APRIL 25, 1926: HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.  A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.

Sick in de Stomach, Part 4: Happy Birthday, Dear Albert

TURTA full hour passed before Christian shouted to Basil. “Is it done yet?”

“This pesky turtle won’t stick his head out so’s I can bop it.”

Basil remained seated next to the tortoise for the rest of the afternoon, leaving only to refill his glass of rum every fifteen minutes or so. Christian and Mutton finally rejoined him.

“Y’know,” Basil confessed, “I sort of forgot which end this turtle’s head is suppose to come outten. Another thing. I got sort of hungry here smellin’ that soup cookin’ so I been having a few tastes now and then and y’know, it tastes sorta good. I think this here turtle’s been sitting next to it so long that it kinda got some turtle taste. I’ll bet if we just add a little sissy sherry, even ol’ Albert’ll like it.”

“Turtle, you say,” said Albert, taking another sip from the bowl that sat on the table in front of him. The others ringed the table, watching in anticipation.

“Caught ‘im myself,” said Basil, grinning.

“It tastes more like sherry with a lot of pepper in it,” said Albert, forcing another sip. By the time they had added the sherry, all that remained of the soup, thanks to the prolonged boiling and Basil’s frequent tasting, were a few charred leaves. Peaches had tried to perk up the bowl of hot sherry and leaves with a healthy dose of pepper. “Interesting leaves,” Albert mused. “My good sherry, I suspect.”

“Only the best for ol’ Albert.”

“I always preferred sherry in a glass, accompanied by a good cigar,” said Albert. “But it’s so much more delicate served hot with leaves floating in it. Perhaps you’ll let me savor it in solitude. I’m afraid I might spill a precious droplet or two with everyone watching. If you’d be so good as to bring a cigar when you return.”

They marched out, and when they returned five minutes later, all that remained of Albert’s birthday soup was a little dampness on the lips of his satisfied smile. Only Peaches noticed the curious puddle underneath the table.

“Thank you, my friends,” said Albert, lighting a cigar. “I only wish there were another bowlful, such is my appetite for turtle soup. Perhaps I’ll go to Guadeloupe tomorrow.”

“Here’s to ol’ Albert bein’ seventy,” said Basil, downing a glass of rum. “Happy birthday, Albert,” chorused the others. Albert smiled, and Peaches was compelled to recite: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . .”

Sick in de Stomach is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

Advertisements

February 1, 1896: Poor People of Paris

Opera patrons packed the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, on the evening of February 1, 1896, for the world premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s latest, La Boheme. Conducting the evening’s performance was a rising young star, Arturo Toscanini. Critics were divided over the opera, but audiences lapped it up, and it remains the world’s most popular opera. It is a timeless story of love among struggling young artists in Paris during the 1830s.

Our Bohemians– a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher — share a garret in the Latin Quarter as they try to eke out a living. It’s Christmas Eve; it’s cold. Rodolfo, the poet, and Marcello, the painter, are feeding a small fire with one of Rodolfo’s manuscripts. Their two companions arrive with food and fuel, one having had the good fortune to sell a bit of music. As they eat and drink, the landlord comes looking for their overdue rent. They distract him with wine and, pretending to be offended by his stories, throw him out. The rent money is divided for a night out in the Latin Quarter. Rodolfo stays behind as the other three leave, fortuitously, as a pretty neighbor comes looking for a light for her candle: “They call me merely Mimi.” Merely Mimi faints (she’s not well, folks), she and Rodolfo immediately fall in love, and they head off to the Latin Quarter, singing of their love.

In Act 2, our Bohemians are making merry in the Latin Quarter. Marcello’s one-time sweetheart, Musetta, enters on the arm of the old but wealthy Alcindoro. Trying to get Marcello’s attention, she sings an aria about her own charms (Musetta’s Waltz, recorded as Don’t You Know by Della Reese in 1959). She sends Alcindoro off on a bogus errand and promptly leaps into Marcello’s arms. They all scurry off, stiffing the returning Alcindoro for the check.

Act 3 brings a series of flirtations, jealousies, lovers’ quarrels and, for Mimi, a lot of coughing. At this point, we’re pretty sure she’s not going to make it through Act 4.

