Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

A Tribute to Actor Michael York

Michael York as Pip in Great Expectations (1974)

Last night, I was thinking about the 1974 movie, Great Expectations, and wondering whatever happened to British actor Michael York. Was he still alive? An Internet search showed that he is 79 years old, living in West Hollywood, and still very much alive.

In 2011, my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino, was a member of the cast in the Long Beach Opera production of Cherubini’s Medea. She had a singing role as one of Dirce’s handmaidens. One night, after the performance, an average looking elderly couple came up to her and expressed their admiration for her performance. The man was so sickly looking, he looked like he was in the last stages of cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, or cancer. His skin was yellow and dry, his hair limp and straw-like. He seemed very familiar to me, but I could not immediately place him. But the man had a very distinctive theatrical voice, and there it was — Michael York!

(Lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino in 2011 at the furniture warehouse converted to a theater for the LBO production, Medea. Photo by Dawn Pisturino. The production garnered a lot of media coverage because former director, Andreas Mitisek, had a reputation for staging innovative opera productions in unusual locations.)

Michael York and his long-time wife, American photographer Patricia McCallum, were so kind and gracious to my daughter! He encouraged her talent and career and wished her the best for all of her future endeavors. He did not come off as arrogant or condescending, but just a real, down-to-earth person. In other words, he is not one of those Hollywood snobs who thinks he’s better than everybody else. He is not an angry, loud, foul-mouthed creep like Alec Baldwin, who was forced to go to anger management therapy. He and his wife showed up in ordinary clothes. In fact, they were under-dressed. With his obvious health problems, it looked like he had fallen on hard times. But the reality is a little different.

In 2012, York was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease in which insoluble proteins invade parts of the body and internal organs, eventually causing the organs to shut down. It took three years to get the right diagnosis. He underwent autologous stem cell transplant therapy and has been doing well since. A classically trained Shakespearean actor, York now writes books, does voiceovers, and promotes fundraising and public awareness of amyloidosis.

It just goes to show that no matter how talented you are, how important you think you are, or how rich you are, bad things happen. And it’s how you handle those challenges which determines the kind of person you are.

(Ariel Pisturino [facing front] as one of Dirce’s handmaidens in the LBO production of Medea.)

I will always have the greatest respect for Michael York for encouraging my daughter in her career. His humility and graciousness touched both our hearts. And I wish him and his wife all the best. We never know how our lives are going to end up, but we can never go wrong with being kind to others, supporting others with positive affirmations, and encouraging their hopes and dreams.

Michael York’s website: http://www.michaelyork.net

Long Beach Opera website: http://www.longbeachopera.org

Ariel Pisturino website: http://www.arielpisturino.com

Dawn Pisturino

November 4, 2021

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Colorful Moments in Early Black-and-White Horror

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, black-and-white masked ball scene.

Most people think of the silent film version of Phantom of the Opera as a black-and-white film but, in reality, there were a number of color scenes in the movie.

As early as 1895, methods had been invented to inject color into scenes, but these “additive color systems” used processes that were tedious and time-consuming: hand-coloring, stenciling, tinting, and toning. They were only used on a limited basis. Tinting and toning gave the best results and were used by D.W. Griffith. Prismacolor and the Handschiegel Process fall into this category.

In 1915, the Technicolor Corporation invented a two-strip process, and this was incorporated into select scenes in Phantom of the Opera, 1925.

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in technicolor.

Whether the black-and-white scenes or the color scenes are more frightening depends on the individual viewer. I personally like the light and dark contrasts of black-and-white film in horror movies because it feels moodier, creepier, and more akin to the darkness of evil. (Think about the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolfman and how different they would look in color.)

Color films, in fact, did not really take off until the late 1930s due to the expense. And producers expected big returns on their money. It wasn’t until the 1960s that color became the norm. Now, watching a black-and-white film seems to be a treat reserved for film buffs alone!

The Unmasking Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in black-and-white.
Masked Ball Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in early technicolor.

Which do YOU prefer?

Dawn Pisturino

October 5, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

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Ride of the Valkyries

The Ride of the Valkyries is one of Richard Wagner’s most popular pieces. The music has been used as part of the soundtrack in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now, included in Halloween music collections, and hailed as an anthem for strong, courageous women. Everybody loves the iconic image of hefty, solid women dressed in armor, ready to wage battle. The music is rousing, active, and elevating. And the scene, which marks the beginning of Act Three in the opera Die Walkure, appeals to people who appreciate the enduring legacy of Nordic and Teutonic mythology. It is the second opera in the four operas which make up the Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle (The Ring). Many people believe J.R.R. Tolkien derived The Lord of the Rings from Wagner’s Ring, but Tolkien always denied that idea. Still, the similarities cannot be ignored. Wagner’s ring is a symbol of complete and total power that can be wielded against others. Cursed by Alberich, it becomes the cause of all the misery in the world. Sound familiar?

But who and what are the Valkyries?

In Norse mythology, the Valkyries were warrior goddesses associated with the god Odin. Their primary function was to bring back the bodies of slain heroes to Valhalla, where they would feast with Odin. They were called the Einherjar. Some were chosen to fight with Odin at the end of the world, during Ragnarok.

Wagner uses Teutonic mythology in his opera. The Valkyries were the daughters of Wotan who chose which heroes would be slain and then transported their bodies to the halls of Valhalla. Wotan’s daughter, Brunnhilde, embodies the qualities of courage, strength, wisdom, and precognition. It is her sacrifice which finally destroys the cruel, omnipotent power of the ring and saves the world.

The Ride of the Valkyries, from the Metropolitan Opera 2012 production. Enjoy!

Dawn Pisturino

October 4, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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unSUNg “Perceptual Mishmash” video benefit concert

My daughter, Ariel Pisturino, is the Artistic Director, as well as a performer, in the new unSUNg video benefit concert series. Click on the link to listen to this amazing group of musical artists, performing new and forgotten musical masterpieces.

(The link has expired.)

All donations benefit Water Warriors United, a group of dedicated Navajos who transport water supplies to the disabled and elderly on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Visit their website at:

http://www.collectivemedicine.net

Enjoy!

Dawn Pisturino

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Concert for the Dead

Concert for the Dead image

Story by Dawn Pisturino

Artwork by Job van Gelder

Ariel knelt before the marble niche holding the remains of her dead older brother and placed a bouquet of roses in the stone vase. Six months had passed since the horrible night a drunk driver had taken Jonathan’s life. She would never forget.

“Coach Willis still talks about you, Jonathan,” Ariel said, tracing the carved letters of his name with trembling fingers. “Nobody’s beaten your track record. You were the best. You always will be.”

She pulled some sheet music from her backpack. “The opera club is doing Purcell this year. I got the lead role. I’m so excited!” She began to sing:

“When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate . . .”*

The haunting elegy echoed through the halls of the Great Mausoleum, bringing tears to Ariel’s eyes. As the last melancholy note faded away, the mausoleum doors slammed shut. The lights flickered and dimmed.

Icy panic clawed at Ariel’s chest. She could hardly breathe. Then a long, agonizing scream tore from her throat.

She ran to the entrance and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Locked.  She searched for an intercom or emergency button. Nothing.

“Let me out!” she cried, pounding on the door. “It’s not closing time!”

Voices whispered all around her.

“No!” she howled, throwing her weight against the unyielding door.

The whispers grew louder. “We’ll let you out when the concert is over.”

 “W-what c-concert?” Ariel stammered, searching the empty air.

“The Concert for the Dead.”

And then she saw them, gliding down the dark corridors, the eerie inhabitants of this condominium for the dead.

They crowded into the main hall, hundreds of them, the ghastly and the beautiful.

Men dressed in military uniforms soaked with blood, arms ripped away, legs shredded at the knees, and heads split open, eyeballs dangling from their sockets.

Women gowned in rustling silk, faded and torn, ringlets framing faces eaten away by worms. Pale young mothers with tragic eyes, carrying shriveled up babies in their arms.

Dead children glared at Ariel with menacing faces, their transparent fingers clutching moth-eaten ragdolls and time-worn teddy bears.

An orchestra appeared. Skeletons with shreds of rotting flesh hanging from their bones. The conductor raised his baton, and the slow, plaintive strains of a violin filled the air. He

turned and looked at Ariel with one putrid eye, motioning her to begin.

I know this song. I can do it. Shaking with fear, she dug her fingernails into her palms and began to sing:

“None but the lonely heart can know my sadness

Alone and parted far from joy and gladness . . .”**

She sang until the sun disappeared and the stained glass windows lost their color. She sang until the moon ran its course and the stars began to fade. Finally, her throat too parched and raw to continue, she pleaded:

“The concert’s over. Please let me go.”

Hushed whispers rippled through the audience. Then a lone figure broke through the crowd.

“Jonathan!” Ariel cried, grateful to see a familiar face.

Smiling, he extended his arms to her. “We don’t want you to leave,” Jonathan said, drawing her close. “We want you to sing for us forever and ever and ever . . .”

Cold waxy fingers tightened around her throat. In the background, the orchestra played a quiet requiem.

* * *

When the groundskeeper found Ariel’s body the next morning, he noticed two peculiar things. Her throat was purple with finger marks, and her hair had turned completely white.

Copyright 2011-2014 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

This story is dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino

Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Read it here.

Published on Brooklyn Voice, February 2012. Read it here.

Concert for the Dead ill-Troberg

Artwork by Asheka Troberg

*“Dido’s Lament,” from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell

**“None but the Lonely Heart,” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and J.W. Goethe

 Happy Halloween!

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Gallantry, a one-act opera

Presented to you by CHAMBER OPERA PLAYERS OF L.A., with Ariel Pisturino and E. Scott Levin:

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Ariel Pisturino on Sound Cloud

Ariel headshot cropped 2013

Ariel Pisturino, Soprano

Hear her latest recordings on Sound Cloud:

http://www.soundcloud.com/arielpisturino

 

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Video: Ariel Pisturino Sings THELMA’S ARIA

Soprano Ariel Pisturino performing THELMA’S ARIA from Gamma Skupinsky’s opera, “The Gilgul,” at the West Hollywood Fiesta Hall Concert, August 20, 2011.
Watch it here!

Click HERE to view it on YouTube.

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Video: Ariel Pisturino sings MONA’S ARIOSO

Soprano Ariel Pisturino sings MONA’S ARIOSO from Gamma Skupinsky’s sci fi opera, “The Zone,” at West Hollywood’s Fiesta Hall Concert, August 20, 2011.
Watch it here!

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Video: Ariel Pisturino Performs Bach and Hindemith

Soprano Ariel Pisturino performing selections by Bach and Hindemith in her Lenten Recital on March 20, 2013 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale, California. Watch it here!

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