Friday, August 27, 2010

Sargent TV

John Singer Sargent in his Paris studio with his scandalous painting Madame X; photograph by Auguste Giraudon, 1884.

As promised in the previous post, I am uploading here videos tours through the exhibitions John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women and Empire Waists, Bustles & Lace: A Century of New York Fashion, now on view at the Fenimore Art Museum in Coopertown, New York, through December 31st. The Sargent show includes 22 works and was curated by Dr. Paul D'Ambroiso in conjunction with Patricia Hill.
John Singer Sargent is one of my favorite painters. Once in London I walked in the rain back to the Tate Gallery to buy a poster of this painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose:

I loved how in this painting he combined portraiture, clothing, garden flowers and the magical gloam of dusk. In his portraits, besides perfectly expressing the subject's personality, Sargent, who was a confirmed bachelor, exquisitely captured textures, textiles, interiors and gardens – a beautiful way to live.
Here is the cover of the Fenimore exhibition catalogue:

I grew up in New Hartford, New York, outside of Utica, not far from Cooperstown. While going through the shows with their two curators, we discovered some neat coincidences: Sargent curator Dr. D'Ambroiso lives in New Hartford, and costume curator Chris Rossi showed nineteenth century dresses worn by two sisters from Utica. I hope you enjoy these videos.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Weekend in the Country

Otsego Lake, Cooperstown, NY
Join me for a little jaunt upstate. TD and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary coming up over Labor Day, and we wanted to attend a recital in Cooperstown given by our friend singer Jonathan Tuzo who was a Young American Artist at Glimmerglass Opera this summer. Voila, a trip was born.
The first stop upstate is always at my family's home, 611 West German Street in Herkimer, New York, now the Bellinger Rose Bed and Breakfast.

You may remember that this Victorian house built in 1865 was my grandparent's home where they raised nine children including my grandmother, and that I spent a lot of time in this house as a child. The house looks great. Thanks to Chris and Leon Frost who own it now and maintain it beautifully. TD and I made a video tour through the house which will be upcoming here on the blog. It's always fun for me to visit because I can still picture my great aunts there.
We visited with O'Donnell relatives in Herkimer and then had a little dinner at the Albany Street Cafe.

Back home we went with the moon shining over 611

and up to bed.

The next day we drove down to Cooperstown which is a place that I love. The village of Cooperstown was established in 1786 by Judge William Cooper, the father of James Fenimore Cooper, the renowned American author. Today the village is filled with nineteenth century houses within the Cooperstown historic district.
This is Cooperstown: pale pink geraniums, variegated hostas and a blue picket fence:

The exterior, shutters and interior curtains of this elegant house are all in the same matching creamy color.

Some time I would like to stay here, the Inn at Cooperstown, built in 1874.

TD and I hustled over to the Fenimore Art Museum to see an exhibit there – John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women as well as a correlating costume exhibit of nineteenth century New York fashion called Empire Waists, Bustles & Lace.

We had a date to meet with the two exhibitions' curators, Dr. Paul D'Ambrosio and Chris Rossi, and videoed the tour through the shows. The video will be coming up on the blog forthwith! There is also wonderful folk art and American Indian art housed in this museum which is located on the shore of Otsego Lake on the site of James Fenimore Cooper's early nineteenth century farmhouse.

Then it was off to Jonathan's recital at the Otesaga Hotel, a grand resort hotel built on the lake in 1909.

Down a long hall we went

to the ballroom with windows that looked onto the lake.

We met up with our friend Brian Healy and his pals who also came from New York City for the recital. Jonathan Tuzo gave a wonderful concert performance. He has a beautiful, strong tenor voice and a sparkling, irresistible on-stage presence. His program was dedicated to his parents, and he explained that his father was from Bermuda and his mother was Irish-American; "He put the black in black Irish," Jonathan said to a round a laughter. Then he sang some Irish ballads to his mother, pictured here. Not a dry eye in the house, I'm telling you.

Here we are with Jonathan.

Then it was time for a drink on the hotel's veranda!

We had a jolly dinner with the group at a restaurant in town and then TD and I were off to Sharon Springs, about a half an hour away. There we stayed at The American Hotel.

The American Hotel was built in 1847 and attracted the leading figures of the day including Oscar Wilde who gave porch-side readings.

It fell on hard times though, and in 1996 ex-New Yorkers Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts bought the neglected building and completely restored it.

Doug and Garth are, we soon discovered, totally charming. As hotel owners have found their true calling. I loved the way the hotel was decorated with antiques.

This is the cozy bar area.

The hotel has a very good restaurant, we were to discover. Here is the dining room. It's antique but it's edited for a clean, handsome look.

