Mercoledi Musicale

Today is World Ballet Day and in honour of the celebration I’m posting three of the ballet worlds greats that I had the good fortune to see in over almost 70 years of ballet-going.

Last year I wrote about the first time I saw a ballet:
Back in 1956, at the age of nine, I saw my first production of The Nutcracker at the Royal Alexandra Theatre with my brother and sister-in-law. She had wisely – as she always did with my gifts – chosen my Christmas present that year: tickets to the ballet. I’m sure it was as much the excitement of the red velvet, gilt paint, crystal chandelier and trompe l’oeil of the Alex mixed with the magic of that first National Ballet production and the music that ignited my love for ballet, dance and theatre. It was to be the first of more visits than I can count to the Alex – though as I recall that afternoon we sat in the orchestra and a good deal of the time I was to be a habitue of that treacherous second balcony.

In 1959 the Bolshoi Ballet made it’s first foray beyond the Iron Curtain. Their Toronto engagement was in the cavernous Maple Leaf Gardens hockey arena. From high up in the greys I saw the great Galina Ulanova dance Giselle on the Friday night and the young emerging Maya Plisetskaya in Swan Lake.

Ulanova was soon to retire and Plisetskaya went on to become one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. The last time I saw her would have been performing The Dying Swan around the time this film was made.


Britain’s Royal Ballet also played the Gardens (as did the Met Opera and Maria Callas) however on their 1961 tour they played the new O’Keefe Centre. Toronto finally had a proper theatre and the Royal opened their stay with their signature calling card: The Sleeping Beauty with Margot Fonteyn. I was there opening night in a smart white dinner jacket my mother made for me. I was to see many productions of the ballet but that evening still holds in my mind.

As well as introducing me to ballet the National Ballet of Canada was the main company for dance in the years I lived in Toronto. There is very little in the way of film of that early company: Lois Smith, Angela Leigh, Lillian Jarvis, David Adams and Earl Kraul. However during the years I was a regular habitue of their performances I saw two young dancers emerge as stars of the first order: Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn. Unfortunately the video of their breakthrough performances as the Bluebirds is not a particularly clear video however there is a brief scene from Giselle.


This post is dedicated to the memory of my beloved sister-in-law Gloria who passed away last evening. Thank you for all that you gave to me as I was growing up. May you rest in peace.

The word for November 2nd is:
Habitue hə-bĭch″oo͞-ā′: [noun]
Alternate spelling of Habitué
1.1 One who frequents a particular place, especially a place offering a specific pleasurable activity.
1.2 A habitual frequenter of any place, especially one of amusement, recreation, and the like: as, an habitué of the billiard-room.
1.3 One who habitually frequents a place.
Borrowing from French habitué past participle of habituer (“to frequent”), from Late Latin habituare (“to habituate”), from Latin habitus. Date: 1818

Mercoledi Musicale

I was brought up in the Christian tradition of the Presbyterian Church in a small community at the extreme west of Toronto. That meant Sunday School, Sunday Service and events during the week. I was in both the junior and senior choirs, taught Sunday School, was Youth Group leader and worked on the monthly newsletter. I can still smell the ether from the Gestetner ink.

The Alderwood Presbyterian Church Junior Choir sometime in the late 1950s (?).
That would be Billy John in the top right and his life long friend Vicki to the right in the row below.

For some reason today my mind went back to the music nights at Alderwood Presbyterian. There was one hymn you could always count on being on the programme: In the Garden. Eleanor Pounder (despite the name she was an excellent pianist) would play and Norma Mackey sang alto as counter point to the sweet soprano of a girl whose name I can’t call to mind. I could hear it in my mind’s ear today: it was unaffected and sweet.

I searched YouTube hoping to find some local church video that would match the memory of those two sweet voices. Unfortunately most version are just too commercial. The closest I could come on that memorable chorus harmony was this version by Anne Murray.

The word for October 19th is:
Unaffected \ŭn″ə-fĕk′tĭ\: [noun]
1.1 Not changed, modified, or affected.
1.2 Marked by lack of affectation; unpretentious or sincere. synonym: naive.
1.3 Not affected or moved; destitute of affection or emotion; uninfluenced.
Meaning “not adopted or assumed, genuine” is recorded from 1590s; that of “not acted upon or altered (by something)” is first attested 1830. From late 14c., “mental state,” from Latin affectus “disposition, mood, state of mind or body produced by some external influence.”

