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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Olney's 'Island' is non-stop dance and song


Aisha Jackson, left, and Theresa Cunningham star in Olney Theatre Center's Once On This Island/photo by Stan Barouh

The costuming by Helen Huang In Olney Theatre Center's new production, Once On This Island, threatens to upstage it all.  

Skirts made of reflective recycled plastic and tie dye make a splash in shirts, vests, and shorts.  Long dresses with handkerchief hemlines, and colored plastic strips follow the female dancers wherever they go.

Blue cellophane becomes a god's robe, silver painted cardboard makes cool royal vestments, and bottle caps decorate head pieces.

Raindrops made of long silver icicles, twittering parrots and umbrellas from colorful plastic bag pieces, and...

OK, enough already about costuming. What's the story? 

While members of the audience find their seats before the show starts, the cast drifts in with abandon, casually alighting on stage until Jeff Dorfman's thunder suddenly stops all action with a loud clap, lights go out, flash, and then... silence.

Let the show begin.

The musical is a story about a young girl frightened by a storm who hears the story of Ti Moune, an orphan adopted by an old couple who watches over time as their new child grows into a beautiful young woman. In the eternal love story, set in a nameless Caribbean land (but adapted from Haiti and Jamaica, according to program notes), she falls for Daniel (Eymard Cabling) from across the way whose high place in society endangers their relationship. Ti Moune's ability to weather her station and accept or deny her fate unfolds. 

Once stars nine-year-old Ariel Cunningham as a young Ti Moune (alternately played by Shelby Renee Fountain) in her first theatre performance where Ariel easily captures attention whenever she is on stage, looking wonderingly at her playmates and flying around the scenes with the speed and confidence of Peter Pan. 

In one excellent transformation Ti Moune dashes off the stage, and returns immediately, several years older in the role continued by the lovely and sincere Aisha Jackson. 

To be or not to be an opera, or light opera, since the vocals are all sung and accompanied by marvelous dance (with choreography by Darren Lee), especially by Ms. Jackson in a solo piece where she becomes a twirling jazzerina in a white plastic gown under a spotlight, a scene which contrasts effectively with the darkened stage.

Aisha Jackson in Olney Theatre Center's Once On This Island/photo by Stan Barouh

Under the direction of Darius Smith, the six member orchestra plays Stephen Flaherty's Caribbean island music practically non-stop. Lots of samba, an electric keyboard, and percussion dominate. That the singers' harmonies in duets and trios make the best music of the night is no surprise.

An unexpected and well received shadow story provides a glimpse of Haitian history and the French occupation.

The lighting by Marc Hurst is an outstanding aspect of the show, and Milagros Ponce de Leon's scenic designs change the backdrop skies from blue to dark with a full moon and a glowing red whenever the Demon of Death (James T. Lane) makes his appearance. (With an evil, wide smile, gear, and spread feet in a perpetually threatening stance, Lane's devil is the most realistic demon one would never hope to meet.)

Clever designs transform a handheld skateboard with big lights on its bottom into a car which Daniel "drives" fast around the stage. Standing cots with chains become big iron gates which clang shut to keep the peasant girl out of the kingdom.

Once is part of Olney's family series but billed for children over age five.  Action and energy keep the young (and old) enthralled throughout, if the story is hard to follow at times. It played on Broadway from 1990 to 1991 and received eight Tony Award nominations.

Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, said he chose the play because of its stories of rebirth, forgiveness, and love, especially poignant at this time of year  


At the Olney all the characters are African Americans with exception of Mr. Cabling who is Asian.

Others stars are Theresa Cunningham, Fahnlohnee Harris-Tate, Wendell Jordan, Kellee Knighten Hough, Nicholas Ward, Duyen Washington, Stephen Scott Wormley,Jessica M. Johnson, and David Little. 

Sesame Street's Alan Muraoka directs.

Lynn Ahrens wrote the books and lyrics, basing her tale on the novella, My Love, My Love, by Trinidad's Rosa Guy (1925-2012) who used The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1810) for foundation.

