Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Join me for six two hour explorations of music
from the 14th century to the 21st, with stops along the way to disucss performance
practise-why adagio meant something different 400 years ago than it means today-
artists, style and most importantly the day to day lives composers and the historical ontext in which many of our greatest works were created.

It'll be a combination of good informaiton, some listening, and stand up.


Wed. July 19th
Thu July 27

Wednesdays August 2, 9, 16 and 23

7-9 p.m.
3400 Calumet St. @ Oakland PArk
plenty of free off street parking


Please RSVP to

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Aprile Millo performed Tosca in Cincinnati recently to packed and enthusiastic houses. Since her debut in New York in 1984, Millo has sung 157 performances at the Metropolitan, always in the big girl Italian repertoire including: Aida, Trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, Andrea Chenier, Luisa Miller and Tosca. There was a falling off of appearances in the mid 1990s but lately Millo has triumphed at Carnegie Hall in concert performances of La Gioconda, Adriana Lecourvreur and The Girl of the Golden West. Twenty years ago she was resolutely touted by press and public as the new-last member of the old school style of Italian singing. Her Met performances are rare these days, but they always attract the full houses and the "buzz" one heard on nights Tebaldi was singing. We spoke on June 20, 2006

CP: I talked with some young people at your Tosca last week, and they hadn't heard the Italian style before. They hadn't heard capital R Real opera

AM: They heard exalted Broadway...

CP: They didn't know Tebaldi...

AM: Oh, my God!

AM: And I told them, well she's in heaven but you'll hear Millo

AM: Oh, I'm so glad. Thank you for that. That's so nice.

CP: When you open a score to Tosca or Trovatore and you look at this character, and you learn the words and the notes, then what?

AM: Well, that's saying a mouthful, because the score is the blueprint for humanity. Not only of the composer but of the character that you're singing. There was a wonderful interview years ago where the great Maria callas said, you look at something with a straight jacket. That's a wonderful expression. You do it exactly as it is written. In the hands of a great master, it generally is exactly the character's state of mind. So you try it first very stiff, very ...exactly as written. Then of course, inperceptively your own personality is going to find resonance with what you're hearing and what you're saying, and then it takes off from there.

CP: And that must happen, right? Your own personality to some extent must get in there?

AM: Well, I think that's the only salvation at all, because if you look at how many great singers have already sung this music, the best has already been done in my mind. All you can bring to it in all humility is your soul, and how it will color that particular kind of music.

CP: And what about the people to whom and with whom you are singing? The people on stage? What do you need from them?

AM: I wouldn't dream of naming names! What I hope for on stage is a feeling of religiosity for the music. That it isn't something where you wear leisure suits to come to rehearsal. I am sort of young enough to have been a bridge to the old school, like with Bergonzi, with Fiorenza Cossotto, and then with the younger older school, with Domingo and Pavarotti, and now of course the current stars. And you look at them and you say, My God, no one used to come to an opera house without being fully dressed suit and tie.

CP: It must be seen as being very important to you, what you are doing

AM: ..what they are trying to reduce opera today to is exalted Broadway.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with Broadway. The kind of Broadway I would have preferred, I was too young to have seen was Mary Martin and Ethel Merman...Gertrude Lawrence, or something of subtlety and beauty that used the natural voice to project. What we're finding in opera is that they want that same thing now. They want the body looking perfect. The don't care if you can hear it, and I'm sure we'll be into miking before the end of the next fifty years, which will then deprive us of the last bastion of real, authentic sound. The way the oboe, the viola, the clarinet sounds, that is how you hear it in the theater. When the body, which is the human Stradivarius, is singing without amplification on stage is the last true human experience in so grand a setting.

CP: Do you have to decide who Tosca is? She lives in a specific time and there are historical persons and events mentioned and it's even supposed to take place at a specific date and place (Rome, June 15, 1800) Do you decide what kind of a person she is?

AM: I think Puccini decided it first. Then I try to wed myself as much as I can to what he asks for. But again, your own personality will peep through. I made sure that
I was always backed by people who lived closer to the time when it was written, like Magda Olivero or Renata Tebaldi.. I made sure to speak to these people to say look, in your experience would this be acceptable? Direct from the line of the composer, especially with Madame Olivero who actually actually know most of these people

CP: Do you remember the first time you heard operatic singing, live?

