It was thrilling — and moving — to see Placido Domingo’s performance as Maurizio in “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Metropolitan Opera Wednesday night.
The role is the same one that served as Domingo’s Met debut in 1968. I wouldn’t know if his singing was better 41 years ago, but he couldn’t have had more stage presence or been more convincing as a man with two powerful women madly in love with him.
The production will have its last performance of the season tomorrow night. The sumptuousness of the staging by Connecticut director Mark Lamos matches the lush beauty of the score by Francesco Cilea.
Domingo has been a culture hero of mine for many years — for being a hard worker as well as a brilliant artist — and friends who know more about opera than me say he has managed to sing at a high level for more years than seems possible.
Here’s what Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times had to say on Feb. 8:
“Now 68, he remains a wonder of vocal longevity. He missed the dress rehearsal because of a cold and took time to clear his throat and warm up during the performance on Friday. But soon he was singing with vigor, stylistic insight and ringing top notes. Some of the music was transposed down to suit Mr. Domingo’s current comfort zone. ‘That’s cheating,’ purists might complain. But the trade-off is a Maurizio sung by a major tenor who still sounds like one.”
The plot of “Adriana Lecouvreur” is a jumble of political intrigue and marital infidelity but Lamos keeps the production steaming forward on the power of the love triangle and the wonderful portrayal of life in the French theater of the 18th century.
The character of Adriana is drawn from Adrienne Lecouvreur, a real stage star of the early 18th century who was famous for her off-stage romances as well as her performances in plays such as “Phedre.” Adrienne died under mysterious circumstances which in the opera are transformed into a rival poisoning her. Maria Guleghina (above, with Domingo) is a knock-out in the title role and Olga Borodina makes for a formidable love rival, the Princess de Bouillon.
It was Domingo’s night, however, and despite a rather weird vibe in the house (an audience stressed out by financial worries?), the singer-actor’s performance was greeted with the tremendous ovation it deserved.
(A Friday afternoon check of the Met Web site — www.metoperafamily.org — showed some seats still available for Saturday night’s performance of “Adriana Lecouvreur.”)
Archive for February, 2009
It was thrilling — and moving — to see Placido Domingo’s performance as Maurizio in “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Metropolitan Opera Wednesday night.
Sutton Foster’s debut CD, “Wish” (Ghostlight Records), has been in the works for four years, but it doesn’t sound — or feel — like a collection of songs that have been endlessly labored over.
Indeed, the album released just a few weeks ago has a fresh, unstudied sound that you might never guess is the work of one of the reigning Broadway leading ladies of this generation. Foster is a genuine star but she doesn’t “belt” the tunes on this CD in the manner of a Broadway diva.
Foster broke through as a star in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2002 — winning the Tony for best actress — and has been smart (and lucky) in her stage choices since then. The singer actress has gone from show to show in a manner that recalls the old days on Broadway, when stars like Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera spent virtually their whole careers on stage, with a new show almost every season.
“Wish” is an eclectic group of songs, ranging from folk to pop to offbeat Broadway (Foster includes the wonderful Charles Strouse and Lee Adams ballad “Once Upon a Time” from the long-forgotten 1961 Ray Bolger flop musical, “All American”).
Foster also takes an old John Denver hit, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” — which I thought I had heard a few hundred times too many in the 1970s — and makes it sound newly minted.
The whole notion of CD “albums” of songs carefully chosen — and precisely sequenced — by recording artists might be under assault at this moment, but “Wish” demonstrates that the art form is alive and well.
The Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries of New York City novelist S.J. Rozan are near the top of my list of favorite contemporary detective stories.
In eight books, starting with “China Trade” in 1995, Rozan found a simple but brilliant way of keeping a crime series fresh by alternating the point-of-view from book to book. Fans knew a “Lydia novel” would be followed by a “Bill novel,” moving from the young Chinese-American female detective Chin to her white (and older) partner Smith.
Although I’ve always been partial to the Lydia books — for their insider’s view of New York’s Chinatown — the series stayed sharp year after year because of the shifting perspective.
Rozan lives in downtown Manhattan and the events of 9/11 caused her to stop the series and to work on two stand-alones — “Absent Friends” and “In This Rain.”
