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Monday, August 11, 2014

Come Follow the Band




I moved to Columbus in 1991 and thought a buckeye looked like marijuana and Woody Hayes was a band leader. And me, the son-in-law of a local hero football coach.

 I stuck around and I learned and I'm glad I did.

If anyone wanted to dig into my behavior during my college years, 1974-1978,  I would never be able to run for president, apply to be an astronaut or teach Sunday School. I've never done any of these things, out of my own limitations and probably not because I remember running naked down Commonwealth Avenue in Back Bay on a freezing night in 1977. No naked man is seen to his best advantage in the bitter cold. Trust me.

I was basically a good kid,  but I was eighteen-nineteen and had all of the testosterone driven immaturity one celebrates at that age. I had graduated from fart jokes to booze and a more raucous sense of responsibility. Eventually I lived in a horrible apartment (million dollar condo today) with two other guys. Steven Tyler and Aerosmith moved out and we moved in...no joke. Look what the years did to Steve!

All this by saying that many of us behaved just as predicted. Irresponsible, loud, drunk and wanting to be seen as sexually adventurous when we were not. And yes, faculty and administration of the large university I attended knew all about the crazy goings-on. I don't think any of us would have been allowed to completely self destruct, but running a 25,0000 student University was a big job. As one professor said to me, "If you want to be a fuck-up and waste your parent's money, nobody is going to stop you;."

One thing I have learned in recent years is that to live in Columbus is to embrace athletics and the wonderful sights and sounds athletics inspire. Or is it the other way around? No matter. Band rehearsals can be heard from my house, two miles from campus. The sounds mean autumn, pleasure, peace and a sense of being where I want to be. The football-band combo is the the ultimate glue making a community. The extent of this is not understood unless you've been here a while, but it is a large part of what makes this town a community. Newcomers can't and won't get it. It takes a few years.


I'm not surprised by any obnoxious student culture. Been there done that. I'm not surprised by sexual hijinks real or imagined, nor by dirty books nor by marching undressed etc. As an old man now and a parent I'd love to be appalled, but my own behavior was no better in the waning years of the Nixon administration. (Did Watergate make us behave worse?)  I'm surprised when a leader whose complete authority is less than two years old just disappears-poof!-when this student behavior is made public. Made public? You'd think no one out there had never met a college student. You bet, most of them these days are responsible and mature. Still, the eighteen year old brain is not the forty year old brain and by forty-an age I have not seen in many years-one hopes one is 'cooked' enough to keep our underpants on in public.

To say "we didn't know" about such behavior is disingenuous. To say we are shocked and we disapprove, no to one and okay to the other. An opportunity to use people whose loyalty, enthusiasm and skill have been long proved has been blown. Instead we have a mishigas that is not going away. A great institution of higher learning and I'm a proud alumnus by now-is being made a national laughingstock. Bad will prevails and the kids, athletes, musicians and their leaders are being penalized en masse.

Rather than fire capable leaders and penalizing students, I wish a community meeting could be held. Have it in the Shoe. Invite band members past and present, alumni, current students and welcome the community. Leaders of the University and the Band could say, Well, we have a problem here. Students should never feel endangered and our reputation is at stake. Let's stop this behavior, Period. Two strikes and you are out. OK. Good. Now, here;'s a cookie. Go home,

A public mea culpa and the public declaration of a low-tolerance policy. Be very public about putting everyone on notice. Let the band play in the shoe once a year for everyone to hear, for free-along with a brief 'update'. Involve everyone is solving the problem and being proud of ownership in the band. I'm just sayin'.

The opportunity remains for those to correct a mistake and get the public on board with developing the environment best conducive to study and leadership. The environment for which students yearn-maybe secretly-and for which their parents hope. It ain't here now, and is very greatly deserved.  

Sunday, August 03, 2014

How to get a Ring Tone

In my day, the phone rang. Ding-dong...ting a ling a ling what have you. The phone did not squeak, growl or whistle. It rang. From the wall or the princess extension complete with glow in the dark rotary dial.

I'm all for keeping up with the times. My  cell phone must be an original model, it belongs in a museum. But at least I have a cell phone. No I-phone, You-phone, All God's Children-phone. A few years ago said relic was programmed with a rap song ring tone. Sort of a gansta We Wish You a Merry Mutha--f---ink Christmas. Nice. Perfect when forgetting to turn the blessed thing off in church.

I decided I want my phone to ring, as they did in the Kennedy era. Luddite that I am I finally figured out which buttons to push in what sequence to change a ring tone. I was offered the choice of hip-hop, r&b, rock, classic rock, Christian rock (what,  no Muslim rock?) soul, electronic, jazz and dance. You don't want to see me dance never mind see me hipping or hopping.

All I want is to get me phone to ring.

World music, comedy, TV film, throat ringing, or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory expounding. No ring.

Sleuth ! I found a phone number, and after a wait and pushing more buttons was put through to Lakshmi. Lovely girl. From New Delhi she had to explain to me who the hell hipped and who the hell hopped. I just wanted my phone to ring. Every third phrase she was saying"Meester POOOOORDI"=I tired to interrupt--finally yelling, Honey! Honey! Ola! But our Lakshmi, who wants to study fashion design in Geneva (Switzerland- not New York, I got that wrong too) wasn't about to deviate from the script. She did not understand what I meant by a ringing phone. That's how it is in New Delhi and for persons under forty that's how it it all over the world. 

