Regina Opera’s 47th Season Presents an Exciting Don Giovanni

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.

Donna Anna (Christina Rohm) and Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson) Photo by Sabrina Palladino

Donna Anna (Christina Rohm) and Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson). Photo by Sabrina Palladino.

“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!

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks) tries to seduce Zerlina (Hannah Stone) Photo by George Showerer

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks) tries to seduce Zerlina (Hannah Stone). Photo by George Schowerer.

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 Giovanni (center, in white) surrounded by villagers. Photo by George Showerer.

Don Giovanni (center, in white) surrounded by villagers. Photo by George Schowerer.

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.

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, seated) is interrupted during dinner by Donna Elvira (Zhanna Alkhazova, right) Photo by George Schowerer

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, seated) is interrupted during dinner by Donna Elvira (Zhanna Alkhazova, right). Photo by George Schowerer.

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.

The 3 Maskers - Donna Anna ( Christina Rohm, left) Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson, center) Donna Elvia (Zhanna Alkhazova, right) Photo by Sabrina Palladino Photo by Sabrina Palladino

The 3 Maskers – Donna Anna ( Christina Rohm, left), Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson, center), Donna Elvia (Zhanna Alkhazova, right). Photo by Sabrina Palladino. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

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.

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, right) is held by the Commendatore's statue (Antoine Hodge) refusing to repent for his sins. Photo by George Showerer.

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, right) is held by the Commendatore’s statue (Antoine Hodge) refusing to repent for his sins. Photo by George Schowerer.

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.

 

 

Elliott Gould: Son of Brooklyn, lion in winter

Elliott Gould. Photo by Kami

Elliott Gould. Photo by Kami

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.

Elliott Gould, 3 years old, with a space-gun, outside back wall of local movie theater. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould, 3 years old, with a space-gun, outside back wall of local movie theater. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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?

Elliott Gould being held by his father, early 1940s, 73rd Street. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould being held by his father, early 1940s, 73rd Street. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Yes, and so modern — she must have been a trendsetter.

EG: That she was.

Elliott Gould with his father, who is in uniform, in 1944 (aprox.), across the street from 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould with his father, who is in uniform, in 1944 (aprox.), across the street from 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould as bellboy at the Palace Theater, NYC, watching Bill Callahan (dancer in silhouette). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould as bellboy at the Palace Theater, NYC, watching Bill Callahan (dancer in silhouette). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould with bassinet in background, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould with bassinet in background, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Why?

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.

Elliott Gould seated with his mother and father in Luxor Manor, Ellenville, NY (Catskills), in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould seated with his mother and father in Luxor Manor, Ellenville, NY (Catskills), in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.”]

A photograph of Elliott Gould’s mother Lucy Gould, circa mid-1940s, from a memorial card following her death in 1998. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

A photograph of Elliott Gould’s mother Lucy Gould, circa mid-1940s, from a memorial card following her death in 1998. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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!”

Elliott Gould in the mid-1940s, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould in the mid-1940s, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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!”

Elliott Gould pictured with his mother, Lucy, in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould pictured with his mother, Lucy, in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould on horse in mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould on horse in mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould with his mother and father in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould with his mother and father in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.”

Elliott Gould with teddy bear, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early 1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould with teddy bear, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early 1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould being held by his father. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould being held by his father. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould performing at Luxor Manor, mid-40s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould performing at Luxor Manor, mid-40s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.]

"I Can Get It For You Wholesale" Playbill cover for 1962 Broadway production. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

“I Can Get It For You Wholesale” Playbill cover for 1962 Broadway production. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.

Elliott Gould on the set of the film "The Lady Vanishes" in Germany, 1978 (remake of classic Hitchcock film). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Elliott Gould on the set of the film “The Lady Vanishes” in Germany, 1978 (remake of classic Hitchcock film). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

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.” 

Regina Opera Presents Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

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.”

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez, left) learns that Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) has bribed a guard to free Manon from prison.

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez, left) learns that Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) has bribed a guard to free Manon from prison. Photo credit – George Schowerer

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.

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez) holds the dying Manon (Sabrina Palladino).

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez) holds the dying Manon (Sabrina Palladino). Photo credit – Gregory Ortega

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.

Manon (Sabrina Palladino, left) tells her brother Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) that she regrets having given up Des Grieux's love for Geronte's wealth.

