Friday, December 31, 2010

Retro TV Friday

This round of Retro TV Friday is naturally a Dick Clark themed one since he was New Year's Eve from the time ABC dominated until his stroke in the past half-decade recently. But here are a few clips of him on the opposite side of the desk where I grew up watching him (and I've quoted his signature phrase).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Opera Thursday

What better opera to look at for my final Opera Thursday of the year that Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus.

Now, Die Fledermaus ("The Bat") doesn't really have anything to do with the New Year - it's a comedy about mistaken identity, practical jokes, and huge misunderstandings, all against the backdrop of a masquerade ball. How then, you may ask, did it wind up becoming a New Year's tradition? In addition to the lightheartedness of the story, it's probably due to lyrics such as "Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist..." ("Happy is he who forgets what can't be changed..."), as this site suggests. The masked ball is also evocative of the New Year's Eve party, which has helped make this operetta a New Year's favorite not only in Strauss' home of Vienna, but in opera houses throughout the world.

Frequently, the New Year's Eve performance will feature cameo appearances by big-name stars from the non-opera as well as the opera world (last year's Washington D.C. performance featured Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, striking a greater blow for bipartisanship than anything the president has done lately), and a genial, party atmosphere. For this video clip, we've got a 1994 performance by the Vienna State Opera, featuring Karita Mattila and Hermann Prey. Ulf Schirmer conducts the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bud Greenspan, R.I.P.

To cut to the chase: Bud Greenspan was the best film documentarian there was.  Period.  Better than the Burns brothers, Ken and Ric, who did so much to popularize the long form documentary.  Better than the father-and-son team of Ed and Steve Sabol, whose NFL Films played a major role in forming the modern conception of the National Football League.  Better than David L. Wolper, who made the television documentary so accessible in the 60s and 70s.  Better than Errol Morris, whose Thin Blue Line transcended the genre to be seen as a mainstream movie.  Better even than Michael Moore.

Perhaps the only documentarian in the same league with Greenspan was Leni Riefenstahl, and it's ironic that both of them came to their greatest fame through the Olympics, for it was Greenspan's epic 1976 television series The Olympiad that first brought him widespread fame.  There was just something about the Greenspan style; his companion and business partner, Nancy Beffa, described it well:

Bud was a storyteller first and foremost. He never lost his sense of wonder and he never wavered in the stories he wanted to tell, nor how he told them.  No schmalzy music, no fog machines, none of that. He wanted to show why athletes endured what they did and how they accomplished what so few people ever do.
And that's exactly it.  No mawkishness, no tinkling piano music - things that have undone many a fine documentary.  David Perry's sparse, precise, emotionless narration was the perfect compliment to Greenspan's stories.  With all due respect to voiceover giants such as John Facenda*, Perry (who, incidentally, was Greenspan's brother) never distracted from the importance of the words he spoke.  Ken Burns may have perfected the art of celebrity narrators speaking in the voices of his subjects, but Perry's anonymous omnipresence underscored, rather than overlayed, the powerful images on screen.

*Also known as The Voice of God.

Another thing about Greenspan's technique:: sound effects.  Many of them were dubbed in, of course (doubtful that there were sound movies of the 1904 Olympics), but the very artificality of them only heightened the drama.  The lonely sounds - a shoe digging into the gravel of the track, the heavy breathing of the long-distance runner, the echoless shot of the starter's pistol, the silence broken by the roar of the crowd - isolated Greenspan's film images in a way that made them stand out even more than as if they had been shot in 3-D.  For that single moment sports was not of this world, not of the mundane, but existed in a vacuum where the only things that mattered were the athlete and the finish line.  Much, one might imagine, as the athletes themselves might have experienced it.

If you listened to Greenspan's prose being spoken, or caught a glimpse of him on television, you might have thought him a serious, perhaps even humorless man.  Not so.  In his frequent appearances with Johnny Carson (Greenspan wearing his trademark turtleneck, glasses perched on top of his bald head*), he often brought along very funny sports blooper reels, on which he commented with a dry sense of humor.

*True story.  I saw Greenspan on Tonight once, his glasses in their customary place, and Carson cracked everyone up with a comment about how Greenspan must have been looking out of the top of his head, or something like that.  It was much funnier when Johnny said it, and would have been funnier now if I could remember it exactly.  But the memory of it is still funny to me.

He and his late wife Cappy were true partners until her death in 1982 (he named the production company after her, Cappy Productions).  He once said of her that "Everything I wrote, I used her as my model. I talked about courage and spirit and endurance and talent, and for all my scripts I used Cappy as an example. I told her that once. She said, 'Aw, go on.' I said, 'Listening to Beethoven and thinking about you is very inspiring.' "

The Olympics weren't Greenspan's only gig on the sporting scene.  For several years in the early 80s, back before the Heisman Trophy went all Hollywood (or all ESPN, at any rate), Greenspan produced the syndicated Heisman broadcast, with its centerpiece being three or four ten-minute vinettes on past Heisman winners.  Done with all the Greenspan trademarks, including Perry's narration, those profiles brought to life the dramatic stories of Ernie Davis, Johnny Rodgers, Nile Kinnick, John Huarte, and other winners - some household names, others mere footnotes in the fog of sports history.  In Greenspan's hands, they became titans: not overhyped superheroes, but quiet men pursuring a dream.  Unlike the show today, it was - dignified.

