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AS THEY say, “The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” And, with evidence of two wonderful cookbooks in my collection, I believe I know why the fat lady got that way. These two books, published 47 years apart, serve as culinary history, practical cookbooks and stories of America’s premiere opera company, the Metropolitan Opera. Both books are listed at www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com.
Musicians of all sorts are presented in Charlotte Morris’s book. Opera stars of the era include tenor (and renowned car collector) James Melton and baritone Lawrence Tibbett. Also sharing recipes are British conductor John Barbirolli (prior to his 1949 knighthood) and the Trapp Family (The Sound of Music folks).
Reflecting the culinary times, sticks of butter and cups of cream are used with abandon. However, a bit of searching reveals less artery-clogging choices.
Author Morris assembles eight theme menus incorporating recipes from the book. One theme, for instance, is “From Old Vienna” and includes tenor Charles Kullman’s Paprika Chicken and Wilfred Pelletier’s Green Salad.
Each theme menu also offers Suggested Recordings to accompany the meal. “From Old Vienna” includes Richard Strauss’s Waltzes from “Rosenkavalier” and Rediscovered Music of Johann Strauss. As a bit of period trivia, identified are the suggested recordings (78 rpm, of course) and their prices in 1941 (75¢ to $6.50).
The names in The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook are familiar, people like Placido Domingo, James Levine and Luciano Pavarotti. Many of the recipes suggest why a lean and hungry look is rare on the opera stage. However, there are exceptions.
Domingo notes that a zarzuela is a kind of Spanish operetta, a mix of musical numbers with spoken dialogue. “Like the zarzuela,” Domingo says, “this dish has a little bit of everything.”
It’s easy to adjust for one’s own taste and preferred level of complexity. When I make it, I usually swap the clams and mussels for squid and scallops.
One of the more straightforward recipes, Tagliatelle with Walnut Sauce, comes from Italian soprano Renata Scotto.
“To me,” she says, “cooking is an artistic experience, bringing into focus all the senses, the balance of proportion, the discipline of technique and, very importantly, a dash of daring—you see, even in the cucina I cannot resist a touch of bravura.”
Cooking con brio. A great idea. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013