The Old Vic

We’ve made a decision about what we’re getting each other for Christmas — a decent sound system. He’s impressed by Bose, so that’s where we’ll go, even if we have to make EZ payments. For music lovers with hundreds of CDs, we’ve almost given up on listening in the house because we’re living with a clunky mid- 70s system whose only redeeming feature is a turntable. We’ll try to salvage the turntable, but tossing the black monolith in the living room will free up three bookshelves and might propel me to match up those naked CDs with their empty jewel boxes. Maybe I’ll buy racks that will hold them, all organized, on those empty shelves! (Or not.)

The 1910 state of the art music system will stay, although we’ve considered putting it up on eBay during many the tough time. We never did, because Victrola collectors are thin in the ground during a recession, and the market would be limited to a day’s drive away, because crating and shipping this behemoth would cost as much as posting a pony. Here’s a snap of Nonno’s Victrola, top open.

I mean, this is a piece of cabinetmaking, and no lowly tabletop version. It stands four feet tall, has claw feet, a bellied front, and a covey of cornices. Lou’s grandfather’s Baldwin baby grand didn’t cost that much more than the Victrola and was easier to shift.  The two of us can’t budge it — I’ve waved a duster under it, capturing old cat toys and bills past due by twenty years, but I’ve never nosed a vacuum cleaner under it. It’s that heavy.

The gleaming interior. The original brush for dusting the discs is in the left hand corner. I should have brushed the record before I took the picture — it’s a single-side of Amelita Galli-Curci singing “Caro Nome” from Rigoletto. When we inherited the Victrola we inherited a hundred arias from the Golden Age: Caruso, Gigli, Melba. Those records were a dollar in 1910 money, for one song.

The tech is low, but it works. The record is a teeny scratchy? Early Dolby noise reduction: lower the lid — gone! You want to pump up the volume? Open the doors.

The inside of the lid sports the decal  doggie listening to His Master’s Voice. Until I inherited The Old Vic I thought it was just a cute piece of marketing. Then something eerie happened, as we spun Caruso singing “Celeste Aida.”

Cats can hear a vole at a hundred feet, a can of cat food opening at a mile — they can hear. But cats are never music lovers. Blast “Vampire Weekend” or” Mahler’s 5th” and they’ll sit oblivious on the windowsill, polishing their whiskers and jeering at passing dogs out for walkies. When the great Caruso launched into Verdi’s Top Tenor Hit they were electrified, and worried. Where was that person? Whence that voice? We had the doors open and they crawled in, looking for Enrico. Caruso’s indahouse!

That’s how live, how real  the Old Vic Sounds. The recordings were made by singers breathing the melody into a wax cylinder, ur-analogue. The cats are right: there’s a soul and a voice in there.



Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Free, History, Home, Music

3 responses to “The Old Vic

  1. I love this like no other piece you’ve ever published. I cannot say just why—it’s the real of it, and the keeping of it and the way you describe the huge monolithic gem of a thousand melodies.

    There’s just an air to this piece, this description of a long-loved member of the family whose talents are vast-but-unusual. And the smooth barrel-chest with the gleam of a well-dottled briar bespeaks vast treasures or the tantalus’ most prized bottle, charmed by your words into the comfort and familiarity of soft shoes and steaming cups.

    I cannot remember when I’ve read such a paean to a piece of furniture, versatile though it be, and I don’t think you (or I) would part with this for love OR money. We’d wag it to the poorhouse, first flinging the Chippendale off the cart.

    And the Bose—I love mine, so much smaller than a breadbox and resting atop the ice machine, its remotes inside a cup in the cabinet above, handy as I work. The sound is marvelous, the size perfect for any room, but I’d guarantee you that Old Vic would be as little jealous of Bose as Caruso of Bieber.

  2. Rachel: To say that I’m honored by your review is massive understatement. Thank you. We threw on Tito Ruffo singing “Eri Tu” tonight and it was the same skin-crawling magnificent thing: Tito was in our living room.

  3. Kim Shook

    Wonderful post, Maggie and a magnificent piece of history in your home. I love that it works and works BEAUTIFULLY!

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