And that's a good word to use to describe Bud Greenspan's work.  He didn't romanticize sports, didn't gloss over its faults or pretend everything was a fairytale.  He returned to Berlin with Jesse Owens, told the story of Larry Doby (the first black American League player), covered the horror of the Munich Olympics.  He won seven Emmys, a Peabody, Lifetime Achievement awards from the Directors Guild and the Emmys, and was inducted into a bunch of halls of fame.  Not bad for a lifetime, but if you ask me, the real award was the work that Bud Greenspan did, and the true winners were those of us who had the chance to view them.

Bud Greenspan died on Christmas Day of Parkinson's, at the age of 84.  Through it all, he gave you the whole picture, straight up, no chaser.  And nobody did it better.  

More Intolerable Acts: START and Net Neutrality

AAnother round of Intolerable Acts has struck.

It seems the Congress of Pelosi and Reid and liberals of the FCC have seen the moves by England in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party, and have passed another round of Intolerable Acts to impose their agenda that we rejected on the people.

Another treaty, this time favouring Россия, in the START treaty. It seems when your necessity is to pluck less than ten of the opposition, including the legislator we've called “Grahamnesty,” to surrender our weaponry while letting Россия run amok, we have surrendered the nation to them. Terrorists and dangerous nations such as nations with the word “People's Republic” in them (DPRK, PRC) will have the ability to have dangerous weapons to attack us, while our defence will be worthless. In effect, with this Intolerable Act, we have allowed the enemy to run roughshod over us with our Front Seven and Secondary being unable to make contact with any nation, while they can hit our guys. Now we have surrendered our sovereignty in lawmaking to the European Union by court orders (see Constitutional Right to Sodomy and coddling of teen criminals), now we are allowing other nations to dictate what we can do in defence (START).

Add this to “Net Neutrality” which will be used to outlaw Webcasts of radio programming that is opposition to the propaganda machine of this Administration, their goal is set. First we shut down the Armed Forces and replace it with the Department of Social Engineering, Special Rights Division. Now we weaken our defence against terrorists and rogue nations. This Administration reminds me of West Coast Basketball – no defence at all!

It does seem to be 1774. We've raised our hand to say no to these liberal activists, and they decide full speed ahead to impose their agenda to say we did not win at all since they will have made their victories as revenge. We have a King George III in Barack Obama and his triumvirate colleagues of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid imposing their Intolerable Acts on us. Kyrie eleison!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wish I'd Written That

Wonder if the horse I ride on stage in act two (of "Fanciulla del West") could pick me up on his way to the Met(ropolitan Opera House)? Probably the most reliable transport in this blizzard!"

-- Deborah Voigt, in discussion of the Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Opinion Digest: a look at the anger over the creation of the Department of Social Engineering, Special Rights Division (US Armed Forces, RIP)

An angry mob has descended on this nation, with the Congressional mandated demolition of the Armed Forces in favour of a new Department of Social Engineering, Special Rights Division.

Here are a few columns on the issue.

Daniel Blomberg: Religious Liberty problems with new military policy favouring special rights activists

Albert Moher: What's Really At Stake.

Pat Buchanan: The Marines: Sacrificed for San Francisco Values.

David Limbaugh: Understanding the Left's Intolerance for Intolerance. (aka forcing The New Tolerance)

The Washington Times: The Left's Legislative Rampage.
Robert Knight: Reckless Congress Makes Case for Recall.

Bill Connor: Biblical Code versus Open Sexual Deviancy.

More Christmastide music

As is tradition on the blog, we hold our Christmastide celebration throughout the necessary days. And as someone who appreciates great hymns (and has a tendency to sing the first verse of this in Latin), I found this intriguing in Wien -- three different languages. The English is the third verse (the second verse is almost always forgotten in denominational hymnals) but in Charleston on Christmas Eve we always have all four verses (in English).

This Franck tune was found in my voice teacher's pocket during the runup to an informal recital at her home we had years ago, and she had me learn it. Again, this is from Wien. It's another song that's sung around Christmastide that, through the nine years of classical music ties I've had, makes me appreciate the wonderful songs we don't sing it seems now.

I'd love to do this baby in Latin (which I didn't then) but it's something I want to sing in Latin. Frederica von Staade and Kathleen Battle with this. Just don't put peas in the pasta!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

From all of us to all of you, a very Merry Christmas!

From all of us at Our Word - Mitchell, Judie, Bobby, Steve and Paul - our sincere wishes for a very Merry and Happy Christmas!

