On the evening of Friday, July 8th at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City, the Martina Arroyo Foundation presented Johann Strauss Jr.’s (1825-1899) opera Die Fledermaus with a libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genee. The name of the Playhouse honors the actors and talented husband and wife team of Brooklynites Sylvia Fine and Danny Kaye and is located at 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.
Die Fledermaus premiered in Vienna in 1874 and has been delighting audiences ever since. Like Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, the work is a comfortable fit in the opera house because it’s arias and ensembles are captivating and vocally adroit as well. The young promising singers who are chosen, undergo six weeks of intense study plus a stipend and get a chance to perform with full orchestra and chorus in a staged and costumed production before a live audience. This year is the 12th season of this acclaimed series and includes two performances each of Puccini’s tragic La Boheme and the delightful Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss, Jr. A bit of trivia-Famed tenor Enrico Caruso appeared in the party scene of Die Fledermaus at the Met on February 16, 1905. Famed “diva” Florence Foster Jenkins loved to sing Adele’s “Laughing Song” in recital and recorded it for posterity.
The opera is also called The Revenge of the Bat recalling an incident after a masquerade party when Dr. Falke placed Eisenstein on a park bench to sleep it off, in a full bat costume, holding him up to public ridicule. Dr Blind, Eisenstein’s bumbling lawyer got Eisenstein an eight day jail term instead of the original five days for an altercation with a policeman. Falke invites his friend Eisenstein disguised as Marquis Renard to a lavish party thrown by the bored Russian Prince Orlofsky, where Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde, disguised as a Hungarian Countess will attend. Adele, their maid, as Fraulein Olga, will also be there as an aspiring actress. Frank the prison warden is Chevalier Chagrin and will take Eisenstein to the party since Alfred, Rosalinde’s suitor, was mistaken for Gabriel von Eisenstein and taken to prison. All’s well that ends well as this time it is the Champagne who is the culprit.
Alfred, the pompous testosterone pressed tenor was played by gifted tenor Spencer Hamlin whose impressive singing of “Drink my darling” plus a snippet of “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto and a thunderous “Vincero” from Turandot dazzled the ear. His comedic flair was right on the mark and he did not “overplay” his part as the”Italian” tenor.
The Adele of Shana Grossman was enchanting. Her singing of “The laughing song” (“Look at how I look”) and “Oh for the life of an actress” in the final act showed a radiant coloratura soprano of piquant quality, fine trills and a effortless “upper extension” to her voice.
The Rosalinde of Haley Sicking was a delight. Her generous and ample soprano and ironic touch was well used in the first act trio “Oh goodness me, what calamity, catastrophe” and her duet with Alfred “Here we are just you and I.” Ms. Sicking was truly compelling in “I hunger for my Hungary” in the aria “Echoes of Hungary” in the second act. Her vocal pyrotechnics rivaled Grucci’s 4th of July fireworks with cadenzas, strong coloratura and a held final note that stirred whatever gypsy is in my DNA. A truly bravura performance.
Gabriel von Eisenstein was in the dashing persona of Jonathan Tetelman whose vibrant tenor kept peeking through as the sun behind a baritone cloud. His stroll in this tenorial terrain was perfectly negotiated and he shined in duet and ensemble.”O goodness me, oh gracious me what calamity” and his disguising himself as Dr. Blind was adroitly done. He has a robust sound, dark hued and baritonal but a free top which dominated in duet. He suited the part like an elegant glove that fit perfectly!
Dr. Blind was in the hands of tenor Joseph Sacchi. Despite the comedic wavering and posturing of the character one could hear a fine tenor and a singing actor of real quality. As Hamlet said, “do not saw the air with your hand too much.” Sacchi was not the stuttering overwrought frustrated character that is the usually Dr. Blind. In this instance, less was more.
Dr. Falke was brought to mischievous life by Thaddaeus Bourne whose rich baritone was exciting in the duet with Eisenstein. Bourne’s sentimental and beautiful singing with the artfully blending chorus of the brotherhood song telling one and all to love and address each other using the familiar “du” rather than the formal sie form. The melody accelerates and the mood becomes poignant and powerful.
Frank the jail warden, was in the charming hands of Paul Grosvenor who not only is the possessor of a warm ingratiating basso but has a sense of the debonair that proved exhilarating. His singing of “Jail can be a pleasant place to spend a little time” was deliciously droll.
Ida was in the perky persona of Chelsea Bonagura whose sensual mezzo and buoyant ballerina lit up the stage.
Prince Orlofsky was sung by Hongni Wu whose mezzo sparkled like the Champagne she advocated. Her powerful singing of “Chacun a son gout” with its leaps and jumps showed how fearless and flawless her dark mezzo was. Her sparkling singing of “Here’s to Champagne – the king of all wines” ended the operetta on a brilliant note.
Frosch the jailer was played by Steven Mo Hanan who as guest artist proved himself to be a very unusual character. He was a funny drunk-never vulgar and his Harpo Marx, Jack Gilford quality made him an eternal innocent even as a skirt chasing imbiber. His monologue and dialogue (in English) to the audience was intimate and amusing.
The conductor was Maestro Steven M. Crawford. The overture was a wonderful appetizer for the musical feast to follow. Crawford’s brisk tempi and understanding of the Viennese style assured us of an evening of immense pleasure. The 30 excellent musicians were the best. The sets were evocative of more opulent and fun loving times. The chorus under Assistant Conductor Noby Ishida was excellent, especially in the Brotherhood singing in the second act. Charles R. Caine’s costumes were colorful and evoked the Viennese era brilliantly.
The final mood this production left one with was twilight. Like the end of an era so what can sometimes be played out as broad comedy can also be interpreted as a more subtle end of innocence. One left the theater nostalgic for the fun and escapades but remembering always the song of brotherhood at party’s end.
The performance in three acts was flawlessly sung and spoken in German. Plaudits to German Coach Vera Junkers. Gina Lapinski’s stage direction was clever and precise, while April Joy Vester, Set Designer gave us glitter and sparkle. The English super title operator by Lisa Jablow and titles by Brett Findley were most helpful.
Our host for the evening was Stephen De Maio, President of the generous Gerda Lissner Foundation along with Karl Michaelis trustee and patron and opera lovers Mario Cesar Romero and soprano-agent Eva de la O. We also greeted the effervescent Rebecca Paller from the Paley Center for Media.
We were happy to meet and greet such movers and shakers as Met baritone Mark Rucker who coaches and assists the awardees and his wife Sadie who is in charge of publicity and is coach and accompanist to her husband. A page in the program is “In honor of Dolarita and Olney K. Rucker and all parents who help young artists realize their dreams.”
It is always a joy to greet the great lady herself, the founder of the feast and Earth mother to so many, Kennedy Center awardee and legendary Met opera soprano Martina Arroyo. We are aware that Martina’s parents Demetrio and Lucille were so supportive of their talented daughter. Her Dad Demetrio worked as an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to support their family and pay for her musical education. Mme. Arroyo always has gentle humor, a ready smile and “high hopes” for talented opera singers in the future. Indeed famed tenor Richard Leech told the audience requesting support quoting playwright Moliere “Of all the voices extant-opera is the most expensive!”
We left the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse with memories of the tuneful score and visions of the magnificent waltzes of Johann Strauss, Jr. and dancing by choreographer Abdul Latif and we thank the Martina Arroyo Foundation Prelude to Performance and its splendid young singers and staff for giving us a respite from all the worlds problems with the healing power of the music, melody and mayhem of Die Fledermaus! Bravo to all!
On Friday, June 3, the Church of the Transfiguration also known as “The Little Church around the Corner” in New York City presented Masterpieces of the Baroque, an Arnold Schwartz Memorial Concert. Marie Schwartz, wife of the great Brooklyn born patron Arnold Schwartz, (1905-1979) provided for the magnificent organ for theChurch. Claudia Dumschat who is the organist and choirmaster was the conductor of this splendid program.
The Transfiguration Choir of men and boys, girls choir and Camerata and the 12 piece orchestra plus organ transformed us all to the “Masterpieces of the Baroque.”
The Reverend Doctor R.M. Noone Interim Pastor welcomed all to the church and expressed his delight at seeing so many present for an evening of the beautiful and spiritually uplifting sounds of the baroque.
The concert began with Motet Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230) with the Camerata by J.S. Bach (1685-1750). This opening selection was sung with heavenly abandon as in the spirit of the opening of the pearly gates.
Tunc meus fletus from “In furore, RV 26” was sung in the style of joyous weeping by soprano Sarah Hawkey who sang with clarity, power and precision. Her trills and cadenzas were impressive. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) who was known as the red headed priest wrote the ever popular Four Seasons but also wrote many operas. Famed mezzo Cecilia Bartoli is encouraging a revival of his works. Sarah Hawkey’s singing surely seconds the motion.
Laudamus te (from Gloria) also by Vivaldi was beautifully sung by the boys and girls choirs, their youthful voices tapering and rising in this hymn of praise.
The girls choir followed with Francois Couperin (1668-1733) Christo resurgenti) “With Christ risen the stars clap their hands.” The strength and harmony of their voices were like cherubim and seraphim in some renaissance painting.
Dr. Dumschat mentioned that Bach was German, Vivaldi Italian, Couperin French and Damian Stachowicz (1658-1729) was Polish. The Transfiguration Boys and Girls Choirs sang Veni Consolator with the Gabriel like trumpet of Bruno Lourensetto. To hear the baroque instruments and youthful voices and trumpets heralding was to be in another sphere, another time and possible out of body experience that this kind of musical journey can do.
The first part concluded with “Concerto” by Georg Philipp Telemann (German-1681-1767) Adagio, Allegro, Largo, Allegro was done with delicacy, charm eloquence and deeply satisfying elegance.
During the intermission one could tour the church with special sections devoted to many luminaries of the theatre like Rex Harrison and P.G. Wodehouse who attended services there. Since its inception in 1848, this Episcopal Church has been “on the side of the angels” and became a national landmark because of its position as a shrine of the American church and theatre. In 1870 it buried American actor George Holland when other churches would not. Joseph Jefferson, the late actors friend exclaimed “thank God for The Little Church around the Corner.”
Part Two was the Cantata BWV 29 “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” by Johann Sebastian Bach.
The Sinfonia portion featured the formidable talent of Jonathan Ryan on the organ, “Wir danken dir” sung by the chorus and a triumphant “Hallelujah” featuring Christopher Preston Thompson’s clarion tenor and Judson Griffin’s soaring violin.
The Recit was sung by bass Bert Boone. Boone who is a lyric baritone sang his trills and embellishments well but needed the basso depth to get a more perfect effect.
Parts 6 and 7 had the rhapsodic voices of Sarah Hawkey, Kristin Olson on the oboe, Joe Redd alto, whose counter tenor passages were as beautiful as a songbird with superb coloratura, embellishments and panache.
Jonathan Ryan on the organ added to the baroque treasures of the evening.
The finale of Sei Lob und Preis with the chorus blending as one ended the evening on a note of triumph.
Caludia Dumschat led both the chorus and orchestra with steady and secure beat, wonderful musicianship and that extra ingredient, love for the composers, musicians, singers and the audience.
My grandson Luciano Pantano, is a boy treble. My granddaughter Leeza Pantano is a girl treble and her friend Nicole Osmolovskaya is also a girl treble. We met chorister tenor Paul Rozario-Falcone from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn.
We thank all of the splendid musicians and we were deeply moved by Dr. Claudia Dumschat’s performance. It should be noted that the choir of men and boys is the oldest such choir in the United States and the only one not affiliated with a school. It consists of 16 boys ages 8 to 14 auditioned and selected from the New York area with varied ethnic and economic backgrounds.
The reception in the common room offered a chance to meet and greet. We chatted with our Carroll Gardens neighbor Alphonse Falcone and several of the musicians and singers. Our son Marcello, his wife Tatyana and her parents Nikolay and Lubov Klitsenko, (bayan and choral) musicians from Siberia were so proud to see their grandchildren and friend Nicole Osmolovskaya sing as was her mother Olga and son Ilia.
The Church of the Transfiguration is one of the wonders of New York City. The view of the Empire State Building from the courtyard is breathtaking. Our journey into the Baroque is over but it left us with many unforgettable moments! The large appreciative audience responded with cheers for all. Brava to Conductor and Choirmaster Claudia Dumschat, musicians and choristers who earned the resounding applause that crowned this special performance.
For Brooklyn-born Jewish men of a certain age, there are three totemic heroes: Sandy Koufax, Woody Allen and Elliott Gould. One of these giants (ah, poor choice of noun to describe a Brooklynite; let’s make that “titans”) afforded me the rare pleasure, and privilege, of hanging out with him on a recent trip to Los Angeles.
To say I “interviewed” Elliott Gould does not begin to do justice to the experience. A hunch I’d had for 45-plus years, ever since seeing him in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” turned out to be true: Gould is not only a prodigiously gifted actor, but he’s also a warm, wise, soulful mensch. Think Buddha meets Isaac Bashevis Singer or Kwai Chang Caine meets Rebbe Mendel.
On the morning of our interview, when, after parking my car, I have trouble locating his building, Gould steps out on his West Los Angeles apartment balcony to point the way. I have an out-of-body experience: there he is — Trapper John McIntyre (“MASH”), Philip Marlowe (“The Long Goodbye”), Charlie Waters (“California Split” and his third collaboration with Robert Altman) Harry Greenberg (“Bugsy”), Reuben Tishkoff (“Oceans Eleven,” “Oceans Twelve” and “Oceans Thirteen.”)
Not to mention God (or at least, his voice) in the 2007 version of “The Ten Commandments.” Not to mention all the television work, going back to 1964, when he played the Court Jester (and sang “Very Soft Shoes”) opposite Carol Burnett in “Once Upon a Mattress.” Not to mention 26 episodes of “ER,” where he played Dr. Howard Sheinfeld. Not to mention 20 episodes of “Friends,” where he played Courteney Cox’s (Monica’s) and David Schwimmer’s (Ross’) father, Jack Geller. Not to mention 17 episodes of “Ray Donovan,” as Ezra Goodman.
