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Friday, April 17, 2015

Thinking About Patriot's Day

There seems to be confusion between Patriot's Day (April 19) which is a localized New-England holiday, and Patriot Day (September 11) which is national commemoration. I want to talk with you about Patriot's Day.

I've lived in Ohio for over twenty years. The April 19 holiday is unknown here. It's one of the few days of the year I have no one to play with . To all my Buckeye*- and other friends, read on.

The American Revolution began on the town green in Lexington, Massachusetts just after dawn on April 19, 1775. About eighty farmers from Lexington and outlying towns gathered in the pre dawn hours, awaiting a British regiment that was marching to an arsenal in Concord. They British had intended, all 600 of them,  to march right through Lexington unmolested. They were met instead by these Minute-men (ready in a minute). Shots were exchanged and after five minutes 8 of those farmers were dead and many other wounded. The British continued on to their march to Concord. At the Concord bridge they were met by a larger contingent of minute men, and a fierce battle began.



Now then. I've said this before but its worth repeating. The people in Concord Massachusetts will to this day insist that the American Revolution began in Concord. We all know that the American Revolution began with the first shots fired on the town green in Lexington. Concord is a nice place with nice people and its best to let them rave on, God love them.

April 19 was always a holiday. No school. Thee was a battle reenactment on the green at five a.m. The Lion's Club held an all you can eat pancake breakfast. Two dollars a plate. There was a 'young parade' at 8 a.m. The big parade was around noon. High school marching bands, floats, dignitaries usually the town selectmen) horses and all that goes with horses, flags, and a good time was had be all. For a long time standing at the foot of Maple St. and Mass Ave you'd have to pee on a neighbor's yard in those pre-porta potty days. Popcorn, cotton candy the whole bit,

The Boston Marathon was run on April 19. The twenty-six mile race began in Hopkinton, Mass and finished on Boylston Street in Boston, just before Copley Sq.

Things diluted a bit when those loathsome Monday holidays began. Patriot's Day was and is celebrated on the Monday closest to April 19, not on the day itself.

Patriot's Day is forever scarred by the bombing at the Boston Marathon two years ago. Apparently the nut cases from Dakastahn or Fuckastan or wherever learned about Patriot's Day, and how the day is the hear t of thousands of residents.

From that horror came BOSTON STRONG. I wear my T shirt all the time. People ask me about it and I tell them my home town was not about to roll over for two criminals. Nor will a yearly commemoration of the birth of  the United states be ruined. Far from it. So you know the history of Patriot's Day. You know why I wear my shirt to church and to the grocery store. Lexington Mass may as well have a big sign at the town line: Do Not Enter Without a High Six Figure Income. The town may be home to more people who have NEVER heard of Patriot's Day. IT doesn't matter. Enough of us remember in good times and bad. It's a great holiday for a great town. Now stop reading this and go eat pancakes.

*the Buckeye is the local icon. I saw it on buses, on posers everywhere. I thought it was marijuana. Hand to God. Those three green leaves. I remember thinking, hmm. Maybe I CAN live in this place.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Culture Crash and the Creative Class

Read this book. It leaves me so filled with ideas, rage and hope that I'm  having difficulty articulating. Just read it.




Thirty five years ago I worked as a record store clerk at a Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue. I don't remember the pay. Certainly it was less $5/hr. We had to wear silly blue smocks that stank. The record department was on a mezzanine right at Rockefeller Center. That as the apex of the world in 1980. Barnes and Noble sold "only" (!) classical records, and it was records. Compact discs were being talked about, but it wasn't until two years later the stores saw its first CD.