AM: It took my breath away. I remember exactly. It was listening to my mother and father singing the Cavalleria duet. And I kept thinking where did my mother and father go, because they were no longer themselves, they seemed to go into another world. My mother said oh,no that's just opera. When you are singing opera you go to another world. Later on in life whenever she would hear a piece of music, her face would leave and she would be in a sort of exalted state, like a trance. It sounds stuffy, but if you've ever seen a parent look at something with a sense of transfiguration, you want to know why.

And as I sing now I know exactly what my parents were talking about, I think it's a direct line to another world. Some people want to call it heaven, or another dimension. However you call it, it is a better and more beautiful world, and so now because I just lost Mom in June of last year and my Dad a few years ago, now when I sing I'm talking to them. It's my only time to be with them. Now, I'm truly gone!

CP: How do I get young singers to listen to the older recordings?

AM: I think you just have to expose them and I think the evening they're exposed has to be incredibly fun. People come to my performances because they know it's a free for all in the theater. People are cheering and stamping on's very exciting. Whereas if you come into the theater and you're taught like we are in the rest of life we're taught to not make a sound, to be adult children...don't speak unless you're spoken to...don't try to be original...but don't be yourself. So in a theater it's a victory in a way that a woman is singing over an eighty piece orchestra and you can hear her. Then, people go nuts! They're screaming and it's so exciting.

CP: Who are the singers who were your role models?

AM: No question, Claudia Muzio, a fabulous Italian soprano. No question Zinka Milanov. And of course my great friend Renata Tebaldi- and Rosa Ponselle without a doubt, an absolute God of vocality.

CP: What is your hope for opera in the future?

AM: That it doesn't sell out.

CP: In what way?

AM: That it doesn't try to be all things to all people. If you look at the Mona Lisa in a fantastic museum, she does not try to be The Last Supper. She does not try to be the Transfiguration in the Papal residence. She is what she is. You are ennobled by looking at her...there's an enigma, blah blah blah. What opera does not need to do is to make itself over. It is already very timely, it is already very accessible. It's big, it's grand, it's triumphant. It is a human being singing directly to you. And now they say they have to look like movies stars. No, they don't...What's annoying is that several of the ballerinas who are singing today, there's nothing wrong with it if you're up close, and ah yes, it's an intriguing smaller voice and how lovely and sometimes they do something with the text. Most times they don't. And so you say okay, okay, okay. If you're sitting further back what you notice is the annoyance in the audience that they can't hear!

CP: And lastly, what is meant by style? The Italian style, the French style? Are these viable phrases today?

AM: Yes...for me when you sing in the French style you sing as a French person would speak with music. If you sing in the Italian you're singing an Italian thought which means you really have to know how they think...if it's a good composer they are going to express it to you in a particular kind of line, or utterance that is exactly how they speak. If you listen to the real Italian literature, a true Bellini phrase is very different from Verdi and Mozart. There's a longer, longer bow used in the bel canto; then it's transferred into what I call verismatic bel canto, which is Verdi, and then of course Puccini takes it further and it becomes absolute conversation. Through it all there's a sense of legato that is completely missing today. Completely missing! ...I heard recently at a very highly touted evening in which we were to be unbelievably blown away by some piece...but it had to have a bel canto phrasing. And you heard two or three notes and you thought oh good, good, good, they're going to go's going to be magnificent. And then all of a sudden it got chopped, or they used a consonant to destroy the line. It doesn't have to be a robot, but it has to vibrate, like Fritz Kreisler on a violin. It has to breathe , it has to be elastic, but it does have to have the legato, and I think that's one of the great things missing today, is a sense of really beautiful expression within the sound.
We want an athlete on stage just throwing out high notes, but those notes are sometimes wed to emotion.

CP: And they're connected to other notes

AM...of course!

CP : There's a whole string of pearls there in connecting the notes you want to go for. If anyone heard Callas sing Norma you know...

