Thursday, 21 July 2016

Ooh, yeah, you're amazing!

From the ever-wonderful Dangerous Minds:
Photographer Guido Harari... worked closely with Kate Bush in a strongly creative period stretching from 1982 to 1993, during which Bush released The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, and The Sensual World, among others, as well as her musical short film The Line, the Cross, and the Curve, an offshoot of her 1993 album The Red Shoes.

Harari has a new book coming out with dozens of never-before-seen pictures of the noted experimental pop singer... the bulk of which came out of official press photo sessions for Bush’s albums of that era. Many of the photos feature Bush hard at work with Lindsay Kemp, the choreographer who worked closely with the singer from the very start of her career.

The majority of the photos have never been published in any form, a group that includes test Polaroids, contact sheets, film outtakes, and personal notes from Bush.

The Kate Inside is expected to become available in September, and you can pre-order a copy via the Wall of Sound Gallery. The deluxe edition, personally signed by Harari and Kemp, (copies 1-350) is a hefty 390€ (around £325 at the moment), and the regular edition (copies 351-1500) is priced at 90 Euros (approx £75).

Hmmm. Maybe I'll put it on my birthday wish-list...

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Opera Queens, bathhouses and Vicky Edie, again

The fact that it would have been the 102nd birthday today today of the celebrated soprano Miss Eleanor Steber has prompted me to re-visit an ancient post of mine (originally from my MySpace years, and relocated with all the others to my other blog Give 'em the Old Razzle Dazzle) from 2008. The original was in the immediate aftermath of a literary event I attended called "The Lavender Library", at which Mr Paul Burston had enthused about one of my own favourite books of all time, Queens by Pickles, from which I had just rediscovered...
...a passage from the chapter Cruising at the Opera in which "The Opera Queen" - who is "wild about applause, always yelling 'Brava' whilst all about him bellow their ignorance of gender" - has a bitchy conversation at the opera house with his friend:
Friend: "Just look at those diamonds! Look at them! She must be rolling in it! She looks a bit like Margaret Dumont, don't you think?"
Geoffrey: "Some women are so camp, aren't they?"
Friend: "What! They're hysterical! Talk about camp, dear - just give me Eleanor Steber at the Continental Baths! Have you got that album?"
Geoffrey: "Oh, I've tried everywhere. Everywhere! Deleted now!"
Friend: "Oh God, yes! I found mine in New York, actually. Ten dollars. I can't remember when I was so thrilled! Shall we have a little troll upstairs? You never know what you're missing in this place!"
Geoffrey: "I love walking up this staircase. It's so Joan Crawford, isn't it?"
Well, apart from being a brilliant observation of the interplay between queens - it could be Madam Arcati and I and our friends chatting - this set me thinking. Just who is/was Eleanor Steber? And could it be true that an opera singer (if that is indeed who she was) actually performed at the most notorious of the sex-club bathhouses in New York in the 70s? The home of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow (who started out as an act there)? So off I went on a web search to find out more...

Eleanor Steber, who died in 1990, was indeed an American operatic soprano - one of the first major opera stars to have achieved the highest success with training and a career based in the United States. Before her, most of the biggest stars of opera were European. Noted particularly for her performances of Wagner, Mozart, Puccini and Richard Strauss, she rose to prominence in the 1950s with the Metropolitan Opera, and performed at Bayreuth.

A bit of a high-living party-loving girl, her voice suffered towards the end of her career, but not before she paid a tribute to some of her greatest fans - gay men - by performing at the Continental Baths in 1973. And to top the whole search, I have found a copy of the original recording online!

Laydeez and gentlemen! Parterre Box ("the queer operazine") presents "Unnatural Acts of Opera" featuring Eleanor Steber live at the Continental. Your host is La Cieca, cultural doyenne...

Download the whole album as an MP3

Or visit the podcast website

Eleanor Steber live at the Continental - track listing:
Mozart: Zeffiretti lusinghieri (from Idomeno),Ach. ich fuehl's (from Die Zauberfloete),Come scoglio (from Cosi fan tutte).Charpentier: Depuis le jour (from Louise).Puccini: Quando m'en vo (from La boheme).Massenet: Scene and Gavotte (from Manon).Sieczynski: Wien, du Stadt meiner Traeume.Kreisler: Stars in My Eyes.Lehar: Medley from The Merry Widow.Puccini: Vissi d'Arte (from Tosca).Edwin Biltcliffe, Piano; Joseph Rabb, Violin.October 4, 1973.