Manon (Sabrina Palladino, left) tells her brother Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) that she regrets having given up Des Grieux’s love for Geronte’s wealth. Photo Credit – George Schowerer

Nathan Matticks was a clarion and robust voiced Lescaut.  Matticks’ resonant baritone was heard in “E a chi lo dite ed 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.

After having danced a minuet with the dancing master (Reuven Aristigueta, in pink wig), Manon (Sabrina Palladino,in white gown) flirts with the elderly Geronte (John Schenkel, far left with back to the audience).

After having danced a minuet with the dancing master (Reuven Aristigueta, in pink wig), Manon (Sabrina Palladino,in white gown) flirts with the elderly Geronte (John Schenkel, far left with back to the audience). Photo Credit – George Schowerer

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 Presents Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este

Italo Marchini, Aaron Blake, Angela Meade, Eve Queler, Yunpeng Wang, Sava Vemic and Mia Pafumi. Photo by Meche Kroop

Italo Marchini, Aaron Blake, Angela Meade, Eve Queler, Yunpeng Wang, Sava Vemic and Mia Pafumi. Photo by Meche Kroop

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.

Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ opens in NYC with ‘Brooklyn’ star Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in “The Crucible,” directed by Ivan van Hove. Photos by Jan Versweyveld

Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in “The Crucible,” directed by Ivan van Hove. Photos by Jan Versweyveld

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.”

Director Ivo van Hove.

Director Ivo van Hove.

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.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw

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.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan, Tavi Gevinson, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut and Erin Wilhelmi.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan, Tavi Gevinson, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut and Erin Wilhelmi.

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.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw.

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…

Ben Whishaw, Bill Camp, Tavi Gevinson and Ciarán Hinds.

Ben Whishaw, Bill Camp, Tavi Gevinson and Ciarán Hinds.

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. 

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson.

Saoirse Ronan (foreground), Elizabeth Teeter, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Erin Wilhelmi and Ben Whishaw (background).

Saoirse Ronan (foreground), Elizabeth Teeter, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Erin Wilhelmi and Ben Whishaw (background).

Ricardo Tamura Triumphs in Cavalleria Rusticana at The Metropolitan Opera

Nino Pantano with Met Opera baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Met Opera tenor Ricardo Tamura Photo by Judy Pantano

Nino Pantano with Met Opera baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Met Opera tenor Ricardo Tamura. Photo by Judy Pantano

On the evening of Tuesday, February 23rd, the promising Brazilian tenor Ricardo Tamura added Turiddu in Pietro Mascagni’s one act masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana to his list of Metropolitan Opera roles. Cavalleria Rusticana had its premiere in 1890 and is usually paired with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, both verismo (flesh and blood) works. The Metropolitan Opera was the first company to perform Cavalleria and Pagliacci together on December 22,1893. Cavelleria Rusticana was also performed with the Metropolitan Opera (Met) on tour at the old Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on March 8, 1892.

The role of Turiddu has been sung by many of the great tenors and is coveted for its passionate duets and solos. It is Easter Sunday and Turiddu, a Sicilian soldier is in love with Lola but when he goes off to war, Lola marries the village carter Alfio. Turiddu then turns his passions toward Santuzza who was excommunicated from the church. Lola makes overtures to Turiddu and their love rekindles. Santuzza tells Turiddu’s mother, then confronts Turiddu, they argue and with Lola in sight beckoning, Santuzza runs off and tells Alfio. Alfio in a rage, swears vengeance after confronting Turiddu drinking with friends in Mamma Lucia’s tavern. Turiddu sings a tearful farewell to his mother and shortly thereafter, a screaming villager shrieks that Turiddu has been killed. Santuzza stares straight ahead as all the grieving villagers turn their backs to her and help his grieving mother.

The offstage serenade from Turiddu “O Lola c’hai di latti la cammisa,” was sung with ringing tone and Italianate flair by Ricardo Tamura. This aria in white heat sung offstage is a challenge to sing.

Riccardo Tamura sang with passion, flair and well placed high notes. His declamatory utterance and rich middle voice evoked memories of the Italian greats -Beniamino Gigli comes to mind, “Tu qui Santuzza?” and the ensuing gripping duet indicated Turiddu’s frustration and his determination to find a balance to his dilemma. Tamura’s singing of “Intanto amici; Viva il vino spumeggiante” was brilliant, grand and generous right up to a dazzling high note. His confrontation with Alfio was white hot and one knows despite his words he will fight for what he wants! Tamura’s full throated “Addio a la madre” was sung with pathos, desperation and resignation with a beautifully framed finale.

