It’s Leap Day! We’ve had our “extra” day of February, which started like a lamb (almost) and ended rather like a lion, even though it isn’t quite March yet. But why on earth do we have an extra day? I’m going to leave that to the one and only Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has also tweeted about it. Leap Year is extra weird, since, as The Telegraph explains, it actually doesn’t happen every four years, as it didn’t happen in, say, 1900, or in 2000. The Georgian calendar is just too fancy for that, or something.
Working on a calendar is Serious Business, guys. An image of Christopher Clavius, who apparently worked on the Georgian calendar. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Leap Day is rather an interesting phenomenon. Thanks to its Wikipedia article (I’m lazy tonight), I’ve discovered that there is apparently a newspaper in France (it’s called La Bougie du Sapeur, and Le Figaro has written about it) published every four years…on Leap Year. It’s an entertaining little oddity: an entire newspaper, one that shows up only once in four years! One wonders how the subscriptions work, and how and where it’s sold–or if the novelty of it means that it’s sold out the minute it comes off the presses. We may eventually get a chance to read it abroad; it’s slowly making its way into the international market.
Leap Year has always drawn its oddities, maybe because it is itself rather odd. Indeed, Wikipedia has a range of postcards, likely pertaining to folk traditions of the Isles (Irish Central has an article, as does Romper and there’s an old one from Time), about single women going manhunting on Leap Day. This is, apparently, A Thing.
Postcard from 1908. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
I am not one of those Single Ladies, however, so I met a friend for Leap Day instead. I find it much more appealing that chasing bros in red socks with a butterfly net, I must say!
Postcard “celebrating” Leap Day 1908. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
So, we have a history of odd and gendered art “celebrating” Leap Year, or else celebrating smoking bros in red socks. We even have a history of Sadie Hawkins dances, during which girls are “allowed” to ask boys out, rather than the other way ’round. Pretty much nearly every element of this irritates me. The Romper article, to which I’ve already linked, does a fairly good job of explaining many of these irritants; I’d be much happier if, as this article from The Atlantic suggests, we used it as a day for everyone, regardless of gender identity, to reconnect with people IRL, rather than in virtual life. (In which case I would have aced the day, since I met my friend IRL.)
But! We also have an old and storied tradition of folks being born on Leap Day! While this has led to such things as deeply uncomfortable Yik Yak posts, it’s also led to hilarity, thanks to the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan, who curse Frederic, hero of The Pirates of Penzance, to remain with his pirate band until he’s quite old and gray indeed. Of course, since this is Gilbert and Sullivan, all will be happily resolved by the final chorus.
Gilbert and Sullivan only created a character whose birth fell on a Leap Day. Gioachino Rossini, that great composer of opera (and of a great duo for bass and cello), was himself a Leap Day baby.
We mostly know Rossini for his operas, which I dearly love; since my bass was, aside from my cat, the closest companion of my high school years, however, I’m honor-bound to share his bass and cello duet, which would be a lovely piece of writing for any instrument but, since so little is written for bass, becomes something rather magical.
In fact, I can’t really decide which of these two performances I prefer–I think each has something to recommend it, and so, for anyone interested in the interplay of two deep-voiced strings, I’d recommend both. Interpretation is everything, and the interpretations are different…and both are lovely.
One cannot, in truth, say a thing about Rossini without showcasing his operas. If one is lucky, one can, in showcasing Rossini’s operas, also showcase great singers of Rossini, such as Lawrence Brownlee, the amazing bel canto tenor singing “Si, ritrovarla io giuro,” from La Cenerentola, or Cinderella. (It’s a great opera, by the bye. Or at least I think it is.)
Finally, I’d argue one really can’t celebrate Leap Day, and Rossini, without what might be his most famous of all famous operatic arias: Figaro’s “Largo al factotum,” from that glory of comic operas, The Barber of Seville. Almost exactly two years ago, I was lucky enough to see an amazing production of it at Krannert, staged, produced, and performed by the amazing young people of the Lyric Theatre. I really can’t recommend them enough. Since, alas, I can’t bring the world that production on a platter, I offer up the late, great, and incredibly charismatic German lyric baritone Hermann Prey, who was my very first Rossini Figaro. He’s a hard act to follow, and a good way to close out this Leap Day.
Here’s to the next one, in 2020!