On the afternoon of Saturday, November 21st, the theater at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy of Brooklyn in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was transformed into the Petrovenian Embassy for the Regina Opera’s first production of their 46th season. “The Merry Widow” composed by Austrian-Hungarian Franz Lehár (1870-1948) was an instant worldwide hit since its debut in 1905.
Brooklyn’s Regina Opera presented a brilliant and entertaining production on November 21, 22, 28 and 29, featuring two casts. Perfect holiday entertainment!
The plot: a rich widow returns to her native Petrovania, with an inheritance of millions which could save the nearly bankrupt country, if she marries another Petrovanian. Music, mirth and mayhem galore result. At the beginning of Act 1, when all were singing a birthday tribute to their King, the portrait we see was actually of Conductor Gregory Ortega!
Anna Glawari, the wealthy widow, was brilliantly sung and acted by soprano Christina Rohm. Rohm’s singing of “Vilia” was sheer magic and “I love you so” (The Merry Widow Waltz) was equally perfect. Ms. Rohm could be heard above the orchestra and as a perfect blend in ensemble numbers; her finales were exciting her top notes like golden stars. Ms. Rohm’s voice has great beauty and is full, round and sumptuous in sound. She simply WAS Anna Glawari. Ms. Rohm was stunning in a peasant dress in Act 2.
Count Danilo Danilovitsch was in the excellent hands of baritone Peter Hakjoon Kim. His caressing and strong singing of “I’m Going to Maxim’s” and “Women” (Girls, girls, girls) and with Anna in “I love you” was captivating. His acting and dancing were part of a very romantic portrayal. His dramatic soliloquy “There once was a Prince” was powerful. Kim’s high baritone was beautifully tapered for this stellar role. Kudos for his heel kicks á la The Rockettes in the “Girls, girls, girls” reprise!
Valencienne was sung by Sarah Moulton Faux. Her beautiful lyric soprano sparkled magically in her duet with her suitor Camille de Rosillon, and she was a fine actress. Their rhapsodic duets together made for a profound sigh for love-illicit or not! Her voice echoed with longing and had a golden sheen.
Camille, Count de Rosillon was sung by tenor David Bailey. Bailey is the possessor of a lovely ardent lyric tenor who entered the very high tessitura of this part with ease. His singing of “See, there’s a place close at hand” describing the nearby pavilion in which Camille and Valencienne could meet for a tryst, thrilled the listener with its pulsating ascending scales and enchanting irresistible melody. Bailey and Ms. Faux were a handsome couple. Nice to see and wonderful to hear!
John Schenkel was a superb Baron Mirko Zeta. His feigned heart attacks, swooning and general frustration were great fun and his robust baritone was never better. Schenkel’s “double takes” at his peeks in the pavilion thinking his young wife was inside with a lover, were priceless!
Njegus was in the comical hands of Daniel Kerr who danced a good Can-Can in a skirt. Kerr’s clearly enunciated spoken dialogue was loud and clear and his was a memorable comic portrayal.
The smaller parts, including the Viscount Cascada of Jon Thomas Olson, Raoul de St. Brioch of Andrew Tse, The Bogdanovitch of Thomas Geib, The Kromov of Kevin Miller, The Sylviane of Jennie Mescon, and the Olga of Noelle Currie were all done with flair.
The marvelous dancers were Wendy Chu, whose grace and charm filled the stage; Christian-Philippe Consigny whose balletic background enables him to heel kick and turn with astonishing precision; and the graceful Stephanie Garcia, all of whom made for formidable dancing.
The Grisettes were brilliantly danced by Wendy Chu as Lolo, Stephanie Garcia as Dodo, Kelly Vaghenas as Joujou and the Froufrou of Sara Laszlo, Cloclo of Lisa Ferraro and the Margo of Christian-Philippe Consigny rounded out the dazzling dancers.
The colorful ensemble included Jennifer Allenby, Lisa Ferraro, Julianne Frohlich, Elena Jannicelli-Sandella, and the versatile Wayne Olsen among others.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were fabulous; Anna Glawari’s Act 3 black gown sparkled brilliantly; the various medals that bedecked the Counts and Barons looked regal, and the Petrovanian’s were all colorfully dressed. The Grisettes singing and dancing “We’re the ladies of the chorus” were right out of the film “Moulin Rouge”.
The innovative sets as well as the stage direction were by Linda Lehr. Her genius made all the actions flow like champagne. The “fast freeze” was used effectively and the dialogue by Linda Lehr was whitty; The supertitle were clear and readable. Tyler Learned’s set and lighting designs were truly mood inducing.
The chorus sang with inspiration, the peasant song and “Vilia” were haunting and unforgettable. Both the men and the women in ensemble and separate gave their all!
The orchestra, under the inspired baton of Maestro and new Music Director Gregory Ortega was first class. It was like having Franz Lehár himself conducting this great 36 piece ensemble. Maestro Ortega captured the romance and “schmaltz” of the operetta style. The violin solo, during the love duet of Camille and Valencienne played by violin concertmaster Yelena Savranskaya, was sublime. During the bows by the conductor and cast onstage Ms. Savranskaya was in charge of the orchestra for the encore finale of “Girls, girls, girls!” The audience, who hummed along with the melodies clapped in cadence for the bows. Kudos also for violinist Diana Barkan.
