On the afternoon of Saturday, November 21st, the theater at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy of Brooklyn in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was transformed into the Petrovenian Embassy for the Regina Opera’s first production of their 46th season. “The Merry Widow” composed by Austrian-Hungarian Franz Lehár (1870-1948) was an instant worldwide hit since its debut in 1905.
Brooklyn’s Regina Opera presented a brilliant and entertaining production on November 21, 22, 28 and 29, featuring two casts. Perfect holiday entertainment!
The plot: a rich widow returns to her native Petrovania, with an inheritance of millions which could save the nearly bankrupt country, if she marries another Petrovanian. Music, mirth and mayhem galore result. At the beginning of Act 1, when all were singing a birthday tribute to their King, the portrait we see was actually of Conductor Gregory Ortega!
Anna Glawari, the wealthy widow, was brilliantly sung and acted by soprano Christina Rohm. Rohm’s singing of “Vilia” was sheer magic and “I love you so” (The Merry Widow Waltz) was equally perfect. Ms. Rohm could be heard above the orchestra and as a perfect blend in ensemble numbers; her finales were exciting her top notes like golden stars. Ms. Rohm’s voice has great beauty and is full, round and sumptuous in sound. She simply WAS Anna Glawari. Ms. Rohm was stunning in a peasant dress in Act 2.
Count Danilo Danilovitsch was in the excellent hands of baritone Peter Hakjoon Kim. His caressing and strong singing of “I’m Going to Maxim’s” and “Women” (Girls, girls, girls) and with Anna in “I love you” was captivating. His acting and dancing were part of a very romantic portrayal. His dramatic soliloquy “There once was a Prince” was powerful. Kim’s high baritone was beautifully tapered for this stellar role. Kudos for his heel kicks á la The Rockettes in the “Girls, girls, girls” reprise!
Valencienne was sung by Sarah Moulton Faux. Her beautiful lyric soprano sparkled magically in her duet with her suitor Camille de Rosillon, and she was a fine actress. Their rhapsodic duets together made for a profound sigh for love-illicit or not! Her voice echoed with longing and had a golden sheen.
Camille, Count de Rosillon was sung by tenor David Bailey. Bailey is the possessor of a lovely ardent lyric tenor who entered the very high tessitura of this part with ease. His singing of “See, there’s a place close at hand” describing the nearby pavilion in which Camille and Valencienne could meet for a tryst, thrilled the listener with its pulsating ascending scales and enchanting irresistible melody. Bailey and Ms. Faux were a handsome couple. Nice to see and wonderful to hear!
John Schenkel was a superb Baron Mirko Zeta. His feigned heart attacks, swooning and general frustration were great fun and his robust baritone was never better. Schenkel’s “double takes” at his peeks in the pavilion thinking his young wife was inside with a lover, were priceless!
Njegus was in the comical hands of Daniel Kerr who danced a good Can-Can in a skirt. Kerr’s clearly enunciated spoken dialogue was loud and clear and his was a memorable comic portrayal.
The smaller parts, including the Viscount Cascada of Jon Thomas Olson, Raoul de St. Brioch of Andrew Tse, The Bogdanovitch of Thomas Geib, The Kromov of Kevin Miller, The Sylviane of Jennie Mescon, and the Olga of Noelle Currie were all done with flair.
The marvelous dancers were Wendy Chu, whose grace and charm filled the stage; Christian-Philippe Consigny whose balletic background enables him to heel kick and turn with astonishing precision; and the graceful Stephanie Garcia, all of whom made for formidable dancing.
The Grisettes were brilliantly danced by Wendy Chu as Lolo, Stephanie Garcia as Dodo, Kelly Vaghenas as Joujou and the Froufrou of Sara Laszlo, Cloclo of Lisa Ferraro and the Margo of Christian-Philippe Consigny rounded out the dazzling dancers.
The colorful ensemble included Jennifer Allenby, Lisa Ferraro, Julianne Frohlich, Elena Jannicelli-Sandella, and the versatile Wayne Olsen among others.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were fabulous; Anna Glawari’s Act 3 black gown sparkled brilliantly; the various medals that bedecked the Counts and Barons looked regal, and the Petrovanian’s were all colorfully dressed. The Grisettes singing and dancing “We’re the ladies of the chorus” were right out of the film “Moulin Rouge”.
The innovative sets as well as the stage direction were by Linda Lehr. Her genius made all the actions flow like champagne. The “fast freeze” was used effectively and the dialogue by Linda Lehr was whitty; The supertitle were clear and readable. Tyler Learned’s set and lighting designs were truly mood inducing.
The chorus sang with inspiration, the peasant song and “Vilia” were haunting and unforgettable. Both the men and the women in ensemble and separate gave their all!
The orchestra, under the inspired baton of Maestro and new Music Director Gregory Ortega was first class. It was like having Franz Lehár himself conducting this great 36 piece ensemble. Maestro Ortega captured the romance and “schmaltz” of the operetta style. The violin solo, during the love duet of Camille and Valencienne played by violin concertmaster Yelena Savranskaya, was sublime. During the bows by the conductor and cast onstage Ms. Savranskaya was in charge of the orchestra for the encore finale of “Girls, girls, girls!” The audience, who hummed along with the melodies clapped in cadence for the bows. Kudos also for violinist Diana Barkan.
In a very troubled world, The Regina Opera continues to give us joy through music, the antidote for all evils. “The Merry Widow” with its beautiful and timeless melodies and dances was the perfect entertainment at the right time.
Thank you Fran Garber President and Producer, and Linda Cantoni Executive Vice President, Treasurer Joseph Delfausse, Vice President Alex Guzman, and volunteer Marlena Ventimiglia for all of your efforts on behalf of the unique Regina Opera, Brooklyn’s own pride and joy. Bravo to all!
The Martina Arroyo Foundation on Monday, November 16th celebrated its 11th Anniversary of Prelude to Performance. The gala was held at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. This was a night to remember, when the worlds of music and fashion merged to form a special magic with an excitement of its own.
Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News and bestselling author and radio WQXR evening’s host Terrance McKnight, lent their abundant charm as co-hosts and introduced many distinguished guests in the audience. Gala Producer Midge Woolsey led us in a brief moment of silence for the victims of Paris. The Michel Maurel Award was given to Ernst Rieser, longtime friend, adviser and personal assistant to Mme. Arroyo. Martina Arroyo looking resplendent in a burgundy gown presented the award named after her late much loved husband.
Martina Arroyo also presented an award to honored guest,Artistic Director Ted Sperling of MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale). He then conducted the chorale in a brief magical piece from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with angelic purity of tone.
The operatic portion then began with “The Flower Duet” from Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Brandie Sutton, soprano and Hyona Kim, mezzo blended their voices beautifully. Ms. Sutton is a soprano of radiant promise. Ms. Kim’s majestic mezzo mellowness was alluring. Akari Weintzen was an adorable “Trouble,”(Butterfly and Pinkerton’s child) and performed her tasks with deft professionalism. This was a poignant segment beautifully done. Their tossing of the blossoms to prepare for Pinkerton’s arrival melted the heart.
Jennifer Rowley, sang “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. Ms. Rowleys opening note was held seemingly forever reaching fortissimo and then diminishing to a whisper. A true Verdi soprano, Ms. Rowley went from strength to strength as if combating the caprices of destiny with prayerful defiance. Her “Maledizione’s” were individually spine chilling. Jennifer Rowley made a successful Metropolitan Opera debut as Musetta last year.
Dinner was served and the program continued with international rising tenor Michele Angelini, who was born in Brooklyn-why not? So were legendary tenor Richard Tucker and baritone Robert Merrill. Angelini thrilled us with a powerful interpretation of “Ah! mes amis” from Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment. The 9 high “C’s” were hammered out with insouciance, grit and charm.
