The Androscoggin Historical Society, an impressive collection of artifacts and information, is located in the Androscoggin Country Courthouse. The building complex includes court rooms, a jail, and many county offices such as the Probate Court and Registry. According to Douglas Hodgkin, the historical society’s president, the Probate Court subscribed to the Lewiston Evening Journal for many years and kept bound copies of the newspapers as part of their record. These now-dusty volumes, each containing 3 months of physical newspapers, are stored in the basement of the courthouse and are available for viewing by request and appointment.
Last week, I made a request to view the bound copies of “1934.” It was a crap shoot whether my search through the paper haystack would result in any needles, but it was a fascinating three hours. These papers are the “real deal” as we cavalierly call everything real and imaginary “these days.”
Placed prominently in the Friday, February 2, 1934 Evening Journal was this advertisement for the live Saturday broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Richard Wagner’s “Die Walküre” started at 1:40 p.m. that Saturday, courtesy of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Lucky Strike was one of the most popular cigarettes of the 1930’s and they sponsored a variety of radio programs including “The Jack Benny Show.”
The Lucky Strike sponsorship was short-lived; in 1940, Texaco became the sponsor. The funding arrangement would continue for 63 years until Texaco merged with Chevron. These radio broadcasts are currently sponsored by Toll Brothers, a luxury home-building corporation.
Maine folk listening to the opera that Saturday could tune in a Philco radio, about as large as a dishwasher, and pick it up on both of NBC’s radio networks.
In a review in the magazine Musical America, archived at the Metropolitan Opera’s website, music critic A. Walter Kramer noted this February, 1934 performance was particularly well done:
“The Saturday matinee of Feb. 3 was unusually worthy performance of “Die Walküre,” one informed with a spirit not too often observed in Wagner hearing these days. Whether it was due to the brilliant return to the company effected by Paul Althouse as Siegmund, or Mr. Bodanzky’s excellent treatment of the score, or both, does not matter. Fact is, was a noteworthy afternoon.”
Somewhere, in some dusty basement of a historical society or library are probably a pile of old magazines, maybe even Musical America. These old things seem antiquated by our current enlightened standards, but they tell a story. There is enough archival evidence to prove “Die Walküre” was performed on February 3, 1934 and broadcast live over terrestrial radio networks; it could have been heard on local radio stations in Lewiston, Maine.
The Met was available that Saturday in all its Wagnerian glory for Maine folk.
This year’s Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday matinee broadcasts are coming to a close, with only two performances remaining. I tuned in for an hour this past Saturday for Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Holländer,” or “The Flying Dutchman.” Now that it’s May, opera-loving Maine folks are racing around to get gardens in shape. There’s little time for music now.
Toi toi toi!