Elliott Gould: Son of Brooklyn, lion in winter

Elliott Gould. Photo by Kami

Elliott Gould. Photo by Kami

For Brooklyn-born Jewish men of a certain age, there are three totemic heroes: Sandy Koufax, Woody Allen and Elliott Gould. One of these giants (ah, poor choice of noun to describe a Brooklynite; let’s make that “titans”) afforded me the rare pleasure, and privilege, of hanging out with him on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

To say I “interviewed” Elliott Gould does not begin to do justice to the experience. A hunch I’d had for 45-plus years, ever since seeing him in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” turned out to be true: Gould is not only a prodigiously gifted actor, but he’s also a warm, wise, soulful mensch. Think Buddha meets Isaac Bashevis Singer or Kwai Chang Caine meets Rebbe Mendel.

On the morning of our interview, when, after parking my car, I have trouble locating his building, Gould steps out on his West Los Angeles apartment balcony to point the way. I have an out-of-body experience: there he is — Trapper John McIntyre (“MASH”), Philip Marlowe (“The Long Goodbye”), Charlie Waters (“California Split” and his third collaboration with Robert Altman) Harry Greenberg (“Bugsy”), Reuben Tishkoff (“Oceans Eleven,” “Oceans Twelve” and “Oceans Thirteen.”)

Not to mention God (or at least, his voice) in the 2007 version of “The Ten Commandments.” Not to mention all the television work, going back to 1964, when he played the Court Jester (and sang “Very Soft Shoes”) opposite Carol Burnett in “Once Upon a Mattress.” Not to mention 26 episodes of “ER,” where he played Dr. Howard Sheinfeld. Not to mention 20 episodes of “Friends,” where he played Courteney Cox’s (Monica’s) and David Schwimmer’s (Ross’) father, Jack Geller. Not to mention 17 episodes of “Ray Donovan,” as Ezra Goodman.

Perhaps most especially, his membership in the elite Five Timers Club, having hosted “Saturday Night Live” six times. Altogether, over an almost 60-year career, Elliott has appeared in, by my rough calculation, 200 movies and television shows. From rabbis to casino owners, from lawyers to gangsters (not that big a stretch, actually), Elliott has played them all. He is the indisputable heir to throne of James Brown, as the hardest-working man in show business.

Born Elliott Goldstein on Aug. 29, 1938 in Bensonhurst, it can be argued that he was the first undeniably Jewish leading male actor in Hollywood. Unlike, say, Kirk Douglas or John Garfield, who, while themselves Jewish, usually played generic roles (with the notable exception of Garfield’s “Dave Goldman” in “Gentlemen’s Agreement”) Elliott always was, and is, unabashedly Jewish.

Before we begin the interview, Elliott gives me a tour of his art- and memento-filled apartment: photos of his and Barbra’s [Streisand] son Jason, paintings and drawings done by Jason and by Elliott’s granddaughter Daisy, three Hirschfield caricatures (Elliott and Marcia Rodd in Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders”; Elliott with James Caan, Diane Keaton and Michael Caine in Mark Rydell’s “Harry and Walter Go to New York”; and Elliott with Sterling Hayden and Nina van Pallandt in Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye.”) There is also an image that makes my hair stand on end: a numbered lithograph of World War I refugees by the French artist Theodore Steinlen. What makes my follicles stand at attention is the fact that I grew up with the exact same image (a different numbered edition) hanging on my Brooklyn bedroom wall.

After making sure I was comfortable (“You can sit anywhere you want”) and didn’t want something to nosh on (“I have some fresh apples”), we got down to the principal reason for my visit: Elliott’s strong attachment to Brooklyn. As I was to learn over the next two-and-a-half hours, he possesses a photographic memory.

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

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

The Eagle: Where did your family live in Brooklyn?

EG: 6801 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn 4. N.Y. (West Ninth Street, between Bay Parkway and Avenue O.) Our telephone number was Beachview 2-5524. I went to grammar school at P.S. 247, which was three blocks away from our apartment. One of my earliest memories was the day I found my balance and could take my first steps. I was a bit worried, as kids are, because my friends Stevie Greenstein and Ed Posner had learned to walk before I did. My mother reassured me, “Ah, don’t worry about it, you’ll catch up to them.” My mother was a very practical woman. She was a milliner; she made hats for all the other women in the neighborhood. She also was very fashionable — and beautiful.

