Review: Anna Netrebko Emerges as a Powerful New Tosca at the Met


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Anna Netrebko in her first performance of the role of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday. Her husband, the tenor Yusif Eyvazov, sang the role of Mario.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Anna Netrebko must have felt enormous pressure on Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera when for the first time anywhere she sang the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca.” This is a touchstone of the soprano repertory. Ms. Netrebko, who over many years has been moving from the lighter, bel canto fare into weightier dramatic roles, could have chosen a less prominent stage to try out Tosca.

Ms. Netrebko knew what she was doing. She was a magnificent Tosca. From her first entrance, Ms. Netrebko, one of the opera world’s genuine prima donnas, seemed every bit Puccini’s volatile heroine, an acclaimed diva in the Rome of 1800, seized in the moment with jealous suspicions over her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi. As she hurled accusations at Mario — Why was the church door locked? Who were you whispering with? I heard a woman’s rustling skirt! — it took a couple of minutes for Ms. Netrebko’s voice to warm up fully. By the time Tosca, having pushed doubts aside, beguiles Mario into a rendezvous at his villa that night, Ms. Netrebko’s singing was plush, radiant and suffused with romantic yearning.

Her Tosca is a woman used to getting her way. That she loves Mario so deeply rattles her. Having been reassured by Mario’s sweet talk, Tosca, with a touch of mock despair, sings, “You know how to make me love you.” With melting sound and disarming vulnerability, Ms. Netrebko made this crucial line seem especially revealing, a moment of helpless resignation.

It must have lent Ms. Netrebko confidence to have her husband, the Azerbaijan tenor Yusif Eyvazov, singing Mario. (The Met announced this month that Marcelo Álvarez would not sing the role in this six-performance run, specifying no reason.) Mr. Eyvazov is a husky-bodied man with a voice to match. He sings with burly sound touched with a metallic glint. His big top notes have stinging power.

Ms. Netrebko was also fortunate to have the compelling baritone Michael Volle as Scarpia, Rome’s tyrannical police chief. Though Scarpia is a sexual predator who lusts after Tosca, he deploys aristocratic airs to get his way. Mr. Volle deftly modulated his singing, one moment spinning a phrase with seductive allure, the next erupting with chilling power. That Mr. Volle has become a major Wagnerian whose sound has a Germanic, dark cast, lacking typical Italianate warmth, just made him seem more threatening, like an outsider.

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Michael Volle as Scarpia, the police chief of Rome who lusts after Ms. Netrebko’s Tosca.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

At first, Tosca proved an easy mark for this cagey Scarpia. Though Ms. Netrebko can be an impetuous singer, I was struck right through her performance by how she melded emotional intensity and musical integrity. When she looked at the suspicious fan, belonging to a woman, that Scarpia had found near Mario’s easel, Ms. Netrebko sang Tosca’s anguished response as a series of clearly defined melodic phrases. Her approach actually enhanced the music’s poignancy, lending Tosca some dignity even as she suspects that Mario has deceived her.

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Imagining a World After Anna


Still, the award helped spawn a host of similar prizes around the world and created a pathway to market for emerging designers. Ms. Wintour’s understanding of the mutually beneficial exploitation that could result from putting the star of a new film on the cover of a magazine, and all the tertiary events involved, was just as formative, changing the Hollywood/fashion calculus, as well as the model/actress cover star ratio, which now heavily favors the celebrity — even the nascent celebrity.

She also realigned the philanthropic poles of New York via the Met Gala, turning a generic opportunity for cultural beneficence into an “A.T.M. for the Met” that raised so much money that it got her name etched on the Costume Institute door. In the process she made the gala a paparazzi magnet, which gave rise to a special issue of Vogue, thanks to her vetting of guests, dictating which brand got which celebrity, and the Vogue-orchestrated dressing of attendees so that much of the red carpet is composed of the people she wants, wearing what she wants, hoping to be in the pages she approves.

Then she began to extend that formula, or versions of it, into other arenas (Broadway, with the Tony Awards, for one).

What would happen to all of that if Vogue ceased to be her base is unclear. A triangular relationship (Anna-brand-star) may once again become a two-way street. Celebrities and socialites may have to choose their clothes without her guidance. It could be traumatic at first — mistakes would be made! — but it’s kind of an interesting idea. As for us … well, at the most basic level, we would all have to redefine our ideas of what a fashion magazine editor is.

