Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Books Read in 2014

These are the books I read during 2014. I've noticed for myself that no non fiction books have been selected for the top five. There were good bios of David Dinkins, Barbara Stanwyck, The Nixons, and Mussolini! But I'm attracted less to facts and more to exquisite writing, and for that my choices were made.

Top favorites for 2014:

All the Light we Cannot See examines the connection between a blind girl and a young Nazi soldier in occupied France.

Redeployment  is a collection of stories of soldiering in the Iraq war. You are there and you are horrified and enthralled

Fourth of July Creek has a very creative premise: a social worker and an abandoned kid in the wild. 

Miriam Toews almost made suicide funny. All My Puny Sorrows has a woman emotionally entangled with her suicidal sister. 

Richard Ford, God love him, continues to make middle aged men moving and important.

Oh, one more, for me, indispensable:  

Virgil Thomson, Music Chronicles 1940-1954
Thomson was a fine composer and is the best writer on music I've encountered.  Funny, dry, nasty, concise and extremely learned.
Thanks to Tim Page for making this available.



*= a favorite
+=interviewed the author

Richard Ford. He's done it again with Let Me Be Frank With You


Russell Banks

*The Death of Santini   Pat Conroy

Exposed: Jodi Arias Jane Velez Mitchell

Mayor   David Dinkins
*My Reading Life Pat Conroy

My Beautiful World Sonia Sotomayor

Still Fooling Them Billy Crystal

Henry David Thoreau...Walden was worth reading.
Walden   Henry David Thoreau
Vicar of Christ Walter F. Murphy

Favorite Sons Robin Yocum

Song of the Spiderman Greg Berg

*The Essay   Robin Yocum
*The Fault in Our Stars John Greene       

Beach Music   Pat Conroy
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn

Barbara Stanwyck   Victoria Wilson

The Great Santini Pat Conroy

Doctor Sleep Stephen King

The Global Vatican Francis Rooney

The Queen’s Gambit Elizabeth Fremantle

This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon (stories) Linda McCullough Moore

*A Permanent Member of the Family (stories) Russell Banks+
(esp Big Dog)

Edmund White
Jack Holmes and his Friend Edmund White+

Mad As Hell (Network) Dave Itzikoff

The Soldier and the Spy (Dreyfus) Richard Harris

*David Copperfield Charles Dickens

Mussolini and the Pope David Kertzer

Pat and Dick (Nixon) Will Swift

Civil War Diaries Walt Whitman (in Specimen Days)

Living the Quaker Way Philip Gulley

Little Failure Gary Shteyngart

The Queen’s Bed Anna Whitlock

Fosse Sam Wasson

*The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty

The Burglary Betty Medsger

*Redeployment Phil Klay +

Mission at Nuremburg Tim Townsend

*Stoner John Williams

Faith   Jennifer Haigh (Boston, priests)

*Across the Bridge Mavis Gallant (stories rec. by Russell Bank)

Sum it Up Pat Summit

North of Boston Eliz. Elo
Tastemaker Carl Van Vechten and the Beginning of Modern
America --Edward White

*The Sweet Hereafter Russell Banks+

*Orfeo Robert Powers
*The Middle Men (stories) Jim Gavin

Leonardo and the Last Supper Ross King
Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow

*The Condition Jennifer Haigh
The Days of Anna Madrigal Armistead Maupin

Deception  Phillip Roth
Suspicion Nation Lisa Bloom (Trayvon)

*Bring up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
**The Invention of Wings Sue Monk Kid

Escape From  Auschwitz Joel Rosenberg

*The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Samuel Clemens

Fatherland Robert Harris
The Windsor Faction D.J. Taylor
To Quell the Terror  William Bush

*Coal Black Horse Robert Olmstead (civil war, local author)

Newtown Matthew Lysiak

Divide: American Injustice in the Era of the Wealth Gap
Matt Taibbi

The Professor and the Housekeeper  Yoko Ogawa

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A Time to Keep Silence Patrick Leigh Fermor