Elliott goes to his mammoth desk, which is cluttered with scripts, books and tchotchkes. He extracts a 5-foot-by-5-foot memorial card with a photograph of a striking, stylish woman — circa mid-1940s — wearing a white blouse, billowing slacks and a white gardenia in her hair. Inside the card are the words “Lucy Gould, July 27, 1915 – September 24, 1998. In loving memory and devotion.” At the bottom of the card is this inscription: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing is so gentle as real strength.” On the opposite page is a photo of Elliott and his mother, also circa mid-1940s.

EG: That photograph was taken outside our apartment. Isn’t she beautiful?

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

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

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

EG: That she was.

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

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

Eagle: Moving on to your other memories; would you say that the growing up in Brooklyn, at a time when the Dodgers’ standing in the National League was more important than finding the best kale at the Park Slope food co-op, shaped and prepared you for the tough, competitive business you’re in?

EG: Listen, it prepared me for life, and this business is simply another part of life. So in answering your question, I’m not really talking about show business.

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

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

Eagle: Life in general…

EG: Yes, life in general. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. When I was in the middle of second grade, the school felt that I should skip a grade. The school had just started experimenting with something called “Special Progress” for seemingly gifted children. But at the moment they chose to move me forward a grade, I was just getting comfortable, I liked my classmates, I was getting my “rhythm.” I was thinking “I can do this.” But I was too young to think I could object. However, in the third grade you were expected to read out-loud, which I couldn’t do.

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

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

Eagle: Why?

EG: I had no confidence! One of the factors that has been significant in my life, for good and bad, is that I have always had a problem with authority. By that I mean, that authoritative people would tell you how things were and those people weren’t necessarily right. I always had a dislike for having to conform. And it turns out I wasn’t wrong. But one has to be realistic, to deal with the real world.

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

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

Eagle: After P.S. 247, where did you go to school?

EG: After I finished sixth grade, I went to Seth Low Junior High School. And, while I was in the seventh grade, I played the Palace. My parents had brought me to Manhattan, to a song and dance school, to learn “routines,” which, of course, was not how I had envisioned my life!  My first role was in the stage show celebrating the first anniversary of the return of vaudeville to the Palace. Next door to the dance classes I took was a dance class in which a boy named Bob Fosse was also learning to dance. [Note: Fosse was the celebrated choreographer and the director of such films as “All that Jazz” and “Lenny.”]

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

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

Eagle: In addition to your acting and dancing studies, were you also taking academic classes?

EG: Yes. After seventh grade at Seth Low, I was accepted in the Professional Children’s School [PCS.] It was a school for child performers who, when they were on the road with a show, would take correspondence classes to get their high school diplomas. In fact, when I graduated PCS, I was accepted into Columbia University. But I don’t think I really wanted to go, plus my family couldn’t afford the tuition. So I graduated PCS at 16 and immediately got a couple of jobs: I danced in the chorus of the “Ernie Kovacs Show,” then I was supposed to dance and sing in the chorus of the summer stock production of “Annie Get Your Gun” with Vaughn Monroe. But at what was to be our very first performance at Brandywine, a huge storm blew away the tent, so, sadly, I never got to perform “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Eagle: So you also took singing lessons?

EG: Oh, yes. When I studied with Charlie Lowe, we had what were called “personality classes,” where you had to sing a solo. In fact, I remember one of my first solos — “Hello Hollywood.”

[At which point, while still seated, Gould starts to perform the song and dance routine “Hello Hollywood.”]

“Hollywood/Here I am/I am looking for a movie man/Like Shirley Temple/I can sing and everything/Oh where is Mr. Warner/I’d like to get him in a corner!/I’ll show him how I sing and dance/Hello Hollywood/Whoop-ee Hollywood!”

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

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

Eagle: [Applauding] That was great! Anyway, what happened after the tent blew down and you couldn’t tour with “Annie Get Your Gun?”

EG: I came back to New York and got a job in the chorus of “Rumple,” starring Eddie Foy Jr. and Gretchen Wyler. We played the Alvin Theater, which is now the Neal Simon Theater. (I loved the smell of the Alvin Theater; it reeked of show business history.) This was also the first time I went out of town with a show. We went to Philadelphia and Boston. It was a great experience.

Eagle: So by then you were sure you wanted to be an actor?

