The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 5, 1976 · Page 111
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December 5, 1976

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 111

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Sunday, December 5, 1976
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III iiilll ii Travel Books Theater a ! m m SUNDAY, DECEMBER 5, 1976 SECTION Civic Opera Dr. Paul Csonka: He's Unbeleefable The Palm Beach Post-Times If didn't work that way," Csonka said, "so I stayed in Cuba for the duration." To no one's surprise, he formed an opera school there and presented many performances. While achieving great success in Cuba he "unwittingly created a lot of jealousies. I had no problems with the teachers," Csonka said, "but everyone with a stick in his hand was jealous of the work I was doing as a conductor. However, the composers gave me the most trouble." Csonka formed a Cuban chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music, an organization that encouraged entries in composition contests. "All the composers decided we would only send one work per composer for any competition. There was a contest sponsored by Cuba's main symphony orchestra, and I won it. There was a contest originating from Salzburg during the festival, and again my work was selected, which made all the other composers mad because I wasn't a native Cuban. "When Castro arrived on the scene, many of them accused me of being a Battistiano," Csonka said, "which was absolutely silly since I detest politics in general. And South American politics I consider the lowest thing in the world." The jealousies he survived. The crunch came when they offered him a position in the government "for not running away." "The next day I left Cuba. To be against them was probably something I could bear. To be with them, and have my head cut off when they tired of me was something I did not think I could bear, so I left." His next move was to become involved with a Miami opera company. Then in 1961, a group of people in Palm Beach invited him to present an opera here. Turn to CSONKA, G4 Staff Photos by Max Kaufmann Dr. Csonka in a Quiet Moment Between Hectic Rehearsals A Happy Madness Hits Preparations f The Civic Opera of the Palm Beaches will present Mascagni's 'Cavalleria Rusticana' and Leoncavallo's 'I Pagliacci' tonight at 8 at the West Palm Beach Auditorium. Post Staff Writer Alan Jenkins takes a look at the opera's director, Dr. Paul Csonka, some of the stars and the preparations for the event. By ALAN JENKINS Post Entartainmtnt Wrlttr Someone once said if you dropped Dr. Paul Csonka at the North Pole he would have organized an opera company there before the year was out. Well, it might be stretching things too far to liken the Palm Beaches to the North Pole. But as far as opera goes, it isn't the Garden of Eden, either. Yet each year we enjoy opera presented at a standard well beyond anything we could reasonably anticipate. The main reason for this miracle is housed within the framework of this one sensitive, extraordinarily gifted man. Certainly, if one were to meet Csonka for the first time say, as he was arriving at the West Palm Beach Auditorium for a rehearsal only to find that a case with his music was missing the flattering adjectives might well be questioned. "Vy do people with no brains think about things they don't haf to think about?" he yells to no one in particular. Csonka (pronounced Chonk-a) is Viennese, with a sizzling accent that can best be described as guttural. Csonka revels in dealing in absolution. In fact, "absolutely" and "unbeleefable" are among his favorite words. On Tuesday for instance, when he returned to West Palm Beach following a rehearsal in Orlando, he said vigorously, "It vas absolutely freezing 40 degrees, absolutely freezing." His use of the word "unbeleefable" usually follows closely in the wake of a less than satisfactory rehearsal, though it lacks the emphasis of the "absolutely." Rather, it is in the nature of a prayer, something like, "Please God, let me wake up tomorrow and find this didn't happen at all." Meanwhile, he continues to whisper, "Unbeleefable." A fleeting acquaintance with Dr. Paul could leave you with the wrong impression. You might not glimpse the complete dedication to the art, might not recognize the exceptional talent, the prodigious character. It is unlikely that he would ever qualify as a finalist in a beauty contest though maybe a personality contest. A solidly built man of average height, his face is a blueprint of musical ecstasies, disasters and longings. His hair has suffered considerable erosion and now presents a fringe around a considerable batholith. But listen to his music sometime and see if you care on which side he parts his hair. It is so beautifully orchestrated, whether for voices or instruments, so rich in imagination, so clever in development, that it is frustrating we don't get more opportunities to listen to his compositions. However, this situation will be partially assuaged in April when we will be afforded the privilege of listening to a concert of his music. Paul Csonka was born in Vienna of a wealthy family. Visits to the Vienna Opera House were his undoing. Instead of following a comfortable career in business, he pursued a torturous one in music first by organizing an opera company. This came as a consequence of his criticism, along with those of his young acquaintances, of the quality of performances in Vienna. "Next to a few really marvelous performances there were a great many bad ones," he explained. The company Csonka formed rehearsed three operas intensely until perfected. They were then engaged to play one of the operas, Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutti" in Switzerland. "We repeated the performance in Vienna," Csonka recalled, "and it was the first time it had been done in Italian, the original language, since the days of its first performances. We were then engaged to perform in Salzburg during the festival. On the same night Toscannini was premiering Wagner's 'Die Meistersinnger' at the festival. "I thought nobody would come to hear us, but it turned out that Toscannini's premiere was sold out six months in advance and a lot of people couldn't get tickets, so they came to our performance and we were sold out." In the audience at that performance was Siegfried Hurst, a member of Sol Hurok's