JULY 2001
Weekend, July 6-8

Ochre Court

Friday, July 6: The Festival opened today at 11 AM, but we started with the 4 PM concert at Ochre Court. It was a beautiful day, and the air was clear, the sea calm. Ochre Court is one of the great mansions, now owned by Salve Regina University, housing their administrative offices. Those Catholics sure know their real estate. The theme this year is Dvorakiad: the music of Antonin Dvorak. The concert opened with the String Quartet No. 3, played by the young Whitman Quartet. They played beautifully, and the music is lovely, lush, romantic, lots of Slavic folk themes beautifully intertwined. But they took every damn repeat, and the piece must have taken an hour to play. It was a bit excessive. After intermission (they are featuring Russian and Polish vodkas and Czech beer--Czechvar, which is quite delicious--at the bar this year), Bernadene Blaha (who should be right at home in this idiom) played two Slavonic Dances with Julie Albers, a stunning young cellist, who looks like Tom Cruise. These were written for orchestra, and a cello and piano don’t do them justice. Then Bernadene was joined by her husband, Kevin Fitz-Gerald, for a four-hand arrangement of some Bohemian scenes. Quite lovely. We returned to the condo for Shabbat dinner (ayshes hayil), which was leftovers from the Fourth of July: barbecued chicken, cold spicy sesame noodles, salad, blueberry pie with tofutti. The wines were a fresh Rosé d’Anjou and a lush Carmenet Old Vines Zinfandel. As we were finishing up, the fireworks from Jamestown across the bay went off, delayed from the Fourth. The finale was outstanding.

Saturday, July 7: In the morning, there was a concert at The Elms. It was another gorgeous day, and everything was light and airy and informal. Bernadene Blaha played Polish piano music of Schwarenka, Moszkowski and Paderewski. Kevin Fitz-Gerald and Julie Albers played a Ballade and Serenade by Suk, and Fitz-Gerald then played Four Polish Dances by the more contemporary Szymanowski. After intermission, Alain Jacquon, our favorite French pianist, played Five Waltzes by Smetana. The concert concluded with a wonderfully played Grand Trio by Antonin Rejcha.

In the afternoon, we hosted the staff of Ocean State Outreach, where I work two days a week, for a barbecue. We served Best hot dogs, hamburgers, Bocaburgers, some sawdust non-living-thing hotdogs for Scott St. Germain, potato salad, bean salad, and a fabulous salad of marinated cucumbers and mint. We had several kinds of beer and soda, including some home brewed light ale and bitter ale made by Steve Duhamel. It was a perfect day, marred only by the deadly aim of some low-flying seagulls who scored a direct hit on Lisa Lemay. The sunset was extraordinary, a palette of colors that changed every minute across the horizon.

Sunday, July 8: I received birthday greetings from the family and poached eggs from Carol (presents from her, too, including a tape measure that has a built-in recorder that reminds you of the measurement you made when you push a button—cool). Reed Cosper, the Mental Health Advocate came by to discuss a forthcoming case and stayed for lunch. We watched the Civil War re-enactors who had gathered at Fort Adams to re-enact a battle. Unfortunately, there was never a Civil War Battle at Fort Adams, but this did not impede their bid for authenticity. They fired cannon and muskets for a couple of hours, adding greatly to the noise and air pollution. These people are of two types. The ones from the North are primarily schizophrenics who feel right at home in dingy decrepit uniforms. The ones from the South are Good Ol’ Boys who, rather like the Japanese soldiers who hid in caves for years after 1945, believing that the war was not yet over, continue to put on the Gray, whoop rebel yells, and fire muskets, hoping to rid the South (or at least Fort Adams, which is the in south part of Newport) of Niggers, Communists, and Jews.

Sunday night there was a soirée—there is no other word for it—at the Great Hall of the Breakers: a concert by the Latvian soprano, Inessa Galante. She is fortyish, Jewish, good looking, from Riga. And she is a Diva with a capital D. She is a dramatic soprano, again with a capital D, who commands the stage and demands your attention every minute she is on it. She was accompanied at the piano by the wonderful Tom Hrynkiv, looking more and more each year, as his moustache extends down beside the corners of his mouth, like Hetman Chmelnitzky from his Ukrainian fatherland. For the first half, she dressed in a simple peasant outfit and sang songs in Russian by Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Rachmaninoff, and Tchiakovsky. In the audience was Bella Miller, a New American who lives in Providence, who was her first rehearsal pianist in Riga (and who also taught me to sing in Russian, but never mentions that). Well Galante may have studied voice with Bella, but she must have studied acting with Stanislavsky. She was impish, seductive, brave, heartbroken, expressing waves of emotion with her face, her hands, her whole body. She has a big dramatic voice, but even more striking was her piano, singly perfectly at a tiny volume, with total breath and vocal control. For the second half, she wore a dramatic evening gown and sang one blockbuster chestnut after the next—Casta Diva from Norma, Mi Chiamano Mimi and Musetta’s Waltz from La Bohème, Un Bel Di from Madama Butterfly, Lisa’s Aria from Pique Dame, and The Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin. She pulled out all the stops vocally and dramatically for each aria, so that by the time she got to the last, she had to stop after the first few bars, and go backstage for a drink of water. She returned in full voice and gave her all once more. As encores, she sang an exquisite Ave Maria, an Albinoni serenade, and she closed Gershwin, proving that you ain’t heard "Summertime" until you’ve heard it sung with a Russian accent:

"Yourrrr Dyeddy’s reeech, end yourrrr Ma is gyud lyookin..."

It was one of those magical evenings that make the Newport Music Festival so utterly special.