SEX! LUST! MURDER! DEPRAVITY!! LULU RETURNS TO THE MET

Considered by many to be the greatest opera of the 20th century, Alban Berg’s 2nd and final opera, Lulu, will open in a new production by William Kentridge at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday, November 5th. It is one of the most anticipated performances of the season.

See the Trailer for Lulu

Lulu had its Met premiere on March 18, 1977, in a John Dexter production, conducted by James Levine and with Carole Farley in the title role. At the time of his death in 1935, Berg had completed only portions of the 3rd act (including the opening, the interlude between scenes one and two, and the grim finale). The Met performed acts one and two and, then, interpolated a third act by using the material that Berg had completed, adding music from his Lulu Suite and spoken dialogue from the source material, Frank Wedekind’s two Lulu plays.

Lulu - 1977
Lulu at the Met in 1977

Even though Berg had left an incomplete score, there was enough material available for it to be finished. Following Berg’s death, Austrian musician Erwin Stein prepared a vocal score of the complete 3rd act, working from Berg’s sketches.

Berg’s widow – Helene – reached out to influential composer Arnold Schoenberg to complete the orchestration of the 3rd act, a task he at first accepted, but subsequently declined. The public story is that, upon reflection, he decided that the scope of work would be too time consuming; another explanation for Schoenberg’s change of heart is that he was offended by the use of an anti-Semitic slur – “Saujud” or “pig-Jew” – in the libretto. Helene, being fiercely protective of the opera, thereafter refused to allow anyone else to complete the 3rd act and, until her death in 1976, the opera was performed in the two-act version and sometimes, as in the 1977 Met production, a 3rd act was interpolated from material that was available.

Immediately following Helene’s death, the rights to complete the work became available and the project was entrusted to Viennese composer and conductor, Friedrich Cerha. Although his work was not finished in time for the 1977 Met performances, the world premiere of the complete Lulu was presented by the Paris Opera on February 24, 1979, conducted by Pierre Boulez, produced by Patrice Chereau (who, three years previously, had had a hugely controversial success with his production of the centenary Der Ring des Niebelungen at the 1976 Bayreuth Festival), and with famed Canadian soprano Teresa Stratas in the title role. The Met premiere of the three-act Lulu was in December 1980, again with Levine on the podium and Stratas onstage as Lulu.

Lulu - 1980
Teresa Stratas as Lulu – 1980

Berg based his opera on two plays by Frank Wedekind: Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora’s Box (1904). (If Wedekind seems familiar to you, it’s because it was his source material that was used in the 2006 Broadway musical, Spring Awakening.)

A new production of Lulu is always met with great anticipation because of the demands placed on all participants – from the conductor to the singers to the director and the designers, and, not least, the audience – everyone is challenged to up his game.

What is it about Lulu that is so exciting and, yet, so formidable?

While it can be argued that many operas are music first and theatre second, Lulu is theatrical to its core. To borrow an unattractive phrase used to describe the “old style” of operatic acting: you cannot park and bark but, rather, you must give a fully committed performance both musically AND dramatically. Both the Chereau and Dexter productions were not only fastidiously musical but, also, fabulously theatrical and cast with amazing singing actors, led by the charismatic Stratas.

There are no fewer than 24 characters and, for purely dramatic reasons (and as indicated in Berg’s score), some singers play multiple roles. The title role requires not only the embodiment of the ultimate femme fatale, but also a voice that can handle a huge vocal range, coloratura, and declamation. In order to succeed, whoever portrays Lulu must also have star quality and the ability to seduce every character (less one) onstage as well as everyone in the audience. It is a tall order.

I am no musicologist by any measure, but I can tell you that the musical structure of Lulu is like a palindrome, which is fitting for the rise and fall saga of Lulu herself. While the musical composition relies on the 12-tone system, Berg brought to his score an intensely romantic approach. Operagoers who might be asked: “What would you prefer to see tonight – Aida or Lulu?” – will invariably choose the former because they believe that the music of Verdi will enchant them; but the more discerning operagoer must always choose Lulu: first, because it’s rarely presented and, more importantly, the musical riches and beauty of the score are irresistible.

The Met’s new production of Lulu will be directed by the great South African artist William Kentridge. He is renowned for his prints, drawings and – especially important to any production of Lulu – his animated films. He made a spectacular debut at the Met in 2010 with the company’s premiere production of Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose. Anthony Tommasini reported in his New York Times’ review of March 6, 2010:

“It has become commonplace at the Metropolitan Opera for directors and designers of new productions, especially modernist high-concept ones, to be lustily booed by a sizeable contingent of the audience during opening night ovations.