Image: American Homestead Winter, Currier and Ives

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas reflections

After reading about Jessye Norman's rendition of "The Holy City," I wonder how after learning the song was written by Freemasons, and the doctrine of the Masonic, against the Last Judgement of Christians. Don't know if theologically it is apropos; too many of my friends would not accept such false doctrine.

It seems every year when we reach Christmas, the increasing hoofbeats of secularism have greatly increased. It becomes harder each year to find manger scene decorations, while decorations for winter celebrations continue to pilfer. As ESPN's Allen Bestwick wrote in regards to a Christmas memory, he was asked to cover the "Race of 1,000 Years" ACO-sanctioned sportscar event run in 2000 at Victoria Park in Adelaide, South Australia. The seasons flip in the Southern Hemisphere, and this year's temperature for Christmas will be a beautiful 86 degrees with a breezy 11 MPH wind for the summer this year. Mr. Bestwick noted the family went to Australia for the fun (and the summer temperatures) and probably spent a nice summer on the beach while preparing for his assignment for the 1,000km race which was never run again (the track was shortened by removing the Brabham Straight, and is used for V8 Supercars). Having a friend in Dee Why (New South Wales) , and another serving on missions in Zambia (100 degrees for Christmas) solidify my conviction that winter celebrations are flat-out wrong. It's all about the Christ Child and the Manger, and I find it tragic I cannot find a manger scene in a general store now. Why are we celebrating winter when you could play a winter song when it snows? This is about the Christ Child, so we have only one thing to celebrate -- his Advent.

Seems Fox broadcasters Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds, along with Eddie Gossage, the man who is giving IndyCar racing a return to the twin-features in 2011, have their Christmas priorities set straight.

Paul Marshall: Away in a Manger. (remembering Christians persecuted for their faith)
Jay Nordlinger: There They Go A-Caroling.  This article is a must-read because you will understand about "White Christmas". It starts with Marilyn Horne being in sunny Palm Springs, and that sets the stage for Bing Crosby's dream. Sadly, this song, along with all of the snowmen, reindeer, and other fat men in a red outfit, has ripped Christmas away from the proper moorings. When you've heard both Luciano Pavarotti's and Wayne Watson's renditions of "Gesu Bambino" (a song I've sung at an informal recital), it's clear which one you prefer.

Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Opera Wednesday

So today I'm walkikng past one of those noontime "Holiday Concerts" they have downtown with a local orchestra of young musicians, and I have to ask: why are they playing the overture to Orpheus in the Underworld?

(Yes, I know they might think of it as "Hurry, Hurry Hercules," but still...)


Here's the great Jessye Norman singing the beautiful, underappreciated, "Holy City," which isn't played nearly often enough during the Christmas season.


And what would Christmas be on this blog without a clip from Amahl and the Night Visitors? (Mitchell would never let me return.) This is from the Teresa Stratas version that NBC did in the late 70s. - "Have You Seen a Child." Menotti thought if he had a do-over he would probably make this shorter, as young audiences tend to squirm a bit. I think it's just fine the way it is.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas greetings of 1962, part 3

Here's one last blast of advertising that we find in the "Community Magazine" from Albert Lea, MN for Christmas, 1962. (Click for parts one and two.)

I like the sentiment in this - "Let us thank you for your past patronage."  Remember that the customer is doing you a favor.  A lot of businesses don't remember that anymore.

Christmastide - now there's a word you don't hear very often.  Sounds vaguely liturgical, doesn't it?  Also serves as a reminder that Christmas is more than one day.  They could have been talking about the lead-up to Christmas - or they could mean the whole twelve days, leading up to Epiphany.

Remember when carolers used to come to the front door?  Maybe they still do - just not here.

Another ad with candles - I really wish we saw more like this.  Notice too how many advertisers wish us something along the lines of "health and happiness"?

Another image of the Virgin and Child.  I can guarantee you wouldn't see this today - again, at least not here.

"Best wishes of the season" - with an image like this, there isn't much doubt as to what season they're talking about.  Remarkable how many of these ads have a religious motif.

Another image of the Wise Men.

This looks a lot like the snowdrifts we're experiencing here in Minnesota!

Finally, Reddy Kilowatt wishes us all a Merry Christmas.  And, by the way, don't forget to use that electricity!

I don't know about you, but I enjoyed going through these ads immensely.  There was only one sour note in the issue (aside from the sense that this is a world lost to us forever), and that comes in what I suppose we'd call the "predictions" section of the magazine.  The column concludes with a prediction of "a year that lies before us clean and untouched.  May it bring joy and successto us and to you."  Indeed, the year was to bring the death of John XXIII, the continuing "work" of the Second Vatican Council, the overthrow of the president of South Vietnam and continuing U.S. involvement, the assassination of President Kennedy, the murder - live on national television - of his accused assassin, the death of C.S. Lewis - well, you get the picture.  Knowing how the year turns out adds an extra note of poignancy to the optimistic hopes for the year.  When, in 50 years, historians look back at 2011, I hope they will see better news.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Intolerable Acts

Taxation that was imposed on the Colonies in the 1760's and 1770's infuriated colonists, who protested, and by 1773, taxes on tea were the only ones remaining, with a monopoly imposed. The infuriated colonists launched a raid on the tea in Boston, leading to the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773. The resulting furore over the protests led to a British attack called the Coercive, or Intolerable Acts.

