Claudia Cassidy discusses her career as a critic ; part 2
BROADCAST: Nov. 30, 1966 | DURATION: 00:44:57
Claudia Cassidy discusses being a critic of theater and opera etc. Includes about 1.5 minutes of another interview.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Claudia Cassidy I was at home working on records and Seymour Raven came to the house. You know Seymour was in the department that time before he went with the orchestra. And I thought that was that was very touching because what they really wanted me was to get down there as fast as possible and write something which I did. But he represented all of the young artists. You know that when he started he told me this he had a scholarship with Olga Samaroff and he had to go to Philadelphia. I think she was at Curtis, wasn't she? We had to go to Philadelphia anyway for his lessons. He had no money and he would find sitting on the piano a five-dollar bill to get him back and forth. And so Rubinstein once gave him a pair of shoes. God knows why he gave him a pair of shoes when he was just a little boy and he was so enchanted that he wore them, though they didn't fit him, almost crippled himself for life. You could see him staggering around in shoes that, and I don't, whether they were too big or too little. But he would come to our house at night because I was always working nights and we never got thrown out of the building so I suppose the neighbors liked it. It wasn't this apartment and-
Claudia Cassidy He'd play all night because he couldn't stop. Now that was a case of being drained. He would come when he was absolutely exhausted from working because he never had enough time. Nobody has enough time I think that's a mark of the people who try and he would play a few records. He always wanted to hear Caruso, you know that wonderful ping in the voice that you know Horowitz always wanted to hear but a [unintelligible] maybe still does. He wanted to hear Horowitz he wanted to hear Rubenstein, he wanted to hear Heifetz. And then the first thing you knew he'd start to play. So we heard the things that he never played in public. He said they weren't ready. But you wonder sometimes you can't help but wonder with the world just opening and he's flown into the side of a mountain and you don't quite know.
Studs Terkel As you say this Claudia I'm thinking of young Kapell dying at a certain moment, John Keats at a certain moment, Shelley at a certain moment. Yet there were certain artists, he w-he wanted to hear Caruso because Caruso was doing something over and beyond-
Claudia Cassidy Beyond.
Claudia Cassidy And waiting for their entrance and she said 'Caruso is The Great Caruso trembling?' And he said 'Mason, other artists have to perform a hundred percent. Caruso, a hundred and fifty.' Well that hundred and fifty. You know the performers say well on a good night I might do a hundred and five percent but that reach for the hundred and fifty. That's the thing that's exciting to me.
Claudia Cassidy Yes. And when it happens I know that when when Koussevitzky would come with the Boston Orchestra or when I would be there because I loved him very dearly. And one of the things I loved was when I would see him after a concert and after I'd finished you see, either wiring a story from there or writing it here. He never said 'how are you?' Oh no.
Studs Terkel That's interesting. He knew you had to do your work and then he wanted to know what you thought. He wouldn't interfere with what you had to do. But then he had to know what you thought because he respected your opinion.
Studs Terkel If I could make this comment about Claudia Cassidy, if I may. A very personal comment, That she knew that certain artists are reaching for something as indeed she herself attempted and tried as a critic to interpret that reaching for something and whether the audience dug this or not is not the important thing, it's whether you dug it. It comes back to you and your personal vision again.
Claudia Cassidy Well, I think that if you were going to write about audience reaction you might just as well take a sound of track of applause. Or I used to say to the papers 'why don't you have three little signs, you know, Simon says sums up or thumbs down or he doesn't care much and don't write anything.' But, now that is what has always kept me and that was one of the things I mean kept me listening. That was one of the things about Furtwangler, who said the most wonderful thing to me about halls, you know concert halls. The first time I met him was in Austria at Salzburg and I was new to Europe and I would still like to know, but I ask him which was the finest of the concert halls. You know what he said? He said 'the one with the best performance.' [laughing] And isn't it true? We've all been to perfectly awful places that all of a sudden turned out to be glorious and we've been to glorious places that sounded awful. It is true.
Claudia Cassidy Furtwangler had that reaching, you know, his was a mystical reaching. But when they reopened Bayreuth he didn't like Bayreuth as well as Salzburg, which I can understand, but he did, you may remember he did the Beethoven Ninth Symphony for their opening after the war years. It was the most extraordinary Beethoven Ninth I had ever heard and ever have heard since, though I've heard some wonderful ones because it was partly the moment, naturally, but he had that mystical imagination to bring that moment into the music. And you heard what you felt almost sure Beethoven was talking about. Well that's, it's always the search in music. What was Toscanini's searching for all of his life? And of course, there can be variations. You won't find the same great conductor doing the same piece of music exactly alike. But I like to think that's true about plays and that the great plays, whatever you may call them. They're really a part of our life and I am so deeply envious of London an-and Stratford that it can have in this great extension. Because I think right now it's a difficult time for music. We don't have as much of the really exciting things, the really great ones, the ones that you know open the universe to you, you know we've all heard Heifetz play the Bach Chaconne when all of a sudden the top of your head goes off. You don't know just when it happened but it happened. Well, that that's been true with the great conductors it was true here in Chicago when Reiner was at his crest. I remember the night that Reiner first came with the orchestra. I was in such a hurry to get back to the paper I tried to run across the street. And a policeman who knew me said 'if you weren't careful the Tribune will have an obituary, not a review.' And I said 'please not this season.' Some seasons I wouldn't mind but not this
Claudia Cassidy Yes, you've got them coming up. But theater right now. That's what excites me so about the London Theater. I'm not talking about the West End because some of it you know you could you could find a [unintelligible] production or right now you could find Richardson and Rutherford playing "The Rivals. But I'm not talking about that I'm talking about these subsidized theaters whether you like everything they do or not. They are building actors, they're building repertory.
Claudia Cassidy They're building audiences and I'm sort of selfish. I want everyone to have a chance to know how exciting it can be. And I don't think that we give them a great deal of chance right now not here.
Studs Terkel We return to this theme again. I know you. We talked about O'Neill before this, before we started taping Claudia about the power of O'Neill. Some say the same theme. But all those variations.
Claudia Cassidy Indeed.
Claudia Cassidy Well, it's what is turned into is a lifetime of search. And I remember I spoke about Nathan a while ago. You remember it was quite a long time ago a musical opened here about Chicago called Windy City.
Studs Terkel Windy
Claudia Cassidy And you know it had a great deal. It didn't make it but it did have a great deal of promise. And I remember at that time Henry Murdock was on The Sun and he liked it too up to a point but he telephoned me a few days later he said 'Claudia don't go back. They've taken out everything we like,' which sometimes happens. Well, Nathan, you know, had this enormous curiosity. He didn't see that because it never got out of Chicago but he wanted me to tell him about it. And I did. And there was one scene in particular the scene of the gambler in the church which was quite extraordinary. And I said 'you will probably think I'm crazy but that was fascinating' and he said 'oh no you wait all season for a scene like that' and you do.
Studs Terkel Now here we come to something. You wait all season for a scene like that. Sometimes there can be a play maybe but all of a sudden something happened and then we have the magic again, don't we?
Claudia Cassidy We do indeed. And it has that. You know when you suddenly are reminded that being stage-struck is an honorable word. Sometimes you feel a little silly. I've gone to things that took great effort that I felt pretty silly about afterward. What was I doing there? On the other hand, I have gone when I've felt so rich. Everything was worth it.
Studs Terkel Everything was worth it. It happens, you know that, that you know again. If I could just come back to O'Neill again. You know so much talk about O'Neill you know we're here talking about O'Neill and his verbosity and overwriting but all that leads to a certain moment-
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Studs Terkel -as in any play of his, of revelation when all of a sudden this barroom brawl or you would seem who was not hasn't the finesse of others suddenly hits you with a punch that knocks you so cold.
Claudia Cassidy That's right that there's a blackness about him. You know, I always felt that in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" that they went after each other not not with just pieces of glass but broken bottles. You know, that was really dangerous. But the power in it as you say it's it's like certain performances of Beethoven that can be so black. Or certain performances of Bartok that Reiner did because Reiner did the best Bartok I've ever heard in which you almost felt as you do with some of the Bartok quartets that if somebody wanted many years from now to know what we were like they could listen to that black disillusioned shredded music.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Studs Terkel I think, since you mentioned this. I know you have various recording machines in the house records and I was asked before we went on I says Claudia how shall we do this? Shall we play recordings of instrumentalists with a Kapell whether it be Reisa, a vocalist, who have moved you and then you said something very interesting that it's the live performance is the best that you heard?
Claudia Cassidy Well, now Raisa to describe her voice. It sounds so ridiculous because her voice truly was purple and gold. It was and it poured out over you, you know. One night at Ravinia she often would sing at Ravinia. And in in many ways you could say this is crazy because this was a small [unintelligible] And you know Mr. Eckstein once in a while would put on a gala evening.
Studs Terkel The
Claudia Cassidy And he would put on one act from an opera and one act from another opera to show off and also to bring people in. Well, that night they had Schipa and Bori doing the second act of "Manon." But they had something that you would never hear really in an opera house they had the first act of "Butterfly" with a love duet with Raisa and Martinelli and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the pit. And that was something you were not going to forget. So there was that quality just as it was with Martinelli. You know, Mr. Eckstein always said I can't do Cavalleria first when I do Cavalleria or Pagliacci because Martinelli who sings Pagliacci would explode. Well, he had in his voice on his great nights a kind of a supercharger. Well that it's true with an orchestra. And it isn't quite the same thing on recordings no matter how much as they say they beat them up because you are a part of it, you see, you are pulled into it. And I remember nights of Horowitz playing in Orchestra Hall when you found it. You were pulled forward in your chair, you know, you weren't quite aware of it but you were. In the last performances that Kapell played with the orchestra. He played the third Prokofiev and the first Brahms. This season earlier Cliburn who was certainly a great talent played the first Brahms and there was lots that was good about it because he has this big spaciousness. But the the fierce black outpouring of that gnarled piece of music that was Kapell. Dangerous.
Studs Terkel As Claudia Cassidy is now talking. She said her word is a knife and a dangerous dark, she's talking about art. And I suppose you might say she's talking about life too. You know, I remember Pearl Buck wrote a piece. It wasn't very good. It was, I saw it on TV, but I remember it's about a little boy in China, if I may say this is connected with what you're saying Claudia, so directly related to it. This little kid is living with, he's orphaned, living with his family with another family and friends. And hurricanes take place and fishermen die and the old mandarin top of the Hill says this boy who's bright come and live with me and the kid says no and the man was old foolish boy named Pearl Buck came on to us. You know, he wasn't really a foolish boy he was saying life this is the life that he life is risk.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy There is that willingness to risk everything which I think is terribly important. In fact, I think it's living. I've always been out on a limb because I'm never quite sure I'm there. I'm not aware of it until somebody starts to saw.
Studs Terkel You realize you could you could have been a very popular critic. You realize that now Claudia, like you could have been very popular you could have written marvelous beautiful things about everybody. And in fact, you could have been Society editor too Cassidy. But this has nothing to do with art.
Claudia Cassidy Well, I would I wouldn't have wanted anybody who believed in me to be disappointed. That's true. People have always been most extraordinary. When I was starting, goodness you wouldn't believe the trouble they all went to. And then, you know they could they could be so charming. It's such a gateway I remember after one of his recitals Segovia sent me a postcard and the postcard said, as only Segovia would put it, you know smiling, having a little fun, "I am writing this from an altitude of 30,000 feet, approximately the height of your literary ability. He knew I would laugh and he was laughing, you see. But on the other hand, if you hadn't gone to the trouble to say precisely what you thought he was doing he would have been disappointed. You don't necessarily hit what they think at all of course. But I always felt that you owe it to anyone you're writing about to do the best you can. Whatever that may be.
Studs Terkel Segovia. Just a moment ago you talk about Alfred Lunt had a scene you felt was too long, with Lunt this actor whom you admire, and I imagine of Segovia you felt there was something that Segovia wasn't quite as good as
Claudia Cassidy Well, but you see there there is a difference there because in that first production Lunt was not his own director. Peter Brook was, who of course, a very great director. When Lunt took it over he shortened it.
Claudia Cassidy Well, I think he knew that I cared as much about him as he did. You see, that's very important to people who are killing themselves to try to do something is to have people who think it is important. I think perhaps that's as much to do with it as anything else. You know, it's it's I know that Heifetz said one time I would rather people would hiss once in a while than to applaud everything the same.
Studs Terkel Now we come to something else don't we? Another aspect that yeah there must be, that is even by the audience too and the critic is trying to say this. The critic says this for himself. In the case of Claudia Cassidy for herself. That the audience must have a feeling and a passion, if it doesn't like it to say so but if everything is good and applausible-
Claudia Cassidy Just a bland, it's awfully hard to work against that. Of course, nobody would really want to be hissed, I've heard people hissed it's not very pleasant for anybody. But, I know what he meant. And I know that. At one time when I was very new. Josef Hofmann played, certainly, that was one of the great ones. And I was a little disappointed. I don't mean that I didn't think it was very fine. I just didn't think it was quite Hofmann. And do you know what that generous man did? He sent me word that he agreed with me. He would have been upset to think that was his best performance. This is not to say he wasn't a great man. Even when you were writing but that for his standard that wasn't quite up.
Claudia Cassidy It was better than good. There is that line, you know, where something becomes a revelation. You know, we've all heard something that either it seems totally fresh, which is the wonderful thing, of course, about the great music and the great plays. They can seem so fresh it's if you had never encountered them before.
Studs Terkel This aspect I return to Lunt because of that there's a theme here. Even though he's been to a performance hundreds of times Casals has said this when he plays Bach he always discovers something new.
Claudia Cassidy Of course. There, I went a couple of times well three or four times to the Casals festivals when they were both in Prades and Perpignan. And I remember one night he was conducting, and it was a Mozart concerto maybe the one in A major. I think the Violin Concerto and that was a long time ago and the soloist was Isaac Stern. Well, Stern had always had that great big beautiful tone and the big brilliant talent. But that night he stepped into something else. Casals opened the door. And that's a wonderfully exciting thing.
Claudia Cassidy And it was an extraordinary thing. Myra Hess played with him too that year. And, of course, they just met each other because I mean Casals and Myra Hess because they were pretty much in the same general idea to start with. But you do, you see I get excited talking about it because it's it is, a wonderful, now the night in in Salzburg. A long time ago when Furtwangler did Fidelio the Flagstad that was right after the war. And the audience was quite emotional anyway. But like most conductors are many anyway. He put the third Leonore Overture before the last scene, you know. And it was extraordinary because people without being quite aware of what were on their feet shouting and it was it was a declaration of human rights.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Claudia Cassidy just relaxing at her home here on the near north side and just the thoughts that come to her mind about art and artists and herself as a critic. Any thoughts? We're touching bases very casually improvisationally. Other thoughts, moments that occur to you as a critic as a member of the audience. Various artists moments that even as I ask you this at this moment. Something comes to your mind. Another occasion, an event.
Claudia Cassidy Yes. And how extraordinary it was. And then when they opened their first season with Callas. Now there's one I don't think has ever really been caught on records. I had some good records of hers yes, but the in that first Chicago season I think was 1954 when she sang Norma, Traviata, and Lucia. One two three. There were three of the most extraordinary performances of my life. Especially the Traviata because the Norma was, after all, Raisa's role. And it was an extraordinary performance that Callas gave, but in a different, not quite in that noble vein. And the Lucia, of course, was a hair-raiser. But the Traviata had I think it was the finest one I've ever heard because all of the fever of the woman was in the music. It is in there but you never hear it. No Giorgio Polacco, who was for many years head of the Chicago Opera, an extraordinary man. He could get absolutely enraged at the ump, thump, thump people would make out of Traviata. But that's the only time that I can remember. I've heard some remarkable ones, of course. Muzio for one. Bori for one. But where all of that, the fever, the excitement, the risk everything the woman took was in that music. She put it there. Well, that early part of the Lyric you may remember that Fritz Reiner took over the Chicago Symphony in '53. And by the way, Kapell was to have been a soloist New Year's Eve playing The Third Rachmaninoff and he was killed. And then the Lyric had its introductory performance that next February and then opened in the fall. Well, then I thought we had it. I thought now if we could just have a resident theater on as high a level. Because at that time the Lyric seemed to be to be a place and it was I think where everybody for sort of a miraculous reason felt he had to give his best. It was special and nobody could have paid people for what they did. Well, it was very exciting.
Claudia Cassidy I realize it's was easier for them to be adventurous when they had no board of directors. There were three people and they had been I don't mean every day in the week but they had been coming into the office once in a while to talk about their hopes for possibly two or three years before they got the curtain up. But at least that project was born. So many of the projects that we talked about never got off the ground. But at that time they had no one to answer to but themselves.
Studs Terkel So we come- no one to answer to but themselves. Non-not boards. This leads to just I know you h-you haven't seen it. I hope you'll meet him when his theater comes here. I trust it will. Bill Ball, William Ball-
Studs Terkel Well, he's very adventurous and risk risks and dares and his imaginative. But back to moment. So it was Callas and Traviata. So even though there's a Muzio on record I've read, but you saw Muzio do it.
Claudia Cassidy Oh yes. Well she had that honey in the mouth voice, of course, and great beauty. And it was a different, you know, but marvelously sung and you know from recordings about the lieder singing which she was superb.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy Well, not as much the it it's inevitable I think that if a person has a true talent for the stage, which heaven knows she does, you you're not going to capture all of it, you just can't. There's an excitement generated between an audience and an artist. A spark is struck.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy It's
Studs Terkel Well, Claudia perhaps just a couple of more questions. You've been very gracious with your time. This is a two installment program. Just thoughts of Claudia Cassidy critic of theatre of drama of of music of the dance. Any other moments that come to your mind your own thoughts anything, well this is wide open. Thinking of now this very moment.
Claudia Cassidy Well yes. But this this would be so many. I'm just leaving a performance that had been extraordinary. Many different kinds of things. I think one of the one of the things that probably made me stick to a newspaper was that there is very little it's more satisfying if that's the word than to hear something like that. And to go back and as fast as possible, write about it. I always wrote headlines in in the cab or in the car on the way back 'cause I had was always in a hurry. That is one of the nicest things about working on a newspaper. The that's one thing I miss right now. I like to do it right now, you know.
Claudia Cassidy That
Claudia Cassidy But I think too there is there is this, you know, nothing is ever quite gone. There's always a chance it might happen again and happen in a totally unexpected place. I remember we go back to Kapell for a moment. I had great hope for him. I knew about his talent you couldn't miss that. But there was that night at Ravinia that he did the Third Rachmaninoff and he moved right up there because there are only three people in my entire life I have heard play the Third Rachmaninoff and really play it because many people it sounds like trash. But when it has that great life force behind it. Rachmaninoff had it of course. Horowitz had it, no doubt still does. Kapell had it. And as far as I know no one else. And that includes a lot of very fine people. But that thing that it was as if he walked into a circle sort of a magic circle at night and when people do that I love to be there.
Studs Terkel This raises a question before we say goodbye for now. It's that moment, and it's in the heat and the passion of that moment that you write it often we're told and the question arises. Shouldn't a critic whether it be of theater or of an opera but certainly of theater see it and write about three weeks later? This question often arises,
Claudia Cassidy Well, I imagine that's a matter of temperament maybe for some people certainly not for me. I wanted to do it right then. And I have always felt that I if you were any judge of your own work I always thought I did my best work that way. Because what you are really trying to do in that sense is to say exactly what happened and it's more vividly and more freshly in your mind at that moment. You can write another piece about it if you want to another time. But I have always felt that part of the excitement of a newspaper is right now. Of course, they always want things yesterday if they could get them.
