The Algonquin table keeps growing: Brian Kellow remembers
Mr. Kellow is a wonderful author of many books most recently “The Bennett’s: An Acting Family” and now on November 7 his eagerly anticipated biography on the one and only “Ethel Merman: A Life”.
Opera News boasts his reportage of the current music scene in the ever popular “OperaBeat”…. I am very pleased and honored he took time out of his very busy schedule to join the Algonquin Table with this story.
This is the opera that will open the new season at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday with my great friend, Marcello Giordani, the tenor with thunder and lightening in his gleaming high notes and as a native son of Italy, no doubt singing from his heart in tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, with the best conductor there is….. James Levine.
Bocca al lupo to all the stellar voices and Maestro…..
“It’s funny that opera became such an important part of my life, because for my first twenty-two years, I never gave it much thought at all.
I grew up in Tillamook County, where I didn’t have much occasion to think about it. (My mother, who liked Marian Anderson and Richard Crooks, used to try to tune in the Met broadcasts once in a while, but we were so isolated that usually all she got was a load of static.)
In 1982, I moved to New York City, where in a matter of days I landed a job at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich–a very prestigious publisher, but one that paid me such a low weekly salary I could afford very little entertainment. I spent most of my money on the theater, going to the half-price booth in Times Square, and walking both ways from my West Side apartment to save $1.50 on subway fare. But one of my roommates, Cynthia Peterson, was the performance manager at the Met. And when there were extra, unsold seats, she would let me know, and I would run down to the Met. At first, it was really a form of free entertainment, and not much else. My first Met opera was DER ROSENKAVALIER, with Kiri Te Kanawa, Tatiana Troyanos, Judith Blegen, and Kurt Moll(!) I recognized that it was a major work of art, and I liked parts of it, but it wasn’t until much later that it became a seminal work for me.
The first great experience I had came in the fall of 1982, when Joan Sutherland returned to the Met after a four-year absence to sing LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. I had listened to the opera at home, but nothing could prepare me for the impact of experiencing Sutherland’s voice live. From the moment she made her entrance, before she even opened her mouth, I sensed that I was in the presence of a great performer. That enormous, rich sound seemed to be swimming all around my head. I had never experienced anything close to it.
I returned for every performance of the run, and each time seemed to me more thrilling than the last. At this time, the people I knew who went to the opera were still primarily concerned with voices; I don’t recall anyone–anyone, not even the critics–making a negative comment about Sutherland’s acting. (I love good acting on the opera stage as much as anyone, but I can’t help but feel that these days, the love of a thrilling voice has become secondary for so many people in the audience and in the press.) So it’s sometimes hard to make people understand when I say: having been a serious playgoer for all of my life, and even taking into account Zoe Caldwell in MEDEA, Ian McKellen in DANCE OF DEATH, Donal McCann in JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, Maggie Smith in THE WAY OF THE WORLD, Christine Ebersole in GREY GARDENS, Victoria Clark in LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, Lois Smith in THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, George C. Scott in PRESENT LAUGHTER, and on and on–Joan Sutherland as Lucia remains the greatest experience I have had in the theater.
Soon enough, the depth of opera itself–not a performer, but the whole art form–was opened to me. Sitting through my first WALKURE, I had the feeling that I had been dropped down into the middle of something magnificent–it was the same feeling I had had in college, when I first read great novels such as THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE or THE HOUSE OF MIRTH.
A sense of discovery, I guess you’d call it. But it all started with those LUCIAs.
— Brian Kellow, September 16, 2007
This is a clip of Sutherland in the Finale to the last act aria of Lucia, “Ardon gli incensi…” not “Quando raptito…” as erroneously attributed.