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Good News in History, January 14

122 years ago today, Tosca debuted in Rome. A mainstay on opera calendars around the world, Giacomo Puccini’s enduring tale of feminine resilience and defiance in the face of corruption has featured some of best known singers in the art. Puccini’s arias in Tosca are some of his finest, and The Three Tenors often featured E Lucevan le stelle (And the stars shone) in their concerts. The story was originally written by a successful French playwright and Puccini felt it was born to be sung. In May of 1887, he wrote to his publisher begging to get the rights to make it into an opera, writing “I see in this Tosca the opera I need, with no overblown proportions, no elaborate spectacle, nor will it call for the usual excessive amount of music.” HEAR Tosca’s arias performed by legendary singers. (1900)

Turning the wordy French play into a succinct Italian opera took four years, during which the composer repeatedly argued with his librettists and publisher, relinquished the rights, and then got them back again. Tosca premiered at a time of unrest in Rome, and its first performance was delayed for a day for fear of disturbances. Despite indifferent reviews from the critics, the opera was an immediate success with the public.

Maria Callas is said to have been the master interpreter of the Tosca character, who in the opera sees her loved one arrested and must suffer the indignation of petitioning for his release from the police captain Scarpia. The captain desires to marry Tosca in return for the release of her lover, Cavaradossi, but gets more than he bargained for. Maria Jeritza was the first to ever perform the marquee aria, Vissi D’arte, Vissi D’amore, from a prone position, and Puccini regarded her as his favorite.

Famous Cavaradossi include Enrico Caruso, the second man to take the role, and Luciano Pavarotti, who performed it as his final as part of a full production.

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • Massachusetts held a day of fasting for wrongly persecuting “witches” (1699)
  • The American Revolutionary War ended when the US Congress of the Confederation ratified the Treaty of Paris establishing the U.S. as a free and independent nation (1784)
  • U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the Kremlin accords to halt the aiming of nuclear missiles at any nation and order the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal in Ukraine (1994)
  • Researchers in Dallas, Texas present findings about an enzyme that slows aging and cell death (1998)
  • The first detailed pictures of the frozen surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan, were sent back by a European space probe (2005)
  • Tunisia, the first nation to establish an Arab Spring uprising, won a victory when their president of 24 years fled the country after thousands of Tunisians protested in a “Jasmine Revolution” against poverty and heavy taxation (2011)

Happy Birthday to American actress Faye Dunaway, who turns 81 years-old today. Born a farm girl in Florida, Dorothy Faye moved to New York and, a half century ago, shot to stardom as a young starlet alongside Warren Battie in the film release of Bonnie and Clyde.

Dunaway believed her role in Network as a ruthless TV executive who will do anything for higher ratings was “one of the most important female roles to come along in years.” When the film—which is still discussed today due to its almost prophetic take on the television industry—was nominated for ten Oscars—Dunaway won for Best Actress, after two previous nominations.

She later won an Academy Award, three Golden Globes, a BAFTA, and Emmy, starring in some of the greatest films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Network, Chinatown, and Three Days of the Condor, co-starring Robert Redford.

In 2017, Dunaway reunited with her Bonnie and Clyde co-star Warren Beatty at the 89th Academy Awards, in celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. She says she she has no intention to retire as an actor: “We live for work. We live for what we do. I just want to keep working. It’s where I’m happiest.”

In 1995, Dunaway co-authored a memoir Looking for Gatsby that earned her great reviews. Entertainment Weekly said, “To read her accounts of her Oscar-nominated performances as the taut, sexy, neurotic femmes fatales of Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, and Network is to learn from an expert about the instincts, collaborations, and compromises that go into great film acting.”

383 years ago today, colonists residing in the Connecticut River towns (including Hartford), adopted what some consider to be the first written constitution that created a government. Desiring to unite and “walk peaceably and lovingly together,” they signed the Fundamental Orders, which gave voters and citizens more rights and established Connecticut as a self-ruled colony… That’s why Connecticut’s nickname today is ‘The Constitution State’. (1639)

Photo of Anthony McGill at Lincoln Center by Steven Pisano, CC license

332 years ago today, the clarinet was invented in Nuremberg, Germany, by Johann Christoph Denner. The tinkerer added two register keys to the deep sounding instrument called the chalumeau to create the clarinet, which could play higher notes.

Also made of boxwood, it was given a better mouthpiece (with its own separate reed) and an improved bell. Slowly, the clarinet replaced the use of the chalumeau after more additions which allowed a chromatic scale to be played. Mozart was the first composer to use a clarinet in a symphony, taking advantage of its range and versatility following Denner’s improvements. (1690)

And, Happy 54th Birthday to the first rap superstar, LL Cool J. His debut album, Radio (“I Need a Beat”), went platinum when he was 17, and his 1990 LP, Mama Said Knock You Out, is considered one of the best hip-hop albums of all time.

Born James Todd Smith (he abbreviated his stage name from Ladies Love Cool James), the author, actor, and entrepreneur from Queens, New York began rapping at the age of 9. He was signed by Def Jam at 16 after creating demo tapes with $2,000 worth of turntables and sound equipment bought for him by his grandfather, a jazz saxophonist. Currently the TV host of Lip Sync Battle, in 2017 LL became the first rapper celebrated by The Kennedy Center Honors. He is also the author of I Make My Own Rules, and Platinum 360 Diet and Lifestyle: A Full-Circle Guide to Developing Your Mind, Body, and Soul. (1968)

Also Happy 53rd Birthday to Jason Bateman, film and tv actor known for his roles in Horrible Bosses and the cult TV series ‘Arrested Development. WATCH him break down his top roles… (1969)

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