Bob wearers everywhere would lose their most visible icon. The whole dark-glasses-at-the-runway trope could disappear. While many of Ms. Wintour’s peers have style, it is impossible to think of another who took it to the same calculated, rigorous extreme. She is certainly the only editor since Diana Vreeland who has parlayed her public persona into a pop culture character, but unlike Ms. Vreeland, she now regularly plays herself in not just documentaries but also feature films, as opposed to letting others play her.

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Ms. Wintour at the Condé Nast Building in New York in 1989.

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Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

And, of course, tennis could lose one of its most high-profile boosters.

It is a singular job description, probably impossible to replicate, in part because fashion has become as splintered as every other industry in the age of digital and identity politics. Her hold, and the idea of a single person or magazine as the ultimate arbiter of style, may be as much a vestige of the former world as print itself.

So Why Is This Rumor Trending Now?

Certain macro trends and a conjunction of events have given the gossip momentum.

Magazines in general are widely acknowledged to be struggling: Condé Nast has closed the print versions of Teen Vogue and Self as part of drive to emphasize digital; cut the number of print issues of W; and reorganized the company so that some staffers work on several different magazines. S. I. Newhouse Jr., the long-term chairman of the company and one of Ms. Wintour’s champions, died last year (he became chairman emeritus in 2015).

Reports of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct broke the same month as Mr. Newhouse’s death, and Mr. Weinstein’s friendship and working relationship with Ms. Wintour came under scrutiny. Later she had to cut ties with three of Vogue’s favored photographers — Bruce Weber, Mario Testino and Patrick Demarchelier — when allegations of a history of sexual harassment became public.

Of the three most formative Vogue editors in recent decades, all of whom started around the same time, she is the last still working: Franca Sozzani, the editor of Italian Vogue, who was hired the same week as Ms. Wintour, died in December 2016; Alexandra Shulman, the former editor of British Vogue, stepped down in January 2017. And this year will be Ms. Wintour’s 30th at the Vogue helm, and anniversaries are such classic watersheds.

There have been rumors around for a while that she was interested in a final career. At least since the Obama administration, when Ms. Wintour’s role as a highly effective “bundler” gave rise to much speculation that she was interested in an ambassadorship, either to France or to Britain.

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Fiction: Real Estate, Parking and Violence: A Novel of New York


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Anna Quindlen

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Maria Krovatin

ALTERNATE SIDE
By Anna Quindlen
284 pp. Random House. $28.

In real estate, there’s more than a semantic difference between a dead end and a cul-de-sac. A dead end can be a trap; a block that stops at an inaccessible barrier, backing up to a park (best case), a commercial building, a police station, a hospital, a school. A cul-de-sac, French for “bottom of the bag,” connotes coziness: a safe place for a child to learn to ride a bike or play street hockey. A home on a block visited only by those who live there or those who are lost has a cachet that’s hard to put a price on.

There aren’t many residential cul-de-sacs in Manhattan, which, to foster easy navigation, was laid out on a uniform grid north of Houston Street, beginning in 1811. Rarity is a quality that drives housing prices beyond astronomical to the real estate equivalent of a winning Powerball ticket. Which means that Charlie and Nora Nolan, the couple at the center of Anna Quindlen’s exquisitely rendered ninth novel, “Alternate Side,” are sitting on a gold mine. The home they bought two decades ago on the Upper West Side is where they raised their twins, but the “kids” are now seniors at Williams and M.I.T. Charlie, a disaffected investment banker, is ready to cash in and trade New York winters for a home on the back nine somewhere in the Sunbelt. Nora, who runs a museum devoted to fine jewelry, can’t imagine living anywhere but New York.

So it’s good news, at least temporarily, when one of Charlie’s dreams comes true: He has finally secured that most precious of Manhattan commodities, off-street parking. There’s a brownstone-size gap between two of the buildings on the cul-de-sac. Long ago, fire gutted a home on the site and the owner never redeveloped it. Instead, the lot has been divided into six parking spaces. When Charlie finally scores one, Nora hopes he’ll stop talking about selling the house.

If a novel about “first-world problems,” as Nora’s daughter calls them, already has you rolling your eyes, remember that Quindlen, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary while a New York Times columnist, is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. This novel may be too quiet for some, too populated with rich whiners for others, but it has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve. There’s no moment that feels contrived or false, except perhaps to non-New Yorkers who may find it impossible to believe that anyone would consider $350 a month for a parking space a bargain too good to pass up.

