Jun 292018
 

On this date in 1613, the Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was destroyed by fire caused by stage effects during a production of Henry VIII. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site, and was opened in June 1614. It was closed by an Ordinance issued on 6th September 1642. Examination of old property records has identified the plot of land occupied by the Globe as extending from the west side of modern-day Southwark Bridge Road eastwards as far as Porter Street and from Park Street southwards as far as the back of Gatehouse Square. However, the precise location of the building remained unknown until a small part of the foundations, including one original pier base, was discovered in 1989 beneath the car park at the rear of Anchor Terrace on Park Street. The shape of the foundations is now replicated on the surface. Because the majority of the foundation lies beneath 67—70 Anchor Terrace, a listed building, no further excavations have been permitted.

The Globe was owned by actors who were also shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage, owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Thomas Pope, owned a single share, or 12.5%. (Originally William Kempe was intended to be the seventh partner, but he sold out his share to the four minority shareholders, leaving them with more than the originally planned 10%). These initial proportions changed over time as new shareholders were added. Shakespeare’s share diminished from 1/8 to 1/14, or roughly 7%, over the course of his career.

The Globe was first built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre, simply known as The Theatre, which had been built by Richard Burbage’s father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. The Burbages originally had a 21-year lease on  the site where the theatre was built but owned the building outright. However, the landlord, Giles Allen, claimed that the building had become his with the expiry of the lease. On 28th December 1598, while Allen was celebrating Christmas at his country home, Peter Street, a carpenter, supported by the players and their friends, dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and transported it to Street’s waterfront warehouse near Bridewell. With the onset of more favorable weather in the following spring, the material was ferried over the Thames to reconstruct it as The Globe on some marshy gardens to the south of Maiden Lane in Southwark. While only a hundred yards from the congested shore of the Thames, the piece of land was situated close by an area of farmland and open fields. It was poorly drained and, despite its distance from the river, was liable to flooding at times of particularly high tide. A “wharf” (that is, levy) of raised earth with timber revetments had to be created to keep the building above the flood level. The new theatre was larger than the building it replaced, so that even though they used the older timbers as part of the new structure, the Globe was not merely the old Theatre newly set up at Bankside. It was probably completed by the summer of 1599, possibly in time for the opening production of Henry V and its famous reference in the Prologue to the performance crammed within a “wooden O”.

On 29th June 1613 the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII  when a theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching. According to one of the few surviving documents of the event, no one was hurt except a man whose burning breeches were put out with a bottle of ale. It was rebuilt in the following year. Like all the other theaters in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642. It was pulled down in 1644–45 to make room for tenements.

A modern reconstruction of the theatre, named Shakespeare’s Globe, opened in 1997, with a production of Henry V. It is an approximation of the original design, based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings, and is located approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre. The Globe’s actual dimensions are unknown, but its shape and size can be approximated given that scholars have been making conjectures for the past 200 years. The evidence suggests that the Globe was a three-storey, open-air amphitheater approximately 100 feet (30 m) in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators. The Globe is shown as round on Wenceslas Hollar’s sketch of the building, later incorporated into his etched Long View of London from Bankside in 1647. However, in 1988–89, the uncovering of a small part of the Globe’s foundation suggested that it was a polygon of 20 sides.

At the base of the stage, there was an area called the pit or yard, where, for a penny, people (the “groundlings”) could stand on a rush-strewn earthen floor to watch the performance. During the excavation of the Globe in 1989 a layer of nutshells was found, pressed into the dirt flooring. Vertically around the yard were three levels of seats, which were more expensive than standing room. A rectangular stage platform, known as an apron stage, thrust out into the middle of the open-air yard. The stage measured approximately 43 feet (13.1 m) in width, 27 feet (8.2 m) in depth and was raised about 5 feet (1.5 m) off the ground. On this stage, there was a trap door for use by performers to enter from the “cellarage” area beneath the stage.The back wall of the stage had two or three doors on the main level, with a curtained inner stage in the center (although not all scholars agree about the existence of this supposed “inner below”), and a balcony above it. The doors entered into the “tiring house” (backstage area) where the actors dressed and awaited their entrances. The floors above may have been used as storage for costumes and props as well as management offices. The balcony housed the musicians and could also be used for scenes requiring an upper space, such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Rush matting covered the stage, although this may only have been used if the setting of the play demanded it.[23]

Large columns on either side of the stage supported a roof over the rear portion of the stage. The ceiling under this roof was called the “heavens,” and was painted with clouds and the sky. A trap door in the heavens enabled performers to descend using some form of rope and harness. The stage was set in the south-east corner of the building, so as to be in shade during afternoon performances in summer.

