Teresa Grant


7.19.14TracyMelIt’s a busy opera month for us! Above are Mélanie and me at Merola’s outdoor Schwabacher Summer Concert this weekend. This month’s teaser combines my WIP with my work for the Merola Opera Program. The talk I recently gave at Book Passage about Merola’s 2014 productions stirred some thoughts about Don Giovanni that made it into a scene I just wrote. It seemed a good time to post it. But please note, this is a first draft!

“I wonder if Don Giovanni would be so infernally attractive if Mozart hadn’t given him such ravishing melodies to sing.” Cordelia rested a gloved hand on the gilded paneling against which Gui Laclos was lounging. “The man doesn’t show a scrap of affection or concern for any of his conquests. Of course I used to pride myself on not taking my love affairs seriously.”
“There’s a difference between being light-hearted and callous, Cordy.” Gui gave a twisted smile. “You couldn’t be callous if you tried.”
It was good to see him smile, but his eyes were still shadowed and his face gaunt. “You may be seeing me through rose-colored glasses, my sweet.”
“No. You I think I’ve always seen clearly, Cordy.” For a moment, she thought he was going to confide in her, but instead he said, “Poor bastard, Don Ottavio. He tells Donna Anna his peace depends on her own and she doesn’t seem particularly interested.”
“And really, what more could a woman want than a man who put one’s happiness first. Unless of course he didn’t seem to understand one’s happiness.” Cordelia unfurled her fan and ran her fingers over the ebony and lace. “Donna Anna says when Don Giovanni broke into her room at first she thought it was Ottavio. I’ve always wondered if things progressed a bit before she realized it wasn’t. And if a part of her doesn’t wish Ottavio were a bit more like Giovanni. And so of course she’s wracked by guilt.”
“That makes  Ottavio’s situation even worse. How the devil is one supposed to know what a woman wants?”
It wasn’t like the usually cheerful Gui to take a love affair so seriously or bitterly. Cordelia turned against the paneling so she was facing him. “Is that the problem, Gui? A woman?”
He gave a bitter laugh. “You’re becoming as much of an investigator as your husband, Cordy.”
“I just hate to see you unhappy.”
“The devilish compassion of those who’ve found happiness who can’t understand why others can’t be as happy as they are. Not everyone can find perfection, Cordy.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Cordelia glimpsed her husband, face set in the sardonic lines that were his habitual company expression. Her heart warmed, in that ridiculous way it did when she looked at him the most seemingly trivial moments. ‘I wouldn’t call it perfection. But I know I’ve been far more fortunate than I have any righ to be. I thought perhaps something had happened with your family.”:
“No, Gabby and Rupert couldn’t be kinder. Unlike—“ He drew a breath, one of those moments that teeter between defense and confidence. “See here, Cordy. You’re a woman.”
“I was always under the impression that you thought so.”
Gui gave an abashed grin. “Sorry. I just need a woman’s perspective. I’m trying to understand— why would a woman suddenly lose interest in a fellow after months of seeming quite the opposite?”
Cordelia considered and as quickly abandoned numerous flippant responses that sprang to her lips. There had always been something endearing about Gui, something quite apart from the brief, diverting, light-hearted passion between them. Something that had endured beyond the end of that passion. “My dear— I’m sorry. But sometimes one does—grow past these things as it were.”
“But this wasn’t a casual fling like the one we had. It—“ Gui broke off and stared at her, eyes suddenly wide and oddly like those a schoolboy. “Oh, damn it,  I’m sorry, Cordy. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“It’s all right, dearest.” She touched his hand. “I think we were always admirably clear about what we meant to each other and what we didn’t mean. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to stay friends, which  I wouldn’t give up for anything.” She wondered sometimes why she hadn’t let it become anything deeper. Was it because she’d been afraid of the dangers of falling in love again? Or because a part of her had still been in love with Harry, though at the time she wouldn’t have admitted she’d ever loved her husband?
Gui squeezed her hand. “Nor would I. You’re the best, Cordy. I think I always knew you couldn’t be more than a friend.”
