Category Archives: Arts

The Little Red Gingerbread On Long Lots Road

It’s one of the most recognizable houses in Westport: the red “gingerbread” house at 55 Long Lots Road, just east of Hall-Brooke.

For the first time in 60 years, it’s on the market.

As befits a home built more than 150 years ago, it’s got a back story.

Plus a bit of mystery.

According to Tad Shull — a current co-owner and musician/writer in New York, who spent his childhood there — it was constructed as a caretaker’s cottage or gatehouse, elsewhere on Long Lots.

It was moved to its present site in the 1870s by William Burr, who inherited it from his father. Additions were built in the 1920s and ’60s. From the street, it still looks much like the original.

55 Long Lots Road. The entrance to Hall-Brooke is on the left.

It may (or may not) have served as a 1-room schoolhouse. But it has a definite connection to education: Burr Farms School opened in 1958 a few yards away. (It was demolished in the 1980s; all that remains are athletic fields.)

The most intriguing tale is this: Shull’s parents bought the house in 1957 from Elaine Barrie — the 4th (and last) wife of John Barrymore.

Shull had heard that the actor used the house as a “love nest.” It’s uncertain whether Barrymore lived there; Barrie bought it after he died in 1942.

Shull also heard rumors that Barrymore had an affair there with a married woman,  Blanche Oelrichs, who published poetry under the name Michael Strange. Shull found a book of her poems — with her handwritten annotations — on his mother’s bookshelf last fall.

More lore: Stevan Dohanos’ famous “Thanksgiving” painting may have used the red Long Lots house as its model/inspiration. (“06880” posted that possibility last year; click here, then scroll down for several comments confirming it.)

Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting. Recognize this house?

And, Shull adds, he heard from Tony Slez — who once owned a gas station at the foot of Long Lots, where Westport Wash & Wax now stands — that his Polish relatives worked as onion pickers on the road.

Shull says that as a youngster he was teased for living “next door to a mental institution.”

But he calls his boyhood “a paradise. There were plenty of kids around. We had a pond with frogs. It was a great place.”

His family hopes that whoever buys the house will preserve it. And — even if only part of its history is true — the red gingerbread that everyone passes on Long Lots has quite a past.

WestportWrites — And Adds Espresso Machine

The Westport Library is a place to do many things beyond reading: Hear book talks and concerts. Work in the MakerSpace. Check out DVDs. Get coffee.

Add to the list: Learn to write.

WestportWrites is a year-long program. Monthly mini-conferences and workshops all lead to a writers’ conference next fall.

Rachel Basch (“The Listener,” “The Passion of Reverend Nash”), literary agent Dawn Frederick and a panel from Westport writers’ groups kicked things off earlier this month.

This Monday (October 16, 6 p.m.), Patrick McCord talks about the brain’s role in the creative process. Future topics include the feminist young adult voice, screenwriting, memoirs and more.

As part of WestportWrites, the library is partnering with Staples High School’s English department. Jessica Bruder (“Nomadland,” “Burning Book” spoke to 225 students there, prior to her library appearance).

Plans are underway to collaborate on next fall’s conference. Teachers are excited about opportunities for talented writers — and those who might be turned on to an activity they never considered before.

But any library can sponsor workshops. The Westport Library is taking writing a giant step further.

A generous anonymous donor helped them buy a new Espresso machine — and it has nothing to do with coffee.

This Espresso is an on-demand book publisher. Authors provide PDFs for the text and cover (the library has templates). Espresso prints in black-and-white or color. It adds a soft cover, and trims the pages to different sizes.

In other words, it allows authors to self-publish.

This Espresso machine has nothing to do with coffee.

You’re not going to get Jane Green-size press runs. But it’s perfect for printing small numbers of books. You can also prototype a larger run — avoiding costly mistakes with pagination, or putting the Foreward at the end (true story).

Westport Library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini, and program and events specialist Cody Daigle-Orlans, are enthusiastic about their new tool. They offer short consultations on it with interested authors (email westportwrites@gmail.com for more information).