Why would you want the phone to ring when you can hip, hop or have Christan rock -where they say blessed mother instead of mutha f____er.

Finally I said what about classical? She put me on hold and began to play the Rolling Stones in Sad! Sad! Sad! By then I was nuts nuts nuts. I figured if I wanted my phone to ring I could carry a little bell around with me. Poor Lakshmi finally understood what I meant by classical (Beethoven Fifth! Ta-Ta-Ta-DAH).....and my new ring tone is Luciano Pavarotti singing Di quella pira from Il trovatore, describing his mother being burned at the stake. Nice, and the closest I could get to a ringing phone.

Friday, August 01, 2014

I Said Yes to Everything: An interview with Lee Grant





Actress, writer , director Lee Grant has written a memoir called I Said Yes to Everything. Don't miss it. This lady has either experienced or survived -or both-the Neighborhood Playhouse, Peyton Place, winning an Oscar (for Shampoo with Warren Beatty) Hollywood, a difficult first marriage, a debut at the Metropolitan Opera and the Hollywood blacklist of the McCarthy era.
I suspect she's just getting warmed up.

I Said Yes to Everything is more than a compelling memoir. It's a real look at the New York Theater and movie-stardom.

I spoke with Lee Grant on the phone from her home in New York


LG: Wait a second! Wait a second! I'm looking for the television thing to shut it off.  Judge Judy is on, and I don't want her to be part of our conversation. Hold on!

(PAUSE)

CP: Judge Judy is my hero in life!
LG:: She is! My husband lovers her

CP: I said yes to everything. Tell me about this title

LG:  I guess in looking back at all the bumps and slides and kind of Candide -like story of my life, it seemed that I did say yes to everything.  Because of all the strange twists and turns that my life took. I didn't say no.
I went along with it. And here I am! Out the other side!
Antonio Scotti with young Lyvova Rosenthal (Lee Grant) in L'oracolo

CP: You are probably the youngest Metropolitan Opera debutante in history!  You were four years old when you appeared in L'oracolo with Antonio Scotti.  Do you remember that?

LG: You know, I can't remember names. This as a problem I had during the House Un American Activities Committee. So writing the book was to see how my memory works.

Everything that I did remember at age four was so clear to me. My time on that great stage at the Metropolitan was so clear. It was one of the great reassuring places I went to-you may not remember names, but you remember everything else.

CP: Do you have any specific memories of Antonio Scotti*?


LG:  At four I was taking ballet lesson at the Met with Miss Curtis. The elevator was down, and all the little girls who were taking her dancing class were crossing the stage.   This mountainous, huge stage, it seemed to a little girl like it was a mile long.  Gatti-Casazza*, who was the maestro of the whole Metropolitan Opera, pointed at me and said You!

They need a Chinese prince for L'oracolo, and the test was whether Scotti could carry me across the stage.
His character was supposed to kidnap the prince and carry him off stage, after alluring him by passing an orange back and forth. He picked me up and I stiffened., and the more he said relax the more I stiffened because I didn't know what 'relax' meant. Finally, there was no place else to go,  I was like a board across his hands, when my body just slumped and I got the part!

It was the easiest part I ever got.

CP: The blacklist era was a big part of your story. I'm familiar with the fact that you were not allowed to work in film or TV for a dozen years. For people who weren't around then, what was the atmosphere like, walking around knowing this was going on.

LG: There were several worlds. The blacklist took place in film and television. The theater never had a blacklist. As a New York girl and a New York Actor, I was able to go from one play to another on Broadway. Since I was born in New York, that was a very comfortable place for an actor to swim in.

My so called career, which had started off so promisingly with an Oscar nomination and a big picture -Detective Story-and a Cannes award for Best actress in the World at 24- was over. My career was over. From 24 to 36. Career was over

CP:  Is it true you were being penalized for not testifying against your husband?

LG:  Yes. It went on longer than any other blacklisted people. CBS called HUAC and said, can we use Lee now? The voice on the other end said to the person at CBS, not until she names her husband, Arnie Manoff.

CP: Was he named eventually?

LG: Yes. He was named by one of the Hollywood Ten, who was in jail at that time. Arnie's was one of the people who Eddie Dymytryk named.

CP: So turning somebody in was currency then?
LG: Yes. That's a very interesting way to put it. Yes, it was currency

CP: Sanford Meisner, the great acting teacher was also a big part of your story. Can you distill for us what his teaching was like . Who he was and why he was so powerful?




LG:  There was nothing mystical about him. He didn't hang on to his students. He wanted them to be able to fly in the world. Someone like Strasberg-he kept his students for fifty years. The work  and what he said was more important to Strasberg.  More important than any critic or any audience in the world. Sandy was exactly the opposite. He was tough, and he trained you, and he changed the elements in your mind-to understand a different way of thinking-of how to approach a script or a screenplay. How to be a very different actor. He was powerful, he was not sentimental. He didn't want to hear from you after you graduated, . He created a base for me for me to think from as an actor that I never got from anyone else.




