Editor's Desk

Book Report

(Observations, F. Paul Driscoll, Books) Permanent link
Blogs Patti LuPone Memoir 91710  

For those of you who were riding the Number 1 uptown local this morning, I'm the fellow who was laughing out loud at the book I was reading. Patti LuPone: A Memoir — the brand-new autobiography by the star of Broadway's upcoming Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown — is one of the best theater memoirs I have read in years. LuPone pulls no punches and takes no prisoners; her stories about Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, are sharp enough to cut glass. She tells plenty of stories on herself, not afraid to own up to her mistakes or confess to her own occasionally wild behavior. But this lady is an artist to her core, and her passion for acting and for the theater registers on every page. The last actor who wrote about the theater and about herself with such candor was the late Ruth Gordon — like LuPone, a complete American original.

LuPone became a star in 1979, when Evita opened on Broadway, and has stayed a star ever since. Within the past ten years I've met LuPone several times in connection with OPERA NEWS — she's been on the cover twice — and been completely charmed by her professionalism and her wit. But I date my time as a LuPone fan from the winter of 1973–74, when I saw her and her fellow members of The Acting Company in New York at the Billy Rose Theater on Broadway and on tour at the Spingold Theater at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. I admired her ripely bitchy Lucy Lockit in The Beggar's Opera, but I loved her as Irina in The Three Sisters. It's my favorite Chekhov play, and more than thirty years later, that Acting Company staging by Boris Tumarin is still at the top of my list. In the last act, Irina has a heartwrenching scene with Baron Tuzenbach, a man whom she does not love, but who is about to die in a duel. I've never forgotten the way LuPone looked at Norman Snow, her Tuzenbach: with a small, tight lift of her chin, LuPone's Irina swallowed her pity for the Baron but seemed to increase the distance between them by miles. You knew that both of them were doomed, and that neither of them deserved it. It was a great moment — and LuPone's book brought back memories of many more of them. spacer 

F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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The Glass Mountain

(Observations, Cinema, F. Paul Driscoll, Nino Rota) Permanent link
Blog Images Glass Mountain DVD COver 82310  

Among my guilty pleasures are movies about opera — that is, film that feature opera in the plotline as opposed to movies of operas, such as the Zeffirelli Otello, or the Francesco Rosi Carmen, which despite their many virtues are somehow never as satisfying as an opera-house performance. (Captures of live performances, such as the Met's HD presentations, are in another, more exalted, class entirely.) What I love to watch are backstage films on the order of Serenade Mario Lanza and Licia Albanese as Otello and Desdemona! — or Interrupted Melody, which has Eleanor Parker lip-synching her way through everything from Musetta's waltz to Brünnhilde's immolation.

I recently watched a DVD of The Glass Mountain, a 1949 British film about a composer (Michael Denison) torn between his love for his genteel English bride (Dulcie Gray) and his passion for the earthy Italian girl (Valentina Cortese) who nursed him to health when he was injured in the War. The Glass Mountain was evidently very popular in the U.K., although not an international success on the level of 1948's The Red Shoes, another movie that presented a triangular love story within the context of a backstage milieu. Just as the climax of The Red Shoes was the presentation of an original ballet, the payoff in The Glass Mountain is a lengthy sequence, set in La Fenice, devoted to an original opera (or at least excerpts from an original opera) called The Glass Mountain. It's about a poor young man who loves a poor young lady but marries a rich young lady, only to have signora numero uno die and show up as a ghost at the wedding reception. The original pair of lovers are reunited when the young man plunges to his death while searching for his beloved in the mists that shroud the glass mountain of the opera's title.

The score is by the incomparable Nino Rota — the main theme is quite striking and almost impossible to forget, as is often the case with Rota's film work. The opera stars at work are soprano Elena Rizzieri, an attractive artist with a tangy sound whose work is otherwise unfamiliar to me, and the great Tito Gobbi, looking quite handsome and slim at thirty-six, sounding marvelous and handling the English-language dialogue with impressive ease. In an odd twist, Gobbi is meant to be playing himself — "Tito Gobbi of La Scala" — within the confines of a fictional story but pulls it off with complete conviction. In addition to his work as the hero of The Glass Mountain opera, Gobbi also sings a lullaby of sorts, accompanying himself on the accordion, to a group of wounded soldiers and does so with an almost indecent amount of charm.

The soundtrack for the Glass Mountain opera is conducted by Franco Ferrarra, who was later one of Riccardo Muti's teachers; the on-screen conducting is handled with painful clumsiness by actor Michael Denison, who plays the conflicted composer at the center of the drama's love triangle. Despite Valentina Cortese's sympathetic performance as the "other woman," the movie's stiff-upper-lip love triangle is mightily silly stuff. What makes the film of interest today is Gobbi and Rota's haunting music; the opera excerpts leave one wondering what the full score sounds like.

I watched the film on a VCI DVD that had poor sound — most noticeable in the disc's "extra," a 1939 cartoon featuring egrets meandering through a moonlit waterscape to the strains of Debussy's "Clair de Lune." But a YouTube clip of Gobbi at work in The Glass Mountain has been posted below that is well worth a look. spacer 

— F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2