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And Hanson is as Hanson did it, too!

Think of it as the anti-Puritani: In Howard Hanson’s Merry Mount, straitlaced Calvinists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony are pitted against a bunch of rather cavalier Anglicans, hostile Indians [sic] and Satanic hosts, commanded by Lucifer and the Canaanite goddess Astoreth.

Astoreth is diabolical but also irresistible—at least to Puritan preacher Wrestling Bradford, who should know better, and is engaged besides to a mezzo maiden with the fascinating name of Plentiful Tewke. Richard Stokes’s libretto is said to have been inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne, but little trace of it will be found in his story “The Maypole of Merry Mount.” The opera, half Hawthorne, half Freud, is far juicier.

New York found this out last night, 80 years after the Metropolitan Opera premiere, which starred no one less than Lawrence Tibbett. On Wednesday, Merry Mount was brought to Carnegie Hall’s Spring for Music Festival by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Hanson taught at Rochester’s Eastman Music School for over forty years and is regarded as a local celebrity.

Merry Mount was commissioned by the Met’s longest-serving general manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, an Italian of quixotic ideals: He would discover the Great American Opera if such a thing were to be found. Picture him in an explorer’s topee leading a procession of Met boxholders into the New World, supplies borne upon their heads.

Gatti commissioned fifteen such works and a couple of them endured a second season. None remain in the repertory. Merry Mount had nine performances. Tullio Serafin conducted. Mrs. Gatti, Rosina Galli, choreographed. There were 50 curtain calls and a live radio broadcast. It was big.

But European grand opera, theater where voice is the key to drama, did not prove transplantable to this culture. The only American operas of Gatti’s era that remain in the repertory are Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts, and the Met took generations to get around to them.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Shanewis, Peter Ibbetson and The Emperor Jones are devoid of interest. Highly musical men composed them, though they rather lacked the melodramatic spark. There is a fascination in blowing the dust off now and then and, in the case of Merry Mount, genuine pleasure in the discovery. The music is colorful though the drama is pallid.

Hanson, who taught at Rochester’s Eastman School of Music for forty years, lived long enough to be miffed when the New York Times called his junior, Aaron Copland, “the grand old man of American music.” He suspected, correctly, that his own works were largely forgotten, though his second symphony turns up from time to time.

His mastery of intricate choral and orchestral writing were very much on display in Merry Mount. Lush themes limn the wilderness of primal New England in a romantic (and, for 1934, mighty conservative) style, punctuated with Straussian xylophones and wood blocks.

Love themes are fragrant, the hymn settings for chorus lively. The bacchanale of diabolic hordes lacked the frenzy Saint-Saens or Boito would have given it, but the drum-and-bassoon rhythms of an Indian attack on the settlers proved great fun.

When the corrupt antihero, Wrestling Bradford, having sold his soul to the Devil out of frustrated lust, confessed his sins, an epidemic of wild chromaticism broke out to illustrate the curses he has called down upon the colony, but this was the only time Hanson’s strait laces were the least bit awry. Sometimes one regretted that he never lost his academic cool, or ran off to the flickers with Korngold and Bernard Herrmann. Might have made something of himself.

Rather more to the point (as was noticed in 1934), the character-painting that Hanson so lavishly daubs upon his landscape and his choruses (Puritan, May Pole or Demonic) is strangely abeyant when individuals are front and center. Bradford confesses his sexual torment in wooden parlando, the ill-named Plentiful gets less than a duet, and a climactic love scene for Bradford and his adored Lady Marigold Sandys (aka Astoreth) is warm but brief. (An hour of music is said to have been cut from the score.)

Nothing dire is fleshed out. Hanson and his librettist seem embarrassed to do more than bring up the subject of sex: You know what they mean. Yes, we do; but tell us anyway, in song. Puritan society was mad enough for operatic treatment but, Bellini aside, didn’t really get it, double-fisted and flailing, until Robert Ward’s The Crucible, which benefits from Arthur Miller’s strong dramatic framework.

The leading roles on this occasion were well inhabited by the Rochester Philharmonic under its able director, Michael Christie, and the Eastman-Rochester Chorus, with the Bach Children’s Chorus of Nazareth College for a scene of Maytime games.

The mere characters of the story were also well sung. Richard Zeller, a sturdy figure with a tidy light baritone, proved capable of Wrestling Bradford’s enormous range and of suggesting his passions if not of making the rafters ring as Tibbett must have done.

Lady Marigold/Astoreth was composed for Göta Ljungberg, a Wagnerian who had just become the Met’s second-ever Salome (27 years after the fiasco of the first), and Sara Jakubiak gave evidence of this fach, with a dark, warm, well-produced soprano and glittering high notes, though lower ones faded under the hefty orchestration.

Charles Robert Austin sang the cynical Praise-God Tewke with impressive authority. To tenor Christopher Pfund fell the ungrateful part of Sir Gower Lackland, straining tightly through high tessitura for a brief love duet before being shot by the jealous Bradford, rewarded (after death) by getting to sing merry Lucifer as well. Baritone Keith Brown mezzo Ashley Hibbard were effective as Myles Brodrib and Plentiful Tewke. (Did librettist Stokes invent these characters to avoid duplicating any other names in opera? Is Plentiful Tewke Puritanese for Pussy Galore?)