There’s also a Westport Library in-house graphic designer to help with the cover (for a fee).

If the Espresso machine sounds like something that belongs in the MakerSpace — now moved to the balcony area during the library’s Transformation Project — it does.

In fact, Giannini says, the goal is to make next October’s writer’s conference and book fair be at the same level as Westport’s April Maker Faire.

Write on!

 

Staples Music Department Plays For Hurricane Relief

Last month, Hurricane Harvey roared through Texas. In addition to many damaged homes and businesses, countless small reminders of the storm’s devastation remain.

For example, school districts lost music libraries. Some had been meticulously grown, for decades.

Help is on the way.

Luck’s Music Library has pledged to match every dollar donated to a special fund.

The Staples Music Department quickly joined in. The goal is to raise $10,00o here. Thanks to Luck’s, that would mean $20,000 worth of music for Texas.

How will Westport do it? Let’s count the ways.

On Wednesday, October 18 (7:30 p.m., Saugatuck Elementary School) the Staples Strings Concert kicks off the drive, with a pass-the-hat collection.

Lauren Schmidt, Jessica Xu and Scott Adler rehearse for the upcoming Strings Concert.

At halftime of the Friday, October 27 home football game, the Jazz Ensemble will appear on the big scoreboard. That’s followed by video of a Houston high school. Tri-M music honor society members will then collect funds in the stands.

A “Chamber-a-thon” is set for Friday, November 3. From 3:30 p.m. on, musical groups play for 20 minutes each. They’ll ask Westporters to sponsor their segments, and a case will be open for other donations. The music department is searching for a high visibility location like Barnes & Noble for this event.

After Thanksgiving, there’s a Radio-a-thon with recorded Staples music and pledges.

Funds will also be collected every concert in town from now through Candlelight. A board sign near the tennis courts will show progress.

Meanwhile, all donations are welcome. Checks can made out to “SHS Music” and sent to: Staples High School Music Department, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. Please write “Hurricane Harvey relief” on the memo line.

Logo by Tomaso Scotti, a Staples student in Carla Eichler’s graphic design class.

Max Lance’s Life Journey: “Not As Stupid As I Thought”

“Life is a journey — not a destination.”

Every adult knows that cliche to be true. Every young person who hears it rolls their eyes.

The other day, Staples High School Class of 2002 graduate Max Lance looked back at his journey on Facebook. That’s normally not the place for long-form writing — but it’s fascinating, and worth passing along.

So this is for every parent who worries about a child’s life choices — and every teenager who wonders what the future may hold. Max writes:

Ten years ago, I was a caustic and combative 23-year-old kid who considered myself a complete failure and blamed everyone else for my mistakes. I dropped out of NYU 3 years earlier to pursue stand-up comedy for a living, because I was certain that was a sound life plan.

My career had gone nowhere, I had over $70,000 of student loans for a degree I never finished, I couldn’t hold down a relationship or a job. I watched a lot of my comedy friends get very successful, and it felt like everyone I went to high school with was working on Wall Street and had their own 2-bedroom apartments on 2nd Avenue in the 60s.

Realizing something had to change and maybe a college degree wouldn’t be a total waste, I applied to the USC School of Cinematic Arts for screenwriting. I figured that if I got in, I’d move to L.A. and finish my degree. I was admitted, but in my first week of orientation I learned I couldn’t just complete my last 2 years of college and get a bachelor’s. I had to attend 4 years of undergrad from the beginning.

Max Lance in 2012, at Fenway Park. He was working on a soccer project with the Liverpool team. They were in Boston to play Roma in an exhibition match.

I rebooted. I took on another $50,000 of debt and worked harder than I ever did in my life. I interned, I worked part-time jobs around my class schedule. And I wrote like crazy. Every single day, churning out features, pilots, and specs, all of them pretty terrible. I was especially proud of a script called “Eskimo a Go Go,” about a team of ragtag Alaskan strippers. The rights are still available.