Perfectly Miserable, God, Guilt and Real Estate in a Small Town Sarah Payne Stuart

Cut Loose by Leah Vincent (left ultra-orthodox Jews)

Dominion CJ Sansom Nazi victory in WWII

The Hiltons J. Randy Taborirelli

The Good Pope-John XXIII Greg Tobin

What is Visible Kimberly Elkins (Laura Bridgman)

*Famous Writers I have Known Magnuson

Stokely Joseph E. Peniel

**Fourth of July Creek Henderson Smith

I said yes to everything Lee Grant+   
Lee Grant. Loved her.

*Unbroken Lauren Hillebrand

Play it Again Alan Rusbridger

*Blue Eyed Boy  Robert Timken (‘Nam vet, journalist, burns)

Hot Dogs and Cocktails (FDR/Royal Family) Peter Conradi

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour  Joshua Ferris

*Mr. Mercedes  Stephen King

Bleeding Edge Thomas Pynchon

The Long Loneliness Dorothy Day
The Alteration Kingsley Amis

The Good Luck of Right Now Matthew Quick (Richard Gere)
Shooting Straight Piers Morgan

*The Rosie Project (Asperger wife)-Prof Don Tillman

The Romanov Sisters  Helene Rappaport

*Remember Me Like This (Justin Campbell lost boy)
   Brett Anthony Johnston

Olivier  Phillip Ziegler

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin  Jill Lepore

Savage Harvest: The Search for Michael Rockefeller  Carl Hoffman

*The Undertaking  Audrey Magee

A Fighting Chance  Elizabeth Warren

The Chase Janet Evanovich+
1776 Revolutionary Summer  James Ellis

***Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

Big Little Lies  Liane Moriarty

Terrorist’s Son   Zak Efraim

*Barracuda  Christos Tsoikas

Easy Street (The hard way) Ron Perelman
Heft Liz Moore

War and Peace Tolstoy

*The Life and Tragic Death of Robert Peace  Jeff Hobbs
*The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher  Hilary Mantel

You Might Remember Me: Phil Hartman  Mike Rowe

Eve of Eternity  Ken Follett

The Mathematicians Shiva Stuart Rojszstater

The Good Father  Noah Hawley

*We are not Ourselves  Matthew Thomas
*Nora Webster Colm Toibin

The Job Janet Evanovich+ 
The Heist Janet Evanovich+
How I Write Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich. Had a blast interviewing her to a sold out house, thanks to The Thurber House

*Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen and Essex Hemphill  Martin Duberman

Sisters of Treason Elizabeth Fremantle

Village of Silence: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France Caroline Moorehead

On the Edge  Edward St. Aubyn
Lost for Words Edward St Aubyn

City of Lies: Therean Ramita Navai

*****All the Light You Cannot See  Anthon Doerr

(Bob) Hope by Richard Zoglin

Without You There is No Us Suki Kim

*The Goldfinch Donna Tarrt

*The Children’s Act Ian McEwan

*All My Puny Sorrows Miriam Toews

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Is it a crime to be schizophrenic?

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Scott Panetti is scheduled to be executed in Texas tonight for the murder of his in laws. No one doubts that this crime was especially horrendous. Panetti held the older couple hostage along with his own wife and daughter. He shot his in laws to death, claiming the devil had ordered him to do so. He spared his daughter and former wife.

The crime occurred in 1992. Panetti was sentenced to death in 1995. Scott Panetti represented himself at trial. It is said his defense came down to incomprehensible rants. He called over 200 witnesses, among them Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. The American Psychiatric Association is among the many signators on letters of clemency directed to Texas Governor Rick Perry.

On Monday the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency is a 7-0 vote.

"This is a man who has been severely mentally ill since twelve years before the crime", said Ron Honberg of the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill. "It would be a travesty to proceed with this execution."