If you are used to plays on modern stages or on film, a play staged in the reconstructed Globe can be an eye opener I expect, but I treat such things as fodder for tourists rather than serious investigation into the Elizabethan stage. I spent decades studying original documents from Elizabethan times in my research concerning stage dances, and have no trouble reconstructing aspects of Elizabethan drama without having to have an actual theater built and real actors performing on it. What I can’t do – no one can – is recreate the living culture of Elizabethan England. You can find numerous YouTube videos about the experience of doing Shakespeare in the reconstructed Globe (including an excruciatingly large number that talk about “most unique” and “very unique” experiences – which drives me nuts). I expect actors can learn something about Elizabethan theater practices by acting in plain daylight with the audience at their feet, but they can get a similar experience by performing at an outdoor rock concert. And . . . modern actors are playing to modern audiences. These audiences are all attentive and engaged by the reconstruction. Elizabethan audiences were nowhere as easy to please. When they disliked an actor they threw things at him as well as booing and jeering. Elizabethan audiences shouted comments at the actors, and all the actors were male. The women’s parts were played (mostly) skillfully by boys and young men. They were so good, in fact, that one Elizabethan courtier who saw women playing women part’s in Italy wrote back home saying that they were surprisingly good – almost as good as English boys !!! Elizabethan audiences did not have all the movie special effects that we are bombarded with, and sated by. The effect that burned the Globe down would have been a real marvel to them, and, as Henry V’s prologue tells us, they had to use their imaginations so much more. In the video above, I like the playful cutting between the Elizabethan stage and modern movie effects. It makes my point.

The Globe has, I am glad to say, experimented with Elizabethan pronunciation of the lines, and this video is instructive:

Just as we cannot recreate the world of Elizabethan theater, we cannot really duplicate Elizabethan cooking because we do not have their skills, their tastes, their kitchens, nor their ingredients. We do have their recipes, however, and we can make a stab at them. I have talked about the pitfalls of trying to recreate historic dishes from contemporary recipes many times before. This site gives all the recipes from Thomas Dawson’s Good huswifes jewell (1587). The printed title is, The good husvvifes ievvell VVherein is to be found most excellent and rare deuises for conceits in cookerie, found out by the practise of Thomas Dawson. Whereunto is adioyned sundry approued reseits for many soueraine oyles, and the way to distill many precious waters, with diuers approued medicines for many diseases. Also certaine approued points of husbandry, very necessarie for all husbandmen to know. The recipes are given in slightly modernized spelling, so they are a bit easier to read than the original, but the instructions are skimpy. Here, for example, is a bread recipe:

To make fine bread.

TAke halfe a pound of fine suger well beaten, and as much Flower, and put thereto foure Egges whites, and being very wel beaten, you must mingle them with Anniseedes bruised, and being all beaten together, put into your mould melting the sawce ouer first with a litle butter, and set it in the Ouen, & turne it twice or thrice in the baking.

This looks more like an angel cake than bread, but worth a try. This recipe for veal breast is also a little cryptic:

To make a pudding in a breast of Veale.

TAke Peresely, Time, washe them, pricke them, and choppe them small, then take viii. yolkes of egges grated bread and halfe a pint of creame beeing verie swéete, then season it with Pepper, Cloues, and Mace, Saffron, and Sugar smal Raisons and Salt, put it in and Roste it and serue it.

I am assuming that you make up this mixture, wrap a breast of veal around it, and roast it. In other words, it is a kind of stuffing.

Mar 052018
 

On this date in 1963 Arthur “Spud” Melin, co-founder of WHAM-O, received U.S. Patent Number 3,079,728 for the company’s version of the hula hoop. The hula hoop can scarcely be said to be a modern invention. There have been various records of waist hooping for exercise, dance, and recreation from numerous cultures throughout history. Before it was known and recognized as the common colorful plastic toy (sometimes with water or sand inside the actual hoop), the traditional “hula hoop” used to be made of dried willow, rattan, grapevines, or stiff grasses. Even though they have existed for thousands of years, they are often misunderstood as having been invented in the 1950s. According to Charles Panati, there was a craze of using wooden and metal hoops in 14th-century England. He reports that doctors treated patients suffering from pain and dislocated backs due to hooping − and heart failure was even attributed to it. Panati also says that the name “hula” came from the Hawaiian dance in the 18th century, due to the similar hip movements.

The Native American Hoop Dance is a form of storytelling dance incorporating anywhere from 1 to 30 hoops (sometimes more) as props. These props are used to create both static and dynamic shapes, which represent various animals, symbols, and storytelling elements. The dance is generally performed by a solo dancer with multiple hoops.

The hula hoop gained international popularity in the late 1950s, when the plastic version was successfully marketed by California’s WHAM-O toy company. In 1957, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, starting with the idea of Australian bamboo “exercise hoops”, manufactured 1.06-metre (42 in) hoops with Marlex plastic. With giveaways and national marketing and retailing, a fad was started in July 1958. 25 million plastic hoops were sold in less than four months, and in two years, sales reached more than 100 million units. Carlon Products Corporation was one of the first manufacturers of the hula hoop. During the 1950s, when the hula hoop craze swept the country, Carlon was producing more than 50,000 hula hoops per day. The hoop was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York, in 1999. The hula hoop craze swept the world, dying out again in the 1980s, but not in China and Russia, where hula hooping and hoop manipulation were adopted by traditional circuses and rhythmic gymnasts.

Recently, there has been a re-emergence of hula hooping, generally referred to as either “hoopdance” or simply “hooping” to distinguish it from the children’s play form. The jam band The String Cheese Incident is widely credited with fostering a renewed interest in hooping. Band members started throwing larger adult-sized hoops into their audiences in the mid-1990s, encouraging their fans to hoop and dance, spreading the word and the fun.It wasn’t until 2003 with the launch of Hooping.org that these small bands of hoopers began to find each other online and a real community and movement began to grow. Bay Area Hoopers began in San Francisco at that time holding regular “hoop jams” with music to hoop to and the hooping group began being replicated in cities around the world. In 2006 Hoopin’ Annie had the idea to create a hooping holiday and the first World Hoop Day was held in 2007. Modern hula hooping is seen at numerous festivals and fairs in the USA, UK, Australia and Europe.

