Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rik George writes and draws

The Alpha-Bestiary

O is for Oswald, 
The ocelot from Onandaga, 
Who opted to audit the opera Otello
The soprano’s aria brightened his aura, 
The basso’s boom made his belly Jell-O, 
The alto’s duet he thought a delight, 
ut the tenor’s bellow he couldn’t follow, 
So he opted instead for an Indian raga, 
Did Oswald the ocelot from Onandaga.


  1. There are at least 3 towns in North America named after the Onondaga ("Hill Place") people who helped formed the 5-tribe Haudenosaunee ("People of th Longhouse") confederacy in 1142. They lived in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, but had hegemony over tribes far to the west and south. The "Iroquois" name was of French origin; Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Nouvelle-France, referred to them as the "Irocois." However, the origin of the term is unclear, although it may have been related to a term meaning "terribe man" or "the killer people." The primary organizer was an Onandaga orator, Ayenwathaaa ("Hiawatha"). In 1855 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his epic "The Sing of Hiawatha," based on native accounts of Nanabozho, an archetypal spirit figure among the Ojibwe (also called the Chippewa), a tribe that spoke a different language and lived further west, and were often at war against the Haudenosaunee. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an ethnographer who wasLongellow's main source, had mistakenly thought Hoawatha and Manabozho were the same person. In Longfellow's poem Nokomis fell from the moon and gave birth to Wenonah, who was seduced by Mudjekeewis (the west wind) and became the mother of Hiawatha, who went on to discover corn,
    invent a written language (like Sequoyah, who invented the Tsalagi ["Cherokee"] syllabary in 1821 -- an Algonquian language), and converted his people to Christianity. Longfellow's book sold 50,00 copies in 2 years and established the popular image of Native American culture. The poem's distinctive trochaic tetrameter, which Longfellow adapted from Finnish, were ripe for prosodic parody, as in Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing."

  2. From his shoulder Hiawatha
    Took the camera of rosewood,
    Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
    Neatly put it all together.
    In its case it lay compactly,
    Folded into nearly nothing;
    But he opened out the hinges,
    Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
    Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
    Like a complicated figure
    In the Second Book of Euclid.
    This he perched upon a tripod -
    Crouched beneath its dusky cover -
    Stretched his hand, enforcing silence -
    Said "Be motionless, I beg you!"
    Mystic, awful was the process.
    All the family in order
    Sat before him for their pictures:
    Each in turn, as he was taken,
    Volunteered his own suggestions,
    His ingenious suggestions.
    First the Governor, the Father:
    He suggested velvet curtains
    looped about a massy pillar;
    And the corner of a table,
    Of a rosewood dining-table.
    He would hold a scroll of something,
    Hold it firmly in his left-hand;
    He would keep his right-hand buried
    (Like Napoleon) in his waistcoat;
    He would contemplate the distance
    With a look of pensive meaning,
    As of ducks that die in tempests.
    Grand, heroic was the notion:
    Yet the picture failed entirely:
    Failed, because he moved a little,
    Moved, because he couldn't help it.
    Next, his better half took courage;
    She would have her picture taken.
    She came dressed beyond description,
    Dressed in jewels and in satin
    Far too gorgeous for an empress.
    Gracefully she sat down sideways,
    With a simper scarcely human,
    Holding in her hand a bouquet
    Rather larger than a cabbage.
    All the while that she was sitting,
    Still the lady chattered, chattered,
    Like a monkey in the forest.
    "Am I sitting still?" she asked him.
    "Is my face enough in profile?
    Shall I hold the bouquet higher?
    Will it come into the picture?"
    And the picture failed completely.