“Because of Harry? At the time I wouldn’t have admitted he’d ever been more than a husband of convenience.”
Gui’s dark gaze grew surprisingly shrewd in that way it sometimes did. “Perhaps I saw some things you missed. In any case, this was different. Not just a fortnight at a house party.” He swallowed, the torment back in his gaze. “But it wasn’t just the time it lasted. It started out casually enough. Some lighthearted flirtation while waltzing, stolen moments in the garden after a bit too much champagne. Sorry, don’t mean to give you too many details. But it soon became clear that it meant more.”
“To you?”
“To me certainly. I’ve always rather made a point of treating love affairs lightly.” He flushed, looked away, looked back at her. “Given that my entire identity was a house of cards, I couldn’t afford to treat them as much else. I don’t know when I realized this was different. When I couldn’t stop thinking about her. When the smallest brush of fingertips was enough to feed me for days. When the thought of life without her was a gnawing void I couldn’t contemplate. When I realized I’d rather hold her hand in the rain than lie on silken sheets with any other woman.” He shook his head. “I sound like a bad novel.”
“You sound like a man in love. Rather more articulate about it than many.”
He turned his head and met her gaze, his own vulnerable as glass. “The thing is I’d swear her feelings were engaged as strongly. We talked round it. She was guarded, protecting her reputation, protecting herself. But I could see it in her eyes. That is, I would have sworn I could see it. Until a fortnight ago. When she told me it was over.”
“In those words?”
“She said it had been very agreeable, but that we’d both always known it had to end, that we’d let it go on too long as it was, and best to cry off as friends before we grew bored. The sort of thing I’ve said a dozen times myself. The sort of thing—“
“That we said to each other. Only we didn’t even really need to say it. We both knew.”
“Quite. But can you imagine Davenport talking to you that way?”
“Not now. Not ever. Harry would be far more caustic.”
“It was as though she’d transformed into another person.”
“Gui—I take it she’s married?”
He hesitated, looked way, drummed his fingers on the paneling behind him, looked back at her.
“It’s not a great leap,” Cordelia said. “I don’t think you’d trifle with an unmarried girl. So unless she’s a widow—“
“She’s married.”
“Could her husband suspect?”
“That’s what I feared. Not that he had any right to judge, given his own behavior. But if she’s in trouble, why won’t she talk to me?”
“My dear—“ Cordelia touched his arm. “It is possible her feelings weren’t as deeply engaged as your own. Or that her feelings have changed.”
“I know. Damnation—“
“But it also sounds as though she called it off very quickly. That makes me think it’s more likely she’s trying to protect you.”
Gui stared at her.
“My darling idiot, one doesn’t like the idea of exposing the man one loves to the wrath of a jealous husband.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Gui straightened his shoulders, as though about to charge off to defend his lady’s honor. “I could protect myself in a duel.”
“I daresay you could, but she’d be pardoned for not wanting to see you try.”
Gui scraped a hand through his hair. “All right, that makes a bit of sense. But— her husband’s rather out of the picture now. And she still won’t even see me when all I want to do is comfort her–”
Cordelia stared at him, mind racing. “Who—“
“No questions, Cordy, please.”
“Gui—“ Cordelia twisted her bracelet round her wrist, wondering how far she could venture. Her own past hung before her as she stared at the harlequin diamond links. A gift from Harry before their life had fallen apart. “There’s one danger a woman engaged in a love affair particularly fears. Is is possible she could be with child?”
Gui’s eyes went wide. “No. That is— we were careful—“
“One can’t be completely careful.”
He pushed himself away from the wall. “My God. I’m an idiot. How could I have left her alone in this? How could she not have told me? She must have known I’d protect her—“ He broke off. “I sound like an idiot. There’s little I could do.”
“If she’s pregnant could it be her husband’s?”
“No. Not the way she tells it. Not based on everything I know. Christ, I shouldn’t be glad about that. It makes her situation worse. But— I have to see her.”
“Gui, you can’t be sure any of this is true.”
“Putting together the clues and arriving at a theory. Isn’t that precisely what Charles and Mélanie do?”
“They’re careful before they voice the theory.”
“I need to know, Cordy.”

