Old paper opens a window onto Toronto's rich performing arts life during the depths of the Great Depression
I came home from my trip to find a yellowed piece of newspaper on the balcony. Someone had torn out the movie and concert ads for late January.
The big movie is Mae West's She Done Him Wrong, which was released in 1933. Two performances in one venue on Jan. 27th means that it was 1934, when this would have been a Saturday. (Sunday was the city's big day off, when, I'm told, Eaton's department store would pull drapes across its window displays so that people walking home from church on Sunday would not be tempted to think of worldly goods.)
Among the options at the Eaton Auditorium, the city's recital hall of record in the day, are:
-Onegin "world premiere contralto" on Jan. 25, tickets $1, $1.50 and $2
-English Boy Choristers under conductor Carlton Borrow, Jan. 27 (25 to 75 cents)
-Myra Hess "penomenal English pianist" on Jan. 27 ($1 to $2)
-Ted Shawn "and Ensemble of Male Dancers" Jan. 29 (50 cents to $1.50)
-Dusseau "brilliant soprano" on Jan. 31 ($1-$2)
The world's finest came to Toronto even during the Great Depression. Today, a few days of performing arts programming would include a wide age range among the artists. I was struck how all the grown-up performers from January 1934 were in their mid-40s.
I was also struck by how ephemeral the work of performing artists is. Even though these people lived at a time of reasonably good recording technology, very few people watch or listen to what they left behind.
Even though we think we are recording and archiving today's performing arts for future generations, for the majority of the audience, it naturally is the living artist who holds the greatest appeal.
So, the concert listing turned into an opportunity to sample a ghost's gallery of past greats.
*Let's start with Swedish-born, German contralto Sigrid Onégin (1889-1943), who should have been billed as the world's premier contralto.
Here she is singing the famous aria from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice:
*The English Boy Choristers were the touring group of the 125-student London Choir School, which supplied the capital city's churches with choristers from 1915 to 1958. It was a brilliant idea, ensuring that every (Anglican) church could have a well-trained treble or two -- someone who would grow up to be an asset among adult singers. The Church of England subsidized the Choristers' world tours.
*Ted Shawn (1891-1972) was a key figure in the modern dance movement in the United States, and the founder of the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, which inaugurated its 78th season yesterday. Shawn founded the festival the summer before his troupe's performance at Eaton Auditorium.
Here's a clip of some tame choreography by Ted Shawn: "Choeur Danse," from 1926:
*The reference to the brilliant soprano is for Jeanne Dusseau, born in Scotland in 1893 as Ruth Cleveland. She studied voice, married Quebec baritone Lambert Dusseau in 1919, and spent much time singing in Canada. One of her early accomplishments was being cast as Princesse Ninette/Orange No. 3 in the premiere of Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges in Chicago, in Dec. 1921. After retiring from the stage, she taught in New York City and Washington, D.C. I couldn't find a death date.
Here is one of only two pieces of music she ever recorded commercially, the "Easter Hymn" from Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, in 1939:
*The last performances goes to British pianist Myra Hess (1890-1965). There is a simplicity to her interpretations that makes her deep, deep artistry seem effortless.
The first piece is a clip with conductor Humphrey Jennings from a World War II film that includes one of her many morale-boosting performances at the National Gallery in London. I've followed it with a moving live performance of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic in 1951 (note how noisy the audience is during the opening minute and in the final movement).
The closing clip is of her own transcriptions of Bach and Scarlatti, recorded in 1958.