Perhaps most especially, his membership in the elite Five Timers Club, having hosted “Saturday Night Live” six times. Altogether, over an almost 60-year career, Elliott has appeared in, by my rough calculation, 200 movies and television shows. From rabbis to casino owners, from lawyers to gangsters (not that big a stretch, actually), Elliott has played them all. He is the indisputable heir to throne of James Brown, as the hardest-working man in show business.
Born Elliott Goldstein on Aug. 29, 1938 in Bensonhurst, it can be argued that he was the first undeniably Jewish leading male actor in Hollywood. Unlike, say, Kirk Douglas or John Garfield, who, while themselves Jewish, usually played generic roles (with the notable exception of Garfield’s “Dave Goldman” in “Gentlemen’s Agreement”) Elliott always was, and is, unabashedly Jewish.
Before we begin the interview, Elliott gives me a tour of his art- and memento-filled apartment: photos of his and Barbra’s [Streisand] son Jason, paintings and drawings done by Jason and by Elliott’s granddaughter Daisy, three Hirschfield caricatures (Elliott and Marcia Rodd in Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders”; Elliott with James Caan, Diane Keaton and Michael Caine in Mark Rydell’s “Harry and Walter Go to New York”; and Elliott with Sterling Hayden and Nina van Pallandt in Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye.”) There is also an image that makes my hair stand on end: a numbered lithograph of World War I refugees by the French artist Theodore Steinlen. What makes my follicles stand at attention is the fact that I grew up with the exact same image (a different numbered edition) hanging on my Brooklyn bedroom wall.
After making sure I was comfortable (“You can sit anywhere you want”) and didn’t want something to nosh on (“I have some fresh apples”), we got down to the principal reason for my visit: Elliott’s strong attachment to Brooklyn. As I was to learn over the next two-and-a-half hours, he possesses a photographic memory.
The Eagle: Where did your family live in Brooklyn?
EG: 6801 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn 4. N.Y. (West Ninth Street, between Bay Parkway and Avenue O.) Our telephone number was Beachview 2-5524. I went to grammar school at P.S. 247, which was three blocks away from our apartment. One of my earliest memories was the day I found my balance and could take my first steps. I was a bit worried, as kids are, because my friends Stevie Greenstein and Ed Posner had learned to walk before I did. My mother reassured me, “Ah, don’t worry about it, you’ll catch up to them.” My mother was a very practical woman. She was a milliner; she made hats for all the other women in the neighborhood. She also was very fashionable — and beautiful.
Elliott goes to his mammoth desk, which is cluttered with scripts, books and tchotchkes. He extracts a 5-foot-by-5-foot memorial card with a photograph of a striking, stylish woman — circa mid-1940s — wearing a white blouse, billowing slacks and a white gardenia in her hair. Inside the card are the words “Lucy Gould, July 27, 1915 – September 24, 1998. In loving memory and devotion.” At the bottom of the card is this inscription: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing is so gentle as real strength.” On the opposite page is a photo of Elliott and his mother, also circa mid-1940s.
EG: That photograph was taken outside our apartment. Isn’t she beautiful?
Eagle: Yes, and so modern — she must have been a trendsetter.
EG: That she was.
Eagle: Moving on to your other memories; would you say that the growing up in Brooklyn, at a time when the Dodgers’ standing in the National League was more important than finding the best kale at the Park Slope food co-op, shaped and prepared you for the tough, competitive business you’re in?
EG: Listen, it prepared me for life, and this business is simply another part of life. So in answering your question, I’m not really talking about show business.
Eagle: Life in general…
EG: Yes, life in general. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. When I was in the middle of second grade, the school felt that I should skip a grade. The school had just started experimenting with something called “Special Progress” for seemingly gifted children. But at the moment they chose to move me forward a grade, I was just getting comfortable, I liked my classmates, I was getting my “rhythm.” I was thinking “I can do this.” But I was too young to think I could object. However, in the third grade you were expected to read out-loud, which I couldn’t do.
EG: I had no confidence! One of the factors that has been significant in my life, for good and bad, is that I have always had a problem with authority. By that I mean, that authoritative people would tell you how things were and those people weren’t necessarily right. I always had a dislike for having to conform. And it turns out I wasn’t wrong. But one has to be realistic, to deal with the real world.
Eagle: After P.S. 247, where did you go to school?
EG: After I finished sixth grade, I went to Seth Low Junior High School. And, while I was in the seventh grade, I played the Palace. My parents had brought me to Manhattan, to a song and dance school, to learn “routines,” which, of course, was not how I had envisioned my life! My first role was in the stage show celebrating the first anniversary of the return of vaudeville to the Palace. Next door to the dance classes I took was a dance class in which a boy named Bob Fosse was also learning to dance. [Note: Fosse was the celebrated choreographer and the director of such films as “All that Jazz” and “Lenny.”]
Eagle: In addition to your acting and dancing studies, were you also taking academic classes?
EG: Yes. After seventh grade at Seth Low, I was accepted in the Professional Children’s School [PCS.] It was a school for child performers who, when they were on the road with a show, would take correspondence classes to get their high school diplomas. In fact, when I graduated PCS, I was accepted into Columbia University. But I don’t think I really wanted to go, plus my family couldn’t afford the tuition. So I graduated PCS at 16 and immediately got a couple of jobs: I danced in the chorus of the “Ernie Kovacs Show,” then I was supposed to dance and sing in the chorus of the summer stock production of “Annie Get Your Gun” with Vaughn Monroe. But at what was to be our very first performance at Brandywine, a huge storm blew away the tent, so, sadly, I never got to perform “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Eagle: So you also took singing lessons?
EG: Oh, yes. When I studied with Charlie Lowe, we had what were called “personality classes,” where you had to sing a solo. In fact, I remember one of my first solos — “Hello Hollywood.”
[At which point, while still seated, Gould starts to perform the song and dance routine “Hello Hollywood.”]
“Hollywood/Here I am/I am looking for a movie man/Like Shirley Temple/I can sing and everything/Oh where is Mr. Warner/I’d like to get him in a corner!/I’ll show him how I sing and dance/Hello Hollywood/Whoop-ee Hollywood!”
Eagle: [Applauding] That was great! Anyway, what happened after the tent blew down and you couldn’t tour with “Annie Get Your Gun?”
EG: I came back to New York and got a job in the chorus of “Rumple,” starring Eddie Foy Jr. and Gretchen Wyler. We played the Alvin Theater, which is now the Neal Simon Theater. (I loved the smell of the Alvin Theater; it reeked of show business history.) This was also the first time I went out of town with a show. We went to Philadelphia and Boston. It was a great experience.
Eagle: So by then you were sure you wanted to be an actor?
EG: No! I’m still not sure! It was not my idea to get into show business; it was my parents’ idea. But I was so shy, and even repressed, that the feeling was that memorizing my lines and performing might be good for me. For example, another routine that was written for me to memorize and perform was, “Mary had a little lamb/Some peas and mashed potatoes/An ear of corn, some buttered beets/And then had sliced tomatoes/She said she wasn’t hungry/So I thought I’d get a break/But just to keep me company/She ordered up a steak/She said she couldn’t eat a thing/Because she’s on a diet/But then she saw ice cream and pie/And thought she’d like to try it/She drank two cups of coffee/And had dessert of course!/Oh Mary had a little lamb/And I had apple sauce!”
