Wednesday, February 04, 2009

When Your Work (Voice) Gets in the Way

I used to think that musicians had it made, meaning that their lives were enviable. Face it. You have a talent. You use it. And everyone loves you. But now, having watched A Star is Born, and The Great Caruso, I can see it's nothing like that.

Home with the flu, deciding if I should write to Puffs and offer them space here on the blog, I had a lot of time to watch television. I got lucky and caught a movie I never saw before, even though my father used to rave about it, The Great Caruso. Total fiction. But still. We can learn from this.

Grand lends us the pic of Enrico Caruso above. Thank you.

Most people my son's age aren't terribly familiar with the great tenors. This kid will soon be 20, so we can't call him Little anymore. When his older brothers were little I made them listen to Pavoratti on their way to school. But somehow the youngest missed this phase. I think cassettes went out the window and CDs were too expensive at the time.

Now, Bruce Springsteen, my son knows. I mean, Bruce Springsteen brought down the house on Super Bowl Sunday and the physicist-engineer-computer-scientist-still-undecided was at a party, so he must have watched and listened as thousands cheered on. I didn't really feel Bruce sang to me. The commercials, on the other hand. . .

Yesterday, at work, about 4 pm, two more patients to go before the finish, I started to feel sick.
What do you do if you're a therapist in this situation? Just say, "Ya' know, I feel sick. You're less important than me?" No. You don't. You rely on hope is what you do, and the work goes on.

I get through it and pick up FD who doesn't even have to say, "Go to bed. Rest up. I'll take care of dinner."

I mumble something about left-overs and stumble upstairs to get out of my clothes, close my eyes, listen to right-brain lectures on, make a couple of calls and want to sleep, but really feel too sick to do that.

Eventually, if you don't eat or drink anything in these situations, your biology takes care of you.

I must have slept, because I wake up and FD is lying next to me. "I'm cold," he says. "It's nice that you have a fever."

See, life is good. I force myself out of bed and amble downstairs to heat up some hot water with lemon juice and honey, something my father swears is good for you on a good day and my mother patronizes. I drink it very slowly watching Turner Classic Movies.

Mickey (Woody Allen) is drooling over Holly, one of Hannah's sisters in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). If we were to take the movie apart for ethics, we would call it an abuse of power, the way he seduces Dianne Wiest, although she is a willing partner to the seduction, one of many in the film, although I came in on the second half. Mickey works as a television producer, she's a starving writer. It's an easy win for the Mic.

Oh, why not go on, I'll never return here. Perhaps the best part of the movie is Mickey telling over his suicidal wish to Holly, and how he almost shoots himself but misses. He wanders out of his apartment after this near suicidal act and roams around aimlessly, finally finding a theater. He's watching a Marx Bros. movie in a theater. He's watching Duck Soup and there is nothing funnier, as you may know, than Duck Soup.

Mickey can't help but laugh and enjoy himself. The Marx Bros. make life worthwhile. If there will be Marx Bros and the like, why would he ever want to miss out on that? Seems silly.

Another day.

On to Caruso. Much better!

The Great Caruso called my name the very next day. Two in the afternoon, watching television, what could be more decadent. Showered, changed pajamas,, canceled patients and never looked back.

Wikipedia tells us this operatic musical of Enrico Caruso's life is highly fictionalized. And if Wiki says it's fictionalized, probably none of the movie is true. Nevertheless, Mario Lanza stars as Caruso and some say that no one else could have conveyed the warmth and grace of the opera star, the richness of his personality, his nuances, generosity, and kindness quite like this.

And if you're looking for natural beauty in a movie, Ann Blyth plays Caruso's wife, Dorothy Benjamin. He meets her when she is a teenager. Doro is in love with the great tenor at first note; he marries her when she is in her mid-twenties. The socialite marriage made headlines, attracted congratulations from the likes of President Woodrow Wilson.

See, everyone loves tenors! And sopranos, too. And baritones. What is Bruce Springsteen, anyway? A baritone, I think.

Several opera stars make cameo appearances in this wonderful film, one that serves as a nice introduction to opera, by the way, rich in performance and designed to grab at the heartstrings. Caruso dies at the end, either from his addiction to ether, or a mysterious throat disease, we never know which, but it is premature, his death, the only thing true about his Hollywood ending.

Richard Hageman, Carl Benton Reid, Eduard Franz and Ludwig Donath appear in the film along with stars from the Metropolitan Opera, notably the soprano Dorothy Kirsten and Jarmila Novotna, Blanche Thebom, Teresa Celli, Nicola Moscona, Giuseppe Valdengo, Lucine Amara and Marina Koshetz.

