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Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Scent of the Corona Coronas and Puccini

"Here, at this point, Giacomo Puccini broke off his work. Death on this occasion was stronger than art." Another report has him saying: At this point, the maestro laid down his pen." TOSCANINI April 26, 1926

For some Saturdays evokes great sports contests but in my youth there is no question Saturdays meant the smell of Corona Corona cigars and music, particularly opera. My father, Thomas Munro, jr. , had a deep and abiding love for music particularly opera and great singers.

I add as well that he was of one mind with John McCormack, Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser, Frank Paterson, James McCracken , Anne Lorne Gillies and Kenneth McKellar that the BIG SONGS of the Gaeltacht of Ireland and Scotland were great songs worthy to be included in the pantheon of the great songs of the world. The matchless melody of "Eileen Aroon" which dates back to the early Irish Renaissance (circa 1290? ) during a great period of Gaelic minstrelsy in the Gaeltachts of Ireland and Scotland. It is curious to think that this song may well have been contemporaneous with Sir William Wallace. Handel is said to have declared, after hearing it sung in Gaelic, that he would have preferred to have been its composer over all the music he had written which is great praise indeed since Handel himself was one of the greatest composers of the last five hundred years. But of course what he was saying is that there were great men and women composers before Agamemnon (and Mozart). I always admired my father for the reason that he, unlike so many classical devotees was not a snob about music. He derived as much joy from Ma Ain Folk, Rothsay Bay Oft in the! Stilly Night as he did from E Lucevan le Stelle, Questa o Quella or Recondita Armonia. Of course, it goes without saying that he introduced me to the Spanish language and Spanish art songs as well through Shirley Verrett and Victoria de Los Angeles (whom we saw live) and Teresa Berganza. My fathers best languages I think were French and German but he and my Uncle Andy Muir Tracey who had worked in Argentina and Chile and spoke Spanish quite well- encouraged me to study Spanish from an early age as well as picking up pieces of course through song-of Italian etc. I never sang German songs however, though I heard a lot of them. I have to admit I could never understand why my father would listen to GERMAN songs. As a small boy all the villains of Two World Wars were Germans. Listening to German songs I always had a feeling that the ghost of Adolph Hitler was near and could influence me somehow; even to this day the POWER OF THE! WILL and Nazi regalia give me an uncomfortable feeling that I am in the presence of evil so if I listen to Wagner it is always the overtures only. I still think German is a horrible guttural language though I have to admit I have tried to overcome this great prejudice for all things German all my life not completely successfully. I knew a few Germans some quite shapely- in college and one thing we had in common was a love of classical music. But inevitably the Germans I met were avant guarde, irreligious and to the left PLUS they were Germans so there was no hope in this case for a Scottish-American-German Bund.

My father had many recordings of NESSUM DORMA, naturally , Tito Schipa, Beniamino GIGLI, Enrico Caruso, McCormack, Domingo, Pavarotti, Carerras, just to name a few. I was blessed to hear some great live performances of Turandot in my travels as a young man in New York, Rome and Milan. But the first NESSSUM DORMA I really remember was not a famous recording at all but part of a Ceilidh session we had at the Munro household circa 1961. My mother used to lead us while she played the piano in song sessions with childrens songs, hymns naturally she loved CHILD IN A MANGER (Leanaibh an Aigh! ) and HOW GREAT THOU ART and of course Scottish songs and some of her favorite musicals such as the SOUND OF MUSIC and CAMELOT which she (but not me I was too young) had seen and heard on Broadway. One of our dinner guests in those days, now far far gone who sang at the piano was the lyric tenor WILLIAM TABBERT who originated the role of Lieutenant Cable (South Pacific on Broadway playing over 1900 performances) with his great friend EZIO PINZA.

