Viewpoint: You Can't Go Home Again
When I heard the news of New York City Opera's bankruptcy filing, I spent most of the next few days revisiting the many happy memories of performances I had attended there. Such an exercise is a tricky thing: were the things I remember as wonderful really so wonderful? Sure they were.
In the 1970s, when I became a New York City Opera fan, the company offered two types of shows — the ones with Beverly Sills, and the ones with everybody else. Sills shows were Events: even when she was well past her vocal prime, Sills could deliver a star-caliber performance of such charisma and authority that the rest of the cast more or less evaporated. Sills didn't shove anyone into the wings; she didn't have to. You simply couldn't look at anybody else if Sills was onstage, especially if the show was one of the couture stagings devised for her at NYCO by Tito Capobianco. A rare exception to that rule was when Sills shared the stage with the incomparable Donald Gramm, a longtime colleague of hers who could match her punch for punch in matters of stagecraft. (If you saw The Turk in Italy at NYCO in 1978, when his Selim squared off against her Fiorilla, you'll know what I mean.)
As much as I loved watching Sills, my favorite NYCO memories involved the performances that were cast with the terrific young artists who were the company's very talented "rank and file" in the 1970s and '80s. There was a genuine sense of ensemble to NYCO productions in those days: you believed that the men and women in Violetta's drawing room or Rodolfo's garret really knew and loved each other. One of the best shows of that era was a production of The Marriage of Figaro directed by John Copley, in which I "discovered" Samuel Ramey and Catherine Malfitano, gloriously in place as Figaro and Susanna. Neither of them was new to the company, but they were both new to me — which is probably why I believed their onstage relationship so completely. The career-defining successes that established them as top-flight stars were a few years in the future; I certainly never would have predicted that the dapper Figaro I watched in March 1978 would be able to burn up the State Theater stage as Verdi's Attila, or that pert, perky little Susanna could ever morph into Salome or Emilia Marty. There was a lot ahead for me as well in those days: if you had told me that I'd be writing about that 1978 Figaro more than thirty years later as editor in chief of OPERA NEWS, I would never have believed it. I would have reacted the same way if you had told me that New York City Opera would file for bankruptcy. But life has a way of surprising us all.
There is a new name at the top of our masthead this month — Pamela Dunaway. Pamela brings infectious energy, impressive acumen and more than twenty years' experience in the magazine industry to her job as publisher of OPERA NEWS. All of the editors and staff of the magazine join me in welcoming her, and we all look forward to working with her.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
Letters to the Editor:
70 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023-6593