I saw myself on the Robert Osborne show last night. I impressed myself! I t was the first time I saw what a really good character actress I was. Going from one extreme to another, from Detective Story to Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell to Shampoo-was so defined, so well defined but so real. I'm giving myself a pat on the back! I've never done that before as an actor. Seeing all the different characters I did, made me say-well done! Thank you, Sandy. Thank you for being so pristine in your teaching.

CP: It sounds as if Meisner was a very practical teacher. He wanted to produce working actors.

LG: Yes. Absolutely. But he opened a door, to the way of entering into a character. Not by showing off, not by pleasing the audience, not be being charming, but by being true to the method in which you entered into the world of this character to create a new character.
I saw the work, and I bless him for it.

CP: Did you feel yourself changing during his teaching?

LG: I hadn't a clue. I had no idea of what acting was before I stepped into his rooms. I'm so glad I was such a kid and so open and had  no kind of aims in life except my mother's which was to marry a rich boy.
It gave me a cause for the rest of my life. Acting became a religion for me.

CP: You directed a film of one of the great novellas, Tillie Olsen's Tell Me a Riddle.

LG:: Bless your heart! When I finally got the Oscar for Shampoo, I realized I had hit the ultimate of what I was going to get as an actress in Hollywood.

Having a great sense of knowledge of change from the blacklist, I thought I'd better find a way out of this. I'm forty -maybe more!-and I'm not going to be loved and admired and given parts in this town forever.

The American Film Institute had a women's directing workshop. I did Strindberg's The Stronger as my short piece. Somehow these girls who were in college in San Francisco saw that Strindberg film that I had done, and asked me to do the Tillie Olsen. (The girls were Rachel Lyon, Mindy Affirme, and Susan O'Connell)

It was like this amazing serendipity. It began this extraordinary step into a new life as a director.
The cast that I had to work with! Lila Kedrova from Zorba the Greek with Anthony Quinn, the play and the film. She was magnificent. So was Melvyn Douglas, who had never stepped over into that character part before.

Tillie Olsen's novella was gorgeous. I started at the top. There's no better movie that I ever made than that first movie for those girls in San Francisco . No better performance that I ever got either.,



CP: We need to see it more.

LG: I haven't seen it! I'm so glad you told me its on amazon!

CP: The language of Tillie Olsen is rather opaque and very beautiful. How did it translate to the screen. From the clips I've seen you did it.

LG: I didn't do it. A great writer, Joyce Eliason translated it from a book to a film in extraordinary way.

CP: Tillie Olsen was out here not long before her death, teaching.

LG: Really!

CP: I got to be in one of her classes and she was incredible

LG: How lucky for you

CP: Yes, and I'm happy to have realized how lucky I was, as luck as talking with Lee Grant!
___________________

* Antonio Scotti (1866-1936) Italian baritone. Known for his voice and his extraordinary acting ability. Leading artist in London, Milan, Rome, South America. At the Metropolitan Opera from 1899 to 1933. Over 1200 performances in New York.

Giulio Gatti-Casazza (1869-1940) General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera 1908-1935.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Eleanor Steber at 100




The soprano Eleanor Steber (1914-1990) looked like a Christmas tree.
I used to see  her at the New England Conservatory in Boston, her alma mater, where she taught and sang in the 1970s. Her gowns and her hairstyle would have made a drag queen blush.
The voice was mostly gone. The authority and artistry were intact.
She remained a great singer and a great musician, even with means diminished by age and energetic living.

Eleanor Steber 's 100th birthday is celebrated this week. Many have been the FB posts with snippets of favorites from her repertoire. Steber, born in Wheeling West Virginia, studied with William Whitney in Boston and went on to win the Metropolitan Opera auditions of the air. She made her Met debut in 1940 as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Supporting roles were not for our Eleanor. Before long she was Bruno Walter's leading lady in Mozart operas. Eventually she was the Met's first Konstanze and Arabella. She created samuel Barber's Vanessa-after Callas and Sena Jurinac turned the role down-in 1958. By then, high living was beginning to catch up with her. But Seber showed was she was made of, and had a triumph in an opera she had a few weeks to learn.



Eleanor Steber was an American aritst devoted to American music. If one was not supposed to sing 20th century music in Carnegie Hall or the Met, nobody told Eleanor. Dimitri Mitropoulos accompanied her in  Krenek's Ballad of the Railroads. The critics hated it. The audience may have grumbled but Eleanor sold this spiky music. Learning and excelling in difficult new music was one of her trademarks. Steber introduced Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 Knoxville : Summer of 1915 and made it a classic. More importantly, her imprimatur on new works meant they were of quality and to be taken seriously.

That my parents and grandparents, who never set foot in an opera house in their lives, knew and loved Eleanor Steber was thanks to years of radio broadcasts. The Voice of Firestone broadcasts and later TV-became Eleanor's second home. She sang Rodgers and Hart, Gershwin and Carry Me Back to Ol' Virginny with the same voice and technique she used for Verdi, Mozart and Strauss. This was her signature tune to the end of her life:  If I Could Tell You was written by Idabelle Firestone, the boss's wife on the Firestone Hour. Everyone who appeared on this program was required to sing this. Steber made this treacle a classic.





Eventually the party life and a disastrous second marriage caught up with her. New York was losing interest. She was offered one last new opera, Alban's Berg's Wozzeck. "My bel canto soul cried out WHY?" the lady said. She was wonderful in the part-but it sent her packing.

