Director’s Commentary with David Lefkowich
By: David Lefkowich
When Greg got in touch with me about this project, I was so overwhelmed. It had been months since I’d worked on something creative and artistic and satisfying. I was so excited—it wasn’t just an opportunity to direct an opera, but to create something new with these amazing artists and colleagues.
While April in Paris was an incredible opportunity, it was also a bit of a puzzle. How was I to use the talents of Catherine Cook, an amazing opera singer, performer, and comedienne, and fit the selected pieces into one cohesive evening of music and joy? What stories could we tell together?
I decided to begin with Julia Child. Lee Hoiby’s chamber opera Bon Appétit! got me thinking about what it means to be an icon and who the other mid-twentieth century icons were. As that idea developed, I decided to structure each of the three episodes around a different icon.
It was really fun! I had a lot of quarantine time on my hands, so I spent hours researching and watching episodes of golden-age variety shows. I even interviewed a few folks in my life, asking, “who do you remember from the 1940s and 1950s?” This led to a few strange answers, but ultimately I settled on three television stars.
Our first icon is Ed Sullivan. He is a universally recognizable symbol of that era of television and was a great supporter of opera and opera singers. So, it made sense to set Catherine up as a performer on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first episode.
“I was so excited—it wasn’t just an opportunity to direct an opera, but to create something new with these amazing artists and colleagues.”
Then I had to figure out what to do with Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs. These were a little bit tricky. They are fun and different but still have this poignancy about them.
I searched everywhere, brainstorming, and truthfully starting to get a bit
anxious when I stumbled across The Wendy Barrie Show. She was a British actress who somehow got her own talk show debuted in 1948. It was a talk show, but she had an aardvark puppet to chat with as a cohort on-air.
I was so delighted, and I thought to myself, “Is Cathy going to kill me for suggesting this, or is it going to be just so much fun?”
Luckily, we all found the humor and joy in Wendy Barrie, and thus this fabulous character was born for the second episode! Finally, of course, we added Julia Child in Lee Hoiby’s Bon Appétit! to complete our trio of mid-twentieth century icons.
It was not an easy process, but it was so joyful and fantastic to collaborate with Greg, Catherine, and Sahar. I loved creating something out of nothing, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this amazing opportunity.