Brian Kellow then presented an award gift to Greek born Joanna Mastroianni whose fashion collections reflect her sense of style and elegance. A brief film was shown of her designs accompanied by the haunting voice of Maria Callas singing “Eben” from Catalani’s La Wally.
An auction followed with a real auctioneer-Angelo K. H. Chan! Some of the auction gifts were: a week in the Palais de Paris dans Le Marais, tenor Michele Angelini for an evening of singing, famed Italian Parisian chef Paolo Petrini for a private dinner for eight, and a “poker” night with Martina Arroyo, Marilyn Horne and Tyne Daly were among the highlights!
The Act Two lesson scene from La Fille du Regiment was then performed. Claire Coolen used her saucy soprano and comedic timing and versatility with humor and elan. Karolina Pilou used her dark, plummy and pliable mezzo with great aplomb along with Michele Angelini’s exciting tenor and Jacopo Buora’s resonant bass baritone, put them in a pot and a brilliantly funny brew ensues!
After coffee, tea and desserts and closing remarks from Brian Kellow and Terrance McKnight an “extra dessert” followed. Soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who caused a sensation as Violetta in Prelude to Performance in 2014, sang the “Csardas” from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Ms. Lopez‘s flourishes, scales and exciting coloratura took us on a roller coaster ride that ended with a sustained high note and brought down the house. It was a rousing finale from a young and gifted singer. The exceptional accompanists were Lloyd Arriola and Noby Ishida.
Metropolitan Opera baritone Mark Rucker who coaches the awardees, and his wife Sadie (Publicity) have given their all since the conception of Prelude to Performance and deserve great kudos.
Our table was graced by Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio with Board of Directors Michael Fornabaio, Karl Michaelis, Joyce Greenberg, also Gloria Gari from The Giulio Gari Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler, Robert Lombardo famed vocal agent, soprano Barbara Ann Testa vocal judge, Cavaliere Edward Jackson, and we greeted F. Paul Driscoll, Editor of Opera News, Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundation, Murray Rosenthal from Opera Index, Maestro Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes were also present.
It was a pleasure to meet Rufus Wainwright (Benefit Committee) composer/musician who had a huge success at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with his opera Prima Donna as well as fashion honoree, Joanna Mastroianni. Famed coloratura soprano Harolyn Blackwell was as perky and vital as when she sang an unforgettable “Oscar” in Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti at The Metropolitan Opera. This was a night of good friends, good food, great singing and all the good and beautiful things in life. Thanks to Gala Chair Cecilia Teng, Gala Producer Midge Woolsey and co-chairs Donna and Richard Esteves and Andrew Martin-Weber.
Martina Arroyo, magnificent Metropolitan Opera and international soprano, human being and humanitarian fully deserved her recent honor at the Kennedy Center. Madame Arroyo’s work with young promising opera singers is through her Foundation in its Prelude to Performance at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. This program prepares the winners with scholarships plus a stipend for six weeks of study and presents them in four fully costumed productions with orchestra. In July 2016, Prelude to Performance will present two performances each of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss and Puccini’s La Boheme. This also provides the true antidote for the evils in the world by letting the indelible imprint of enlightenment through music enter.
Thanks to the Martina Arroyo Foundation, opera will continue to thrive as young singers are granted the opportunities to perform and offer their special gifts to the world.
On Feb. 21, 1948, at the Brooklyn Little Theater on Hanson Place, a production of “Therese,” adapted from Emile Zola’s 1867 novel “Thérèse Raquin,” opened for a limited run. It was a brave move for the Little Theater; the premiere of this adaption had occurred three years before in 1945 at the Biltmore Theater on Broadway. Starring the grande dame of the American stage, Eva LeGalliene, as Therese; Victor Jory as Laurent, her lover and partner in murder; and Dame May Whitty (well-known to American film audiences for playing Miss Froy in Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” and Lady Beldon in William Wyler’s “Mrs. Miniver”) as the formidable Madame Raquin, the play was not well received, both critically and commercially.
