Monday, 6 January 2014

In the Name of the Kings

As a kind of Christmas epilogue I thought I’d look at another three lgbt people with seasonal connections. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, when Christian tradition celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings at the Nativity. Instead of birthdays I’ve looked for three people whose names are the same as the three kings. The Bible doesn’t name them, or even how many there were, but Christian folklore soon gave them names and back-stories. The names most often given to them are Melchior, Casper and Balthazar.

Let’s start with our musical theme for 2014 and our first look this month at Wagnerian music.

Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was a Danish opera singer who performed many of Richard Wagner’s pieces for a “heldentenor” (a “heroic tenor” specialising in the type of role created by composers like Wagner). One music critic write that Lauritz was “not the world’s greatest Wagner tenor” but “the only one!”

Lauritz became a professional singer in 1913, and ten years later he won an audition for Wagner’s widow Cosima and son Siegfried (more of whom in a couple of days). This was at the prompting of Lauritz’s lover at the time, the British writer Hugh Walpole. The Wagner’s were reviving the Bayreuth Festival which Wagner had founded and which had been suspended because of World War I. Under Cosima’s direction Lauritz learned the nuances and techniques which Wagner had intended got his heldentenor roles. Lauritz’s debut at the revived Bayreuth Festival in 1924 was hugely successful. Any other less powerful or able singer would have turned the revival into a damp squib, and Lauritz continued to perform at Bayreuth for several more years, ensuring its continued success.

In 1926 Lauritz began a long association with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. For the next 24 years he was to sing in over 500 Wagnerian performances. With his large stature and powerful voice he earned the nickname “Mammoth Melchior, the Great Dane of the Met”.

In later years Lauritz and his wife emigrated to the USA. As well as performing at the Met he entered the film industry and musicals from MGM and Paramount, often appearing as a kindly grandfather-type character. Even though his films are not well known he shared the screen with many famous musical stars.

For Casper I’ve chosen Casper Schroder (d.1730). The Netherlands may seem a homosexual paradise compared to some countries, but it was not always the case. In 1730 there was such a huge amount of arrests and persecutions of homosexual men that at times it sounds like a gay witch-hunt.

In Utrecht in April 1730 a group of men were arrested on suspicion of sodomy. Under interrogation they revealed a network of other gay men and meeting places across the country. There followed a wave of persecution and arrests and trials of many men from all walks of life. The penalty in convicted of sodomy was death. Most of them were strangled, the usual means of execution for female criminals in the Netherlands.

Casper Schroder was just one of the many executed homosexuals. Little is known about him other than that information given at his trial. Casper was a distiller from Rotterdam and was convicted alongside 2 other from the same city. Their execution took place on 17th July 1730. Casper and the 2 others were strangled. Their body was then burned and their ashes carried out to sea and thrown overboard.

My Balthazar for today’s celebration of the Three Kings is Raymundo Baltazar (b.1981). He acquired “celebrity” status after he appeared as a contestant in the second series of the fashion designing series “Project Runway” in 2005. A Mexican by birth Raymundo has been involved in the US fashion, art and media industry since he was a teenager, working on both sides of the coin as a stylist and in retail. His Catholic father was not too pleased with his chosen career because he though it was too gay.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles Raymundo set up his own brand of youth-wear called Young Balls. In 2001 Raymundo had a small part in the film “Shooting LA”, written and directed by Dan Clark.

Raymundo was one of the 16 contestants lined up at the start of “Project Runway” season 2, but was eliminated in programme 3 after losing the contest to design a human-sized Barbie doll outfit. Ironically, almost the next job Raymundo got was as costume designer on a gay puppet comedy series by the Dan Clark Company, “Playing With Dolls”, where the puppets were made of assorted dolls. Other design work has been with the Jim Henson Company.

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