Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Liza and the cockroaches

What on earth could they have in common? Only one thing, according to Minnelli's co-performer the singer/pianist Michael Feinstein: when the world ends, they'll both still be here. It's one of a  hundred pithy comments in one of the best interviews with any artist I've read, written by Marcelle Bernstein for, of all things, Saga Magazine.

There are two special reasons to welcome the interview. One is that it's very close in time to the nearly-67-year-old's unforgettable appearance in the Southbank's The Rest is Noise festival on Saturday, an occasion which I'd viewed with some apprehension but which turned out to be one of the great showbiz testaments to an indomitable spirit (the only other evening I can remember quite like it was Nina Simone's appearance in the same hall back in 1999). I count myself very lucky to have got in via The Arts Desk, for which I duly raved; I wouldn't have risked £40-£100 on a ticket*, though as it turned out the event would have been worth every penny.

The other reason is that the interview contradicts all the press baloney about a tragic life. It's been a tough one at times, no doubt, but the only real sadness I can see here is of an artist who, like her mother, is loved by everybody she touches but not, as she deserves, by one single person. But that's showbiz: the devouring, slightly vampiric fans demand all, and boy, do they get it. Minnelli's torch song should surely be Sondheim's ' I'm Still Here'. He wrote new lyrics specially for Barbra; why not do the same for Liza? For the sake of the truth, I have to say she no longer looks like she does in the above photos, but it was amazing to see the years fall away as Friday night's show hit ever new highs.

What I had to pinch myself most about was that I was hearing that very same Americanized Sally Bowles whose screen renditions of 'Life is a Cabaret' and 'Maybe This Time' had become so legendary singing those very same songs, with different inflections but just as much meaning and vitality, possibly more. 'Liza's at the Palace', filmed a couple of years ago, is as close to our night as I think film will provide, though her delivery of the key song was not quite the same. I thought I'd put up the original film version

and the Palace's 'Life is...' revisited. Stick with it because the Elsie sequence is both much more poignant than the original and shot through with an earthier humour.

If you got to the end of that, you'll understand why I've ordered up the DVD.

Bob Fosse's film of Cabaret came out when I was 10 years old. There was no possibility of seeing it then, but I remember walking past the big cinema in Sutton wondering why it was X certificate and why a man as well as a woman in the photos on the wall was wearing so much make-up. Later it coincided with a golden time in the summer term of my first year at Edinburgh University when we all revelled in a fortnight of working on a production of the stage musical, so different from the film.

I've written about this in the Bedlam Theatre 30th birthday tribute way back, but I can't resist a recropped shot of our dear Mary New (now Amorosino and living in Washington with husband Roberto and two of their three wonderful children - Alexandra, the eldest, has followed her ma to Edinburgh University) as Sally Bowles.

If truth be told, she was of course much closer to Kander and Ebb's (and of course Isherwood's) Sally, this vicar's daughter who sidled up one evening to the Rev (by then Canon) Tom New, sitting at one of the beer barrels, with the 'Don't Tell Mama' song-lines, 'you can tell my papa, that's alright, 'cos he comes in here every night'. Well, those of us who were in it will never get the nostalgia for such a time out of our systems. But by any standards the movie is a classic, probably the musical I'd choose in a list of top ten films. Evviva Liza!

It was quite a weekend of experiencing divas in spheres other than the operatic: Liza on Friday, 'anarchist cabaret performer' Meow Meow as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera on Saturday - not a patch on Allison Bell's Polly, though she looked extraordinary - and singer-songwriter Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond  as Anna in The Seven Deadly Sins on Sunday. This last concert had an only-connect programme which also included necessary - though dreary, if mercifully short - dodecaphonic Schoenberg and wonderful Hindemith: hardly box-office nectar, you'd have thought, and yet the audience was packed with young people. Clearly The Rest is Noise festival on the Southbank must be marketing itself well.

