“Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings,” wrote American joy-giver, Robert Benchley. Another music critic wrote, “Opera is like a husband with a foreign title…expensive to support, hard to understand and therefore, a supreme social challenge.”
Only one of our honorees at “The Life as Opera Birthday Party,” Maria Callas, is known for performing opera. She was romantically linked to Greek shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, who said of a particular opera that it was–“Two Italian chefs screaming risotto recipes at each other.”
Though “La Divina (The Divine One),” as Ms. Callas was called by her passionate fans, was strikingly attractive, but many divas have not been both vocally and physically blessed. The Danish American joy-giver, Victor Borge, once quipped, “When an opera star sings her head off, she usually improves her appearance.”
One of our birthday celebrants, Bruce Lee, performed with operatic exaggeration and the martial arts star’s mother was a famous, Chinese opera performer. In fact, all the joy-givers at “The Life as Opera Birthday Party,” from Mark Twain to Louisa May Alcott to Richard Pryor, have over-the-top biographies which opera buffs relish.
We are in Hartford, Connecticut at 351 Farmington Avenue (06105) at the house and museum of Mark Twain. The author and his family built the house and moved here in 1874. This 11,500 square feet home with 25 rooms distributed on three floors presents lots of Victorian drama like an ever-changing array of opera sets.
The exotic interiors were created by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his team of creatives associated with the American Aesthetic movement. The first floor is filled with design motifs where the eye travels from Morocco to India, on to Japan, China and Turkey. Think “Madama Butterfly” meets “The Barber of Seville” and they rendezvous in the Ancient Egypt of “Aida.”
This house is where Mark Twain was happiest and most productive. About the home, the author, perhaps America’s greatest ever, said, “To us, our house…had a heart, and a soul and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction.”
BRAVO! BRAVA! BRAVISSIMO!! You feel the joy the moment you step onto the sprawling porch of the Mark Twain House and the voices inside are so bombastic, fantastic, operatic you can understand them from the street.
HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! (Note: The comments attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)
PLEASE GIVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THESE JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
Nov. 27—BRUCE LEE (born Lee Jun-fan in San Francisco, CA) was a Hong Kong American film actor, director, martial arts instructor and philosopher. His mother was a Cantonese opera star and his father worked in American film production. Lee is considered the most-influential martial artist of all time. His films bridged the gap between Eastern and Western culture. “Time” magazine named Lee one of the “100 most important people of the 20th century.”
Nov. 28—JON STEWART (Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) is a comedian, writer, producer, director, political commentator, actor and television host. He hosted “The Daily Show,” a satirical news program on Comedy Central from 1999 – 2015. Stewart won 22 Primetime Emmy Awards and two Grammys.
Since leaving “The Daily Show,” he has joyously used his celebrity and voice in a sustained advocacy for 9/11 first responders, as well as war veterans’ health benefits.
Nov. 29—LOUISA MAY ALCOTT was a novelist, short story writer, newspaper journalist and poet best known as the author of the treasured novel, “Little Women” (1868). Raised in New England by prominent transcendentalist parents, Alcott grew up among many well-known, American intellectuals of the day such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Her novels are still popular today and have been adapted many times to stage, film and television.
Nov. 30—MARK TWAIN (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was a stand-up humorist, writer, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer. He is lauded as the “greatest humorist the United States has ever produced.” Nobelist William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” His novels include “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the latter often called— “The Great American Novel.”
Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley’s Comet, and he predicted he would “go out with one” as well. He died the day the next Halley’s Comet came closest to the earth.
Dec. 1—RICHARD PRYOR (born Richard Franklin Lennox Pryor in Peoria, IL) was a stand-up comedian, actor and writer. He reached a broad audience with his illuminating observations and unique storytelling style. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential humorists of all time. He was listed at number one on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians, and “Rolling Stone” magazine ranked him first on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.
Pryor’s work included concert movies, comedy albums and these feature films: “Silver Streak,” “Blue Collar” and “Superman III.” He won an Emmy Award, five Grammys and was the first recipient of the coveted Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.”
Dec. 2—MARIA CALLAS (born Sophie Cecilia Kalos in NYC) was a Greek American soprano who is considered one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Many music critics praised her “bel canto” technique, her wide-ranging voice and her theatrical interpretations. She was hailed as “La Divina (The Divine One).” Even today, 50 years after her death, she remains one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists.
Dec. 3—TIFFANY HADDISH (Tiffany Sara Cornelia Haddish) is a stand-up comedian, actress and author. She gained prominence for her role as Nekeisha Williams on the NBC sitcom “The Carmichael Show.” 2017 was a breakthrough year for Haddish when she gained critical acclaim for her performance in the comedic film, “Girls Trip,” won a Primetime Emmy Award hosting “Saturday Night Live” and published a best-selling memoir, “The Last Black Unicorn.” In 2021, she won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album for “Black Mitzvah.”