In a very troubled world, The Regina Opera continues to give us joy through music, the antidote for all evils. “The Merry Widow” with its beautiful and timeless melodies and dances was the perfect entertainment at the right time.
Thank you Fran Garber President and Producer, and Linda Cantoni Executive Vice President, Treasurer Joseph Delfausse, Vice President Alex Guzman, and volunteer Marlena Ventimiglia for all of your efforts on behalf of the unique Regina Opera, Brooklyn’s own pride and joy. Bravo to all!
The Martina Arroyo Foundation on Monday, November 16th celebrated its 11th Anniversary of Prelude to Performance. The gala was held at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. This was a night to remember, when the worlds of music and fashion merged to form a special magic with an excitement of its own.
Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News and bestselling author and radio WQXR evening’s host Terrance McKnight, lent their abundant charm as co-hosts and introduced many distinguished guests in the audience. Gala Producer Midge Woolsey led us in a brief moment of silence for the victims of Paris. The Michel Maurel Award was given to Ernst Rieser, longtime friend, adviser and personal assistant to Mme. Arroyo. Martina Arroyo looking resplendent in a burgundy gown presented the award named after her late much loved husband.
Martina Arroyo also presented an award to honored guest,Artistic Director Ted Sperling of MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale). He then conducted the chorale in a brief magical piece from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with angelic purity of tone.
The operatic portion then began with “The Flower Duet” from Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Brandie Sutton, soprano and Hyona Kim, mezzo blended their voices beautifully. Ms. Sutton is a soprano of radiant promise. Ms. Kim’s majestic mezzo mellowness was alluring. Akari Weintzen was an adorable “Trouble,”(Butterfly and Pinkerton’s child) and performed her tasks with deft professionalism. This was a poignant segment beautifully done. Their tossing of the blossoms to prepare for Pinkerton’s arrival melted the heart.
Jennifer Rowley, sang “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. Ms. Rowleys opening note was held seemingly forever reaching fortissimo and then diminishing to a whisper. A true Verdi soprano, Ms. Rowley went from strength to strength as if combating the caprices of destiny with prayerful defiance. Her “Maledizione’s” were individually spine chilling. Jennifer Rowley made a successful Metropolitan Opera debut as Musetta last year.
Dinner was served and the program continued with international rising tenor Michele Angelini, who was born in Brooklyn-why not? So were legendary tenor Richard Tucker and baritone Robert Merrill. Angelini thrilled us with a powerful interpretation of “Ah! mes amis” from Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment. The 9 high “C’s” were hammered out with insouciance, grit and charm.
Brian Kellow then presented an award gift to Greek born Joanna Mastroianni whose fashion collections reflect her sense of style and elegance. A brief film was shown of her designs accompanied by the haunting voice of Maria Callas singing “Eben” from Catalani’s La Wally.
An auction followed with a real auctioneer-Angelo K. H. Chan! Some of the auction gifts were: a week in the Palais de Paris dans Le Marais, tenor Michele Angelini for an evening of singing, famed Italian Parisian chef Paolo Petrini for a private dinner for eight, and a “poker” night with Martina Arroyo, Marilyn Horne and Tyne Daly were among the highlights!
The Act Two lesson scene from La Fille du Regiment was then performed. Claire Coolen used her saucy soprano and comedic timing and versatility with humor and elan. Karolina Pilou used her dark, plummy and pliable mezzo with great aplomb along with Michele Angelini’s exciting tenor and Jacopo Buora’s resonant bass baritone, put them in a pot and a brilliantly funny brew ensues!
After coffee, tea and desserts and closing remarks from Brian Kellow and Terrance McKnight an “extra dessert” followed. Soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who caused a sensation as Violetta in Prelude to Performance in 2014, sang the “Csardas” from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Ms. Lopez‘s flourishes, scales and exciting coloratura took us on a roller coaster ride that ended with a sustained high note and brought down the house. It was a rousing finale from a young and gifted singer. The exceptional accompanists were Lloyd Arriola and Noby Ishida.
Metropolitan Opera baritone Mark Rucker who coaches the awardees, and his wife Sadie (Publicity) have given their all since the conception of Prelude to Performance and deserve great kudos.
Our table was graced by Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio with Board of Directors Michael Fornabaio, Karl Michaelis, Joyce Greenberg, also Gloria Gari from The Giulio Gari Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler, Robert Lombardo famed vocal agent, soprano Barbara Ann Testa vocal judge, Cavaliere Edward Jackson, and we greeted F. Paul Driscoll, Editor of Opera News, Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundation, Murray Rosenthal from Opera Index, Maestro Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes were also present.
It was a pleasure to meet Rufus Wainwright (Benefit Committee) composer/musician who had a huge success at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with his opera Prima Donna as well as fashion honoree, Joanna Mastroianni. Famed coloratura soprano Harolyn Blackwell was as perky and vital as when she sang an unforgettable “Oscar” in Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti at The Metropolitan Opera. This was a night of good friends, good food, great singing and all the good and beautiful things in life. Thanks to Gala Chair Cecilia Teng, Gala Producer Midge Woolsey and co-chairs Donna and Richard Esteves and Andrew Martin-Weber.