Many modern hoopers make their own hoops out of PVC piping, or polypropylene tubing (known as polypro). The polyethylene hoops, and especially the polyvinyl chloride hoops, are much larger and heavier than hoops of the 1950s. The size and the weight of the hoop affect the style of the hooper. Heavier, larger hoops are more often used for beginner dancers and easier tricks, while lighter, thinner tubing is used for quick hand tricks. These hoops may be covered in a fabric or plastic tape to create more of a visual image and distinguish between the hoop and dancer. Gaffer Tape is also used to line the inside of a hula hoop to add grip or when using a bare hula hoop it can be roughened by using sandpaper. Some use glow-in-the dark, patterned, or sparkling tape, and others are produced with clear tubing and are never filled with materials (usually hoops for children are filled with an array of materials). LED technology has also been introduced in the past few years, allowing hoops to light up at the flick of a switch or a remote control. Programmable ‘Smart Hoops’ are available which provide a range of special effects and some can even be customized through an application on a mobile device.

There are thousands of YouTube videos on hooping. I won’t waste disk space with an embedded one. This is typical: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdIqYbRxldU

Given that hula is a Hawaiian dance, a Hawaiian recipe seems suitable, and since hooping is physically challenging why not try making Hawaiian poi (mashed taro root) in the traditional way? Here’s a video for you.

Jan 232018
 

Today is the birthday (1910) of Jean “Django” Reinhardt, Belgian-born Romani jazz guitarist, regarded as one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century, and considered to be the first jazz talent to emerge from Europe. He was especially remarkable because only two fingers on his left hand were functional following an injury in a fire. With violinist Stéphane Grappelli, Reinhardt formed the Paris-based Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934. The group was among the first to play jazz that featured the guitar as a lead instrument.

Reinhardt was born in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, into a Belgian family of Manouche Romani descent. His father was Jean Eugene Weiss, but living in Paris with his wife, he went by Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt, his wife’s surname, to avoid French military conscription. Django’s mother, Laurence Reinhardt, was a dancer. His birth certificate refers to “Jean Reinhart, son of Jean Baptiste Reinhart, artist, and Laurence Reinhart, housewife, domiciled in Paris.” A number of authors have repeated the claim that Reinhardt’s nickname, Django, is Romani for “I awake.”  However, it may also simply have been a diminutive, or local Walloon version, of “Jean.” Reinhardt spent most of his youth in Romani encampments close to Paris, where he started playing the violin, banjo, and guitar. His father reportedly played music in a family band comprising himself and seven brothers.

Reinhardt was attracted to music at an early age, first playing the violin. At the age of 12 he received a banjo-guitar as a gift. He quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of musicians he watched, who would have included local virtuoso players of the day such as Jean “Poulette” Castro and Auguste “Gusti” Malha, as well as from his uncle Guiligou, who played violin, banjo and guitar. Reinhardt was able to make a living playing music by the time he was 15. He received little formal education and acquired the rudiments of literacy only in adult life.

At the age of 17 Reinhardt married Florine “Bella” Mayer, a girl from the same gypsy settlement, according to gypsy custom (although not an official marriage under French law). The following year he recorded for the first time. On these recordings, made in 1928, Reinhardt plays the “banjo” (actually the banjo-guitar) accompanying the accordionists Maurice Alexander, Jean Vaissade and Victor Marceau, and the singer Maurice Chaumel. His name was now drawing international attention, such as from British bandleader Jack Hylton, who came to France just to hear him play. He offered him a job on the spot, and Reinhardt accepted.

Before he had a chance to start with the band, however, he nearly lost his life when the caravan he and his wife lived in caught fire when he knocked over a candle on his way to bed. To supplement their income, his wife made artificial flowers from extremely flammable celluloid. They caught fire, engulfing the wagon in flames almost immediately. Reinhardt dragged himself and his wife through the fire to safety, but suffered extensive burns on his left hand and other areas. He received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralyzed, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again, and they intended to amputate one of his legs. Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time; he was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane.

Lousson

Two of his fingers remained paralyzed. By sheer force of will, he taught himself to overcome his now permanent disability by using only his thumb and two fingers on his left hand. In 1929, his wife gave birth to a son, Henri “Lousson” Reinhardt. As a result of the trauma and injuries, he and Bella parted company soon after. His son later took the surname of his mother’s new husband, Baumgartner. He later recorded with Django. Django’s brother, Joseph Reinhardt, also an accomplished guitarist, bought him a new guitar, and with rehabilitation and practice, he re-learned his craft in a completely new way. He played all his guitar solos with only the index and middle fingers and used the two injured fingers only for chord work.

The years between 1925 and 1933 were formative for Reinhardt, personally and musically. He had parted with his wife and had formed a relationship with one of his distant cousins, Sophie Ziegler, nicknamed “Naguine.” They traveled throughout France with Reinhardt getting occasional jobs playing at small clubs. He was playing all types of music but began to appreciate American jazz a little during this period, when an acquaintance, Émile Savitry, played him a number of records from his collection. It was the first time Reinhardt heard leading American jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The new sounds gave Reinhardt a vision and goal of becoming a jazz professional.

