Well hello, everyone! Sorry to have been away from you for so long. By the time my webmaster fixed this once gimpy blog, I was up to my ears in writing assignments. Go here and follow the links to learn what I have been up to. (I saw Parsifal six times and would have been glad to see it sixty times. It was by far the most moving and beautiful operatic performance I have ever had the good fortune to witness, and I cannot wait for the DVD.)
Above is a photo I found on Facebook that I have never seen before. It supposedly shows Maria Callas in Dallas, reading through the Lucia libretto, in 1959. She sports her post-Meneghini coiffure, which I believe was created by Alexandre in Paris, and I think that the poodle’s name is Toy.
Shall we listen to Callas in Lucia? Though I do not favor her earliest recordings, this excerpt from Donizetti’s opera as performed in México in 1952 finds Callas in lush and secure voice. (The Dallas Lucia, by contrast, was fraught for many reasons and marked her final appearnces in Donizetti and Cammarano’s dramma tragico.)
The siffleur is exceedingly loud, and the music is embedded in a Flash player, which you may not see if you view this blog on a mobile device. (Incidentally, last night I heard the world premiere of a song cycle by Anders Hillborg that, like Lucia, calls for a glass harmonica.)
How are you darlings? I have hundreds of comments, mostly spam, to wade through, but hope to be back soon.
A colleague and reader of this blog posted Amina’s “Ah non giunge” to Facebook last night, writing that after “months of stomach-churning terror” it seemed apt. He chose the 1957 Cologne performance, which I prefer; this is from La Scala in 1955 and features the crazy ornamentations wrought by Leonard Bernstein.
Can you imagine singing this at the end of a long “trapeze-rôle” opera, to borrow a phrase from Callas?
I am still cranky (behind on my work, too) after Sandy. I know some people still without power, and many New Yorkers and people in surrounding states lost everything.
Some of my friends here in Manhattan waited on line for three hours in order to vote. I’m not sure why the waits were so long this time around. One reason may be that we used paper ballots, supposedly the voting method least vulnerable to tampering. That said, anyone who doesn’t have an understanding employer or cannot spend hours away from an ailing family member is effectively disenfranchised.
I am exhausted and hung over with disbelief and joy following the election. At roughly 2:00 a.m. today I was in tears as I listened to President Obama speak these words:
This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities, our culture are the envy of all the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedoms which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.
Marriage equality was ratified in four more states. I lost friends to the AIDS genocide; I never thought that I would live to see the dignity and rights of LGBT Americans affirmed so resoundingly, just as I never thought that I would live to see an African-American President elected. As Andrew Sullivan wrote, November 6, 2012 was the single biggest night for gay rights in U.S. electoral history.
Women account for 20% of the incoming U.S. Senate. That’s still too little, but we’re moving in the right direction. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin will be our first openly gay Senator. Her sexual orientation was largely a non-issue in the campaign.
Tulsi Gabbard will be our first Hindu American Representative; she will also be the first female combat veteran to serve in Congress. When Vice President Biden administers the oath of office, she will place her hand on the Bhagavad Gita. (Representative Ellison took the oath of office using Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an; I wonder if her text will have a similarly illustrious history.) Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono will become the first Buddhist and the first Asian-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
New Hampshire has the nation’s first all-female Congressional delegation.
My favorite founding documents are the 1790 letters exchanged between Moses Seixas, warden of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, and President George Washington, who wrote:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
We’re not there yet, but last night brought us closer.
Dear all: I am alive. Along with c. 800,000 other households in Manhattan, I have no water or electricity, with none expected until Friday at the earliest, so this post comes to you courtesy of a dear friend who has taken me in.
Enjoy (again) Callas singing Ophélie’s mad scene from Thomas’s Hamlet, recorded in 1958. It’s the most watery, Sandy-appropriate music I can think of. (As the storm approached, I listened to this, and perhaps was punished for my flippancy.)