Martina Arroyo, magnificent Metropolitan Opera and international soprano, human being and humanitarian fully deserved her recent honor at the Kennedy Center. Madame Arroyo’s work with young promising opera singers is through her Foundation in its Prelude to Performance at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. This program prepares the winners with scholarships plus a stipend for six weeks of study and presents them in four fully costumed productions with orchestra. In July 2016, Prelude to Performance will present two performances each of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss and Puccini’s La Boheme. This also provides the true antidote for the evils in the world by letting the indelible imprint of enlightenment through music enter.
Thanks to the Martina Arroyo Foundation, opera will continue to thrive as young singers are granted the opportunities to perform and offer their special gifts to the world.
On the evening of Thursday, November 11th, Opera Index held its annual membership buffet and recital at The Community Church of New York in Murray Hill. It also welcomed its new President, Metropolitan Opera mezzo soprano Jane Shaulis who in turn greeted the enthusiastic audience. We were treated to the vocal talents of five award winners of the Opera Index 2015 vocal competition.
Galeano Salas sang “Che gelida manina” from Puccini’s La boheme. Salas has youth and ardor and also is the possessor of a truly fine tenor. There are moments when his voice is restrained but suddenly there is a transition to a brilliant top. His beautiful singing of Che gelida manina had many golden moments and ended sweetly. His later encore of the Mario Lanza hit (1953)”Because You’re Mine” was sung with freshness, elan and a ringing finale. His glorious singing of “Jurame” brought back memories of tenor Alfredo Krauss, with its passion and ringing high C’s. Salas and soprano Alexa Jarvis shook the rafters with their final high C in “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La boheme. It was a wonderful “extra”encore.
Maya Yahav Gour is a mezzo from Tel Aviv. Her singing of “La romance de l’etoile” by Chabrier revealed a voice with a vibrant smoky sound. She has good interpretive instincts but a delicate quality best suited for operatic rarities. Ms. Gour sings a lot of jazz as well. Her encore of “Smoke gets in your eyes” needs a more intimate venue to be more fully appreciated.
Sol Jin baritone sang an impassioned “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Gounod’s Faust with a stunning optional high note and a strong finale. His encore was a Korean love song with beautiful melody wonderfully sung.
Alexa Jarvis used her crisp powerful soprano in “Stridono lassu” from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. She had fine portamentos and coloratura with a ringing finale. Ms. Jarvis encore was a touching “Someone to watch over me” (I guess Canio wasn’t good enough?)
Sean Michael Plumb, winner of the Opera Index award for 2015, sang a dazzling “Pierrot’s Tanzlied” from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt. His beautiful baritone caressed the words and his pianissimi were heavenly. The superb accompanist was Michael Fennelly.
We then all lined up for a terrific dinner brought in by members. Like the lasagna which we devoured, the evening consisted of multi layered goodies.
We thank the new President Jane Shaulis, Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, Vice President Philip Hagemann, Treasurer Murray Rosenthal and Board member John Metcalfe, Stephen De Maio from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, trustee, Karl Michaelis and countless friends who make this Opera Index celebration one of the year’s great events. Special kudos to Maestros Eve Queler and Stephen Phebus, with wife Linda Howes, David Bender and Barbara Meister Bender from Career Bridges, Ken Benson opera manager and Met Opera soprano legend Elinor Ross. Other notables and several donors were Doris Keeley, Meche Kroop, Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell. Professor poet Cavaliere Edward Jackson, Brooklynites Bill Ronayne President of the Mario Lanza Society and Lois Kirschenbaum (opera’s number one fan) also added to the festivities.
The Opera Index celebration was truly a “moveable feast” and the memory will endure until at least next year’s annual musical and edible incredible party!
On the evening of Tuesday, November 10th, The Gerda Lissner Foundation in association with the Liederkranz Foundation, introduced the 2015 winners of the Lieder/Song competition. Stephen De Maio, President of The Gerda Lissner Foundation, spoke enthusiastically about the merging of the two organizations for this special occasion. This intimate elegant evening was held at The Kosciuszko Foundation in New York City. The ebullient host for the program was Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News and the singers were accompanied by pianist extraordinaire Arlene Shrut. Mr. Kellow with his wit, anecdotes and knowledge introduced each award-winning young artist and kept the proceedings moving along at a brisk happy pace.
Michael Maliakel sang “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt.” His is a “dark” bass and his subterranean resonance was used with elegance and style. His poetic longing was expressed as if by Schubert himself. His vibrato was like the great Italian basso’s of old – a rare breed.
Debussy’s “Apparition” was beautifully sung by soprano Liana Guberman. Ms. Guberman’s passionate outbursts and the music evoked the score of Pelleas and Melisande and propelled us to a higher sphere.
Erik Larson beefed up all his vocal resources to beguile us with “I hear an Army” by Samuel Barber. His declarative skills combined with his expressive baritone made for compelling listening.
Emily Misch sang “Amor” from Brentano Lieder. This is a dazzling showpiece very much in the Zerbinetta league. Misch’s coloratura flights were spellbinding her vocal fireworks made the evening feel like the 4th of July!
Soprano Sonja Krenek sang Samuel Barber’s “The Desire for Hermitage” in a powerful sumptuous soprano with a nice “dark” quality.
Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart” was given a powerful reading by mezzo soprano Anastasiia Sidorova. Her rich beautiful mezzo evoked memories of Eula Beal, her gown of orange poppies framed her like a portrait in the Hermitage.
Barbee Monk sang Strauss “Zueignung” with a soaring soprano well suited to the music’s almost Wagnerian flow. The finale is triumphant with expectation and hope. Ms. Monk was a herald of song.
Kevin Ray, Wagnerian tenor more than proved his versatility with a rousing and stirring Italian song made popular by Ezio Pinza and Giovanni Martinelli. His majestic and impassioned singing of “L’Ultima Canzone” by Paolo Tosti gave the night an Italianate flavor. His ringing note at the finale was thrilling as was his caressing tone throughout.
Josh Quinn sang Schubert’s “Fahrt zum Hades.” His bass baritone was pleasing and plangent, acting with his every word and gesture.
Steven LaBrie sang “Intima” by Esperon. His visceral baritone sang this Spanish song with the special brio and machismo and the spirit of the troubadour.
“Du bist die Ruh” by Schubert was sung by Sean Michael Plumb whose baritone seized every nuance from a pianissimo to forte with flair. He captured Schubert’s longing and gave us all a piece to take home.
The reception that followed allowed us the privilege of chatting with artists and friends. Sopranos Elinor Ross and Elaine Malbin, Michael Fornabaio Vice President, Cornelia Beigel Secretary and Karl Michaelis and Barbara Ann Testa Trustees from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Gloria Gari from The Giulio Gari Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler as well as Glenn Morton and Ken Benson from Classic Lyric Arts, Scott Barnes acting and opera coach and Christine and Al Palladino from The Columbus Citizens Foundation and Brooklyn’s Bill Ronayne from The Mario Lanza Society.
An evening of song with young singers and friends made for a wondrous start of the holiday season in the Big Apple! We took a big bite and savored the delicious memory!
On the evening of Thursday, November 5th, Classic Lyric Arts held its Fall Benefit Gala at the Kosciuszko Foundation located at 15 East 65th Street in New York City. Under the direction of Artistic Director Glenn Morton, this organization helps promote L’Art du Chant Francais (The Art of French Singing) as well as La Lingua della Lirica (The Language of Opera). Glenn Morton spoke eloquently about the goals and objectives of Classic Lyric Arts and then introduced the young singers.
Mikaela Bennett sang a superlative “Musetta’s Waltz” or “Quando me vo” from Puccini’s La boheme, in a sparkling soaring saucy soprano.
Kady Evanyshyn’s luscious mezzo enthralled with “Connais tu le pays” from Mignon by Ambroise Thomas. Ms. Evanyshyn has a velvety sound that carries well and does justice to the french style.
Vincent Festa sang “Ah! Mes amis” from Donizetti’s La fille du regiment with joyous abandon, his smooth and mellow tenor entering the high C stratosphere with ease.
This was followed by “Tutte le feste al tempio” from Verdi’s Rigoletto with Larisa Martinez and Suchan Kim. Ms. Martinez possesses a radiant and poignant soprano that blended perfectly with Mr. Kim’s warm and spirited baritone.They gave us some lovely and visceral delights.
A true musical surprise was a thrilling rendition of a rarity Youkali by Kurt Weil as sung by Vera Kremers. It is marked “Tango Habanera” and I thought of the late exotic film soprano Ilona Massey or Zara Leander in some exotic cabaret. Ms. Kremer is the possessor of a stunning dark hued mezzo soprano with a volcanic top that erupts Wagnerian gold! The program notes tell us “Youkali, the land of our desires, happiness and pleasure, where we have no worries, only hope and love. Alas Youkali is a folly, a dream-there is no Youkali.”
Dorothy Gal, operatic humorist gave her reflections on the art of opera and how it applied to her and had the audience laughing.
The Quartet from Puccini’s La boheme was reenacted and sung with gusto featuring soprano Nadia Petrella as a touching Mimi, Mikaela Bennett, as a sprightly Musetta, Matt Greenblatt as Rodolfo and the Marcello of Bret Thom. Mr. Greenblatt possesses a solid powerful tenor and Bret an exceptional warm round baritone. How joyful to hear all four young outstanding voices in this opera about the lives young bohemians in Paris!
Gon Halevi and Jordan Rutter know how to handle Handel. Their duet “Va godendo/Io le diro” from Handel’s Xerxes was sublime. Each was a counter tenor to savor with a strong assist from soprano Aedin Larkin. All sang with clarity and dexterity and some exceptional coloratura. Recommended listening is Enrico Caruso’s beautiful recording of “Ombra Mai Fu” from Xerxes. (1920)
“Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly received a heartfelt rendition by soprano Tamara Rusque. Hers is a voice of power, precision and passion with a dark quality to her lovely sound. Ms. Rusque ascended to the finale on a wave of tears and hope!
Glenn Morton gave a brief inspired talk on Classic Lyric Arts and is truly a disciple of the joys of opera! Two surprises followed: a popular Mandarin love song was sung as a duet “The moon represents my heart,” composed by Weng Ching-hsi and was hauntingly sung by Dongling Gao and Jia Jun Hong.