I realized I lacked the natural talent for writing that a lot of my classmates had. If I wanted to make anything of my life and career, I would have to substitute extremely hard work, perseverance, and stubbornness. I would also have to get over my go-it-alone mentality and learn that maybe everyone else wasn’t a total idiot.

Max found a writer’s group on CraigsList. He continues:

I also volunteered with a non-profit called Young Storytellers, mentoring 5th graders to write a 5-page script that is then performed by professional actors in front of their whole school. Honestly, I only volunteered because I heard it was a good way to get a writer’s assistant job. I never really cared for kids that much.

While I never got the job, I did meet another volunteer. She was the happiest, most optimistic, funniest, most beautiful, and creative person I ever encountered. Three weeks later Jen Bailey and I had our first date, a picnic in the park because I was too poor (and cheap) to afford a real activity.

The small writers’ group met every Tuesday night for the past 8 years. Fellow members earned accolades and awards. Max did not.

After continuing to bang my head against the wall with comedies that went nowhere, I had an idea for a heartfelt dramedy with a female lead. I really wanted to write a great part for my actress fiancée, who had finally convinced me that marriage wasn’t the worst thing. As much as Jen supported my writing, and as much as she agreed that I was an expert on women, she thought she might be able to offer a bit of help when it came to writing the script’s female roles. We co-wrote our first movie together, “Best Funeral Ever,” and submitted it to Nicholl — the most prominent amateur screenwriting contest in the world — a few weeks before we got married in 2015.

Max Lance

That fall, after a failed career in stand-up and a decade in screenwriting that went nowhere, Jen and I reached the finals of the Nicholl with the first movie we wrote together. We got to the top 12 of the contest, but were not in the winning 5. There were a lot of silver linings — we got repped and the script went into development — but we didn’t win. And we weren’t making any money off writing.

Last winter, I came to terms that screenwriting would always be a fun and creative hobby on the side. I could write for an hour first thing every morning, but I had more of a gift for finance and accounting than storytelling. I got a part-time job doing finances for a book publisher, which I’ve really loved. But Jen decided we were having a baby and I needed to find a way to pay for the kid in her growing belly. I realized I would need to find a good salary, health insurance, and a 401(k). I put out a call for full-time accounting jobs.

Around that time we had an idea for a new script. We were huge fans of The People v OJ Simpson. We watched the show every Tuesday and drank a carton of orange juice. We thought it’d be fun to spec the O.J. show by writing the story of the “If I Did It,” book deal and TV interview between O.J. and publisher Judith Regan.

We wrote a badass, complicated and powerful female lead who carried the script. We took our writer’s group’s advice every step of the way. They suggested we tack an extra 40 pages to the TV script and submit the feature for the Nicholl.

In September Jen’s belly grew to the point where we both weighed the same. The job hunt had advanced to where I received multiple full-time accounting job offers. Meanwhile our script, “The Queen of Sleaze,” advanced in the contest, all the way to the top 10 finalists. It was only the 3rd time ever that anyone reached the finals twice with 2 different scripts.

On September 27, 2017, I got the best news of my life. Jen gave birth to our daughter, Bayley Makena Lance, at 3:07 p.m. She weighed 8 pounds, 13 ounces, looks exactly like her mother, sleeps for most of the night, and made me cry with joy more in the first 33 hours of her life than the first 33 years of mine. She is currently sleeping on my belly while I balance my computer on my lap and punch this out. It is the happiest and most content I have ever felt in my life.

Max, Jen and Bayley Lance.

Five days after giving birth, Jen and I were notified that we won the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. It was the 10th time I entered the contest, with 8 different scripts. I turned down the full-time accounting jobs.

I wish I could feel like I’m amazing and really talented and lucky, but none of that mattered in the slightest. I stopped pretending that I knew everything. I put my faith and trust in other people, and surrounded myself with highly talented, smart and creative friends. I listened to what they had to say.

