Posted in Brain Bits, Cats, Observations, Opera

Babbling and Strewing Flowers

Bits and pieces on an April afternoon:

It’s Titanic weekend, yet summer returned again, three weeks after its initial appearance in March. People are shopping in shorts, I’ve got the ceiling fans going, but it’s been weeks since we’ve had a soaking rain. This on top of a snowless winter spells one big rude awakening come June when water restrictions are sure to go into effect. There’s never a free lunch.

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When did drinking beverages in your seat during a theatrical performance become OK? I must have missed that memo, because I was ready to strangle the girl sitting next to me on Friday night at the Signature Theater during Edward Albee’s “The Lady from Dubuque.” All during the first act she kept taking a bottle of water out of her voluminous bag and squirting a mouthful into her yap, the plastic audibly snapping back into place as the contents diminished. Now this is a small theater—not even the size of a high school auditorium—and we were sitting Orchestra, Row D, not quite under the actors’ noses, but close enough to enjoy a palpable eye-lock as they delivered the occasional aside. Geez Louise, it’s bad enough the slurping and snapping is disturbing to me, who’s paid good money for a ticket, but it’s beyond rude to the actors who are trying to earn a living up on stage. Fortunately the play, about coping with death, was too much for Miss Hydration, who looked to be all of 22—she left at intermission, and the silence next door for Act Two was truly golden.

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It would be lovely if our pets lived longer lives. I took Roger in when he was all of five weeks old, dumped to fend for himself in Petsmart and discovered hiding under a pallet on the store’s busiest delivery day of the week. He was quite a handful—tough, stubborn and a devil to my other cats. To the day she died, my cat Pepper hissed every time she laid eyes on him; once I even saw her wake up from a nap, screw up her face, growl at him and promptly conk out again, her job done. Jake, another of my cats, who was such a little daddy, actually raised him, though every so often he’d look at me as if to say “I did the best I could, but the raw material wasn’t so hot.”

Roger’s personality started to smooth out by the time he turned five, even more as he ascended the feline pecking order when my older cats departed to the Big Litter Box in the Sky. He’s always been a snuggler, and loves to curl up on the back of the sofa as I watch TV, using my shoulder as a pillow. Now he’ll turn 14 in August, and suddenly he’s become a sage old man. He’s lost some weight, and while he still eats like a little piglet, a trip to the vet is in the offing. Hopefully he’s got a few more years ahead of him, because it’ll be very difficult to say goodbye to this guy.

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Samuel Barber

I’ve been a huge Samuel Barber fan for years, since I was about the age of 10 and heard his “Second Essay for Orchestra” live. Several years later, when I went opera crazy and borrowed scores from my junior high music teacher, I fell in love with “Vanessa” and nearly wore out the studio recording released by RCA Victor shortly after the work premiered at the Met in 1958. However, there’s a far better recording available, from a taped Metropolitan Opera broadcast aired during the work’s first season. It features the same cast as the RCA version—Eleanor Steber, Rosalind Elias, Regina Resnik, Nicolai Gedda and Giorgio Tozzi—but it’s like viewing a scene in color for the first time after years of being stuck  with black and white. It’s not just the energy generated by the singers performing in front of a live audience: Giorgio Tozzi is exceptionally funny as well as poignant as the Old Doctor, and Eleanor Steber’s portrait of the vain and self-deluding title character just burns in your memory. Perhaps the most astonishing part of her performance is the notoriously difficult “Skating Song” (coloratura-ed to the hilt) which few sopranos attempt when the work is staged. Yet Steber nails every single note. The box set is “Samuel Barber: Historical Recordings 1935-1960” ; the rewards, including Barber’s performance of his own “Dover Beach,” are endless.

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Thank you, Edna St. Vincent Millay, for “Spring” and one of the most vivid poetic images ever conceived (“It is not enough that yearly, down this hill/April/Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”) Ah, the enduring power of High School Accelerated English.

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