The finale was the”New York, New York” song from Bernstein’s On the Town with the females in the cast as flirtatious enticements. Tenor Matt Greenblatt, baritone Bret Thom and Jon Thierer were the fabulous ebullient sailors- they sang their all! The splendid pianist accompanists to the singers were Jie-Li, Laetitia Ruccolo, Michael Sheetz, Lochlan Brown, Michael Stewart and Weng Chi-his.The great Leonard Bernstein(1918-1990) is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery along with a composer he championed, Louis Moreau Gottschalk. (1829-1869)
The reception continued with wines, fruits, cheeses and desserts. It was nice to meet and greet President Steve De Maio, Cornelia Beigel and Joyce Greenberg from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler, Gloria Gari from The Giulio Gari Foundation, Al and Christine Palladino from The Columbus Citizens Foundation, Arturo Callegari, vocal teacher and his brother famed Maestro Joseph Callegari, Ken Benson who is Vice President of Classic Lyric Arts as well as an opera manager chatting with Brooklyn’s Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Society and sparkling soprano Elaine Malbin, Lou Barrella, opera lecturer and Verdi filmmaker August Ventura. We were truly thankful to have met some of these up and coming talented and youthful artists who were “the icing on the cake.” They were the real desserts at the reception. We thank Glenn Morton, Artistic Director for his splendid efforts on their behalf. Bravo to All!
On Feb. 21, 1948, at the Brooklyn Little Theater on Hanson Place, a production of “Therese,” adapted from Emile Zola’s 1867 novel “Thérèse Raquin,” opened for a limited run. It was a brave move for the Little Theater; the premiere of this adaption had occurred three years before in 1945 at the Biltmore Theater on Broadway. Starring the grande dame of the American stage, Eva LeGalliene, as Therese; Victor Jory as Laurent, her lover and partner in murder; and Dame May Whitty (well-known to American film audiences for playing Miss Froy in Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” and Lady Beldon in William Wyler’s “Mrs. Miniver”) as the formidable Madame Raquin, the play was not well received, both critically and commercially.
Now, a new adaptation by the esteemed English playwright Helen Edmundson, starring Keira Knightley in her Broadway debut, has opened at Studio 54. In the interim between the Brooklyn Little Theater production and this new adaptation, there have been many other “Thérèse Raquin” incarnations, including a 2001 Broadway musical called “Thou Shalt Not,” with a score by Harry Connick Jr.; a 2007 production by Quantum Theater in Pittsburgh, staged in an empty swimming pool; and “The Artificial Jungle,” a 1987 reimagining of the Zola work as a James M. Cain novel by the enfant terrible of Off-Broadway, Charles Ludlum.
Edmundson’s prodigiously impressive credits include stage adaptations of “Orestes,” “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Life is a Dream” and “Mephisto.” In addition, Edmundson has written many acclaimed original plays, among them “The Clearing,” “Coram Boy” and “Mother Teresa is Dead.” Earlier this year, she was the recipient of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for Drama. In announcing the award, the Selection Committee celebrated her “[A]mbitious plays [that] distill historical complexities through characters whose passions and ethical dilemmas mirror and illuminate a larger political landscape.”
Recently the Eagle spoke by telephone with Edmundson from her home outside London:
Brooklyn Eagle: What was your greatest challenge in adapting a novel written in 1867 and making it relevant for a contemporary audience?
Helen Edmundson: Whenever I think about adapting something, I first ask myself if the play will still resonate today. Aside from whatever period the play is set in, the ideas in it must be able to leap through time. “Thérèse Raquin” is a study in guilt and the consequences of what happens when we give in to our primal, animal instincts. That is a timeless theme.
BE: Because so much of Zola’s novel portrays the characters’ hidden passions and interior thoughts, how did you handle the challenge of dramatizing these emotions?
HE: There is quite a lot of repetition in the novel, indecision, repressed emotions. In a play, everything has to keep progressing. So, it was important for me to keep things moving, almost inexorably. So much of this production is steeped in the characters’ physicality. For example, the sequence where Therese, Camille and Laurent go to walk by the river. Zola has pages and pages of description. In my adaptation, I wrote physical directions for the actors. The actual look of the scene — the river, the embankment — I left up to Evan [Cabnet], the play’s director, and Beowulf [Boritt], the set designer. When I write my plays, I don’t devote a lot of attention to the sets. In fact, sometimes the plays, as I’ve written them, are set in bare, empty spaces.
BE: In watching the play, I was struck by its modernity. Parallels with such examples of roman noir as “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Rings Twice,” were inescapable. Do you feel that “the affinity of blood and lust” that Zola refers to in the novel is a universal and timeless theme?
HE: We spend much of our lives controlling our instincts, struggling with the contradictions of societal restraints and human desires, dealing with conflicting forces and emotions. This struggle knows no boundaries of time, place [and] nationality. People have, and always will, wrestle with these strong, elemental forces.
BE: You certainly don’t seem at all intimidated about stepping into the ring with the heavyweights: you’ve written adaptations of Euripedes, Tolstoy and George Eliot. Audacious, brave choices. What makes you so fearless?
HE: No matter how large the canvas — and I like large canvases — at the core, I have to always feel that I can take the essence of the work and run with it. As monumental as the setting may be, it’s always the ideas that I pursue and want to depict. Ideas as embodied by character. That is my way in, whether it’s “Orestes” or “War and Peace” or “The Mill on the Floss.”