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The story is told from Nora’s point of view. Much like Quindlen, she’s a sensitive and introspective observer of people and what makes them tick. She’s also keenly aware that the residents of her tightknit block are white and the nannies, housekeepers and handymen who work for them are not.

This factors into the story when her handyman, Ricky, inadvertently blocks access to the parking lot and a neighbor with well-established anger management issues takes a 3- iron to his van, shattering the handyman’s leg when he intervenes.

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Anna Chennault, Behind-the-Scenes Force in Washington, Dies


But there was a hidden side to Mrs. Chennault’s affairs, historians say. She was known to have been a conduit for Nationalist Chinese funds for the Republican Party, and to have been a secret go-between for American officials and Asian leaders like Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist Chinese generalissimo, and President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam.

And in a contretemps of international intrigue and presidential politics that generated heated debate for years, Mrs. Chennault was recorded on an F.B.I. wiretap helping to sabotage a peace initiative during the Vietnam War in order to promote Nixon’s victory over Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election.

Soon after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam to ease the way for Paris peace talks that fall, Mrs. Chennault, a behind-the-scenes liaison for Nixon’s campaign and the Saigon government, was overheard urging South Vietnamese officials to boycott the Paris peace talks, saying they would get a better deal from a Nixon administration if they waited until after the election.

That same day, Nov. 2, President Thieu announced that his government would not join the Paris talks. Three days later, Nixon was elected.

President Johnson was furious when he learned of Mrs. Chennault’s intervention, and considered having her charged under federal statutes with criminally interfering with the conduct of foreign affairs. She was never prosecuted.

Nixon lifted the tap on her telephones and awarded her Flying Tiger Line a lucrative Pacific cargo route. But for a supporter who had provided vital Asian contacts and $240,000 in contributions to the Nixon campaign, Mrs. Chennault received no major appointment in his administration, as she had hoped.

In her 1980 memoir, “The Education of Anna,” she denied involvement in the peace talk maneuvers but acknowledged her disappointment with Nixon.

“The ultimate handshake came months later, at a White House function, when Nixon took me aside and, with intense gratitude, began thanking me for my help in the election,” she wrote.

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Mrs. Chennault with President Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger in an undated photograph.

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Schlesinger Library/Radcliffe Institute

“ ‘I’ve certainly paid dearly for it,’ I pointed out.

“ ‘Yes, I appreciate that,’ he murmured, suddenly uncomfortable. ‘I know you are a good soldier.’ ”

Anna Chennault was born Chen Xiangmei in Beijing on June 23, either in 1923 or 1925, one of six daughters of P. Y. and Isabelle Liao Chen, members of a prosperous family of diplomats and scholars.

Her father taught law at the University of Peking and was editor of the English-language New China Morning Post. She and her sisters grew up in a mansion near the Forbidden City with an entourage of servants and tutors.

As Japanese invaders approached Beijing in 1937, her family fled to Hong Kong. Her father became an envoy to Mexico, her mother died, and Anna and her sisters became scattered refugees in occupied China, with family jewels sewn into coat linings. Despite the war, she studied journalism with refugee professors and earned a degree from Lingnan University in 1944.

Fluent in Chinese dialects and English, she became a correspondent for China’s Central News Agency, covering the war and later Mao Zedong’s spreading Communist revolution. She met General Chennault in Kunming. He was three decades older, a married father of eight and the hero of the Flying Tigers, who shot down hundreds of Japanese warplanes and kept China’s hopes alive during the war.

In 1947, after his divorce, they were married in Shanghai. Besides Cynthia, they had another daughter, Claire, who also survives her, as do three sisters, Cynthia Lee, Sylvia Wong and Loretta Fung; and two grandsons.

The Chennaults lived in Shanghai, San Francisco, the general’s hometown, Monroe, La., and Taipei, where they ran the Flying Tiger Line and the Civil Air Transport, which was later owned by the Central Intelligence Agency and used in covert anti-Communist operations.

General Chennault died of lung cancer in 1958 at 67, and Mrs. Chennault moved to Washington.