The lady pulled herself together and turned to concerts and teaching. As the years went by and the voice
began to fade, personality and musicianship carried her through. She sang at New York's Continental Baths in the 1970s-a notorious appearance doing her little good-but continued to give recitals across the country. Her memoirs-worth seeking out-were published posthumously. Steber's was an American success story. That said, she was the first American soprano to sing at Bayreuth since Lillian Nordica. She sang in Vienna and toured the far east. She became an operatic pin up girl for the GIs. A party girl reputation sometimes caused her to be disrespected. For shame! Eleanor Steber was smart, beautiful and tough. Go listen to her recordings.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

TWISTED!! NOT TO BE MISSED: CSO/BALLET MET/OPERA COLUMBUS


TWISTED  is a show.

I could get all snooty, but Twisted is a show. Three of our premiere arts ensembles, the COLUMBUS SYMPHONY, BALLET MET and OPERA COLUMBUS will take the stage of the Ohio Theater September 25-28. 


You need to be there.



Here's why. Each of the above named organizations have earned positive press nationally in the past several years. Through social media and certainly through the press. Ballet Met knocked 'em in aisles at the Joyce Theater in New York. Opera Columbus's rebirth has been celebrated in print. The Columbus symphony long ago proved they can play anything, anytime no matter who is music director. Conductor Peter Stafford Wilson leads three orchestras in two states but will home in Columbus to domin--er, conduct.  

Locally, there is  A LOT to celebrate. Twisted gives us the opportunity, while having a blast. Let's get over this prophet without honor nonsense. Three elements will be twisted together, at points of agreement and more excitingly at conflicting points. Peggy Kriha Dye runs the new Opera Columbus.  Some of us would pay good money just to look at her, (she sings, too) but I digress.


Edwaard Liang
Peggy Kriha Dye. Be still my heart

I have some involvement with this. I'm going to be keeping a blog-diary here as the process develops. First up, what happens when you get the leaders of three different arts organization in the same room?  Wars, strikes or at least a fair amount of hissy fits. That has not happened in Columbus, yet. Here in July we are at the exciting phase. Nobody is exhausted yet. They will be, but it will a good exhaustion.
These clips are samples from previous productions to get you salivating. Here's Peter Stafford Wilson:



At a meeting yesterday Ballet Met's Artistic Director Edwaard Liang explained in detail his vision for Carmen, La boheme, The Barber of Seville yadda yadda yadda. The singers will be integrated with the dancers of Ballet Met in several of the pieces. If you're familiar with these pieces you'll get a new perspective and a sexy spectacle. If not, you'll be especially enthralled. As an old hand, I 'm eager for Edwaard's take on Carmen!

Twisted. There will be favorite arias sung by wonderful local singers.
The only alarming news from yesterday is the need for me to report to Ballet Met to be measured for a costume! No Snickers bars can pass these lips until then.






The stage set up will be nothing like you've seen before. The Columbus Symphony plays the entire evening. Music from Wagner's Lohengrin and Britten's Peter Grimes will add passion to the evening. Peggy Kriha Dye has chosen the vocal selections and the singers. The 'farewell trio" from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte is one of those moments you will remember from first hearing.
Come September the arts in Columbus will have an unprecedented extravaganza on one stage, the Ohio Theater. Chorus, orchestra, ballet and opera and me, somewhere. Look for the fat guy.

NEXT: Introducing our guest choreographers 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Perfectly Miserable and Whatever Happened to Lexington, Massachusetts?

Many years ago I had an enormous crush on a WASPY girl from Meriam Hill, so when I saw the book Perfectly Miserable, Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town by the similarly named Sarah Payne Stuart,  I was convinced this book was by my long lost  love. It isn't. No doubt my SS left Harvard and is a State Supreme Court Justice someplace warm.

Sarah Payne Stuart is an author whose previous book deconstructed her family, including the celebrated poet Robert Lowell, and his several forays into the nutty bin. The new book is about growing up, returning to and feeling from Concord Ma.
I couldn't put this book down. I'll probably read it again next week. It's that kind of book.

When you convene a bi -weekly book show on radio, publishers will send you their first born. I loved getting this is the mail. I hope to interview SPS for a future show. As long as this post doesn't get her wicked pissed off.

Concord was always a bucolic small town seemingly removed from the suburbia crowding around Rt. 2 West. Sudbury, Boxborough, Maynard and they were fine but Concord was special (Forget Lincoln MA. Nothing there through strict zoning laws but the old and the nouveau. No drug stores of 7-11s in Lincoln) The rich people lived in Concord. The penny candy store was not a faux creation but the real deal and the candy did cost a penny a piece. You could get Thanksgiving dinner at The Inn where real turkeys could be espied in the dining room. The place never saw a can of cranberry sauce. The streets were named Walden and the hospitals named Emerson and the Old North Bridge was a replica, yes-but it was constructed in 1800,  only because the actual bridge had been turned down by retreating Minute-Men (that meant soldiers back then) on April 19 1775.