Herewith, a Helen Hayes nomination:

Outstanding Costume Design, Resident Production:  Helen Huang, Once On This Island

What: Once On This Island

When:  Now through May 4, 2014 with evening and matinee performances

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets start at $32.50 with discounts for groups, seniors, military members, and students.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

Duration:  About 90 minutes with no intermission

For more information: 301-924-3400

For more area productions and reviews, check out DC Metro Theater Arts.

patricialesli@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ford's Theatre's 'Bee' is a spellbinder

 
Cast members from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee now on stage at Ford's Theatre under the direction of Peter Flynn.  The seated fellow on the far left in a daze is one of four cast members from the audience/photo by Scott Suchman

Ford's Theatre latest production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is so much fun I asked the box office to let me know right away if it's extended through Memorial Day weekend when my family comes to town, and I can see it again.  Really. 

The energy and laughter are contagious, and the action is non-stop.  Increasing the entertainment are superb acting (under the direction of Peter Flynn), singing, choreography (by Michael Bobbitt) and plot.  Who would have guessed a musical comedy could come out of a spelling bee, but Rebecca Feldman's creation and Rachel Sheinkin's story made it happen on Broadway in 2005 where it ran for almost three years and won two Tonys.

For more frivolity, why not throw in four volunteers from the audience who have a one-night stand on stage with speaking (mostly spelling) parts?

Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Matthew A. Anderson) and moderator, Rona Lisa Perretti (Rachel Zampelli), both, hippopotomonstrosesquipedalians, grill the ten contestants (including the newly cast) who are asked to spell really hard words, most from South America, except for "vug" ("vug"?), "cow," and "lugubrious" which this most definitely is not. 

Mr. Panch and Ms. Perretti are quite skilful at improv and current events, and their exchanges with the new actors  (who must be good spellers) are hilarious. (What's a play in D.C. without mention of local politics?)  

Rather than long drawn out scenes, the action speeds up at the right times bypassing actual spelling as the students line up and whizz by.

The losers are escorted off stage with one of my favorites,  Mitch Mahoney (Kevin McAllister), who plays a convict doing community service at the school (makes sense, no?). His mannerisms, slouch, walk, and dress (hoodie, jeans, backwards ball cap) are street perfect, and he later finds Jesus.  Of course.


The contestants represent many different persuasions: There is Vincent Kempski as Boy Scout Chip Tolentino whose sudden rise to puberty becomes cause for alarm; Nicholas Vaughan as Leaf Coneybear who is home schooled; Logainne Schwartlonglastname is played by Kristen Garaffo, an energetic girl with two fathers; Felicia Curry is prissy Marcy Park whose achievements are bested by no one and she's got the voice to prove it, and not to be outdone in spectacular music or acting is Carolyn Agan's Olive Ostrovsky. Oh, and one more: William Barfee played by Vishal Vaidya who quite convincingly spells with his feet.  (You have to be there.) 

Who do you think wins?

A five-member band led by Christopher Youstra never dominates but adds to the night's gaiety with William Finn's music and lyrics.

(You may want to bring sunglasses for, except for audience members dressed in shabby greys, browns, and blacks, the costuming by Wade Laboissonniere and scenic design by Court Watson expand the sparkly.)

A few "damns" and some earthy talk and visuals lead Ford's to recommend the show for ages 12 and up, but two engrossed boys, ages about four and six, I saw practically hanging over the balcony railing near the end were oblivious to adult recommendations. 

The Spelling Bee has no intermission and lasts about 1.5 hours.  And you thought you were a good speller?  Come and try out your skills.  P.S. No exsibilations were heard the whole night.  Jay Reiss provided additional material.

What:  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

When: Evenings at 7:30 p.m. through May 17, 2014 with matinees on Fridays and Saturdays. (Meet the cast after the show across the street at Bistro D'Oc May 3.  Play tickets, not necessary.)

Where: Ford's Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004

How much: Tickets start at $18.00 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and anyone under age 35

For more information: 202-347-4833

Metro stations:  Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown, or Archives-Navy Memorial

For more theatre in Washington, D.C. check out the DC Metro Theater Art's website here.

patricialesli@gmail.com



 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Coast Guard's 'Gallatin' is decommissioned in Charleston

Shipmates on board the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

On a beautiful spring morning in the harbor at Charleston, a ship whose crew has apprehended $450 million of illegal drugs, assisted with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, and rescued thousands of migrants was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard and handed over to the Nigerian government.