In the past two years of the Pelosi-Reid-Obama triumverate, we have seen a series of Intolerable Acts of the 21st Century, aimed at a modern mostly conservative protest organisation whose name was derived by CNBC's Rick Santelli on February 19, 2009, knowing of the history of the United States 235 years ago. The result was the birth of the modern Tea Party Movement, protesting against the Left's numerous policies of the past 45 years that has left this country in a lurch, and sending modern Americans to reliving the “spirit of 1773” with this protest.

In the spirit of 1773, it seems Congress has agreed to be the English and pass Intolerable Acts to stop their opponents. A no debate, no discussion, follow the Dear Leader Congress has continued with this action.

The list of Intolerable Acts of the Administration includes:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bobby's Messiah adventures

It's Messiah week and I am joining along for the ride Monday night (for the sixth time) at Washington Street United Methodist Church's Sing-Along Messiah VIII, with Bonnie Lynch (soprano), Janet Hopkins (alto), Ryan Headley (tenor), Marc Rattray (bass) our four soloists. If there's a sing-along this week, come in guys and join in your local sing-along! We, as classical music aficionados, want you to join in your local production!

I decided to go Inside the Numbers for this one.


In the nine years since I began singing, and more recently participating in choral productions, I have been honoured to have participated in Die Jahreszeiten, Messiah, and Mass in C Major.

NOTE: Names in italics are singers who have been soloists in productions where I have sung. Notable musicians who have played at the gigs are mentioned and listed in italics. Except for 2008, soloists listed in order of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The 2008 version is listed differently because the bass and alto are husband and wife.

2005: Tina Milhorn Stallard, Helen Tintes-Schuermann, Walter Cuttino, Jacob Will
Concertmaster: Mary Lee Taylor
Cello: Colleen Marcou Bassoon: Stephanie Whitson (both U09)

2006: Whitney Vance, Ann Benson, David Bankston, Richard Conant
Violin 2: Jennifer Hill Viola: Maurice Hood Cello: Colleen Marcou Oboe: Benjamin Woodruff Bassoon: Stephanie Whitson (all U09)

2007: Serena Hill (J09), Brittnee Siemon, Mark Husey, Hal McIntosh
Oboe: Benjamin Woodruff (U09)

2008: Serena Hill (J09) (soprano), Mark Husey (tenor), and the husband and wife team of Daniel (bass) and Holly (alto) Cole
Violin 2: Jennifer Hill. Viola: Maurice Hood, Audrey Harris. Cello: Colleen Marcou. Oboe: Benjamin Woodruff. Bassoon: Stephanie Whitson (all U09)

2009: Whitney Vance, Elizabeth Woodard, Zach Marshall, Mark Hightower
Violin 2: Jennifer Hill. Viola: Audrey Harris. Cello: Colleen Marcou. Oboe: Benjamin Woodruff. Bassoon: Stephanie Whitson (all U09)

2010: Bonnie Lynch, Janet Hopkins (B10), Ryan Headley, Marc Rattray
Violin 2: Jennifer Hill. Viola: Maurice Hood, Audrey Harris. Cello: Colleen Marcou. Oboe: Benjamin Woodruff. Bassoon: Stephanie Whitson (all U09)

NOTES: J09: Die Jahreszeiten. U09: Union UMC Messiah. B10: Mass in C Major

And here is a video clip from 2009.  Enjoy!

Christmas greetings of 1962, part 2

As we move into Christmas week, it seems like a good time to look at some more of the Christmas ads that appeared in the "Community Magazine" from Albert Lea, MN for Christmas, 1962. (See part one here.)

You often get "Merry," "Happy" or "Greetings" wished you, but "Joyous" is kind of nice, isn't it?  I hope De Soto Creamery had some joyous sales.

This is also a nice sentiment.  With all the PC police, it's harder to find that part about "Good will toward men" than it used to be.

Here's not only a very nice sentiment, but a very stylish one as well.  Look how they've worked the numbers 25 into the sleigh.  Look even more closely, and you can see December in there somewhere.  Makes you wonder if Al Hirchfeld worked on it.

And let's finish this series with this serene portrait of a small town in the stillness of a winter night.  Sadly, the hopes for a lasting era of "Peace on earth, goodwill to man" would pretty much be wiped out by the end of 1963.

There are still a few days until Christmas - I wouldn't be surprised if I could scare up a few more of these wonderful images before then.  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Liberals' next move: sexual deviancy in the military

A friend from college serves in the United States Army, and he is being reassigned from Fort Knox (Kentucky) to Fort Benning (Georgia). The husband of an elementary school classmate serves in the Navy and is being reassigned to Hawaii. Yet we now hear of Congressman Reid trying to force down a repeal of a ban on homosexuality in the military that passed the House as a stand-alone. And this time the President is wanting a full passage of this.