“Absent Friends” is one of the best novels about the impact of the terrorist attack on the city, a big book (with mystery elements woven into the narrative) that earned Rozan new readers and some of the best reviews of her career.
I was a fan of both novels, but feared we might never seen Lydia and Bill again.
My good news today is that the two detectives are back in the just-published “The Shanghai Moon” (Minotaur Books) and it’s a fantastic combination of a contemporary Manhattan crime story with a look back at life in Shanghai just before and during World War II. The result is a book that should have broad appeal — a merging of the detective story and the historical novel.
The first two words in the novel — “I’m back” — have a double-meaning. A beloved fictional series resumes after a seven-year gap and Lydia has just returned to New York from California to face one of the toughest cases of her career. Lydia is estranged from Bill when she is hired by sixtysomething detective Joel Pilarsky to assist him in tracking down jewels that went missing after the war. The client is a woman who has made a personal cause out of finding and returning art work and other valuables that were taken by the Germans and the Japanese when Jews and other minorities were shipped off to concentration camps.
Lydia starts reading a cache of letters written by a girl named Rosalie Gilder who was sent from Europe to China — with her younger brother Paul — by her parents to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The parents never made it to China and died in the death camps.
As she searches for the Gilder family jewels — and a legendary (and possibly apocryphal) priceless brooch known as “The Shanghai Moon” — Lydia finds herself forming a strong emotional bond to Rosalie just from reading the young woman’s letters.
The device allows Rozan to create a wonderful parallel narrative of the search for the jewels in New York City and the events in Shanghai more than 60 years ago.
Despite the personal problems they had during their last case, Bill returns as Lydia’s partner (thanks in no small part to Chin’s best friend, Mary, who is a police detective specializing in Chinese cases) and we are off on a thrilling adventure that might remind you of the search for another fabled art object — the Maltese Falcon.
Rozan is in peak form, mixing personal drama, suspense and regular infusions of New York City gallows humor in a book most readers should finish very quickly.
You don’t want to miss the new play by Itamar Moses — “Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used to It)” — running through March 9 at The Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan.
In a brisk 90 minutes (without intermission) Moses explores the nature of love — between actors working intently on shows and between “real” people within the context of drama — in a series of scenes that are alternately moving and witty.
Two of the episodes in “Love/Stories” are funnier than anything I’ve seen on stage or in a movie in recent weeks.
An office temp (Maren Langdon) gets the heave-ho from her boyfriend in a long phone call that is overheard by another temp (Michael Micalizzi) who carries a torch for the young woman.
Langdon turns the one-sided phone call into a virtuoso comedy bit that gets funnier with each pause and each passive-aggressive response to the unseen ex-lover.
The second riotous episode (right) is about miscommunication and backstage love in which an avant garde Russian director (Felipe Bonilla) answers questions at an American drama seminar. The Russian actress/translator (Langdon again) — who barely speaks English — suffers terrible embarrassment as we come to realize she is the director’s girlfriend and that he means to humiliate her.
Moses makes us stop and think about the mysteries of love and how naively we project fantasy virtues onto any potential girlfriend or boyfriend in a new romantic relationship, whether it involves neurotic theater people or ordinary office workers.
The play has it weaknesses — including a navel-gazing final scene in which the writer self-consciously decontructs the autobiographical nature of what we’ve been watching — but this is a dazzling display of sophisticated contemporary comedy powered by terrific acting.
The “Love/Stories” cast is made up of members of the Flea’s young resident company — The Bats — and all five actors get a chance to show their stuff. The two women, Langdon and Laurel Holland, are especially impressive because they get to play the alluring and mysterious objects of desire of the men played by Bonilla, Micalizzi and John Russo.
(The Flea Theater is at 41 White St. in Tribeca. Tickets are a steal at $20. Visit www.theflea.org for dates and times.)
Fashion Week ends in Manhattan this afternoon, giving the release of “Eleven Minutes” a very high timeliness quotient.
The movie opening today in theaters (and debuting simultaneously on the here! cable network) follows “Project Runway” winner Jay McCarroll through his first — and, so far, only — Bryant Park tent show during Fashion Week three years ago.
Director-producers Michael Seiditch and Rob Tate show the madness, the hype and the very hard work that goes into the unveiling of a new fashion line in front of the press and celebrities who assemble in tents behind the New York Public Library on 42nd St.