I was born and raised in neighboring Lexington. We are closer to Boston and the feeling even fifty years ago was a tad more commercial. Concord has for 250 years cherished the adorable myth that the American Revolution began at the leafy North bridge. Everybody knows that the American Revolution actually began several hours earlier on the town green of Lexington. British  troops advancing on Concord were met by a rag tag bunch of guys who had spent the early morning hours mustering in and near the Buckman Tavern.* They were way outnumbered and maybe too stupefied to do anything else but shoot. It was a slaughter and the Brits ran triumphantly forward. I admit there was a real battle in Concord, but that was a continuation. Everyone knows the American Revolution began in Lexington, Massachusetts in the wee hours of April 19 1775.

Our two bedroom cape was closer to Arlington and a hefty  hike away from the Battle Green. Said green is
about 2 acres in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue, just past block after block on new brick store front done up to look old. The last time I drove through, about five years ago I thought you could die an old man trying to find a hardware store, but if you're hungry for Japanese cuisine you're all set.

The dry cleaner is hidden back of Mass Ave near the town parking lot, which was FREE in the 1960s. Two pharmacies are now upscale ice creameries ($4 a cone). There are of course Starbucks that continue to plague the land. My idea of tearoom chain meant the Pewter Pot Muffin House, long gone. I think there's a glass figurine shop there now. A muffin you can get along with your croissant and profiteroles up the street. Glass figurines you gotta shop for.

Back to Sarah Payne Stuart. She and I are the same age. She probably went to Concord Carlisle . She and her family-hubby makes documentary films, in that Concord or what?- the people who have PBS tattooed on their bottoms.** Three different houses bought and sold in Concord. The recession has them sliding down their wonderful house on Nashawtuc Hill into another 18th century colonial with an added wing.

I grew up in a 2 bedroom cape. My father was homeless for most of his childhood so to him this was paradise. My mother rolled her eyes, though she loved "my lovely Jewish neighbors."

Don't think it wasn't remarked upon at the Sodality or DAR meetings when a second synagogue opened in Lexington. That JC was Jewish made it okay, even if JC would probably tythe at Temple Emunah , bypassing Sacred Heart Parish. I'm just telling you how it was many years ago; I'm not saying its right (Jeez)

No longer a 2 bedroom cape!

With the plethora of high living occupying Lexington Center today-the packie with the parrot I think adjourned to Bedford St.-its weird reading of buying and selling houses in nearby Concord unless you run a hedge fund. Sarah Payne Stuart makes clear the financial highs and lows. Plenty of lows. Maxed out credit cards, nearby elderly parents and above all the re gentrification of a town and way of life that preferred worn out sneakers and tepid tea to $120 Nikes and that special Chardonnay. It's sad to think that gorgeous old houses, sufficiently ratty after years of living-in, are gutted for glistening McMansions. Same thing seems to be happening in Lexington. That little 2 bedroom cape my father so loved is long gone.  In fairness, its sale financed the Dutch Colonial I call home today in Ohio, for cash-thank you very much. The four room house next door is now a 6800 sq stunner that overflows a small wooded lot. Proportion gives way to money.

Of course these are sour grapes! That's what I can afford, in lieu of the Chardonnay!

*Full disclosure. I was fired from a volunteer job as a tour guide in Lexington for telling tourists the Minute Men were all shit-faced from a night at Buckman Tavern awaiting the crisp and presumably sober Brits. Screw 'em. We won the war, anyway. And I got great tips.

**I work for a PBS affiliate but  that doesn't count!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

PAGLIACCI DIARY




OPERA PROJECT COLUMBUS presents Ruggero Leoncavallo's one-act opera PAGLIACCI (Clowns) at the Jewish Center of Columbus on Saturday, June 14 at 8 pm and Sunday the 15th at 3. More information on tickets from      http://operaprojectcolumbus.org/
Here's the cast:

Dione Bennett, Nedda



Brian Johnson, Tonio

Jeffrey Ambrosini, Silvio
Tim Culver, tenor

Benjamin Bunsold, Beppe


CANIO     Tim Culver
NEDDA    Dione Bennett
TONIO     Brian Johnson
BEPPE      Benjamin Bunsold
SILVIO     Jeffrey Ambrosini

Enrico Caruso as Canio
Alessandro Siciliani conducts. I'm the stage director. The conductor is responsible for what you hear. The stage director, for what you see.





PAGLIACCI  was first performed in 1892. It caught on immediately and was well established world wide by 1895. It reached the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1893, with Fernado di Lucia, Nellie Melba and Mario Ancona. The opera will always be linked to the great tenor Enrico Caruso, who 'owned' the part of Canio, the heartbroken and betrayed clown.











What follows is a diary I've been keeping through the preliminary meetings and rehearsals. Beginning in reverse chronological order

June 16, 2014

And so it goes and so it went. Two performances well attended, with VERY enthusiastic audiences. A few on stage/pit coordinated train wrecks did not prevent the audience from enjoying the opera. I worked with a splendid chorus. I got to work with adorable and feisty kids form the Columbus Children's Choir.I got to work with fabulous soloists: Tim, Dione, Brian, N Ben, Jeff. I had sad months ago it couldn't be done and they did it. Jared the lighting guy made the show look beautiful. Dione was overworked and underloved juggling many hats. I felt confusion as to my role once the orchestra got into the theater.
The etiquette is for the stage director to have equal input and to fashion the look of the stage and the blocks as s/he needs. I certainly was able to do this, but felt at times like tits on a bull.
A disagreement over mike placing could have been tetchy-well, it was a little. I do mikes for a living and know what I'm talking about but was overruled.
Heroes in this story: Alessandro Siciliani who made us gleeful slaves to Italian opera. Dione Bennett for making it happen and singing a splendid Nedda. Cristina Bendetti did EVERYTHING,  with patience and cheer. She is irreplaceable.