Can you imagine the loss of troops as new policies would effectively strip troops of the Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and the right to assemble by effectively saying they must subscribe to the idea that sexual deviancy is normal, and opposing it is an automatic dishonourable discharge, where a new "speech code" in the military will even prohibit soldiers from attending church because it promotes values in conflict with the new leftist mandates?

If this passes, we shall see soldiers exit the military as they will be ejected for violating code. Worse yet, those who stay will be forced to observe and accept by force the despicable conduct of these sexual deviants, and their conduct has long been one that has hurt the military. The military is not a social engineering facility to force us into the Left's ideas. We saw how the President seized political opponents of his auto agenda in order to force us into the tiny cars he wants us driving. They've imposed a new federal speech code on speech that is from the Bible that says sexual deviancy is wrong in Shepard-Byrd. The Left has used schools as a social engineering venue to punish men by banning men from sports via Title IX, and eventually banning men from school for the same reason. Now they are wanting to make the military the newest social engineering venue for the homosexual agenda.

We voted to throw these legislators out, and yet they are now ramming this down our throats as a final way of saying "this is our house, and we will not let you have it." At this rate, is the first word of our National Anthem "Soyuz," and the Hammer and Sickle replacing the Stars and Stripes?

More on this story from Sandy Rios.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Retro TV Friday

From the TV Guide of December 5, 1964, an ad for the premiere showing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  It's changed networks since then, but nearly 50 years later it's still going strong. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Word association

It’s funny how the mind’s synapses work. A co-worker of mine was discussing how she was considering changing the name of her pet pygmy frog, Bob, to Jesús since she had gotten him as a Christmas gift last year.

Hearing that, I thought to myself that the name Noel might be an even better choice. That reminded me of the singer/actor Noel Harrison*, and all of a sudden I couldn’t get The Windmills of Your Mind out of my mind.

* Why didn’t I think of Noel Coward? Good question. Perhaps my mind also subconsciously realized I needed a good idea for a blog post.

At any rate, you might not remember Noel Harrison. He’s the son of the actor Rex Harrison, and was a co-star (with the luscious Stefanie Powers) of the short-lived Girl from U.N.C.L.E. series of the late 60s. He also sang, and his rendition of the Michel LeGrand/Marilyn and Alan Bergman song The Windmills of Your Mind won an Oscar in 1968 for Best Song, from the Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway crime caper flick The Thomas Crown Affair.*

* Oddly enough, it was not Harrision but Jose Feliciano who sang the song at the Oscar show. Why? Again, I don’t know – I suppose some internet research might reveal the truth. I suspect I’ll discover the answer around the same time I figure out why I’m not writing about Noel Coward.

Now, if The Thomas Crown Affair sticks in your mind at all, it might be because of the remake a few years ago, which featured Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in the McQueen/Dunaway roles. That movie featured The Windmills of Your Mind as well, in an absolutely hideous, wretched version by Sting, so bad that I’m not even going to link to it.* But then, there have been a lot of covers of The Windmills of Your Mind. As I’ve suggested, I didn’t care for Sting’s. I wasn’t thrilled with Feliciano’s either, although it was better. Dusty Springfield had a hit with hers. Matt Monro (who sang the title track to the Bond flick From Russia With Love) had a version, which I thought was a little cold.  It was fine technically, but there wasn't much feeling to it.

* Of whom Joe Queenan once wrote, “Sting, where is thy death?” It is true that Sting has had a few good songs over the years, mostly from when he was with The Police. The Windmills of Your Mind is not one of them.

No, for me the Harrison version has always been pretty much the definitive article, so to speak. It’s tight, not drawn out, and epitomizes the hypnotic nature of the lyrics, in a way most of the covers fail to do. But I have to admit that I was taken by Allison Moyet’s rendition, which I more or less stumbled upon.

Aside from the fact that the running time was nearly twice that of Harrison’s original, all you had to do was hear the word “Round” to tell that this was going to be quite different. As a matter of fact, I almost clicked it off right then and there – I had heard Sting’s version, after all. But I think by the time she came to “spiral,” my hand paused, and by the end of the first line I was hooked. Yes, it’s different, but unlike so many covers of classic songs, it’s also terrific. She does a particularly nifty job in interpolating a lyric that, in the original, has a distinct male-to-female reference. (Yes, I know someone else probably wrote that for her, but it’s still good.)

Anyway, don’t just listen to me – listen to the song. I still have Harrison’s at the top, but Moyet’s a close second.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Opera Wednesday

Over the years I seem to have become something of an authority on the TV opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. Every once in a while, especially at this time of the year, I'll find myself in a discussion that runs something along the lines of "why don't they do a new version of this on TV?"