Joe and Amanda Alovrado murdered by Scott Panetti
Is Panetti a nice guy wrongly convicted? No. He's profoundly ill and and in his madness killed two people. He should not be enjoying the freedoms guaranteed tot he rest of us. He's a danger to himself and others.

What bothers me most, aside from the obvious assault on decency in executing a schizophrenic, as if he should be lamed for his own illness, is the rage that is nurtured in cases like these. Politicians want to be re elected. Thus in many communities they seem to be ignore clemency and decency in favor of death. The public is frightened and outraged by crime. The authorities demonize the mentally ill. They are easy targets and are used to further incite the public. Look what this monster did! Let's kill him! Yes! screams the electorate. There's no gray area, no consideration of brain disorders beyond anyone's control.

Remember, Panetti is not reported to have received medical care in those years prior to the murders. Medication yes. But how diligently was he treated? How extensive was his care? Unless he was independently wealthy, I'll be he got nothing but pills.

Why was Panetti allowed to defend himself? He dressed up in cowboy gear and battle fatigues, and he made absolutely no sense in court. Why was this allowed to continue? Was the prosecution qualified to claim Panetti was acting? He must be a very good and inexhaustible actor.

I worry too that all of the ACLU cries for justice are dismissed as liberal weak assed junk. I'll bet even Sister Helen Prejean is dissed in this manner. What's especially interesting in the Panetti case is the Evangelical community's support of clemency

As reported by Stephanie Mercimer in Mother Jones,

"[Panetti's] religious fervor is the product of a brain disorder, and the evangelicals' opposition to his execution is not related to his religious proclamations," wrote Mencimer. "It is more of a reflection of the shift in public attitudes regarding capital punishment that has been driven by the growing number of exonerations of death row inmates, the high number of mentally ill and disabled people sentenced to die, and the inefficient and expensive administration of capital punishment."

It is becoming too easy and too acceptable to kill people. God help us. They are coming after the profoundly mentally ill. Who's next?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Anita Cerquetti, an Introduction and a Rememberance

It would have been easy to label this post 'The Forgotten Prima Donna, but the fact is that soprano Anita Cerquetti has long been cherished by opera enthusiasts and record collectors. That says something for Cerquetti's art, since few of us heard her live. The lady retired in 1961 at the age of thirty and never sang in public again.

Anita Cerquetti died last week at her home in Rome, at the age of 83. She had surfaced in a few documentary films in recent years, a cheerful, hefty old lady who spoke intelligently and passionately, not about her career but about music, text, and singing.

Far from being a curiosity, Cerquetti had a fine career for the decade on the 1950s. Her debut at age 20, to her final appearances in 1961 had her singing all over Italy, South America and Europe. In the States she appeared with the Chicago Opera, and I believe there were concerts in New York and Philadelphia. This was a brief career, Euro-based. Of commercial recordings in the age of Tebaldi and Callas, there are only two: La Gioconda with Del Monaco, Simionato and Bastianni, and an aria recital.

The record companies weren't interested. The public was. Cerquetti excelled in the big Verdi girls: Aida, the Leonoras, Abigaille and Elena in I vespri Siciliani. Bellini's Norma was a specialty. Cerquetti it was who replaced Callas when that singer abandoned a run of Normas in Rome in 1958, to international fury  (de Gaulle and the President of Italy were in the audience. It was thought Callas 'walked out', thus insulting the heads of state, when in fact she was ill and simply could not sing)

Cerquetti was a big woman with an expressive face and a large, gleaming voice. There as a certain huskiness to the tone which helped give the voice originality. The tone was even thought the scale. Norma's rage was no problem for Cerquetti, nor was Norma's ecstasy. This was a huge talent with a very brief career. Why?