It might be difficult to justify a full staging of Merry Mount in an era of budget cuts (though if they can give us Sly and Cyrano, why not?), but a concert with a top orchestra and chorus is exceptional fare, tasty, filling and utterly American.

96 comments

  • Krunoslav says:

    I always had the feeling this drecky piece was part on an anti-immgrant cultural wave post WW I that included Colonial Wiliamsburg, the Plymouth Rock enshrinement, the renewal of the KKK, etc.

    Ned Rorem alludes to Howard Hanson’s anti-gay purges at Eastman, and I found this corroboration online:

    “Classical music writer Michael Steinberg was interviewed by National Public Radio in 2005 following the death of Diamond, and had this to say about the year that the Rochester native spent as a student at Eastman: “Hanson disliked Jews and he disliked homosexuals and he disliked modernists, and David Diamond qualified in all of those categories. And it must have been a pretty unhappy year, and I think it’s significant that Diamond left the place after a year.”"

    • DeepSouthSenior says:

      Lumping together Colonial Williamsburg (one of our great cultural treasures) and Plymouth Rock (an appropriate remembrance of our history) with “the renewal of the KKK”? How astonishingly dense. My ancestors were in Jamestown before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. I honor and rejoice in my heritage, warts and all.

      • DeepSouthSenior says:

        To clarify: I honor and rejoice in my heritage, in spite of its faults. The positive glories far outweigh the sad defects.

        • Clita del Toro says:

          Small “faults” like slavery, racism, etc. I guess. I despise everything about the state of Virginia, land of racists, bigots anti-gay morons (except perhaps, Northern Virginia).
          Yes, “Virginia Is For Lovers” if they are white, heterosexual and Christian.
          Just look at your legislators and politicians and what they stand for!!!!! Gimme a break! The KKK fits right in. Yes, Williamsburg is pretty. “Honor and rejoice in your heritage” LOLOLOL
          I guess so.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            PS They are not “warts,” they are gigantic, ugly malignant tumors!

          • DeepSouthSenior says:

            I stand rebuked by your kindness, tolerance, and open-mindedness.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Oh, please, stop already, dahling, with the old-school, southern, genteel rubbish. That’s the problem with y’all. You are too involved and invested in your “glorious past.” Does it make you feel special? Does it make you feel superior? Does it make you feel sexy?
              It’s equivalent to the people who tell you, “I am a Christian. I say, “Isn’t that special” or preferably “BFD.”
              Guess what they are really saying when they spurt out that garbage?

            • armerjacquino says:

              It’s Sweeping Generalisation Day here on parterre.com.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Jacquino, yes, the “sweeping generalizations” might also be called elections and the appointment of judges. I go by whom the residents of a state elect. Too may creeps are elected in Virginia.
              There are nice, decent people everywhere, of course.
              State politics is what I am talking about.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              PS And I think that state politics somehow, kinda, maybe, possibly, conceivably reflect the views of the people who live there.

            • Poison Ivy says:

              Ah, the “I hate where you live” convo. As someone who was born and raised in the “great” state of New Jersey, I can assure you that this kind of convo accomplishes absolutely nothing because:

              1. generally people don’t choose where they were born/raised/live: it’s a combo of life circumstances and career requirements

              2. It’s a conversation-ender. No where else to go but down after “I hate where you live.”

              3. So you hate where the person lives. What’s that person to do, rent a U-Haul and get packing?

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Ivy, dear: I KNOW THAT PEOPLE CAN’T EASILY PICK UP AND MOVE FROM WHERE THEY LIVE AND I DON’T EXPECT THEM TO. People can and do live where they live for various reasons.
              As I don’t like Uganda, Russia and Brunei, for obvious (recent) reasons, I don’t like some of our states. It’s a political thing.
              What irked me was Miss Antebellum’s statement:
              “My ancestors were in Jamestown before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. I honor and rejoice in my heritage, warts and all.”

              Yeah, my ancestors were somewhere on earth as well.

              It’s nice to be proud of your background, but really!
              He rejoices in the “warts”. He won’t be moving soon!
              Do Germans “rejoice” at their “warts.” Some do.

            • kashania says:

              Well said, Clita!

          • The_Kid says:

            @clita: Bravo/a!!!! :) #NotSarcasm

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Here is an example of what I mean: Attorneys for Kentucky Governor, Steve Beshear have filed a brief which claims that same sex marriage must remain illegal, otherwise straight people will have fewer babies and that will cost Kentucky lots of money. (From Joe. My. God).
              Does this make any sense? Lol
              “Oh, Jim honey, we can’t have any more children.”
              “Why?” ” Cause Fred and Johnny were married last week…..-Ah will be nauseated of the rest of mah days.”

          • luvtennis says:

            My dear Clita (née Amneris):

            We could all do with your courage! My mother (a slayer if there ever was one in this world) said the truth only offends liars. And she lived that until she was taken too young (63!!!) five years ago. You remind me of her.

