On the afternoon of Saturday, November 18th, in its 48th season, the Regina Opera presented a beautiful La Traviata. This opera has long been a favorite of mine dating back to the early 1950’s when I received an RCA LP as a 21st birthday gift. The principals were the idolized soprano Licia Albanese as Violetta, popular American tenor Jan Peerce as Alfredo and beloved Brooklyn baritone Robert Merrill as Germont, and conducted by the iconic Arturo Toscanini and featured the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The opera was a gift to audiences by the legendary composer Giuseppe Verdi! In many ways it was a tribute to his second wife (soprano) Giuseppina Strepponi, who to many, was the inspiration for the opera.
La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) premiered in Venice, Italy in March 1853 at La Fenice Theatre and was based on the play by Alexander Dumas fils. La Dame aux Camelias with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave was a failure. The soprano, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli was too fat to be a consumptive and the audience was befuddled at its contemporary look. Verdi did some rewriting and got another soprano, and the opera became a great audience favorite and has remained one, worldwide, ever since. Note that composer Giuseppe Verdi also composed Rigoletto and Il Trovatore in the same time period. The great 1936 film Camille, starring Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo, is based on the same story and La Traviata is utilized in the popular film Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.
La Traviata was the first full opera by the Regina Opera in 1971 and many thought of the recent death of Marie Cantoni who founded the company so long ago. This opera is a fitting tribute to her love of opera and the Regina Opera remains a true and eternal monument to her blessed memory.
The ever elegant Maestro Gregory Ortega made his entrance, the musicians readied themselves for his baton, the houselights dimmed and the magic began.
The beautiful Prelude with its sound of strings, grips one right from the start. The Maestro and the musicians have set the mood; the curtain lifts and the gaiety of the party prevails.
Violetta Valéry was portrayed by soprano Christina Rohm, whose vocal gifts were a constant source of pleasure and filled the hall with full and generous sound. Her sublime singing of “È strano… Ah, fors’ é lui” moved the heart, and her full throated singing of “Sempre libera”literally tore down the house. She did not hit the stratospheric high e-flat at the end of the aria, but hit one high enough to thrill with the expansiveness and strength of her instrument. Ms. Rohm’s scenes with Germont were touching. Ms. Rohm’s interaction with Germont in their scene that begins with “Pura siccome un angelo” was sung with such feeling, as was “Ah! dite alla giovine,” that you cannot forget her heartache. Catholic priest Father Owen Lee once said on a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast “Violetta was Una Santa”- she was truly a saint. Her reaction to Alfredo’s terrible mistreatment to her at Flora’s party melted the heart.
The final act with “Addio del passato” and “Ah! gran Dio! Morir sì giovine,” was like witnessing the execution of an innocent person. Her “Parigi o cara” with her grief – stricken Alfredo, was sung with tenderness and compassion. The finale with “Prendi, quest’ è l’ immagine” with Violetta, Alfredo, Germont, Annina (Violetta’s maid) and Dr. Grenvil was sudden and shattering. Christina Rohm was for me and for the audience, one of the most vital Violetta’s ever. Her performance is now inscribed in the minds and hearts of all who were lucky enough to witness such glory! Giuseppe Verdi must have been there and rejoiced in the perfection of this very unforgettable performance.
I had the privilege of thanking Christina Rohm, this wonderful artist and singer, for all of her previous superb performances, as well as for this powerful emotion-filled Violetta.
Alfredo Germont was sung by Thomas Massey whose soaring lyrical tenor and boyish charm made him a vital and vibrant addition to this exceptional performance. His singing of “Libiamo”with principals and chorus at the beginning of the first act was exuberant and stood out. Massey’s robust singing of “De’meie bollenti spiriti” at the beginning of the second act was among the very best I can recall, and his clarion and vibrant powerful tenor negotiated the myriad paths of the aria beautifully. Massey’s rage and heartache in the gambling scene made one want to console him. His throwing money at Violetta in the gambling scene never made him the fool, only the fooled. His angst was shown in the power of his voice and his humiliation by his father denouncing him, and also made him the victim of the bourgeois ego. Massey’s beautiful singing in his duets with Violetta “Un dì felice” in the first act and “Parigi o cara” in the last were indicative of his high hopes soon to be dashed by cruel fate. His remorse at the finale became our remorse.
Baritone Scott Lefurgy was an excellent Germont Père. His warm and expansive baritone was utilized to perfection. Lefurgy’s voice is not an overly large voice but he knows how to project. His beautiful singing of “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” was among the highlights of the performance. Lefurgy’s singing in the second act with Violetta was moving but never hypocritical. His emotions were perhaps a bit self-serving regarding “family honor” but his affection for Violetta was sincere, especially his “Piangi, Piangi” and his being the responsible one for her death was among the sadder aspects of this tale. Yes, Father Owen, Violetta was far more than a courtesan; she WAS a Saint! (Una Santa)
Baritone Samuel Bowen portrayed Baron Douphol. He was at his best in challenging Alfredo to a duel at the end of the second act. His indignation was justifiable. Kudos to the Regina for making the Baron’s duel challenge moment a visible one. His useful and warm baritone and dignified appearance was well served.
Kristin Behrmann was Flora. Her warm mezzo was pleasing, her affection for Violetta touching, her fabulous parties rivaled Ethel Merman as Perle Mesta in Call me Madame. (No pun intended)
The more minor roles were securely played by Danny Oakden as Marquis d’Obigny; Rick Agster as Dr. Grenvil with a warm basso voice and persona; vibrant soprano Angela Aida Carducci as Annina, Violetta’s loving and sympathetic maid; Justin Randolph was Gastone, Viscount Letorières; Thomas Geib was Giuseppe a servant; and veteran comprimario Wayne Olsen, an elegant first rate commissioner.
The dancers at the party scene were the excellent and graceful with Wendy Chu as the gypsy and Kelly Vaghenas as the boastful impassioned matador. Both were colorful and exciting attractions in the party scene.
The ensemble was glamorous: stunning Shelly Barkan as Gastone’s girl; Thomas Geib (a “moving man”); chorister Catherine Greco beguiled and amusing as a fortune teller; Tareva Moore (Gaston’s girl); Wayne Olsen (Violetta’s Butler) Raffaele Rosato (a “moving man”) – all vital, vibrant and colorful!
The chorus sang with exuberance and sympathy. The orchestra of 35 plus superb musicians were led by Maestro Gregory Ortega, whose genius gave us a well balanced and inspired interpretation. The familiar Prelude and Interlude were fresh and familiar – like old friends and good wine. The violins were haunting thanks to Concertmaster Christopher Joyal. Violinist Diana Barkan was outstanding and her husband Dimitri Barkan was the excellent oboist. Richard Paratley, principal flutist, was also the Michaelangelo-ish set painter.
The costumes by Marcia C. Kresge were brilliant and colorful. The sets were sheer perfection. Flora’s party was elegant and extravagant with paintings, large garden window and great intimacy as well. Violetta’s party in the first act had a lovely “Libiamo” with all the color and fun synonymous with such settings.
Lauren Bremen’s lighting design added to the mood swings, the marvelous supertitles by Linda Cantoni contributed greatly by their sophistication and explanation. Graphic design was by the multi-talented Wayne Olsen.
The stage direction by Linda Lehr is always unique and fulfilling. The camera is on Violetta but the bouquet also includes strong glimpses of the despair of Alfredo and Germont. The entire production is praiseworthy and we were thankful for it.
I am thankful that my guests including family and friends were given this precious gift of Violetta’s life and demise. The great music of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) whose long life and great career thrill, thanks to the late beloved Marie Cantoni and her still living dream – The Regina Opera.
Thank you producer Francine Garber-Cohen, Linda Cantoni, Linda Lehr, Maestro Gregory Ortega, the singers, costumers and all who made this La Traviata so memorable! BRAVI!
