The saga of a famous singer and her sweets

You could have knocked me over with a feather!

Most of my friends know of my love of classical music and opera. I had booked by internet, a tour of the Dresden State Opera during my stay- the opera summer season having just finished, otherwise I would have attended. But imagine my surprise when serendipity led to my choice of Dresden accommodation – The Villa Therese-Malten. This can only be described as a palatial villa built a century ago for one of Germany’s most famous mezzo soprano, Madame Therese Malten. It has a musty, dark and dank atmosphere with original flooring and ceilings, sweeping staircases, acres of wooden panelling, heavy wooden doors etc – you get the picture!

Beautiful lithographs of Madame Malten in costume adorn the walls. Her forte was Wagner and specifically Brunnehilde. On many levels, Germany’s Madame Malten has remarkable similarities to Australia’s own Dame Nellie Melba. Both lived at about the same time, were of remarkably similar robust build, range of voice and fame in the interpretation of Wagner! Both had palatial residences with acres of grounds , Melba in Melbourne and Madame Malten in Dresden. But what the vast majority of people don’t realise is BOTH had famous food named after them.

Australians are great innovators and indeed more than 100 years ago, stunned the world with the tinned pineapple ring. Queensland was “canning sunshine”. Given that Australians, by nature, will can anything or everybody, it was a logical step from pineapples to peaches. Nellie Melba developed a penchant for the peach and travelled the world stage with cartons of these syrupy plump yellow-fleshed cling peaches which she devoured at breakfast with a goodly dollop of fresh cream before her cereal and toast.

Legend has it that a nervous waiter at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, spilt Kellogs cornflakes on the peaches. Despite her Prima Donna reputation, she consumed this culinary catastrophe and fell in love with the taste, the colour and texture and thus was clumsily created that iconic desert – Peach Melba.

As to the Dresden story it has some charming similarities. Madem Malten was addicted to sweets. According to her leading man and tenor, she “always had something in her mouth”. Her particular penchant was honeycomb. Louis Vuitton had designed a unique leather clutch purse in the shape of a honey bee for Mdme Malten to carry her secret stash of little balls of honeycomb. On an operatic day off she visited the world famous chocolate factory at Linz Austria. On opening her purse several honeycomb balls fell out and into a vat of melted chocolate. The embarrassed factory manager scooped them out and before he could drop them in the rubbish bin, Mdme Malten had opened her famous pharynx and consumed them quicker than one could say “high C” and as they say “the rest is history”. The Linz chocolate company went on to market little chocolate covered balls of honeycomb, which they called “Theresamalts” in recognition of how, again, an accident led to the creation of a unique sweet.

Of course in Australia, we wrestled with the name and after some back to front fiddling, came up with “Malt Theresa” initially , then finally to settle of course on the iconic beloved “Maltesers”. …. So there you have it!

Next time you go to the opera and you are silently sucking a Malteser, give thanks to Dresden’s Madame Therese Malten.

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It only seems like yesterday

A year to the day, the 24th August 2012, I was in Spain, riding the Camino , and had reached the town of Sarria, more of a dirty modern city really. It was the only disappointing destination of the Camino.

My accommodation, allegedly 3 star, the Hotel Alfonso IX was at once forgettable yet memorable – it was a depressing, dark and dingy multi-storey “box” that had seen in the past 4 or even 5 stars. Secondly it was obviously THE place to stay in Sarria. Around 6 pm a white stretched limousine pulled up and out stepped a stylish middle aged woman, predictably with cigarette in mouth, and a male companion looking like a disheveled Luciano Pavarotti also smoking, but a cigar. Lest you jump to the wrong conclusion, remember that the real Pavarotti had died from pancreatic carcinoma a few years previously!

Imagine my surprise when, about 30 minutes later, drifting through what were very thin walls, came the sound of a voice, singing. A tenor, then in answer, the soprano! For the next 45 minutes I was treated to the equivalent of high quality “Muzak”… As they trilled and tra-la-la-ed up and down their scales. Of course it was possible that they were in reality having mad passionate sex with the sound system on high. But the next morning I did verify their singing as there was a flyer advertising a concert of operatic bel canto delights in the Sarria town hall the previous evening. Moreover both singers were in the foyer, each smoking and autographing a photo of themselves, for the impressed bellboy! Bellboys in Spain and especially in Sarria, were obviously classically educated.

As I am now learning the Recorder, I wonder, if I returned to the Alfonso IX, would I stand a chance with the bellboy? I would even tolerate a cigarette in my mouth if that would add to the attraction! However smoking a cigarette and playing the Recorder at the same time would require sucking and blowing simultaneously, a feat I suspect even my teacher could not manage, despite her years of practice and on the double reed what’s more.

If, in my wildest dreams, the bellboy was swept off his feet, by this smoking Recorder player, we would settle down in Spain together and open a pub, named obviously “The Weed and Whistle”.

But the name of the hotel provoked my curiosity. Who was this effeminate sounding Alfonso, of which there had been at least 9? Well he was the King of Leon born in 1171 died 1230, and certainly not a fairy, for he fathered 21 children by 5 wives and in addition sired some 15 “bastards”. By my reckoning, his wives and offspring would have occupied every single room of the modern Hotel Alfonso IX, especially the Bridal Suite. Imagine the noise through those thin walls!

One of his daughters married into the Ponce de Leon family, but they were “without issue”- An utterly predictable outcome , when the groom has the family name of “ponce”.

Finally, Alfonso is said to have been called the “Baboso” or “Slobberer” because he was subject to fits of rage during which he foamed at the mouth.

So here I sit in flight on an Emirates Boeing 777 to Frankfurt on the 24th August 2013. A new bike awaits me in Dresden. My Recorder in my luggage, practicing sucking and blowing as I listen to a concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, (in deference to my music teacher).

Addendum: after an hour of experimentation (seated in 11F Business Class) and thanks in part to my anatomical training, I think I have the answer – gentle blowing through the mouth, tonguing the Recorder at the same time, whilst just as gently, drawing in through the nose. The down side is that this manouvre can only be successful if I draw gently on the cigarette inserted up one nostril and block the other with a cotton ball, simultaneously with the Recorder in my mouth. There is a niggling doubt that unless the Bellboy is visually impaired, it may not achieve the desired outcome…..The woman in seat 11E has just activated the call button and requested she change seats.

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