Santuzza was sung by Liudmyla Monastyrska whose powerful soprano is a force of nature. Her singing of “Voi lo sapete mamma” was a tour de force and a little tapering and a bit of color would have placed her on the list of great Santuzza’s. The Regina Coeli was powerfully sung but was stripped of its poignant majesty by its lack of religious spectacle. Her “Turiddu ascolta!” and their duet were among the vocal high points of the evening.

Ambroglio Maestri was a gruff no nonsense Alfio. His “Il cavallo scalpita” was sung with brio and pride. Maestri’s singing in the duet with Santuzza, “ Infami loro, ad essi non perdono, vendetta avro” was fury and volcanic angst, his baritone barometer exploding in rage.

Lola was in the youthful and attractive persona of mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson. Her singing of “Fior di giaggiolo” had its lure and appeal. The production however gave us not a hint of sluttiness and spite.

The vivid Mamma Lucia of mezzo Jane Bunnell was rich voiced and not quite as naïve as one would think.

Andrea Coleman as the screaming woman handled “Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!” with eardrum piercing perfection.

The fabulous Fabio Luisi, principal maestro conducted with authority, intensity and inspiration. Luisi’s hobby is making perfumes and his various fragrances also seem to be part of his extraordinary blends of harmony in his music making. The Intermezzo was truly the heavenly calm before the storm.

Chorus master Donald Palumbo led the singers gloriously, especially the Regina Coeli and “Gli aranci olezzano.” All the singers were very well received.

With the splendid Turiddu of Ricardo Tamura, it was a good night of opera. Tamura as a student, wanted to be a scientist. Singing prevailed and his career took off like a rocket! The great soprano Licia Albanese heard him sing and with the assistance of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation started his ascent.

The sets and costumes were drab beyond belief; the singing cast gave us Sicily in their passion and dedication to the story but the black costumes, dismal rows of musical chairs and peasant dancing evoked Fiddler on the Roof. Not an orange tree could be seen and Sicily at Easter time got lost in the shuffle. The singers provided all the colors of Sicily in their vivid interpretations.

The celebration party at nearby Fiorello’s restaurant hosted by Ricardo Tamura and his charming wife Dagmar had many notable supporters and friends. Among them were Stephen De Maio President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation with patrons Karl Michaelis and Michael Fornabaio, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Sachi Liebergesell President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and opera artist’s manager Robert Lombardo, all longtime supporters of Ricardo Tamura.

As we were having dessert, the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and friends joined the revelers. Outside it was pouring rain, but inside it was pouring love. Bravo Tamura!

Oscar contender Rylance returns to Brooklyn: More than just Fishin’

Mark Rylance. Photo by Teddy Wolff

Mark Rylance. Photo by Teddy Wolff

This past Sunday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, Mark Rylance’s and Louis Jenkins’s farcical, lyrical, melancholic, brilliant play “Nice Fish” had its opening night performance. Combining equal measures of Eugene Ionesco and Sherwood Anderson, “Nice Fish” is still sui generis. Alternately hilarious and doleful, the play is indisputably the yardstick by which the rest of Brooklyn’s 2016 theatrical season will be measured. Congratulations of the highest order to St. Ann’s Artistic Director Susan Feldman, Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater, which commissioned the play in 2013 and, most of all, to the American Repertory Theater, which produced it.

It would be churlish to single out any of the five cast members for praise. Suffice it to say that Rylance, Raye Birk, Kayli Carter, Bob Davis and Jim Lichtscheidl are all uniquely, and distinctively, outstanding. As are Claire Van Kampen’s direction and music, Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design and Japhy Weidman’s lighting design.

Among the guests praising the production at the after party were actors Holly Hunter, Gabriel Byrne, ex-New York Jets great and NFL color commentator John Dockery and Diane Borger, the play’s producer (who graciously gave up her aisle seat to this reporter).

