Friday, November 20, 2015

in his hands

Yesterday, members of congress, Republican and Democrat, proposed to shutting our doors even tighter against asylum for Syrian refugees. In doing so, they've placed politics before the very principles upon which the United States was founded - disgracing our country as well as our reputation around the world. They've cowardly pandered to fear, jockeyed themselves so as not to lose their own positions of power, and allowed terrorists to win by dictating their decision.

Adding insult to shameful injury, Republican presidential candidate Trump suggested warrantless searches and mandatory registration in a faith-based identification database for Muslim-Americans. Republican presidential candidate Carson likened Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.   

When it is suggested that ours is a Christian nation (though it never was, nor was it ever intended to be), when bigotry is disguised as religious integrity, and when people in positions of power blather on about 'religious liberty,' understand that to turn away suffering people; hungry, frightened, oppressed, traumatized, driven from war-torn homes and continue to call oneself Christian is an impossibility. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

the gun song

If it weren't so tragic, it might be comical. We all know how this plays out - there will continue to be talk and articles and posts about guns, gun violence, and gun control and mental health for maybe the next 3 or 4 days, and then we'll snap back to seeing endless loop kitten videos - nothing will be done, nothing will change. To call our national response routine would be an understatement. 

In the last few years, I've traveled to different parts of the world; India, the Caribbean, and recently, Amsterdam. When people from other countries learn that I'm from the United States, there is the inevitable question about the U.S. and our cultural relationship with guns. Embarrassingly, this is what we are known for around the world. 

Piteous and absurd, the notion of freedom has somehow become conflated with a perverted reading of the 2nd amendment, so much so that the two might never be teased apart. Nor, do I believe, is it possible any longer to remove gun culture from our national identity. It is as undeniable and almost as shameful a part of our country's history as slavery and Jim Crow. From the Revolutionary War, to the Old West, prohibition era gangsters, organized crime, and drug wars - guns are as American as baseball and apple pie.
"All you have to do is move your little finger and you can change the world."

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Few singers ever approach this repertoire, but George London had the vocal power, musicality, and emotional capacity to transform this closing scene of Wagner's Die Walküre into an emotionally overwhelming and stirring experience. 

In this scene, Wotan (a Norse god) is duty bound to punish his disobedient, yet favorite daughter, Brünnhilde, by putting her into a deep and long sleep. Conflicted and tormented by his love for her and his duty, he sings some of the most heart-rending and emotionally challenging passages in all of musical literature. Beneath London's rich and dark voice you can hear the horns; tubas and trombones, and the huge string section swell; the orchestrations here are sweeping and massive. 
Ultimately, in the story, he surrounds his sleeping daughter by a ring of fire so that only the bravest of heroes may save her. He knows he will never see her again - the conflicting expressions of loss and tragedy wrapped in tenderness is deeply affecting. 
London, whose career was tragically cut short by a heart attack that left him partially paralyzed, is nothing short of magnificent.

Disclaimer: I know this won't speak to the majority of you; at the very mention of Wagner, or The Ring Cycle, eyes glaze over and more than two thirds of any audience becomes instantaneously disinterested - most won't listen simply because of its length, but this performance of this grandaddy of operatic repertoire is vocal artistry and music-making of the absolute highest order.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

baby doe

Perusing the news this morning, I became so distressed and disenchanted with everything going on in the country: treasonous senators, "religious freedom" bills, income inequality, police assaults on unarmed black children, discrimination, bigotry, etc... I had to look away; shift my attention. It being Pi day (3/14/15), I turned my attention to pie. I started looking at photos of apple pies, and began to wonder, what makes a thing iconic to, or expressively representative of a particular culture - especially America? 

With this idea in mind, I started listening to music. 

Opera is European and not an American art form. This is a firmly held notion, yet there have been the few rare exceptions (Barber, Thomson, Gershwin, Kern) when this idea has been turned on its head. In Douglas Moore's 1956 opera, "The Ballad of Baby Doe," opera and Americana mix so organically, you can almost hear patchwork quilts, and smell apple pies cooling on windowsills as Norman Rockwell's brush hits his canvas. 

Set in the silver-mining state of Colorado, the opera tells the tragic and true story of a young girl who stakes everything on love, taking a successful 19th century prospector and business man, Horace Tabor, away from his wife, only to see him die a ruined man, and then to die in poverty herself. 

For those of us who may mainly remember Beverly Sills as, "Bubbles" the orange-haired, smiling hostess of PBS pledge drives, or narrator to Live from Lincoln Center telecasts, this is a good reminder that her celebrity was founded in extraordinary singing and breakthrough performances. At the risk of overusing superlatives, these few minutes contain some of the most haunting and beautiful singing ever. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

d'amore al dolce impero

It has been more than two weeks, and I cannot stop listening to this.
Originally released on the RCA LP "Rossini Rarities" in 1967, Spanish soprano, Montserrat Caballe is not only in peak vocal condition here, but shows a musicality and vocal elasticity, the likes of which are virtually impossible to come by today (or ever?). I've listened to other recordings of this piece, and usually the results are that someone has barely managed to get through a very difficult aria (notable exceptions go to Cristina Deutekom and Maria Callas), but no one comes close to the seemingly effortless musicality and joy that Caballe brings to this performance. Not only does she toss off the most difficult coloratura with ease, but she makes this devil of a piece sound musical and even fun. The extended run of triplets (1:34) is astounding, and when the tempo increases for faster and more extended runs (3:04), it is simply mind-boggling. I understand this will only interest a few of you, who fall into a rather small "specialty market" category of music listeners, but if you are at all interested in great singing, this is really well worth a listen: