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American opera singer Lillian Nordica’s Wacky Wedding

Lillian Nordica

Soprano Lillian Nordica’s Wacky Wedding

Crime of Passion or Fairly Typical Operatic Engagement? * You Decide.


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Lillian Nordica, the first American opera singer to perform at Bayreuth, gives a whole new meaning to the phrase shot gun wedding.

While performing in New York, Lillian attracted the attentions of an American suitor which vexed her beau in Hungary.

The gossipy hotel maid in the opera singer’s New York hotel suite reported the soprano’s every move to her boyfriend back home. Upon getting the scoop of the new suitor from the Chatty-Patty-cleaning-lady, Lilian’s Hungarian beau set sail for New York. As soon as he arrived in Manhattan, he showed up at the opera diva’s hotel room, not with a bouquet of freshly fragrant Magnolias for his lady, but brandishing the cold, steel barrel of a pistol.

He pointed the weapon at the opera star, threatening to shoot unless she became his wife. At the sight of the mad, gun-wielding Hungarian, did the fair Lillian shake in her dainty little 19th century booties? 

Did she call the police? Or pest control?


She immediately summoned her local clergyman.

According to Norman Lebrecht, Lillian actually got a wild Bonnie and Clyde-esque thrill out of the gun-toting behavior of her Hun:

“Influenced both by awe and admiration of so doughty** a lover, the fair Lillian went with him to a clergyman near by who married them.”  (Norman Lebrecht, The Book of Musical Anecdotes,  242)

What may seem to others as a crime of passion seemed rather like a day in the park to the Brünnhilde-singing soprano.

Perhaps the result of singing too much Wagner? Kids, don’t try this at home.                                                                                                                            

*Let’s Not Forget the Violent, Operatic Engagement of Strauss

** Doughty. Not pertaining to her paramour’s proclivity for munching Hungarian pastries or any dough in his wallet. An odd little Old English word meaning bold and brazen.

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In the news: Possible Video Clue to Gardner Art Heist





by Leticia Marie Sanchez

                                    Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

The New York Times reports that federal officials have released a video that raises questions about the art heist that took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum 25 years ago.

In the video, which took place 24 hours before the art heist, the security guard allows an unknown man in a waist-length coat to enter the museum. The very next night, thieves entered the museum disguised as policemen, tying up the security guard, and stealing world famous masterpieces.

Although some have speculated that the art heist was an inside job, the security guard maintains that he was a clueless hippie, who often showed up stoned to his job at the museum. The NY Times attempted to contact the security guard, who now works as a teacher’s aide, but his wife hung up the phone.The FBI is asking for the public’s help in identifying the man in the video.

Questions abound:

1. Was the video filmed 24 hours before a “dry run” for the art thieves?

Or was the gentleman in the video:

a) A member of the security guard’s rock band, Ukiah?

b) A Manet scholar hoping to look at the painting in the muted light of midnight?

c) A dealer of herbal substance for the security guard?

2. If the security guard was, in fact, an accomplice to the -$500 MILLION DOLLAR- art heist- involving masterpieces by Manet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas- why on earth is he still currently working as a teacher’s aide in Vermont?  If he were involved in a half a billion dollar escapade, shouldn’t he be enjoying the fruits of his labor in St. Barth’s?

3. Why did the museum allow their staff to show up high to a job at one of the most prestigious institutions in the country?

4. On both instances, this security guard allowed the unnamed visitors (the man in the waistcoat and 24 hours later the art thieves) into the museum when his partner was off doing rounds.Where is the second security guard? What does he have to say about his partner’s shenanigans? 

5) Why is the F.B.I. only offering a $5 million dollar reward for the return of $500 million dollars worth of art? Shouldn’t they up the ante to at least $20 million? At that rate, those paintings are probably being viewed privately from behind a velvet curtain in a penthouse by an oil-rich oligarch.

For the scoop on the recently released video, please see the New York Times:

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Wise Woman: Sarah Bernhardt

       “Life begets life.

      Energy creates energy.

        It is by spending oneself

       that one becomes rich.”

         Sarah Bernhardt 

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The fruitcake fiasco: Puccini versus Toscanini

In her revealing book, Secret Lives of the Great Composers, Elizabeth Lundy described a fruity fiasco between two rivals: opera composers, Giacomo Puccini and conductor Arturo Toscanini:

“During the years of Puccini and Toscanini’s feud, they had very little contact- except for one Christmastime incident. That year Puccini forgot to remove the conductor’s name from the list of friends to whom he sent the traditional Italian holiday gift, a pannetone cake.

When Puccini realized his error, he sent Toscanini a telegram reading:



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Top Pick: “Revolution of the Palette” at the Norton Simon Museum


A Touch of the Blues

By Leticia Marie Sanchez

This week two complementary exhibitions opened at the Norton Simon Museum of Art: Fragonard’s Enterprise: the Artist and the Literature of Travel and the Revolution of the Palette. Although both exhibitions proved stunning (and sublimely curated) this review will focus on the Revolution of the Palette, an exhibition that reveals the power of color, specifically the color blue.

This vivid exhibition sheds light on the nuances of different shades of blue paint, providing insight about their historical origins. Did you know that ultramarine was derived from Lapis Lazuli, a rare semiprecious gemstone mined almost exclusively in Afghanistan in the 6th century and imported to Europe through Venice?

still lifeThe expensive true blue ultramarine can be viewed in the sumptuous cloth in Paul Liégeois’ Still Life, Mid 17th Century.

Paul Liegeois
French, 17th century
Oil on canvas
29 x 38-3/8 in. (73.7 x 97.5 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

Prussian Blue was discovered in an accidental experiment by Heinreich Diesbach in the 18th century.

degasIn Edgar Degas’ The Rape of the Sabines (after Poussin), one can observe not only Prussian Blue, but a plethora of shades in the robes of the crowd, including Cobalt Blue and Synthetic Ultramarine.

The Rape of the Sabines (after Poussin), 1861-62; Edgar Degas,  Oil on canvas 59 x 81-1/2 in. (149.9 x 207.0 cm) The Norton Simon Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon F.1983.06.P © The Norton Simon Foundation



imageAnother facet to the exhibit included displays of palettes, color arranged spontaneously for Plein Air painting versus methodically organized on the palette for traditional painting. The display cases also contained tubes showcasing the different types of blue paint so one could view their strengths and weaknesses first hand.

More museums should follow suit of this illuminating exhibit, using exhibitions as a forum to uncover the techniques of painting, demystifying the process, unlocking the mystery of the finished product. How fast does the paint dry? How strong are the paints themselves? How expensive were they? All of these effect the outcome of the paintings we see hanging on the walls of august museums centuries later, and in, fact, often determine which paintings make it to posterity.


If you do attend the exhibit, make sure to read the placard describing the technique behind the stunning, transcendent work of Jules Dupre, Large Trees at Water’s Edge, the dexterous manipulation of various shades of blue: Prussian, Cerulean, Cobalt, and Synthetic Ultramarine. The placard next to the painting described in detail the skill that prevented this evocative atmospheric portrait of stillness from becoming “a dark, muddy mess.” How did the painter avoid a catastrophic crack in his work?


Large Trees at Water’s Edge, c.1865; Jules Dupré; Oil on canvas; 38 x 30 in. (96.5 x 76.2 cm); The Norton Simon Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon

© The Norton Simon Foundation


Now that I have visited the Revolution of the Palette, my eyes will be on the lookout for the Blues in whatever gallery I may find myself. As Marcel Proust observed, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Armed with new insights about color, one can see new paintings as well as old favorites in a whole new light.

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Plein Air- the perfect way to spend an evening


An evening of Plein Air Painting in the Norton Simon Sculpture Garden, as the sun sets over Aristide Maillol’s “Night”- July 11, 2015

Photo © 2015 by Leticia Marie Sanchez

NS Plein Air 2

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Henri Matisse- Don’t touch the fruit!

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

According to Kathleen Krull, in her book “Lives of the Artists,” Henri Matisse subsisted on a strict diet of rice-only when he first started out as a painter.

Not Rice-A-Roni.

 Just plain boiled rice.

Matisse refused to even allow himself to indulge in the luscious fruit that he bought for his still life paintings.

Instead, he saved that fruit for his art.

And for us. 


Henri Matisse, Still Life with Oranges. 1899 

 Editor’s Note: Matisse eventually became one of the highest-paid artists of his time, imbing champagne and moving to the French Riviera– a real Rice to Riches story!

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CCH Review- “The Hollywoodland Murder” at the Next Door Lounge


Leticia Marie Sanchez

This week’s feature may seem a bit off the beaten path for the Vivaldi-loving readers of Cultural Cocktail Hour.

imageWarning: if you’re expecting  a white-gloved, chamomile-tea sipping Agatha Christie Murder on the Orient Express, you’re in for a huge surprise. Instead, the boisterous atmosphere feels like Sherlock and Watson at a local pub, laughing uproariously with their comrades as a hapless victim gets assassinated during a game of darts.

Held at Hollywood’s Next Door Lounge, “The Hollywoodland Murder” re-creates a movie premiere about a dark subject matter: the Black Dahlia murder. This dinner party proves raucous and racy. The highlight of the production is undoubtedly the talented cast of actors. Witty, engaging, and hilarious, their sense of spontaneity steals the show. Zingers fly in this performance, both between the actors themselves and in their interaction with audience members. A second highlight is the exuberant team-building that the clue-hunting fosters, strangers in the night becoming fellow detectives.

A third bonus is the speakeasy setting, which enhances the noir milieu.











At the very end of the production, one hears the sultry sounds of trumpet and piano. One minor suggestion would be that during the moments of clue-gathering, this soothing music be played earlier, so true detective work can occur above the din of the bar, beyond the sound and the fury of a madcap comedic production.


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Salvador Dalí and the Cauliflower-stuffed Rolls Royce

by Leticia Marie Sanchez                                                                                                                                                                 Salvador Dalí mastered the art of creating his own image. Dalí shocked audiences everywhere with his flamboyant persona. A limousine or taxi was just too dull for the outrageous surrealist. So Mr. Dali drove a Rolls Royce stuffed to the brim with…. cauliflower.   The veggie-mobile was the automobile of choice for Mr. Dali as he drove to La Sorbonne University in Paris to give a lecture.  His speech was entitled, “Phenomenological Aspects of the Critical Paranoiac Method.”  

During the speech, Dali exclaimed to the two thousand listeners in the audience, “Everything departs from the rhinoceros horn! Everything departs from Jan Vermeer’s The Lacemaker! Everything ends up in the cauliflower!“ Time Magazine, Dec. 26, 1955                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Move over Hybrids. That Cauliflower-Car was the first truly Green vehicle.

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CCH Top Picks June 7th

The latest Cultural Cocktail recipe includes a dash of Degas, an infusion of artists in their natural habitats, & a smooth stirring of secret walks in LA


D PastelDegas: “Russian Dancers” and the Art of Pastel.

Getty Center.

1200 Getty Center Drive. LA, CA. 90049. (310) 440-7300



VeniceVenice Artblock Open Studios

 June 7th 11-6pm

Visit 60 Open Artist Studios: Free & Open to the Public. For info, see the website of artist Melissa Herrington as well as




SWSecret Walks: A Walking Guide to the Hidden Trails of Los Angeles by Charles Fleming. Santa Monica Press. CCH has selected this non-fiction guide as a delightful weekend companion for exploring our city; this guidebook not only presents innovative walks in LA but also describes the colorful characters behind the landmarks: controversial Water Engineer William Mulholland, convicted murderer Colonel Griffith, and tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney.

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