The Italian Lesson; Bon Appetit!
Janina Baty, Vanessa Schukis; Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
BMOP Sound 1091 68:08 mins
Two slices of Americana to perk up any jaded palate: that ineffable cook Julia Child makes a French chocolate cake; and an overscheduled New York society matron starts her day translating Dante and ends with having to go to a funeral.
A pupil of Menotti, Lee Hoiby, best known in Europe as a songwriter, was in thrall to late Romanticism; and you can hear Richard Strauss’s conversational tones from Ariadne and Capriccio in these two monologues with librettos adapted by his partner Mark Shulgasser. There are hints of Les Six, too, particularly in the knowing wit of the pieces with a tongue wagging piano part when the social matron backbites on the phone.
There’s dark comedy too in The Italian Lesson (originally a monologue written and performed by Ruth Draper). And in Bon Appétit the line ‘Choc’late is much more complicated than any of us suspect’ delivered in a glottal ‘Julia Child’ voice makes you laugh out loud. Yet when the matron’s lover telephones, Hoiby gives her a sumptuous melody that would melt the darkest chocolate.
Vanessa Schukis as Julia Child is perhaps past her best with tone as breathy as her beaten egg whites. But Anna Baty as the society matron is in her full-toned prime with servants commanded, children reproved and friends fleeced for gossip.
The two ladies could have no better companions than the Boston Modern Orchestra Project with Gil Rose directing. The woodwinds dart about listening to everything and when the chocolate cake first comes out of the oven a solo violin seems to positively salivate.