Younger than Springtime was his signature song and I heard him sing it in concerts and at our home. Bill Tabbert was our next door neighbor in Livingston, New Jersey and though he traveled a lot on tours (his career was really on the down spin since he never got the movie role) he was a sometime visitor at our house. Tabbert was thus a lesser Laurence Tibbet or a lesser Robert Goulet but he was a great talent and I remember him as a very humble and kind man. Thinking back, he was very fond of the drink and that and his sensitive temperament probably set back his career. My wife always says people drink to drown their sorrows but the problem is sorrows know how to swim. (La gente! beben para ahogar sus penas pero el problema es las penas saben nadar) I still have a couple of his autographed LPs he gave my father including some of his last songs he had recorded in Rome. He used to hawk them at his concerts and night club acts. One night in those days before U-TUBE and the Internet- my father encouraged him to sing a few Italian songs such as Torna Sorrento and O Sole Mio. But the highlight of the evening was when he sang NESSUM DORMA. My father gave us the context of the song and my mother played the music in a subdued fashion because it stretched the very limits of her musical talent-but she has a great ear for music and a talent for improvisation so she played all the appropriate chords. I suppose I always liked singing and music I dont think there was any period of my life in which I was not exposed to good singing an! d fine music both traditional and classical- but I fell in love with N essum Dorma that night and wanted to hear it again and again. I was delighted a few years later when my favorite Scottish singer , Kenneth McKellar, made a crossover classical recording of NESSUM DORMA (circa 1965) and this was the version I probably listened to the most as a young child. I must admit I was always fascinated with the barbaric theme of Turandot and the heroism exemplified by the Prince for if he failed in his quest he would be executed as all the previous suitors had been.

Turandot by PUCCINI.

There are many beautiful art songs and arias but NESSUM DORMA is one of the greatest as it marries great romantic lyric poetry with soaring musical expression.

The aria ends with a sustained high B-"Vincero!" ("I shall win!").

The prince is confident that at dawn his name will remain unknown.

After that aria, Puccini wrote just a small amount of music perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. He was very sick when he composed Turando and on November 29, 1924, he succumbed to cancer, aged 66, leaving Turandot unfinished.

His devoted pupil Alfano following his masters notes completed the opera. But it is interesting and moving to note that at the premiere at La Scala, Milan, on April 25, 1926, the performance ended on the last note which Puccini committed to the score. The conductor, Toscanini, then turned and addressed the audience. Accounts differ as to his exact words. According to one report they were: "Here, at this point, Giacomo Puccini broke off his work. Death on this occasion was stronger than art." Another report has him saying: At this point, the maestro laid down his pen." See


The aria "Nessun dorma" is near the beginning of Act 3.

At the end of Act 2 Turandot still is mystified by the Prince and cold to this approach by means of romantic poetry. A real despot Turandot believes -Medusa-like- all she has to do is to induce someone to tell the Princes name so that she can wreak her savage frenzy and have the Princes head chopped off like so many before him. Thereby she declares an imperial order that no one in Peking is can to sleep until the name of the Prince is revealed.

Act 3 opens with a dark and drear night; the orchestra sounds lugubrious chords. Heralds call out from afar "Tonight no one in Peking sleeps" ("Questa notte nessun dorma in Pekino"), and the chorus disconsolately drones ("nessun dorma")"no one sleeps".

In the first words of this most famous and beloved aria, the Prince repeats the words of the chorus. One might expect a suicidal dirge but instead there is a great song of courage and hope.

Charles Mangan has written

Whenever authentic hope is recognized in another, the observer comes away greatly edified, fortified in his own difficulties and strengthened in his personal pursuit of an increase in supernatural hope. Saint John Bosco (1815-1888), whom the Church liturgically commemorates on January 31, is a model of hope for all brothers and sisters of Jesus. Riddled by scorn heaped upon him by the anti-clerics of his day and acknowledging the horrendous obstacles which plagued the young men under his charge, Don Bosco responded with warmth, courage and charity. His eyes were fixed firmly on the Savior. This indefatigable apostle of the youth hailed by Pope John Paul II as the teacher and father to the young endured all trials which confronted him. Instead of lashing out in anger, he realized that God would preserve Him and give the success to his hands which the Lord Himself desired.

One of the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila wrote (this is the translation from the Spanish,

Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end

The translation of NESSUN DORMA, (R. MUNRO, 2007)

The Prince

Nessun dorma, nessun dorma ...
Tu pure, o Principessa,
Nella tua fredda stanza,
Guardi le stelle
Che tremano d'amore
E di speranza.
Sleeps none! Sleeps none...
Thou ,too, o Princess,
In your cold room,
Look upward toward the stars,
That quiver with love
And with hope.

