The History of Boots

 

The History of Boots

For many men, walking into the shoe department of a major store can be daunting; there are oftentimes so many styles from which to choose. But to observe shoes carefully is to realize that most footwear  falls into a handful of categories:  sandals/slippers, moccasins, boots, court shoes (tuxedo pumps), oxfords, and sneakers. And for the gentleman who enjoys a comprehensive lifestyle, having a pair of shoes from each category is essential.

Man has worn shoes from time immemorial; the oldest known footwear—a pair of sandals made of woven sagebrush bark and found in Fort Rock Cave in the state of Oregon—is believed to be at least 10,000 years old. The oldest known leather shoe was found in a cave in Armenia and dates from around 3500 B.C.E.  Ötzi The Iceman, who lived around 3300 B.C.E, was wearing footwear constructed of bearskin and deer hide. It is believed that shoes were first created to protect the foot. But over time, its purpose became twofold:  to protect and decorate.

Boots

As with coats, lifestyle is a major factor in determining what type boots a man will wear. And there are boots designed for just about every type of lifestyle:   A gentleman-farmer has his Wellingtons (also called “gumboots”); a fly-fisherman has his waders; a Tom of Finland enthusiast has his biker boots; a Texas oilman has his western boots; a gentleman of the dressage has his riding boots;  and for yet other gentlemen, the only boot worth wearing is a Timberland….

The earliest boots consisted of separate parts:  soles, uppers, and leggings. But around 1000 B.C.E., the various components were joined to form a single unit. One of the earliest examples of an integrated boot dates from around 900 B.C.E. It is a pair of terracotta boots, presumably a replica of what she would have worn in life, found at the cremation burial site of an ancient woman and is housed at the Ancient Angora Museum in Athens. Some 2,000 years later, between the 13th and 16th centuries, a type of soft leather boots worn by the nomads of eastern Asia was introduced to China, India, and Russia by Mongol invaders. By the 18th century, Hessian (German) soldiers, contracted by the British to fight against the colonists in the American Revolutionary War, were wearing knee-high boots.

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream–absolutely, positively the world’s most delicious ice cream (bar none!)

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream

Häagen-Dazs is hands-down the world’s most delicious ice cream. And achieving that distinction is a tall order since there are many delicious ice creams in the world! But what distinguishes Häagen-Dazs from even other gourmet or boutique ice creams is its unique density:  Very little air is incorporated into the product during its manufacture, giving it a heavy, rich texture. And that rich texture is combined with rich flavor, the result of a high butterfat content and the use of egg yolks.  Simply put, if ice creams were opera singers, Häagen-Dazs would be Luciano Pavarotti.

Despite its Scandinavian-sounding name, Häagen-Dazs is an American ice cream. It is said that Reuben Matthus “invented” the Danish-sounding name partly because of Denmark’s renown for outstanding dairy products.  [The Danish alphabet does not have the umlaut, nor does the digraph “zs” exist in the language].  Created by Reuben and Rose Matthus in the Bronx, New York, the product became commercially available in 1961.  Today, Häagen-Dazs is sold throughout the United States and in many countries around the world.

 

Opera: Everything a Young Gentleman Should Know About it

Opera
Opera and hip-hop are at once very similar and very different. And in many ways, it is their diametric opposition that unites them. Opera is 400 years old; hip-hop is 40. Opera tends to appeal to elitist sensibilities, while hip-hop is decidedly counter-culture. Opera celebrates the hero and heroine, but hip-hop glorifies the underdog. The spectacle of opera occurs on the stage, whereas the spectacle of hip-hop unfolds in the real lives of its protagonists. Opera singers are esteemed, even if of modest means, but hip-hop stars are oftentimes socially vilified, even if filthy rich. Opera is a famous genre with unknown performers. Hip-hop is an infamous genre with world-renown stars.

The Beginnings of Opera

In 1979, when in The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight the artist spoke what normally would be sung, audiences were delightfully surprised, and the then-nascent genre, hip-hop, became a national and international sensation. Such it must have been when in 1597 in Florence, Italy, at the palazzo of Jacopo Corsi, perhaps as part of the carnival festivities preceding Lent, singers enacted the entire drama of Dafne, telling the tale of the nymph Daphne, who is transformed into a laurel tree in order to escape the amorous pursuit of Apollo. In attendance was the “Florentine Camerata,” a small group of wealthy artists, statesmen, writers, and musicians, formed primarily for the purpose of finding ways to transform Greek and Roman drama. According to Ottavio Rinuccini, author of the words of the drama enacted on that fateful evening in Florence, the performance “gave pleasure beyond belief to the few who heard it.” Thus, opera was born. Most of the music score of Dafne, composed by Jacopo Peri (1561 – 1633), has been lost to time. What has survived, however, is Peri’s vivid description of the music: “a harmony surpassing that of ordinary speech, but falling so far below the melody of song as to take an intermediate form.” What has also survived is Dafne‘s distinction as the world’s first acknowledged opera.

But like most great things, enthralling librettos, grandiose stage sets, and breathtakingly beautiful arias—the stuff of which opera is made—did not just appear out of thin air. What would become “opera”—the art form at the foundation of which is musical speech, had been on its particular evolutionary path for at least 100 years prior to that fateful night at Jacopo Corsi’s Florentine palazzo. During the Renaissance, Roman plays—tragedies and comedies—would be performed on festive occasions at the courts of Italy’s royal houses. And in an attempt to provide lavish entertainment between the acts, it became customary to present “intermezzi,” mini-productions with spectacular stage effects, beautiful costumes, and copious amounts of music and dancing. In 1502 in Ferrara, Isabella d’ Este, in the audience at a performance of a play by Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254 – 184 B.C.E.)—perhaps Pot of Gold, or The Menaechmi, or Braggart Warrior—is said to have delighted more in the spectacular intermezzi, which featured satyrs chasing wild beasts in time to a musical clock, Swiss soldiers engaged in a danse de guerre, and a golden ball that melts away to reveal the Four Virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance) who then proceed to sing a quartet. But the first intermezzi to be preserved in detail were performed at the celebration of a wedding at the Medici court in Florence in 1589. Many of the intermezzi’s spectacles—a heaven made up of clouds in which characters sit and sing, a delightful garden, a rocky cave guarded by a ferocious dragon, and a marine scene complete with mermaids, dolphins, and a ship—would go on to become mainstay motifs of opera over the following 200 years, thereby establishing intermezzi as the precursor to opera. By the end of the 1500s, courtly audiences had grown so accustomed to music combined with extravaganza that opera was the logical artistic extension.

In 1607, ten years after the 1597 performance of Dafne at Palazzo Corsi in Florence, Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643), in his capacity as music director at the court of Mantua, presents a pre-Lenten performance of La Favola d’Orfeo, the story of Orpheus’ love for Eurydice and his descent into Hades in an attempt to rescue her soul from the grips of death. Monteverdi’s genre of choice for the production is the then-burgeoning opera. The role of Orfeo is sung by a castrato, starting an operatic tradition of using castrati—male singers castrated in their prepubescent years in order to preserve their high-pitched vocal range equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto—that would endure until the 1870s, the most famous castrato being Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi (1705 – 1782), better known as “Farinelli.” Enduring even longer was the opera Orfeo itself: It is Monteverdi’s first attempt at opera, and it is the earliest opera to maintain a place, 400 years later, in the operatic repertory.

After the death of the duke of Mantua in 1612, Monteverdi accepts the post of Master of Music for the Republic of Venice, his primary charge being to compose sacred music for performance at St. Mark’s Basilica. And it is those sacred compositions that spread his fame across Europe. The composer, however, maintained his interest in opera. And fortunately, for the development of the genre, Venice’s prosperous citizens see no reason why opera should be reserved for aristocrats in their private palaces; as far as the Venetians are concerned, opera should be more public. And to that end, in 1637, when Monteverdi is seventy years old, Venice opens the world’s first opera house: Teatro San Cassiano. (The city would go on, during the 17th century, to boast as many of seven opera houses). Despite his aging body, the opening of the opera house rekindles the flame in Monteverdi’s soul. Two operas, both masterpieces, survive from those later years: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland), which premiered at Teatro San Cassiano in 1641; and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), which premiered in 1642 at Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, then the grander of the two theaters. Key to Monterverdi’s success as an opera composer are his ability to express emotion and drama in vocal music, so much so that there are contemporary accounts of audiences weeping at his arias, even if by 21st -century standards his work would be regarded as “formal” or “reserved.”

Opera Goes International

By the middle of the 1600s, opera had spread throughout the Italian peninsula and had even made its way to France and Germany. The Baroque period (c. 1650 – 1750) brought the works of Johan Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), George Friedrich Handel (1685 – 1759), and Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) to opera audiences. Baroque opera flourished in the royal courts and opera houses of Europe, the Italian school at the forefront. And in 1689 opera arrived in England when Dido and Aeneas premiered in London: Josias Priest, dance master at a Chelsea boarding school for gentlewomen, had commissioned the work from Henry Purcell, organist in Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. The relatively short opera, noted for its remarkable intensity, is Purcell’s only opera. And it is the only English opera that predates the 20th century to have a secure place in the modern operatic repertory. Performed primarily by Priest’s young female students, with professional support in the main parts, including the tenor role of Aeneas, the young ladies are said to have displayed their skills in the opera’s 17 dances, all choreographed for the occasion by Priest. Unfortunately for Purcell, in 1689 London has no opera house; but audiences are profoundly moved by the performance, especially by Dido’s great lament upon the departure of Aeneas. (The success of the opera makes Purcell a much-demanded composer in the London theater scene, a profession which at the time was primarily used for adding songs to existing plays and masques. Despite the lack of operatic opportunity in London, Purcell went on to meet the demands as theater composer so much so that his King Arthur [1691], text by Dryden, and The Fairy Queen [1692], based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are still performed).

Germany’s first opera house opened in Hamburg. And in 1705, at age 20, the house’s recently employed young musician, Georg Frederic Handel, presents his first opera, Almira, on its stage. Almira is a success, prompting young Handel to travel to Italy, the birthplace of opera, the following year. In Italy, Handel finds much success: In Rome, where the pope forbids the performance of opera, Handel composes sacred music; and in Florence and Venice he composes operas. Handel’s fame spreads throughout Europe, resulting in his being appointed music director, or “Kappelmeister,” to the Elector of Hanover, the future George I of Great Britain, in 1710. In 1711, Handel is granted permission to visit London, where his first opera, Rinaldo (1711), is warmly received at the English court, even if mocked by some. Handel settles in Great Britain, producing a long list of Italian operas for London theaters and royal occasions, an example of the latter being Zadok the Priest, composed for the 1727 coronation of George II and has been sung at every coronation since. (In 1726 Handel becomes a British subject and goes on to pioneer the quintessentially British form of music, the English oratorio, a large-scale musical composition for orchestra, choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. It is distinguishable from opera in that while opera is musical theater, the oratorio is strictly a concert piece. In an oratorio, there is generally little or no interaction between characters, no elaborate costumes, props, etc. And unlike opera, which typically deals with mythology, history, and includes age-old devices such as murder, deception, and romance, oratorio plots are typically sacred, making it appropriate for performance in church).

 

The Transformation of Opera

By the 1730s, Italian poet Pietro Metastasio is living in Vienna, where there is a huge demand for Italian opera. And he has cornered the market on librettos in the “opera seria” style, so much so that some of his texts were given 40 or more operatic settings and by the middle of the 1700s had become formulaic: fantastically artificial plots oftentimes truncated to allow for the then-popular castrati to perform their arias—oftentimes twice in succession! “Da capo!” (meaning, “from the top!”) the audiences would demand, only to be gladly obliged by the directors and performers who had already made accommodations for the repeat performances. “Opera,” the Italian word for “work,” needed to be “re-worked.” And in 1762, that revolution occurrs: German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, court composer in Vienna, joins forces with Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, a librettist critical of Metastasio’s conventions. Together they introduce a form of opera in which words and music work together to convey a direct form of musical drama.

From circa 1750 to 1827, Willibald Christoph Gluck (1714 – 1787), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) emerge as the star composers of opera. During their tenure, the genre developed by expanding in structure, harmony, and plot content. The orchestra was charged with providing more harmonic depth and variety to accompaniments. Haydn alone composed over 75 operas for the Esterhazy court. Gluck advances his operatic philosophy with Alceste in 1767, another Italian opera for Vienna, and with operas written in the French language for Paris: Iphigénie en Aulide (1774); Armide (1777); and Iphigénie en Tauride (1778), for example. During Gluck’s 20-year stewardship of opera, he firmly establishes that opera should be first and foremost music drama, a characteristic that would endure.

The first fruit of his transformation of opera is Orfeo ed Eurydice, performed in Vienna in 1762. The opera is described in the program as an azione teatrale per musica (theatrical action through music). Gluck’s vision for opera is that it should aspire towards “simplicity, truth, and naturalness,” and that it should “serve poetry by expressing the drama of the plot, without unnecessary interruption or superfluous ornament.” Gluck’s Orfeo rises to the challenge: The story is simple and dramatically told, and its arias express the character’s emotions rather than flaunt the singer’s virtuosity. And the contributions of chorus and ballet are fully integrated into the plot, rather than being inserted merely for entertainment, as had become the convention.

In 1780, Mozart is commissioned to compose an “opera seria,” the solemn form of Italian opera, in the tradition established fifty years early by Metastasio. Mozart’s aim is to secure employment at court in Munich. The opera, Indomeneo, premieres in Munich in January of 1781. With unbridled genius, Mozart adds an unprecedented element of emotion and drama to the conventions of “opera seria.” Indomeneo is well received in Munich, but it is shortly thereafter forgotten for the remainder of the young composer’s short lifetime, remaining under-appreciated until the 20th century. In effect then, the real beginning of Mozart’s brief-but-celebrated operatic career begins later in 1781 when he moves to Vienna and wins a commission from Joseph II.

When Joseph II requested a cheerful opera in the German language, Mozart was happy to oblige with Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), which premiered in Vienna in 1782. The opera was immediately successful in Prague and in cities throughout Germany.