We and our guests went to Casa Vieja Restaurant nearby for a delicious (Mexican) dinner à la Violetta’s and Flora’s soirèes.
On the evening of Monday, November 13th, the Martina Arroyo Foundation held its 13th Annual Gala at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. Martina Arroyo’s great appeal not only makes it an occasion of great singing but also has outreach to Broadway and fashion as well. It truly is a night that both glitters and sings!
Terrance McKnight was the excellent host and is known through his unique charm hosting classical music on WQXR radio and his Langston Hughes program “I, Too, sing America.” He is a producer of several music programs for public radio and is also an esteemed professor at Morehouse College. In 2010, he was honored with an ASCAP Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award.
Honorary Gala Chair, the exuberant Andrew Marin-Weber, resplendent in his festive floral jacket, kept an eye on the fabulous bustling crowd while pianist Eric Yves Garcia played beautiful romantic music for the guests.
Martina Arroyo was escorted to the stage where she thanked all for attending and mentioned the sad passing of Joan Krueger “2004 Coach of the Year” which was noted in the beautiful souvenir program.
The first honoree was famed bass-baritone James Morris who recently sang his 1,000th performance at The Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Morris was introduced by Gala Chair Garry Spector who described Morris’s long career and friendship with Martina Arroyo. His performances in Verdi, Puccini and Wagner are legendary and his debut in Aida in 1973 placed him with Martina Arroyo as Aida. They go back far but remain near. Mr. Morris studied with the great American soprano, the immortal Rosa Ponselle. She made her debut at age 22 with Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1919 in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. James Morris spoke eloquently of Martina Arroyo and her extraordinary work on behalf of young singers of today through her Prelude to Performance series. Mr. Spector was an energizing host with knowledge and humor and with a special affinity towards his formidable and kindly subject.
The second award went to soprano star Ailyn Pérez. Ms. Pérez was hailed by the New York Times as “a beautiful woman who commands the stage and she is a major soprano.” Ms. Pérez humbly accepted her award from board member Gary Spector and appeared to be ready for her great future. She spoke of “time being of the essence for a career and being in the right place at the right time.” She has the beauty of Rita Hayworth and the voice of an angel and one wishes to have been present at her La Scala debut as Violetta in La Traviata and her peerless Mimi in La Bohème. Her Liu in Turandot at the Royal Opera in London and her Thais and Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera were ambrosia to fans thirsty for such a sumptuous sound coming from an oasis of Latina beauty. Ms. Pérez is a Chicago native, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her album debut is “Poeme d’un jour” a program of French and Italian songs on Opus Arte label. She was a winner of the Richard Tucker award in 2012, the only Hispanic to do so in 35 years.
Two Prelude to Performance artists sang. Rising soprano Jessica Sandidge sang “E strano …Ah, fors’ è lui” and “Sempre libera” from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. Ms. Sandidge reminded one of several stunning Violetta’s at the Met Opera decades ago including Mary Costa and Anna Moffo and television’s Marguerite Piazza who were blessed with beauty, stage presence and voice. She sang with lyric charm and dramatic coloring and nailed the high note in “Sempre libera.” Her excellent accompanist was Maestro Steven M. Crawford who has conducted several New York City premieres including A Chekhov Trilogy by composer Richard Wargo. Mr. Wago is also curator of the Marcella Sembrich Museum on the banks of Lake George in upstate New York.
Mr. McKnight then introduced bass DeAndre Simmons, who sang “Il Lacerato Spirito” from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra accompanied by Maestro Steven M. Crawford. Mr. Simmons has earned a reputation worldwide for his vocal appearances including singing for royalty, U.S. Presidents and Pope John Paul II. The aria is mighty and imposing. Mr. Simmons’s voice is currently a bit too high for this majestic undertaking. If he waits several years his basso will darken further. Perhaps “Non piu Andrai” from TheMarriage of Figaro would have shown him at his very best. Nonetheless, DeAndre Simmons’s voice, personality and spirit are there in abundance and his stage presence is most ingratiating.
A delicious steak dinner was served followed by a “live” auction hosted by auctioneer Katie Jacobs who has been benefit auctioneer for Christie’s Auction House since 2007. She is also a wine connoisseur and manages Christie’s luxury online auctions globally from wines to jewelry and watches. Who could resist two tickets for Hamilton, lunch for six at Martina Arroyo’s house, beautiful jewelry or a week-long trip to London?
Martina Arroyo presented the Michel Maurel award, named after her late husband to Martin L. Jeiven. The Martina Arroyo Foundation thanked Marty Jeiven and Anatoli Jewelry for their generous donation to The Martina Arroyo Diva Jewelry Collection.
Graciela Daniele made the presentation to honoree, famed dancer/choreographer Tommy Tune. Tommy Tune has won Astaire awards, Tony awards and is truly a Broadway legend. Despite his height, tall Tommy can “float like a butterfly” and is a Ferrari on his feet! He accepted his award and told the audience that he has always been an opera fan and saw LULU three times as a novice! He mentioned a dinner he had early in his career with the great actor Sir Laurence Olivier who tried to answer the gnawing question, “Why do we do what we do? Is it narcissism? Whatever it is – it’s all alright!” Tommy then praised Martina Arroyo for all she has done and continues to do in helping young singers achieve their operatic goals.
Graciela Daniele introduced the next honoree, the legendary Chita Rivera. A double dose of “something wonderful.” Ms. Rivera told the audience how her parents encouraged her in her dancing in Puerto Rico leading to her career in Call Me Madame and Nine with Antonio Banderas and West Side Story. She met composer conductor Leonard Bernstein who asked her to sing and he chuckled at her efforts. She exclaimed, “after all NOT all dancers can sing” but she did O.K. Her fabulous career on stage and in film has led to many awards and adventures and to the Presidential Award of Freedom in 2009. Her comments “God has been very good to me” are a reflection of her inner spirit which gives her super grit and talent with a reflective and humbling edge!
Tommy Tune and Chita Rivera are touring with their show “Chita and Tune.” Ms. Daniele, a famed choreographer who venerates both legends, told the audience her own love of theatre combined with luck, gave her all she wanted in her notable career.
Terrance McKnight made his closing remarks and introduced the great jazz saxophonist & clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera with Daniel Freiberg accompanist. Paquito’s ensemble which featured cellist Jisoo Ok, bandoneonist Hector Del Curto and his eight year old son Santiago Del Curto, a clarinet player, who performed with enthusiasm and played royally. Paquito is a composer of some enchanting jazz compositions and his heart, generous personality and inspired spirit can liven up any party. Brio Latino! Ole!
The great lady herself, Martina Arroyo appeared, resplendent in regal purple attire who always sends her greetings to her Brooklyn Eagle (Discovery) admirers. Her Dad Demitrio worked as an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to help her succeed in her operatic yearnings. Despite fine dining since then, Martina’s memories of hot dogs at Ebbets Field with her Dad still pop up and entice!
It was nice to meet and greet so many friends and acquaintances. Mark and Sadie Rucker, the dynamic duo who always make the world seem brighter, through his glorious baritone and her pianistic accompaniment and their efforts towards making Prelude to Performance the wonderful success that it has become.
Also great to greet Gala Producer the sparkling Norena Barbella and Deborah Surdi, Administrative Director from the Gala Committee (Deborah is from my old neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn) who made this an exciting event.
At our table was Stephen De Maio, esteemed Advisory Board member and much respected President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, the formidable Michael Fornabiao, Treasurer of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Eve Queler, great Maestro from The Opera Orchestra of New York, ever charming Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation and Gari Treasurer Lud Mayleas as well as enchanting fellow opera enthusiasts Louise Simmons and Robert Funk. It was nice to chat with the radiant Advisory Board Member Midge Woolsey and her husband economist Dr. Juergen “Jerry” Stolt, Opera Index Treasurer and Broadway investors Murray Rosenthal and composer Philip Hagemann, Opera Index Vice President Janet Stovin, also from Opera Index Robert Steiner and Faith Pleasanton, Career Bridges glamorous couple Barbara Meister Bender and husband David, opera manager Robert Lombardo, financial consultant and excellent chef Paolo Petrini, Anthony Laciura Met Opera tenor, actor and fellow Sicilian, poet scholar Cavaliere Dr. Edward Jackson and fellow writer the esteemed Meche Kroop.
