Monday, October 7, 2013


I don’t know much about Tchaikovsky, his music, or his “masterpiece opera” Eugene Onegin.  I do, however, know a lot about Anna Netrebko, called by Scott Barnes in Opera News magazine, “…arguably, the biggest international star the opera world has had since Luciano Pavarotti...” and by Deutsche Grammophon recording company,“…the best- selling soprano of the 21st Century…”
Anna Netrebko is the superstar headlining The Metropolitan Opera season’s opening production of Eugene Onegin.  Her costars are baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role and tenor Piotr Bezcala in the role of Onegin’s best friend Lenski.  Both of these men are fantastic singers and performers, not to mention terribly attractive.  And it is these three artists on stage together that has drawn me passionately to this particular opera, which I saw Live in HD last Saturday.

The surprise for me is how much I like Tchaikovsky’s music and his story of love, desire, revenge, jealousy, and heartbreak.  In his music, I feel all of the composer’s anguish and pain…and his lighter, joyful moments, which come early in the opera, before it gets murky.  I have to say that all of Tchaikovsky’s music in this work is beautiful and evocative.  Takes me right into the heart of what is happening to these characters, which is a lot.  For me, Eugene—a lost, bored, and empty soul—is not the star of the show.  However, it is the effect he has on other characters that drives the plot.
The star of the show is Tatiana.  The range of emotion that Tchaikovsky’s Tatiana experiences gives Anna Netrebko—a compelling actress of much depth, breadth, and force—a role to chew on.  And she does.  She inhabits this part so fully that I cannot separate the superstar from the person she is playing.  Shy, introspective, living in a world of literature and dreams at the beginning, after meeting Onegin Tatiana is thunderstruck and whispers to herself, “He is the one.”  Finally, she has fallen in love--madly.  The much-talked about Letter Scene, where Tatiana composes a missive to be hand-delivered to Onegin declaring her love, is a tour de force: lyrically, musically, dramatically.  It goes on for some time.  I never take my eyes, ears, or attention from Anna Netrebko as she visibly, viscerally becomes everything the composer expresses.  And she tears down the house!  Almost literally.  Her rich, clear, impassioned and soaring voice metamorphoses into one that is restrained, reflective and tender with uncertainty—and back again. Her singing and acting are so joined in the heart that I am now in her, feeling what she feels with such vibrancy that I do not want to come out.  Tatiana is so spent by her passionate trip on the emotional roller coaster of love that after the final note she collapses on her back onto the floor of the room.  And the audience in The Met Opera House goes wild jumping to their feet and applauding hard, loud, and long, shouting, “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!,” for minutes and minutes.  Anna is lying still on the floor.  Eventually, clapping and Bravo-ing are no longer enough to express our ardor and the audience screams, “An-na!  An-na!  An-na!” and we go on like this for minutes and minutes and minutes.  Anna is still lying on the floor.  At some point—how does she decide when?—Anna Netrebko begins softly and tenderly to sing again—motionless on her back, on the floor—the most expressive, beautiful, clear, pure, openhearted note I have ever heard. All this is why Opera News’s September 2013 cover story of Netrebko is titled:
"The Age Of Anna
They Don’t Call It Electricity Anymore.
 They Call It Netrebko.”

This production of Eugene Onegin has been one of the greatest musical and dramatic experiences of my life.  I am thrilled to know that now it is in me for eternity! 

Monday, September 30, 2013


Think of the film The Birds.  Then think of the film Rebecca.  Is there one name that comes to mind for both?  If there is, it is probably Alfred Hitchcock.  And rightly so, for he directed both of these films.  However, when I hear Rebecca, the name Daphne du Maurier also comes to mind for she wrote that brilliant novel—winner of The Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.  But did you know that Daphne du Maurier also wrote a short story entitled “The Birds”?  Holy Moley!  That was a surprise to me!  And yes, it is the same story Hitchcock turned into an incredibly scary film.  Different stories.  Different settings.  Different aspects of terror.  

Last night I happened to turn on Turner Classic Movies just in time to hear Robert Osborne introduce a showing of Rebecca.  I groaned.  Not because of any negative feeling about the film, but because I had watched it once long ago, and it so frightened me with its haunting atmosphere and gripping Gothic suspense that I could not bring myself to watch it again.  But last night I was in the mood for something engrossing, and Rebecca is nothing if not engrossing!
That famous first line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” is delivered by Joan Fontaine playing the “new Mrs. Maxim de Winter” with a combination of innocence and devastation.  It is so telling that we never know this young girl’s first name, yet the previous Mrs. de Winter’s first name looms large at the title of book and film leaving no question as to who dominates the story.  But Rebecca herself is dead and only a memory, albeit one that is chillingly alive at Manderly.  And Joan Fontaine so forcefully embodies the unsophisticated, insecure, self-deprecating, and completely in love young woman that Maxim marries in Monte Carlo and brings home to Manderley that for me she is the undeniable star of the show.
Hitchcock employs his famous close-up camera work to great end with Fontaine capturing every nuance of edginess, terror, and—later on—supreme command of everything: her circumstances, Maxim, and yes, thrillingly of the devilish tormentor Mrs. Danvers herself, played with brilliant simmering fury and controlled malevolance by Judith Anderson.  Laurence Olivier is breathtakingly handsome and heartbreakingly tortured as Maxim de Winter and has top billing over Joan Fontaine, but believe me when I say that this is Joan Fontaine’s movie.
Perfect casting, expert storytelling, and evocative cinematography make this rendering of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel one of if not the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
A little insider information provided by Robert Osborne: this was Hitchcock’s first movie made in the United States; it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, Hitchcock’s only film to do so; David O. Selznick, producer of Gone With The Wind in 1939 also produced Rebecca and, with GWTW being an incredibly hard act to follow, won a second consecutive Oscar for Rebecca, being the only producer to do so at the time; and though Olivier, Fontaine, and Anderson were each nominated for Oscars in the acting categories and Hitchcock in the directing category, none of them won.  Such an injustice!        

