I grew up as a pretty typical middle class 1950’s American kid. It was George Reeves’ Superman, The Lone Ranger and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” all the way.
In my circles it was always real important to be a ‘regular guy’. I’m not sure I can tell you everything that a ‘regular guy’ had to be in the 1950’s but I can tell you one thing he was not. A ‘regular guy’ was not an egghead. For those of you not familiar with that quaint term here is an example. In the comic strips an egghead was usually drawn as a character carrying around a very fat volume of War and Peace.
Right, War and Peace was considered intellectual, cultured, serious. Sorry Tolstoy but we’re into Yankees, Chevys, Disney’s and Larry ‘n Curly ‘n Moe.
So it’s not surprising that I was unfamiliar with Shakespeare. The first play I suffered through was The Merchant of Venice when my sophomore class had to read it aloud. We understood maybe every fifth word and it was a great relief to close that book and get back to some good ol’ regular entertainment like Ozzie and Harriet.
Okay, let’s fast forward to 1965. It’s my senior year in high school. I was in a band and we played Surf Music, Beatles and R&B covers, the real R&B that is. Classical music? Well my mom had some Strauss waltz records and I had liked them a lot when I was a kid, but that had been a long time ago. Oh, I had also seen little Jinny Tiu play Chopin’s Minute Waltz several times on the Ed Sullivan Show. I’d assumed it was the only tune she knew.
Okay, back to high school. It’s third period art class and we’re finishing up some project or other. Maybe it had something to do with the project we were working on (who remembers?) but our teacher took out a record and put it on the turntable.
The needle dropped. Poof. The room disappeared and I vanished along with it. I’m sure I had to have been breathing but I can’t swear to it. When the room and I re-appeared the class was staring at me. I was standing there like a big dummy with tears cascading down my cheeks.
I had been hit over the head with “The Willow Song” from Verdi’s Otello.
I guess I was no longer a ‘regular guy’.
For those of you who have already asked, future posts will eventually include Sweet Willow’s script, music demos and video.
- Kiri Te Kanawa as Desdemona at the Covent Garden performs the Willow Song, from Verdi’s Otello in 1983, with Placido Domingo conducted by Sir George Solti before Lady Di and Prince Charles.