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Another America

JANUARY 2015

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 Select submissions are presented freely as posts and  may be withdrawn at the request of the submitting author or by determination of our editorial board.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.

 

 

Nimbus Prima Voce Series

 

The Nimbus Prima Voce C.D. Series

Greg Stanford

Since writing my recent piece “What About Today”, I have fortunately heard further evidence that the supply of fine new vocal talent is continuing to increase. At the same time, some of the new voices heard recently have sent me back to singers from the first four decades of the 20th Century to make some comparisons. My collection includes many discs from the British label Nimbus.  They pioneered their remarkable recording technique in 1989.  The Nimbus Prima Voce Series makes listening to these past singers a much richer and more rewarding experience than it used to be. Most of these C.D.’s are easily available on Amazon, often for bargain prices. They are by far the best way to hear singers whose recordings were made on 78 R.P.M. records. The sound quality difference between the Prima Voce Series and other transfer methods is particularly striking in pre-1925 acoustic recordings, though considerable improvement is also obvious in electrical recordings made beginning in 1925, when the microphone made it possible to record a full orchestra, as well as bringing increased fidelity to recorded voices.

Nimbus’s technology for transfer of the old 78’s is unique. They constructed a small, acoustically ideal “hall”, where they placed a specially constructed horn gramophone equivalent to the best models made in the early 20th Century. Thorn needles were used, as they produced the best sound. Digital microphones were placed in the tiny hall and a mint copy of the 78 played on the gramophone while the sound engineers recorded the playback digitally from outside the hall. Thus the voices were finally allowed to resonate in ideal playback circumstances in acoustically perfect surroundings. The results are much more satisfying than before, as the resonance of the little hall frees the voices from the acoustically dry recording rooms where the originals were made. Originally, only people with the highest quality gramophone placed in a room with fine acoustics (obviously a rare combination in a home) could have heard similar results. Nimbus has now made these wonderful old singers palatable to the ears of a more general modern audience than only the collectors and specialists, always a small minority, who cannot help but be delighted as well.  Continue reading

“Miracle Child”

Plane Crash Crop

“Miracle Child Survives Plane Crash”

This and variations of the same were headlines  early in the New Year of our collective consciousness.  It was a feel-good story and  a welcome antidote to the Syrian civil war’s displaced and dead, Isis be-headings and disappearing passenger jets–to name only a few of the receding year’s dismal news leads.

Even so, I am reminded of a movie moment from my childhood.  The film was called “The Big Fishermen.”  The anglers in question were soon to become fishers of men.  At this juncture in the film the nascent disciples had survived a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  One of the sailors (who had been fished out of the water by the burly, no nonsense  John) was thanking God for his deliverance.   John sagely averred: “You can thank God for the storm–you can thank me for saving your sorry ass!”  That was a paraphrase and there have been those who have questioned my memory of at least a portion of the last line.

The child who dropped from the sky is named, appropriately enough,  Sailor.  If it was a miracle that she walked from the plane’s wreckage, it was a miracle that her mother, father, sister and cousin did not share.  If one argues that God selected her for survival, than one must also suggest that he selected her family for a fate less benign. In the quiet of her loss or perhaps in some later moment of reflection she might have arguably felt more blessed had the Deity  spared her family and landed the plane in the airport in the not too many miles distant.  If she doesn’t unilaterally buy the “miraculous child” line she might well run for cover when she hears the distant rumble of a passing storm.

In Jon Ferguson’s meditation on Mankind as “Beasts” he warns about the human propensity to assign our fates to a casual agency in general and to a deity, in particular:

“Do most beasts’ lives end because they: a) get sick and die?  b) die of “old age”?  c) get eaten by another beast or beasts?   d) are murdered?  e) are killed in territorial, religious, or political wars?   f) are victims of accidents? g) are victims of suicide?  h) are victims of natural disasters? – But what if all of these causes of death can be lumped into one cause? Let us think…There is a way…If all existence is “natural”, if all beasts are part of “nature” (man-beasts included), then couldn’t we simply say that all death – all the continuous, horrendous, useless, accidental, merciful, disgusting, tragic, pitiful, inevitable death on the planet earth – is a “natural disaster”? Yes, if we put the man-beast back in his rightful place – back in nature – then all death is “a natural disaster”. At least it seems fair to say that up to now there have been no signs of “divine” intervention.”

Miracle Child? Perhaps, perhaps not…

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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