November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
Shopping by Faith Shearin, from The Owl Question. © Utah State University Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
My husband and I stood together in the new mall
which was clean and white and full of possibility.
We were poor so we liked to walk through the stores
since this was like walking through our dreams.
In one we admired coffee makers, blue pottery
bowls, toaster ovens as big as televisions. In another,
we eased into a leather couch and imagined
cocktails in a room overlooking the sea. When we
sniffed scented candles we saw our future faces,
softly lit, over a dinner of pasta and wine. When
we touched thick bathrobes we saw midnight
swims and bathtubs so vast they might be
mistaken for lakes. My husband’s glasses hurt
his face and his shoes were full of holes.
There was a space in our living room where
a couch should have been. We longed for
fancy shower curtains, flannel sheets,
shiny silverware, expensive winter coats.
Sometimes, at night, we sat up and made lists.
We pressed our heads together and wrote
our wants all over torn notebook pages.
Nearly everyone we loved was alive and we
were in love but we liked wanting. Nothing
was ever as nice when we brought it home.
The objects in stores looked best in stores.
The stores were possible futures and, young
and poor, we went shopping. It was nice
then: we didn’t know we already had everything.
It was on this day in 1600 that the opera Euridice was first performed, at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. It is the oldest surviving opera.
Euridice was performed for the wedding celebrations of Henry IV of France and Maria de’ Medici. It was written by Jacopo Peri, a beloved composer and singer. He had already written Dafne a few years earlier, which is considered to be the first opera, but that music has been lost.
Euridice is a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the gifted musician Orpheus falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, but just after their wedding she is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus is heartbroken, and he journeys to the underworld, to Hades, to try to bring her back. He charms the king of the underworld, also named Hades, and his wife, Persephone, and they agree to return Eurydice to Orpheus on one condition: that he get all the way back to the upper world without looking back to see if Eurydice is following. He almost makes it, but right as he is walking out into the sunlight he turns back, and Eurydice is still in the underworld, so he loses her forever. Peri not only wrote the opera, but he sang the role of Orpheus. The climax of the opera came during “Funeste piagge,” or “Funeral shores,” when Orpheus begs Hades and Persephone to release his beloved.
Peri wrote a long preface to Euridice, in which he explained the new musical form he was working in, which we now call opera. He said that he was trying to write the way he imagined the Greeks would have, combing music and speech into the ultimate form of drama. One of the people who came to Florence to see Euridice was Vincenzo Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua. And he probably brought his servant, Claudio Monteverdi. A few years later, in 1607, Monteverdi premiered his first opera, L’Orfeo, which was also a retelling of the legend of Orpheus. Monteverdi elevated the opera form to new heights, and L’Orfeo is considered the first truly great opera, with all of the dramatic orchestration and lyrics that are so central to the drama.
In 1858, Jacques Offenbach wrote the operetta Orphée aux enfers, which made fun of contemporary political figures like Napoleon and had the gods dancing the can-can.
These days there is a popular new opera based on the legend of Orpheus, a “folk opera” by Anaïs Mitchell, called Hadestown. Mitchell is a singer and a composer, like Peri, but her version is quite a bit different from that of the Italian opera masters — it uses all the same characters and the basic plot, but it is set in post-apocalyptic, Depression-era America, and Hades is both the underworld and an old mining town ruled by a tyrant named Hades. Mitchell sings the part of Eurydice, with Justin Vernon from the band Bon Iver as Orpheus, Ani DiFranco as Persephone, and Greg Brown as Hades. There is no can-can in Hadestown, but there is folk, ragtime, jazz, indie rock, and the blues.
Today is the birthday of spy novelist Joseph Finder (1958) (books by this author). He was born in Chicago, but spent his childhood living in a variety of locations all over the world. His first language was Farsi, which he learned as a small boy in Kabul, Afghanistan. His family eventually settled outside Albany, New York, and Finder went to Yale, where he majored in Russian studies and graduated summa cum laude. The CIA recruited him after he completed graduate school at Harvard. After a while, he decided he preferred writing to espionage, and his first book, Red Carpet — a nonfiction exposé of ties between the Kremlin and many powerful American businessmen — was published in 1983. His first novel, The Moscow Club, followed in 1991, and he’s since gained a reputation for writing spy thrillers set in the corporate world. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and the Council on Foreign Relations, and writes on the subject of espionage and international affairs. He lives in Boston with his wife, daughter, and dog, Mia, whom he describes as a dropout from Seeing Eye-dog school.
On this date in 1927, the release of The Jazz Singer marked the beginning of the end for silent movies. The feature-length film starred Al Jolson and was adapted from a short story called “The Day of Atonement,” by Samson Raphaelson, which was made into a Broadway play in 1925. It’s the story of a young Jewish man who defies the traditions of his father, a cantor, and becomes an entertainer. The movie premiered at Warner Brothers’ flagship theater in New York City, and the release date was chosen because it was the day before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which features prominently in the plot.
It wasn’t the first movie with sound: Filmmakers had been experimenting with musical accompaniment and sound effects for a few years already. The Jazz Singer, however, was the first to include talking along with the musical numbers. The first synchronized dialogue in a motion picture occurs about 17 minutes in, when Al Jolson says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”
In the early days, synchronized sound in movies involved separate records, which had to be played at precisely the right moment in their corresponding film reels. It was easy to get it wrong, and the conversion to sound was famously lampooned in the Gene Kelly movie Singing in the Rain (1952). Growing pains aside, The Jazz Singer was a solid hit for Warner Bros. The studio released the first all-talking film, Lights of New York (1928), the following summer, sounding the death knell for the age of silent movies.