Stephen De Maio hosts Opera Night Live! at Columbus Citizens Foundation

 

Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio & President Nedra Zachary/Loren L. Zachary Society Photo by Judy Pantano

Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio &
President Nedra Zachary/Loren L. Zachary Society
Photo by Judy Pantano

Stephen De Maio is now “Mr. Opera” in New York City. As President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and Artistic Director of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to name a few, he has revitalized the operatic horizon for many awardees and brought many new arrivals to operatic careers. As host of Opera Night Live!, he is the “Ed Sullivan of opera with a really great show!” There are cocktails and finger food and a sumptuous dinner between the first and second part and dessert afterwards. Mr. De Maio decided to bring back opera nights after the passing of Dr. Frank Celenza who hosted these special soirees for years at the Columbus Citizens Foundation. The foundation is located at 8 East 69th Street in NYC and organizes the Columbus Day Parade and college scholarships for Italian American students among its many charitable duties promoting Italian American culture.

Anthony Correra from the Board of Governors introduced Stephen De Maio on Friday evening, February 26th and the program began with Mr. De Maio recognizing several special guests. Among them were soprano and Metropolitan Opera legend Elinor Ross, New York City Opera and acclaimed Met soprano and now vocal coach Diana Soviero and her husband Opera Director Bernard Uzan from Uzan International Artists, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Gerda Lissner trustee Barbara Ann Testa and patron Karl Michaelis, Nedra Zachary, President of the Loren L. Zachary Society for the Performing Arts based in Los Angeles with Peter Hubner who assists Mrs. Zachary and is a music arranger, Vice President and Brooklyn born Janet Stovin from Opera Index, author Luna Kaufman, Holocaust survivor and humanitarian, Commendatore Aldo and Lisa Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn, opera lecturer Lou Barrella and wife Kathleen.

Soprano Diana Soviero, Opera Director Bernard Uzan & Gloria Gari/Giulio Gari Fdn. Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Diana Soviero, Opera Director Bernard Uzan
& Gloria Gari/Giulio Gari Fdn. Photo by Judy Pantano

Part one began with the superb piano accompanist Mary Pinto and young soprano Amber Daniel. Ms. Daniel, who is a student of Diana Soviero, began with Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca. Ms. Daniel’s voice has clarity, strength, power and fullness. Her notes were tapered beautifully and her pause before the final “Cosi” added greatly to the drama. Her second selection was a rarity and tour de force,”Pace non trovo” from Sonetti di Petrarca, almost Wagnerian in its intensity and full of the pianistic virtuosity of its composer Franz Liszt. It resembled Liebestraum with words. Ms. Daniel sang with pathos, intensity and depth. Amber Daniel evokes memories of the great American soprano Eleanor Steber.

Australian tenor Alasdair Kent started with showstopper “A mes amis” from Donizetti’s La fille du regiment. He sang in a shimmering, vibrant, fearless and peerless tenor from the bottom to the top and forged 9 high C’s like an anvil chorus. Kent’s second number was the charming Tosti song “A vucchella” which poured out like a delicious Asti Spumanti. Enrico Caruso made a wonderful recording of this song in 1919 and Mario Lanza sang it in the 1951 film The Great Caruso. It was nice to hear it again and so beautifully sung.

Soprano Amber Daniel, Tenor Alasdair Kent, Pianist Mary Pinto & Baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Amber Daniel, Tenor Alasdair Kent,
Pianist Mary Pinto & Baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli
Photo by Judy Pantano

The third scheduled singer could not make the performance and he was replaced by a young Italian baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli who sang “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. He has a pleasing, plangent baritone and negotiated the fioritura and bravura of this aria looking at audience members with grand sweeping gestures. Ciuffitelli has resonance and power and sang the Don Pasquale aria “Bella siccome un angelo” with longing and good trills.

General Manager John Boden prepared a fine repast of food and wine for the dinner break. We had delicious Paccheri Amatriciana, a lasagna like pasta dish. Filet of Beef Rossini with sautéed broccolini or grilled Salmon Colombo were the entrees.

Part two was a DVD tribute to the late great beloved tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The tenor’s second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani Pavarotti, was the scheduled guest but could not attend. With the assistance of Alejandro, one of the staff members, Steve De Maio showed Pavarotti singing “Recondita armonia” from Puccini’s Tosca. It had the Pavarotti sound of clarity, generosity of voice and spirit and that marvelous top voice. This was followed by a clip from the Met Opera 1977 telecast of La Boheme and Pavarotti’s exquisite high C in “Che gelida manina” with Renata Scotto. The finale had the three tenors singing “O sole mio” and how Pavarotti stood out as both a glorious voice and a beloved personality.

I sat near Alba Mazza, piano accompanist,”stornello” tenor Antonio Guarna and photographer Anita Sanseverino. Soprano Diana Soviero reminisced to the audience about her performances with the great tenor who was anxious to eat the real chicken served at the Café Momus in La boheme.

These operatic sweets were vocal nectar to all. Afterwards we went to the intimate dining area for tiramisu, coffee, fruit and cookies. It simply doesn’t get any better than that! Bravo Steve De Maio for his wonderful program of “Opera Night Live!”

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.

“The Little Church Around the Corner” Presents a Memorable “Amahl and the Night Visitors”

Brittany Fowler (Mother) Carlos Tapia (Amahl) Jake Ingbar (King Melchior) Daniel Neer (King Kaspar) Alexis Cordero (The Page) & Charles Samuel Brown (King Balthazar) Photo by Marcello Pantano

Brittany Fowler (Mother), Carlos Tapia (Amahl), Jake Ingbar (King Melchior), Daniel Neer (King Kaspar), Alexis Cordero (The Page), Charles Samuel Brown (King Balthazar) Photo by Marcello Pantano

On the evening of Friday, December 18th, “The Little Church Around the Corner” founded in 1848 so named because where another local Church refused to bury an actor, his friend was told, “There is a little church around the corner that will” thus becoming a favorite of theatre folk since. The Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street in New York City, now a National Landmark, presented the Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) classic Christmas opera of “Amahl & the Night Visitors.”

We saw this wonderful hour long presentation several times at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with our late good friend and former New York City Opera basso Don Yule as King Balthazar. We had the honor of meeting Gian Carlo Menotti, the composer who was present at that performance.

Menotti was commissioned in 1951 to write an opera for NBC TV television by its President David Sarnoff and Producer Samuel Chotzinoff. Menotti could not think of what to write but one day while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC he chanced to see the painting “The Adoration of the Magi” by Hieronymus Bosch with the three kings visiting the Christ child. He recalled his own childhood memories in Italy when he and his brother would wait until they fell asleep for the three kings to visit their home bearing gifts for Christmas. At that moment, Menotti knew what his opera would be. The first showing on Christmas Eve television in 1951 was viewed by an estimated 5 million people scored a tremendous hit and it was repeated for years afterwards. Now it is done in churches worldwide and audiences never fail to be touched by this musical tale of a mischievous crippled boy Amahl, his mother, their simplicity and poverty and their special royal visitors who have come for a place to stay on their journey and who witness a miracle when Amahl offers his crutch as a gift to the Child.

The program was in two parts. The first part was “A Ceremony of Carols” by British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) sung by The Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys, Girls Choir and Camerata. (A small chamber orchestra or choir- in this instance 42 choir members and 15 musicians.)

The procession down the aisle into the Church was impressive as the choristers walked to the main altar. There were ten carols sung, all brief and haunting. Britten had his own musical recipe and while not really melodic or atonal; his music is in another heavenly sphere, evoking his “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The chorus was a beautiful blend and in “That yonge child” Richard Jimenez boy-treble-soprano, was sweet and impressive. In “Balulalow” Mario Hall, boy-treble soprano was haunting and radiant. Kathryn Andrews was magical in her harp interlude. In “Freezing winter night” Lesley Zlabinger’s soprano soared with Joe Redd and in “Deo Gracias” one could almost hear a similarity to Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” “Spring Carol” offered Lauren Breen and Sole Trinidad as soloists.

All of the singers were impressive and were a heavenly blend. Multi-cultural young and older singers woven together by the genius of conductor, organist and conductor Claudia Dumschat.

After a brief intermission with one and all marveling at the beauty of this Christmas decorated church with its wooden panels, Christmas greenery and Virgin mother grotto, beloved of actors, it was time to see Amahl complete in this Church for the first time and not just excerpts as had been done in the past.

The excellent 15 piece orchestra under the skilled baton of Claudia Dumschat began with the haunting prelude.

Conductor Claudia Dumschat

Conductor Claudia Dumschat

The mother was portrayed and sung by Brittany Fowler whose luscious mezzo soprano illuminated the stage with her duets with Amahl and the cherished “All that gold!” which was sung with the passion of a Puccini heroine. Ms. Fowler’s diction was crisp and clear and her impact on the audience was vivid and visceral.