            Just thinking how long you, Kashie and I have been cyber buds. Time is like a river….

          • Camille says:

            Clita, quit yer bitchin’ and get off your hobbyhorse! And head over to WQXR.org and hear your beloved LATONIA MOORE emit sounds of spellbinding clarity and beauty in the broadcast of R. Nathaniel Dett’s “The Ordering of Moses” performed just this evening in Carnegie Hall.

            Her voice, the tenor’s (Rodrick Dixon), and the mezzoish contralto’s (Ronnita Nicole Miller) were all WAY better than any thing I have heard pouring through the airwaves from the MET as of late.

            Shamefully empty Carnegie Hall. The entire balcony was empty and at least half of the audience was from Cincinnati. How do I know? They waved the flags and raised their hands when asked to.

            Not an exceptional or great piece of music but a nice one and the singing was all very lovely from the soloists, the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, and Maestro Conlon working to bring it all to life in a COMPLETE performance. If you listen to the broadcast you will find out what happened at the first performance back in the late 1930′s.

            Yeah, it is fine to talk about injustice, but mostly it is just talk and when push comes to shove, everyone wants their own, and that’s just human nature, yours too, Clita.

      • m. croche says:

        Just to get the conversation back on track, I presume Krunoslav was talking specifically about the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg which began in the 1920s. Scholars of American history have actually delved into this subject and found that nativist, anti-immigrant, pro-Anglo-Saxon, anti-Bolshevist and similar ideologies played a role in launching that project. See, for example, Anders Greenspan’s monograph “Creating Colonial Williamsburg: The Restoration of Virginia’s 18th-Century Capital.”

        • Krunoslav says:

          Thank you.M. Croche.

          Yes, that is exactly what I am talking about-- the DAR-fueled restoration which for decades made no mention of slavery.

          DeeplyClosetedQueen and his ilk tend to take Williamsburg as something not ‘created’ or massaged to reinforce a particular ideology that they see as ‘gracious’, ‘aristocratic’ and ‘natural’.

          I am grateful that my maternal ancestors, who were in fact aristocratic and through whom the women in my family are fully eligible for DAR membership, took a different view of things, even in regard to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from where they hailed. (Though one great-great aunt from Kennebunk, a 19th century survival, did refer to the Bushes as “those *parvenus*” in the early 1980s.)

          Learn something about how, why and when Williamsburg and Plymouth were fashioned into ‘national historical beauty spots” before you leap to their defense. Am I glad they are there? Yes. Were they artificial constructs, like “Old Santa Fe”? Yes.

          For the UKers, the issue here is kind of like trumped-up “heritage” spots-- not that they aren’t in fact historic, but that they are massaged to tell only a very particular version of history. See also the “gracious” homes outside of Charleston SC, where human beings were held and traded as chattel and sometimes beaten to death.

          I didn’t hear MERRY MOUNT the other night and for what it’s worth I enjoy the music of many composers who were racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic ( Ives was a lifelong homophobe and very vocal about it.) I am judging MERRY MOUNT from the Seattle recording; I found it very poor stuff indeed.

          • m. croche says:

            Just to broaden the subject a little bit -- a book I enjoyed very much when it came out, and which I believe is still quite respected in historical circles, is Michael Kammen’s Mystic Chords of Memory, the Transformation of Tradition in American Culture”. If I remember correctly, the main focus of his attention is the couple of decades immediately following the Civil War, so a generation or two before the events we are discussing here. I just mention this to provide a little broader context to the subject of myth-making by monument.

            …okay, I’ve actually pulled the book off the shelf, and he devotes quite a number of pages to Colonial Williamsburg. Most of Kammen’s attention goes to the formal novelty of the village-size “living museum”, but here’s one key point: “The most tragic aspect of the whole enterprise, however, is that it resulted in the destruction or relocation of homes and community institutions of blacks, and it strained relationships between blacks and whites. What makes this especially ironic, of course, is that the Rockefeller family, starting with the generation of John, Jr. has for a long time made African-American education and social justice a major object of their philanthropy… By the early 1940s, however, Rockefeller had acquiesced in the argument that white tourists would be comfortable only if African-Americans were visible in eighteenth-century livery as deferential servants but invisible as twentieth-century free persons. A separate dormitory was constructed for “male colored help”; relocated housing for blacks was carefully kept beyond the view of tourists at C.W., and the Williamsburg Inn and other dining and guest facilities remained strictly segregated… The media, needless to say, which lavished much attention on Williamsburg -- all of it upbeat -- never mentioned racial matters, p. 368

    • m. croche says:

      Life at Eastman in the 1930s:

      John Weinzweig: And then one day, I met a professor. He was not my teacher [Bernard Rogers - ed.], and I was -- and so I asked him about the Schoenberg method or twelve-tone, and he immediately replied, “Schoenberg was a perverted Jew.” Well, that was a shocking remark to me. I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret it, and I never forgot that.

      Robert Freeman, former director of Eastman: One of the things people had against the Eastman School in the 1930s goes to the time when Hitler was stirring things up in Europe. The country was overwhelmed with European immigrants, most of them Jewish, but not entirely. Some of them were composers of major international reputation. None of them came to Eastman … not Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schoenberg, or any of the others. This was not a place in which such people were welcome. They could have been appointed to the school and they could have been a major start here.

