Daily Update: Monday, February 1st, 2016

02-01 - La Bohème

We have no Saints to honor on this first day of February (which has 29 days this year), but on this date in 1896 the world première performance of La bohème took place in Turin at the Teatro Regio and was conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini.

The Italian libretto of La bohème was by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger, a collection of vignettes with no unified plot. Since the 16th century the French word bohémien was used to refer to gypsies, based on the erroneous belief that they came from Bohemia. As gypsies were associated in the common imagination with a wild and free life separate from rigid society, the name came to be associated with the counter-culture of young artists and other rebels in the Latin Quarter of 19th century Paris. This was a common colloquial term in Paris when Murger used it in the title of the stories which eventually became the basis for the opera. The fame of Murger’s stories carried the term to the world beyond Paris and into other languages, such as English, where “bohemian” has a similar connotation. The word bohème denotes the place where these bohemians live, and thus translates to “Bohemia”. When referring to the geographic region, the preferred French spelling was (and is) Bohême, with a circumflex. Murger encouraged the alternate spelling of bohème, with a grave accent, to specify the conceptual Bohemia he wrote about. La bohème has become part of the standard Italian opera repertory and is one of the most frequently performed operas internationally. According to Opera America, it is the second most frequently performed opera in the United States, just behind another Puccini opera, Madama Butterfly. In 1946, fifty years after the opera’s premiere, Toscanini conducted a performance of it on radio with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was eventually released on records and on Compact Disc; it is the only recording of a Puccini opera by its original conductor. Rent, a 1996 musical by Jonathan Larson, is based on La bohème. Here the lovers, Roger and Mimi, are faced with AIDS and progress through the action with songs such as “Light My Candle”, which have direct reference to La bohème. Many of the character names are retained or are similar (e.g. the character Angel is given the surname “Schunard”), and at another point in the play, Roger’s roommate and best friend Mark makes a wry reference to “Musetta’s Waltz”, which is a recurring theme throughout the first act and is played at the end of the second act. (It is perhaps worth noting here that La bohème is one of the few operas – when done in translation, or with subtitles – that I like.)

This morning when I woke up, I started charging the spare battery for my Galaxy Note 4 (more anon). I flipped to the new month on my wall calendars, then did my Bathroom Devotional Reading. I gathered up the trash, and Richard put the bag of trash in our trash bin (already at the end of the driveway). On our way to work I did my Internet Devotional Reading, said the Eighth Day of my Novena to Saint Blaise, and the First Day of my Lenten Novena. When we got to the casino I called the Pharmacy and renewed two prescriptions. I then cleared the phone call list and voice-mail list on my Galaxy Note 4, deleted my Google Search history, cleared the Browsing Data on Chrome, Wikipedia, Play Store, and Facebook, and did Screenshots of my Galaxy Note 4 home screens. When we clocked in Richard was on a Blackjack table. Meanwhile, I was first on the Mississippi Stud table in our Overflow pit (where I dropped a good $1,000 for the dealers), then I was on the Sit-Down Blackjack table, then I was to be the Relief Dealer for Three Card Poker and Mississippi Stud, but was quickly moved to Pai Gow (so I was on tables in four pits today).

