July 19, 2015

What do we mean when we sing "O"?

What's the most common word used in vocal music? If you're into opera, I suppose "love" (or "amore", "amour" or "lieb") would be the logical guess.

But I'll bet you a shiny dime that "love" doesn't even approach the instances of the simple word "oh". This word is everywhere!
England's "own goal". Oh no!

Oh! Susanna, do not cry for me
("Oh! Susanna", by Stephen Collins Foster)

O dolce fanciulla
(Rodolfo in Act 1 of Puccini's La bohème)

Oh, the pops are sweeter and the taste is new/They're shot with sugar through and through.
(Vintage advertising jingle for breakfast cereal, ca. 1960's)

O du mein holder Abendstern
(Wolfram's aria in Act III of Wagner's Tannhauser)

It's the shortest word in any opera libretto, song, or TV jingle. It's found in all languages. But why does it exist? What does it add that we would miss if it wasn't there? 

Language - so interesting; so weird.

Meaning in language always depends on context. "O" sometimes means "Hey", as in "hey you!"; in other words, as an implied manner of catching someone's attention. Faithful Blog Readers of a certain age may remember radio commercials for the Culligan water treatment company. Every commercial ended with a female voice yelling (in a Long Island-ish accent): "Oh, CULLIGAN MAN!", as if the dude was driving away and she was trying to flag him down. 

Perhaps that's what Rodrigo had in mind as he dies in Verdi's Don Carlo when he gasps "O Carlo, ascolta" (Oh Carlo, listen.) Put yourself in his place. You've been mortally wounded; you know you'll be dead in a few moments and you have something important to express to your BFF Carlo before you go. If you simply say "Carlo, ascolta", without the "O", he might not be listening; he might be so upset to see you in this condition that he's not focused on what you are saying. So that "O" is the equivalent of today's ubiquitous "YO!" 

But then again, maybe he is expressing more than that. In addition to the "hey you" implication, isn't that "O" also laden with despair and desperation? Isn't it a groan of regret? I imagine that millions of British soccer fans (pardon me; of course I meant "football fans") were moaning "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh" when England's Laura Basset kicked the ball into her own goal, dooming her team to lose to Japan in the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup a few weeks ago. Yeah, "O" can be that sort of emotional exhalation as well. As I write this, I'm watching the third round of golf's British Open on TV; one of the leaders sliced his tee shot so badly it struck the roof of a building abutting the course. This prompted the commentator to exclaim "Ohhhhh nooooo" in shocked disbelief. "Oh" can be a reflexive utterance, like "Ow" when you stub your toe.

It's a versatile word. It's also a linguistic stalling device; a way of giving yourself time to think through the thing you're about to say. If someone asks "What do you want for lunch?", you might well respond :Ohhhhh, I don't know. Soup, I guess." That's also the role played by "um", "well", and their annoying cousin "y'know". But is there an opera aria that puts "oh" to that use? I can't really find one.

"Oh" can also be the response to information received; a way of saying. "I see"; an acknowledgement of another's statement:
"I just read where another state legalized same-sex marriage."
That usage isn't really a good fit with opera, as it's characterized by the absence of emotional affect, rendering it pretty much anti-operatic.

Of course, not all emotional outbursts are tragic as that of Verdi's Rodrigo or those British soccer fans. "O" can also be a sigh of pleasure or happy surprise. A good example is Vasco de Gama's aria in Act IV of Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, "O Paradis", which could be updated to "Dude! This is, like, paradise!" 

Sometimes the context of an "O" suggests acknowledgement of due respect; a certain formality of address. I'm thinking here of the Rev. Olin Blitch's prayer "Hear me, O Lord" in Floyd's Susannah and Sarastro's "O Isis und Osiris" in The Magic Flute. When summoning deities, it's good form to be highly awestruck and respectful.

So here's a game you can play the next time you're at the opera: look for instances of our new favorite word "oh" and do a bit of quick analysis. What the character expressing with that "oh", and how would the sentence be changed if it wasn't there?

Um, I never said it would be your favoritei game...

What's that? You think you're unlikely to do that?


