Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

I was introduced to the folk and street music of Napoli by Marco Beasley, Guido Morini and their group Accordone during the 2008 Whitsun Festival in Salzburg.  To my ears it is music that has all the passion and colour of that incredible city.  I was surprised last year when the winter season line-up for the Ottawa Chamber Music Society included a concert with a group called Vesuvius Ensemble based in Toronto (?).  They performed with the renowned Tafelmusik Ensemble* in a program that wedded Neapolitan music of the baroque with music of the streets.  It was a remarkable performance for its fluidity and originality.  Particularly effective was a call-and-response ballad between the two groups - again a wedding of the classical and the popular.

In their new album, to be released shortly, Vesuvius Ensemble celebrate another wedding: that of the Guarracino of Neapolitan nursery rhyme fame.  The Castagnola,  Guarracino in Neapolitan dialect, is a fish and the "hero" of an anonymous song from the 1700s that tells of his love for a sardine who is the ex-sweetheart of a particularly macho tuna.   The courtship leads to a feud which ends up involving all the inhabitants of the sea in the Bay of Napoli.  It ends rather inconclusively with the singer telling us of the thirst that the song has built up and how a few coins to wet his whistle would be appreciated.

A search suggests that O matrimonio do Guarracino is another episode in the song-story of this not particularly well-favoured chordata.

I don't normally advertise on here or shill for anyone however just a word that the first recording by Vesuvius Ensemble is available on iTunes and their new recording will be available shortly.

*This was to be  Jeanne Lamon's last concert after 33 years as leader of the ensemble.

September  17 - 1849: American abolitionist Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy Plus One

Anyone who as worked with me over the year's* has heard this question asked facetiously when they've been, shall we say, excessively "detail oriented".

Thanks to Tiffany for passing this on - and the answer is???????

*UPDATE:  And the winner is MJ - she caught it!  

September 16 - 1959: The first successful photocopier, the Xerox 914, is introduced in a demonstration on live television from New York City.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

There was a day when television comedy had an innocence about it - no f-bombs, sexual innuendo was subtle and stereotypes were played out for their comedic value. Strange how today it is the stereotypes that are considered verboten and anything else goes.

Here's a truly - in my not so humble opinion - funny routine by one of the greats with another of the greats. 

Mel Blanc was the man who put much of the Looney in Looney Tunes and Jack Benny was the everyone's skinflint uncle burden with the fear of growing old.   He was always 39 years old and a penny saved was a penny in that vault under his house protected by alligators and Ed the Guard who had been on duty since Jack turned 38.

As a sidebar we use to kid my father, who made no bones of being in his late 50s, about being a "Jack Benny 39" which led to an unfortunate misunderstanding the night he had his second stroke.  It was 2:30 am when my mother woke me to say my father was ill and she had called the local ambulance.  Though not quite the country we lived far enough away that the fire trucks arrived first.  As they applied oxygen one of the fireman started taking down information.   He asked my mother how old my father was.  Without missing a beat she answered, "Thirty-nine".  He looked at my father and then back at my mother, no doubt thoroughly confused.  "Thirty-nine, ma'm?"  My mother simply nodded numbly.  It wasn't until we got to the hospital that we assured them it was a "Jack Benny 39".

September 15 - 1616: The first non-aristocratic, free public school in Europe is opened in Frascati, Italy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Moving On But Not Forgetting

Time has passed, many things have moved on but we must never forget what was lost that day 13 years ago.

The Canadian cartoonist Bado (Guy Badeaux) penned this editorial for La Doit on September 11, 2004.  It is still as poignant today as it was 10 years ago.

September 11 - 1897:  After months of pursuit, generals of Menelik II of Ethiopia capture Gaki Sherocho, the last king of Kaffa, bringing an end to that ancient kingdom.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

Well it's that time of year again - tomatoes are ripe on the vine and plentiful in the market - and there's nothing I love more than a ripe tomato.  I have fond memories of those first beef streaks when I was a child - my father would cut one in two and we'd share the salt-seller - that's all that was needed.   The taste of sunshine, summer and the approaching change of season all rolled into one.

My friend Spo is just as crazy about tomatoes as I am and was bemoaning his inability to grow and, more important, harvest the ripened berry of Solanum lycopersicum in his southern climate.  In response to his request of yesterday here's my all-time favourite performer: the divine Josephine singing a timely warning about the fruit of the vine!