“But on Friday night, when the met introduced its production of Shostakovich’s early opera, ‘The Nose’, the South African artist William Kentridge, who directed this production, helped design the sets and created the videos that animate the staging, received the heartiest bravos.”

Lulu plays to all of Kentridge’s strengths as a director. Here is a brief interview with him from the Met’s website:

William Kentridge discusses Lulu

Print Interview with William Kentridge

The Met has assembled, arguably, the most luxurious cast available today. Marlis Petersen is today’s “go-to” Lulu, having appeared in many productions going back to 1997. Besides having the vocal chops to get through this marathon role, she is also a stage animal who makes this character come alive in the most disturbing ways. I saw her in the last revival of the Dexter production about 5 years ago and she was sensational. From Steve Smith’s New York Times’ review of May 9, 2010:

“In the German soprano Marlis Petersen, the Met has a charismatic, technically assured protagonist. That Ms. Petersen’s Lulu was rarely seductive in any genuine sense seemed to be precisely her point: more often than not, she was both a scarred adolescent fascinated with the powers of her sublime figure and face and an amoral kitten prone to remorselessly raking everything within reach. Her wasted placidity in the final scene was deeply affecting.”

MET-Lulu-2015
Marlis Petersen as Lulu

Making her role debut as the Countess Geschwitz, who may be the only character who truly loves Lulu (and, perhaps, the first openly lesbian character in all opera), will be Susan Graham, whose illustrious career includes such defining roles Didon in Les Troyens, the title character in Iphigénie en Tauride, and Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust. She has also championed contemporary opera, appearing in leading roles in Vanessa, The Aspern Papers, Dead Man Walking and The Great Gatsby.

Graham
Susan Graham

Finally, what would a new production be without a whiff of scandal? On Friday, October 2nd (a/k/a “news-dump-day”), the Met discreetly announced that James Levine, Music Director of the Met who has conducted all but a handful of the Met’s 35 performances of Lulu, had “dropped out” of the new production – 5 weeks before the work’s scheduled premiere. Mr. Levine has had many health challenges over the past half-dozen years, but it does seem odd that he would withdraw from performances of an opera that he has championed over the years so close to the first performance. Perhaps there’s more to tell, but that will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, I encourage anyone with an interest in great music theatre to get your tickets for Lulu. And, if you’re unable to make it to the Met to see it, you could instead attend the high definition transmission, which will be shown all over the world, on Saturday, November 21st at 12:30 PM (ET).

See Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera

See Lulu at a Theatre Near You

Advertisements

Let’s Hear It for George Gershwin!

This evening, the 92nd Street Y – located on the upper east side of Manhattan – opens its 2015-16 season with a program dedicated to the music of iconic American composer and pianist, George Gershwin (1898-1937). Sold out months ago, the finale of tonight’s concert will be Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924), written for jazz band and piano. Rhapsody bridges the gap between Gershwin’s Tin Pan Alley and Broadway compositions (Strike Up the Band, Fascinating Rhythm, But Not for Me) and his classical work (Cuban Overture, Concerto in F, Porgy & Bess).

Gershwin 2
George Gershwin

Commissioned by famed bandleader Paul Whiteman, Rhapsody in Blue was introduced by Whiteman and his band with Gershwin himself at the piano. The piece caused a sensation (with the audience, if not the critics) at its world premiere on Sunday afternoon, February 12, 1924 at Aeolian Hall in New York City. It also fulfilled Gershwin’s ambition to be taken seriously as a composer.

Paul Whiteman is remembered as not only a successful bandleader but, also, as a trailblazer in American music. Although his moniker was the “King of Jazz”, he had much higher ambitions. Born into a musical family in 1890 – his mother was a former opera singer and his father held the position of supervisor of music for the public school system in Denver – he was surrounded by music throughout his childhood. By age 17, he was already a member of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and, later, of the San Francisco Symphony Opera. Following a stint conducting a U.S. Navy band, he created the Paul Whiteman Orchestra immediately following World War I. Within a few short years, Whiteman had expanded his empire to over two dozen bands and his annual income exceeded $1,000,000.

Whiteman Band
Paul Whiteman and his band

The concert at which Rhapsody had its premiere was part of a program entitled An Experiment in Modern Music. Whiteman preceded the concert with a brief lecture, during which he told the audience that he had conceived the afternoon as being “purely educational” and that the concert might “at least provide a stepping stone which will make it very simple for the masses to understand and, therefore, enjoy symphony and opera”.