It is strange listening to this very old and very camp recording of a bygone gay era - before AIDS and the hysteria it whipped up closed bathhouses like this forever.

In particular, I found it very interesting how much Ms Steber's speaking voice must have influenced Bette Midler when she created her character Vicky Edie (from whence came my own epithet "Dolores Delargo the Toast of Chicago!").

But those reflections aside, I most enjoyed finding this beautiful vocal performance intact and online. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
And, EIGHT YEARS on from the original post, I still hope you do...

More about Eleanor Steber

Sunday, 10 July 2016

A bit Orff

Today, that composer of tunes beloved of film soundtrack compilers and advertising executives everywhere Carl Orff would have been 99 years old.

As described on the Music and the Holocaust site, Herr Orff was a contradictory figure - at first condemned by, then overly ingratiating to the Nazi regime throughout its odious rule, he nevertheless also managed to survive the post-war blacklist with his reputation untarnished.

Regardless of his somewhat clouded status, the man wrote some remarkable music, some of it very dramatic indeed. They say "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth over-doing" - an epithet that could have been written for his O Fortuna, here worked rather theatrically (as is his wont) by the Netherlands' finest purveyor of "pop-classics" André Rieu, his orchestra and "chorus of thousands":

Again from Orff's masterwork Carmina Burana [which itself had a chequered history; at first condemned by the Nazis as "decadent", and later embraced by them], here is an utterly wonderful (and exceptionally camp) video of the late, great Lucia Popp and the simply beautiful In Trutina:

I am singing along as we speak...

Carl Heinrich Maria Orff (10th July 1895 – 29th March 1982)

Watch the whole 1975 televised Carmina Burana - from whence came the Lucia Popp clip - on YouTube.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Friday, 1 July 2016

Ensconced on a chaise longue

"I would prefer to live forever in perfect health, but if I must at some time leave this life, I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise longue, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword."

The radiantly magnificent Miss Olivia De Havilland reached her centenary today.

All hail!

  • On the set of Gone With The Wind, George Cukor pinched her toes hard when she needed to simulate childbirth.
  • She secretly carried a torch for her long-term co-star Errol Flynn, and recently admitted to being jealous at the attention paid to a contingent of young women at a charity ball in 1957, the last time they met.
  • That famous feud (with sister Joan Fontaine, which lasted for seven decades till Joan's death) began when Joan was first to win an Oscar, at which ceremony she allegedly snubbed Olivia - who got the last laugh when she went on to win two.
  • She struck a blow for the rights of actors crippled by the "studio system", winning a landmark court case after WW2 that set a precedent for stars of the future to decide their own destiny.
Happy birthday, Miss De Havilland!

Read a rather lovely tribute to the lady in the Financial Times.

More Olivia.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Inspired by Dolores Delargo Towers...

"Show Girl"

"Hollywood Affairs"

"Hollywood Hassle"

...these rather marvellous creations are the work of Robert "Bobby" Woods, a pop artist from London now residing in South Africa.

A little while ago I received a private message via my YouTube account from him: "I came across your blog Dolores Delargo Towers - Museum of Camp, as I am working on a new piece using Bette Midler as Deloris Delargo. I was having trouble trying to make this work until I saw your blog, it has lots of fabulous old star glamour. I would like to feature you and your blog in the tag.."

Of course, I said yes - and these are the result. I am flattered! They are gorgeous.

Visit Bobby's pages on Instagram for more.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Clust’ring Summer?

The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

– William Blake

It's the Summer Solstice, dears! Midsummer's Day.

All downhill from here on, I'm afraid...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Voice

"People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing!"

From her American National Biography entry:
...Undiscouraged by the uniform criticism of her inability to carry a tune, her uncertain sense of rhythm, and her complete failure to reach the upper registers in pitch, [Florence Foster Jenkins] vigorously undertook a professional career, staging the first of a series of annual recitals in the foyer of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City in 1912. Her mother died in 1928, giving her control of a considerable family fortune and freeing her to expand her range of performance venues to regular concerts... She also became active in cultural affairs in New York City: She chaired the Euterpe Club's yearly tableaux-vivants, served as president of the American League of Pen Women, and founded the Verdi Club, whose annual Ball of the Silver Skylarks she financed.

