Hello – I Must Be Staying!

Hey Everyone!

So, it’s been just about 7 weeks since I started TheCulturedTraveler and I’m thinking that I want to recap what’s been happening with the blog and the life.

OK – full disclosure – I was offered a “blogging 101” primer to help me improve my blogging skills (such as they are) and, perhaps, to breathe new life into this adventure. I’m game for it and eager to see what may happen as a result. Of course, that means that I’ll have to do my “homework”, which means you may be seeing a lot more of me over the next few weeks.

For those of you who have stuck with me (and many, many thanks for that), you’ll know that I had a lot of friends who have encouraged me over the years to share our travel experiences, as well as our culinary and cultural adventures. Living in New York City, we’ve had the very good fortune to take advantage of all that this amazing place has to offer, and we’ve been equally lucky to be able to travel hither and yon and to meet some wonderful people along the way.

Version 2
Blog Highlight #1 – AAC CPA gets ready for takeoff.

Finally, just before our Queen Mary 2 crossing in later September, I took the plunge and, even since, have posted about 2 times a week. What’s been really interesting to me is that the travel posts get a very good readership, while the posts pertaining to culture and food, less so. That’s something I’ll have to figure out as we go along.

03 - Vogue
Blog Highlight #2 – AAC CPA on Embarkation Day aboard QM2

My goal is to connect with fellow travelers, culture and food mavens and to share experiences. I’m pretty good on all of these tracks, but I’m also fortunate to have good friends who share their experiences as well which gives me – well – food for fodder.

Speaking of food for fodder: Blog Highlight #3 – Post-theatre dinner at The Ivy in London

I’ve had some success so far in connecting with other bloggers who somehow found TheCulturedTraveler, and that’s been great. It’s given me other blogs to read and, from them, to get ideas about things that I might want to do myself. Hopefully, that’s what my blog will do in turn.

Looking a year ahead, where would I want the blog to be? Here are some initial thoughts and goals:

  • I’d like to build the blog so that it can be used as a resource for like-minded people.
  • I’d like to attract a larger following giving TheCulturedTraveler more exposure.
  • I’d like to make the blog itself more attractive with, perhaps, more bells and whistles, so as to make it more interesting to the people who come to visit.
  • I’d also like to arrange for “guest-bloggers” to take over the space from time to time and share some of their experiences.

Finally, I’ve enjoyed posting so far and hope that I feel the same way as time goes by.

As always, thanks for reading stay tuned for more of our adventures.

Lulu Dress
Today’s Blog Highlight – Attending the dress rehearsal of Lulu at 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.”

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.

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

A Little Taste of Paris Down in Soho

Gentle Readers:

Who knew that I’d be blogging for a 2nd time in the past 12 hours, but I wanted to share our day with you and, also, pivot towards the other two prongs (“PRONGS”???) of this blog: food and art. I hope you won’t mind.

First of all, today presented a bit of a challenge, as it was the housekeeper’s day to be here and, although she doesn’t mind when we’re underfoot, AAC CPA doesn’t care for it at all. Please understand, we have a fabulous housekeeper – Nalini – and she’s been with us for more years that we can count. Nay, AAC just likes to have the place – the entire place, that is – to himself. So he’d rather clear out than share it. The fact that he shares it with me is a minor miracle, in fact.

NOTE: If opera isn’t your thing, please skip to below the CULTURE TIP below. 🙂

So, our first stop today was the Metropolitan Opera, where we’d been invited to a “working rehearsal” of Il Trovatore, with Anna Netrebko and Dimitri Hvorostovsky in the leading roles. We are very fortunate to be able to attend these rehearsals, as I very much enjoy the opera. AAC CPA is a bit more discerning. Yes, it’s true he’s attended something like 6 Ring Cycles over the years, but ask him to attend a mediocre performance of La Boheme and he’ll go right to sleep.

A working rehearsal, unlike a dress rehearsal or regular performance, means that there will be stops, things will be cleaned up, lights will be set and who knows what other mayhem may occur. Sure enough, there were some interesting repeats today. And you should have heard that Anvil Chorus!! And those men who worked the anvils – mamma mia!!!!

Anvil Chorus
See what I mean?

Madame Netrebko was in fabulous voice, even for a working rehearsal. And her core strength must be awesome, as she slowly lowered herself onto one knee as she sang a beautifully shaped phrase without any stress whatsoever on her beautiful voice. Talk about star quality!!

Anna Nebtrebko in Il Trovatore at Salzburg

We were very fortunate to be able to hear Hvorostovsky. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June and canceled all summer performances so that he could begin immediate treatment. While his vocal cords were unimpaired, he was having severe balance issues, which kept him off the stage. While our sopranos faint, jump off parapets, and often portray the weaker sex, we like our baritones sturdy. As it turns out, he’s been able to appear in the 1st three performances of this run of Trovatore, after which he’ll return to London for further treatment. We send him our best and hope for a complete and permanent recovery.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky in Il Trovatore at the Met

We will be at his 3rd performance, which is on Saturday afternoon, October 3rd and, if you have any interest at all, you can attend, too. Or, at least you be there as a part of the Met’s Live in HD series. Cinemas all over the world will have a live transmission of this performance, with lots of fun looks backstage during the breaks. Tickets are around $22.00 (whereas you’d probably pay between $230 – $340 for an orchestra seat at the Met). A good deal, I’d say.


We stayed at the Met ’til the first break, in the middle of Act I, Scene iii (Azucena had just admitted that she’d thrown the wrong baby – her own son!!! – into the fire – don’t ask!), and decided it was time to head downtown for a little taste of Paris in Soho. By that, I mean we decided to have lunch on the patio at Laduree. Do you know it or have you, perhaps, eaten or shopped there when you were in Paris? It’s an institution and you really know that you’re in Paris when you enter its doors. Before you can get to the restaurant, though, you have to pass through the patisserie, which just made my mouth water as I typed that word.

The Laduree in Soho has a lovely shaded patio, where we sat and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of club sandwiches. All around us, people were chatting in French and, if you closed your eyes and took a bite of your sandwich, you would swear you were on the Rue de Rivoli or the Champs-Élysées. It was that good. And, in fact, here’s AAC CPA anticipating his lunch:

Yes, it’s AAC CPA at Laduree

And here’s lunch:

Laduree Club Sandwich

Let me just say that Laduree didn’t let us down. We had a very civilized meal on their beautiful patio between the Il Trovatore and the next Italian experience we were about to have.


After our delightful lunch, it was time to turn our attention to the world of Italian neorealism. Our new favorite movie house in New York, Film Forum, has just started a Vittorio De Sica retrospective, and this afternoon we went to see what is arguably his greatest film, Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). It is a film that we’ve known about for many years, but just saw for the first time today. Almost plotless, it shows the desperate circumstances in which the working class found itself in post-war Italy. A somber and tragic film and yet laced throughout with moments of humor. Check it out here:

CULTURE TIP: Bicycle Thieves at Film Form

And that was our day. When we got back to the apartment, the place was so clean that you could eat off of the floors. That’s no joke – Nalini is that good.

Now begins the task of packing for London and our crossing on Queen Mary 2. We leave for JFK in 36 hours. Tick, tock, everyone!!