December 12, 2015 will be the 100th birthday of perhaps the greatest American entertainers of the last century. His name was Frank Sinatra, and he was a popular recording artist and performer from the 1930s until the mid-1990s. There was something about his delivery that was unique. He was often referred to as a “saloon singer” probably because of the pathos that his delivery conveyed as in “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road.” Though I was not alive during Sinatra’s early years as a performer, I have heard many recordings from “live” performances where the girls in the audience screamed with delight when he stepped onto the stage. Some of them, I’ve read, would yell “Frankie!” and swoon. He definitely had charisma. Sinatra also enjoyed careers in radio (particularly as the star of Your Hit Parade), and on television in his own musical variety show, and as the guest of other entertainers.
He was an excellent actor who won acclaim for many of his films – both musicals and dramas – and won an Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity (1953). I also consider his performances in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) to have been outstanding. The Manchurian Candidate, which is based on the 1959 book of the same name by Richard Condon, is about a Korean War POW who is brainwashed to do whatever he is told to do after seeing a particular playing card – the queen of diamonds. In that way he is ordered to assassinate a prominent U. S. politician. The year after the film’s release, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and some say that Sinatra, who was close to the Kennedy family, removed the film from distribution. Others says that the film was only removed because it was no longer popular with the public. Regardless of which story is true, the Kennedy assassination only a year after the release of the film was jarring.
Sinatra’s lifestyle was as storied as his talent. He dated and wed many beautiful women, smoked and drank heavily, lost his hair-trigger temper many times with lesser mortals than himself, and was even rumored to have had ties to the mafia. One of his most popular songs was “My Way,” and he definitely lived life his way. Remarkably, he lived to the age of 82 and released his last two albums titled Duets and Duets II just a few years before his death. By then his voice was in shreds, but there was still something there – something about the way he delivered songs – that made us want to listen to them again and again.
There were two interesting things about those final albums: Initially, he was placed in a booth where he could hear the orchestra, but was removed from it. He was very uncomfortable there because he had stood in front of an orchestra all his life, so they moved him out of the booth, and put him in his customary spot near the orchestra, and he was fine. The other unique thing about the recording sessions was that the people he was singing with in the duets were in various places around the world during the recording sessions, and, in some cases, recorded their parts either before or after Sinatra recorded his.
Public broadcasting in my area will feature a 1½ hour Live from Lincoln Center program titled “Sinatra: Voice of a Century” on December 19th at 9:00 p.m. CT with repeats over the next two days. The program is described as follows: “Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic celebrate the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra with a star-studded concert event featuring Christina Aguilera, Chris Botti, Fantasia, Sutton Foster, Bernadette Peters and Sting. Seth MacFarlane hosts.” Check your local PBS station for dates and times in your area.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is featuring Frank Sinatra as its “Star of the Month” during December. Thirty-five of his films and five concerts will be aired during the month. You can see the entire December schedule for TCM here. Bing Crosby, whose popularity was eclipsed somewhat by that of Sinatra, is quoted by TCM prime-time host Robert Osborne as having said, “A voice like Sinatra’s comes along once in a lifetime . . . but why did he have to come along in mine?” Though I sympathize with Crosby, I’m awfully glad that Frank Sinatra came along when he did.
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The Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, which began in 1931, will commence on Saturday, December 6th at 1:00 p.m. ET, and will continue through May 7, 2016. The first broadcast will feature Giacomo Puccini’s beloved La Bohème. It will be followed by my favorite opera, Giuseppe Verdi’s fabulous Rigoletto. Other notable operas in the series include Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Bizet’s lesser-known but beautiful Les Pêcheurs de Perles, and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. You can check here to see if a radio station in your area will carry the broadcasts. You can also listen to the broadcasts over the internet through WQXR in New York City, and on other stations.
If you have access to SiriusXM satellite radio you can listen to past performances of the Met as well as to some live performances 24/7. You will find the schedule here (the live performances are shown in boldface) and here.
The Met also offers a live audio stream of one opera per week during their season. You can view the schedule and listen using the Met opera player here.
A fascinating way to feel like you’re at the Met without actually going to New York is to watch a Met performance in a theater in high definition (HD). You can browse the schedule of upcoming offerings and locate a participating theater near you here. Just think about it: one of the greatest opera companies in the world available in 2,000 theaters in 70 countries around the world!
Opera is a wonderful art form. The Met offers easy access to anyone interested in broadening his or her musical tastes. Give it a try with an open mind and you’ll probably learn to love it just as I have.