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Meeting the Met, Again

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Film fest fiesta; beautiful Holocaust response; “Jenny Chow” characters

A terrific-looking Sean Connery was in the house amid all the gowns and tuxedoed penguins, and, after an okay first act from “The Marriage of Figaro,” Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu really kicked the Metropolitan Opera opening night gala on September 19 into high gear with the second act of “Tosca.” Not since the famous 1965 Covent Garden tape of Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi have I heard this particular Puccini served up with so much passion and glamour.

Terfel actually resembled Gobbi, somewhat, in terms of imposing stature and elegant malevolence, while Gheorghiu simply defined “diva,” in these admittedly goddess-challenged days. In a svelte, red lace Empire gown (her own costume, I believe), she worked a four foot train to filth, almost turning it into a third character in the scena. The terrifying intensity of Terfel, always a committed stage animal, seemed to inspire her into a higher histrionic pitch—the onstage combat was thrilling to behold and her delivery of the aria “Vissi d’arte” was meltingly everything anyone could have wished for.

Gheorghiu’s husband, tenor Roberto Alagna, was in the audience, wearing a comme il faut white tuxedo jacket but a pair of shredded, faded jeans underneath. “Rock and roll!” he told me, and I remembered how, for his Met debut as Don Jose in “Carmen,” La Gheorghiu swept down the aisle to her seat in a Nile-green ball gown, dripping bling from every extremity, her impressive décolletage slathered with glitter, and trailing a sable coat.

“When will we get to finally see her entire ‘Tosca’?” I asked him, realizing that she is maybe the one soprano in the world with the ideally requisite allure and temperament for this cherished, all too often indifferently done role.

“She’s doing it at Covent Garden next season.”

“No, I mean here at the Met,” I pressed. (Watch her Georg Solti-conducted video sometime to see a pretty definitive interpretation of Verdi’s Violetta.)

“Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine!”

The third act curtain went up on the spectacle of Saint-Saëns’ Samson, imprisoned and bewailing his fate. The tenor voice rang out with spine-tingling fervor and I wondered what young, new singer this could be. Was it Marco Berti, whose ringing high notes as Cavaradossi in the “Tosca” had people cheering? I had somehow completely forgotten that a guy named Placido Domingo was on the schedule. A few more notes, of course, affirmed his identity, causing one to wonder anew at the eternal, indestructible strength and freshness of his voice and dramatic power, at 64.

For the “Bacchanale,” he was joined onstage by a vocally troubled Denyce Graves as Dalila, who was so off-pitch I noticed Alagna’s blonde companion holding her nose. The choice of this act, however, was certainly glitzy enough for any gala. If you’ve never seen Elijah Moshinsky‘s over-the-top staging of this, all I can say is that the massive company of near-nude dancers shaking exposed booties to Graeme Murphy‘s choreography brings to mind nothing less than a Palm Springs Circuit Party.

Down the road apiece from the Met, at Avery Fisher Hall, the 43rd New York Film Festival had its opening night, with George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” on September 23. The Tavern on the Green party was especially ebullient, perhaps due to this smart and savvy, echt-New York movie about Ed Murrow being the perfect choice as festival opener. Clooney with co-stars Patricia Clarkson, David Strathairn, Frank Langella, and also Jennifer Jason Leigh, Edie Falco, and a dippy Teri Hatcher were sequestered at their VIP tables, visible through the glass, while outside, on a perfect, summery night, the traditional mob of journos, publicists, film insiders, and wannabes punished the open bar in the ultimate Manhattan schmooze-fest. A fair-haired David Byrne was in evidence and I spoke to ever-envelope-pushing filmmaker Todd Solondz who, in a plaid jacket and glasses, seemed in determined Junior Woody Allen mode, whining, when I asked him about his next project: “All I’m trying to do is find the money for it. That’s all it is. I need the money. Does anyone here have the money for it? It’s about the money!”

There is a beautiful, powerful exhibit at Remy Toledo Gallery (529 West 20th Street; 212-242-7552) of paintings by Paris-based artist Marc Ash, his Holocaust series entitled “Tous Ensemble.” I attended the opening, a GLAAD benefit, on September 8, and spoke to the gay artist, who told me, “It is important to note that the Holocaust did not only affect Jewish people, but also gays, the French Resistance, all people who did not agree with the Nazi doctrine. Also, although it has historical importance as a huge, genocidal exclusion enterprise, it really is a flag of terror that relates today to Uganda, Rwanda, Darfur, Kurdistan, Tibet. I am happy to be an artist and to have this opportunity to say strongly that we must stop this and evaluate things. The response to my work has been enormous, so I touch wood.”

Ash uses a unique process which involves marble dust powder, as fine as sugar, and his work was a sensation of the 50th Venice Biennale, resulting in his being invited by the president of Italy to bring the show to Milan’s Palazzo Reale, for its first exhibit by a living artist. Colombian gallery owner Asher Remy Toledo told me, “Lots of our artists like Marc are gay, and we try to show work that is socially, as well as aesthetically, responsible.” Remy Toledo began selling art from his apartment, became involved with various charities like Make a Wish, and is the partner of Broadway producer Marc Routh (“Hairspray,” the upcoming “Sweeney Todd”), with whom he is raising a pair of three-year-old twins.

“We are a family in the arts,” he said.

I met the delightful cast of the exhilarating play “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” at their opening night party at Strata, September 19. Talented lead actress Julienne Hanzelka Kim told me that she is Korean-Czech and, “Especially for an Asian woman, this role has to be the best ever, and the fact that it came from this large white guy [Yalie Playwright Rolin Jones] is incredible. Who woulda thought? I feel so lucky—it’s a beautiful play, like a roller coaster ride. But actually, I was more nervous tonight than on press night because there were a lot of people I knew in the audience. I didn’t feel like it was my best performance, but the response was so great, my confidence came back.”

Next up for her is Natasha in Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters,” and she promised me she will find the humor in the character.

Remy Auberjonois is the son of veteran actor Rene; it’s evident from his similar laugh and comic inventiveness in the variety of roles he plays. The 31-year-old wasn’t offended at all when I told him he might be even more talented than Pops: “That means a lot to me, but the apple doesn’t fall very far. All my tools I learned from him. My whole family—wife, mother, sister, and brother-in-law—are all actors. It’s like the family business. I’ve been acting since I was six and my father absolutely encouraged me, but not in a pushy way. I did a TV pilot when I was 13, and then sort of held back because I didn’t want to become a child actor. This play absolutely has what you look for as an actor, that something that makes you have to reach and stretch yourself.”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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