Eagle [applause again]: Your memory is amazing.
EG: Looking back on it now, it was beyond embarrassing, but I thought, “I have to try this. I can learn something.” The idea was if that I could mimic, if I could memorize, then somehow my own talent would come out. And this was the only artistic activity I was any good at — acting, singing, dancing, performing. I could draw a little; I couldn’t paint, not even finger-painting! But I remember I once saw a paperweight with the saying, “The greatest artist in the world is an uninhibited child at play.” And I subscribe to that. It’s funny, because when I repeated this to Herb Gardner [the late playwright Herb Gardner, another notable Brooklynite, wrote such hit plays as “A Thousand Clowns,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “The Goodbye People”], he said, “an uninhibited child and Picasso.” And I said, “I didn’t know you were a materialist. I love Picasso, too, but you keep Picasso, and I’ll keep the child.” For me, without the spirit of the child, it’s all meaningless. Then, many years later, I discovered that the quote on the paperweight was actually from Picasso!
Eagle: You were so young when you did, for example, “The Ernie Kovacs Show,” which was a very hip show, way ahead of its time. Were you “getting” material such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio?
EG: No, it went right over my head. I also appeared several times on “The Milton Berle Show.” I also did Jimmy Durante’s show. I made a couple of commercials. One was for Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy.
Eagle: I remember Bonomo’s! You can buy it on Google now.
EG: My tagline was “It’s better that delicious; it’s scrumptious.”
Eagle: After your Broadway debut in “Rumble,” was Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders” next?
EG: Well, after “Rumple,” I started studying Modern Jazz dance with Matt Maddox. And Matt Maddox was about to choreograph a musical called “Say, Darling.” Abe Burrows directed that and Jules Styne and Comden & Green did the music and lyrics. It starred Vivian Blaine, who, of course, was the original Adelaide in “Guys & Dolls.” And I auditioned and auditioned for that show; I wanted so badly to be in it.
Now remember I was still living with my parents in Brooklyn! Well, I got into the show and they gave me the role of Earle Jorgenson, and I had to sing “Old Man River.”
The other thing I remember vividly was that because I wasn’t on until about 45 minutes into the show, I would go across the street from the old Madison Square Garden to watch the “Big O,” Oscar Robertson, play for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats against other college teams. Then I would scoot back to the theater just in time for my cue.
Eagle: You’ve been a sports fan forever, right? In fact, I remember the 1976 Oscar ceremony (when it was still broadcast on Monday nights), when you presented with Isabelle Adjani, and she said, “The winner is…” And you said, “Indiana 86, Michigan 68.”
EG: Yes, I was, and still am, a major sports fan. I remember my parents taking me to Ebbetts Field to see the Dodgers when I was 5 or 6. I also remember my father used to get angry with me, because I always had to go to the bathroom. And, of course, something important would happen — Duke Snider homering or Jackie stealing a base — while we were in the bathroom. My father used to get so mad at me! I’ll tell you another great sports story: Before the first Ali-Frazier fight, Jim Brown introduced me to Ali, and Ali said to me: “You do what you do as well as I do what I do.” That’s the second greatest compliment ever paid me.
Eagle: What was the first?
EG: Groucho Marx! We became friends, and I was at his house changing a light bulb over his bed. And he said, “that’s the best acting I’ve ever seen you do.”
Eagle: Back to Broadway. After “Say, Darling” …?
EG: After “Say, Darling” closed, I decided to hire Colin Romoff (who had been the assistant choreographer on “Say, Darling”) to help me improve and update my singing. I remember Colin had me sing “Do it the Hard Way” from “Pal Joey.”
[Once again, Gould starts singing. Who knew he was such a crooner? I ask him about this relatively unknown aspect of his career.]
EG: While I was in “Irma la Douce,” I was taking jazz lessons with Gene Lewis. He was friendly with Oona White, who I’d met while doing “Irma.” [Note: Oona White was a celebrated choreographer, whose Broadway credits included “The Music Man, “Carmen Jones” and “Take Me Along”]. After “I Can Get it for You Wholesale,” I went to London to do the West End premiere of “On the Town.”
Eagle: Were you still living at home in Brooklyn during this period?
EG: Yes, I was living at home until I met my first wife.
Eagle: How did you meet?
EG: We met while we were both in “I Can Get it for You Wholesale.”
Eagle: So we’re talking about Barbra [Streisand].
EG: Yes, Barbra. Not only my first wife, my first real relationship; I’d never really been with anyone before.
Eagle: Barbra was Ms. Marmelstein, your assistant, in the play, correct?
EG: Yes. She played the secretary to my character, Harry Bogen. She was terrific. It was Barbra’s Broadway debut. Goddard Lieberson, who produced the cast album for Columbia Records, signed her to a contract and her first solo album was released two months after the show closed.
Eagle: Did the fact that you were both from Brooklyn, and Jewish, add to the appeal?
EG [smiling impishly]: You should ask Barbra that question.
[So, via email, I did.]
Her response: “Our attraction was not based on our being Brooklyn or Jewish … but it didn’t hurt.”
She was also gracious enough to take time out from recording her new album to answer one other question: Why hadn’t she and Gould worked together again after “Wholesale?”
“We never got any scripts that satisfied us.”
[Gould confirms this.]
Eagle: Barbra used to perform a lot at the Blue Angel in the Village, right?
EG: Yes, I’d often go to see her there.
Eagle: The Blue Angel’s gone now…
EG: So is everything … so is Ebbets Field.
Eagle: But you’re still here…
EG: Yes I am!
* * *
Elliott Gould has just completed his starring role in the independent film “Humor Me” and will next be seen as a regular on the new CBS series “Doubt.”
On Saturday May 14, Brooklyn’s Regina Opera now in its 46th year presented Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) Manon Lescaut, which was the composer’s first great success. Jules Massanet had already written his Manon in 1884 but Puccini felt two operas about the same fascinating subject could easily thrive. Manon Lescaut premiered at the Teatro Reggio in Turin, Italy in 1893. Its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1907 with rhapsodic tenor Enrico Caruso and the ravishing soprano Lina Cavalieri. Since then all the great tenors and great sopranos have sung the much coveted roles of Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut.
Manon Lescaut is in four acts and takes place in 18th century France. Renato Des Grieux, while cavorting with his fellow students, is smitten by a girl who is exiting a coach. She is escorted by her brother Lescaut on her way to a convent. Des Grieux, convinces her to elope with him. Geronte di Ravoir, an elderly official, plans to run away with Manon offering her wealth and jewels for his “fatherly affection.”
Tired of poverty with Des Grieux, Manon goes to Geronte and lives with wealth, but misses the passion of Des Grieux. Des Grieux, now wealthy from gambling woos and wins Manon again. Geronte denounces Manon as a prostitute. Instead of fleeing immediately, Manon tries to collect her jewels and, because of the delay in searching for and collecting them, is captured by the soldiers.
