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Another America

November 2014

I want to bring back into the world of men some little bit of wisdom.  There is a little wisdom in the world; Heraclitus, Spinoza, and a saying here and there. I want to add to it, even if only ever so little.

Bertrand Russell

Manifest:

This website is the manifest of a group of writers dedicated to the celebration of the written word–both classic and contemporary. It is open to any writer who wishes to submit his work (see Submissions, left panel). Rights to the submissions  remain solely those of the submitting authors. Select submissions are presented freely as posts and  may be withdrawn at the request of the submitting author or by determination of our editorial board.  Another America is also open to photographs, videos, music and even such paintings as our readers shall be moved to share. We have been a web presence since early in the new century.  We continue to  chart a highly inclusive course.  All are invited and many will find (as many have found) respite and a home.

The Editors

The Library Arts Alliance:

The Library Arts Alliance benefits the Library Foundation of Los Angeles (LFLA),  and/or the central, local or university libraries in municipalities across America.

Details and contact information are listed above and below:

The Library Arts Alliance.

 

 

What About Today?

Kaufman 5

Grigorio Expansive

An Expansive Query

Greg Stanford

I recently attended a recital by soprano Ana Maria Martinez shortly after having seen Simon O’Neill and Ailyn Perez in a performance of Otello at the Houston Grand Opera. I went to the recital alone and found myself seated next to a charming couple who turned out to be enthusiastic opera lovers. During the intermission, we were discussing Ms. Martinez’s fine talent as well as that recent Otello. Asked my opinion of the Otello, I  spoke of its merits and faults, including Perez’s lovely Desdemona. I gave O’Neill’s voice due praise, but said his characterization had failed to arouse the deep emotions I once routinely experienced in that masterpiece’s final two acts. Previously, Johan Botha’s performances of the title role had also left me cold.

 In the course of this discussion, I mentioned the overwhelming effect achieved by Jon Vickers in the five performances I had seen of his Moor in the 1970’s, as well as commenting quite favorably on various performances I had seen with James McCracken and Placido Domingo. My new friends seemed unaware of Vickers, which sparked reflections about the singers I had seen in the late ’60’s and the first half of the ’70’s, as well those I have seen in recent years. In the course of these musings, I thought of comments I had heard from readers who wondered why my essays were focused so heavily on singers of the past rather than those who are currently singing.

 By now it is no secret to readers of The Ear that when it comes to singers, I have a predilection for the tenor voice. In my youth the top tenors included Richard Tucker, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Nicolai Gedda and Jon Vickers, but that didn’t stop me from investigating and appreciating such past greats as Caruso, McCormack, Schipa, Melchior, Bjorling, et al. Aside from the Bel Canto specialists (a welcome trend), today’s list is headed by Jonas Kaufmann and Vittorio Grigolo. Nowadays, anyone who is an opera lover is familiar with these two and information about them abounds, as well as easy access to their recorded work through C.D.’s, You Tube, Live in H.D., etc. Anyone who cares to make the effort can see them perform, as I did a few months ago when I attended a recital by Grigolo at the Met and saw Kaufmann’s superb Werther a few days later. But how many of their fans are aware of the greatness of those on the first list above, much less the second, as well as so many other wonderful past tenors?

 For decades, old-timers have bemoaned the passing of the Golden Age and predicted the end of great singing. Fortunately, they all eventually turned out to be wrong. In fact, the decade of the 1930’s was a particularly ominous period. Perhaps the only great singers to appear on the scene during the ’30’s were Kirsten Flagstad and Jussi Bjorling, who belong on anyone’s list of immortals. Just as the opera world had all but given up hope, the period beginning after the end of World War Two gave rise to a new Golden Age. This remarkable period of plenty lasted into the 1970’s, when the supply of first rate new talent began to dwindle. To return for a moment to my tenor example, how many truly great new tenors came along between the advent of the young Jose Carreras in the early ’70’s and the end of the last century? I can think of none.

 Fortunately, the new century has brought us many new singers in all the voice categories, if we exclude the now seemingly extinct contralto and the true Wagnerian heldentenor. Many of these singers have helped to again raise the general quality of singing. Though the jury is still out concerning this being another Golden Age, things look promising from this vantage point.

