We are just back from the opening night of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites at the Dell' Arte Opera Ensemble, in a 250-seat performance space on 13th Street and Third Avenue.
The Dell' Arte trains young singers who are trying to make the jump between academic training and stage careers. These days they have performances only in the second half of August each year. There are two more shows to go and I recommend this one highly; we're going to try their Carmen shortly, too, but Carmélites is staged less often and although I can't speak to the Carmen just yet, knowing what I know tonight I'd recommend seeing Carmélites. All five of the principal female roles were very well cast, and while there were a couple of very minor mishaps — in the orchestra and English supertitles — the show was memorably impressive and a steal at \$30 for a regular ticket.
The theatre, the East Thirteenth Street Theatre, is busier as the home of the Classic Stage Company (CSC). The space is a good one — nicely laid out and acoustically satisfactory. I was raised in the big concert and opera houses of this city — and the big museums and parks, too — and of that sort of thing I have had enough for a lifetime. For my money, it is much better to experience creative work of all kinds in a venue of proper, I mean human, proportions.
That reminds me of a comment of Elia Kazan (1909–2003) about Lincoln Center, where he and a friend were involved in the original planning of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre:
A building of any kind expresses not only the requirements and perhaps the character of a client but also the architect's feelings about the culture of his day. … Lincoln Center with its opulence reflects the tastes and ideals of the kind of upper-middle-class person who goes to the opening of the opera each fall dressed in the costume head-waiters wear. The two Chagalls hang like trophies in the opera house, their details out of all scale with the place. "America can buy the best!" might be the motto there. "Culture is good business!" is also being promoted. We hoped there would be a contrast between the pretentiousness of the outside of our building and what was offered within. … We wanted a stage that would help impel us to braver work by its design and its placement in relation to the audience.
[Kazan eventually left the project.] … What we'd planned so carefully and worked on for so long was passed on to others, who couldn't help being bewildered by what we'd handed down. … The story of our building is the story of Lincoln Center, an art administrated by real estate operators and bankers who demand, not effort in a new direction, but reliable returns on an investment and proof against costs, and who have neither the patience nor the money to give to people who might be trying to create a new kind of theatre, nor the time they need to find their way.
The exterior of the Vivian Beaumont when I walk past it now reminds me of the tomb of a Japanese emperor.
From Elia Kazan, A Life, [N.p.: Da Capo Press, 1997], pp. 612–14.
I'm glad to say there were no imperial tombs suggested by any part of tonight's performance.