Friday, September 16, 2011

She’s Still Here... and Smokin'

Rosalind Elias in FOLLIES 
Marquis Theater
New York 

Rosalind Elias in Follies
Rosalind Elias appeared in the second opera I ever attended, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Not only is she still alive, she’s extraordinarily well and at the age of (she won’t say), she’s - lo and behold - making her Broadway debut in the current revival of Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical Follies!

Efrem Zimbalist’s Landara was my first live opera performance. It was mounted by the opera department of Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where Zimbalist was Dean or whatever you called them in those days (he was married to Mary Curtis Bok of the Curtis Publishing family). I only went because some friends were performing in it. As I recall, none of them thought much of the work, and they said as much with varying degrees of candor. As a neophyte, though, the strangeness of it all captivated me, even though I could hardly understand a word coming from the stage.

My second opera excursion was a different story: I understood every syllable coming from the stage.

In those days, the Metropolitan Opera came to Philadelphia at least six times every season, to serve the cream of the city’s social elite their dose of cultcha. Performances were invariably sold-out by subscription. But Samuel Barber’s Vanessa was a triple loser: it was a new work, it was composed by an American and it was to be sung in English. Tickets were being sent back to the box office by the bushel. But spares were grabbed on the rebound because the world premiere a month earlier in New York had received ecstatic reviews and the buzz on it was hot. Even then, some afficianados poo-pooed it all because Eleanor Steber, who created the title role, would be replaced by Brenda Lewis. Ultimately, it didn’t matter who performed Vanessa. Once she sang “Must the winter come so soon,” all ears and eyes, including mine, were locked on Rosalind Elias as Erika.

In an interview I produced for WPIX-11 News in New York recently, Elias recalled to correspondent Tamsen Fadal how the aria was created. It’s a fairly well-known story, but hearing it in her own words is a treat. I cut this portion of the interview from the aired episode because the story would not appeal to a broad general audience, most of which may never have heard of Vanessa or, pardon, Rosalind Elias. The focus of the interview was to expose the just-folks side of the diva. Did you know, for example, that she has been married only once and for over 40 years? That her father strongly opposed her musical ambitions?

I managed to get approval for the story for two reasons: Elias was appearing in a Broadway musical and it was the Broadway debut of a Met diva. The project was deemed sufficiently mainstream for a back-of-the-book episode. The timing was good too: I was able to shoot it quickly during a slow news phase.

Here's the link to the piece. On the same page, you'll find links to nearly the whole interview conducted by correspondent Tamsen Fadal, including Elias' comments on Domingo, Corelli and Pavarotti, as well as her story of how Samuel Barber came to compose "Must the winter come so soon?" for her. I split it into three parts, so that each section would upload faster.

Note that I was allowed 3:28 for the segment: an unheard of length in commercial morning television for such a story. The average is 2 minutes tops. Thanks to Senior Producer Marcia Parris, Executive Producer Howard Dorsey and PIX-11 News Director Bill Carey for allowing their superb taste and supernal artistic discrimination to prevail over the demotic exigencies of terrestrial daytime TV.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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