June 25, 2015

Surefire pickup lines for opera-lovers

Cupid. He's lookin' at YOU, bro!
Guys - are you lonely tonight? Socially awkward? If your love-life was an opera, would it be a tragedy? Are you getting less action than a castrato?

I'm here to help you.

Here's the situation: you love opera. You're looking for a girlfriend who also loves opera. If you could just find a cute female who was into Verdi and Puccini, life would be SWEET!. Oh, the sparkling conversations you would have before she threw herself into your empty, empty arms.

But again, you're socially awkward. You attend a Virginia Opera performance and, during intermission, you spot a really nice-looking woman. From across the lobby, your eyes meet. There's a spark there, you can feel it. But you've always been TERRIBLE at breaking the ice. Once you open your mouth, the ladies lose interest.

There, there, pal - it's gonna be okay.

What you need are what us certified Lotharios call a "pickup line"; a witty bon mot to get the conversation started. From there, trust me, hormones and Mother Nature will take over.

Providing you've brushed your teeth and used deoderant, of course.

So here we go!  I'm happy to do you love-starved men a solid and provide you with


10. You must be an icy Chinese princess because I'm losing my head over you.

9. Howdja like to be listed in my own personal "Catalogue aria"?

8. Hey - wanna dress up as my maid and make out?

7. I've got a hundred yen in my pocket that says we're gonna hook up.

6. Hey baby - you and me and an air-tight tomb. Let's do this!

5. How do you take your elixir - neat, or on the rocks?

4. Let's role-play: I'm half-god and you're my sister.

3. They say love's a rebellious bird. Wanna stage a little rebellion at my place?

2. You're engaged? It's okay - I'm from Albania.

And the No. 1 surefire pickup line for opera-lovers:

1  Do you Bach here Offen?

June 21, 2015

That time Real Life didn't care I had a show to sing

My career path has been a little weird. I have three degrees in piano performance and studied with keyboard giants Jorge Bolet and John Browning, among others. But I haven't concertized in fifteen years, due to nerve damage in my left hand. I no longer teach studio piano, either privately or as a faculty member.
My dad, Glenn Winters Sr.

It's kind of odd that I ended up employed at a professional opera company, since I don't conduct, no longer play the piano, don't sing well enough to be useful and have no skills in the techie world. I get along on my public speaking skills and my flair for composing reliably stage-worthy children's operas for touring.

About my singing -

I'm a so-so singer with a light baritone voice, but have done more than my share of operatic roles thanks to my university positions and the endemic shortage of lower-voiced males at smaller programs. A few more professional gigs have come my way - comprimario roles at Virginia Opera and guest artist status at a couple of summer festivals in Italy (the latest one described in my book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates).

So between my ertswhile life as a pianist and my improbable outings in baritone leads (although I do think I made at least a presentable Fredrik Egerman in A Little Night Music) I have logged considerable time onstage in front of audiences.

This post is about the time I learned the obligatory lesson encountered by every performer the world over. Say it with me: THE SHOW MUST GO ON.

I really mean "the most extreme time", since difficult circumstances happen all the time. I played my Master's piano recital with a temperature of 100. I sang the role of the Marquis in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites when I was too sick to be out of bed. These things happen.

But the most trying was during a production of Rossini's Cenerentola.

This happened in 1998 when I held a staff position at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, directing a non-credit performing arts academy on campus. At this time, my parents were living in retirement in Williamsburg, midway between VCU and my home in Newport News on the Virginia Peninsula.

Health issues were taking a toll on both parents. My mom was afflicted with heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, which taxed her with chronic pain. As for my dad, already a heart attack survivor, the spectre of Alzheimer's had begun to engulf him in darkness and confusion.

Following an episode in which he backed his car out of the garage without first having opened the garage door, not to mention the time he drove my mom to a hospital in Richmond and then couldn't find his motel, wandering on foot for hours before a compassionate stranger offered assistance, an appointment was made with his doctor to see what was going on. I went with him so someone clear-headed could recap the results for the rest of the family. Dad drove; he liked to drive.