Susan Feldman, president of St. Ann's Warehouse, speaks at the after party. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

Susan Feldman, president of St. Ann’s Warehouse, speaks at the after party. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

A large crowd enjoyed the after party at St. Ann's Warehouse. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

A large crowd enjoyed the after party at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

John Dockery, Gabriel Byrne, Hannah Beth Byrne and Anne Dockery. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

John Dockery, Gabriel Byrne, Hannah Beth Byrne and Anne Dockery. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

Mark Rylance greets Holly Hunter. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

Mark Rylance greets Holly Hunter. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

Kayli Carter, Mark Rylance, Holly Hunter, Louis Jenkins and Ann Jenkins. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

Kayli Carter, Mark Rylance, Holly Hunter, Louis Jenkins and Ann Jenkins. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

After Feldman’s introductory acknowledgments, she invited Rylance to the podium. In his customarily idiosyncratic, unfailingly generous fashion, he spoke about the play’s gestation and his longstanding relationship with both St. Ann’s and the A.R.T. He also reflected on how appropriate it was that St. Ann’s is on the Brooklyn waterfront, since “Nice Fish” is set on the frozen waters of one of Minnesota’s 1,000 lakes. And he reflected on the spectral presence of Walt Whitman, both in the play and in his present surroundings. It was classic Rylance: modest, quirky, cerebral, free-associative and gracious. Let’s hope he has the chance to display these qualities to a national (and global) audience this coming Sunday at the Academy Awards…

“Nice Fish” runs through March 27 at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

Mark Rylance and Bob Davis. Photo by Teddy Wolff

Mark Rylance and Bob Davis. Photo by Teddy Wolff

Carrying Around a Soda Can Poured with Rotgut

An Interview with Kent Russell, Author of “I am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son” Published by Alfred Knopf

“I am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son,” Kent Russell’s irresistibly engaging debut collection of essays, intertwined with personal history, is easily one of the best books of the past year. In a uniquely homespun, yet masterfully polished voice (think Mark Twain meets Joan Didion) Russell has us from the book’s title, which is actually a quotation from Daniel Boone, whose presence and notions of masculinity set a template of sorts for the essays and reflections that follow. Mixing autobiography (in particular, the Turgenev-esque healing of wounds – or at least Mexican stand-off – between father and son) with such wide-ranging topics as a stay on a remote island with a present-day Robinson Crusoe and a visit with a former hockey enforcer looking back on his bruiser’s life, Russell merges erudite insight with highly-developed powers of observation.

Born and raised in Florida, Russell now lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. He’s become a confirmed Brooklynite.

On a frigid and overcast January afternoon, at lunch in Fort Greene’s Cafe Paulette, I begin our conversation by asking Russell how he came to live in Brooklyn.

KR: I moved to New York to go to NYU’s Graduate School of Journalism. My sisters Lauren and Karen [Note: Karen Russell is the wildly inventive and prodigiously gifted author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove] were living in Washington Heights. Because I got a job at Yeshiva University, I stayed in Washington Heights until I decided to focus on my writing and moved to Brooklyn.

Eagle: Are you part of the Brooklyn Literary Mafia: Amis, Auster, Egan, Lethem, et al.?

KR: Truthfully, no. I mean I’m certainly aware of them and I know they live in Brooklyn, but I tend to hang mostly with fellow ex-Floridians. It’s a very small diaspora. I teach a course at Columbia so, of course, I have colleagues and acquaintances on campus. And friends in Brooklyn. But my inner radar seems to always point me in the direction of folks from my home state.

Eagle: You write about, to put it mildly, some fairly eccentric people. It would have been so easy to have ridiculed them, to have hoisted them on their own petards. But you scrupously, and generously, avoid this. How did you resist the temptation?

KR: Actually, since I’m not someone who’s usually forthcoming, I feel a sense of responsibilty when writing about others. My starting point is always to ask questions. Whenever you report something — especially when it’s something about someone else’s life, about their more intimate stuff — you become like a simpering [talk show] host insofar as you want to make the subject feel as though you’re here for them only, you’re their closest confidante in the world and, oh yeah, don’t worry about the live studio audience all around us. It’s a lot like what Janet Malcolm elucidated in the first few pages of “The Journalist and the Murderer.” I don’t have a performative persona; I like to observe and just be open to the world. One of my literary heroes in that regard is Montaigne.

Eagle: Your use of metaphors (“feet slow as Christmas.” “like raised hands eager to ask a question”), adjectives (“gnatty drizzle,” “peep yellow”) and verbs (“ragdolling,” “Pollock’ed”) is truly astounding. How do you come up with these?

KR: My sister Karen and I joke about who can come up with the best adjectives. We usually run neck and neck. One source I’ve discovered for some of this stuff is a three volume dictionary of American slang. I’m always trying to top myself.

