Cher Public

The children’s hour

Ever on the avant-garde, Lyric Opera of Chicago has embraced the cutting-edge technology of “phonography” as part of their effort to attract young audiences: “The Magic Victrola is a brand-new presentation created for families with children ages 5-10…. While playing in their grandparents’ attic, two children discover a mysterious trunk filled with costumes, props, opera albums, and a beautiful vintage record player. What happens when they start to listen to the music? Scenes from beloved operas—including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Bizet’s Carmen—magically come to life!”

As we all know, if there’s anything that fascinates today’s generation of tech-savvy kids, it’s analog sound recording on shellac discs. And what more romantic locale to associate with opera than an inaccessible, dusty room where that bad man touched you that one time?

  • Harold

  • A couple of those commissions could be fun. Jose “Pepe” Martinez’s mariachi opera has been mentioned a couple of times before in Parterre -- I’m looking forward to at least hearing a new work from him.

    Music by Wlad Marhulets

    and the Maxwell St. Klezmer Band

    As for the children’s opera “The Magic Victrola”, I guess I’ll just observe that I wouldn’t normally come to Parterre for insight into child psychology.

  • “Robert le cochon et les kidnappeurs”, which I see at the Opéra Comique tomorrow night, is supposed to be for anyone 6 or over.

  • tcjr

    Don’ be badmouthing analog. Savvy kids DO prefer it.

  • Malapasqua

    Not so implausible at all — that is precisely the way I got introduced to classical music and opera, by discovering a whole stack of ancient discs, some of them only one-sided, in the attic of our old southern plantation house in Mississippi when I was about 10 years old. I played all of them, by the hours, for years. The very fact that they were so old (the voices of dead people!), of such out of date technology, made them fascinating. And even more so, because it was MY discovery and not something pushed upon me, up there in that attic where nothing at all bad ever happened to me; quite the opposite, I loved that place, and the amazing music I discovered there.

    • Tory Adore

      With you there, Malapasqua. When I crank up my Victrola and put on a Caruso disk, his presence is astounding. It’s like he’s right there in the room. Same with Amelita Galli-Curci. I have a pet theory of how recordings brought about the decline of singing- but wish not to be a boor about a subject dear to all of us here in the readership. And really, singing is only one part of an opera production-but one that has been unfortunately freighted with the most meaning. Love those attics! almost as cozy as a closet.

  • Will

    I was 12 when my parents rented a summer cottage for a couple of weeks and there was a standing cabinet Victrola with a hoard of shellac 78s in its lower cabinet. There were a couple of Carusos and other stars but most were by second tier “house artists” (Reinald Werrenrath, anyone?). I was already an opera fan but these records were exotic and magical--the volume and clarity of the 78s, the interaction of me cranking the Victrola’s spring drive with the playing process was new and engrossing.

    These records led me to seek out the 1910 Victor Book of the Opera at the local library with its also obsolete record of the costumes and sets of the early 20th century. That Victrola and the resulting discovery of the book laid the foundation for my deep interest in opera history and my subsidiary career in speaking on opera in all kinds of venues. There IS magic in that old technology.

  • Ilka Saro

    The got the dialect right for my region, class and era. “Record player” is exactly what we called those machines. There were also “hifis” and “stereos” which could mean more or less the same thing. But when I was growing up, those other terms were for protected adult objects, and what us kids had were “record players”. And we played “records” on them. Not “vinyl” or, god forbid, “analog discs”. And in my case, my dad would pick up 12 inch 78s from the victrola era for us to enjoy. We didn’t have an actual victrola, but we definitely had those scratchy old records. Not just opera, but yodeling, “Hawaiian” guitar music, Sousa marches, symphonies, Finlandia, you name it!