In the mid-1780s, Joseph II relaxes his insistence upon operas in the German language, allowing Mozart to collaborate with Italian librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte in an adaptation of the most controversial play of the decade, Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro, sensationally successful when first performed in Paris in 1784, primarily because of its criticism, masked in the medium of comedy, of the aristocracy. As such, Joseph II had forbidden any performance of the play in Vienna. But Da Ponte succeeds in convincing him to allow the opera to proceed. When Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) premieres in May of 1786, it is met with mixed reactions, perhaps on account of insufficient rehearsals. But a production in Prague later the same year is overwhelmingly successful—so much so that when Mozart visits Prague in January of 1787, he is delighted to hear everyone humming his tunes from the opera. To the Czechs, the opera was a masterpiece: It was a new development in opera, combining comedy and passion, all the while addressing an everyday, recognizable reality.

On the heels of the success of Le Nozze di Figaro, the Prague company commissions another opera from Mozart and Da Ponte, and the duo responds with Don Giovanni, which premiers in October of 1787 to much acclaim (though it is less successful in Vienna the following year).

The duo’s third opera commissioned in Vienna is Così fan Tutte (Thus Do They [women] All, also known as The School for Lovers), a cynical and unromantic tale that unfolds upon beautiful and romantic music…. Joseph II’s death in early 1790 causes the opera’s first run of performances to be interrupted.

Mozart’s last work for the stage premieres in Vienna in 1791. It is the quintessentially German opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Commissioned by businessman Emanuel Shikaneder, it is a tale of strange rituals and rough comedy for the audience of his popular theater (akin to a music hall). Anarchic and unconventional, the work is diametrically opposed to Mozart’s first opera of ten years earlier, Idomeneo. And when taken with the intervening collaborative works with Da Ponte, Mozart establishes himself as the composer with the most varied works in the history of opera. The Magic Flute goes on to make Shikaneder a rich man. Mozart, however, was dead less than three months after its premiere.

 

The Romantic Period—The Golden Age of Opera

From around 1817 to 1900, Romanticism, followed by Impressionism, took the art world—music, literature, painting—by storm. Verdi, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Géricault, Delacroix, and others ruled the day. During the 1820s, after the French Revolution, a new middle class become theater-goers in pursuit of entertainment. And composers responded by relying upon the literature of Shakespeare, Hugo, and Goethe, for example, rather than Greek or Roman mythology, in an effort to find subject matter that would appeal to the sensibilities of the new-found audience. Italian composers Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868), Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835), and Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) composed operas in the “opera buffa” and “opera lirica” styles. And all three inspired their singers to sing in the “belle canto” style, executing long, challenging, elegantly and beautifully phrased vocal lines; their operas are excellent vehicles for gifted singers to showcase their unique talents. Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cindarella) (1817) employs fioritura technique and comic timing from entire cast; in Norma (1831) by Bellini, a coloratura soprano with superb dramatic skills is required; La fille du Régiment (1840) by Donizetti calls for both a brilliant coloratura soprano and a talented tenor who can achieve seemingly countless high Cs. Witty-sung dialogue, distinctive characters, and beautifully crafted vocal lines are what ensure the success of these operas.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) was the successor to those three, great composers. And fitting successor was he, for many of the operas composed by Verdi serve as the backbone for the present-day operatic canon. In his native Italy, Verdi is celebrated as patriot, statesman, and composer of works that spoke to the politically controversial topics of his day. But his operas have stood the test of time because they are dramatically beautiful, vocally challenging, and filled memorable melodies that were crafted for all his characters. With the exception of his final opera, the comic Falstaff (1893), Verdi’s operas are all based on dramatic plays and texts, among which are Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1847) and Othello (1887); Victor Hugo’s Rigoletto (1851); Alexandre Dumas’ La Traviata (1853); along with Aida (1871), based on a scenario that is oftentimes attributed to French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

While the “grand opera” genre of the 19th century incorporated all the artistic elements of beautiful solo voices, large-scale casts and orchestras, chorus, ballet, and elaborate scenery typically depicted in four or five acts, lighter opera—“opéra comique” (“opera buffa” in Italy) and “operetta” in Austria and England—emerged and developed loyal followings. Some of the foremost examples of such popular “light” opera are: Gaetano Donizetti’s “opera buffa” Don Pasquale (1843); Jacques Offenbach’s “opéra comique” La Périchole (1868); the Austrian “operetta” Die Fiedermaus (1874) by Johann Struass, Jr.; and Gilbert and Sullivan’s English “operetta” H.M.S. Pinafore (1878). Carmen (1875) by Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875) presented audiences with high drama, exotic locations, and romantic, evocative, and memorable musical themes.

As the 19th century progressed, the symbiotic relationship between literature and opera became more pronounced. Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) creates a new genre in opera in which the primary purpose of the music is to serve dramatic expression. His masterpiece, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring [Cycle]), draws upon Norse mythology (as opposed to the “go-to” Greco-Roman myths) and employs the theatrical and cinematic device of “leitmotif” or “signature tune,” a short, constantly recurring musical phrase associated with a particular person, place, or idea, in order to help the viewers identify the various characters as well as to unite the four operas that comprise the masterpiece: Das Rheingold (Rhinegold); Die Walküre (The Valkyries); Siegfried; and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). The series, which occupies about 15 hours of performance time and is generally presented over four consecutive nights, took Wagner over 23 years (November 1851 to November 1874) to complete. As complex as the plot line is, with its multiple subplots, it is fundamentally about Wotan, king of the gods, who steals a magic ring from the dwarf Alberich, who had himself stolen the ring from the Rhinemaidens. Two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, then steal the ring from Wotan, and much of the story is about Wotan trying to recover the ring. Wagner’s aim was to create a “gesamtkunstwerk,” a “complete work” that is a synthesis of music and drama where the focus is on both, as opposed to one or the other. Wagner’s compositions required the expansion of the opera orchestra from 50 to 60 musicians to about 90 to 100. And The Ring Cycle character Brünnhilde, a valkyrie, typically portrayed wearing a bull-horned helmet, is one of the all-time iconic, and arguably clichéd, images of opera.

Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) followed in Wagner’s footsteps, employing even more elaborate orchestras and introducing dissonance as an expressive means of achieving drama. Salomé (1905), Elektra (1909), and Ariadne and Naxos (1912) are some of his best-known operas.

As music’s Romantic period drew to a close, composers Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) began exploring with Impressionism in music by expanding the boundaries of tonality and form. Debussy is credited with one successful opera: Pelléas et Mélisande (1902). It is based on the Symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlink. And Ravel demonstrates his creativity when, in his delightful opera L’enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Spells) (1925), he situates the singers in the orchestra pit from where they depict the various items in the child’s room as they come to life on stage. Meanwhile Italy’s Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), taking up where his great countryman Verdi had left off, composed operas in the “verismo” (truth) style: presenting everyday people who find themselves caught in extraordinary, melodramatic circumstances. (All verismo operas require mature voices and dramatic singers with stage-presence). Puccini’s operas are at once musically visceral and emotionally bold, and are composed for big voices aided by rich, full orchestrations. Like the work of Verdi, Puccini’s operas serve as the backbone of the operatic repertoire: La Bohème (1896); Tosca (1900); and Madama Butterfly (1904). (Other noted Italian verismo composers are Umberto Giordano; Ruggero Leoncavallo; and Pietro Mascagni [1863 – 1945], best known for the masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) [1890]).

 

Opera in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, drama became even more important to the portrayal of characters on stage. And composers began creating operas for the actor-singer, as opposed to primarily for the singer. Composers such as Kurt Weill (1900 – 1950), best known for Lost Under the Stars (1949); Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971), composer of The Rake’s Progress (1951); and Benjamin Britten, remembered his 1945 opera Peter Grimes, all composed in a less tonal idiom, focusing instead on plot drama. The singers who tackle the principal roles of these operas, then, must be excellent musicians, vocal technicians, and superior actors. The 20th century also saw opera composers experimenting with polytonality (music in more than one key occurring simultaneously), minimalism (music with repetitive structures), and theatricality. Opera of the 20th century also became more “cerebral” and more “psychological” : Austrians Arnold Schönberg (1874 – 1951) composed the monologue opera Erwartung (Expectation) in 1924; and his pupil Alban Berg ( 1885 – 1935) composed the opera Wozzeck (1925), with its abrupt and sometimes-brutal language, delving into themes of casual sadism and brutality, militarism, social exploitation, and the haunting realism of the everyday life of soldiers and townspeople of a rural, German-speaking town. Meanwhile American composers created works focusing on historical and social American themes: the beloved Porgy and Bess (1935) by George Gershwin (1898 – 1937); Aaron Copeland (1900 – 1990) composed The Tender Land (1954) with its mid-western setting, originally conceived for television; and Carlisle Floyd (b. 1926) set his Susanna (1955) in the state of Tennessee. By contrast, other American opera composers of the 20th century explore minimalism more profoundly: Einstein on the Beach (1976) and Akhnaten (1984) by Phillip Glass (b. 1937); and Nixon in China (1987) and Death of Klinghoffer (1991) by John Coolidge Adams. Ensemble operas, the focus being on the entire cast rather than on soloists, also became a popular theme of American operas at the end of the 20th century, Metropolitan Opera-commissioned The Ghosts of Versailles (1991) by John Corigliano (b. 1938), Little Women (1998) by Mark Adamo (b. 1962), and A View from the Bridge (1999) by William Bolcom being among the most regarded.

 

The Future of Opera

Opera, one of the performing arts’ grandest, most venerated, and most storied genres, continues into the 21st century, thereby spanning six centuries of artistic heritage and enduring more than 400 years. But to observe the composers of the foremost operas of the 21st -century is to take note that unlike the great composers of past centuries, who generally produced their most celebrated works in their twenties and thirties, present-day opera composers are, for the most part, musicians born in the early years of the second half of the previous century: Dead Man Walking (2000) is the work of Jake Heggie (b. 1961); Aidanamar (2005) is by Osvaldo Golijov, born in 1960; Doctor Atomic (2005) was composed by John Coolidge Adams, born in 1947; and Tan Dun, born in 1956, is the composer of The First Emperor (2006). Champion (2013), the two-act, 10-scene opera in jazz about the life and times of Virgin Islands-born Welterweight boxing champ Emile Griffith, was composed by five-time Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard (b. 1962), with libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer (b. 1945). Based on those numbers, then, a convincing argument can be made that opera composers are an aging, if not dying, breed. And even if the opera repertoire is replete with centuries-old mainstays, one of the reasons opera has stood the test of time is that it has always spoken to its times. And it is the young people of the time who are generally best at interpreting the times—via the performing and fine arts. But are young people attending opera? And if not, have any of the great opera companies commissioned operas in hip-hop? After all, hip-hop and opera are at once very different and very similar, as stated above. Music legend Gladys Knight can still sell out a venue—with fans she first cultivated during her early years in the business. But if she wants a chart-topping pop hit today, she is more likely to achieve her goal with a collaborative effort featuring one of music’s current stars. The primary consumers of popular music have always been young people. So if 21st -century opera has no mechanism in place to cultivate young fans, will the genre even have a fan-base of middle-aged connoisseurs—the typical opera-goer—in 20 years? Opera is not like ballet: all little girls want to be prima ballerinas; but all little girls do not aspire to become prima donnas. Ballet may forever have an audience, but opera may not. And who are the hip-hop star equivalents of opera? Who are opera’s brightest and best young, creative minds? And which, if at all any, 21st -century opera arias are hummed on the streets the way Mozart encountered the residents of Prague humming his tunes from Le Nozze de Figaro in January of 1787? With the special effects possible in cinema, have the spectacle that made opera, opera been relegated to child’s play? Is Wagner’s The Ring Cycle as grand as opera can get?

Music tastes are oftentimes ingrained and imprinted onto young minds. The remaining handful of present-day opera composers grew up looking at Looney Tunes’ animated films starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig set to classical compositions, many of them tunes from well-known operas. Those musicians, then, were indirectly introduced—within the context of Saturday morning television viewing—to opera and its music from before they could speak, let alone sing or play an instrument. But animated films today rarely, if ever, incorporate classical music for dramatic effect. How, then, is opera to reach the masses? And if it does not, how is the genre to survive another 400 years in the midst of competition from other forms of entertainment?

Once decidedly elitist, exclusive, and expensive, by the end of the 20th century, opera was making bona-fide attempts at bridging the mainstream, the genre’s greatest names joining forces with each other or collaborating with the foremost stars of popular music. The recording of the July 1990 debut concert in Rome of “The Three Tenors,” featuring José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti, became the all-time best-selling classical album. And 1.3 billion people viewed their second televised performance four years later. And just as Latin heartthrob Julio Iglesias had teamed up with pop diva extraordinaire Diana Ross in 1984 in order to break into the English-speaking market, Carreras and Domingo joined forces with Ross for the “Christmas in Vienna” concert in 1992, the broadcast of which became an instant television Christmas classic. Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury teamed up with opera powerhouse Montserrat Caballé in 1988 in Barcelona to celebrate the city’s selection for the 1992 Olympics. And in 1998, when Pavarotti, upon doctor’s orders, had to cancel his performance at the Grammy’s, he called upon his dear and admired friend, “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin—at a moment’s notice—to sing Nessun Dorma in his stead, Franklin’s stand-in performance receiving a sustained standing ovation.

But for many a young man with an interest in opera, securing opera tickets at the world’s premier opera houses—Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Paris Opéra, Venice’s La Fenice, Vienna Staatsoper, Palermo’s Teatro Massimo, Florence’s La Pergola, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, Royal Opera House of London, Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colon, Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, and the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, for example—is prohibitively expensive. And tickets, which oftentimes become available two months before the opening of the opera season, are typically sold out a day or two after they are made available for purchase. A young man living “paycheck-to-paycheck”, then, even if he has an entertainment allotment factored into each paycheck, generally will not be able to find tickets at such houses when he wants them and can afford them. Yes, there are annual opera festivals such as: Munich Opera Festival, which takes place in the opulent Munich Opera House, one of the world’s most beautiful, and being an enclosed, contained space, presents opera in a controlled environment as it was meant to be heard; The Proms at London’s world-famous Royal Albert Hall; and France’s Chorégies d’Orange, held in a Roman amphitheater with a seating capacity of 9,000, singers performing without the aid of amplification. Opera’s biggest and brightest stars perform at the many opera festivals around the world. And though such events are affordable, they occur only in the summer months—when many young men prefer to be outside engaging in physical activity rather than sitting quietly and listening attentively to opera. But furthermore, just as jazz connoisseurs are not created at annual jazz festivals, but instead in small, smoke-filled jazz clubs all year long, opera is best cultivated during the opera season, from November to about April or May, inside opera houses, the venues specifically designed and built for the genre.