Ever been to an Alzheimer's examination? It's both simple and eerie. After a few questions of a general nature, the doctor (who'd been treating Dad for a couple of decades) said "I'm going to name three objects. Then I will ask you to repeat them. Ready?"

Dad nodded.

"Okay", the doc continued, "here they are: apple, pencil, hammer. Now say those back to me."

I stared in slack-jawed astonishment at my dad, who was flummoxed. He couldn't even begin to summon the words he'd just heard five seconds earlier. He came up totally empty.  Oh my god.

I drove home.

So a new reality had settled in at my parent's house, with mom doing whatever driving was necessary, despite her pain and stiffness. 

At this same time, the VCU Opera Theater began rehearsals for Cenerentola, the annual full production with orchestra. I'd been assigned the buffo role of Don Magnifico, a role suiting me far less well than Fredrik. It's a huge role: two arias, pretty much every variety of ensemble imaginable, and bushel baskets of recitative, all in English. What I lacked in vocal power I tried to make up for with lively stage presence. In any case, rehearsal time flew by as it always does; suddenly, it was time for the excitement and glorious stress of Opening Night on a Friday evening in April.

That's when everything changed.

That afternoon, Mom and Dad had ventured out to the pharmacy to pick up some of their battery of prescription medications. While walking up to the check-out line, Dad suddenly weakened and staggered. It developed that he'd suffered a stroke. He was rushed to the hospital. Doctors were not encouraging about his prognosis. There was no guarantee he would live through the night.

And I was a full hour's drive up Interstate 64 in Richmond, a comic farce on tap.

I wasn't feeling comic.

Of course, there was no remedy, no convenient alternative; no understudy. In a daze, feeling detached and distracted, I got into makeup and costume. Around me, undergraduates and grad students were bustling about, giddy with pre-curtain nerves and excitement, cracking jokes and vocalizing and, naturally, oblivious to my situation.

Though I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, I did discreetly tell the stage director that a family health emergency was in progress and I wanted to go upstairs (we were in the basement of the Performing Arts building) to gather my thoughts backstage. It was a relief to escape all the youthful high spirits and endless iterations of "TOI TOI TOI!!!" for the sanctuary of the backstage area. 

The performance went about like it would have had no emergency arisen. With a role like Magnifico, there are no half-measures. Either you give it 100% or you don't do it at all. Muscle memory set in, as it always does. Actually, bellowing out all those thousands of syllables was a bit of escape from reality, although looking back on it, the out-of-body surrealism never completely went away. The burden of wondering whether or not my Dad was still alive hung over the evening like fog.

He did, I learned, survive the night. But that stroke was the beginning of the end. Over the next several months he bounced from rehab center to retirement community to nursing home until death took him. Those months were unbearable. The father I knew was gone. The figure that remained was one who at times kicked and struck his nurses in anger. He still knew my phone number, unfortunately, and would call at all hours to tell me in panicked whispers that he was at the Michigan Student Union and there were no taxis; could I come and pick him up? At other times he called to express his concerns that he was about to be fired from his job; the job from which he'd retired twenty-four years earlier.

Opera is wonderful. Alzheimer's is not. I wish for you Faithful Readers much of the former and none of the latter. 

June 14, 2015

The Eileen Farrell I knew: personal memories of an outrageous original

Eileen Farrell. I owned this album.
Those of us in that considerable group of musicians who studied at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music had interaction with a lot of famous musicians, thanks to the starry faculty roster they've always boasted.

I was there in what now seems like the heyday of the school: the Seventies. Consider a piano faculty with Menahem Pressler, Gyorgi Sebok, Jorge Bolet, Abbey Simon and others; an instrumental faculty with such luminaries as the cellist Janos Starker, flute guru James Pellerite, the distinguished violist William Primrose, and so on.

But with an opera program second to none, the voice faculty was as brilliant as you might expect. Virginia Zeani, Martha Lipton and Margaret Harshaw (among others) launched many important careers.

And then there was Eileen Farrell.

Here was an artist I'd listened to all during my opera-crazy teen-aged years, as soon as I'd discovered opera. To meet her and watch her in action as a teacher while accompanying several of her students, was like a baseball fan getting to meet Hank Aaron.