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Last Monday I was back at Book Passage, but this time to talk about the two operas the Merola Opera Program is presenting this summer. I had a lot of fun working on my talk, so I thought it would be fun to post it here. Unfortunately, I can’t post the musical excerpts, but you can seek them out online.

It’s great to be back at Book Passage. I’ve been here before as a novelist, most recently last March. I was going to say  I’m here today for the other important part  of my life, but actually it’s the third of three important parts. There’s being a novelist, being a mom to my two-and-a-half-year-old Mélanie who is here today, and then my work with the Merola Opera Program. I was a Merola Board member for 13 years, and I’m now Director of Foundation, Corporate, and Government Relations.

The Merola Opera Program was founded in 1957 by Kurt Herbert Adler, the second General Director of San Francisco Opera, in honor of the first General Director, Gaietano Merola, who was a great champion of young singers. Merola is a summer training program for young opera artists at the start of their careers. Nearly all have already finished college and many have completed graduate school. We typically get applications from over 800 young artists from around the world. Our artistic staff auditions 600 to 650 of these in San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, and New York. Twenty-three singers, five pianist coaches, and one stage director are chosen to come to San Francisco for eleven weeks. All their expenses are paid, including travel, housing, and a weekly stipend. They have intensive training in vocal technique, acting, languages, stage combat, professional development, and a host of other subjects that will help hone their talents and forge their careers. A vital component of training is performance, so they put their skills into practice in two operas as well as our Schwabacher Summer Concert of opera scenes and our Merola Grand Finale concert at the end of the program.

I’m here today to talk about the two operas Merola will present this summer, A Streetcar Named Desire by André Previn and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Both operas are based on literary works. Don Giovanni, with a libretto by Mozart’s frequent collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte, is based on the early 17th century Spanish play El Buriador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina. Streetcar, obviously, is based on the Tennessee Williams play, which the libretto by Philip Littell closely follows. When I heard these were the two operas for this summer, I was very intrigued because though they are very different stories, from different eras, set to different music, there are some strong thematic parallels.  When I wrote about the two operas for our recent newsletter, I called the article “A Season of Desire.” Not only do the characters in both operas grapple with their desires, for Don Giovanni and Stanley Kowalski, sex is definitely  a way of expressing power. For the women in both operas, desire is a more complicated thing, largely due to the double-standard that existed both in the 18th century and the 1940s – and has not entirely vanished today. I thought I would frame my look at these two operas by playing excerpts from each that have thematic connections, My friend Merola Board member Patrick Wilken who has just about every opera recording ever made kindly made me a CD of the excerpts I chose.

We begin with Don Giovanni in his element – bent on seduction. He is flirting with the peasant girl Zerlina. Don Giovanni and Zerlina just met at Zerlina’s wedding to her true love Masetto, but that merely makes things more interesting for Don Giovanni He begins in elegant 18th century fashion by asking her to give him her hand. In this recording Merola alumnus Thomas Hampson plays Don Giovanni and Barbara Bonney plays Zerlina.

[recording 1- La ci darem la mano]

Don Giovanni’s approach to Zerlina is that of a courtly 18th century aristocrat. Not that he cavils at cruder methods as he shows earlier in the opera with Donna Anna and later with Zerlina. But he is very much in the mold of the Vicomte de Valmont is Dangerous Liaisons. The conquest is all. There’s no evidence in DaPonte’s libretto that he has an emotional connection to any of his conquests.

Our next excerpt is an iconic scene from Streetcar. The setting and circumstances are very different, but at the center we again have a baritone whose objective is to get a soprano into bed. The scene is a poker game at which Stanley loses his temper and hits his pregnant wife Stella. Stella and her sister Blanche flee upstairs to the apartment of their neighbor Eunice. Stanley then pleads with Stella to come back to him.This recording features the cast who premiered the opera at San Francisco Opera – Renée Fleming as Blanche, Elizabeth Futral as Stella, Rodney Gilfrey as Stanley, Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch, Judith Forst as Eunice, and Matthew Lord as Steve.