COMMENTS OVERHEARD AT “THE LIFE AS OPERA BIRTHDAY PARTY:”
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”—Bruce Lee
“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values, they’re hobbies.”—Jon Stewart
“I like strong words that mean something.”—Louisa May Alcott
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”—Mark Twain
“There is a thin line between to laugh with and to laugh at.”—Richard Pryor
“Art is domination. It’s making people feel that for that precise moment in time there is only one way—one voice. Yours.”—Maria Callas
“I believe my purpose is to bring joy to people, to make them laugh and to share my story to help them.”—Tiffany Haddish
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”—Bruce Lee
“I’m not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance.”—Jon Stewart
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”—Louisa May Alcott
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”—Mark Twain
“When you ain’t got no money, you gotta get an attitude.”—Richard Pryor
“Each note exists for a reason.”—Maria Callas
“That’s why my life turned out as good as it has. Because all the time, I’m just trying to have fun.”—Tiffany Haddish
“Be happy, but never satisfied.”—Bruce Lee
“Evil is relatively rare. Ignorance is epidemic.”—Jon Stewart
“A faithful friend is a strong defense; and he that hath found him hath found a treasure.”—Louisa May Alcott
“Never put off until tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”—Mark Twain
“Marriage is really tough because you have to deal with feelings…and lawyers.”—Richard Pryor
“Love is much better when you are not married.”—Maria Callas
“In stand-up, you need to be having fun up there like Richard Pryor said.”—Tiffany Haddish
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”—Bruce Lee
“The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So, if you smell something, say something.”—Jon Stewart
“Love is a great beautifier.”—Louisa May Alcott
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”—Mark Twain
“It’s been a struggle for me because I had a chance to be white and I refused.”—Richard Pryor
“I would like to be Maria, but there is ‘La Callas’ who demands that I carry myself with her dignity.”—Maria Callas
“All my wins are lessons and all my failures are lessons that will one day become wins.”—Tiffany Haddish
“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”—Bruce Lee
“The Internet is just the world passing around notes in a classroom.”—Jon Stewart
“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience; this is the ideal life.”—Mark Twain
“There’s nothing worse than being an aged young person.”—Richard Pryor
“When the curtain rises, the only thing that speaks is courage.”—Maria Callas
“Every teacher I’ve ever had, that I still remember their name, made me laugh. Comedy is the best instrument for teaching.”—Tiffany Haddish
“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”—Louisa May Alcott
MENU FOR “THE LIFE AS OPERA BIRTHDAY PARTY:”
APPETIZER—Jon Stewart Skewers (yummly.com)
SOUP/SALAD—Louisa May Alcott Boston Lettuce Herb Salad (myrecipes.com)
ENTRÉE—Mark Twain Mississippi River Catfish (foodnetwork.com)
SIDE DISH—Bruce Lee Kung Fu Dumplings (rosannapansino.com)
BREAD—Tiffany Haddish Black Mitzvah Challah (mysecondbreakfast.com)
DESSERT—Maria Callas Greek Yogurt Parfaits (eatingwell.com)
ONE TO GROW ON—”A Mark Twain Christmas,” by Carlo DeVito (Cider Mill Press, 2013) gives readers insight into Twain’s life through little known stories about how he and his family celebrated the holiday. Filled with wit and joyousness by one of America’s greatest storytellers. The tales are charming, heart-warming and heart-breaking but ultimately reaffirm the joys of the season.
“The Life as Opera Birthday Party” had only a small slice of opera singing but it was a delicious one. Tiffany Haddish, Bruce Lee, Richard Pryor and Jon Stewart introduced gifted singers performing arias from the opera, “Little Women.” This highly praised contemporary opera was written by American composer Mark Adamo to his own libretto. It is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s tale of growing up in New England after the American Civil War. This new classic was premiered by the Houston Grand Opera in 1998 and a recording was broadcast by National Public Radio.
But, it’s not over until the svelte lady sings. “La Divina,” Maria Callas, invited one of the opera tenors to join her in a duet of “Worlds Apart” a song from the musical “Big River.” The Tony Award-winning musical was created by American joy-giver Roger Miller and based on the adventures of the river-rafting friends Huck and Jim imagined by Mark Twain. Together, they brought down the curtain and challenged the crystal chandeliers with these joyously sung words:
“And you see the same skies through brown eyes
That I see through blue,
But we’re worlds apart, worlds apart.
Just like the earth, just like the sun,
Two worlds together are better than one.
I see the friendship in your eyes
That you see in mine.
But we’re worlds apart, worlds apart.
Together, but worlds apart.
And a mockingbird sings in an old yonder tree,
Twah-dee-dee, ah dee dee, dah dee.”
(Rapturous applause and a standing ovation) BRAVO! BRAVA! BRAVISSIMO!
RICHARD PRYOR SILVER STREAK COCKTAIL
3 ounces gin
1-1/2 ounces Jagermeister
Shake gin and Jagermeister with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.