Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Unexpectedly, former Mayor Giuliani was the first speaker at a celebration for Rise Stevens, the opera singer, last night. He pronounced Cherubino’s name “ch” instead of with a hard c, and I heard someone in the audience repeat it contemptuously. But the former Mayor was winning and sincere.
We waited until the very end to see Rise, and while her hair was white, her speaking voice – mostly she said thank you-- voice was very strong. Wow.
Film clips, TV clips, reminiscences. Singing Delila and Orfeo, she was absolutely wonderful – clear, smooth, powerful, irresistible.
And what a healthy personality! As a lark, and a favor to Ed Sullivan on his show, she once sang a commercial for Mercury cars – very funny. She danced a bunch of dances with Ray Bolger – charming. She sang while ice skating. (Earlier, the program had mentioned that she had skated while she was growing up in the Bronx. Yes, she was born there, and her real name was Steenberg. Norwegian ancestry, but some Jewish people in there.)
A great clip: Her “Carmen,” with Richard Tucker, fine singing, fine acting. On the Ed Sullivan show.
Good story: Olin Downes wrote that she sang one opera, in German, as if she didn’t understand the words.
Rise sat next to Downes at a party. She spoke to him in German. “I don’t understand German,” he said. “But I do,” she said.
Co-hosts were Van Cliburn, good speaking voice, cheerful personality, and mezzo Jennifer Larmore. Gorgeous. Did she lose weight?
The first opera I ever saw was at the Met and it was “Carmen.” In the early 1950s. Who sang Carmen? I searched my memory: I think it was Rise, and her performance was not memorable. Perfunctory.
As a young man, I spotted her in the audience at the Met. She looked at me and gave me a big smile. I turned away in embarrassment and…pleasure.
Bravo, Rise! (No, not brava, which I heard several times last night.)
Re Olin Downes: It reminds me that Time magazine panned a movie with Sophia Loren, and the headline was, “Some spicy meatballs.” (An old catchphrase from an ad.)
She invited the writers/editors to her place. She served meatballs. The writers/editors didn’t laugh. Aren’t these spicy meatballs? she asked.
Talking of Time: Linda Ronstadt sang in a performance of La Boheme. Time’s headline: Her tiny voice is cold.

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