I was seated at a table with Jeff Award-winning playwright Claudia Allen last year when Bailiwick Theatre initiated its Trailblazer Awards. We were both on the docket to be recipients. Allen had her play Cahoots running at Victory Gardens with Sharon Gless ( best known for Cagney & Lacey ) in the starring role. The previous year, Julie Harris had starred in Allen's show Winter. I have been a fan of Ms. Harris' since I was a kid and saw her in the 1952 film version of Carson McCullers' stageplay, The Member of the Wedding. Harris reprised her stage role as the confused Frankie, along with Ethel Waters as the consoling Berenice. ( McCullers was bisexual and Ms. Waters was "in the life" as Becky Birtha puts it ) . I have been loyal to Ms. Harris through the years even though I had some reservations on the reticence of her one-woman vehicle on Emily Dickinson. I was curious about how Claudia snared Ms. Harris for her show. As I recall, Claudia indicated she pursued a social relationship first, and began to work on a piece to offer the actress. Claudia then talked about what has become her work Fossils, a vehicle for Ms. Harris that was just extended at Victory Gardens when she had her attack. I am certain that I am just one of a myriad of fans that wish Julie Harris a full and speedy recovery. I'd like also to extend a heartfelt "Courage!" to Claudia Allen and the cast and crew of Fossils.
For Love of Shifra
At that same awards dinner I met the talented, charismatic Shifra Werch who directed Bailiwick's virgin foray into opera, the overtly lesbian Patience & Sarah. This season Shifra is directing Sappho in Love, Carolyn Gage's hilarious romp rife with romantic high jinx. The 16 women on stage joined Shifra and her retinue at StarGaze for post-show festivities after the opening night performance. Sappho swings Saturdays and Sundays through July 1.
The upcoming Lyric season announces at least three operas of special interest to our community. If you get off on women singing love duets, as I do, then hang in there until the revival of I Capuleti e I Montecchi with mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova as Romeo and Andrea Rost as Giulietta. Shakespeare's tragic love story as opera was imprinted on my mind by the 1985 Lyric production with the late Tatiana Troyanos as Romeo in lavender tights.
While not a romance, Hansel and Gretel will also feature a trouser role ( if we can call it such ) with Susan Graham as young Hansel. The London Times describes Graham as a "velvety mezzo." WFMT has featured several of her recordings recentlya promise of pleasure to come.
The Lyric is not neglecting the boys in our community either. Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, based on Herman Melville's homoerotic novella, is to be offered in a new production. Gay composer Benjamin Britten wrote many pieces for his lover, tenor Peter PearsCaptain Vere in Billy Budd was one of them. Britten, Pears and Eric Crozier founded the Aldeburgh Festival in their post-war England hometown. Crozier and gay novelist E. M. Forester co-wrote the libretto for Billy Budd which premiered in 1952, and had its U.S. debut in Chicago at the Lyric in 1970.
I hope the Lyric treats this sea story better than last season's Der Fliegende Hollander ( The Flying Dutchman ) which I found musically disappointing from the wimpy overture to the voices of the principals, which got lost in the open pit onstage. The production overshadowed both the music and the stars. La Malfitano as Senta carried the show, while the excellent James Morris as the Dutchman was barely audible on the night I attended. I admit the two chorus numbers were superb, though the costumes and clown-white make-up were atrocious. The stunning shadow image of the Dutchman ( ala Orson Welles ) was a moody tour de force, but the projection screen between stage and audience doubtless contributed to the weak sound. I guess I will always have a weakness for the Ava Gardner/James Mason movie take off with its crashing version of Wagner's music as background.
The 2003 season is under contract, and it too promises a trouser role with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote set to debut as Ascanio in Benvenuto Cellini. William Mason of the Lyric Opera News writes that she is "a natural for ... the von Strade roles." Frederica Von Strade, a singing actress with a high mezzo, was a popular Cherubino in Met productions of The Marriage of Figaro.