Whiteman had programed an extremely long afternoon – 26 compositions – and the audience was clearly losing its interest (if not its mind) until the penultimate composition (or, in Broadway parlance, the 11:00 number), Gershwin’s Rhapsody.

The opening clarinet solo – instantly recognizable – was not explicitly what Gershwin had originally composed. During a rehearsal, clarinetist Ross Gorman played an extremely exaggerated glissando (an Italian musical term, meaning to glide from one tone to another) as a joke. Loving what he heard, Gershwin insisted that he perform the opening exactly that way at the performance, and that’s how it’s been done ever since.

Gershwin-Whiteman
Gershwin and Whiteman

The performance of Rhapsody in Blue that afternoon saved the concert and most, if not all, of the other compositions are today largely forgotten. However, the finale of the concert, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1, survives (as any high school graduate will tell you).

The reviews were wildly mixed and, during his lifetime, Gershwin got little respect from the critics for his “classical” endeavors. Nevertheless, within 3 short years, Whiteman’s band had performed Rhapsody 84 times, and its recording had sold over a million copies (in 1927, the entire population of the United States was 114 million).

Originally orchestrated for Whiteman’s band by Ferde Grofé, it was adapted in 1926 for a theatre orchestra and finally, in 1942, for a full symphony orchestra.

The great success of Rhapsody is that it has penetrated the national consciousness. While Gershwin often described the piece as “a musical kaleidoscope of America”, it has been more specifically associated with New York City.

And way beyond. For instance:

Those of you with long memories may recall the opening ceremonies from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles:

1984 Olympics

And, while I don’t personally endorse it:

United Airlines

But my personal favorite and, in my opinion, that which most truly informs Rhapsody in Blue, remains:

Manhattan

The band for tonight’s concert will be Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, an institution in New York City. Vince is known for his commitment to preserving and authentically presenting 1920s and 1930s jazz and popular music, so he and the Nighthawks are an inevitable fit for this program.

Vince
Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks

For more information on tonight’s concert, please check out this link to the 92nd Street Y – and enjoy!

92nd Street Y – Opening Night Concert

HEY, CUMBERBITCHES!!!!!

From the uRbaN Dictionary:

Cumberbitch:

“1. Any woman who has a deep fascination with the wonderful, beautiful, talented English stage and on-screen actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
“2. A reference given to people who admire the beautiful features of Benedict Cumberbatch. Ex- his green eyes, beautiful cheekbones, sexy tousled hair.
“3. Can be proper ladies, or “dirty ladies” and everyone in between.”

Well, I guess that just about says it all, huh?

I mention Cumberbitches today, because they will be out in force tonight for the National Theatre Live’s international broadcast of the Bard’s Hamlet from the stage of the Barbicon in London, starring you-know-who in the title role. When this production was announced in 2014, tickets sold so quickly that, if you blinked, you missed out. This is what’s known as “an event”, probably with a capital “E”. We all know about them – celebrity actor comes to town to star in a play for a limited amount of time. General huzzahs and, perhaps, some grumpy comments abound, but still the show sells out in record time and a lot of money is made for a lot of people.

Check out the official website for the production:

Hamlet at the Barbicon

Does Mr. Cumberbatch have the goods to deliver a performance for the ages? Or are we placing unreasonable expectations on him that cannot possibly be met?

Benedict
Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet

What did the critics have to say about him (and the production) that officially opened in August? And were you aware that some pervy press critics – you know who you are: The Times and Daily Mail reviewers!!! – showed up at the first public performance to have their say? Not fair, I protest!

Naughty Critics Review 1st Preview

But what about the critics who attended the “first night”? Here’s a quick compendium of reviews:

Smattering of 1st Night Reviews

If you want to make up your own mind and attend the broadcast, check out the ticket situation and let us know what you think.

See It For Yourself!

AAC CPA and I will be at a theatre in New York City tonight to see it and “him” for ourselves. And, yes, we bought our tickets months ago.

Uh-oh: Does that make us Cumberbitches?

Travel Fantasy: Let’s Fly Around the World

NOTE: If you’re not a travel wonk (and totally obsessed) as I am, you may not enjoy this post at all – or your eyes may glaze over or, worse, get permanently crossed. Proceed AYOR!!