Livorno’s Teatro Goldoni

The problem, then, is that world-class opera is generally very expensive or very infrequent. Enter: Livorno, Italy’s Teatro Goldoni, a stately, elegant, 950-seat, neoclassical theater that has seen the likes of opera greats such as Enrico Caruso and Galliano Masini in its now-170-year-long history, and each season presents the genre’s biggest productions—from Aida to La Bohème to Turandot, for example. Designed in the classic, horseshoe-shaped, “teatro all’italiana” model popular in the 18th century, Teatro Goldoni features four tiers of box seats surmounted by a “loggione,” where tickets are least expensive but the acoustics are reportedly the best. The loggione (gallery) makes for an interesting mixture of “loggionisti,” opera aficionados who specifically select that section of the theater so as to be able to more liberally approve—or disapprove—of performers, and opera-goers seeking fine entertainment at bargain prices. The theater also boasts an iron-and-glass skylight ceiling, innovative for its day, that allows for natural lighting during matinée performances, a cost-cutting feature that has saved the theater considerable funds over its long history. There is also the “Goldonetta,” a mini-theater within the theater that seats 200 and is suitable for more intimate performances such as jazz concerts, chamber music, recitals, experimental theater, and lectures. And Teatro Goldoni offers special rates for students and persons under the age of 30—opera tickets for about the price of the average cinema ticket. So for what it would cost a young man to purchase two tickets at one of Italy’s top-level opera houses, he could secure two excellent tickets at Teatro Goldoni, take the train to Livorno, book a room at a bed-and-breakfast, have dinner and a bottle of wine in one of the city’s restaurants, enjoy a big-name opera directed by an up-and-coming artist, hear arias performed by some of opera’s rising stars, enjoy a classic “Ponce livornese” the following morning, then hop onto the train and head back home—with money in his pocket. Dollar for dollar, euro for euro, Teatro Goldoni is one of the world’s best opera houses for introducing young men on a strict budget to the luxurious art of opera.

Livorno is Tuscany’s most important port city. And Teatro Goldoni is one of the city’s few major buildings to have survived the Allied bombings during World War II. As such, the theater was popular for American soldiers immediately after the war. It is said that Frank Sinatra wowed audiences there during the early years of his performance career. But the theater’s history predates the historic war by almost a century.

On October 1, 1842, Francesco Caporali and his son Alessandro decided to “erect a new and magnificent theater” in Livorno. The theater was part of an urban and architectural initiative led by Italy’s Lorena family during the first half of the 19th century, the initiative’s aim being to have Italian cities reflect the wealth of their bourgeoisie merchant class. The architect commissioned for the opera house project was Giuseppe Cappellini, who, with a team of craftsmen—Benedetto Malfanti as foreman, Ceccardo Ravenna as marble specialist, Pietro Bernardini in charge of stucco work, and the brothers Giacomo and Giovanni Medici of Milan in charge of interior decorating—labored on the building from 1843 to 1847.

The theater, originally named “Imperiale e Regio Teatro Leopoldo” in honor of Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II of the Habsburg-Lorraine family, opened its doors to the public on July 24, 1847. The inaugural performance was Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil) (1831), with libretto by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne, regarded as one of the first “grand operas” at Paris Opéra. But despite the thunderous success of opening night at Teatro Leopoldo, it was as if the devil himself had cast a curse upon the new theater, for its problems were almost immediate. Almost immediately after opening, ownership of the theater passed from the Caporali family to Giuseppe Varoli, their former business partner, the theater falling into such decline during Varoli’s brief tenure that by 1855, less than ten years after its illustrious inauguration, the building had been acquired at auction and restored by its new owner, Pandely Rodocanacchi (1818 – 1882). Rodocanacchi, during a two-year restoration between 1853 and 1857, brought the theater back to its former splendor.

After the fall of the Lorraine family in 1859, the theater was renamed “Teatro Caporali” in honor of its original owners. But by 1860 the name of the theater had once again changed, this time to “Regio Teatro Goldoni” in honor of beloved Italian playwright and librettist Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni (1707 – 1793) who had a particular affinity for Livorno and set some of his works, perhaps most famously La Trilogia dela Villeggiatura (The Trilogy of the Vacation Resort) (1761), in Livorno.

Ownership of the theater changed several times from the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. But at the beginning of the 21st century, the building was acquired by the municipal government, immediately thereafter undergoing a long and accurate renovation. On January 24, 2004, in a ceremony presided over by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, then-President of the Republic of Italy, the theater was reopened. And selected for the inaugural performance was Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) (1890), the masterpiece by Livornese composer Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945).

For a young man interested in an authentic, affordable introduction to opera, Livorno’s Teatro Goldoni is unequaled. There, he will find a beautiful theater, a courteous staff, world-class productions by opera’s rising stars, and Livorno—an authentic Italian town, at once ancient and modern, elegant and gritty, set upon the shores of the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. At Teatro Goldoni, in the city of Livorno, a young man will encounter the thing that gives rise to great opera: reality.

 

Livorno, Italy’s Teatro Goldoni–The world’s best opera venue for an affordable introduction to world-class opera!

 

Dollar for dollar, euro for euro, Livorno, Italy’s Teatro Goldoni is one of the world’s best opera houses for introducing young men on a strict budget to the luxurious art of opera.  

Wayne James

 

Opera

Opera and hip-hop are at once very similar and very different. And in many ways, it is their diametric opposition that unites them. Opera is 400 years old; hip-hop is 40. Opera tends to appeal to elitist sensibilities, while hip-hop is decidedly counter-culture. Opera celebrates the hero and heroine, but hip-hop glorifies the underdog. The spectacle of opera occurs on the stage, whereas the spectacle of hip-hop unfolds in the real lives of its protagonists. Opera singers are esteemed, even if of modest means, but hip-hop stars are oftentimes socially vilified, even if filthy rich. Opera is a famous genre with unknown performers. Hip-hop is an infamous genre with world-renown stars.

The Beginnings of Opera

In 1979, when in The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight the artist spoke what normally would be sung, audiences were delightfully surprised, and the then-nascent genre, hip-hop, became a national and international sensation. Such it must have been when in 1597 in Florence, Italy, at the palazzo of Jacopo Corsi, perhaps as part of the carnival festivities preceding Lent, singers enacted the entire drama of Dafne, telling the tale of the nymph Daphne, who is transformed into a laurel tree in order to escape the amorous pursuit of Apollo. In attendance was the “Florentine Camerata,” a small group of wealthy artists, statesmen, writers, and musicians, formed primarily for the purpose of finding ways to transform Greek and Roman drama. According to Ottavio Rinuccini, author of the words of the drama enacted on that fateful evening in Florence, the performance “gave pleasure beyond belief to the few who heard it.” Thus, opera was born. Most of the music score of Dafne, composed by Jacopo Peri (1561 – 1633), has been lost to time. What has survived, however, is Peri’s vivid description of the music: “a harmony surpassing that of ordinary speech, but falling so far below the melody of song as to take an intermediate form.” What has also survived is Dafne‘s distinction as the world’s first acknowledged opera.

But like most great things, enthralling librettos, grandiose stage sets, and breathtakingly beautiful arias—the stuff of which opera is made—did not just appear out of thin air. What would become “opera”—the art form at the foundation of which is musical speech, had been on its particular evolutionary path for at least 100 years prior to that fateful night at Jacopo Corsi’s Florentine palazzo. During the Renaissance, Roman plays—tragedies and comedies—would be performed on festive occasions at the courts of Italy’s royal houses. And in an attempt to provide lavish entertainment between the acts, it became customary to present “intermezzi,” mini-productions with spectacular stage effects, beautiful costumes, and copious amounts of music and dancing. In 1502 in Ferrara, Isabella d’ Este, in the audience at a performance of a play by Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254 – 184 B.C.E.)—perhaps Pot of Gold, or The Menaechmi, or Braggart Warrior—is said to have delighted more in the spectacular intermezzi, which featured satyrs chasing wild beasts in time to a musical clock, Swiss soldiers engaged in a danse de guerre, and a golden ball that melts away to reveal the Four Virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance) who then proceed to sing a quartet. But the first intermezzi to be preserved in detail were performed at the celebration of a wedding at the Medici court in Florence in 1589. Many of the intermezzi’s spectacles—a heaven made up of clouds in which characters sit and sing, a delightful garden, a rocky cave guarded by a ferocious dragon, and a marine scene complete with mermaids, dolphins, and a ship—would go on to become mainstay motifs of opera over the following 200 years, thereby establishing intermezzi as the precursor to opera. By the end of the 1500s, courtly audiences had grown so accustomed to music combined with extravaganza that opera was the logical artistic extension.

In 1607, ten years after the 1597 performance of Dafne at Palazzo Corsi in Florence, Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643), in his capacity as music director at the court of Mantua, presents a pre-Lenten performance of La Favola d’Orfeo, the story of Orpheus’ love for Eurydice and his descent into Hades in an attempt to rescue her soul from the grips of death. Monteverdi’s genre of choice for the production is the then-burgeoning opera. The role of Orfeo is sung by a castrato, starting an operatic tradition of using castrati—male singers castrated in their prepubescent years in order to preserve their high-pitched vocal range equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto—that would endure until the 1870s, the most famous castrato being Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi (1705 – 1782), better known as “Farinelli.” Enduring even longer was the opera Orfeo itself: It is Monteverdi’s first attempt at opera, and it is the earliest opera to maintain a place, 400 years later, in the operatic repertory.

After the death of the duke of Mantua in 1612, Monteverdi accepts the post of Master of Music for the Republic of Venice, his primary charge being to compose sacred music for performance at St. Mark’s Basilica. And it is those sacred compositions that spread his fame across Europe. The composer, however, maintained his interest in opera. And fortunately, for the development of the genre, Venice’s prosperous citizens see no reason why opera should be reserved for aristocrats in their private palaces; as far as the Venetians are concerned, opera should be more public. And to that end, in 1637, when Monteverdi is seventy years old, Venice opens the world’s first opera house: Teatro San Cassiano. (The city would go on, during the 17th century, to boast as many of seven opera houses). Despite his aging body, the opening of the opera house rekindles the flame in Monteverdi’s soul. Two operas, both masterpieces, survive from those later years: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland), which premiered at Teatro San Cassiano in 1641; and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), which premiered in 1642 at Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, then the grander of the two theaters. Key to Monterverdi’s success as an opera composer are his ability to express emotion and drama in vocal music, so much so that there are contemporary accounts of audiences weeping at his arias, even if by 21st -century standards his work would be regarded as “formal” or “reserved.

Opera Goes International

By the middle of the 1600s, opera had spread throughout the Italian peninsula and had even made its way to France and Germany. The Baroque period (c. 1650 – 1750) brought the works of Johan Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), George Friedrich Handel (1685 – 1759), and Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) to opera audiences. Baroque opera flourished in the royal courts and opera houses of Europe, the Italian school at the forefront. And in 1689 opera arrived in England when Dido and Aeneas premiered in London: Josias Priest, dance master at a Chelsea boarding school for gentlewomen, had commissioned the work from Henry Purcell, organist in Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. The relatively short opera, noted for its remarkable intensity, is Purcell’s only opera. And it is the only English opera that predates the 20th century to have a secure place in the modern operatic repertory. Performed primarily by Priest’s young female students, with professional support in the main parts, including the tenor role of Aeneas, the young ladies are said to have displayed their skills in the opera’s 17 dances, all choreographed for the occasion by Priest. Unfortunately for Purcell, in 1689 London has no opera house; but audiences are profoundly moved by the performance, especially by Dido’s great lament upon the departure of Aeneas. (The success of the opera makes Purcell a much-demanded composer in the London theater scene, a profession which at the time was primarily used for adding songs to existing plays and masques. Despite the lack of operatic opportunity in London, Purcell went on to meet the demands as theater composer so much so that his King Arthur [1691], text by Dryden, and The Fairy Queen [1692], based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are still performed).

Germany’s first opera house opened in Hamburg. And in 1705, at age 20, the house’s recently employed young musician, Georg Frederic Handel, presents his first opera, Almira, on its stage. Almira is a success, prompting young Handel to travel to Italy, the birthplace of opera, the following year. In Italy, Handel finds much success: In Rome, where the pope forbids the performance of opera, Handel composes sacred music; and in Florence and Venice he composes operas. Handel’s fame spreads throughout Europe, resulting in his being appointed music director, or “Kappelmeister,” to the Elector of Hanover, the future George I of Great Britain, in 1710. In 1711, Handel is granted permission to visit London, where his first opera, Rinaldo (1711), is warmly received at the English court, even if mocked by some. Handel settles in Great Britain, producing a long list of Italian operas for London theaters and royal occasions, an example of the latter being Zadok the Priest, composed for the 1727 coronation of George II and has been sung at every coronation since. (In 1726 Handel becomes a British subject and goes on to pioneer the quintessentially British form of music, the English oratorio, a large-scale musical composition for orchestra, choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. It is distinguishable from opera in that while opera is musical theater, the oratorio is strictly a concert piece. In an oratorio, there is generally little or no interaction between characters, no elaborate costumes, props, etc. And unlike opera, which typically deals with mythology, history, and includes age-old devices such as murder, deception, and romance, oratorio plots are typically sacred, making it appropriate for performance in church).

The Transformation of Opera

By the 1730s, Italian poet Pietro Metastasio is living in Vienna, where there is a huge demand for Italian opera. And he has cornered the market on librettos in the “opera seria” style, so much so that some of his texts were given 40 or more operatic settings and by the middle of the 1700s had become formulaic: fantastically artificial plots oftentimes truncated to allow for the then-popular castrati to perform their arias—oftentimes twice in succession! “Da capo!” (meaning, “from the top!”) the audiences would demand, only to be gladly obliged by the directors and performers who had already made accommodations for the repeat performances. “Opera,” the Italian word for “work,” needed to be “re-worked.” And in 1762, that revolution occurrs: German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, court composer in Vienna, joins forces with Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, a librettist critical of Metastasio’s conventions. Together they introduce a form of opera in which words and music work together to convey a direct form of musical drama.

