Valentine’s Day, 2019

Fernando Amorsolo Nude

Nude painted by the great Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto, 1951.

Advertisements

John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, Part 1

…and this time I’m siding with The Old Man. But I’m writing this for you, John.

Richard Rodgers Piano

Let me start off with a little story. It’s a true story, and it’s one of the reasons I’m here doing this thing right now.

(I mean, the rest of you didn’t really think this entire blog was just about bonny John Wilson, did you?)

But bear with me a moment. I have to go back in my memory to forty, forty-one years ago, to that sad shabby house up on Schuyler Road in Beverly Hills which I’m not really rarin’ to do, but here goes.

It was a late morning about six weeks into my work assignment and The Old Man hadn’t arisen yet, so there I was in the salon with nothing to do except quietly wait for his appearance and his orders for the day (which letters to answer, which bills to pay, which people to call, etc) before getting down to the primary purpose of my being there, which was, in the agency’s words, “to assist Mr Mamoulian in the writing of his memoirs”. None of that memoir writing actually did transpire in the nearly nine months I was with him—other things did—but let’s not jump ahead. Unsupervised, I was forbidden to handle/read books from his voluminous library, but you know what? He never expressly told me not to play the piano, that big black shiny intriguing baby grand in the middle of the room, and I couldn’t resist. Could you?

There wasn’t a sound coming from any part of the house, although I could faintly hear Henry the daily handyman moving his wheelbarrow out in the yard. I’d had enough of examining in painstaking detail the boring watercolors and Russian icons on the wall. I sat down on the bench.

Sense memory kicking in… At that point it was the closest I had gotten to this humongous piece of furniture. I remember the smooth feel of the wood as I ran my fingers on it, gently lifting up the fall board to get to the keys. The piano was a Steinway. That is, I remember it as a Steinway, because I don’t remember it not being a Steinway. I put the fingers of my right hand down in place and began, ever so softly, to tap out the first tune that came into my mind, which happened to be the waltz from Carousel. Eight bars in I thought I heard a rustle from the back of the house and stopped cold, put the fall board down and stood up.

This was the first time my eye was caught by something on the right side of the music rack, some sort of writing actually carved into the wood of the music shelf that lay flat in the cabinet of the piano. It was in cursive—and it was a name:

Richard Rodgers

It still gives me goosebumps to remember (like remembering what it was like to handle a saint’s bones): sitting on the same bench Rodgers sat on, putting my fingers on the same keys… When The Old Man finally did get up an hour later, I was sitting back at my desk in his alcove-cum-office, pretending to read one of the cheap Hollywood magazines I brought to pass the time, although my mind was still on the bars I’d played and where the bars were going musically, and I think I was humming. I must’ve been humming. Because as he came into the alcove I heard Mamoulian exclaim, “Hey! That’s from Carousel!”

I looked up. Caught! I was about to apologize when he spoke again, this time it seemed almost wistfully. “You know, I directed that.”

I said softly, as if it were an apology, “I know.”

At that moment our relationship started to take a different turn.

Part Two here or below. [Going out for a beer now, catching up later…]

A Rodgers & Hammerstein Moment: The Gang at Cheers Sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to Their Despondent Pregnant Barmaid

Season 1, episode 15. 1982. Said Donna Bowman of the A.V. Club: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” [in the episode] took me totally aback. I can’t think of very many sitcom moments that hit that exact tone. I kept waiting for the punchline, and there’s no doubt that we’re intended to smile at the parade of patrons mumbling along under Diane’s leadership, but Carla’s reception of the gesture transforms it into the sincere expression of support that was intended. When we see her continue up the stairs, the camera following her through the window, it’s a moment that reassures the audience in a very specific way. We know Carla’s children’s welfare is actually really important, the moment says. Carla’s, too. These people are trying to do a good thing. We’re going to let them do it. You can imagine a million jokes that would undercut that message for the sake of a laugh. But they don’t come. It’s like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for our emotions: “Invest with confidence.”

cheers sings you'll never walk alone

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Overture di Ballo”: John Wilson Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, 2011

And you thought I’d forgotten who this blog is all about, didn’t you?

Overtura [Sullivan’s made-up word] di Ballo”  is a concert work first conducted by Sullivan himself in 1870 in Birmingham, a year before he began his collaboration with WS Gilbert. It opened a program of British Light Music given in London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2011 by the BBC Symphony and conducted by John. The piece itself is passable, but the real delight is in watching my bonny enjoy himself starting at 10:48.

John Wilson Sullivan.jpeg

Antoni Mendezona Sings “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from the Opera Noli Me Tangere

Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.

Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from Noli Me Tangere (Felipe De Leon)

From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.