farrago, n. — A confused group; a medley, mixture, hotchpotch.
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.
“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.
1946: The ever-versatile and always iconic Tim Curry is born in Grappenhall, England.
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.
1893: Spanish artist Joan Miró is born in Barcelona.
1914: Disney Legend Betty Lou Gerson is born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A radio and television fixture, she remains the only Cruella de Vil.
“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.
1918: Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony no. 1 in D major debuts in Petrograd under the composer’s direction.
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.
1946: The Pope of Trash John Waters is born in Baltimore, Maryland.
1961: Frances Ethel Gumm proved—no, rather CONFIRMED she was the world’s greatest entertainer.
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.
1942: Barbra Streisand is born in New York City.
1917: The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, is born in Newport News, Virginia.
1918: Singing-actress Göttin Astrid Varnay is born in Stockholm.
Until next week!