EG: No! I’m still not sure! It was not my idea to get into show business; it was my parents’ idea. But I was so shy, and even repressed, that the feeling was that memorizing my lines and performing might be good for me. For example, another routine that was written for me to memorize and perform was, “Mary had a little lamb/Some peas and mashed potatoes/An ear of corn, some buttered beets/And then had sliced tomatoes/She said she wasn’t hungry/So I thought I’d get a break/But just to keep me company/She ordered up a steak/She said she couldn’t eat a thing/Because she’s on a diet/But then she saw ice cream and pie/And thought she’d like to try it/She drank two cups of coffee/And had dessert of course!/Oh Mary had a little lamb/And I had apple sauce!”

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

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

Eagle [applause again]: Your memory is amazing.

EG: Looking back on it now, it was beyond embarrassing, but I thought, “I have to try this. I can learn something.” The idea was if that I could mimic, if I could memorize, then somehow my own talent would come out. And this was the only artistic activity I was any good at — acting, singing, dancing, performing. I could draw a little; I couldn’t paint, not even finger-painting! But I remember I once saw a paperweight with the saying, “The greatest artist in the world is an uninhibited child at play.” And I subscribe to that. It’s funny, because when I repeated this to Herb Gardner [the late playwright Herb Gardner, another notable Brooklynite, wrote such hit plays as “A Thousand Clowns,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “The Goodbye People”], he said, “an uninhibited child and Picasso.” And I said, “I didn’t know you were a materialist. I love Picasso, too, but you keep Picasso, and I’ll keep the child.” For me, without the spirit of the child, it’s all meaningless. Then, many years later, I discovered that the quote on the paperweight was actually from Picasso!

Eagle: You were so young when you did, for example, “The Ernie Kovacs Show,” which was a very hip show, way ahead of its time. Were you “getting” material such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio?

EG: No, it went right over my head. I also appeared several times on “The Milton Berle Show.” I also did Jimmy Durante’s show. I made a couple of commercials. One was for Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy.

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

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

Eagle: I remember Bonomo’s! You can buy it on Google now.

EG: My tagline was “It’s better that delicious; it’s scrumptious.”

Eagle: After your Broadway debut in “Rumble,” was Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders” next?

EG: Well, after “Rumple,” I started studying Modern Jazz dance with Matt Maddox. And Matt Maddox was about to choreograph a musical called “Say, Darling.” Abe Burrows directed that and Jules Styne and Comden & Green did the music and lyrics. It starred Vivian Blaine, who, of course, was the original Adelaide in “Guys & Dolls.” And I auditioned and auditioned for that show; I wanted so badly to be in it.

Now remember I was still living with my parents in Brooklyn! Well, I got into the show and they gave me the role of Earle Jorgenson, and I had to sing “Old Man River.”

The other thing I remember vividly was that because I wasn’t on until about 45 minutes into the show, I would go across the street from the old Madison Square Garden to watch the “Big O,” Oscar Robertson, play for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats against other college teams. Then I would scoot back to the theater just in time for my cue.

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

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

Eagle: You’ve been a sports fan forever, right? In fact, I remember the 1976 Oscar ceremony (when it was still broadcast on Monday nights), when you presented with Isabelle Adjani, and she said, “The winner is…” And you said, “Indiana 86, Michigan 68.”

EG: Yes, I was, and still am, a major sports fan. I remember my parents taking me to Ebbetts Field to see the Dodgers when I was 5 or 6. I also remember my father used to get angry with me, because I always had to go to the bathroom. And, of course, something important would happen — Duke Snider homering or Jackie stealing a base — while we were in the bathroom. My father used to get so mad at me! I’ll tell you another great sports story: Before the first Ali-Frazier fight, Jim Brown introduced me to Ali, and Ali said to me: “You do what you do as well as I do what I do.” That’s the second greatest compliment ever paid me.

Eagle: What was the first?

EG: Groucho Marx! We became friends, and I was at his house changing a light bulb over his bed. And he said, “that’s the best acting I’ve ever seen you do.”

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

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

Eagle: Back to Broadway. After “Say, Darling” …?

EG: After “Say, Darling” closed, I decided to hire Colin Romoff (who had been the assistant choreographer on “Say, Darling”) to help me improve and update my singing. I remember Colin had me sing “Do it the Hard Way” from “Pal Joey.”

[Once again, Gould starts singing. Who knew he was such a crooner? I ask him about this relatively unknown aspect of his career.]

EG: While I was in “Irma la Douce,” I was taking jazz lessons with Gene Lewis. He was friendly with Oona White, who I’d met while doing “Irma.” [Note: Oona White was a celebrated choreographer, whose Broadway credits included “The Music Man, “Carmen Jones” and “Take Me Along”]. After “I Can Get it for You Wholesale,” I went to London to do the West End premiere of “On the Town.”