Manon is sentenced to exile in America with other prostitutes. Des Grieux begs the ship’s captain to let him come aboard as a cabin boy so he can be with his beloved Manon.
In the final act the lovers, having escaped the authorities, are on a desolate plain in Louisiana, starving and thirsty. Manon regrets her follies, expresses her love for Des Grieux, and dies in Des Grieux’s arms.
Manon was portrayed by soprano Sabrina Palladino. Ms. Palladino has many fans in the metro area and New Jersey, where she is known for her dynamic and legendary performances. Her singing of “In quelle trine morbide” in the second act was magical. Her soprano, which has delicacy, color and grace, is not really one that dominates by size. It commands intimacy and pathos. Yet her voice carries very well and soared to the heavens when called for. Ms. Palladino’s impeccable diction and vivid acting brought Manon’s plight to one and all. In the last act, her singing of “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” was heartbreaking in its lamentation. That she died “Le mio colpe sereno” with the love of her life was the only solace. Ms. Palladino’s interpretation was unforgettable. It simply stays with you in memory and won’t let go.
Des Grieux was sung by Percy Martinez, whose stalwart, serviceable tenor evolved to a memorable portrayal. His lighthearted singing of “Tra voi belle, brune e bionde” was nicely done. His “Donna non vidi mai” had him a bit short at the top, and went by sans recognition as the great aria it really is. His duets with Manon went from strength to strength and his big aria in the third act “No, no Pazzo son” found him on his knees sobbing, belting out full throated high notes with abandon and splendor. His laments at Manon’s death and their love duet “Manon, senti amor mio…” were extraordinary in their emotional wallop.
Nathan Matticks was a clarion and robust voiced Lescaut. Matticks’ resonant baritone was heard in “E a chi lo diteed io da figlio” and other phrases with a suave and dominant tone.
John Schenkel portrayed Geronte as a cruel despot who did not enjoy playing the fool and gave Manon a very vengeful course leading to her tragic death. His adroit baritone was utilized to the fullest in a vivid portrayal. Schenkel also doubled as the captain.
Baritone Charles Gray was the Innkeeper/Sergeant, the versatile Wayne Olsen was the hairdresser and Reuven Aristigueta Senger was the hurried, harried Dancing Master.
David Bailey was Edmondo and the Lamplighter, his lilting tenor sparkled; Noelle Currie’s fine soprano served us well albeit briefly, as the Madrigal Singer.
The excellent ensemble and chorus consisted of Shelly Barkan, Samantha DiCapio, Catherine Greco, Margaret Keymakh, Marta Kukularova, Lily Lu Lerner, Wayne Olsen, Jennifer Klauder and Ksenia Stepanova.
The lively and captivating children were Nomi Barkan and Isabela Decker.
Maestro Gregory Ortega led the superb Regina Orchestra in a thrilling musical journey of the suddenly blooming young Puccini with Wagnerian themes and great heartfelt melodies of pathos and power. The Intermezzo was a revelation with bursts of beauty, sweep and grandeur. Yelena Savranskaya, violin concertmaster, was an inspiration, as was Michael Vannoni on the viola. Kudos to Michael Sirotta on percussion, Kathryn Sloat on the harp and Richard Paratley on the flute.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were brilliantly ornate when needed and threadbare when the times were not so good for poor Manon.
The backdrops by Richard Paratley who also serves as principal flautist, evoked both the extravagant and the unfortunate aspects of Manon’s journey from opulence to demise.
Tyler Learned’s lighting touch added greatly to the scenes and Linda Lehr’s stage direction went brilliantly and smoothly.
Linda Lehr’s special theatrical skills carried us on that fateful journey of Manon Lescaut and Renato Des Grieux and left us with a priceless tableaux and memories of Puccini’s first masterpiece.
We thank the Regina Opera staff for a brilliant 46th season of opera in Brooklyn. Here’s to Regina Opera’s 47th season. Bravo to all!
As part of the Alberto Ginastera Centennial celebration, the gifted Argentine-American pianist Rosa Antonelli gave a concert on Wednesday, May 18th at the Consulate General and Argentine Republic at 12 West 56th Street in Manhattan. The special guest in attendance was Alberto Ginastera’s daughter Georgina Ginastera.
Rosa Antonelli has been hailed as a leading exponent of Spanish and Latin American music and has appeared at many venues worldwide as well as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Ms. Antonelli’s two CDs titled “Esperanza” and “Remembranza” have been acclaimed. I am proud to have her newest “Abrazando-Latin Embrace” in which she demonstrates her pianistic wizardry with several immortal Latin composers including Astor Piazzolla, Hector Villa-Lobos, Ernesto Lecuona and Isaac Albeniz.
I first became acquainted with Ms. Antonelli at a gala at the New York Athletic Club sponsored by the Enrico Caruso Museum based in Brooklyn. Aldo Mancusi, the founder and curator of the museum chanced to hear Ms. Antonelli play at a concert and asked her if she would play a selection or two at his special gala honoring his new title of Commendatore by the Italian government. She did play and later requested that we attend her special concert at the Argentine Consulate.
Ms. Antonelli, looking stunning in a sparkling red and silver gown, seated at her beautiful Steinway piano began playing “Idilio Crepuscular” (Romance at Twilight) from Ballet Estancia, the first part of a set by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) and then from “Preludios Americanos” “Triste,” “Vidala” and “Homenaje” a Roberto Garcia Morillo. The tone poems of Ottorino Respighi could be heard in the vibrant rhythms of Pastoral with its dreamy introspection and the exuberant “Danza Criolla.” Ms. Antonelli and her instrument play as one and she is an amazing phenomenon.
The passionate rhythms and melodic outbursts of Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) followed. His four tangos entitled “El Mundo De Los Dos,” “Verano Porteno,” “Invierno Porteno” and “Libertango” were played with enormous zest. The tango like themes entwining like two dancers in an orgiastic blend in an explosion of passion. One could envision the dancers, drenched in sweat, breathing heavily, totally spent from this orgy of breathtaking musical madness. Ms. Antonelli left us all bedazzled.
The final group, again by Ginastera was from “Danza del Trigo” (Wheat Dance from Ballet Estancia) “Tres Danzas Argentinas,” “Del Viejo Boyero,” “De la Moza Donosa” and “Del Goucho Matrero.” All played with dexterity, finesse and strength fueled by an Argentine inner fire that warmed the soul and stirred the blood.
At the reception we met so many devotees of the art of Rosa Antonelli, who like fellow Argentine Pope Francis is of Italian ancestry. The trials of our being in a traffic jam earlier were drowned out by the beauty of the concert and the delicious meat and vegetable Empanadas, wines and cheeses served afterwards. I have relatives in Buenos Aires that we lost touch with and this concert in a spiritual way, brings me closer to them.
Ms. Antonelli was given a beautiful bouquet of flowers and we thank her for the unforgettable “bouquet” of musical roses she gave to all in attendance.
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.
On the afternoon of Sunday, May 1st, Murray Rosenthal, the past President of Opera Index, was honored at the Spring Lunch at The JW Marriott Essex House on Central Park South.
