Culture Magazine

Today in Opera History - May 26

By Pinkall @pinkall

On this date in 1893, Eugene Goossens was born in London.  Goossens was a conductor and composer of operas, however he is mostly credited for being the major lobbyist for the creation of the Sydney Opera House, arguably the most famous opera house on the planet. (for opera singers, this certainly is not the highest echelon of opera houses like the Met or La Scala, but it is way up there)
In Alton, Illinois, on this date in 1926, the great Miles Davis was born.  He really doesn't have much of an opera connection, besides his recordings of tunes from Porgy and Bess (an opera by George Gershwin).  But his recording of the aria "Summertime" is one of the most famous arrangements of it.  And if you have been paying attention, this is the second shout-out to Gershwin as South Carolina's pseudo birthday was on Tuesday.  South Carolina was the setting for his opera Porgy and Bess.

Also on Tuesday, I mentioned William Bolcom - KCVI scholarship donor, Pulitzer Prize winner, and composer of an opera inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge (which also had its birthday this week).  Today is Mr. Bolcom's Birthday; he's 73.
Also on this day in 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee, was established and started their psychotic witch-hunt of free thinkers. The opera, the Crucible, based on the play about the 17th century witch trials held in Salem, Massachusetts, in which innocent people were accused and hanged for being witches, was written in response to the committee's hearings. The play was written at a time when Sen. Joseph McCarthy was conducting these hearings into possible involvement of communists in all aspects of government and American life.  This is the beginning of the 2nd Act - listen to the beautiful quartal harmonies, Aaron Copeland-esque.

On this date in 1924, opera composer Victor Herbert died.  He composed only 2 operas (one premiered at the Met, Madeleine, but only ran for six nights - probably because double-billed and massively upstaged by Enrico Caruso singing the title role in Pagliacci. However, Mr. Herbert was a very prolific composer and wrote at least 43 operettas!
In 1868, on this day, President Andrew Johnson nearly became the first impeached President to be kicked out of office.  When I was growing up, he was the ONLY one to be impeached, but somehow you can be impeached for far less offenses these days than by attempting to violate the laws of the Constitution.  Amazingly, he survived three votes to kick him out of office each by 1 vote - all three times, the last person to cast their vote was Kansas Senator Edmund Ross.  So, at least for a short time, Ross was probably the most powerful person in America.  President Kennedy wrote in his memoirs that Ross should be credited for saving the Presidency.
And a little side-note, if he would have been kicked out, the next person to assume the presidency would have obviously been the Vice President, but Johnson never had a Vice President because Johnson became President after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Back in those days, they didn't have the succession laws like we do today.  So, the next in line, would be the second highest official in the senate, the President pro tempore. (the first in line was the Vice President - who is also the President of the Senate)  Anyway, long story short, we almost had a President Benjamin Wade.
So what does this have to do with opera history? Not much.  Other than that the reason for Johnson's impeachment really goes back to him being President, which wouldn't have happened if Lincoln wasn't assassinated by actor John Wilkes Boothe while watching Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater.  And, as fate would have it, that play and the story of the assassination was turned into an opera by Eric Sawyer.  I couldn't find too many great recordings of it, but the story sounds very interesting.  Here is a light-hearted clip of the "Possum Aria".

That's all for now, have a Happy National Paper Airplane Day and for the Aussies, have a happy(?) National Sorry Day...(it's a day for Australians to express regret over their mistreatment of the Aboriginal Peoples)..hmm, I guess have a regretful National Sorry Day?

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