AM: And look..the conductor Tullio Serafin taught Rosa Ponselle. He then updated or adjusted it to the Callas Norma. He then updated and adjusted to Joan Sutherland. Those three giants he taught Norma. Yet they all have the absolute requisite legato and Bellini style. It proves it can be done.
The problem is that today we have many lovely voices who are used up by the recording companies. And they are also in the hands of maestri who want to be symphonic conductors. And there's not enough symphonies for them. So they "settle." That's a key word, they "settle" on opera. And they know nothing about then you have these young babies in the hands of babies, and no one really understands the style. Or they think they're going to "re write" it, as if they have a direct line. Tradition is important to observe.

Aprile Millo sings Tosca, La Gioconda and Maadalena in Andrea Chenier at the Metropolitan Opera during the 2006-2007 season.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

PATTY DUKE on mental illness

Actress Patty Duke was born Anna Marie Duke and was taken from her parents at a very young age to be raised by a theatrical agent couple, the Rosses, who developed a young girl into a meal ticket. Miss Duke won an Academy Award at sixteen for her portrayal of Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker", a film shot during the day while she played the role nightly on Broadway. "The Patty Duke Show" is an icon of the bubble gum sixties; its long run made her a household name. Her career in TV and films has continued since then, with a number of ups and downs, notably a diagnosis of bi polar disorder over twenty years ago. Today, Patty Duke has reclaimed her name Anna. She's the author of two books, "Call Me Anna" and "A Brilliant Madness".
Her TV and film roles run from Martha Washington to Neely O'Hara in
"Valley of the Dolls" to Annie Sullivan in a TV remake of "The Miller Worker".
Today, Anna Marie Pearce aka Patty Duke is happily maried to Mike Pearce, and is the mother of 17 year old Kevin. One of her older children is movie star Sean Astin.
She lives in Idaho. We spoke by phone on June 14, 2006 for a planned broadcast special on mental health issues.

CP: In one of your books you wrote that as a young child you were told by your guardians, "Anna is dead. You're Patty now." To say that to a child made my flesh crawl...

PD: Isn't it astonishing, no matter how stupid somebody is, they gotta go pretty far to come up with that one!

CP: The thrust of my program, which I hope will air later this fall is the lack of any kind of safety net or any kind of care for a kid with mental illness after he ages out of his parents coverage. You're on your own.

PD: Yup

CP: At least you are here in Ohio...

PD: Everyhere!

CP: That's what I want to dig into...

PD: It seems to be that in the 17-18-19-20 area, it seems to be the most intense and with the least available help.

CP: Do you mean the disorder becomes more intense then?

PD: I think so. In my twenty three years of being what I call an expert patient, its just been my personal observation. Its also the toughest time to make the diagnosis, in the teenage years, because when we're teenagers we do outrageous things to sort it out from being a wacky teen to being a chemically imbalanced person, is really tough.

CP: In reading about your life and your own childhood, there was a lot of horror that went on, and at the same time you won an Academy Award at I'm trying to make sense of that level of accomplishment coming out of that much horror-

PD: ...I know that I was born with a chemical imbalance. I didn't know what it was until much later, but I was also born into a family with at best severe emotional problems, in New York, in the lower class neighborhood, and there's almost a street fighter in me, which I notice when I watch The Miracle Worker...

CP: That's interesting because when you have been written about about as an actor, the word "powerful" is usually attached to your name. She's a powerful actor.
She's a strong actor

PD: Honest to God I think it is that incredible spirit to survive, whether it takes anger or charm, or ocassionally grace, whatever it takes not go down. I think that those things might have existed without the illness...

CP: Do you think you would have been the same powerful actor with a safer Mom and Pop type upbringing?

PD: No, I don't. But that bothers me because then I'm saying that you have to have some torturous life in odrer to be creative and powerful. And I don't really believe that. I've worked with people all my life who didn't grow up in dysfunction and severe rage in their lives, and they're really solid and inspired. But I've also worked with at least as many who come from my kind of background.

CP: You write very poignantly of how when you were very young you were cast in a film with Judy Garland, and you wound up taking care of her. And the irony of that was not lost on you, even then

PD: No, it was not. And again, I had yet to be diagnosed. But there was a simpatico.
First of all she was JUDY GARLAND. Also, that fragile wounded bird like character that she was, it was like the strongest magnet I've ever felt

CP: Was she attracted to you in the same way?