Eagle: Were you still living at home in Brooklyn during this period?

EG: Yes, I was living at home until I met my first wife.

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

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

Eagle: How did you meet?

EG: We met while we were both in “I Can Get it for You Wholesale.”

Eagle: So we’re talking about Barbra [Streisand].

EG: Yes, Barbra. Not only my first wife, my first real relationship; I’d never really been with anyone before.

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

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

Eagle: Barbra was Ms. Marmelstein, your assistant, in the play, correct?

EG: Yes. She played the secretary to my character, Harry Bogen. She was terrific. It was Barbra’s Broadway debut. Goddard Lieberson, who produced the cast album for Columbia Records, signed her to a contract and her first solo album was released two months after the show closed.

Eagle: Did the fact that you were both from Brooklyn, and Jewish, add to the appeal?

EG [smiling impishly]: You should ask Barbra that question.

[So, via email, I did.]

Her response: “Our attraction was not based on our being Brooklyn or Jewish … but it didn’t hurt.”

She was also gracious enough to take time out from recording her new album to answer one other question: Why hadn’t she and Gould worked together again after “Wholesale?”

“We never got any scripts that satisfied us.”

[Gould confirms this.]

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

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

Eagle: Barbra used to perform a lot at the Blue Angel in the Village, right?

EG: Yes, I’d often go to see her there.

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

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

Eagle: The Blue Angel’s gone now…

EG: So is everything … so is Ebbets Field.

Eagle: But you’re still here…

EG: Yes I am!

* * *

Elliott Gould has just completed his starring role in the independent film “Humor Me” and will next be seen as a regular on the new CBS series “Doubt.” 

Maestro Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York Presents Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este

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

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

Maestro Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este on the evening of Wednesday, May 4th at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall at Columbus Circle on Broadway and 60th Street.

This is a rare presentation of a work that calls for a revival. Maestro Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra presented this work in a memorable Carnegie Hall Concert with Montserrat Caballe forty years ago. All that is needed are great voices and on this evening we had one in Angela Meade. The libretto is by Felice Romani after Lord Byron’s 1816 poem Parisina. The setting is Ferrara, Italy in the 15th century. The work premiered at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Italy in 1833.

Angela Meade, Metropolitan Opera soprano, resplendent in a red gown, sang Parisina, wife of Duke Azzo in love with Ugo. Ms. Meade sang with gorgeous tone and superb coloratura embellishments. Occasionally she would literally “touch a shooting star” by lightly hitting a note seemingly in outer space. Her caressing tone in her Piangi aria touched the heart. (That I am chosen to weep) Ms. Meade gave us some exquisite silken phrases both ethereal and on a thread of spun gold. This is Bel Canto singing of the highest order. However, there is another side to her artistry. In the final scene, after viewing her lover dead, her singing of “Ugo e spento! A me si renda!” had the passion of a Tosca and this “victimized” persona was struck by unfathomable rage as she kills herself after viewing Ugo’s body. It was an unforgettable operatic moment that one recalls for a lifetime.

Aaron Blake was Ugo, Parisina’s lover. His full lyric tenor was serviceable but he labored in passages where he should have soared. He tried to attain the tenorial heft needed both in duet and solo. The audience was supportive of his effort but one hopes he will stick to proper roles and not have to push hard in his upper register.

Duke Azzo was sung by Yunpeng Wang in a powerful  resonant  baritone that indicated the intensity and cruelty of his character. His “River Po” duet with his minister Ernesto was captivating. His shifts of mood, bad to worse, were heard in his vocal offerings and he was wholly believable and well defined.

Ernesto, Duke Azzo’s minister was sung by basso Sava Vemic. He attempts to be the peacemaker, even announcing that Ugo is the Duke’s long lost son, raised by himself, from the Duke’s first deceiving wife Matilde. Vemic’s basso cantante had nobility and depth.

Imelda, Parisina’s handmaid, vividly portrayed by soprano Mia Pafumi in her debut with the Opera Orchestra, made a very strong impression with her sympathetic portrayal, duet with Parisina, and vocal bursts of glory. One would like to see and hear more of Ms. Pafumi in the future.

We envisioned what a stunning staged opera this could be with knights, handmaidens, gondoliers, squires and soldiers in a fully costumed production.

The chorus from the New York Choral Ensemble under Chorus Master Italo Marchini sang lustily and with inspiration.