Amahl was in the adorable hands of boy treble – soprano Carlos Tapia a 6th grader at Mt. Carmel Holy Rosary School. His poignant “Don’t cry Mother dear” and “I was a shepherd” were indelible and “Look, Mother, I can dance” was joyous, his acting exemplary. Carlos Tapia gave a strong portrayal of a crippled boy whose inherent goodness and curiosity made him a symbol of indomitable virtues worthy of a miracle. He was unforgettable.

King Melchior was in the able hands of Jake Ingbar whose robust baritone made him part of the trio blend including the rich sonorous basso of Charles Samuel Brown as King Balthazar and the flexible tenor of Daniel Neer as King Kaspar whose comic singing of “This is my box” captivated all. “Have you seen a child?” is the trio blend that enters one’s soul and just won’t go away. They scored a triune triumph! The Shepherd’s Song, “Emily, Michael, Bartholomew” was sung at the side aisle of the church with the shepherds, and Amahl’s mother with the Three Kings was another highlight.

Alexis Cordero as the Page who discovers Amahl’s mother’s attempt to take a piece of gold “For my child” is 16 years old and in the 11th grade at Norman Thomas High School. He sang in a robust bass and took Amahl’s blows well for “Please don’t hurt my Mother.”

The marvelous dancers, summoned to Amahl’s house were Ambar and Charles Rosario. They danced at the side of the interior of the church as did the peasant dancers Olivia Brett, Adriana Hall and Bianca Hall. The finale with the now cured Amahl, walking normally, leaving with the wise men and Page on their journey is as delicate as a Christmas ornament and we thank all responsible for giving us this Menotti moment of magic!

Special kudos to costume designer Terri Bush whose varied creations from the majestic colorful robes of the kings to the simple peasant attire was perfection.

Choreographer Robert Hampton did a wonderful job in utilizing this space making the dancers up front and closer to the audience.

Betty Howe, Stage Manager who knows how to balance both space and place so that one can properly face the action and be part of it.

Richard Olson, Director who had the Herculean task of making the boundaries of the Church wider and using the aisles to allow the principals to move and dance freely. The simple bench at the altar where the wise men sat and Kaspar’s bird cage and a blanket were all one needed to create the world of both majesty and poverty.

This Arnold Schwartz Candlelight Memorial Concert would have surely not been possible without the special genius of Claudia Dumschat and additional thanks to the Right Reverend Andrew R. St. John, Rector who greeted the standing room only audience warmly.

The reception following for one and all was in the common room where we had a chance to eat and drink, meet and greet friends and performers one of whom, pianist Michael Pilafian, we recognized from Maestro Vincent La Selva’s New York Grand Opera. What a beautiful way for my wife Judy and I and family to celebrate the Christmas season. We look forward to next year’s performance!

Opera Index Presents Their Annual Membership Buffet & Recital

Pianist Michael Fennelly, Maya Yahav Gour, Alexa Jarvis, Sean Michael Plumb, President Jane Shaulis, Galeano Salas & Sol Jin. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Pianist Michael Fennelly, Maya Yahav Gour, Alexa Jarvis, Sean Michael Plumb, President Jane Shaulis, Galeano Salas & Sol Jin. Photo by Judy Pantano.

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.

Meche Kroop, Barbara & David Bender with President Jane Shaulis. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Meche Kroop, Barbara & David Bender with President Jane Shaulis. Photo by Judy Pantano.

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.

Maestro Eve Queler, Cesare Santeramo, Dr. Robert Campbell & Robert Steiner. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Maestro Eve Queler, Cesare Santeramo, Dr. Robert Campbell & Robert Steiner. Photo by Judy Pantano.

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!

William Goodhue, Treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Bill Ronayne & Vice President Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano

William Goodhue, Treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Bill Ronayne & Vice President Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano

Classic Lyric Arts Presents Fall Benefit Gala

Glenn Morton (bottom center with blue tie) and emerging opera singers. Photo by Yifu Chien

Glenn Morton (bottom center with blue tie) and emerging opera singers. Photo by Yifu Chien

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!

An Affinity of Blood and Lust: An Interview with Helen Edmundson

Helen Edmundson. Photo by Richard Olivier

Helen Edmundson. Photo by Richard Olivier

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.”