More than 500 persons, including 100 past crew members and their families, came from around the U.S. to honor the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin and the servicemen and women who have served on the ship.
The decommissioning of the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C./photo by Patricia Leslie
Shipmates together for a last time on the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

The program noted the decommissioning ceremony "is as joyous as it is somber...[held] in recognition of the lives lost in pursuit of a greater nation and of the exhaustive efforts to maintain safety and security on the high seas."

Members of the Nigerian navy attended the decommissioning ceremony for the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, in Charleston Harbor, S.C. Nigeria is the new owner of the ship whose American crew was taking the Nigerians out to sea for more training after the ceremony, said one U.S. officer/photo by Patricia Leslie

The Gallatin served as command center for Hurricane Sandy recovery operations in New York Harbor in 2012, rescued and coordinated the 1994 rescue or coordination of 27,000 Cuban migrants in a one-month period, rescued 106 Haitians from a sinking sailboat in 1982, interdicted more than 50 tons of cocaine and marijuana and, on the final patrol, seized 1,016 kilos of cocaine worth more than $30 million.

The decommissioning of the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C./photo by Patricia Leslie
 
The decommissioning of the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C./photo by Patricia Leslie
 
Speakers commemorating the event were Vice Admiral Robert C. Parker, commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, Captain Caleb Corson, the Gallatin's commanding officer, and Ann Slattery of Washington and Dallas, the daughter of Elizabeth Stafford Hutchinson (1920-2010) who christened the ship in 1967 in New Orleans.  Ms. Slattery's father, Everett Hutchinson (1915-1994), was undersecretary of transportation for President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973).
Speakers at the decommissioning ceremony for the USCGC Gallatin included, from left, Captain Caleb Corson (speaking), Vice Admiral Robert C. Parker, and Ann Slattery, daughter of the Gallatin's sponsor, Elizabeth Stafford Hutchinson/photo by Patricia Leslie


The Coast Guard Brass Quintet played at the decommissioning ceremony for the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

The ship was named for Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), the longest-serving secretary of the U.S. Treasury, a member of the cabinet of President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and President James Madison (1751-1836).  Mr. Gallatin founded what is now New York University, and a statue of him stands in front of the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Shipmates march off the USCGC Gallatin, March 31, 2014, Charleston Harbor, S.C. for the final salute/photo by Patricia Leslie

Memorial Day Airfare Deals and Discount
patricialesli@gmail.com

 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bags don't fly free on Southwest Airlines. They don't fly (Updated)

Uummmm, not all the time/photo, airlinesdestination.com
 
I chose an early flight out of Baltimore so I could get to the beach earlier and have a longer day on the shore.

Alas. It was not to be.

Just try to walk, run, or play in the sand in high heels; it ain't happenin'.  But that's all I had. My bags didn't make the flight.
 
Photo by Mari Hirata, Asia Education Foundation
 
So much for a day at the beach.  So much for a day of fun in the sun, on the shore, in the waves. It didn't make.  It is lost.  A day gone, forever.

Thank you, Southwest Airlines.

From Baltimore to Charleston is only 95 non-stop minutes in the air (okay, 100 if you don't know which way the wind blows) so you'd think if you thought that losing bags would not happen since no turnarounds, transfers, layovers, pushups, or loose peanuts are involved, but, somehow, some way, bags belonging to about 25 of us got left behind.  On a cart somewhere in Baltimore, the Southwest agent in Charleston said.

They left a cart somewhere in Baltimore
Beside the plane, they call to me.
To be where other big bags fly, 
halfway to the stars
The morning rain may wet the air
They don't care 

My bags wait there for me in Baltimore
Nearby the blue and windy sea
When I call you bad names, O Baltimore
You've got my bags in absentee

The plane was not crowded.  It was a rare day in Skyland.  Empty middle seats filled the rows.  None of us found languishing later at Charleston's baggage claim were "late check-ins."  No explanation.

Something's awry in Baltimore. 

The last trip I made on Southwest before this one was at Christmas when I found, at my destination, wet contents in my bag caused by someone leaving my luggage uncovered on the tarmac in Baltimore where it was pouring the rain.  I filed a complaint and got a $50 voucher, enough to buy emergency supplies for the next flight which would be this one.

I tell you, something's awry in Baltimore.