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


At Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, California to see Renée Fleming and Susan Graham in a recital of French salon songs—a period piece.  Full house.  I have seen Susan Graham only once—a week ago—in her stunning performance as Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, part of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series.  I have flown from Arizona to San Francisco for Renée Fleming, of whom I am a passionate and devoted fan. Surprise! From the moment Graham takes the stage, I am enthralled!
      To make a thrilling story brief, Graham is terrific performing with Renée and on her own.  Strong, beautiful, poised and in command of her voice, which is wonderful and blends with Fleming’s beautifully, Susan Graham is a diamond onstage—dazzling!  The great surprise, however, is how funny she is.  In the patter, in the banter with Renée, in the spontaneous asides to the audience—each one of us has fast become putty in her hands.

That was in January of this year.

Last week I drove to New Mexico to see Susan Graham again.

At the Santa Fe Opera in a terrific production of Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, Susan Graham reigns!  From entrance to finale I cannot take my eyes or my ears off her.

The story itself is a comedy, a parody on pompous, rigid militaristic attitudes present in Germany in the 18th Century.  However, in this production the location has been moved from a military academy in Gerolstein to one in the Mid-Western United States at the turn of the 20th Century, sending-up the gung-ho policies present in that time and place.  And the work has much to say that is relevant today.  

Susan Graham is The Grand Duchess, and she embodies the part completely—statuesque, fully in charge, stylishly and strikingly clothed!

Being very funny herself, Susan delivers Offenbach’s humor with ease: in words and music, body language and flair. 
Her singing is glorious: at once forceful and lyrical.  Dramatically, in the proper places, she opens our hearts by exposing the Duchess’s vulnerability and tenderness.  In shifting from the French lyrics of the music to the English words of the spoken text, Susan is seamless. 
And this mezzo-soprano is in exquisite voice.  

With music that is accessible and harmonically pleasing to the ear, that possesses humor even in its notes, this is an operetta that is light and uplifting to the spirit—fun!  Exactly like its star.

Susan Graham.  Brilliant, warm, generous, beautiful, thrilling.
I Loved every minute in her presence—a passionate and devoted fan!

Saturday, June 29, 2013


Last night I was riveted to the screen for two and a half hours of thrilling theater!  Yes, theater.  Sort of like the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series, the National Theater in London filmed and broadcast a live performance of The Audience starring Dame Helen Mirren...and a host of familiar and terrific British actors, among them Edward Fox, Richard McCabe, and Nathaniel Parker.  

Anything with Helen Mirren is almost always reason to run to the theater, be it movie or legitimate, and this is no exception.

The play is a new one by Peter Morgan, who wrote the script for The Queen, the multi-awarded movie with Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth II.  Seems Mr. Morgan is not finished with his monarch, whom he obviously loves and respects, for she is again the star.   Drama it is but not solely for I  laughed heartily out loud more times than I can count.  The title refers to the weekly Tuesday afternoon meetings the queen has with her prime ministers.  And we get to sit in on those meetings with eleven of the twelve that Queen Elizabeth has received in her sixty-year reign: Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Anthony Eden, Margaret Thatcher, and others right up to Mr. Cameron.  

I didn't know a lot about British politics, so listening to the prime ministers vent and defend their positions and actions could have been a bore. No way!  Because the acting is so vibrant, the script so interesting, and the interaction between the monarch and her ministerrs is so real, touching, hilarious, and just damn engaging, I was right in there with them...all the way.

Portraying the queen, Helen Mirren dazzles as she gets older and younger right before our eyes, from her eighties to her twenties and back again.  Her weight goes up, and it goes down.  Her hair is white, then goes dark brown, then grey, then white again.  The wigs, the costumes, the shoes, the purses all ebb and flow with her.  The miracle is that Ms. Mirren never leaves the stage to change her appearance. The first change is made right before our eyes, and we can't for the life of us figure out how it actually happens!  That alone should get you to the theater!

Dame Helen is miraculous in her full-embodiment of Her Majesty: facial expressions, body language, posture, vocal nuances, walk, asides, and attitude, all of which change, too, according to her age and length of time in the job, as well as which prime minister she is sitting with at any given moment.  This has to be Mirren's signature role, and rightfully so.  Who else would even attempt this part after her?  

A bonus to seeing the play in a movie theater is that we get to watch interviews with Peter Morgan, the costume designers, and Dame Helen herself. Just when you have begun to  believe that she really is the queen, eighty years and all, Mirren blows you away in a hot pink skirt topped with a cream-colored cowl-neck sweater that slips off one shoulder, sporting her naturally blonde hair cut very short and very chic.  Vibrant, enthusiastic, engaged and engaging, and eternally sexy!  Nothing like Dame Helen!

Please visit the website for The Audience and roll around in the photos, the reviews, and anything else that tickles your fancy! The Audience