So, how did I not know about this one? It was only a couple of months ago that a good friend (and fellow obsessed traveler) – AB-M – told me that there is this thing called “Round the World Air Fares” that is offered by the 3 airline alliances: One World (American Airlines), Sky Team (Delta) and Star Alliance (United).

It works like this:

You go to a dedicated website, input your itinerary and class of service, choose your flights, and off you go. What’s really interesting is that there don’t seem to be any blackout dates and the round-the-world fare is deeply discounted by comparison to what you might spend if you were purchasing each travel segment separately. You can also choose which class of service in which you want to fly: economy, business or first class – it’s all there for the taking.

There are a few caveats: you must fly in one direction, you must cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and there will be a minimum and maximum number of flight segments you are allowed. There are time rules, also, but they tend to be very liberal.

Cathay Pacific
Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So how much will this flight of fancy cost us? Very generally speaking:

Economy: About $4,600 per person
Business: About $9,900 per person
First: About $15,300 per person

By way of comparison, let’s suppose you wanted to fly around the world, but paid for each segment individually without choosing the round-the-world fare. How much would it cost you:

Economy: About $13,650 per person
Business: About $27,700 per person
First: About $43,500 per person (whaaaat?)

If you were so-inclined to fly round-the-world, there is a huge savings to book the tickets via one of these airline alliances, right?

Since AAC CPA and I have gold status for life on American Airlines, we tend to go with them for most of our air travel, when we can. Having said that, our gold status gives us basically: NOTHING. And, since we fly mostly on miles, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to achieve Platinum or Executive Platinum status. Boo-Hoo!

Anyway, I got it into my head that it would be really cool to fly around the world. So, just for fun, I’ve developed the following itinerary and tried it out on all 3 airline alliances to see how it would shake out.

Here’s my fantasy – and slightly bizarre – itinerary:

New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Hong Kong to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem (TLV)
Tel Aviv to Paris (CDG or ORY)
Paris to London (LHR)
London to New York (JFK)

Why did I choose these particular locales? Well, we’ve never been to Hong Kong and I’ve heard amazing things about flying on Cathay Pacific (which is part of the One World Alliance). Tel Aviv? I haven’t been to Israel since the last millennium and AAC has never been. Plus, I’ve heard rumors that Cathay Pacific may inaugurate nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv next year. (Do I detect a theme here?) Paris and London are no-brainers, as they’re two of our favorite cities and are sort of on the way home. Actually we’ve been to those 2 cities so many times that they almost ARE home.

I started with the One World Explorer website:

One World Alliance

Under Round-the-World fares, choose oneworld Explorer and go from there. The interface is very user-friendly, and it’s and all difficult to play with it.

Warning – here comes the real wonky part:

Starting with JFK – HKG, no problem. Cathay Pacific flies a daily nonstop. 16 hours!! But we’ve heard that it’s a great airline and you’ll be well treated.

Plus – and fellow-wonks, this is IMPORTANT – the Cathay Pacific flight also operates as a codeshare on American Airlines. So if, for instance, you’re in American’s AAdvantage Mileage Program and you can book the flight using the codeshare, you should be entitled to AA miles (in addition to bonus miles if you’re flying in a premium cabin). Woo-Hoo!

Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific First Class Suite

Hong Kong
Let’s go to Hong Kong!!

From HKG – TLV, at the present time (until Cathay Pacific initiates nonstop service), the best way to fly is Cathay Pacific to London (LHR), and then onwards to TLV on British Airways. (We’re also enrolled in BA’s Executive Club, so we should pick up some Avios miles on the 2nd segment.) Total travel time here is about 20 hours (ouch!!) whereas, if you can fly from HKG – TLV nonstop, it’s more like 12 hours. For what it’s worth, the HKG – TLV segment on Cathay Pacific is in 1st class, and the LHR – TLV segment is in business class. If Cathay Pacific eventually flies nonstop from HKG – TLV, it’s been rumored that the only premium cabin will be business class.

Tel Aviv
Let’s hit the beach in Tel Aviv!

Jerusalem
Jerusalem by night.

dead-sea
Or a dip in the Dead Sea?

(Are your eyes glazing over yet??)

After our week in the Holy Land, it’s off to chic Paris. In the One World Alliance, this is kind of a stinker itinerary, as you have to fly through LHR on British Airways, change planes and then to Paris. Instead of a 4 – 5 hour nonstop (if it were available), you’re now facing total travel time of 8½ hours. This is one of the compromises of flying within one of these airline alliances and a core lesson to learn: you can’t always get from point “A” to point “B” without making a few stops along the way.