Cerquetti spent her life explaining her early retirement, and fighting off rumors from cancer to insanity. By 1961 she was tired. In an interview with Lanfranco Rasponi, she stated:

"When my father became hopelessly ill, I cancelled ll my performances so I could be with him, as I loved him with all my heart. After the shock of his death, my beloved  maestro Mario Rossini, to whom I owed everything, passed away. I kept postponing the signing of contracts, then I found myself pregnant. After the birth of my daughter Gioia, once more I could not make up my mind to resume. She needed love, attention and care, and who was going to give it to her with a mother always on the go?"

So she stopped. Raised her daughter and enjoyed her home and family. Interest in her singing never wavered. Cerquetti was always the source of rumor and musical journalists often rang the doorbell. Rasponi, in the aforementioned interview in the elate 1970s tell us, "At first Cerquetti was not eager to see me, but eventually received me in the most cordial manner."

Thanks to recorded broadcasts, we have complete performances of Aida, Norma, Ernani, I vespri Siciliani and Guglielmo Tell.  Cerquetti's singing is all over youtube. Her biggest hit is the aria O re dei cieli from Spontini's Agnese di Hohenstaufen. Get going.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Salve o Macbetto!

Verdi: Macbeth Live in hD from the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Fabio Luisi. With Zelko Lucic, Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Rene Pape.... Seen at Lenox AMC Columbus, October 11 2014


Today for the first time in years I missed my old life in New York. I romanticize those times, but a lot of it was fun, important and the memories irreplaceable.  My new York was still affordable to students. My New York is long gone. My old haunts, Tower Records among them, the  New York City Opera, Hot Woks Chinese, all long gone. Studio apartments rent for $5,000 a month if you can find them. They are not nice apartments. The working class and the creative class seem unwelcome. It's the very very rich and the very very poor.

I'm just home from seeing Verdi's Macbeth, as presented by the Met this afternoon. I wasn't there in person. I saw it on the big screen, live in HD.  It's a murky production, not much to look at, very dark and unimaginatively staged.

What the afternoon did have is what I remembered from the 1980s: buzz, excitement, blood, frisson. It was important, dramatic music theater and it was all about great voices. Anna Netrebko assigned her sex kitten  with a whip persona to a shattering and  glamorous Lady Macbeth. She sang the fearsome role....with no fear. She had guts and beauty and you could tell from Columbus Ohio that her energy burned through the Met. The  vanilla-ization of opera was no here to be seen today. The baritone Lucic is not much of an actor but oh my he sang. It 's a woody baritone voice, not intrinsically beautiful. But he sang the music beautifully, and like La Anna he sang with guts. Rene Pape, what splendid glamor casting for Banquo. There's a beautiful voice. Likewise Joesph Calleja -he brought line and class to a fine "Ah la paterna mano".

Noah Baetge! Remember that name. He's a big boy who sang Malcolm and will soon graduate to the big boy parts.

HD closeups of the Met chorus show that no one cheats at he acting and involvement, not for one moment. And the Met chorus sounded what like hat they are....the best in the world. Likewise of course the peerless orchestra. Fabio Luisi knows his Verdi ad knows that this is one of the most theatrical of composers. The music making was rich and detailed and flew by.

Why do I rave on so? Again, the buzz was back.  Opera became an Event once more. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't adorable and no one was skinny and it was ferocious and fantastic. The audience was stamping and roaring and screaming. That used to happen all the time in my day, when Sutherland, Price, Pavarotti,  Milnes, Domingo, Siepi were regulars. I was wondering what shows these days I would wait in line for. Well, this Macbeth for beginners.

Am I right? Did the guts come back today? I became very nostalgic for my days in New York (1978-1991)...Yeah it was the grad student cliche. Selling records at Barnes and Noble to keep me in ramen noodles, ketchup, three dollar bottles of wine and standing room tickets ($2).  In those pre-9/11 days you could sneak in sandwiches and beer and we'd picnic on the floor at intermissions. I know most of the ushers from my Opera Quiz days. They left us alone. After the show we'd all repair in the late evening to Tower to look at records (RECORDS) and arrogantly and joyfully rip to shreds what had been a splendid evening. Then you'd pair off if you were lucky or go home for another day if you weren't,

My life today is rich, full, exciting and filled with responsibility for which I am prepared. But it is good to remember an earlier time and to realize that those days gone by are creeping back.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Final dress rehearsal tonight.
God bless the Columbus symphony Chorus...to hear them sing the Mefistofele prologue is worth the price of admission. Kudos to them and Ronald Jenkins.

