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The Uncivil Servant: Richard Wagner, Made (Too) Simple

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Being Wagner: The Story of the Most Provocative Composer Who Ever Lived, by Simon Callow. Vintage, 232 pages, 2017   IN THIS AGE of doorstop biographies, the actor and biographer Simon Callow’s breezy 200+ pages on Richard Wagner, Being Wagner, appear to be a quirky, quixotic venture. How to squeeze so tumultuous a […]

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The Lyric Soprano

Renowned classical singer Judith Raskin, who brought her fine lyric soprano voice and acting skills to audiences throughout America through innovative uses of television as well as by promoting local opera companies, was born in Yonkers, New York on this date in 1928. Raskin’s singing talent blossomed when she was an undergraduate at Smith College, […]

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July 7: Gustav Mahler

Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler was born in Bohemia on this date in 1860. Although he converted to Catholicism in order to become director of the Vienna Court Opera, he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse throughout his musical career, and his works were banned from performance during the Nazi era. Mahler was one of […]

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June 3: Jan Peerce

Legendary tenor Jan Peerce (Joshua Pincus Perelmuth), who launched his career in 1932 with the Radio City Music Hall Company, caught the attention of Arturo Toscanini, and launched a twenty-seven-year career at the Metropolitan Opera in 1941, was born on the Lower East Side of New York on this date in 1904. From 1941 to […]

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May 9: Yossele Rosenblatt

Yossele Rosenblatt, known as “the Jewish Caruso” and the greatest cantor of his generation, was born in the Ukraine on this date in 1882. He was a child prodigy within his religious community but received no formal musical training at any Jewish academy. Rosenblatt lived and performed at various stages of his life in Vienna, […]

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January 9: Integrating the Metropolitan Opera

Rudolph Bing, who ran the Metropolitan Opera for twenty-two years (1950-72) as general manager and integrated its roster of singers by bringing Leontyne Price onstage in 1953 and Marian Anderson in 1955, was born in Vienna on this date in 1902. Bing moved with his Russian ballerina wife from Germany to Great Britain in 1934 […]

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January 8: Leo Lerman and Maria Callas

Condé Nast writer and editor Leo Lerman attended a performance of “La Traviata” at La Fenice opera house in Venice on this date in 1953 and “discovered” Maria Callas: “a monumental, Titian-haired, marmoreal figure, encased in her flounced but simple white gown, as she sits there casually, almost indolently, tossing white camellias toward the dancing […]

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November 17: David Amram

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and lifelong hipster David Amram was born on this date in 1930. Amram was one of the first jazz players to improvise on French horn, and one of the first classical composers to blend jazz themes into his work. His collaborators have included Leonard Bernstein, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Willie Nelson, James Galway, […]

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May 8: Opera and Cigars

Oscar Hammerstein, an inventor, musician, and theater impresario who built several important opera houses and rekindled that classical singing art in American culture, was born in Prussia on this date in 1846. He was an eager young musician who ran away to New York to evade his punitive father (Hammerstein sold his violin to pay […]

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May 4: Roberta Peters

Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters (Peterman), who had the longest tenure of any soprano at the Met and also made a record sixty-five appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, was born in New York on this date in 1930. At 13, she was urged by Jan Peerce to train as a singer; by 19, she […]

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