Ma il mio mistero h chiuso in me,
Il nome mio nessun sapr`, no, no,
Sulla tua bocca lo dirr
Quando la luce splender`,
Ed il mio bacio scioglier` il silenzio
Che ti fa mia.
But my secret is locked up within me;
Mine name nane sall ken, no, no,
Upon thy mouth I shall speak it
When the light beams brightly,
And mine kiss will melt the silence
That makes thee mine.


Il nome suo nessun sapr`
E noi dovrem, ahimh, morir.
Nane sall ken his name
And we have to, (woe is me!), die.

The Prince

Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
All'alba vincerr!
Disappear, o night!
Set, stars!
At first light, I will win the gree! (prize)!

· "Dire sulla bocca", literally "to say on the mouth", is a poetic Latin way of saying "to kiss." There is no question that kissing for friendship and affection- as much or more than for erotic love- is one of the great pleasures of humanity.

· Bisame (is Spanish for kiss me); I understand this is a Celticism from the Celtic speaking parts of Spain and Northern Italy (Basium in Latin; used only by Catullus, Martial and later Juvenal the way Burns would use tassie for cup.) The classical republican Romans, like the Japanese, did not kiss. My father somewhat jocularly theorized that Romans Gallic slaves taught the fashion to their Roman masters. In modern Gaelic one says POG MI (Ki! ss me; from the Latin Pax) or Thoir pog ; but seem to remember hearing BEUL for kiss or mouth or BUS (or PUSS).but I really cant tell if THOIR BUS would mean KISS ME ON THE CHEEK(I never kissed my Auld Pop on the mouth) or just kiss. Perhaps Anne Lorne Gillies would know!

· Fredda stanzameans cold room but of course has a double meaning as a stanza is a stanza in poetryuntil now all her love songs left her cold!!! La stanza del trono means THRONE ROOM

· Ma il mio mistero h chiuso in me, il mio nessun sapr`; I chose to use Scots idiom to translate this is in the great song THE NEW SLAIN KNIGHT or the TWA CORBIES (TWO CROWS) which by the way Kathleen MacInnes has recorded recently in Gaelic. Gree of course is Scots; Burns uses it several times at least. There is a old Gaelic proverb I recall just now

FAR NACH BI AM BEAG CHA BHI AM MOR (Where there is not a wee will there will never be a big one either
FAR AM BI TOIL BIDH GNIOMH (Where there be a will there be a gree (a prize or deed)

Of course this is where there is a will there is a way but it has a little more to it I think. Will must be developed bit by bit (beag is beag)

This is a piece of traditional wisdom I often share with my students though not as much as It is not good to marry without a ring; no ring no ding (Ni math posadh gan fainne)

· Scraggy, black feathered, mean beaked carrion crows tearing at the tender flesh of a dead helpless abandoned Scottish knight fallen in battle for a lost cause. It is a very strong image of impermanence and mortality and perhaps the futility of and tragedy of war. I also know this from my oldest anthology of Scots poems and have a moving recording of it by Kenneth M! cKellar. It is a very cynical variation of the Three Ravens (Child Ballad 26) whose derry down, derry down chorus suggests a Welsh (or Breton) original which may be lost. I have heard it said that the versions that are song are based on a Manx or Breton melody. It seems that the two folk poems are similar but I have always had the feeling they were both translations different ones- of an earlier song though of course I have no evidence whatsoever for this belief except for the fact that both songs though similar are different. The Scots version is much darker even skeptical and seems to question the existence of the afterlife.

As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t'other say,
'Where sall we gang and dine to-day,
Where sall we gang and dine to-day?'NG>

'In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there,
But his hawk, his honnd, and lady fair,
His hawk, his honnd, and lady fair.

'His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady 'a ta'en another mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet,
We may mak our dinner sweet.

'Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pike out his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare,We'll theek our nest when it grows bare.'

'Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken where he is gane; {NONE SHALL KNOW WHERE HE IS GONE}
Oer his white banes, when they are bare, {OVER HIS WHITE BONES WHEN THEY ARE BARE
The wind sail blaw for evermair, THE WIND SHALL BLOW FOREVER MORE!
The wind sail blaw for evermair.'

Thus I spend a pleasant Friday evening, reading and translating and listening to music as I sip my tea. All the lassies and dugs and the wee pussy-cat are sleeping.

It is already sacred Saturday again; a day that will know sunlight and peace and reading and music and quiet solitude broken by a few songs at the piano and there will be thought and there will be prayer and their will be remembrance.

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