BE: Finally, were you ever tempted to have an animatronic version of Francois? [Note: Francois is Madame Raquin’s black cat, who, in the novel, bears mute witness to Therese and Laurent’s passions.] Or to recreate Laurent’s fear of Camille’s portrait?
HE: (Laughing) I have to be realistic about what things are possible on the stage. It would have been extremely difficult to have had a cat, whether real or animatronic, without having the audience giggle. As for Camille’s portrait terrifying Laurent, I left it out because I wanted to strictly follow Therese’s story. She is the fulcrum of the play; Camille, Laurent, Madame Raquin, all rotate around her. It is her story.
At The Little Church around the Corner on the evening of Thursday, October 29th Conductor, Founder and Music Director Maestro Ida Angland and Gateway Classical Music Society and Orchestra presented an evening of music,”up close and personal.” This is the 12th season of presenting concerts and operas to ever growing audiences. In the past such operas as Aida, Rigoletto and Tosca, were presented in concert form and the Verdi requiem to great acclaim. This season the company has been appearing in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York offering different masterworks to appreciative audiences.
The Church of the Configuration located at 1 East 29th Street off Fifth Avenue, also has the nickname that came from a gentleman whose best friend was an actor who had passed away. The large church nearby refused to bury an actor, but as an afterthought the pastor said “there’s a little church around the corner that might bury him.” The name stuck and this beautiful church has been a favorite of theatre folk ever since.
The program opened with a rousing performance of the Tragic Overture Op. 81 by Johannes Brahms. (1833-1897) Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture composed the same year (1880) shows joy and the opposite with the tragic. This composition merely reflects the composer’s emotional versatility. The Gateway Orchestra went from strength to strength under Ms. Angland’s baton making us all the more eager for the Beethoven to follow.
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor, Op. 67 (Completed in 1808) grips the listener with its melodic and rhythmical genius. The master was combating ever increasing deafness at this time.
The opening Allegro con brio movement did not exaggerate the basic theme but the reinforcement of the theme later on stuck with the listener. The entwining themes with various instruments joining in made Maestro Angland a Pied Piper. The strong parts for strings, horns, woodwinds and percussion made for a true joy ride. The final movements with its repetitive theme, almost a sport for the composer, ended in total triumph. Maestro Angland led the orchestra with complete wizardry and mastery. It was a roller coaster ride that earned a wonderful ovation.
The second part of the program began with the Violin Concerto in D Minor Op. 47 by the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. (1865-1957) The young violin soloist was Xiao Wang. Mr. Wang with his powerful, subtle, supple playing evoked memories of the great violinists of the past. His cadenzas were executed with ease and brilliance. Mr. Wang had all the ingredients for greatness – introspective like Jascha Heifetz, flamboyant like Nicolo Paganini and warm like Fritz Kreisler. These attributes made for a thrilling and visceral performance. Sibelius’ inner torment could be heard in the violin with its unforgettable dirge like pining. This was like being present at the creation. A brilliant ascending career launched like a rocket!
The program ended with a delightful and spirited Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila by composer Mikhail Glinka. (1804-1857)
Compliments to all the musicians including the violin Concertmaster Gino Sambuco formerly with the new York Philharmonic. We spotted violinist Yelena Savranskaya and principal violist Alexandra Honigsberg both familiar faces from Brooklyn’s Regina Opera. Kudos also to principal cellist Madeline Fayette right in front of us for sublime pizzicato and inspiring playing from the cellos.
As we left, we saw the beautiful and tranquil Madonna grotto and exited with the blue lights of The Empire State Building in the background.
With such musical treats, the Gateway Classical Music Society has let the light in and helped brighten our world. All the musicians deserved and received the ovation and cheers from the very enthusiastic audience many of whom stopped to meet and greet the founder of this musical feast who remains a beacon and inspiration to all – Maestro Ida Angland!
On the evening of Wednesday, September 30, we viewed a private preview screening of the film Author & Activist – The Daniela Gioseffi Story by award winning filmmaker Anton Evangelista at the Maya Deren Theatre on Second Avenue. Evangelista’s film, Umberto E is a documentary on his Italian immigrant father’s orphaned life and survival in America and won him awards.
Anton Evangelista has put together all the pieces of Daniela Gioseffi’s life and laid them bare for all to see. She is a Brooklyn Heights resident and has been a poet of renown, civil rights activist and the author of sixteen award winning books on prose and poetry. They include Blood Autumn, Women on War: International Writings:, On Prejudice: A Global Perspective and her latest book, Pioneering Italian American Culture: Escaping la vita della cucina. A satirical book on the belly dance as a feminine dance of child birth as well as sensuality entitled The Great American Belly Dance was a big seller. A class on the belly dance that my wife Judy took with Daniela was complete with outfit and zills. A whirling dervish and liberated spirit ensued, thanks to Daniela.
With remarkable photos, Ms. Gioseffi discussed her family in Italy, her grandparents, one of whom bore 20 children, her father Donato who arrived here with a limp from an accident in Italy and not speaking English. By strength of will and character he earned a college degree and became a professor and scientist. That grit was transferred to Daniela Gioseffi who kept her Italian name, dabbled in acting and then chose poetry and activism to fill her life. One still hears and feels her passion for justice through the voices of her Italian ancestors.