September 10 - 1939: World War II: Canada declares war on Nazi Germany, joining the Allies – France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Raising the Tent - 1953

When the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1953 Tanya Moiseiwitsch’s iconic stage was at the centre of a concrete amphitheatre. However there was neither sufficient monies nor assurance of longevity to do other than enclose the “wooden O*” with canvas. For the first four years of the Festival history the Bard was declaimed in a large tent, often to the sounds of pounding rain, whistles from the nearby train yards and umpires' calls from the local baseball diamond.

Nestled in Queen's Park the original home of the Festival rose 61' above the landscape and was 150' in diameter.  It's original cost was $23,000.

From 1953 to 1956 canvas covered Tanya Moiseiwitsch's thrust stage set in a concrete
amphitheatre. When money became tight that first year local contractor Oliver Gaffney
refused to stop work and completed the theatre in time for opening night.  His daughter
Anita is now the Festival's Executive Director. 

In 1953 Tent Master Roy "Skip" Manly and his crew - many of them local volunteers - raise the tent for
the first time.  It took two whole days to complete the operation.  Two miles of cable and 10 miles of rope kept audience and performers protected and dry - most of the time!  This photo was the inspiration for the sculpture group that now adorns the lawn in front of the theatre.

It's hard to imagine sitting for three hours of Shakespeare in
one of these original seats from the tent days.  And what's with the
single armrest?  I guess there was no fighting to see who got it.

At the end of the 1956 season when Christopher Plummer had sounded his final call to the troops at Agincourt the tent was struck for the last time.  By the opening of the 1957 season Robert Fairchild’s unique round structure resounded to the, by now, familiar sound of Louis Applebaum's trumpet fanfare and the answer to Plummer’s Hamlet was:  it is “to be”.  The building has undergone major changes since I first saw it back in 1958 most involved reconfiguring the stage.  But in 1997 the theatre itself was totally renovated with the addition of public spaces for talks, food and drink, a very pleasant members' lounge, as well as an expanded backstage.  And the Festival has grown to four theatres and a season that stretches from April until October - all of it inside without a train whistle to be heard**!

Robert Fairchild's innovative re-imagining of the original tent was expanded in 1997 and turned into an event centre that would have brought joy to the hearts  of Sir Tyrone, Tom Patterson, Miss Moiseiwitsch, "Skip" Manley, Oliver Gaffney and the incredible people who had a vision back in 1953. 
To celebrate the next stage in the Theatre's life and the first raising of the tent a sculpture grouping was created by a talented group of artisans working at the Festival.  As well as honouring the people who made the renewal in 1997 possible designer Douglas Paraschuk paid tribute to the remarkable "Skip" and stage carpenter Al Jones, who's handiwork included that first thrust platform.

This sculpture group on the lawn in front of the Festival Theatre celebrates the many people who's contributions made the renovation of the theatre possible.  But it also commemorates that first exciting day when "Skip" Manly and his crew - many of them local volunteers - raised the canvas on one of the four Queen poles. 

Design Coordinator Douglas Paraschuk's concept was realized in the Festival Workshops by property maker Ruth Abernathy with the assistance of Frank Holte and Brian Mcleod.  Another example of the exceptional creative work that comes out of the Festival shops.

Tent Master extraordinaire Roy "Skip" Manly (right) was known throughout the circus world as one of the greats - and as the years passed Festival veteran Al Jones (left) became as much a legend for his wizardry as a stage carpenter.
The one thing I find a bit puzzling is the little girl and her dog sitting in the bleachers watching - for some reason it strikes me as more Dorothy pointing the way to Oz than anything.  I don't really see where it was needed - those two figures straining at the ropes are enough, in my mind,  to convey the dream and the hard work that established the Festival.   I'm also not fond of the ostentatious statue of the Bard that stands nearby either.  However I do find the lovely rose garden with it's simple plaque remembering Ann Casson (Campbell) a touching tribute to a much respected member of the  company.

The gardens around the Festival Theatre are quite lush - almost too much so - however this simple rose garden serves as a memorial to Ann Casson.  The daughter of Dame Sybil Thorndyke and Sir Lewis Casson she came to Canada with her husband Douglas Campbell.  He was a member of the original company and she was to appear in subsequent seasons.

Though the Festival has grown well beyond the hopes of any of those original (in so many senses of the word) dreamers who watched as that first tent was unfurled in Queen's Park there remians a slightly homespun atmosphere to it all.   We are still in small town Ontario, there is still a nearby baseball diamond and there is still a wonder that this is all here.

*Well okay the concrete O in this case but let's be literary rather than literal!

**Stratford was once a railway hub with as many as 30 passenger trains going through a day - now there are only four though an old chap at the station was optimistic that there would be an increase in service in the future. 

September 9 - 1839: John Herschel takes the first glass plate photograph.