      (From “Alec Wilder In Spite of Himself: A Life of the Composer”, by Desmond Stone. p. 34)

    • Gualtier M says:

      Interesting also that Hanson was angry at Aaron Copland being hailed as the “Grand Old Man of American Music” -- another homosexual Jew…

  • Hans Lick says:

    I want to thank, first of all, DeepSouthSenior, for giving me my first horse laugh of the day with his charming riposte! But, pace sir, the cracks about Williamsburg really were about the gimcrack mythicizing that created the present faux-colonial project. As for its beginnings, it may be possible to establish a colony without treating the aboriginals like shit, but to my knowledge the noble experiment (as in Virginia and Massachusetts — and Sicily and Carthage and Provence and the Crusades and Northern Ireland and East Prussia and yaddayadda) has never been tried anywhere gently for longer than half a generation. And we all of us descend (in this country especially) from those colonial mobster types. And where would we be without them, eh?

    The original review, M. Croche, does NOT state that Shanewis failed for its lack of melodramatic spark but that none of Gatti’s American inventions possessed it, and rightly implies that without it the experiment was hopeless. Porgy and Bess had it, but that was not a Met idea. Four Saints had … other virtues.

    I’m glad I did not know that Hanson was particularly anti-gay, anti-Jew and anti-modernist (though all that does explain his malice towards Copand, eh?), or his xenophobia, from which Eastman suffered quite as much as the musicians themselves. (There ought to be a book about all the musicians who fled here in the ’30s and ’40s and what they made — or could not make — of themselves. Terrific idea for some young writer hoping to make a rep.)

    I understand that Krunoslav’s awareness of all that must color his appreciation of Merry Mount; it would probably have colored mine. But ignorance is bliss — my feeling on Wednesday night was: This is fun to hear! And, since: I’d go to another performance, especially if they opened up some of the cuts!

    GualtierM, a high-flying Straussian line might suit Lundberg, Flanigan and Sills, but it certainly isn’t what Jakobiak gave us on Wednesday, so I don’t think it’s in the score. At least not this version of the score.

    • m. croche says:

      Hiya, H.L.

      Shanewis and Emperor Jones would have enough melodramatic spark and musical quality to earn the occasional revival nowadays (at least, by my plebeian standards). It’s the tricky racial issues that aren’t so easily expunged. I was surprised to see this ignored when you were making your judgement as to whether one should “blow off the dust” of these works, with no consideration as to whether the racial politics of those two operas (and indeed Merrymount) might be an inducement towards leaving the dust undisturbed.

      • Hans Lick says:

        m. croche -

        I completely agree that the sentiments of Shanewis render it unpalatable today, and that The Emperor Jones is iffy at best, but in the years when such attitudes were unremarkable (actually, putting an introspective American black man at center stage of the Met was remarkable back then), they were never popular and never frequent. That I blame on their lack (and respectable American opera’s lack) of any melodramatic spark.

        It is interesting though to ponder the message of Shanewis (and Madama Butterfly, for the matter of that, which is based on a hit American play no one could revive today without layers of academic “quotation marks”): That the races could never commingle without disaster ensuing. This was a message Hollywood continued to underline, felt it was important to underline — why? Because it was happening without disaster, and everybody knew it if they really thought about it, but nobody dared say aloud, in public: It’s the way of the future and maybe not a bad thing at all.

        This is very like the message of La Favorite, La Traviata, La Rondine, all the Manon operas and even La Boheme (but not Louise!): Once a girl has (gasp) sold herself, once she has entered that sordid bed without nuptial preliminaries, she can never go back, she can never be happy, she can never be a real wife or — heaven forfend! a mother. It was thought important to emphasize that in the nineteenth century precisely because everyone knew it wasn’t true — but society was built (in part) on that pillar. (Kind of like: gay men go off to Paris or shoot themselves.) And the Hays Office extended it to Hollywood to a ridiculous length of time.

        These are the lies the power structure needed to have everyone at least pretend to believe, needed to feed everyone through art, lest the truth break out as, eventually, it had to.

        Sometimes I ponder what “truths” the power structure today insists we believe (universal brotherhood? trust in authority? distrust of authority and the stand-up rebel in the American soul?) that are not true at all, and that will make those who come after us laugh at our naiveté.

    • DeepSouthSenior says:

      Hans Lick, I think I’d enjoy a lively discussion with you! Friendly, animated conversation based on principle need not require agreement on all points -- a mark of civilization too often forgotten these days. My adult beverages are limited to iced tea and Diet Coke, though. Opera is generally the only mind-altering substance I ingest.

  • Gualtier M says:

    Well, Hanson’s attitudes would have been quite mainstream in the early part of the 20th century. Most good, moral, married Christians did not like Jews, foreign immigrants, communists or homosexuals. We won’t even go into people of color… Most good, solid Americans shared those sentiments.