It's a good question, one that I've asked myself.  The original 1951 broadcast, which featured Chet Allen's memorable turn as Amahl, as well as the 1952 broadcast with Bill McIver, make occasional appearances on the DVD trading circuit, but have never been commercially released.  The only version to make it to DVD commercially is McIver's final apperance as Amahl in 1955, which exists in a handsome release by VAI.  NBC's annual broadcasts of Amahl continued through 1966, but the 1963 showing was the last original staging (videotaped, it was run through 1966.  Whatever happened to that version?  Who knows.)

But those aren't the only versions of Amahl to make it to television.  NBC remade Amahl in 1978 with Teresa Stratas, but that one never made it past VHS.  The BBC mounted two versions of Amahl, in 1955 and 1959.  They also prepared a version for broadcast in 2002, but it was never broadcast.  Why?  Read all about it here.  The short version?  "The screen rights to Menotti's best-known work, which is often performed in schools, are held by an American company, Schirma, which plans to make its own film of the opera and will not sanction another version."

And that, apparently, is where the issue stands to this day.  Barring an unexpected change of heart - the "miracle" referred to in the Guardian's article - it's unlikely we'll see a new version any time soon.  And that's a pity.  Amahl is one of the truly unique moments in television history, but that alone can be transmitted through the 1955 video.  No, Amahl is a wonderful, charming story of a child's pure love, and the miracle that love produces.  Menotti's music and libretto are clever and intriguing - if you think you don't like modern opera, you should at least listen to a recording of it.  (The original cast recording is readily available on CD.)  Amahl can easily be enjoyed as a historical artifact; television viewers deserve to see it as a worthy hour of broadcasting, one that never forgets the reason for the season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random thoughts

As most of you probably know, "random thoughts" is usually another way of saying, "I don't have enough material for a good story, so I'm going to string together a bunch of unrelated ideas." Fair enough, but I'm going to ask you to bear with me anyway, for some interesting odds and ends.

First off is this fascinating series from Hell's Bible (That's The New York Times, in case you were wondering), on a piece of history I really didn't know much about: the December 16, 1960 plane crash over New York City that killed 134 people - at the time, the deadliest plane crash in American history, and the first to involve a passenger jet aircraft.  The death toll might seem modest compared to, for example, the World Trade Center bombing, but as this picture suggests, the horror on the streets was every bit as real.  I happened on this while following a link to another story altogether, and it was an hour before I could stop reading.  The overview is here, but be sure to follow the link to this affecting story about Barbara Lewnes, the nurse who stayed the night with Stephen Baltz, the young boy who for an all-too-short time was the only survivor of the crash.

Next up is this piece from our loyal reader Suzanne, who thought it was something we might want to put on the blog.  Gross?  Disgusting?  Probably.  Free speech?  Without a doubt.  An accurate description of politicians?  Can't say about the specific case, but in general,...

We've talked before about Bernie Ecclestone, the major domo of F1.  (I probably ought to trademark that description.)  A few weeks ago the 80-year old Ecclestone was mugged and roughed up a bit, but Bernie being Bernie, he's turning it to his advantage.

So what do you know?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas greetings of 1962, part 1

One of the added benefits of combing antique stores in search of TV Guides is that in the meantime you can run into the most fascinating things.

Take this magazine: it's called "The Community Magazine," and it's from Albert Lea, a town in southern Minnesota.  "The Community Magazine" is one of those free magazines you get in supermarkets, and it's about what you'd expect: television listings for the month, a few local columnists and notes, and advertising.  Mostly advertising.  Which, in this case, is a real treasure trove for the cultural archaeologist.

This is the January 1963 issue, which means that it would have come out sometime in December 1962.  As such, it's the last chance for advertisers to wish their customers the greetings of the season.  And herein lies the tale.  I picked this up a couple of years ago, and since then I've been dying to scan in these images.  Taken collectively, it presents a remarkable slice of life from the early 60s.  It was a time when religion was an accepted - no, a necessary - part of the public square, and when the PC police hadn't ridden Christmas out of town in the name of "diversity."  (Insert gagging noices here.)  Granted, we're talking about what might be referred to as "Small-Town America," but no matter how you look at it, it's a real document from a real time, one that sadly seems far away today.  (Click on the images to see larger versions.)

Here is the cover of "the Community Magazine," in festive green and red, with a Dickensian-styled family gathered around the table for Christmas dinner.

This ad is mind-boggling for a couple of reasons.  First, it's brought to you by "your servants in government" - that sounds kind of quaint, doesn't it?  What's even more stunning is that it not only specifically wishes people "Christmas Joy," but it features the Three Wise Men.  Can you imaging a government agency using this kind of symbolism today?

Religious symbolism is a running theme throughout these ads.  I'd go to them for a loan.  (Do you think it was an accident that a financial institution would go for images of gold, frankincense and myrrh?)

Here's another example.  Sorenson Lumber is doing more than advertising their business; they're telling you something about the kind of people that run the company.  I don't know anything this company (a quick Google search didn't tell me much), but I wouldn't be surprised to find out it was a family business.

This ad is from the local Skelly gas station.  Werner Wittmer doesn't leave you in any doubt as to what they think Christmas is all about.

