This article is a guest post by David Mariotti.
About 40 years ago I picked up a copy of a book by the photographer, Andreas Feininger. I don’t remember the title, but somewhere in the book he wrote that pictures must be significant to the photographer–and the issue of significance is much more important than most photographers realize. As I remember the anecdote in the book, Feininger told that he attended an photo exhibition of one of his students who had become a pro. In the gallery, Feininger walked up to the student, pointed at a nearby picture, and asked, “Tell me, why did you take that?” Rather defensively, the student answered with a question, “Why . . . what’s wrong with it?” Feininger went on: “I didn’t say anything was wrong with it. I simply wondered why you took it and chose to display it?” Feininger’s point, which he emphasized in the paragraphs that followed, was that a picture must be significant to you, the photographer, or you shouldn’t take it and certainly shouldn’t display it. It wasn’t enough to take a nice picture that was pleasing to look at. Why should anyone want that on his or her wall if it wasn’t symbolic of something important?
Now, all these years later and as a disclaimer, I may not remember the exact details in the book, or whether I’ve filtered what I believe was Feininger’s point–or whether it’s my own–but the idea that pictures are symbols that stir our memories and bring things to the surface makes those pictures significant.
During the early 1950s, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s home was the Masonic Temple Auditorium, as it was called in those days. Since my father was the principal oboe, we went to many concerts in that hall as kids. Later, as young adults, we heard the orchestras of Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Berlin, plus the MET Opera on tour. Our preferred seats? Not far from where this picture was taken.
Later, I became a musician, following in my father’s footsteps, I played the oboe. I got a lot of commercial work (free lance) in those days, and one of the jobs I got in 1968 was playing the show, The Land of Smiles, during its mini-tour of Michigan. This was no ordinary pick-up job because, although the company was from Vienna and featured Austrian and German singers, the star was the tenor, Giuseppe di Stefano, one of my favorites. di Stefano’s voice wasn’t durable, so by 1968 his performances–once second to none–were inconsistent and he often sounded hard and forced, especially in the high register. He got booed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, then sang spectacularly the next night in Flint, Michigan. At intermission during the show in Flint, I pressed my way to his dressing room, holding my oboe in hand, hoping the oboe would lessen the chance of getting thrown out. I got to his dressing room and knocked. A guy answered the door and I asked if I could have Mr. di Stefano’s autograph. He smiled, and as he took the program from my hand, I tried Plan B, which was to bluntly ask, “Could I talk to him for a minute?” To my surprise, I was welcomed into di Stefano’s dressing room by his son–and before I knew it, I was shaking hands with the great tenor! We talked for a few minutes about his 1950 recording of La Boheme, then, seeing I had an oboe in my hand, he told a joke about the oboe player and friend of his, Renato Zanfini. He asked, “Have you ever heard of Zanfini?” I said yes (I was also aware that Zanfini was a fine musician). di Stefano went on: “Did you know he’s got a great baritone voice? . . . but he can’t sing the opera. You know why?” I said no. And then, with much enthusiasm, he yelled, “BECAUSE HE CAN’T FOLLOW A CONDUCTOR!” After that, I asked him to sign the program, which he graciously did, and I left to warm up for the second half. (The program still hangs, framed, in our living room.)
Back to the pictures. The night we played at the Masonic Temple was unforgettable and remains one of a handful of awe-inspiring musical experiences I’ve been lucky to have. We had been transposing one of the 1st-act songs down a half step, but not that night: di Stefano was in great shape. We knew something special was happening by the time he got to Yours Is Mine Heart Alone(Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz). After the song, the audience began to applaud and yell. And then came a surprise, even to us musicians in the pit. The lights went down on the stage, the cast froze, di Stefano walked to the front of the stage, the audience quieted down, and he repeated a verse of Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz; but this time he sang pianissisimo (extremely softly) and the only light in that vast theater was a baby spot on di Stefano. This next panorama was taken not far (a little bit to the left) from the exact spot he stood on that most-memorable night.
Go here and listen to the great tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, sing Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz in a TV–concert setting (and notice how beautifully Kaufmann floats into the 2nd verse without a breath, at 2:32): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EyIBc6Hc4c
I also remember a night when I played Sleeping Beauty with the touring Royal Ballet in this hall, back when Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn were the stars. After intermission and before the curtain went up, a man in a tuxedo walked onto the stage, waited for the audience’s attention, and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen . . . There will be change in the cast for Sleeping Beautytonight. The part of Aurora will be danced by Margot Fonteyn and the role of the Prince . . . ” Anticipating the name, Rudolph Nureyev, the house erupted. After waiting for them to quiet down, John Lanchbery gave a downbeat and we began. And as you might imagine, the energy, both on the stage and in the theater, was incredible.
Fonteyn and Nureyev made their entrances not far from here.
As an adult, I realize that the Masonic Temple is an architectural marvel. The incredibly complicated design of the building includes corridors and tunnels that go here and there, stairwells to get to balconies in many rooms, ramps that lead to the giant wood-floor Drill Hall above the Masonic Temple Theater, a ballroom that is below the great auditorium, and on and on it goes. I recently was given permission by the building’s staff to shoot this panorama project. The spherical-panorama format is perfect for this because it’s the only format that gives the viewer a true impression of a place, plus gives him or her a choice of where he or she wants to look and/or zoom–and in this case, you’re in the great Masonic Temple in Detroit.