[recording 2 - poker scene/Stella]

Sex is at the heart of both these scenes, but unlike Don Giovanni, Stanley has an emotional connection to Stella, which Previn brings out in the lush underscoring that is both passionate and unexpectedly lyrical. Both Don Giovanni and Stanley equate sex with conquest, but while for  Giovanni the goal is to add more names to his catalogue for Stanley it’s more complicated. A lot of Stanley’s hostility to Blanche comes from the fact that he sees Blanche as trying to take Stella away from him (as Blanche literally does in this scene when she urges Stella to leave the apartment). There’s also a social class dynamic in both scenes. Stanley is very aware that Stella and Blanche came from a different world, symbolized by the lost plantation Belle Reve. He talks in another scene about pulling Stella down off those columns. Giovanni on the other hand is an aristocrat, which gives him power over Zerlina and also adds to his glamour in her eyes. Again, a house becomes a symbol of power and position in the world, as Giovanni talks about spiriting Zerlina off to his castle.

Both Giovanni and Stanley are baritones. In both operas, a tenor character offers a foil to each of these men. The next excerpt features Don Ottavio, singing of his love for his betrothed Donna Anna. At the beginning of the opera Don Giovanni breaks into Anna’s bedchamber. Exactly how far things go is unclear. In some productions, it is even implied that Anna perhaps was willing, at least at the start. What is clear, because we see it on stage, is that Giovanni then fights and kills Anna’s father. Anna makes Ottavio swear vengeance on the man who killed her father. Ottavio is reluctant to act until he knows for a certainty who the attacker was. In this aria, he explains that his peace of mind depends on that of his beloved. Hans Peter Blochwitz as Don Ottavio.

[recording 3 - Dalla sua pace]

For all Ottavio’s pretty words, Anna is reluctant to go ahead with their marriage. Her hesitation could stem from guilt over her father’s death, trauma from the assault. or potentially even because she has feelings for Don Giovanni herself.

In Streetcar, Mitch offers a gentler alternative to Stanley. And if Anna holds Ottavio at arms’ length, Blanche is eager, desperate even, to latch on to the security Mitch offers. Here, Mitch tells Blanche his mother wants to meet her, a prelude it seems to a proposal. Like Ottavio’s, his music is lyrical and fluid expressing a softer approach that speaks of love and yearning more than passion. Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch.

[recording 4 - Mitch aria, "I'm not getting any younger"]

Desire also motivates the women in both these operas, but they find it more difficult to express. When Anna tells Ottavio about the masked man who broke into her room she says at first she thought it was him. The implication is that she would not have been unhappy if it was, despite the fact that a tryst with a man who was not yet her husband would be seen as scandalous behavior for a gently bred 18th century lady. Donna Elvira, the third of Don Giovanni’s conquests in the opera, apparently has had a longer term relationship with him. In fact, she sees herself as his wife. He abandons her before the start of the opera, but throughout the story she is torn between a desire for vengeance and a desire for Don Giovanni himself. In this aria, she sees his downfall coming and yet confesses that she feels pity for him and that while her heart speaks of vengeance, her heart also still beats for him. The music pulses with emotions stronger than pity. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Donna Elvira.

[recording 5 - Mi tradi]

If Elvira is torn between her desire for vengeance and her desire for Don Giovanni, Blanche is torn between her desire to cast a romantic glow over stark reality and her personal experience of the harsh nature of life and the raw power of desire. In this scene Mitch has learned that Blanche is older than he believed and that she is not the prim woman she appeared to be. In the town she came from, she had a reputation for sleeping with the soldiers from the nearby camp, and she lost her teaching position for an affair with a student. As Blanche describes how the soldiers would stand on the lawn and call to her to come down to them – much as Stanley called to Stella in the earlier scene – a woman passes by selling flowers for the dead. Renée Fleming as Blanche, Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch, and Josepha Gayer as the flower seller.

