has lost her fortune and tries to take one job after another – all with dismal results. In her latest attempt she has inadvertently destroys her friend Vera’s new show and been fired. Patrick and Mame sit on the empty stage of the Schubert Theatre in the shadow of the ghostlight and express their incredible love for each other.

There is always an 11 o’clock number that allows the star to show what they could do. Jerry Herman gave Mame an beautiful ballad that became a standard.

Patrick has turned into an insufferable snob. After watching his aunt sing and dance with his college friends he turns on her for not acting her age and being irresponsible. She just doesn’t fit into his world anymore. Rejected she asks herself what she did wrong that things turned out the way they did.

By the way this followed almost directly after an athletic jitterbug with all the dips and dives, leaps and lifts with Mame singing and dancing up a storm at the centre of it. He made her work for that 1100 o’clock number. And Angela aced both!

I saw her do it again later that year on Broadway and it was as wonderful the second time. I then had the thrill of watching her as Rose in Gypsy then the dastardly but zany Mrs Lovatt in Sweeney Todd – both stellar performance. My final chance to see her came in 2015 as the madcap Madame Arcati the tour of Blithe Spirit – she was in her 80s. Her last live appearance was as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest in November 2019. A YouTube excerpt makes me wish she had done the part earlier.

She was a consummate performer and a wonderful human being. We shall not see her like again.

The word for October 12th is:
Jitterbug \jĭt′ər-bŭg″\: [noun]
1.1 A strenuous dance performed to quick-tempo swing or jazz music and consisting of various two-step patterns embellished with twirls and sometimes acrobatic maneuvers.
1.2 One who performs this dance.
1.3 A fast and vigorous American dance that was popular in the 1940s, having few standardized steps and personalized with various twirls, twists, and acrobatic moves; it was performed often to the accompaniment of swing or boogie-woogie tunes.
I found two etymologies
From jitterbug, heavy drinker who suffers from the jitters, from jitter.
From jitter + bug, after the 1934 Cab Calloway song Jitter Bug.

My Best Girl

One of the Greatest has left us.

I’ve often told the story of that April in 1966 when I flew, first time on an airplane, to Boston for a theatre school audition. It was a disaster on so many levels – delayed and missed flights, hotel in Cambridge – school in Boston, lost airline ticket, bad audition, etc. However in the gloom and doom there was a bright moment that stayed in my heart and a love affair that has lasted to this day. On the stage of Schubert theatre a glamorous lady in a backless gold lame jump suit stood at the top of a spiral staircase blowing a trumpet and extolled us – even me – to celebrate because “It’s Today!”

It was Mame! It was Angela Lansbury!
It was love!

I have no words for today other than Rest in Peace Dear Angela.

Another Great Has Left the Stage

Teresa Berganza
March 16, 1933 – May 13, 2022

Teresa Berganza in 2018 receiving a Lfetime Achievement Honour at the International Opera Awards.

I awoke this morning to the news that my beloved Teresa Berganza had passed away earlier today. She was a singer I fell in love with the first time I heard her on a recording of Handel’s Alcina in 1962. Though I had bought the three record set because it starred Joan Sutherland I came away for it with Berganza’s voice sounding in my ears. She appeared in recital at Massey Hall several months later and when I met her afterwards she was warm and very indulgent of a teenager with a crush.

I had the good fortune to see her as Ruggerio in Alcina at Aix-en-Provence in 1978 and once again her “Verdi prati” had an simple elegance and grace that has never been matched. One thing I remember from evening was the silence at the end of the aria that was followed by thunderous applause. It is captured well in this clip from that production.

The warrior Ruggerio (Berganza) leads his lady love who is disguised as a knight (Ann Murray) to safety through the enchanted forest of the evil Alcina.

I am pretty sure I owned all of her records – particularly the complete operas and the various recitals. She was known for her performances as Rossini’s Isabella, Rosina, and Cenerentola. Unfortunately I never saw her in a Rossini opera – I had tickets for Cenerentola in Paris but took ill when in London and came home early. But I was to see her at the Paris Opera as Cherubino, another of her signature roles, in an all-star Nozze di Figaro that included my equally loved Teresa Stratas.

Berganza often sang “trouser roles” and her Cherubino was seldom equalled. She had sprung onto the scene at Aix-en-Provence and was much loved (with reason) there. And no I wasn’t there in 1962!

I’ve told the tale on here of one of the great evenings I’ve spent in an opera house: May 1980 – Carmen with Berganza and Placido Domingo at the Opéra Comique in Paris. I didn’t have a ticket but took a chance.

Standing in line for five hours at the Opera Comique waiting for a cancellation for the Berganza-Domingo Carmen. Enduring the abuse of the lumpy spun-sugar blond vendeuse at the box office. “Vous–etes fou d’attender” she heckled repeatedly, then magically produced a front row 1st loge seat 2 minutes to curtain time. The abuse was worth it – one of my great evenings at the opera.

There will never be another Carmen like her. This was not the hip-swaying slattern so often seen but a flirtatious, sensual free spirit. She was sly, seductive, playful and ultimately tragic. She was Carmen!

I was in the audience that May night in 1980, I’m sure you can hear me screaming my brava in that ovation at the end.

After her retirement from the stage she became a much sought after and loved teacher. Her master classes – many were filmed – were a reflection of her warmth as a person and her art as a musician.

Dear Teresa – you have given me much joy since that first recording; I thank you. Rest in Peace.

The word for May 13th is:
Beloved /bəˈləvəd/: [1. adjective 2. noun]
1. Dearly loved
2. A much loved person
Late Middle English: past participle of obsolete belove ‘be pleasing’, later ‘love’.

Mercoledi Musiclae

Much has been written in the past six days about the incredible talent and person that was Betty White. Justly her abilities as one of the great comic actresses of all time has been lauded and written about at great length in the media – both news and social. However one facet of her talent has been largely ignored: her singing.

Back in the early 1950s she produced and starred in her own syndicated variety show on NBC. She had full creative control and when challenged on featuring Arthur Duncan, a African-American tap dancer, as a regular she told the Network: “I’m sorry. Live with it!” The show featured skits and musical numbers with White, regulars like Duncan, and guests. It was a rating hit but ran afoul of Southern affiliates and sponsors.

She was also popular on the Summer Stock circuit in the 1960-70s and appearing most frequently in musicals as well as light comedies. She toured in South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, Mr. President, Take Me Along, and The King and I. She often performed with her husband Password host Allan Ludden – their romance had begun when they toured the circuit in Critic’s Choice in 1961.

Here she is in a clip from that early show displaying her way with a song. The song ends at the 2:24 mark and for some reason is repeated for the balance of the clip. However it was the only example I could find of her singing.

As her TV career took off she had fewer chances to display her vocal talents however perhaps some of her incredible timing as an actress and comedian had its foundations her musical training?

The word for January 5th is:
Afoul /əˈfoul/: [adverb]
Into conflict or difficulty with.
North America: 1809, originally nautical, “in a state of collision or entanglement,” from a- (1) + foul (adj.). From 1833 in general sense of “in violent or hostile conflict,” mainly in phrases such as run afoul of.

Look He Made A Hat!

Once again I find myself mourning the passing of someone who has defined much of what I have seen and heard in the world of music for over half a century. Stephen Sondheim has been synonymous with music theatre for the past 65 years first as a lyricist (West Side StoryGypsy) than as one of that rare breed of lyricist/composers (the list of shows is too numerous).

The first Sondheim show I saw on stage was Gypsy with Ethel Merman (who thought Sondheim was too young to compose her kind of song) and then Company when the National company came to Toronto in 1971. It caused a bit of a furor and people actually walked out. I loved it and saw it three times – once as the guest of Ed and Anne Mirvish, but that’s another story. After that every time a new Sondheim show came out I had the album within a day or two of it being issued. A trip to London and the original West End production of Side By Side By Sondheim introduced me to more of his music. I missed a chance to see a matinee of Follies for a somewhat less edifying afternoon at the 55th Street Playhouse, again that’a another story. I was fortunate to catch A Little Night Music with Glynis Johns, Len Cariou and Hermione Gingold on a trip to New York and several years later Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury and Cariou on a subsequent trip. After that I had to be satisfied with those albums/CDs as well as television and filmed versions of some of his most exceptional works. Everyone of them remarkable in so many ways including the disparity of their subjects and multiplicity of styles.

But in 1993 there was one fortunate occasion when I was able to spend an evening with Mr. Sondheim – first in the audience at an interview/lecture he gave in Ottawa and than at a small reception afterwards. Several things struck me about him that evening, aside from his obvious talent: his thoughtfulness, respectfulness, and conviviality. During the Q&A section an annoying woman tried to get him to trash Andrew Lloyd Weber. He would not jump at the bait but was respectful of his fellow composer and praised him. She pressed on referring to ALW as being like Puccini and he gently but sternly suggested that if she knew anything about music then surely she meant Debussy. Not to be deterred she then challenged him to agree that the big Musicals (Phantom, et al) were destroying the American Musical Theatre. Clearly exasperated at this point he quietly pointed out that if these things were playing to full theatres it was because they were giving the audiences what they wanted and that was the business of theatre. Fortunately the moderator cut her off at that point – something he should have done two questions before.

We were invited to a reception afterwards and after the group thinned out he invited us to sit and chat over a glass of wine. I never in my life thought that Stephen Sondheim, whom I had just addressed as Mr Sondheim would grasp my hand and say “Just call me Steve, after all we’re having drinks together.” He had just returned from London and he was excited over Julia McKenzie’s performance in a revival of Sweeney Todd. He had also been teaching at Oxford and was impressed with Canadian composer Leslie Arden. He was greatly taken with a musical version of The House of Martin Guerre that she was working on and talked of hopes of a New York production. It was a genial evening of easy conversation and when the time came we walked with him back to his hotel and our parked car.

No more riddles.
No more jests.
No more curses you can’t undo
Left by fathers you never knew
No more quests.
No more feelings.
Time to shut the door.
Just- no more.”

Into the Woods – Stephen Sondheim

Rest in Peace and thank you, Steve.

The word for November 27th is:
Talent /ˈtalənt/: [noun]
1. A natural aptitude or skill.
2. A former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.
Old English talente, talentan (as a unit of weight), from Latin talenta, plural of talentum ‘weight, sum of money’, from Greek talanton . talent (sense 1) is a figurative use with biblical allusion to the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30).
I am not really sure I see the connect between the word as we now use it and the biblical reference but I’ll take the OED’s explanation as gospel.

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Jerry and I get around. In 2011, we moved from the USA to Spain. We now live near Málaga. Jerry y yo nos movemos. En 2011, nos mudamos de EEUU a España. Ahora vivimos cerca de Málaga.

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