AAC - Paris
AAC CPA in Paris – May, 2015

Paris to London is no biggie – now it’s an easy 80-minute flight from CDG to LHR. After what you’re already been through, this is nothing!

AAC-London
AAC CPA does London – May, 2015

Finally, on the flight back to New York, you have 2 options: either fly on American Airlines, which has 3 nonstops every day (but only 1 with a first class cabin), or British Airways. Again, if you want to collect AAdvantage miles, go with AA. If you want Avios, BA is your man.

When I attempted this itinerary on the Star Alliance (United) and Sky Team (Delta) websites, there were immediate problems. If, for instance, you wanted to fly in first class, almost all of the Star Alliance flight options were downgraded to business class, so it would make sense to choose “business class” as your class option and save thousands of dollars (duh?). Additionally, because of this particular itinerary, in some cases there were as many as 2 changes of plane to get from one city to another. That doesn’t sound like fun.

And, not for nothing, did you realize that – once you’ve completed your circumnavigation of the planet – there’s even a club for you to join:

Circumnavigators Club

Yes, it’s the vrai – a special club for special people!!

So here are the takeaways:

  1. If you want to fly round-the-world, use an airline alliance to book your ticket – the savings will be HUGE and you won’t have to worry about things like blackout periods; and
  2. As you think about your specific itinerary, be aware that each alliance has its pros and cons with respect their favored cities and the ease with which you can get from here to there.

But, in the end, it’s all about the adventure of travel and the idea of making a circumnavigation of our planet makes me kind of tingle.

So what is YOUR favorite itinerary on your round-the-world fantasy adventure?

Bon voyage!!

PS. Here are links to the other airline alliance websites for booking round-the-world fares:

Sky Team Alliance Round-the-World Fares (Delta Airlines)

Star Alliance Round-the-World Fares (United Airlines)

Travel Flashback: Lunch at Locanda Cipriani

Today, I thought I’d share with you a favorite travel memory of AAC CPA’s and mine. In August 2010, we traveled to Italy for a couple of weeks and visited Rome, Venice and Cernobbio on Lake Como.

One of our best experiences on that trip was a magical lunch we had at Locanda Cipriani on Torcello, a sleepy and sparsely populated island (with only a few dozen permanent residents), located on the northeastern side of the Venetian Lagoon.

Locanda Cipriani was the inspiration of Giuseppe Cipriani who, in 1934 purchased a wine shop, which he then transformed into a small locanda (inn) with just 6 rooms surrounded by a magnificent garden. The Cipriani family owns the Locanda to this day.

Ernest Hemingway bestowed great fame on the inn in his book Across the River and Into the Trees, which he wrote during a visit there. With his imprimatur, Locanda Cipriani became a magnet for world-famous celebrities. When we were there, we visited their photo gallery, which includes pictures of the Windsors (yes, THAT family) who visited in May, 1961. It is said that the Locanda is the only restaurant that Queen Elizabeth II has visited privately.

So it was with great anticipation that we departed from our hotel (the famed Cipriani on the island of Giudecca) by water taxi for the 45-minute ride to Torcello. The hotel’s illustrious “doorman”, Roberto (there is no door, actually, as you’ll be arriving to or departing from the hotel either by water taxi or the hotel’s private launch), arranged for our water taxi and told us that we would very much like our “driver”, who the doorman referred to as “Blue Eyes”. And to prove it, Roberto made “Blue Eyes” remove his shades to prove it! And he did!

Venice Doorman
Entrance to the Cipriani and its doorman

Venice - Blue Eyes
“Blue Eyes”

Venice - Depart
Departing the Cipriani on our way to Torcello

The ride to Torcello was very beautiful and exciting as we sped across the lagoon past many other islands along the way.

Venice - Arriving Locanda
Arriving at Locanda Cipriani

Venice - View from Locanda
View from the inn

We asked “Blue Eyes” to return for us in about 2 hours and stepped inside. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our table in a beautiful garden setting.