From circa 1750 to 1827, Willibald Christoph Gluck (1714 – 1787), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) emerge as the star composers of opera. During their tenure, the genre developed by expanding in structure, harmony, and plot content. The orchestra was charged with providing more harmonic depth and variety to accompaniments. Haydn alone composed over 75 operas for the Esterhazy court. Gluck advances his operatic philosophy with Alceste in 1767, another Italian opera for Vienna, and with operas written in the French language for Paris: Iphigénie en Aulide (1774); Armide (1777); and Iphigénie en Tauride (1778), for example. During Gluck’s 20-year stewardship of opera, he firmly establishes that opera should be first and foremost music drama, a characteristic that would endure.

The first fruit of his transformation of opera is Orfeo ed Eurydice, performed in Vienna in 1762. The opera is described in the program as an azione teatrale per musica (theatrical action through music). Gluck’s vision for opera is that it should aspire towards “simplicity, truth, and naturalness,” and that it should “serve poetry by expressing the drama of the plot, without unnecessary interruption or superfluous ornament.” Gluck’s Orfeo rises to the challenge: The story is simple and dramatically told, and its arias express the character’s emotions rather than flaunt the singer’s virtuosity. And the contributions of chorus and ballet are fully integrated into the plot, rather than being inserted merely for entertainment, as had become the convention.

In 1780, Mozart is commissioned to compose an “opera seria,” the solemn form of Italian opera, in the tradition established fifty years early by Metastasio. Mozart’s aim is to secure employment at court in Munich. The opera, Indomeneo, premieres in Munich in January of 1781. With unbridled genius, Mozart adds an unprecedented element of emotion and drama to the conventions of “opera seria.” Indomeneo is well received in Munich, but it is shortly thereafter forgotten for the remainder of the young composer’s short lifetime, remaining under-appreciated until the 20th century. In effect then, the real beginning of Mozart’s brief-but-celebrated operatic career begins later in 1781 when he moves to Vienna and wins a commission from Joseph II.

When Joseph II requested a cheerful opera in the German language, Mozart was happy to oblige with Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), which premiered in Vienna in 1782. The opera was immediately successful in Prague and in cities throughout Germany.

In the mid-1780s, Joseph II relaxes his insistence upon operas in the German language, allowing Mozart to collaborate with Italian librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte in an adaptation of the most controversial play of the decade, Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro, sensationally successful when first performed in Paris in 1784, primarily because of its criticism, masked in the medium of comedy, of the aristocracy. As such, Joseph II had forbidden any performance of the play in Vienna. But Da Ponte succeeds in convincing him to allow the opera to proceed. When Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) premieres in May of 1786, it is met with mixed reactions, perhaps on account of insufficient rehearsals. But a production in Prague later the same year is overwhelmingly successful—so much so that when Mozart visits Prague in January of 1787, he is delighted to hear everyone humming his tunes from the opera. To the Czechs, the opera was a masterpiece: It was a new development in opera, combining comedy and passion, all the while addressing an everyday, recognizable reality.

On the heels of the success of Le Nozze di Figaro, the Prague company commissions another opera from Mozart and Da Ponte, and the duo responds with Don Giovanni, which premiers in October of 1787 to much acclaim (though it is less successful in Vienna the following year).

The duo’s third opera commissioned in Vienna is Così fan Tutte (Thus Do They [women] All, also known as The School for Lovers), a cynical and unromantic tale that unfolds upon beautiful and romantic music…. Joseph II’s death in early 1790 causes the opera’s first run of performances to be interrupted.

Mozart’s last work for the stage premieres in Vienna in 1791. It is the quintessentially German opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Commissioned by businessman Emanuel Shikaneder, it is a tale of strange rituals and rough comedy for the audience of his popular theater (akin to a music hall). Anarchic and unconventional, the work is diametrically opposed to Mozart’s first opera of ten years earlier, Idomeneo. And when taken with the intervening collaborative works with Da Ponte, Mozart establishes himself as the composer with the most varied works in the history of opera. The Magic Flute goes on to make Shikaneder a rich man. Mozart, however, was dead less than three months after its premiere.

The Romantic Period—The Golden Age of Opera

From around 1817 to 1900, Romanticism, followed by Impressionism, took the art world—music, literature, painting—by storm. Verdi, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Géricault, Delacroix, and others ruled the day. During the 1820s, after the French Revolution, a new middle class become theater-goers in pursuit of entertainment. And composers responded by relying upon the literature of Shakespeare, Hugo, and Goethe, for example, rather than Greek or Roman mythology, in an effort to find subject matter that would appeal to the sensibilities of the new-found audience. Italian composers Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868), Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835), and Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) composed operas in the “opera buffa” and “opera lirica” styles. And all three inspired their singers to sing in the “belle canto” style, executing long, challenging, elegantly and beautifully phrased vocal lines; their operas are excellent vehicles for gifted singers to showcase their unique talents. Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cindarella) (1817) employs fioritura technique and comic timing from entire cast; in Norma (1831) by Bellini, a coloratura soprano with superb dramatic skills is required; La fille du Régiment (1840) by Donizetti calls for both a brilliant coloratura soprano and a talented tenor who can achieve seemingly countless high Cs. Witty-sung dialogue, distinctive characters, and beautifully crafted vocal lines are what ensure the success of these operas.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) was the successor to those three, great composers. And fitting successor was he, for many of the operas composed by Verdi serve as the backbone for the present-day operatic canon. In his native Italy, Verdi is celebrated as patriot, statesman, and composer of works that spoke to the politically controversial topics of his day. But his operas have stood the test of time because they are dramatically beautiful, vocally challenging, and filled memorable melodies that were crafted for all his characters. With the exception of his final opera, the comic Falstaff (1893), Verdi’s operas are all based on dramatic plays and texts, among which are Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1847) and Othello (1887); Victor Hugo’s Rigoletto (1851); Alexandre Dumas’ La Traviata (1853); along with Aida (1871), based on a scenario that is oftentimes attributed to French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

While the “grand opera” genre of the 19th century incorporated all the artistic elements of beautiful solo voices, large-scale casts and orchestras, chorus, ballet, and elaborate scenery typically depicted in four or five acts, lighter opera—“opéra comique” (“opera buffa” in Italy) and “operetta” in Austria and England—emerged and developed loyal followings. Some of the foremost examples of such popular “light” opera are: Gaetano Donizetti’s “opera buffa” Don Pasquale (1843); Jacques Offenbach’s “opéra comique” La Périchole (1868); the Austrian “operetta” Die Fiedermaus (1874) by Johann Struass, Jr.; and Gilbert and Sullivan’s English “operetta” H.M.S. Pinafore (1878). Carmen (1875) by Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875) presented audiences with high drama, exotic locations, and romantic, evocative, and memorable musical themes.

As the 19th century progressed, the symbiotic relationship between literature and opera became more pronounced. Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) creates a new genre in opera in which the primary purpose of the music is to serve dramatic expression. His masterpiece, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring [Cycle]), draws upon Norse mythology (as opposed to the “go-to” Greco-Roman myths) and employs the theatrical and cinematic device of “leitmotif” or “signature tune,” a short, constantly recurring musical phrase associated with a particular person, place, or idea, in order to help the viewers identify the various characters as well as to unite the four operas that comprise the masterpiece: Das Rheingold (Rhinegold); Die Walküre (The Valkyries); Siegfried; and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). The series, which occupies about 15 hours of performance time and is generally presented over four consecutive nights, took Wagner over 23 years (November 1851 to November 1874) to complete. As complex as the plot line is, with its multiple subplots, it is fundamentally about Wotan, king of the gods, who steals a magic ring from the dwarf Alberich, who had himself stolen the ring from the Rhinemaidens. Two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, then steal the ring from Wotan, and much of the story is about Wotan trying to recover the ring. Wagner’s aim was to create a “gesamtkunstwerk,” a “complete work” that is a synthesis of music and drama where the focus is on both, as opposed to one or the other. Wagner’s compositions required the expansion of the opera orchestra from 50 to 60 musicians to about 90 to 100. And The Ring Cycle character Brünnhilde, a valkyrie, typically portrayed wearing a bull-horned helmet, is one of the all-time iconic, and arguably clichéd, images of opera.

Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) followed in Wagner’s footsteps, employing even more elaborate orchestras and introducing dissonance as an expressive means of achieving drama. Salomé (1905), Elektra (1909), and Ariadne and Naxos (1912) are some of his best-known operas.

As music’s Romantic period drew to a close, composers Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) began exploring with Impressionism in music by expanding the boundaries of tonality and form. Debussy is credited with one successful opera: Pelléas et Mélisande (1902). It is based on the Symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlink. And Ravel demonstrates his creativity when, in his delightful opera L’enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Spells) (1925), he situates the singers in the orchestra pit from where they depict the various items in the child’s room as they come to life on stage. Meanwhile Italy’s Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), taking up where his great countryman Verdi had left off, composed operas in the “verismo” (truth) style: presenting everyday people who find themselves caught in extraordinary, melodramatic circumstances. (All verismo operas require mature voices and dramatic singers with stage-presence). Puccini’s operas are at once musically visceral and emotionally bold, and are composed for big voices aided by rich, full orchestrations. Like the work of Verdi, Puccini’s operas serve as the backbone of the operatic repertoire: La Bohème (1896); Tosca (1900); and Madama Butterfly (1904). (Other noted Italian verismo composers are Umberto Giordano; Ruggero Leoncavallo; and Pietro Mascagni [1863 – 1945], best known for the masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) [1890]).

Opera in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, drama became even more important to the portrayal of characters on stage. And composers began creating operas for the actor-singer, as opposed to primarily for the singer. Composers such as Kurt Weill (1900 – 1950), best known for Lost Under the Stars (1949); Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971), composer of The Rake’s Progress (1951); and Benjamin Britten, remembered his 1945 opera Peter Grimes, all composed in a less tonal idiom, focusing instead on plot drama. The singers who tackle the principal roles of these operas, then, must be excellent musicians, vocal technicians, and superior actors. The 20th century also saw opera composers experimenting with polytonality (music in more than one key occurring simultaneously), minimalism (music with repetitive structures), and theatricality. Opera of the 20th century also became more “cerebral” and more “psychological” : Austrians Arnold Schönberg (1874 – 1951) composed the monologue opera Erwartung (Expectation) in 1924; and his pupil Alban Berg ( 1885 – 1935) composed the opera Wozzeck (1925), with its abrupt and sometimes-brutal language, delving into themes of casual sadism and brutality, militarism, social exploitation, and the haunting realism of the everyday life of soldiers and townspeople of a rural, German-speaking town. Meanwhile American composers created works focusing on historical and social American themes: the beloved Porgy and Bess (1935) by George Gershwin (1898 – 1937); Aaron Copeland (1900 – 1990) composed The Tender Land (1954) with its mid-western setting, originally conceived for television; and Carlisle Floyd (b. 1926) set his Susanna (1955) in the state of Tennessee. By contrast, other American opera composers of the 20th century explore minimalism more profoundly: Einstein on the Beach (1976) and Akhnaten (1984) by Phillip Glass (b. 1937); and Nixon in China (1987) and Death of Klinghoffer (1991) by John Coolidge Adams. Ensemble operas, the focus being on the entire cast rather than on soloists, also became a popular theme of American operas at the end of the 20th century, Metropolitan Opera-commissioned The Ghosts of Versailles (1991) by John Corigliano (b. 1938), Little Women (1998) by Mark Adamo (b. 1962), and A View from the Bridge (1999) by William Bolcom being among the most regarded.

The Future of Opera

Opera, one of the performing arts’ grandest, most venerated, and most storied genres, continues into the 21st century, thereby spanning six centuries of artistic heritage and enduring more than 400 years. But to observe the composers of the foremost operas of the 21st -century is to take note that unlike the great composers of past centuries, who generally produced their most celebrated works in their twenties and thirties, present-day opera composers are, for the most part, musicians born in the early years of the second half of the previous century: Dead Man Walking (2000) is the work of Jake Heggie (b. 1961); Aidanamar (2005) is by Osvaldo Golijov, born in 1960; Doctor Atomic (2005) was composed by John Coolidge Adams, born in 1947; and Tan Dun, born in 1956, is the composer of The First Emperor (2006). Champion (2013), the two-act, 10-scene opera in jazz about the life and times of Virgin Islands-born Welterweight boxing champ Emile Griffith, was composed by five-time Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard (b. 1962), with libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer (b. 1945). Based on those numbers, then, a convincing argument can be made that opera composers are an aging, if not dying, breed. And even if the opera repertoire is replete with centuries-old mainstays, one of the reasons opera has stood the test of time is that it has always spoken to its times. And it is the young people of the time who are generally best at interpreting the times—via the performing and fine arts. But are young people attending opera? And if not, have any of the great opera companies commissioned operas in hip-hop? After all, hip-hop and opera are at once very different and very similar, as stated above. Music legend Gladys Knight can still sell out a venue—with fans she first cultivated during her early years in the business. But if she wants a chart-topping pop hit today, she is more likely to achieve her goal with a collaborative effort featuring one of music’s current stars. The primary consumers of popular music have always been young people. So if 21st -century opera has no mechanism in place to cultivate young fans, will the genre even have a fan-base of middle-aged connoisseurs—the typical opera-goer—in 20 years? Opera is not like ballet: all little girls want to be prima ballerinas; but all little girls do not aspire to become prima donnas. Ballet may forever have an audience, but opera may not. And who are the hip-hop star equivalents of opera? Who are opera’s brightest and best young, creative minds? And which, if at all any, 21st -century opera arias are hummed on the streets the way Mozart encountered the residents of Prague humming his tunes from Le Nozze de Figaro in January of 1787? With the special effects possible in cinema, have the spectacle that made opera, opera been relegated to child’s play? Is Wagner’s The Ring Cycle as grand as opera can get?

