Sunday, May 27, 2018

Andrew Byrne’ New York travel log 2018

New York in spring is the least predictable time of year for the weather … this year April was cold and there was even a late snowfall … the fourth of the season! 

Café Luxembourg on 70th Street near Broadway was our ‘local’ and eating at the bar was a friendly event, meeting locals and visitors alike.  Our favourite Chinese is opposite the Rockefeller Center in 48th Street the Wu Liang Ye Sechuan Restaurant.  We are always welcomed by the staff and order the usual dumplings in black pepper sauce, tripe, tongue, beans, egg plant dishes, etc.  Jean-Georges Nougatine at Columbus Circle provided a consistent quality lunch where I tried my first Dover sole which did not disappoint.  Korean specialty restaurant the ATOBOY was also a good value culinary experience in midtown.  Hole-in-the-wall Indian Aaheli in Hell’s Kitchen served a chicken chattinad to die for – and all of tables strewn with rose petals. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art – with a difference. 

We paid a $90 donation to swan around the entire museum after hours with other members from 6 until 10pm while being served canapés and cocktails.  There were also some alternative dance routines in the open spaces.  Curators were available in many of the galleries and there were guided tours including one called ‘Hidden mysteries of the Metropolitan Museum’.  A very special experience to have a party in a real Egyptian temple! 

We did not have the same all-positive experience as our friends did at the special exhibit ‘Visit to Versailles’, largely because of a program I had watched about the pungent smells and lack of toilet facilities in the reign of Louis XIV when the place was abuzz with nobles from all over France.  The curator, a knowledgeable Dutch lady, told us that only the royals would have had toilet facilities and then they were just porcelain bowls which, once filled, were simply emptied out of the windows and into the garden which was also used by everyone else as a public convenience.  She confirmed that it was the era when French perfumeries made large sums as rich people tried to get away from the terrible smell of so many people living so close together, however grand the chateau - the largest in the world we were informed, by the time of the revolution – no wonder there WAS a revolution. 

But it was marvellous to see the carpets, diagrams, paintings, pottery, poems, sculptures and stories about the peri-Parisian parapet.  The Frank Lloyd Wright living room in the American Wing was splendid also on the ‘mysteries’ tour. 

Opera scene in April 2018 in Manhattan:
New York offered a real panoply of opera this April: Cosi fan Tutte, Lucia di Lammermoor, Turandot, Romeo and Juliette, Luisa Miller, Cendrillon and Tosca at the Met along with Bernstein’s Candide at Carnegie Hall.  Ms Netrebko’s Tosca was a high point and the only time we saw the Met actually sold out.  Her very fine tenor husband Yusif Eyvazov played Cavaradossi since Marcelo Alvarez had pulled out.  We also heard Exteminating Angel, Lucia and Luisa Miller on the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts while we were in the city. 

Our Cosi fan tutte matinee was spoiled by jet-lag so we were fortunate to get ‘rush’ seats a couple of weeks later, getting much more out of the brilliant up-dating to 1960s Coney Island fun fair and adjacent ‘Skyline Motel’ in Brooklyn.  The sometimes problematic story line became slightly MORE believable - the girls not recognising their own lovers … some of the audience might have been in the same boat, such was the transformation of handsome uniformed naval officers into boyish Brooklyn denim dandies.  Broadway star Kelli O’Hara played the scheming maid Despina while accomplished baritone Christopher Maltman played Don Alfonso, patron to the four lovers.  
The final season performance of Turandot may well spell the end of the wonderful grand production set in the forbidden city of Beijing.  Many of the old productions have been replaced into the ‘close-up’ world of HD telecasts, Aida and La Boheme remaining from the previous Met dynasties.  Martina Serafin was stunning at Turadot but Marcelo Alvarez has been having vocal problems after losing some weight, or so we were told, and his Calaf was under-par.  Liu was Hei-Kyung Hong a stalwart of the Met for decades and she did not disappoint with a most touching legato display of vocal and dramatic skills. 

We attended the first (ever) performance of Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) at the Met.  It had three of the world’s top mezzo-sopranos, Alice Coote, Joyce deDonato and Stephanie Blythe in an absolutely brilliant production … yet the opera fell flat for me just as Don Quichotte and Thais had recently.  Perhaps I am not a Massenet person.  I just can’t imagine why he chose to put neither a baritone nor a tenor into a serious opera.  Others have substituted a male for Prince Charming since, but not at The Met where ‘come scritto’ is the rule.  The hen-pecked father was excellent French bass Laurent Nouri.  He also plays old Capulet in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette. 
Cendrillon dragged on for 4 long acts, each a dream of the following one.  All I could think of was Rossini’s Cenerentola which had more glorious melodic invention in its overture than Massenet’s entire piece.  A singer friend told me afterwards that it is more a ballet-person’s opera than a singer’s.  Are there any well known arias from Cendrillon? 

A New York Times critique of Placido Domingo aged about 80 in Luisa Miller is worth reading on its own .  This brilliant piece of writing likens Domingo’s feat to Federer winning a grand slam ten years hence.  As well as performing the father in Luisa Miller, Domingo was also conducting Romeo and Juliette!  A phenomenon of operatic history.  We enjoyed the performance greatly having first heard Aprile Millo in Rome as Luisa Miller with Alberto Cupido playing the tenor role about 25 years ago ( ) 
A fraction of balance was added to our grand opera schedule was Bernstein’s Candide at Carnegie Hall where Erin Morley was a magnificent Gunegonde … she will sing Woodbird next year in the Ring I believe.  Her Glitter and Be Gay was like the Queen of the Night on steroids.  It was an unexpected privilege by chance to meet sopranos Pretty Yende and Camilla Nyland (quite separately) each in relaxed circumstances far from their costumes, roles, critics, agents, etc in the Met foyers.  Only in New York. 

Medical matters:
NYU talks on overdose crisis and then on memory loss in the elderly; ASAM conference San Diego live streamed; Rockefeller University welcome; Drug Policy Alliance, George Soros-funded mover and shaker on drug law reform in America and internationally.  The latter have just hosted 200 knowledgeable and influential people on a study tour of Portugal looking at their near 20 year experience with complete drug decriminalisation for personal use (defined).  It seems that there are many pros and almost no ‘cons’.  So why are we still punishing drug users in Australia?  This punishes us all, just like the refugees on Manus Island, more than just a bad look. 

I was invited by Dr Joyce Lowinson to a talk by Columbia Nobel Laureate Dr Eric Kandel on memory loss in the elderly at NYU which was fascinating and instructive (get more exercise!).  Since my next meeting was at 1pm at Drug Policy Alliance I walked much of 33rd St from 1st Avenue to 7th Ave near Macy’s department store.  The new DPA’s CEO Maria McFarland Moreno-Sanchez was waiting right on time.  Her PA Chris Soda made me a cup of coffee and we had a talk about international events, Australia perspective and the US overdose crisis which dominates conversation in our field currently. 
Chris then walked me around to their international and academic office in 29th St past Pennsylvania Station where I met two other DPA officers who were welcoming and pleased to hear of developments in Australia.  Our good fortune to have modern anti-virals funded for hepatitis C has been a beacon of care in an otherwise tough and inflexible treatment milieu for drug affected citizens. 

Notes by Andrew Byrne, addiction physician of Sydney, Australia. 

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