Which she doesn’t. After a few attempts at being cheerful, the others leave Mimi and Rodolfo who recall their meeting and happy days together until Mimi is overtaken by violent coughing. The others return, Mimi drifts into unconsciousness and dies.

Enrico Caruso owned the role of Rodolfo during his life, as did Luciano Pavarotti. And Maria Callas was all over Mimi.  The Metropolitan Opera will broadcast La Boheme live in HD on February 24.

 

coconut womanPart Two

Everett and Malachi were both there that evening in March when Harriet entertained the young couple from Ottawa, here for their fifth anniversary. As usual, Everett was explaining to the newcomers his settling-land-rising-water theory.

“Now if you was to come back for your tenth anniversary,” said Everett, scratching furiously with a stubby pencil in a tiny spiral notebook, “the water’d be right up to here.” He held his outstretched hand between his nose and upper lip. The young woman from Ottawa looked at him and gulped as though she were already threatened, since a water level just below Everett’s nose would be well above hers.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Everett continued. “And not very much time at that. The forces of nature move ever and evermore onward.”

“Honey, you know that can’t be true,” said Harriet. It wasn’t clear whether honey was Everett or the young woman from Ottawa. “It’s like the ozone layer and global warming and such. Scientists scribble in their little notepads just like Everett here, and they come up with statistics to prove whatever they think needs proving. Now, if I was to get up at say seven in the morning, and it was say forty degrees out, but it got up to eighty by noon, I could scribble in my little notebook and come up with a theory that by five o’clock it’d be a hundred and sixty degrees, now couldn’t I?”

The young woman from Ottawa giggled a little, and her husband smiled. Everett glared, snorted and said: “It ain’t that simple, and you know full well, Harriet.”

“Well, maybe not,” said Harriet. “But Malachi’s ideas are pretty simple, aren’t they Malachi? When you going to start in on them?”

“I don’t know if it’s something I should talk about,” said Malachi, studying the couple from Ottawa.

“Why not?” asked Harriet. “You’re always talking about your pirates.”

“But lately I been wonderin’ if maybe too many people are gettin’ to know about it.”

“I’d say the more people the better,” Harriet teased. “If we’re gonna find that treasure, honey, we got to get serious looking before it’s all under water.” She hee-hawed and slapped the arms of her rocker. The couple from Ottawa joined in but only with polite little laughs that wouldn’t offend the two men and their theories.

“Henri Caesar was a pirate that learned his trade from the infamous Lafitte brothers,” said Malachi suddenly, evidently seeing his window of opportunity swinging shut. “Cruel, cruel he was. Plundered for nearly thirty years before they hanged him. Hundreds of ships. I’ve studied him a lot, and I’m certain that he buried some of his treasure around here, possibly on this very beach. Half mile south of here they found an old grave. Caesar usually killed his victims, all of them, right on the ship, except certain young women he took a fancy to. If they refused his advances, he’d kill them too. But if they accepted, they were spared, at least until he grew tired of them. They found one of them in that grave. At least part of her.”

The young woman from Ottawa, white-faced and wide-eyed, winced and said: “My goodness.”

“And in nearly two hundred years,” Harriet scoffed, “nobody has been able to find that treasure. But Malachi’s going to find it before this place becomes an aquarium.”

Harriet’s debunking of the Malachi treasure myth was interrupted by the appearance of two men whose arrival was so silent and sudden that it caused the young woman from Ottawa to let out a tiny shriek and Harriet herself to jump slightly. They were both rumpled and shaggy, though not dirty. The tall one could have passed for a pirate and probably was in the eyes of the young woman from Ottawa. The shorter, clean-shaven one spoke in a studied, polite, but somewhat gravelly voice. “Good evening, folks. Sorry to disturb you. We’ve tied up at the harbor down the road for the night. Headed to the out islands tomorrow morning. Gentlemen there said you were the closest place that took in folks for the night, and we were wondering if you might have a room available.”  continued

 

Coconut Woman is one of 15 (count ’em) stories featured in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean. Every story at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm up at  Amazon  or Barnes and Noble.  Or order it through you favorite book store.

November 29, 1924: Don’t Shoot the Soprano

Giacomo Puccini, who died on November 29, 1924, was a giant in Italian opera, unrivaled in orchestration and a sense of theater. Passion, sensuality, tenderness, pathos and despair infused such operas as Manon Lescaut, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot.

