Saturday, September 27, 2008

Teresa Stratas

The Metropolitan Opera Guild presented a Tribute to LA STRATAS on the 25th at Town Hall. It was a love fest from start to finish, wonderful insights and treasured video clips of her enormously powerful interpretations on stage. As a photographer I've felt the huge responsibility to capture the accuracy of each production, but when an artist like Teresa Stratas is on stage the feeling is electric. The intensity of what she did, -the total envelopment of the character, the musical sensitivity- made each photo project a thrill. Even now I can feel that charge, the laughter when something was funny, the anguish when it was tragic. I could feel her power even before she was visibly on stage. On Thursday night the audience gave her a standing ovation. They were with her all evening, with compassion when she talked about things in her family that are cause for deep feeling, with smiles and laughter when she shared a special moment, and with cheers when she expressed something pertinent to the current trends. She was asked who her favorite stage director was and the immediate reply was, "any director who left us alone to do our own thing as indicated by the music". That got prolong cheers. Teresa was lucky. She worked with great opera directors. If someone wasn't attentive to the music she walked out. That didn't harm her career. Managers wanted her back. Integrity has no price tag. It lives for all time . The Stratas legacy will live forever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Digging in the Files

A request came in this week for an image from the Juilliard American Opera Center archive. It meant checking a group of contact sheets. Oh my goodness, memories ! I didn't remember these pictures. What fun! Neil Shicoff, Leona Mitchell, Tito Gobbi, George London, Laszlo Halasz, Ruthie Welting, a young Renee Fleming. There are others. I'll get to them eventually.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

La Cieca

I promised that this blog site would not be about current events, so this entry is about photo tools. There are roles that I adore. One of them is La Cieca. My lens has always been drawn to this character. How glorious it would have been if the optics had allowed crawling into that role thirty-three years ago. It wasn't possible in 1975 when Fedora Barbieri was La Cieca. Now it's possible to get into the guts of this character. Of course, there has to be an artist who becomes this character..... heartbreaking, poignant. My long lens was glued to Ewa Podleś.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sick to Death

More memories of the sick and dying........ nothing to do with sets. The performers proved what was happening by their actions and words. They made one's heart weep.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nina Lawson

There is an article about Nina in today's New York Times, Sept. 17th. It can be accessed online, Obituaries. This post accompanies my previous blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hair, the Long and Short of It

Today's entry is a tribute to NINA LAWSON, the Met's Hair and Wig Stylist from 1956 until her retirement in 1988. Sadly, Nina died September 9th after a long illness. She lived in Scotland. In speaking to people with whom she worked the reaction has been, "Oh, sweet Nina". She was deeply loved.

The curtain goes up and the audience is drawn into the drama, the story, the glory of the human voice, pretty sets and costumes. The hair seems to be taken for granted, a given, but stage hair is not easy. The singer has to be comfortable, can't feel overheated or itchy. The singer may be thrown around the stage. The hair can't fall off. The singer may be transformed from healthy to ill, taking off one layer of hair to reveal another layer. Sometimes the singer plays the opposite sex. Long hair, short hair, stylized hair, hair to be grabbed as a form of punishment, Nina dealt with it all. She knew how to make the singers comfortable, how to listen to confidences and keep them private, how to select the correct materials for the wigs, how to deal with super egos, how to stand up for control when necessary, how to be calm and patient when emotions were flying.

It is impossible to post a thousand wig pictures, so I've selected a few to show how the hair suits the operatic character. The pictures are not about the "stars". The long and short of it is the mastery of the hair.