I thought nothing of telling the customer who wanted Zubin Mehta's  recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, "No, you don't." When the Met revived Berlioz Les troyens we were sent a ship load of the five record Colin Davis set that retailed for a hefty $30. It weighted thirty pounds too. People tried to buy it because someone gave them tickets to the opera. I slapped their hands. Don't pay thirty bucks for an opera you don't know. Here's a highlight recording for five dollars.
In short, I was mouthy and opinionated,. I wanted the very best for the customer. I was passionate about the music we were selling.  The clientele included Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman to Franco Corelli DAvid Stivender, the Met Opera Chorus director who gave us tickets. Vladimir Horowitz himself came in one day. He wanted recordings by the Italian baritone Mattita Battistini. He seemed delighted I knew about Battistini.

There was nothing different about me from any of my similarly impoverished colleagues who loved music. This windy autobiography is by way of discussing a new book by Scott Timberg, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class"

Timberg lionizes record store clerks, video store proprietors and funky writers on the arts. All of us greasy and broke people who lived for the art we loved. Today that sounds like a crock of self indulgent nonsense. It sounded wonderful in 1980. We were complimented and respected.
Scott Timberg
We lived on spaghetti and free opera tickets from customers, but we felt the love. Today, record stores, video emporiums and the small magazines and presses that gave us professional meaning are long gone.

Culture Crash argues that the Internet has so democratized the arts that "everyone is doing it", thus de valuing a degree of passion and expertise.  The era of the opinionated sales maven is gone.  Remember Helga, the attractive German woman at the Harvard Coop ?  Who could forget Kenn from J and R records, who was dirty and mean and knew his opera?? Tower records on Broadway at 68th St. was a meeting place after a Lincoln Center performance-that most of us crashed. A community exists only when it can be together. Where would they meet today?

Okay, so we live in a Kardashian worshipping society that offers celebrity to nothing and no one. What do to? That's the problem with books like these. Timberg makes a very convincing case for the decline of taste makers, creators, artist, writers, painters and store clerks. (And stores!). The Internet has over accelerated thought making it to easy to like what an algorithm tells us to like. BUT WHAT DO WE DO? CAN WE EVER GO BACK? Name me a big city where the creative class can afford to thrive? New  York? Boston? San Francisco? Los Angeles? Austin? New Orleans? Chicago? Today the dives and faulty plumbing afforded forty years ago are grabbed by hedge funds. It's no longer chic to pee in the streets. And yet creators do move to Columbus, Minneapolis, Charlotte and Wapakaneta.



Scott Timberg writes, Restore the cultural minute men. Bookstore workers, newspaper arts critics, radio deejays, librarians. Make opinions count. It is not the middle that was elitist, but the very rich and often the very poor artists. (What's wrong with being elitist and why is that a bad word is another blog post)


Could Michelangelo get hired today?
Remember  that the model of most of the arts depended on patronage from the nobility. No Pope no money no Michelangelo. Subsidy creates jobs. You may resent paying more taxes for that  painter upstairs who should get a real job. But what about when the art creates a gallery hat needs workers that opens in a crummy neighborhood bringing with it restaurants and small businesses where your kid can get a part time job.

Timberg goes on to argue the decline of the middle brow. You are either widely avant garde or reactionary. I remember not so long ago a politician was asked if ever went to a play or a concert. He let slip that he and his wife had seen and loved La boheme, but then back tracked, "I wouldn't want this to get out." The homogenization of the arts has made for a prissy land of blah.
"Today if you are bot a superstar a millionaire, you're a loser. A culture of arrogance, hubris and winner take all as established. It wasn't cool to be poor and struggling. The bully was celebrated and cheered. "There are NFL Wives who get more mainstream media coverage than every living jazz artist put together."

One problem is that the arts take time. They don't respond well to a sped up  society. They do not offer instant gratification. Good art makes you want to keep looking and keep listening and keep reading. Repeated use brings new insights. There's always a different perspective. There's always something new to love or infuriate in a painting or a book read over and over. We're wired today to demand instant gratification. Beethoven can offer an instant wow. But often music is heard out of context. You gotta know where you are wow-ing from and to where the wow is leading you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Good Porgy and Bess or Bad Porgy and Bess



The Columbus Symphony is performing selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess this weekend. John DeMain conducts. He was in (superb) charge of the Sherwin M Goldman-Houston Grand Opera
production that ran on Broadway thirty years ago. As I recall, this production took the work very seriously as an opera. In New York, Porgy and Bess played in a large theater : the Gershwin, albeit named the Uris in those days, God bless us and spare us.