booking agency. He was impressed, and invited Csonka to take his company to the United States for a six-month tour. Not one to do things by half measures, Csonka rented a castle in the mountains of Austria so the entire company could rehearse the repertoire and work on sets, costumes and the many items that make up grand opera. The tour took them to 84 cities, with the final performance given in New York's Carnegie Hall on March 11, 1938, the day Hitler overran Austria. Hitler's antics naturally robbed Austria of a lot of its enchantment for Csonka, so he returned to Paris where his brother lived. While in Paris one of Hurok's lawyers recommended that Csonka go to Cuba. He said then he would be able to get a U.S, resident visa within 24 hours. "It : . . . . ,"; ,:. r--: I? it - W ' " iv4 ' ' : i (If - - Mil FV j : J -r;: JuT kA ' rip 'p jrj 1y -4 ' -V ' 4 Robert Merrill . . arrives a day late There is a happy madness about Italian opera, glorious significance linked to soaring nonsense manifesting itself in dramatic confusion. And it takes a lot of talent to bring all these elements to the boil at the right time. Last week there was a profusion of such talent roaming the Palm Beaches preparing for the weekend performances of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci." Robert Merrill, a star of the Metropolitan Opera House (The Met) for 32 years, provided some of the early confusion by arriving for rehearsals a day late. But it's a minor irritation that dissolves completely when he opens his mouth and sings. Truly, this must be one of the miracles of vocal sound. The only trouble with listening to Merrill sing is that he stops when you desperately want him to continue. The great artist with the easily recognizable Brooklyn accent is here both to sing and to promote his second book, "Between Acts." "It is an irreverent look at opera and other madnesses," Merrill explained before changing for the dress rehearsal Thursday night. Another touch of confusion presented itself when tenor Richard Kness, in Germany, was laid low with some dreadful virus. Fortunately, a replacement tenor was quickly secured, cold comfort for Joann Grillo, a soprano of considerable ability. Joann is Richard's wife, and after having already been apart for two months, the reunion had been keenly anticipated. All is not lost, however, since Joann plans to go to Germany next week. All she hopes is that "the sun will shine on Monday so when I go to Europe I will have a tan and look pretty." And have you wondered about that stranger jogging round Lake Worth every morning at 8? It is Frank Guarrera, a baritone with the Metropolitan for 29 years and a devout jogger. Along with singing and running, Guarrera is dabbling at directing and conducting master classes around the country. Guarrera also is the new artistic director of an opera company in St. Petersburg and will be presenting Verdi's opera "La Traviata" there on Feb. 11 and 13 with Roberta Peters. Then there is Adria Firestone, first prize winner of the Civic Opera of the Palm Beaches scholarship contest in 1974, who is lending the beauty of her voice and presence to this production. Just back from Italy after studying there for almost seven months, Adda's tremendous vocal development must serve as an encouragement to her when she travels to San Diego Dec. 18 to sing at Opera America. It is expected that 44 directors from opera houses all over America will be there, ready to engage any promising young talent. There are many other talented people, all making considerable contributions to the event's success. And none more than Palm Beach's favorite son, Giuseppe Campora, who will once again be delighting the local audience with his dramatic skill and fine singing voice in the title role of "Pagliacci." At Home With His Wife Ariane and Daughter Ariana, 6 Joann Grillo . . looking for sun Judith DePaul: A Nice Battler it? ?v tr. J : y thoughts about her role in opera. "Sometimes I feel like rebelling against opera singing because of the continual discipline required to keep up the quality of the voice. A singer has to think constantly of the voice, the interpretation, and of course, one's self." It is probably true that the wish can be father to the thought, and to Italian-born Judith De Paul this thought may contain added significance. She has created, written, packaged and almost sold an hour's television special called "Magical Music." "It is almost certain the Bell Telephone Hour will present it," Miss De Paul said in a recent interview. "And if it is successful it will probably be made into a series." NBC has allowed her to use the cartoon character, The Pink Panther, and she has created others, many of them inspired by musical instruments. She also anticipates that Robert Merrill and Danny kaye will appear on her show. In addition, to keep her busy during long weekends, she is preparing to produce a new opera by Leonard Bernstein based on the novel "Lolita," and also write a book on careers for girls. Turn to DePAUL, G4 Judith De Paul, 32, has been a leading soprano at the Metropolitan Opera Company for 10 years, which by any yardstick, is an astonishing achievement. Yet simply to detail her career as a singer does her an injustice, for she has accomplished much more than is immediately apparent. She is a staggering talent. While it is true to say she has been unusually blessed with special gifts, it is just as true to recognize she has used those gifts to maximum potential. Judith De Paul is beautiful, but not of the fragile variety. Hers is a vibrant beauty suffused with a penetrating intelligence that is infinitely beguiling. She is 5-foot-7, shapely, yet slender, with glorious dark brown hair surrounding a lovely face shrouded in mystery, enhanced by the darkest of brown eyes. As she puts it, "Like chocolate drops, extra dark chocolate that makes it difficult to distinguish the pupil from the rest." Fusing this allurement into glory is a talent that pulsates throughout her being. She is an accomplished dancer, actress and singer. To watch her on stage is sheer delight. She moves as if filled with elements of the wind on an open lake. As an actress she caresses your emotions. Judith, here to sing the role of Nedda in Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci," occasionally has second Giuseppe Campora in title role Judith DePaul

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