This week I accepted a challenge from my friend, Susie Taylor, to post something on Facebook from Dvorak whose most recognizable work is the third movement in his Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” Composed in 1893, a recording of this symphony actually accompanied Neil Armstrong on the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission.
Though it did not involve space travel, another of Dvorak’s compositions popped up in pop culture this week—“Songs My Mother Taught Me,” composed in 1880. In season four, episode two of Downton Abbey broadcast last Sunday, the Grantham clan host a fancy soiree featuring Dame Nellie Melba, Australia’s first internationally known classical musician. The part of Dame Melba was played by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, a renowned international opera star herself. While the family, friends, and most of the household staff are enthralled by the splendor of the Dvorak and Puccini compositions performed by one of the most famous singers of the Victorian Era, something hideous and shocking is happening to head housemaid Anna in the servant’s quarters below stairs. This portrayal of the contrast between beauty and ugliness is profound. Click here for a link to a recording of Dame Nellie Melba singing this piece.
Although I easily could, I won’t digress into the complexities of class distinction and subtleties of interpersonal relationships that make up Downton Abbey . . . or into what a darn good show it is. If you are one of the few who haven’t succumbed to Downton fever, get your hands on season one, episode one, and enjoy. Prior to yesterday, I was entrenched in all things Downton but knew little about Antonin Dvorak and nearly nothing about Victorian or modern-day opera singers. Thanks for the nudge in this direction, Susie.
“The first rule of opera is the first rule in life: see to everything yourself.” ~Nellie Melba