He later met Stéphane Grappelli, a young violinist with similar musical interests. In the absence of paid work in their radical new music, the two would jam together, along with a loose circle of other musicians. Finally, Reinhardt acquired his first Selmer guitar in the mid-1930s. He used the volume and expressiveness of the instrument as integral elements of his style. From 1934 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Reinhardt and Grappelli worked together as the principal soloists of their newly formed Hot Club, in Paris. It became the most accomplished and innovative European jazz group of the period. Reinhardt’s brother Joseph and Roger Chaput also played on guitar, and Louis Vola was on bass. The Quintette du Hot Club de France was one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of stringed instruments.

In Paris on 14 March 1933, Reinhardt recorded two takes each of “Parce-que je vous aime” and “Si, j’aime Suzy”, vocal numbers with lots of guitar fills and guitar support. He used three guitarists along with an accordion lead, violin, and bass. In August 1934, he made other recordings with more than one guitar (Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Chaput, and Django), including the first recording by the Quintette. In both years the great majority of their recordings featured a wide variety of horns, often in multiples, piano, and other instruments, but the all-string instrumentation is the one most often adopted by emulators of the Hot Club sound.

Reinhardt also played and recorded with many American jazz musicians, such as Adelaide Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Rex Stewart (who later stayed in Paris). He participated in a jam session and radio performance with Louis Armstrong. Later in his career, Reinhardt played with Dizzy Gillespie in France. Also in the neighborhood was the artistic salon R-26, at which Reinhardt and Grappelli performed regularly as they developed their unique musical style.

In 1938 the Quintet played to thousands at an all-star show held in London’s Kilburn State auditorium. A few weeks later the quintet played at the London Palladium. When World War II broke out, the original Quintet was on tour in the United Kingdom. Reinhardt returned to Paris at once, leaving his wife in the UK. Grappelli remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war. Reinhardt re-formed the Quintet, with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet replacing Grappelli.

In 1943, Reinhardt married Sophie “Naguine” Ziegler in Salbris. They had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who later became a respected guitarist in his own right. Thanks to his renowned music talent, Reinhardt survived the war unscathed, unlike many Gypsies who were interned and killed in the Porajmos, the Nazi regime’s systematic murder of several hundred thousand European Gypsies. His survival is a little surprising, however, given the Nazi regime’s general hostility to jazz. Because Reinhardt and his family were Gypsies, and he was also a jazz musician, he tried to escape from occupied France with his family. After his first attempt, he survived when a secretly jazz-loving German, Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, let him go back to France after he was captured. But still desperate to get out of France, knowing that Gypsies were being rounded up and killed in concentration camps, he tried again to cross into Switzerland a few days later, this time in the dead of night. But he was stopped by Swiss border guards who forced him to return to Paris. Since the Nazis officially disapproved of jazz, Reinhardt tried to develop other musical directions. He tried to write a Mass for the Gypsies and a symphony (he worked with an assistant to notate what he was improvising). His modernist piece Rhythm Futur was intended to be acceptable.

After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK. In the autumn of 1946, he made his first tour in the United States, debuting at Cleveland Music Hall as a special guest soloist with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. He played with many notable musicians and composers, such as Maury Deutsch. At the end of the tour, Reinhardt played two nights at Carnegie Hall in New York City; he received a great ovation and took six curtain calls on the first night.

Despite his pride in touring with Ellington (one of two letters to Grappelli relates his excitement), he was not fully integrated into the band. He played a few tunes at the end of the show, backed by Ellington, with no special arrangements written for him. After the tour, Reinhardt secured an engagement at Café Society Uptown, where he played four solos a day, backed by the resident band. These performances drew large audiences. Having failed to bring his usual Selmer Modèle Jazz, he played on a borrowed electric guitar, which he felt hampered the delicacy of his style. He had been promised jobs in California, but they failed to develop. Tired of waiting, Reinhardt returned to France in February 1947.

After his return, Reinhardt re-immersed himself in Gypsy life, finding it difficult to adjust to the postwar world. He sometimes showed up for scheduled concerts without a guitar or amplifier, or wandered off to the park or beach. On a few occasions he refused to get out of bed. Reinhardt developed a reputation among his band, fans, and managers as extremely unreliable. He skipped sold-out concerts to “walk to the beach” or “smell the dew.” During this period, he continued to attend the R-26 artistic salon in Montmartre, improvising with Grappelli.

In 1951, Reinhardt retired to Samois-sur-Seine, near Fontainebleau, where he lived until his death. He continued to play in Paris jazz clubs and began playing electric guitar. (He often used a Selmer fitted with an electric pickup, despite his initial hesitation about the instrument.) In his final recordings, made with his Nouvelle Quintette in the last few months of his life, he had begun moving in a new musical direction, in which he assimilated the vocabulary of bebop and fused it with his own melodic style.

While walking from the Avon railway station after playing in a Paris club, he collapsed outside his house from a brain hemorrhage. It was a Saturday and it took a full day for a doctor to arrive. Reinhardt was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau, at the age of 43.

This video is a documentary (in French with English subtitles) showing Django playing and some old photos of him with his family.