Now, a new adaptation by the esteemed English playwright Helen Edmundson, starring Keira Knightley in her Broadway debut, has opened at Studio 54. In the interim between the Brooklyn Little Theater production and this new adaptation, there have been many other “Thérèse Raquin” incarnations, including a 2001 Broadway musical called “Thou Shalt Not,” with a score by Harry Connick Jr.; a 2007 production by Quantum Theater in Pittsburgh, staged in an empty swimming pool; and “The Artificial Jungle,” a 1987 reimagining of the Zola work as a James M. Cain novel by the enfant terrible of Off-Broadway, Charles Ludlum.
Edmundson’s prodigiously impressive credits include stage adaptations of “Orestes,” “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Life is a Dream” and “Mephisto.” In addition, Edmundson has written many acclaimed original plays, among them “The Clearing,” “Coram Boy” and “Mother Teresa is Dead.” Earlier this year, she was the recipient of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for Drama. In announcing the award, the Selection Committee celebrated her “[A]mbitious plays [that] distill historical complexities through characters whose passions and ethical dilemmas mirror and illuminate a larger political landscape.”
Recently the Eagle spoke by telephone with Edmundson from her home outside London:
Brooklyn Eagle: What was your greatest challenge in adapting a novel written in 1867 and making it relevant for a contemporary audience?
Helen Edmundson: Whenever I think about adapting something, I first ask myself if the play will still resonate today. Aside from whatever period the play is set in, the ideas in it must be able to leap through time. “Thérèse Raquin” is a study in guilt and the consequences of what happens when we give in to our primal, animal instincts. That is a timeless theme.
BE: Because so much of Zola’s novel portrays the characters’ hidden passions and interior thoughts, how did you handle the challenge of dramatizing these emotions?
HE: There is quite a lot of repetition in the novel, indecision, repressed emotions. In a play, everything has to keep progressing. So, it was important for me to keep things moving, almost inexorably. So much of this production is steeped in the characters’ physicality. For example, the sequence where Therese, Camille and Laurent go to walk by the river. Zola has pages and pages of description. In my adaptation, I wrote physical directions for the actors. The actual look of the scene — the river, the embankment — I left up to Evan [Cabnet], the play’s director, and Beowulf [Boritt], the set designer. When I write my plays, I don’t devote a lot of attention to the sets. In fact, sometimes the plays, as I’ve written them, are set in bare, empty spaces.
BE: In watching the play, I was struck by its modernity. Parallels with such examples of roman noir as “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Rings Twice,” were inescapable. Do you feel that “the affinity of blood and lust” that Zola refers to in the novel is a universal and timeless theme?
HE: We spend much of our lives controlling our instincts, struggling with the contradictions of societal restraints and human desires, dealing with conflicting forces and emotions. This struggle knows no boundaries of time, place [and] nationality. People have, and always will, wrestle with these strong, elemental forces.
BE: You certainly don’t seem at all intimidated about stepping into the ring with the heavyweights: you’ve written adaptations of Euripedes, Tolstoy and George Eliot. Audacious, brave choices. What makes you so fearless?
HE: No matter how large the canvas — and I like large canvases — at the core, I have to always feel that I can take the essence of the work and run with it. As monumental as the setting may be, it’s always the ideas that I pursue and want to depict. Ideas as embodied by character. That is my way in, whether it’s “Orestes” or “War and Peace” or “The Mill on the Floss.”
BE: Finally, were you ever tempted to have an animatronic version of Francois? [Note: Francois is Madame Raquin’s black cat, who, in the novel, bears mute witness to Therese and Laurent’s passions.] Or to recreate Laurent’s fear of Camille’s portrait?
HE: (Laughing) I have to be realistic about what things are possible on the stage. It would have been extremely difficult to have had a cat, whether real or animatronic, without having the audience giggle. As for Camille’s portrait terrifying Laurent, I left it out because I wanted to strictly follow Therese’s story. She is the fulcrum of the play; Camille, Laurent, Madame Raquin, all rotate around her. It is her story.