Rather than seeing someone new as competition or a contact, I started looking at other creative people as allies. I decided that quitting wasn’t an option, so I forced myself to wake up early every day, and write no matter what.

Best of all, when I met the most amazing woman in the world, I didn’t run away from the terrifying prospect of marriage and family. Granted, I wouldn’t say I sprinted towards it either. Jen dragged me toward family and stability like a lop-sided tug-of-war match. But when I fell into the mud, I dove head first.

I wouldn’t tell any of this to the pissed off 23-year-old version of myself who felt like his life was going nowhere. I wouldn’t ask for a do-over on any of the mistakes he made, or make any changes along the way. But with my baby girl on my stomach, some money in the bank, and the future looking brighter than ever, I am so unbelievably happy that he wasn’t as stupid as I thought.

(Hat tip: Jordan Schur)

Nick Massoud’s Spizzwinks Circle The Globe — And Find Westport

There are nearly 20 a cappella groups at Yale University.

With his strong musical background at Staples High School, Nick Massoud could have auditioned for any. But he was drawn to the Spizzwinks.

The group offered something unique: During each member’s 3 years, they tour all 6 inhabited continents. And they perform in each member’s hometown.

Nick Massoud

Music was always part of Massoud’s life. He played in Betsy Tucker’s Long Lots steel band. He sang in musicals at Bedford Middle School, and with Staples Players.

Orphenians — the high school’s elite singing group — became his family.

Two years ago, director Luke Rosenberg’s group was invited to San Francisco. They sang at Chanticleer’s National Choral Festival. As they drove around the city and out to the redwood forest, they kept singing.

Massoud — who was also involved in Wreckers InTune, the debate team and JSA, and served as president of Top Hat Tutors — realized he could not give up music in college.

Spizzwinks are no part-time commitment. Last year they performed 97 concerts, at schools, nursing homes, churches and clubs. The non-profit choir is entirely student run. Members plan international tours, raise money, and handle logistics.

The Spizzwinks sing for Joe Biden and John Kerry. Nick Massoud is in the center — wearing a blue Yale tie.

“I saw an opportunity to use a lot of the skills I picked up running Top Hat, in a musical setting to facilitate 2 things I love: traveling, and singing with friends,” Massoud says.

Now, as a junior majoring in global affairs — with a concentration in international development — he is the group’s business manager.

He’s performed with them in China, Europe, New Zealand, Indonesia, Iowa, Hawaii and Alaska. They’ve sung for Joe Biden, John Kerry, the Italian prime minister, China’s vice premier, Lady Gaga and Melania Trump.

The Spizzwinks and Lady Gaga snap a selfie.

This year they’re scheduled for Morocco, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

This month, he brings the Spizzwinks to Westport.

Sure, every member hosts the group at some point. But Massoud thinks the concerts in his home town are special.

“Having met so many people in college, I realize that growing up in a place that supports the arts so significantly is rare,” he says.

“Thinking back on it, it’s crazy that we could sell out the Staples auditorium 7 or 8 times for shows. It says a lot about our community. I’m excited to show my closest college friends the support Westport gives to the arts.”

The Westport schedule is packed. There’s an evening concert at Assumption Church (details in the poster above), a performance and master class at Bedford, and a session with the Staples choir.

That does not allow much time for Massoud to show off Westport. However, he will make sure to take the Spizzwinks to Sherwood Diner.

That’s where he and his fellow Players headed after every show — often in full makeup.

Massoud has traveled the globe with his group. However, he says, “bringing the Spizzwinks to my home, and showing them my community, feels like the most important thing I’ve done with them.

“I can’t wait to introduce them to some of my friends, and to the amazing, inspiring arts teachers in our schools.”

(Click here for the Spizzwinks’ new album, “Hometown.” Click below for their version of “Cry Me a River” — featuring Nick Massoud.)