Venice - Arbor
The garden at Locanda Cipriani

The menu at Locanda Cipriani is a typical for the region. Here’s what we had:

Antipasti:

Venice - Tomatoes
Pomodorini ripieni di verdure in agrodolce con salsa “carlina”
(Ripe tomatoes stuffed with vegetables in sweet and sour sauce)

Venice - Figs
Prosciutto di San Daniele e fichi freschi di Torcello
(San Daniele ham with fresh figs of Torcello)

We skipped the Primi and went directly to the Secondi:

Venice - Lamb
Costolette di agnello dorate al rosmarino e misto di erbe aromatiche, con papate salate in padella
(Golden lamb shops with rosemary and mixed aromatic herbs with salted potatoes in the frying pan)

Venice - Entree
Filetto di branzino dorato in padella con zucchini trifoliate del litorale
(Golden filet of sea bass in the frying pan with three-leafed zucchini of the coast)

And, of course, a bottle of vino:

Venice - Wine
A lovely Fiano di Avellino 2008

Did we possibly save room for some dolce? You bet we did. And a cappuccino for AAC CPA.

Venice - Dessert
Millefoglie in porzione con crema Chantilly
(Individual Napoleon with Chantilly cream)

Venice - AAC
A very satisfied AAC CPA with his cappuccino

Let me tell you that the service was perfect: relaxed, polite, casual and very correct. We were made to feel like special guests and I can’t imagine a more serene setting for this perfect lunch.

After lingering over our dessert, we still had a bit of time before “Blue Eyes” picked us up for the return trip to our hotel; we walked around, visited a church and just generally marveled at this jewel of an island.

The trip back was uneventful except for the amazing views:

Venice - Relaxed AAC
AAC CPA soaks up some rays in the water taxi 

Venice - View Duomo
Lagoon view on the way back to the Cipriani

Venice - Back Home
Arriving back at the Cipriani

If, in the above photograph, you look at the top right, you’ll see our room, which had its own private balcony overlooking the lagoon. How LUCKY are we??

Venice - Balcony
AAC CPA on our private balcony doing some laundry, Italian-style

So, should you find yourself in Venice – the jewel of the Adriatic – I strongly encourage you to make a special trip to Torcello and have lunch at Locanda Cipriani. I won’t lie to you: traveling there by water taxi is not cost-effective (there are less expensive but much more time-consuming ways to get there), but I guarantee that you will have a very unique experience and seeing Torcello and the Locanda will be a wonderful memory for you to cherish.

And, should you want to blast a hole through your hotel budget, a stay at the Cipriani is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m just sayin’.

TRAVEL TIP:  Locanda Cipriani

TRAVEL TIP:  Hotel Cipriani 

CULTURE TIP:  NY Times Review: Across the River and Into the Trees

CULTURE TIP: The Other “Blue Eyes”

Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli

If, like me, you are frequently disappointed by the current crop of films – the endless franchises, sequels, remakes and the playing down to the audience – take heart, because we have other options in our cinematic travails. While there always are and will be new films that are worth our time, there is also a wealth of classic films out there just waiting for us to (re)discover them.

AAC CPA and I have made many such discoveries over the past year, first by supporting the work of Film Forum down on West Houston Street which, in its own words:

“. . . . is committed to presenting an international array of films that treat diverse social, political, historical and cultural realities. Unlike commercial cinemas that primarily “book” high-grossing, Hollywood films, Film Forum’s programs are thoughtfully curated, with attention to unique cinematic qualities, historical importance individually or within a genre and, particularly for documentaries, relevance to today’s world.”

Over the past few months alone, we’ve seen beautifully restored prints of Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Jules Dassin’s Rififi, as well as 20th Century Fox’s The Girl in the Golden Swing (remember that one, starring Joan Collins, Ray Milland and Farley Granger?) and Alain Renais’ Stavisky – all as part of Film Forum’s series on “Crime”.

Just this past weekend, we saw Two Women, for which Sophia Loren received the 1962 Oscar as best actress.

This afternoon, I attended the New York Film Festival to see another restored masterpiece, Luchino Visconti’s 1960 Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers). This is the film that catapulted a very young (and impossibly beautiful) Alain Delon, as Rocco, to international stardom.

Rocco Artwork

Rocco - Alain
Alain Delon in Rocco and His Brothers

In brief, the film takes place in then modern-day Milan and is concerned with a family from the south that emigrates to the north in the hope of establishing a better life for themselves. The film epitomizes the neorealist style, which was inaugurated in 1943 with Visconti’s film, Ossessione.

The new 4K restoration – which is gorgeous, by the way – is especially notable for reinserting 3 sequences which were originally deleted for various reasons, but which are also essential to the story and, with respect to the 3rd restored scene, the denouement of the film. The restored version is stunning to watch, and a testament to the brilliance of cinematography of Giuseppe Rotunno. Fans of Italian film scores will immediately recognize the music of Nino Rota.

