Cluster of wheat image Grapes and vines image Cluster of wheat image
February 24th, 2013


We are the old, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved and now we live
In Beecham home.  

Quartet is unabashedly a movie about us, the old folks.  I loved it as soon as it started.   When I found out that it was not only about old folks, but about old folks who loved music and Beecham was, in fact, a home for aging musicians, I loved it twice as much.  As the movie begins, Beecham Home is excited about welcoming a new resident, a “star”  soprano who in the past has received 12 curtain calls.   Jean Horton, this aging diva, is played by Maggie Smith, currently most famous for her role as the Dowager  Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey (which I have yet to see — I really must get to it!)

It seems that with the arrival of this soprano diva, Beecham now housed four of the finest singers in English operatic history, and they thought they could earn money (to save Beecham) by performing the Quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto.   And the  comedic drama proceeds from there.

Rated PG13 for “brief strong language and suggestive humor.”  Only an hour and a half.  Directed by Dustin Hoffman.   Maggie Smith, the lead, was in actual real life born in 1934 which makes her 79.    Bravo, Maggie!

Just because I first became acquainted with Verdi’s Quartet from Rigoletto on an old red label Victor recording, played by my husband, I have (I hope) with considerable trouble embedded it here, featuring John McCormack, tenor, and Lucretia Bori, diva.

For Mary, McCormack (1911) singing Molly Bawn,   She was her Daddy’s Molly Bawn.



May 14th, 2012


From my son, on Mother’s Day. He knows me. This brought the first tears of the day.

Mother o’ Mine by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) If I were hanged on the highest hill, Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine! I know whose love would follow me still, Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine! If I were drowned in the deepest sea, Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine! I know whose tears would come down to me, Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine! If I were damned of body and soul, I know whose prayers would make me whole, Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

April 5th, 2012


Despite my great age, I was not raised listening to Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Tito Schipa (1888-1965) was the name on the red label we played on our Victrola. Since a friend loaned me a VHS recording of the movie, The Great Caruso (1951), I have been in opera heaven, reliving my past. It was my good fortune to marry a devotee of John McCormack, which  reinforced my love of a good tenor voice.

I cannot say enough good things about The Great Caruso, starring Mario Lanza as Caruso and Ann Blyth as his wife.  It is amazing the number of operatic arias and tid-bits they fit into that one movie, which seems to me to be rather long but holding interest all the way.   Who in that day could have made a better Caruso?  Lanza’s voice is spectacular (he was the best tenor of his time), and even his acting is good enough.   (Hear him sing O Holy Night.)   What a blessing that he was able to make this movie before his untimely death at 37.

I was able to listen to Tito Schipa’s La Donna e Mobile on YouTube (where it has had over three million hits) but embedding was disabled by request. It is as bouncy and joyful as I recall it. His O Sole Mio, however, was available.

John McCormack AND Enrico Caruso sing Una Furtiva Lagrima

John McCormack singing Il Mio Tesoro.

Everyone knows of the success of the four tenors of Il Divo. They keep me singing nowadays. (I guess I had a serious senior moment when I forgot to mention Andrea Bocelli! How many Bocelli concerts have it been to?)


March 10th, 2012


Until this very day I did not even know  that  the Irish tenor John McCormack starred in a movie way back in 1930.   It seems so, so strange, after listening to him over these many  years on red label Victor records, vinyl records, and even today on YouTube, that I can all of a sudden see him as he sings The Rose of Traleee  and Plaisir d’Amour  and other beloved songs of old.

It all happened because my son, Dan,  gave me a TV at Christmas-time with a bigger screen, and took away my old TV that was able to play VHS tapes and DVD recordings.   I suddenly realized that I was now unable to play my collection of VHS tapes which meant I would be unable to watch The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday, as has been my custom.  I wailed and moaned until my good friend Dolores said she had a VCR that had never been unwrapped and son  Johnny installed it for me.  Going through my VHS recordings I came across two that I had never listened to — I have a vague recollection of  their being given to me some years back — one was Ferrucio Tagliavini in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana and the other something called Song O’ My Heart.   I must have been busy at the time and they were long recordings so I tucked them into my library and forgot about them.  Until today.

You need to know that my husband loved John McCormack and his songs are engraved on my heart.    When I finally played Song O’ My Heart  there was John McCormack singing (and singing and singing) in a sentimental movie written just to display his talent.   It is really quite quaint, with the horse-and-buggy, the clothing of the twenties, the Irish brogues and those funny old telephones.  Part of it is set in Ireland and it is said McCormack  was paid $500,000 to do it.  That was real money way back then.

Here is what one reviewer of today had to say about Song O’ My Heart.

This is not a great movie. It isn’t really a very good one, frankly. I can’t imagine any reason to watch it other than to see John McCormack. If you like McCormack, however, it is not to be missed and, while he’s on screen, very enjoyable. Unlike so many other opera singers who have taken a turn on the silver screen, McCormack is very natural and relaxed. He’s fun to watch and, when he sings something good – which is too often not the case, alas – a joy to hear.

Much of what he sings is, in fact, forgettable. But there are two numbers that make time stand still. The first is the Rose of Tralee. It’s not great music, perhaps, but McCormack makes each note a perfectly polished gem in one perfectly arranged necklace. It is nice music elevated by great art to a very moving moment.

And then there is I hear you calling me, the most successful of all McCormack’s many successes. This is beautiful music set to a perfect text. And then performed as no song has ever been performed before or since. Yes, perhaps one of his 78 rpm versions is even better, but the version in this film is already great enough to make time, and breath, stop. The song tells a story, and you follow it as it unfolds. In the last verses, when he goes up to the suspended high note on “I hear you CALLING me,” you would think that you in fact heard his beloved calling him from beyond the grave. It makes you understand why Caruso envied McCormack his pianissimos.

So here we have  John McCormack in Song o’ My Heart singing  I Hear You Calling Me.  It was recorded in Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, 5th and Grand, with Edwin Schneider at the piano.  This was the second talkie, after Jazz Singer.

The VHS recording that  I have was apparently videotaped from a Visual Artists International presentation of Firestone Classic Performances.  It can also be purchased in a 1991 release on Amazon.