The Martina Arroyo Gala is among the treasures of New York. It is now a wonderful memory and if we ever have a “dull” moment, Judy and I will pause and remember the fun! We “honeymooned” at the Essex House in 1966 and we add more golden memories at the Martina Arroyo Gala in 2017.
We thank everyone who made this gala so outstanding and of course, the great and radiant Martina Arroyo truly “the hostess with the mostest!”
On the evening of Wednesday, November 8th, Opera Index presented their Annual Membership Buffet & Recital at The Community Church of New York in Murray Hill, New York. This annual dinner concert is a way of enjoying some of the award winning young singers in an informal setting. The food is volunteered by the members and it is easily one of the great parties to be a part of.
Host Jane Shaulis, who is President of Opera Index and a Metropolitan Opera mezzo, welcomed us all and proudly mentioned the $55,000 that was raised for scholarships in the last year. She called them “talented young artists and stars of tomorrow with blossoming careers.” Future Opera Index events include their annual gala on January 21st honoring the great Met Opera mezzo Mignon Dunn, their Spring Lunch honoring patron Karl Michaelis and Maestro Eve Queler’s 50th anniversary of her legendary career with The Opera Orchestra of New York.
The recital began with the appearance of the gifted accompanist Michael Fennelly and the petite and charming soprano Hayan Kim. It united in her singing of “Je veaux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo and Juliette. Her soprano is full and she sang of love in a light, lively and spirited manner with some adolescent awakening and carried us all with her newfound joy. Ms. Kim was a delightful Juliette of bright vocal potential and a visceral Veronese enchantress.
Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic sang “Riez, Allez” from Don Quichotte by Massenet. He is a fine singing actor as well. His voice was better shown in his encore of “Song of the Black Mass” which allowed him to twist his instrument into a beguiling bellow in the quest for the perfect evil! A good show!
Andres Benavides Cascante’s vibrant singing of “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart made one snap to attention. His is a dark baritone and his internal actions attached to his vocal giving made for a super magnetic interpretation. His “encore” offering was the Zarzuela selection “Mi Aldea los gavilardes” which was thrilling, topped by a B flat that I haven’t heard since the late immortal baritone Leonard Warren. Mr. Cascante brought back the thrill!
Soprano Emily Pogorelc, sang “O quante volte” from I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini. Her bright soprano was sincere, heartfelt, with lovely tapering, following the Bellini line, with some lovely highs, solid coloratura and a heaven bound quality. Her encore was “Kiss Me Again” by Victor Herbert and her voice, rich with longing, beautifully transformed us to Hollywood of the romantic 1930’s.
Baritone Jaeman Yoon sang “Nemico della patria” from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier with relentless power, precision and perseverance. His constant projection made the finale less than it could have been. A tad more softness earlier would have infused this overwhelming outpouring into something more. None the less, the ingredients are there and a little polishing will no doubt bring full shine to it.
Michael Fennelly was superb in his accompaniment – light for the Juliette and passionate in the Zarzuela and elegant and transforming in every note he played. Bravo to all!
The reception and dinner was just as wonderful. It was so nice to “meet and greet” friends and fellow opera lovers. Executive Director Joseph Gasperec at the door inviting guests to join in and they did! Met Opera great soprano Elinor Ross, opera manager Ken Benson and friend computer wizard George Voorhis, Lois Kirschenbaum, celebrating her special birthday this month, composer/conductor Steve Phobeus and Linda Howes, Vice President Janet Stovin and family, Award donors Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, several underwriters were Robert Steiner, Jessie Walker, Meche Kroop, Doris Keeley and John David Metcalfe; new member and opera artists manager Robert Lombardo, Faith Pleasanton, psychotherapist Ursula Brown, Jane Le Master, Cavaliere and poet Edward Jackson and Brooklyn friends Bob Ohlerking, Christopher LiGreci and Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Society and Dianna De Martino, whose pasta with pumpkin sauce was heavenly.
We missed Murray Rosenthal who had another engagement but it was nice to see composers Philip Hagemann and Penny Leka Knapp who co-wrote the whimsical and popular choral work “Fruitcake.”
What a great night! To quote Cole Porter, “What an elegant, swellegant, party it was!”
On the evening of Friday, November 3rd, The Gerda Lissner Foundation in Association with The Liederkranz Foundation presented its Lieder/Song Vocal Competition Winners Concert of 2017. It showcased its retinue of young and talented singers which allowed the distinguished and discerning audience an opportunity that was both enticing and gratifying. The presence of Stephen De Maio, industrious President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, with Michael Fornabaio, the formidable Vice President and Treasurer, Cornelia Beigel, the effervescent and valued Secretary and Trustee, Karl Michaelis vibrant and urbane Trustee, and soprano, the devoted Barbara Ann Testa, treasured Trustee and chic auditions announcer Joyce Greenberg added to this esteemed and cordial group of Lissnerites!
President Stephen De Maio introduced our hostess for the evening by just mentioning her illustrious places of employment: WQXR radio and PBS Channel 13 where her eager speaking voice, love of music and personal charm have made her name synonymous with all things good for the soul and spirit. Midge Woolsey mentioned that madness was the recurring theme of the evening (like Sir Noël Coward’s song Mad About the Boy). Love madness dominated the performance. She also thanked her beaming economist husband, Dr. Juergen “Jerry” Stolt for perfecting her German in the proceedings. She then introduced the piano accompanist, Arlene Shrut and singled out this gifted accompanist as an artist whose versatility and passion for 25 years are a source of veneration and inspiration.
In the elegant auditorium of The Kosciuszko Foundation on East 65th Street in New York City, the concert began. We saw the great soprano Metropolitan Opera legend Elinor Ross, the extraordinary pioneer conductor Eve Queler, the radiant Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation and the suave Glenn Morton from Classic Lyric Arts, whose evening the night before with his Italian and French trained singers, also gave a happy look toward the future of opera. It was nice to greet music lover Mario Cesar Romero who seemed to be quite happy with the prospects of this special evening.
The concert began with Brian Vu, baritone who sang “Le manoir de Rosemonde” by Henri Duparc. Duparc who passed away at age 37 had many moments of madness both medical and musical. Brian Vu sang with passion, his high baritone on the threshold of heaven leading us on a quest that reaches the door. A brief journey made plangent and pleasant by this fine newcomer!
Baritone Justin Austin sang “Chanson èpique” from Don Quichotte a Dulcinee by Maurice Ravel.The great Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin sang in the 1930’s film with music by Jacques Ibert since Ravel’s music was not entirely used. Mr. Austin sang with expression and strong lyrical thrust. This prayer to St. Michael and St. George had the outburst of the heart that makes one whole, a subtle and intimate revelation.
Bass baritone Nathan Milholin sang “Die Mainacht” by Johannes Brahms. This expanding, increasing and unceasing run of terror made for heart grasping nightmarish fears! Mr. Milholin’s summation was unforgettable. His powerful declamations were truly chilling. His utterances of “Mein Fatha” were indelible.
Emile Pogorelc sang “Wasserrose” by Richard Strauss. Ms. Pogorelc has a truly lovely soprano that carries strong and well. Richard Strauss wrote this “intimate” piece with some magical high notes, yet draws one in by its singular emotion. Ms. Pogorelc’s versatile and expressive singing was compelling and unifying.
Next was Leo Radosavljevic, bass baritone in “Fühlt meine Seele” by Hugo Wolf. An impassioned, all out selection in caressing tone, fine diction and many moments of the voice and piano being passionately united in urgency, conviction and harmony.