    I think the current sensitivity towards anti-semitism is an aftermath (a good one) of World War II and the holocaust. Also since Stonewall, gay rights has been making a slow, steady march with the gay marriage movement spearheading it currently (see the posting above on David Daniels’ recent nuptuals).

    People forget the obstruction and indifference members of FDR’s government took towards the murder and persecution of Jews in Nazi Europe. It was very much a case of too little, too late after FDR and his cabinet knew about the “Final Solution” for some time. And when refugees did get out in the thirties and forties, they often faced unwelcoming treatment in this country. We see all this from our more enlightened contemporary viewpoint. Hanson’s attitudes, like his music, would have been firmly centered in the conservative cultural mainstream.

    • oedipe says:

      I think the current sensitivity towards anti-semitism is an aftermath (a good one) of World War II and the holocaust.

      For NON-Jews, yes. For most Jews, no: the sensitivity to anti-semitism is much much older.

      More generally: tell me who you are and what your background is and I will tell what your sensitivities are (and what sensitivies you are unlikely to be able to fully grasp).

      • oedipe says:

        P.S. First paragraph is a quote:

        I think the current sensitivity towards anti-semitism is an aftermath (a good one) of World War II and the holocaust.

      • Clita del Toro says:

        Also, anti-semetism is now growing again in europe. Now they are using the gays the way they used the Jews: to drum up hatred and prejudice

        • Clita del Toro says:

          didn’t finish: drum up hatred in order to coalesce their bases-- as good dictators and bigots are wont to do.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Clita. I understand all you say, but, also, there must be something good in Virginia to have inspired this lady :)

    httpsv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhhcH6JLaQA

    I like Nevada. People there drink and gamble (and smoke) too much, and commit suicide, sure; still, it is the state where Tebaldi lived in Fanciulla :) .

    • La Valkyrietta says:

      Oops. I guess I forgot to post links. Anyway, it is Steber singing ‘Carry Me Back’ very nicely.

    • Hans Lick says:

      And Susan Hayward got cancer from nuclear testing.

      • Clita del Toro says:

        LOL I loved Miss Hayward.

      • Gualtier M says:

        Actually “The Conqueror” (1956) was filed me in Utah which brings us full circle back to “I Mormoni”…

        • Gualtier M says:

          filmed in Utah… “I Mormoni” was a joke on the opera quiz that if Bellini had lived another 60 years he would have written a sequel…

    • Krunoslav says:

      “I like Nevada. People there drink and gamble (and smoke) too much, and commit suicide, sure; still, it is the state where Tebaldi lived in Fanciulla .”

      ………….
      Actually. La Vakyrietta, all of FANCIULLA tales place in California. The “Sierra Nevada” is a mountain range, and almost all of it is in California.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Nevada_(U.S.)

      • La Valkyrietta says:

        Krunoslav,

        Yes, a canard. Of course I have heard all my life “Addio mia California!”, but I like to think they were somewhere in Northern Nevada in a place not far from Lake Tahoe somewhere near Carson City. I know, it is not what I want, but what Belasco and Puccini wanted, but I take with this a flight of phantasy, and the desert outside New Orleans in Manon Lescaut encourages me.

        Clita,

        I also love Susan Hayward and I’ll never forget young Robert Wagner as a soldier in “With a Song in My Heart”. Didn’t Susan sing “Carry Me Back” in that scene? Or was it Jane Froman? Marnie Nixon? :)

  • Hans Lick says:

    Let us also allow that, whatever Hanson’s prejudices (as Gualtier points out: typical of his time, place and ethnicity), he and Stokes do not give the “Pilgrims” anything like a free pass. If anything, they despise them heartily. The horrors that descend upon the settlement are in part inspired by Bradford’s intolerance of the Indians and, indeed, everyone else. And Marigold never does feel anything for him but disgust — their love duet takes place in his fantasy. When he drags her to the flames she isn’t glad to die with him, she’s glad to die to get away from these dreadful people. Stokes had undoubtedly read Freud. The Puritans are not praised.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Is the name pronounced SHANE-wis or Sha-NAY-wis?

  • phoenix says:

    This turned out to be an interesting thread -- a leap frog discussion of socio-political power structures & attitudes from 17th century through to the present (thanks to Clita).
    - Once I went all the way down to visit ‘colonial Williamsburg’ and I was never more disappointed with anyplace in my whole life (no offence to any Virginians around here). I grew up in the 1940′s & 50′s in Arizona & every year we made it a point to visit different ghost towns, abandoned movie sets, and still functioning territorial settlements. What I saw in colonial Williamsburg looked like an old shabby movie set. Granted the original settlement was very meager & humble, I got infuriated with those clowns down there as I went from one dug-out foundation frame to another listening to a guide praise each ruin as if it were a holy relic, extoling the virtues of the original Brits or Puritans or whoever they were -- all of it made me even less interested in them & their history and I never indulged in it again. The place is nothing more than a fetid swamp with sky high humidity. NOW, Charleston, SC (founded a half-century after Williamsburg), humidity or not, is the most gloriously beautiful city: my favorite in the USA.
    - And if you are down in Cochise County AZ by the Mexican border and you’re looking for a day trip, Tombstone, AZ is another favorite of mine. The old courthouse with the gallows next to it have been restored to their original 1880′s glory. There are even (presently socially unacceptable) establishments still around, such as Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and the most interesting place in town: the Birdcage Theater. My Dad knew a prominent rancher from Cochise County (she would come to town every Spring to ride in the Rodeo Parade) who grew up in the Tombstone area during the 1880′s. When I was 13 years old, I remember her telling my father that in her old age she regretted not having attended the shows at the Birdcage Theater, which had a full orchestra pit and stage. The ‘Birdcages’ were 14 parterre boxes in the on the 2nd & 3rd ring of the auditorium. My Dad’s friend could have seen Lilly Langtry, Lotta Crabtree & Lillian Russell -- but it was socially unacceptable for a young girl from a proper family to attend performances at the Birdcage Theater. Eventually corruption ensued and the Birdcage Theater became a 24/7/365 functioning operahouse, saloon, gambling hall & brothel. The parterre box ‘Birdcages’ got decorated with thick velvet curtains -- and each box got rented out to prostitutes who closed the curtains and entertained their clients where once innocent patrons sat. The basement of the theater originally housed stage sets, but it was cleared out and turned into the longest running marathon poker game in the history of the U.S. -- ran 8-1/2 years and was regularly attended by Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, and George Hearst -- the Theater took 10% of all winnings.

    • Camille says:

      Hey phoenix, thanks for filling in for me on all that information on the Birdcage Theatre, which I have actually visited twice and found to be fascinatingly evocative of its heyday. All of Tombstone was very interesting and well worth a visit. Do you know that Boot Hill cemetary outside of town as well? Skeery place! And have you ever been to Bisbee, a real hippie haven, ah reckon? I never made it there nor to the Copper Canyon, either, but wanted to.

      • phoenix says:

        Camille: Every part of Arizona has it’s own peculiar identity. I had an aunt -- Maxine was her name -- who came from Douglas. I loved to go down to Bisbee, Tombstone & Douglas when I was a boy -- the old people always had good stories & they were open-hearted & generous. I only objected when we had to cross the border into México. The last time I went to Cochise County (about 30 years ago) it was still relatively unpopulated with some beautiful old rancheros. The hills around that region have a strange beauty, very different from the other parts of Arizona. There are ‘hippies’ -- old guys that look like former prospectors (to me) -- in a lot of the mining towns in AZ -- Bisbee is no different -- they blend in with the surroundings and seem to belong there. Here is a list of the more prominent Arizona ghost/mining towns -- great fun for trips:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ghost_towns_in_Arizona
        - If you are visiting Las Vegas NV, take a day trip to Oatman in Mojave County AZ, one of my favorite towns -- it is just a short drive from Bullhead City, NV. Oatman still has some stores open and it’s fun to watch the old men who live in the hills around there come down to town to shop & shoot the bull:
        http://tinyurl.com/la3hmbe\
        - No, I never went to Copper Canyon -- that was my mother’s favorite place. I’ll never forget how overjoyed she was when the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico opened up in 1961. She was always fascinated by the Rarámuri people (Uto-Aztec inhabitants of the canyon regions), they once occupied all of Chihuahua, but in the 16th c. were forced to retreat to the Copper Canyon to avoid being taken into slavery by the conquering Spanish. I can’t remember if Mom usually went alone or with some friends -- she went several times up into the 1980′s.

        • Camille says:

          Thank you for all the excellent suggestions, phoenix, and while it is not very high on my list right now, a trip to these parts may figure in my plans some time in the future or, hopefully, in the plans of some others herein. It was my experience, brief as it was, that parts of Arizona and New Mexico were very distinctively set apart from the mainstream of what constitutes the U.S., and these sorts of interesting places are increasingly threatened by mass consumerism and harder to find. It certainly gave you an interesting youth, seeing all these places and maybe explains some of your interest in so many of those diverse cultures in Asia. My interest began as a child, seeing truckloads of those poor men known as braceros being driven around in my orange growing neck of the woods. I used to wonder about these men and dared not ask my elders who they were, now whence they came. That curiosity started for me a life-long sympathy toward those people, especially gratifying when I began to discover the wealth of Mexican songs, Maria Grever, e.g., among other delights.

          Thanks for your interesting commentary and I hope you are thawing out after this particularly long awful winter.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Krunoslav,

    Again, apologies for my mistake. Not too lucky with posts these days. I should have said something like Nevada (the other land that became a state during the Civil War, as West Virginia, birthplace of Steber) “is the state where Tebaldi lived after the end of Fanciulla” :) .

    I realize Fanciulla takes place all in California. Minnie was raised in Soledad, which is definitely California, and the miner’s bar is a California gold camp, not a Nevada silver camp. But I think the spirit of Fanciulla is more Nevada like. In those mountains the geographical dividing line is so artificial. In the new Met production, don’t they even have a slot machine? I think of California more as Sunset Boulevard or Pal Joey. Anyway, I can like Nevada because it is the land of the happy post-ending of the couple. Where else could they have gone when leaving California? I don’t think Mexico where they might meet the big family and friends of Nina Micheltorena, or where they might have signs asking for Ramerez, dead or alive. Puccini should have composed a sequel, which would not be ‘I Mormoni’, but something like ‘Bliss, Not Blizzard, in Nevada’. Or, if they ended up living in Fremont Street in Vegas in a bar downstairs hotel upstairs, something like ‘I Slotti’.

    • Camille says:

      Yes, you are correct. They ended up in Nevada running a faro table.

      But please do not confuse Nevada with California again for that is tantamoun to confusing Dolores Gray with Betty Hutton in my book!

      • Krunoslav says:

        I suggest you ( and everyone) read the (to me) quite moving final act of Belasco’s play, in which Dick Johnson and Minnie are heading “back East”.

        Here is his novelization of it:

        XVIII.

        The soft and velvety blackness of night was giving place to a pearly grey, and the feathery streaks of a trembling dawn were shooting heavenward when a man, whose head had been pillowed on a Mexican saddle, rose from the ground in front of a tepee, made of blankets on crossed sticks, and seated himself on an old tree-stump where he proceeded to light a cigarette.

        In the little tepee, sheltered by an overhanging rock, the Girl was still sleeping; and the man, sitting opposite the mound of earth and rock on which it was built, was Johnson.

        A week had passed since the lovers had left Cloudy Mountain, and each day, at the moment when the sun burst above the snow-capped mountains, found them up and riding slowly eastward. No attempt whatever was made at haste, but, instead, now climbing easily to the top of the passes, now descending into the valleys, they rode slowly on, ever loathe to leave behind them the great forests and high mountains.

        Noon of each day found them always resting in some glen where the sun made golden lacework of the branches over their heads; while at the approach of night when the great orb was no longer to be seen through the tree-tops and twilight was fast settling upon the woods, they would halt near a pool of a dancing brook where, with the relish of fatigue, they would partake of their rations; and then, when the silences came on, Johnson would proceed to put up with loving skill the Girl’s rude quarters and, stretching himself out on a gentle slope, covered with pine needles matted close together, the man and the Girl would go to sleep listening to the music of the stream as it gurgled and dashed along, foaming and leaping, over the rocks and beneath the little patches of snow forgotten by the sun. And to these two, whether in the depths of the vast forest or, as now, at the edge of the merciless desert, stretching away like a world without end, their environment seemed nothing less than a paradise.

        There were moments, however, in the long days, which could be devoted to reflection; and often Johnson pondered over the strange fate that had brought him under the influence—an influence which held him now and which he earnestly prayed would continue to hold him—and into close relationship with a character so different from his own. A contemplation of his past life was wholly unnecessary, for the realisation had come to him that it was her personality alone that had awakened his dormant sense of what was right and what was wrong, and changed the course of his life. That his future was full of possibilities, evil as well as good, he was only too well aware; nevertheless, his faith in himself was that of a strong man whose powers of resistance, in this case, would be immeasurably strengthened by constant association with a stronger character.

        It was while he was in the midst of these thoughts that the Girl, without letting him see her, quietly drew the blankets of the tepee a little to one side and peered out at him. She, too, had not been without her moments of meditation. Not that she regretted for an instant that she had committed herself to him irrevocably but, rather, because she feared lest he should find it difficult to detach himself, soul and body, from the adventurous life he had been leading. Such painful communings, however, were rare and quickly dismissed as unworthy of her; and now as she looked at him with faith and joy in her eyes, it seemed to her that never before had she seen him appear so resolute and strong, and she rejoiced that he belonged to her. At the thought a blush spread over her features, and it was not until she had drawn the blankets back into their place that she called from behind them:

        “Are you awake, Dick?”

        At the sound of her voice the man quickly arose and, going over to the tepee, he parted the blankets and held them open. And even as she passed out the greyness of dawn was replaced by silver, and silver by pink tints which lighted up the pale green of the sage brush, the dwarf shrubs and clumps of Buffalo grass around them as well as the darker green of the pines and hemlocks of the foothills in the near distance.

        “Another day, Girl,” he said softly. “See, the dawn is breaking!”

        For some moments they stood side by side in silence, the man thinking of the future, the woman serenely happy and lost in admiration of the calm beauty of the scene which, in one direction, at least, differed greatly from anything that she had ever beheld. Every night previous to the one just passed they had encamped in the great forests; but now they looked upon a vast expanse of level plain which to the north and east, stretched trackless and unbroken by mountain or ravine to an infinitude—the boundless prairies soon to be mellowed and turned to a golden brown by the shafts of a burning sun already just below the edge of an horizon aglow with opaline tints.

        The Girl had ever been a lover of nature. All her life the mystery and silences of the high mountains had appealed to her soul; but never until now had she realised the marvellous beauty and glory of the great plains. And yet, though her eyes shone with the wonder of it all, there was an unmistakably sad and reminiscent note in the voice that presently murmured:

        “Another day.”

        After a while, and as if under the spell of some unseen power, she slowly turned and faced the west where she gazed long and earnestly at the panorama of the snow-capped peaks, rising range after range, all tipped with dazzling light.

