Lunedi Lunacy

Last Sunday at Indian River we had the pleasure of hearing the Cheng² duo of Sylvie and Bryan Cheng in an all Russian programme for cello and piano.   It was a glorious afternoon of Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, and Arensky – all well-known names.  But there are so many Russian composers we don’t know and here’s Danny Kaye to give us a list of fifty of them:

There are several “trick” names in Ira Gershwin’s little list –  Moniuszko, Maliszewski and Godowsky were Polish but were born in what was then part of the Russian Empire. And for one you’d have to have seen the composer’s birth certificate.

Gershwin wrote the lyric as a nonsense poem for his college newspaper under a pseudonym.  According to Wikipedia he always wanted someone to accuse him of plagiarism so he could reveal the joke.

I was familiar with 19 of the 50 and two of those were Polish; and if he hadn’t played around with that one name it would have been 20!!!  I bet my friend David will do much better than that!  But I wonder if he’ll be fooled by that little trick?

On this day in 1927: Five Canadian women file a petition to the Supreme Court of Canada, asking, “Does the word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?”

Forever Faithful

On Saturday night many of us in the audience at the Sala Ste Cecilia weren’t so much applauding the performance we had just witnessed of Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht’s Seven Deadly Sins as the sheer existence of the star performer. We were applauding her and ourselves for still being around. Like Marianne Faithful we had got through the past 40 years a bit battered, a bit bruised but still able say to the world “We’re here!”

Faithful has reinvented herself several times now – as a singer, an actress, a writer and now as what they use to call in the old days a diseuse. It is interesting to note that though the programme note told us we were hearing the arrangement for contralto, she was listed simply as “voce” or voice. And even someone as steeped in nostalgia as I have to admit there really isn’t much of a voice left – but what she has is an incredible ability to communicate. Using a variation on the Auden-Kallman English translation she sang-spoke Brecht’s story of Anna, a little girl from Louisiana who goes to the big cities to make her fortune. She sends all her money home to her moralistic pontificating family so they can build a little house on the Mississippi.

Originally conceived as a ballet-opera Brecht uses the conceit of two Anna’s – Anna I, the singer, who by her own admission is “realistic” and Anna II, the dancer, who is “the one with the looks.” All the while her travels – through St Louis (Sloth), Memphis (Pride), Los Angeles (Wrath), Philadelphia (Gluttony), Boston (Lust), Baltimore (Avarice), San Francisco (Envy) – are commented on by her family – in the form of a barbershop quartet. Brecht’s intent is satirical: Anna II only does wrong when she refuses to commit the sin required to earn the money. She tries to do the right think but is always brought back to “reality” by Anna I and her hypocritical family. The only thing the defeated Anna II ever says is “Right, Anna.”

Under Ingo Metzmacher the Orchestra treated Weill’s music to the glowing performance it deserved – I happen to believe Weill is one of the 20th century greats. And it would be hard to imagine better harmonies than those produced by Mark Bleeke, Eric Edlund, Peter Becker and Wilbur Pauley – the Hudson Shad Quartet. Special praise to Bleeke, who despite a few wayward notes, sang Weill’s particularly difficult tenor line effectively. Though the text was printed in the programme the skill of all the performers in delivering the English text made it almost unnecessary.

Laurent was not as enamored of the performance as I – which could have something to do with those clouds of nostalgia – and at one point muttered that he wanted his Weill sung the way Teresa Stratas or Ute Lemper does it – not croaked. And though I am a big Stratas fan, I was more than happy with the experience. It is funny how nostalgia can alter perception.

28 aprile – San Pietro Chanel

Mercoledi Musicale

I heard Teresa Stratas in her first professional appearance in Toronto back in 1958. She was fresh out of the Royal Conservatory Music School and it was her first attempt at Mimi – a role she soon made very much her own. She was always a singing actress and as she matured her ability to immerse herself in her characters became legendary.

She was also legendary for her frequent cancellations – including an important TV broadcast of Lulu, another signature role – and her frequent disappearances from the operatic scene. At one point she went to India and worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. At another she spent time in Roumania working at a orphanage for children with AIDS. She and fellow singer Roberta Peters looked after Sir Rudolf Bing when he was stricken with Alzheimer’s. And her friendship and care for Lotte Lenya, the widow of Kurt Weill, sparked her interest in his music and led to a series of albums and concerts devoted to his music.

To my mind this is a perfect marriage of music and image:

And here she is as Mimi in the live broadcast of the famous Zeffirelli MET production of La Boheme, showing us why opera house directors where willing to put up with the cancellations et al. When she was there it was magic:

I was fortunate to see her often in Paris, Salzburg and Laurent and I saw here in one of her last appearances – Pelleas et Melisande at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1994. She still lives in New York City but has virtually retired from the stage.

07 maggio – Santa Flavia