Baritone Jacob Scharfman sang “Nachts” by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, proving himself to be a captivating performer of great concentration. He is an architect of sound and builds a song very effectively, each vocal brick properly paced and placed. His baritone is warm and strong and it won’t be long before his “song” takes him far and wide in the universe of singing!
John Chong Yoon Noh had the unique standing of being the only tenor of the evening. He sang “Heimliche Aufforderung” by Richard Strauss in a fervent and inspired interpretation. Noh has a fine, embracing tenor that has a special quality and warmth.
Soprano Alexandra Nowakowski sang “Villanelle” by Eva Dell’Acqua. Midge Woolsey told the audience how much she admired the recording by Beverly Sills as a youngster, but had never, until now, actually heard it sung “live.” I think Madama Marcella Sembrich would also have admired the magical way it was sung that night. Ms. Nowakowski, a 2014 Marcella Sembrich award winner, sang with high angelic lovely scales, an instrument fueled by Sembrich and Sills. We got “high on highs” and were heaven bound. Marcella Sembrich’s charming house and museum in Bolton Landing is on the banks of Lake George in upstate New York.
Bass William Guanbo Su sang” Erlkönig” by Franz Schubert, in a bass that was both intimate and cavernous. He was the first prize winner but knew that his prize was easily shared by this illustrious group of fine, promising young artists, all of whom radiated charm and talent.
We then all went to the delicious reception where we partook in some splendid “finger food” and delicious wines and pastries managed by the ingenious Philipp Haberbauer. It was great to vocally spar with basso Gary Kendall, find a comfy table and chat with Alfred Palladino from the Columbus Citizens Foundation, greet Met mezzo soprano Jane Shaulis, Joseph Gasperec and Janet Stovin from Opera Index, opera manger Ken Benson, Jane Marsh from the Opera Guild, vibrant patron Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Father John Kamas, pastor of St. Jean Baptiste Church and event manager Iwona Juszczyk from The Kosciuszko Foundation.
Here’s to the “same time next year!” Thank you President Stephen De Maio, The Gerda Lissner Foundation and The Liederkranz Foundation for a feast for the palate and the ears showing the good that still remains to uplift and inspire.
Marie Cantoni was born in November 1930 in Brooklyn, at home, on 75th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, the youngest of four children. She passed away on Saturday, October 28th at the age of 86 in Brooklyn.
Marie was introduced to opera by her maternal grandfather Giuseppe Ulla who was from Piemonte and who sang tenor in a church choir. He loved the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, which began in 1931 and would listen to them with his grandchildren.
Marie attended P.S.176 and New Utrecht High School and became a legal secretary for a large admiralty law firm. In 1957 she married Matthew Cantoni whom she had met in first grade. She quit her job and gave birth to Linda in 1958 and Mark in 1960.
In 1970, she started the Regina Opera with a neighbor Nick Tierno, whose brother was a fine tenor with no place to sing opera. The company originally gave little concerts with piano accompaniment at the Regina Pacis Youth Center. Many of the original singers were members of the Regina Pacis choir. The first full opera was La Traviata in 1971.
According to her daughter Linda, until her retirement a few years ago, “Mom did just about everything for the company except sing – casting, scenery, set decoration, furniture, props, costumes, accounting, publicity, box office, administration – you name it! She was amazingly creative and could draw, paint, sew and wield a hammer with the best of them! She made beautiful props out of household items – a candle in a tuna can, glued on a dowel stick with some plastic fence material cut into spikes, spray-painted black, became a medieval torch.”
“She and Fran (Garber) made an unbelievable team, both of them extraordinarily talented at organizing a growing company and keeping it afloat on a shoestring budget and she was the best “usher” on earth. She loved her Guild members. She was too shy to appear on stage, but once in a while she would throw on a costume and do a walk on for the good of the production.”
Judy and I, as Guild members, have been attending operas at the Regina Opera for 40 years with a large group of friends. We look forward with great enthusiasm to the works in this new season, including La Traviata, Madama Butterfly and their first Aida. Their 30 to 40 piece orchestra of splendid musicians are superb. The Regina Chorus is especially noteworthy.
Thomas Vilardo, former Met Opera baritone mentioned that Met Opera soprano Licia Albanese visited and the late basso Don Yule from New York City Opera attended many times and superbly sang Sparafucile from Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Regina Opera. Today’s Met opera super mezzo Dolora Zajick sang Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Regina Opera early in her career as did baritone Mark Delavan who was an outstanding Danilo in The Merry Widow. Soubrette soprano Elaine Malbin visited this exciting company. Many of the Regina Opera stars had large followings and that still prevails today! They all followed the standard of talent and graciousness set by Marie Cantoni.
Whenever I embraced Marie upon greeting her, I felt I was in the presence of sweetness and the stuff of dreams. I am so confident that President Fran Garber-Cohen, Executive Vice President Linda Cantoni, Stage director, Linda Lehr, Maestros Alex Guzman and Gregory Ortega, Treasurer Joe Delfausse and all of the volunteers and staff will continue everything Marie started with a combination of Brooklyn grit and heavenly dreams.
State Senator Marty Golden honored Marie Cantoni in Bay Ridge some years ago and we think she felt the love and appreciation of that sold out and wonderful event! We will all miss her very much but her indomitable spirit will soar with every note in the future. Whether it be La Bohème, Tosca or Aida, the tears will be half for the opera and the rest for Marie Cantoni whose passing leaves us with great sadness. She was a pioneer, a creator and a great Brooklynite. We all stand and shout “bravissimo Marie.” May you, dear and wonderful soul, rest in peace!
On the afternoon of Saturday, November 19th, Regina Opera began its 47th season with an exciting presentation of Mozart’s masterpiece “Don Giovanni”. Regina Opera is located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) on Sixth Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets.
“Don Giovanni” had its premiere in Prague in 1787. It was labeled “Un drama giocosa” as a comedy with drama. The libretto was by the brilliant librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838) who was also a friend of Giacomo Casanova. Da Ponte migrated to America and opened the first opera house on Leonard Street in lower Manhattan. Ironically both Da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) were buried in unmarked graves.
The coveted role of Don Giovanni is every bass baritone’s dream. The Metropolitan Opera’s legendary bassos Ezio Pinza and Cesare Siepi were the definitive interpreters of this great role. I was blessed to have heard them both.
At Regina Opera’s performance and as the lights dimmed, Maestro Gregory Ortega began with the ominous overture which sets the mood. Don Giovanni, a nobleman was portrayed by Nathan Matticks. Matticks has excellent stage presence and a rich versatile baritone with a cutting edge that soars. He sang “La ci darem la mano” with the young bride, Zerlina, with beguiling lyricism. His vocal outpourings in the champagne aria “Fin ch’han dal vino” were brilliantly sung as he was getting dressed. His haunting laugh at the end of the aria as he was running offstage for a new conquest was right on the mark! Matticks’ caressing singing of “Deh vieni a la finestra” melted the heartstrings. His oft times cruel interplay with his loyal servant Leporello was indicative of his basic nature. Mae West’s “Beulah, peel me a grape” has been replaced with “Leporello, peel me a banana” as the Don devours a banana with dinner. Don Giovanni’s scene with the Commendatore was bone chilling. The Don’s cynicism, cunning, and amorality were shocking as was his cavalier defiance of the stone guest. His descent into hell with ear piercing screams is forever deposited in the memory banks of all who witnessed it. A brilliant performance!
Luis Alvarado played the role of Leporello. His singing of the catalogue aria “Madamina, il catalogo e questo” was amusing, especially his master’s 1003 conquests in Spain! He is the possessor of a rich sounding, somewhat understated basso-buffo. Alvarado sang casually and did not exaggerate, but I thought he could have balanced his pleasing voice with a bit more comedic acting. Alvarado’s voice though plangent, does not have the carrying power that the role calls for and more forceful frustrations and fears would have enriched his interpretation. To his credit, he did get many cheers at the opera’s end.