Jane Shaulis, beloved Metropolitan Opera mezzo and current Opera Index President, spoke glowingly of Murray Rosenthal and listed the many singers who were assisted in their careers by Opera Index during his 17 years at the helm. The concert began and the reason for all this activity was beautifully demonstrated by the young awardees who sang.
Shea Owens sang “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, his warm burnished baritone brilliantly negotiating the roller coaster Rossinian terrain with abandon, elan and a touch of the unexpected. Owens literally danced through the audience table to table making Figaro’s exuberance and hubris a gift to all. His patter and agility, range and vocal colors brought us the rainbow Judy Garland sought.
Alasdair Kent sang “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’elisir d’amore by Donizetti. Kent’s beautiful haunting tenor with its mournful accents, crescendos and ravishing diminuendos made the final cadenza the stairway to paradise. He is a tenore di grazie with a Ferrari shift of gears taking us “out of the commonplace and into the rare” as in Kismet.
Meryl Dominguez regaled us with a silken “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from Puccini’s La Rondine, her beautifully placed soprano reveling in the high tessitura of this ravishing aria and carrying us all on the journey.
Lastly, tenor Robert Watson sang an old chestnut “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot and gave it new life by infusing it with introspective passion and dramatic flair, fine dark vocal color and an extraordinary climax and finale.
Michael Fennelly was the superb pianist and played with the style and sweep of the great ones.
Philip Hagemann who is a Vice President of Opera Index and a composer of acclaim, was the presenter to Murray Rosenthal. After listing Murray’s many accomplishments at Opera Index and outside of it as an eminent periodontist, medical expert for the federal, state and city levels and Army veteran, Murray is also an avid movie buff. Hagemann began quizzing him about films and casts from Hollywood in that banner year of 1939. Murray passed all the tests and he graciously accepted the crystal New York Apple given to him. Rosenthal then spoke of his formative years and how opera came into his life.
Two more surprises awaited him. The great Metropolitan Opera (Met) basso Eric Owens, a former winner of Opera Index who sat at the table of Brooklynite Janet Stovin from the Board of Directors, thrilled us all with a magnificent rendering of “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. The second surprise was Broadway star Christine Ebersole beautifully singing George Gershwin’s “Our love is here to stay” and then, a la Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, danced between singing with Murray in a touching and romantic moment. It should be noted that both Murray Rosenthal and Philip Hagemann are Broadway, London and Australia investors and producers and share three Tony Awards and one Olivier Award as well.
It was nice to see so many friends and special guests including Met legends sopranos Martina Arroyo and Elinor Ross, mezzos Rosalind Elias and Nedda Cassei, Opera Index Executive Director Joe Gasperec, Board member John Metcalfe, patrons Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, composer Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes, Maestro Eve Queler, Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio, Karl Michaelis, Michael Fornabaio, Barbara Ann Testa, Joyce Greenberg, Duane Printz from Teatro Grattacielo, David Bender and Barbara Meister Bender from Career Bridges, Mara Waldman Music Director from the Encompass New Opera Theatre based in Brooklyn, tenor/film maker Michael Davis from Remi Arts, Inc. who sang Marius in Fanny and who is the son of the late opera legend Regina Resnik, PBS’s Midge Woolsey and spouse Dr. Jerry Stolt, Rebecca Paller from the Paley Center for Media and devoted opera fan Lois Kirschenbaum.
The party is over but the song lingers on. A memorable tribute to that “wonderful guy” who we all love – Murray Rosenthal!
The Sarasota Opera is one of the finest venues for opera. The 1100 seat auditorium of this splendidly renovated William E. Schmidt Opera Theatre, is acoustically perfect and visually stunning. Pineapple Street in front of the opera house is now named “Verdi Way.” Conductor and Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi completed his 28 year Verdi cycle with a magnificent Aida.
The world premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s (1813-1901) spectacular masterpiece Aida was December 24, 1871 in Cairo, Egypt supposedly to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. After its Italian premiere at La Scala in Milan, shortly afterwards, Aida swept the world. It should be noted that tenor immortal Enrico Caruso sang Radames in Aida at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with the Metropolitan Opera (Met) on tour on January 17, 1910 with Arturo Toscanini conducting. Caruso sang in Aida several times at BAM until 1917.
On the evening of Saturday, March 19th, before the performance, it was nice to meet and greet the staff, many of whom are or were Brooklyn residents. Executive Director Richard Russell once resided in Park Slope, Director of Artistic Administration Greg Trupiano is a Cobble Hill resident and Director of Audience Development Samuel Lowry, introduced us to his vivacious parents Bob and Becky Lowry from Eugene, Oregon. Recalling fondly Sam’s six years of living in Park Slope, they queried if the Blue Apron Foods store still existed and it does!
We also chatted with August Ventura, Verdi filmmaker (Film “27”) and lecturer with his Mother Romola who resides part time in Sarasota with his Dad Eustacio. Visiting from New York, we met the effervescent Brian Kellow and Scott Barnes from Opera News.
Finally we all entered the theatre and the magic began. Maestro Victor DeRenzi, baton aloft conjured up the opening notes of this masterpiece. The curtain lifted to show us the hall of the palace of the King of Egypt.
Radames is the captain of the guards. He is pledged to Amneris the daughter of the King. Radames falls in love with the Ethiopian slave girl Aida, who in reality is the daughter of Amonasro, now also a slave but actually the King of Ethiopia. Radames gives the invading plans to Aida and is caught by Amneris and Chief Priest Ramfis. Aida and Amonasro flee to safety. Radames is put on trial and found guilty of being a traitor; he is to be buried alive. Amneris begs the judges to change their mind but to no avail. Aida has managed to sneak into the tomb where she and Radames die together with Amneris on the ground above, chanting a prayer softly.
The Radames was Jonathan Burton whose singing of “Celeste Aida” revealed a powerful tenor with lyrical grace, ending the “untrono vicino al sol” first full voice then an octave lower and softly. Burton has real “squillo” (shine) to his voice. His heroic singing in the duet “Numi che duce ed arbitto” with the Chief Priest Ramfis concluding jointly with “Immensa Ptha” was thrilling. His third act finale “Sacerdote io resto a te,” was with golden notes seemingly held together with electrifying intensity. His confrontation with Amneris in Act 4 was a revelation, “Gia i sacerdoti adunansi” with generous and expansive bursts of glory. Burton’s “Morire si pura e bella” was lyrically done with pathos and a beautiful blend with Aida. The final “O terra addio” was sung with security and resignation. This was an extraordinary performance from a very promising tenor.
The title role was sung by soprano Michelle Johnson. Her singing of “Ritorna vincitor!” in the first act was the revelation of an Aida of the first rank. Her creamy sound, vocal ascents and vivid charismatic persona made for many magical moments. Her confrontations with Amneris and the excellent translations made one appreciate her dilemma and the brilliant score by librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni. The conflicting emotions were all seen and felt. Ms. Johnson’s scenes with Amonasro had great impact and her sense of being torn expanded into newfound courage. Ms. Johnson’s wondrous singing of “O patria mia” with its exotic vocal turns found her “inner Aida” in full bloom. Her singing in the tomb scene and “O terra addio” was flawless. Ms. Johnson was a visually radiant and vocally compelling Aida.
