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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Regina Resnik Remembered

Stubborn Stains Dept.: On April 30, 2003, I was excused from a rehearsal of “The Wizard of Oz” with the NY State Theatre Institute in Troy, NY, to participate in a press conference – swapping, suddenly, my actor’s hat for my journalist’s. “Regina Resnik is in town,” I was told. “We already talked to Metroland for you. We need someone at this luncheon who actually knows who she is.

Regina Resnik | 30 April 2003
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I’m enough of an opera fan to have been very aware of her reputation. I’d seen her in the NYC Opera’s “A Little Night Music.” But I had only scant familiarity with her work at the Met, at Bayreuth, at the Royal Opera – at all the great halls. So it was very intimidating to placed beside her at a restaurant table ringed with other area reporters and PR people.

She was a majestically imposing figure radiating a strong sense of self-assurance. “I never know what to order at events like this,” she confided as she studied the menu. Food! A great conversational opening. “I know what you mean,” I said. “I’m looking at the burger here, but I know that when I take my first bite, it’ll squirt out the other side and land on my sweater where my gut sticks out.”

“That happens to me all the time!” she whispered, laughing. “Look at this!” She indicated an ample bosom. “Every blouse I own has a stain right across here!”

“That’s how my wife and I tell our sweaters apart,” I told her. “Where the stain-stripe is.” Which had us both laughing and broke the ice for an easy conversation from then on. But I refused to tell any of my curious tablemates what was so amusing. Here’s the piece I wrote, as we celebrate her memory.


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,” she 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 over 50 years and included over 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 were 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.

Metroland Magazine, 8 May 2003

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