William Berger Introduces Our Opera and Film Guests

Lawrence Brownlee

People remember the first time they hear American tenor Larry Brownlee sing because he has an almost unique combination of vocal assets: the vocal precision necessary to navigate the technically demanding bel canto genre of opera (Rossini et al.), and the humanity within that precision to make us listen and care. His bel canto stems from bello spirito, and it shows. He is also passionately involved with many other facets of life – from salsa dancing to photography to ping pong, and he is an articulate (and equally passionate) voice for human rights. Find out more about him at Lawrencebrownlee.com.




Joseph Calleja

I first was in the interview booth with this famous star from Malta the week of his Met Opera debut in 2006 (as the Duke in Rigoletto… you know, the one who sings that aria). We smirked at each other and goaded each other to crack up on air (we managed not to), and we’ve been ribbing each other – and appreciating great music together – ever since. One of the truly greatest voices in the history of opera, those who hear him live will be well qualified to bore people in the future by repeating “well, yes, but I heard Calleja sing that…” Website: JosephCalleja.com.




Michael Cooper

The Columbia University alumnus is arts critic for The New York Times. As impressive as that fact is alone, the reason I was excited to include him here is because his writings always display a keen interest in a wide variety of fields – from politics to esthetics and beyond – and the intersectionality of these fields.  




Alice Coote OBE

English mezzo-soprano possesses not only a rich beautiful voice but the ability to make you feel what she’s singing about. It can be almost unsettling (in the best way) sometimes when she brings a level of penetrating pathos to such diverse roles as the detective (the lead role) in Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, Oktavian in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, and Sesto in Handel’s Giulio Cesare.  To humble for a website, check out her Wikipedia page and links at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Coote




Stephen Costello

A Philadelphia native (and eloquent cheerleader for the great American city), Stephen Costello has been making waves on the world’s operatic stages since his pro debut (Fort Worth) in 2006. A winner of the Richard Tucker Award in 2009, Costello navigates the range of repertory with an intelligence that has turned the head of many an interviewer – myself included. Check out his website at https://stephencostellotenor.com/.




Justino Díaz

Despite being a flat-out incontrovertible American and international legend, Puerto Rican bass-baritone Justino Díaz is more present in the moment of today than many people I talk to who are a fraction of his age. He made his Met debut at the old house (39th and Broadway) in 1963 as Monterone in Rigoletto, and famously led the all-American cast as Antony in Antony and Cleopatra for the gala opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966. His astounding career led him not only to the world’s major opera houses but also many appearances on television and at least two remarkable turns in opera in film: as Escamillo in the Herbert von Karajan-led Carmen of 1969, and as the creepiest Iago ever (that’s a compliment) in Franco Zeffirelli’s Otello (1987).




Holly Goldberg Sloan

Probably the most spectacularly diverse talent among this galaxy of talents, Holly is a screenwriter (Made in America, Angels in the Outfield, which she also produced, et al.), director (Heidi 4 Paws, which she also wrote), and award winning novelist (Appleblossom the Possum, Dial, et al.). She is uniquely qualified to speak to us about different narrative structures. The Michigan native grew up in various locales in the states and overseas and currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband Gary Rosen (q.v.).




Susan Graham

One of the truly great names in the history of opera, Susan Graham was born in Roswell, New Mexico (which explains so much, we keep ribbing her) and raised in Midland, Texas. In roles ranging from Mozart to Strauss to Berlioz to the concert repertory to roles she has created in new works (The Great Gatsby, An American Tragedy, Dead Man Walking), she displays the same utter command of the art in question. What I’ve always appreciated about her vocalizing since she hit the scene in the late 1980s is her ability to take you quite out of linear time when she sings (maybe that’s the Roswell thing?) – and not just on the operatic stage. Whenever people ask me to recommend one single piece of transcendental singing, I direct them to the YouTube of Susan singing the Ave Maria at Ted Kennedy’s funeral. What even is happening there? Oh also… she’s a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Susangraham.com




Phil Jiménez

I first met Phil when we were both young dudes (I was 32, he was… I think, 23!) from Southern Cal adrift in the heady madness of AIDS-decimated gay New York. He went on, rather quickly, to become an internationally celebrated artist and writer (and artist/writer in many cases) in the Comics world. Among his many credits are Wonder Woman, Superman, and The Amazing Spider-Man for DC Comics, Marvel, and others. His many interests include mythology and storytelling in its multifarious forms.