        “Oh, Dick, look back!” she cried in distress. “The foothills are growin’ fainter.” She paused, but suddenly with a far-off look in her eyes she went on: “Every dawn—every dawn they’ll be farther away. Some night when I’m goin’ to sleep I’ll turn an’ they won’t be there—red an’ shinin’.” Again she paused as if almost overwhelmed with emotion, saying at length with a deep sigh: “Oh, that was indeed the promised land!”

        Johnson was greatly moved. It was some time before he found his voice. At length he chided her softly:

        “We must always look ahead, Girl—not backwards. The promised land is always ahead.”

        It was perhaps strange that the Girl failed to see the new light—the light that reflected his desire for a cleaner life and an honoured place in another community with her ever at his side—the hope and faith in his eyes as he spoke; but still in that sad, reminiscent mood, with her eyes fixed on the dim distances, she failed to see it, though she replied in a voice of resignation:

        “Always ahead—yes, it must be.” And then again with tears in her eyes: “But, Dick, all the people there in Cloudy, how far off they seem now—like shadows movin’ in a dream—like shadows I’ve dreamt of. Only a few days ago I clasped their hands—I seen their faces—their dear faces—I—” She broke off; then while the tears streamed down her cheeks: “An’ now they’re fadin’—in this little while I’ve lost ‘em—lost ‘em.”

        “But through you all my old life has faded away… I have lost that …” And so saying he stretched out his arms towards her; but very gently she waved him back with a murmured:

        “Not yet!”

        For a little while longer her gaze remained on the mountains in the west. The mist was still over her eyes when she turned again and saw that the sun was clearing the horizon in opulent splendour.

        “See,” she cried with a quick transition of mood, “the sun has risen in the East—far away—fair an’ clear!”

        Again Johnson held out his arms to her.

        “A new day—a new life—trust me, Girl.”

        In silence she slipped one hand into his; then she bowed her head and repeated solemnly:

        “Yes—a new life.”

        Suddenly she drew a little away from him and faced the west again. Clinging tightly now to him with one hand, and the other raised high above her head, she cried in a voice that was fraught with such passionate longing that the man felt himself stirred to the very depths of his emotions:

        “Oh, my mountains, I’m leavin’ you! Oh, my California—my lovely West—my Sierras, I’m leavin’ you!” She ended with a sob; but the next moment throwing herself into Johnson’s arms she snuggled there, murmuring lovingly: “Oh, my home!”

        A little while later, happy in their love and fearlessly eager to meet the trials of the days to come in a new country, they had mounted their mustangs and were riding eastward.

        • SF Guy says:

          Thanks so much for sharing this--Puccini did a great job of conveying the mingled sense of hope and deep loss in Fanciulla’s finale, just about the saddest happy ending in all of opera. Or as Tony Kushner puts it in Angels…”In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”

        • Camille says:

          Yes, dear Mr. Krunoslavsky, I have read this passage, back in 2010 at the time of the centennial of Fanciulla, and I was grieving for the loss of my beloved Far West, but it was nice of you to assume I was wholly ignorant of it and refresh my memory and perhaps acquaint others for the first time with the original Belasco, a not entirely unworthy period piece.

          Give Neva Nelli my regards for I will forever grieve my loss of her bright admonitions, as well.

      • La Valkyrietta says:

        Camille,

        I have been blushing for days for being too silly…and Fanciulla is one of my favorite Puccini operas…or symphonic poems as Toscanini would have it.

        I really know the difference between Nevada and California, I have been to both. They share mountains, they share deserts. They share many things. On the Strip (not the Sunset one, but the one by Bellagio) on week ends most license plates are California. On a boat on Lake Tahoe you sometimes don’t know what side you are on, etc.

        My lapse (sin) was not confusing Nevada with California, but saying that the action of Fanciulla was in Nevada. I know it might be for opera an unpardonable sin. I want the earth to swallow me. On the other hand, if you are on a bus from Sacramento to Carson City and you fall asleep, and then wake up not knowing how long have you been sleeping, can you be blamed if you think you are in Nevada when you are still in California? Perhaps that is the only defense I can present to the jury. But condemned or not, I know I will forever feel like a despised woman. I know like Leonora I will retire to some cave, this time in the desert, between Palm Springs and Las Vegas, and I will not even know if I am in Nevada or California. That will be my Dante punishment. Orrore!

        • manou says:

          You will have to change your name to La Troglodytetta.

        • Camille says:

          Dearest La Valky,
          Indeed I do recall the days in which I blushed a bright vermillion but, alas, the shamelessness and wantoness of my willful ways has long since deprived me of that striking characteristic of virgin youth.

          As well, I regret to inform you, but Leonora’s Grotto is currently occupied by Little Me, and should you wish to pass a sojourn within these hallowed walls, it requires paying the going rate and a wait until there is a vacancy, not soon anticipated.

          Don’t mind anything anyone around here says. You be just as silly as you want, dear man.

          La Marshie is back, sort of. She is too busy for us poor peons, most likely.
          Love and un plácido domingo a Vd.!
          C.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Oops, another mistake. I think it was in the Fanciulla Munich production with Kaufmann that they had that slot machine, not in the Met one I saw with Giordani and Voigt.