What made it worse was Southwest's failure to guarantee the bags would be placed on the next available flight which was six hours later.  At the baggage claim center (888-202-1024) two agents told me my bags were lost, and Southwest could not locate them.  I made a few phone calls to Charleston (843-789-5442), Southwest's "customer service" (214-932-0333 and closed on Sunday), and left a choice message or two for the Baltimore Southwest baggage claim office (410-981-1200).  I can well understand why that manager would have his answering machine set on permanence since he wants to avoid taking live calls like he wants to avoid live snakes with fangs.  I was.

Meanwhile, a local at a restaurant told me the same thing had happened to her aunt who had to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe for her vacay.  Attention, Southwest Airlines:  I ain't a one-percenter with a vacay wardrobe checking account!

Meanwhile, it dawned on me (ding, ding, ding; hold on, brain's in commotion) that... it... was... pouring....the rain....all over again in the Land of the Ravens when....we....left...... which meant....possibly.... yep, you think, damp contents again?  (Answer, below.*) 

Upon check-in at my hotel I griped about my stress-filled day to the clerk, and another guest had the nerve to interrupt my day without pity: "Well," she harrumphed, "we paid $85 for two bags and golf clubs on US Air." 

"Look," I snarled 


I see that worried look upon your face,
You've got your bags, I don't have mine.

You flew US Air, I wish I had your place
You've got your bags, I don't have mine.

"You get what you pay for," I continued

I got plenty of nothin'
And nothing's not plenty for me.
I got no shoes,
Got no rouge,
Got lots of misery

From Southwesty

Folks with plenty of baggage
Are happy folks, yes, indeed

You got your shirts
You got your pants
You don't need no delivery 
From Southwesty

No wet-soaking clothes

Do you find in your bags
But it's more
And I'm sore
to miss the fun in the sun
On the shore!

The things that I prize
Like my bags in the sky
Are not free!


Say I've got plenty of nothin'
And nothing's not plenty for me.
Got no clothes
Got no shoes,
Ain't got no guarantee
  from Southwesty

Got my stress
Where's my dress
That's my song

Lookin' for bags the whole daylong

Ten hours later, well, looky here:  I'll be doggone, here they came.  I tell you, something's awry at that Baltimore Southwest baggage office, however, I may have discovered the hiding place of the manager in absentia which will have to wait until I return to O Baltimore and take a photo.  (This just in:  An update at the end.)

Anyway, I thought I hated Dulles.  Well, I do hate Dulles.  It's the pits.  Those people out there haven't smiled since they got Easter baskets back in 1946.  Dulles is so bad Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has called for an official investigation and airport cleaning of why it's so bad.  Thank you, Senator Warner. 

Attention, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD): O Baltimore airport has a few little baggage problems you might want to check out before you check out of there again. 

I tell you what:  It saves to fly National, at least, for now.  Because for sureSomething's happening at that Baltimore airport, and it ain't no free flying bags.

* You got it!

Readers, I ask you, is is possible that the manager in absentia is hiding in this dirt bomb which has collected more dust than my living room table? Why in the world does BWI Parking leave this thing to occupy a prime piece of real estate in its daily parking garage (2nd level, across from the elevators)?  The subject of a law suit?  Can't find the VIN? The tow truck can't get in the garage? Can you imagine the revenue which has been lost on this one parking place?  And how long do you think it's been there?  Answer below...

Photos by Patricia Leslie

Memorial Day Airfare Deals and Discount
patricialesll@gmail.com
 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Women's Museum showcases quiltessential art

Mary A. Stinson (American)
Crazy Quilt, circa 1880

Silk
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012


Quilts didn't mean much to me until I saw 35 of them recently at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The quilt which greets visitors at the entrance to the presentation is more than 200 years old.

Pictorial Quilt, circa 1795
Linen
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

Probably made in England or Ireland

I left the museum more than a little astonished by the creativity and degree of difficulty the quilts exacted from their makers.  I saw splashy quilts, historical quilts, colorful quilts with stories, in an exceptional exhibition at the museum, Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts. 

On the day I went, I lucked out to find (and tag along, i.e., eavesdrop on) three quilting experts from Country Piecemakers of central Virginia.  The ladies had come up to Washington by train to "scout" the show for their colleagues "down South" and see if it was worth a trip up by the rest of their "bee."

Interrupting them with usual diplomatic flair, I asked: "Does it meet muster?" In unison they answered enthusiastically "yes!" and told me the Hexagon Quilt alone was worth it. (Later on, they amended their statement to include a "crazy quilt." More than one "crazy quilt" hangs in the display, but I think they were talking about Mary Stinson's from 1880, above.)