As I further recall, this massive revival was the first time many people had seen Porgy and Bess. I get the sense that the work was neglected since the early 1950s-when the Breen/Blevins production played Broadway (with Leontyne Price) and toured the world. The troupe's 1953 sojourn to the Soviet Union has been immortalized in Truman Capote's The Muses are Heard Worth reading.

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Dubose Hayward
The Met waited until 1986. The Gershwin Estate demands an all black act. The Met complied.  Most of these Met debutantes were not heard again once Porgy and Bess closed. Simon Estes and Grace Bumbry introduced Porgy and Bess to the Met. Miss Bumbry said, "I don't really like the piece, but they were going to do it anyway, with or without me." Mr. Estes's take shows a resistance to (racial typecast) "I told them I could not come there unless I was given a different opera first."

And So I Sing:African American Divas in Opera and Concert by Rosalyn M. Story, goes into the trap Porgy and Bess can be for the African American artist.

A more recent Broadway revival featured the sublime Audra MacDonald, in a production reportedly heavily cut. No less that Stephen Sondheim wrote the to New York Times claiming desecration. I wasn't there.

Whats the problem? I can't imagine anyone arguing with the dramaturgy or the music. Nobody needed to tell George Gershwin how to write a tune. He may have been new to writing for the unamplified voice. That's a criteria I use to shuttle between opera and musical. Opera does not use mikes (I know, I know.) If you can't project over an orchestra into a big hall, you don't belong in opera. To my knowledge, the operatic experience of the original casts was limited, because they were black. Opportunities were not matching talent.,




Todd Duncan, the first Porgy,  and Anne Brown, who created Bess were classically trained singers. The world should have heard Duncan's Figaro, Escamillo and Rigoletto. He did have a berth at the New York City Opera, God bless them, but not approaching his talents. Ms. Brown settled in Norway, hoping Scandinavia would prove less restrictive to the career she deserved. Plus ca change. Marian Anderson was kept out of opera until the end of her career. It was impossible for anyone to ignore Leontyne Price's gifts, and soon the black artist was admired for voice, personality and presence, color be damned.

That was far from true when Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway in 1935. Would you believe it was a flop? No one knew what to do with the Gullah people of South Carolina and the drugs,sex and violence depicted to Gershwin's music. Dubose Hayward's novel Porgy had been widely admired. But that was a book and you could put it down. The stage was up close and personal,and Gershwin's tunes were haunting and a tad disturbing:




After all, George Gershwin on Broadway meant dancing, sophisticated melodies, gorgeous girls, dapper fellas and stories that got in nobody's way. What they got was drugs and violence, and the only booty on view was the title character's, described as a "no good liquor guzzling slut"

Then  there's the cast problem.  I know many fine singers who make a good living going from Porgy and Bess company to Porgy and Bess tour and back again. They sing in the chorus, they sing the leads. They sing all the time. And the more they stay, the firmer the doors to opera houses remain closed to them. They are typed as Broadway singers. Nobody thinks to ask them for Handel or Verdi. Other singers stay in just long enough. Some like the great Shirley Verrett stayed away. "I don't like what it says to my people" said Verrett.

Porgy and Bess has in the 21st century found a home in the opera house. The Goldman Houston production showed the way. A staging from Glyndebourne was filmed and widely admired. San Francisco and Chicago have staged Porgy and Bess, and the Met did two revivals.
The one great work in music about a black culture shows some spirit but a lot of decadence and suffering. It's a long show is Porgy and Bess.  It can clock in at four hours. And why is it always described as an American folk opera? So the music theater patrons are scared away? Because black artists don't sing opera? I hope all of these views are waaaaaay dated today.Go out and sing Porgy and Bess. It's a magnificent piece, worthy of the best talents. Just like Mozart, Verdi, Handel.....

