Viewpoint: Summer Memories
In June 2003, the editors of OPERA NEWS decided to do a slightly different take on our annual issue about summer festivals in the U.S. Instead of focusing on a single festival or region, we opted to interview some of the ladies who were active on the U.S. festival circuit that summer — stars ready to shine at Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Santa Fe, Tanglewood, Ravinia and Central City in musical programs that ran the gamut from Gershwin, Massenet and Mozart to new works by Golijov, Portman and Dove. You may remember the cover, which featured Susan Graham — set to sing the titular queen in Offenbach's La Belle Hélène that season at Santa Fe Opera — gleefully riding a Vespa.
We decided to revisit the concept this season, which bids fair to provide an unusually high number of great musical opportunities for some of our favorite ladies — and the music fans who love them. Our cover subject is Measha Brueggergosman, who sings Bess in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess this summer at Cincinnati Opera. Brueggergosman has taken an unconventional approach to her career; few (if any) artists who have sung Madame Lidoine in Dialogues des Carmélites and Mozart's Elettra would be comfortable serving as a judge on Project Runway Canada, but Brueggergosman seems to be as at home on reality television as she is in the concert hall or the opera house. She is opinionated, fearless and ready for a challenge — an ideal mix of the qualities needed to take on an iconic role and make it her own.
For me, listening to live music always acquires an extra measure of pleasure in summer; the lazy summer afternoons and quiet summer nights seem to allow for a deeper level of listening. What I hear is inextricably linked with where I hear it. I've seen literally dozens of performances of Aida, but just hum a few bars of Act II, scene one and I'm mentally sitting on a blanket in the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx in June 1986, listening to Grace Bumbry pour out Amneris's music in the general direction of Westchester county. And it still sounds terrific.
My wonderful friend Sonya Haddad — a superb editor and translator who was OPERA NEWS's invaluable research associate until her death in 2004 — had a favorite "Girls of Summer" memory. In the summer of 1961, when Sonya was a young woman working at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, a nearly unknown American contralto stepped onto the stage of the Teatro Caio Melisso and delivered an unforgettable performance of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, accompanied by Charles Wadsworth. More than forty years after the event, Sonya counted that performance as one of the great events of her musical life. The singer was Lili Chookasian, a glorious artist who made a habit of providing her listeners with unforgettable musical memories, including 290 performances with the Metropolitan Opera. Lili had a voice in a million, but she was a completely unpretentious woman of great humanity and compassion. OPERA NEWS did several stories involving Lili over the years, including Sonya's "Lili in Bloom" in March 1997, and Lili was always a joy to work with. Just as we were going to press with this issue, we learned that Lili had died, at the age of ninety, after a long illness. Brian Kellow's remembrance of her will be published in our July 2012 issue; it is now posted online at www.operanews.com.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
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