Maestro Eve Queler conducted the Opera Orchestra of New York with mastery and love. There were passages with the chorus singing and the trumpets playing with the full rich sound of Donizetti’s melodic music that made one say “thank you Eva Queler for all this glory.” The audience cheered for the ever youthful and indomitable Maestro and founder Eve Queler for this great triumph!

The Gerda Lissner Foundation and Stephen De Maio are to be thanked for nurturing so many of the wonderful singers.

Sarasota Opera Completes Verdi Cycle with a Spectacular Aida

Sarasota Opera production of Aida. Photo by Rod Millington.

The apartment of Amneris
Photo by Rod Millington

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!

The Triumphal March. Photo by Rod Millington.

The Triumphal March
Photo by Rod Millington

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.

Amneris arrives at a temple to pray Photo by Rod Millington

Amneris and Ramfis arrive at a temple to pray
Photo by Rod Millington

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.

Michelle Johnson, Jonathan Burton, and Leann Sandel Pantaleo in the final scene from Verdis' Aida Photo by Rod Millington

Radames and Aida in tomb below and Amneris above
Photo by Rod Millington

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.”

                  

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

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

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

When the curtain rises on the new production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” at the Walter Kerr Theater (which boasts the dream cast of Saoirse Ronan, the star of “Brooklyn;” Ben Whishaw; Sophie Okonedo; and Ciarán Hinds), the audience sees a gloomy classroom with a blackboard, dim, drab overhead lights and three rows of seated teenage schoolgirls, in prim, black and gray uniforms with knee socks, sleeveless pullovers and blazers, all facing forward with their backs to the audience.

Faintly, the spectators hear a chorus of girls’ voices, but the words are unintelligible. The setting and the sounds are both ordinary and spooky. Before there is a chance to decide which description fits best, the curtain descends, and then quickly rises again on the same set, but now fully lit, with a young girl prone on a gurney, being administered to by a clergyman. In the background stands another schoolgirl, brooding and concerned.

Theatergoers who saw last year’s “Antigone” with Juliette Binoche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the recent revival of Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” will recognize where they are: in Ivo-land. The Belgian-born Ivo van Hove is everywhere; last November he also directed the limited run of “Lazarus,” a musical collaboration between the late David Bowie and the Irish playwright Edna Walsh. With “The Crucible,” which officially opens this Thursday night, van Hove makes his Broadway debut.

He is, indisputably, having his New York moment.

Recently, the Eagle spoke with van Hove by telephone about his propensity for tackling the theatrical canon, his unique approach to rehearsal and, in particular, the current production of “The Crucible.”

Director Ivo van Hove.

Director Ivo van Hove.

Eagle: Nothing in the theatrical or cinematic canon — Euripedes, Shakespeare, O’Neil, Miller, stage adaptations of Bergman, Cassavettes, Pasolini, Viscounti films — seems to intimidate you. How did you become so fearless?

Van Hove: Well, you know, you only live your life once. Why not take chances? Before we begin a production, I always tell my creative team that we’re in the Olympics. Our goal should be the gold medal. The stage work and the film adaptations I choose to do are always driven by the actors, not by the beauty of the visuals or the physical design. As a novelist does through his writing, I want to express through my theatre work, my feelings, my passions.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw

Eagle: You have said about “The Crucible” that “…it is not a play about good and evil; it is about evil within goodness and goodness within evil.” Can you elaborate?

Van Hove: Now that I have done two Miller plays, what I have discovered is that he deals with ethical problems, often in black and white terms. But I don’t see things as that black and white. Take Abigail [Williams, who is the catalyst for the Salem witch hysteria and subsequent trials]. Listen carefully to what she says in the first act, when she reproaches John Proctor for ending their relationship. She really felt, for the first time in her life, respected as a woman. She’s 17. The fact that John, her first lover, rejects her is earth-shattering. She is very fragile.

For the Puritans, being a young girl meant three things: You had to always obey your parents (especially regarding even the hint of anything sexual); you had to became a servant, as Abigail was for John and Mary Procter; and you were not allowed to truly transition from a girl to a woman. Abigail is so often played as the evil villainess of “The Crucible.” But I don’t see her that way. Remember, she is the only character to escape Salem, to seek her freedom. John and Mary stay — and pay the price.

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

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

Eagle: Why do you insist that your actors be “off-book” from the first day of rehearsal? And why, in rehearsal, do you have your actors work steadily through the text, reaching the end of the play just before the first public performance?