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Broadcasters

There's been a nasty thread on a list- serv about the hosts of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. It got me thinking. Here are some excerpts of my response:


Yes I'm sure everything is scripted. Scripted with the admonition to "sound spontaneous and friendly". 

On a live broadcast I never, ever use a script. If I don't know the material and don't know how to communicate with an audience, I shouldn't be there. That said, I do always write a script and have it handy. We are all human and mental blank outs happen. These shouldn't be at the expense of the listeners.

It is very difficult to find the balance between friendly and informative. I think you are born with this ability. I don't mind telling you I have it. I am not a good script reader but I'm fine talking to the audience about what they are going to hear...briefly and with a touch of humor.

Ms. Juntwait and Mr Siff were hired because they approach this balance. The Met has resolutely moved from the opera -reverence to opera as entertainment. This is not a bad thing. Broadcast media has been around nearly 100 years...it has made everything available and made the previously formal...informal. 

It's been said that the old Metropolitan Opera was a carpenter's theater. The "new" Metropolitan Opera is an electrician's theater. And the  current Metropolitan Opera is a media theater. It's directorate comes from the media, not from opera management. It's marketing and broadcast producer staffs seem to have "new younger cooler audience" audience mandate. Stage directors and designers come from the theater. Robert Lepage's production of The Ring Cycle was nothing like what's ever been seen at the Met. Many people hated it, and the box office reportedly suffered. I wish there was one certain formula to attract this elusive new core audience. There isn't. But the Met is being re-branded as a cool/downtown kind of destination. Sometimes that doesn't translate into quality. The stories and the music are perfect starting points in selling-and they are often neglected.

One thing you can't fake on air is a genuine  love for the material. Ira Siff clearly loves opera and knows a great deal about it. Margaret Juntwait also loves opera and both retain a sense of wonder that is a great way of involving and audience.

I find the current tone of the Met broadcast hosts to be informative and fun. That's my opinion. I find the quiz an absolute disaster. I made one "gong show" reference too many and that's why I'm no longer there. Sour grapes, whatever. 

Alberta Masiello has been invoked. She was a brilliant and very kind woman who did not suffer fools...at all. She'd have no patience with today's broadcasts, but I'm convinced a Masiello hosted Met broadcast series would have a huge audience...and bodies for miles.

The word is Ms Juntwait has battled serious illness for years. That she's does so well is a tribute to her guts and professionalism. Don't blame her or Ira Siff if you dislike the broadcast hosts. They are doing as they are told. Sigh.

Greetings to all. 

PS Edward Downes used to write scripts for Milton Cross. Cross was once asked how much he knew about opera, and he replied, "Not a god damned thing!"

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Books Read in 2014

These are the books I read during 2014. I've noticed for myself that no non fiction books have been selected for the top five. There were good bios of David Dinkins, Barbara Stanwyck, The Nixons, and Mussolini! But I'm attracted less to facts and more to exquisite writing, and for that my choices were made.

Top favorites for 2014:

All the Light we Cannot See examines the connection between a blind girl and a young Nazi soldier in occupied France.

Redeployment  is a collection of stories of soldiering in the Iraq war. You are there and you are horrified and enthralled

Fourth of July Creek has a very creative premise: a social worker and an abandoned kid in the wild. 

Miriam Toews almost made suicide funny. All My Puny Sorrows has a woman emotionally entangled with her suicidal sister. 

Richard Ford, God love him, continues to make middle aged men moving and important.


Oh, one more, for me, indispensable:  

Virgil Thomson, Music Chronicles 1940-1954
Thomson was a fine composer and is the best writer on music I've encountered.  Funny, dry, nasty, concise and extremely learned.
Thanks to Tim Page for making this available.





THIS IS I SHOW YOU MINE YOU SHOW ME YOURS! 