Music tastes are oftentimes ingrained and imprinted onto young minds. The remaining handful of present-day opera composers grew up looking at Looney Tunes’ animated films starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig set to classical compositions, many of them tunes from well-known operas. Those musicians, then, were indirectly introduced—within the context of Saturday morning television viewing—to opera and its music from before they could speak, let alone sing or play an instrument. But animated films today rarely, if ever, incorporate classical music for dramatic effect. How, then, is opera to reach the masses? And if it does not, how is the genre to survive another 400 years in the midst of competition from other forms of entertainment?

Once decidedly elitist, exclusive, and expensive, by the end of the 20th century, opera was making bona-fide attempts at bridging the mainstream, the genre’s greatest names joining forces with each other or collaborating with the foremost stars of popular music. The recording of the July 1990 debut concert in Rome of “The Three Tenors,” featuring José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti, became the all-time best-selling classical album. And 1.3 billion people viewed their second televised performance four years later. And just as Latin heartthrob Julio Iglesias had teamed up with pop diva extraordinaire Diana Ross in 1984 in order to break into the English-speaking market, Carreras and Domingo joined forces with Ross for the “Christmas in Vienna” concert in 1992, the broadcast of which became an instant television Christmas classic. Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury teamed up with opera powerhouse Montserrat Caballé in 1988 in Barcelona to celebrate the city’s selection for the 1992 Olympics. And in 1998, when Pavarotti, upon doctor’s orders, had to cancel his performance at the Grammy’s, he called upon his dear and admired friend, “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin—at a moment’s notice—to sing Nessun Dorma in his stead, Franklin’s stand-in performance receiving a sustained standing ovation.

But for many a young man with an interest in opera, securing opera tickets at the world’s premier opera houses—Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Paris Opéra, Venice’s La Fenice, Vienna Staatsoper, Palermo’s Teatro Massimo, Florence’s La Pergola, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, Royal Opera House of London, Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colon, Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, and the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, for example—is prohibitively expensive. And tickets, which oftentimes become available two months before the opening of the opera season, are typically sold out a day or two after they are made available for purchase. A young man living “paycheck-to-paycheck”, then, even if he has an entertainment allotment factored into each paycheck, generally will not be able to find tickets at such houses when he wants them and can afford them. Yes, there are annual opera festivals such as: Munich Opera Festival, which takes place in the opulent Munich Opera House, one of the world’s most beautiful, and being an enclosed, contained space, presents opera in a controlled environment as it was meant to be heard; The Proms at London’s world-famous Royal Albert Hall; and France’s Chorégies d’Orange, held in a Roman amphitheater with a seating capacity of 9,000, singers performing without the aid of amplification. Opera’s biggest and brightest stars perform at the many opera festivals around the world. And though such events are affordable, they occur only in the summer months—when many young men prefer to be outside engaging in physical activity rather than sitting quietly and listening attentively to opera. But furthermore, just as jazz connoisseurs are not created at annual jazz festivals, but instead in small, smoke-filled jazz clubs all year long, opera is best cultivated during the opera season, from November to about April or May, inside opera houses, the venues specifically designed and built for the genre.

Livorno’s Teatro Goldoni

The problem, then, is that world-class opera is generally very expensive or very infrequent. Enter: Livorno, Italy’s Teatro Goldoni, a stately, elegant, 950-seat, neoclassical theater that has seen the likes of opera greats such as Enrico Caruso and Galliano Masini in its now-170-year-long history, and each season presents the genre’s biggest productions—from Aida to La Bohème to Turandot, for example. Designed in the classic, horseshoe-shaped, “teatro all’italiana” model popular in the 18th century, Teatro Goldoni features four tiers of box seats surmounted by a “loggione,” where tickets are least expensive but the acoustics are reportedly the best. The loggione (gallery) makes for an interesting mixture of “loggionisti,” opera aficionados who specifically select that section of the theater so as to be able to more liberally approve—or disapprove—of performers, and opera-goers seeking fine entertainment at bargain prices. The theater also boasts an iron-and-glass skylight ceiling, innovative for its day, that allows for natural lighting during matinée performances, a cost-cutting feature that has saved the theater considerable funds over its long history. There is also the “Goldonetta,” a mini-theater within the theater that seats 200 and is suitable for more intimate performances such as jazz concerts, chamber music, recitals, experimental theater, and lectures. And Teatro Goldoni offers special rates for students and persons under the age of 30—opera tickets for about the price of the average cinema ticket. So for what it would cost a young man to purchase two tickets at one of Italy’s top-level opera houses, he could secure two excellent tickets at Teatro Goldoni, take the train to Livorno, book a room at a bed-and-breakfast, have dinner and a bottle of wine in one of the city’s restaurants, enjoy a big-name opera directed by an up-and-coming artist, hear arias performed by some of opera’s rising stars, enjoy a classic “Ponce livornese” the following morning, then hop onto the train and head back home—with money in his pocket. Dollar for dollar, euro for euro, Teatro Goldoni is one of the world’s best opera houses for introducing young men on a strict budget to the luxurious art of opera.

Livorno is Tuscany’s most important port city. And Teatro Goldoni is one of the city’s few major buildings to have survived the Allied bombings during World War II. As such, the theater was popular for American soldiers immediately after the war. It is said that Frank Sinatra wowed audiences there during the early years of his performance career. But the theater’s history predates the historic war by almost a century.

On October 1, 1842, Francesco Caporali and his son Alessandro decided to “erect a new and magnificent theater” in Livorno. The theater was part of an urban and architectural initiative led by Italy’s Lorena family during the first half of the 19th century, the initiative’s aim being to have Italian cities reflect the wealth of their bourgeoisie merchant class. The architect commissioned for the opera house project was Giuseppe Cappellini, who, with a team of craftsmen—Benedetto Malfanti as foreman, Ceccardo Ravenna as marble specialist, Pietro Bernardini in charge of stucco work, and the brothers Giacomo and Giovanni Medici of Milan in charge of interior decorating—labored on the building from 1843 to 1847.

The theater, originally named “Imperiale e Regio Teatro Leopoldo” in honor of Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II of the Habsburg-Lorraine family, opened its doors to the public on July 24, 1847. The inaugural performance was Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil) (1831), with libretto by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne, regarded as one of the first “grand operas” at Paris Opéra. But despite the thunderous success of opening night at Teatro Leopoldo, it was as if the devil himself had cast a curse upon the new theater, for its problems were almost immediate. Almost immediately after opening, ownership of the theater passed from the Caporali family to Giuseppe Varoli, their former business partner, the theater falling into such decline during Varoli’s brief tenure that by 1855, less than ten years after its illustrious inauguration, the building had been acquired at auction and restored by its new owner, Pandely Rodocanacchi (1818 – 1882). Rodocanacchi, during a two-year restoration between 1853 and 1857, brought the theater back to its former splendor.

After the fall of the Lorraine family in 1859, the theater was renamed “Teatro Caporali” in honor of its original owners. But by 1860 the name of the theater had once again changed, this time to “Regio Teatro Goldoni” in honor of beloved Italian playwright and librettist Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni (1707 – 1793) who had a particular affinity for Livorno and set some of his works, perhaps most famously La Trilogia dela Villeggiatura (The Trilogy of the Vacation Resort) (1761), in Livorno.

Ownership of the theater changed several times from the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. But at the beginning of the 21st century, the building was acquired by the municipal government, immediately thereafter undergoing a long and accurate renovation. On January 24, 2004, in a ceremony presided over by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, then-President of the Republic of Italy, the theater was reopened. And selected for the inaugural performance was Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) (1890), the masterpiece by Livornese composer Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945).

For a young man interested in an authentic, affordable introduction to opera, Livorno’s Teatro Goldoni is unequaled. There, he will find a beautiful theater, a courteous staff, world-class productions by opera’s rising stars, and Livorno—an authentic Italian town, at once ancient and modern, elegant and gritty, set upon the shores of the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. At Teatro Goldoni, in the city of Livorno, a young man will encounter the thing that gives rise to great opera: reality.

 

 

How To Be A Good Sleepover Guest: The do’s and the don’ts

The Good Sleepover Guest

The four biggest lies in hospitality are:

  1. Drop by anytime;
  2. Don’t bring anything;
  3. Mi casa es tu casa; and
  4. Stay as long as you want.

The truth is that it is oftentimes said (even if behind closed doors) that house guests are like fish: They smell after two days. Therefore, regardless of what is said by the hostess to the contrary, the general rule is that gentlemen should keep visits very short and very sweet, departing with the lady or gentleman of the house wishing the visit were longer. If there is ever a time in life to exhibit impeccable manners, it is when visiting someone’s home, for the manner in which a young man conducts himself in another person’s home is not only a reflection of the young man, but also of his family—of his parents in particular, and of the way they raised (or did not raise!) him. So while the adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” may ring true at a rock concert or when sitting in a cafe, it does not when one is a house guest. There, the more appropriate adage would be, “When in Rome, do as the pope should do.”  Whether visiting as a sleep-over play date during the pre-teen years; “crashing” on the sofabed at a friend’s “monolocale” in Roma during one’s “roaming 20s”; spending a few days with a cousin at his group-house while in town on job interviews; or visiting a business associate at his palatial, seaside villa in Portugal’s The Algarve, good manners make all the difference between the experience being wonderful or regretful—for both guest and host.

Being a good house guest requires a particular sensitivity—for knowing, for example, when to be up before dawn in order to surprise the hostess with breakfast in bed, and when to remain in bed, even if wide awake, so as to give the host time to recuperate after an eventful night; when to be neither seen nor heard, and when to be seen but not heard; when to serve and when to be served; when to enter a room, and when to withdraw therefrom; when to arrive and when to depart. The positive interaction between guest and host can perhaps best be likened to the chemistry shared amongst members of a jazz ensemble, who, by instinct and practice, know how, when, and where to complement each other.  And like a musical score, with its bass and treble clefs, each separate and distinct, yet enhancing the other, such should be the relationship between host and guest, each knowing his role. A guest, no matter how intimate or familiar, is always a guest. And he must always be cognizant of that fact, conducting himself accordingly.

A good house guest should bring joy to his host, be easy to accommodate, respect the host and his property, and help to create an overall positive experience during the visit. The guest’s presence should, at worst, only marginally inconvenience the host and, preferably, should enhance the life of the host. A good house guest puts himself “in the shoes of his host” before speaking, acting, and interacting.

The Gift

In Italy it is said that guests should knock on the door with their feet, meaning that their hands should be laden with gifts. Even a hostess who insists that her sleepover guest not bring a gift appreciates a gift—especially if it is something that she would have purchased for herself.

A gentleman-guest, even an impromptu one, should choose his gift carefully, for truly, when it comes to gifts for a host or hostess, it is the thought that counts. The proverbial “man who has everything,” for example, is much more likely to be appreciative of a basket of hand-selected, exotic fruits than a fine, silk tie. And a single mother of three would probably find a board game presented as a gift for her children more meaningful than a famous eau de parfum for her.

Sharing a Bed

Sharing a bed, whether with a lover or a friend, is an immensely intimate, potentially bonding experience and should be conducted with utmost dignity and respect. The guest should regard the invitation not only as one of the ultimate expressions of hospitality, but also of trust. People are perhaps most vulnerable when they sleep. And to be invited into another’s private sleep space is one of the highest honors a host can bestow upon his guest. One of the first acknowledgments of that honor, then, is for the guest to pay particular attention to hygiene since his lack thereof may adversely impact his host. (See chapter on Hygiene). Bathing, brushing one’s teeth, applying moisturizer to the skin, and grooming one’s hair prior to entering a shared bed are absolutely necessary. Dressing (or undressing!) according to the degree of intimacy is also required. If pajamas are appropriate, they should be clean, fit properly, and be well-designed. When the degree of intimacy allows for the guest to sleep in his underwear, he should make sure his underwear are clean and flattering to his physique.  And proper comportment once in the bed is also required. The guest should be sure to notify his host of any sleep peculiarities or abnormalities such as snoring, sleepwalking, sleep-talking, excessive restlessness, etc., which may adversely impact the host’s restful sleep. And if the guest feels relatively certain that the host will not be able to obtain a restful sleep if his bed is shared, the guest should politely refuse the offer to share the bed, sleeping, instead, elsewhere in the home.

Sharing a Bathroom

Bathrooms are private spaces, and activities of a private nature take place in them. Bathrooms tend to be relatively small and are sometimes cluttered with the personal toiletry effects of the host. It is imperative, therefore, that a guest not further invade his host’s private space by setting out personal toiletries as if “setting up shop” in the bathroom. Instead, a gentleman-guest should keep all his toiletries—his toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush and comb, cologne, shaving equipment, etc.—in his portable toiletry kit, taking the kit to and from the bathroom with each use. Besides, a gentleman who is equipped with his own toiletry kit will have no reason, whether out of necessity or curiosity, to open his host’s medicine cabinet, thereby further invading the privacy of his host.

After showering or bathing, a gentleman must make certain that the tub or shower stall is rinsed clean of body hair. Also, the toilet rim and seat should be wiped clean before and after use; the vanity  mirror, top, and wash basin should be wiped clean and dry; and the floor should be left dry and safe for any subsequent occupant.

Sharing a Kitchen

Very few people enjoy washing their own dishes, let alone someone else’s. And one of the primary reasons people go through the trouble of keeping their kitchens clean is because living with a filthy kitchen is even worse. Besides, according to conventional wisdom, a messy kitchen may contribute to depression.

When visiting a home that is not equipped with an automatic dishwasher or is not staffed with kitchen personnel, it is imperative that a gentleman wash whatever dishes he uses immediately after using them unless specifically instructed not to by the host. If the home is equipped with an automatic dishwasher, a gentleman should place his dishes neatly into the machine after they have been pre-washed (by hand) of any food residue.

When Visiting a Group House

Successfully visiting a group house requires mastering the art of not being seen—except by one’s host. As unimposing as a guest may be, at least some of the housemates of a group house are going to prefer that the guest were not present at all, for a group-house guest is simply one more person to have to see first thing in the morning, one more person to have to contend with over the use of the bathroom, and one more thing to have to deal with, overall.