Keira Knightley and Judith Light. Photos by Joan Marcus

Keira Knightley and Judith Light. Photos by Joan Marcus

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.

Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan and Keira Knightley

Gabriel Ebert, Matt Ryan and Keira Knightley

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.

Matt Ryan and Keira Knightley

Matt Ryan and Keira Knightley

BAM to present tribute to legendary actress Ingrid Bergman, celebrating centennial of her birth

Isabella Rossellini (shown above) will perform a theatrical tribute to one of the 20th century’s most iconic actresses — her mother, Ingrid Bergman — at BAM this Saturday. Photo by Andre Rau

Isabella Rossellini (shown above) will perform a theatrical tribute to one of the 20th century’s most iconic actresses — her mother, Ingrid Bergman — at BAM this Saturday. Photo by Andre Rau

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,

Actress Ingrid Bergman is shown in a 1957 file photo. AP Photo/File

Actress Ingrid Bergman is shown in a 1957 file photo. AP Photo/File

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.

IR: Thanks, I look forward to that.

Sophocles in Brooklyn: An interview with Juliette Binoche

Juliette Binoche is currently starring in “Antigone” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Photos by Stephanie Berger, courtesy of BAM

Juliette Binoche is currently starring in “Antigone” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Photos by Stephanie Berger, courtesy of BAM

Through Oct. 4, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is presenting the Barbican production of poet Anne Carson’s new, colloquial translation of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” starring Oscar Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche and directed by Ivo van Hove (who is also directing two major Broadway revivals this season, “A View from the Bridge” and “The Crucible.”) The play is presented in association with the Toneelgroep Amsterdam and co-produced by Theatre de la Ville, Paris, Reclinghausen, Germany and the Edinburgh International Festival. With this illustrious pedigree, Antigone is one of the highlights of this season’s Next Wave Festival at BAM.

Since her electrifying breakthrough role in 1985 in Andre Techine’s “Rendez-vous,” followed three years later by her first English language performance in Phil Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Binoche has gone on to make an astounding 42 movies, including such noteworthy films as Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient” (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, trumping the odds-on favorite Lauren Bacall), Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Blue, White & Red” trilogy, Lasse Hallstrom’s “Chocolat,” Michael Haneke’s “Cache,” Olivier Assayas’s “Summer Hours” and last year’s “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” also directed by Assayas. He has said of Binoche “Hunger and passion are her defining traits … [she] is honest, straightforward, trusting and naive. Once she decides to give, she gives all the way.”

If ever there was a role that demands that commitment it is Antigone. As politically and emotionally urgent today as when it was first produced in 441 BC, the play posits the ultimate existential question: loyalty to state or to family?

Juliette Binoche told the Brooklyn Eagle, “For me, to do ‘Antigone’ is an awakening, a journey.”

Juliette Binoche told the Brooklyn Eagle, “For me, to do ‘Antigone’ is an awakening, a journey.”

By telephone, the Brooklyn Eagle started by asking Binoche about the special challenges of performing a Greek tragedy for a modern audience — and why she decided to take on this challenge.

Juliette Binoche: What Greek tragedies give us are myths, and myths are timeless. They are not just stories. They are towering works about transformation. They reflect a tradition that is beyond time. They ask eternal questions. For me, to do “Antigone” is an awakening, a journey. I hope the audience joins me on this journey.

Brooklyn Eagle: You return frequently to the stage in the midst of your busy film schedule. Do you find working in the theatre revitalizes you?

JB: Because my real roots are in the theater — both of my parents were involved with theater — I feel like when I return to the stage I’m returning home. My original goal was to be a theater actor. My film career just sort of happened spontaneously. I enjoy the challenges and satisfactions of both and I feel lucky to have that freedom to go back and forth between stage and film.

BE: Finally, it seems like you are always working — touring in Antigone, filming “Slack Bay” and “Polina,” recently completing the films “The Wait,” “Nobody Wants the Night” and “The 33.” When do you come up for air? Do you allow yourself some down time for family, friends, just sitting in a comfortable chair, reading a good book?

JB: My pleasure is to work. It is a source of constant joy. My kids, who are grown up now, come to see my work. My choice is, and always has been, to dedicate myself to telling stories. We need these stories to learn about ourselves. And then we take what we learn into our real lives. It’s a sort of circle.

From left: Obi Abili, Juliette Binoche and Patrick O’Kane.

From left: Obi Abili, Juliette Binoche and Patrick O’Kane.