Thursday, November 25, 2010

For Phyllis

This seems to be my day to blog! Three, or two and a half, in 12 hours. It's the Prednisone!

A friend in New York City sent me a message this morning after reading my Sondheim blog, about the time she was taken backstage at City Opera to meet Phyllis Curtin after a performance of Carlyle Floyd's Susannah. She had been enchanted by Phyllis's performance. Well, who wasn't enchanted by Phyllis? Anyway, I forwarded Lily's email to Phyllis at once and got a sweet reply. Susannah has been playing a part in my life recently since one of my students has been performing 'Ain't it a pretty night' in concert with me.

Phyllis and I have been friends for a good long time. I heard many of her performances at City Opera and at the Met as well as places like Sanders Theatre at Harvard. She may shoot me for telling this story, but at Sanders,some years ago, she was performing Pierrot Lunaire. For some reason I was seated in the front row, just at the level of her feet. With her usual elegance she sailed through that difficult work with blazing colors, looking cool as a cucumber. I was impressed that in the open-toed shoes she was wearing, I could see her great toe keeping accurate time throughout the performance. The ultimate artist, but you still have to count.

I heard Phyllis sing Vittorio Giannini's Taming of the Shrew more times that just about any one, I think. My good friend, Dorothy Fee, a composer and kindergarten teacher in Newark at the time, was Vittorio's librettist for the opera. Actually, of course, Shakespeare was the librettist.

Dorothy told Vittorio that she was not going to try to match words with the Immortal Bard. So she lifted words from Romeo and Juliet,  and from the Sonnets when Vittorio would call and say, 'Dottie, I have to have more words. The music is still happening in this aria and I'm out of words!'. Dorothy would go on a poetic search through the works of The Bard of Avon (whoever he really was) and come up with appropriate texts.

The reason I saw Shrew so many times is that Dorothy attended every performance that year and I went along as her escort. I think that Phyllis sang every performance but one, when the wife of the baritone (whose name I can't remember) sang, not all that well. I heard them all.

I also saw her in Susannah many times that same season. I can still see her leaning back on the rooftop of the house, her long dark hair trailing, singing 'Ain't it a pretty night?', stage moonlight giving her a warm glow that was matched by her golden voice.

Later I saw her at the Met and other venues, got to know her personally, and often attended her master classes at Tanglewood. Several of my students were in those classes over the years. So we have shared teaching responsibilities.

We also shared the same teacher. Olga Averino, whose name has appeared many times in these pages was a great mentor to me, as I'm sure she was to Phyllis. There is a wonderful tribute to Olga on You Tube now, if you'd like to take a look. It was put together by her grandsons.

Phyllis will be celebrating her birthday on December 3rd. Why don't you all send her a Happy Birthday card? She is an amazing musician and I feel lucky to have known her all these years.

Phyllis this is my birthday card to you! Happy, Happy, Birthday!! Go girl!