It is the responsibility of the housemate who invites a guest to inform the fellow housemates, reasonably in advance, that he is having a guest—even if the guest will sleep in the bedroom of the invitor and spend most of his time in the invitor’s “private” space. The housemate-host should discuss common-area schedules with his housemates, relaying that information to his guest so that the guest can accommodate and arrange himself around the established schedules of the house. The guest, for example, should be informed of bathroom, kitchen, and sitting room schedules so as not to infringe on housemates who are trying to use shared facilities, especially during the hectic morning hours before work and/or classes. Also, the housemate-host should inform his guest of particulars of the house:  keys, laundry facilities, lights, appliances, etc.

It is important that a guest in a group house—even in a single-gender house—be appropriately dressed when in common areas. He should, for example, don a bathrobe when en route to a from the bathroom for personal grooming. Walking about in underwear, even in the middle of the night en route to the bathroom, is unacceptable.  And, of course, a gentleman should keep his personal toiletries in his portable toiletry kit, not set them up in the bathroom as if he is yet another housemate. It is important that the guest leave the bathroom cleaner than encountered each time he uses it. (And, as such, it is important that cleaning and tidying supplies be readily and visibly available in the bathroom so that users may upkeep the room). Countertops, mirrors, and toilet lids and seats must be wiped clean; body hair must be rinsed down drains or wiped up with paper towel and placed into the trashcan or flushed down the toilet; and any personal item that does not have to be left in the bathroom (and there are very few) should be transported to and from the bathroom as needed. A guest in a group house must be mindful that his presence adds to an already high-stress environment.

If the guest is sleeping on a common-area sofabed, for example, it is best that he wake and restore the sofabed to its sofa position before housemates begin moving about the house in the morning. No housemate needs to tippy-toe around a slumbering house guest as the housemate is hustling out the house to get to work.

A group-house guest must pick up and clean up behind himself, regardless of the general practice of the house. Likewise, he must wash dishes immediately after using them.

It is best that a guest at a group house not stay beyond one week. A visit beyond one week is an imposition on the other housemates no matter what they may claim to the contrary. Any group-house guest who stays beyond a week should contribute proportionately to the joint expenses of the house.

When a gentleman stays at a group house, it is necessary that he present the members of the house with an appropriate gift. And one that is consumable is perhaps best:  a basket of fresh fruits; a bottle of excellent olive oil; a box of chocolates. If on a very tight budget, something interesting but inexpensive—such as a lottery ticket for an upcoming drawing presented to all the members of the house—would be thoughtful, fun, and potentially life-changing.

When Visiting A Typical Family Home

Very few typical family homes are equipped with a room designated for guests only. More often, a gentleman, especially a young man visiting the family home of a friend, will share his friend’s room or, alternatively, be offered a room that has been temporarily vacated by a family member in order to accommodate the gentleman. If the gentleman must share a bathroom under such circumstances, the same guidelines presented above for visiting a group house apply:  Wear proper attire en route to and from the bathroom; transport toiletries to and from the bathroom with each use; and leave the bathroom cleaner and neater than when encountered.  If a gentleman has been assigned a guestroom with a private bathroom, he may unpack his toiletries in the bathroom since only he will use the bathroom during his stay.

Whether sharing a room or occupying a designated guestroom, when being hosted in a typical home that is not staffed with domestic help, a gentleman must make his bed each morning—even if it is not his practice to do so in his own home.

A guest in a typical family home should arrive with a gift and send another, along with a hand-written thank-you note, within two or three days after departure. When appropriate, special thanks should also be extended to the member of the household who volunteered his bedroom in order to accommodate the guest.

When Visiting A Large Home With Separate Guest Accommodations

Some homes are designed and constructed specifically to accommodate guests separately for short or extended periods of time, the guest accommodations usually including such features as a private entrance and private sleeping, living, eating, and bathing areas. Guests at such homes are also frequently provided with service staff to assist with housekeeping and transportation. Such accommodations indicate the owner’s desire to provide privacy for his guest as well as to maintain privacy for himself. It is necessary, therefore, that a guest under such circumstances obtain, upon arrival or on a nightly basis, his host’s plans for their interactions:  engagements for meals, plans for sightseeing, upcoming soirees, etc.

If the home is staffed with service personnel, a gentleman need not make his bed in the morning. He should, however, display reasonable respect for his host by maintaining a general neatness in his guest accommodations.

Within two or three days after his departure, the gentleman-guest should send thank-you gifts and notes for his host and the key members of the service staff who provided for his hospitality.

Men’s Overcoats (in general) and Trenchcoats (in particular)

Men’s Coats

To a large extent, a man’s outerwear needs are determined by climate and his lifestyle. For a Caribbean gentleman, outerwear may amount to a good umbrella and, perhaps, a sturdy raincoat. But for a Canadian gentleman, a down-filled or fur-lined coat might be a necessity. Whether a man typically uses private or public transportation also influences the type of outerwear he must select:  A gentleman who must wait at bus stops and stand on subway platforms in cold weather will have different outerwear needs than a man who dashes about town and country (within the speed limit, of course!) in a private vehicle.

Overcoats (Top Coats, Greatcoats)

From times Biblical, coats have come in many colors. But today, they also come in many shapes and sizes to meet the varied needs of modern man. There are, for example, ponchos and parkas; trucker jackets and duffel coats; pea coats and the slightly longer bridge coat; polo coats and trench coats, etc., all designed for providing warmth, protection, and/or fashion.  But one thing is for certain:  Whenever a man wears a coat with his suit or with formal wear, that coat should be an overcoat (also called a “topcoat” or a “greatcoat,” depending on the weight of its fabric, the top coat being the lighter). With formal wear, a gentleman for whom money is no object might wear a black topcoat of vicuña or cashmere, perhaps with a collar/lapel of sable. But for everyday business wear, a number of fabrics—primarily wools—are appropriate. (In the 1920s and up until the 1940s and ’50s, some men of means would don fur coats; but by the 1990s, the practice—independent of the consciousness raised by animal rights activists—would come to be regarded as distastefully ostentatious. Today, a gentleman who wears fur would wear it as the lining of a coat of exquisite fabric, with, perhaps, only the collar/lapels of exposed fur; or he may wear a fabric coat with a collar/lapel of fur. But the days of gentlemen in full fur coats are gone—at least for the foreseeable future).

Whether a coat is single- or double-breasted, styled with peaked or notched lapels, or designed with raglan or set-in sleeves, for example, is a matter of personal taste and the degree of formalness desired. (A shawl collar or peaked lapel is more formal than a notched lapel, for example; and set-in sleeves are more formal—even if not more comfortable—than raglan sleeves).  But what is critical is that a gentleman procure his overcoat from a reputable outerwear establishment, which will likely only offer well-made garments of good-quality fabrics.

The best way to ensure the proper fit of an overcoat is to try on the coat over a properly fitting jacket since overcoats are designed and constructed to be worn over jackets.  A man who wears a 42L jacket, for example, would wear a 42L overcoat. The overcoat’s shoulders, therefore, would extend slightly beyond those of the jacket, and the sleeve length of the coat would extend beyond that of jacket by about one inch.

Trenchcoats

For a gentleman who must wear a suit or jacket in cold, rainy weather, a trenchcoat is a wardrobe essential. (In such weather, a gentleman in formal attire would not wear a trenchcoat over his tuxedo or tailcoat.  Instead, he would wear his black overcoat and protect himself from the elements with a black umbrella).   A trenchcoat is primarily a raincoat, generally constructed with a removable insulated lining. Ranging in length from mid-calf to above-the-knee, the traditional color is khaki, but olive drab is also popular. Waterproofed cotton gabardine, poplin, or drill are the traditional fabrics of choice.

Whether the trenchcoat (also “trench coat”) was first designed in the 1850s by John Emary of Aquascutum or in 1901 by Thomas Burberry is likely to remain a matter for debate for the foreseeable future. What is known for sure, however, is that in World War I, the coat served as a welcomed alternative to the traditional, heavy serge greatcoats that had proven too cumbersome in the trenches of previous wars.

 

The History of Tennis Shoes–from “sand shoes” to “plimsolls” to Nike “Air Jordans”

Tennis Shoes

To see 21st-century tennis shoes (also called “athletic shoes,” “sneakers,” and “rubbers”)—with their air pumps, spring-soles, motion-activated lights, design-it-yourself options, and silicone  implants—is to see state-of-the-art, cutting-edge footwear design at its best, merging form, function, and fashion. Since the 1970s, with the rise of sports medicine, the podiatric elements of sporting shoes have risen to new heights. But just the same, top fashion houses, drawing upon the general popularity of sneakers, have helped to bring the sporting shoe into mainstream fashion with little or no concern for sportsworthiness.

The origins of sneakers are humble ones.  The concept of the rubber-soled shoe is not a new one; it emerged almost 200 years ago as the result of the convergence of the Industrial Revolution, with its ideas of mass production; the invention of vulcanized rubber; and the use of canvas in shoe construction. By the 1830s, the Liverpool Rubber Company was manufacturing beach shoes, called “sand shoes,” with rubber soles and canvas uppers.  By the 1870s, the shoes were being called “plimsolls” (or “plimsoles”). They were relatively crude and had no left-foot, right-foot distinction.  And by the end of the 1800s, various rubber companies were producing sneakers, so called because a person wearing the comfortable shoes could go about unheard.  In 1908 Converse was established to manufacture rubber-soled shoes for men, women, and children.  Then, in 1915, the company started making shoes specifically for the sport of tennis. It was sometime thereafter that the generic term “tennis shoes” emerged. Twenty years later, in 1935, champion badminton player John Edward “Jack” Purcell designed for the B.F. Goodrich company special badminton shoes that provided protection and support on the court, thereby beginning the long tradition of athlete-endorsed sporting apparel and equipment). In 1916, Keds was established and became the first manufacturer of mass-produced, affordable sneakers. In 1920 German shoemaker Adi Dassler began making athletic shoes from his home. He would go on to establish Adidas eleven years later, and the rest is history…. It is said that Olympic star Jesse Owens wore Adidas shoes when he won his four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics.  Dassler’s brother Rudi would go on to found Puma, another major sporting-shoe company.

By the 1950s, led by film and style icons such as James Dean, sneakers had become mainstream for American teenagers, who viewed the shoe as a counter-culture expression. Dean donned sneakers, and teenagers followed in lockstep.

The 1970s saw sports-shoe specialization, with jogging, tennis, basketball, soccer, for example, each having sneakers specifically designed for the needs of the sport. Today, even sports such as skateboarding have their own sneakers.

Perhaps the defining moment in the history of athletic shoes occurred in 1985 when Michael Jordan’s  Nike “Air Jordans” became available to the public. The shoes would go on to become one of the most popular athletic shoes of all time. All the big companies, including Reebok, followed suit, offering lucrative endorsement contracts to well-known athletes of various sporting disciplines.

Today, 200 years after the modest beginnings of rubber-soled shoes, no gentleman’s wardrobe is complete without a pair of tennis shoes, whether designed and constructed for fashion, actual athletic use, or as a casual, comfortable, walking-shoe.

The World’s Most Luxurious Men’s Silk Underwear–Zimmerli of Switzerland

Silk Underwear by Zimmerli of Switzerland

Luxurious silk underwear and regular underwear serve different purposes. Regular underwear is worn to protect principal garments from perspiration and bodily soilure, and from deodorant residue, stains, and fragrances. In the cool months, regular underwear also provides additional warmth and protection from the elements. But the primary purpose of luxurious silk underwear is to delight the skin. And of all the world’s manufacturers of fine men’s silk underwear, Zimmerli of Switzerland (www.zimmerli.com ) is the most esteemed.

When Isaac William Lambs received the gold medal at the 1867 Paris Expo for the manually run, single-needle knitting machine he had invented the previous year, he had no idea that he was also “reinventing” the Zimmerli family of the tiny Swiss town of Aarburg. In 1871 Johann Jakob Zimmerli’s dyehouse goes bankrupt. And while searching for employment opportunities, he comes upon information in the newspapers about Lambs’ new knitting machine. Zimmerli encourages his wife Pauline Bäurlin Zimmerli to go to Basel, Switzerland to get training on the machine from one of Lambs’ agents. After some initial difficulty, Pauline masters the device, quickly learning how to knit fine hosiery and men’s socks. And the rest, as it is said, is history. Equipped with both knitting skills and business acumen, Pauline establishes a business that quickly grows, selling her products beyond the regional boundaries. Soon, additional employees are hired. Then, in 1874, in order to expand her product offerings, Pauline invents a two-needle knitting machine, which she has manufactured in the United States. The new machine enables her to create ribbed fabric and underwear, laying the foundation for an entire industry. Together with her stepson Adolf and son Oscar, Pauline expanded her business; and by 1876 she was selling her products at the Paris department store Le Bon Marché. But it was from 1880 onwards, when Oscar would travel to the United States and other parts of the world to collect orders for the company’s products, that the firm firmly begins establishing its international reputation. In 1888 Oscar bought the interest of his half-brother and establishes the company as an Aaburg-based corporation in 1889. Industry awards would soon follow: Zimmerli is awarded the gold medal at the 1889 World Expo; and in 1900, the company wins the Grand Prix as well as another golden award. In 1910, as a result of ongoing successes, the Aaburg factory is expanded, and the company receives a third gold medal at the Brussels World Expo.

Zimmerli, like many other companies, was ravaged by World War I. But through it all, the company remained committed to its origins: the production of fine men’s and women’s underwear. By the middle of the 1960s, Zimmerli had set up production facilities in France and had acquired a production site in Coldrerio, in the Swiss Canton of Tessin, a production site where, until today, seamstresses of the highest skill produce exquisite undergarments. Between 1992 and 1997, Walter and Hans Borner, cousins to the Zimmerlis, bought the company’s various divisions, concentrating their efforts on what distinguishes Zimmerli of Switzerland in the underwear industry: exquisitely constructed underwear, made of the noblest fibers. (In 1998, Zimmerli reestablished its commitment to the production of fine women’s underwear when it launched its “Donna” line to raved reviews). Today, Zimmerli, which sells its products in over 50 countries, is considered the world’s leader in men’s luxury underwear. In 2012, the company opened its free-standing flagship store on Paris’ prestigious Rue St. Honoré. And Zimmerli’s store-in-store presence at famed KaDeWe in Berlin is the template for the underwear company’s in-store boutiques in the world’s finest stores. By 2014, the company had opened 10 Zimmerli free-standing boutiques around the world, including Moscow, Salzburg, Macau, and Basel.