PD: I believe so. Yet neither of us would drop our pride long enough, or knew enough about ourselves to know that we were two peas in a pod.

CP: You were born with a chemical imbalance, you came out of the web with a physical problem, but you also had that street fighter smarts, were you born with that or did you learn that as a survival technique as a little kid?

PD: Both.

CP: They do go hand in hand. That may be why you're still here and still working.

PD: Exactly. Yes, because who was my own worst enemy all those years?...the self sabotage was at least as bad as the cruelty as I experienced.

CP: Did you ever have a light bulb moment as a kid when you said, Not everybody lives this way?

PD: I don't know if I'd call it a light bulb moment..because for that the light goes on and you see in the light and you move in a direction. I do remember when I was about 16 realizing that hey, this isn't how people live. How come I don't see other kids like this? And unfortunatley I turned it in, because the fear was still greater than anything else. The fear of this unknown that the Rosses held over me over all those years...

CP: And until you were a legal adult it was in noone's best interest to get you help.
You were earning money. You were a big star. So by the time you didn't legally need to be attached to anyone any more it was totally up to you to get help for yourself, or to know you needed help, and that's a problem hat persists today. A lot of these kids turn 18 or 21 and you are on your own even if you have the best parents in the world in terms of The System....

PD: Exactly.

CP: ...but just he money to pay for the medications...

PD: One of the great tragedies of these illnesses and whether or not people get care ie economic. People tell me things. My response is You know there are people that have studied these illnesses who can be helpful, and just beause they are psychiatrists doesn't mean we should avoid them. And I go into this whole long soulful thing...describing help that is available and by the time I get to the end of it the person says, I have no money. I have no insurance.
It stops me in my tracks. I am beginnig to learn through my travels, that there are indeed some frail systems available for people without money, but its the best kept secret in America...

CP: Well its been kept from me, this is good to know.
One of my goals for this program is to piss people off so they turn on their elected represetives and demand some changes

PD: I have been deficient. In all of my work and it hads been really diligent,
I have not gone to-probably because of fear-I have not gone to the most powerful resource, which is-piss 'em off. To actually gather folks, and remember we are allegedly by the people, of the people, for the people...

CP: Do you think pissing them off is what its going to take, both the people affected and our legislators, to get some laws enacted to protect people who can't protect themsevles?

PD: I'm afraid we're going to need a healthy portion of that. The other thing is to turn on the light bulb and show that we've been in the dark and we've been terrified. And I firmly beleive ...fifty percent of our crime would stop.

CP: Pete Earley, you blurbed his book, "Crazy"..

PD: Oh! I'm telling you...!

CP: Here's this man and the authoriites say to him well, if your son tries to kill you or kills himself, bring him back...they literlly said that to him!
Because he's past legal age and they can't admit him involuntarily

PD: That book had for some of the missing elements we've talked about this morning. It had for me that impetus that rage can give you. That you can use in a healthy way. It was also such a source of information. I'm someone who thinks I live in the mental health community, and there was so much I didn't know about legislation, about care, about the lacks thereof!

CP: Does that get tired for you, to be know as the mental health advocate rather than the the actor, the mother, the wife?

PD: No. You know I'm about to start a low budget film. A friend of mine wrote it. We're going to get some drapes and paint the barn and make a movie. So I have an emotional investment. And yet, the closer the time comes to starting the more it seems alien to me. It's been true for a while. As uncomfortable as I was when I started publically talking about mental illness and mine in particular, it is now where I live. It's where I'm comfortable. It's where I get the most satisfaction. There isn't glory all over it, and nodody rolls out a red carpet

CP: The payback-spiritually-must be intesne.

PD: And it takes so little for me. It take sme telling my story, telling what I'v e learned over these twenty some odd years and being willing to be truly naked so that others can say, Oh she has the same thing I have..Its strange to me about our society that celebrities can have such an impact and when it dawned on me
I siezed the moment...

CP: Well, I went to school with litle girls who had Patty Duke lunch boxes

PD laughs

CP...they went out AS you trick or treating. The boys would go as John Glenn.
The girls went as Patty and Cathy and the boys went as John Glenn...

PD: Oh my God! You have just tickled me so!

CP: You've said you've been taking lithium twice a day for years.
A lot of people don't get a drug cocktail that works. Did you luck out?