Not every ad in this issue has an explicitly religious motif, but it's hard to look at a candle without thinking of "The Light of the World."  By the way, we don't see candles in Christmas decorating like we used to - when you find them nowadays, it's mostly as part of retro-themed advertising.

Stay turned throughout the rest of the week as we continue leafing through the pages of "The Community News," and see how America used to celebrate Christmas.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Of disgraceful Grammys, MTV, HBO, and the music we sing

Since the Super Bowl XXXVIII incident in Houston, NASCAR has used a money and points (or laps if in-race) penalty system as a crackdown on obscene language. In 2004, Johnny Sauter, Ron Hornaday Jnr (both NNS), and Dale Earnhardt Jnr (NSCS) were each fined $10,000 and 25 points penalties each for use of improper language on-air in broadcasts. Two years later, Kevin Manion (NSCS) was punished for an obscenity with an ejection penalty, ejecting his driver from a race, costing more than 25 points. By 2007, Tony Stewart (NSCS) was awarded a $25,000 fine with the 25-point penalty for another obscenity. In 2008, Chad Walter (NNS) was fined $10,000 and the entire Dale Earnhardt Jnr #5 NNS team punished with a 25-point penalty for an obscenity. In November, Kyle Busch (NSCS) was fined $25,000 when he signalled an obscene gesture towards an official where NASCAR threw a two-lap penalty that was worth more than 50 points.

The penalty system reminded me of an article from Dennis Prager on National Review about the demise of music after he reviewed the 2011 Grammy Awards nominations for the coarse, fine and points-worthy language of these ditties, considering the nomination of songs and albums with such $25,000 words when 25 years ago, people were winning $25,000 atop an Egyptian tomb when the World Oldest Teenager said, “Here is your first subject, GO!”. Mr. Prager noted MTV has destroyed the youth of this country since its development in 1981 because of music video scenes that are shown for less than two seconds, and explicit imagery and talk on such programming. He also noted the National Recording Academy for the Arts and Sciences voted to support such language, which in my view is reminiscent of what has happened to the Emmy Awards since HBO and Showtime, which have won the majority of key Emmys with programming that features coarse language and illegal for network television scenes.

MTV has destroyed music in more ways than you can expect. Instead of hearing pipe organs playing serious sacred song, today's dominant churches (life enhancement centres actually) are playing the same level of rock music with emotions, and the tunes have no Biblical message. Some of the songs are outright secular and inappropriate. Still others are excessively loud that it violates OSHA standards. We've seen a demise in wonderful music in the church since the MTV generation's control, and it shows when kids would rather dance to “Spirit in the Sky” (with a blasphemous reference), any ditty of the prosperity gospel promoted by “Smiling Joel” Osteen, or even sing the incorrect theology of the “Wailing Women and Moaning Men”.

What is promoted by MTV through their various networks is downright disgraceful. I cannot picture myself listening to any of the inappropriate trash that is called “Grammy Worthy” when I have found myself in an era where classical music, and operas, have become part of my musical culture, especially since I attended a Charleston Spoleto performance of Susan Patterson as Manon Lescault ten years ago this coming May, followed by years of vocal training that has sent me to many sacred and secular works from the world's greatest composers.

There's a clear difference between sitting in the tenor section of the choir after you've finished your first long “Kyrie Eleison” then hearing Ashley Briggs sing a long and beautiful “Kyrie Eleison” from the opening of Beethoven's Mass in C Major and hearing Thomas Calloway, Marshall Mathers, Robyn Fenty, or Shawn Carter and their $25,000 obscenity-laden ditties. Which one is more suitable for a family? Which one is more suited to be heard? Which one would children prefer? The unfortunate issue is today's generation prefers the bleep-a-tenth and the inappropriate content of modern rock music, and not the beauty of Beethoven. Obviously, as the photo from the concert shows, there's a songbook for both of us and my direction is one way.

The content of the 2011 Grammy Awards with its excessive use of inappropriate language is concerning, and does not fit in the wheelhouse of us who have attended, read, or sung classical music, considering what is featured. Mr. Prager is correct. The Grammys, and all of pop music today, is such a disgrace for the questionable material that is being nominated. Yet we have generations in church who think it's more acceptable than the serious church music that we've sung.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Opera Wednesday

Last month, I attended a pair of one-act operas based on Charles Dickens stories, A Christmas Carol ("Mr. Scrooge") and A Tale of Two Cities ("Miss Havisham's Wedding Night"), as part of "A Dickens of an Evening". As usual, I do not review operas where I have conflict of interest since it would be impossible for me to review anything that features singers or musicians with whom I have sung in Beethoven's Mass in C Major (2010), Excerpts from Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten (2009), or any of the numerous Händel's Messiah excerpts that I have participated (2005-present) (with virtually disqualifies me from the majority of events I attend). The Sunday production that I attended featured my voice teacher's fiancé, and the Saturday that I did not attend had her (we sat together for the Sunday production), and the accompanist was the lady of whom accompanied the Beethoven and Haydn productions I mentioned. Mr. Scrooge himself is the bass who has sung at Mass in C Major, therefore disqualifying me from any reviews, so I can only discuss reflections on the operas.