For those of you who admire her but never had the chance to know her a little as I did, I thought you might be interested in a few of my memories of a truly distinguished American artist.

To say that she was down-to-earth is to say that Rush Limbaugh is conservative. What can we say about a woman who had an oversized bumper sticker plastered to the wall of her studio bearing the words HELP STAMP OUT OPERA.

She was not given to flowery language, oh no. One of the students I accompanied was a scruffy young tenor named Ron (last name withheld). One day in the practice room Ron was vocalizing to warm up. He turned to me with a smile and said "Hey, listen to this." He then began singing a series of 5-note ascending & descending scales rising ever higher. This display climaxed with a final vocalise beginning on a high A flat and ending up on the E flat above high C.

At his next lesson, he was nervously excited:

"Um, Miss Farrell?"

"Yes, Ron?"

"Um I have something I want you to hear."

"Go ahead."

He duplicated the same vocalise he'd done for me, going higher and higher until that E flat of which he was so very proud buzzed off the studio walls.  There was a silence of a few beats. Farrell gazed at him impassively, her chin resting on one hand.

"So......  what did you think?" The answer came immediately.

"It sounded like you stuck a hot rod up your ass."

She was also a bit irreverent in her own performances. There was the time that several of us students made the short trip to Indianapolis to hear her in concert with the Indianapolis Symphony. It was at some gigantic church large enough to accomodate a crowd of hundreds. First on the program was the stirring aria "Divinités du Styx" from Gluck's Alceste.

Like many arias from that period, there is a lengthy orchestral introduction, during which Ms. Farrell stood motionless, projecting immense dignity, with a facial expression capturing all the character's intense emotional state, her brow furrowed as if burdened with the cares of the cosmos.  The moment of her entrance came at last.

She didn't sing - just kept standing there in immense dignity.

The orchestra kept playing as the conductor shot her a look. Within ten seconds the band scraped and tooted to an uncertain halt.

Farrell suddenly gave a double take and burst into laughter. I wish I could remember her exact words, but it's been about 40 years. It was something along the lines of "Well, that was dumb - I can't believe I did that! Let's try that again, Maestro!"  So they started again from the beginning, she came in, and sang like a goddess.

She had a sense of humor like a longshoreman, with a repertoire of adults-only jokes. If you promise to send your underage children from the room while you read this, I'll share three obscene riddles with you that I learned from her. Kids gone? Good.

Q: What's the difference between a woman in a bathtub and a woman in church?
A: One of them has hope in her soul.

Q: What's the difference between a band of pygmies and a women's track team?
A: One of them is a bunch of cunning little runts.

Q: What's the difference between a whore with diarrhea and an epileptic corn-husker?
A: One of them has fits while he shucks.

I can tell you're traumatized. Just breathe deeply; you're going to be okay. Promise.

If you wanted to see her in her element, you'd have had to observe a special class she taught in vocal jazz styles. I wasn't the only music student to audit that class, dropping in on several sessions as she took uptight young classical singers and attempted to pass on the tradition of American popular song that was mother's milk to her. There was a time when American opera singers enjoyed being crossover artists before crossover was a "thing". Farrell and Helen Traubel could both let their vocal hair down and belt torch songs like "Ten cents a dance" like a real "chan-toozie".

We got along fine, Ms. Farrell and I, because I truly liked her and she knew it. She treated me like the adorable young undergrad pianist I was and was kind enough to give me a recommendation when I asked her for one upon graduating. She wasn't, however, above giving me a hard time about the beard I wore for about a year.

A girl I was dating remarked casually that she thought I'd look good with a beard. Being easily manipulated by attractive women, I immediately began letting my beard grow in. It was reddish, in contrast to the sandy-colored hair on my head, and curly. After a while, two things happened: 1) the girl broke up with me. (We're Facebook friends today.) And 2) I grew tired of playing with it; pulling on it, twisting it in nervous moments, and scratching my itchy chin. I shaved it.