Not forgetting Ruggero Leonvavallo, whose splendid opera was entrusted to us. I hope he's smiling in heaven. On earth I'm tired but I am certainly smiling.

I hope Virgil Thomson's four Saints in Three Acts will be my next project:



But now I'm hearing Dialogues of the Carmelites




I am one lucky fella to have such opportunities with two very different and phenomenal works. This is a testament to the riches in the performing artists and performing arts audiences in Columbus, Ohio!


June 13 2014

Final dress rehearsal was last night. I think. There were some orchestral touches rehearsed with the singers, but we did get underway with just a few stops. Nothing defeats this cast and orchestra. The space doesn't work. Too tight, too restricted. I sat there thinking, : Jesus Mary and Joseph if I had a large proscenium the a pit what I would love to do for this show.  Given the circumstances the show looked and sounded wonderful. There was a lot of frustration and tension in the air, as befits production week. A few sad-seeming singers.. Level of professionalism was 105%.

The tempi bothered me. They great ritards, the slow pace of some of the transitional music. I'm sure this is because  Pagliacci is usually give n in a large space, so the extra time afforded by these tempi is needed. There hasn't been much adjustment for the staging. Rather the reverse. You need the extra time to cross a large stage. Here you don't and it looks blank.

Was this a wonderful experience for me? Yes, because of the work and the cast. It was especially true here that once we got into the theater with orchestra my role ended. It is not supposed to go this way, and it won't again.

And blah-blah-blah. It's a wonderful show and everyone should be proud. I am! Seriously.
Lucine Amara Nedda

Mario del Monaco Canio


For the record, here's a fantastic Met broadcast of Pagliacci from 1959. Mario del Monaco, Lucine Amara, Leonard Warren, Charles Anthony, Mario Sereni.' I've been playing phone tag with 89 year old Lucine Amara. I wanted to ask her about this production and how it was prepared. I'll keep trying.

 

June 11 11 pm

We ran most of the opera tonight, in chunks, with the bedecked wagon and pros. It was foolish to begin with the orchestra when the little kids were getting sleepy. We should have worked with staging the choral scenes firs and sent the kids home. They are cheerful and  sweet. And a lot of yawning on stage.

I was given the gift of three stage hands: pleasant and responsible lads who are willing to help how they can. They marked sets for me. They carried furniture and made themselves useful. We all did the best we could in the final design of orchestra and opera sharing one stage. I won't do this again. It's a creative challenge and I'm running out of this kind of creativity.

Once an opera is in the hands of the conductor the stage director fades away. That's a big ass fade for my big ass, and I'm not the fade away type. For as much as we ran tonight it was suggested I position the playing area differently and it was a good idea. Chorus completely professional. My soloists seemed tired and discouraged. They are in "must always watch the conductor" mode, meaning they can't interact and could miss the audience!

Final dress tomorrow  night. I imagine it won't be much different than tonight. First performances tend to function as dress rehearsals. The difference is the audience. Having a theater filled with people beefs up the dynamic, increases the tension and helps a performance to 'pour'. At least I hope it does. We still have a lot of blank faces on stage.

June 11 2014

The best laid plans. It was an indeed an orchestra rehearsal last night, with little for me to do in the theater. Backstage I did a bit to help the peerless  Cristina Benedetti build a mini theater to be held aloft on our onstage cart. There's a canopy, with a cheesy stage backdrop to roll down, and some curtains. The perfect  down and out conveyance for traveling clowns and actors in 19th century Italy. So okay, the actual pieces of this contraption are early-swimming pool blue, but I'm promised some stage dressing. Let me shut  up. I know it will be great I know it will be great I know it will be great......I hope I misread a late night e mail about "tomorrow's rehearsal" written as if to suggest another all orchestra no staging outing. I've decided I misread it. God knows any orchestra needs several rehearsal alone, and the music only with chorus and singers. We don't have that. There was one tantrum last night, not mine. Still, there seems to be endless you can't move here, JoeBlow can't come to rehearsal til 8 pm; the children can't work more than one hour. Don't bring potato chips into the hall...

I was asked about my process. Don't fall into the pit. That's my process. I keep thinking on my favorite AA motto: If your ass falls off, put it into a paper bag and take it to a meeting. That's going to be my epitaph.

Our singers and chorus continue to impress, excite and amaze. Every time I open the score to Pagliacci I am more and more impressed, and I learn more about the score, about opera and about drama. Leoncavallo wrote many operas but only this one survives. I know a few of the others. They don't have the musical creativity. Except for Zaza and maybe La boheme, they are predictable and dull.
I was interested to learn tat Leoncavallo wrote film scores for the silents around WWI. He wrote operettas as well, tho I've heard none of them. He doesn't strike me as the charming type.

I have no idea what is going to happen at tonight's rehearsal. Stay tuned.