PD: Number one I lucked out. I don't have any noticeable side effects.
Other people unfortunately may over long term use have very severe side effects. Kidneys, liver, weight gain...Nowadays there are a good 60 to 150 types of drugs available, each very specific and each an alternative for something that was prescibed that doesn't work. But I also say to people, sometimes we do not give it a chance. One of the things we're working with is that we're new to the idea that we have this illness and we're new to the idea of side effects, and sometimes we program these. I urge people to please give whatever medication they're prescribed a chance and know that there are alternatives. And sometimes its a hunt and peck...

CP: Lithium takes time to kick in...Do you remember the first day you woke up and felt different after being on lithium?

PD: I do. I remember there as nothing dramatic. I just remember after being up for a couple of hours I actually noticed an absence of the motor running, and the fidgety kind of behaviors that I had besides the behavioral crazies. I noticed it but I didn't trust it. It took a couple of days more for me to really start to believe, maybe its these pills I'm taking. The building of the trust in it takes a while.

CP: It's a long habit to feel bad, so you have to learn to feel good.

PD: You develop certain habits that you are now accustomed to, and when the feelings that provoked those are gone, you have to relearn habits. You get to invent
new habits, positive and negative!

CP: That's a a gift of getting older. You can screw up in a different way

PD: It is! Its a compensation. I'm going to be sixty this year...I have found when I stop the superficial railing at aging, there really are compensations-separate from a clinical diagnosis. There are differences that happen and the wisdom really does come!..I'm vey lucky. I accidently on purpose surround myself with young people.
We have a 17 year old son. He has about six buddies who are habitiual weekenders here, and now one of them has a girlfriend and now she's become part of the group.
And I'm just, I try really hard not to be obsessive and possesive but I find that there energy is tremendously helpful...

CP: There are a couple of websites for you and there's a fabulous blog on it

PD: I read every single e mail. They all get answered by me.

CP: It doe sa lot of good, and I thnak you again for your time and your enoristy

PD: Oh Chrisotpher,I've had so much fun

CP: And I wish I had that lunch box to send'd be worth a lot of money now on EBAY!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The following is a tracnscript of a telephone conversation I had with Joseph Volpe,
General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, on June 1, 2006

Joseph Volpe went to work at the Metropolitan Opera over forty years ago as a carpenter, and this year he retires as the Company's General Manger,
which means he is the boss of all bosses at the world's most famous opera house.
His new book is called The Toughest Show on Earth.

CP: Your book is called Toughest Show on what's so tough?

JV: The job itself, the way I did it. It was the focus of my life. I was hands on in everything. I needed to see everything first hand. I'd go in at 9 or 10 in the morning and still be there after the evening's performance, close to midnight.
It ends up being your life. Anytime there were problems it always came first. I just thought it was a catchy title-Toughest Show on Earth-but the job gave me such great pleasure. I'm going to miss it.

P: If I were a kid and I wrote you a letter asking you, what do I have to learn in order to run the Met someday, what would you tell me?

JV: I'd first say you should learn everything you can about opera and theater.
You can do that anywhere. Any small opera company. But truly devote yourself to have to dedicate yourself to learning everything you want to do.
Even after a late performance, when I was master carpenter I would take the train home after the performance and I would be constantly reading about different aspects of it. Really dedicating yourself to learn everything you can, so you are prepared to run it if you get that opportunity.

CP: That is the school, just going and doing it.

JV: Absolutely!

NOTE: Volpe's first boss at the Met was Rudolf Bing (1902-1997).
Bing ran the Met from 1950 to 1972. He was not known for personal warmth.
Check out his memoir '"5000 Nights at the Opera"
CP: You began there during the days of Generl Manager Rudolf Bing.
The great Brigit Nilsson said of him, "When Bing retires he'll be missed, even if people don't like him now." You have some very interesting stories about him and especially about a confrontation with a stage director.

