Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Au Revoir, Grande Dames

The Dramahound hesitates to turn this into an elegy festival, and “Tennis, Anyone?” was on the verge of elegy, I’m afraid. But when Mrs. Astor died yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking that death, of famous people or not famous people, comes in threes.

In a fairly short time span, three ladies responsible for not a little of New York City’s cultural life have died. So it would seem neglectful not to pay some small Dramahound tribute to them. I didn’t know any of them personally. I had a very pleasant dim sum lunch with one of their children last year; that’s as close as I got.

Beverly Sills was a force of nature in the opera world in New York City. When she retired from performing, she took on responsibility for getting City Opera on solid financial ground, which made the kind of work they produced in recent memory possible. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the Met. I can’t afford it but once in a blue moon, and their programming is extremely conservative (though that seems to be changing under Peter Gelb). But I’ve seen I believe the only New York production of Tippett’s “Midsummer Marriage,” and that was at City Opera. We need both of them, City and the Met. Beverly Sills knew that, too. She went over to the Met when her work was done at City, and when her work was done at the Met, even as she was dying, she was navigating the treacherous waters and egos of Lincoln Center. She didn’t have to, she chose to, and opera in New York is all the better for it.

Kitty Carlisle Hart was a force of nature in the arts in the state of New York. She traveled all over, saw work and talked to people about their work, into her 90s. Mrs. Hart is difficult to write about because she ran the New York State Council on the Arts for so long and did so much for so many. She did not retreat into widowhood when her husband died (when Kennedy was President- a long, long time ago). She raised her two kids, and jumped back into life. Mrs. Hart’s work made a difference to nearly everyone who was in an audience or worked in the arts in New York for decades. I can’t imagine a better epitaph than that.

And finally, Mrs. Astor. It was her husband’s money, but, boy, she enjoyed giving it away. And she gave away a lot of it, particularly to the Public Library. I have spent many hours in the Research Library, reading and waiting for books to come up from the stacks in the basement. I always think of her when I’m there.

Ms. Sills, Mrs. Hart and Mrs. Astor. They all fought the good fight for years. And we are all the better for their efforts.

No comments: