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JOHN BELL YOUNG tells his story of collaboration
with British actor MICHAEL YORK


A funny thing happened to me recently on the way to New York -- Hollywood.

What began as a campaign to restore to the art of melodrama something of its former prestige was transformed into a full-scale collaboration with a cinematic icon. Indeed, the events that made it possible tend to support the fundamental truth of an age-old aphorism: luck is the meeting of opportunity and preparation.

While melodrama may evoke visions of rowdy temper tantrums and obsequious soap operas, it is, in fact, a centuries-old genre and an ancestor of multi-media programming. It is a kind of small-scale musical, setting forth a poem or narrative that is spoken rather than sung while an instrumental accompaniment paints in sound the mood and characters depicted. Many famous composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, and Schumann, penned these odd constructs where three art forms -- music, poetry, and theater -- coincide in a single work.

For nineteenth century audiences, melodramas were roughly equivalent to modern cinema, but with one major difference: the audience had to visualize the story on its own terms.

Enoch on the island 'under a palm tree' - a still from the 1915 film by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne
Enoch on the island 'under a palm tree' - a still from the 1915 film by D W Griffith and Christie Cabanne

In 1962, the controversial pianist Glenn Gould, joined by the golden era movie actor Claude Rains, restored to melodrama a modicum of its vanished popularity. Their remarkable recording of Richard Strauss's Enoch Arden Op 38 (1897), a landmark among melodramas, became an instant classic. A limited edition of two thousand LPs sold out in no time before going out of print. Since then, only a handful of recordings of the work have been made, all by non-actors.

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Copyright © 23 September 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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