Monday, August 20, 2012

A summer of opera

  Although I had been in Grandmom’s basement hundreds of times, it took a sticky-hot, lonely summer to attract my attention to the old-fashioned phonograph in the corner and to the records stored below.

My friends all had grandparents with homes at the shore. They disappeared a week or so after school ended and were gone the entire summer, leaving this only child quite bored.  No air conditioning either.  But my grandmother's basement was my sole haven, a place of blessed relief from the 90-plus-degree weather beating down on the Philadelphia suburbs.  

 Black, heavy, and rigid --I would soon learn how easily those records could break-- some were recorded on one side only. “Your grandfather bought those,” my grandmother said.  I picked one up. The name Victor was all I could read. The rest of the label information was in Italian. 

  I put one on the turntable. The voices seemed to emanate from another galaxy, but their purity instantly captivated me.  “That’s an opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, “ my grandmother said. “We used to have the complete set.”  

   I had lots of records, from Captain Kangaroo to Disney, but this melody was much more complex and compelling. Though the soprano and tenor were singing together, each one was singing different words. I couldn’t understand Italian, yet I could tell that the piece was fraught powerful emotion. And like the undertow at the seashore, it pulled me in. I was listening to the duet “No, no, Turiddu, rimani ancora,” and a bit of research on the Internet leads me to believe that these records were the remnants of the 1929 recording of Cavalleria Rusticana interpreted by the orchestra and soloists of La Scala, Milan  (    

   My grandfather had also left recordings of Enrico Caruso (I remember specifically the song “Addio, mia bella Napoli!”), Tito Schipa, and the great American soprano Geraldine Farrar.  I got a real kick out of her very audible gasp just before belting out the last verse of “Vissi d’arte.”  Soon I was listening to the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, and a few years later I begged my mom to take me to the old Philadelphia Civic Center to hear La Traviata, starring Anna Moffo (to whom I used to send heartfelt fan letters), Barry Morell, and a very young Sherrill Milnes.    

  So that’s how, in the sticky-hot summer of 1964, at the height of the British Invasion, the Italian grandfather I never knew introduced me to opera.  

Fiorenza Cassotto and Gianfrano Cecchele sing Cavalleria Rusticana

Monday, August 6, 2012

Brazen faith

 “Put your sword back in its place...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." 

“ Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.   Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Why do we Christians say we put our trust in God yet cling to our guns and weapons? I'm practicing brazen faith in our divine Parent and stubborn commitment to the words of Jesus.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


  As though in response to what I've been mulling over the last week or so, an article from Yes! Magazine has come to my notice:

What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other, by Akaya Windwood

Here’s my invitation to you: let’s take a month and intentionally notice those we would normally not see. Let’s interrupt old patterns of not looking into the eyes of “those people” (whoever they are to you). Let’s greet and acknowledge the folks we generally walk by or around and watch what happens.

So let’s say “Hey” to someone new tomorrow. I’ll bet we have conversations that surprise us. I’ll bet we learn something new.
   I just might try it!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A half-hour in the real world

Just returned from renewing my driver's license at a Dept. of Motor Vehicles location. The scant half-hour I spent in the waiting room made me realize how most of my days are spent in a bubble of exclusivity.

There were moms endeavoring to keep fidgety kids occupied, wailing toddlers, a set of twins in a double stroller,  a dad feeding a little one in a front pack....people of all colors, ethnic backgrounds and occupations, senior citizens chatting about this and that, a well-dressed lady editing a manuscript, a guy in scrubs, lots of people in shorts....All of us waiting for the oh so soothing, synthetic female voice to call our number as it drifted by on the LED display.

Most days I drive to work in my car. Alone. Listening to my favorite music on my iPod.  At work I'm surrounded by properly scrubbed and attired colleagues, all of us providing service college-age young folk and faculty. If the air-conditioning in our well-kept campus building is turned up too high --or not high enough-- I join in the collective grumbling. If, on my homeward commute, a long queue of cars causes congestion at the next intersection, I complain...because I'll be just a bit later getting home and will not be able to prepare dinner in as leisurely a fashion as I'm accustomed.

Ah, but it's all OK somehow, because I help make the real world a better place by posting activist messages on Facebook and Twitter, signing Internet petitions, and commiserating with other like-minded, isolated individuals....