Reputedly, Django’s favorite food was niglos (hedgehogs), and there are newspaper reports of him having Parisian chefs prepare them for him during the war, and having fellow diners comment that he was taking wartime rationing too far. It’s really not just urban legend that Gypsies eat hedgehogs. Even though I have Gypsy heritage through my maternal line, I am too much of a sentimentalist to eat hedgehog (or give a recipe). I can’t quite explain the aversion. I eat just about everything the walks, crawls, swims, or flies. Somehow hedgehogs are over the line for me. I’ll eat a bunny in a heartbeat – even at Easter – but hedgehogs are too cute to consider eating them.

There are few authentic and traditional Gypsy recipes available because historically they have been tight lipped about their culture. I discuss this issue a little here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/international-day-of-the-roma/  The yog (communal fire seen in the video) is used for cooking: stewing in pots, or roasting over the open flames.  Here’s a recipe for manriklo (pan fried bread). The herbs are simply recommendations. Traditional Gypsy encampments use whatever herbs are available wild. The knowledge of edible wild foods of traditional itinerant Gypsies is extensive. Lore about bread among Gypsies is also extensive.

Manriklo

Ingredients

1 cup flour
½ cup warm water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
½ tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
4 strips bacon, grilled and crumbled
olive oil

Instructions

Combine flour, salt, bacon, rosemary, and dill in a bowl.

Add warm water in small amounts until the dough is able to be worked, but is neither too wet or too dry. Add several drops of oil and knead the dough.

Divide the dough into small balls. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface or stretch it into a thin circle with your hands.

Coat the pan with oil and allow it to heat. Place the flattened dough in the pan when the oil sizzles. Flip the bread several times so that it cooks evenly. When the bread is ready, it should be raised, and slightly brown on both sides.

Nov 042017
 

On this date in 1737 the Real Teatro di San Carlo in Naples began performances with Domenico Sarro’s Achille in Sciro. San Carlo is the oldest continuously active venue for public opera in the world. Nowadays the opera season runs from late January to May, with a ballet season from April to early June. The house once had a seating capacity of 3,285, but has now been reduced to 1386 seats. San Carlo became the model for numerous theaters throughout Europe. The theater was commissioned by the Bourbon king Charles III of Naples because he wanted to endow Naples with a new and larger theatre to replace the old, dilapidated, and too-small Teatro San Bartolomeo of 1621, which had served the city well, especially after Scarlatti had moved there in 1682 and had begun to make Naples one of the major opera centers in Europe.

The new opera house was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano, a military architect, and Angelo Carasale, the former director of the San Bartolomeo. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium is the oldest in the world. It was built at a cost of 75,000 ducats. The hall was 28.6 meters long and 22.5 meters wide, with 184 boxes, including those of proscenium, arranged in six orders, plus a royal box capable of accommodating ten people, for a total of 1,379 seats. Including standing room, the theatre could hold over 3,000 people. The fastidious composer and violinist Louis Spohr reviewed the size and acoustic properties of this opera house very thoroughly on 15 February 1817 and concluded that:

There is no better place for ballet and pantomime. Military movements of infantry and cavalry, battles, and storms at sea can be represented here without falling into the ludicrous. But for opera, itself, the house is too large. Although the singers, Signora Isabella Colbran, [Prima Donna of the Teatro San Carlo opera company and Rossini’s future wife], and the Signori Nozzari, Benedetti, etc., have very strong voices, only their highest and most stentorian tones could be heard. Any kind of tender utterance was lost.

When it was opened, the opera house was much admired for its architecture, its gold decorations, and the sumptuous blue upholstery (blue and gold being the official colors of the Bourbons), and was, at the time, the biggest opera house in the world. In 1809 Domenico Barbaia was appointed manager of the royal opera houses in Naples and remained in charge until 1841. He soon established a reputation for innovative and dazzling productions, which attracted leading singers to the opera house. On 13 February 1816 a fire broke out during a dress-rehearsal for a ballet performance and quickly spread to destroy a part of building. On the orders of Ferdinand IV, of Charles III, Barbaia was able to rebuild the opera house within ten months. It was rebuilt as a traditional horseshoe-shaped auditorium with 1,444 seats, and a proscenium, 33.5m wide and 30m high. The stage was 34.5m deep.

On 12 January 1817, the rebuilt theatre was inaugurated with Johann Simon Mayr’s Il sogno di Partenope. Stendhal attended the second night of the inauguration and wrote: “There is nothing in all Europe, I won’t say comparable to this theatre, but which gives the slightest idea of what it is like…, it dazzles the eyes, it enraptures the soul…”

In 1844 the opera house was re-decorated, changing the appearance of the interior to the now-traditional red and gold. Apart from the creation of the orchestra pit, suggested by Verdi in 1872, the installation of electricity in 1890, the subsequent abolition of the central chandelier, and the construction of the new foyer and a new wing for dressing rooms, the theatre underwent no substantial changes until repair of the bombing damage in 1943.

When San Carlo was built, the Neapolitan School of opera enjoyed great success all over Europe, not only in the field of opera buffa but also in that of opera seria. Naples became the capital of European music and even foreign composers considered the performance of their compositions at the San Carlo theater as the pinnacle of their careers. Likewise, the most prominent singers performed and consolidated their fame at the San Carlo.