Christina Rohm was Donna Anna, a noblewoman whose father was murdered in a duel by Don Giovanni as the latter was attempting to seduce her. Her singing with Leporello “Notte e giorno faticar – Non sperar, se non m’uccidi” showed her lustrous soprano. Ms. Rohm’s special magic shined in “Crudele, non mi dir,” her passionate versatile showpiece in the second act which was sung with remarkable coloratura precision, power and panache!
Don Ottavio is somewhat of a wimpish role and he is so bland and ordinary next to the colorful rapacious Don. But he is sturdy, dependable and sincere as opposed to the Don Giovanni’s rascality. Christopher Nelson was an excellent Don Ottavio. He is constantly outraged by Don Giovanni’s insolence! Mr. Nelson sang brilliantly. His singing of “Il mio tesoro” with its vocal coloratura twists and turns was sung with ease and bravado. His tenor has a beautiful sound and was a joy to hear.
Donna Elvira, a lady of Burgos, is like a gnat in Don Giovanni’s eye. She simply refuses to accept the fact that she was seduced and abandoned by him. Yet her indignation melts whenever she sees him by stealth and catches him seducing someone. Zhanna Alkhazova was a perfect Donna Elvira: defiant, pouting, yielding, forgiving, accepting like a jealous weak-kneed shrew. She is the possessor of a sultry, rich soprano with power to spare.“Ah! fuggi il traditor!” and her singing of “Mi tradi” was golden age in its perfection.
Zerlina, a peasant girl, was saucily sung and acted by Hannah Stone whose lyric soprano sparkled in duet with Don Giovanni and her naive but sweet spouse Masetto. Her lovely singing of “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” and “Vedrai carino” were piquant and charming. Her duet “La ci darem la mano” with Don Giovanni was a highlight.
Masetto, Zerlina’s betrothed, was poignantly portrayed by Jonathan Hare, whose warm charming baritone made him the subject of affection and sympathy rather than ridicule. He was ever the befuddled, simple peasant.
Il Commendatore, Anna’s father was eerily and brilliantly portrayed by basso Antoine Hodge. His singing of “Don Giovanni, a cenar teco m’invitasti” as a statue from his grave, was seeking vengeance. The scene of Don Giovanni’s steadfast defiance, leads to demons that drag him screaming, unrepentant, towards the flames of hell. Hodge’s magnificent cavernous, basso echoing his revenge, will haunt the memory for a long time.
The opera ends happily with the quintet of Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Leporello, Zerlina and Masetto singing triumphantly. Don Ottavio agrees to marry Dona Anna; Donna Elvira will retire toa convent, Zerlina and Masetto will go home to eat and Leporello will head to the tavern to find a new Master. The morale?” He who lives wickedly – will die wickedly!”
The ensemble were all excellent, both the demons in black and red and all the cast characters. Melissa Guardiola Bijur played Donna Anna’s Duenna. All provided great support. It was so nice to see veteran chorister, the perky sweet voiced Cathy Greco on “double duty” selling refreshments during the intermission.
Maestro and principal conductor Gregory Ortega led Regina’s 34 splendid musicians in a performance that was captivating and truly evoked the era of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. From the start, the orchestra played as one. From the minuet to the full powered scenes with the Commendatore, the mood was set!
Kudos to Timothy Moody on the keyboard for the serenade and parlando passages.
The magnificent costumes were by Marcia Kresge.the excellent make up both subtle and scary was by Milan Rakic. The stage director, set design and dueling sword fight choreography were by Linda Lehr. The stage was filled with many picture portraits of women dominated by the human body design of Leonardo Da Vinci in the center. Various tree branches and floral benches were used to create a stage always vibrant and colorful.
The Commendatore scene was unforgettable in its frightening power. The demons, the flames, the minuets, food and crowd scenes were a marvel of the brilliance of stage director Linda Lehr’s magic touch! Tyler Learned’s lighting brought to the fore the demise of Don Giovanni. The super titles were by Linda Cantoni and were a revelation to newcomers. Wayne Olsen’s set graphics were eye catching. This was a brilliant afternoon and evening of opera at its best. A truly vocally gripping and visually stunning “Don Giovanni!”
The Regina Opera owes much to producer Francine Garber. We look forward to this 47th season of serving Brooklyn and opera lovers everywhere.
For Brooklyn-born Jewish men of a certain age, there are three totemic heroes: Sandy Koufax, Woody Allen and Elliott Gould. One of these giants (ah, poor choice of noun to describe a Brooklynite; let’s make that “titans”) afforded me the rare pleasure, and privilege, of hanging out with him on a recent trip to Los Angeles.
To say I “interviewed” Elliott Gould does not begin to do justice to the experience. A hunch I’d had for 45-plus years, ever since seeing him in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” turned out to be true: Gould is not only a prodigiously gifted actor, but he’s also a warm, wise, soulful mensch. Think Buddha meets Isaac Bashevis Singer or Kwai Chang Caine meets Rebbe Mendel.
On the morning of our interview, when, after parking my car, I have trouble locating his building, Gould steps out on his West Los Angeles apartment balcony to point the way. I have an out-of-body experience: there he is — Trapper John McIntyre (“MASH”), Philip Marlowe (“The Long Goodbye”), Charlie Waters (“California Split” and his third collaboration with Robert Altman) Harry Greenberg (“Bugsy”), Reuben Tishkoff (“Oceans Eleven,” “Oceans Twelve” and “Oceans Thirteen.”)
Not to mention God (or at least, his voice) in the 2007 version of “The Ten Commandments.” Not to mention all the television work, going back to 1964, when he played the Court Jester (and sang “Very Soft Shoes”) opposite Carol Burnett in “Once Upon a Mattress.” Not to mention 26 episodes of “ER,” where he played Dr. Howard Sheinfeld. Not to mention 20 episodes of “Friends,” where he played Courteney Cox’s (Monica’s) and David Schwimmer’s (Ross’) father, Jack Geller. Not to mention 17 episodes of “Ray Donovan,” as Ezra Goodman.
Perhaps most especially, his membership in the elite Five Timers Club, having hosted “Saturday Night Live” six times. Altogether, over an almost 60-year career, Elliott has appeared in, by my rough calculation, 200 movies and television shows. From rabbis to casino owners, from lawyers to gangsters (not that big a stretch, actually), Elliott has played them all. He is the indisputable heir to throne of James Brown, as the hardest-working man in show business.
Born Elliott Goldstein on Aug. 29, 1938 in Bensonhurst, it can be argued that he was the first undeniably Jewish leading male actor in Hollywood. Unlike, say, Kirk Douglas or John Garfield, who, while themselves Jewish, usually played generic roles (with the notable exception of Garfield’s “Dave Goldman” in “Gentlemen’s Agreement”) Elliott always was, and is, unabashedly Jewish.
Before we begin the interview, Elliott gives me a tour of his art- and memento-filled apartment: photos of his and Barbra’s [Streisand] son Jason, paintings and drawings done by Jason and by Elliott’s granddaughter Daisy, three Hirschfield caricatures (Elliott and Marcia Rodd in Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders”; Elliott with James Caan, Diane Keaton and Michael Caine in Mark Rydell’s “Harry and Walter Go to New York”; and Elliott with Sterling Hayden and Nina van Pallandt in Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye.”) There is also an image that makes my hair stand on end: a numbered lithograph of World War I refugees by the French artist Theodore Steinlen. What makes my follicles stand at attention is the fact that I grew up with the exact same image (a different numbered edition) hanging on my Brooklyn bedroom wall.
After making sure I was comfortable (“You can sit anywhere you want”) and didn’t want something to nosh on (“I have some fresh apples”), we got down to the principal reason for my visit: Elliott’s strong attachment to Brooklyn. As I was to learn over the next two-and-a-half hours, he possesses a photographic memory.