The Amneris of Leann Sandel-Pantaleo was exemplary. The part of the king’s daughter, Amneris, Radames lover in waiting and vengeful, and later repentant, is truly a scenery chewing role. Amneris feigns love for her rival Aida and learns of Aida’s true love for Radames. Like a cat playing with a toy mouse, she revels in her ploy. Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo was at her “baddest” best in “L’abborrita rivale a me sfuggia” and “Gia I Sacerdoti adunansi” in the fourth act. Her rich versatile mezzo with its haunting chest voice truly made her a unique Amneris. When the priests declare Radames to be a traitor and condemn him to death, Pantaleo’s convulsive tears “Empia razza! La vendetta del ciel scendera!” wracked her very being and transferred these emotions to the audience. She took a big bite out of this juicy role and left an indelible impression.
The role of Amonasro, father of Aida and King of Ethiopia was sung by Marco Nistico whose robust baritone impressed from his opening phrases “Suo padre Anch’ io pugnai.” His singing of “Ma tu, o Re, tu signore possente” was a heartfelt plea and together with the pleading chorus made for Verdian magic. Nistico’s impassioned and powerful singing in the Schiava scene with Aida was dramatically precise. His performance so dynamic in the third act, added greatly to the drama.
The King as portrayed by basso Jeffrey Beruan was both majestic and regal. His “Salvator della patria, io ti saluto” and “Gloria all’ Egitto” revealed a mellow bass of substantial quality.
The high priest Ramfis of Young Bok Kim was sung in a strong basso and shined in “Mortal, diletto ai Numi” in the “Immensa Ptha” duet with Radames. His Ramfis had dignity and depth vocally and was a vivid portrayal of justice served and mercy ignored.
Tenor Matthew Vickers was a commanding messenger in his brief moment to shine and he did indeed with vocal strength and urgency.
The Grand March with the many treasures, dazzling costumes and what appeared to be a golden calf tribute was truly spectacular! The stage was full of extras top tier and bottom with trumpeters on both sides of the stage. It was a marvelous montage, beautifully staged and free flowing with feathers and pageantry galore! The audience loved it!
The act three set design was ravishingly beautiful with its shimmering moon, river waves, barge, palm décor and pyramids.
Kudos to Conductor Victor DeRenzi whose brilliant conducting of this magnificent score from the Grand March to the gentle finale was impeccable. “Words for music” supplied the subtitles which Maestro Victor DeRenzi also translated.
The musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra were truly inspired. The final Aida of a 28 year dream will live on in memory and a final Verdi concert the next evening will complete this monumental effort.
The stage direction by Stephanie Sundine made for a stage that crowded spectacle with ease, flawless movement and striking vistas.
The scenic designer David P. Gordon created images that are unforgettable like some living breathing tableau.
Howard Tsvi Kaplan, costume designer, gave us breathtaking costumes and made us feel at home in this time and place.
Ken Yunker’s lighting design, so viable in the third act and the tomb scene also fast framed the Grand March finale like a time travel camera flash.
The ever creative hair and makeup designer Joann Middleton Weaver’s work was striking, never garish.
The chorus of Sarasota Opera’s apprentice and studio artists, under the astute hand of Roger L. Bingaman was magnificent.
The choreographer, Miro Magloire and dancers Meghan Connolly, Holly Curran, Ariana Henry, Sasha Paulovich, Nicholas Peregrino and Preston Swovelin made sense of the various dancing scenes. The dance of the priestesses and the dance of the young Moorish slaves were a pleasure to behold.
At the beginning of the excellent generous souvenir program, board Chairman David H. Chaifetz praised Maestro Victor DeRenzi for the Verdi cycle plus the board members and volunteers for their time and effort. Executive Director Richard Russell stated “Verdi has been very good to us. Sarasota Opera has arrived! Now let’s enjoy it and get ready for the next great adventure!”
Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi wrote “I will leave the last words to the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio who wrote this as part of a poem written immediately after Verdi’s death.”
“Diede una voce alla speranze e ai tutti. Pianse ed amo per tutti.”
“He gave a voice to our hopes and to those in mourning. He cried and loved for us all.”
When the curtain rises on the new production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” at the Walter Kerr Theater (which boasts the dream cast of Saoirse Ronan, the star of “Brooklyn;” Ben Whishaw; Sophie Okonedo; and Ciarán Hinds), the audience sees a gloomy classroom with a blackboard, dim, drab overhead lights and three rows of seated teenage schoolgirls, in prim, black and gray uniforms with knee socks, sleeveless pullovers and blazers, all facing forward with their backs to the audience.
Faintly, the spectators hear a chorus of girls’ voices, but the words are unintelligible. The setting and the sounds are both ordinary and spooky. Before there is a chance to decide which description fits best, the curtain descends, and then quickly rises again on the same set, but now fully lit, with a young girl prone on a gurney, being administered to by a clergyman. In the background stands another schoolgirl, brooding and concerned.
Theatergoers who saw last year’s “Antigone” with Juliette Binoche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the recent revival of Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” will recognize where they are: in Ivo-land. The Belgian-born Ivo van Hove is everywhere; last November he also directed the limited run of “Lazarus,” a musical collaboration between the late David Bowie and the Irish playwright Edna Walsh. With “The Crucible,” which officially opens this Thursday night, van Hove makes his Broadway debut.
He is, indisputably, having his New York moment.
Recently, the Eagle spoke with van Hove by telephone about his propensity for tackling the theatrical canon, his unique approach to rehearsal and, in particular, the current production of “The Crucible.”
Eagle: Nothing in the theatrical or cinematic canon — Euripedes, Shakespeare, O’Neil, Miller, stage adaptations of Bergman, Cassavettes, Pasolini, Viscounti films — seems to intimidate you. How did you become so fearless?
Van Hove: Well, you know, you only live your life once. Why not take chances? Before we begin a production, I always tell my creative team that we’re in the Olympics. Our goal should be the gold medal. The stage work and the film adaptations I choose to do are always driven by the actors, not by the beauty of the visuals or the physical design. As a novelist does through his writing, I want to express through my theatre work, my feelings, my passions.
Eagle: You have said about “The Crucible” that “…it is not a play about good and evil; it is about evil within goodness and goodness within evil.” Can you elaborate?
Van Hove: Now that I have done two Miller plays, what I have discovered is that he deals with ethical problems, often in black and white terms. But I don’t see things as that black and white. Take Abigail [Williams, who is the catalyst for the Salem witch hysteria and subsequent trials]. Listen carefully to what she says in the first act, when she reproaches John Proctor for ending their relationship. She really felt, for the first time in her life, respected as a woman. She’s 17. The fact that John, her first lover, rejects her is earth-shattering. She is very fragile.
For the Puritans, being a young girl meant three things: You had to always obey your parents (especially regarding even the hint of anything sexual); you had to became a servant, as Abigail was for John and Mary Procter; and you were not allowed to truly transition from a girl to a woman. Abigail is so often played as the evil villainess of “The Crucible.” But I don’t see her that way. Remember, she is the only character to escape Salem, to seek her freedom. John and Mary stay — and pay the price.