From 1815 to 1822, Gioachino Rossini was house composer and artistic director of the royal opera houses, including the San Carlo. During this period he wrote ten operas: Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (1815), La gazzetta, Otello, ossia il Moro di Venezia (1816), Armida (1817), Mosè in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraide (1818), Ermione, Bianca e Falliero, Eduardo e Cristina, La donna del lago (1819), Maometto II (1820), and Zelmira (1822). After the composition of Zelmira, Rossini left Naples.

To replace Rossini, Barbaja first signed up Giovanni Pacini and then another rising star of Italian opera, Gaetano Donizetti. As artistic director of the royal opera houses, Donizetti remained in Naples from 1822 until 1838, composing sixteen operas for the theatre, among which Maria Stuarda (1834), Roberto Devereux (1837), Poliuto (1838) and the famous Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), written for soprano Tacchinardi-Persiani and for tenor Duprez.

Giuseppe Verdi was also associated with the theater. In 1841, his Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio was performed there and in 1845 he wrote his first opera for the theater, Alzira; a second, Luisa Miller, followed in 1849. His third should have been Gustavo III, but the censor made such significant changes that it was never performed in that version nor under that title (until a re-created version was given in 2004). It was later performed in Rome with significant revisions to the plot and its location, while the title became Un ballo in maschera.

The unification of Italy in 1861 lead to Naples losing its status as the musical center of Italy and the home of the country’s leading opera house to La Scala as power and wealth moved northwards. By 1874 the fall in income from performances led to the closing of the opera house for a year. Its fortunes were able to recover due to the continued support in the later half of the 19th century and into the 20th century by Giacomo Puccini and other composers of verismo operas, such as Pietro Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, and Cilea, who staged their works here.

In the late 19th century, the house created its own in-house orchestra under Giuseppe Martucci, which helped attract a number of respected conductors including Arturo Toscanini, Pietro Mascagni and composer Richard Strauss, whose influence expanded the opera house’s repertoire.

One performer who did not appear in Naples from 1901 onward was Naples-born Enrico Caruso, who after being booed by a section of the audience during a performance of L’elisir d’amore, vowed never to return.

Here’s a small taste:

Speaking of taste, one of the most beloved Neapolitan dishes, perhaps as part of a pre-opera dinner is spaghetti alle vongole napolitano. It’s very simple to make and is one of my favorites.  You must use very small clams, but you can use linguine in place of spaghetti.

Spaghetti Alle Vongole Napolitano

Ingredients

500 gm fresh small clams in their shells
200 gm cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
500 gm spaghetti

Instructions

Wash the clams thoroughly and keep them in salt water for half an hour before cooking.

Cook the spaghetti in abundant boiling water.  Check every few minutes once it is soft to make sure it is cooked al dente and no more.

Sauté the garlic gently over medium heat in oil in a deep skillet (with a lid) for about 2 minutes. Do not let it take on any color. Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and half of the parsley. Stir slowly and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Drain the clams and add them to the skillet. Stir and cover until the clams are open (3-4 minutes). If the sauce is too dry add a small amount of boiling water from the pasta pan.

When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain and put it back into the same pot. Pour over it the juices from the cooked clams.  Stir for 1 minute over low heat.

Empty the spaghetti on to a serving dish and serve with the clams and tomatoes garnished with the remaining parsley.

Serves 4

Jun 022016
 

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Today is the feast of Saint Erasmus of Formia, also known as Saint Elmo, a Christian saint and martyr, who, according to Christian tradition, died c. 303. He is venerated as the patron saint of sailors and abdominal pain. Not much is known about his life. The Acts of Saint Elmo were partly compiled from legends that confuse him with a Syrian bishop Erasmus of Antioch. Jacobus de Voragine in the Golden Legend credited him as a bishop at Formia over all the Italian Campania, as a hermit on Mount Lebanon, and a martyr in the persecutions under Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian.

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Saint Erasmus may have become the patron of sailors because he is said to have continued preaching even after a thunderbolt struck the ground beside him. This prompted sailors, who were in danger from sudden storms and lightning, to pray to him. The electrical discharges at the mastheads of ships were read as a sign of his protection and came to be called “Saint Elmo’s Fire.”

I am interested in him because indirectly he gave his name and patronage to my barrio in Buenos Aires – San Telmo. It was known as San Pedro Heights during the 17th century, mostly home to the city’s growing contingent of dockworkers and brickmakers. The area became Buenos Aires’ first “industrial” area, home to its first windmill and most of the early city’s brick kilns and warehouses. The bulk of the city’s exports of wool, hides and leather (the Argentine region’s chief source of income as late as the 1870s) were prepared and stored here in colonial times. Their presence led to the first residential settlements in this area: that of Africans, slaves and free, alike.

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Previously separated from Buenos Aires proper by a ravine, the area was formally incorporated into the city in 1708 as the “Ovens and Storehouses of San Pedro.” The neighborhood’s poverty led the Jesuits to found a “Spiritual House” in the area, a charitable and educational mission referred to by San Pedro’s indigent as “the Residence.” The suppression of the Jesuits in 1767  led to the mission’s closure.