The title “Eleven Minutes” refers to what everything boils down to for a designer during Fashion Week — the average running time of the unveiling of a new and untested line of clothes.
McCarroll was in the special position of receiving a financial sponsorship for his show from an animal rights group (as part of its campaign against fur in American fashion). He was spared the added burden designers face in raising enormous amounts of money to produce the clothes and the glitzy tent show.
“Eleven Minutes” moves the flamboyant Pennsylvanian McCarroll from the artificial atmosphere of a TV reality competition to the real world of fashion promotion and commerce.
The Bryant Park show turned out to be a semi-flop — the big buyers didn’t want to buy much of McCarroll’s line — but it is gripping to see all of the backstage drama and intense labor that goes into an expensive one-time-only production that is immediately boiled down to a few pictures in newspapers and magazines (and a “slideshow” on Style.com).
Like it or not, fashion is a huge industry in this country and Seiditch and Tate are to be commended for giving us a lively insider’s view.
(The photo above is from the Fashion Week coverage in this week’s New York Magazine, specifically a terrific story by Mike Albo — “Petey and the Boys” — about the lifestyles of the male models who converge on the city for fashion work.)
Everyone knows how much fun can be had from watching the goofy homemade videos and news clips that are posted on YouTube every day, but recently I’ve become more aware of how much wonderful movie research material is available on the Web site.
In the course of doing some poking around for information on the 1963 Joseph Losey film “The Servant” — which I’m hosting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Fairfield Library’s monthly “Foreign & Fringe” series — I did a search for the film’s star Dirk Bogarde on YouTube and came across a wealth of good material on the British star.
Among the hundreds of items was an excellent British TV documentary on the life of the star — broken up into five-minute segments that led smoothly from one to another — that I had never seen before.
Bogarde was a great actor who seems to have fallen off the radar of a lot of movie buffs in recent years. He never won an Oscar and only worked on a few Hollywood films, but his peak years’ performances in pictures such as “The Servant” and “Victim” (1961) and “Darling” (1965) are superb pieces of work.
As the special on YouTube notes, Bogarde started as a handsome matinee idol in the 1940s and ’50s and then made a conscious decision to improve his acting by insisting on tougher roles in more daring projects, starting with “Victim” in which he became the first major film actor to play a gay man.
In the 1950s, Bogarde was told by a cameraman that it was clear he knew nothing about the technical aspects of film acting. Instead of being insulted, Bogarde decided to find out everything he could about acting with the face as much as with the voice.
The result of Bogarde’s craft work and his excellent taste was a series of 1960s and ’70s triumphs that culminated in his 1971 performance in Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice” which contained fewer than 800 works of spoken text.
Bogarde is due for a major revival of interest in his work and you could start tonight at the free Fairfield Library screening of “The Servant.”
(The library is at 1080 Old Post Road in Fairfield Center. For more information call 256-3155 or go online to www.fairfieldpubliclibrary.org)
There was an (inadvertently) amusing column in today’s Hollywood Reporter suggesting ways the Academy Awards could become a more accurate reflection of popular movie taste.
The writer believes it is disgraceful that this year’s biggest grossing picture — “The Dark Knight” — was shut out of most of the major categories in favor of much-less-popular-but-prestigious fare such as “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and best picture front-runner “Slumdog Millionaire.”
The split between what sells tickets at the multiplexes and what is deemed worthy of movie awards has grown wider as the studios have focused more of their time and money on potential blockbusters designed to appeal to today’s core theatrical movie audience — young men and women under the age of 25.
In an earlier era, there wasn’t such a wide gulf between popular and prestige fare because movies were not designed for specific demographic slices — they were meant to be enjoyed by people of all ages and all backgrounds.
The big Oscar winners of my childhood were pictures such as “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “My Fair Lady” (1964) that were smack in the middle of the road in terms of content and execution.
Tonight, as part of the monthly “Martini and a Movie” series at the Fairfield Theatre Company, I’m hosting a screening of the 1960 best picture Oscar winner, “The Apartment,” which exemplifies the Academy Award winners of that earlier era — it’s a solidly crafted mainstream film that was already a major commercial success when it won five Oscars.