Said quilter Colleen Woodcock: "It's freaking me out because it's so cool." (I am not sure if she was talking about the quilt or the show, maybe both.) Her companions were Donna Goff and Sandie Terrien who have studios, entire rooms in their homes devoted to their art.

Elizabeth Welsh from Virginia
Medallion Quilt, circa 1830
Cotton
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

Anyway, If you admire creativity and fine craftswomanship, are fascinated by the history of art and culture, and support women's endeavors, this is a exposition you do not want to miss.

The name, Workt by Hand, comes from an archaic spelling of "worked," and the phrase "workt by hand" is one often repeated in historical quilting literature, according to a museum statement. Besides, Catherine Morris, the show's curator and editor of the handsome 124-paged catalogue, says the abbreviated term is quite fitting in today's social media world.

Pictorial Quilt, circa 1840
cotton and cotton thread
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012

The quilt above, according to the catalogue, was likely made by several different women. All the blocks are individually designed, and the one with a woman's silhouette includes initials, a cat, and the symbol of the Freemasons, a square and compass.

Anna Williams, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (1927-2010)
Quilt, 1995
Cotton, synthetics
Brooklyn Museum, photograph by Gavin Ashworth, 2012


It is likely that in the "early days," wealthier women who had more time on their hands than farming women, took up quilting, and were probably aided by slave help. And it is plausible, too, that the quilts were not used for beds but were hung, like they are in the show which is arranged chronologically (except when similar designs demand to be together).

Most of the quilts are from the 19th century but span the 18th through the 20th centuries and come from Europe and the U.S. They all are part of the 100-year-old collection of 160 quilts at the Brooklyn Museum which organized the show. Ms. Morris is the museum's curator at its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.  

The catalogue calls the quilts "prescient precursors to modernist abstraction and material documents of the history of women." Their legacy was launched in modern times with the 1971 show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Abstract Design In American Quilts, which attracted huge media attention and introduced a new perspective about "women's art."

Scholar Janneken Smucker, who is speaking at the museum on April 24 in a free talk, says the Whitney show "elevated quilts to the status of art." 

Fine detail, vibrant colors and designs, appreciation for exquisite artistry and a brief education into what goes into quilting (including the loooong time required to make one) are some of the "takeaways" I took home, and you can likely find more.

Related events at the National Museum of Women in the Arts include:

April 2, 12 - 12:30 p.m. Gallery talk. Free to attend.

April 5, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.: "Workshop: Catch the Quilting Bug-Sashiko Sampler." In conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Jennifer Lindsay will teach Japanese embroidery techniques in a program for those age 10 and above. (Children 10 - 14 need adult accompaniment.) Materials are included. ($15, adults; $13, students, seniors, and members. Reservations required: reservations@nmwa.org)

April 5, 12 - 5 p.m.: "Demonstration: Discover Quilting." Free to attend.

April 6, 12 - 5 p.m. Free admission all day (first Sunday of the month)

April 9, 12 - 12:30 p.m. Gallery talk. Free.

April 16, 12 - 12:30 p.m. Gallery talk. Free.

April 18, 12 - 1 p.m. Curator talk by a quilt expert. Free.

April 24, 11:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. Janneken Smucker, assistant professor of history at West Chester University, will talk about the exhibition's content and themes. Free.

April 25, 7 p.m. Spring Gala black tie soiree for the museum with cocktails, dinner, dancing, silent auction, and tours of the exhibition. Call Melody Ain at 202-266-2815 or send email to main@nmwa.org.

*********************************************************
What: Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts

When: Now through April 27, 2014, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and 12 - 5 p.m., Sundays

Where: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005

Admission: Free on the first Sunday of the month (April 6) and on other days: $10, adults; $8, seniors and students, and always free for members and children, 18 and under.

For more information: 202-783-5000

Metro station: Metro Center. Exit at 13th Street and walk two blocks north.

patricialesli@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book review: 'Empty Mansions' by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Anyone with a cent of interest in the Corcoran Gallery of Art will find this tome of particular interest, about a woman who lived to be 104 and was so fearful of invasion of privacy she refused to press charges when Edgar Degas' Dancer Making Points valued at $10 million was stolen from her New York City apartment.