  3. Next the Son, the Stunning-Cantab:
    He suggested curves of beauty,
    Curves pervading all his figure,
    Which the eye might follow onward,
    Till they centered in the breast-pin,
    Centered in the golden breast-pin.
    He had learnt it all from Ruskin
    (Author of 'The Stones of Venice,'
    'Seven Lamps of Architecture,'
    'Modern Painters,' and some others);
    And perhaps he had not fully
    Understood his author's meaning;
    But, whatever was the reason
    All was fruitless, as the picture
    Ended in an utter failure.
    Next to him the eldest daughter:
    She suggested very little
    Only asked if he would take her
    With her look of 'passive beauty-'
    Her idea of passive beauty
    Was a squinting of the left-eye,
    Was a drooping of the right-eye,
    Was a smile that went up Sideways
    To the corner of the nostrils.
    Hiawatha, when she asked him
    Took no notice of the question
    Looked as if he hadn't heard it;
    But, when pointedly appealed to,
    Smiled in his peculiar manner,
    Coughed and said it 'didn't matter,'
    Bit his lip and changed the subject.
    Nor in this was he mistaken,
    As the picture failed completely.
    So in turn the other sisters.
    Last, the youngest son was taken:
    Very rough and thick his hair was,
    Very round and red his face was,
    Very dusty was his jacket,
    Very fidgety his manner.
    And his overbearing sisters
    Called him names he disapproved of:
    Called him Johnny, 'Daddy's Darling,'
    Called him Jacky, 'Scrubby School-boy.'
    And, so awful was the picture,
    In comparison the others
    Seemed, to one's bewildered fancy,
    To have partially succeeded.
    Finally my Hiawatha
    Tumbled all the tribe together,
    ('Grouped' is not the right expression),
    And, as happy chance would have it,
    Did at last obtain a picture
    Where the faces all succeeded:
    Each came out a perfect likeness.
    Then they joined and all abused it,
    Unrestrainedly abused it,
    As the worst and ugliest picture
    They could possibly have dreamed of.
    'Giving one such strange expressions--
    Sullen, stupid, pert expressions.
    Really any one would take us
    (Any one that did not know us)
    For the most unpleasant people!'
    (Hiawatha seemed to think so,
    Seemed to think it not unlikely).
    All together rang their voices,
    Angry, loud, discordant voices,
    As of dogs that howl in concert,
    As of cats that wail in chorus.
    But my Hiawatha's patience,
    His politeness and his patience,
    Unaccountably had vanished,
    And he left that happy party.
    Neither did he leave them slowly,
    With the calm deliberation,
    The intense deliberation
    Of a photographic artist:
    But he left them in a hurry,
    Left them in a mighty hurry,
    Stating that he would not stand it,
    Stating in emphatic language
    What he'd be before he'd stand it.
    Hurriedly he packed his boxes:
    Hurriedly the porter trundled
    On a barrow all his boxes:
    Hurriedly he took his ticket:
    Hurriedly the train received him:
    Thus departed Hiawatha.

  4. After the success of "Aida" in 1871 Giuseppe Verdi was ready to retire, though he was only 58. His publisher Giulio Ricordi was eager for another hit, despite Verdi's reluctance. He also became interested in the work of the poet Arrigo Bolto, who had written both the music and libretto for "Mefistofele" (1868), based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe's play "Faust." The opera introduced elements of Richard Wagner's music onto the Italian stage, a development that Verdi bitterly opposed. In addition, Verdi had developed a personal dislike of Bolto, whom he had known since 1862, due to a toast Bolto had made in 1863 ("Perhaps the man is already born who, modest and pure, will restore art to its altar stained like a brothel's wall"), which Verdi considered a personal insult. In 1879 Bolto began working on a libretto for "Iago," based on William Shakespeare's "Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice." Bolto's early drafts piqued Verdi's interest, who remained noncommittal, however. Bolto finally finished his task in 1885, after consulting the composer on various aspects, and Verdi began working on "Otello" in 1884. Even after Verdi was done in 1885, it took another year to score the opera and for Bolto to revise the text. It premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, Milano, on 5 February 1887, and Verdi ended his retirement.

    In 1889, determined "to extract all the juice from that enormous Shakespearian orange," the duo began working on Verdi's final opera, "Falstaff," adapted from "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (with portions based on "Henry IV"). They completed the 1st act by March 1890, which was scored by April 1892. The 1st performance, also at La Scala, was on 9 February 1893, but Verdi continued to tinker with the score for years. However, after initial success, "Falstaff" quickly lost its popularity. It was Verdi's final opera. When he died in 1901 (with Boito at his bedside) interest in "Falstaff" was just being revived.


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