Dear hearts, forgive me for having neglected you. Earlier this month I was sick (think Donald Duck’s voice and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s schnozzola). What’s more, my non-writing work has mushroomed in the past six weeks.
I’ll be back soon, and we’ll mark the anniversary of Callas’s passing together.
In the meantime, some writing news. My review of Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World by Sam Staggs appears in the October 2012 issue of Town & Country. Readers in the States can find the magazine on newsstands; if you are overseas and fancy a scan of the article, just give a holler. My review briefly mentions Callas.
I also reviewed the wonderful exhibit “John Cage: The Sight of Silence” at the National Academy Museum.
Have I mentioned that I’ve been doing some writing for The Jewish Daily Forward? I’m thrilled and honored to be associated with that venerable publication, and to be in the company of so many amazing writers. What’s more, my editor is a mensch and not afraid of chewy material, glory be.
Dear hearts, it is the Labor Day holiday here in the States, and my long weekend looks like this: four articles (one a review of a LONG book), many pitches, and a sizable (and tricksy) editorial project.
As you might expect, I shall also be snarfing quite a bit of iced coffee and Diet Coke.
Wherever you are, I hope that your weekend looks more like the picture in this post. (Callas at the seashore in full maquillage, with pearl earrings, a fresh manicure, and an impeccable chignon: The diva’s life is hard indeed.)
Even if you own all these recordings already, it’s almost worth it to pay the $0.99 just to save the time you would spend “ripping” tracks and the like.
A confession: I rarely listen to music on my MP3 player, and most of the little I do listen to is 1960s pop (Hardy, Gainsbourg, Tenco, Sam Cooke, etc.). Those recordings, engineered to be heard on AM car radios, are flat and equalized enough to be listenable on the subway or in other noisy environments. Music with a wide dynamic range for me doesn’t work at all on the go.
I was intrigued and also a little alarmed to see the Telegraph headline “Paul Ryan, Maria Callas and the splendour of custard.” It always hurts to see Callas’s name dragged in the mud, and then: custard? WTF?
Anyhow, this is what the writer claims of Caruso and Callas: “The possessors of the two most famous voices in operatic history were both smokers. Maria Callas made no secret of it: she didn’t mind being photographed with a fag in her hand.”
As far as I know, Callas was never much of a smoker. There is a posed shot of her and di Stefano from the 1950s showing them with beer steins; in the photo, Callas is holding an unlit cigarette. And there is the image in today’s post of Callas with a cigarette during the Medea shoot.
Arianna Stassinopoulos wrote of Callas during the Onassis years: “She never really smoked, though she did have an occasional cigarette when others were smoking around her.”
HELLO! reports that Paz Vega will portray Maria Callas in a forthcoming Princess Grace biopic. Olivier Dahan (La vie en rose) will direct, and Tim Roth and Nicole Kidman have been cast as TSH The Prince and Princess of Monaco.
I know nothing about Paz Vega, and La vie en rose seemed to me a big melodramatic mess despite the remarkable performance of Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf.
The clip in today’s post purports to bring us Maria Callas’s 1952 concert performance of the same aria in exceptionally good sound. Two comments: (1) the sound quality is indeed remarkable; and (2) wow, the performance is strikingly similar to the one she set down in 1954 for EMI.
I don’t have the patience to undertake the kind of painstaking repeat listening needed to establish for sure whether today’s clip could be the EMI recording with applause tacked on. (First of all, it’s Delibes, not exactly my cup of tea; and second… well, nothing. I just don’t have it in me.)
Whatever its date or provenance, the performance is astonishing for its accuracy and flair.
This is a new-to-me photo of Maria Callas. The information I’ve found suggests that it was taken in 1968 at the Grand Prix de Paris. It shows Callas with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the background, and alongside Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Redé. Until now I had never heard of the Baron, but he seems to have lived quite a life.
According to Wikipedia, the Grand Prix is run in July, so this photo would have been taken right around the time that Callas left the Christina for the last time.
Do any of you gentle readers have more precise information about this photo?
Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction—is for [women] more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. —Adrienne Rich