The first opera's story was haunting and tragic (and featured Dr. Hill on Saturday, which disqualifies me from any review), and to me sounded similar to a woman's betrayal at the wedding altar, a female Figaro in a tragic way. The soliloquy was about Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations) being betrayed and staying in one room fifty years previously at the altar. Sadly, with the way some of us who are not yet married look at life, it is a sad state to see this is not the type of person you want to be in your seventies, and the anger of the woman will make a man want to find the right woman, and marry her, before it is too late. The haunting theme wants me to read this book, and sadly, our education system has corrupted the standards of literature by ignoring Dickens in favour of Communist authors such as Richard Wright.

It was interesting that Samuel Douglas, who is a music professor at South Carolina (my alma mater), composed the 35-minute piece. Cleve Callison, father of John, who was the Ghost of Jacob Marley in Mr. Scrooge, noted how his son had to sing as a mummy with linen wrapped around the head to keep the jaw with the head in burial. The creepiness of the opera and the ghosts of the Christmases were reminiscent of Scrooge's attitude in the Dickens story. But the joy of Christmas had to be there, and the story was reminiscent of Dickens to an angle. Why do we ignore Dickens today for authors who are not qualified except for their politically correct standards?

Mr. Scrooge was locally composed by Samuel O. Douglas. And for those of you who aren't familiar, you may notice some familiar faces and names in the promotional videos they had for the operas. 

Now what did I do?

Wait a minute - it's that other Mitchell.

You have no idea how disconcerting it is to see a headline like that.

(Screenshot from NRO)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Attack of the Sillies" Digest

This time, the Digest is from Formula One, and it's the Attack of the Silly Season. The Silly Season is now up and running before Bahrain comes.

Double Indy 500 and triple IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti thinks his cousin (Paul Di Resta) is better than Sebastian Vettel. Hmmm . . . trying to get Di Resta into a better ride than Force India?

James Allen: Williams confirms GP2 Champion Pastor Maldonado, who has the backing of the Chávez government, to join Barrichello in the team.

Autosport: The dispute that could have put the Qantas Grand Prix off the calendar has been resolved; round two of the 2011 season in Melbourne is a go.

Andrew Benson: F1 Moves to Set Green Agenda (1.6 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder hybrid engines is the plan for 2013).

FIA: With F1 rules regarding car numbers, each year team numbers are based on the previous year's results. There are no permanent numbers as to make #1 be the best, #3 and #4 second-best team, and so forth. No #13.

Telegraph: Luca di Montezemolo (Ferrari) may step down to pursue political career to go after Berlusconi.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Over the river and through the woods

Guest column by Cathy of Alex (insert name) house we go!

As I stared out at the white snow colored landscape outside my window this morning and sipped my coffee (good times, good times) I wondered about the death, or rather, dearth of grandparents in the generations to come.

In my generation, grandparents are often the only stable couple a child will know. Their parents may be divorced or never married. In my generation, divorce and cohabitation have risen but the wave spared the grandparents. So, no matter what marital state, or not, your parents were in you could count on going to your grandparents for the holidays and experiencing, perhaps, a taste of what a marriage is and can be.

Not so for much longer, forget divorce, marriage itself has fallen out of favor. There is a marked increase in people who think marriage is not necessary for much of anything. Cohabitation is ok, having kids with multiple partners is ok. The result; it’s not just trading weekends with parents anymore, now it’s trading holidays with grandparents too.

Which grandparent do we visit? Who is grandma living with this month? Even the elderly have begun to embrace cohabitation. Why get married? Too much of a tax hit.

I see a day when the decision of who to visit on the holiday will become so confusing and uncertain that more and more people will elect to stay home.

The NFL may profit from more TV’s turned in to football games but children certainly will not.

I’m sad for the kids who will never know what I did-holidays with my parents and family at my maternal and paternal grandparent’s homes. No, it wasn’t always Norman Rockwell but it was as solid and comforting and Grandma’s custard pie.It was a place to enchange stories and learn family history. It was a place to connect with people who shared your own blood. It was a place to learn what made a marriage work and didn’t from the experts-couples who were married 40 and 60 years.

Many kids will never receive these valuable life lessons. That’s a tragedy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Opinion Digest

We haven't shared some opinions but here we go with another round of good ones.

Mona Charen: For Boys' Sake, Don't Kill the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

L. Brent Bozell III: Shock Art and "Social Dignity".

Robert Costa and Andrew Stiles: Governess Haley Rolls Up Her Sleeves.

Michelle Malkin: The Little Victims of Obamacare.

Dennis Prager: Self-Esteem and Character.  As an aside, if I had stayed at the parochial school after sixth grade, I probably would have broken my maiden and won a game with the varsity baseball team. I never broke my maiden playing sports.

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