The Postponed Musical Feast of a Woman Maestro in Paris
Part One of a digital conversation with Keri-Lynn Wilson presented by The American Friends of the Paris Opera and Ballet
Access to the full video of the webinar at the bottom of the post.
A French version was published via Le Petit Journal
Only a handful of women conducted at the Paris Opera, and none of them ever took her baton to present Carmen, possibly one of the greatest operas of all time. The Canadian-born Keri-Lynn Wilson was supposed to do just that—and to also make her debut in Paris last December.
With the threat of Covid19 everywhere, and the measures local and national governments have taken to contain the pandemic, Wilson’s calendar has been reduced to just a few performances. A digital tour of her website (here) lists the many changes: A Concert with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Opera Gala at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Carmen at the Bastille Opera, Rigoletto with the Bayerische Staatsoper, all canceled… With the exception of the opening streamed-concert of Mozart’s Week last January 21st, Wilson actually has not conducted for a live audience since March 2020.
Yet, had the French Government not decided to shut down all theaters in France a few days before the Christmas holidays, she would have led an exceptional performance, in times of Covid19 and in a major European city. A musical feast.
At Your Home Without Me: Jerry Wonda Shares Music He Loves
When I connected via Zoom with producer and former Fugees’ bass player Jerry Wonda Duplessis, I was greeted with music and rhythm, Bowie’s Let’s Dance! Seated with his bass guitar at arms’ reach at his Minnesota studio, minutes away from Prince’s home and the sadly well-known street where George Floyd was choked to death, Wonda is doing what he loves the most, sharing the music he loves.
His music of course. That includes hits such as Fugees’ cover of Killing Me Softly, Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie, Carlos Santana’s Maria Maria, Melissa Ethridge’s Pulse and more recently the viral success of Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka’s What We Want.
Music from others as well. That day, Wonda was in the mood for the period-worthy Harold Melvin’s Wake Up Everybody and a song he and I both like dearly, The Eagles’ iconic Hotel California. With some of his musical friends, Wonda launched early May ‘Share Music You Love,’ an initiative to raise funds for MusiCares and help musicians while concerts are halted. A UN Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti, Wonda is also working on bringing music, voices and musicians, professionals or not, from all over the world into a song to symbolize unity.
Born in Haiti, Wonda has never forgotten the donkey he rode to school before he moved to East Orange, New Jersey, into the home of his cousin, Wyclef Jean. He now lives for sharing his luck and dreams with others, children who like him, are born into poverty. “I went to school to be a recording engineer,” Wonda told me, “but I wanted to be Quincy Jones. I wanted to make the music, I wanted to be a producer. I wanted to produce a lot of Michael Jacksons!”
And so, he did.
At Your Home, Without Me: Ramatuelle, Jacqueline Franjou’s Essential Festival
Tonight, August 1st, 2020–and until August 10th. If you are in Ramatuelle, a little village above the Mediterranean Sea near Saint Tropez in the South of France, you might be among the luckiest people. While almost all summer cultural events have been canceled in France, Jacqueline Franjou is opening the 2020 Festival of Ramatuelle, a series of plays, stand-up comedies, and concerts under the stars and the songs of crickets. A must attend annual event, a rarity this year.
This summery feast has been scheduled every August since 1985. But with movies, theaters, operas and museums still closed in most places around the world because of containment and a very much still present covid19 pandemic, the mere possibility to see comedians and musicians on a stage has become an extraordinary experience. This year’s Festival is an act of audacity and resistance, against all odds, a small, yet safe step to keep us on the pace of being humans, together.
I was fortunate to attend last summer and I remember fondly the performance of French actor Gérard Depardieu (Golden Globe 1991 for Peter Weir’s movie Green Card) sing Barbara’s most iconic songs in a soft and elusive voice.
I cannot go this summer but will have a special thought for Franjou, the co-founder and President of this Festival, a woman I was lucky enough to work with for a few years and who has never been afraid to be disruptive to keep all of us thinking beyond the obvious. We need this festival, we need culture to fill our hopes and dreams, we need words and scores and stories to pave our immediate future.
Next is the translation from a French interview I did with Franjou while I was still confined in New York and she was already planning this week’s performances (published in Le Petit Journal).
At Your Home Without Me with Leah Pisar
Donald Trump, Ambushed or Unmasked?
[Translated from French]
Over the last few weeks, the health crisis has morphed into a full-fledged socio-political crisis within the United States. An inevitable explosion in unemployment, resulting from these extra-ordinary circumstances, paired with the anti-racist protests and riots sweeping not only the nation, but the world, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, are proof that this is a turbulent period indeed.
In addition to the pandemic and the protests, the White House’s reaction to the upheaval has set the tone for the upcoming presidential election–it is a climate with which the American people have become very familiar over the past three months of quarantine. That is: utterly out of the ordinary.
It still remains difficult to determine whether Donald Trump has cannily taken advantage of a violent political situation mirroring a divided America, one which he does not seem interested in reconciling; or if he has gone too far and, finally, crossed a line. With declining approval ratings, some cracks in the heretofore seamless Republican support he used to enjoy, and disagreement seeping within his own administration, has Donald Trump begun to jeopardize his chances for re-election on Nov. 3rd? The 2020 presidential election will offer voters a stark choice between a divided, individualistic society; and a united America that is open to the world.
It is a struggle between “two visions of America,” in which “the soul of this country and the balance of the world” are at stake, explains Franco-American writer and former advisor to President Clinton Leah Pisar. Current President of the Aladdin Project—a NGO that works for intercultural rapprochement and the rejection of Holocaust denial, racism and anti-Semitism, Leah Pisar naturally sides with openness, humanity, and a shared world.
At Your Home Without Me: The Obstacle Race of Olivier Cassegrain
A jockey smoking a pipe on a galloping horse. In a single blue stroke of pencil, Marion Naufal’s watercolor sums up the challenges of a race, a style, a brand—Longchamp—and of the family Cassegrain whose history has been attached to America right from the start.
Comfortably seated on his New York terrace, the grandson of the Longchamp’s founder, Olivier Cassegrain, is meticulously watching over the American destiny of the family business.
While retail sales in Texas are slowly picking up again, the original Madison Avenue boutique is still closed along with all the other luxury brands in Manhattan. In Soho, the Maison Longchamp remains as empty as the Hudson Yards Vessel where, until a few weeks ago, tourists, business travelers and New Yorkers flocked. “The stairs of the Vessel are with those of the Soho boutique the most famous in New York,” says Cassegrain. They are both the work of the same English architect. “I would be quite happy to see more people on these stairs soon,” adds the Vice-President of Longchamp United States with a smile, “at least a little more on those in SoHo than on those of Hudson Yards.” Filling these stairs is just an additional challenge for the man who loves nothing more than overcoming obstacles with a cigar on his lips.