 Due to personal circumstances, the peak of my own opera-going experiences began in the late 1960’s and continued until the end of the ’80’s. Due first to “connections”, then to my professional activity, I had many personal experiences involving several opera greats as well as witnessing countless wonderful performances during those years. Schwarzkopf, Tebaldi, Nilsson, Sutherland, Price, Caballe, Horne, Ludwig, Baker, Fiescher-Dieskau, Gobbi, MacNeil, Merrill, Milnes, Siepi, Ghiaurov and all the tenors on that above list from my youth were among the many I was able to see, in most cases often, and that’s the short version of a very long list. The period starting with the first opera I attended in 1966 and extending well into the ’70’s was particularly rich, as it coincided with the last years of that long-awaited post-war resurgence. With so many now legendary names in my memory, is it any wonder that I tend to focus on that period? It almost seems an obligation, made worthwhile if even a few people discover these wonders of the relatively recent past through an interest sparked by reading these articles. There is no shortage of writings on the major singers of today, and I plan to add to that list to a certain extent. Although most of my favorite singers are no longer active, my ears and mind are always open and alert in the search for the new talent to fill the very large shoes of the great singers who live in my memory and whose voices and art can still be enjoyed by anyone who cares to investigate.

 No great artist can ever be replaced, as all are unique, but some may be more “replaceable” than others. There is certainly no Wagnerian soprano now singing who can come close to matching Birgit Nilsson. Who today can rival Jon Vickers in such roles as Otello, Tristan, Aeneas, or Grimes? Who since Corelli has been really great in Turandot or Andrea Chenier, to name just two? Where is the American Verdi baritone to continue the remarkable succession which began with Lawrence Tibbett and seems to have ended with Sherrill Milnes? And so on it goes, though this is not to say that we don’t now have many wonderful singers and can always hope for new names to answer the above questions.

 As for me, I plan to continue to focus primarily on the giants I was so fortunate to see and on some of the experiences associated with them and hope I am around long enough to realize that I am yet again among the lucky contemporaries of a new Golden Age.

Carlo Bergonzi

Carlo Bergonzi

    “In braccio a morte”

The recent death of the great Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi at age 90 brings back many wonderful memories. One of the most striking of these memories is that I never saw a Bergonzi recital that was not attended by from one to several of his younger tenor colleagues, including Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. They all knew they had something to learn from the master. This situation is by no means common; I cannot recall ever seeing a noted tenor attending a recital or concert by any major tenor other than Bergonzi. The last time I heard this paragon was in Madrid when he was 65 years old. Excepting some strain beginning at B flat, he was the same great singer as ever. Many have testified to the surprisingly high quality of his singing at a New York recital when he was 75! But the core of our memories of this fine artist go back to the years of his happily long prime.

 The Italian phrase in my title (“In the arms of death”) comes from the final scene of Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera which offered Bergonzi what most admirers considered his finest role. How appropriate that it is by Verdi, as Bergonzi was always particularly associated with the music of his great compatriot. He may have lacked the trumpet-like brilliance and glamour of such as Del Monaco or Corelli, but what he did have to offer more than compensated for that. There is much to be said for such virtues as impeccable legato, sound vocal technique, beautiful tone and fine musicianship, and these were among the qualities that Bergonzi possessed in abundance. Indeed, his solid technique and the wisdom never to push his lovely voice beyond its natural limitations, while still sustaining the necessary stamina and security in the upper register needed for some of Verdi’s heavier roles, helped make Bergonzi a master interpreter even of roles in such Verdi operas as Il Trovatore, La Forza Del Destino and Aida.

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Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve

I hear people around me often say that the situation in the world is getting worse and worse. They seem to imply that in the past things were better, much better than they are today. They will talk about wars, global warming, pollution, violence in the streets, political leaders, the economy, insecurity, etc. to justify their pessimism. – What do these people think the world was like before? Do they think the Middle Ages were pretty? Do they think of the earth in the dinosaur age as some kind of pristine garden of love and harmony? Do they think the great plagues and famines that ravished the earth for thousands (maybe millions, even billions…) of years were times of joy and celebration? Do they not know how long humans lived before and how much they suffered? Do they think killing each other with swords, lances, and clubs is better than killing each other with drones and bombs? Do they think executions on crosses were better than electric chairs? Do they think the lives of peasants and slaves (certainly the vocation of most people on earth for the greater part of our “known” history) were a bowl of cherries? Have these people ever visited a Civil War hospital or Mexico during the Spanish invasion five hundred years ago? Have they seen a court of law in the eleventh century? Have they studied the two great wars of the twentieth century (what was it?…100,000,000 people killed?)? Continue reading

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