Diva and devotion combine in the only Bach cantata of this Lenten season. For Oculi Sunday,  we have only one specimen, for alto and strings without so much as a concluding chorale, 'Widerstehe doch der Sunde', BWV 54. The soloist's low notes, like the F sharp to which 'übertünchtes Grab' ('whitened sepulchre') descends in the recit, sound much more butch coming from a real contralto rather than a countertenor.

Besides, Nathalie Stutzmann is another of those truly great artists who stand out in any crowd of soloists. We haven't seen nearly enough of her in the UK recently.  The recorded performance I heard, with John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage team in one of England's most beautiful churches, Norfolk's Walpole St Peter (reverenced on the blog via two visits, briefly here and more extensively here), reminded me that I ought to go out of my way to see her when the opportunity arises.

'Eyes' Sunday gets its name from the first word of the psalm introit for the day, oculi (Vulgate Psalm 24 verse 15: 'mine eyes are ever towards the Lord'). The New Testament reading from St Luke deals with Christ's words on the casting out of devils. Holbein's woodcut was the only image I could find on the subject.

Georg Lehms' text for this Weimar cantata is one of Bach's crappiest: what's this about being felled by a curse for violating God's majesty? How very Old Testicle. Never mind: there's originality as usual in Bach's five-part string writing (divided violas). I don't, unlike Gardiner, hear dissonance in the opening chord (dominant seventh over tonic pedal), only a novel suspension which means postponing E flat major until the eighth bar. The chord pulsing seems to me calm and confident rather than evangelical; though there's darkness and dislocation in the middle verses' veering to the minor.

Stutzmann makes more of recitative than any of the other singers I've encountered in my own Bach cantatas pilgrimage so far; and in the final aria she echoes the strings' chromatic fugue subject so nobly. We'll have to make do on YouTube with a jaunty Andreas Scholl (low notes not as full as Stutzmann's, of course) and Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale, but that's not a bad second best.

*Nothing for an event like this. To indulge his daughters' love of total crap, one father forked out £400 for three tickets to see Justin Bieber the other night. They were rewarded by the cute but anodyne star's turning up two hours late, way past most of his audience's bedtime.


Howard Lane said...

Being of a certain age I was lucky enough to see Cabaret at the pictures when it came out. It was a huge sensation then with enormously wide appeal. I also loved Liza in Scorsese's New York New York a few years later, although not many other people did. Well, they probably did, she was still basking in the Cabaret glory, but the film was a flop. I haven't seen it since so don't know if it stands the test of time. I always preferred her version of the song to Sinatra's. I'm glad your nerves about her performance were unfounded.

Dashing back from Oxford C. missed the first act of Parsifal and was rather disappointed with the production, and found Joseph Kaufman less compelling than he was as Siegmund.

I am in danger of missing out on these Rest Is Noise goodies despite being on the SBC mailing list. Tying it in with The Sound and the Fury broadcasts could be helping the attendances maybe.

Great posts! - too much to take in all at once, a bit like life, and my inbox.

David said...

I found New York, New York a bit rambling but she had great charm as ever. Remarkable how few films she DID make but Cabaret is (gulp, that overused word, but absolutely true in this case) iconic.

I'm not in the total rave league re Jonas - he was definitely NOT the star of Adriana Lecouvreur, and I have problems with the baritonal sound in that rep. But I haven't watched him in Wagner, so will reserve judgement. It turns out that I'll be spending a lot of time with Parsifal later in the year, but I'd better check that I'm allowed to divulge how.

Did you know Shara Worden? I wondered if she was the draw, but then the marketing has been good for TRiN and people are buying all day passes and going to everything. You have plenty more weekends to catch throughout the year, though perhaps they get less attractive as we head into the Darmstadt era.

Sorry for length. In this case I knew the Bach cantata was overdoing it but it is my DUTY to record each one I hear now. And in any case, as I've said before, one must blog as one feels, not as one thinks others want to read (though it should still be readable, of course). But here I am going on again.

wanderer said...

As Howard Lane has noted, great post, after post, after post.