PLEASE NOTE ON THIS BLOG YOUR 
OWN FAVORITES AND RECOMMENDATIONS! THANKS!

*= a favorite
+=interviewed the author
 ________________________________________________






Richard Ford. He's done it again with Let Me Be Frank With You

____________________________________________________


Russell Banks


*The Death of Santini   Pat Conroy

Exposed: Jodi Arias Jane Velez Mitchell

Mayor   David Dinkins
*My Reading Life Pat Conroy

My Beautiful World Sonia Sotomayor

Still Fooling Them Billy Crystal

Henry David Thoreau...Walden was worth reading.
Walden   Henry David Thoreau
Vicar of Christ Walter F. Murphy

Favorite Sons Robin Yocum

Song of the Spiderman Greg Berg

*The Essay   Robin Yocum
*The Fault in Our Stars John Greene       


Beach Music   Pat Conroy
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn

Barbara Stanwyck   Victoria Wilson

The Great Santini Pat Conroy

Doctor Sleep Stephen King

The Global Vatican Francis Rooney

The Queen’s Gambit Elizabeth Fremantle

This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon (stories) Linda McCullough Moore

*A Permanent Member of the Family (stories) Russell Banks+
(esp Big Dog)

Edmund White
Jack Holmes and his Friend Edmund White+

Mad As Hell (Network) Dave Itzikoff

The Soldier and the Spy (Dreyfus) Richard Harris

*David Copperfield Charles Dickens

Mussolini and the Pope David Kertzer

Pat and Dick (Nixon) Will Swift



Civil War Diaries Walt Whitman (in Specimen Days)

Living the Quaker Way Philip Gulley

Little Failure Gary Shteyngart

The Queen’s Bed Anna Whitlock

Fosse Sam Wasson

*The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty

The Burglary Betty Medsger

*Redeployment Phil Klay +

Mission at Nuremburg Tim Townsend

*Stoner John Williams

Faith   Jennifer Haigh (Boston, priests)

*Across the Bridge Mavis Gallant (stories rec. by Russell Bank)

Sum it Up Pat Summit

North of Boston Eliz. Elo
Tastemaker Carl Van Vechten and the Beginning of Modern
America --Edward White

*The Sweet Hereafter Russell Banks+

*Orfeo Robert Powers
*The Middle Men (stories) Jim Gavin

Leonardo and the Last Supper Ross King
Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow

*The Condition Jennifer Haigh
The Days of Anna Madrigal Armistead Maupin

Deception  Phillip Roth
Suspicion Nation Lisa Bloom (Trayvon)

*Bring up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
**The Invention of Wings Sue Monk Kid

Escape From  Auschwitz Joel Rosenberg

*The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Samuel Clemens

Fatherland Robert Harris
The Windsor Faction D.J. Taylor
To Quell the Terror  William Bush

*Coal Black Horse Robert Olmstead (civil war, local author)

Newtown Matthew Lysiak

Divide: American Injustice in the Era of the Wealth Gap
Matt Taibbi
                                 


The Professor and the Housekeeper  Yoko Ogawa

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A Time to Keep Silence Patrick Leigh Fermor

Perfectly Miserable, God, Guilt and Real Estate in a Small Town Sarah Payne Stuart

Cut Loose by Leah Vincent (left ultra-orthodox Jews)

Dominion CJ Sansom Nazi victory in WWII


The Hiltons J. Randy Taborirelli

The Good Pope-John XXIII Greg Tobin

What is Visible Kimberly Elkins (Laura Bridgman)

*Famous Writers I have Known Magnuson

                               
Stokely Joseph E. Peniel

**Fourth of July Creek Henderson Smith

I said yes to everything Lee Grant+   
Lee Grant. Loved her.