[recording 6 - Blanche/Mitch]

What drives Don Giovanni to his conquests is never spelled out in the opera. For Blanche on the other hand, desire is an escape from the death and destruction around her as she saw her parents die and her home lost. “Death the opposite is desire,” she tells Mitch. Interestingly the woman selling flowers for the dead mentions flames and fire at the end of the excerpt, foreshadowing Blanche’s destruction. Flame also signals Giovanni’s destruction, when the statue of Anna’s father comes to life and drags the unrepentant Giovanni down to hell. Though Stanley and Giovanni both equate desire with conquest, it is Blanche and Giovanni who are destroyed. And yet when Stanley uses sexual violence to win his struggle with Blanche, he may sew the seeds that will unravel his relationship with Stella.

There’s so much more to explore in both these operas. I hope you’ll consider coming to see them. And I’d love to answer questions about one or both operas or about Merola. My colleague Dan Meagher has information about the operas and tickets. Thank you.

6.28.14TracyEricSaturday night as part of my work for the Merola Opera Program, I had tremendous fun and the great privilege of interviewing the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone Eric Owens, who is teaching at Merola this summer. Besides being an amazing artist (his Porgy in Porgy & Bess at San Francisco Opera is indelibly etched on my memory), he is a tremendously nice person. He had a lot of fascinating things to say about singing, young artist training, and a career in opera, including the importance of appreciating the moment and not constantly worrying about what’s coming next or where one wants to be in five or ten years. It really resonated with me as a writer. I remind myself to savor things like the fist glimpse of a book cover, the arrival of ARCs, publication day. And most of all to enjoy writing the book. Publishing is such a crazy, unpredictable business that it’s easy to get stressed out or worry about where one wants to be or thinks one should be and to lose sight of the magic of creating a story (not that there isn’t a lot of hard work mixed in with the magic :-)).  As soon as I finish this post, I’m going to try to do that with my WIP!

Hope everyone is managing to savor the summer a bit. For those of you in the states with a long holiday weekend for the 4th of July, hope you have a wonderful time. If you have a chance, head over to History Hoydens where I’m blogging this week about some of the fascinating historical figures within 6 Degrees of Harriet Granville, who has appeared in several of my books.

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy summer! Summer may not officially start for another ten days, but it already feels in a full swing. The Merola Opera Program, where I spend much of my life when I’m not writing, welcomed a new group of young artists last week. (There I am above with Mélanie when I got back from our Meet the Merolini event last Friday).

In around Merola events, I’m revising Malcolm and Suzanne’s next adventure. I haven’t blogged here in far too long, but i have been on History Hoydens talking about my trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and echoes of war in historical fiction.

ThatSummer

I’ve also found a bit of time to start summer reading. Last week, even though I really didn’t have time for it, I raced through my wonderful friend Lauren Willig’s wonderful new novel That Summer. Moving back and forth in time between 2009 and 1849, with pre-Raphelite painters and wonderful old English house full of secrets, it’s a fabulous treat for lovers of historical fiction and historical mysteries.

Hope everyone’s summer is off to a wonderful start and includes time for reading. What’s on your summer reading list?

 

 

 

 

 

I spent the weekend before last immersed in my Merola Opera Program life at our annual Spring Benefit Gala. This year’s theme was “A Night in New Orleans”, very festive and fun. It was a long day, beginning with setting up the silent auction and ending with packing up after the after party and getting to our hotel room just before two am. But though it was definitely not a writing day, this sort of event always makes me think about Suzanne/Mélanie and Malcolm/Charles’s world. From the, in Regency parlance, crush in the auction room to the formal dinner, the concert (a musicale) to the dancing after (all in a gown that grazed the floor) it was certainly more similar to their world than my typical Saturday night of a quiet dinner with friends.

Here, in pictures, is a summary of the day.

 

Upon arrival, Mel was very at home at our room at the Stanford Court.

Mélanie gave me a good excuse for a break while setting at the silent auction at the Fairmont Hotel.

Ready for the event to start

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

photo: Drew Altizer

At the after party.

