Daddy’s little girl

September 4, 2013

GERALDINE FARRAR

GERALDINE FARRAR

My wife, Pat, who is reading Adriana Trigiani’s novel The Shoemaker’s Wife, has mentioned two characters in the story who are familiar to me: Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar. We like to say, even though it can’t be demonstrated, that Caruso was the nonpareil of tenors, and Farrar, his contemporary, was a popular soprano and film actress. She was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company for 17 years, singing 29 roles in some 500 performances, frequently appearing with Caruso. She had a particular following among young women, and they were known at the time as “Gerryflappers.” I was young when I became a fan of hers, too, but that was nearly 30 years after she had retired as a singer. A kid of eclectic tastes, when I came home from the record store on most Friday nights, I could be carrying doo-wop, country-and-western, American standards, or opera. I bought many discs with cuts by Caruso, Farrar, or the two of them together.

A biographical detail about Farrar that particularly appeals to me is the fact that her father, Sidney, was a major league  baseball player from 1883 to 1890. A first baseman, he played most of his career for the Philadelphia National League franchise. In his last season, he bolted to the maverick Players League, still playing in Philadelphia. He appeared in 943 games and, in the dead-ball era, had 905 hits and a .253 batting average.

SIDNEY FARRAR

SIDNEY FARRAR

When Sid Farrar was through playing baseball, he opened a men’s clothing shop in Melrose, Massachusetts, in partnership with Frank G. Selee, a Hall of Fame major league manager. Farrar and his wife, Etta, were singers in their own right. Farrar was a baritone, and it was said of him that if he was speaking in what, for him, was a conversational tone of voice on one side of a street, he could be clearly heard from the other side.

When Geraldine went to Europe to study voice, her parents went with her and remained on the Other Side until Geraldine had made a name for herself in Berlin, Munich, Salsburg, Paris, and Stockholm and returned to the United States in 1906.

In later life, when he had been widowed, Sid Farrar was a familiar figure at Geraldine’s concerts, and she said that he was often surrounded by other old ballplayers who may have looked a little out of place in the classical concert hall. It dawned on her, she said, that those old guys weren’t there to see her; they were there to see her dad.

One of my favorite Caruso-Farrar recordings is their 1912 rendition of “O Soave Fanciulla” from La Boheme. Click HERE to hear it.

Out of the depths

May 14, 2010

GIACOMO PUCCINI

I finally remembered the password to my previous blog, and I rescued a few posts that I particularly liked — narcissist that I am. This is one of them, from June 11, 2006:

I WAS SITTING the car yesterday, waiting. I ran the windows down because sun was bright and the temperature was rising. It was windy – no doubt, you noticed that. The wind blowing through the car was simultaneously chilling and cleansing. The sky was brilliant, decorated only with racing puffs of moisture. I checked the cassette to see what CDs the usual driver had stored there. “La Boheme.” I put it on and concentrated to see how much of the opening dialogue I could decipher. What can you say about Puccini? Although he once sued Al Jolson, claiming that Jolson had filched the first few chords of “Avalon” from a passage in “E Lucevan le stelle” – specifically, “O dolci baci. O languide carezze.” The court thought that whatever reprehensible things Jolson might have done in his life, this wasn’t one of them.
DOWN AND ACROSS the street was a bar. On this bright, blue, breezy day, the dark room was crowded. One man, with a belly the size of a St Bernard, came out onto the sidewalk, sat on a high stool, put his foot up on another, and lit a cigar. He carefully arranged the stools before he sat down. He does this often. Whiles away a bright spring day in the darkness of that bar and comes outside to smoke, sitting on one stool with his foot up on another. One by one, others joined him from inside the bar, including two women and a boy who looked to be about 10. He hugged one of the women in a way that suggested she was his mother. A man pulled his car into an adjoining parking lot and walked toward the gaggle of folks outside the bar. The boy ran toward him – sort of the reverse of the father and son in the parable. The man exchanged a few words with the woman, took the boy with him to the car and drove away. The woman watched them until they were in the car, and then she turned back to her friends. One by one they went back inside. The man with the belly got up and carefully put the stools back in their places. He was the last one to disappear again into the darkness, leaving behind the wind and the sun and the clouds and the sky.