Photo Credit: George Baier IV

Photo Credit: George Baier IV

Eagle: You may have done it with “that sounds about as feasible as squeezing it off mid-pee.”

KR: (Laughing) I don’t know how I come up with some of this stuff. When you ask me me about these one-liners and bon-mots and crazy metaphors, I guess it makes me think of sword fighters. Like, I am obviously not a sword fighter, nor have I ever been one. But I imagine that the best, most fluid, most reactive and most dangerous sword fighter is the one who isn’t worried about getting hurt. You know? The one whose head is empty, who can just “flow.” That’s the state I aspire to when I’m writing.

Eagle: Growing up, were you an avid reader. And who, and what, did you read?

KR: Everyone in our family read voraciously – and eclectically. My mom would read self-help books, followed by deep, intellectual tomes, followed by pulp thrillers. Karen read so much that she would be like Mr. Magoo, walking into things with a book in her hand. She’d be reading the cereal box at breakfast. Also, every Friday our mom would take the three of us to the local Borders and tell us to pick out three books. It didn’t have to be the canon; it could be any book, by any author. Our tastes and interests were wide-ranging and I believe this enriched our writing – and our lives.

Eagle: Finally, the cover of your book is so droll and apropos. [Note: the book’s cover is a photo of Russell wearing a sandwich board with the title hand-lettered on a sandwich board.] Whose idea was it?

KR: The brains behind the cover was Peter Mendelsund. You should Google some of his other covers; you’ll see that the dude is a legit master. I was more than a little skeptical about his idea, but he seemed very sure of it, so I went with it. I knew well enough to give an artist his freedom, and to trust in his vision. Plus, he orchestrated my first (and most likely last) photo shoot!

A Review: ‘Reporting Always: Writings from The New Yorker’

Lillian Ross reporting on the set of John Huston’s “The Red Badge of Courage,” outside Los Angeles, 1950. Credit: Silvia Reinhardt

Lillian Ross reporting on the set of John Huston’s “The Red Badge of Courage,” outside Los Angeles, 1950. Credit: Silvia Reinhardt

When I was a teenager and my father realized the true extent of my passion for the movies, he gave me a slim paperback titled simply “Picture.” The author was Lillian Ross. I’d read Arthur Knight and Manny Farber and Bosley Crowther and Stanley Kaufman, and, of course, Pauline Kael. But Ross was new to me. After reading the book, which many consider the best book ever written about the making of a motion picture, I never again missed an opportunity to read anything by Lillian Ross. (Who, not incidentally, while born in Syracuse, was raised in Brooklyn.)

Now, with the publication of “Reporting Always: Writings from The New Yorker,” with a forward by The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, we have the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the work of Ms. Ross — and to make new discoveries. For me, without doubt, the best of these discoveries is her droll and deadpan profile of the larger-than-life Brooklynite Sidney Franklin, titled “El Unico Matador.” (Not incidentally, this was Ross’s first New Yorker profile that appeared under her own byline.)

At first glance, Franklin, born Stanley Frumpkin in 1903 into an Orthodox Jewish family that had fled Imperial Russia for America in 1888, seems too outlandish to be true. The son of an NYPD cop (who was assigned to Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct), a closeted gay man (interestingly, the Eagle, which closely chronicled Franklin’s rise, was, in the 1840s, edited by another closeted male, Walt Whitman), a student of the legendary matador Rodolfo Gaona and friends with, among others, writer Barnaby Conrad, film director Budd Boetticher and James Dean (a great aficionado of bullfighting), Franklin went on to have an improbable, extraordinary life. The deeper one gets into Ross’s article, the more one realizes what a fantastic story she is telling. (In fact, in his biography of Hemingway, with whom Franklin had a fraught friendship, A.E. Hotchner writes that “Lillian Ross’s career with The New Yorker was founded on the success of her profile of the bullfighter Sidney Franklin.”)

Lillian Ross and Robin Williams, shortly after the release of “Good Morning, Vietnam” in 1987. Credit: Arthur Grace

Lillian Ross and Robin Williams, shortly after the release of “Good Morning, Vietnam” in 1987. Credit: Arthur Grace

As Ross recounts, Franklin became a matador after running away from home to Mexico. He fought bulls in Spain, Portugal, Colombia, Panama and Mexico. In “Death in the Afternoon,” Hemingway wrote of Franklin that “[He is] brave with a cold, serene and intelligent valor but instead of being awkward and ignorant he is one of the most skillful, graceful and slow manipulators of a cape fighting today.”

