From the Archives with Byron Hanson: May 2014

Crescendo issue: May 2014
  • Old Maid and the Thief, opera 1952
  • The Medium, opera 1952

A “WORLD PREMIERE” we didn’t know we had!

Since the earliest days of  Camp and Academy we’ve been privileged to give the first presentation of many new works in the performance arts arena. These range from the hundreds of works written by students, faculty and visiting artists, to a few works we’ve commissioned for special occasions and rarely played thereafter. A few works may have a life of their own, many lie largely forgotten, but once in a great while, some emerge as a surprise to brighten the archivist’s day.

Camp in the 1950s was an unusually rich time for the University of Michigan’s opera workshop, not so much because of the occasional staging of “grand” operas, but for the wide variety of short chamber operas they produced. These ranged from Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief , The Medium,The Telephone, and Amahl and the Night Visitors, to a diverse assortment of works by Vaughan Williams, Alec Wilder, Leonard Bernstein, Bohuslav Martinů, and a flock of less familiar composers. A focus on American operas climaxed in 1959’s American Opera Workshop when 22 operas were given a total of 89 performances in 55 days!

Menotti’s “Old Maid” and “Amahl”  had been written for radio and television, respectively, and Martinů followed a similar track with his early radio opera Comedy on the Bridge, and in 1952, an opera for television based on What Men Live By, a short moral fable by Leo Tolstoy. The University Opera workshop performance on August 1, 1954, was billed as “American Premiere”, and so the matter rested until a month ago, when a researcher in Europe wrote to verify the date of our performance, He knew that there had been a performance at Hunter College in 1955, but could find no records of any performance earlier than ours, whether on stage or television. So, barring discovery of a performance prior to ours, the World Premiere indeed belongs to Interlochen’s modest production 60 years ago in Grunow Theatre. A performance in the Czech Republic is planned for this fall - it would be good to see our premiere recognized in the program!

Joe Maddy’s Little Black Book…(well, blue actually) 

After nearly five years working with archives and many previous years of observation and accumulation, it seems unlikely that many undiscovered treasures lie among the piles we can only describe as “miscellaneous." Yet, little surprises still appear from time to time. Such is the case with a truly little volume  (2.625” by 4”), “Blue Book of telephone numbers” that reminds us to “Visit by Long Distance. It’s the next best thing to being there.” The book likely dates from about 1960,  when the Camp office was still in Ann Arbor, and Traverse City was not even listed among the places with Direct Distance Dialing. Dr. Maddy’s handwriting was scrawly but mostly legible.

In addition to those of a number of long-time friends and the major media networks, the numbers listed suggest the diversity of his primary concerns when the Academy was not yet an assured goal, and he still aspired to his decades-old hopes of taking an Interlochen orchestra to Europe: Martha B. Rockefeller Fund, Ford Foundation, W. Clement Stone, Kresge Foundation,Voice of America, Herman Kenin at the American Federation of Musicians, Van Cliburn, a government surplus outlet, Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the White House, the FCC, the U.S. Information Agency, and Ben Grauer, famed NBC radio voice who’d announced Toscanini broadcasts and our “Best from Interlochen” recorded programs for a number of years. The only “T” listings  are Lyman Tremaine, our original finance guru, and Wendell Turner, the head of our Food Service. No surprises here, but a simple reminder of the perseverance of our founder in his twilight years.

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