The next morning after a delicious breakfast of corn pancakes with local maple syrup, we headed out. Here is the hotel by day.

Sharon Springs is also home of the Fabulous Beekman Boys – have you seen that reality tv show? It's about two New Yorkers, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, who buy the Beekman farm in Sharon Springs and learn how to become country farmers. I had bought and read the book Josh wrote about it, The Bucolic Plague. Down the street from the hotel is the Beekman 1802 Mercantile where goat cheese, goat milk soap, and beauty products from the farm are for sale. Cute baby goats graze outside.

We had asked Doug if there were any antiques stores around, and he reported that the Bouckville Antiques Show, with tons of dealers, was that very weekend. We hopped in the car and buzzed over to Bouckville. There were tents for days. We walked and walked and walked.

My favorite tent was filled with antique wood furniture.

It reminded me of 611.

If only we had more space at home.

Back we went over the rolling green hills to Sharon Springs. There was no room for us that night so we checked in to an eighteenth century brick house bed and breakfast. There was a clear spring-fed pond in the back where we took a refreshing dip.

Behind this door was a warm outdoor shower.

TD gathered some wild flowers.

That night we returned to The American Hotel for dinner. Guess who was sitting at the next table – the Fabulous Beekman Boys with someone from the Food Network. I had beef tenderloin tips with pear, bacon, blue cheese, and mashed potatoes. For dessert we had a piece of maple cream layer cake and a glass of port. It was the best meal I've had in a long time. There is a very talented chef in the kitchen, Lee Woolver, who happens to be Garth's cousin. Garth and I also discovered that we both went to New Hartford High School.
The next day we drove home to New York City, down route 145 to Catskill, past lush cow pastures and through verdant valleys and old mill towns. After it stopped raining, white mist clouds rose up from the green hills, like a Rip Van Winkle dream.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Night Music

Bernadette Peters and Alexander Hanson play lovers with bad timing.

Last week TD and I went with our friend Mark to see A Little Night Music on Broadway, the luminous show set in Sweden at the the turn of the last century, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler. You probably know that Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won a Tony in the role, and the great Angela Lansbury were recently replaced by Broadway legends Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters.

Bernadette Peters plays Desiree Armfeldt, an actress on the European stage with a unsuccessful love life, and Elaine Stritch plays her mother, Madame Armfeldt, who has regrets of her own. Stephen Sondheim music, nineteenth century costumes, and Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters – what's not to love? TD and I also saw the New York City Opera version in 2003 starring Jeremy Irons who cut a very elegant line indeed as Frederik Egerman.

You won't believe this but I worked backstage on a production of A Little Night Music in high school. In Utica, New York, the Munson Williams Proctor Institute art museum held a summer arts festival and mounted musicals under a big tent on Genesee Street. I volunteered on A little Night Music, and loved the complexity and sophistication of the show. However, on the two nights it was presented, rain poured down and pounded on the tent; I don't think the audience heard one single word.

The music in the show is wonderful, and it's one pleasure after another, including "You Must Meet My Wife," "Liasons," "Every Day a Little Death," and "A Weekend in the Country." In the second act, Desiree sings the show's renowned song, "Send in the Clowns." This is what The New York Times said recently: "For theater lovers there can be no greater pleasure than to witness Bernadette Peters perform the show's signature number with an emotional transparency and musical delicacy that turns this song into an occasion of transporting artistry...[it's] an indelible moment in the history of musical theater."

That's a lot of pressure, with a build up like that! Everyone in the audience was waiting for that moment. I'm happy to say that with tears in her eyes she does indeed really pull it off; I had never before her performance fully understood the heartbreaking situation that this character is in. The audience applauded deeply with approval, almost before the song ended, like at the opera.

I adore Elaine Stritch who is now 84 years old, and her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, at the Public Theater was one of the best nights ever in the theater. No one is funnier on stage, but to me the character of Madame Armfeldt is enigmatic and inscrutable, a mysterious link to ancient Europe shrouded in veils with her memories of "the castle of the king of the Belgians."

Madame does tell a poignant story at the end of the show though about rejecting a suitor in her youth because he gave her a wooden ring. "He could have been the love of my life," she says with longing.
I also have to remark that the set was extremely simple, nonexistent really. TD said that in the 1973 Broadway original, the Tony-nominated sets were ornate and they actually rolled an antique car on stage. Those were the days. Now Broadway tickets get more expensive and the sets get simpler. TD also noticed that it was a not a full orchestra but a pared down one.
But these are economic issues. I think it's safe to say that A Little Night Music is an American masterpiece. The supporting cast was excellent, especially Leigh Ann Larkin as the lusty maid Petra who sings a showstopping "The Miller's Son," and Erin Davie as the dryly sardonic Countess Malcolm. The production is a joy of music and romance and waltzing twists and turns. When the cast takes their bows in their creamy summer Edwardian linens, it's an elegant celebration of American artistry

and two great ladies of the theater.

