Monday, October 20, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

I will admit that at one time I had this this little gem in my collection of cookbooks.  I honestly don't recall if I ever use any of the recipes in it but I know it did disappear on to the table at some charity book sale more than a decade ago.  As I recall I purchased it more as a remind of the way things use to be than the way I intended things to be.  Now when I say "the way things use to be" I don't mean in my mother's kitchen.  Her's was a fairly rigid English meat, boiled potatoes, over-boiled veg menu.  Exotic was using mustard when making a grilled cheesed sandwich.  Canned soup was made for eating as soup not as some sort of sauce, peanut butter was for toast and jello was cubed and served as desert. And miniature marshmallows?  they were not to be seen in Isabella's kitchen.

However that does not mean I escaped the delightful dishes which "will astound your guests" and that could be made from Kraft miniature marshmallows, velveeta cheese, peanut butter or jello.  There was never a church supper or pot luck that did not include some culinary treasure that Bruce Marsh had introduced us to on the commercial break of the Kraft Music Hall or between periods of Saturday Night Hockey. 

The other day I was reminded of those church suppers and pot-lucks when a FB friend posted a truly frightening recipe from the 1950s involving frozen waffles, ham, mushroom soup and probably, I really couldn't bring myself to finish reading it, miniature marshmallows.  And it also brought to mind a William Bolcom song that my friend Ron use to quote when we'd plan pot-lucks in later years.  Unfortunately I couldn't find a really good video of that Boclom-artist par excellence Joan Morris however this version by the lovely lady at Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en gives us both the aural and visual delights of Lime Jell-O Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise.

And just to tease and tantalize your palate I thought I'd include these two pictures to show you young folk what you missed by not living in those heady days of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Yes Virginia they really did make jello salads with marshmallows and mayonnaise; and as for that second picture I'm not sure what it is suppose to be but the ad guaranteed that it would impress my husband's boss and get him his promotion.

October 20 - 1943: The cargo vessel Sinfra is attacked by Allied aircraft at Souda Bay, Crete, and sunk. 2,098 Italian prisoners of war drown with it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

Back in 1966 Michael Flanders and Donald Swann brought their two-man show At the Drop of Another Hat to the O'Keefe Centre.  It was the second of two revues - the first called, rather appropriately, At the Drop of a Hat - that they performed in for over four years before ending their partnership in 1967.  They had teamed up in 1956 and over the next eleven years were to perform their witty songs and monologues over 2000 times in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Switzerland (?), the US and Canada.

In those days the O'Keefe Centre was almost my second home - I've honestly lost track of the number of musicals, operas, ballets and plays I saw from its opening in1960 until I left Toronto in 1976 but certainly I recall these two gentlemen and in particular their take on Mozart.

In the comments on Youtube someone wrote that hearing Flanders and Swann's "Ill Wind" was their introduction to Mozart.  I can't say that but they did introduce me to the Horn Concerti and one of the great recordings of the second half of the 20th century.  In November 1953  Dennis Brain, Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded the four concerti in what are still considered definitive performances to this day.  Here's the no. 4 that Flanders and Swann so freely - and amusingly - borrowed from.

October 15 -1815: Napoleon I of France begins his exile on Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

Been there!  Done that!  Have the souvenir coffee mug but the decal came off in the dishwasher.

Thanks to Yannis for this one.

October 13 -1843: In New York City, Henry Jones and 11 others found B'nai B'rith (the oldest Jewish service organization in the world).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

And to celebrate the harvest festival what could be more lovely than the New Apostolic Church of Capetown Choir and Orchestra singing an old gospel favourite.  I had forgotten that the first lines of that hymn remind us that we should be "sowing seeds of kindness" and through that act we will be "rejoicing bringing in the sheaves".  Not a bad thing to remember as we gives thanks for the good lives most of us enjoy.

October 12 - 1823: Charles Macintosh of Scotland sells the first raincoat.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

Maurel was a bit of a dandy and considered a
matinee idol by his adoring public.  Here he
as captured by Spy (Leslie Ward) for the
October 20, 1898 edition of Vanity Fair.
As I said in my previous post Verdi's Falstaff is on of my favourite operas and I hope to write about last Friday's performance by the COC with Gerald Finley.  But for today's Mercoledi Musicale I thought I'd reach back to 14 years after the work's premiere in 1893; in 1907 the great French baritone Victor Maurel who had created the role recorded a short excerpt from the opera.  (The record label in the video indicates 1904 but apparently this is an error in the reissue.)

And I do mean short.  "Quand'ero paggio" lasts all of 35 seconds and is one of those moments in a score full of melodies that come and go with the speed of quicksilver.  In fact to fill the side of the 78rpm disc Columbia had Maurel sing it not once, not twice but three times - twice in Italian and once in French for good measure.  It is rather delightfully encored at the insistence of at least three stout fellows in the studio with encouraging cries of "Bravo" and a clarion call for a "bis".  I'm not sure but one of those voices sounds suspiciously like the good artist himself.

I always loved the way this tiny vignette just pops up in response to Alice Ford's less than flattering remark about Falstaff "vulnerabil popla" - amble flesh.   He quickly assures her that things were different when he was a mere slip of a lad:

Quand'ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk
ero sottile, sottile, sottile,
ero un miraggio vago, leggiero, gentile.
Quello era il tepo del mio verde aprile,
quello era il tempo del mio lieto maggio.
Tant'era smilzo, flessibile e snello
che sarei guizzato attraverso un annello.
When I was page to the Duke of Norfolk
I was so so slender, a mirage,
light and fair, and very genteel.
That was my verdant April season,
the joyous Maytime of my life.
Then I was so lean, so lithe, so slender,
you could have slipped me through a ring.

Maurel was to sing the role of Falstaff in many major opera houses including the work's premieres in France and the United States.  At the Metropolitan alone he sang it 22 times.  In each city his portrayal was greeted with unstinting praise.   And how this debonair French man turned himself into Verdi and Boito's "mountain of fat" was a favourite news topic of the day.   In April 1894 an article showing the transformation appeared in one of the many illustrated magazine to coincide with the Paris premiere.  Obviously it was a good press piece and possibly Maurel carried it around with him as it showed up in periodicals in England and America.

Maurel was one of the preeminent singing actors of his day and Verdi was quoted as asking in admiration,  "Was there ever such a complete artist?"  After hearing him Wagner  cried, "Friends, come, salute a great artist".  But his vanity - and vain he was of both his appearance and his standing in the music world -    almost ruined his chances of creating the two roles that would guarantee him a place in the operatic Pantheon:  Iago and Falstaff.   After it became known in the mid-1880s that Verdi was working on an opera based on Shakespeare's Othello Maurel began to brag that Verdi was writing Iago for him.  Now the working title of the new opera, in deference to Rossini's Otello, was Iago, and Verdi had mentioned that he was writing the villainous character with Maurel in mind but did not want it voiced all over Europe.  It's said he almost sought another singer for the role but relented because he knew what the baritone could bring to the role.

In 1903 Maurel recorded Iago's aria "Era la notte" - by this time his voice, never known for its lyrical beauty, had diminished but his artistry was still at its peak.

In the case of Falstaff correspondence reveal that Maurel became increasingly demanding of La Scala and to a certain extent Verdi.  He believe that he had a right to sing the role and asked for larger than normal fee.  There was some unpleasantness but again the threat of being deprived of the role he so desperately wanted made him back away from his demands. 

Maurel was to retire in 1909,  two years after he made that little recording of "Quand'ero paggio" for Columbia.  He did not give up the stage completely and turned to designing - a production he did for the Met of Gounod's Mireille evoked the colours and landscape of his native Provence.  After several years in Paris he settled in New York City where he taught young singers until his death in 1923 at the age of 75.

October 8 - 1645:  Jeanne Mance opened the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, the first lay hospital in North America.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Gaie comari di Windsor

Falstaff goes courting the ladies of Windsor.
The great French baritone Victor Maurel
who created Verdi's Iago and Falstaff.
When I first heard it I remember being puzzled by Falstaff.  This wasn't the Verdi  I worshiped and adored: the Verdi of the soaring aria, the tearful father-daughter duets or the grand ensembles.  This was a Verdi of parlando, ariosi that came and went quickly, quartets that turned into duets that became octets, all with nary a pause for breath or applause.  And to my youthful ears (I was 11 or 12 at the time) it was all pretty unmelodic and didn't really sound the way opera should.  It seemed that Verdi was reverting to the style of Monteverdi or Cavalli - composers whose works I was also struggling with at the time.

Now to be fair two things - well okay three if you consider my youthful ignorance - should be taken in to consideration.  First:  Falstaff was a work that went largely unperformed in the venue I had access to at the time - the Met broadcasts and tours, and the Canadian Opera Company.  Second: The only recording I had at hand was the famous and much lauded Toscanini version.  To many this may sound like apostasy but I have grown to dislike Toscanini's Falstaff.  Yes I know he has a direct link with the work but I find his performance driven, brittle and utterly lacking in humour - much like the man himself.  I was to discover that there was more joy, wit and humanity in the piece than in almost any other opera I had ever heard.

Falstaff was a signature role for Geraint Evans - seen here in
1964 at the Met.  Falstaff bemoans the unfairness of life after
his dunking in the Thames.
Part of that realization came in 1964 when I journeyed to New York to see the first performance the Met had given in over twenty years.  It was at the old house, the production was by a young Franco Zefferelli and the cast though less than stellar had been molded into a cracker-jack ensemble by Leonard Bernstein, making his debut at the house.  Apparently I was mistaken - the old man from Busseto knew exactly what he was doing.

Performances became more frequent - even the COC did it for the first time back in 1982 with Louis Quilico; more recordings appeared led by many of the great conductors: Von Karajan, Solti, Bernstein, Guilini, Davis, Abbado and Muti.  Though none were perfect - if such a thing could exist - all were to reveal - to my ears - the autumnal as well as comedic subtleties and colour of the miraculous collaboration between Shakespeare, Boito  and Verdi.

Louis Quilico as Falstaff with the COC in 1982.
After the COC in '82 I though I was to hear many records and see several productions on TV or DVD I wasn't to see another live performance until Rome in 2010 - a production that I wrote about at the time.  Even for all its drawbacks I came out of the theatre that December evening and walked back home in the crisp early morning air - the Zefferelli scene changes added almost an hour to the performing time - feeling that all was right with the world.

After attending the COC's most recent production last Friday night I came out of the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto feeling much the same way.  What I had seen was in no way perfect but it left me feeling that despite all the troubles in the world, despite what the media was reporting, despite any personal peeves I might have at the moment, there was still much that was right with the world. 

Gerald Finley made his first appearance as Verdi's Fat Knight last Friday
evening at the opening of the COC season.  It was a more than auspicious
role debut and it is a performance that will only grow richer as time goes by.  
Hopefully by the end of the week I will have gathered my thoughts on Friday night's performance and written a bit more about it.

October 7 - 1919: KLM, the flag carrier of the Netherlands, is founded. It is the oldest airline still operating under its original name.