*Unbroken Lauren Hillebrand

Play it Again Alan Rusbridger

*Blue Eyed Boy  Robert Timken (‘Nam vet, journalist, burns)

Hot Dogs and Cocktails (FDR/Royal Family) Peter Conradi

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour  Joshua Ferris

*Mr. Mercedes  Stephen King

Bleeding Edge Thomas Pynchon

The Long Loneliness Dorothy Day
The Alteration Kingsley Amis

The Good Luck of Right Now Matthew Quick (Richard Gere)
Shooting Straight Piers Morgan

*The Rosie Project (Asperger wife)-Prof Don Tillman

The Romanov Sisters  Helene Rappaport

*Remember Me Like This (Justin Campbell lost boy)
   Brett Anthony Johnston

Olivier  Phillip Ziegler

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin  Jill Lepore

Savage Harvest: The Search for Michael Rockefeller  Carl Hoffman

*The Undertaking  Audrey Magee

A Fighting Chance  Elizabeth Warren

The Chase Janet Evanovich+
1776 Revolutionary Summer  James Ellis

***Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

Big Little Lies  Liane Moriarty

Terrorist’s Son   Zak Efraim

*Barracuda  Christos Tsoikas

Easy Street (The hard way) Ron Perelman
Heft Liz Moore

War and Peace Tolstoy

*The Life and Tragic Death of Robert Peace  Jeff Hobbs
*The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher  Hilary Mantel
          


You Might Remember Me: Phil Hartman  Mike Rowe

Eve of Eternity  Ken Follett

The Mathematicians Shiva Stuart Rojszstater

The Good Father  Noah Hawley

*We are not Ourselves  Matthew Thomas
*Nora Webster Colm Toibin

The Job Janet Evanovich+ 
The Heist Janet Evanovich+
How I Write Janet Evanovich


Janet Evanovich. Had a blast interviewing her to a sold out house, thanks to The Thurber House



*Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen and Essex Hemphill  Martin Duberman

Sisters of Treason Elizabeth Fremantle

Village of Silence: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France Caroline Moorehead

On the Edge  Edward St. Aubyn
Lost for Words Edward St Aubyn

City of Lies: Therean Ramita Navai

*****All the Light You Cannot See  Anthon Doerr

(Bob) Hope by Richard Zoglin

Without You There is No Us Suki Kim

*The Goldfinch Donna Tarrt

*The Children’s Act Ian McEwan


*All My Puny Sorrows Miriam Toews

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Is it a crime to be schizophrenic?

Add caption
Scott Panetti is scheduled to be executed in Texas tonight for the murder of his in laws. No one doubts that this crime was especially horrendous. Panetti held the older couple hostage along with his own wife and daughter. He shot his in laws to death, claiming the devil had ordered him to do so. He spared his daughter and former wife.

The crime occurred in 1992. Panetti was sentenced to death in 1995. Scott Panetti represented himself at trial. It is said his defense came down to incomprehensible rants. He called over 200 witnesses, among them Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. The American Psychiatric Association is among the many signators on letters of clemency directed to Texas Governor Rick Perry.



On Monday the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency is a 7-0 vote.

"This is a man who has been severely mentally ill since twelve years before the crime", said Ron Honberg of the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill. "It would be a travesty to proceed with this execution."

Joe and Amanda Alovrado murdered by Scott Panetti
Is Panetti a nice guy wrongly convicted? No. He's profoundly ill and and in his madness killed two people. He should not be enjoying the freedoms guaranteed tot he rest of us. He's a danger to himself and others.

What bothers me most, aside from the obvious assault on decency in executing a schizophrenic, as if he should be lamed for his own illness, is the rage that is nurtured in cases like these. Politicians want to be re elected. Thus in many communities they seem to be ignore clemency and decency in favor of death. The public is frightened and outraged by crime. The authorities demonize the mentally ill. They are easy targets and are used to further incite the public. Look what this monster did! Let's kill him! Yes! screams the electorate. There's no gray area, no consideration of brain disorders beyond anyone's control.

Remember, Panetti is not reported to have received medical care in those years prior to the murders. Medication yes. But how diligently was he treated? How extensive was his care? Unless he was independently wealthy, I'll be he got nothing but pills.