The book, Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune tells the story of the youngest child of W.A. Clark (1839-1925), copper magnate, former member of the U.S. Senate (whom the New York Times called "a scoundrel" in her obituary) and philanthropist who bequeathed paintings, rooms, and lots of money to the Corcoran for which thousands of Corcoran fans will be forever grateful. (Note to the National Gallery of Art:  Please keep all.)

On March 1, 2014 Ms. Clark's name was mentioned again in the Washington Post in another long story about the Corcoran's future and the $10 million gift from Ms. Clark's estate to help keep the Corcoran going, for now.

The book never really says why hyoo-GETT (the pronunciation; born in Paris) resisted public exposure which may be because no one knows.

The best parts of the book are the vignettes which pop up every few pages, especially closer to the beginning, written in first person by Ms. Clark's cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., who communicated with her every so often, or rather, she communicated with him by phone, calling him and never leaving a personal telephone number.  (Most...most?  Not most, but all contacted her via her attorney which is another story.)

If you've heard that she owned huge mansions in New York, Connecticut, and California which she never visited for decades and paid staff to maintain them all, and in the case of the Connecticut house, bought it in the 1950s partly as protection from the Russians in case they stormed New York (hmmmm), an estate she never occupied, you heard right.

If you've heard Ms. Clark spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital, you heard right.  (No worries about grocery shopping, dry cleaning, companionship, housekeeping, bill paying, taking out the dog, preparing meals, etc. since...) 

If you've heard that Ms. Clark gave her hospital nursemaid $31 million you heard right.  (It was not all in one lump sum, the tax man cometh,  but spread over 20 years, for spending on the nurse's family's upkeep, this and that, roof repairs, college educations of children, new cars, tires, a spring bouquet.  How about a trip or two?  You need a house?  A new one? You know how bills mount up.)

But it wasn't only the hospital nursemaid who came whining to Ms. Clark for handouts, but hospital doctors, nurses, attorneys, accountants, friends of friends who were about as bad, and she rewarded most of them. 

Beth Israel Hospital got mad when staff learned she was only going to leave the hospital $1 million and immediately sentenced her to a room without a view. (The estate is suing the medical center for $100 million.  You go, Estate!)

When some of Ms. Clark's jewelry worth in the millions and stored in "securities" at Citibank went missing in 1991, "Whoops!" said Citibank "Can't find it! But we can call in Lloyd's of London if you must have the appraised value, darling, which will mean press, lots of press, and is that something you really want?" She accepted a reduced value of $3 million.

And then that bank went and did it again, in 1994, when one bank department forgot to pay her safety deposit box fee to another bank department and "Whoops!  So sorry we couldn't find you.  Owner? What owner? We called the locksmith and broke that lock on that box and sold everything in it.  To make it up to you, we'll give you 35 cents for every dollar of your value, how's that?"

What did she do for fun? 

She did paint and collect original dolls and ordered the construction of meticulously crafted Japanese doll houses and castles over decades for which she paid thousands of dollars.  (Where are they now? The book says the nursemaid got them, however, after Empty Mansions was published, Mr. Dedman, the author, reported for NBC News on January 30, 2014 that the Bellosguardo Foundation, the recipient of her $85 million Santa Barbara, California estate, will get them ($1.7 million value). Many of her art works, priced in the millions of dollars, are presently on world tour (skipping a stop in Washington, not enough money here, I suppose, but then Moscow was bypassed, too.  Maybe, not such a good time to stop in Moscow) culminating in auctions at Christie's in May and June.  Get your number.)

You will be surprised to learn that when Ms. Clark died in 2011 relatives came calling, most of whom had had no contact with her for decades, if they had ever met her. "Why Cousin Cosette, fancy meeting you here at the grave site."  "If your last name is Clark, please get in line." (The estate battle is being fought in the courts in New York.)

The book is well researched, but its biggest downfall is a dearth of pictures. I was so frustrated when this and that painting would be mentioned, and there would be no picture. Alas! I have never known such consternation when reading a book which boasts 70 graphics which are at least 70 too few. You would think copyright holders would be pleased to share their images to boost traffic, but perhaps, that was not the case.  Anyway, the writing style borders on encyclopedic which is adequate since it is facts I want, author, not concocted fictional conversations, thank you very much.