Nina was a delight, a true artist and a treasured friend to many.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Memory Lane, 1964

Standing room downstairs in the old Met ran around the sides of the auditorium divided into "holding pens". This circle of enthusiastic, knowledgeable opera buffs, could often guide the seated members of the audience. The standees were the first to cheer, really cheer and if they got going the seated audience members followed. I was still in school and was trying to learn everything about opera. Some weeks I stood through six performances. It was the greatest opera lesson in the world.
You had to line up on Broadway and wait for ticket sales to start. Once the doors opened it was a mad dash to whatever standing spot you wanted. Spots were not assigned. I loved standing in the section closest to the stage, because it was possible to watch the Maestri as well as the stage action. If the performance was "ordinary" there were not many standees. If it was a "hot" performance standing room sold out fast. I didn't know the difference between ordinary or hot. I wanted to witness everything.

March 14, 1964, BOHEME. I didn't know what was going on until I was in it. On this night Renata Tebaldi was the Mimi, her first performance at the Met after a year's. I had not paid attention to the cast. I wanted to hear BOHEME. The first difference was the pack of people. The standing room sections could hold maybe 30 people. Suddenly there had to have been 100 people scrunched into the space. The house staff noticed the scrunch and ordered the ushers to check ticket stubs. "Show me your ticket". And you showed the usher your ticket. When the usher moved on, the ticket stubs got passed behind backs to anyone needing a stub. This was taking on a whole new level of entertainment and the opera hadn't even begun. Seated on the floor in my section in the midst of the crush was a little old lady. I was told that she was a devout Tebaldi fan. She looked to be at least 90 yrs. old. The usher spotted her down on the floor. "Show me your ticket". She smiled. The usher waited. No ticket. What now? The little lady said to the usher, "I'll pray for you." The usher thought for a moment and answered, "I'll pray for you too", and moved on. It was that kind of evening. I have no idea where all the people came from, from cracks in the walls???? It was a glorious evening. Tebaldi made her entrance and was greeted with thunderous welcome. It's a long time from 1964 to 2008 and I'll never forget that evening,- the performance, the audience, the total love.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Pavarotti's death. It was always sweet photographing him. He had the gleam, the aura, that vocal "ping". Sometimes he stepped out of character. It didn't matter. His charm radiated over the footlights. There are many pictures in the archive. I've selected a few that are already scanned into my system.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Placido Domingo, Early Observations

The New York City Opera was a musical family. There was a core of singers who were there season after season. This was economical, because only new productions and revivals after many years could be fully dress rehearsed. The core singers knew the staging, new the theater, were seasoned and could pull off a show even when only rehearsed in rehearsal rooms. Productions were not multi-million dollar affairs. Some consisted of basic flats, a few scrims and creative lighting. And they worked. The audience felt what was going on, came with enthusiasm, expressed their approval. Sometimes there were one-size-fits-all costumes, waists and lengths adjusted according to whoever was doing the part. It was wonderful, real opera.

Over the years important singers arrived, singers who went on to international careers. Some stayed loyal to New York City Opera, because it allowed them to do unique roles. Everyone had to cope with the same conditions,- little glamour, perhaps no rehearsal on stage, no prompter's box.

Domingo arrived in the fall of 1965, Don José in Carmen. For sure he didn't get a full dress rehearsal, because he wasn't the first in that role that season. Only when DON RODRIGO and TRAVIATA came in as new productions would he have had a full dress rehearsal. It takes a prepared professional to be able to do an opera stage-cold. All the singers had to cope with this and they did.

I will touch upon many singers. This is not about favorites. These are observations, memories. I stood in the wings, watched, documented, performance after performance. These memories are very precious. There was a camaraderie, a desire to bring exciting opera to the audience, an ability to laugh, enjoy the art form. Of course, there were some hard times. Not everyone in an artistic community can always have wishes fulfilled. There is more talent than available assignments. As a total memory, New York City Opera respected opera, did their best on a limited budget, introduced major talent and was, for me, a wonderful learning experience.
The photographs are registered COPYRIGHT © BETH BERGMAN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Nuts about Opera

Eventually I'll go through the whole archive and edit for the most insane roles. For now, a few goodies- Boris, Elektra, Marguerite, Lucia, Lady Macbeth, Tannhäuser, and Tom Rakewell.