Mercoledi Musicale

As my faithful reader knows Atlantic Canada was hit by Hurricane Fiona, one of the worst storms in Canadian history over the weekend. The storm took an unusual turn and rather than going out to sea came inland with the eye centres over Prince Edward Island. It was one of the most frightening nights I can remember with winds up to 150 km/h (95 km/h) and our building shaking and rattling. Our damage was minimal but the landscape of much of our Island and the lives of many Islanders has been changed.

Dunes have been swept out to sea, rock cliffs have crumbled, boats and buildings have been swept away, fall crops have been destroyed and farm land eroded, a good half (if not more) of the mature trees have been felled, taking homes and utility poles with them. Fortunately and perhaps miraculously there was no loss of life.

Both social and news media have been filled with pictures of the devastation and I won’t be adding to them as the mere volume is mind-numbing and heart-breaking. However this comparison image will show you a satellite photo pre-Fiona (left August 2022) and the same view (right September 25 2022) after it has passed through.


In 1984 Leon Dubinsky wrote a number for a musical about Cape Breton Island* in Nova Scotia. He composed it as an anthem to resilience of Cape Bretoners at a time when the area was going through an economic crisis. According to Dubinsky, the song is about “the cycles of immigration, the economic insecurity of living in Cape Breton, the power of the ocean, the meaning of children, and the strength of home given to us by our families, our friends and our music.” It soon became a canticle for our Atlantic Provinces and the people who call Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and PEI home.

This version was recorded by Anne Murray when my beloved Rita MacNeil, the Rankin Family and other guests joined her for a CBC special in 1991.

In the first verse Anne Murray sings “We look to our sons and daughters” which, given what I have seen this past four days, I would change to “We look to our friends and neighbours”. It’s going to be a long, heart-breaking recovery but we will “Rise Again”.

*Cape Breton were also badly hit by the storm as were areas of Newfoundland, and though not considered Atlantic Canada Les îles de la Madeleine. No province was left unscathed though some were more fortunate than others.

The word for September 28th is:
Hurricane \ ˈhər-ə-ˌkān\: [noun]
A tropical storm or cyclone with winds of 119 km or 74 miles per hour or greater that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes. It is normally applied to storms occurring in the western Atlantic though it is used for storms in the northeastern Pacific as well.
1550s, a partially deformed adoption of Spanish huracan (Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdés, “Historia General y Natural de las Indias,” 1547-9), furacan (in the works of Pedro Mártir De Anghiera, chaplain to the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and historian of Spanish explorations), from an Arawakan (West Indies) word.

Mercoledi Musicale

When I was doing the Guys and Dolls post last week there were at least two or three songs that I really wanted to include but the post really was going on just a bit. So today I’m featuring two more numbers from the show. And yes I repeat it is one of my favourite Broadway shows.

I’m not sure if Guys and Dolls is the most revived Broadway show in London but since its first West End appearance in 1953 it has reappeared six times with another revival scheduled for 2023. The 1982 National Theatre production was the most successfull and ran for over four years and then toured. The original cast starred Bob Hoskins as Nathan, Julia McKenzie as Adelaide, Julie Covington as Sarah and Ian Charleson as Sky.

Charleson was a rising name in theatre and cinema as an actor and singer. He had won international recognition as the evangelical runner in The Chariots of Fire and was considered one of the great young British performers. He had been acclaimed in musicals, contemporary drama and the classics. Covington was on the original concept recording of Evita but turned down the part when the musical was mounted. Here’s Charleson with Covington in a wonderful love ballad and then solo rolling the dice for that gang of sinners souls.

There are perhaps more polished versions out there but these have the edge of a live performance.

Sadly Charleson wasn’t destined to reach the promised heights. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. He died in 1990 after an acclaimed Hamlet at the National. At the Evening Standards Award the day following Charleson’s final Hamlet performance Ian McKellen was given the award for Best Actor of 1989. McKellen demurred and said having seen “the perfect Hamlet” the previous night, that Charleson was truly the Best Actor of 1989, and he gave him the statuette.

The word for August 3rd is:
Luck /lək/: [noun]
Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.
Late Middle English (as a verb): perhaps from Middle Low German or Middle Dutch lucken . The noun use (late 15th century) is from Middle Low German lucke, related to Dutch geluk, German Glück, of West Germanic origin and possibly related to lock.

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