Alessandro Siciliani, conductor



June 10 2014

Last night was our first night in the theater. It may not really count since the orchestra was not with us, and we may have used parts of the stage to which we will have no access. We share the stage with the orchestras. There's no viable bit. Remember the wagon I hope to use as a centerpiece? Well it worked okay...I'm promised tonight there's be a fake wall device complete with backdrops and curtain. That's fine  except the comedy will take place a good 10 feet downstage form the wagon, which will  not be able to function as a stage. We had some bunching up and traffic jam issues with folk. The commedia especially has to be moved around. Our wonder Ryan Behan played form a clavinova on a rickety stand. He made do with me shouting STOP ever ten bars. We did one stumble through of the complete opera and one run,.

Last night we had everybody. Chorus, children, principals and props. The kids needed a juice and Frito break mid way. I did too, but did without.  The rehearsal was to begin at 6.30 and at 6.40 we were short several people. I was getting pissy, but kept it to myself in respect for this unpaid but loved company. Eventually we got started. Nedda nearly off book. Canio , Tonio Beppe and Silvio at full strength. Beppe showing a nice character. Tonio is very powerful just standing still, even when he is not singing. Canio's voice, I'm telling you, is big time.

Just had a message that tonight's rehearsal will be a sitzprobe. That means music only, with orchestra. I had asked last night if such a rehearsal was planned and was told no. I knew pretty well THAT would change. May or may not be time to tweak staging. I'd rather they have the sitz. Make the musical mistakes tonight, not on Saturday and Sunday.

Here's a bit from the Italian baritone Mario Ancona, who created the role of Tonio in New York:



The world premiere cast starred French baritone Victor Maurel as Tonio. He had been Verdi's choice for both Iago and Falstaff. Maurel was a splendid looking man who was known to be a powerful actor.





Victor Maurel, Verdi's favorite and the first Tonio in Pagliacci



June 9 2014

Tonight we met Silvio for the first time. He is as my mother and aunts up in Boston would have described him, "Quite the drinka watah." He's tall and good looking with a fine voice. Like most of the cast he has done is role before,. That's good with rehearsal time being limited. Silvio and Nedda have one scene together. Musically it is the most lyrical part of the opera. Meaning you can hum along, and it sounds like the hot and romantic scene it is meant to be. Nedda is the abused wife of Canio the head clown. She is in a violent and loveless marriage. Silvio is a camp follower who follows Nedda as she goes form miserable town to miserable town. They live for their few and brief moments together. In the opera, their meeting leads to a quick decision to run away together. A sta notte e per sempre tua saro. Until tonight, when I shall be yours forever.

I had expected a lot of crazy nooky for the staging of this scene. Horizontal action, intense coupling while the music surges away. A few problems: When was the last time you sang Italian opera out loud while intense coupling? Even so, if you are onstage and horizontal most of the audience will not be able to see you. And two the singers, in ecstasy or not, will be unable to see the conductor. Since our Silvio is tall it makes a nice stage picture for Nedda to sing in his arms, first cozied up to his chest, then on their knees facing one another, then cuddling on the floor but vertical enough to be seen and heard while appearing to be, well, interested in each other.

Yesterday's rehearsal tuned out to be more music than staging. But my Nedda and Silvio are pros and we got the job done-the staging I mean-nicely.

We had time to work on the commedia.  Beppe has a lot to do in keeping order. I have  him doing more traffic cop stuff than I'd like. Something to work on.

June 8 2014

First day with the chorus and the children and full company except Silvio. We have a good rehearsal space at Capital University.     The kids arrived with their teacher. Much younger than I expected, first and second graders. They are all adorable. One little girl has killer red hair.
Three small boys are excited  about the stag business I have given them. They are all part of a children's choir but are not singing. Too much at once I expect. I don't need them to sing as much as I need them on stage. They are terrific so far. I did ask their teacher, Do these kids know what this opera is? Adultery, murder, abuse? Murder three feet from them. Do they? The teacher went pale. Kids and I circled up on the floor while I did a G-rated edition of "Let's pretend."  Earlier I had, at my jocular best, assured one of the mothers I wouldn't swear. She replied, stone-faced, That would be appreciated. Bitch.    

Our rehearsal was pleasantly interrupted by a surprise birthday party for the maestro. The Opera Project Columbus board provided food and Mrs. Benedetti's orgasmic carrot cake. If I taste that cake after I die I 'll know I reached heaven.

Then we did a 'stumble' through of the entire opera without stopping except for the Silvio scene. We are getting there.

Leoncavallo


June 5 2014

 Ruggero Leoncavallo (1856-1919) was one of the composers of the verismo movement. In late 19th century Italy, literature and opera began to reflect every day life. The language was very direct. Instead of singing about murdering your mistresses husband for thirty minutes, you just sing 'He's dead" and then run him through. Thus versimo operas are short as operas go. They do not reflect escapist of pretty fare. They can be joyful but they are also very honest about the difficulties of day to day life. Pagliacci was Leoncavallo's only bona fide hit. His opera Zaza -based on a tale by Emile Zola-used was a vehicle for the drop-dead hot star Geraldine Farrar. Then there's La boheme. No, not that La boheme. Leoncavallo set another version of the Henri Murger novel, almost at the same time as Puccini's opera was breaking hearts everywhere. Leoncavallo's fine score was blasted into oblivion. Bad luck.