The Eagle: Where did your family live in Brooklyn?
EG: 6801 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn 4. N.Y. (West Ninth Street, between Bay Parkway and Avenue O.) Our telephone number was Beachview 2-5524. I went to grammar school at P.S. 247, which was three blocks away from our apartment. One of my earliest memories was the day I found my balance and could take my first steps. I was a bit worried, as kids are, because my friends Stevie Greenstein and Ed Posner had learned to walk before I did. My mother reassured me, “Ah, don’t worry about it, you’ll catch up to them.” My mother was a very practical woman. She was a milliner; she made hats for all the other women in the neighborhood. She also was very fashionable — and beautiful.
Elliott goes to his mammoth desk, which is cluttered with scripts, books and tchotchkes. He extracts a 5-foot-by-5-foot memorial card with a photograph of a striking, stylish woman — circa mid-1940s — wearing a white blouse, billowing slacks and a white gardenia in her hair. Inside the card are the words “Lucy Gould, July 27, 1915 – September 24, 1998. In loving memory and devotion.” At the bottom of the card is this inscription: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing is so gentle as real strength.” On the opposite page is a photo of Elliott and his mother, also circa mid-1940s.
EG: That photograph was taken outside our apartment. Isn’t she beautiful?
Eagle: Yes, and so modern — she must have been a trendsetter.
EG: That she was.
Eagle: Moving on to your other memories; would you say that the growing up in Brooklyn, at a time when the Dodgers’ standing in the National League was more important than finding the best kale at the Park Slope food co-op, shaped and prepared you for the tough, competitive business you’re in?
EG: Listen, it prepared me for life, and this business is simply another part of life. So in answering your question, I’m not really talking about show business.
Eagle: Life in general…
EG: Yes, life in general. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. When I was in the middle of second grade, the school felt that I should skip a grade. The school had just started experimenting with something called “Special Progress” for seemingly gifted children. But at the moment they chose to move me forward a grade, I was just getting comfortable, I liked my classmates, I was getting my “rhythm.” I was thinking “I can do this.” But I was too young to think I could object. However, in the third grade you were expected to read out-loud, which I couldn’t do.
EG: I had no confidence! One of the factors that has been significant in my life, for good and bad, is that I have always had a problem with authority. By that I mean, that authoritative people would tell you how things were and those people weren’t necessarily right. I always had a dislike for having to conform. And it turns out I wasn’t wrong. But one has to be realistic, to deal with the real world.
Eagle: After P.S. 247, where did you go to school?
EG: After I finished sixth grade, I went to Seth Low Junior High School. And, while I was in the seventh grade, I played the Palace. My parents had brought me to Manhattan, to a song and dance school, to learn “routines,” which, of course, was not how I had envisioned my life! My first role was in the stage show celebrating the first anniversary of the return of vaudeville to the Palace. Next door to the dance classes I took was a dance class in which a boy named Bob Fosse was also learning to dance. [Note: Fosse was the celebrated choreographer and the director of such films as “All that Jazz” and “Lenny.”]
Eagle: In addition to your acting and dancing studies, were you also taking academic classes?
EG: Yes. After seventh grade at Seth Low, I was accepted in the Professional Children’s School [PCS.] It was a school for child performers who, when they were on the road with a show, would take correspondence classes to get their high school diplomas. In fact, when I graduated PCS, I was accepted into Columbia University. But I don’t think I really wanted to go, plus my family couldn’t afford the tuition. So I graduated PCS at 16 and immediately got a couple of jobs: I danced in the chorus of the “Ernie Kovacs Show,” then I was supposed to dance and sing in the chorus of the summer stock production of “Annie Get Your Gun” with Vaughn Monroe. But at what was to be our very first performance at Brandywine, a huge storm blew away the tent, so, sadly, I never got to perform “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Eagle: So you also took singing lessons?
EG: Oh, yes. When I studied with Charlie Lowe, we had what were called “personality classes,” where you had to sing a solo. In fact, I remember one of my first solos — “Hello Hollywood.”
[At which point, while still seated, Gould starts to perform the song and dance routine “Hello Hollywood.”]
“Hollywood/Here I am/I am looking for a movie man/Like Shirley Temple/I can sing and everything/Oh where is Mr. Warner/I’d like to get him in a corner!/I’ll show him how I sing and dance/Hello Hollywood/Whoop-ee Hollywood!”
Eagle: [Applauding] That was great! Anyway, what happened after the tent blew down and you couldn’t tour with “Annie Get Your Gun?”
EG: I came back to New York and got a job in the chorus of “Rumple,” starring Eddie Foy Jr. and Gretchen Wyler. We played the Alvin Theater, which is now the Neal Simon Theater. (I loved the smell of the Alvin Theater; it reeked of show business history.) This was also the first time I went out of town with a show. We went to Philadelphia and Boston. It was a great experience.
Eagle: So by then you were sure you wanted to be an actor?
EG: No! I’m still not sure! It was not my idea to get into show business; it was my parents’ idea. But I was so shy, and even repressed, that the feeling was that memorizing my lines and performing might be good for me. For example, another routine that was written for me to memorize and perform was, “Mary had a little lamb/Some peas and mashed potatoes/An ear of corn, some buttered beets/And then had sliced tomatoes/She said she wasn’t hungry/So I thought I’d get a break/But just to keep me company/She ordered up a steak/She said she couldn’t eat a thing/Because she’s on a diet/But then she saw ice cream and pie/And thought she’d like to try it/She drank two cups of coffee/And had dessert of course!/Oh Mary had a little lamb/And I had apple sauce!”
Eagle [applause again]: Your memory is amazing.
EG: Looking back on it now, it was beyond embarrassing, but I thought, “I have to try this. I can learn something.” The idea was if that I could mimic, if I could memorize, then somehow my own talent would come out. And this was the only artistic activity I was any good at — acting, singing, dancing, performing. I could draw a little; I couldn’t paint, not even finger-painting! But I remember I once saw a paperweight with the saying, “The greatest artist in the world is an uninhibited child at play.” And I subscribe to that. It’s funny, because when I repeated this to Herb Gardner [the late playwright Herb Gardner, another notable Brooklynite, wrote such hit plays as “A Thousand Clowns,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “The Goodbye People”], he said, “an uninhibited child and Picasso.” And I said, “I didn’t know you were a materialist. I love Picasso, too, but you keep Picasso, and I’ll keep the child.” For me, without the spirit of the child, it’s all meaningless. Then, many years later, I discovered that the quote on the paperweight was actually from Picasso!
Eagle: You were so young when you did, for example, “The Ernie Kovacs Show,” which was a very hip show, way ahead of its time. Were you “getting” material such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio?
EG: No, it went right over my head. I also appeared several times on “The Milton Berle Show.” I also did Jimmy Durante’s show. I made a couple of commercials. One was for Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy.
Eagle: I remember Bonomo’s! You can buy it on Google now.
EG: My tagline was “It’s better that delicious; it’s scrumptious.”
Eagle: After your Broadway debut in “Rumble,” was Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders” next?
EG: Well, after “Rumple,” I started studying Modern Jazz dance with Matt Maddox. And Matt Maddox was about to choreograph a musical called “Say, Darling.” Abe Burrows directed that and Jules Styne and Comden & Green did the music and lyrics. It starred Vivian Blaine, who, of course, was the original Adelaide in “Guys & Dolls.” And I auditioned and auditioned for that show; I wanted so badly to be in it.
Now remember I was still living with my parents in Brooklyn! Well, I got into the show and they gave me the role of Earle Jorgenson, and I had to sing “Old Man River.”
The other thing I remember vividly was that because I wasn’t on until about 45 minutes into the show, I would go across the street from the old Madison Square Garden to watch the “Big O,” Oscar Robertson, play for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats against other college teams. Then I would scoot back to the theater just in time for my cue.