 

Larry Silver And The Art Of Photography (2017-Style)

Larry Silver is 82 years old. He’s been taking photos since he was a teenager.

His work is warm, evocative and engaging. He is known around the world.

Westport — Silver’s home since 1973 — is an important setting for his work.

Compo Beach is a favorite — particularly the outdoor showers near the concession stand. The parade of people — different ages, shapes and sizes, all set against the brick background — is a photographer’s delight.

In fact, his 1980 “Beach Showers, Westport CT” has become iconic. It hangs in many museums.

Larry Silver’s 1980 “Beach Showers, Westport, CT.”

But what was fine in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s is not okay today. The world has changed — and Silver’s photography is one of the casualties.

To get the spontaneous shots he likes, Silver keeps his camera largely out of sight. “I don’t want to be obvious,” he says. “I don’t want poses.”

But when he is shooting, he spends time focusing. He’s working on his art.

Passersby see a man with a camera, taking photos of people in showers.

Last year, someone — thinking Silver was doing something illegal — called the police. They asked for identification, and reviewed the images on his camera. They found nothing wrong, and returned his camera to him.

Several people who knew Silver confirmed to the police that he is an esteemed professional photographer.

The next day, Silver went to the Parks and Recreation Department. He showed facility manager Dan DeVito samples of his work, and apologized for creating a problem.

“He’s a nice guy — very reasonable,” Silver says of DeVito. “I understand he’s under pressure. He has to react.”

Silver took some more images, until the end of summer.

There is nothing illegal about taking photos in a public place, Silver notes. “If you’re at a place like the beach, you give up the right of privacy,” he says.

This summer, there were additional complaints. One woman called Silver’s wife Gloria a “pervert” for allowing him to shoot near the showers.

Silver tried to reason with the woman, showing her a published catalog of his works. She refused to even look at it.

The police were again called. Again, Silver spoke to DeVito. Silver showed him his images, and said he would stop his project.

DeVito asked Silver why he didn’t ask subjects for permission to shoot. “That changes the dynamics,” the photographer replied.

Still, he tried asking. “I could not get the kind of pictures I was happy with,” Silver says. “The people I asked were suspicious and distrustful. The people who agreed ended up stiff and posed.”

The other day, Parks & Rec sent Silver a letter. It said that he “created a disturbance,” and caused “alarm and discomfort.” It served as a written warning for “unacceptable behavior.” If Silver continued to take photos, he risked the loss of beach privileges for 2 years.

“I’ve been capturing this town with my eyes since I moved here,” Silver says. “I’ve documented the lifestyle of this community.

“I understand what Parks & Rec is doing, and why they have to,” he continues. “This is just the nature of the world we live in today. Photographers everywhere are being confronted and threatened.”

Silver’s shower series is over. Next summer, he won’t take any photos anywhere near there.

“If this disturbed people, I regret that,” he says. “However, I believe the images I have will some day be part of Westport’s history — especially if we approve an arts museum here.”

He’s got plenty of time to figure out his next subject. But he’s also busy preparing for an upcoming event.

On Friday, October 13, the Westport Historical Society throws a big gala. There’s great food, a Prosecco bar, and music.

There’s a special honoree too. His name: Larry Silver.

(All photos copyright Larry Silver)

1 Mosaic, 100 Trees

Visitors to the Sherwood Island pavilion know Claudia Schattman’s artwork.

Now her many fans can do more than admire her next project. They can donate funds — not to her “tree” mosaic-in-the-making, but to help plant them.

Friends of Sherwood Island is sponsoring a “100 Trees for 100 Years” drive. The goal is to help purchase trees, shrubs and grasses to replace the dozens of mature trees lost to Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and mitigate significant habitat loss.

The mosaic is a collection of plates, teapots, stained glass and knickknacks Schattman collected at tag sales, flea markets, even local beaches.

Donor names will be placed around the perimeter (minimum donation: $275). To donate, click here.

Claudia Schattman’s tree mosaic.