 (This video is dated but gives a few notes of the splendid CSO chorus)

This is going to be a hit.

I don't want to give the rest away.

I DO hope you will come to pre-performance talks with Edwaard Liang, Peggy Kriha Dye and Peter Stafford Wilson (and me!) one hour before each curtain on the 4th floor mezzanine of the Ohio Theater. I was asked to put these together several weeks ago. I'm delighted to comply, since these folks separately and together are the local taste makers and as you will see after each show, they are doing a superb job.

And there seems to be no promotion for these talks (ahem!) which is a shame. My guests always have interesting views and are smart and articulate in expressing them.

Me, I just try not to upset the horses.

In the middle of the night I got up to watch Janacek's From the House of the Dead. I told you I was off my meds! This opera based on Dostoevsky is something I have always wanted to direct. Janacek's searing opera is light years away from Twisted in style and in tone, but not in beauty.

I was told emphatically "Use the cards!" I wrote the narration for Twisted and will be delivering it from the stage. The occasional riff last night would, if I do say so prove a joy to the audience but "interrupts the flow". I'm not convinced but will cheerfully un riff. Nobody'ds fault that I need glasses to read the cards and find them cumbersome. My attempts at memorization have not been very successful. That I am urged to use cards is actually quite generous on the part of the producers. I will say on the record that I could be the Grampa of many of the artists on stage, and I once had great eyesight and a steel trap memory.

Them days are gone.
I love the staging of the Carmen Habanera, the Cenerentola, and he lovely treatment of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte. (The perfect opera, what else to say about a title that translates, "That's what they all do")
s a swing on stage. Years ago I saw a great soprano of some girth on a swing duringaAct I of something, and of course one night down on her fanny she went. (She's in heaven now) Never missed a note. THAT is a diva, boys and girls!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Great Gold Curtain
There I was this morning, up early for a doctor appointment-serves me right for running low on the zoloft-then to the gym, then home looking forward to a free morning til the orchestra sitzprobe at 3.30. Frantic were the messages, somebody, not me misread the rehearsal schedule and I was called for 11 a.m. At 11.45 I arrived, thanking God the parking meters take plastic. It was a piano tech rehearsal and "we need your cues." that was nice.

Withal many of the artists on stage were in costume. Muted earth tones and they all look wonderful under the lights. Word is the show is selling like hotcakes. If this show were to be a bust I would tell Columbus to throw in the towel for the arts. As it its, I suspect Columbus will be making huge bath towels for decades. Twisted will be that good.

I don't think the Columbus Symphony is being celebrated enough. With no disrespect to the superb
singers and dancers -I still walk around asking How do you DO that?!?-the Columbus symphony has fought the good fight for sixty years. I intend to lead the cheers during the performances. Peter Stafford Wilson conducts three orchestras and the Tulsa ballet because he knows what he is doing.
The Columbus symphony chorus is a local treasure. Buy tickets for Twisted and find out why.

Something grand
I despair of opera productions today featuring a few pretty people is modern dress--raincoats and shades for God's sake with the occasional I-phone--for Aida, Carmen La traviata you name it. The "great gold curtain: the house curtain no where to be seen, robbing the evening of the nth degree of magic. I'm happy to report that the Ohio theater curtain will be raised (by me!!) and lowered in all its glory. It is so good to be involved in making music-dance-theater complete with a curtain and the ambiance of something grand.

