The Three Tenors...with Maestro, Zubin Metha at the helm
(Unintentionally, I appear to be carrying on the musical theme from my previous post...my St. Patrick's Day post)
Bread is the staff of life it has been said. In Asia more than trice – the advice has been - rice is the staff of life. In Ireland, spuds were the staff of life until the potato famine blighted the landscape in the 1840s.
Music, too, is the staff of life. Music played a key role in my childhood; music of all genres from classical and opera, through to jazz, country, pop and rock ‘n roll, and all in between.
Our piano held pride of place in our home. Used daily, it wasn’t a piece of furniture sitting idly, just for show. The piano wasn’t our only music source.
Daily, the radio air waves were filled with the magnificent voices of Caruso, Lanza, McCormack, Tucker, Gigli, Donald Shanks, Donald Smith, John Charles Thomas, ,Jussi Björling, Jan Peerce etc. The ladies - Price, Callas, De Los Angeles, Sutherland, Tebaldi and others sang along, as well.
And then later, I was wooed and readily fell under the spell of the truly wonderful Luciano Pavarotti, and his co-conspirators, Guiseppe Stefano, Placido Domingo, Josế Carreras, Andrea Boccelli and others. Willingly, I remain enraptured.
Instrumental classical and romantic symphonies performed by the world’s best orchestras painted musical pictures in my mind, transporting me to a fantasy world filled with beauty and emotion. Such wondrous music still affects me so.
The staff is the fundamental latticework of music notation upon which the quaver sits a-quivering. The crochet, the little hook, rests briefly in silence until a few strings are attached; then it can turn into a semi, a demi or a hemi. It can become a semihemidemisemi quaver, or even – God forbid - if it isn’t careful, a demisemihemidemisemiquaver!
Common accidentals occur, too, like having a flat. If you don’t dodge a sharp you could have a double flat. It becomes more complicated if you land a flat-and-a-half. Without warning, a sharp-and-a-half happens.
The cause of my current apparent insanity is - I’ve just finished bingeing on the quirky, intoxicating, captivating, heart-warming series, “Mozart in the Jungle”. When I finished watching the four seasons, I suffered a case of severe withdrawals.
An encore was urgently needed, so I immediately attended to that need...I am now re-watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle”, and episode or two a day. I’m enjoying the series, if not even more, the second time around. For me, I believe the series could end up being on continuous replay. Without embarrassment I admit I am hooked.
I'm also hooked on the Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays the lead role of "Rodrigo De Souza", the Maestro in the unique series. What a wonderful character he is. Small of frame, he's larger than life.
Music, Maestro, please! Let’s continue the tone.
The daily classical music programmes on the radio during my childhood played an instrumental part in my listening pleasures.
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 in B flat minor is no minor piece. Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat major Op. 73 is major, but definitely not flat. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade excites.
Joining the throng were Chopin, Haydn, Mahler, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Wagner, Prokofiev, Debussy; the Strauss family e.g. Johann (1,11and 111), Richard, Eduard, Josef waltzed in – the Liszt goes on and on. It’s hard to get a Handel on everyone of them! Puccini sent Madame Butterfly to stop Ravel from unravelling. Dimitri Shostakovich entered the scene with a clash of the cymbals, upsetting Stalin and his mob of communist thugs in the Soviet Union.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 is as brilliant as Nos. 1, 5, 31, 38, 40, 41, and all in between. So are his concertos – piano, violin and woodwind - particularly when conducted by the prodigious, world-renowned Indian conductor – Maestro Extraordinaire - Zubin Mehta.
In the early 70s, as a member of the audience at Brisbane’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, I was in awe of the marvellous voice of Bundaberg-born tenor, Donald Smith.
Smith began his career on Radio 4BU in the 1940s; oddly enough, singing country songs.
Donald Smith was a natural tenor who went on to sing opera, not only in Australia, but also overseas at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Donald Smith received rave reviews everywhere he performed. Adoring fans flocked to see him each time he appeared at the Sydney Opera House.
The evening I witnessed Smith’s sublime performance in “Cavalleria Rusticana” you could’ve heard a pin drop. When he sang “Vesti la giubba”, the famous aria from Leoncavallo’s two-act opera, “Pagliacci”, you could’ve heard a feather drop. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. Unashamedly, I admit mine weren’t.
Sonata Bites: Preheat oven to 281C/425F. Cover base of baking sheet with foil. Brush over 1tbs olive oil to cover entire pan. Slice 1 kumara/sweet potato into ¼-inch slices. Place slices onto the sheet. Pour 1tbs olive oil into a small dish, using a brush, brush tops of sweet potato slices with the oil. Lightly season with salt. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; gently flip the sweet potatoes slices over. Place back in oven; bake an additional 5-7 mins. Remove; set aside.
To prepare the Guacamole: Add flesh of 4 small avocados, 1/4c coriander/cilantro, 2-3tbs lime juice, 1-1/2tbs red wine vinegar, 1/2tsp chilli/red pepper flake to a food processor; season to taste. Lightly pulse until smooth. Set aside. To prepare the Chipotle Prawns: In a small bowl, add 450g green (raw) peeled, de-veined large prawns, 1/2tsp smoked paprika, 1/2tsp ground cumin, salt, cracked pepper and chipotle chilli powder. Toss to coat prawns in the seasoning blend. Heat a large pan to med-high heat. Add 1tbs olive oil to pan; then add prawns. Cook 2-3 mins per side. Assemble the bites. Top each sweet potato slice with a dollop of guacamole, one prawn; garnish with fresh corn. Serve.....A melody on the palate.
Italian Easter Bread: Have 1-1/2c peeled, boiled and riced potatoes on hand. Dissolve 2-1/4tsp dry yeast in 1c lukewarm milk. Add 1tbs sugar; stir. Set aside 10 mins. Whisk 5 room- temp eggs at med-speed until frothy, 3-4 mins. Gradually add1c sugar; whisk another 3-4mins. Whisk in 1/2c veg oil and zest of 1 orange. Combine yeast with riced potatoes; add to eggs; whisk at low speed. Add 3c plain flour; mix on low speed, 1min. Switch to dough hook; add 3c plain flour. Mix 5-8mins until smooth and elastic; or you can knead by hand. Line large baking sheet with paper. Place dough in lightly greased bowl; turn dough to coat with the grease. Let rise until doubled in size. Punch dough (you beast!). Cover, let rise until doubles in size. Punch dough again; divide into 6 portions. Place on baking sheet; cover with tea towel; let rise, 30-50mins. Brush loaves with egg wash. Bake in preheated 175C oven, 25-30mins. Cool on wire racks.
Italian Fried Rice: Warm large pan over med-heat; add 2tbs x-virgin olive oil; when warm, add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves and pinch of chilli flakes. Sauté 30-60 secs; add 1 punnet halved cherry tomatoes, ½ bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces, 1 or 2c thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms; season; about 5-6mins; add a few fresh basil leaves, sliced; sauté until wilted. Add 3-4cs cooked short grain brown rice, 2-3c chopped leafy greens, like spinach and kale, stems removed; season; sauté until rice is warmed through and greens wilted. Optional...serve with grated Parmesan or Pecorino, poached or fried egg and/or toasted, chopped nuts.
Bittersweet Symphony: Combine 45ml strawberry-flavoured vodka, pureed fresh strawberries and 90ml lemonade in tall ice-filled glass; garnish with a strawberry.