[OPINION] Cynthia Gibb: Idle No More!

This month’s devastating hurricanes got Cynthia Gibb thinking.

The 1981 Staples High School graduate — a noted actress (“Fame,” “Search for Tomorrow”), now a vocal coach back in her hometown — is concerned about the worldwide impact of climate change.

But she’s a firm believer in the adage “think globally, act locally.” She writes:

America has just experienced 2 historic storms back-to-back, and I am feeling frustratingly helpless. Climate change is here.

Cynthia Gibb

I have known this was coming for a long time. I learned about global warming back in the mid-80’s when I joined a group called Earth Communications Office, a Hollywood group with the mission of educating Americans about the changes in our climate.

Everything I learned back then has unfortunately been coming to fruition. That means that still ahead are horrific droughts, fires, floods, the extinction of many animals and insect species, the movement of our tree line north (affecting farming and quality of life for all who live in the south) — among other catastrophic events.

Last spring, at the Staples High School science awards ceremony, a scientist told the audience that we could expect to see Miami underwater in the foreseeable future. I wonder if he knew it would happen so soon?

I get overwhelmed by this knowledge. Climate change deniers sit in the White House, and run the EPA. Trump has said he will pull us from the Paris agreement. Pruitt wants to roll back environmental laws. It’s terrifying and infuriating.

Yet one thing that gives me hope is that there are forward-thinking folks, making a difference. Some of them are right here in Westport.

Our RTM recently passed the Net Zero in 2050 Initiative. We’ve joined the  governors of Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, California, Colorado and Washington in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. In fact, the northeastern states have already reduced their carbon emissions by 37% since 2008.

Earthplace has screened the documentary “Idle Threat.” These are great starts.

Wakeman Town Farm is evidence of Westport’s strong environmental concerns.

But the solution has to come from citizens, as well as government.

I’ve been asking myself, “What can I do?” Cash donations to flood victims won’t stop future disasters.

In his new book Climate of Hope, Michael Bloomberg encourages everyone to do their part. I have finally figured out what mine is: I am making a conscious choice to obey Connecticut’s Do Not Idle Law.

I recently learned it is illegal for all vehicles — including buses, trucks and passenger vehicles — to idle for more than 3 minutes in our state. After just 10 seconds of idling, we waste more fuel than stopping and restarting our cars. Even in cold weather, engines need only 30 seconds to warm up.

The law is clear.

So I no longer idle in the school pick-up line, or the Starbucks or bank drive-through. If I want to continue a phone call or listen to the radio, I turn off my engine and turn on my battery.

If it’s hot, I roll the windows down. If it’s cold, I leave them up! It’s really easy and simple, now that I’m in the habit — like remembering to bring my reusable bag to the grocery store!

I feel better now that I am doing my part and setting an example for my kids that we can change our behavior, even if it’s inconvenient. It’s a small gesture, I know. But if 26,000 of us do it in Westport, we can set an example to the rest of the nation — where every day we waste 17 million gallons of fuel due to idling.

This is also important for children in our town, who can suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases due to car emissions.

This is a call to action, fellow Westporters! I invite anyone reading this to join me in turning off your engines whenever you can. After all, there is only one ozone layer.

And we all share the same air.

 

(Click here to sign Westport’s no-idle pledge.)

 

Frannie Southworth Sings For Fred Hellerman

Fred Hellerman — an iconic folksinger, guitarist, songwriter and producer, and a longtime Weston resident — died a year ago this month.

Yesterday, a galaxy of musical stars gathered at Lincoln Center to honor his memory. Among the participants was Westporter Frannie Southworth. She writes:

It was an honor to participate in a musical memorial at Merkin concert hall yesterday for Fred Hellerman.

Fred Hellerman

As an original member of the Weavers — along with Pete Seeger — he was a social activist who sang about and stood up for our rights and peace.

He lived through the McCarthy era, when the Weavers were blacklisted — along with many other creative artists.

