Among the best

I read with interest in the January 2008 Opera News about the career of Lorin Maazel, who is currently music director of the New York Philharmonic and formerly of the Cleveland Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He will soon conduct the opera “Die Walkure” at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City. He has had a long musical career, was in musical and administrative positions at Deutsche Opera Berlin and Vienna State Opera, has directed at La Scala, Milan, and is currently music director of the new opera house in Valencia, conducting there at six productions per season. He is also a well-known composer.

Maazel was born to American parents in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1930, and began studying violin at the age of 5, and conducting at 7.

As Opera News tells it:

He first bestrode the podium of a university orchestra at eight years old, soon winning the approval of Arturo Toscanini, no easy man to impress. He made his New York Philharmonic debut at twelve. But for the double pneumonia that struck two days before the Glazunov Violin Competition, held in New York, the multitalented prodigy might have gone the path of a 20th-century Paganini. He made his debut with the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the Everest of the literature. “I was lucky,” Maazel says brightly. “The pneumonia kept me from a violin career, and I’ve been happy ever since.”

Maazel says, “It amuses me to say, sixty years ago I did such and such. It knocks me flat. It sounds unreal. I was always the youngest. None of us thinks he will ever die. The doctor says, ‘You’re a walking wonder.’ It’s no credit to me. It’s genes. My father is 104 and still very much alive, and my mother was nearly 100 when she died.”

Maazel can point to what he calls “a slight advantage” over other aspiring opera conductors, thanks to his father. “He sang and taught singing. I grew up listening to hundreds of students coming to the house and being taught. And sometimes I accompanied them just for fun. I knew La Boheme by heart at the piano before I ever thought about conducting it.”

Of Wagner, Maazel takes an unapologetically critical view. “Imagine how much greater his operas would have been if someone else had written the libretti. He was a second-class poet and a first-class musician. I speak German. His couplets are watered-down Goethe. With a real librettist, how much more concise and how much more theatrical the works would have been. “Because of his musical genius, he would turn a negative into a positive.” He refers to the symphonic synthesis of Wagner’s Ring cycle. “I’m not afraid of the long line – even thought I’m responsible for putting together a “Ring Without Words.”

Naazel and the Berlin Philharmonic recorded “Ring Without Words” in late 1987. By then it had been performed dozens of times around the worked, and is scheduled for June 2008 at Carnegie Hall with Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic. The album has sold half a million copies. “It increased interest in the ‘Ring’ exponentially, and people who heard it decided to explore the real thing. So I felt I’d made a small contribution in increasing interest to the ‘Ring.'”

Facing surgery

In Dec. 13 and 14 articles in the Boston Herald I read two articles, one about face transplant surgery, the next on facial surgery.

The French doctors who performed the face transplant on the patient, Isabelle Dinoire, said, “She’s perfect.” She had the transplant in 2005 in Amiens, France, six months after she lost the end of her nose, lips, chin and parts of her cheeks in a dog attack. She was unable to speak, unable to eat and was fed by a gastric tube. The donor was a brain-dead, 46-year-old woman.

Other doctors, including those at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, remain cautious about pursuing the surgery. Her doctor says that she now has a new face that resembles and moves like the one she was born with, but her recovery has been difficult, including kidney failure and two episodes in which rejection was averted.

The U. S. doctors question whether Dinoire can be depended upon to keep taking immune-suppressing drugs the rest of her life. Failure to do so could lead to the face sloughing away. “It could lead to a disaster,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, plastic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s.

The headline on the next story said, “Facial Surgery Will Give Orphan A New Look on Life.” A Vietnamese orphan, 10-year-old Son Pham, has a bulbous mass on his face, a cantaloupe-sized lump.

The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children spent months on Son’s case and decided it was too risky to remove the growth.

Now the Children’s Hospital in Boston has stepped up to care for Son. Dr. John Mulliken, a surgeon who specializes in vascular anomalies, and other Children’s doctors will spend up to 12 months treating Son. The Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation in Braintree is donating $150,000 to treat the boy.

The remaining $200,000 hospital costs comes from the Bridge Foundation, a Canadian charity coordinating efforts to get Son treated. Son should arrive at Children’s in January, where doctors will treat and remove the vascular malformation.

Isn’t that a noble offer? We’ll want to read more about the result, and hope for good news.

Seen around

Joan Ashley has sent me the Sept.-Oct. edition of the Guillemot, the newsletter of the Sorrento Scientific Society. It includes 10 pages of sightings of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, and geological notes. It is very interesting to read.

Common loons were still being seen on larger lakes through the first of November.

Rodents reported included beaver, muskrat, house mice, chipmunks and porcupines, (including one on the summit of Schoodic Mountain.)

Mourning doves were common and everywhere. One in Stonington hit a window, and was then taken by a cooper’s hawk.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds were well reported through September.

Red-headed woodpeckers (listed as uncommon) were seen at Monhegan Oct. 2 and at Aurora Oct. 17.

Cardinals were reported continuously throughout the autumn.

No huge flocks of crows were noted this fall. Forty at Yarmouth, Sept. 30, and 50 at Ellsworth, Oct. 25, were the largest flocks reported.

These are just a few of the many reports. Those who reported them were listed on the back page, and thanked by the editor for all their time and effort spent.

Obit of note

I read an interesting article on the obituary page of the Dec. 7 Boston Herald, after noticing his picture. Raleigh, known as “Dusty” Rhodes, was 89 years old and died in San Francisco, Calif. He had been a Japanese war prisoner for three years, after his plane was shot down in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, near Guadal Canal, in 1942. He weighed about 88 pounds when he emerged from the camp at the end of the war.

He joined the Blue Angels and became the leader of the precision flying team. He told the Associated Press that aerobatic flying was therapeutic. “I was so busy flying that I didn’t have time to think about the war,” he said.

The final paragraph told that he helped perfect the diamond barrel roll, where four jets perform a loop in a tight diamond formation, becoming inverted at the top.

He certainly recovered strongly after his prisoner of war experiences. In the picture of him, taken recently, I think, he looked handsome and strong. I never knew him, but I was proud of him, after reading the article.

Still good

Today’s recipe is from Jim Oliver’s “Recipes from the Smoke House,” Oliver family favorites, from Tennessee.


1 regular box strawberry Jello (dry)

1 large carton Cool Whip

1 can coconut

1 cup chopped nuts

1 (16 ounce) can fruit cocktail

1 regular carton cottage cheese

In a large bowl combine al the ingredients, except the Jello. Blend well and add the dry Jello. Refrigerate. (This is pink. He also offers a green variation , replacing the strawberry jello and fruit cocktail with pistachio pudding and canned pineapple.)


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