Eagle: You’ve been a sports fan forever, right? In fact, I remember the 1976 Oscar ceremony (when it was still broadcast on Monday nights), when you presented with Isabelle Adjani, and she said, “The winner is…” And you said, “Indiana 86, Michigan 68.”
EG: Yes, I was, and still am, a major sports fan. I remember my parents taking me to Ebbetts Field to see the Dodgers when I was 5 or 6. I also remember my father used to get angry with me, because I always had to go to the bathroom. And, of course, something important would happen — Duke Snider homering or Jackie stealing a base — while we were in the bathroom. My father used to get so mad at me! I’ll tell you another great sports story: Before the first Ali-Frazier fight, Jim Brown introduced me to Ali, and Ali said to me: “You do what you do as well as I do what I do.” That’s the second greatest compliment ever paid me.
Eagle: What was the first?
EG: Groucho Marx! We became friends, and I was at his house changing a light bulb over his bed. And he said, “that’s the best acting I’ve ever seen you do.”
Eagle: Back to Broadway. After “Say, Darling” …?
EG: After “Say, Darling” closed, I decided to hire Colin Romoff (who had been the assistant choreographer on “Say, Darling”) to help me improve and update my singing. I remember Colin had me sing “Do it the Hard Way” from “Pal Joey.”
[Once again, Gould starts singing. Who knew he was such a crooner? I ask him about this relatively unknown aspect of his career.]
EG: While I was in “Irma la Douce,” I was taking jazz lessons with Gene Lewis. He was friendly with Oona White, who I’d met while doing “Irma.” [Note: Oona White was a celebrated choreographer, whose Broadway credits included “The Music Man, “Carmen Jones” and “Take Me Along”]. After “I Can Get it for You Wholesale,” I went to London to do the West End premiere of “On the Town.”
Eagle: Were you still living at home in Brooklyn during this period?
EG: Yes, I was living at home until I met my first wife.
Eagle: How did you meet?
EG: We met while we were both in “I Can Get it for You Wholesale.”
Eagle: So we’re talking about Barbra [Streisand].
EG: Yes, Barbra. Not only my first wife, my first real relationship; I’d never really been with anyone before.
Eagle: Barbra was Ms. Marmelstein, your assistant, in the play, correct?
EG: Yes. She played the secretary to my character, Harry Bogen. She was terrific. It was Barbra’s Broadway debut. Goddard Lieberson, who produced the cast album for Columbia Records, signed her to a contract and her first solo album was released two months after the show closed.
Eagle: Did the fact that you were both from Brooklyn, and Jewish, add to the appeal?
EG [smiling impishly]: You should ask Barbra that question.
[So, via email, I did.]
Her response: “Our attraction was not based on our being Brooklyn or Jewish … but it didn’t hurt.”
She was also gracious enough to take time out from recording her new album to answer one other question: Why hadn’t she and Gould worked together again after “Wholesale?”
“We never got any scripts that satisfied us.”
[Gould confirms this.]
Eagle: Barbra used to perform a lot at the Blue Angel in the Village, right?
EG: Yes, I’d often go to see her there.
Eagle: The Blue Angel’s gone now…
EG: So is everything … so is Ebbets Field.
Eagle: But you’re still here…
EG: Yes I am!
* * *
Elliott Gould has just completed his starring role in the independent film “Humor Me” and will next be seen as a regular on the new CBS series “Doubt.”
On Saturday May 14, Brooklyn’s Regina Opera now in its 46th year presented Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) Manon Lescaut, which was the composer’s first great success. Jules Massanet had already written his Manon in 1884 but Puccini felt two operas about the same fascinating subject could easily thrive. Manon Lescaut premiered at the Teatro Reggio in Turin, Italy in 1893. Its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1907 with rhapsodic tenor Enrico Caruso and the ravishing soprano Lina Cavalieri. Since then all the great tenors and great sopranos have sung the much coveted roles of Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut.
Manon Lescaut is in four acts and takes place in 18th century France. Renato Des Grieux, while cavorting with his fellow students, is smitten by a girl who is exiting a coach. She is escorted by her brother Lescaut on her way to a convent. Des Grieux, convinces her to elope with him. Geronte di Ravoir, an elderly official, plans to run away with Manon offering her wealth and jewels for his “fatherly affection.”
Tired of poverty with Des Grieux, Manon goes to Geronte and lives with wealth, but misses the passion of Des Grieux. Des Grieux, now wealthy from gambling woos and wins Manon again. Geronte denounces Manon as a prostitute. Instead of fleeing immediately, Manon tries to collect her jewels and, because of the delay in searching for and collecting them, is captured by the soldiers.
Manon is sentenced to exile in America with other prostitutes. Des Grieux begs the ship’s captain to let him come aboard as a cabin boy so he can be with his beloved Manon.
In the final act the lovers, having escaped the authorities, are on a desolate plain in Louisiana, starving and thirsty. Manon regrets her follies, expresses her love for Des Grieux, and dies in Des Grieux’s arms.
Manon was portrayed by soprano Sabrina Palladino. Ms. Palladino has many fans in the metro area and New Jersey, where she is known for her dynamic and legendary performances. Her singing of “In quelle trine morbide” in the second act was magical. Her soprano, which has delicacy, color and grace, is not really one that dominates by size. It commands intimacy and pathos. Yet her voice carries very well and soared to the heavens when called for. Ms. Palladino’s impeccable diction and vivid acting brought Manon’s plight to one and all. In the last act, her singing of “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” was heartbreaking in its lamentation. That she died “Le mio colpe sereno” with the love of her life was the only solace. Ms. Palladino’s interpretation was unforgettable. It simply stays with you in memory and won’t let go.
Des Grieux was sung by Percy Martinez, whose stalwart, serviceable tenor evolved to a memorable portrayal. His lighthearted singing of “Tra voi belle, brune e bionde” was nicely done. His “Donna non vidi mai” had him a bit short at the top, and went by sans recognition as the great aria it really is. His duets with Manon went from strength to strength and his big aria in the third act “No, no Pazzo son” found him on his knees sobbing, belting out full throated high notes with abandon and splendor. His laments at Manon’s death and their love duet “Manon, senti amor mio…” were extraordinary in their emotional wallop.
Nathan Matticks was a clarion and robust voiced Lescaut. Matticks’ resonant baritone was heard in “E a chi lo diteed io da figlio” and other phrases with a suave and dominant tone.
John Schenkel portrayed Geronte as a cruel despot who did not enjoy playing the fool and gave Manon a very vengeful course leading to her tragic death. His adroit baritone was utilized to the fullest in a vivid portrayal. Schenkel also doubled as the captain.
Baritone Charles Gray was the Innkeeper/Sergeant, the versatile Wayne Olsen was the hairdresser and Reuven Aristigueta Senger was the hurried, harried Dancing Master.
David Bailey was Edmondo and the Lamplighter, his lilting tenor sparkled; Noelle Currie’s fine soprano served us well albeit briefly, as the Madrigal Singer.
The excellent ensemble and chorus consisted of Shelly Barkan, Samantha DiCapio, Catherine Greco, Margaret Keymakh, Marta Kukularova, Lily Lu Lerner, Wayne Olsen, Jennifer Klauder and Ksenia Stepanova.
The lively and captivating children were Nomi Barkan and Isabela Decker.
Maestro Gregory Ortega led the superb Regina Orchestra in a thrilling musical journey of the suddenly blooming young Puccini with Wagnerian themes and great heartfelt melodies of pathos and power. The Intermezzo was a revelation with bursts of beauty, sweep and grandeur. Yelena Savranskaya, violin concertmaster, was an inspiration, as was Michael Vannoni on the viola. Kudos to Michael Sirotta on percussion, Kathryn Sloat on the harp and Richard Paratley on the flute.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were brilliantly ornate when needed and threadbare when the times were not so good for poor Manon.