On my first day at school in this newly-clean-shaven state, I was sitting on a bench near the Dean's office when Ms. Farrell walked by. She stopped, took me in at a glance, and said "Well, thank goodness. You know that beard looked like pubic hair, right?"

Oh, Ms. Farrell, Ms. Farrell, Ms. Farrell ----  I miss you!

June 6, 2015

That time I sang "Voices of Spring" in drag

Dame Dorettina Louisa Seconda-Piatta
Sadly, the following memoir is 100% truthful. Just a straight-up, un-enhanced recounting of something that actually happened. To me.

I once performed in drag for a capacity audience at the Harrison Opera House.

Look, most of you Faithful Readers don't know me that well, right? You read the sentence above, and suddenly you're jumping to all sorts of salacious conclusions about me - I can feel it. But really, I'm pretty normal. Just an average fella.

Okay, check that; what I mean is "I'm not the kind of guy who goes around dressed in women's clothing". I watch sports on TV. I listen to ESPN radio. I drink beer. I read murder mysteries. I HATE the HGTV channel. I don't go around in drag.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Oh, hell, this is already getting complicated. I think I should just get on with telling the story, illustrated with several photographs to prove I'm not making it up.

My first season with Virginia Opera ended in the spring of 2005. With just ten months as a full-timer under my belt, I still felt like the new kid on the block, eager to please my superiors. One of these was Joe Walsh, who was Assistant Artistic Director at that time.

Joe was in charge of putting together the final event of the season, namely: an operatic program of arias and ensembles performed by the Emerging Artist young professionals. This was performed at the Harrison Opera House without charge to an invited audience of donors and volunteers as a "thank you" for their service. Pretty standard stuff.

With a couple of weeks to go, Joe approached me with an idea that had him all excited. He had an inspiration for a slam-bang finale: I would appear in heels, a dress, pearls and a wig, lip-syncing Johann Strauss's "Voices of Spring" waltz while soprano Rita Cohen sang it from the orchestra pit. (In case you need to refresh your memory about this tune, here's a video of a performance by Kathleen Battle.)

I was not what you'd call enthusiastic about this plan. God, no.

Why ME? What on earth had led Joe to presume that Glenn Winters, a (reasonably) dignified 52-year old man, would be suited for a performance in drag? Was he trying to ruin me? Humiliate me?

No, no, no, no, no. Surely this was NOT happening. I would wait a couple of days and find some way to wiggle out of this predicament. I'd have a heart-to-heart with Joe. I'd speak to my immediate supervisor and let HIM have the heart-to-heart.

Or I'd run away to Canada and hide.

But somehow, I was unable to summon up the nerve to rebel. There was no escape I could foresee; this was going to happen.

First was the costume fitting. We went to a local community theater to borrow some items. Sylvia Hutson, a member of the Opera Chorus, was in charge of tarting me up. We tried on dress after dress until settling on a blue number capacious enough to house my bulk without bursting like an exploding grenade. A red fright wig and a long white scarf completed the ensemble.

After some discussion, we settled on a name for the "character" I would portray: Dame Dorettina Louisa Seconda-Piatta. (The "Seconda-Piatta" was my contribution)

On to rehearsals. Understand: my attitude about this was so bad that I showed up to rehearse without having prepared at all. I had no plan; no ideas; nothin'. See, to think about it was to acknowledge its reality, and that I could not do.

So the rehearsal was really lame.In addition to Joe and Rita (who sang like an angel), my wife was there to lend her expert eye and make suggestions. (NOTE: she's an expert on performing in general, not performing in drag specifically.) So the rehearsal was a desultory exercise in futility. I kind of galumphed around like Dancing Bear from the old "Captain Kangaroo" TV show. We went our separate ways, all, no doubt, with our private concerns.

The dreaded day arrived. I was hoping the attendance would be poor, but CRAP - the place was packed. A full house of some 1,600. Great: within 90 minutes my reputation would be in ashes. And they'd probably all think it was my idea.

My daughter Kathleen and I waited in the wings. She was in high school then and had been recruited for two tasks. First, she would serve as Joe's page-turner at the keyboard. But most importantly, when the cadenza arrived, she would grab her flute and join me in one of those vocal cadenzas that amounts to a contest of "any scale you can toot I can sing screechier".