JV: I felt he was a wonderful general manager, he was very hands on. Yes he was aristocratic in a sense, and probably very imperial in the way he did things, but he really was a wonderul fellow. The stage director happened to be Franco Zeffirelli. I didn't know who he was. I was trying to make a production work of (Samuel Barber's new opera) Antony and Cleopatra, and Zeffirelli saw that I was really throwing out, disposing of some of his scenery, and he was taken aback. He said, What are you doing? And I responded, I'm trying to make this show work. We have some wacko designer here...and the next morning Mr. Bing called me into his office to introduce me officially to Franco Zeffirelli...and the funny thing Christopher was that at my Gala concert a few weeks ago, there's an interview with Zeffirelli and he talks about it-and he's very charming.
NOTE: The Gala Concert honoring Joseph Volpe was given at the Metropolitan Opera house on May 22 2006 and later televised throughout the country on PBS.

NOTE: Soprano Renata Tebaldi (1922-2004) was a beatiful woman with a glorious voice. She was the artist most beloved by the New York audiences from her debut in 1955 to her retirement in 1973. If you don't know her recordings, go to the library.

CP: Recently a colleague of yours, the soprano Loretta di Franco, was interviewed
and she mentioned Renata Tebaldi coming onstage in "Adriana Lecouvreur" and she said this was one of the great moments, it was great for the audience and for di Franco herself. Did you have moments like that with artists?

JV: Well Renata Tebaldi, I remember when she did "La Gioconda" and I was just so taken by her. I didn't think of the audience (laughs) it was very personal with me, and I just flipped, she was so wonderful...When she stopped singing, she was under the impression that she would receive a pension from the Met and of course the star singers did not, and I was the one who had to tell her the bad news. She was very upset about that. Years later she came back to New York to visit. We had a big luncheon for her, and we had a wonderful time, she was a singer that set me and so many others on my ear. She was just incredible.

CP: Even when Tebaldi wasn't singing, she WAS the show

JV: Yes! She walked down the aisle at the Met druing her visit many years after she had last sung here to her seat before a peformance and the audience was just so excited Renata Tebaldi was there!

CP: You write in your book that one of your favorite Met productions was of Kurt Weill's "Mahagonny" staged by by John Dexter....

JV: Right. Well, John was a really man of the theater. He was a believer that you do productions with less scenery and less clutter because then the singers would act more. And of course it starred Teresa Stratas and she is a favorite. I was so enamored with the entire cast and the way John directed. It was one of the best productions I've ever seen. And Teresa was a large part of that.

CP: She's a little woman, maybe 90 pounds wringing wet and she's a huge artist

JV: Oh...

CP: I remember back in the 70s when the courtain went up on John Dexter's staging of "Dialogues of the Carmelites", no one knew what this was...

It was a broadcast, the house premiere, and there was a gasp before the opera even began

JV: Do you remember the opening scene? When the nuns lie there outstretched, cruciform..John was just an incredible director

CP: He was a Brit, from the spoken theatre, well known for "Equus"
You have a lot of strong personlities at the Met. How-er, dynamic can it get?

JV: With strong personalities there are always differences of opinion, and one needs to work them out. I find that's one of the biggest responsibilities, being supportive to the performers, to the artists, so that they can perform in an environment when they can do their best work, so you have to find ways to do that. It's been said Christopher that I have a strong personlity

CP: No! Who said that?

JV: (laughs) Well its been said but it only helped me with everyone else. You cut through all the negotiation and get down to the real facts because they knew I wasn't going to fool around and have long discussions. If there was a problem they knew we'd look at it and we would resolve it. Period. And we got on with things. But no, over the years, I must say I will miss the artists greatly, the artists and the company members, because that is what the Metropolitan Opera is's the Company, the performers, that's what the Met is.

NOTE: One of the most controversial moments in Volpe's Met career came shortly after he was given the title General Manager in 1994. He fired the soprano Kathleen Battle for "unprofessional behavior" during rehearsals. An exquisite vocalist, Battle had reportedly long shown disdain for her colleauges and a temeperament thought to be counterproductive and destructive. She has not appeared in opera since 1994, but continues a hghly successful concert and recording career. Battle's firing from the Met was front page in the New York Times.

CP: Is it your job to be proactive in the care of artists? I do have to bring up the Kathleen Battle situation because you devote an entire chapter to her in your book..
You said that was one of your great regrets, that it couldn't have been resolved

JV: I was very active in helping artists, and being supportive. But it is a big regret. Obviously Kathy had a lot of probems. And it got so I had to make the decision I did to fire her, but it was unfortunate. In a way, that was a failure of mine. I tried very hard to work it out so she could perform, but I wasn't successful, and I don't know what more I could have done...