The void left by the Jesuits’ departure was addressed by the 1806 establishment of the Parish of San Pedro González Telmo (or “San Telmo”), named in honor Saint Elmo because he was the patron of sailors and the barrio was a vital port at the time. This move failed to replace the lost social institutions, however, and San Telmo languished well after Argentine independence in 1816. The Jesuit Residence, restored as a clinic by Guatemalan friars, was closed in 1821, and San Telmo saw no public works for the next 30 years except a Black Infantrymen’s Quarters and the construction of the infamous Mazorca Dungeon by Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas (now a grizzly museum which you can visit).

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San Telmo began to improve despite these challenges, particularly after Rosas’ removal from power in 1852. The establishment of new clinics, the installation of gas mains, lighting, sewers, running water and cobblestones and the opening of the city’s main wholesale market led to increasing interest in the area on the part of the well-to-do and numerous imposing homes were built in the western half of San Telmo. This promising era ended abruptly when an epidemic of yellow fever struck the area in 1871. The new clinics and the heroic efforts of physicians such as Florentino Ameghino helped curb the northward spread of the epidemic; but as time went on it claimed over 10,000 lives, and this led to the exodus of San Telmo’s growing middle and upper classes into what later became Barrio Norte.

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At first hundreds of properties became vacant. A few of the larger lots were converted into needed parks, the largest of which is Lezama Park, designed by the renowned French-Argentine urban planner Charles Thays in 1891 as a complement to the new Argentine National Museum of History. Most large homes, though, became tenement housing during the wave of immigration into Argentina from Europe (mostly Italy) between 1875 and 1930. San Telmo became the most multicultural neighborhood in Buenos Aires, home to large communities of British, Galician, Italian and Russian-Argentines. The large numbers of Russians in San Telmo and elsewhere in Buenos Aires led to the consecration of Argentina’s first Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. Expanding industry to the south also led a German immigrant, Otto Krause, to open a technical school here in 1897.

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San Telmo’s bohemian air began attracting local artists after upwardly-mobile immigrants left the area. Increasing cultural activity resulted in the opening of the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art by critic Rafael Squirru in 1956, as well as in the 1960 advent of the “Republic of San Telmo,” an artisan guild which organized art walks and other events. San Telmo’s immigrant presence also led to quick popularization of tango in the area: long after that genre’s heyday, renowned vocalist Edmundo Rivero purchased an abandoned colonial-era grocery in 1969, christening it El Viejo Almacén (“The Old Grocery Store”). This soon became one of the city’s best-known tango music halls, helping lead to a cultural and economic revival in San Telmo.

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The 1980 restoration of the former Ezeiza family mansion into the Pasaje de la Defensa (“Defensa Street Promenade”), moreover, has led to the refurbishment of numerous such structures, many of which had been conventillos (tenements) since the 1870s. As most of San Telmo’s 19th century architecture and cobblestone streets remain, it has also become an important tourist attraction especially on Sundays when there is a gigantic flea market in the center along with street music and dancing (and when I stay home !!).

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Grilled Provoleta is a local specialty in san Telmo. Provoleta is a trademark, and common name, for an Argentine variant of provolone cheese described as “Argentine pulled-curd Provolone cheese.” It is eaten barbecued throughout Argentina and less commonly in Uruguay. The cheese was developed by Natalio Alba in about 1940, and the PROVOLETA trademark was established in 1963. The cheese is produced with a pulled-curd (pasta filata) technique.

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Small discs of Provoleta of 10 to 15 cm in diameter and 1 to 2 cm in height are often eaten at the start of an asado, before the grilled meat. The Provoleta, usually topped with oil, chile, tomatoes, and oregano, is placed directly on the grill, on small stones, or inside a foil plate, and cooked until part-melted. The Provoleta may be seasoned with chimichurri (see here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/international-left-handers-day/ ), and is usually eaten communally with bread.

There’s no real substitute for San Telmo fire-grilled Provoleta, but you can make a kind of replica by taking a disk of provolone, placing it on a well-heated, greased cast-iron skillet, crisping the bottom, then running it under a broiler until darkened on top. Drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with crushed red chiles and oregano, or chimichurri, and eat straight from the pan by dipping in crusty bread.

May 012016
 

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On this date in 1851 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert opened the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations or The Great Exhibition, sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held. It was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 11 October 1851. It was the first in a series of World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century and was a much anticipated event. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert. It was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family, and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Music for the opening was under the direction of Sir George Thomas Smart and the continuous music from the exhibited organs for the Queen’s procession was under the superintendence of William Sterndale Bennett.

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The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations was organized by Prince Albert, Henry Cole, Francis Henry, George Wallis, Charles Dilke and other members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was primarily a response to the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844; its prime motive was for “Great Britain [to make] clear to the world its role as industrial leader.” Prince Albert was an enthusiastic promoter of the self-financing exhibition; the government was persuaded to form the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to establish the viability of hosting such an exhibition. Queen Victoria and her family visited three times. Although the Great Exhibition was a platform on which countries from around the world could display their achievements, Great Britain sought to prove its own superiority. The British exhibits at the Great Exhibition “held the lead in almost every field where strength, durability, utility and quality were concerned, whether in iron and steel, machinery or textiles.” Great Britain also sought to provide the world with the hope of a better future. Europe had just struggled through “two difficult decades of political and social upheaval,” and now Great Britain hoped to show that technology, particularly its own, was the key to a better future.