Zimmerli’s men’s 100% cotton underwear line, made of mercerized yarn, is extensive, encompassing long johns to briefs and everything in between. There is also a wool/silk collection for the cooler months. And the company’s “Business Class” line is constructed from a heavier-weight cotton fabric, giving the items a more substantial “hand.” Then there is the 100% silk collection, comprised of briefs, boxer-briefs, standard boxers, T-shirts, and tank tops. Zimmerli’s silk collection is intended to first and foremost pamper the skin of the wearer, not protect his principal garments. So unlike typical underwear, which is routinely discarded when they exhibit sufficient evidence of having performed their protective duties, the aim should be to keep luxurious silk underwear looking fresh and untarnished for many years. As such, a gentleman who wears silk T-shirts should use natural mineral salt deodorant so as to prevent his luxurious silk T-shirts from eventually acquiring those unsightly armhole stains that inevitably result from typical deodorant products. By using a stain-free deodorant product, the silk T-shirts, if otherwise cared for properly, will remain presentable for years.

The best way to care for silk underwear is to wash it by hand in cold water with a mild, residue-free detergent such as those formulated for hand-washing dishes. (Zimmerli recommends hand-washing with a detergent created for hand-washing garments, then adding a little transparent cider vinegar to the final rinse). After soaking in a soap-and-water solution for at least one hour, the underwear should be first washed inside-out, then right-side out, paying special attention to particularly soiled areas. Armholes, for example, should be carefully washed. After thoroughly rinsing in cold water, silk underwear should be allowed to drip-dry. Wringing should be avoided. Once dry, the garment should be loosely folded and stored on a flat shelf in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.

The Correct Way to Eat Bread at the Dining Table

Bread

If bread is at all served at a formal dinner, it will be placed onto the bread plate. Fastidious hosts and hostesses will oftentimes provide butter that has been molded into some decorative form, usually a flower or a stylized droplet. If the butter is presented individually wrapped in foil paper, however, a gentleman should use his fingers, aided by the tip of his butter knife if necessary, to open the foil wrapping, then use his butter knife to place the butter onto his bread plate. The foil wrapper should then be folded into a small square and placed onto the table, as inconspicuously as possible, to the upper left side of the bread plate. The foil wrapping should not be left in the plate.

The general rule is that an entire slice of bread should not be buttered all at once. And certainly, any of those miniature, baguette-type buns should not be halved, whether with butter knife or hand, and buttered! Instead, the portion of bread to be consumed should be broken off (or pinched off, depending on the texture of the bread) with the fingers, braced in the plate with the fingers, and buttered with the butter knife. Thereafter, the bread should be conveyed to the mouth, held in the fingers. However, in cases where hot breads such as muffins or cornbread are served, they may be buttered all at once since they are most enjoyable when the butter has melted into them. Once buttered,  the portion of the bread to be consumed may be broken off with the fingers and conveyed to the mouth, held by the fingers, or a portion may be cut off with the butter knife and conveyed to the mouth by the fingers.

In American-style eating, a portion of bread, held in the fingers of the left hand, may be used as a “bracer”: The fork, held in the right hand, is used to move difficult-to-gather food items, such as grains of rice or peas, towards the portion of bread so as to be able to stabilize them against the bread to be collected onto the upwards-facing tines of the fork.  In American-style eating, bread may also correctly be used as a “pusher” and as an “absorber.”  As a “pusher,” a portion of bread is held in the fingers of the left hand and used to “push” small food particles, such as grains of rice, onto the fork, which is held in the right hand. The bread used to “push” is then conveyed to the mouth with the fingers of the left hand and eaten. (And, of course, what has been “pushed” onto the fork is conveyed to the mouth via the fork, held in the right hand. Whether the “pusher-bread” or the forkful is consumed first is a matter of personal choice). When bread is used as an “absorber,” it is held in the fingers of the left hand to absorb sauces and gravy, for example, the moistened portion of bread conveyed to the mouth with the fork, not with the fingers.

What a Gentleman Should Know About Ballet–one of the luxurious performing arts of the world

Ballet

Court Ballet

The French word “ballet,” adopted into the English language in the 17th century, derives from the Italian word “balleto,” the diminutive of “ballo,” meaning “dance.” And “ballo” derives from the Italian verb “ballare,” “to dance.” But any modern-day student or connoisseur of ballet knows that most of the art form’s vocabulary is from the French, not the Italian, language: pas de deux (a dance for two people); pirouette (a complete turn of the body on one foot); plié (a bending of the knees, with the knees wide open and the feet turned outward), for example. That is because while ballet originated as an art form in Renaissance Italy, it was in France, during the middle of the 17th century, that the genre formalized, ballet’s terminology thereafter remaining largely French, with dancers around the world today communicating with a now-universal, French-derived vocabulary. The valiant Italians, however, would not give up without a fight. So even if they did not have the final word on the art form to which they gave birth, they certainly kept its most important, for “ballerina” is Italian for “little dancer,” and what would ballet be without its ballerinas?

The precursors of ballet were lavish, elaborate, entertainment spectacles performed at the courts of 15th -century Italy. The performances typically included painting (in the set-designs), poetry, music, and dance and oftentimes took place in large halls as entertainment at weddings and banquets. A dance performance in 1489 occurred between the courses of a banquet, the action closely related to the menu: The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece was preceded by a dish of lamb, for example. In those early years, the dancers—the nobles themselves—would base their performances on the popular social dances of the day.

When in 1533, at age 14, Italy’s Catherine de’ Medici married Henry, the second son of King Francis I of France, she took with her to France her homeland’s custom of the dance performance. And in France, the nascent art form was nurtured. Henry would go on to become King Henry II of France in 1547, Catherine his queen consort.

At the French court, Catherine, a great patron of the arts, began funding ballet. And her spectacular festivals encouraged the growth of ballet de cour (court ballet), a system that consisted of dance, décor, costume, song, music, and poetry. The first ballet for which a complete score survives, Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (The Queen’s Ballet Comedy), was performed in Paris in 1581. Directed by Balthazar de Beaujoyeux, a violinist and dance master at the court of Queen Catherine de’ Medici, the dancers were aristocratic amateurs, with the royal family, situated upon a dais, viewing the performance from one end, while courtier-spectators were situated in galleries on three sides, looking down onto the dance floor, thereby witnessing the choreography and its elaborate floor patterns created by the lines of dancers and groups of dancers. Poetry and song enhanced the dances.

But if the court ballet got its start under the reign of Catherine de’ Medici, it was during the reign (1643-1715) of Louis XIV that the genre reached its apex. Also known as The Sun King, Louis XIV’s illustrious moniker was actually derived from a role he danced at the tender age of 14 in a ballet—Ballet de la Nuit (Ballet of the Night) (1653), which is believed to have lasted 12 hours, from sunset on one day, to sunrise the following morning. And just one year later, in 1654, the young king danced in a court ballet, Les Nopces de Pelée et de Thétis (The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis), in which, in the opening scene, he appears as Apollo surrounded by the nine muses—the female roles danced by actual women, thereby marking the first time in the history of ballet that women had performed on stage. (Prior to that groundbreaking event, it was considered inappropriate for women to expose their ankles, let alone their legs!) King Louis’ appearance on stage with the muses served as the precedent for noble men and women to dance together in the ballet du cour.

Many of the ballets presented at Louis’ court were created by Italian-French composer Jean Baptiste Lully and French choreographer Pierre Beauchamp, the man to whom the establishment of the five feet positions of ballet is attributed.

Most of the 16th – and early 17th -century court ballets were comprised of dance scenes connected by a minimum of plot. And because they were performed primarily for aristocratic audiences, sumptuous costumes (oftentimes cumbersome and restrictive), scenery, and sophisticated theatrical effects were employed.

By the middle of the 1600s, the proscenium stage had been adopted in France. Ballet, then, left the confines of courtly halls and went into public spaces, even if the audiences were still primarily of the privileged classes. And on the public stage, the concept of the professional dancer emerged.

One of the greatest leaps towards ballet’s advancement as a dance form was the 1661 establishment by Louis XIV of the Academie Royale de Danse (which would later become Paris Opera Ballet), a professional organization of dancing masters, its aim being not only to teach dance technique, but also social etiquette, thereby integrating dance, elegance, and manners. In 17th -century France, a gentleman was expected to be well versed in riding, fencing, and dancing. And Louis was known as the consummate dancer and supporter of ballet.

The Emergence of Women as Ballet Dancers

The king stopped dancing in 1670, after 75 roles in 26 performances, and his courtiers followed suit, thereby signaling the changing of the guards from court ballet to professional dancing. In the beginning, all professional ballet dancers were men, with men in masks and women’s garb dancing female roles. But in 1681, in a ballet titled Triomphe de l’Amour (The Triumph of Love), the first professional female ballet dancer, Mademoiselle Delafontaine (ca. 1655 – 1738), her first name lost to history, made her debut.

By the year 1700, as evidenced by Raoul-Auger Feuillet’s book titled Choreographie, many of the steps and positions recognizable today as ballet had already been established. Commissioned by King Louis to create a system of dance notation (comparable to how music is notated on paper), Feuillet, with the aid of the work laid down earlier by Beauchamp, established a system that could be written down in symbols, printed, and disseminated, allowing for choreography to “recorded” and recreated in an era prior to film and video recordings. [Other dance notation systems, most notably Labanotation and Benesh Movement Notation, have since evolved].

The first decades of the 1700s also saw the emergence of opera-ballet, a theatrical form that placed equal emphasis on dancing and singing and usually consisted of a series of dances woven together by some common theme. One of the most famous opera-ballets, Les Indies Galantes (The Gallant Indies) (1735) by French composer Jean Phillipe, featured faraway, exotic lands and peoples.

The movements of 16th – and 17th -century dancers were restricted by masks, wigs, headdresses, and heeled shoes. Men oftentimes wore the tonnelet, a knee-length hoop-skirt, and women wore panniers. But around 1730 danse haute (“high dance”), with its jumps, allowed dancers to take to the air, thereby replacing danse basse (“low dance”), wherein dancers would move from one elegant pose to another. The 18th century is also the era when women began making their mark in ballet. Following in the footsteps of Delafontaine, French ballerina Marie-Thérèse de Subligny (1666 – 1735) became the first professional ballerina to appear in England. Françoise Prévost (ca. 1680 – 1741), with her expressive style, helped establish dramatic dance in the early days of the genre. She also was teacher of the two foremost professional ballerinas who would emerge to first threaten male dominance and virtuosity in ballet: Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo shortened her skirts and adopted heel-less dancing slippers so that she could better execute—and display—her magnificent jumps and footwork; and her rival, Marie Sallé, literally let her hair down, cast off the then-conventional corset, and donned Grecian-inspired garb to perform in her own ballet, Pygmalion (1734). It is unlikely that these trailblazing women, “the queens of ballet” as they would come to be called, were fully aware that they were making one small step for a woman, one giant leap for womankind. And it is also unlikely that they were aware that they were laying the cornerstones for Women’s Rights: Ballet (along with fashion modeling) is one of the few professions open to both women and men where women surpass their male counterparts in both financial, professional, and social reward.

Despite the presence of some prominent female dancers, during the second half of the 18th century, Paris’ opera was still dominated by male dancers, Italian-French virtuoso Gaétan Vestris (1729 – 1808) and his son Auguste Vestris, famous for his leaps and jumps, being two of the most celebrated. But women, too, were becoming known for their technical prowess: German-born Annie Heinel is credited as being the first female dancer to do double pirouettes. Meanwhile, outside Paris, choreographers were working to achieve more dramatic expression in ballet. In London, for example, John Weaver eliminated words, trying, instead, to convey dramatic action through dance and pantomime. And in Vienna, Austria, Franz Hilverding and his student Gasparo Angiolini experimented with dramatic themes and gestures. But arguably the most famous advocate of dramatic ballet was Frenchman Jean Georges Noverre. His Letters on Dancing and Ballets, published in 1760, served to influence choreographers during and after his lifetime. Noverre rebelled against the tendency towards artifice in opera-ballet, arguing that ballet could stand on its own two feet—as an independent art form. He was a proponent of the use of natural, easily understood movement, and insisted that all the elements of a particular ballet should work harmoniously to convey that ballet’s theme. He introduced ballet d’ action, a dramatic style of ballet that conveys a narrative through expressive, dramatic movement that reveals the relationships between characters. Noverre’s philosophy found fertile ground in Stuttgart, Germany, where he produced his most famous ballet, Medea and Jason (1763). As such, Noverre is regarded as the father of the narrative ballet that would be embraced by the 19th century.