Jimmy Orrante does a splendid job of staging the Act 2 ensemble form Rossini's La cenerentola (Cinderella)-with a few chairs for pros. The staging of the Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras 5 is likewise beautiful...sexy and sad.he Carmen sequences is beautifully sung by Katherine Rhoerer, and you will not soon forget the red fan.

I'm in dressing room 4, fitted to within an inch of my life into simple black and white. I mentioned wearing a small undershirt, cheap spanx and the wardrobe people were unimpressed. I'll  wear it any way. It's better than holding my breath all night.

Piano Tech tonight. 

Monday, September 22, 2014


Production week begins today. If things are going to become harrowing, this is the week. Tech rehearsals tomorrow historically involve a lot of standing around while lights and levels are set. I learned from the wonderful Steven Anderson at CATCO. "Do not piss and moan. People are working hard to make you look good." Steven was more elegant but no less emphatic.

Some very good local news coverage. I got a PS as a broadcaster. Jeez.

I've been plagued by allergies, sneezing, nasal nastiness, bitch of an itch for months. It's all back with a vengeance the past few days. This radio guy who rejoices in crummy thrift shop clothes and pepperoni pizza is entering the week preparing to be seen feeling overfed, sneezy and unlovely.

The dancers will be great to look at though. Their discipline in people so young is intimidating. People may leave the theater raving about the dancers and no one else. That would be a mistake. (I love the dancers) The singers give the evening soul and the orchestra is the beautiful and sometimes ferocious engine. The Columbus Symphony, battered and beaten in recent years through no fault of the players-quality was never an issue-sounds fantastic.
It would have been great to hear the CSO play La mer and maybe have some pantomime behind a scrim, something sensual reflecting the music. Next year. Twisted II.

This is the irst music the audience will her. I don't have the Columbus symphony conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson. You will when you buy tickets. Meanwhile, Bayreuth will have to do:

Meanwhile I've been told to own the stage more (!) I think my detachment is troubling the producers. I'm no good trouncing about with no audience. Come the first night I'm confident no one will be disappointed. Pissed maybe, but not disappointed.
One of my favorite parts of Twised is the lovely Bachianas Brasilieras 5 5 by Villa Lobos . The music is simple seeming and erotic:

To see the choregraphy you have to come to the show!

The very kind stage manager has had the script printed up on small sheets with enter/exit directions
just for me. Last Saturday while hosting the Columbus Dance Theater at Columbus Commons, Tim Veach and I found we had matching $2 readers...ain't no point in my trying to read anything without them. I HAD tried all last week...and wasted a lot of time. Cardinal sin in the theater.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


My script for Twisted began with thumbnail stories of the operas and kudos to each organization: Ballet, Symphony, Opera...and their Artistic consciences: Peggy, Edwaard, Peter. I thought, what could be better and how in the hell is this going to work with these scenes sung, played and danced. I was gently told my script was no good. Then some rehearsal footage-pardon the pun-was made available to me. I saw beautiful people dancing beautifully but did not know how to connect this with what Mozart, Puccini, Bizet et al and their librettists wrote.

There is no way. That's the point! Three art forms have coalesced to make something...else. Something new and beautiful. Audience may be not get it at first but stick around. Mozart will always work his magic, but Mozart danced and sung will create an extra dimension of beauty. So it will be for the entire program. Trust me. I want people to leave the theater with full hearts saying "Only in Columbus..."

Yesterday I was asked to walk the entrances and exits and continue a bit of work with our Don Giovanni. This shouldn't be complicated on the nights (!) What worries me is the need for memorization. I had despaired of being expected to read the script from a music stand, $2 readers firmly clasped on. We all know that wouldn't work-and I'm not going to be in one place all the time. So memorizing the new script (they like this one) it will be. I get to escort a lady from the audience, chat up a singer I love and flirt with two Carmens (not one but two Carmens!)

There's a young woman among the singers, striking looking with a luscious voice. I told her does anyone tell you you look like Maria Ewing...She said you're the fifth one today! She has more voice than Maria Ewing did, talented as she was.