Van Hove: I believe it is great for actors, in rehearsal, to discover the play. After all, that’s the way one lives one’s life —not knowing from one day to the next what is going to happen. As with life, there should be uncertainty; I want my actors to unravel the play, scene-by-scene, to react to the uncertainty as they would in real life. When I have the actors rehearse the play, day-by-day, in chronological order, I don’t have to give them a lot of instructions. They are coming to their own recognition of the text. Which also makes them more comfortable and more natural.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw.

Eagle: Finally, since you have been so bold in taking iconic films (to cite just a few, Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” John Cassavetes’s “Husbands,” Luchino Viscounti’s “Rocco and His Brothers”) and transforming them into theater, when are you going to adapt “Star Wars” for the stage?

Van Hove [at first not realizing the tongue-in-cheek nature of my question]: Oh, no, I don’t think…

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

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

Eagle: Sorry, I was joking.

Van Hove (laughing): I may be, as you said, fearless, but I’m not reckless!


The Crucible runs through July 17 at the Walter Kerr Theater. 

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson.

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

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

Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia (Alexis Cregger) & Edgardo (Ben Sloman) pledge their love. Photo by George Schowerer

Lucia (Alexis Cregger) & Edgardo (Ben Sloman) pledge their love. Photo by George Schowerer.

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.

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) is unwillingly escorted into the wedding hall. Photo by George Schowerer

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) is unwillingly escorted into the wedding hall. Photo by George Schowerer.

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.

Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, center) crashes the wedding, leading to a sword fight. Photo by George Schowerer

Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, center) crashes the wedding, leading to a sword fight. Photo by George Schowerer.

“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!

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) has shocked the wedding guests by killing her bridegroom. Photo by George Schowerer

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) has shocked the wedding guests by killing her bridegroom. Photo by George Schowerer.

Raimondo (Isaac Grier) supports the dying Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, left) who has stabbed himself in grief. Photo by George Schowerer

Raimondo (Isaac Grier) supports the dying Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, left) who has stabbed himself in grief. Photo by George Schowerer.

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 Lescaut to be presented in May, e-mail:  info@ReginaOpera.org 

Remembering Legendary Metropolitan Opera Soprano Anna Moffo

Met Opera Star Anna Moffo

Met Opera Star Anna Moffo

On the evening of Wednesday, March 9th, Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leitis hosted a special remembrance of the great Italian American (Born in Pennsylvania) soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) who passed away 10 years ago to the day. Many friends operatic, literary, legal and medical from Ms. Moffo’s legendary past stopped by to offer some insight into her vocal accomplishments as recordings of her signature roles were heard.

I was privileged to have seen and heard her amazing Violetta in La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera (Debut 1959) where she sang countless lyric and coloratura roles such as Lucia di Lammermoor and was a legendary Liu in Turandot. Anna Moffo’s ravishing beauty served her well in Italy where she had her own TV show and made films in Italy and Germany, both operatic and popular.

Ms. Moffo’s heavy workload caused a vocal crisis and she turned to our host Gregorij von Leitis for advice and assistance. I again was among the sold out visitors at the Met Opera house to witness her “comeback” violetta in the 1970’s which was short but very sweet.

Anna Moffo was a long time member of the Elysium-between two continents advisory board and her spirit prevailed at this “swellegant, elegant party” of Cole Porter rank with excellent hosts. Good food, fine champagne and wine and the voice of the angels caressing the ear. Priceless autographed photographs were admired by all.

I am certain that Anna Moffo, opera star, actress and humanitarian would have appreciated this gathering arranged by Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leitis and she was present in spirit. The Elysium in New York sponsors international educational programs. To live on in the hearts of those you love is to be remembered forever.

Renate Oldoerp, Gregorij von Leitis, Christine Hullman & Michael Lahr. Photo by Judy Pantano

Renate Oldoerp, Gregorij von Leitis, Christine Hullman & Michael Lahr. Photo by Judy Pantano

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricardo Tamura Triumphs in Cavalleria Rusticana at The Metropolitan Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Rylance. Photo by Teddy Wolff

Mark Rylance. Photo by Teddy Wolff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Rylance greets Holly Hunter. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

Mark Rylance greets Holly Hunter. Photo by Rob Abruzzese

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

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

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

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

Mark Rylance and Bob Davis. Photo by Teddy Wolff

Mark Rylance and Bob Davis. Photo by Teddy Wolff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Scribner

Image courtesy of Scribner