- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Vaudeville television

“audeville has a lively ghost. ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ carried on the vaudeville format on television, loading Sunday nights with pop singers and opera divas (the rarely seen Maria Callas performed an aria from Tosca) and a splendiferous variety of comedians, hoofers, singers, and performing seals. Like Flo Ziegfeld, who could neither sing, dance, nor play an instrument and yet produced the most enticing shows of his time, ‘Ed does nothing,’ Alan King quipped, ‘but he does it better than anyone else.’

“The public appetite for variety hasn’t diminished. … Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien, taking cues from predecessors Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, have welcomed many a comic, singer, dancer, and juggler … though we call these programs ‘talk shows.’ … ‘If vaudeville is dead,’ observes writer Larry Gelbart (‘M*A*S*H*’), ‘television is the box they put it in.’ Requiescat in video.”

Stefan Kanfer, writing on “Vaudeville’s Brief, Shining Moment,” in the spring issue of City Journal

Sexy classics

“In all the earnest debate about how to ‘sex up’ classical music, one thing is never mentioned — sex itself. And yet what more potent force could there be for getting new people into classical concert halls?

“The market, not sharing the squeamishness of the debaters, has seized on this obvious fact with relish. Suddenly, we’re surrounded by glamorous young violinists, cellists, singers and — believe it or not — bassoonists. …

“Among the violinists there’s Linda Brava, rather better known for her centerfold appearance in Playboy than for playing in the orchestra of the National Opera of Finland. …

“Twenty years ago, virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell led the way when he was pictured on the cover of his first CD in … tight jeans, leaning over a motorbike.

“More recently, there’s been a whole procession of heart-throb tenors. Two in particular have stood out: the Maltese Joseph Calleja, much praised in this paper for his effortless impersonation of the philandering Duke in Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto.’ And there’s the Mexican Juan Diego Flrez, who recently released a much-praised album of virtuoso Rossini arias. What they have in common is that mix of dark, soulful looks and stubble that indicates ‘smouldering.’”

Ivan Hewett, writing on “Who needs this when the classics are already bursting with sex?” April 21 in the London Telegraph

Freak enterprise

“[Frank] Zappa … started his career in the mid-1960s as the leader of the Mothers of Invention, one of the first great hippie — or, in the argot of the psychedelic Los Angeles where they were based, ‘freak’ — bands. Zappa’s records never sold especially well, yet he was influential and visible. … In the mid-‘80s, he delivered memorable congressional testimony attacking record labeling schemes proposed by the Parents Music Resource Center, the group founded by Tipper Gore and others interested in policing offensive lyrics in pop music.

“In 1990 Vaclav Havel feted him in the newly liberated Czechoslovakia as a hero of freedom. … Not bad for a guy whose best-remembered tunes include ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow’ and ‘Valley Girl.’ …

“Zappa … railed against consumer culture in a glib, rock-star way, [but] he was from the beginning a sharp businessman. … In the ‘80s, he was able to sell his back catalog for $22 million. …

“The rock star as entrepreneur: That may be Frank Zappa’s most interesting legacy.”

Nick Gillespie,writing on “Rock and Roll Entrepreneur,” in the April issue of Reason

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