As the authors say, Ms. Clark (who called herself Mrs. Clark; different generation; you have to read the book) never used her money to treat anyone in an ill manner. She gave handsomely to the Girl and Boy Scouts, among many other non-profit organizations.  In her sister's memory her parents donated 135 acres they bought 40 miles north of New York City to establish the first national Girl Scout camp which is still open today, Camp Andree Clark.

Ms. Clark maintained her lucidity throughout her life and appeared to know exactly what she was doing.

The book's title and cover are par excellence.  Of course, being without Huguette's purse, I did not buy the book:  I got on the waiting list at my favorite public library:  Fairfax County.  It pays.


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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Guest conductor falls ill at NSO

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos/photo from Columbia Artists Management, Inc.

Just before the nightingale's recorded song filled the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall last night, guest conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, who has led the National Symphony Orchestra more than 200 times, dropped his hands, slumped at the podium, and stood with downcast head, his body supported by the railing, almost as if he had been overtaken by sleep.

The audience murmured faintly.

The musicians were in the middle of the third section of Pini di Roma by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) which the program said includes "a thrill in the air....a nightingale sings." The production slowed for just a few seconds, and notes softened. Near the maestro sat two female violinists, clearly stunned by the event.  They exchanged glances, immediately lay down their instruments, and rushed to the conductor's aid, helping him to a sitting position on the steps of the podium

As fast as cymbals chime, Mr. Fruhbeck's body straightened, he lifted his hand and baton, and from his sitting position where he remained for the duration of the piece, he led the performers through the last few minutes of Respighi's fiery finish.

When the music stopped, the conductor rose and stood without assistance, and facing the audience, placed his hand on his chest momentarily, acknowledging the orchestra members and the audience, and walked off the stage by himself.


The crowd clamored and cried to see him again who obliged the demands, returning to the stage without assistance to wave and accept gratitude from the well-wishers. He turned and walked off, but the vociferous crowd, which it had been all evening, wanted more.

Suddenly, the lead violinists, no doubt exhausted and emotionally wrung, quickly stood and literally marched off the stage ending the accolade from the packed house, fuller than I have seen it in a long time.

Throughout most of the evening's performance I had marveled at the hearty enthusiasm expressed by the audience, happy and glad to be at a concert on a Friday night with springtime advancing, robins chirping, and daffodils ready to parade their grace and color for Washingtonians to admire. (Good riddance, Winter!)

Earlier, before intermission, the guest pianist  who turned 23 on March 5 and was making his NSO debut, Daniil Trifonov, delivered a rousing "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" written by his Russian comrade, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). Mr. Trifonov's fingers moved up and down and away from the keyboard as fast as if he were touching a hot stove. He crouched over the piano like cradling a newborn. (You can never go wrong with Rachmaninoff.)

"Bravo!" the mostly standing audience shouted repeatedly at his finish, producing four encores which Trifonov answered energetically with an unusually lengthy, but well received, piece that may have been Chopin's Op. 18 Waltz. This led to three more encores after the encores, extending the evening's entertainment well past the customary terminal hour.

(I must mention Mr. Trifonov's apparel which was in keeping with our present relationship with his motherland: a black suit, white shirt, skinny black pencil tie, and hair which slung to the music.)
Daniell Trifonov/photo from www.classicalsource.com

Mr. Fruhbeck and Mr. Trifonov were not the only guest artists: Kelley O'Connor (not in green but wearing an elegant and stylish long black gown with halter top design) beautifully sang the love sick parts of Candelas from El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) whose works Maestro Fruhbeck has recorded in their entirety.

Kelley O'Connor/photo from www.mask9.com

Ms. O'Connor's mezzo-soprano's voice was frequently almost overcome by the sounds of music. Probably because she has appeared with the National Symphony several times, the audience did not respond as enthusiastically as it does to most "newcomers."

Oh, and there was more entertainment: The delicious "Nuages" and "Fetes" from Nocturnes by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) began the evening.

Three long consecutive nights conducting at the Kennedy Center would be demanding tasks for anyone, let alone someone with the history of Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos which includes 2011 Conductor of the Year by Musical America, the Gold Medal awarded by Vienna, "Emeritus Conductor" bestowed by the Spanish National Orchestra, and in the past year alone, he has led orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, San Francisco, Detroit, Saint Louis, Houston, Seattle, among some cities. Not bad for an 80-year-old. 

The program repeats tonight.

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