Eagle: Why do you insist that your actors be “off-book” from the first day of rehearsal? And why, in rehearsal, do you have your actors work steadily through the text, reaching the end of the play just before the first public performance?
Van Hove: I believe it is great for actors, in rehearsal, to discover the play. After all, that’s the way one lives one’s life —not knowing from one day to the next what is going to happen. As with life, there should be uncertainty; I want my actors to unravel the play, scene-by-scene, to react to the uncertainty as they would in real life. When I have the actors rehearse the play, day-by-day, in chronological order, I don’t have to give them a lot of instructions. They are coming to their own recognition of the text. Which also makes them more comfortable and more natural.
Eagle: Finally, since you have been so bold in taking iconic films (to cite just a few, Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” John Cassavetes’s “Husbands,” Luchino Viscounti’s “Rocco and His Brothers”) and transforming them into theater, when are you going to adapt “Star Wars” for the stage?
Van Hove [at first not realizing the tongue-in-cheek nature of my question]: Oh, no, I don’t think…
Eagle: Sorry, I was joking.
Van Hove (laughing): I may be, as you said, fearless, but I’m not reckless!
The Crucible runs through July 17 at the Walter Kerr Theater.
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 5th, the Regina Opera’s 46th season continued with an exciting Lucia di Lammermoor by composer Gaetano Donizetti. (1797-1848) For those few precious hours, Sunset Park in Brooklyn was transformed into La Scala in Milan or Lincoln Center. Lucia di Lammermoor is based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor and is set in late 17th century Scotland. The libretto is by Salvatore Cammarano and the first performance was at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy on September 26, 1835.
Enrico wants his sister, Lucia, to marry Arturo which will greatly improve the family’s financial situation. Lucia however loves Edgardo who is a sworn enemy to Enrico. By forged letters, Enrico convinces Lucia that Edgardo has abandoned her, and forces her to marry Arturo. Edgardo “crashes” the wedding, denounces Lucia, throws back her ring and is escorted out with swords drawn. Raimondo Bide-the Bent, a minister, restores the peace. We soon learn that Lucia has gone mad and has stabbed her groom, Arturo, on their wedding night. Lucia then appears with the dagger, delirious, in a blood stained gown. Edgardo goes to his family tomb, is told of Lucia’s death and stabs himself.
Lucia Ashton was sung by Alexis Cregger whose singing of “Regnava nel silenzio” was haunting. Ms. Cregger’s coloratura has a quick vibrato and a shimmering dream like quality that is beguiling. Her singing of the love duet with Edgardo “Verranno a te” was both lyrical and ardent. Ms. Cregger’s thrilling ascent in “Se tradirmi tu potrai” was golden age in its quality like a sudden burst of fireworks. Her high note finale in the famed sextet “Chi mi frena” was a wonder.
“Il dolce suono” and the ensuing “mad scene” were sung with pyrotechnic fierceness with trills, cadenzas, highs and lows in a dazzling panorama of colors and emotions ending in “Sparigi d’amaro pianto” with a spectacular high note above the orchestra and chorus. Cregger’s Lucia was flawless and spectacular!
Edgardo di Ravenswood was sung by the rapidly rising Australian tenor Benjamin Sloman. His ardent powerful singing of “Sulla tomba che rinserra” and “Qui di sposa eterna fede” made one sit up and take notice. The ensuing duet “Verranno a te sull’ aure” with its soaring melodies had us enraptured as Ms. Cregger and Mr. Sloman rose to heavenly heights, their voices blending and a few new, trill like additions added to this captivating brew. Sloman’s top voice steely, steady and secure, combined with Alexis Cregger’s flowing sound, made for a “golden age duet.” His penetrating notes in the sextet and his declamatory power in the denunciation scene “Hai tradito il cielo e amor” made for great theatre. Sloman’s beautifully framed and poignant singing of “Fra poco a me ricovero” and “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali” made him an Edgardo of the first rank.
Lord Enrico Ashton was sung by Seung-Hyeon Baek whose robust baritone negotiated the passages of “Cruda, funesta smania” with strength and angst. His exciting singing with Lucia of “Se tradirmi tu potrai” evoked the duet in Rigoletto with his stirring high note. He was a bad and angry brother. His remorse at Lucia’s death was genuine. Baek’s portrayal was vivid and masterful but he needs a little more “push” into getting into Enrico’s skin with a bit more angst. He is young and his future promising.
Raimondo Bide-the-Bent, a peace keeping minister was beautifully sung by Isaac Grier whose basso cantante provided the glue that literally held people together throughout the opera. His singing with the chorus of “Cessi, ah cessi” and “O meschina” and “Tu che a Dio” at the tomb scene was done with extraordinary power and beauty.
The unfortunate groom, Lord Arturo Bucklaw was sung in a sweet and strong tenor by Mario Bacigalupi. His singing of “Per poco fra le tenebre” and “Dov’e Lucia” was done with genuine conviction and lamb before slaughter was the prevailing thought.
The smaller roles were all done with vocal heartiness and aplomb. The Normanno of Ray Calderon, the excellent Alisa of mezzo Jennie Mescon, the Deacon of versatile Wayne Olsen and the notary of Thomas Geib were all of a high quality.
The conductor Dmitry Glivinskiy gave a brisk and spirited reading of this exciting and melodic score and brought out every bit of its toe tapping vigor. The 32 musicians who seemingly put their souls and skills into it followed as a unified force, his every baton movement. Plaudits to Richard Paratley who brilliantly accompanied Lucia on the flute in the mad scene, Kathryn Sloat whose harp playing evoked the angels in “Quando rapito” in the first act. Also Dmitri Barkan’s oboe solo so poignant and concertmaster Yelena Savranskaya and her magic violins.The Scottish wedding music was so joyful in contrast to the somber melodies to come.
The chorus sang with perfection strength and elegance throughout and especially in the final act.The melodies haunt me still.
Linda Lehr’s brilliant direction and staging made for vivid fight scenes, unshakable visions of the mad scene and a haunting tomb scene with the monks and mourners holding candles. Lehr’s scenes (So Gothic and mysterious) sometimes are “frozen” as in mid flight-a brilliant touch! Tyler Learned’s set lighting was truly mood evoking.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were outstanding and the red and gold gowns at the wedding scene were dazzling. Edgardo’s outfit was superb and Lucia’s blood soaked gown as she left the unseen boudoir and entered the reception was unforgettable.
The subtitles by Linda Cantoni Vice President were excellent and gave the newcomers vital dialogue.
We thank the Regina Opera for a truly splendid afternoon of opera at its best-not updated tampered with or modernized-just the brilliant genuine article. There were ovations, cheers and many bravos echoing in the hall at the conclusion. Thanks to Francine Garber, Linda Cantoni, Joseph Delfausse, Alex Guzman and all those behind the scenes who make it all possible. Bravo!
For more information about Puccini’s Manon Lescautto be presented in May, e-mail: info@ReginaOpera.org