The acting mostly holds up very well, notwithstanding some overwrought emotive scenes but, perhaps, that’s the Italian way. It is, however, the kind of film that immediately absorbs you from the first shot of a train arriving in Milan to the last shot of a child skipping and running along a street while a mournful Italian canzone plays in the background. Rocco and His Brothers will get under your skin and will stay with you long after the house lights have come up.

Rocco and His Brothers opens for a 3-week engagement at the Film Forum on Friday, October 9th. I expect that it can be seen nationwide in limited release as well.

CULTURAL TIP: Film Forum/Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli

Life Is Like A Ship, Part Two

“When does this place get to England?”
-Bea Lillie aboard the Queen Mary

Bea Lillie
Bea Lillie

So now it’s time to chat about our crossing on QM2.

As I mentioned in my last post, when you make a crossing, you’re part of an oceanic community that’ll be in the same boat for a week. What kind of a crossing do you want to have? Do you want to be the life of the party and close all the bars and dance until dawn? Do you “vant to be alone” and hide out in your cabin for the entire voyage? Or are you like AAC CPA and me and split the difference?

On our voyage, the ship was “fully committed”, meaning that there were about 2,600 passengers on board. That’s a lot of people, but the ship never really felt crowded. Yes, it’s true that attempting your morning run on the Promenade Deck could be challenging with all those classic teak deckchairs and all the strolling around you but, other than that, we felt that we had the run of the ship.

So, what was a typical day at sea like? We’d usually wake around 8, and make ourselves presentable for breakfast. Our version of “presentable”: During the day just about anything goes. Having said that, we felt that we wanted to look good, so certain sartorial choices were not an option: t-shirts, short shorts, flip-flops – no, no, no. We took along a fetching selection of slacks (gabardine or khaki), button down and polo shirts, cute sweaters and boat shoes. In other words, we wouldn’t be unwelcome anywhere on the ship (or in the Hamptons of a summer weekend).

Our Maitre d’Hotel, Osman, was at the podium at the entrance to Queens Grill every time we arrived (did he sleep there, too?) to escort us to our window table. From there our wait staff attended to our every whim. It could be challenging, because the first thing to appear every day was the pastry tray and we were trying so hard to be good (but not TOO good). Then came the coffee and the juice and the smoothies and whatever else we fancied for breakfast.

While at breakfast, we’d review the Daily Programme and decide what we might like to do. Take a look:

QM Daily Programme
Vintage Daily Programme – April 16, 2004

For instance, there were several lecturers on board and our favorite, Brian Hawley, was quite wonderful. His area of expertise is the grand old ocean liners, and he gave several totally absorbing lectures on the great ships from the turn of the century up through the first Queen Mary. This series of lectures was his first for Cunard, but you never would have known – he was a real pro.

Brian also has a fascinating website – Luxury Liner Row – which is loaded with ocean liner memorabilia and, should you be a collector, there are items that will delight you. For instance, how about an Acquitania bud vase? Or an Il de France brochure? If you want to go all out, how about a life jacket from the famed ocean liner Normandie? It’s all there and more. If you do pay a visit, be sure to check out the Online Museum. Visiting Luxury Liner Row was like going on an archeological dig and making all kinds of exciting discoveries. Here’s his website:

Luxury Liner Row

Other than Brian’s lectures, there were all kinds of activities for body and mind. The gym, located forward on deck 7, is one of the best at sea. Great collection of weights and machines. Likewise, the spa was quite luxe.

How about some shuffleboard? Or table tennis? You want to work your mind? There were several sessions of Team Trivia every day. Also duplicate bridge games every afternoon. And there is that library with over 8,000 volumes. All competitive activities gave passengers the opportunity to accrue “stamps” (remember green stamps??) which could be traded at the end of the voyage for prizes. We’re not talking about free cruises or anything like that, but I got myself a Cunard key chain and pen. Woo-hoo.

Oh, have I mentioned Illuminations, QM2’s on-board Planetarium? Crazy, huh? Lectures and movies are also presented here.

QM2-Planetarium-Illuminations
Illuminations – QM2’s Planetarium at Sea

By noon or thereabouts, it’s time for lunch. You have your choice of either your dedicated restaurant or, if you prefer, you can go to the Kings Court for a casual meal, served buffet style. In fact, there are those passengers who prefer to take all of their meals in this venue, as it’s the most casual meal service on the ship.