I'm most interested to listen in on the talk about Jonas Zupermann and the voice. I am now listening to the Marinsky / Giegev Walküre (Kaufmann, Kampe, Pape, Stemme), and having 'done' Act 1, find much metal in the voice, the effect of which is a less than youthful (recorded) timbre to my ear or otherwise a butch sound from which tenderness struggles to emerge.

That Marcelle Bernstein piece completely satisfies; for once you feel in the presence.

Check and divulge - impatience wants to know.

Susan Scheid said...

Hardly know where to begin with this post--several week's worth of material to absorb, for sure (about which I'm by no means complaining). Shara Worden is certainly a big draw over here, so perhaps there as well. I've seen her live twice, and with pleasure, particularly in Sarah Kirkland Snider's song cycle Penelope. I like your take on her "We added it up" on the artsdesk, a song I enjoyed discovering whenI first learned of Worden not so long ago.

I did see Minnelli live once, when I first moved to NYC. She had an enormous stage presence then, and sounds like she's even better now. I'm still here is certainly a fitting anthem for her, though I have to say that "Life is" as shown in the video you posted is not too shabby, either!

I can't get over The Rest is Noise festival being on your side of the pond, and not here, too, as Alex Ross is one of our own. From your recent artsdesk pieces, the programming and performances seem quite interesting and well done. Someone should take a cue from this over here.

Your Holbein find on the Bach is great, and the "high art" makes for an amusing contrast with your comments right below. The Bach is of course beautiful, but, just as I used to think about the Rolling Stones, sometimes it's better if you don't know the lyrics!

It may amuse you to know that, while you'v been in the world of Weimar Berlin with Minelli & Worden, I've been back in the 19th C. My Sleeping Beauty DVD arrived, so that and the Jarvi CD have been tonight's watching and listening. Terrific production--thanks so much for the recommendation.

David said...

You two, shucks, how kind and generous you always are.

wanderer - I shall be spending more time with that Mariinsky Parsifal later this year, but so far am sworn to silence.

But - and it is to this I assume your oblique last line refers - I have found my Katoomba programme for Summer of the 17th Doll. It was indeed in the Clarendon, and as I suspected, the very fine actor in question was no celeb like yours. He was called Gary Charles and, though 'only' the stage manager for the show, 'has acted, directed, sang [sic], written and designed' as well. Biog adds that he won awards, too, though isn't specific. Ring any bells?

Sue - you never cease to amaze me: you've seen both Shara AND Liza! As to Rest is Noise, the programmes are actually a bit playsafe; how we'd have loved Brecht-Weill's Jasager, Lindbergh Flight or Berliner Requiem, for instance.

But such great news about the Tchaikovsky. Aren't Maria Bjornson's designs extraordinary? Shame on the ballet world for reacting so vilely to them (and I can't see the problem given that the dance floor remains the same).

Now, both, this is a crazy proposition but you might just bite. Our friend Peter Rose has invited us to see him in Dresden as Ochs on 12 June. THIS CAST AND CONDUCTOR ARE A DREAM - Anne Schwanewilms as the Marschallin in the very same production you have on DVD, Sue, Elina Garanca as the best of all possible Octavians, Peter ditto for Ochs (in magnificent voice to judge from his Royal Opera Gremin) and Thielemann in charge. I haven't heard the Sophie, Daniela Sindram.

The Semperoper Dresden's website has tickets (a site in English as well as German and easily found, I hope, with those two words entered into Google). So, wanderer, if you'd travel as far for Strauss as you would for Wagner, and, Sue, if finances and the Edu-mate's working schedule permit - why not join us and we can meet face to face at last??

Susan Scheid said...

You cannot know how much I'd like to be able to go to this--well, actually, YOU probably can! I am pretty sure that current financial reality will demand that this remains a dream, but I'm going to look into it & I'll report back either way. (School is still in session for The Edu-Mate, so it's no dice for her.)

And yes, the Bjornson designs are wonderful. It's beyond me how anyone could complain.

wanderer said...

