Farrago for April 19–April 25

Highlights from the week ahead.

farrago, n. — A confused group; a medley, mixture, hotchpotch.


APRIL 19

1774: Gluck and Roullet’s Iphigénie en Aulide debuts at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in on this date in 1774. The first opera the composer wrote for Paris, its first performance was secured by his former student, France’s future queen Marie Antoinette. Iphigénie marked another step forward in Gluck’s operatic “reforms,” and after revisions the following year, the work remained a repertory staple well into the nineteenth century. Wagner had a particular fondness for it, or rather tinkering with it, and made his own arrangement of the entire work in 1847. Max Reinhardt used Wagner’s arrangement of the overture as the opening incidental music for his first production of Hofmannsthal’s Elektra in 1903.

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“To a new world of gods and monsters!”

1935: Universal Studio’s Bride of Frankenstein debuts in premiere screenings in Chicago and San Francisco. It was also Good Friday that year, appropriate given the film’s delightful subversion of Christian iconography. Picking up where its predecessor left off, Bride followed the most iconic movie monster of all time on the improbable quest for a friend and, ultimately, a mate, inspired by a shorter episode in Shelley’s original novel. There was new territory and new faces all around in this sequel: Karloff’s Monster spoke (against his wishes, but for the character’s benefit), Elsa Lanchester mischievously hissed in a star turn as Mary Godwin (not yet Shelley) and as the Monster’s Bride (a tie for most iconic makeup in movie history), and Ernest Thesiger’s acidic queerness made the skin of witches crawl as Dr. Pretorius. Also romping about is a glorious supporting cast with Colin Clive returning as a chastened Henry Frankenstein, Valerie Hobson as the angelic Elizabeth, the solemn O. P. Heggie as the Hermit, and Una O’Connor running rings around everyone as Minnie the maid. The puppet master was director James Whale, who gave cinema its first (and I think greatest) baroque black comedy, macabre and majestic in the same breath. Beautifully shot and designed, it cannot be bested. A formative film of my queer youth.

For all of James Whale’s irony, he managed in Bride, as in the original Frankenstein, to give the film a truly beating heart. The scene between the Monster and the Hermit is the crux of it all. Read into it what you want, there is no condescension in this sequence, only reverence.

As much as the creation scene in the original film is cinema history, Whale and company went all out for grand operatic effects in the mirroring sequence in the sequel. Kenneth Strickfaden’s original machinery was augmented and deployed in a more dynamic fashion and John Mescall’s cinematography took a more expressionistic edge. Most important of all is Franz Waxman’s score, and his cue “The Creation” is one of the best in the entire film, not least of all for the simple device of a steady timpani beat for most of its duration. While the operative organ in the original Frankenstein laboratory was the brain, the operative organ in Bride is, unsurprisingly, the heart.

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1946: The ever-versatile and always iconic Tim Curry is born in Grappenhall, England.


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1952: The Warner Bros. animated short Water, Water Every Hare debuts. Bugs’s second outing with the Monster later known as Gossamer (here named Rudolph), the short perfects a number of gags from the earlier short Hair-Raising Hare including the castle hallway chase and the queer standard that is the “IN-teresting” hairdresser routine.

APRIL 20

1893: Spanish artist Joan Miró is born in Barcelona.

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1914: Disney Legend Betty Lou Gerson is born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A radio and television fixture, she remains the only Cruella de Vil.

APRIL 21

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”

1838: Father of the National Parks John Muir is born in Dunbar, Scotland.

John Muir, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front LCCN93505505.jpg


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1918: Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony no. 1 in D major debuts in Petrograd under the composer’s direction.

APRIL 22

1912: Contralto Kathleen Ferrier is born in Higher Walton, Lancashire. As the “lone she-wolf,” as she called herself, the contralto catapulted herself from the telephone exchanges of Blackburn to the greatest stages of the world before she succumbed to cancer at the age of 41. Many voices have been called “haunting,” but Ferrier’s is the only one to have a genuine claim to that adjective. Once heard, she cannot be forgotten. If I had to choose a singer for the twentieth century, it’s Klever Kaff.


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1946: The Pope of Trash John Waters is born in Baltimore, Maryland.

APRIL 23

1961: Frances Ethel Gumm proved—no, rather CONFIRMED she was the world’s greatest entertainer.


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1971: The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers is released.

APRIL 24

1931: Universal Studio’s Spanish-language version of Dracula opens in New York City, following releases in Cuba, Spain, and Mexico. Filming full-length versions of major films in foreign languages on night shifts was a regular studio practice before the improvement of dubbing technologies, though sadly few of these versions survive. Happily, this Dracula, starring Carlos Villarías and Lupita Tovar, is an exception since it is a marked improvement on the more familiar Lugosi version, with far more dynamic use of the camera and storytelling.

