Sunday, February 1, 2009

'The stage is aflame!'

We usually talk about church music on Sundays. And believe me, today I listened to my share of my Sunday composer of the moment, Palestrina. I had that Palestrina cranked so loud in my car that my brother George, meeting me in front of my house, told me I was turning into one of those boom cars!

But yesterday I was listening to "Rigoletto" from the Metropolitan Opera and thinking about square old announcers. And I was thinking:

Am I the only one who misses that hoary old announcer who used to do the Met broadcasts?

Peter Allen, his name was. I grew up listening to that guy. He sounded like someone from another century. I was so sad when he retired. They have a good announcer now, nothing against her. Her name is Margaret Juntwait. That is Margaret Juntwait up above, interviewing Thomas Hampson, a singer I love.

But I loved that dignified, old-man sound that Peter Allen had. It harked me back to my childhood when the news was read not be TV babes but by ugly old men in suits. Remember that?

I scoured the Internet for pictures of Peter Allen and could find none. But I found one of his predecessor, Milton Cross. He is the author of all those books on opera plots that we all have. Here, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Milton Cross.

Here is another picture of Milton Cross. This one is a classic!

There is something about the pageantry of vicarious Metropolitan Opera viewing that calls for a voice full of age and dignity. I used to hear Peter Allen reciting the proceedings in his stentorian tones: "And now Dwayne Crofts is coming out on stage, taking his bows. He wears long blue robes..."

With all due respect to Miss Juntwait, she is just too young and her voice is not hoary enough. There, she cannot argue with that. That will not make her mad.

They do nail it now and then, though. That drama!

Last winter when I was in California with Leonard Pennario I remember driving around one Saturday, running some errands, whatever. And the Metropolitan Opera was on. They were doing "Die Walkure."

"Die Walkure" is a special opera for me. My sister Katie and I went and saw it in Toronto once and I will never forget it, how we were weeping. Both of us. We had this single soaked Kleenex we kept passing back and forth. That is another subject for another day, music and crying. We will get to that!

For now, I am remembering last winter when I listened to the opera on the radio. When it was ending, I had to pull over into a parking lot so I could sit and listen. That was a trip! It is not as easy in San Diego to pull into a parking lot as it is in Buffalo, that is for sure.

The last scene was beautiful and heartbreaking, the way the last scene of "Die Walkure" always is. Brunnhilde has disobeyed her father, Wotan, so he puts her to sleep and surrounds her with fire and he bids her that loving farewell, and then you hear that Magic Fire Music and you cry and that is how the opera ends.

That above link is haunting and atmospheric. But here is a concert performance with Bryn Terfel as Wotan that has translations so you can read what is going on. It is incredible!

Back to last winter. As I'm sitting in this parking lot, the announcers get on. "Smoke is billowing out over the audience," they start saying. "The entire stage is aflame .. People are crying ... James Morris, as Wotan, he is coming out now, and people are rising to applaud..."

And here is what I could not get over: A man was doing the announcing with Miss Juntwait and he began to weep.

A stage aflame, smoke billowing over the audience, and the announcer weeping!

That is how an opera should end.

1 comment:

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