NOTE: In the book Volpe reports on a heated exchange with Battle's manger. He said, "Bing was known as the man who fired Maria Callas. Do you want to be known as the man who fired Kathleen Battle?" To which Mr. Volpe replied, "Kathy Battle is no Maria Callas."

CP: She is an extraordinary artist

JV: Yes, absolutely.

CP: What do you want the Met's future to be?

JV: My hope is that the Met and opera in this country will continue to flourish, even though certainly the economy and 9/11 and the war in Iraq have kept people from going out and spending money. My hope is that we protect the wonderful art form that it is. What concerns me is that when there are new works and composers write works that require amplification, I do want to make sure that opera does not go the way of Broadway. Years ago Broadway was wonderful and you had people who could really sing. Now with the amplification, that's no longer so important...Well, its not opera, and it can't be great opera or grand opera if we amplify. That's one of my biggest concerns.

CP: How about your own future? You're going to work for Rudolph Giuliani

JV: Yes, I'm going to work with Rudi and we''ve got a lot of projects I'll be involved in and managing. I said I wanted to do something completely different before I retire for good and working with Rudi in this way is a great opportunity. I don't know what Rudi will be doing as far as his political career, but I'm not going to get involved there. I couldn't be elected dog catcher, nor help anyone, so its better I stay away from that front!

CP Oh come on!

JV: No, I'm not!


Monday, June 05, 2006

Intrerview with Pete Earley, author of CRAZY

CRAZY: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness
by Pete Earley
c.2006 G.P. Putman and Sons


see also

This is a transcript of a phone conversation between myself and Mr. Earley as I prepare a broadcast on the problems in safely and effectively treating those with mental illness. Mike is Mr. Earley's son. He was diagonsed five years ago-at 22- with bi polar disorder.

PE--Pete Earley
CP--Christopher Purdy


PE: Mike is my son, when he was in college he developed a mental illness, bi polar disorder. I rushed him from New York where he was attending school to Virginia, where I lived, and during that four hour trip, it was unbelievable. His moods would shift. At one moment he'd be laughing, the next minute he'd be sobbing. It was very difficult to watch. And then he said to me, Dad how would you feel if someone you loved killed himself. So of course I rushed him to an Emergency Room to get him some help. And the intake nurse rolled her eyes when he told her that he believed pills were poison, and that he was God's messenger. We waited for four hours, and then a doctor came in and I'll never forget, he came in with his hands raised, as if he were surrendering, and he said, Look I'm sorry, I'm not going to be able to help your son. And I said, You haven't even examined him! He said, it doesn't matter, the nurse told me your son believes that pills are poison, he doesn't seem to me to be in any iminent danger, either to himself or others, and under Virginia law he has either to be hurting himself or hurt someone else, in order for me to forcibly treat him. So take him home, and if he tries to kill himself or kill you, then bring him back and we'll try to do something.

C: He actually said that to you, we can help him if he tries to kill himself or you?

PE: That's right....I took him home and for the next forty eight hours I watched him sink into this mental abyss. At one point he had tin foil wrapped around his head and he was watching TV because he thought the CIA was trying to penetrate his
thoughts through the airwaves. He slipped out of the house. He broke into a neighbor's house, luckily they weren't home. He went in there to take a bath, and he did quite a bit of damage in the house, and then the police came. It took five of them to drag him out of there, and they took him to a mental health center. And I thought, Good! Now he'll get some help. When I got to the Center the police said to me No, he's still not considered a danger to himself or others, so unless you go in there and tell people he threatened to kill you, we'll take him to jail and you don't want that.

So I went in and I lied. I said, My son has threatened to kill me. That got him in the hospital...then I was told no, he STILL didn't seem to be a danger, so he would be released unless he became violent. Then the police called to tell me he'd been charged with two felonies. I was so frustrated because here the law had kept me from getting him help, and now the law wanted to punish him for a crime he committed when he was obviously ill.