Rita was in the pit. Joe and Kathleen were at the piano. It was time to go on..

My friends, the population of the world consists of two groups: 1) those who are born to perform in public; and 2) those who aren't. Either you bloom when it's time to sing, speak, dance, act, play an instrument, or anything else before an audience, or you fade. You enjoy it or you don't.

I may not be the greatest performer in the world, but I AM a performer; my "Voices of Spring" that afternoon proved it again. Suddenly, I knew what to do. Dame Seconda-Piatta entered, just dripping with Matronly Dignity, carrying a parasol. As the music continued, I flounced; I skipped and frolicked, even though I hadn't even practiced in heels. I mugged. At one point, I used the parasol as a golf club, miming a Tiger Woodsian swing. I sashayed over to Joe and began flirting shamelessly, massaging his shoulders and cozying up to him on the bench. Playing along, he knocked me off and sent me sprawling to the floor. No matter! Remaining prone, I adopted the classic "soprano-singing-Vissi-d'arte-on-the-floor" attitude familiar to all devotees of Tosca, and I emoted. None of this had happened, or even been discussed, at rehearsal.

When the cadenza arrived, my kid and I milked it for every laugh. At one point Dame Seconda-Piatta became so enraged by her "rival" that I chased her around the piano, parasol raised like a saber.

Everything worked. We KILLED it. The audience was totally into it, and cheers greeted our curtain call.

You should know that Dame Dorettina Luisa Seconda-Piatta, from that day onward, has retreated into permanent retirement, never to appear again. Ruhe, ruhe, Liebchen. That was the shortest career as a drag queen in entertainment history.

Here are some more pics. To my friends: years from now when you talk about this - and you will - be kind. 

May 28, 2015

20 things only an obsessed opera-lover will understand

I should really be working for Buzzfeed. I really, really should be. HEY, BUZZFEED - HIRE ME.

That oughta work. <Sits by phone>

Andrea Bocelli; not your cup of tea.
(photo by Dovywiarda)
Hmmm... well, they're probably busy right now. In the meantime, feel free to read my audition piece, a little thing I call 20 Things only an obsessed opera-lover will understand (no GIF's. Sorry; just couldn't be bothered. Do you know how long it takes to make a bunch of those?)

1.  Dropping whatever you're doing to listen every time a TV commercial using the Lakmé
duet comes on.

2.  Going nuts every time you're dining in an Italian restaurant in which the Muzak consists of opera music because you have to figure out which soprano is singing Musetta's Waltz.

3.  Checking your email inbox every morning before you get your coffee to see if there's an opera-themed alert from the New York Times.

4.  Lecturing anyone - including strangers on the street - any time you hear someone mention Andrea Bocelli in admiration.

5.  Noticing with some embarrassment that your last eighteen Facebook posts have been links to opera videos or articles.

6.  Following so many opera companies on Twitter that actually reading all their posts would require that you quit your job in order to carve out enough time.

7.  Feeling you might explode with incredulous joy because Deborah Voigt personally re-tweeted you.

8.  Feeling impatiently angry with co-workers and/or family members who fail to understand what a big deal it is that Deborah Voigt re-tweeted you.

9.  Getting teary-eyed remembering the 1960's when, as a child, you got so excited every year when Amahl and the Night Visitors came on TV at Christmastime.

10. Searching YouTube for clips when you learn that Mr. Rogers occasionally made operas for small children on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood".

11. Sitting in the parking lot at the bank for twenty minutes on a Saturday afternoon before you go in the bank because the Met Opera's Saturday matinee radio broadcast of Norma is on and if you go in now you'll miss "Casta Diva".

12.  Gritting your teeth when you're in a serious conversation about opera and someone brings up Bugs Bunny opera cartoons.

13.  Practicing your spot-on impression of Elmer Fudd singing "Kill the Wabbit" for occasions when YOU think it's okay to bring up Bugs Bunny opera cartoons.

