To: Website fans, browsers, party goers
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Sunday Night at the Opera
Patricia and I drove into the city Sunday night, to the Essex House on Central Park South, for a black-tie, fancy-dress dinner party honoring our friend George Jellinek. Some of you may remember I ran a list a year and a half ago about the ten men in the world for whom I have the greatest respect, and George was on the list. George is an opera fellow, a man of 80 years or thereabouts, who has been a fixture at WQXR Radio in NYC on his Thursday night "Vocal Scene" for 31 years. He's been honored before, but Sunday night was a big deal, the annual bash of the Opera Index, celebrating the six winners of the opera auditions. About 140 opera lovers showed up for the party and I have to say it was one of the most interesting and memorable soirees of my life. The six gave us a concert; we had dinner, and George made a little speech. Here is what Patricia and I will remember most.
We got to the hotel early as the first of the guests were arriving. George and Hedy, his wife of more than 50 years, greeted us. Patricia and I then sat at one of six small tables to await the evening. As the room filled, there were only two seats open, at our table, and I turned to see Kitty Carlyle sitting at one of them. I'd seen her at some of the Met performances, at an aisle seat in the orchestra, and admired her with a bit of awe. I'd seen her first in the Marx Brothers movie, A Night at the Opera, in which she had a starring secondary role with Allan Jones. What a coincidence that only a few months ago I had bought a movie poster of the 1935 film at an e-Bay auction, so Kitty Carlyle's name was on that poster in our Pennsylvania country home. As she sat next to me and looked around, I blurted out: "Kitty Carlyle! How do you stay so young and beautiful?" And she giggled, the youngest and prettiest 85-year-old girl I'd even seen: "I can't tell you that, but if I knew, I could write a book and I'd become the richest woman in the world." Patricia asked "How do you keep your skin so beautiful," Patricia asked, "Clean living?" Kitty lowered her eyelashes, gave a small devilish smile, and said: "Oh, no."
Those of you who are a little older and could see her delightful smile would remember her as a panelist on "What's My Line?" a 1950s quiz show that was light on quiz, heavy on wit and humor. I recalled the show and asked her to name the three wittiest people she had ever known. Instantly she said, "Moss Hart," who was of course her late husband, the playwright. "Oh, besides him," I appealed, and asked, to get her started: "George S. Kaufman?" She thought a second and said, "No, he wrote funny, but he didn't talk funny." She came up with Oscar Levant, a fellow panelist on the show and of course one of the great wits of the century. Then said: "Oh, I remember, Norman Krasna! He was the funniest." That was a name from a half century ago, and I told her I remembered that Jack Benny also thought Krasna, a Hollywood writer, was one of the funniest fellows around.
When we sat for dinner, Ms. Carlyle sat at the next table over, with ANNA MOFFO!! Gosh, I had to get her autograph on the program. One of the great sopranos of the century, she had been a regular Met partner with Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill in the Verdi and Puccini repertoires. I'd just listened to her ,Rigoletto with Merrill on an old RCA LP album... and was happy to see her still kicking, looking great, and swathed in a lush fur coat that she kept on throughout the concert and dinner. She wrote her big, bold Anna Moffo on my program and I got Kitty Carlyle's little squiggled signature too.
And who was this pleasant, elderly lady seated at my left? She introduced herself as Nora London, which would have meant nothing to me, except she quickly added she was the wife of the late George London. Another WOW! One of my true opera heroes of all time!! My Uncle Vince, who introduced me to opera-going when I was 16 -- by taking me to the New York City Opera production of Richard Strauss's ,Der Rosenkavalier -- had George London at the top of his list. I remember borrowing an LP recording of London singing ,Boris Gudonov. I not only added Nora London's autograph to my program, but grilled her throughout the dinner for stories of how they met and the life they led. What an enjoyable experience, and another coincidence! My Uncle Vince also had introduced me to George Jellinek, in a way. Beginning in October 1981 and continuing to his death nearly eight years ago, Vince had taped Jellinek's "Vocal Scene," several hundred programs which he bequeathed to me. By now, I have listened to all of them, and continue taping every Thursday night. I made it a point to meet the Jellineks and we have become good friends, made all the easier by the fact we are on-line and e-mail back and forth.
With the magic of the Internet, you can get to know George and the "Vocal Scene" too, wherever you are in the world. WQXR is on line, and you not only can tune George in every Thursday at 10pm EST, but also can download the program and eventually collect the whole series, as he now mixes in old programs with new ones. It's a good way to get into opera:
And if you are caught somewhere without any classical music at all, you can tune in WQXR anytime. If you do, you will hear one of my favorite disc jockeys, June Lebell, who spins Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms. She was at this swell party too and I got to meet her for the first time. And get her autograph too. What a nice party!