It is a veritable tour of the Met.

Caruso, a poor son of a peasant family in Italy, an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA) rises to international stardom. Here in the USA it pains him that big donors to the Met want him to pander to rich people, to play to the Diamond Horseshoe. The Diamond Horseshoe, high society season ticket holders, I imagine, are the patrons with seats near the orchestra.

Caruso is told to keep his fists out of his pockets on stage, lest he offend them, the patrons of opera. This isn't classy, fists in pockets. He tells his socialite father-in-law-to-be that he will not play to the Diamond Horseshoe, that he will sing to the galleries, to the seats far away, way up in the balconies, for these people paid to see him, too. And there are more of them.

Everything about Caruso is charming, even his routine before each performance, although this is not a professional recommendation: a pinch of snuff in each nostril for mental acuity; a shot of whiskey to "relax the throat", and a glass of water to wash it down. You never see him drink anywhere else in the film, thus his alcohol use is wonderfully moderate. This in the day before beta-blockers.

He's a smash, of course. Every time he sings a note, we swoon. Well, some of us.

When he leaves the opera house, well-wishers outside on the street greet him as he is about to hop into the convertible with his valet and his driver. They beg, "Mr. Caruso! Sing something for us! We couldn't afford seats." And he sings for them. You could cry, seriously.

As you may know, if you have been reading this blog, my significant other is a musician, too. He made me cry on our first date (sure, an exaggeration, but Bach on the piano, when most people only know Heart and Soul, you would, too). So when Doro Benjamin tells Enrico that she fell in love with him the first time she heard The Voice, I could relate. It is the reason, tell your children, to practice.

She is discouraged from it, advised against the marriage. The life of a musician is a life on the run, they all tell her. He's never home. It is never about you. His performances come first.
His work comes first.

And his are charitable performances. How can a woman object to that? You'll like this. His voice is auctioned off at the Met for the Liberty Loan Home Fund. I suppose we need one now, too, a Liberty Home Fund.

Enrico tells Doro,
A man thinks he has a voice. The truth is, the voice has the man. The voice has to be somewhere, the man follows.
I imagine Mrs. Springsteen has the same problem.

He did Born in the USA, right? It's likely that for every dollar Caruso performed for charity, Mr. Springsteen gives a thousand.

Perhaps the loveliest scene in this movie is near the end, when Caruso and Doro have a baby. He is informed while in concert, on stage. Someone in the wings whispers loudly, "It's a girl!"

He then whispers to the sound man, the little guy in that hole under the stage, "I have a girl! It's a girl!" Then the sound man wriggles out of the hole and whispers it to someone in the orchestra. Each musician whispers it into the ear of the next, "It's a girl!"

Then the gentlemen and ladies of the Diamond Horseshoe get the news, too, and pass it around, all are thrilled with the news, whisper it to the next person. The news floats through the opera house, all the way up to the highest galleries, and at the end of the opera the place is wild, everyone on their feet shouting,


Oh, it's good to see that kind of love, you know, on a sick day.



blognut said...

Glad you enjoyed the highly fictionalized story of Caruso's life. It's good to have a decent show to watch on a sick day.

I prefer Bruce, but he didn't sing to me at the Superbowl either. Usually he sings to me, and only me, while staring right at me, even through the TV. (Hey, I'm allowed my delusional moments here.)

Glad you're feeling better!

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Feel good. I weas most interested by the aside about the Woody Allen movie. As a therapist I think the two movies of his that might interest you most wuld be Another woman, about a writer wo rents an apartment to write i and hears therapy sessions through a vent that connects the apartment next door, one session in particular of another woman... Then there's Interiors which has a lot to say about family systems.

Anonymous said...

You just have to let yourself go a little, when it comes to Springsteen, TherapyDoc.

Anonymous said...

I loved Hannah and Her Sisters, can't say that for opera, honestly, but it was considered a Best Picture by many. Might have even won the Oscar.

therapydoc said...

I loved it too, when it came out. And loved it at 2 am. It's the stuff inside that bothers me, but I'm sure that's why Mr. Allen wrote it.

Samurai Scientist said...

When you're sick, staying in bed and watching TV is probably the best thing you can do. I'll have to check out this "opera" as you call it.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I just don't think Caruso is going to replace Bruce, therapydoc, all due respect.

Penelope said...

Sorry to hear that you've been feeling poorly - isn't it awful to try and concentrate when you are feeling ill?
Hope you are on the mend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the TED link. Very cool. Love, love, love Sir Ken Robinson.

Hope you're feeling better.

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