Jacqueline is a new opera by librettist Royce Vavrek and composer Luna Pearl Woolf. It will premiere at Tapestry next month. It deals with the life and career of cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Du Pré was a celebrity in her own life time. She made her Wigmore Hall debut at age 16 in 1961 and quickly established herself as one of the all time greatest exponents of her instrument with a rather special relationship with the Elgar concerto. Marriage to Daniel Barenboim, conversion to Judaism and “membership” in the rather remarkable circle of musical Jews in New York followed. Her physical ability to play the cello though began to decline in 1971 and a formal diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was made in 1973. She lived for another 14 years but never played again in public.
I met with Laurie Rubin today to talk about her upcoming show with Liz Upchurch and Amplified Opera; The Way I See It. Laurie is a mezzo-soprano and she’s been blind since birth. All she can perceive visually is dark and light. We talked about her life growing up and as a professional singer and the upcoming show.
The bio is interesting going from a fairly toxic high school environment in Los Angeles where music was pretty much her salvation, to Oberlin where she first appeared on stage in actual opera to Yale Opera, which took her on the strength of her voice and then didn’t cast her in anything in her two years there (which clearly still hurts), and on to a professional career based in New York. She’s done a lot of new music including creating the role of the voice/witch in Lisa Bielawa’s episodic opera, Vireo, written for broadcast which aired in June 2017 on KCET Los Angeles and creating, with her wife Jenny Taira, an arts program in Hawaii; Ohana Arts, which in turn led to the creation of a musical Peace on Your Wings, about the life of a young Japanese girl who suffered from the Hiroshima bomb, which toured the Hawaiian islands and the US west coast. If all this, and performances too numerous to list, weren’t enough she wrote a book, Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight, which in turn became a one woman show. She has also recently become a mother.
Tapestry’s upcoming show TapEx: Forbidden features music by Iranian-born composer Afarin Mansouri with a libretto by Afro-Caribbean hip hop artist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. Four vocalists are featured; Neema Bickersteth, soprano; Shirin Eskandani, mezzo-soprano; Alexander Hajek, baritone; and Saye Sky, Farsi rapper and spoken-word artist. I have a long standing interest in blending western classical music with other cultures and genres, partly at least because I get to hear a lot of North Indian music, and I’ve been intrigued by other “fusion”projects such as Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Lesson of Da Ji and some of the cross-cultural experimentations in dance such as Esmerelda Enrique and Joanna Das’ collaborations. All of this is a long intro to saying that before Christmas I got the chance to put some questions to Afarin Mansouri about the upcoming show. Her responses are enlightening and intriguing. So here’s the exchange:
Sir Thomas Allen, noted baritone and Chancellor of Durham University, is in town rehearsing Don Alfonso in the COC’s new production of CosÌ fan tutte. Yesterday evening, between rehearsals, he was kind enough to spend half an hour answering some questions. We talked about his career, about his role as Chancellor of Durham University and about the new production of Così. I’ve detailed some of the highlights below as well as embedding the full interview as a four part audio file at the end.