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A voice for arts and education: Regina Resnik. Photo by B.A.N.

Culture Is Fundamental

She sums it up simply: She’s trying to give something back to the educational system that gave her so much. That’s why opera star Regina Resnik was in Albany on April 30 to speak with members of the state Legislature about the need for continued support of music-related educational programs—and to win funding for a scholarship-based program that will allow talented but cash-strapped singers to study at her alma mater, the City University of New York.

“I am a product of the New York City public school system,” Resnik explained at a press conference last week, “born in New York City, a beneficiary of the time when the city’s school system—and the New York State school system—were among the highest-regarded in the world.

“And I benefited from the education that I could get tuition-free.” She described a school system that not only covered a far broader ranger of subjects than you’ll find today, but that also was very much involved with the city’s cultural institutions.

“When I was 12, I sang my first performance on stage,” she said, “in an original musical play called Gypsy Love—which forecast my future of gypsy parts.” In fact, she has sung the title role of the gypsy in Carmen more than 500 times as part of a career that lasted more than 50 years and included more than 80 roles. She’s the only singer in history who, after 13 years as a leading dramatic soprano, began a second career as a mezzo-soprano. She worked with all the great conductors of the 20th century, and went on to win a Tony Award nomination in 1987 when she went to Broadway for Cabaret.

An articulate and impassioned woman who believes that music—and all of the arts—are vital to any sense of civilization, she laments the current educational system’s ignorance of cultural activity, which she sees in sharp contrast to her own upbringing. “I went to an incredible high school that not only had a band, an orchestra and a Gilbert and Sullivan Society—and frequent concerts—but which also produced the kinds of students who would be called upon to go to the student performances at the Metropolitan Opera and participate in anything that had young people in it.

“This is not to decry the fact that music departments work as best as they can with the available teachers. It’s that the entire component of the school system that used to participate in the cultural life of the city does not really exist the way it used to, because we do not have music and art education any more in the lower schools. And unless you elect those courses in higher education, you haven’t learned anything.”

To her master classes in the CUNY system she hopes to add similar sessions in the SUNY system, including the University at Albany. She also continues to devise new directions for Regina Resnik Presents, a program of narrated music and history that debuted in 1997 with a program titled The Gypsy in Classical Song, and which opens tomorrow (Friday) at its newest venue, the CUNY graduate center.

Other programs in the series are Beethoven in Song, which debuted at Hunter College in 1999, and The Classic Kurt Weill, featured in the 2000-2001 season. She is preparing two more programs for future seasons: Colors of the Diaspora, a three-evening series that traces the cross-fertilization of Jewish music with a variety of European hosts, and Two Evenings With the Garcias, saluting the 19th century’s royal family of singing, a family that spanned Mozart’s time to the early 1900s and produced the most famous interpreters of the classical and romantic eras.

“The higher-education system has the wherewithal to present interesting programs, and to come into the cultural world again with something that is interesting,” said Resnik, who sees her current mission as “an advocate for the cultural aspect of higher education, and to present this program which would be interesting and unique”—and, it’s easy to add, more needed than ever.

—B.A. Nilsson

Naked in Albany, New York

It’s Saturday morning, April 26, at Capital Repertory Theatre’s Orange Street rehearsal space—exactly one month after the New York City auditions, four weeks after callbacks and casting of the two-actor play The Blue Room, and 11 days after the “first hour” meeting with cast, crew and box-office staff to discuss what is, by consensus, Capital Rep’s most daring production to date. The 10th rehearsal for The Blue Room, David Hare’s sexy (and loose) adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde—a sensation featuring Nicole Kidman nude when it premiered five years ago in London—will soon begin. Thirteen rehearsals remain before opening.

Actress Amy Landecker is here first, already chatting on a cell phone in one of the rooms off right from the rehearsal space. You hear her before you see her, and you see her eyes long before you notice anything else about Landecker—and she has plenty to notice. Dan Cordle, the male actor, arrives a heartbeat after the 10 AM call, a collection of thin limbs moving, carrying a faded green canvas guitar case, and a sack.

“Is the birthday girl here yet?” he asks, and as if just waiting for her cue, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill arrives. With Mancinelli-Cahill here, things begin to move: Set pieces get set, beds are moved, blankets and sheets are brought out, as if several house guests have dropped in.

After a few echoes of “Happy birthday Maggie”—no one feigns not knowing it’s the birthday of Capital Rep’s artistic director, who also is directing The Blue Room—Mancinelli-Cahill begins, sotto voce, with the two actors on the bed placed in the center of the red-tape oval. A few laughs from Cordle and Landecker, and the director’s power manifests itself: Mancinelli-Cahill can literally charm the pants off of anyone. Landecker and Cordle drop skirt and trousers. Mancinelli-Cahill says “and the lights go black, they’re naked when the play starts,” and the two actors find comfortably entwined positions (“I don’t want a knee in the nuts,” says Landecker), wrapped in a sheet for the first of what turns out to be six simulated sex acts over the next three hours of rehearsal.

Though initially reluctant to talk about her ideas about The Blue Room before it opens—“I’ve talked pre-opening about ideas to explore in a play with critics in the past, and then they wrote that I didn’t do it in the play, as if the rehearsal process were static and things don’t change; that’s the meaning of the word ‘explore’,” she explains warily—let alone have an outsider sit in on an early rehearsal, Mancinelli-Cahill agrees due to the extraordinary nature of The Blue Room.

“This is our first R-rated production. Children definitely will not be admitted. If you have a ‘mature’ 12-year-old, forget it,” she stated emphatically to questions from the box office staff during first hour. Though repeatedly stating during preproduction that “The Blue Room isn’t about sex,” sex comes up often in Mancinelli-Cahill’s subsequent conversations and directions of a play about the “daisy chain” copulations of 10 couples, all played by Landecker and Cordle.

“It’s a thoughtful look at human relationships, very human, very humorous,” Mancinelli-Cahill explained during first hour. During this 10th rehearsal, she focuses on “finding physical centers: I want a map in place by the end of rehearsal today.” Mancinelli-Cahill watches the scenes and directs: “Be somewhat covered. I want people to go, ‘Who are they, where are they coming from?’”

Mancinelli-Cahill does a little cha-cha in her chair trying to keep the pace up in a scene between the Student and the Au Pair—“What happens if you collapse the scene?”—as scene flows into scene, coupling into coupling, position into position. The merely voyeuristic will get their money’s worth from The Blue Room, but the play and this production aim for much more.

Each character receives individual work: “I kept hearing my Actress,” Landecker worries and Mancinelli-Cahill reassures her that the Model is distinct from the Actress. “He’s trying to do this impotence thing, but I don’t think it’s working,” and the director agrees without laughing. During a 10-minute break, she rhapsodizes: “It’s so intense, 10 scenes, 20 characters, creating history, what kind of sex they’re having. . . . ” Then she returns to mapping the physical. “Dan, you’re getting it, then feel the outline of her all the way down. I love it when you do that.” All that’s needed are the cigarettes and the post-coital chat. As someone once said to me, “Maggie gives good quote, as all good directors do.”

—James Yeara

Performances of The Blue Room at Capital Repertory Theatre (111 N. Pearl St., Albany) begin tomorrow (Friday, May 9) and continue through June 8. Shows are at 7:30 PM Tuesday through Thursday, 8 PM Friday, 4 and 8:30 PM Saturday, and 2:30 PM Sunday. For reservations and information, call 445-7469.

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