Why was Panetti allowed to defend himself? He dressed up in cowboy gear and battle fatigues, and he made absolutely no sense in court. Why was this allowed to continue? Was the prosecution qualified to claim Panetti was acting? He must be a very good and inexhaustible actor.




I worry too that all of the ACLU cries for justice are dismissed as liberal weak assed junk. I'll bet even Sister Helen Prejean is dissed in this manner. What's especially interesting in the Panetti case is the Evangelical community's support of clemency

As reported by Stephanie Mercimer in Mother Jones,


"[Panetti's] religious fervor is the product of a brain disorder, and the evangelicals' opposition to his execution is not related to his religious proclamations," wrote Mencimer. "It is more of a reflection of the shift in public attitudes regarding capital punishment that has been driven by the growing number of exonerations of death row inmates, the high number of mentally ill and disabled people sentenced to die, and the inefficient and expensive administration of capital punishment."

It is becoming too easy and too acceptable to kill people. God help us. They are coming after the profoundly mentally ill. Who's next?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Anita Cerquetti, an Introduction and a Rememberance

It would have been easy to label this post 'The Forgotten Prima Donna, but the fact is that soprano Anita Cerquetti has long been cherished by opera enthusiasts and record collectors. That says something for Cerquetti's art, since few of us heard her live. The lady retired in 1961 at the age of thirty and never sang in public again.




Anita Cerquetti died last week at her home in Rome, at the age of 83. She had surfaced in a few documentary films in recent years, a cheerful, hefty old lady who spoke intelligently and passionately, not about her career but about music, text, and singing.

Far from being a curiosity, Cerquetti had a fine career for the decade on the 1950s. Her debut at age 20, to her final appearances in 1961 had her singing all over Italy, South America and Europe. In the States she appeared with the Chicago Opera, and I believe there were concerts in New York and Philadelphia. This was a brief career, Euro-based. Of commercial recordings in the age of Tebaldi and Callas, there are only two: La Gioconda with Del Monaco, Simionato and Bastianni, and an aria recital.



The record companies weren't interested. The public was. Cerquetti excelled in the big Verdi girls: Aida, the Leonoras, Abigaille and Elena in I vespri Siciliani. Bellini's Norma was a specialty. Cerquetti it was who replaced Callas when that singer abandoned a run of Normas in Rome in 1958, to international fury  (de Gaulle and the President of Italy were in the audience. It was thought Callas 'walked out', thus insulting the heads of state, when in fact she was ill and simply could not sing)

Cerquetti was a big woman with an expressive face and a large, gleaming voice. There as a certain huskiness to the tone which helped give the voice originality. The tone was even thought the scale. Norma's rage was no problem for Cerquetti, nor was Norma's ecstasy. This was a huge talent with a very brief career. Why?

Cerquetti spent her life explaining her early retirement, and fighting off rumors from cancer to insanity. By 1961 she was tired. In an interview with Lanfranco Rasponi, she stated:

"When my father became hopelessly ill, I cancelled ll my performances so I could be with him, as I loved him with all my heart. After the shock of his death, my beloved  maestro Mario Rossini, to whom I owed everything, passed away. I kept postponing the signing of contracts, then I found myself pregnant. After the birth of my daughter Gioia, once more I could not make up my mind to resume. She needed love, attention and care, and who was going to give it to her with a mother always on the go?"

So she stopped. Raised her daughter and enjoyed her home and family. Interest in her singing never wavered. Cerquetti was always the source of rumor and musical journalists often rang the doorbell. Rasponi, in the aforementioned interview in the elate 1970s tell us, "At first Cerquetti was not eager to see me, but eventually received me in the most cordial manner."

Thanks to recorded broadcasts, we have complete performances of Aida, Norma, Ernani, I vespri Siciliani and Guglielmo Tell.  Cerquetti's singing is all over youtube. Her biggest hit is the aria O re dei cieli from Spontini's Agnese di Hohenstaufen. Get going.