The movie was in many ways the culmination of writer-director Billy Wilder’s career, earning him an Oscar for directing the film as well as co-authoring the original screenplay with I.A.L. Diamond. “The Apartment” opened at the beginning of a revolutionary decade in Hollywood — the film’s acidic tone and fairly frank treatment of New York City office sex life reflected the changes that were already beginning in an industry that was trying to become more “adult” in order to lure TV viewers back into theaters.
Wilder was a veteran by 1960 — with such classics as “Sunset Blvd.” (1950) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959) under his belt — but he was as open to this new era in film as his peer Alfred Hitchcock, who unleashed his frankly sexual and violent “Psycho” the same year as “The Apartment.” Both directors had squabbled with studio censors over the content of their pictures for many years and were clearly delighted to get a little more down-and-dirty than would have been possible just a few years earlier.
“The Apartment” also gave a huge boost to rising star Jack Lemmon. He had already won a supporting actor Oscar a few years earlier for “Mister Roberts,” but his role in the Wilder film as a put-upon middle class office worker became the template for Lemmon’s many Everyman performances in subsequent years.
It should be interesting tonight to compare this genuine 1960 New York corporate office life story with the popular AMC series “Mad Men” which takes place during the same era.
(The free screening of “The Apartment” will start at 8 p.m. at the Fairfield Theatre Company, 70 Sanford St. The bar and the doors open at 7 p.m. For more information, call 259-1036.)
Yale University Press is publishing “Kander and Ebb” by James Leve on March 10 as part of its “Yale Broadway Masters Series.” Since two of the song-writing duo’s shows — “Chicago” and “Cabaret” — were made into landmark movies, the book will be of equal interest to theater and film fans.
Leve does a fine job of mixing a scholarly approach to the music of John Kander and Fred Ebb along with a breezy, gossipy take on the stories behind the creation of their many musicals.
In the cases of “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” Leve takes us through the staging of the original productions and then the hugely successful Broadway revivals of the 1990s (the “Chicago” revival is still running 12 years after it opened!).
The author shows us how each of the musicals became movies — in the case of “Chicago” (right) a rocky journey of almost 30 years.
The author reminds us that the many “flops” by Kander and Ebb — “70, Girls, 70” and “Steel Pier,” among them — contain some of the best songs the duo ever wrote.
Fred Ebb died in 2005, but a show he worked on with Kander, “Curtains,” opened on Broadway in 2007 and there are two other major Kander and Ebb musicals still awaiting their New York debuts — “The Visit” and “All About Us.”
The source material for those two shows illustrates the great range of stories Kander and Ebb worked on during their five decades of collaboration. “The Visit” is based on the grim 1956 Frederich Durenmatt drama that served as the final showcase for Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne. “All About Us” is a musicalization of Thornton Wilder’s screwball classic “The Skin of Our Teeth.”
Leve is remarkably clear-eyed when it comes to some of the more hysterical aspects of Broadway, especially the place of Liza Minnelli within the world of Kander and Ebb.
The duo gave the star her Broadway breakthrough role, the 1965 box-office failure, “Flora, the Red Menace,” which earned Minnelli a Tony and the lifelong friendship and show-writing services of Fred Ebb.
It was Ebb who more or less created the star’s concert “personality” through the special marerial he wrote — new songs with Kander such as “Ring Them Bells” and between-songs patter crafted by Ebb.
Kander and Ebb put Minnelli on the top of the show business heap in 1972 with a virtually unprecedented one-two punch. First, the film version of “Cabaret” opened in late spring to great notices and strong box-office. Then, less than six months later, the filmed-stage-show “Liza with a ‘Z’” caused a sensation when it was aired on television (Liza and her director Bob Fosse won Oscars and Emmys for their multi-media triumph).
Here’s Leve on the Minnelli-Ebb partnership:
“(They) were each other’s greatest fan, fueling each other’s self-delusions and fulfilling each other’s insatiable need for approbation…Minnelli has proudly acknowledged that she was a figment of Fred Ebb’s imagination. There is more than a grain of truth to this statement, as Ebb helped Minnelli to invent her ‘glam’ persona, the occasional mid- or post-song giggle, the confessional tone when talking to her audience.”
Kander & Ebb and Minnelli ran aground in the 1970s and 1980s when two of their shows together — “The Act” and “The Rink” — closed early due to a mixture of mediocre reviews and the star’s widely publicized substance abuse problems.