On our way home from work (I did not get the usual robot call from the pharmacy letting me know my prescriptions had been filled, so I did not go over to the pharmacy) I continued reading Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich by Veronica Mary Rolf, and we stopped at Wal-Mart so that Richard could get some groceries. Our daily newspaper was not at the end of the driveway when we got home; I reminded Richard to take his shot, put the spare Galaxy Note 4 battery that I had set to charging up this morning into my phone (and put the spare into the charger), and did my Daily Update for yesterday, Sunday, January 31st, 2016. I then took the truck and got a copy of the Acadiana Advocate from the newspaper vending machine outside of the bakery. (There were only four papers left, including the display copy; apparently we were not the only ones to not get a paper today). Once home I parked the truck out front (more anon), and read the morning paper. Richard called his sister Susan in Iowa (she had called earlier, and he had missed the call); on Saturday she and her husband Tom are going to get Richard’s eldest brother Butch in Baton Rouge, and bring him over to Eunice to see the baby. He also called the court in Opelousas, and confirmed that he has Jury Duty tomorrow. He and I then watched CSI: Cyber “Going Viral” via CBS On Demand. We then watched Jeopardy!, and I then ate my dinner of baked chicken, boiled whole small potatoes, and steamed brussels sprouts while doing this Daily Update. When I finish with my dinner and the computer, I will take a bath and do some reading before going to bed. Our LSU Women’s Basketball team will be playing a home game with Auburn tonight, and our New Orleans Pelicans will be playing a home game with the Memphis Grizzlies tonight as well; I will record the scores of the games in tomorrow’s Daily Update.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas), the World Day for Consecrated Life in the Church (it will be celebrated in Parishes next Sunday), and Groundhog Day. I will be going to work on my own in the car, as Richard will be going to Opelousas for Jury Duty later in the morning. I will work my eight hours; when I get home I will head for Lafayette to put in some comfy chair time at Barnes and Noble. Our LSU Men’s Basketball team will be playing an away game with Auburn tomorrow night.