Edwaard told the singers, in your movements on stage show us what is going on with you. With YOU. Become yourself. And don't be afraid to change every performance. Nobody feels the same all  the time. Why should the audience?

I told Edwaard that thirty years ago a buddy and I crashed Balanchine's funeral, at the Russian Cathedral on E. 93 St. in New York. Edwaard told of a dancer he knew who kept a piece of lasagna in her freezer. Balanchine had eaten a bit of it. So every year this dancer would shave off a touch of this lasagna and eat it. Balanchine's lasagna. You gotta love the arts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Ballet Met Guys Dancing
Yesterday was my first rehearsal for Twisted.

The first thing you notice is that everyone in this show is nineteen and buff.
I hope to God the costume department at Ballet Met has a full set of spanx or man girdles handy
I expect they'll have to order out for some of us whose best dancing years were in the Carter administration.

Edwaard Liang in rehearsal
I was one of those people who said Huh? when the idea of Twisted was first explained to me. Silently I was railing. These people are negating the stories of the operas and the wishes of the composers. What is this ignoring the story just because skinny pretty people can skip around. And what about the Columbus symphony? Are they just the back up band.

No no and no. Stagecraft is the only area in my life where I am conservative. I'm learning a lot from this rehearsal process. All composers have the flexibility built in form their talent so there music and words and dramaturgy can be adapted, or not.

The trio from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte is so sublime, what's to ad? A swing, dancers and singers and the image of a Fragonard painting. Beauty added on beauty. Beautiful it certainly is, and Mozart front and center. Everything I've seen so far enhances the CSO and the music by Mozart, Puccini, Delibes, etc. The ballerinas are Mozart, lovely like flowers.

I spent time yesterday working on the bit leading up to Don Giovanni;'s Serenade as he invites a lovely to come to the window. Deh, vieni al la finestra. You listen to this music and you remember that Mozart was known to pinch his sopranos on the fanny during rehearsals.

I learned as a stage director that when else fails, get a hunky tenor to go out into the house, find an old lady and sit in her lap and sing his big aria. Never fails. We'll be selecting a lady from the audience to come on stage to be seduced. I even get to say, "Not you sir! Put your hand down!"

Then the finale to Mefistofele was rehearsed by Edwaard Liang, with  what looked like the full corps. And the singers. The music is apocalyptic. The angles wrestling Satan to the floor and winning:

From the eternal music of the spheres, in cerulean space immersed/emanates a paean to love supreme, that rises to the thee, through great and sweet harmony. Hail! Hail!

Edwaard Liang's choreography is sexy and reflects a very human chaos, movement and stillness, touching and not touching-the uncertainty of salvation delighting the bodies of the dancers. Remember there will be a large orchestra in the sections on stage and the splendid 100 voice Columbus Symphony Chorus.

Monday, September 15, 2014


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 together 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.

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. As rehearsals begin this week,  we are at the exciting phase. Nobody is exhausted yet. They will be, but it will a good exhaustion.

I was asked to write the script. I think they're afraid of my going "off book". No problem. Finally, weeks into this after several drafts, I was given an outline, an exact play by play. That was helpful. I just filled in the blanks. They don't want me to say "Look at these gorgeous dancers. You wanna yell EAT SOMETHING"

And you know my great line, As St Peter said to God when Joan Rivers arrived: The bitch is back! is gonna go.

Now, I could do detailed talks about the dramatury of  Figaro, Carmen and Lakme, and demonstrate some dalcroze eurythmics (that'd have them in the aisles) but you don't want a snooze-fest from the audience.

 Here's Peter Stafford Wilson:

At a meeting yesterday Ballet Met's Artistic Director Edwaard Liang explained in detail his vision for Twisted. There will be favorite arias sung by wonderful local singers. 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!
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.

Look at Ballet Met in Edwaard Liang's 

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.
More later. Save the dates.

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!


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.