Quinn Kelsey

The Hawaii native (and native Hawaiian) baritone has won ovations and some really big awards and honors around the world – but two other things really impress me most about him: He “gets” Verdi in a way very few baritones in history do (and if you want Verdi’s art to soar to its supreme heights, you find a baritone who can do this), and he speaks his mind about the world eloquently and with certainty. Remember this name. Find out more at: quinnkelsey.com




Isabel Leonard

New York native mezzo soprano Leonard is irresistible in a wide variety of roles, from new operas like Thomas Adès The Tempest (copping a cool Grammy Award for that) to Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (second cool Grammy, check) to the title role in Nico Muhly’s Marnie. Her Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro alone, from Vienna to the Metropolitan and beyond, qualifies her for worldwide adoration. See all about her at Isabelleonard.com.




Muffy Meyer

Muffy is a director of documentaries and other features whose work has copped two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and several other prestigious awards. The Chicago native began her illustrious career as an editor (Woodstock, The Lords of Flatbush, et al.) and garnered her first directorial credits on the groundbreaking documentary Grey Gardens. She formed Middlemarch Films with Ellen Hovde, producing and directing a truly impressive list of films, most notably in the documentary and non-fiction genres, for television and beyond.




Nico Muhly

The American composer is prominent among the most notable musical figures in the world. Often classified as “contemporary classical,” I remember him once telling a room as a panelist that “those categorizations only mattered to the guy who had to arrange stuff at Tower Records – and he’s not around anymore.” Born in 1981 (yes, that’s right), his operas have been produced at the Metropolitan and elsewhere, and he has collaborated with every name imaginable (from Philip Glass to Björk to Anohni) demonstrating the diverse range of interests informing his work from the Anglican liturgical tradition to the Icelandic avant-garde. When speaking about his opera Two Boys on a panel, Muhly explained the phenomenon of contemporary audiences to me by using the striking phrase “continuous partial attention.” I’ve never forgotten it.




Jessica Pimentel

Polymath Jessica is a graduate of New York’s High School for the Perfoming Arts, where her diverse talents were cultivated in violin, vocal arts, and acting. She blossomed as a singer and an actor and more. She is the lead vocalist in the death metal band Alekhine’s Gun, where she has become celebrated for the ability to deliver vocals with the clarity of a rapper along with the primal affect of the world’s scariest growlers. Beyond that, she has a particular interest in the vocal arts of Mozart. Jessica also starred as María Ruiz in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. She joins us from her current home in Stockholm, Sweden.




Gary Rosen 

A writer of film (Hacks, which he also directed, et al.) and television (countless), Los Angeles native Gary Rosen is also a lifelong movie enthusiast and historian. He is, additionally, my first cousin, so I can attest to the lifelong aspect of his passion (while most of us found our first teenage jobs on fast food, Gary’s first job was an usher in a movie theater – and he’s never strayed from the vocation). He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Holly Goldberg Sloan (q.v.).  




Alex Ross

Music critic and commentator has been on the staff of The New Yorker since 1996. The Washington D.C. native and current Los Angeles resident also attended Harvard (where he studied with Peter Lieberson among others and graduated summa cum laude), is a MacArthur Fellow, and the author of the game-changing book The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. His new book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, long-awaited by a passionate public (including me) will be available this fall.




Du Yun

Composer and all-round artistic polymath Du Yun was born in Shanghai and currently lives in New York City. Along the way, she has garnered a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize (for her 2016 opera Angel’s Bone), and other sundry awards and accolades for her diverse work. She is also a magnificent voice for social justice issues within and parallel to the arts. Her work cannot be summarized here: please visit her website at channelduyun.com



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