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The Exhibition was described as,

Large, piled-up ‘trophy’ exhibits in the central avenue revealed the organisers’ priorities; they generally put art or colonial raw materials in the most prestigious place. Technology and moving machinery were popular, especially working exhibits. [Visitors] could watch the entire process of cotton production from spinning to finished cloth. Scientific instruments were found in class X, and included electric telegraphs, microscopes, air pumps and barometers, as well as musical, horological and surgical instruments.

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A special building, nicknamed The Crystal Palace, or “The Great Shalimar”, was built to house the show. It was designed by Joseph Paxton with support from structural engineer Charles Fox, the committee overseeing its construction including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and went from its organization to the grand opening in just nine months. The building was architecturally adventurous, drawing on Paxton’s experience designing greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire. It took the form of a massive glass house, 1851 feet (about 564 m) long by 454 feet (about 138 m) wide and was constructed from cast iron-frame components and glass made almost exclusively in Birmingham and Smethwick. From the interior, the building’s large size was emphasized with trees and statues; this served, not only to add beauty to the spectacle, but also to demonstrate human triumph over nature. The Crystal Palace was an enormous success, considered an architectural marvel, but also an engineering triumph that showed the importance of the Exhibition itself. The building was later moved and re-erected in an enlarged form at Sydenham in south London, an area that was renamed Crystal Palace. It was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.

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Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London, in ruins following the devastating fire of 30 November 1936

Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London, in ruins following the devastating fire of 30 November 1936

Six million people—equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time—visited the Great Exhibition. The average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on 7 October. The event made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2016), which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. They were all built in the area to the south of the exhibition, nicknamed Albertopolis, alongside the Imperial Institute. The remaining surplus was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research; it continues to do so today.

The Exhibition caused controversy as its opening approached. Some conservatives feared that the mass of visitors might become a revolutionary mob, whilst radicals such as Karl Marx saw the exhibition as an emblem of a capitalist fetishism of commodities. King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, shortly before his death, wrote to Lord Strangford about it:

The folly and absurdity of the Queen in allowing this trumpery must strike every sensible and well-thinking mind, and I am astonished the ministers themselves do not insist on her at least going to Osborne during the Exhibition, as no human being can possibly answer for what may occur on the occasion. The idea … must shock every honest and well-meaning Englishman. But it seems everything is conspiring to lower us in the eyes of Europe.

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In modern times, the Great Exhibition is a symbol of the Victorian Age, and its thick catalogue, illustrated with steel engravings, is a primary source for High Victorian design. A memorial to the exhibition, crowned with a statue of Prince Albert, is located behind the Royal Albert Hall. It is inscribed with statistics from the exhibition, including the number of visitors and exhibitors (British and foreign), and the profit made.

The official descriptive and illustrated catalogue of the event lists exhibitors not only from throughout Britain but also from its ‘Colonies and Dependencies’ and 44 ‘Foreign States’ in Europe and the Americas. Numbering 13,000 in total, the exhibits included a Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine that was sent from the United States.

Naturally we have to go with Mrs Beeton for a recipe. Her extravagant displays (often involving crystal) are a start.

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But then there is this:

GENERAL REMARKS.

  1. AN ANECDOTE IS TOLD of the prince de Soubise, who, intending to give an entertainment, asked for the bill of fare. His chef came, presenting a list adorned with vignettes, and the first article of which, that met the prince’s eye, was “fifty hams.” “Bertrand,” said the prince, “I think you must be extravagant; Fifty hams! do you intend to feast my whole regiment?” “No, Prince, there will be but one on the table, and the surplus I need for my Espagnole, blondes, garnitures, &c.” “Bertrand, you are robbing me: this item will not do.” “Monseigneur,” said the artiste, “you do not appreciate me. Give me the order, and I will put those fifty hams in a crystal flask no longer than my thumb.” The prince smiled, and the hams were passed. This was all very well for the prince de Soubise; but as we do not write for princes and nobles alone, but that our British sisters may make the best dishes out of the least expensive ingredients, we will also pass the hams, and give a few general directions concerning Sauces, &c.
  2. THE PREPARATION AND APPEARANCE OF SAUCES AND GRAVIES are of the highest consequence, and in nothing does the talent and taste of the cook more display itself. Their special adaptability to the various viands they are to accompany cannot be too much studied, in order that they may harmonize and blend with them as perfectly, so to speak, as does a pianoforte accompaniment with the voice of the singer.

Sauce soubise, named in honor of the prince, is easy to make, and goes well with ham, fish or poultry.

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Sauce Soubise

Ingredients

250g (9 oz) onion, peeled and finely sliced
60g (4½ tbsp) butter
12g plain flour
2½ dL (1 cup) clear veal or chicken broth
2 tbsp crème fraîche
pinch nutmeg
pinch caster sugar
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Place the onions in a thick bottom saucepan with 40g of butter and sauté them gently over medium-low heat, covered, for 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently and do not allow them to take on color. Stir in the flour and allow to cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and add the seasonings to taste. Bring gently to a simmer while stirring constantly. Cover and let the sauce cook, at a very gentle simmer for at least 45 minutes. Stir from time to time.

Force the sauce through a double layer of cheesecloth lining a sieve and put back on the heat. Then add the rest of the butter and the crème fraîche. Let the sauce cook for another 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve (in a crystal jug !!).