Much of what is broadly regarded as “classical ballet” emerged in the first half of the 19th century, during the Romantic Period of literature, music, art, and dance. The artists of the era—Byron, Shelley, Keats, Géricault, and Chopin, for example—embraced themes of beauty, passion, love, nature, and the supernatural. In ballet, Romantic themes oftentimes involved the supernatural world of spirits and magic, filled with tragic encounters between mortal, terrestrial man and the supernatural female. Ballerina characters were almost always other-worldly: the sylph in La Sylphide, a supernatural creature who is loved and ultimately, even if inadvertently, destroyed by mortal man; the wilis in Giselle; the fairy in La Peri; and then later in the 19th century, as swan maidens in Swan Lake; more fairies in Sleeping Beauty; the shades in La Bayedere, for example. (One of the few flesh-and-blood female characters of the era was Swanhilda in Coppélia. And in 1836’s Le Diable Boiteux, in the dance the “cachucha,” Austrian dancer Fannie Eissler popularized a more earthy, sensuous character in the Spanish-style solo performed with castanets in hand. Eissler was also known for dancing stylized versions of national dances). Female characters were also oftentimes depicted as passive and fragile. So it was the logical and aesthetic extension that during the Romantic era, “point work,” dancing on the tips of one’s toes—as if floating or about to fly—became the norm for the ballerina. The ballerina of the era is oftentimes depicted as a woman not earthbound; she is almost, if not, weightless. So it was only fitting that that era would produce such ballet classics as La Sylphide (1832) and Giselle (1841). And, ironically, it was in the Romantic era that female dancers became dominant in the genre. Excellent male dancers such as Frenchmen Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-Leon were known for delivering stunning performances, but they were eclipsed by ballerinas such as Taglioni, Eissler, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito. The United States also produced two renowned ballerinas during the era: Augusta Maywood, and Mary Ann Lee, both of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Romantic Ballet and En Pointe Dancing

But en pointe dancing did not just occur one day out of thin air: Ballet had already existed for 200 years before toe shoes made their debut. The thing that, to a large extent, symbolizes ballet, was long in its evolution. And to a large extent, that evolution began with Marie Camargo (1710 – 1770) of the Paris Opera Ballet when she decided to remove the heels from her dancing shoes. Other dancers followed suit; and the new flat-bottomed slippers caught on quickly throughout the ballet community. (The flat-bottomed slippers worn during the 18th century were very much like the demi-point rehearsal and learning shoes that young ballerinas wear today). Secured to the feet with ribbons wrapped around the ankles, and pleated under the toes for a better fit, the flat slippers allowed for a full extension and enabled a dancer to use her entire foot. But with such types of slippers, dancers rose onto the balls of their feet or, on a few occasions during a performance, onto the tips of their toes. It was not until Charles Didelot’s 1795 invention of his “flying machine” that lifted dancers upward, allowing them to stand on their toes just before leaving the ground, that the notion of en pointe dancing gained footing as a dance technique. The lightness and ethereal quality achieved by use of the device was well received by audiences, resulting in choreographers finding ways to incorporate more “point work” in their pieces. As the technical skills of dancers became more pronounced in the 19th century, dancers endeavored to display more point work—without the aid of the wires availed by the “flying machine.”

Dancing en point, as a ballet technique, was intimated in the 1828 treatise on ballet training and exercise by Italian choreographer Carlo Blasis (1797-1878), Code of Terpsichore. (The extant ballet exercise regimen of adagio, pirouettes, and allegro, and the dance pose “Attitude,” derived from the famous statue Mercury by Giovanni da Bologna, are attributed to Blasis). But who, exactly, was the first person to dance en pointe remains a mystery. Perhaps Camargo had done back in the 1700s. And there are newspaper references to various ballerinas with “fantastic toes.” In its earliest years, en-pointe dancing was probably viewed as a stunt. But in Paris in 1832, when Italy’s Marie Taglioni first danced the entire La Sylphide en pointe (clearly not the first occasion upon which she danced on her toes), she established that dancing en pointe was on its way towards becoming an artistic expression—a dramatic as well as technical feat.

In 1832, Taglioni’s dancing slippers were, in effect, nothing more than modified satin slippers with soles made of leather and with toes and sides darned to help maintain their shape. Because shoes of that era provided no significant structural support, dancers would pad their own shoes and rely on the strength of the feet and ankles for support. Nonetheless, Taglioni, because of her grace, seeming weightlessness, elevation, and style, went on to enjoy a brilliant career and countless adoring audiences. It is said that in Russia her fans so loved her that they cooked her slippers and ate them with sauce!

Dancers would continue using the rudimentary, Taglioni-type, “do-it-yourself” point shoes until the late 19th century when in Italy a shoe with a modified toe-section, the precursor to the toe box, emerged. Dancers such as Pierina Legnani—rather than wearing the earlier model shoe which featured a sharply pointed toe—were known for wearing shoes with a sturdy, flat platform at the front-end of the shoe. The new shoe design, a then-guarded trade secret of the Italian School, enabled dancers to accomplish spectacular technical feats such as multiple pirouettes. Eventually the shoes evolved in the 1880s to contain a toe-box, made of multiple layers of fabric, for containing the toes. A stronger, stiffer sole was also added. Constructed without nails, and with soles stiffened only at the toes, the shoes were almost silent. And as the shoe evolved, so did ballet as an art form, each advancing the other: the shoes enabled dancers to do more; and dancers, in turn, wanted more from their shoes. Because of the Romantic era’s preoccupation with the ethereal female, and because the pointe shoe served as the vehicle by which the female characters’ seeming immateriality could be achieved, pointe shoes never became part of male ballet dancing since during the Romantic period, it was the corporal, flesh-and-blood, corporal man—with his foot firmly on terra firma such that he could hoist his willowy female counterparts into the air—that was needed as the contrast.

The pointe shoe as it is known today is largely attributed to Anna Pavlova, the early 20th -century Russian ballerina, one of the most famous and influential dancers of her time. Because of her exceptionally high, arched instep and slender, tapered feet, which made her particularly susceptible to injury when dancing en point, she compensated for her impediment by inserting toughened leather soles into her slippers for extra support, and flattened and reinforced the toe area to form a “box.” The shoes worn by ballerinas during the early years of the 20th century would seem unfathomably soft by 21st -century standards. Fundamental to the development of ballet, then, was for the shoes to be stiffened and more sturdy in order to accommodate more sustained balances and multiple pirouettes.

Today, most pointe shoes are constructed of layers of satin stiffened with glue, with a narrow sole made of leather. But despite the advances over the centuries, ballet slippers, which must be at once flexible, soft, but sturdy, are short-lived: Point shoes last for two to 12 hours of steady dancing. (Shoes used for one-hour pointe classes, once per week, will endure three months. And a professional ballerina may expend a pair of shoes in one performance. As such, a professional ballerina can use 100 to 120 pairs of shoes in a dance year. Different roles also require different types of shoes: The rigorous role of the “Black Swan” in Swan Lake will require a strong shoe with copious support, while the role of the sylph in La Sylphide requires a more gentle shoe since the role calls for more jumps and less pirouettes).

In essence, though, the pointe shoe has remained fundamentally unchanged for the past 100 years. But recent developments have begun to appear as shoe companies such as Nike collaborate with dance professionals to create shoes the aim of which is to advance the art form while protecting the dancers’ most important asset: their feet. The first half of the 1800s—the early Romantic era, with its groundbreaking, bar-raising en pointe dancing—also ushered in the ballet costumes that are today iconic. The sylphs and spirits needed light, airy garments to convey their other-worldly immateriality. The romantic tutu, a calf-length, full skirt made of tulle, was introduced in La Sylphide and reprised in Giselle (and has remained a ballet staple ever since).

Classical Ballet

In Paris itself, during the late 19th century, ballet began to decline. Few notable ballets were produced at Opera. Poetic qualities yielded to virtuosic displays and spectacle. Male dancing was neglected. In Coppélia (1870), the principal male role was danced by a female.

In Denmark, however, the high standards in ballet established during the Romantic era were being maintained. Paris-trained Danish choreographer Bournonville established a system of training and created a large body of work, many of which are still performed by the Royal Danish Ballet, including a Danish version of La Sylphide. Russia also did its share to preserve high-level ballet during the second half of the 19th century, by 1850 establishing itself as the world’s foremost country of the genre. Chief choreographer for the Imperial Russian Ballet, Frenchman Marius Petipa, perfected the full-length, evening-long story ballet that incorporated set dances with mimed scenes. His The Sleeping Beauty (1890), and Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s Swan Lake (1895) and The Nutcracker (1892), all with music scores by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, represent classical ballet at its apex and in its grandest form. And one of the primary purposes of those works was to showcase classical technique—point work, high extensions, precision of movement, and “turn-out” (the outward rotation of the legs from the hip) in all its glory. Complicated sequences specifically choreographed to display prowess—demanding steps, leaps, and turns—were purposefully incorporated into the presentations. And, as such, the classical tutu, much shorter and stiffer than the romantic tutu, was introduced so that the ballerina’s legs and the intricacies of her footwork could be revealed.

By the 20th century, though, Petipa’s choreographic methods had been so imitated that they became formulaic. Enter: Mikhail Fokine (1880 – 1942), the groundbreaking Russian choreographer and dancer. Fokine advocated an evolution from the by-then-stereotypical ballet traditions, abandoning miming, outdated costumes, and virtuoso feats for their own sake. Instead, he was a proponent of more expressiveness and authenticity in choreography, scenery, and costumes. He realized his vision through Ballet Russes, a new company formed by Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Ballet Russes opened in Paris in 1909 and won immediate acclaim. Diaghilev joined forces with composer Igor Stravinsky on the ballet The Rite of Spring, a work so avant-garde and so different—with its dissonant music, unconventional movements, and theme of human sacrifice—that its debut caused the audience to riot. Ballet Russes immediately became synonymous with novelty and excitement, a reputation that would endure throughout the 20 years of the company’s existence. Male dancers were especially admired since by the early 20th century, male dancers had all but disappeared from the Paris ballet scene. Dancer Vaslav Nijinsky was one of the most esteemed. The company produced a wide range of works, including some one-act ballets featuring colorful themes derived from Russian or Asian folklore: The Firebird (1910); Scheherazade (1910); and Petrushka (1911).

Though most of Ballet Russes’ members were Russian, Diaghilev collaborated with Western European artists, composers, choreographers, and dancers such as Pablo Picasso, Maurice Ravel, Russian-born American George Balanchine, and Russian-born French dancer Serge Lifar. Together, they experimented with new themes and styles of movement. And offshoots of Ballet Russes established and revitalized ballet the world over: Renowned Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who danced for the company during its early seasons, formed her own company and toured internationally; Fokine lent his genius to many companies, including what would become the American Ballet Theater; Léonide Massine contributed extensively to Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, a company established after the death of Diaghilev; two former member of Ballet Russes, Polish-born British dancer Dame Marie Rambert and British dancer Dame Ninette de Valois, founded the British Ballet; De Valois also founded the company that would eventually become Britain’s Royal Ballet; Balanchine was invited to work in the United States by Lincoln Kirstein, a wealthy patron of the arts; and Lifar worked at the Paris Opera, influencing French ballet for many years.

The Genre Transformed

In the 1920s and ’30s, the genre of modern dance emerged in the United States and Germany. American dancers Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, and German Mary Wigman and others broke away from ballet to create their own expressive movement styles and to choreograph dances that were more closely tied to human realities. During the same period, ballet also aspired towards realism: German choreographer Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table (1932) was an antiwar ballet. Anthony Tudor developed “psychological ballet,” a genre that revealed the inner being of its characters. And just as ballet had informed modern dance, modern dance also expanded the movement vocabulary of ballet, especially in the use of the torso and in movements while lying or sitting on the floor. The 1930s also saw the emergence of the concept of “pure dance”—plotless ballets in which the primary inspiration was movement to music. (Balanchine’s Jewels [1967] is regarded as the first full-length ballet of this type). And Léonide Massine invented “symphonic ballet,” the aim of which is to, through dance movement, express the musical content of symphonies by German composers Beethoven and Brahms.

Ballet originated and evolved as an art form in Western Europe. And in the early 1900s, as cultures became more integrated primarily as a result of advancements in methods of transportation, there were concerted exclusionary efforts to maintain ballet as a Western European art form. Darwinist-type biological justifications were oftentimes proffered, claiming that the non-Caucasian races and types were physiologically unsuitable and incapable of achieving high standards in the genre. In the minds of some, ballet was, by definition, a European[-only] art form. By the 1950s, however, such notions were not only being challenged, but also tested and disproved. Ballet Nacional de Cuba was founded in 1948 by renowned Cuban-born ballerina Alicia Martinez Alonso, her husband Fernando, and his brother Alberto. After the 1959 revolution, the company and its school, the Cuban National Ballet School, began receiving national funding. The aim was to make the art form accessible to all Cubans. And to that end, each year the school combs the island-nation in search of young people with the makings of stardom: musicality, good body proportions, and the ability to learn dance steps. Today, the company performs all over the world and is widely regarded as one of the world’s premiere romantic and classical ballet companies, fusing the great ballet traditions of Italy, France, Russia, Denmark, and England with Cuban-derived approaches to the genre.

Likewise, Dance Theater of Harlem was co-founded in1969 by Arthur Mitchell, the first African-American principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, and Karel Shook, who had served as the first teacher and dance master of the Dutch National Ballet. The company is renowned as both the first black classical ballet company and the first major ballet company to feature black dancers in principal roles. In 1972 Homer Bryant, founder of Chicago’s Multicultural Dance Center, joined the company as one of its principal dancers.

Popular dance forms also influenced ballet: In 1944, American choreographer Jerome Robbins created Fancy Free, a ballet based on the jazz dance style that had developed in musical comedy.

Two great ballet companies were founded in New York City in the 1940s: American Ballet Theater; and New York City Ballet, the latter drawing many dancers from the School of American Ballet established in 1934 by Balanchine and Kirstein. And since the middle of the 20th century, ballet companies have been established across Canada and the United States, some of the most notable being National Ballet of Canada in Toronto (1951); Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal (1952); Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Ballet (1963); and the Houston Ballet (1963).

Beginning in 1956, Russian ballet companies such as the Bolshoi and Kirov began touring the West for the first time, giving compelling performances and leaving their audiences mesmerized on account of technical virtuosity and their intense dramatizations of emotions through movement. The impact of those tours would prove indelible. And the Russian influence on the world of ballet continues to this day, whether through performances from visiting companies or individual dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev, artistic director of the Paris Opera (1983 – 1989); prima ballerina and choreographer Natalia Makarova; and Mikhail Baryshnikov, director of the American Ballet Theater (1980 – 1989).

The 1960s witnessed a renewed popular interest in ballet as the genre began reflecting—both in theme and style—the influences of a younger audience. Popular music such as rock-and-roll and pop were used to accompany many ballets, and the “sport” element of dance, with its physical rigors and virtuosic expressions, was admired.

Today’s ballet repertoire offers great variety: New ballets and reinterpretations of older ones coexist; choreographers are keen on experimenting with new and traditional forms and styles; dancers are constantly seeking to expand their technical and dramatic range; manufacturers of dance equipment work closely with dancers in order to create products that allow for the advancement of dance; and because of the proliferation of air travel, the frequent touring of ballet companies allows audiences all over the world to experience the full array that modern-day ballet has to offer.

Ballet has undergone many transformations throughout its 500-year history, from an art form, the participation in which was limited to aristocratic men, to an art form dominated by women, to an art form open to any talented dancer, regardless of gender, race, color, or creed. What has remained constant throughout the transformations, however, is ballet’s appeal to gentlemen as one of the world’s great luxuries.