Thursday, March 06, 2008
Fritz and I visited IKEA again today in Stoughton, south of Boston. We’d bought one pair of cabinet handles too many, and two packages of drawer knobs too few. We also bought two veneer panels matching our cabinet wood color for use in facing the base of the soapstone sink. After lunch and picking up a towel rack and other accessories for the upstairs bathroom, we headed to the food store.
We love IKEA food. It’s also incredibly reasonable in price. Since Stoughton is too far for regular shopping, we always stock up (and we’re waiting for the construction and opening of the proposed IKEA just north of Boston in Somerville—do any of the Boston bloggers know if there’s been any progress?).
We came away with six packages of Swedish rye bread mix, three of lingonberry bread mix, six packages of rye cracker bread, a bag of Swedish meatballs with three packages of the cream sauce mix, jars of gooseberry and cloudberry jam, a three pound plus tub of lingonberry jam and a marzipan “princess cake,” all for just $87.
Fritz began tapping his maple trees this week (seen here in sunset light). The conditions were just right: cold nights and days warming into the mid to upper 40s. The big maples, over a hundred years old, stand between the developed parts of the property and the woods, and are pumping sap freely.
We emptied the five gallon gatherting pails this morning, pouring the take into big plastic barrels. Nine hours later, back from our trip, we gathered thirty gallons more. Tomorrow we’ll set up the boiler and start making maple syrup.
Giuseppe di Stefano, one of opera’s great cases of “what might have been” died this week at age 86.
He was a Sicilian lyric tenor as lavishly gifted with looks, personality and voice as anyone has ever been. He was headed for the priesthood but an inability to resist any even remotely available woman put an end to that. He drank, he had a passion for flashy cars and speedboats, he smoked powerful little Italian cigars, he gambled and partied all night--and for about eight years he sang like an angel. Then the lifestyle and some seriously destructive choices of roles to sing wore the velvet from his voice and robbed him of his golden high notes.
He’d always been a little irresponsible, often dodging rehearsals and sometimes not showing up for performances. But he got by on his reputation as a great guy, charming, a good colleague, someone everybody loved. Even Rudolf (“underneath this cold exterior beats a heart of stone”) Bing, the dictatorial general manager of the Metropolitan for more than two decades, was stunned at di Stefano’s gifts. Bing “exiled” him from the MET for three years at one point and eventually dropped him from the company entirely, but said that di DStefano’s career could have been one to be mentioned in the same breath as that of the legendary Enrico Caruso--if only he could have controlled his many appetites.
The NY Times obituary flat out stated that he and Maria Callas had been lovers for many years without giving any documentation. It isn’t information I’ve read in any other source. About the only time this could have occurred was during her marriage to the much older Italian industrialist who supported and managed her early career.
Di Stefano’s voice began a downward spiral in the late fifties and was pretty much shot eight or so years later while he was still in his 40s and should have been at the peak of his career. His earliest recordings from the mid 1940s reveal a voice of almost unbelievable beauty, clarity, flexibility and technical control; those from his late career offer only hints of the original beauty amid glaringly loud, raw and technically crude assaults on high notes and attempts to sing softly.
In the 70s he convinced Maria Callas to go on a world tour with him, giving recitals rather than staged opera performances, revisiting the music of their celebrated on-stage partnership. Both were at the end of their ropes vocally, he changed the programs constantly-- sometimes without consulting or even informing her—and reviews were poisonous. They called it off before completing the tour. It was a sad way to close two prominent and distinguished careers, and they parted company unhappily
Di Stefano was quite wealthy from singing fees and recording royalties, and had built a vacation retreat for his family in Kenya, a country he and his wife loved. In 2003, he was violently attacked, possibly in a robbery attempt, by two Kenyans, and suffered serious head injuries. Evacuated to Italy, he eventually came out of a coma, but was never the same again. His death was blamed on complications from the beating.
I never heard him live at any point in his career, which I deeply regret. Although lack of artistic discipline undermined the enormous gift he had been given, he had for a few magical years what a great many agree was the most beautiful tenor voice in the world.
I have dreamed of finding princess cakes for 30 years without success. I visited Sweden in 1977. I remember looking for something to eat (in Göteborg I believe) and stopping at a shop that sold cakes and pastries. I don't know why I went with a princess cake - I don't usually like marzipan. But this was a small individual sized dessert of heavenly indulgence. I've never seen mention of princess cakes since.
I am soooo jealous.