CP: In your book you mention "the crimilaztion of the mentally ill"

PE: That's exactly right. That's what's going on right now. Jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums. 700,000 people with severe mental illness go through the justice system each year. The largest mental facilty in the United States is not a hospital, but the Los Angeles County jail.

We are turning those places into our new asylums. That's where people end up when they need help with their mental illness, and that's not right.

CP: You book, CRAZY focuses on your son Mike and also the mental health system and lack of any safety net for the mentally ill

PE: I wanted to put a human face on this story, so with Mike's cooperation I decided to tell his story. But I interwove it with the bigger story. I went to Miami where 9% of the population has mental illness, and I wanted to see how that community deals with persons with mental illnesses. And what I found out is rather typical. They either end up in jail, they end up eating out of garbage cans in the streets, OR some with chronic diseases end up in assisted living facilites. Boarding homes that the state pays for. There are 4500 people in Miami who live in 647 of these homes, 400 of them can't even pass minimun safety standards. They're slums.
In Washington there was a recent expose telling how many patients in facilities like these were murdered, actually murdered by caregivers, they were starved to death, they were abused. A Milwaulkee newspaper just did a series on the mentally ill and how people were being mistreated there. So its grim all the way around. There's a tremendous lack of services in communities and some of the laws in place are throwing up roadblocks instead of helping us get people help.

CP: We can help you if you kill somebody, but if you don't kill somebody we can't help you.

PE: Exactly.

CP: A lot of people do well on medications, but some seem not to do well; it's also an issue of getting people to take their medicaitons

PE: That's right. You know it takes more than just sticking a pill in someone's mouth. A lot of these mental illnesses are biological problems, they are chemical imbalances which affect how nerve cells send and receive messages. So medicaton can help, it is effective in about 80% of severe mental illness, the trick is 1. getting the right medicaitons and getting people to take it.

My son was on probation for two years, took his medication every day, did a great job
with it, six months later he stopped. Two weeks ago he was forcibly hospitalized. This breaks your heart, but it seems to be part of the cycle you go through.

CP: Often there are devastating side affects to medications, even if they keep you relatively safe...

PE: The first medication my son was on made him gain forty pounds, made him lethargic...he looked like a zombie. None of us were happy with that. A lot of folks with mental illness struggle to find the right balance.

CP: What is Mike's life going to be as far as you can tell? How old was he when you took that four hour ride?

PE: 22 years old. He's now 27.

CP: Did you have any hint of this?

PE: One year before he had had some problems, some bizzare behavior, and we sent him to a psychiatrist who said he might have bi polar disorder. We were all in denial. It was such a devastating diagnosis. He would stay up for five days and we said, Oh well, its stress, and it's not going to come back. And it does come back.
The sad thing about mental illness is that it's a lifetime sentence. You can be treated, but for a severe illness like bi polar disorder or schizophrenia, those are awfully tough to cure. That's what we're living with now. It's really tough. You want to say to somebody who is now 27 years old, well its up to you, your fate's in your hands, take your medications and you'll be fine. But sometimes medications don't work. It's like asking someone with 2 broken legs to run a marathon.
If you have a disease, when does the diesease kick in, and what do you blame on someone being irresponsible. It's tough call.

CP: What has to change so that Mike and everybody else can have a better quality of life, and not be blamed for something in their brains they can't control?

PE: That's the key point. We have to stop making persons with mental illness into criminals. My son now faces a double stigma, both being mentally ill and now having a criminal record. Jails and prisons can't be part of the care process. We have to provide better community sevices, and we must get rid of a lot of the stigma. We have to realize that people who have a mental illness are sick. If your heart gets sick, your brain can get sick. We don't like to do that. We want to blame people for their mental illness. It's not something they did or a weakness in character. If we don't do this we realize it could happen to us, and that's scary.

CP: Would you describe Milke's life now at 27 as 2 steps forward 3 steps back?

PE: I was very optimistc. He was on 2 years of probation. He went to work, had a job. No one would have guessed he had a mental illness. He stopped taking his medication. I can't explain why. Then you watched him decompensate, and then 2 weeks ago he had to be forcibly hospitalized, its a reminder that this is what our life is going to be like, until he either reaches a point where he stays on the medicaiton or he gets worse. Each time you have one of these breakdowns, you do know that it's harder to come back from them.

June 5, 2006