The reader quickly realizes that Ross is captivated by Franklin; where other reporters might have been barbed and mocking, Ross gives Franklin the benefit of the doubt. Even Franklin’s own sympathetic biographer, Bart Paul, notes that “El Torero de la Torah” (as his legion of Spanish fans dubbed him) was prone to exaggeration and tall tales. Wisely, Ross lets Franklin do most of the talking: “It’s all a matter of first things first. I was destined to taste the first, and the best, on the list of walks of life … I was destined to shine. It was a matter of noblesse oblige.”

On April 10, 1949, the Brooklyn Eagle published a story on Sidney Franklin, “Brooklyn’s own Matador de Toros.” Copyright © 2015 Newspapers.com

On April 10, 1949, the Brooklyn Eagle published a story on Sidney Franklin, “Brooklyn’s own Matador de Toros.” Copyright © 2015 Newspapers.com

Noblesse oblige is a term that Franklin uses a lot. Once, while watching a bullfight in Mexico, he was seated next to a British psychiatrist. They had a conversation, captured by Ross, straight out of Lewis Carroll, by way of Groucho Marx:

“While a dead bull was being dragged out of the ring, Franklin turned to the psychiatrist. ‘Say, Doc, did you ever get into the immortality of the crab?’ he asked. The psychiatrist admitted that he had not, and Franklin said that nobody knew the answer to that one. He then asked the psychiatrist what kind of doctor he was. Mental and physiological, the psychiatrist said. ‘I say the brain directs everything in the body,’ Franklin said. It’s all a matter of what’s in your mind.’ ‘You’re something of a psychosomaticist,’ said the psychiatrist. ‘Nah, all I say is if you control your brain, your brain controls the whole works.’ The psychiatrist asked if the theory applied to bullfighting. ‘You’ve got something there, Doc,’ said Franklin. `Bullfighting is basic. It’s a matter of life and death. People come to see you take long chances. It’s life’s biggest gambling game. Tragedy and comedy are so close together they’re part of each other. It’s all a matter of noblesse oblige.’”

Lillian Ross, Ernest Hemingway and his sons, Gregory and Patrick, in Ketchum, Idaho, 1947. Credit: Mary Hemingway

Lillian Ross, Ernest Hemingway and his sons, Gregory and Patrick, in Ketchum, Idaho, 1947. Credit: Mary Hemingway

Who but Ross could have captured that? And then, with impeccable reportorial instincts, gotten out of the way? One also realizes that, in many ways, she set the template for a certain New Yorker style. (The Franklin profile was written in 1949.)  The hallmarks of this style are bemusement, curiosity, meticulous attention to detail and, especially refreshing in our age of internet-fueled snark, generosity. It would have been so easy to mock Franklin; Ross never took that bait.

Lillian Ross and J.D. Salinger in Central Park in the late ’60s with Erik Ross, Matthew Salinger and Peggy Salinger. Courtesy of Lillian Ross

Lillian Ross and J.D. Salinger in Central Park in the late ’60s with Erik Ross, Matthew Salinger and Peggy Salinger. Courtesy of Lillian Ross

By email, I ask Remnick about the Franklin piece in particular and Ross’s reportorial prowess in general.

“The Sidney Franklin profile is one of my favorites. You don’t find many Brooklyn bullfighters these days. There must be something in the kale or the air or something. It doesn’t matter. What was so wonderful about Lillian’s piece, and all of her pieces, was her eye for a story and her ear for the way people tell them. She remains a master.”

Lillian Ross and Wallace Shawn on the streets of New York in the 1960s. Courtesy of Lillian Ross

Lillian Ross and Wallace Shawn on the streets of New York in the 1960s. Courtesy of Lillian Ross

Even when she is profiling (in “How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?,” written in 1950) someone with as huge a target on his back as Ernest Hemingway, Ross never takes a cheap shot. From Remnick’s Introduction: “To her astonishment and Hemingway’s, some readers thought the piece was a hatchet job, a work of aggression that besmirched the reputation of a great literary artist. Which seemed ridiculous to both writer and subject. Hemingway and Ross had become close, and he went to great lengths to reassure her of their enduring friendship: ‘All are very astonished because I don’t hold anything against you who made an effort to destroy me and nearly did, they say,’ he told her. ‘I can always tell them, how can I be destroyed by a woman when she is a friend of mine and we have never even been to bed and no money has changed hands?’ His advice to her was clear: ‘Just call them the way you see them and the hell with it.’”