Mme. Jenkins, as she styled herself, became a byword for artistic ambition and self-delusion. The author Stephen Pile ranked her "the world's worst opera singer," asserting: "No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation". She nevertheless performed the most challenging arias and lieder, specializing in work by Mozart, Verdi, and Brahms. She occasionally lightened her repertoire with her own modest compositions and those of her accompanist McMoon, and a favourite encore was Joaquín Valverde Sanjuán's Clavelitos, a Spanish song about carnations, after which she would throw handfuls of rosebuds into the crowd. An additional source of amusement for the audience was the ornate self-designed costumes she wore for her appearances, the most famous being an elaborate confection of tulle and tinsel with huge golden wings attached, in which she identified herself as "the Angel of Inspiration."

Apparently she never doubted the excellence, and indeed the continuing improvement, of her performances...[and] the enthusiasm of her audience, including professional musicians, supported her confidence in her ability. The journalist Brooks Peters wrote that Cole Porter never missed one of her concerts and even composed a song for her; Jenkins's other ardent fans included the opera stars Lily Pons and Enrico Caruso and the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.

Between the late 1930s and early 1940s, Jenkins made, at her own expense, five 78 rpm records containing nine operatic arias for Melotone, a New York label that ordinarily issued discs of popular music. Intended for sale to her friends at $2.50 apiece, her recordings were avidly collected as humorous novelty items and quickly became collector's items. Time described a recording she made of an aria from Mozart's Magic Flute, stating that her "nightqueenly swoops and hoots, her wild wallowings in descending trills, her repeated staccato notes like a cuckoo in its cups, are innocently uproarious to hear"...

On 25th October 1944 Jenkins achieved national prominence with the climactic event of her musical career, a recital she arranged at Carnegie Hall... [which] was said to be the fastest sold-out concert in the hall's history. The success of the concert was widely noted in the press; Newsweek reported that two thousand ticket seekers were turned away. The magazine's sardonic review stated: "Howls of laughter drowned Mme. Jenkins's celestial efforts. Where stifled chuckles and occasional outbursts had once sufficed at the Ritz, unabashed roars were the order of the evening at Carnegie". A month and one day after her performance at Carnegie Hall, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and died at her residence, the luxurious Hotel Seymour in New York City.

And so it was that a little gaggle of "our gang" eagerly entered the cinema on Friday to see Stephen Frears' brand new biographical (and eponymous) film about the divine Miss Jenkins' life, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

It is beautifully done - much in the manner of her own all-too-knowing real-life audience, we are encouraged not so much to laugh at the terrifying vocal ineptitude of Miss Jenkins, but to laugh with her. So utterly ingenuous and charming a woman is she - as reverently portrayed by Miss Streep in a sublime performance - and how sincere her efforts to please (and the love she engendered in return, particularly that of her "husband" [theirs was a platonic and never legally-bound relationship; she feared consummation due to a legacy of syphilis she contracted from her first husband, and he had mistresses on the side throughout their life together] St. Clair Bayfield, the "ham" actor-manager played with phenomenal precision by Mr Grant), that one genuinely empathises with her.

What could easily, in lesser hands, have ended up as a bit of a "freak show" piss-take, despite its comedic moments (the sheer stifled horror-mixed-with-giggles on the face of her long-time pianist Cosmé McMoon, played brilliantly by Simon Helberg, for example; or the hysterical laughing-fit the the tart-with-a-heart Agnes Stark (Nina Arianda) has on first hearing her), is actually made into a heart-warming and very enjoyable story.

Having long been "admirers" of Florence Foster Jenkins - her compilation The Glory (????) of the Human Voice adorns a prime position in our CD collection here at Dolores Delargo Towers, and way back in 2005 we went to see Maureen Lipman's stage turn as the lady herself in Glorious - Madam Arcarti and I absolutely adored the film.

A highly recommended experience...

Here, for your delectation, is Mme. Jenkins herself doing what she did - with Mozart's Queen of the Night aria (Der Hölle Rache):

...and here, the official trailer for the film:

Florence Foster Jenkins is playing up and down the UK as we speak, and is released in the US on 12th August 2016.