Tosca was one of Puccini’s greatest operas, but it seems to have taken on a bit of a curse, like that Scottish play whose title shall not be uttered in the theater. More things have evidently gone awry in Tosca than in any other opera.tosca  A few vivid examples:

Exit Stage Left . . . Exit Damnit: In Act II of a performance of Tosca featuring Maria Callas in the title role, Tosca stabs her tormentor Scarpia, and then leaves the stage. After doing the deed, Callas who suffered from myopia but couldn’t wear contact lenses wandered the stage, unable to find her way out. Baritone Tito Gobbi, our Scarpia, while lying dead, tried to discreetly point out the exit, but started laughing so much that both his laughing and his pointing were obvious to the audience. The next morning, newspapers raved about his memorable portrayal of Scarpia’s death.

They Shoot Divas, Don’t They?: In another performance, a firing squad is called upon to execute Tosca’s lover Mario in the final act. The players were instructed to enter and shoot the person they found onstage, and then to exit with the principals. But when the players got onstage, they discovered two people and didn’t know which one to shoot. They aimed at one then the other as both principals said not to shoot them. They finally chose Tosca, but when they shot her, Mario keeled over dead. They stood there, further bewildered; they had been told to exit with the principals but neither of the principals were exiting. Mario remained lifeless while Tosca tried to shoo them away. Finally, when Tosca jumped to her death from the castle parapet, they seized the opportunity to exit with at least one principal, and they jumped after her, adding immeasurably to the tragedy.

Follow the Bouncing Diva: Tosca’s leap to her death  from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo is the dramatic conclusion to the opera. Various methods have been employed to keep the jumping soprano safe; usually a mattress does the trick. In a Lyric Opera of Chicago performance,  stage hands replaced the usual mattress with a trampoline to provide added safety for a British soprano. They also added some unintended encores as Tosca bounced back into view several times.

 

One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. ‘Oh, no,’ I said, ‘Disneyland burned down.’ He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late. — Jack Handey

 

January 3, 1929: Ciao, Pardner

Born in Rome on January 3, 1929, Sergio Leone is an Italian film director, producer, and writer whose name has become synonymous with thatfistful-of-dollars-1 peculiar sub-genre of movies known as Spaghetti Westerns. His trio of films released during the sixties, known as the Dollars Trilogy, were not the first of the type but certainly defined it: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are the top of the heap of the more than 600 Spaghetti Westerns and are consistently listed among the best rated Westerns in general.
The term Spaghetti Western was coined by critics, particularly in the U.S., unable to accept the fact that the Old West had been co-opted by a bunch of pesky Italians, even though Americans had grown bored with its depiction. Although directed by Italians, the films were actually rather international; the actors and technical staff came from throughout Europe and the U.S. Although originally released in Italian, everything was dubbed since the actors spoke in a variety of languages and the whole enterprise had the sound of a food fight at the United Nations. A Hollywood has-been usually headed the cast, or in the case of the Dollars Trilogy, a yet to be recognized upstart such as Clint Eastwood.
Some argue that the first Spaghetti Western appeared way back in 1910 — Giacomo Puccini’s 1910 opera La fanciulla del West; the first Italian Western movie was La Vampira Indiana in 1913, a Western vampire flick, directed by Sergio Leone’s father. Throughout the following years, several movies fit the category, but it was Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars that established the Spaghetti Western standard for cinematic style, acting and evocative music. In it, an unlikely hero (bounty hunter is the favored occupation) enters a town ruled by two outlaw gangs, where ordinary social norms are non-existent. He cleverly plays the gangs against one another to fleece them of that titular fistful of dollars. His treachery is eventually exposed and he is beaten severely about the head, but he wins out in the end through his cunning and wit.
During the following years, the genre evolved (as genres will), and the Spaghetti Western legacy was transformed almost beyond recognition, giving way to overwrought action and low-brow comedy, a genre that might more appropriately be called Spaghetti-o Western.

♦ 

victor borgeDanish comedian, pianist and conductor Victor Borge was born on January 3, 1909 (died in 2000):

I only know two pieces; one is ‘Claire de Lune’ and the other one isn’t.

The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer.

Laughter is the closest distance between two people.

dave-barry6