We spent our afternoons walking on deck, spending time in the library or, in my case, playing duplicate bridge for a couple of hours. Then, at 3:30, it’s time for afternoon tea, which is a long-held tradition and properly observed: first you get your tea and sandwiches, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream, followed by assorted pastries.

TRAVEL TIP: Be sure to pack plenty of elasticized pants on these voyages. You’ll thank me.

QM2 - Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea, QM2 Style

After all that eating and exercise (physical and otherwise), we liked to head back to the cabin for a little nap. It’s one of the great things to do on a ship, letting the gentle motion of the ship lull you to sleep.

Then it’s time to prepare for your evening’s activities. On the 7-day crossing, there will be 3 formal nights. Before dinner, you may want to drop by one of the many watering holes located all over the ship: the Commodore Club located at the very front of the ship on deck 9, the Chart Room or the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar, amongst other drinking establishments. While your libations are not included in your fare, the prices for cocktails are reasonable, especially compared to what you’d pay in New York for a proper Negroni.

QM2 Commodore Club
Commodore Club

QM2 Chart Room
Chart Room

QM2 Veuve Cliquot Bar
Veuve Cliquot Champagne Bar

Our dinners in Queens Grill were delicious, well-prepared and served. Osman always dropped by to see if we wanted anything special that may not have appeared on the menu. That’s when the fun began. He’d make suggestions and, mostly, we’d just let him run with it. We were never disappointed.

As a possible dining alternative, I’d like to share with you one of our favorite places to eat on the ship: Todd English, which is the specialty restaurant on board. Intimate and with its own chef, menu and wine list, it’s a delightful way to spend an evening. There is a modest surcharge of $30 per person to eat there but, believe me, it’s more than worth it. We dined there twice during our voyage and had a superb meal each time. It’s also open for lunch and for $12, you can have a delicious panini.

QM2 - Todd English
Todd English

Let me share with you perhaps the most special dining experience we had during the voyage. If it hadn’t been for our sommelier, we never would have known about it. For one evening on each crossing, the ship’s Executive chef, Klaus Kremer, collaborates with Chief Sommelier, John Baskar, to create the “Chef’s Table”, a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. This feast is available to only 12 guests, keeping it exquisitely intimate. Best of all, the venue is the Chef’s Galley on Deck 7 which has a private kitchen where Klaus prepares the meal in front of us. Before each course, John explains each wine we’re about to drink and why he chose it to serve with each course.

QM2 - Chef's Galley
The Chef’s Galley set up for us.

QM2 - Chef Klaus AAC
AAC CPA and Chef before dinner

QM2 - Wine Pairings
Our wines waiting to be served

Lasting about 4 hours, we ate and drank ourselves into oblivion. And then waddled back to our cabin.

All good things much come to an end and, soon enough, it was time to pack up and get out! QM2’s arrival into New York must be strictly coordinated with the tides. Because the ship is so tall, the Captain has to make sure that it can pass under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. Would you believe me if I told you that there are times when there are less than 10 feet between the top of the ship and the bottom of the bridge. I kid you not.

The only downside is that the ship was scheduled to be at the bridge at 4:45 AM. Having done it before, we had NO INTENTION WHATSOEVER of getting up that early to see it but, well, you know. We just woke up and there we were. Although it was very cool outside, there happened to be a full moon and it was totally worth being awake to see it and the bridge from our balcony.

QM2 - Verrazamp
Just after passing under the bridge

QM2 - Downtown Manhattan
Pre-Dawn Downtown Manhattan

QM2 - Sunrise Over Manhattan
Sunrise Over Manhattan

At this point, there was nothing left to do but get dressed, go down for a final breakfast, take a last stroll around the Promenade Deck and disembark.

QM2 - AAC Gets Off
AAC CPA gets ready to disembark

One of the great benefits for us New Yorkers is that QM2 docks in Red Hook, which is just over the Brooklyn Bridge. We were off the ship at about 8:15 AM, picked up our luggage, went through customs, hopped into a cab, and were back in our apartment within an hour. Not a bad way to end our trip.

Conclusion: This post is much longer than I had intended, but I wanted to share with you the many flavors of the experience. For anyone who has the romantic notion about getting onto a ship and sailing across the ocean (and who doesn’t?), booking passage on QM2 is the quintessential experience. It’s a true ocean liner, has 175 years of Cunard tradition behind it, and sails into the future assured of its place in history.

I encourage you to try it at least once.