  • Milady DeWinter

    I’m all with the attic explorers. What astounding sound this 1910 cylinder has. True, it’s virtually in mint condition and this captures the sparkling sound of the colorful Blanche Arral to an amazing degree:

    And some of my good vinyls still sound better than the digital re-releases. Of course the whole re-issue/re-mastered landscape is a minefield of caveat emptor-ness.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    How wonderful when it’s a young persons own discovery. The O volume of the World Book fell on Opera-photos of Met vintage productions of Traviata, Carmen and Butterfly and a list of synopses followed by a volume of opera plots for young people from the school library, the scratchy LPs courtesy of the local library, a high schooler attending my first performance at the Lyric (all by myself) and slowly building my own collection of LPs, discarding them for the CD versions, and then the CD reissues, and PBS making live performances available for everyone. A wonderful journey that I started all by myself.

    • Ilka Saro

      The opera stories books I had were “Stories of Favorite Operas” and “More Stories of Favorite Opera” by one Clyde Robert Bulla. These books were on more or less permanent loan to me from the school library. I would study and study those tales. I had access to practically none of the music at the time, but I would imagine it. And listen to those Met Broadcasts on Saturdays, when weather and homework permitted.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        I would study and study those tales. I had access to practically none of the music at the time, but I would imagine it.

        That is so poignant, IS. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to finally hear the music when you were first introduced to the operas that way.

        As someone who was always vaguely curious about opera but didn’t actually plunge in until his 40s, I’m finding these “origin stories” really enjoyable.

        • Ilka Saro

          I’ll tell you one opera I really didn’t like when I first heard it: Turandot. I was very eager to hear it. I loved the story. But at 11 or 12 years old, I thought it was unlistenable! It just seemed like banging and clanging, and I had imagined something more along the lines of Tosca or Butterfly, I suppose. But I changed my mind about Turandot eventually…

          • Batty Masetto

            Strange which things seem unlistenable when one is young. When I first heard Butterfly (in my teens) I couldn’t make heads or tails of it musically. But Tristan & Isolde and the Rite of Spring were no problem at all.

  • Cicciabella

    OT: I think people were discussing the dearth of “Verdi baritones” earlier on this week. Well, I just heard two excellent ones in Robert Carson’s Falstaff: Ambrogio Maestri (in the title role, of course), and Massimo Cavalletti as Ford, both of whom have appeared at the Met. There is baritonal hope, after all.

    The Amsterdam audience, who hadn’t seen an open-check expensive production like this one in years, applauded the scenery! I never thought I’d see the day. I swear people got misty-eyed at the sight of that enormous kitchen, which is longer here than in NY and London because the DNO stage is wider.

  • I have a feeling that this thread did not go according to plan (and expectations)

    • Rory Williams

      I think you’re right! ;)

  • oedipe

    Another OT: I’ve just taken a look at ROH’s booking pages for their upcoming Bohème run, with 2 different casts (Gheorghiu versus Jaho). Amazing difference!

    Saturday July 12 versus Sunday July 13 unsold tickets:

    Same story for Saturday July 19 matinee versus evening performance:

    • Lady Abbado

      She’s not singing anything at ROH next season, so local fans won’t get to see her again until late 2015 or 2016.

      • oedipe

        Even more amazing than the full houses for the Gheorghiu/Grigolo dates is the ticket availability for the Jaho/Castronovo performances: apart from the Amphitheater and the Balcony, the house is EMPTY!

        • You have to remember that ROH patrons have only 30 or 40 chances per season to hear Jaho.

          • oedipe

            I looks like the Paris audiences ALSO have about 30-40 chances per season to hear Jaho. Not to mention her appearances on provicial French stages, in Spain, in Germany and in Vienna. Her schedule must be busier than that of the Met.

            • oedipe


        • Cicciabella

          I feel for Ms Jaho, Mr Castronovo and the rest of the team, but I’m assuming this is the existing ROH production. At one point opera-goers get bohèmed-out. I for one am no longer interested in any Bohème unless it’s a new production and/or features at least one stellar protagonist.

          • oedipe

            Fine. But still, your theory does not explain why the Gheorghiu/Grigolo Bohèmes, in the exact same production, are pretty much sold out.

            • Lady Abbado

              There is at least one stellar protagonist…Plus the eye-candy Grigoletto.

            • oedipe

              Oops, I see: it fits in the stellar protagonist category.

      • Clita del Toro

        At which time Gheorghiu will sing the Priestess in Aida, a new role to be conquered. ;)

    • Guestoria Unpopularenka

      What’s amazing about that? The glory hunters will always go for the overhyped proclaimed “star”. This is no testament to any artistic quality.

      • grimoaldo

        Lots of Londoners enjoy Angela G’s performances very much, I certainly used to. Just shows how unable we are to discern artistic quality, being so easily duped by hype and proclamations, I suppose.

      • oedipe

        So, when it comes to those rare singers who DO fill houses, how do you distinguish between the “overhyped proclaimed star” and the “true” artist? Let me guess: the ones you personally like are the real thing, the ones you dislike have little artistic quality, right?

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka

          First you work for your name, then your name works for you. The latter describes perfectly Gheorghiu. So, just because those Londoners bought tickets for her doesn’t mean she’s that good. Simply she’s the more famous one that people have heard of and believe she’s good.

          • Lady Abbado

            Relax Guestoria, the ROH La Boheme on 15 July will be broadcast live on Youtube for all to see. You can store all your venom (never in short supply) and spit it all on Gheorghiu with that occasion :)

            How come that the operatic hierarchy is so twisted that Gheorghiu stands where Yoncheva should have? How come nobody sees the light -- Guestoria notwithstanding?

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Yes, because I will waste my life watching Gheorghiu pout her way through one of a total of three roles in her repertoire for the umpteenth time.

              What do you mean nobody? She’s cleaning up in Baden Baden where critics are rejoicing for being spared from that sociopath’s mannerisms. And let’s not do head to head comparisons because old Ange is not winning in any department.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Now that I think about it, maybe I should watch it to see if she will throw another tantrum for them not broadcasting a recorded performance like she did in Paris.

          • oedipe

            Simply s/he’s the more famous one that people have heard of and believe s/he’s good.

            And of course in London, in addition to Gheorghiu, the same applies to: Netrebko, Bartoli, Domingo, Terfel, Kaufmann, Fleming, possibly Harteros, and a couple of others.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              None of those lie on old laurels. They work hard to learn new roles, act professionally, etc.

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka

          No, oedipe, the rule is that if they slept with a French they have poor taste.

          • oedipe

            Which brings to mind the expression “French lover”, not devoid of a certain degree of veiled jealousy… ;)

            • Rory Williams

              “French Lover” from Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums. Yum!

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Jokes aside, I have no clue where this French lover myth came from. You guys don’t seem that way at all.

  • mercadante

    I agree, but I’ll take a crack at:

    It’s a shame they couldn’t have had the kids discover their uncle’s smart phone in the media room and start listening to his Amazon Cloud app containing Berg’s LULU, the same smart phone that contain’s uncle’s cock shots he uses for Craigslist.

    Is that closer to where this was supposed to go?

    • Cicciabella

      Why is it always the music-loving uncle?

      • Clita del Toro

        Ciccia, because the “uncles” are usually accompanied by their young “nephews.” I have a friend who worked in a hotel as a maid many years ago. She wondered why Aaron Copland and others were always accompanied their “nephews.’ Now she knows, after 56 years. LOL

    • turings

      Regie to the rescue!

      • No Expert

        Never too early for Torture in the Seraglio or Mermaid Hookers of Prague

    • Perhaps our gracious Doyenne would prefer something along the lines of Opera Brony:

      • And some Chinese opera cartoons to keep the rugrats busy while you listen to MET broadcasts:

        • And a little something to cool off the kiddies during the summer heat:

  • whatever

    well, to be fair, Lyric is bringing Chicago its *second* Mariachi opera — a world premiere, no less — while here in Nueva York we’re still awaiting our first. Crucar la Cara de la Luna, anyone?!?