The backdrops by Richard Paratley who also serves as principal flautist, evoked both the extravagant and the unfortunate aspects of Manon’s journey from opulence to demise.
Tyler Learned’s lighting touch added greatly to the scenes and Linda Lehr’s stage direction went brilliantly and smoothly.
Linda Lehr’s special theatrical skills carried us on that fateful journey of Manon Lescaut and Renato Des Grieux and left us with a priceless tableaux and memories of Puccini’s first masterpiece.
We thank the Regina Opera staff for a brilliant 46th season of opera in Brooklyn. Here’s to Regina Opera’s 47th season. Bravo to all!
Maestro Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este on the evening of Wednesday, May 4th at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall at Columbus Circle on Broadway and 60th Street.
This is a rare presentation of a work that calls for a revival. Maestro Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra presented this work in a memorable Carnegie Hall Concert with Montserrat Caballe forty years ago. All that is needed are great voices and on this evening we had one in Angela Meade. The libretto is by Felice Romani after Lord Byron’s 1816 poem Parisina. The setting is Ferrara, Italy in the 15th century. The work premiered at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Italy in 1833.
Angela Meade, Metropolitan Opera soprano, resplendent in a red gown, sang Parisina, wife of Duke Azzo in love with Ugo. Ms. Meade sang with gorgeous tone and superb coloratura embellishments. Occasionally she would literally “touch a shooting star” by lightly hitting a note seemingly in outer space. Her caressing tone in her Piangi aria touched the heart. (That I am chosen to weep) Ms. Meade gave us some exquisite silken phrases both ethereal and on a thread of spun gold. This is Bel Canto singing of the highest order. However, there is another side to her artistry. In the final scene, after viewing her lover dead, her singing of “Ugo e spento! A me si renda!” had the passion of a Tosca and this “victimized” persona was struck by unfathomable rage as she kills herself after viewing Ugo’s body. It was an unforgettable operatic moment that one recalls for a lifetime.
Aaron Blake was Ugo, Parisina’s lover. His full lyric tenor was serviceable but he labored in passages where he should have soared. He tried to attain the tenorial heft needed both in duet and solo. The audience was supportive of his effort but one hopes he will stick to proper roles and not have to push hard in his upper register.
Duke Azzo was sung by Yunpeng Wang in a powerful resonant baritone that indicated the intensity and cruelty of his character. His “River Po” duet with his minister Ernesto was captivating. His shifts of mood, bad to worse, were heard in his vocal offerings and he was wholly believable and well defined.
Ernesto, Duke Azzo’s minister was sung by basso Sava Vemic. He attempts to be the peacemaker, even announcing that Ugo is the Duke’s long lost son, raised by himself, from the Duke’s first deceiving wife Matilde. Vemic’s basso cantante had nobility and depth.
Imelda, Parisina’s handmaid, vividly portrayed by soprano Mia Pafumi in her debut with the Opera Orchestra, made a very strong impression with her sympathetic portrayal, duet with Parisina, and vocal bursts of glory. One would like to see and hear more of Ms. Pafumi in the future.
We envisioned what a stunning staged opera this could be with knights, handmaidens, gondoliers, squires and soldiers in a fully costumed production.
The chorus from the New York Choral Ensemble under Chorus Master Italo Marchini sang lustily and with inspiration.
Maestro Eve Queler conducted the Opera Orchestra of New York with mastery and love. There were passages with the chorus singing and the trumpets playing with the full rich sound of Donizetti’s melodic music that made one say “thank you Eva Queler for all this glory.” The audience cheered for the ever youthful and indomitable Maestro and founder Eve Queler for this great triumph!
The Gerda Lissner Foundation and Stephen De Maio are to be thanked for nurturing so many of the wonderful singers.
When the curtain rises on the new production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” at the Walter Kerr Theater (which boasts the dream cast of Saoirse Ronan, the star of “Brooklyn;” Ben Whishaw; Sophie Okonedo; and Ciarán Hinds), the audience sees a gloomy classroom with a blackboard, dim, drab overhead lights and three rows of seated teenage schoolgirls, in prim, black and gray uniforms with knee socks, sleeveless pullovers and blazers, all facing forward with their backs to the audience.
Faintly, the spectators hear a chorus of girls’ voices, but the words are unintelligible. The setting and the sounds are both ordinary and spooky. Before there is a chance to decide which description fits best, the curtain descends, and then quickly rises again on the same set, but now fully lit, with a young girl prone on a gurney, being administered to by a clergyman. In the background stands another schoolgirl, brooding and concerned.
Theatergoers who saw last year’s “Antigone” with Juliette Binoche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the recent revival of Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” will recognize where they are: in Ivo-land. The Belgian-born Ivo van Hove is everywhere; last November he also directed the limited run of “Lazarus,” a musical collaboration between the late David Bowie and the Irish playwright Edna Walsh. With “The Crucible,” which officially opens this Thursday night, van Hove makes his Broadway debut.
He is, indisputably, having his New York moment.
Recently, the Eagle spoke with van Hove by telephone about his propensity for tackling the theatrical canon, his unique approach to rehearsal and, in particular, the current production of “The Crucible.”
Eagle: Nothing in the theatrical or cinematic canon — Euripedes, Shakespeare, O’Neil, Miller, stage adaptations of Bergman, Cassavettes, Pasolini, Viscounti films — seems to intimidate you. How did you become so fearless?
Van Hove: Well, you know, you only live your life once. Why not take chances? Before we begin a production, I always tell my creative team that we’re in the Olympics. Our goal should be the gold medal. The stage work and the film adaptations I choose to do are always driven by the actors, not by the beauty of the visuals or the physical design. As a novelist does through his writing, I want to express through my theatre work, my feelings, my passions.
Eagle: You have said about “The Crucible” that “…it is not a play about good and evil; it is about evil within goodness and goodness within evil.” Can you elaborate?
Van Hove: Now that I have done two Miller plays, what I have discovered is that he deals with ethical problems, often in black and white terms. But I don’t see things as that black and white. Take Abigail [Williams, who is the catalyst for the Salem witch hysteria and subsequent trials]. Listen carefully to what she says in the first act, when she reproaches John Proctor for ending their relationship. She really felt, for the first time in her life, respected as a woman. She’s 17. The fact that John, her first lover, rejects her is earth-shattering. She is very fragile.
For the Puritans, being a young girl meant three things: You had to always obey your parents (especially regarding even the hint of anything sexual); you had to became a servant, as Abigail was for John and Mary Procter; and you were not allowed to truly transition from a girl to a woman. Abigail is so often played as the evil villainess of “The Crucible.” But I don’t see her that way. Remember, she is the only character to escape Salem, to seek her freedom. John and Mary stay — and pay the price.
Eagle: Why do you insist that your actors be “off-book” from the first day of rehearsal? And why, in rehearsal, do you have your actors work steadily through the text, reaching the end of the play just before the first public performance?
Van Hove: I believe it is great for actors, in rehearsal, to discover the play. After all, that’s the way one lives one’s life —not knowing from one day to the next what is going to happen. As with life, there should be uncertainty; I want my actors to unravel the play, scene-by-scene, to react to the uncertainty as they would in real life. When I have the actors rehearse the play, day-by-day, in chronological order, I don’t have to give them a lot of instructions. They are coming to their own recognition of the text. Which also makes them more comfortable and more natural.
Eagle: Finally, since you have been so bold in taking iconic films (to cite just a few, Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” John Cassavetes’s “Husbands,” Luchino Viscounti’s “Rocco and His Brothers”) and transforming them into theater, when are you going to adapt “Star Wars” for the stage?
Van Hove [at first not realizing the tongue-in-cheek nature of my question]: Oh, no, I don’t think…
Eagle: Sorry, I was joking.
Van Hove (laughing): I may be, as you said, fearless, but I’m not reckless!
The Crucible runs through July 17 at the Walter Kerr Theater.