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1942: Barbra Streisand is born in New York City.

APRIL 25

1917: The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, is born in Newport News, Virginia.


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1918: Singing-actress Göttin Astrid Varnay is born in Stockholm.


Until next week!

Farrago for April 12–April 18

Highlights from the week ahead.

farrago, n. — A confused group; a medley, mixture, hotchpotch.


APRIL 12

1923: Ann Miller—christened Johnnie Lucille Collier—is born in Chireno, Texas. She made tappa tappa tappa look as easy as anything, but it was always the result of hours and hours of rehearsal and discipline. One has to marvel at her longevity, doing routines in her later years that still amaze.

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1932: Herbert Butros Khaury—known to eternity as “Tiny Tim”—is born in Manhattan. Delightfully bizarre in almost every respect of his life and career, Tiny Tim fashioned a legacy out of falsetto, the Great American Songbook, and the ukulele.


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APRIL 13

“Astride of a grave and a difficult birth, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.”

1906: Author, playwright, and theatrical titan Samuel Beckett is born in Dublin, Ireland. There is much to misunderstand in Beckett as there is to understand, and whatever his challenges, the words, images, and performances are always compelling.

HAMM: What’s he doing?
CLOV: He’s crying.
HAMM: Then he’s living.
Endgame

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1941: Dame Margaret Price is born in Blackwood, Wales.

APRIL 14

1868: Architect, designer, and artist Peter Behrens is born in Hamburg. One of the principal figures of Jugendstil (the Germanic iteration of “art nouveau), Behrens was an early member of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, leader of the School for Applied Arts in Düsseldorf, and later a crucial founder of the German Werkbund, an important entity bridging the English Arts and Crafts movement and the later Bauhaus. Behrens’s oeuvre spanned industrial and interior design, and he masterminded everything from the AEG turbine works in Berlin to the finest teapots you’ll ever see. His later expressionistic work in the Twenties continued his unique fusion of design-in-the-everyday, but his legacy is marred by a later but unrealized commission for a new AEG plant in Albert Speer’s Berlin. Woodcuts were only an occasional part of Behrens’s output, but, as with his industrial graphic design, the aesthetic is clear. “The Kiss” (Der Kuss) is my personal favorite, a fascinating display of fin-de-siècle desire and androgyny taking strong cues from Aubrey Beardsley. It is—fitting the duality of the protagonists—a frequent image associated with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, serving as cover for the Dover reprint of the Peters edition of the full score and Bernstein’s later recording.

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Peter Behrens, “Der Kuss.” Pan 4, no. 2 (1898).


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1932: Loretta Lynn is born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.

APRIL 15

“There’s lots of chaff,
But there’s lots of wheat.
Say yes.”

1971: Kander and Ebb’s 70, Girls, 70 opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on this date in 1971. In telling the story of an intrepid group of senior citizens who plan a fur heist to help buy out their endangered retirement hotel (Make Mine Mink territory), the duo created one of their better scores, mired by an uneven play-within-a-play concept. Despite boasting a cast with Mildred Natwick, Hans Conreid, and a who’s who of show biz vets, the production suffered from a number of issues and ran only 35 performances before closing. Similar to Follies, which opened not two weeks prior, 70, Girls, 70 took a serious glance at aging and aging bodies, though a far more optimistic one than Sondheim & Co. As Clive Barnes closed his review, “This is a musical of gentle pleasures, which may well please most the old who are young in heart, and everyone else who likes to see old people having fun. It is certainly different from Hair.” Despite being a revival oddity, the show boasts a terrific original cast album. Get through your Wednesday with the 11 o’clock number “Say Yes.”


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1971: Igor Stravinsky’s (final) funeral ceremony takes place in at Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice before his burial on the island of San Michele.

APRIL 16

1939: Dusty Springfield, christened Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, is born in West Hampstead, London.


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1942: Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra , op. 17, premieres during a concert of “seconds” with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter. The new work was sandwiched between the respective symphonies of Dvořák and Brahms. Of Barber’s three short works entitled “essays,” this is perhaps the best, a compact movement of elegant development. My first hearing was at Valparaiso University, on a bill with the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and a stand-alone performance of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. If you only know the Adagio for Strings (good, but like most slow string movements, overplayed), this should be your next stop.

APRIL 17

“Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.”

1897: Author and playwright Thornton Wilder is born in Madison, Wisconsin.

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1940: Anja Silja, the consummate singing-actress of the twentieth century, is born in Berlin, Germany.

APRIL 18

1882: Leopold Stokowski is born in London. The most iconic podium superstar, despite many others trying—Stokowski’s theatrical image often obscured the high quality of his music-making and the breadth of his repertoire.


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1934: Tenor George Shirley is born in Indianapolis, Indiana.


Until next week!