Our Parting Quote on this Monday Afternoon comes to us from Maximilian Schell, Austrian and Swiss film and stage actor, who also wrote, directed and produced some of his own films. Born in 1930 in Vienna, Austria, his father was a Swiss poet, novelist, playwright, and pharmacy owner, and his mother was an actress who ran an acting school; the late actress Maria Schell was his older sister, and the family were Roman Catholic. The young Schell first tried acting at the age of three. The Schell family was forced to flee Vienna in 1938 to get “away from Hitler” after the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany. They resettled in Zurich, Switzerland, where Schell read the classics, and wrote his first play at the age of ten. At this point he wanted to become a playwright, like his father. He attended the University of Zurich for a year, where he also played soccer and was on the rowing team, along with writing for newspapers as a part-time journalist for income. Following the end of World War II, he moved to Germany where he enrolled in the University of Munich and studied philosophy and art history. During breaks, he would sometimes return home to Zurich (where he played piano well enough to achieve semi-professional status) or stay at his family’s farm in the country so he could write in seclusion. Schell then returned to Zurich, where he served in the Swiss Army for a year, after which he re-entered the University of Zurich for another year, and later, the University of Basel for six months. During that period, he acted professionally in small parts, in both classical and modern plays, and decided that he would from then on devote his life to acting rather than pursue academic studies. He thus began acting at the Basel Theatre. Schell’s film debut was in the German anti-war film Kinder, Mütter und ein General (Children, Mothers, and a General, 1955). It was the story of five mothers who confronted a German general at the front line, after learning that their sons, some as young as 15, had been “slated to be cannon fodder on behalf of the Third Reich.” The film co-starred Klaus Kinski as an officer, with Schell playing the part of an officer-deserter. The story, which according to one critic, “depicts the insanity of continuing to fight a war that is lost,” would become a “trademark” for many of Schell’s future roles. He subsequently acted in seven more films made in Europe before being invited to the United States in 1958 to act in the Broadway play Interlock by Ira Levin, in which Schell played the role of an aspiring concert pianist. He made his Hollywood debut in the World War II film The Young Lions (1958), as the commanding German officer in another anti-war story, with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. In 1960 Schell returned to Germany and played the title role in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet for German TV, a role that he would play on two more occasions in live theatre productions during his career. (Schell’s performance of Hamlet was featured as one of the last episodes of the American comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1999.) In 1959 Schell acted in the role of a defense attorney in an edition of Playhouse 90 a live TV production of Judgment at Nuremberg, a fictionalized re-creation of the Nuremberg War Trials. His performance in the TV drama was considered so good that he and Werner Klemperer were the only members of the original cast selected to play the same parts in the 1961 film version. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor, which was the first win for a German-speaking actor since World War II. He also won the New York Film Critics award for his role. Beginning in 1968 Schell began writing, producing, directing and acting in a number of his own films. Among those were The Castle (1968), a German film based on the novel by Franz Kafka, about a man trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare. Soon after he made Erste Liebe (First Love) (1970), based on a novel by Ivan Turgenev. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Schell’s next film, The Pedestrian (1974), was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. He then produced, directed and acted as a supporting character in End of the Game (1975), a German crime thriller starring Jon Voight and Jacqueline Bisset. A few years later he co-wrote and directed the Austrian film Tales from the Vienna Woods (1979). In 1982, on a program filmed for PBS, Schell read from Beethoven’s letters to the audience before Leonard Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic playing Beethoven symphonies. In 1983 he and Bernstein co-hosted an 11-part TV series, Bernstein / Beethoven, featuring nine live symphonies, along with discussions between Bernstein and Schell about Beethoven’s works. Schell also served as a writer, producer and director for a variety of films, including the problematic documentary film, Marlene (1984), with the unwilling participation of Marlene Dietrich. Originally Dietrich, then 83 years of age, had agreed to allow Schell to interview and film her in the privacy of her apartment. However, after he began filming, she changed her mind and refused to allow any actual video footage of her be shown. Schell creatively showed only silhouettes of her along with old film clips during their interview soundtrack. It was nominated for an Oscar, and received the New York Film Critics Award and the German Film Award. During his career, as one of the few German-speaking actors working in English-language films, Schell was top billed in a number of Nazi-era themed films, including Counterpoint (1968), The Odessa File (1974), The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Cross of Iron (1977) and Julia (1977). For the latter film, directed by Fred Zinnemann, Schell was again nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role as an anti-Nazi activist. In a number of films Schell played the role of a Jewish character: as Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, in The Diary of Anne Frank (1980); as the modern Zionist father in The Chosen (1981); as an Auschwitz survivor in Through Roses (1996), a German film, written and directed by Jürgen Flimm; and the father of a Jewish family in Left Luggage (1998). In The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), adapted from the stage play by Robert Shaw, Schell played both a Nazi officer and a Jewish Holocaust survivor, in a character with a double identity. Schell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance. To avoid being typecast, Schell also played more diverse characters in numerous films throughout his career. He played a museum treasure thief in Topkapi (1964), a Venezuelan leader in Simón Bolívar (1969), a 19th-century ship captain in Krakatoa, East of Java (1969), a Captain Nemo-esque scientist / starship commander in the science fiction film The Black Hole (1979), the Russian emperor in the television miniseries Peter the Great (1986), opposite Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave and Trevor Howard, which won an Emmy Award, a comedy role with Marlon Brando in The Freshman (1990), Reese Witherspoon’s surrogate grandfather in A Far Off Place (1993), a treacherous Cardinal in John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998), as Frederick the Great in a TV film, Young Catherine (1991); as Vladimir Lenin in the TV series Stalin (1992), for which he won the Golden Globe Award, a Russian KGB colonel in Candles in the Dark (1993). the Pharaoh in Abraham (1994), and Tea Leoni’s father in the science fiction thriller Deep Impact (1998). In 2002 Schell produced his most intimate film, My Sister Maria, a documentary about his sister, noted actress Maria Schell. In the film he chronicled her life, career and eventual diminished capacity due to illness.  The film, made three years before her 2005 death, showed her mental and physical frailty, leading to her withdrawal from the world. In 2002, upon the completion of the film, they both received Bambi Awards, and were honored for their lifetime achievements and in recognition of the film. From the 1990s until late in his career, Schell appeared in many German language made-for-TV films, such as the 2003 film Alles Glück dieser Erde (All the Luck in the World) opposite Uschi Glas and in the television miniseries The Return of the Dancing Master (2004), which was based on Henning Mankell’s novel. In 2006 he appeared in the stage play of Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues, directed by Robert Altman, which played in London at the Old Vic. In 2007 he played the role of Albert Einstein on the German television series Giganten (Giants), which enacted the lives of people important in German history. His last film was The Brothers Bloom (2008). In 2011 Schell appeared at a 50th anniversary tribute to Judgement at Nuremburg and his Oscar win, held in Los Angeles at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he spoke about his career and the film (died 2015): “I grew up in a theatre atmosphere and took it for granted. I remember the theatre, as a child, the way most people remember their mother’s cooking. Acting was all around me, and so was poetry. I made my debut in the theatre at the age of three, in Vienna.”

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