Marking the centennial of Ingrid Bergman’s birth, her daughter Isabella Rossellini will perform a theatrical tribute to one of the 20th century’s most iconic actresses. The event will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m.
Originally presented at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (where towering images of Bergman, the official “muse” of the festival, dominated the Croisette), the staging incorporates Rossellini’s own memories of her mother, plus interviews, unpublished letters, personal film footage and previously unreleased video clips and images from Bergman’s private archive. Accompanying Rossellini will be actor Jeremy Irons, in what promises to be an unforgettable evening.
In anticipation of the event, the Eagle recently spoke with Rossellini by telephone.
BROOKLYN EAGLE: How far in advance did all of this start coming together?
ISABELLA ROSSELLINI: Originally about four years ago, then much of the co-ordination of materials about two years ago. It involved so much archival material that required film rights,
legal issues. There were many studios involved. My mother worked in Hollywood, of course, but there were many independent production companies and European studios as well, from which we needed approval for certain archives.
BE: How did Jeremy Irons become involved?
IR: The tribute at BAM will involve readings of excerpts from my mother’s autobiography, newsreels, visuals that require voice over, and there are many voices participating. But you asked about Jeremy. And, thank God, first and foremost, he was available. And I was looking for the right “lead voice” — one that uses impeccable English but has a definite European accent and timbre. How could one do better than Jeremy for that?
BE: What do you think accounts for the “emotional transparency” of your mother’s performance style? What qualities did your mother have that made her so believable, that made her such a consummate actress in such a wide range of roles, from Ilsa Lund, Alicia Huberman to Sister Mary Benedict?
IR: My mother worked in five languages. Her Swedish and German were impeccable, of course, and she spoke French well enough to perform it on stage. Her English and Italian had an accent. But through any language she used, I think, rang a genuine, heart-felt honesty about the role she accepted. (We all believe that great line about truth and beauty, right?)
BE: How did your mother’s archive come to reside at Wesleyan?
IR: The film department at Wesleyan has one of the most comprehensive paper archives revolving around film — the posters, scripts, letters, contracts, etc. My first husband, Martin Scorsese, was very passionate about film preservation and had a connection to Wesleyan. He helped organize my mother’s collection, which was extensive. The effort was also helped greatly by Professor [Jeanine] Bassinger, who is the Corwin Fuller Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan.
BE: Do you find that younger film audiences don’t really know the breadth and range of your mother’s work? Is one of the goals of this film series and the BAM tribute to introduce your mother’s work to this audience?
IR: Yes, in a word. But remember that in Europe younger film fans are being exposed to her work through film schools and festivals, which always include the many movies she made there. I would guess that younger audiences know her [better] there than here. Time and history have a funny way of rewarding quality, even if not recognized when the film is first released. I am thankful that the quality of my mother’s work in so many independent productions is seen in film schools and festivals.
BE: With your mother’s fluency in so many languages, do you think she could more easily adapt to global film-making, which has become, with so many co-productions, the norm? What current film directors do you think she would want to work with today?
IR: That’s a hard one — naming names? I would not presume. Let me just say I believe she would have flourished in today’s world. Remember that film is a universal art form. We certainly have technology and ability to add translations to the words. But let’s not forget that silent film, before they had to worry about words, was even more universal. No matter how many languages my mother spoke, I think she understood the language of images even more.
BE: Finally, let’s end on a light note: Have you seen the brief homage to your mother in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?”
IR: Yes, I saw it. And I met the Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who plays the spy named Ilsa Faust in that movie. At a European film festival there was a screening of a documentary about my mother, “Ingrid In Her Own Words.” Rebecca was there. We met and had a delightful discussion about that little homage in “Mission Impossible”…I thought it was wonderful that she, and the director Christopher McQuarrie, used that in the movie.
BE: Thanks so much for your time, and your Brooklyn fans will pour forth to see you at BAM.
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?
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.