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy No, I I think that people will probably be much stronger for or against at that moment. But I think that that's the way it is. I mean something that can seem very bad to you at this moment. The next day well, that's so important. And maybe that's better. But frankly, I don't think so. I think this is a living business.
Studs Terkel A living business. I know there are scores of thoughts and artists you think have come to your mind. Any, if I were to say to you before, you know, af-I say goodbye to you now, Claudia. Have one more drink. [Claudia Cassidy laughs] I was thinking about, you know, Fats Waller used to say 'give me another drink and I'll tell you the whole story.' But what if I were to say to you certain moments obviously Kapell, obviously Lunt in a certain play, obviously Glass Menagerie, obviously Furtwangler, Muzio, Callas, another moments that, you know, the phrase that the columnist Jimmie Fidler used to use, moments that bless and burn. Moments that burn you and bless you.
Claudia Cassidy Well, one of the most extraordinary performances in ballet was not so very long ago. It was in London at Covent Garden and it was Giselle. Now today this wouldn't surprise anybody. But, after all, London had been talking about Margot Fonteyn's successor for some time they didn't have one but they talked about it. But instead, she got a partner for the first time in her life, Nureyev. Well, I happened to be in London. As a matter of fact, I saw Nureyev in Paris when he made his debut, not with the Kirov, but after he left them and he made his debut in Sleeping Beauty I think it was. And then when we got to London. Not that year but the following year he had become Fonteyn's partner. And she had moved into a whole new career. And that was the most beautiful Giselle I have ever seen them dance because Nureyev was an experimenter, if you get something perfect, he was going to fix it. You can't stop him. But there was a tenderness about that performance that y-you could see what happened. Here she was dancing as she had never danced before in her life. Not with a great fire because, obviously, that was in her younger days. But with the beauty that there it was because he had opened that door.
Studs Terkel I'm fascinated by two experiences you relate. Several moments ago you were talking about the older artists the maestro the master Casals opened the avenue of a very younger artist Isaac Stern. And he had the reverse-
Claudia Cassidy Yes.
Claudia Cassidy That's
Claudia Cassidy It's extraordinary. But you see Fonteyn's partners had been Helpmann, who was a good actor but not a dancer. And Somes who was a good partner again. But in ballet, there is a difference with a great dancer, naturally. This, of course, then it became known all over the world and she had a whole new career but to see it happen. And Nureyev took a bow that night which he has since elaborated as sometimes something a little pretentious. But, they used to say about Pavlova that nobody could bow as she could. And I think maybe that was true. The first story I ever wrote, by the way, was about her.
Claudia Cassidy Uh-huh, and it was it was simply a matter of raising his arms and bringing them down. But in that context he was offering a new world to Fonteyn, though I don't know that that's what he meant but that's what it seemed.
Studs Terkel That's what happened too. So we come to Claudia Cassidy perhaps. There's an old phrase of that Diaghilev is reputed to have used when Nijinsky tried everything to to impress his impresario and nothing happened. And what he wish of me, impresario? And finally he said astonish me.
Claudia Cassidy Yes. I'm doing a magazine piece or two. And I'm trying in my head to do what I always thought I would do and write fiction. I may fall flat on my face. You will hear a terrific crash, but I'll try anyway.
Unidentified Female Other places, but the institute down here you just want, regardless of what color you are, the institute, the people from the institute feels that color to my opinions is only skin deep because we get along. In other words, just like brothers and sisters and mostly everyone down his own a first name basis. And is oh it's about a thousand of them. I'm saying well I know it's a lot of people come down here institute, the staff and the students. And every place is just great.
Unidentified Female Well, one thought I was just thinking of one part of the city would be like Institute would everything would be great. You see and what this started on which I think was the start and I would say was kind of foolish. Because what the incident started about it didn't really didn't make sense. About [fire hydrants?] See, and it's just to me the institute is just as they say is just my I would say marvelous I'll say it's great.
Unidentified Female Well you are a big man now. But in your palms I see great success and many happiness. And one day you shall be, should be great as Cassius Clay say we are at the institute. We are the greatest. Thank you very much.