I recently received a call from my friend, Westport filmmaker Martin West, who had included me in his 2003 film, “A Gathering of Glory,” which explored the arts legacy of Westport and Weston.

Martin was a close friend of Fred’s, and had recommended me to Fred’s wife Susan to sing a song at the memorial.

The Weavers included Pete Seeger (far left) and Fred Hellerman (far right).

I met Susan at her home. She gave me a tour of Fred’s studio — with fabulous photos and clippings on the walls — and played me a couple of Fred’s songs that she had picked as possibilities for me to sing.

I was immediately drawn to “Lonely Girl Blues,” a different genre than most of Fred’s other songs. It was more likes a 1940s bluesy ballad, which I love to sing. It had lots of accidentals, sort of like jazz horn lines but for the singer, and interior key changes. Exciting and challenging to learn!

An old friend, Tommy Mandel, who played with Bryan Adams for years, said he would join me on piano. I was off and running.

Fabulous performers from our area represented at the concert included Emma Kiara, a beautiful young Weston singer.

In the green room I was warmly greeted by one of Fred’s son’s, Caleb, and musician friends and family who helped coordinate the event. 

I met the most wonderful, warm and talented performers, including Peter Yarrow and Noah Paul Stookey from Peter Paul and Mary, and Tom Chapin.

Frannie Southworth (in purple, center) singing with, among others, Noel Paul Stookey (sitting, left) and Tom Chapin (far right).

Then there was David Amram, a composer and conductor, multi-instrumentalist and author. I fell in love with him. 87 years young, he performed magnificently, has an incredible zest for life, a love for music and people, and a huge heart.

Singing there was magical. The sound was fabulous, the audience appreciative and the hall quite beautiful.

Watching Peter and Paul perform songs promoting harmony — not divisiveness — and one called “The Children Are Listening” (about how our children learn from us what they hear and see) was a real treat.

The finale of “Good Night Irene” — the Weavers’ classic song — singing along with all of these compassionate and loving people was the icing on the cake.

Remembering Brenda Lewis

Brenda Lewis — the soprano whose range of vocal styles brought her great fame in opera houses and on Broadway — died here last weekend. She was 96, and had lived in Westport for many years.

Lewis inspired audiences worldwide — and musicians in our town.

Alexander Platt — the 1983 Staples High School graduate who returned recently to lead the Westport Arts Center’s concert series — posted this remembrance on the influential Slippedisc cultural website blog:

When one loses an especially close friend, one feels as if one has lost a part of oneself. From the moment she discovered me over 30 years ago, as an aspiring conductor fresh out of high school, Brenda Lewis was one of my dearest lifelong friends, “the Jewish grandmother I’d never had” as we used to jokingly recall.

Brenda Lewis (Photo courtesy of New York Times and Opera News)

Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Walton’s “Facade” were just two of the narration projects we undertook together, at Yale and beyond. Throughout, she was a fount of goodness, wit, wisdom, generosity, great knowledge, and tough advice (more of which I wish I’d followed).

Her recording of “Regina” will always be the authoritative interpretation of this great American opera — as with her own career, something always underrated, and it was a relief to see that her work in the first production of Barber’s “Vanessa” was finally acknowledged.

From her earliest days, she was an utterly self-made artist, always mixing Broadway with summer stock and some of the world’s great operatic stages, from New York to Vienna. As I once exclaimed to her, “Brenda, ‘crossover’ — you invented crossover!”

Or as she put it to me once, wistfully, “Wherever I was singing — on Broadway, in a classroom, in a barn somewhere, or singing ‘Carmen’ or ‘Salome’ at the Met — I was just so happy to be performing…..” — such great advice for so many of us, at this difficult time for music.

With Brenda’s death a magnificent mid-century golden age in New York’s operatic history is now gone — to my knowledge, she was the last of that line — but “there will always be a Lionnet,” and there will always be a Brenda, in my heart.

(For Brenda Lewis’ full New York Times obituary, click here.)