She was soon embraced by her husband’s friends, including Thomas G. Corcoran, a New Deal strategist who became a notable Washington lobbyist for corporations and foreign powers. He showed her the ropes of lobbying, and she dedicated her memoir to him, calling him “the best teacher of them all.”

In Washington Mrs. Chennault joined the Republican Party and right-wing cadres of influential Americans supporting Taiwan and opposing Communist China. In 1962, with President Kennedy’s blessing, she founded Chinese Refugees’ Relief, which assisted thousands fleeing China. She testified in Congress, wrote articles, gave speeches and, from 1963 to 1966, made weekly broadcasts in Chinese on the Voice of America radio.

In a penthouse apartment resembling a James Bond movie set overlooking the Potomac, she entertained 80 to 100 people a week, serving concoctions like “concubine’s delight” (chicken/snow peas) and “negotiator’s soup” (for Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger). At her soirees, Mrs. Chennault, less than 5 feet tall, cut a striking figure in slim Chinese dresses and spike-heeled satin shoes.

Her aura of intrigue was only enhanced by evasive replies to reporters’ questions about possible C.I.A. connections and her frequent travels to Asian countries embroiled in Cold War conflicts. “Mrs. Chennault — or the Dragon Lady, as she is called by her enemies — is well-known around Washington as a Vietnam hawk,” The New York Times Magazine said in 1970.

She chided Nixon for what she called his cautious prosecution of the Vietnam War. “He should have gone ahead and done what had to be done — clean it all out, go the whole way,” she told Parade magazine.

Her image as an implacable anti-Communist was eased in 1981 when she visited Beijing and Taipei for talks with Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader, and President Chiang Ching-kuo of Taiwan. Acknowledging that her views had softened, she said people must be “humble enough to learn, courageous enough sometimes to change their positions.”

By then, her causes had all been lost. The Vietnam War was over, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong were dead, and the United States had severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognized the People’s Republic of China.

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Critic’s Notebook: Women on Stage Get Their Turn on the Playing Field


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Members of the ensemble in “The Wolves,” Sarah DeLappe’s play about a girls’ soccer team.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

If you’ve been keeping score, you’ve probably noticed: Women have been getting sweaty on New York stages lately. They punch and kick. They jab and run. They push themselves and each other to their physical limits, until someone erupts in triumph or defeat.

In Deborah Stein and Suli Holum’s “The Wholehearted,” at the Abrons Arts Center through April 1, a boxer wraps her hands, puts on her gloves and hits a bag as violently as she would the abusive husband who almost killed her. In January, Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Wolves,” about teenage girls on a soccer team, ended its third New York run in two years; a month later, we could watch two high school fencers for whom friendship is a weapon as sharp as a blade in Gracie Gardner’s “Athena.” Reaching back a few years, Ruby Rae Spiegel’s harrowing “Dry Land” was set mostly in the locker room of a girls’ swim team.

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Tina Ivlev and Sarah Mezzanotte in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Dry Land.”

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Football? We got that too: Julia Brownell’s “All-American” explored the dynamics in a family where a daughter did not want to be her school’s quarterback anymore, while Tina Satter’s “In the Pony Palace/Football” gleefully appropriated gridiron tropes by having women play boys. Coed plays about tennis have included Anna Ziegler’s “The Last Match” and Kevin Armento and Bryony Lavery’s “Balls,” which reproduced the infamous “battle of the sexes” match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

This is starting to look like a trend. But then, there should be a better term for the act of making up for decades’ worth of women playing the male star’s girlfriend (“Rocky the Musical”), wife (“Lombardi”), mother (“Magic/Bird”) or temptress (“Damn Yankees”). Telling untold stories is not merely a “trend,” not 46 years after Title IX passed, forbidding sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities.

All these new plays have been written or co-written, directed or co-directed, by women. And in most of them, sports is more than the background; rather, it is a dramatic engine for exploring socialization and self-image, femininity and power. For many women, athletics is one of the few places where it is acceptable to show ambition, where it is O.K. to want to win-win-win.

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Female fencers played by Abby Awe and Julia Greer in “Athena.”

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Mike Edmonds

Tellingly, several of these new shows have focused on adolescence, a time when a girl’s body is simultaneously ally (it has newfound abilities) and foe (it changes in uncontrollable ways, triggers unpredictable moods and draws attention that may or may not be welcome). Teenagers can take pleasure in their power without necessarily having it linked to notions of attractiveness.

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