Back at the hotel

Back at the hotel

TracyMelHotelClose

A relaxing brunch the next day.

TracyMel3.29.14Things are a little crazy right now, as we are getting ready for the Merola Opera Program’s annual benefit gala tomorrow night. Working out seating arrangements and alphabetizing place cards this week I felt quite like Suzanne/Mélanie in the tamer aspects of her life. I’ll post pictures after the event. Meanwhile, here’s a link to a mini interview with Stephanie Moore Hpokins about The Berkeley Square Affair and here you can see my talking about literary connection to Hamlet on History Hoydens.

Have a wonderful weekend and if you’re reading Berkeley Square let me know your thoughts!

BerkeleyAshfordI was out and about yesterday checking for The Berkeley Square Affair in books stores and signing copies. It’s sometimes hard for a writer to believe her book is actually out in places she doesn’t see it :-). The wonderful Lauren Willig (whose marvelous The Ashford Affair I was excited to find next to Berkeley Square at Books Inc. in the Opera Plaza in San Francisco yesterday) encourages readers to post post pictures of her books “in the wild” on Facebook. In the spirit of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I encourage readers to do the same with Berkeley Square, here or on Facebook. If you happen to see it and have a camera, snap a pic and post it. If not, just leave a comment about where you saw it.

Love the comments so far about the book. Feel free to leave more in this thread as well.

 

 

Toasting The Berkeley Square Affair

Toasting The Berkeley Square Affair

Excited – and a bit nervous – to hear what everyone thinks! Even after multiple books the excitement and butterfly nerves of a new release remain. Meanwhile, head over to Deanna Raybourn’s blog to read some thoughts on fashion and plotting and what went into The Berkeley Square Affair.

Friday update: you can also head over to Catherine Delors’s blog to read about the connections between England and France that permeate The Berkeley Square Affair.

Happy Reading

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

Hard to believe The Berkeley Square Affair will be out in less than three weeks (March 25). I’ll be doing a number of guest blogs and giveaways

to promote it, including on Lauren Willig’s site on March 10th. My blog hosts have been wonderfully generous about letting me choose topics, and I could use your help. I’d love to hear suggestions of what you would like me to blog about – anything from history to writing to parenting to fashion or a combination of ideas.

As an incentive to come up with suggestions, I’ll be sending an ARC of The Berkeley Square Affair to commenter on this post. Contest closes March 14 at noon PST.

Happy weekend!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a valentine in the form of a letter from Charles/Malcolm to Mélanie/Suzanne, which I’ll later archive to the Fraser Letters. It’s the Valentine’s Day between The Paris Plot and The Berkeley Square Affair. If you haven’t joined the Google+ Group yet, one of the great special features Suzi has put together is all the letters beautifully formatted, in chronological order. You can join by clicking on the link and then clicking on the author photo. Or email tracy.teresagrant@gmail.com.

14 February 1817

Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré

My darling,

I was looking at you last night as you nursed Jessica, while Colin dozed beside me and Berowne lay curled in my lap,  and thinking about how our lives have changed. Not so much the upcoming change of our removal to Britain, but the changes of the past. Sometimes one can go an unimaginable distance a few steps at at time, so that it’s only in looking back that one realizes one has crossed a seemingly uncrossable gulf. I never thought to marry. I never thought to be a father. Now I can’t imagine my life without you or Colin or Jessica. Or Berowne for that matter–why did we never think of having a pet sooner?

Without you, I’d never have been brave enough to make the changes it’s taken to get us to this point. Without you, I’d never have been brave enough to face our forthcoming adventure in Britain. To contemplate a return to home with something like equanimity. Even, at times, to look forward to it. With you, I seem to have a remarkable capacity to tackle challenges I never thought I could face. Perhaps it’s because you so bravely take on any challenge yourself.

I know the past years haven’t always been easy on you. I know I haven’t always been an easy husband. I’ve never been good at putting my feelings into words. I tell myself you wouldn’t want fulsome declarations. But I hope you know what is in my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mel.

With all my heart,

Charles

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