She defied the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) down South and was molested by one KKK chieftain. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and currently raises her voice against global warming and is like Pope Francis on the side of the angels for awareness of both racism and climate change.
Ms. Gioseffi who has a daughter, singer/songwriter Thea Kearney and grandchildren still looks radiant and ready to challenge the forces of bigotry and hatred. She laments the lack of progress in the fight for equality for all. Has it been quixotic? Only time will tell if we have a planet left at all.
Ms. Gioseffi ponders these issues from her apartment in Brooklyn Heights with its spectacular venues of bridges and river. That is what she has been doing to unite all humankind as one, from the “old world” to the new – building bridges and crossing rivers.
According to Anton Evangelista, Daniela makes great lasagna. This film is like great lasagna, multi layered, many ingredients, savory and unforgettable! The outstanding film maker Anton Evangelista will make you ponder the vital adrenalin that makes Daniela Gioseffi, unstoppable and what she contributes to make more perfect our vast American mosaic.
The standing room only house and the exciting audience response at the Question and Answer period afterwards indicated a large future following for this vital film. It was nice to see Mario Fratti, playwright (Nine) Maurice Edwards former president of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Lou Barrella opera lecturer, August Ventura, Verdi scholar, Alba Mazza teacher/pianist, Antonio Guarna, tenor/composer and many others from Brooklyn and around the world to whom Daniela Gioseffi is an icon.
On the evening of Sunday, October 18th at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation hosted its 41st Annual Concert & Dinner. The concert, prior to the dinner, took place at nearby Zankel Hall in the Carnegie Hall complex, The event was in memory of the late legendary soprano Mme. Licia Albanese, patrons Cecil Spanton Ashdown and Maria Theresa Fauci.
Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation gave us all greetings and introduced the genial host, Metropolitan Opera basso Eric Owens. The young awardees then performed and gave us a delicious sampling of opera’s future.
Soprano Vanessa Vasquez enthralled us with “Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante” (Micaela’s air) from Bizet’s Carmen. Ms. Vasquez’s angelic purity of tone and powerful flights took us to the bright side of the moon, a pity that Don Jose preferred the dark side, to his downfall.
“Canzonetta sull’aria” duet from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was sung as a delightful blend by sopranos Kirsten Mackinnon and Mia Pafumi.
“A mes amis – Pour mon ami” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment was brilliantly sung by the beguiling Australian tenor Alasdair Kent. The 9 high C’s were cupids golden arrows, each one a priceless gift hurled at the heart of the audience.
A real rarity followed with “Quella e una stra- stra-strada” from Mascagni’s Le Maschere. It is a stuttering song that was brilliantly sung by baritone Dogukan Kuran who lost neither pitch nor his bearings while skillfully hammering each note!
Soprano Alison King and tenor Mario Rojas sang a heartfelt “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Boheme, walking backstage arm and arm and hitting two powerful high C’s at the offstage finale. Ah! Love, sweet love!
“Hab’ mir’s gelobt, ihn lieb zu haben” trio from Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier sung by sopranos Chloe Moore and Heather Phillips and mezzo Megan Marino, blended beautifully like a triple tiered Viennese pastry.
Part two followed with “Suoni la tromba” from Bellini’s I Puritani thrillingly sung by baritone Jared Bybee and bass Andre Courville. A tour de force and a “Golden age” blend by this dynamic Bel Canto duo!
“Pays merveilleux!…O paradis” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine” was sung by William Davenport whose ringing finale evoked the great legendary tenors Leon Escalais and Beniamino Gigli!
Sol Jin’s beautiful lyric baritone captivated us with “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Gounod’s Faust. The climactic finale was spun on an ascending web of gold.
Andrew Stenson sang “Firenza e come un albero fiorito” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, his radiant tenor soaring to the heavens with excellent comedic flair.
Top prize winner soprano Marina Costa-Jackson sang “Morro, ma prima in grazia” from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. She was a like a volcano of vocal splendor erupting power and emotion with beauty elegance and style. Marina Costa-Jackson is truly a gift to the world of opera.
The superb accompanists were Jonathan Kelly, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera and Arlene Shrut.
The guest artists all of whom performed wonderfully were Met tenor Ricardo Tamura, who sang a thrilling “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, Susan Neves whose soprano totally enveloped Tosca’s world in a captivating “Vissi d’arte”, baritone Stephen Powell whose gorgeous singing of “Di provenza, il mar il suol” earned him an ovation and mellow Met mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson and her soprano sister Marina who enchanted us all with a deliciously androgenous “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann.
Betty Cooper-Wallerstein patron and presenter spoke of the need for music in today’s world so lacking in beauty and harmony. In the audience we spotted Met opera soprano and Kennedy award winner Martina Arroyo, Gloria Gari, Board Chair of the Giulio Gari Foundation, pioneer Maestro Eve Queler, Brooklyn’s sparkling Elaine Malbin and Met mezzos Jane Shaulis and Nedda Casei still luminaries of the highest order.
Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation was praised by longtime patron and Executive Director of the Musicians Emergency Fund, Marie Ashdown for his dedication as Artistic Director of the Albanese-Puccini Foundation. Vice President and General Counsel, the erudite Brian O’Connor, Esq. made the concluding remarks noting the importance of beauty and culture in our world and how these talented awardees will enrich our lives.
At the elegant dinner afterwards, Chopin pianist Marjan Kiepura, son of renowned operetta soprano (The Merry Widow) Marta Eggerth and famed Met tenor Jan Kiepura spoke of the joys his mother had singing well into her 90’s at the Albanese-Puccini galas. Earlier he presented an award in his parents name to tenor Mario Rojas, accompanied by his wife Jane.
With good food, wine and dessert, we met many friends including Steve De Maio of the Gerda Lissner Foundation with his team, Michael Fornabaio, Joyce Greenberg, Barbara Ann Testa and Cornelia Beigel all of whom contributed greatly to the success of the evening. It was so nice to see Commendatore Aldo Mancusi and his wife Lisa from the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn. Licia Albanese was a friend and often came to see the mini-theatre that bears her name. We exchanged pleasantries with Opera Index treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Vice President, composer Philip Hagemann, staging wizard Joe Gasperec and also Glenn Morton from Classic Lyric Arts.
Kudos to the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and in particular Joseph and Marie Gimma, son and daughter-in law of the legendary soprano-founder Licia Albanese (1909-2014) whose spirit prevails and soars! All sent their best to our readers. The Brooklyn Eagle also still soars on the musical and cultural horizon!
Marking the centennial of Ingrid Bergman’s birth, her daughter Isabella Rossellini will perform a theatrical tribute to one of the 20th century’s most iconic actresses. The event will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m.
Originally presented at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (where towering images of Bergman, the official “muse” of the festival, dominated the Croisette), the staging incorporates Rossellini’s own memories of her mother, plus interviews, unpublished letters, personal film footage and previously unreleased video clips and images from Bergman’s private archive. Accompanying Rossellini will be actor Jeremy Irons, in what promises to be an unforgettable evening.
In anticipation of the event, the Eagle recently spoke with Rossellini by telephone.
BROOKLYN EAGLE: How far in advance did all of this start coming together?
ISABELLA ROSSELLINI: Originally about four years ago, then much of the co-ordination of materials about two years ago. It involved so much archival material that required film rights,
legal issues. There were many studios involved. My mother worked in Hollywood, of course, but there were many independent production companies and European studios as well, from which we needed approval for certain archives.
BE: How did Jeremy Irons become involved?
IR: The tribute at BAM will involve readings of excerpts from my mother’s autobiography, newsreels, visuals that require voice over, and there are many voices participating. But you asked about Jeremy. And, thank God, first and foremost, he was available. And I was looking for the right “lead voice” — one that uses impeccable English but has a definite European accent and timbre. How could one do better than Jeremy for that?
BE: What do you think accounts for the “emotional transparency” of your mother’s performance style? What qualities did your mother have that made her so believable, that made her such a consummate actress in such a wide range of roles, from Ilsa Lund, Alicia Huberman to Sister Mary Benedict?
IR: My mother worked in five languages. Her Swedish and German were impeccable, of course, and she spoke French well enough to perform it on stage. Her English and Italian had an accent. But through any language she used, I think, rang a genuine, heart-felt honesty about the role she accepted. (We all believe that great line about truth and beauty, right?)
BE: How did your mother’s archive come to reside at Wesleyan?
IR: The film department at Wesleyan has one of the most comprehensive paper archives revolving around film — the posters, scripts, letters, contracts, etc. My first husband, Martin Scorsese, was very passionate about film preservation and had a connection to Wesleyan. He helped organize my mother’s collection, which was extensive. The effort was also helped greatly by Professor [Jeanine] Bassinger, who is the Corwin Fuller Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan.
BE: Do you find that younger film audiences don’t really know the breadth and range of your mother’s work? Is one of the goals of this film series and the BAM tribute to introduce your mother’s work to this audience?
IR: Yes, in a word. But remember that in Europe younger film fans are being exposed to her work through film schools and festivals, which always include the many movies she made there. I would guess that younger audiences know her [better] there than here. Time and history have a funny way of rewarding quality, even if not recognized when the film is first released. I am thankful that the quality of my mother’s work in so many independent productions is seen in film schools and festivals.
BE: With your mother’s fluency in so many languages, do you think she could more easily adapt to global film-making, which has become, with so many co-productions, the norm? What current film directors do you think she would want to work with today?
IR: That’s a hard one — naming names? I would not presume. Let me just say I believe she would have flourished in today’s world. Remember that film is a universal art form. We certainly have technology and ability to add translations to the words. But let’s not forget that silent film, before they had to worry about words, was even more universal. No matter how many languages my mother spoke, I think she understood the language of images even more.
BE: Finally, let’s end on a light note: Have you seen the brief homage to your mother in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?”
IR: Yes, I saw it. And I met the Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who plays the spy named Ilsa Faust in that movie. At a European film festival there was a screening of a documentary about my mother, “Ingrid In Her Own Words.” Rebecca was there. We met and had a delightful discussion about that little homage in “Mission Impossible”…I thought it was wonderful that she, and the director Christopher McQuarrie, used that in the movie.
BE: Thanks so much for your time, and your Brooklyn fans will pour forth to see you at BAM.