Goodness. June we will be Olde Europa indeed but with that week scheduled for a flip around Sicily before heading to Scala. However ... what a chance to meet and greet in the most wonderful city with the most wonderful house for the most wonderful opera with that cast and Thielemann, but most of all yourselves. This weekend was made for thinking.

The Bjorson designs I will never forget were the ROH Katya Kabanova - a vortex of despair which ultimately consumed her (OK she drowned, but you know what i mean).

David said...

Well, it was a long shot - but I knew you'd both at least relish the thought.

Sicily is our next stop - not the west coast, which I 'did' while interrailing, Siracusa spectacularly 'other' but Taormina a bit fake-seeming, like Tuscany transported to a land where it didn't belong. We'll explore Palermo and then head up in to the mountains above Cefalu, which is supposed to be the real town-by-the-sea gem.

It's not just Bjornson's mannerist sets which stun in that Beauty - the incredible detail of the costumes, especially for the six fairies in the first act, quite takes the breath away. The Katya set was remarkable, but damaged by T Nunn's heavy-handed literalism which worked against it - horse and cart especially. ENO's latest was a beauty of light and darkness in the design, but Lehnhoff with Hoheisel at Glyndebourne still hasn't dated on DVD.

Susan Scheid said...

As I suspected, the airfare is prohibitive, though you're certainly right, I did relish the thought. This is one of those (many) times when I wish I lived other side of the Atlantic. If I did, I'd join in at a shot!

Your trip to Sicily sounds splendid, BTW. A place that's been recommended to us, but we've not been able to get there as yet. I will very much look forward to your reports on that (as well as on Der Rosenkavalier . . . sigh). But, onward, the day shall come when we'll be in the same place at the same time, and perhaps even our wanderer & Sophie, too. At least in the meantime we have our cyberspaces on which to communicate, for which I'm grateful every day.

PS: This is a request for permission. I'm cooking up a little post, and would like, if possible, to use your Queen of Spades score cover photo (credited as you note), as well as three or four small quotes from the Sleeping Beauty CD liner notes (also credited, of course). Don't hesitate to say the word if you'd rather I didn't.

David said...

Schade, schade. But I gather there are in fact fewer tickets than a cursory glance at the Semperoper website suggested: to whit, three restricted view ones up top! Not surprising. But we shall meet anon, I'm sure.

I'm delighted you'll be homaging Pyotr Ilyich, and I know how scrupulous and kind you always are with acnowledgments. Look forward to it. There are some lovely images of Bjornson's designs on a post I did way back too, incidentally, if you're interested. Her earthly representatives are always happy to keep interest in her work alive.

wanderer said...

David, watching ticketing for June 12 is interesting - singles come and go, although it is all sold out at the moment. I have emailed Semperoper regarding returns, or other availabilities, and now wait, patiently. Somehow I feel positive. At the same time, another business connection has come onto the radar which would benefit by our going to Berlin. And there, there is the BPO Britten War Requiem mid June. Dots to join.

Oh yes, the horse and cart. I'd forgotten the horse and cart, or did I delete them. It was all about MacKerras, Watson, Palmer, and Toby Spence except now having looked back at what I wrote about it at the time, I see I wrote mostly about the set, and Sir Charles, may he...

David said...

I'm surprised and delighted, wanderer, that you ARE looking at the possibility. Must check out the Berlin War Requiem - if it's Bostridge as the tenor (though he's not bad in it, actually), count me out, but we've done the train journey between Berlin and Dresden before and it's certainly manageable. Visiting Weimar is a priority, though - never been.

I think I saw that revival when Liora Grodnikaite stepped in at the last minute as Varvara and lit up the stage.

wanderer said...

John Mark Ainsley is the tenor, known to you (not surprisingly; I have just read your review of the Glyndebourne Billy Budd). Dresden Berlin is easy peasy, especially by car.

We've have managed a flying visit through Weimar which I found almost surreal with a perfection in the restoration (as they do) such that it was almost too cute to be true. What I regret was that time was limited and we didn't get to Buchenwald, the other side of enlightenment a few miles away.