It's a Broadway kiss.

Blog bonus: I found this video on, which offers some moments from the show.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer in the City

The sun setting over the Hudson River from the Chelsea Piers on a warm summer night.

Last Saturday morning I walked over to the Union Square Farmer's Market where the bounty of summer is now in full tilt.

I loved the purple flowers in the foreground here and I bought a bunch; I'm not sure what they are called.

After my yoga class at the Chelsea Piers I rode the blue Schwinn over to a flea market on 25th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. It's in a vacant parking lot, and I hadn't been there before. Honestly I wasn't thrilled with the vendors there though I did like these colorful strung beads that look like jelly beans.

Then I stumbled upon a guy with good taste. And that's what the flea market is all about isn't it – the thill of discovery.

I really liked the big iron ornament shaped like a globe with an arrow through it which was standing on the glass case. The vendor said that earlier in the day it was priced at $75 but now it was $40.
Dear reader, it was hard to bicycle home with that heavy iron thing on my handle bars, I'll tell you that.

I put the purple flowers in a pretty green glass vase which I bought at the Salvation Army for $4. I especially like the white flowers which have a purple edge.

They look good at night too.

I put the heavy iron ornament on top of the iron and wood book shelf. I just love it.
It looks good at night as well.

Update: My friend Nannette emails to say that the flowers are lisianthus and my friend Meg suggests that the metal thing is an armillary.

Monday, August 9, 2010

La Cage Aux Folles!

TD and I recently went with our friend Mark to La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway. I was excited to see it because I never saw the original which was up on Broadway in the eighties or the 2004 revival. The original was a big glitzy production and TD said it was in a huge Broadway theater. This scaled down version is more realistic and intimate. In June it won three Tony awards, including best revival of a musical.

La Cage Aux Folles is based on the 1973 French play of the same name, later adapted into a French movie and the American movie The Bird Cage. The Broadway production has music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Years ago my friend Abby and I went to see Torch Song Trilogy, written by and starring Harvey Fierstein. After the show we ran into him in a restaurant, and he said to me, in his gravely voice, "You have a nice nose."
Anyhoo, La Cage is about a gay couple, Georges, the manager of a Saint Tropez drag night club and his partner Albin, the drag queen star of the club. The night club features performances by Les Cagelles, the fanastically talented drag dancers. Conflict kicks in when the couple's engaged son wants Albin to leave their home during a visit by his fiancee's ultra-conservative parents.
Georges is played by Kelsey Grammar of Frasier and Cheers fame. He's a wonderful actor and a wonderful singer.

And Albin is played by Douglas Hodge. Who was kind of breathtaking.

Douglas Hodge is a classical actor who is English, married, and has two children. Albin is flamboyant, emotional, funny, dramatic. But the parts that mesmerized me were when he was being quiet, hurt, moved. With a whisper and a sigh and a flutter of a wrist and a tilt of his head he held the entire theater in the palm of his hand. Such a gift. Douglas Hodge won a Tony for this performance in June.

Just before the show started, guess who came streaking down the aisle to take seats across from us in the fifth row? Sarah Jessica Parker, her husband Matthew Broderick, and the guy from Bravo TV, Andy Cohen. Sarah Jessica was wearing a long sparkly cardigan and tank top and skinny jeans. Hair in a top knot. When Obama was running for president, TD and I attended a fund raiser hosted by Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker who spoke eloquently and impressively about her political beliefs. In the theater, her arrival caused a subtle stir in the neighboring audience. Well, it's always good to have celebrities in your midst.

This production's dancing and music and costumes are colorfully entertaining. At the heart of the show though really is a very tender love story between a long time couple who are devoted to each other.

The actors really pulled it off very movingly. It's a universal story, and every body can relate to it. Anyone would enjoy this show. Certainly, SJP was enjoying it, smiling up at the stage with her chin resting on her folded hands. I think if you were a performer on stage it would be quite a treat to have Sarah Jessica Parker beaming up at you. Did you know that from 1977 to 1981 she starred in the Broadway cast of Annie, written by our friend Tom Meehan. That girl can really sing. I wish SJP would do a Broadway musical.

By the curtain call the entire audience was up on its feet clapping. It reminded me of our experience at the end of Hairspray (Harvey Fierstein was in that too) and Hair, when the cast is singing and clapping at the edge of the stage and the audience is standing and clapping – there is at that point no division between the two, it's one happy, uplifting, exuberant Broadway experience.