14.  Having mixed emotions about the opera scene in the movie Pretty Woman since on the one hand you think Julia Roberts' range of wordless emotional affects as her character becomes involved in the Traviata story is pitch-perfect, but, on the other hand, you're appalled at the pedestrian performances of the "singers" she's watching.

15. Reading every single amazon.com customer review of every single DVD of the opera you want to see and becoming hopelessly confused as a result.

16.  The sheer panic and anxiety that washes over you when you're attending an HD live transmission of the Met at your local cineplex and the screen goes blank due to atmospheric conditions.

17.  The intense ire that floods your sensibilities when, at another HD transmission, two people sitting seven seats away from you converse loudly during an orchestral passage because they only pay attention when Renee Fleming is singing.

18.  The irritation that vexes you when audience members laugh inappropriately at serious lines of dramatic dialogue on the super-title screen at the opera house.

19.  Wasting hours down the rabbit-hole of YouTube, listening to so many performances of tenor arias by Massenet that you realize that 1) you missed lunch, and 2) you never want to hear that aria again. And finally,

20.  The lump in your throat that appears every single time the Countess forgives her husband's unfaithfulness in The Marriage of Figaro, less because of how beautifully it's sung than because of how perfectly Mozart nailed the psychology of her love, her disappointment, and her knowledge that he's unlikely to change.

May 24, 2015

To honor Dave: my various Top Ten lists and two new ones

David Letterman
(photo by Alan Light)
Through the years, I've shamelessly borrowed David Letterman's fabled "Top Ten List" format for occasional attempts at humor in these posts. If you didn't find them funny, no worries - I enjoyed them immensely, which is actually enough for me.

Anyway, last night (as I write this) was Dave's final show before he sinks into what I'm pretty sure will be his retirement persona: a low-profile, virtually anonymous, somewhat grouchy senior citizen. So as a tribute to a guy who made me laugh helplessly on several occasions, I thought I'd round up all my previous Top Ten posts and present them here with their links for you peruse in case any of you Faithful Readers missed 'em. Plus, I'll provide one or two new ones at the bottom. So here they are!

Top Ten operatic onion jokes (from 1/13/20130)

Top Ten rejected "Mikado" character names (3/4/2012)

Top Ten incredibly relevant shockingly tasteless updated operas (5/19/2013)

Top Ten signs Peter Gelb is going nuts (6/23/2013)

Top Ten ways the tough economy has impacted the opera world (12/2/2012)

Top Ten rejected curses for "Cavalleria Rusticana" (4/3/2015)

So now let's try our hand at a new one. I was thinking about the creative process involved in coming up with names for operatic characters, principals and bit parts alike. The two that came to mind first were Tosca, the title character in Puccini's famous "shabby little shocker", and Fiorello, a minor character who has a few lines at the beginning of Rossini's Barbiere di Siviglia. Whence "Tosca"? Whence "Fiorello"? Were there discussions about these amongst the various creative teams? Arguments? Knock-down drag-outs? Or were they pretty much chosen out of a hat?

I can provide some context. I know People In High Places who have provided me with primary sources on both works, enabling me to present the rejected choices that preceded the final ones. So let's begin with the


10. Roscoe

9.   Bosco

8.  Frisky

7.  Fresca

6  CostCo

5  Esskay (click the link; see, originally the character was a butcher, not an opera singer)

4  Disco

3. Mildred  (this one was quickly rejected)

2  Mouseka-la-Teer (Isn't it eerie how that one would have foreshadowed the Mickey Mouse Club? Yep - darn eerie)

And the No. 1 rejected name for Tosca:

1  Osca Madison (character originally conceived as an untidy sports writer...)

BUT I'M NOT DONE!!!!!! So let's make us sorry we ever heard of David Letterman by sharing the


10.  La Guardia (you might have to click that link for this to make sense. Mind you: you still might not laugh, but at least it will make sense.)

9   De Blasio

8  Giuliani

7.  Bloomberg

6  Lemonjello

5.  Cigarillo

4  Pennantello

3  Showantello

2  Bob

And the No. 1 rejected name for Fiorello:

1.  Melloyellow (I'm just mad about Top Ten lists) (Quite wrong)