Ross took Hemingway’s advice, and for the past 65 years and counting, she’s never approached her craft any other way. How fortunate we are to have this new collection (which also includes profiles of Fellini, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench) — and to have this diminutive dynamo (it’s hard to get that Franklin patois out of my head) still out there with pad and pencil. Somehow, I’m sure she doesn’t use a Tablet.

Lillian Ross, John Huston and Audie Murphy on the set of John Huston’s “The Red Badge of Courage,” outside Los Angeles, 1950. Credit: Silvia Reinhardt

Lillian Ross, John Huston and Audie Murphy on the set of John Huston’s “The Red Badge of Courage,” outside Los Angeles, 1950. Credit: Silvia Reinhardt

Image courtesy of Scribner

Image courtesy of Scribner

Prospect Heights Resident and New York City Opera Legend, Don Yule Passes Away

MEISTERSINGER. Photo credit, Beth Bergman

Meistersinger – Photo credit, Beth Bergman

Don Yule was born in Enid, Oklahoma on January, 21st, 1935 and passed away in Brooklyn, N.Y. on July 3, 2015. He was born Donnie Elton Yule to Dr. Arthur Harry Yule and Izell Warren Yule. </br>
He was a popular member of New York City Opera for more than fifty years and a talented artist. Yule was considered an essential part of the core company, participating in more than a thousand performances. He studied Music Performance at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Don Yule began his career with New York City Opera as a bass in the chorus in 1960 and later as a comprimario artist. His talent as a character actor was discernible from the start. He debuted as Gluttony in Six Characters in Search of an Author, starring Beverly Sills and the orchestra conducted by General Director Julius Rudel. Yule sang in several languages, including Italian, French and Russian. His roles also varied, from comedy to drama. He played both the drunken landlord Benoit and the thwarted lover Alcindoro, in La Boheme and the sinister jailer in Tosca. His most memorable roles were that of the emperor in Turandot and multiple parts in Candide.

While on tour with New York City Opera, Yule performed in Los Angeles; Saratoga, N.Y.; and the upper Northeast and Midwest of the U.S., as well as in countries such as Taiwan and Japan. Yule also performed in New York City Opera’s summer musicals and in Gilbert and Sullivan at the City Center of Music.(The Mikado being one of his favorite roles).

Marriage of Figaro - Photo credit, Beth Bergman

Marriage of Figaro – Photo credit, Beth Bergman

Earlier in his career, Yule performed at Town and Country Musicals in East Rochester, N.Y., where he met his first wife, Christine Chernis Brandt.

He sang with Turnau Opera in Woodstock, N.Y. and Sarasota, Fla. His roles included Colline in La Boheme and Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia. He also performed with Central City Opera and Santa Fe Opera. Don Yule was the President of the American Guild of Musical Artists for five years. It is a labor organization that represents the men and women who create America’s operatic, choral and dance heritage.

During his second marriage, to Jaye Adams, Yule resided in Brooklyn, N.Y., with their son Seth. One of Don’s hobbies was collecting and repairing antique clocks and he found a kindred spirit in Aldo Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum of America which Don visited. Don was an avid collector of music-related classical treasures. His collection included antique Victrola’s and rare operatic recordings that he loved to share with his colleagues.

Yule often donated performances with Maestro Vincent La Selva’s New York Grand Opera in Central Park, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music with The Brooklyn Philharmonic and Brooklyn’s Regina Opera Company. Many young singers from both the United States and abroad got a grounding in the American classical tradition with these wonderful companies. Yule shared his wisdom and knowledge of musical history with grateful newcomers and assisted them in establishing themselves here. Every summer he and other veteran singers enabled novices to garner their first reviews by singing with them as part of their presentations. During his long and busy career, Yule also sang in several New York City churches and synagogues.

Nine Rivers from Jordan, Photo credit - Beth Bergman

Nine Rivers from Jordan, Photo credit – Beth Bergman

Of interest, Yule was a third cousin on his father’s side to Mickey Rooney, whose birth name was Joe Yule.

Don Yule is survived by his son, Seth, and two former wives, Jaye Adams of Palm Beach, Fla., and Christine Chernis Brandt of Asheville, N.C.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be donated in Don Yule’s memory to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, c/o the IU Foundation, P.O Box 500, Bloomington, IN 47402.