Geraldine Farrar as Zaza




You may remember the 'No more Rice Krispies" commercial that used 'Vesti la Giubba'



Yeah, funny. Canio is a clown by profession and a lonely insecure man. He knows his much younger wife does not love him. He is prone to jealous rages. Nedda has no life except ducking her husband's fist. But finally, errant wife or not, Canio has to put on the make up and get on with the show



June 1 2014

Met the chorus today. God bless our chorus director, Michael Lester. The chorus was one of my big BIG worries about this show. It's impossible I told the OPC board. You are not equipped to do Pagliacci. It may be a short opera, but this is a big and intense show. Chorus, children, principles, clowns , acrobats. Do the Barber of Seville instead and cast it completely locally. Do a Mozart opera. Nothin' doing. Its Canio and the traveling clowns. I'm in or I'm out. Sheepishly, I'm in.

The chorus is terrific. I am already in loved with them. We have a dozen singers in a score calling for four times as many but my guys SOUND like a huge and well schooled opera chorus. They are all well trained musicians and complete professionals. In today's rehearsal I had nothing but patience and good cheer from them. And wonderful singing. I guess if I'm doing my job right they'll hate me by production week.

Out Tonio was in today. He has a fine voice but he's an even better actor. You need that for Tonio. He is described as 'gobbo' lurido' -hunch back....lurid. Our Tonio is neither of these things. H I have asked him not to hunch over, not to play to any physical problems except a slight limp. More of a heavy, flat footed tread. He will sing the prologue straight out, like a concert aria. I have the cohru8s coming out onstage in a straight line, looking blank to the audience...and braking into character when the little trumpet announces t epaproach of te payers. It's my Brechitan moment (Ha!) or hinting at a 'fourth wall'.
The Jewish Center playing area is quite small. As with Gianni Schicchi last year, we'll have to use the entire house. I have Canio chasing Silvio down the aisles and through the auditorium. (I couldn't do it!)

The zampognari chorus is a musical highlight. I had nightmares of being asked to stage this opera without chorus. Who would want to miss this?



Staging this will be OK. In part two the chorus returns for the show at venti rte ore (11 pm)
I had them in a staley procession from the back of the house. Which, as our conductor pointed out, has nothing to do with the music. You can't have ea stately procession to words like "Presto!"  "Andiamo" So they rush up onto he stage-and fight over the few seats available. The kids will  get there first and get shooed off. There's plenty of jostling and time for a feel here and there (that is indicated by the music)

Working on this opera with an Ira lain conductor who had led Pagliacci at the Met and all over the world is an education. I despair of really grasping any opera not written in English. The nuances in Italian and especially in French are lost on non native speakers. Many directors insist that the words are the paramount
guide in staging an opera. I go with the music. I do not speak Italian fluently. In a well written opera, the music agrees with the words (if the word is 'fast' the music sounds fast)  I have been criticized for telling students, "The music will tell you what to do."

May 31 2014

Worked with the soloists today, or the three I've met thus far. Tonio and Silvio have yet to arrive. I threw my first tantrum when I realized how few rehearsals I will have with the entire company. People who know me well know that I need to throw a fit about something, swear I will never deal with these people again, simmer and rage and five minutes later take everyone to lunch. It doesn't last with me. Ask anyone at WOSU. Most of em giggle and walk away, knowing I will within a few minutes cheerfully fix whatever needs fixing. Usually.

Beppe becomes Harlequin

Nedda becomes Columbine


Nedda I knew had a marvelous voice. She's a sharp and sexy lady. Our Canio commutes from Kent Oh. and OH MY GOD. Why isn't this boy a star? What is he doing HERE? It it a major tenor voice with star making squillo. Squillo is an Italian term meaning ring. A tenor voice with a touch of metal that rings out. A voice like this is prized and its a helluva prize we got for this Pagliacci. I asked him ,as everyone does, why he isn't pursuing a career. Kids, mortgage, mowing the lawn, living a good life, singing and teaching a lot. A good answer and a good guy.

Everyone will fall in love with our Beppe. He's from a musical family. His sister once told me, Our entire family can sing Messiah around the kitchen table.    Beppe's serenade may be my favorite part of the opera. It's easy to stage. Just get outta the way and let the boy sing:





May 30 2014

Musica rehearsal at a lovely church in Gahanna. I don't think I've ever been to Gahanna. I was ready to groan about a long commute, but it was a piece of pasta. Easy. Even at this early juncture, I believe musically we will be more than alright

I'm hoping to use a 'wagon' for the Canio and the players. Bring it in to cheers of the opening chorus will be effective. Later the actors can hide behind it. It will contain the props, and Nedda will ride in, like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. I may be counting on this wagon too much. I have a staging plan B to do without it.. I think.

Our production will look like this:




May 25 2014

First visit to the Jewish Center since last year. Met boss-Jared as opposed to lighting guy-Jared. I was relieved to find the playing area larger than I remembered. We did Gianni Schicchi there last year. No chorus in this opera, but a large cast and a lot of hiding and back and forth. Last' year's main prop was a bed (I think more of a couch ultimately) This year I hope to have a wagon in which the company can be dragged on stage. Aha! The Jewish Center has a conveyance that may just work! I said again, oh the place is big enough, we'll be OK. Two members of the company rolled their eyes.